NaNo 2017: The Gatekeeper (Myth Taken Redux)

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Hey everyone.  NaNoWriMo 2017 has arrived and I'm participating this year.  

Some of you will remember two years ago, when I posted my entire NaNo project every single day.  I had a lot of fun with that, and intend to repeat the performance this year.  The catch is that I'm doing a complete rewrite of the book, taking it in a different direction.  Sam and Hewn are coming back, but they will be joined by different friends, contest some different enemies, and some of the rules have changed.  Even the original short story is somewhat different - and hopefully better.




My last day as a normal human being caught me totally off guard.  I got up that day with no particular plans.  I was feeling restless on a free Saturday morning, and I had both run myself out of new video games and achieved two bingos in the local library’s summer reading contest, so I felt like stretching my legs. 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 an enigma that had captured my attention and drawn me out to trespass on its grounds.

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 light it.

I always circled the building twice before approaching.  There was no sign of anyone visiting the cabin in my absence.  Even my own repeated passage had failed to forge a trail to the door.  It couldn’t be completely abandoned, though; it was too well-kept.  Someone had to be cleaning the place.  Perhaps as hunting season started in the fall, its real owner would return, but for now I could pretend that 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.  Maybe bears with cannons.  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.

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 retreat to strangers.

I turned on my LED lantern and scoped the place out.  The main floor was a small room with wooden chairs and a table resting by the cast-iron stove.  A ladder led up to a small loft with a cot and bedding.  Stairs led down to the cellar, which I checked as well, finding it stocked with shelves of dried food, jugs of water, and a medical kit that had taken me some research to determine that it was a medical kit, as it had probably been assembled before World War I.  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 an urge to be here.  I felt 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 unexpected flourishes.  The walls gained strange writings and patterns, while the floor sported a veritable circuit board of eldritch signs and circles.  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 but I brought the image back.  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...occult.  Mystical.  Not menacing, just different.  

I recovered enough to start looking for explanations.  This couldn’t have been caused by my phone.  I knew that image warping software existed, but it required a graphics card that my phone didn’t have.  And it wouldn’t explain how I’d 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 the situation  was just as absurd.  The sanest explanation I had was that Rose had slipped LSD into my breakfast, and she wouldn’t do that.

I checked the time.  She’d be at work, but the restaurant wasn’t open yet.  I texted the picture to her, along with the question; “What do you make of this?”

The reply came quickly.  “Fancy.”

One word, but enough that I could assume that I wasn’t having a selective hallucination.  So what was really going on?

All I could do was experiment.  I was a little shaky standing up, but I carefully made my way out of the building 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 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 ghost still didn’t seem to have acknowledged me.  

The ghost’s apparent apathy 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.  That was the smart thing to do, but a sudden thought stopped me at the door.   I had one more place to check out before I went.  I had to be thorough, didn’t I?

The basement.  I hadn’t considered the place creepy before, but this time I took 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.

Three of the walls were unchanged dirt.  The last, however, was stone, and all of the symbols formed a web across its surface - a web that radiated from the wooden door set into its center.  A door that hadn’t been there before, and that I still couldn’t see outside of the pictures.  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 of 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 to scary; I had to get a grip on things before I was overwhelmed.  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.  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’ 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 my camera even reveal what was really there?  I didn’t even know what I was actually seeing when the phone disagreed with my eyes, but given what had happened, I guessed that it was piercing some kind of illusion.  Did I really want to know?

Who was I kidding?  Of course I wanted to know.  I snapped a picture and compared, finding no change.

I lowered the phone and tentatively raised my left hand as my curiosity started to overtake my fear.  “Can I - can I touch you?”  I asked.

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

I stepped forward and 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...standing there.  I’m so out of my depth that I can laugh or I can cry.”

He nodded.  “Heard worse reasons to laugh.  But what’s going on is that you picked up an enchantment that’s trying to compel you.  I’m here to get rid of it.  We’ll be done in a moment and you’ll be on your way home.”

I took a moment to consider.  “If I go, can I come back?”

He cocked his head to one side.  “You want to come back?”

“Sure will.  Sure do.  I mean, I’m a bit freaked out, but I’ve stumbled into a secret the rest of the world wouldn’t believe.  I found Narnia.  Jumped down the rabbit-hole and got visited by thirteen dwarves and a wizard.  To keep on mixing my stories together, I’m not leaving without a Hogwarts tour, at least.  Not if I have a choice.”  I was babbling, but I thought I got my point across.

“In that case, Miss…?”

“Sam,” I said.

“Well, Sam,” he said, with a slight bow.  “Welcome to the home of Eabani.  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, that I’d been defending it, 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 value.  It seemed to pulse in the stone man’s grip, as if seeking a form but finding none that would entice its holder.

“I haven’t seen one of these in ages,” he said.  “It’s Faerie gold.  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 twenty to set foot off the Mortal Realm actually find the maker of the little bauble in question, but it’s enough to make the effort worthwhile.”

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

“But we weren't just sitting on our asses.  We figured out how to trap the gates ages ago.  Instead of you winding up in Jotunheim, our door intercepts you.  I’m here to 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 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 something move.  Hewn followed my gaze, but misinterpreted.

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

The question caught me off-guard.  “It’s a phone.”

“Phone,” he said, as if trying out the word.  “You mentioned it before.  The name sounds like the Greek word for voice.  What is it?”

I slid it open and he - well, in a living human, I’d say that he tensed slightly as the screen lit up, but I don’t think a being made of rock can really get more or less tense.  

“It glows without fire?  Perhaps it should be called a phos,” he said.

“It glows, but it does a lot more,” I said.  

But just then, 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 a knife was pinning my shadow to the underside of the flipped table.  I tried moving again, but my shadow wouldn’t move away from the knife, 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 as its gorget shattered into a puff of green leaves, 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.  There was a terrible crunch of bones as the elf shuddered and stepped back, leaving a body where he had just been standing.

I stared as the corpse - a young man in a loose robe - collapsed, its throat crushed by a wound identical to the one Hewn had inflicted.  The elf, however, was suddenly whole.

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

“Quicker than I expected, but it’ll take more than that, statue,” the elf gloated.  “Mortals are so very useful, aren’t they?”

I didn’t catch Hewn’s barked-out response, but as the rugs in the hall levitated and started throwing themselves at the elf, I figured that he wasn’t trying to banter back.  Instead, Hewn wove his way among the flying fabric, trying to land another hit.

The elf had apparently learned caution - as if he hadn’t been certain before that Hewn would win a grapple - and he was fast, dodging whatever he couldn’t cut through.  I quickly lost track of where he was in the fracas.

I took a moment to look to myself.  I was still pinned in place, but I seemed as safe as I was going to get for the moment.  My backpack had been sent flying when Hewn had flipped the table.  I spotted it on the other side of the table, about ten feet away - well outside the range of my shadow leash.

I looked back to the fight to see another body hitting the ground near the far wall - a middle-aged woman with a spreading bloodstain in her robes.  I cringed as she spasmed, not quite dead yet, but the sound of metal on stone demanded my attention.

The rugs had been destroyed - hacked to pieces - and Hewn was once again engaging the elf in melee.  The chips missing from his arms were now chunks, but his expression was a mask of determination, not pain.

In contrast, the elf was still smiling, but there was a vicious edge to the smile.  I’d seen that expression once in high school, on the face of a kid who had later killed a teacher’s dog.  It was the look of someone who was sure they’d soon enact viciously disproportionate retribution.

The elf was still faster than Hewn, but not quite as fast as he had been before.  I didn’t know for sure, but I hoped that the statue couldn’t get tired.  Pieces were missing from his armor; as I watched, Hewn managed to grab one of the elf’s bracers, which disintegrated into a handful of leaves as the elf pulled free.  As he did, he landed a vicious, two-handed slash across Hewn’s chest, scoring the granite and sending a spray of chips into the air.

The statue still didn’t seem to care about the injury, but the elf released one hand from his sword, whipped a long, silvery needle from his boot, and plunged it towards the wound on Hewn’s chest.

The granite man lurched back and parried with both hands, just barely keeping the needle from his chest.  “So there’s your trump card,” he growled.

“Was it so obvious?” The elf asked, swiping again.

“Yup,” Hewn said.  “Here’s mine.”

I had been so absorbed in the melee that I hadn’t seen it happening; all of the pedestals in the hall had emptied themselves, their contents combining to form three complete - if hollow, mismatched, and fractured - suits of armor.  At Hewn’s signal, they raised their weapons, roared, and charged.

Hewn backed up a step as they converged on the elf, who blocked two attacks but took a spear through the gut in order to plunge his hand inside one of the suits, apparently killing it.  A moment later, a man’s corpse hung from the spear, surrounded by scattered trophies, and the elf had backed off.

“How sad,” Hewn said.  “It looks like you’re out of people who can die in your place.”

“Those weren’t people.  Just mortals,” the elf said, keeping a cautious distance away from the animated suits.  “And when I win here, I get one more for free.”

Like hell he would.  “Kick his chull for me, Hewn,” I yelled.

“Workin’ on it,” he said, not sparing me a glance as he lumbered back into the fight.  Hewn and the suits formed a line, slowly pressuring the elf back towards one corner of the room, forcing him to give ground.  

