November 30, 2010

Chapter 9 Closes and I Win NaNoWriMo!

I came down with a flu/cold thing early Monday morning. It woke me up at 2 in the morning and I knew I was done for. What I didn’t know is if I would be able to pound out the last 1,880 words needed to finish NaNoWriMo. The thought of coming so far and losing on the last day was repulsive to me, so last night I cranked out 800 words and this afternoon, still sicker than the proverbial dog, I crossed the finish line. It feels good, and I have earned the right to display this:

nano_10_winner_240x120-7.png

I also managed to finish Chapter 9, and confirmed there will be a Chapter 10, as the story is not yet done. I have the ePub and PDF versions of Chapter 9 available, and without further ado the words that pushed me over the finish line:

Zuhayr stayed a pace or two ahead of Katarina the entire walk to her home, striding with rigid purpose. When they arrived at Katarina’s home Joe expected to see a small crowd arrayed outside, either protesting or keeping watch. Instead there was no one loitering about, not even the guard who had carried Ignatius from the entrance. Joe was about to ask Katarina if she were certain Ignatius was even inside when he was shocked to see Zuhayr open her front door and walk in, as if he owned the place. Katarina, showing no signs this bothered her, calmly followed Zuhayr into her abode, Joe in toe.

They found Zuhayr standing in her foyer, looking around puzzled. “Well, where is he?” he demanded. “I assumed he would be here, or did you lead me on a wild goose chase?”

“You were the one doing the leading,” Joe said.

Zuhayr glared at Joe with impatient malice and lifted his hand about to scold Joe when Katarina replied, “He is through here.” She walked beyond the staircase, then took and abrupt left turn and disappeared from sight. Joe hurried to follow after her, not wishing to be left alone in a room with the blue man. Behind the staircase he found a spacious suite of rooms, decorated in a subdued yet tasteful victorian style, complete with a parlor, a bathroom, and a generously sized bedroom. The guard was standing in the parlor, outside the door to the bedroom. His bearing and general air of alertness gave Joe the feeling that should anything go even slightly wrong Ignatius would be dispatched without thought. Joe spied Katarina in the bedroom standing next to the bed, upon which the prone figure of lay, still, unmoving, and barely breathing.

Zuhayr strode in calmly and without a sense of urgency. Joe didn’t like his attitude. He understood why he harbored hatred in his soul, but he gathered that Zuhayr had never met Ignatius personally, otherwise he would know him to be a good man fighting for the right things, and truly remorseful for the harm Sikander has done to people. Zuhayr didn’t even acknowledge the guard standing by the door, which Joe thought odd considering the fuss he made earlier, and strode right past him into the bedroom.

He stood at the foot of the bed and surveyed the motionless form of Ignatius with distaste. “So this is the man who caused all that trouble,” he stated.

“I won’t be baited into another argument with you Zuhayr. Do what I brought you here to do,” Katarina told him.

“You don’t need me,” Zuhayr sneered, “you need a mortician.”

Joe, who had moved into the room, standing just inside the door, interjected, “He’s not dead. He’s still breathing. Look.”

Zuhayr grunted, begrudgingly agreeing that Ignatius was in fact still alive. “I don’t see what I can do here,” he said lackadaisically. “It looks to me like you need a healer.”

“I thought you were a healer,” Joe blurted out.

Zuhayr barked out a laugh, “In all my life I’ve never been confused with a healer before.”

“If you aren’t a healer then what are you?” Joe demanded.

Zuhayr turned to face Joe. “Have you ever been to the circus?”

“Yeah, sure,” Joe said dismissively.

“And have you seen the side shows?”

“What, you mean like the strong man and the bearded lady?” Joe asked, wondering where this was going.

“The very same.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Joe asked impatiently.

“I am a geek.”

Joe looked at him absolutely confused. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Zuhayr furrowed his brows, “Exactly everything.”

“How does your affinity for computers, or comic books, or circuses for that matter have to do with this?”

“What are you talking about?”

Katarina, catching on, stepped in, “He means, Joseph, that he can eat anything.”

Joe looked at Zuhayr questioningly. “What does that have to do with being a geek?”

“A geek,” Zuhayr responded condescendingly, “is someone who can and does eat anything.”

Comprehension struck Joe. “Oh, like that guy in the circus who eats nails and bees and stuff.”

Zuhayr nodded. “Precisely.”

Joe furrowed his brow. “So what does that have to do with this?” A look of worry passed across his face, “You aren’t going to eat Ignatius are you?”

“Don’t be absurd,” Zuhayr chided.

“Then what exactly are you able to do for him?” Joe practically demanded.

“When I say I can eat anything, I mean absolutely anything. It’s not a figure of speech.”

Joe looked puzzled. “I don’t see how that will help us here.”

“Neither do I,” Zuhayr added, looking at Katarina. “He does not look as if he needs my help.”

“Come closer and inspect for yourself,” Katarina offered. “I’m sure you’ll notice it right away.”

Zuhayr simply leaned over Ignatius’s still form and took a breath, then righted himself immediately. “Ah. I see what you mean.” Katarina smiled. “It would appear a certain giant is out running amok again,” he paused. “As I recall they have been feuding for quite some time. How certain are you that Sikander is behind this?”

“Bob, the giant that did this to Ignatius, is also trying to kill me, and has been since I first arrived here,” Joe testily informed Zuhayr.

Zuhayr eyed Joe, plainly curious. “Why would Bob want to kill you I wonder?” he said to himself. “He’s not the sort to attack without reason or cause.”

“We don’t know how, but it is related. Ignatius only got hurt because he was protecting me. Had Ignatius not been there Bob and his merry band of live action role players would still have attacked me.”

Zuhayr addressed Katarina, “I’ll help, but you will still need a healer.”

“His physical wounds are minor,” Katarina said. “Once you are finished we’ll see that he gets medical attention Topside.”

“I didn’t mean for him,” Zuhayr nodded toward the bed. “I meant for the kid here. He’s got a gimpy leg.”

“It’s just a sprain,” Joe protested. “I’ll be fine.”

“Suit yourself. I thought you were being chased and hounded. Maybe I was wrong,” Zuhayr said, shrugging. “In any case I’ll need some room to work, if you would be so kind as to wait outside the room I’ll get started,” he said with politeness.

Katarina and Joe exited the room while Zuhayr poked and prodded at Ignatius’s body. Katarina led Joe to a small sofa and made him sit down. “We should get a look at that,” she told him. “I want to make sure it’s just a sprain.”

“I’ll be fine,” Joe insisted. “It’s feeling better already,” he said with a wince as he tapped his foot on the ground. “See?”

“Right. Off with the shoe. At least let me put some ice on it and wrap it up in a bandage.” Joe began to protest. “I won’t take no for an answer. Either you take your shoe off or I will do it for you. Choose.”

Wincing Joe took of his shoe to reveal a red and swollen ankle. He sucked in a breath when Katarina touched it. “Let me get some ice,” she said getting up to leave. “I don’t have to tell you to stay put do I?”

“No, mother,” Joe said playfully.

Katarina shot him a glance and left the rooms. Joe turned his attention to the bedroom where Zuhayr had carefully removed Ignatius’s coat and shirt and was now methodically working over his chest alternating from smelling, to gently squeezing. He continued doing, across all of Ignatius’s chest and down his arms. Finally satisfied with his explorations he lifted Ignatius’s arm up to his mouth. Joe stifled a cry of alarm as Zuhayr wrapped his lips around Ignatius’s elbow and began to suck with great force. He paused for a breath then sucked at his elbow again, finally laying it down on the bed. He then quickly shuffled over to the other side of the bed and repeated the strange ritual again on the other elbow. Then to Joe’s amazement, and near horror, he leaned over the bed, bared his teeth, and rested his ear on Ignatius’s breast. Nodding to himself he stood up, walked back around to the other side of the bed, and leaning in, hovered over Ignatius’s rib cage, and sucked in three deep breaths of air.

“There. ’Tis done,” he announced, standing tall. He turned and looked to Joe, “He’l live,” he said spitefully.

Katarina returned with a bag of ice, and ignoring Zuhayr placed it on Joe’s ankle and began wrapping it with a bandage. “You are done, then?” Katarina asked Zuhayr, not taking her eyes off of Joe’s ankle.

“Yes,” he said joining them in the sitting room.

“You got it all?” she questioned, looking up at him with frightful authority.

Zuhayr nodded solemnly, “I know better than to cross you.” He started leaving the room, “Since I am done here,” he began.

“We have further need of you,” Katarina called out quietly.

“It’s just a sprain, really,” Joe said, suddenly afraid she was going to have Zuhayr suck the life out of his foot.

Katarina smiled at Joe reassuringly. She called out to Zuhayr, “I know you noticed other scents on Ignatius,” she said.

Zuhayr turned and regarded Katarina coolly. “He still bears the stench of his so-called former master,” he sneered. “He’s just as dirty today as he was back then.”

“What you noticed were two of many pieces of an active binding.”

Zuhayr looked mildly impressed. “I never thought he had it in him to work with such skill,” he said.

“They aren’t his,” Joe protested.

“And what would you know of such matters?” Zuhayr asked snidely.

“I know enough to know and realize Ignatius was as in the dark about them as we were, and that he was surprised to find them.”

“You do know he is a skilled liar, yes?”

“This wasn’t some role he was playing. He practically died trying to save me,” Joe practically yelled.

“I can confirm the binding is not Ignatius’s doing,” Katarina said softly, bringing the heated debate to a close.

Zuhayr grunted. “What is it you want from me? You know eating bindings is a risky affair.”

“We found, and confirmed, there are many parts to this binding,” Katarina explained. “Unfortunately we were ambushed before we could find it locus.”

Zuhayr sighed, “And you want me to help you find it.”

Katarina nodded. “I know you have resources.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Zuhayr said defiantly.

“You may think you act without my knowledge, but you are mistaken.” Zuhayr began to protest, but Katarina cut him off, “Regardless there are two things I need from you. First we must locate the locus of this binding. If at all possible I would prefer if we could find all pieces of it and unravel the binding, but failing that I will need to you eat the binding.”

Zuhayr narrowed his eyes. “You ask a great deal. What is in it for me?”

“You can brag you got the better of Sikander,” Joe chimed in with sass, earning him a glares from both Katarina and Zuhayr.

“I can grant you no more than my goodwill at this time,” Katarina said quietly.

Zuhayr snorted. “I’ve worked for less, but what you ask of me will take time. Time I do not wish to spare. You will have to do better than that.”

“There is naught else I can offer,” Katarina said with firmness.

“You haven’t even told me who this kid is that Sikander is interested in him, nor why I should care to help him,” Zuhayr responded.

Katarina sighed. “Sikander thinks Joe is Helmut.”

Zuhayr’s eyes widened with surprise. He stared at Joe with renewed interest. “I’ll help,” he said in a hoarse whisper.

