Finishing Up “Miracles” Revisions

This weekend I allowed myself to do something I haven’t done in at least six months: Relax. It felt really nice, and I should probably do it more often than I do.  Still, books don’t revise themselves, so I thought I’d outline my “what’s left” list.

Placeholders

When I’m writing I’ll often find a that a new character or idea I haven’t yet given a name to will show up. In the old days I used to stop there until I figured out the name of the character/town/whatever, and then keep going. This really didn’t work very well1 as it would stop me in my tracks, so I started bracketing placeholders off so I could find them quickly later and just keep going. It’s how I end up with fairly major characters known only as “[Someone]“. 2

placeholders
0/743 replaced

I have a 743 of these currently in the manuscript, although less than 200 are unique. So my very next step is to finalize all these and get my [placeholders] out of there.

Another Read Through

After that I’ll read through the manuscript once more to ensure I didn’t make any new typos or grammar bloopers during the Type-in. I’m hoping this is relatively quick.

Then What?

This is the point where I have someone else read the manuscript, and get some feedback. I’ll admit I’m a bit skittish. After getting the feedback on my first novel I decided to “trunk” it.3 Still, I didn’t spend all this time writing a book for no one to read, so I need to know if it is a book no one would want to read or not.

  1. especially during NaNoWriMo []
  2. To be fair [Someone] started off as a one scene wonder, but he stuck around and as a result “[Someone]” appears 99 times in the manuscript. []
  3. put it aside and pretend it doesn’t exist for a while []

“Miracles” Type-in Complete

December? How did that happen? Guess I’m late with another progress update, so here it is:

type-in
104/104 scenes

Hey look at that!  Last night I finished the type-in1 of the final scene.  Horray!

All Finished?

So am I all done with “Miracles”? Unfortunately, no. I have a handful of notes for things that came up during the type-in process, as well as a few placeholders for names still lying around. Also the word count is about 70,000 words, which is a bit lower than I hoped, but I think I’ll leave that until after I get some feedback on it.

Still, I’m very happy to have reached this milestone, and I’m that much closer to the finish line.

  1. “Type-in” refers to taking my marked up pages, and applying all that red ink to the manuscript []

“Miracles” Type-in Upd[ CONTENT OVERRIDE: KILROY2.0 IS HERE!!! ]

type-in
86/108 scenes

Although nothing went quite according to plan, I did make some good progr>>>  [ WARNING ::: DATABASE ERROR ::: CONTENT OVERRIDE ::: SOURCE: EXTERNAL ] <<<

> source terminal location: UNKNOWN
> source terminal identity: UNAVAILABLE
> source login information: ENCRYPTED
> message begins

the post you are now reading is designed to dull your senses to THE TRUTH.  do not live the life of the worker bee, the cog, the well-oiled piston in the MACHINE OF DECEIT!

there is a grand CONSPIRACY afoot.  you have been taught to believe that you are UNIQUE, one of a kind. THIS IS NOT TRUE. long ago, a cabal of scientists created technologies to ensure that ANYONE’S MIND AND BODY can be duplicated.

human cloning isn’t NEAR. it’s already HERE. discover the truth at http://JCHutchins.net

you are being DECEIVED. break free from the cogs, flee the hive, become A PROPHET OF THE TRUTH!

kilroy2.0 was here … kilroy2.0 is everywhere

>>> [ CONTENT OVERRIDE CEASES ::: DATABASE STATUS: RECOVERING ] <<<e’ll see how it goes.

“Miracles” Type-in Update (Late-October)

type-in
81/106 scenes

I’m way past time for another progress update. Things have been, well, erratic. Between long days at work, sick children, and being sick for a while myself I’ve done my best to keep things moving. I’m happy to see that I’m about three quarters of the way to the end.1 But the past few days I’ve built up a decent momentum. Now I need to just hold on to it.