The elf’s bronze blade didn’t seem to be able to hurt the suits, but he didn’t let up; if anything he seemed to fight with greater desperation.  He backed up to the point that he tripped over the body of the middle-aged woman, then kicked her corpse with enough force to propel her at one of the suits with a terrible crunch of bones.  The suit deflected the body upward, but it was enough of an opening that the elf managed to dive in and unmake the suit.

The woman’s corpse hit the ground near me.  And then it stood up and staggered over to the impaled man’s body.  It yanked the spear free, then reached a hand down and helped the second corpse to its feet.

With everything else that had happened, the undead shouldn’t have phased me, but I really hadn’t expected this.  Both of them turned towards me - the woman’s corpse apparently had a damaged leg and it was using the spear to stay upright.

Which meant it could use tools.  I’d entertained myself with plenty of zombie fiction; give me hordes of shamblers, legions of runners, but smart zombies had always been the most horrifying.

“Kill the girl!” The elf yelled as two zombies headed towards me.  One of them bumped the remaining body with a foot, and a third zombie rose as if waking up from a nap.

But Hewn was charging towards them.  The female zombie braced the spear but he grabbed it by the head, then struck her in the arm, shattering bone.  He followed up by swinging the spear about - still by the head - and sweeping the legs of the second zombie, dumping it straight on its head.

And then the elf was on him, driving the silvery needle straight into his chest.  Hewn cried out in pain and dropped to one knee as the elf readied a follow-up strike that took off the statue’s head.

Hewn’s body didn’t fall.  It just...stiffened.  Turned from living granite into normal stone, leaking silver fluid from around the rod that pierced his chest.  

The elf, not done, picked up Hewn’s head and shattered it on the ground.  Then he flung himself to the side, not quite avoiding the last suit of armor’s attack.

I had problems of my own, though, as two zombies were trying to kill me.

The young man’s body had gained its feet and just lumbered straight at me.  I made a fist and did my best to assume a fighting stance.  It had been years since I’d tried any kind of martial arts study and I hadn’t progressed very far, but I could still throw a punch.  I landed a hit on its jaw and rediscovered that the zombie’s neck was broken as its head flopped straight back.

The woman’s corpse grabbed me as I was on the backswing, but there was little strength in its one good arm.  I fought its grip as the young man’s corpse used both hands to put its head back into place, but a sharp pain in my chest reminded me that I was still pinned in place with nowhere to run.

There was a great clattering of armor hitting the ground, but I was too busy to care; the young man’s corpse had gathered up the spear and was lining it up with my chest.  The armed zombie advanced as the female attacked me again, putting itself  directly between me and the other corpse.

With complete horrified clarity, I understood what was going to happen.  The zombies understood exactly how little harm meant to them; the spear-wielder was just going to stab straight through its ally and into me.  There was nothing I could do to stop them.

“Stop,” the elf wheezed, and the zombies froze in place.  “Come here.”

I stared, pulse pounding, as death gave me a reprieve.  The zombies dropped everything and walked over to the door, reanimating their fallen companion on the way, then took up positions as the elf directed. The elf then limped his way back to me.

He was in bad shape.  His right leg dragged on the ground, and wounds in his left side and arm leaked blue blood.  Over half of his armor had been destroyed, but his victorious smirk - though pained and haggard - looked no less cruel than before.  He sat down on the stairs, just about where Hewn had been only minutes earlier.

“No worries, miss,” he said, perfectly mimicking Hewn’s voice.  “Just sit tight for about an hour and we’ll have centuries to play together.  You’ll be the first mortal I don’t have to share with anyone.  I’m going to have so.  Much.  Fun.”  He sighed and turned up the stairs, dropping the imitation.  “I just need to finish the job.  Ta.”

And just like that, I was alone with a broken statue and three zombies.


Chapter 2


I huddled by the table for a moment, absorbing the scene.  Too much had happened, too fast.  I had to - to -

I had to move.  I had to find some way that I could do something.  Because if I stopped to think, it would all sink in that I’d nearly been skewered by the walking dead - and that I’d just seen someone die.  Someone I’d just met, but who had shown me only kindness.

My hands shook from the adrenaline, but I managed to push away the part of me that wanted to curl up and cry.  This wasn’t like the door, where I had had no idea why my legs disobeyed me.  No, here I had an enemy.  I didn’t know what the elf’s long-term plans were, but I suspected it would involve me dying in his place someday - and I decided right then that I’d rather die fighting him than helping him - assuming I couldn’t escape.

First things first.  I was still pinned to the table.  The zombies were watching the door and ignoring me entirely.  They were smart enough to use tools, but I didn’t know if they had any personal initiative, or if they only used their intelligence to follow the elf’s commands.  If the former, I couldn’t afford to attract their attention; I’d already had it driven home that I wasn’t competent to fight them.

I poked my head over the side of the table.  The room had been thoroughly wrecked, but about ten feet away, one of the bisected carpets sported a bulge that was probably my backpack.  I briefly reviewed its contents in my head, and concluded it wouldn’t be able to help me.

I stepped around the table.  My shadow apparently folded itself around the edge, drawing thinly across the floor as it stretched back to the knife.  I could draw it out to a length of nearly ten feet before it started to hurt.  I tested it only briefly; the pain increased rapidly.  Was it just pain, just neurons being provoked into firing?  Or was there actual injury waiting for me to push a little too far?  Either way, I didn’t think I could tolerate it.

I couldn’t leave my shadow, but could I bring it with me?  I braced a shoulder and heaved against the table, managing to shove it towards the exit a few inches at a time.

I stopped when I heard something rattling, sending a guilty look at the zombies.  It wasn’t them.  It had probably been just a piece of armor sliding off the now-inanimate heaps.  I pressed on until I could reach one of the collapsed armor golems, then began rooting through the pile.  

I hissed out a “Yes!” as I located a warhammer.  I was ready for it to be terribly heavy, but instead it was completely manageable.  It was about three feet long, with a flat head on one side and a spike on the other.

Now that I had a tool, I used the stairs and the giant axe that had rested on the tabletop to wedge the table in place while I isolated the board that my shadow was stuck to, and alternately hammered and pried it loose.

The way my shadow tracked the knife was uncanny, but I was free to move again.  I turned the board around; the knife’s blade stuck out of the other side by several inches.  I could run my fingers through it with no effect, but for all other purposes it seemed to be real.  

Now that I could move about, I tracked down my backpack and tucked the board into it.  The side with the knife sticking through it poked out the top, but since I apparently couldn’t cut myself on the blade, it seemed a reasonable way to keep it from getting even more inconvenient.  For now.

I turned my attention back to the persistent noise, which I followed to the pieces of Hewn’s shattered head.  They were moving.

Hope gave me a surge of excitement.  Hewn clearly wasn’t alive in the biological sense; could he recover from this?  With a wary eye on the zombies, I started piecing Hewn’s head back together.

Stone chunks adhered to each other as I worked, and his eyes started to track me.  Bits that had gone all the way to powder clumped together on contact, and I was able to paste his head into recognizable shape in only a few minutes.

I leaned his head upwards and looked him in the eye.  “Can you hear me?”  I whispered.  “Blink right eye for yes, left eye for no.”

Right eye.  Okay, I could work with this.  Although, what was I going to do?

“Will you be okay?” I asked.  As far as I knew, he was running on emergency power.

Right eye again.  

“All right.  Should I put you on your body?”

One more right eyeblink later, I hefted his head and carried it to his body.

The needle was still sticking out of his chest, but it was sagging now, as if the part impaling his chest had started to melt.  Silver fluid leaked from the stump of his neck, as well as the gashes in his chest and arms.

I paused before putting him back, turning him back to face me.  “Should I get rid of that stuff?”

Both eyes at the same time.  

“Complicated answer?”  


“Should I pull out the - the spike?”  

Right blink, then left, then right.

“What the hell does that mean?”  I asked.

He mouthed a word at me, exaggerating the movement of his lips.  

“Danger?”  I asked.  

Right eyeblink, and he mouthed at me some more.

“Don’t touch it,” I interpreted, and was rewarded with a right blink.  “Got it.”

I set his head down and grabbed a ruined rug, which I put to use removing the needle and wiping off his injuries.  When he was reasonably clean, I lifted his head back up and eased it into place.

He shuddered, but didn’t move.  Instead, his eyes unfocused, losing the spark that made them more than just gemstones for a moment.

“Hewn?  Hewn!”

His neck had only partly knit, and it made a rough grinding as his head turned towards me.  

“Too much,” the statue whispered.  “I’m in bad shape.”

More of the silvery fluid leaked from his injuries, and I wiped it away, with his assent.  A moment later, he shuddered again.

“Need time to recover,” he said.  “You should...run.”

“Will the zombies stop me if I try to get through the door?”

He turned, glacially, and regarded the entryway.

“Probably...not,” he said.  “They’re...relays.  Keeping people...out.  Channeling...a spell.  If you run...you should make it.  Go home, Sam.”

“What will happen to you if I do?”

Hewn went quiet for a moment.  “I’ll be...fine.  I always...manage.  Need to rest...go, Sam.”  His eyes closed, leaking silver tears at the corners, and the life left him.  I was alone.

I looked at the door.  That way was freedom - of sorts, at least.  I still had my shadow pinned to a board, but I could, in theory, use a saw to reduce the board to manageable size.  Or even cut the knife out altogether, maybe.  I could make it work.  Probably.  Maybe.