November 28, 2010

Advancing Chapter 9

I’m honestly surprised I was able to get nearly 2,000 words written today. Sunday’s aren’t usually a productive day for me, unless naps count as productivity. I pulled some daddy time with my little girl in the afternoon, taking her out to visit with my family and we all played together. She told me she had a good time, and we’ve come to learn she very much appreciates quality time. That is time not spent writing that I do not regret.

I am now 1,880 words away from the NaNoWriMo finish line, but it is certain the story will not be done. I dare not even guess how many words are left, but I expect it will take me at least another week to finish the draft, which I will do. Bed is calling my name, as I have an early morning, so here is the next installment of the story:

“If you will excuse us,” Katarina said with a firm kindness, “we are eager to resolve the situation.”

The crowd made a path for Katarina and Joe. As they hurried into the city people wore looks of worry and concern. A few showed outright panic, locking and boarding up their houses, bags packed and piled in the street. These Katarina stopped to reassure all was well in Second City and their safety had not been compromised in the slightest. The city looked to be on high alert, with more than a few citizens preparing to repel invaders.

“Why is everybody in a state of emergency and alarm?” Joe asked Katarina after she stopped a fourth time to reassure someone they were still safe.

“The guards have not been called into action in over 75 years,” she replied. “It’s supposed to be a rare occurrence.”

“You’d think they would be more curious than panicked,” Joe replied.

“They are there primarily as a first line of defense against invasion. The last time a war ravaged the city, and many lost their homes and their lives.”

Joe fell silent as understanding washed over him. The looks in people’s faces bore a new weight. A little worry tickled his heart, “We aren’t coming under attack, are we?” he asked.

“No,” Katarina said with firm finality.

“How can you be so sure?” he asked.

She stopped walking and turned to look at him. “Because it is my job to know. After all you have seen Joseph, after all you’ve witnessed, have you no faith yet?” she said with exasperation.

Joe looked at her quizzically. “What do you mean?”

“You have seen a great many impossible things today, and yet you still ask if the impossible can happen. You ask for assurances, you ask for a justification, a rationale, for how and why things are. Rather than simply accept things as they are you question them.”

“As you say, I’ve seen a number of impossible things today, and thus by definition they can’t have happened.”

“And yet the did,” Katarina interrupted.

“Maybe so, or maybe I’m delusional and dreaming all this up. The point is I am struggling to come to grips with all,” he waved his arms about gesturing at the city, “this. It’s a lot to take in all at once. You ask if I have any faith, I do have faith. I have faith in the laws of science and physics, laws which you and your cohorts have worked hard at shattering. So you’ll just have to excuse me if I ask questions and poke and prod and refuse to believe what cannot be happening,” Joe said testily, falling into a sullen silence.

Katarina looked at Joe with a satisfied smile on her face. In her mind the walls had been breached. Joe was coming to grips with the newly revealed world. What Joe was going through would be a lot to ask of anyone already initiated, but an Outsider would likely go mad. “Hold onto that Joe,” she said softly. “We do not violate the Laws of Nature as much as you might think. Hold fast to that faith and you will get through this.” Joe simply glared at her. “We’re losing precious time,” she said, turning around and resuming their course.

They walked for some distance further, Katarina still offering words of comfort and encouragement to those in obvious need of it, when Joe realized they were in a part the city he did not remember seeing. They were fast approaching a set of buildings shaped like overgrown chess pieces, some colored white, and some colored black. They were arranged in what initially appeared to be a haphazard fashion, until Joe realized the ground itself laid out in white and black squares.

“Is this the way to your home?” Joe asked. “I don’t remember seeing these buildings before,” he observed. “And there is no way I could forget them,” he muttered under his breath.

“We are not going to my home just yet. I need to enlist the aid of someone first.”

As they walked past a towering bishop Joe sarcastically asked, “Who’s winning?”

“Black.”

Joe stopped in surprise, “You mean to tell me this is a real game,” he asked with incredulity.

“Yes, of course.”

“Who is playing?” Joe asked, intrigued.

“They are,” Katarina said indicating the buildings.

“The buildings play themselves?” Joe asked quite astonished.

“No, the people who own and live in the buildings play.”

“So what, they each decide where to move their house each morning?”

“Each team meets regularly and surveys the playing field, then they collectively decide how to move, and simply move their house.”

“What happens to captured pieces?”

“They are relocated on the edges of the board until the game ends.”

Joe shook his head, “It must be hard finding the right house when you are invited over for dinner.”

“Not especially. The entire city follows each game.”

They walked up to the only remaining white rook on the board. Katarina rattled the door knocker which created a deep echoing sound that traveled through the entire tower. “There is one thing I must warn you about,” Katarina said as they waited, “do not stare.” Joe began to ask what she was talking about when the door opened inward on creaking hinges, and there, in the doorway, stood a nearly naked man, attired only in a pair of black shorts, his skin a vibrant shade of royal blue. Joe momentarily gawked, caught completely off guard.

“Katarina,” the man said curtly. “What a surprise to see you,” he said sarcastically. “Please tell me you are here to offer some advice, one chess master to another.”

“Zuhayr,” Katarina said with a nod. “You know why I am here.”

Zuhayr turned and looked at Joe, and scowled. “And you must be the one who has caused all our present trouble and unrest.”

“What? I — no,” Joe stammered.

“Are you not the Outsider who has been stranded in Salem?” Zuhayr pressed.

Joe nodded dumbly.

“And aren’t you the reason he is now in our city, after we’ve been promised it would never happen?” the last he said turning a disdainful look upon Katarina.

“That is my doing,” Katarina said boldly.

Zuhayr eyed Katarina suspiciously, “That doesn’t change the fact that this boy has brought a world of trouble into our midst.” He turned and leaned towards Joe, “What exactly are you going to do to make amends?” he said menacingly.

“Enough!” barked Katarina. “You will leave Joe alone,” she commanded.

Zuhayr raised his hands in surrender and backed off. “My answer is no.”

“Not acceptable,” Katarina replied.

“I don’t care what you find acceptable or not,” he spat. “I will not help the one who caused the last invasion.”

“You know as well as I do that he was not at fault for that,” growled Katarina. “It is time to let that go.”

“You may let it go, but I never will. You didn’t lose someone you cared about in that invasion,” Zuhayr said, his tone laced with venom.

Katarina’s face noticeably softened, “Yes I did, Zuhayr.”

“You dare compare my wife to your prized pupil?” he shouted, spittle flying off his lips.

“I’ve never told anyone this,” she replied in a hoarse whisper, “but Anna was more than my pupil. She was my daughter.” Zuhayr stared at Katarina in obvious astonishment, his angry fire quickly diminishing. “If anyone has cause to hate I do. But I tell you again, he was not responsible for the invasion.”

“How do I know you are telling me the truth?” Zuhayr cautiously asked.

“You question my honesty?” Katarina retorted.

Zuhayr shook his head. “No. I’m … sorry for your loss,” he offered.

“And I am sorry for yours, but that doesn’t change the fact that a man needs your help right now.”

“Why should I?” he spat bitterly. “He’s a known associate of Sikander Cavanagh Cranmer, and you and I agree he was led the attack.”

“Ignatius is helping us fight Sikander,” Joe interjected.

Zuhayr swung his attention back around to Joe, “And how do you know he’s not helping Sikander?”

“Because he put his life on the line to protect me.”

“Who are you that you need protecting?”

“Nobody,” Joe said. Zuhayr snorted. “A nobody that Sikander wants dead,” Joe finished.

Zuhayr eyed Joe with interest. “Why does he want you dead?”

“That’s not important right now,” Katarina interrupted. “A man’s life hangs in the balance, there will be time enough for explanations later. Will you freely assist or not?”

Zuhayr sighed. “Very well. Let me get my things.” He retreated into his tower pushing the door closed as he left.

Katarina stood facing the door, waiting patiently for Zuhayr’s return. Joe, in contrast, was looking at Katarina out of the corner of his eye. The news that she had a daughter shocked him, for she looked no older than Joe, and the news that this daughter died some 75 years ago further caused him to pause and reevaluate her.

“Yes Joseph, I really am that old,” Katarina said, as if reading his mind.

Joe turned to face her and asked, “You had a daughter?”

“I did. It was a long time ago.”

“Sikander caused her death and you didn’t think to mention it to me?”

“It wasn’t relevant,” she replied a little icily.

“How is it not relevant.? The same man who has trapped me in this city and has been trying to kill me is responsible for your daughter’s death and it’s somehow not relevant? Aren’t you emotionally compromised or whatever they call it?” Joe pressed.

“I agreed to help you before any of us knew who was behind this.”

“Can you honestly stand there and tell me that when you found out that Sikander was behind my situation that you didn’t feel anything?”

Katarina turned and looked Joe in the eye, “I did feel something, yes. I felt the need to help you as swiftly and surely as I possibly could. Sikander is a dangerous man without regard for human life, and if he’s targeted you then without my help you are as good as dead.” Her tone softened, “I don’t want to see that, Joseph.”

Joe looked down ashamed that he pressed her. “Thanks,” he practically mumbled. “Thanks for that.”

“You are welcome. We will get you home safe, that is my promise to you.”

“But after that I’m as good as dead?” Joe asked.

Katarina paused before answering. “If this truly is Sikander’s work then yes. Once he knows you are still alive he will try again.”

“Truthfully, should I stay here?”

“That decision is up to you.”

Joe ran his hands through his hair, “I just want to go home and have my life return to normal. I don’t fit in here. I’m not one of you. I’m not hundreds of years old, or have mystical powers, or am a giant or something. I’m just a guy, a guy who happens to have a screwed up lineage and the dumb luck to draw stuff I shouldn’t.”

“You would not have to live down here, Joe,” Katarina said softly. “And Salem is as good a place as any to settle down, operate a freelance business, and even raise a family … someday.”

Joe snorted. “If I should live so long I’m not sure I would want to curse a kid with my genetics. Who knows what ancient oddball might try to kill the poor kid.”

The door to the tower opened, and Zuhayr, dressed now in a rough spun white robe with a brown leather satchel slung across his body, stepped out and joined them. “Well, let’s go,” he said and started off down the street.


November 27, 2010

Finished Chapter 8, Started Chapter 9

Today was an awkward day for writing. An old childhood friend (he reminded me we’ve been friends for 30 years) was in town today and last-minute we arranged to get our families together. It had been two years since we last saw each other. It was a great time catching up, and I don’t regret not writing during those hours. Despite all my socializing I still managed to get 1,000 words ahead of schedule, and if all goes well I’ll finish Monday night.

I did manage to finish Chapter 8 today, so the usual ePub and PDF versions are available. I’ve decided that once I am done with the entire draft I will put it online in both PDF and ePub, so if you are horribly behind or are have been meaning to get around to reading my draft, you might as well wait until December. Or, you could always start from the beginning.