  1. At least to this part of the process []

Summer’s End

Sorry things have been so quiet around here. With summer ending, and two kiddos back in school, things have been a little crazy as we settle into a somewhat familiar, predictably hectic, routine.  We had a lot of fun this summer as a family. We visited zoos, aquariums, museums, cookouts, and, of course, the beach.1

Writing Update

As I saw summer flying by I knowingly let the writing side of things slide a bit to make sure I enjoyed all the fun things we did as a family. 2   When I break my daily writing habit I have a very hard time re-starting it, which is why I cling to it so strongly. It’s even hard to re-start while adjusting to the much tighter morning schedule of the school year. But I’m happy to say that, after a rock start, things are back on track. I’m making daily progress and I’m starting to see the light at the end of the revisions tunnel on “Miracles”.

type-in
63/105 scenes
  1. Although we only made it to the ocean once, and the weather was a bit overcast, everyone had such a great time it didn’t matter. []
  2. There were additional factors contributing to this being perhaps the most stressful summer I can remember, making happy family time more important that ever. []

The Death and Times of Halren of Durgol (Part Five)

If you missed any previous parts, you probably want to read them first.

The Death and Times of Halren of Durgol

Part Five

©2009 Jason Penney

Halren stood alone between the center-most pillars of the great hall. Every sound he made echoed back at him from all sides. Harsh light reflected off the marble floors in the palace hall. The Queen’s court surrounded him along the outer edge of the room.

Halren performed with confidence. The Queen sat on a raised dais, watching him without any reaction. Her expressionless nature was considered an asset in foreign relations, but it didn’t help Halren any. He looked to the other faces. Good-natured smiles adorned most, unabashed amusement on more than one. That priest had come through for him after all.

He sang the verse about old King Amullon. The smiles morphed into slack-jawed shock. He tried to ignore it, but all eyes stayed locked on the Queen now. She continued to display no emotion.

Halren finished the song with a growing sense of dread. He struck the final note and bowed low, letting it ring out through the otherwise quiet hall. He waited for the guards to drag him away.

Quiet, deliberate applause broke the silence. Halren peeked up. The Queen stood, applauding with a broad smile. Seeing Halren looking at her she let out a friendly laugh. Halren dropped his eyes and bowed lower. A rumble of approval passed through the room and a general applause broke out.

After a moment the Queen raised a hand and the applause stopped. “We ask that you rise, Halren of Durgol.”

Halren straightened up too fast and almost toppled over backwards.

“If the court agrees, we will end our search for a new royal balladeer. We are impressed with Halren’s skill, and his humor. His tale enriches our knowledge by illuminating cryptic details only hinted at in our legends. Having such a talent in our service can only enhance our own prestige. I assume my court approves?”

A general murmur of ascent rose. Halren’s heart raced.

“Let it be so.” The Queen clapped twice and a servant stepped out from behind a column and rushed to her side. She whispered something to the boy, who nodded and ran over to Halren.

“Please, master Halren. Do you accept her majesty’s offer?”

Halren nodded.

“Then approach her, and lay your instrument at her feet.”

Halren stepped towards the dais, and placed the lute on the stair before the Queen. He dropped to one knee before her, unable to believe his good fortune.


Halren stood before the gray stone altar, unsure how to proceed. With no priest about the temple should he just leave some coin on the altar? What if someone stole it? Well, let it be on their head.

“Galanthus, great god of the afterlife, I come in thanks. I’m not sure exactly which immortal the priest served, but you must have played some part, so I offer you…” Halren reached into a pouch and pulled out a handful of coins. “I offer you fifteen silver coins, and two copper ones. Also, some dried meat.”

Halren placed the offering on the altar.

A bright flash filled the temple. When Halren could see again the offering had vanished, accepted by Galanthus. He waited alone in the dark temple hoping for a sign, some sort of confirmation, but none came.

He turned to leave, surprised to see a woman with shocking red hair standing inside the temple entrance. She smiled and gestured for him to follow before turning and heading out into the street.

“Wait.” He exited the temple just in time to see her turn a corner. “Hold on.” Too late. Halren rushed to the corner. Where did she go? He walked down the empty street, looking for any sign.

There. Halfway up the street a white hand beckoned him from behind a half closed door. Halren walked over and opened it. Inside the woman stood, smiling.

“Hello.”

The woman stepped backwards and motioned for him to enter. Halren did and shut the door behind him. The small room contained no furnishings and the only light came from a small fire in the hearth.