I wouldn’t call it courage.  I was terrified of the elf, and what I might have to do to stop it.  But I knew that if I left Hewn to the invader’s mercy, it would haunt me for the rest of my life.  

The rest of my life was likely to be much longer if I left right then, but I’d made my choice.  All I had to do to save Hewn was confront one elf.  I had to get him to back down, or - as much as I didn’t want to think about it - fight him.  Kill him.  

Before I could lose my nerve, I hiked up the stairs, hammer in hand, following a trail of blue blood.


Chapter 3


I had to survive this.  I had to win.  Because the mansion was even larger than I’d thought, and I wanted to explore every cranny.

I had to focus on following the blood trail - it wasn’t like the elf was gushing - because everywhere I looked I saw things that I didn’t understand.  One room held at least five hovering globe maps suspended in a web, and none of them was Earth.  Another - barely glimpsed - looked to be wallpapered entirely in scales, each one as big as my hand and no two adjacent looking to have been from the same creature.  

The further I went, the older things seemed.  I paused for an armory, recognizing a quiver next to what I presumed was an unbent bow.  I’d only done archery as a unit in gym class, so I had no illusions about being skilled, but at least I could presumably get a shot off and might get lucky.  Unfortunately, the bow turned out to be impossible for me to bend; even my full weight on it was barely enough to flex it, let alone seat the string properly.

I put the bow down and spent only a few more moments glancing about the room.  Everything there was made for a similar level of strength.  I’d seen in a museum exhibit that the average two handed sword weighed less than ten pounds, but apparently the master of the house hadn’t gotten the memo.

Now that I’d noticed, it seemed like everything was built a little larger than life.  Doorways stood at least ten feet tall - ceilings a foot above that.  But as I resumed following the trail, I found that there was something else to concern me.

The elf’s path had started to sprout.  Grass shoots were poking up in the outline of his footprints, and those pale blue droplets of blood now sported small vines that trailed to the nearby walls and had begun to climb - and it was all growing at a visible pace.  

I didn’t know what it meant, but I didn’t think it was good.  It did, at least, make him simple to track, so I picked up the pace and burst out of a hallway and into daylight.

I had a moment’s disconcertion.  The light was strange, and an alien sun hung huge and dim in the sky, a dozen times the size of Sol.  I didn’t have time to ponder, though - I’d already known things were weird.  Instead, I followed the ever-more-green path that led through a forest of statues.

There were thousands of them - men, women, and animals, carved by a master sculptor.  I wondered if Hewn had stood on one of these pedestals once, before being granted life.

There was something here I couldn’t quite place.  A warmth, perhaps - as if these statues were memorials for fallen friends.  The pedestals were inscribed with names, but only about one in five were written in English.  I recognized - but could not read - Arabic, Cyrillic, and more than one Asian script.  Curiously, some statues were accompanied by animals - here a bull, there a bear.  I gave up wondering how the sculptor determined how a person merited an animal statue as well when I came across a wolf that stood alone.

The grass was getting thick enough to impede my progress, but I had a sense that I was getting close.  The air felt alive, and creeping vines had begun to crawl up the statues.  There were no more English inscriptions, just Greek, Latin, and others that I couldn’t recognize.  One pedestal had the barely-readable inscription of Qatrikias; the statue it held had been entirely enveloped by the growing green, as if the elf had chosen it for destruction.  

The trail approached a looming cliff face, but this place was messing with my sense of scale.  The statues were older, too - there was less practice in the hand, and while the first I’d seen had been marble, some of these were clay, and bore the weathering of many years.

I broke through the edge of the statues and found myself at the foot of the hill.  It was crowned with standing stones, and a strangely muted column of fire rose from the center.  I figured it was a pretty good indication that if rust was going to go down, that was the place.

My heartbeat rose enough to catch my notice as another flood of adrenaline hit me.  Physically, this was my last chance to go back, but I’d already made my decision.  I started up the hill.

I said there were standing stones on the hill, but that doesn’t really do them justice.  The smallest of these stones was at least the size of a bus.  If I were to compare them to Stonehenge, the entire henge would have fit beneath one of the overlaying stones.

If they were stone.  I wasn’t quite as certain as I approached.  The light came from the column in their center, putting them all in shadow.  I thought I could see carvings and workings on their surface, but I didn’t have time to look.  Instead, I made my way up to one of the pillars, pressed myself against its shadowed side, and tried to sneak in to see what the elf was doing.

The column of fire ended atop of a black pillar in the center of the circle, throwing steady shadow around the entire hilltop.  The elf was in the middle, limping around and regarding each of the standing stones in turn.  He seemed to be looking for something, peering through some sort of gold-circled lens that he held in one hand.

He settled at one of the stones, placed his hands on the bare ground and began to chant.  As he did, vines erupted from the earth and began to writhe their way up and around the stone’s surface.  

But as I watched, the elf suddenly flinched and turned to face me, a look of consternation creasing his handsome face.  He quickly reached into the growing vegetation and murmured something indistinct; a moment later, a branch settled into his hand, then transformed into a thin sword of the same silvery material as his armor.

“The puppet won’t be moving anytime soon,” he said.  “None of the wisps have the strength, and nobody else is here.  I can hear the mundanity in your very heartbeat, girl; you could not have pulled my blade loose.  So, how in the shadow of Dis did you get free of my knife?”

I lifted the hammer in what I hoped was a threatening manner.  “Maybe there’s more to me than you think.”

The elf took a deep sniff, then cocked his head to one side as if listening hard.  He started to advance up the steps towards me, stopping about ten feet away.  

“No,” he said, lowering the blade slightly.  “I can see it, smell it, and hear it.  The taint of your mortality is as obvious as your lack of skill.  It even feels like I still have you bound, and yet here you are.  How?”

“What’s it worth to you?”  I asked.  

“A bargain, hmm?”  He looked me up and down.  “Simple enough.  Tell me how you escaped and I will promise to keep you as safe as I would my own sister, until I can return you to the mortal realm - which I will do when it is convenient.”

“Not good enough,” I said, bringing the hammer up between us.  There had been at least three loopholes in that promise, maybe more, and I wasn’t really in the mood to bargain.

“Very well,” the elf said.  And then he moved.

I’d thought the elf was badly hurt, and maybe he was, but even a severely injured elf could still close a ten foot gap almost too fast for me to see.  I tried to block his weapon’s swipe, but failed; his blade passed through my right arm, halfway between elbow and wrist.

I couldn’t help myself; I shrieked as the hammer fell, but the elf’s sword had already lashed out, biting through my left knee.  I fell, clutching my arm, only to find that it was still attached.

It wasn’t even bleeding.  But the muscles of my right arm felt like solid knots, and something in my wrist ground and clicked viciously when I tried to move.  My injured knee felt too weak to hold my weight; something vital was gone there as well.

“New deal,” the elf said.  “I will teach you to respect your betters.  You will tell me how you escaped my spell.  I will remove the enchantment from your arm - or from your leg - but you will keep the other as a reminder of your place.  And then I will keep you.”

He hadn’t cut my arm or leg off, but it didn’t hurt any less than if he had.  I couldn’t face that blade of his - I wasn’t enough of a fighter, and even if I did, impossibly, beat him in a head-to-head fight, I would be left a wreck of my old self.  I had to find his weakness.  

I bit down on my tongue as hard as I could.  The elf hadn’t used the same sword against Hewn.  Maybe Hewn was immune to the enchantments this silvery sword dealt out.  But why use a different weapon against me?  More to the point, why create a weapon that deals enchantments instead of injuries?  Was the silvery sword specifically for fighting mortals?  Elves hated iron.  Maybe the iron in blood was enough to hurt him?

The elf clamped a hand onto my shoulder and hauled me upright.  “Keep resisting and the deal will get worse,” he said.  “You’re going to be my slave for a thousand years - or more, if I want.  Be good and you’ll have honor and respect from my other slaves.  Fight me and be a broken thing, discarded when the whim strikes me and forgotten as quickly as you’re gone.”

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 he only fought mortals with weapons that couldn’t spill blood because he had to - before he recoiled, dropping me.

“Dis-gust-ing!” he shrieked.  Not the cry of agony or death-wail that I’d hoped for, but I had a few seconds as he grabbed a handful of leaves to scrub his face clean.

It was enough time to try phase two.  I only had one remaining means of attack; it was sticking out of my backpack.

I slammed the board down onto the elf’s shadow, knife-point-downward.  A moment later, the elf kicked me in the gut, hard.  I scrambled away, reeling, but bringing the board with me.

At about a dozen feet away, I felt a tug of resistance on the board and looked back.  I’d finally wiped the smirk from his blood-masked face, and his shock turned to horror as I wrenched the board further.

The elf screamed, then collapsed as all of his injuries tore open at the same time, oozing blue blood.

“You…” He faltered, nearly falling.  “You have ruined me.”  His armor decayed from silvery metal into brown leaves; his sword was the stick that he’d broken off only moments earlier.  “I could have ruled this place.  Made it something beautiful.  I could have been...”  

He staggered towards me, but fell after only a step.


I didn’t answer; his kick had knocked the wind out of me and I still didn’t have my breath back.

“Why did you kill me?”