Here is the closing bits of Chapter 8, in which the battle concludes, and the beginning of Chapter 9, in which the fallout is felt:

Thunder rolled across the sky as bolts of lightning fell from the sky, striking the ground all around Ignatius, forming a tight circle of burnt earth. Ignatius stood resolute, staring into the trees where he last saw Bob. Thunder continued to rumble above, echoing the intensity of the battle below, as more lightning poured from the sky, accompanied by arcs of electricity snaking its way through tress, all destined for Ignatius. Ignatius didn’t waver through it all, until a limb came bursting forth from the trees on a violent collision course with his head. He ducked, dropping down to one knee, then caught sight of a spear hurtling toward him from the opposite direction. He rolled out of the way, and into the legs of an attacker, who toppled on top of Ignatius, mace flying from his hand. Cruel laughter split the air as Bob bellowed, “I win.” A cascade of lightning bore down on the two men, and struck home in a sickening explosion.

Joe screamed, “No!” Bob continued to bark gleeful laughter as the thunder subsided. The few remaining men left standing pressed the attack, charging all at once. Joe looked pleadingly up at Katarina, but saw she stood motionless, eyes closed, a single tear carving a path down her cheek. Joe hung his head in defeat, despair overwhelming him. Joe looked up as the air was suddenly charged with a cackling energy. The hair on his arms and the back of his neck stood up, and his skin tingled. Katarina was still motionless, her posture unchanged, but her hair was now floating, defying gravity, and an aerie blue-white light lit her countenance.

Joe didn’t see her lips move, but heard Katarina said, “Get down,” in a commanding tone, her voice full of wrath. Joe flattened himself into the ground, and covered his head with his arms as the world around him rocked and shuddered with the most violent show of force Joe had ever witnessed. Laying on the ground the breath was knocked out of him, forcing him to lift up his head and gasp for air, but there was none. Panic filled Joe’s mind as he struggled to breathe the air he knew to be there, had always been there, his mind reeling at what could have happened. Slowly his lungs filled with short breaths, then longer, more steady breaths. It took him a moment to gather himself, but looking around everyone was laying on the ground either dead or unconscious.

Katarina knelt down by Joe’s head and whispered in urgent tones, “Are you alright? Can you stand?”

Joe managed a weak, “I think so,” then pushed himself up unsteadily.

“Good. Come with me, quickly.”

“What about Ignatius?” Joe asked standing up.

“I’ve got him. Come we must go now,” she said taking off back up the trail they had come, Ignatius’s limp body flung over her shoulder.

Joe scrambled to his feet and chased after her. “What did you do back there?”

“We don’t have time right now. Just run.”

“Didn’t you take care of them?”

“Run,” came her curt command.

“But where are we going?” he demanded.

“Back to Second City,” she replied.

Chapter Nine

“Why not the hospital?” Joe said, recalling that when they walked to the park he saw a hospital across the street.

“It won’t do him any good,” Katarina barked back. “No more questions,” she snapped back.

Joe had to hustle to keep pace with Katarina, who, despite carrying Ignatius jogged down the path and out into an open field. They ran out in the open, cars were driving up and down the street just off to their right, people were jogging ahead on the same path, and there was a parking lot full of cars and more than a few people milling about. Joe worried what would happen when people realized a girl was carrying a man away from the hospital. Joe lowered his head and followed Katarina, deciding to tune out any distractions, running with the hope that the entrance to Second City was not far away.

They kept running. They past the stadium and ran around the soap box derby run, then veered sharply up a hill, following a path right to the front door of an old farm house. Joe barely had time to register the incongruity of finding a preserved farm house in the middle of a 90 acre park, which boasted playgrounds, tennis courts, a full stadium with bleachers, and soap box derby run. In his distraction at seeing the house he tripped and found himself sprawled out on the ground, his face full of grass and dirt.

“Joe, are you alright?” Katarina called out, stopping and turning to inquire.

Joe spit grass out of his mouth. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He looked up and saw, off in the distance, nestled in and amongst a rose garden, a white gazebo standing proud in the park. “What is it with this town and gazebos?” he asked picking himself up off the ground.

“This way, it’s not far,” Katarina called out, grabbing Joe’s hand and dragging him after her, heedless of his slight limp. Joe stumbled after Katarina as they came around the house heading for the greenhouse. Katarina pulled Joe in after her and carefully checking that no one else was in the greenhouse with them she slammed the door shut, then promptly opened it again. Joe barely had time to shoot her a quizzical look when she shoved him through the open door then lunged through after him.

Joe stumbled, then winced as his ankle screamed at him, and he fell to the ground landing on his backside. He was about to shout something unpleasant to Katarina when he realized he was surrounded by angry looking guards pointing all manner of medieval weaponry at him and Katarina. It took him a moment to realize he was once again on the landing overlooking the impressive Second City, only this time it did not appear he was welcome. Thinking Katarina was still in the park and not yet through he quickly and nervously shouted, “I’m with Katarina!”

“Stand down Guardsman,” Katarina’s voice rang out with authority. The guards faltered but did not lower their weapons. “I said stand down,” she repeated. “I have a wounded man here in need of medical attention.”

“Forgive us milady, but you yourself told us never, under any circumstances, to allow that man into the City,” one of the guards said, an iron firmness to his voice.

“I am well aware of my standing orders,” she replied testily. “I am exercising my right to grant him access this one time. Stand down,” Katarina said with finality.

As one the guards lowered their weapons, and all but one silently melded back into the shadows. “I will escort you and your guest to your destination. He is not to leave my sight. You know our way.”

Katarina nodded then turned her attention to Joe who sat on the ground stupefied but relieved. “I am sorry Joseph,” she said, offering her hand to help him up.

Joe shook his head. “It’s alright. I guess. Now can you tell me why were are here instead of a hospital?

Shaking her head Katarina said, “I can’t give you full explanation, but suffice it to say we are protected here, and his wounds cannot be looked after by the doctors in that hospital.”

Joe took a moment to look at Ignatius. He hung limply on Katarina’s shoulder, color drained from his face, his arms and legs akimbo. Joe had to look hard to discern any sign of breathing. “He’ll be alright?”

“We’ll see, but I fear we must hurry.” Turning to the guard she asked, “Guardsman, are you willing to carry this man to my home?”

The guard nodded his head in a swift, firm motion, then carefully plucked Ignatius up an slung him over a shoulder. Without another word he jogged down the steps heading for Second City. Joe began to follow but winced and cried out when he put his weight on his right foot. Katarina snapped her head looking first at Joe then at his favored foot. “You’re injured,” she said.

“It’s just my ankle. I might have sprained in when I tripped,” Joe said. “It’s nothing. I’ll be fine.”

“Put your arm around my shoulder and at least let me help you,” Katarina said, pulling Joe’s arm around her shoulder with one hand while wrapping another around his waist and pulling him in close.

They hobbled down the steps, Joe sucking in breath now and then as tried to use his right foot, only to have Katarina gently scold him and threaten to carry him if he did not take his weight off that foot. By the time they got to the outskirts of the city the news of Katarina’s arrival had spread as many rushed out to meet her flooding her with questions. She assured them she was alright, though clearly many were concerned given Joe’s state. “It’s nothing,” Joe tried to reassure them. “I sprained my ankle when I tripped over my own feet.” That hardly put them at ease.

“What is he doing here?” they demanded. “You promised he would never be allowed down here.”

Katarina stopped to address the crowd. “Ignatius Blackmoore was gravely injured while trying to protect both me and Joe,” she told them. “He showed great courage and selflessness, and in order to save his life I have brought him here.” The crowd murmured disagreeable. “He is not conscious,” she told them, “and he will remain that way until I am satisfied he can safely return. You have my word.” At that the murmuring subsided, though clearly many were uncomfortable with the situation.

November 26, 2010

Battling for the Win

I don’t know what happened today. I took the day off. I intended on writing at least 4,000 words. I got a good night’s sleep; my wife let me sleep in until 9. I could not concentrate on my novel. Despite the abundant sleep I even took a nap in the afternoon. I broke my habit: I tried to write during the day, rather than the evening. When I did start writing at my usual time the words flowed better. Things were less forced and I made better progress.

Despite my slow start and underwhelming progress I did manage nearly 2,400 words, most of which is a rather protracted fight scene. I didn’t anticipate the fight lasting as long as it has. I’ll end it soon, as this is not the climax of the story. Until then you’ll have to wait and see just what happens. Again, I am starting this evening’s excerpt with some context from last time.

Joe wiped his brow. “Nevertheless I need to get back home. I need some kind of normalcy right now.” Joe looked from Ignatius to Katarina. “What is our next move?”

“We still need to find the rest of the binding if we are to unravel it,” Ignatius sighed. “That will take some time. We don’t know how many different pieces there are to this one, nor where they are hidden.”

“I thought Mortimer was able to get us a list of locations,” Joe said.

“He did,” Katarina replied. “But as we found out at Mission Mill not all of them are related to your predicament.”

“So we just need to keep looking then,” Joe said with finality.

“It’s getting late,” Katarina countered. “We are losing daylight and we all need some rest.”

“I’ll rest when I get back to my home,” Joe practically growled.

Katarina looked to Ignatius who only shrugged. “There was another location nearby, in Bush Park. We can try there while we still have some light,” Katarina suggested.

“Great. Let’s go,” Joe said, launching himself off the bench and out of the gazebo.

“Do you know where you are going?” called out Katarina as she hurried after him.

“Nope,” Joe called out. “But I expect you’ll show me the way,” he turned around showing a big grin on his face. “Come on, we’re losing daylight, and I’d like to be home now.”

Katarina took the lead, walking them out the way they came in, past the now quiet and nearly dark house, and back to the sidewalk. Taking a left she practically marched up the street.

“I take it that’s the park up ahead?” Joe asked upon noticing the expanse of forested land on their left, continuing off into the distance. Katarina nodded. “It seems like a rather large park,” Joe said, worry creeping into his voice.

“It’s a 90 acre park,” Katarina confirmed.

“Please tell me you have some idea where in the park we are headed,” Joe pleaded.

Katarina nodded at the tall oak trees looming over them. “I suspect it’s one of these trees.”

Joe looked crestfallen. “There must be hundreds of trees.”

“Aye,” confirmed Ignatius. “But we need only concern ourselves with the old ones.”

“They all look old,” Joe pointed out.

Ignatius chuckled. “I suppose they do. I have a fair idea where we need to go,” he said, veering off the sidewalk and into a wooded parking lot. “I think you’ll find it’s this way.”

Joe followed Ignatius without a word, and plunged into the darkening woods after him. The trees stood proud and tall, and sheltered those within their care not only from the sun, but also from the hustle and bustle of life outside the park. There was a quiet and stillness lingering in the forest. It was inviting and lulled people into a sense of safety. As if to prove the point a pair of squirrels ran chittering toward the trio, stopping a short distance from them, and stood on the hind legs, as if begging for food.

“I am sorry dear friends,” Katarina said to the squirrels, “but we do not have any food today.”

The squirrels cocked their heads at this, chittered to each other, then scampered up the nearest tree and vanished from sight.

“Tame squirrels,” Joe commented.

“They’ve come to trust that people are generally kind and giving,” Katarina said.

The came upon a jogging trail in the midst of the trees. Ignatius walked onto it, paused, then strode deeper into the dark forest.