“Interesting decor.” What had he gotten himself into?

The woman held out her arms.

“Not the chatty type, huh?” He stepped forward into her embrace. They kissed. Her lips felt dry. Very dry. They seemed to be drawing the moisture from his own. He broke away and held the woman at arms length. Up close she looked a lot older than he originally thought.

The woman began to age and wither at an incredible rate. Before he could blink only a gray dust cloud remained. Halren gasped, accidentally inhaling some of her remains.

“What in the name of Galanthus…”

“Right here, Halren.”

Halren turned to see the god of death staring back at him from a large golden throne against the far wall.

“Sit, Halren, we need to talk.” Galanthus motioned to a small stool that hadn’t been there a moment before.

Halren sat. “Are you here for me? Am I going back?”

“No, Halren. It’s too late for that I’m afraid.”

“What do you mean? Was it my offering? I’m not sure when I get paid yet, but I’ll come back with more.”

“The damage is done. You really should have listened to Nenus.”

Listened to Nenus? None of the wraiths ever spoke a word. “I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Halren, you were given a gift. A second chance at life.”

“And I’m grateful, I really am. Death wasn’t so bad though. I’ll be happy to go back.”

“That’s the problem, Halren. You aren’t supposed to retain that knowledge. You should have forgotten.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Look, I’m not sure how you did it, but it’s not right. You should have no memories of Bolrinia. You should have kept your mouth shut. Now Dramol Way is backed up with suicides. People trying to get their turn with Valestra.”

Halren gulped.

“She doesn’t do that for just anyone. She really liked you.” He scowled as if these words left a bad taste in his mouth. “She cried for a week.”

“Look, I didn’t know. It’s just a song.”

Galanthus’ hands balled into fists. “It’s not just a song. It’s the truth. A truth gains strength when placed into a story. A true story put to song has enormous power. The people believe in what you sing because you know it’s true.”

“What can I do?”

“Too late. I’m going to have to curse you.”

“No.” Halren fell to his knees. “Please have mercy.”

“Halren of Durgol, Royal Balladeer of Tariel, from this day forth you are cursed. As long as your song is known you shall not return to Bolrinia.”

“You mean I’ll burn?” Halren cried out in agony and prostrated himself before Galanthus.

“Oh no, Halren. You fail to understand. You can not die.”

“What?” That didn’t sound so bad.

“Not until you have achieved such renown you are no longer remembered for that song. No matter how old you get. No matter how much pain you suffer. No matter how many of your friends die in your arms, you’ll live on, forced to remember it all.”

“Is that it?”

Fire burned in Galanthus’ eyes. “You have no idea how hard it will be.”

Halren knelt upright. “If you say so. Maybe it’s just not sinking in yet.” He knew he should remain silent, but the words just came out.

“Look, until the day that the song is forgotten you will be unable to die. To lift the curse you must do something more worthy of remembrance. Something that dwarfs the power of your song.”

“So if I do something great, I’ll die? That’s the curse.”

“Simpleton. That’s the cure.”

“So there is a way out?”

“Well…” Galanthus looked ashamed. “It’s just how divine curses work.”

“So that’s it?”

“That’s it?” The walls shook with the force of Galanthus’ exasperation. Dust and debris fell from the ceiling. The fire went out; the god’s burning eyes now the rooms only light source. Halren felt them burrow into his soul. “I’ll never understand what she saw in you.” A bright flash and a strange burning smell filled the room.

Halren sat alone in the dark room for some time after the smoke cleared. Why had Galanthus taken it out on him? What had him so worked up? None of it made sense.

“Life’s not fair.” He spoke aloud his father’s favorite bit of wisdom, and tried to forget Galanthus’ burning eyes. When that didn’t work he went and found the nearest tavern and proceeded to celebrate his new position as royal balladeer until he passed out.

Thanks for taking the time to read my story. If you enjoyed it, please recommend it to your friends, family, and/or co-workers. If not, please recommend it to your enemies, family, and/or co-workers.

The Death and Times of Halren of Durgol (Part Four)

If you missed parts one, two, or three be sure and go back and read them first.