“You kidding me?”  I wheezed.  Brief sentences.  That seemed the key to talking right now.  “You used me.  To get in here.  Used me as bait.  Wanted me as a slave.  Wouldn’t back down.”

“But...that’s what mortals are for…”  He trailed off.  I had no response, but he wouldn’t have heard it anyway.  



Of that short story, only 310 words were actually written today and count for NaNo.  I will hopefully do another post later today, or catch up tomorrow.


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Sweet! You're back! I missed this story. I can't wait to see how you're changing it.


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Awesome!!! I'd wait impatiently, but this year I'm walking the NaNoWriMo path alongside you.


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November 2nd update: 1777 words.  2087 total, behind by about 1300.

Uncertain of the chapter breaks, but I didn't have any last time.  Life's not giving me an easy time this year but I'm not out of the running yet.

Also, it's great to see that I'm remembered fondly.  You can think of the previous book as an outline of probable events of book 2, with this being the new book 1. 



Chapter 4

Though I didn’t want to, I had to take a minute to catch my breath.  Even when I did have my air back, my side still punished me with every inhalation.  I’d have a hell of a bruise, but as far as I knew I didn’t have any internal damage.  Not that I’d know.

As soon as I had recovered, I limped over to the elf’s body.  If this were a horror movie, he’d be getting up the moment I turned my back, but if he was faking, it was pretty convincing.  His eyes were open, staring without focus.  

I swallowed hard, raised the board, and smacked him in the face.  No response.  I was pretty sure he was really dead.

But then, I had been pretty sure elves weren’t real an hour ago.  I bent down, fighting my injured knee, grabbed a handful of loose earth and dropped it on his face.  His eyes didn’t move as dirt piled on.  Sure, he had supernatural powers, but I didn’t think anyone could fake that.

I relaxed enough to start noticing other things.  The knife was gone as if it had never existed, except for a charred circle in the board around where it had been.  It was still warm, but in the fight I hadn’t even realized it had heated up.  The board’s center was brittle enough that it would no longer support my weight if used as a cane, so I ditched it.  

It sank in that I had survived.  More than that, I’d killed someone.  I’d been in a fight and my opponent - no, my enemy - was really dead.  My stomach spasmed and the urge to vomit overwhelmed me.  I managed to avoid adding a layer of indignity to my fallen foe, albeit mostly because the pain in my gut made me twist away at the last moment.

I was...not a murderer.  Was I?  I had picked this fight.  But I had done it to protect someone else.  Someone who was apparently immortal.  In the heat of the moment it had seemed the right thing to do, but now that the deed was done I was no longer certain.  I just knew I didn’t want to stay there.

I staggered out of the standing stones, half in shock and half in pain, and slumped against the outside of one of the stones to collect myself.  It was then that I realized that I couldn’t see the mansion.  The statues were visible in the distance, but only just barely.  They weren’t even that far away - the horizon just dropped out so quickly that I could only see a few of the nearest rows.

More than that, the plant life that had sprung up in the elf’s wake was fading.  Some of the grass existed now as brown stalks that crumbled the moment I brushed up against them, dispersing into dust.  

So the elf hadn’t really been able to create life, I thought.  Just a semblance of it that had died with its maker.  Now that I was looking, I could see faint motes of green rising from the path and dispersing.

No, not dispersing.  Collecting.  Coming right at me, actually.

I turned around to make sure they weren’t actually collecting at the elf’s body, but no, wisps were coming from there too, heading towards me. It was too late to avoid them, but it didn’t seem to matter; they seemed harmless.  Still, if the elf’s vegetation was fading away, it would probably be wise for me to follow the trail back before it faded completely.

I forced myself to limp down the hill and back into the forest of statues.  Halfway through it, I nearly ran straight into Hewn.

He looked about as much of a wreck as he’d been when I’d left him, but he had a knife clenched in each hand and a grim look on his face, which softened a bit less than I expected when he saw me.

“Sam?” he asked.  “What’s going on?  Where’s the elf?”

“Dead,” I said.  I tried to wave back at the hill but wound up aggravating my injuries, truncating the motion.  “I killed him.”

Hewn only lowered the knives a little.  “Tell me,” he said.

“He went up the hill.  He was doing something, trying to climb a stone.  I caught his shadow with his knife…”  I trailed off, trying to think of how to articulate what had happened.  “He started bleeding a lot.”

Hewn gestured back towards the hill.  “Show me,” he said.  “I need to see it myself.”

Walking down the hill had been hard enough.  Walking back was torturous, but Hewn seemed intent on me leading the way.  He seemed jumpy; maybe there was something I’d missed?

I hesitated at the standing stones, but Hewn gestured for me to continue.  The elf was exactly as I’d left him.  Possibly a bit colder.  Hewn circled around, still facing towards me as he knelt, placing a knee on the elf’s chest, then pressed the side of his knife into the corpse’s cheek.  Only then did he look away from me to the elf’s body.

He dropped his knives, then hopped up with surprising nimbleness and swept me into a bear hug.

“Sam!  It’s really you!”

“Ow ow ow!”  I fended him off from my bruises before realizing what he’d said.  “What?” I said, confused.  

“I thought he’d switched places with you.  That his body would really be yours the moment iron touched it.  But no, you really did it!”

His exuberance broke through some of my numbness.  I had managed, hadn’t I?  It had been more luck than anything else, but I’d won.  I gave him a grin and a nod as he continued.

“I might’ve had him on a second try - especially here - but not if he knew what he was doing.  If he could tap into the guardian’s power, or even just cut me off from it, it would have been over.”  He shook his head.  “On one hand, I didn’t think he’d know how to do that, but on the other, he shouldn’t have known that this place existed at all.  But he headed straight for it.  Did he look like he knew what he was doing?”

I nodded.  “He had some kind of - “ I stumbled and Hewn caught me.

He helped me sit down and gave me a quick, professional once-over.  “You’ve got a few bad bruises and a pair of curses, but the former will heal and the latter are...well, they’ll eat themselves in a few hours.  All in all, you’ll be healthier than ever in a few weeks.”

“Curses eat themselves?”  Had the elf been bluffing about leaving me with a crippled limb?”

“Not...usually.  I’ll explain in a moment.  First I need to know what he was doing here,” he said, nodding at the corpse.

“He was looking for something,” I said.  “Through some kind of lens.”  I scoped out the ground and found where it had fallen.  “That.”

Hewn lumbered over and picked it up, then turned it around a few times, examining the frame before he peered through it.  He grunted.

“I’ve seen guide glasses like this before, but this one’s written in giant script,” he said, then held it out for me to peer through.  Strange writing hovered inside the glass, tagging the different stones.  

“What’s it say?”

“No idea.  There are no more giants, and their language is long dead,” Hewn said.  “I do know that this entire world was a secret kept by giants even from other giants.  So the fact that our friend here had this and was using it means he might have known more than I do after three thousand years of being here.”

“He was growing vines against that stone,” I said.  “I think he was trying to get up top.”  I pointed out the dusty shadow that had been the climbing vines.

“Ah.”  Hewn nodded.  “That’s where the other writing is.  It’s a good thing he didn’t get up there.  So far as we can tell, this place was written into existence.  Altering the words above, with as little understanding as we have, rarely went well.  But,” he said, looking about, “I think we have a problem.”


Hewn pointed at one of the other stones.  I hadn’t realized it before, but it had dusty shadows of vines as well.  These ones reached all the way to the top.


Chapter 5


“I know what that one does.  Head for the mansion, Sam.  I’ll catch up,” Hewn said, his tone brooking no argument.  Then he started to freehand climb the vine-dusted stone.

Maybe the curse on my knee would ‘eat itself’, but it hadn’t yet and it still ground and spasmed while I limped.  I had barely made it down the hill when Hewn landed behind me with a thunderous impact, leaving a tremendous muddy skidmark down the hill.  He slowed down for just a moment and swept me up into his arms, then broke into a dead run.

“I’ve changed the words back to the way they should be, but there’s a lot of energy built up,” he said, seemingly completely immune to running out of breath.  “The gate should work right now, but it won’t for long, and when it goes it’s going to be broken for a while.”

“How long?”

“Between one week and five hundred years.”

Hewn covered a quarter mile in under a minute, dropping me at the entrance to the mansion to make my own way to the entrance while he ran to grab some unspecified things.  Considering how literally he was using the word ‘run’, I hurried to the exit.

Hewn’s footfalls were crashing on the floor behind me, leaving me to wonder what kind of damage he might be doing to the wooden floors.

There were also three corpses on the way out.  Hewn had clearly made certain that each one was definitely out for good.  It occurred to me that this place was going to be a godawful mess with three dead people left to rot in the entry hall for at least a week.

I swallowed as I approached the gate.  The other side was too dark to see, but there was not much point in waiting.  I pushed on through, pulling out my phone for light, and found myself back in the cabin’s basement.

I was just bending down to recover my LED lantern when an enormous energy discharge swept past me from the gate, igniting every tracery of the runes I hadn’t been able to see on my way in.  The entire thing promptly caught fire.


Edited by Talanic

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4 hours ago, Talanic said:

He dropped his knives, then hopped up with surprising nimbleness and swept me into a bear hug.

“Sam!  It’s really you!”

Awww, he's already fond of her!