Noticing how dark the forest was getting, Joe was about to ask if either Ignatius or Katarina had a flashlight with them when Ignatius stopped short. He crouched down and motioned that Joe and Katarina should do the same. Joe looked frantically around but saw nothing.

“What is it,” Joe whispered to Ignatius.

Ignatius shook his head then waved vaguely at Joe, who understood Ignatius to mean he should remain silent. Katarina placed a comforting hand on Joe’s shoulder and gave him a reassuring smile. After a moment Ignatius stood up, saying, “I thought I heard something up ahead. Must have been a squirrel.” He shrugged. “This way,” he said, continuing deeper into the gloom.

They walked for a short distance then came upon a small playground nestled in and amongst the trees. There was a single toddler swing standing alone, just off the path, a mere short distance from a slide and a set of swings and a picnic table.

“Seems like an odd place to put a kiddie playground,” Joe said in hushed tones. “If I were a kid I wouldn’t want to play here.”

A cry split the stillness of the moment. Ignatius dropped to one knee, hand outstretched menacingly, pointing off into the gloom of the forest. Katarina moved to stand between Joe and the origin of the cry, then pulled him down to a crouch, whispering to him, “Keep your head down.”

Joe cowered on the ground, crouching, and cursing himself for hiding behind a girl. “What is it?” Joe hissed. “What do you see?”

“Nothing,” Katarina whispered back.

Another cry assailed them, followed by the muffled sounds of a skirmish. Dim sounds of wood clashing against wood wound its way through the forest, followed shortly by cries of victory and painful defeat. A sickening thud sounded just ahead, and a small round object fell to the ground. Joe panicked. “Please don’t tell me that’s a human head,” he whimpered into Katarina’s ear.

A dark, vaguely human shape, bearing what looked to be a menacing knife, or sword, loomed out of the forest, causing Joe to cringe, but he could not look away. It was bad enough to be hiding behind a girl, he would not look away. As the figure drew closer Joe saw it was a young man brandishing a stick wrapped in foam and duct tape. Stooping down he picked up a dripping wet foam ball, which he brandished with a certain viciousness. Turning around he let out a fierce, bellowing war cry, the thew the ball back the way he came and ran forward, his improvised sword extended before him.

Ignatius relaxed and stood up. Joe and Katarina did the same.

“Is that what I think it was?” Joe asked.

“There’s a group of guys who engage in live action role playing round about here in the park,” Ignatius said. “I expect that was what I had heard before.”

“You’ve got those guys out here too?” Joe asked. “I ran into a few of their kind back in college. If you ask me they aren’t all there.”

The woods echoed with a series of battle cries. Joe smirked. “You know, they would sound more frightening if they weren’t so few.”

A branch above Joe’s head rang out with a loud crack and came crashing down. Joe dove out of the way just before it slammed into the ground, where he had just been standing. Picking himself up off of the ground he looked at the fallen limb and saw one end was charred black. About to call attention to this detail Joe looked to Katarina and Ignatius and saw an onslaught of dark figures running towards them. Too late, Joe realized they were under attack.

“Stay down!” Katarina shouted at Joe as the trees around them erupted in a cacophony of loud cracks and explosions. Joe’s head reeled as he realized they were being ambushed. Looking up into the trees he saw branches burst into sudden flame, then just as suddenly extinguish as they came crashing down to the ground. Katarina held her hands aloft and braced herself for impact. The branches and limbs sped toward the trio, and to Joe’s utter astonishment careened off an invisible barrier, sliding safely down away from them.

Ignatius, standing only a few feet in front of Katarina, flung his arm out toward the fallen limbs. Making a fist with his outstretched arm he made a grand sweeping gesture bringing his harm straight in front of him, then opened his fist. A thick limb flew off the ground and hurtled itself with great force toward the onrushing figures. There were a few cries of surprise, and few muffled curses, as the limb crashed into two of the figures with a resounding clangor of wood against metal. Ignatius repeated the gesture sending yet another limb hurtling at another pair of figures who, this time expecting resistance, ducked behind trees, the limb crashing to the ground somewhere off in the distance.

“They’ve got mages!” someone bellowed from the attacking party.

“They can’t attack what they can’t see,” came a faint reply. As if someone flipped a switch the woods outside the playground became impenetrably dark. Tendrils of inky blackness flicked into the playground at the edges, as if the sudden darkness were alive and searching. Ignatius, crouching low to the ground, drew a series of figures in the debris on the forest floor. With a quick exhalation of breath the woods around them were suddenly populated with baseball sized floating spheres of blue-white light. The light revealed a stygian thing winding its way through the trees, gently embracing cloaked figures slowly advancing.

Joe looked all around them, looking for a line of retreat, but finding none called out, “We’re surrounded.”

Katarina closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her lips began to move ever so slightly, though no sound came out, then in a sudden motion she exhaled and slammed her hand into the ground, palm first, fingers splayed wide. The instant her hand touched the ground an invisible wave of force ripped through the air, passing harmlessly through Ignatius and Joe. It sped through the forest tearing through the stygian tendrils, reducing them to nothing more than an incoherent black mist, and slammed into the cloaked and robed figures with such force that many were knocked to the ground.

A lone figure, brought down to one knee by Katarina’s attack, launched himself at Ignatius with a wild cry. Rushing toward Ignatius he passed under one of the spheres of light and Joe saw his face. “It’s the same kid as before,” he hissed in shocked warning. Where before the young man was waving a padded stick, Joe now saw he was brandishing a polished blade of steel, and wore a small wooden shield on his other arm.

Ignatius, aware of his onrushing attacker, remained crouched until his opponent was nearly upon him. Shifting his weight to one side he lunged with his feet and threw himself under the swing of the sword. As the sword arched to the ground harmlessly behind Ignatius, he brought his open palm up into the chest of his assailant. There was a sudden bright flash of angry red where Ignatius’s hand impacted. The would be warrior flew back in a delicate arch and landed limp as a rag doll a couple of feet away, wisps of smoke rising from a charred hole in his chest. Joe gaped, forgetting to breathe. It took a moment for the reality of what he saw to sink in, whereupon he thew up.

“I see you haven’t lost your touch,” a voice boomed out of the trees. Ignatius remained silent and grim faced. “I wonder, old friend, do you know any new tricks?” the voice taunted. “The last time we fought to a draw. Don’t think that will happen again.” An arc of electricity shot through the trees, racing straight for Ignatius. Ignatius snapped his hand up and caught the bolt as if he were playing catch.

“Let the others go,” Ignatius said, his voice carrying with authority. “This is between you and me, Bob.”

The giant who twice before tried to kill Joe emerged from the cover of darkness and scowled at Ignatius. “I can’t do that. I’m here for the boy. This is your only warning old friend: leave now, and I’ll let you live. This need not be your fight.”

“I thought he was dead,” Joe groaned “You said he couldn’t swim,” he whispered at Katarina.

“Stay close, and keep your head down,” she responded.

Ignatius looked up at Bob and cooly defied him, “I’m afraid this is my fight. I’ve grown rather fond of the boy.”

“Suit yourself,” Bob said with a wicked grin, then raised his hand, pointed at Joe, and let out a fierce roar. Joe ducked his head as sparks erupted in violent fury mere inches from him. With a crashing roar the small band of cloaked figures raised their arms high and all at once charged. The blue-white light from the floating spheres reflected off steel swords, maces, and a spear as men of all sizes crashed through the trees with war in their hearts, and thoughts of honor and glory running through their heads.

Ignatius flew into what at first appeared to be a furious dance, but as men were swept off their feet, some by fallen limbs crashing into them, others simply folding under the impact of invisible blows, it became apparent Ignatius was waging war. Another attacker drew near to Ignatius and swung a mighty blow, only to have it dodged. He didn’t have time to flinch in fear or regret as Ignatius drilled his palm into his chest and just as before there was a bright flash, and the man arched back and fell to the ground unmoving.

Katarina whirled around, turning her back toward Ignatius, and extending her arms outward glared at the charging men. Without so much as a twitch of a finger or a quiver of a lip the four nearest combatants collapsed to the ground grasping at their throats trying desperately to breathe. The remaining men slowed, but did not stop. Katarina remained unmoving, as still as a statue, and three more feel clawing at their throats. The charge faltered and drew short as the sight of their comrades turning blue at their feet gave them pause.

In the chaos of the charge Bob slipped back into the cover of darkness biding his time. Ignatius stood still, two more bodies laying still and smoldering on the ground around him. “You would waste the lives of noble men, who seek honor and glory?” he growled into the darkness, shaking his head in sorrow and pity. “You know they stand no match, no matter how many you send. Spare their lives at least, and face me in a duel,” he challenged.

November 24, 2010

Marching Toward the Finish Line

I made a last-minute adjustment to my plot tonight, rather spur of the moment. As I’ve known all along I’m discovering and exploring this novel as I’m writing it. I only have a skeleton in mind, and some times I don’t even have that clear. Tonight I realized that Mission Mill was not overtly related to our tale. It’s there, and hopefully my little twist will be developed greater during revision. What this allowed me to do is add in an extra scene (or two), and so our trio find themselves at Deepwood Estate tonight.

Tomorrow being Thanksgiving, and given that I am 2,000 words ahead of schedule today, I may not get any writing done. I want to spend time with family, and while I expect I will have some time to myself before going to bed, I don’t want to push myself if I don’t have to. So with that thought in mind, may these words tie you over:

Joe waited as patiently as he could, but the site of a grown man groping the foundation of a building, while a young woman leaned on his shoulder was too conspicuous. Joe worried that at any minute someone would see them, and Joe didn’t know how to answer the inevitable questions. “Not to interrupt, but could you two look a little less out-of-place?” Joe hissed. They both shushed him.

“I can’t quite make it out,” Ignatius said. “It’s too faint, almost like it’s deep within the foundation.” He stood up from the foundation.

“Let’s keep trying,” Katarina said, leading them into the museum. “They have kept the original water wheel turbine. Perhaps there is something there,” she suggested, walking up to an impressive display of vintage mechanical technology.

Ignatius walked up to the turbine and looked at it. There were some visitors touring the museum, and not wanting to draw attention to himself he refrained from closer inspection. “I can’t be certain,” he whispered. “Perhaps once the room clears out I’ll be able to do a better inspection.”

Deciding not to loiter too long near the turbine they casually walked through the museum, reading the plaques and playing the part of the interested tourist. The museum boasted to have some of the original equipment from when the woolen mill was operational, as well as various artifacts of the time and trade. By itself the museum was far from boring, and listening to Ignatius whisper comments about his recollections of the era preserved in memory by the museum was fascinating. “I still remember the first time I saw a factory,” he was saying. “The thing both impressed and frightened me.”

“Why’s that,” Joe asked quietly.

“Well my boy, for one thing the speed at which they worked, and the amount of work they got done in a day was astounding. The potential to change the pace of life was astounding. But the place was soulless, and inhuman. In a way it felt like it was dehumanizing people.”

“You mean having machines replace humans?” Joe pressed.

“Something like that. Looking back now I see that in some ways it did make life worse, but in many ways it made life much better.”