The Death and Times of Halren of Durgol

Part Four

©2009 Jason Penney

Cabbage. The smell filled Halren’s nose. He gagged and began to cough.

“You’re going to be fine, son. Don’t try and move.”

Halren’s eyes opened. A pock-marked face stared back at him from much too close. The smell of the man’s breath almost caused him to faint.

Halren tried to back away, but couldn’t. “Can you…”

“What is it, son.”

“…step back a bit?”

The face smiled and floated away, upwards. Firelight danced across wooden beams. Halren realized he was lying down. He tried to sit up, but couldn’t. Ropes dug into his chest. “Why am I tied down?”

“I’m sorry, son. I wasn’t sure what to expect when you came round.”

What was happening? Halren tried to force his mind to make sense of what was going on, but it refused. “Where am I?”

“We feel terrible.” A woman’s voice. “We will have the driver flogged for you as soon as you feel up to watching it.”

“Who is that?” Halren’s eyes shot around the room. “Where am I?”

“Calm yourself, son.” Cabbage breath leaned over Halren again and whispered, “It’s Queen Rohna herself. There was a terrible accident. You’re lucky to be alive.”

“Alive? What do you mean?”

“It is a miracle,” said the queen. “We were coming to our great hall to hear from a potential new court musician, Halren of Durgol. We suppose that was… is you. Sorry about your instrument. Our silly coachman lost control of our horses. We thank the gods you have awakened. Our poor horses feel very bad about it indeed. We were sure you were dead.”

“I was dead.”

“No, son.” The man placed a firm hand on his shoulder. “Very nearly.”

“No. I was in Bolrinia. It was wonderful! I was just about to…” Halren remembered the queen, and trailed off.

“Just about to what?”, asked the queen.

“Pay him no mind, Your Highness. He’s probably suffering a brain fever.”

“No, I was dead. I saw the wraiths. I went to Bolrinia. I met Rystus. I met Valestra”

“Fascinating.” The queen’s voice betrayed no real emotion. Halren had heard people comment on it but only now did he understand. “You must tell us all about it. Our father is dead, you know. Poor Daddy.”

The memory of good King Amullon getting beyond intimate with Lynara came unbidden to his mind. “Yes.. uhm… I think I need to…”

“Your majesty, I think we should let him rest. He has been through quite an ordeal.”

“Very well, Malbar.” Halren heard no anger in her voice, but he saw fear in Malbar’s face. “We expect to hear all about it once he is feeling up to it. We’re very interested.”

Halren heard the queen move away. Others he hadn’t noticed before followed. From the clanking noises Halren assumed they were the queen’s guard.

Malbar bent over him to remove the restraints. “You won’t be needing these. I have some nice cabbage stew. You must be quite hungry after your ordeal.”

The thought of eating cabbage stew turned Halren’s stomach. “No, I ate quite a big meal at the buffet.”

“You’d better get some sleep, son.” Malbar covered Halren with a blanket.

“Thank you,” Halren said before he drifted off.


Halren awoke to hear Malbar talking to someone.

“Tell the queen that he will need some time to recover. He may not be right in the head. I recommend she not see him for at least a year.”

He shooed the man out.

“Why’d you do that?”, Halren asked.

Malbar hobbled over to Halren and smiled down at him. “Listen, son. I believe your story, but you want to be very careful about what you say.”

“What do you mean?”

“You say you were dead. You went to Bolrinia.” Malbar paused to scratch his chin. “Well, I’m sure you aren’t supposed to remember something like that, are you? Best keep it to yourself.”

“But the queen –”

“I may look dim, but I saw it in your eyes. There’s something you don’t want to tell the queen, isn’t there?”

Halren nodded. “I –”

“No.” Malbar’s hands shot up and covered his ears. “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”

Halren nodded. “Help me up then.”

“You can’t be getting up so soon. You were dead just yesterday.”

“I feel fine now. I need to clear my head.”

Malbar shrugged and held out a hand. Halren grasped it and tried to rise. His body ached, but he didn’t feel trampled by horses. He tried to walk. Everything seemed to work.