4 hours ago, Talanic said:

“I’ve changed the words back to the way they should be, but there’s a lot of energy built up,” he said, seemingly completely immune to running out of breath.  “The gate should work right now, but it won’t for long, and when it goes it’s going to be broken for a while.”

“How long?”

“Between one week and five hundred years.”

Was this what happened to the gate in the original 2014 story? I always assumed the Nucklavee had closed it.

Mmm, this definitely feels different than the 2014 version. Hewn feels more confident, and the Elf feels more directed and dangerous. I look forward to tomorrow's update!


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You're right about the original story.  The wash of the Nuckelavee's approach messed with the gate, cutting off escape and reinforcement alike.

Morning November 3rd.  745 words and a heck of a day so far.  While trying to perform a brake job, I managed to tear a c-clamp in half.  I'm not even sure how I did that.




I should probably have taken a big breath, held it, and rushed out of the burning building, but if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have been able to swear.  Fortunately, although the cabin was rapidly heating up, it wasn’t very large, and the unnatural spread of the fire meant that it hadn’t already filled with smoke.  I bolted for the stairs, but as I climbed, I felt a powerful pop in my left knee and the leg of my jeans caught fire as well.

Stop, drop and roll is great advice, but not when you’re still inside of a burning building.  I charged the exit door and dove into the dirt, rolling to extinguish the flame, then scrambled away from the building as smoke began to pour from the door.

I felt flashes of heat coming from the building in pulses as Hewn - soot-stained, with smoldering pants and a grim expression - lunged out the door.  He stopped briefly by me and gestured wildly, lips pressed shut, indicating that I had to keep moving.

I scrambled to my feet, fearing that I was doing more damage to my leg, and followed Hewn back a good twenty feet before he stopped, opened his mouth and pulled out about five feet of silk scarf.

“I had to keep it safe,”  he said as he looked it up and down, noting some singed spots.  “Not good enough, but it may still work.”

I was too busy checking over my leg to wonder what the scarf did yet.  I had a few burns, but not as bad as I’d expected.  My jeans were wrecked, but the curse on my knee had lifted.

“So, when a curse eats itself, it explodes?” I asked.

“Hmm?”  He regarded my burned pants with some consternation.  “Not usually...but if you really needed the leg to work right then, well, it did what it had to do.

He turned back to the burning cabin.  Although smoke poured from every available seam, the fire hadn’t reached outside.  Hewn sighed.  “Anyone with any intelligence enchants their buildings to make sure they don’t burn.  Anyone with any wisdom also enchants their buildings to make sure they don’t spread fire when they do burn.”  He flashed me a grin.  “The cabin here will be a total loss, but it won’t spread.  I guess that the Sanctuary discharged some of its excess energy when you went through. This could be a good thing.  It might mean that we’ll have access to it sooner.  And so far, at least, we haven’t had a total gate failure.  The entry point will be buried, but we’ll be able to rebuild it.”

The ground shook for a moment, then the roof of the cabin collapsed.  Just like that, the entire building folded in on itself with a tremendous, sustained cracking noise as timbers shattered, pulled down into the basement and through the gate.  There was one last huge puff of smoke as the burning logs fragmented, then everything went quiet, leaving me and Hewn staring at a divot where the cabin had been.

“So,” I said.  “Total gate failure?”

He nodded. “I had to say it, didn’t I?”

“The cabin.  It’s in the…”

“Yeah.  Lot of it is probably in the entry hall.  Good God, that’s going to be a mess.”

I breathed heavily for a moment, then started laughing.  There might have been an edge of hysteria to it.  Hewn looked at me with a guilty smile.

“Is that it?” I asked when I managed to inhale.  “Are we okay for the moment or is something else going to try to kill me?”  

“We should be good, yes.


“Good.”  I sat down in the bushes, still on the edge of laughter.  A thought crossed my mind and it set me off again.  “Figures.  The day I bring granola bars, they get set on fire and shot through a portal...to what?  Another world?  Another dimension?”

Hewn cocked his head to the side.  “What’s granola?”

“A snack for travelers.  Since the sign said…”  I gestured at the lack of a cabin, then another thought struck me.  “Crap.  I forgot my backpack.  And my sketchbook.”  I had a moment of panic as I checked my pockets.  Fortunately I had both my wallet and my car keys.  It was a new sketchbook, with only a handful of drawings.  While I might take time to scrape up the money for another, it was better than losing years worth of work.

“You’ll get it back,” Hewn said.  “I’ll dig it out myself if I have to.”

“And if the place is lost for two hundred years, what then?  I’ll be dead.”

“Umm,” Hewn said.  “About that.”


Edited by Talanic
Small addition.

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10 hours ago, Talanic said:

“And if the place is lost for two hundred years, what then?  I’ll be dead.”

“Umm,” Hewn said.  “About that.”

I really really want to see this mentioned in some epilogue for the series. 4,000 years down the line, Hewn finally returns her bag to her.

Anyway, your heck of a day did not prevent you from writing a quality update.


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Morning, November 4th.  237 words. 

I have a split shift today.  I'm about to leave for 11-2, and then i go back for 5-2.

Tomorrow I work 11-8.

I'm not certain my work schedule will allow me to actually complete nanowrimo this year, but I'm going to keep at it.



He took a breath, as if composing his thoughts before continuing.  “Mortals are different from the other peoples.  The mortal realm as a whole is different from any other realm.  There’s no magic here, and if you bring any, it bleeds away, a little at a time.”

I held up a hand.  “Is this a long explanation?”

“Kind of.”

“It can wait.  Someone might have seen the smoke.  We need to find a place to hide you.”

Hewn wrapped the silk scarf around his neck and turned human.  Or human-looking, at least; after a moment I could see through it, like he had an overlay or hologram that moved with him.  If nobody looked very closely, he would pass. He held up a hand and regarded it critically as it flickered between an impenetrable disguise and a decent hologram before stabilizing as the former.

“Not great, but probably good enough,” he said.  “May I beg of your hospitality, Sam?”

It took a moment to understand.  “I’ll have to tell my roommate that I’m bringing a guy home, but I don’t think she’ll mind when we tell her the details.”

Hewn nodded.  “How much do you want to tell her?”


“That may not be wise.  Not everyone wants to know about the realms.”

I considered how to say it.  “I’m oath-bound to tell her the truth, and I’m pretty sure she can handle it.”



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Ooh, all of this is new. I'm wondering if this is going to be Sophie, or someone entirely new. 


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Loving it so far!


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I did manage some more writing in the past couple of days, but they're not actually making it into that scene.  While I'm going to count them for nano, they're not showing up at the current point in the story.

Current update: 1300 words.  




Hewn nodded as I started to lead him out of the woods.  He seemed a little slower now.  Perhaps even living statues could get tired.  Or maybe he felt more at ease in the Sanctuary.

“Do you get out much?” I asked.

“Not lately,” he said.  “I’ve been the Guardian for a few hundred years.  It’s usually a lot less exciting.  It hasn’t been attacked in ages.  Hadn’t been.  There hasn’t been much traffic there at all since the Kith died out.  Just me, and the master when he stops in.”

“Sounds lonely.”

“Oh, Sam.  You’re making a common mistake.  I’m not like you,” Hewn said gravely.  “I can eat, but need no food.  I can drink, but need no water.  I enjoy company, but at the end of the day, I’m a rock.  I can endure nearly anything.”

We broke through the underbrush to the Wiowash trail, and I gave him a glance-over.  If we wanted Hewn to remain unnoticed, his disguise might have to fool bikers on the path.  More than that, though, he was only wearing pants and a scarf, both slightly charred.

I pulled out my phone to check the time.  We had a bit under an hour before Rose would need a ride home.  I started to form a plan.

I hurried Hewn down the trail at a moderate jog as we started to edge closer to civilization.  There wasn’t really that much forest - just about thirty feet of green on either side of the trail, with suburbs on the west and a printing and packaging corporation on the east.  It felt like a much longer path on the way out than it had been on the way in, either because I now had something I didn’t want people to notice or because the elf’s magic had given me a push to drive me in.

We had to cross the road twice before reaching the park and ride where I’d left the car. Hewn had fallen silent several minutes in, drinking in his surroundings.  He spoke as we reached the parking lot.

“Your people build good roads,” he said.  “How do they make them so smooth?”

I shrugged.  “Steamrollers.  I think.”  I thought about it a moment.  “The road crews have to stay on top of it here because we have really cold winters in Wisconsin. Some of the states south of here have rougher roads because they don’t get enough ice to wreck the concrete.”

I led Hewn to the car and he slowed to a stop as he approached.  He hadn’t even known what granola was; there was no way he would recognize a car.  I was thinking of where to start when he spoke.

“This is some kind of motive carriage, isn’t it?”  He trailed a hand over the hood lightly.  “Propelled by caged energies within instead of pulled by beasts?”

“Uh.  Yeah,” I said, caught off-guard.  “It’s an ‘06 PT Cruiser.”

“I did not realize you were a person of such means,” Hewn said.  “I have ridden in marvelous vehicles like this before.”

“Well.  Get used to this one for now.  It’s all I can afford.”  The car’s title said it had been rebuilt salvage from Florida.  Rose and I had made up a little anthropomorphised history about it weathering a hurricane and retiring to a place far away from tropical storms.  With all the damage it had suffered, we’d picked it up for only five hundred dollars.  Rose and I - but mostly Rose - had brought it into usable condition with a great deal of effort.

