In which I collect all the work-in-progress samples from my late, lamented newsgroup:
FETCH (posted June 27, 2008):
Jerry sighed. “Fine. We have any pending business, so I don’t waste a trip?”
“As a matter of fact, we do,” Abby said. “Unpaid, just a favor for a friend, but if you’re crossing over anyway you might as well give it a shot. Daughter of one of my neighbors died in a wreck out on 128 last month, her mother wants to know she’s okay.”
“She’s not okay,” Rudy objected. “She’s dead.”
“You know what she means, Rudy,” Jerry said. “She wants to know her little girl isn’t suffering.”
“Jerry, we aren’t going to tell her anything bad even if the girl’s thoroughly damned, you know that. We could just lie, because if the kid really is suffering, we’ll lie anyway. Why not skip the middle step and go straight to the lie — tell her we looked and her daughter’s Little Miss Happy Sunshine?”
MIRRORS AND SHADOWS (posted August 1, 2009):
Alicia awoke coughing.
She was sitting up in bed, coughing uncontrollably, before she opened her eyes and saw the smoke. Her eyes widened, and she called, “Mom!”
She didn’t wait for an answer; she rolled out of bed and stooped down, trying to stay below the smoke, the way they had taught in safety class back in grade school. She pulled open a bureau drawer and grabbed a pair of panties, then hesitated.
Those long-ago lectures had said that the first priority was to get out, get out of the house before the heat and smoke could overcome you. Don’t stop for anything — get outdoors!
But she really didn’t want to wind up standing on her mother’s lawn in nothing but black lace panties and an old Nirvana T-shirt.
MYTH AMERICA (posted December 17, 2009):
“I’m Will Stuart,” I said, and I looked at the woman expectantly.
It was Al who spoke, though.
“Will, allow me to present Her Imperial Highness, Princess Susan Norton.”
I sat there for several seconds, mentally cursing Al. The woman looked like a nut, but I hadn’t expected her to be that nutty. I’d hoped for nothing worse than a psychic advisor.
“Princess of what?” I asked, half expecting him to reply, “Mars.”
“America,” he said, and that might have been worse than Mars, I wasn’t sure.
ON A FIELD SABLE (posted August 20, 2012):
She also felt a certain uneasiness at the idea of visiting Ondine — Ondine, the legendary Quandish capital. She had heard stories about Ondine as a girl, stories about how rich it was, and how sordid, and how dangerous. She had heard that monsters stalked the streets openly.
But then, she had heard that Quand was all fogs and swamps, that the Quandish were a bunch of barbarians who made a habit of bashing in each other’s skulls, and after a season at Blackfield Hall she now knew that those stories were nonsense. Ondine was probably no more dangerous than Lume — indeed, given the latest news from Lume, Ondine was probably far less dangerous at the moment. As for monsters in the streets, she had taken a few walks with Old Toz during her stay at Blackfield Hall, and had been introduced to a villager named Five-Finger Stiv who had also suffered a magical mishap in the overseas colonies.
Five-Finger Stiv was called that because he did indeed have five fingers — if you counted both hands, and if you considered tentacles a sort of finger. He was an avid gardener; Mareet had learned the Quandish names for several herbs and varieties of produce from her visit with Stiv.
As for Old Toz, he had an endless supply of stories to tell — some funny, some thrilling, and some that were really quite unsuitable for mixed company, but which he had told to Mareet anyway. He spoke not just Quandish and Walasian, but two dialects of Ermetian and a variety of other tongues.
If Ondine was home to monsters like Toz and Stiv, that was nothing to fear.
“I would be happy to go to Ondine,” she said.
STONE UNTURNED: The Petrified Prince (posted August 23, 2012):
The prince suddenly smiled, the grimness vanishing. “Good!” he said. “Now that that’s out of the way, I’m Prince Marek, fifth son of King Terren of Melitha. I don’t believe I got your name.” He held out his hand.
“Uh…” Caught off-guard by the abrupt change in demeanor, Darissa stared stupidly at the hand.
His smile broadened. “I doubt even the most eccentric parents would name a daughter Uh, and it’s hardly a good name to attract business. I know witches don’t go in for the fancy names wizards prefer, Domididulus the Over-Endowed or whatever, but Uh?”