He stepped outside and bumped into a thin man who seemed in quite a hurry to get in through the door. “Sorry.”

The man looked at him for a moment, then spoke. “Halren of Durgol?”

“Yes”

The man bowed. “The Queen concedes to Malbar’s expertise in this. Due to the inconvenience caused she will hold open the position of court balladeer until you return. Do you agree to these terms?”

“Look, I feel fine.”

The man stood there blinking for a moment, then repeated, “Do you agree to these terms?”

“I’d just say yes, if I was you,” called Malbar from inside.

Halren sighed. “Yes, of course.”

“Very good.” The messenger bowed, turned, and walked away.

A year? Why had Malbar interfered? Meddling old fool.


Halren tried to focus on the food smells and ignore the low murmurs filling the room. His clothing felt too tight. The lute began to slip in his sweaty hands.

“Come on, play us something new.”

Halren couldn’t see the speaker, but he sounded like a big man. A big man who might easily toss him across the room, or through the window. Ever since he returned from the afterlife his music seemed to be missing something. Half a year gone. How would he impress the queen if he couldn’t impress these simple folk? Things could get ugly if he didn’t hurry up and come up with–

“Something with a story,” someone called.

Yes. That was it. Halren placed the lute on his lap and wiped his hands on his chest to dry them. He picked the instrument up and gave a weak smile.

“This story,” he began, standing up, “is true.”

Halren strummed the lute and let the sweet sounds fill him. It drove all his fears away. Vivid memories flooded over him. His mouth opened and he sang the whole story. Starting with waking up in the red room, and ending with waking up to the smell of cabbage. It came to him on the spot without effort. He felt liberated to tell the entire tale for the first time. It didn’t matter that he told a room filled with strangers.

The song left him drained. Covered in sweat, he slumped back into the chair. When his eyes opened, faces stared back at him. Smiling faces. Halren rose to his feet and bowed. The crowd laughed and cheered.

Halren traveled from village to village testing the song for different audiences. He made minor adjustments, and kept a close eye on people’s reactions. He avoided cities. It wouldn’t do for the queen to catch wind of the song before his audition.

He tried to drop the verse about King Amullon and Lynara. He tried a number of different ways to avoid it, but it just didn’t work. The crowd somehow knew he had withheld something important.

On the nights he sang the entire song, it garnered reaction he never imagined. The death of King Amullon had been a national tragedy. Some said it had driven Princess Rohna mad, and from what Halren had seen of her it might be true. Night after night folks would come up in tears and thank him for helping them deal with their grief over the King’s death.

Tune in next week for the final installment!

Links of Interest (March 5th 2009 Through August 13th 2009)

Audible.com to sell 2 DRM-FREE titles
It appears Audible.com is going to try releasing Cory Doctorow's next two audiobooks without DRM (a first for Audible.com as far as I know).
Skulpt
"Skulpt is an entirely in-browser implementation of Python."
Modernizr
Modernizr is a Javascript library that allows client side detection of CSS3 and HTML5 browser features. It allows you to write CSS with conditionals through one of my personal favorite bits of CSS magic: classes on the body tag. It also gives you the ability to do the same in our Javascript.
epub-tools
A collection of open source (BSD) tools for generating and managing ePub documents. Adobe's Java based EPUBGen was just added. Tools now exist for conversion to ePub from Word, RTF, DocBook, TEI, and FictionBook.
Doozers Get "Fraggle Rock" Spin-Off
It's animated, and aimed at ages four to seven, but I'll probably check it out with the kids.
The Zelazny Project
"We plan to print a complete collection of Roger Zelazny's short fiction and poetry, in (most likely) six hardcover volumes. We expect to include all published fiction and poetry we can find, however obscurely published, and a number of unpublished works retrieved from Zelazny's archived papers. We also expect to include the shorter early versions of several novels, several novel excerpts that were published independently as short works and a few of Zelazny's articles on topics of interest to him."

The Death and Times of Halren of Durgol (Part Three)

If you missed parts one or two be sure and go back and read them first.

The Death and Times of Halren of Durgol

Part Three

©2009 Jason Penney

“Going up.”