I opened the passenger door to a great crunching noise as the far end of the door overlapped the car’s body.  That was one thing we couldn’t fix, but we could deal with it.  I waved for Hewn to sit down, then walked him through putting on a seat belt before I shut the door.  

I got in my side, started the car and rolled down the windows.  Air conditioning was nice on a hot summer day.  It was really a shame that this car didn’t have any.  Hewn, of course, didn’t seem bothered by the heat.  Instead he was still quietly looking at everything.

“The belt is customary,” Hewn said.  “But is there a reason for it?”

“How fast were the motive carriages you’ve ridden in go?”

He thought a moment.  “About twelve miles in an hour’s span.”

I bit my lip, turned on the radio, threw the car into gear and hit the road.  I had to adjust more than I’d expected: turns out having a man-sized statue in the passenger seat is enough to radically change a car’s handling.

It occurred to me that I might have been a little bit numb.  Too much had happened today.  I had exhausted more than my ability to react to strangeness; I was drained.

I pulled us into the parking lot of a St Vincent de Paul.  Hewn had been quiet the whole trip as we’d taken the county road over the highway, merged into traffic on Jackson Street and passed through multiple commercial sectors.  He stared straight ahead in the quarter-full parking lot.

“When I said that I had ridden in motive carriages before,” Hewn said, “I meant twice in the last three thousand years.  When I saw yours, I thought I had mistaken you for common folk when you were actually wealthy.”  He turned to meet my gaze.  “But...we just passed open fields of road with hundreds of them resting.  How common are they, here?”

I shrugged.  “Nearly everyone has one.  Or at least, nearly every house.”

“Amazing,” he said.  “How do you build so many?  And what do you bind to propel them?”

“I’ll let Rose talk to you about cars.  She can do it better. Right now, we’ve reached a thrift shop.  We’re going to get you some clothes.  And maybe some shoes.”

If anyone noticed me leading a muscled, shirtless young man through the store, nobody was rude enough to comment.  I estimated that Hewn needed extra large shirts, but had to pick out half a dozen pairs of jeans for him to try on.  He was attentive and compliant, and we soon had him some inconspicuous clothes.  Shoes, however, eluded us.  I suspected he would need them custom made, and could only guess at his size.  I bought everything, internally wincing at my current level of funds.

We returned to the car.  Hewn had stayed nonchalant as we’d shopped, but the front dropped the moment that we were alone.

“What is this material?  How is it woven, and how is it that there is so much offered with so little care?”

I thought a moment.  “Cotton, mostly.  And we use machines to make a lot of it really, really fast.”

“Machines.”  He seemed to taste the word.  “Mekhana.  Buildings or structures.  You enchant a building to make cloth?  It has been tried, but for it to succeed so well - and here, of all places - that, I have never heard of.”

“Enchant?  No, we build…”  How to phrase it? “Tools.  With good tools, a worker can do twice as much as he could with bad tools, right?  The best use of bad tools is making good tools?”

Hewn nodded.

“Well, we’ve spent hundreds of years using our tools to make better tools, then using the better tools to make even better tools.”  I tried to remember what I’d learned in high school.  “I think they’re up to the point that one farmer today can do the same work in one day as fifty did a hundred years ago.”

He let a breath slip out in a hiss.  “Your kingdom must be wealthy beyond belief.”

I pondered that a moment.  “Nearly every one of us has one of these,” I said, patting the steering wheel, then starting the car.  It was time to pick up Rose.



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BONUS UPDATE: 544 words!  Either the evening of the 6th or the morning of the 7th, whichever you prefer.

Heh.  Checked back for responses and realized I'd let it sit half an hour without actually POSTING it...




She was standing outside of the restaurant when we drove up.  I’d intended to arrive a little early, go in and give her a heads up, but instead a scowl creased her face as she watched us approach.

I’d thought I was numb.  I was wrong.  The idea of Rose being upset with me stung more than I’d expected.  I pulled up in front of her and she looked at Hewn intently.

“Get out,” she said.

He gave me a glance, unbuckled his seat belt and complied.  Rose had already stepped back and was eyeing the car.

“Rose,” I said, but she cut me off with a quick gesture that I knew all too well.  She was concentrating and didn’t want to be interrupted as she regarded the passenger side of the PT Cruiser.

She frowned, put one foot up on the bumper and bounced her weight against it, eyes locked on the wheel well, then stepped back to take another look.

“Okay. Get back in,” she said to Hewn. He did, his face carefully neutral.  

She bit her lip, nodded, then opened the back seat and hopped in.

“Hey, Sam,” she said, distractedly.

“Hey.  What was that about?”

Her eyes focused, as if she’d been completely lost in thought.  “Ah.  I fixed those shocks myself two months ago.  When you drove up, the car was riding way too low on them, so I thought they might have broken, but they passed the squeak test and had normal resistance to my weight so that doesn’t seem the case.  Somehow, your friend here weighs…”  She trailed off for a moment, clearly processing.  “Twice what he should.  Maybe more.”

She blinked rapidly.  “Oh.  I’m sorry, that was rude of me.”  She stuck her face up between the front seats.  “Hello.  I’m Rose.”

“Charmed,” Hewn said.  His neutral mask had cracked (not literally) into a shocked expression.  “I - I’m Hewn.”

“Hewn.  Sorry about that.  When something mysterious strikes me, I can be a bit single-minded.  So, was I right?”

The disguised statue gave me a helpless look and I couldn’t fight a laugh.  “This is why I had you wait to explain things.  Rose will come up with all kinds of questions that would never occur to me.”  I threw the car in gear and started towards home.  “Rose, I’m invoking our Hogwarts pact.  Hewn here is our Hagrid.  Crossed with Steve Rogers.  And he’s made of rock.”

Her eyes lit as that marvelous brain of hers began to process.  “Silicate life-form or animated rock?”

I tried to answer but I wasn’t quite certain I had the right response.  Hewn took the question off my hands before I could.

“Carved from the heart of a dead Titan,” he said.  “We, uh, don’t actually know why I live.  I was supposed to be just a statue.  And I don’t know what the first thing you said means, so...maybe?”

“Where are you from?”

“I call the Sanctuary home now, but I was first carved on the slopes of Olympus, in the realm now called the Precipice.”  

Now called the Precipice?  Why do they call it that?”

“Because much of it has fallen under the shadow of Dis.  Nearly half of it is lost to us, including Olympus itself.”


Edited by Talanic
Better name for The Rim.

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This reminds me of the feeling I get when i finish one of the sample chapters for oathbringer. You tell a good story here.  I'll withhold more specific commentary until i have a larger sample to see how things hold together


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Ohh, Rose is new. And, since you already said this would be completely differwnt, i'm going to stop makinf that comment, lol.

Anyway, i'm digging this hogwart pact thing, and i like Rose.


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Thanks, both of you.  I'm not feeling great - medical issues that I hope will be addressed sometime around the end of the month - but your encouragement helps remind me of how much fun I have with this.

This chapter's kind of difficult because there's a lot of information being dumped, but I'm trying to both inform the reader and inject personality and life into the characters.  I hope it's working.



“The shadow of Dis? What’s that?”

Hewn made a quick ritual gesture.  “That part of the realm is cursed, and lost to us.  Good men who fight under the shadow of Dis often come back neither good nor men.”

“Cheery,” Rose quipped.  “But what do you mean by ‘realm’?  How big of a place are we talking about, and where is it?”

“It’s difficult to explain to mortals,” Hewn said.  “A realm has a certain sense to it that you - or, rather, anyone else - can recognize.  The feel of its magic.  The sun that shines upon it, the stars in the night sky.  They’re different from one realm to another.”

“So you’re talking different dimensions?  Or is it some kind of wormhole network?”

“I’m sorry, Miss Rose. I do not know those words.”

“That’s all right, Mister Hewn.  Right now we’re still figuring out what the right questions are.  We’ll work out the answers as we go.  Sam?”  I glanced at her in the rearview mirror.  “You said this is a Steve Rogers situation.  How many years are we talking?”

“Good question,” I said.  “Hewn, how long have you been away from - you called this place the mortal realm, right?  How long have you been away?”

“I last was in the mortal realm…”  Hewn trailed off for a moment.  “For any visit long enough to be noteworthy, I was last here about eight hundred years ago.  But, I did have a great deal of contact with the Kith until about three hundred years ago.”

“Kith?” Rose asked.

“Mortals in my master’s employ.  They managed his estates, helped track down the gates, kept us up on important developments in the mortal realm.  The master lost interest over time, but let them continue.  I think it was mostly for my benefit,” Hewn said.  “When they died out, to disease and warfare, we never refounded them.”  Hewn turned to me.  “Many of the statues of the Memory Garden are of the Kith.  They lived such short lives.  I wanted a way to remember them.”

I turned into the parking lot of our apartment.  By mutual agreement, we held off further questions until we were in private.

Hewn projected nonchalance as we headed, as if he was expecting to be confronted any second now.  He almost seemed surprised as we headed in the front door, down the hall and in the third door on the left.

“What’s up, Rocky?” Rose asked.  “Something’s bugging you.”