“And we still have that tension of losing jobs to machines,” Joe chimed in sardonically.

“True, true. But you yourself should know, dear boy, being the designer that you are, that there has been a growing trend of people returning to hand crafted goods and products,” Ignatius countered.

Joe shrugged. “It’s inconsequential. It’s just a few people hawking their wares on the Internet, that’s all. By and large we still consume mass produced goods.” Joe looked up from reading a display and looked over at Ignatius, “But we’ll never manage to mass produce good design,” he said with a grin.

The number of people milling about dwindled and the three of them nonchalantly made their way back to the water wheel and the turbine. As there was no one in the immediate vicinity Ignatius endeavored to take a closer look.

“Careful,” Katarina whispered as Ignatius moved to touch the casing on the turbine.

Ignatius grunted. “Don’t worry, I don’t want to lose my hand any more than you want me to.” He leaned in and let his hand over over the assembly, closed his eyes and concentrated. He shook his head. “I’m still not getting anything.”

“Here, let me,” Katarina said, laying her arm on his shoulder.

Ignatius cocked his head to one side, as if listening for something, then finally pulled his arm back and sighed. “Nothing.”

“So what does that mean?” Joe asked.

“Nothing,” Ignatius said. “It means nothing, except that we’ve wasted time.”

“Humor me,” Katarina said with a knowing smile. “We’ll find something else here. Why don’t we try the waterways, or one of the other buildings.”

They shuffled out of the building and into the waning daylight. Katarina led them across a bridge and toward a collection of old period houses. As they grew closer Joe spotted a giant mass of black metal sitting in a frame on a concrete pad. “Hey, what’s that over there?”

They walked over to it and discovered it was the original turbine. Without prompting Ignatius walked up to it, examining it. He ran his hands over the black outer casing while looking intently at it. He even crouched down and stuck his head inside the turbine inspecting the inside. Being sure that no one was watching he closed his eyes, leaned in, and rested his ear on it. “Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle… .” he exclaimed, and then raised his head enough to lick the turbine. Pulling back smacking his lips he gave a worried look to Katarina. “You were right. This is a binding, but its signature is different from any other that I’ve come across.”

Katarina raised an eyebrow. “Different how?” she asked, resting her hand on the turbine.

“For starters, it has a unique taste.”

“You sure that’s not just the metal?” Joe asked.

Ignatius turned and glared at Joe until he realized the question was genuine. “No. Each technique of binding has it’s own signature that some of us can actually taste. This one is different. It’s strikingly similar to Sikander’s signature, but distinct enough that it cannot be his. Furthermore, I can say with certainty that this binding differs from the one I felt in the foundations of the building.”

“Is there any way you can gauge how old the binding is?” Katarina asked.

Ignatius shook his head. “No. But I can tell you it’s never been used.”

“So what are we saying?” Joe asked. “Are you suggesting someone other than Sikander has been here and worked an impossible set of bindings?”

“That’s exactly what we’re suggesting,” Katarina replied. “Furthermore, I’m willing to bet that someone is Helmut himself.”

Joe did some quick math in his head. “I thought you said he died a long time ago.”

“Disappeared,” corrected Ignatius.

“Fine disappeared. Either way there is now way this is near old enough for him to have done it when he was known to be alive. So are we saying that Helmut is alive today?”

“Not necessarily,” Katarina cautioned. “He was here at some point in Salem’s history, that much we can deduce. But as to his fate after that, well …” she shrugged.

“I take it we can assume that we won’t find anything of my binding here?”

“I’m afraid not my boy. There’s just no possible way Sikander would even try.”

“Where to now? What is next on our list?” Joe asked tiredly.

“The nearest one is Deepwood,” Ignatius replied. “Though that’ll still be a bit of a walk.”

“Do we have a choice?” sighed Joe.

“Not really,” Katarina said, placing a hand on Joe’s shoulder.

“Let’s get going then,” Joe said.

There was no time for conversation as they hurried to the Deepwood Estate, Katarina setting a grueling pace that had Joe wincing from the sharp pain in his side. When they arrived at the entrance to the estate Joe had to pause for breath, leaning over with his hands on his knees. When he righted himself once again he beheld the house for which the estate was known. Before him stood an exquisite nineteenth century victorian home, right out of a storybook. The house was painted a cool white, which accented its many windows, and served as a relief to show off the curves, arches, and angles otherwise hidden in its frame. Off the center of the house rose tower, serving as the only third story window Joe could see, but the views from that room must have been magnificent. Joe stood and marveled that something so beautiful could exist in such a modern city, in what used to be a frontier of the wild west.

“Joe?” Katarina called turning back looking for him.

“This … this is amazing. This is a Queen Anne Victorian house, right here in the middle of the city.”

“I know,” Katarina said. “Any other day and I would arrange for you to have a tour, but… .”

“What is this town?” Joe asked, still leaning on his knees. “On the one hand it appears to be a modern city, but the deeper you look the more things start popping out at you.”

“This is a town, like many others,” Katarina assured him.

“But how many have all manner of historical sites like these?”

“Many, Joe.” She walked over and laid a hand on his arm. “Come on. The sun is nearly down, and we’ll need what little remains to find what we are looking for.”

Joe stood up and allowed Katarina to lead him around the back of the house and into the formal gardens, whereupon Joe was impressed once again. The care and attention paid to the gardens was evident, as plants were arranged to form paths, and patterns. The grass was kept short, but lush, inviting people to walk and even lounge on it. Small boxwood were precisely trimmed and served to line peat gravel walkways and create borders between sections of the garden. There was not a section of the gardens that had not been given careful attention. It was, in a word: manicured.

Katarina led him through the gardens, around the house, back to the front. They passed through an old tennis court, not yet restored to working order, and ended up meeting Ignatius in a tiny green gazebo tucked away into the side of the hill at the front of the house. Joe could look up and into the windows of the house, and hear cars driving by behind him. “Oh what I wouldn’t give to have seen this place when Salem was young,” Joe uttered.

“It was a sight to behold, to be sure,” Katarina replied.

Joe eyed her curiously and was about to ask a question when Ignatius let out a quite exclamation. “It’s here, and it is Sikander’s.”

“Good news?” Joe asked hopefully.

Ignatius gave Joe a look of commiseration. “Not exactly I’m afraid. I can now confirm that this location and the church are both part of an active binding. I can also confirm that we are dealing with a complex binding with many parts. The thing is distributed throughout the city.”

Joe slumped onto the wooden bench in the gazebo. “Got any other good news?” he asked sarcastically.

Ignatius looked at Katarina and back to Joe. “Just one other thing. I can’t be certain, but it appears this binding is configured to target a specific individual.”

“How is that news?”

“What I mean,” Ignatius leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, “from the beginning this binding was set to only trigger when a particular individual set foot within its bounds.”

Joe sat up a straight. “Are you saying this trap was laid specifically for me, decades, even centuries ago?” he hissed.

Ignatius shook his head. “Not as such. Like I said, I cannot be certain. What I do know is there are certain indicators that only a particular person could spring the trap.”

“So what are you saying?”

“I’m saying it was no accident you were sent here, to Salem.”

“Can you determine any of the criteria the binding is using to keep Joe here?” Katarina asked.

Ignatius shook his head. “I don’t have enough of the binding. But knowing Sikander, if he were targeting a specific individual he would use something of theirs in creating it, like a strand of hair, or a fingernail.”

“Which brings me back to my point. If that were true how could he be targeting me before I was even born?”

Katarina looked at Joe with a measure of pity. Joe caught on. “Wait. No. No, we’re not back to that.”

“It would make sense Joe.”

“No it wouldn’t. Let’s say Sikander used a piece of Helmut’s hair for this binding, and let’s assume I am his descendant. That doesn’t explain why the trap would trigger for me. I’m not an exact copy of Helmut, and before you go thinking it, I’m not Helmut himself pretending to be some kid named Joe.”

“I can assure you we were not thinking that,” Katarina said soothingly.

“The binding may not be so specific that it would trigger for only Helmut,” Ignatius chimed in. “It may only look for certain genetic characteristics. Look, what it means is you were singled out. Sikander thinks you are a threat to him, and whether or not we can get you free of this binding doesn’t mean you should rashly return to your life in Springfield. As long as he thinks you are a threat to him he will come after you.”

Joe wiped his brow. “Nevertheless I need to get back home. I need some kind of normalcy right now.”


November 23, 2010

A Near Misstep

I had to work out some plot-based kinks in the ending of my novel tonight. As I’ve been approaching the end I’ve become more concerned about it. Initially it was never a well defined target, as I knew I would be shifting things around. As it grew closer I had a good idea how I wanted to wrap things up, but as I’m now 10,000 words away from “the end” I’ve grown uncomfortable with it. For one thing it was a bit too vague, and for another I still was not entirely clear how to get the characters from plot point a to plot point b. I’m still not 100% sure I’ve solved it, but I think (I hope) I’ve got it solved enough that I can cross the finish line this month.

Due to the plotting of the novel I had to eat away at my lead. I only wrote 800 some odd words, enough to cross the 40k marker. It’s not what I wanted today, but I have a better idea of how to proceed from here.

For today’s excerpt I am reposting a portion of yesterday’s writing to give some context:

“Welcome to the Mission Mill Museum,” Ignatius said with a grand sweeping gesture.

Joe looked around. The immediate vicinity presented itself as a small park with a creek running through it, and a few trees. Across the lawn stood a complex of wooden buildings painted a rustic red with stark white trim. The uniform construction was soothing to the eye, but did nothing to diminish the feeling of weight the large three story brick building gave to the area. The complex stood out among the more modern buildings of Salem. In truth they evoked a colonial era, rather than a frontier old-west feeling, as if the buildings were wholly transplanted from Salem, Massachusetts to Salem, Oregon. The impression was so strong Joe wondered which building would have been used for a witch trial.

“I can see why Sikander would use this place. It’s … old,” Joe said.

“It has been well preserved,” Ignatius agreed.

“That’s not what I meant,” Joe countered. “I mean the atmosphere of this place. It’s almost as if we stepped into another world in another time. I half expect a young girl in a bonnet and boots with buttons to come out of one of those buildings carrying a wooden bucket.”

“And that is precisely what I meant about being well preserved,” Ignatius responded. “More than just the building structures have been preserved. The very spirit of the place is intact. As you say, all that is missing are the people who originally spent their time here.”

At that precise moment a young girl, in dress and bonnet, exited one of the buildings, walked across the yard and into another building.

“You forgot to mention the museum is haunted,” Joe said sardonically.

Katarina laughed. “Let’s find what we’ve come here to seek,” she suggested. “We won’t have much daylight, and I have a suspicion we’ll need it.”

Joe looked to Ignatius who was simply standing still, staring perplexedly at the buildings. “Where do we start looking?”

Ignatius, looking worried, shrugged. “I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“What do you mean?” Joe asked a bit shocked. “At the church you were able to find that brick, sort of like a bloodhound. Why is this place different?”

“I don’t know how to say it, but I think the whole place might be binding.”