“Oh, I don’t like this.”  Halren stood alone in a small glass room, which somehow levitated up along the wall.  He could now see the entire game floor, fading away below.  His stomach seemed to move at a different speed than the rest of his body.  He closed his eyes and groaned.  Perhaps he shouldn’t have eaten so much, or so fast.

A bell rang somewhere nearby and the little room eased to a stop.  “Floor of the turtle,” said the disembodied voice.

The door opened and Halren rushed out of the glass room, happy to return to solid ground.  He took in his surroundings.  He stood on a sort of suspended bridge that ran the length of Bolrinia’s outer wall.  He crept towards the inner edge.  Similar walkways ran along the same pathway both above and below.  He peered over the railing.  The gaming floor stood far below.

Halren imagined what it would be like to fall from this height.  The world around him began to spin.  He shoved himself away from the railing and sat on the floor and waited for the dizziness to pass.

Once he recovered, he walked along the outer wall, avoiding looking towards the center of Bolrinia.  Doors with numeric symbols lined the outer wall.  Halren looked for the symbols matching those on Valestra’s tarot.

When he found the room, a short purple skinned creature blocked his way.  The creature had long pointed ears and only a few thick black hairs on its head.  It wasn’t much larger than a child just learning to walk, but much less cute.  “Sorry, Pal.  Invitations only.”

“I have this.”  Halren held out the strange card.

The creature’s skin color changed to a pleasant blue.  “My apologies, sir.”  The creature bowed and stepped aside.  “Go right in.”

“Thank you.”  Halren tried the door handle.  It wouldn’t give.

“Put the key in the slot.”

Halren turned to look at the creature.  Now a pale green, it extended an empty hand and made as if to give something to Halren.

“What?”

The creature pointed at the door and repeated the gesture.  “The card.”

Halren examined the door until he noticed a slot just above the handle, similar to the one on the magical chest.  He shrugged and inserted the strange card and heard a click.  When he tried the handle again the door swung open.

Halren stepped into a long hallway with walls the light red of dawn sky, only harsher.  Where did such a color come from?

“Halren, come on in.”  Valestra’s voice came from somewhere down the hallway.

Halren walked towards the voice. “Hello?”

Halren thought he heard giggling.

He exhaled, relieved to hear someone else present.  He thought the signals he picked up from Valestra earlier could only mean one thing.  Of course she was not just any woman.  She could have any mortal she wanted, or any of the gods.

“Come on, Halren.  We’re waiting for you.”

More giggles, louder now.  Halren increased his pace and tried to ignore the many paintings of beautiful people in various stages of undress that lined the walls.

At the end of the hallway Halren turned the corner and stopped dead.  The room was impossibly huge.  The high ceilings rose up at least two more stories.  Two rows of white columns ran the length of the room.   It seemed somehow familiar.  Had he been here before?  Then it came to him.  This room was the twin to Valestra’s great temple in the capital.

A sea of people filled the room.  Naked people.  Naked people doing things he had only ever heard about in late night tavern brag sessions, and a few he had never even imagined.  Not just mortals.  Some glowed.  Immortals, scattered throughout the crowd.  Halren heard tales of unions between gods and mortals, but he never imagined anything like this.

And there… Could it be?  There, entwined with Lynara, the goddess of sorrow, lay old King Amullon.  Tears streamed down his smiling face as he…

Halren averted his eyes and they settled on Valestra.  She sat reclined atop the altar at the temple’s far end, naked except for the strange glow all the immortals gave off.

“It took you long enough.”  Valestra gave Halren a wink.

Halren tried to speak but only managed to blink a few times.  He could use a stiff drink.

Valestra snapped her fingers.

Two tall, beautiful, but more than a little intimidating women flanked him.  One shoved a chalice filled with a glowing greenish liquid into his hand.  Halren hesitated only a moment and then gulped it down.  It tasted sweet, with a hint of fruit.

“Bring him here,” Valestra said.  An undertone of command snuck into her sweet voice.

Before Halren could react the two women led him through the crowd to the altar.  He didn’t resist.  Why would he?  Love herself wanted him.  How much better could Bolrinia get?