“It’s...a bit unusual that a pair of unmarried women invite what looks like an eligible bachelor into their home with no chaperone,” he said.  “It would be different if you were warriors or artisans, or otherwise independent, but in most societies I’ve known, I’d expect at least some scandal if you were caught doing this.  Some damage to your marriage prospects.”

“Not here, not now,” I said.  “And neither of us is thinking about marriage.  Probably won’t be for years.”

“And that,” Hewn interjected, “Is extremely strange for mortal girls.”

Rose and I shrugged.  “Times change,” she said. “But I think I know what we need to ask first.”


“Can we offer you something to eat?”

Hewn laughed loudly and slapped his knee.  “You really did know the right question!  You know the rules of hospitality!”

I remembered something about that from Game of Thrones.  “Is that - “

“It’s Biblical,” Rose said to me.  “Maybe older than that.  You always offer food and water to guests.”

On consideration, I was hungry as well.  “I’m on it,” I said, heading for the cupboard. I didn’t quite make it, recoiling from the knob with a gasp as my cursed arm spasmed again.  

Rose was there instantly.  “You okay?  What’s wrong?”

“I, uh, got cursed.  In the arm.”

Rose stepped back and looked Hewn and me up and down, clearly noticing my ruined jeans for the first time.  She sniffed.  “That’s not the smell of a campfire, is it?”  She gently pushed me towards the kitchen table.  “I’ll whip something up.  You two fill me in on what happened today.  Then we’ll start asking questions.”

I settled down with Hewn and started relaying my side of the story while Rose started a pot of water on for a box of macaroni and cheese.  Hewn politely interrupted after I described the strange behavior of the phone’s camera.  “May I see how it works, quick?”  

I handed my phone over and showed how to take a picture.  He watched intently, then grimaced.  “The picture goes dark for a second, does it not?  Is that when it records?”

“I think so.  Why?”

“The illusion does not affect eyes that are not sending an image to a mind.  I believe the delay in perception is the weakness that allowed the device to pierce it.  It’s also why, though you couldn’t directly see the way things really were, you could dream it, even while awake.”

“And that would explain why a video didn’t work,” Rose said.  

I continued until the point when I met Hewn.  Rose was the one to step in then.  

“You say he’s made of rock, but he looks normal to me.  I mean, I know he’s odd, but…”

Hewn obligingly stripped off the scarf.  Rose stared, then grinned as the illusion faded.  “Fascinating,” she said.  “May I see that?”

Hewn handed her the length of silk.  “I couldn’t see it before you removed it.  That was part of the disguise, wasn’t it?  Of course, otherwise people looking for you would just look for someone in a scarf.”  She ran the fabric through her hands.  “Does it work for anyone or just for you?”

“Anyone, but they have to have magic of their own.  Otherwise they can’t give it orders.  And, it’s damaged.  It will be strained if we have to fool a lot of people at the same time.  Or a lot of those...phones.  Especially if I have to make it fool them at all times.”

She swapped her attention back to Hewn.  “Are you really granite?”  Her attention turned inwards and she murmured rapidly.  “What’s the mohs rating for granite? Strength to weight ratio?”  She snapped back to the present.  “Sorry.”

“No harm done.”

They let me go on until the end this time.  I could barely believe what I was saying.  I had fought an attacker, killed him, then made a dramatic escape through a burning building?  That couldn’t be right, but it was.

Rose finished making the pasta halfway through the tale.  She’d kicked it up with a few chunks of cheese stirred into the sauce - we are from Wisconsin, you know - and dished it out into three bowls.  She also poured a glass of milk for each of us, then sat down, waiting.

She let Hewn take a bite, then spoke.

“Are we in danger?”  Her expression was grim.  “Sam here - to hear her tell it - has burns, bruises, and at least one curse that could potentially explode. She also wound up in a battle to the death - congrats for winning that, by the way - and it sounds like she only barely got out alive.  You say all of the Kith are dead.  Are we safe?”

Hewn raised his hand.  “I swear this, Rose.  I know of nothing that happened today that will directly bring danger to you.  There are no curses coming, no dark things skulking after you.  If I am wrong about this, I will do my utmost to protect you.  You have my word.”

Rose nodded as Hewn took another bite.  “You said ‘directly’.”

“Yes.  Your eyes have been opened to what lies beyond the gates.  This may lead you to danger if you choose to explore that.  The mortal realm is the safest place for mortals; in that way, you are indirectly endangered by your knowledge.”

“Fair enough,” Rose said. “But you only made that promise to me.”

“Sam saved my home.  I already owe her much more, and the same statements no longer apply to her.”

Rose crossed her arms and stood up, stretching to her full five-foot-height.  “Elaborate,” she demanded.

“I don’t know how it happens.  There’s...a bunch of ideas.  The first is that power doesn’t die with its wielder.  That can be demonstrated easily; sometimes a powerful sorcerer, when struck down, will be avenged by his own ghost.  One with powerful healing magic may even repair his own fallen body and cheat death.  It’s not unusual.  But mortals...complicate things.

“You see, all of the realms have magic.  It may have different expressions, and sometimes the different magi can have marvelously different strengths, but at the end of it all, every realm has magic except this one.  Nobody else likes coming here because you can feel the realm itself tearing at you, bleeding away the power that you rely on for everything.  

“Every people - every single person - possesses power, except mortals. So when you take a mortal and enspell them, it soaks straight in.  They have no power to shake free; even minor enchantments may as well be permanent, even on the mortal realm.  But...do you know what a siphon is?”

We both nodded, and he continued.  “Well, when a mortal is enspelled and the sorcerer loses control and dies...it forms something like a magical syphon.  They…”  He shook his head.  “Look, another idea is that mortals are like...like clay.  That magic sticks to them because it’s easy for anyone with the ability to carve it into their being.  But...the death of something powerful nearby.  It doesn’t carve a groove.  Instead, it leaves an impression on them, an impression of the thing that died.  So when Sam was there when the elf died, she took on some of its traits.”

I shuddered.  The elf had struck me as cruel.  I didn’t want to be like that.  But Hewn continued.

“Age will never touch her, she will recover from any injury that does not kill her, and with time, she will develop the magic that the elf once wielded.”

Rose opened her mouth, closed it, then went through one of her phases of intense concentration.  She snapped out of it, then swallowed.  “The mortal realm is the safest place for mortals.  But…”

Hewn turned to me.  “I’m sorry, Sam.  I tried to tell you earlier.  You are no longer mortal.  You’re an elf’s bane - a Champion.  You may grow immensely powerful - given time.  But there will be danger, and consequences.  Still, I will do my best to protect you until you can fully protect yourself.”

Rose nodded, then spoke.  “So.  Sam.  Are you taking applications for Kith?”




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I like it a lot. Although Rose is taking this remarkably well - perhaps just a hair on the "sounds like she knows more than she's telling" side. I take it that she and Sam have talked about possibilities like this before? Is that what the Hogwarts pact is?


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I should probably address that tomorrow.  My wife got it immediately - a Hogwarts pact is an agreement that if one of the two were to somehow get into Hogwarts, the other would be entitled to at least a tour and preferably holiday visiting rights.


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November 9th: 1953 words.  No more complaints about nanowrimo from me.  I'm not hitting 50k in November, but I'm going to keep going until it's done.

Heavy workload the next couple days, so things may be rough, but I'll keep truckin'.



I had heard what Hewn had said, but it didn’t sink in.  My mind balked entirely at the news.  I wasn’t immortal.  Death would come for me someday.  I had always had a strong grasp of that fact.  In fact, I had a genetic predisposition towards cancer.  Did elves get cancer?  Could I still get cancer?  What did any of this mean?

The elf had died.  Therefore, I could still die.  Would I become like he had been?  What kind of awful things might I justify doing in order to preserve my life if my life could potentially stretch on into infinity?  People change, given time.  Given enough time, might I become someone I would hate?  I already didn’t think I deserved immortality.

Hewn and Rose were still talking, but I didn’t hear a word of it.  My sense of detachment had been building the whole time; the understanding that my life had changed so rapidly, so comprehensively, had left me disconnected.  I had no idea how long I sat there, macaroni untouched, unraveling and unnoticed as my heart raced out of control.

Rose and I had just started to build a home here.  Was that all for nothing?  Had I left my old home only to fail so quickly, create something that could wind up so much worse? Was today just the first day of having to fight, to kill, for all of eternity?

I looked up in response to Rose’s hand on my arm.  She felt at my forehead, then spoke sharply to Hewn.  I heard the words.  They just didn’t register.  That should have been frightening, but I just had nothing left. I vaguely remember Rose helping me to bed.  I lay awake for hours, still in a stupor, tense and aching.

I woke with a gasp, followed immediately by the recoil of the pain in my gut.  Sharp breaths and movements were going to be awful for days, but if I’d had any thought that the events of yesterday had been a dream, that was proof enough.  I stumbled my way up and checked the time.  Half past ten.

It was Sunday.  I had the day off, and that was good.  The day after a panic attack was nearly as bad as the attack itself.  Rose was already up.  She’d left her bed unmade, probably to avoid waking me.  Now, though, something was tugging at my senses.  Some kind of scratching noise was coming from outside the bedroom, a rubbing at the walls that was inspiring all kinds of paranoid fantasy.

I lumbered over to the door, wearing only my pajamas.  The noise was coming from higher up.  Could it just be the upstairs neighbors?