“Darissa,” she managed. “I’m Darissa the Witch’s Apprentice, your highness.”
STONE UNTURNED: The Demon’s Master (posted August 23, 2012):
“Perhaps we should introduce ourselves,” Hakin said, as he, too, turned.
“I am Tarker the Unrelenting, a demon of the First Circle, of the original ordering. You are Hakin, called Hakin of the Hundred-Foot Field, son of Nerra the Skinny Whore and Chend the Navigator.”
“I… what?” Hakin, who had taken a single step, stumbled. “How did you know that?”
“I have your scent,” the demon said, as it walked toward Wall Street.
“You know who my father was?” Hakin said, running to catch up.
“Yes. Chend the Navigator.” Tarker marched on as it spoke.
“But I didn’t know that! My mother said she didn’t know that!”
“I am a demon of the First Circle. I have your scent.”
“But that… that… I didn’t know demons could do that!”
STONE UNTURNED: Lord Landessin’s Gallery (posted August 23, 2012):
Morvash watched him go, then turned back to the statue of the demonologist. He frowned, then crossed to the windows and pushed back the brocade drapes, letting as much light into the room as he could. He went so far as to hook the draperies over nearby furniture or statuary, to expose as much glass as possible. Then he slowly and carefully approached the granite figure, studying it closely. A horrible suspicion was growing in him.
The statue’s face was unbelievably realistic. The nostrils went so deep into the stone that Morvash could not see their end, even with the additional light provided by a quick fire spell. The hair was flawlessly accurate in its texture. A small pimple was half-hidden by the hairline.
No sculptor carved in such detail. Morvash knew the truth even before he drew the silver dagger from his belt and touched the enchanted blade to the demonologist’s cheek, but the faint blue glow that indicated the presence of residual magic confirmed his fears.
This wasn’t a true statue. This was a living woman who had been turned to stone. Morvash had no idea who it was, or why she had been petrified, or when, or by whom, but this was a real person.
THE INNKEEPER’S DAUGHTER (posted January 29, 2013):
“Don’t you know the prophecy game?”
Dremm and Aloran both stopped arranging tinder, and turned to stare at her. “Game?” Aloran asked.
“They don’t play it in Meloria? I thought Meloria was supposed to be full of magic!”
“Not that magic,” Dremm said. “At least, not by that name. How does it work?”
“Oh, well, you take a board and a piece of chalk, or charcoal — something you can write or draw with, but it’s better if it’s something soft, not a pen, because it can get messy and you don’t want ink all over your clothes. You swallow a leaf of sage — you can chew it first, but some people think it’s easier to just wad it up and gulp. Then you sit in a circle of white stones and chant the spell under your breath, and if you’ve done it right — which I never could — you go into a trance, and then your friends ask you three questions, and your hand will move and write a message or draw a picture, and that’s supposed to be a prophecy to answer the three questions. Half the time it doesn’t make any sense at all, and sometimes you can’t figure out what it means until after it’s come true, but sometimes it’ll tell you what you want to know. It’s never just plain wrong.”
For a moment none of the three men spoke; then Fandrel said, “Isn’t that…”
He let the sentence trail off, but Dremm completed it. “The Ritual of Foresight,” he said. “It’s a game here? Something everyone knows?”
“Well, yes,” Marga said.
“In Meloria,” Dremm said, “it’s a closely guarded secret in certain families, passed down from parent to child.”
“Here in Karak-Bar,” Marga replied, “no one’s that good at keeping secrets. My grandmother said it was still sort of supposed to be secret when she was a girl, but everyone knew it.”
THE INNKEEPER’S DAUGHTER (posted February 20, 2013):
“Ah.” She stared at the magic sword. “Does it have a name?”
For the first time, Aloran hesitated before responding. “I have not yet settled on the best way to answer that question,” he said.
She looked up at him. “What? Why?”
“This is called the Nameless Sword.”
“But… oh, wait. You mean… oh.”
“Yes. It is called the Nameless Sword. The Nameless Sword.”
“That’s just… who came up with that?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s been called that for generations, and no one I’ve spoken to will admit to knowing why.”