Joe looked from Ignatius to Katarina. “Is that possible? I mean, the last one was just a brick.”

“Size is irrelevant,” Katarina replied. “All that matters is that it exists.”

“But the amount of effort it must have taken to convert this entire place …” Ignatius said to Katarina, trailing off. “How could someone pull that off? The time it would take to complete it, without anyone interfering, makes it so unlikely I’ve never heard of it being done.”

“Are you certain there is not another explanation?” Katarina suggested.

Ignatius furrowed his brow. “Like what?”

“What if there is more than one binding here?”

Ignatius’s eyes grew wide. “You can’t be serious.”

Katarina looked him in the eye, unwavering. “Is that so hard to believe?”

“Frankly, yes. How could they coexist in proximity?”

“It’s been done before,” Katarina prodded.

Ignatius snapped a quick glance at Joe then back to Katarina, “Yes, but that technique was lost with Helmut,” he hissed.

“Are you sure?” Katarina pressed.

“If Sikander learned it, or rediscovered it, he didn’t tell me. I didn’t even get a hint of it from him.”

Katarina gave him an exasperated look. “Are you suggesting Sikander never kept any secrets from you?”

“Of course not,” Ignatius spat, his dander up. “But I assisted him on a great many of these traps, and we went through all kinds of gyrations to place layer upon layer of bindings in the same city. It would have been greatly simplified if he had this technique. No,” he shook his head. “If Sikander knew how to do this I’m sure I would have caught wind of it.”

“Humor me, and see if I’m right.”

Ignatius sighed. “And where do you expect me to start looking?”

“Pick something suitably old,” Katarina offered. “Say a lintel, or part of the foundation.”

“Very well,” Ignatius grunted.

“What’s it going to hurt?” Joe asked. “Wouldn’t that help if the whole place were the binding?”

“It would have some limited uses,” Ignatius grumbled. “But I would not gain anything specific, and details are what we need right now. Without them we will not be able to unravel the binding and you will be stuck here I’m afraid.”

Joe looked to Katarina for encouragement. She stood firm, calm, and composed, as if there was nothing at all in the world to be concerned about. Joe turned back to Ignatius, “It’s worth a shot.”

They walked over to the large brick building, which Joe assumed was the actual mill, and Ignatius began running his hands over the rough rock foundation, muttering to himself the entire time. After a few minutes he gave up, shrugging his shoulders. “Nothing, and everything. I can’t find anything specific here to investigate.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?” Joe asked.

Katarina reached out and laid a hand on Ignatius’s shoulder. “Allow me,” she said softly. “Try again. Please.”

Ignatius sighed resignedly and turned back to the building and began running his hands over the rock wall. “There. Do you feel that?” Katarina called out.

“No,” Ignatius growled. “Wait.” He squinted, then shut his eyes and leaned into the building. “It’s faint, but there is something here. Something distinct from the rest of the place.”

November 22, 2010

Finished Chapter Seven

Tonight I finished Chapter Seven, and have both an ePub and PDF available for download. The story is racing toward the finish line and I need to spend a bit more time working on the final details of the plot. It’s a bit too fuzzy for my comfort.

I wrote part of a scene I’m fairly certain I will cut during revision. I’m not entirely sure why I wrote it other than to just pad out my word count. It started snowing in Salem tonight. That doesn’t happen often, maybe every couple of years, so I got distracted and found it hard to write. I did manage my 2,000 words, though I had hoped to be closer to 3,000. I’m not yet at 40,000 words, but I’m close.

Without further ado I bring you the end of Chapter Seven and the beginning of Chapter Eight:

Joe met up with Katarina and Ignatius outside the restaurant. Joe looked up and down the street looking for Mortimer, whom he saw exiting the restaurant mere moments before. There was no sign of Mortimer. Just as Joe was about to ask about Mortimer Ignatius inquired about Joe’s dinner, “You looked like you had yourself a lovely dinner,” he said with a wink and a grin.

“It was alright,” Joe said defensively.

“Just alright?” Ignatius asked with a frown.

“I trust everything worked out okay with Shelly?” Katarina asked with a knowing look.

“Did you know this would happen?” Joe asked.

“Perhaps.”

“You didn’t feel it was prudent to warn me what I was getting myself into?” Joe asked hotly.

“Would you have gone had I told you this would have happened?”

“Probably not,” Joe confessed.

“Now you know why I did not tell you.”

“But why was it important?”

Katarina fixed him with an appraising stare. “Because of what you learned, Joe.”

“What I learned?” Joe said barely hanging onto his self-control. “All I learned is that there is a girl out there who likes to screw with people, and that you could have simply told me.”

“Did you learn nothing else?”

Joe glared at her. “No,” he said with finality.

Katarina sighed in disappointment.

Ignatius interrupted the conversation, “Well you will be happy to know, my boy, that we had a very productive dinner. A very productive dinner indeed. Would you care to hear about it?” He threw an arm around Joe’s should and began walking away from the restaurant, leaving Katarina to catch up.

“You found a way to get rid of this binding and I can go home now?” Joe asked hopefully.

“One step at a time my boy!” Ignatius said encouragingly. “One step at a time. But, yes. I do believe we have an angle on getting you home.”

“I’m all ears,” Joe said devoid of all enthusiasm.

“The Guardian was able to confirm that the gold man was indeed aware of a dozen or so prepared bindings in Salem.”

“A dozen?” Joe exclaimed incredulously.

“Give or take a few. There were some anomalies we could not identify.”

“So, what now? We visit each one until we find the one holding me here?”

“That would be one way of doing it, sure. But I have a hunch we are going to follow up on. If I’m right it’ll point us in the right direction.”

“So where are we going?” Joe asked, hoping it was somewhere close by.

“To church!” Ignatius said enthusiastically.

“To church?” Joe groaned. “Do we have time for all that?”

“It shan’t take but a moment my boy,” Ignatius said encouragingly.

“Last time I asked God for anything He didn’t answer me,” Joe grumbled.

Ignatius laughed. “We aren’t going to church to inquire of The Lord, dear boy. We are going to a church where I believe we will find one of Sikander’s bindings, and hopefully yours.”

Joe visibly brightened.

They walked in silence for half a block when Joe was suddenly struck with a question. “Why a church?” Joe asked.

“Because that’s where the binding is,” Ignatius replied.

“No, I mean, why did Ignatius place a binding in a church? Isn’t that a bit, well odd?”

“Ah I see what you mean,” Ignatius said nodding. “I suppose he did it to mock those inside. Remember he’s trying to set himself up to be God, and what better way to erode at their faith than by using their own buildings against them, and for his own purposes? Plus, who would think to look in a church — a house of righteousness — for something evil?”

Joe looked troubled. “That’s quite a statement to make. Isn’t he worried of reprisals?”

“I think he rather figures that if God exists and cares He would have acted centuries ago.”

“I suppose that makes a certain sort of sense,” Joe said. “But still, that’s playing with fire.”

Ignatius nodded. “I don’t disagree.”

Arriving at the church Ignatius stopped and looked up, then around, searching the exterior of the church. They stood before a magnificent red brick church, complete with steeples, gothic arched windows and doors, and decorative crosses. All that was missing was stained glass windows, but the large flower-like window above the doors more than made up for their absence. It was unapologetically a church, the kind of church one would expect to see in an old black and white movie. The very building commanded respect, and the steeples, topped with crosses, seemed to point toward heaven suggesting man’s attention should be elsewhere. Joe marveled that such a building would be the target of such dastardly schemes. It seemed a crime not only against God, but against man as well, for to mar such an inspiring example of architecture diminished it’s cultural value.

“This is the church?” Joe asked obviously awed.

“Aye,” Ignatius said, distracted by his survey of the building.

“I seems unconscionable to use this building in such a base way,” Joe said.

“’Tis only a building, son,” Ignatius said, still searching.

“Some would argue differently. Sacred architecture has always played some role in society. It has served to inspire righteousness, goodwill, love, and kindness. Not to mention the impact it has on asserting moral authority over a community.”

Ignatius stopped his search and peered at Joe. “I didn’t take you for a believer.”

Joe shrugged. “I’m an art major. I studied architectural forms and religious iconography. You can’t study that without having something rub off on you.”

Ignatius shook his head dismissively and resumed his search.

“Do you believe, Joe?” Katarina asked quietly.

Joe furrowed his brows and thought a moment before answering. “I believe there is probably something out there, though I’m not sure we can know it. I believe that religion has played an important part in civilizing the world, but it has its limits, you know?”

“I see.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Joe added hastily. “I respect religion and churches and all. I think church is great for some people, I just don’t see the relevance in my life.”

“You don’t need God, is that it?”

Joe pondered the point for a bit. “I guess you could put it that way, yeah.”

“I see,” she said, turning her attention to the church.

A shout of “Eureka!” came from around the corner. Joe and Katarina hurried to see what Ignatius had found. He was crouching low to the ground on the corner, his head down to the ground, sniffing the brick. “That sly old dog,” Ignatius was saying. “One day he will get his comeuppance, you mark my words.”

“What did you find?” Katarina asked Joe.

“There is a brick, here in the corner at the ground, that has all the stench of Sikander’s craft imbued in it. I can’t believe he’d stoop so low as to insinuate his contribution is a corner stone,” Ignatius shook his head in disgust.

“You can smell something like that?”

“Aye, if you have the training. Recall that I worked next to the man for many centuries. I’d recognize his handiwork anywhere.”

“So is it the binding? Can I go home now?”

Ignatius shook his head. “I don’t think so. Something’s not quite right about this one. Give me a moment and I’ll be able to give you more information.” Ignatius first leaned down and endeavored to put his ear up against the brick. He sat there for a while, laying on the ground ear to the building in stony silence, as still as if he were a statue. Without warning he pulled hid head back, stuck out his tongue, and licked the brick. He made a ponderous face as he tasted the brick, then sat up and fished a pen knife out of a pocket. Checking to see he was not being observed he pulled out a handkerchief, leaned down, and scrapped a few flecks of brick onto the white cloth. He waded the handkerchief in his fist, closed his eyes and became incredibly still, even to the point of holding his breath. Finally he exhaled and opened his eyes.

“Well?” Joe asked anxiously.

Ignatius took a deep breath and said enthusiastically, “It’s a brick!”

Joe’s faltered. He just stood still staring at Ignatius stunned into silence. Ignatius broke out into deep laughter.

“Ignatius P. Blackmoore!” Katarina scolded him. “That was a cruel joke to play.”

Laughing he apologized, “I am sorry. I couldn’t resist. But oh my you should see your face my boy.”

“Did you find out anything other than the fact it is a brick?” Joe asked through clenched teeth.

“As a matter of fact I did. I have some good news and some bad news I’m afraid.”

“The good news?” Katarina asked.

“The good news is, this is in fact related to an active binding.”

“And what’s the bad news?” Joe growled.

“This is only part of the binding.”

Chapter Eight

“What do you mean this is only part of the binding? I thought the binding was a single object in a single place?” Joe demanded

“Usually, yes,” Ignatius replied. “However that need not always be the case.”