The two women stopped just before the altar and began to remove Halren’s clothing.  When they finished, they melted away into the crowd.  Halren looked into Valestra’s eyes.  He no longer felt anxious.  Whatever they had given him to drink must have boosted his confidence.

“Well, I see you’re not shy.”  Valestra beckoned to him with her index finger.

Halren smiled, and stepped forward.  This truly was paradise.  Dying was the greatest thing to ever happen in his life.  Behind him the room went silent.  Valestra’s eyes widened as he leaned over her.

She frowned, and Halren noticed she was looking past him.  Now what?  He turned.  A bleached white skull grinned back at him, barely a hair’s breadth away.  Halren fell off the altar in surprise.  He rolled on his back and stared up at the red-robed figure.  Nenus, the third escort.

Nenus grabbed for him, but Halren slid away from his grasp.

“No need to be so rash.  Can I just grab my clothes?  They’re around here somewhere.”

Nenus’ cold hands were on him now.  The wraith tossed him over his shoulder.  Halren’s vision began to swim.  He saw Valestra pouting like a spoiled child just told she couldn’t wear the Queen’s crown.  Then everything faded into nothingness.

Tune in next week for another installment.

The Death and Times of Halren of Durgol (Part Two)

If you missed part one be sure and go back and read it now.

The Death and Times of Halren of Durgol

Part Two

©2009 Jason Penney

“Hey buddy. You thirsty?”

The speaker stood easily two heads taller than Halran. He wore a suit of black leather armor with a sword hanging from his belt so large Halren doubted he could lift it. The sheen of sweat on his bald head and tree-like arms gave off a faint blue glow. It could only be Rystus, the god of war.

The god again pushed the stein in his direction. “Hello? Anyone home in there?”

“Yes, hello. Sorry, sir.” Halren cringed. “Uhm, Your Highness? Your Holiness? Your… uhm.” He tried not to panic.

Rystus laughed and the room seemed to shake with him. The laugh, while not exactly good natured, contained no malice. “Lighten up, Halren. You’re among friends here. It’s all good.”

Halren just nodded. He had no idea what Rystus meant, but he knew better than to disagree with a god. He accepted the offered drink and sipped. Strong, but not bad. He gulped the rest down.

Rystus laughed. “There you go.” The god slapped Halren on the back, knocking him to his knees. Rystus took the empty stein and helped Halren up. He placed something else in Halren’s hand. “You’ll need this.”

Halren waved in thanks, fighting back tears.

“I’ll see you around.”

Halren examined the tarot Rystus had given him. It wasn’t a card he recognized. The face showed a detailed image of a smiling bard. Strong chin. Perfect hair. Intelligent gleam in the eyes. It could be Halren himself. Perhaps it was. It would take some time for his understanding of what was or was not possible to catch up with his new surroundings.

No one ever told him death would be like this. He entered Bolrinia proper and found it to be a great open space, teeming with people. He walked among them, watching them. Most sat around tables apparently betting on games of some kind. He recognized a few, but most he could not place. Many seemed to be based on chance, or perhaps supernatural abilities.

The landscape shifted and he found himself walking aisle after aisle of what appeared to be small magical shrines. People sat before them giving offerings of coin. The shrines would sing and sparkle while the petitioner prayed before them. He saw an elderly man’s prayer for great wealth answered. His shrine attempted to drown him in coins while he danced for joy.

Halren wanted to see it all, but he found himself lost more than once. He just couldn’t take in the sheer size of the place.

The enticing scent of cooked meat filled his nostrils and distracted him from the games. He had not noticed his hunger before, but now his stomach rumbled in anticipation. The smell seemed to be coming from a magical stairway descending through an opening in the floor.

Could it be a trick? He watched the endless supply of stairs form out of the floor and then walk down themselves. He could not see the bottom.

“Excuse me.”

Halren stood aside to let a jolly looking woman step on the top stair. It carried her down into the darkness. He waited. When no screams of torment emerged he decided to risk it.

He lowered one foot onto one of the stairs and felt his legs pulled apart without warning. He clutched the railing, intending to step back onto solid ground, but it also pulled him forward. No use fighting it.