I opened the door and jumped in surprise.  Hewn was looming in the entryway, reaching both hands up to the doorjamb.  He dropped his gaze down to me and his expression flipped from concentration to a simple, welcoming smile.  

“Morning!” he said.

Perhaps my weirdness tolerance had reset a bit.  Or maybe I just needed caffeine.  Either way, I looked him up and down, half-awake, half-annoyed.

“What are you doing?” It came out grumpier than I’d intended, but Hewn was unphased.

“Keeping my promise,” he said.  He lowered his arms and stepped aside to let me pass.  

He had a #2 pencil in each hand and had been writing strange runes on the crown molding above the doorframe, but he had been busier than that.  The line of writing extended down the hall and apparently around the corner.  He was treating the entire cornice as a single sheet of paper, and appeared to actually be on his second pass through.   

I recognized just enough of the writing.  “Are you enchanting my apartment?”

Hewn’s “Yep!” was far too cheery.  It was only the first day of him crashing here and I was already starting to regret having a houseguest who had no need for sleep.

“Why?”  I drew the word out.

Hewn was already back to work. “I explained to Rose and she agreed. These are basic defenses that will function when there’s a steady source of magic.  They will inhibit the scrying ability of anyone trying to snoop without either you or Rose present, should prevent anyone from Farstepping straight in - although I’ll admit that I’m not as confident in that enchantment, after yesterday - and will both ground out excess magic and provide a barrier that should prevent anyone from outside the mortal realm from coming in without permission.  Within limits.”  He apparently reached a stopping point and turned to regard me.  “Rose asked that we not make it apply to mortals, and that we build in a few points that would function as fail-safes.  She explained the concepts of things called lightning rods and surge suppressors.  Your people have built some truly amazing things.”

He pulled a tape dispenser from his pocket, then taped the pair of pencils to the wall at the spot that he’d stopped working and turned to me with a giant grin.

“Like this!  It’s awesome!”

I nodded and pushed past him to the bathroom.  I’d half expected there to be extra lines around the toilet and sink, but there was nothing.  On a hunch, I checked inside the cupboard under the sink.  There was a triple circle of runes around the point where each pipe met the wall.

I finished brushing my teeth and cleaning up, then went for some breakfast.  Hewn had already beaten me to the kitchen.  He had thrown in some toast and was heating up a pan, a pair of eggs placed conveniently by the stove.

The coffee machine had just started to bubble; he must’ve hit it on the way in.  I sat down and realized that the place was completely clean.  Don’t get me wrong; Rose and I hadn’t lived there long enough to instil the place with any serious mess, but there had been a bit of accumulation: A few dark spots on the stove, some extra dishes in the sink.  Hewn had clearly scrubbed the place down and polished it.

I stared at the table, brooding as Hewn started frying the eggs.  I was going to choke up on this if I didn’t spit it out.

“I’m sorry about last night,” I blurted. “I just - it was too much.  I couldn’t handle it.”

“Rose told me,” Hewn said. “She called it a panic attack.  Three times, this has happened to you, yes?”

I nodded.  Once when my oldest sister died.  Once when I left my parents’ home.  And now this time.

“Always, she said, it happened when something bad had happened, but only when you were done.  When you’d already seen to it that everyone was safe,” he said.  “There’s honor in that.  You should be proud.”

“Proud?”  I met his gaze skeptically.  “I lose it.  Completely shut down.  What’s to be proud of?”

“You stretch yourself past the point others would break,” he said, pouring me a cup of coffee.  “Keep going until you’ve seen things through.  I’ve known many who didn’t weather crises so well.”

I blew on the coffee, cooling it down imperceptibly and wafting the rising steam away.  The rational part of my mind understood that I’d feel better in a few hours, that he wasn’t wrong, but that part wasn’t in control right then.  I didn’t believe him.  I was going to be the worst Champion in history.  

“Rose seems like a good friend,” Hewn said. “And a remarkable young woman.”  

I nodded, then took a sip.  The coffee was still way too hot, but I needed some kind of stimulation to focus on.

“How did you two come to share a home?” Hewn said.

I gave him a grumpy morning look.  “Is this a psychology trick?  Trying to get me talking to distract me?”

“Psychology.  Of the study of the soul,” he said.

“Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“You take a word apart.  Go to its roots.”

He dished the eggs onto my plate and started to butter the toast.  “Because I don’t speak your language,” he said.  He raised a hand to forestall my question.  “I know, I know.  I understand you and you understand me.  It’s an enchantment.  Any word you say that translates directly into a word that I already know, I understand, and vice versa.  But,” he emphasized with a wave of the butterknife, “If I don’t know the word, then I hear it exactly as spoken.  So I need to figure out what the word means.

“Since I’m old, I remember a time before this enchantment was perfected.  Back then, you had to learn it all the hard way - so I speak rather a lot of languages.  Even ones from the mortal realm.  Since what you speak seems to be related to Latin and Greek, I’ve been able to take a lot of words apart and work from there.”

I pondered this as I ate a slice of toast.  It sounded extremely handy.  In fact, if that was the kind of thing magic could do, I’d want to make it a priority.  

“Can you teach me to do that?” I asked.

Hewn shook his head.  “I doubt that I can teach you much about magic at all, and probably not for a long time.  Your own power is unlikely to manifest for many years.  You’ll know it’s coming in when you no longer can bear the touch of iron.”

I scowled.  “That sounds like it’s going to suck.”

“It may, but it’s not going to happen for years.”

I gave a slight shrug, loaded my fork up with eggs and took a bite, which I immediately spewed straight across the room.  I recoiled at the sudden electrical shock that ripped through my mouth, dropping the fork, spitting and coughing as I stood up, backing away.

“Sam?!  What’s wrong?”

“What - “ I coughed some more.  “What the hell was that?”

“What was what, Sam?  I don’t see anything,” Hewn said.  He’d dropped into a ready stance, his hands raised in case he had to ward off a threat.  

“The eggs,” I forced out.  “What’s in them?”

He reached out with one hand, took a piece of fried egg and tasted it.  “It seems normal.  What happened?”

“They’re like - ugh!”  The sensation was fading, but it had been intensely painful. Like licking a battery but so much worse.  Hewn offered a pinch of egg between his fingers and I accepted it cautiously.  I sniffed it, but detected nothing wrong.  I licked it; still nothing unusual.

“I - I don’t know, Hewn,” I said. “Maybe I’m still just off from last night.” I knew I was, but that hadn’t happened before.  “Thanks for making breakfast, that was great of you, I just...forget it.”  I grabbed a paper towel and cleaned up the mess quickly, then sat down to try again.

“Sam,” Hewn said in a warning tone as I scooped up another forkful of eggs.  I froze and he reached out to grab my hand, then carefully pried my fork free.  He ditched the eggs back on my plate, held up the fork, frowned at it, then lowered it.

“If this is what I’m thinking it is, sorry in advance, Sam.”  He brought the fork down and lightly grazed the back of my hand with the tines.

“SONOVAslontze!” I jerked away, but the path the fork had trailed down my skin continued to burn for several seconds more.  “What?”

Hewn’s frown deepened.  “I thought it would take years.  From everything I’ve heard, it should take years.  I’ll see what we can do about teaching you magic.  But for now...do you happen to have any cutlery that isn’t made of steel?”


Edited by Talanic

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Awesome! I like the first few chapters of your original story, but stopped about when it got to the elf-king's appearance. This redo of it sounds great.

Although, if you want feedback, I'd say that you might want to have a bit more description of your characters in there. Like, what does Hewn look like, other than a large, muscular statue? Most books have an early-on description of the hero, you might want to put one in for Sam. What does the elf look like, both when he first appears, and after he gets blood in his face (does it burn him? Was he wearing an illusion that made him more handsome?). And Rose need description, too. This problem was something I noticed in both drafts, so I thought I'd say something. If you find this paragraph unfriendly or something, and don't want this sort of thing, then just tell me.

Either way, I'll be following this thread.

Edited by SilverTiger

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Hey @Talanic sorry fir not getting back on earlier, i firgot aboit this, but it hasn't been updated since the 9th. You ok?


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No single thing happened that was bad enough to keep me from coming back.  Just a lot of moderate to small things.  Most of it related to how badly staffed work was - a situation that should be getting better this week, the first time I've closed the store with a partner in nearly two months.  I love the job, I love the people, but the hours can be grueling, especially when you don't have anyone else to help.  

On top of that, I've been struggling with a medical issue - the kind that is actually quite easily treated, but treatment's going to be lifelong and they're still figuring out the dosage.  Long story short, I have to inject myself with steroids - the dose was every two weeks, but it just got changed to every ten days - to correct the most straightforward problem possible: a steroid deficiency.  Said deficiency causes persistent exhaustion, depression, weakness, lack of coordination, and a host of other really obnoxious things.  Hopefully the ten-day dose will help me recover.

Rest assured that I don't intend to stop updating this - though Nano is now over, I'm going to see this through.  It just might take me some time.

Atop my desk is a box my wife filled up with unspecified cool things.  I'm only allowed to open it when I hit 50,000 words.  She finished Nano with 75,000.  Can't say I'm not jealous, but she's pressing on to finish her novel before resting on her laurels.


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Well, it's nice for you to be back, and hopefully your troubles clear up. I really like this story, and if you ever actually publish it, I will buy it.


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