“So you are telling me there are fragments of this binding scattered throughout the city?”

“Probably,” Ignatius conceded. “Sikander wove a very intricate binding here. This is more complex than anything I’ve ever seen before. It would appear that whenever he intended to use this his goal was to keep the someone here indefinitely.”

Joe groaned. “Are we back to the ‘you should really stay in Salem’ speech now?”

“Not at all my boy!” Ignatius said with enthusiasm. “We have something Sikander did not anticipate.”

“What’s that?” Joe asked blandly.

“Me.”

“Is that supposed to fill me with an overwhelming sense of hope?”

Ignatius frowned. “Frankly, yes. I am familiar with Sikander’s craft, and his style. If anyone other than him has a hope to unravel what he has done it will be me. He did not count on this.”

“So now what? Where do you suggest we go next? I presume we are going to hunt down these other locations now?” Joe looked up at the darkening sky.

Ignatius, looking at Katarina, said, “I suggest we try the Mission Mill Museum next. I seem to recall he once talked about a wool mill he was rather fond of, and the Guardian did say there was something there.”

Katarina nodded in agreement. “It’s not far Joe, just a few blocks. One more spot ought to give us a better idea of what we are dealing with here.”

“Point the way,” Joe said resignedly.

The trio set off down the street past the Capitol building, the gold man standing proudly with his back to them, and on past a university. Joe walked in moody silence, all hope of getting home slipping away. He was too absorbed in his own thoughts to appreciate the beauty around him. Trees grew to proud heights, offering shade alternately to university students and state workers. The fact that they walked by the Oregon Supreme Court went completely unnoticed. It wasn’t until Katarina and Ignatius stopped at a park bench that he noticed they were carrying on a conversation about theology.

“Free will is plainly obvious to all and sundry,” Ignatius was saying. “It is not only ludicrous to suggest otherwise but it is downright terrifying to consider that someone else might be ordering our actions and behaviors.”

“We have free will, I readily admit that point, but not in matters of faith. Our eternal outlook is predestined.”

“I’m just not comfortable with that explanation. Even you must admit preachers and evangelists waste their time proclaiming the gospel if the whole thing is preordained. We might as well eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

“Far be it from me to chime in on a debate I am unqualified to even understand, but why have we stopped?” Joe interrupted.

“Welcome to the Mission Mill Museum,” Ignatius said with a grand sweeping gesture.

Joe looked around. The immediate vicinity presented itself as a small park with a creek running through it, and a few trees. Across the lawn stood a complex of wooden buildings painted a rustic red with stark white trim.

Nearing the Finish Line

Tonight I barely managed my 2,000 word goal. In doing so I am now 13,000 words away from the finish line! That seems like a manageable amount. However, I am now certain the story will not conclude at 50,000 words. We shall see.

Tonight we find Joe on that promised date, only it doesn’t go quite as expected. Enjoy!

“So what do we do, just walk up there and ask it nicely if it knows anything?” Joe asked in all seriousness.

“That would be difficult to do, since the building is closed,” Ignatius pointed out. “We only need to enlist the aid of someone who is in regular contact with the gold man.”

“Do you have someone in mind?” Joe asked.

Ignatius looked at Katrina. “Yes, as a matter of fact I do.”

Katarina looked back at Ignatius, “If you are thinking of me you are sadly mistaken. I am not in regular communication with the gold man.”

“No. I was thinking of the Guardian.”

“Ah,” Katarina said, nodding. “Of course.”

“Great! Let’s go find Mortimer and ask him to ask the gold man about this binding,” Joe said enthusiastically.

“It’s not a simple as that, I’m afraid,” Katarina said.

“Why not? He’s helped me before. Besides he did promise to help, didn’t he?”

Katarina nodded. “But he doesn’t answer to any one person’s beck and call. If he is truly needed he will show up.”

“I should think he is needed,” Joe said matter-of-factly.

Ignatius cleared his throat. “I was under the distinct impression there was at least one way for you to get a message to him Katarina.”

“Yes. I can get a message to him.”

“So why don’t you?” Joe asked.

“I already have.”

Joe blinked. “When?”

“When it became clear we needed information from the gold man,” she said primly.

Joe scratched his head. “Well what did he say?”

Katarina smiled at him. “It doesn’t quite work like that.” She glanced at her watch. “But I believe that he’ll join us for dinner shortly.” Katarina gave Joe a meaningful look.

By the time the three of them arrived at McGrath’s there was already a line of people out the door. The place was packed. Joe looked nervously at his watch, then up at the sky and its dwindling daylight. Time was running out on him, and he was now standing in line to have a leisurely sit down meal with a woman he hardly knew. He began to tap his foot with nervous impatience.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Katarina asked Joe conspiratorially.

Joe flinched. “Isn’t this the right place?”

Katarina laughed. “Of course it is. But what are you doing out here?” Joe gave her a blank look. “Go inside and see if she’s already go a table for you,” she chided.

“Oh. Right,” Joe said feeling quite silly for not thinking of that. He was used to being the one sitting at the table waiting. He was quite disoriented now that the roles had been reversed. He stepped out of line, and with a few “pardon me” and “excuse me” and some tight squeezing he made his way to the hostess. Explaining that he was meeting a young woman the hostess offered to let him walk around to see if she was already here.

Joe wandered through the restaurant unsure of himself. Part of him did not want to find Amanda, hoping he could back out and instead skip dinner altogether and get home that much sooner. Another part of him hoped he would find he waiting for him at the next table, looking ravishing and eagerly waiting his company. He got his wish. She was seated at a table for two, quietly reading the menu. Joe didn’t know how she did it, but she had found time to exchange her work uniform for the proverbial little black dress. Joe felt shabby by comparison, which combined with his present disorientation and nervousness served to further push him well outside his comfort zone.

Taking a deep breath, and attempting to smooth the creases in his shirt, he walked boldly to the table. “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting,” he said, as he pulled out the chair and sat down.

The menu fell to the table and Joe was treated with a look of surprise and shock bordering on indignation. Finally recognition dawned. “Joe was it? What are you doing here?”

Joe’s face drained of all color. He’d picked the wrong table. Hurrying to stand up he apologized, “I’m so sorry. Your sister told me to meet her here. I must have picked the wrong table. Excuse me.”

“Wait,” she gently commanded. “You were told to come here at this time?”

Joe nodded. “I’m sorry to have confused the two of you again. I’ll just go find her table and be out of your hair.”

“No. Sit. You won’t find anyone else here that looks like me. Please sit,” Shelly said with grace and dignity.

“I don’t want to intrude. Obviously you have a prior engagement.”

“Nonsense. I’m not waiting for anyone. Join me. Someone obviously went to some trouble to arrange this. There’s no reason why we cannot have dinner together.”

“Are you sure?” Joe said hoping to get out of this debacle. “You don’t have to be kind on my account. You didn’t come here to be accosted by some stranger and forced to share a meal with him.”

“Who said anything about being forced? I’m offering. And besides,” she said with knowing grin, “who is to say I didn’t come here expecting a stranger to join me?”

Joe sat down feeling even more uncomfortable. He couldn’t decide which was worse, having Amanda set him up like this, or having Shelly not care.

“I recommend the halibut,” Shelly offered as Joe picked up his menu, “though the salmon is quite good as well.”

Joe studied the menu, taking the opportunity to hide behind it and collect himself. No sooner had he decided what to eat than a waitress came by to take their orders. Suddenly he was sitting face-to-face with Shelly, without a menu to hold between them. He felt vulnerable and exposed, an altogether new feeling for him when it came to dinner with attractive women. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Mortimer wave at someone near the front of the restaurant. It became apparent that Katarina, Ignatius, and Mortimer would be dining together without him. Inwardly he cursed his luck, wishing rather to be further discussing his plight.

“Who was it exactly that told you to meet here?” Shelly’s asked, reeling him into an awareness that she was looking intently at him, sizing him up.

Joe, mouth suddenly dry, reached for his glass of water, and swallowing a mouthful croaked out a feeble, “Amanda.”

“Amanda again?” Shelly mused. “Tell me about her.”

“Pardon?” Joe exclaimed, confused.

“Tell me about Amanda. What’s she like?”

“Don’t you know?” Joe asked brows furrowed. “She’s your sister, right?”

“I want to hear your perspective.”

Joe stalled, taking a drink of water. Clearing his throat he said, “Well, she’s quite attractive, but you know that, being twins and all.”

“So we’re twins are we?” Shelly asked lifting an eyebrow.

Joe fidgeted in his chair clearly not knowing where this conversation was going, nor why. Flustered he continued, “She’s forward. She likes to speak her mind, and I gather that she’s not used to being turned down. Though, with her body I can see why,” Joe said, then blushed realizing too late he was also commenting about Shelly. “Um, I really don’t know much else about her.”

Shelly smiled, seemingly undisturbed by Joe’s comments one way or the other. “Where did you meet her?” she asked leaning forward over the table. A faint smile played upon her lips as she noticed Joe’s gaze waver.

Joe nervously swallowed another sip of water as he realized Shelly caught him looking where he probably shouldn’t have. “The bus station,” he said, looking into Shelly’s face, meeting her intense gaze and working hard not to look away.

“The bus station?” Shelly repeated.

“Yeah. The, uh, Greyhound bus depot.”

“I see. And what was she doing there exactly?”

“Working of course. She helped me — well tried to help me — catch a bus out of town.”

“And since we are having diner together I gather that didn’t work out so well for you. Let me guess, she wanted you to stay?”

Joe nodded, “Yes. But to her credit it wasn’t her fault I wasn’t able to get a bus.”

“Wasn’t it?” Shelly asked, reaching for her water.

“Well … no. She got me a ticket on a bus headed to Boise, but it broke down and was rerouted. Why? What do you mean?”

Shelly set her water glass down, a faint lipstick print recording the occasion. “If, as you say, Amanda gets her way, and she wanted you to remain in Salem, don’t you find it a little bit convenient that you were not able to catch a bus?”

Joe looked puzzled and reviewed the details of that morning’s encounter in his head. “No,” he said slowly. “I’m pretty sure it was all just a coincidence.”

“Hmm,” was all Shelly said.

“Do you know something about your sister that I should know about?” Joe asked concernedly.

When Shelly smiled Joe got the impression she was hiding something. Just then their food arrived, and Joe realized how hungry he truly was. Their conversation came to a halt as they began eating.

“A word of caution, Joe,” Shelly said between bites, “Amanda isn’t what she seems to be.”

Joe swallowed his bite of food, nearly choking on it. “What do you mean?” Thoughts of Amanda turning out to be some exotic creature from a fairy tale flooded his mind.

“Be careful around her. Her motives are not always pure, and as I’m sure you’ve already notice she likes to toy with people.”

Joe ate in silence for a while, contemplating this news. Finally, at a loss with what to do he posed a question, “What do you suggest I do, ignore her? She’s quite persuasive. Besides, I was given counsel by someone who knows Amanda to show up anyway.”

“Who counseled you?” Shelly asked, her interest piqued.