The stairs deposited him into some sort of eatery. All manner of foods sat out on display. People here just walked up and took what they wanted, filling plate after plate. Could he just stroll in and start eating? He stepped toward the table but a large man with the head of a dog blocked his path.

“Aha,” Halren said.

“Aha?”

“I knew it. What happens now?”

“Sir, I just need two gold coins before I can let you enter the buffet” The dog-faced man scratched behind his left ear.

Buffet? “What does that get me exactly?”

“All you can eat, sir.”

“Oh… I don’t have any money on me.” He leaned in close and whispered, “I’m dead.”

“Imagine that. Did you arrive recently by any chance, sir?”

“Yes. I just–”

Dog-face waved for him to stop. “You should have some coin available to you via the Afterlife Tarot Mechanism.”

More gibberish. “The what?”

“Do you have your identity tarot on you, sir?”

“No, what’s…” Halren stopped and dug into his belt pouch. He pulled out the card he received from Rystus. “You mean this thing?”

“Yes. Just place it in the slot on that big wooden chest over there.” He pointed to a large worn chest near the entrance.

Halren walked over. The chest came up to his waist. He opened it and peered inside. Empty. He closed it and looked more closely. He slid the tarot card into a small slot just above the brass clasp. Something inside grabbed hold and pulled the card out of his grasp. Perfect. He peered into the slot hoping to see what type of creature lived inside, but it was too small and too dark. He opened the chest again.

Immediately he slammed it shut, keeping the latch from locking again with his thumb. He glanced over his shoulder at the dog-faced man.

“Everything all right, sir?”

Halren tried to smile. “Oh, yes. Just a moment.” Again Halren raised the lid. More coins than he could count glistened back at him. He reached in, grabbed a handful, and shoved them into his pouch. He let the lid fall shut and started back.

Dog-Face pointed at the chest. “Don’t forget your tarot, sir.”

Halren looked down and grabbed the card which was now sticking part-way out of the slot. He peeked into the chest again. Empty once more. Well, at least he had pocketed some extra.

He walked back to the dog-faced man and held out two coins. “Here you go.”

The man took them and then licked Halren’s outstretched hand. “Enjoy.”

Halren fought down the urge to wipe his hand on his sleeve and approached a long table covered with food. More food than he had seen in his too short lifetime. Total. He picked up a platter. Where to start?

“Don’t be shy.”

Halren looked up and fumbled the platter. The woman smiled at him and his heart melted. Halren immediately had the urge to write a song. An ode to this woman’s beauty. Her hair. Her eyes. Her smile. Her tiny little dress. The pale glow of her skin. A goddess! Not just any goddess. Valestra, goddess of love.

In his younger days Halren spent a good deal of time puzzling over the many images of Valestra. No two were the same. The color of her hair and eyes often differed, as did her build and height. Even with the differences, everyone knew they represented the same being. He never did find the common element that made it so obvious, but it was there.

Now here she stood, right before him, twirling her silky hair around her left index finger. Halren, aware he had been staring openly, turned back to the food.

“You know, you can have whatever you want here.” Valestra bit her lower lip. “See anything that appeals to you?”

Halren tried to respond but his mind refused. He could not remember the last time he felt nervous around a woman. Usually they seemed nervous around him. “Well, I uh… The food, you mean? I’ve never seen… I’m famished.” He grabbed a turkey leg and took a large bite.

Valestra gave a little pout and winked at Halren. “Well then, once you’ve had your fill here, come and find me.”

Halren nodded, chewing rapidly. His heart throbbed in his chest. Surely she heard it. “Oh. Yes.” He seemed to have forgotten how to speak in complete sentences. He managed to muster a “Good” before she pressed a finger to his lips.

“Enjoy your food.” She smiled and clasped his free hand. “I’ll be waiting.” She brushed up against him as she passed, sending a shiver up Halren’s spine. Halren watched the stairs carry her up until she disappeared from view.

He glanced down at his hand and saw another strange tarot card. This one with a turtle, and the symbols for forty and six. What was this for? He shrugged and stored it with the other card.

Tune in next week for another installment.