“A woman by the name of Katarina. She’s a friend of Mortimer.”

Shelly nodded, “I know her well. What did she say exactly?”

Joe paused, recalling the conversation, “She said I should show up, and that Amanda was not someone that I should cross, and that she does not like being stood up. I got the impression Katarina considers Amanda to be dangerous.” Shelly fell silent, deep in thought, the bite on her fork forgotten, hovering between the plate and her mouth. “Something wrong?” Joe asked.

Shelly looked at Joe, then finished her bite. “No, not exactly. Katarina is a wise woman, and not often wrong. Heed her advice. And Joe, if you can, avoid Amanda.”

Joe looked questioningly at Shelly then nodded in agreement. “One question though, if Amanda is not to be trusted, and if she’s dangerous, I have to ask: is it a bad thing that we had dinner together?”

Shelly looked at him curiously. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, it seems to me Amanda’s real aim here was to get me to dine with you, which we’ve done. If she’s not an ally then what harm was done? And if she is an ally what good was done?”

Shelly smiled. “Are you familiar with the Norse god Loki?”

“Loki? Wasn’t he a mischievous god or something?”

Shelly smiled, “You get my meaning then. Amanda may have aims orthogonal to your plight.”

“You think she has her own goals in this?”

“I think she’s always playing her own game. She may alternately help and hinder you. Just be wary, and do not trust her.”

Finishing his dinner Joe asked one more question, “So what do you think her aims were in getting us together tonight?”

Shelly set her empty water glass down. “I don’t know. Perhaps merely as a distraction.” She paused and considered, “Perhaps she hoped to prevent me from meeting someone else tonight. Who knows?” Shelly shrugged.

Joe rankled at the thought that he was there only to prevent Shelly from meeting someone else. He clenched his jaw in frustration and embarrassment. “So there was someone else you were going to meet with tonight?” he said as calmly as he could.

Shelly looked surprised. “Not to my knowledge.” Looking at Joe she realized he felt slighted. “I often go to dinner alone, but rarely dine alone. Usually the people who need to find me do, and we talk.” Joe relaxed a little. Shelly reached across the table and laid her hand on Joe’s. “As far as I am concerned we were meant to dine tonight, despite Amanda’s plans.”

Joe nodded, soothed by her gracious words. “At least let me pay for the dinner,” Joe offered when the check arrived. “It is the least I can do.”

“I wouldn’t think of it,” Shelly said snatching the bill away from Joe. “You were my guest. Besides, you have bigger issues to concern yourself with,” she nodded her heard toward Mortimer’s table where Joe saw them leaving their table and walking toward him. “I do believe you are needed.”

Joe got up to leave. “Thank you for the dinner,” he said politely.

Shelly reached up, grabbed his hand, and looking him in the eyes said, “Good luck to you Joe.”

November 20, 2010

Opening Chapter Seven

In truth I started Chapter Seven last night, but as it was only a few sentences I didn’t feel like posting it then. I managed nearly 2,000 words tonight so for the time being I’m back on track. However, I’m tired and exhausted so I’ll leave you now with the beginning of Chapter Seven, in which Amanda returns to the story and The Gold Man enters the story.

Chapter Seven

“You seriously think we’ll find the binding in the Capitol building?” Joe asked, convinced Ignatius was grasping at straws.

“Not in it but on it. Come on,” Ignatius said striding out of the gazebo. “There is something I need to show you.”

Joe looked to Katarina who shrugged and followed Ignatius wordlessly, clearly willing to trust Ignatius’s judgement for the time being. Having no choice but to follow them, Joe stood up stretching his weary muscles, and shuffled his way out of the gazebo. He got no further than the fountain.

“I thought you were eager to get out of Salem,” a voice called out from behind him.

Turning around Joe stood face-to-face with either Amanda or Shelly. Joe furrowed his brow saying, “Which one are you?”

“Which one do you think I am,” came the playful reply.

“Amanda?” Joe said with uncertainty.å

“Amanda?” she said with mock horror. “And here I thought I had you all to myself.”

Joe was taken aback. He was under the impression Shelly didn’t think much of him. “Uhm,” was all he could say.

“I’m just kidding, it’s me Amanda,” she said with a big grin. “You got it right the first time. What gave me away?”

“Honestly?” Amanda nodded. “It was just a guess. 50-50 odds. You know?”

“So like I said, I thought you were eager to get out of Salem. I’m surprised to see you are still here so late in the day.”

“It seems more than just busses don’t want to accommodate me,” he said with a shrug.

“You know,” she said slowly walking toward Joe, “you were supposed to say, ‘There’s this stunning brunette who has convinced me to stay, indefinitely.’” She drew up close enough to Joe to kiss him, then turned and looked deep into the fountain. “Care to try it again?”

Joe cleared his throat. Never in his life had a woman been so forward with him, and it made him nervous. He was usually quite smooth with the ladies, portraying himself as both dangerous and a gentleman, but he was the one pursuing the women. This was the first time he was the prey and not the hunter. “What I meant to say was, there are some extenuating circumstances that require my immediate attention.”

“Hrm,” Amanda said weighing the statement. “Better, but it needs work. Listen, it’s getting to be about dinner time, why don’t you meet me somewhere, say in half and hour, and we can continue what we started,” she turned her head and raised a questioning eyebrow.

“I, um, might be otherwise engaged.”

“An hour then. There’s a seafood restaurant downtown, McGrath’s. Meet me there in one hour,” she turned and walked away before Joe could respond. “Don’t keep me waiting, lover boy,” she called over her shoulder, then disappeared behind a tree.

Joe stood there nonplussed, arms hanging limply by his sides as his mind rapidly tried to understand what just happened and determine if it was a good or a bad thing. On the one hand Amanda was an attractive woman, and she was clearly interested in him. On the other she was far too forward for Joe’s comfort, and he suspected she might have an agenda. She was far too eager for him to stay in Salem, and now she had just scheduled a date with him that would no doubt take him away from the investigation. Joe was not one to stand girls up, especially pretty girls. He was torn. He was brought back to his senses when a hand settled on his shoulder and Katarina’s voice intruded on his thoughts. “Joseph? Are you alright?”

“I don’t know,” he said distractedly.

“What happened,” Katarina fired back quickly glancing over Joe looking for anything wrong.

“A girl more-or-less decided I would join her for dinner in an hour.”

“What girl?” Katarina said, scanning the park. “I didn’t see any girl.”

Joe looked at her strangely. “She caught up with me when we exited that gazebo over there.”

“Who is she, Joseph?” Katarina asked with a graveness in his voice that made him concerned.

“Amanda. Shelly’s sister,” he was quick to reply.

“I don’t know those girls. Where did you meet them?”

Joe swallowed and looked nervous. “Shelly works at the coffee shop where Mortimer took me. Amanda works at the Greyhound buss station.

Katarina eyed him suspiciously. “I see. I think I know the girl you are talking about. And you say she expects you to dine with her tonight?” she asked her eyebrows arched suggestively.

“Yeah. I’m not sure what happened. One minute we were talking about that I’m still here, and the next she tells me she will be waiting for me at this place called McGrath’s and that I shouldn’t keep her waiting. She walked off before I could tell her I was too busy.”

“If she is the same girl I am thinking of, you should go. You do not want to cross her, and she doesn’t take kindly to being stood up.”

“What about our investigation?”

“Don’t worry Joe,” Katarina assured him. “It won’t interfere. Besides, we’ll need to grab a bite to eat anyway, and I hardly doubt Ignatius will turn down a free meal, even if it is fish.”

“He doesn’t like fish?” Joe asked.

“Decidedly not,” Katarina said shaking her head.

“This should be interesting,” Joe commented.

Katarina nodded. “Come on. Let’s not keep Ignatius waiting. He has the attention span of a small monkey.”

Joe laughed. “Fitting for an old organ grinder.”

“You have no idea,” she remarked.

They quickly walked across the park, then across the street to join Ignatius who was quietly lounging on the lawn, facing the Capitol building. The scene was a bit out of joint, for here was a seeming middle-aged man, dressed as if he just came from work, lounging on a lawn as if he were some young vigorous lad awaiting his gal. The self-satisfied smirk plastered on his face made the scene even more disjointed and odd.

“You look like the cat that caught the prized parakeet,” Joe said approaching Ignatius.

“Ah my boy. So good of you to join us. Here, here, have a seat and enjoy this magnificent view,” Ignatius said with grandiloquence and motioned that Joe should join him on the lawn.

“No thanks. I’ll stand if it’s all the same to you.”

“Suit yourself my boy. Suit yourself.”

“Just what was it you wanted to find here?” Joe asked.

“What I did find,” Ignatius replied enigmatically.

“The binding is here,” Joe said excitedly.

“Sadly, no,” Ignatius admitted. “But,” Ignatius exclaimed as Joe’s face began to fall, “I was right in that the Capitol building has some answers for us regarding that question.”

“I still don’t see how,” Joe said, staring hard at the building desperately looking for anything incongruous. Before him loomed a tall, stately, white marble building, with two wings spreading out from the central room. The front door’s height was exaggerated by tall windows extending nearly the height of the building. But the thing that caught Joe’s attention was the cyclopean fluted column rising from the center of the building, toped with a smaller fluted column, topped with a shining gold man.

“Tell me what you see,” Ignatius said.

“I see a white marble building with a pillar and a statue on top,” Joe said, puzzled at what he was missing.

“Precisely so.”

Joe scratched his head. “I don’t see how any of that helps us.”

“What do you notice about that statue?” Ignatius pressed.

Joe squinted. “I can’t tell from here. It’s just a gold man.”

Ignatius nodded. “Sikander has always been fond of statuary. Once he told me about using the golden statue of a man in some preparations. It didn’t dawn on me until today that he might have meant this one”

“Why this one? Surely there are other gold statues of men somewhere.”

“Ah, but this statue is special. Isn’t that right Katarina?”

A look of understanding flooded Katarina’s face, followed by abject horror. “I hope you are wrong Ignatius.”

“Why?” Joe asked. “What’s so special about this statue?”

Katarina, still staring at the gold man, answered Joe. “Apart from be a rather large statue atop the Capitol building, and apart from being the symbol of the pioneers who settled here and made the Oregon Trail famous, the statue is what you would call ‘enchanted.’”

“Enchanted how?” Joe asked.

“He keeps watch over the city, or as much of it as he is able to see. Back when it was installed the city was much smaller, and one could see quite a bit of Salem from up there,” Katarina continued.

“But he’s only looking in one direction. It doesn’t seem all that useful of a watchman.”

“There is a local legend — which happens to be mostly true — that the gold man, at the stroke of midnight, rotates on his pedestal,” Ignatius added.

Joe paused and considered this. “Had you told me that yesterday I would have said you were pulling my leg. But now… .”

“It’s not entirely true,” Katarina said. “Otherwise many people would know about it, for all they would need to do is stand out here around midnight and observe it. The truth is the gold man is semi-sentient. It was a gift to the city from a master enchanter. Once a day, when no one is watching, he will survey the entire city.”

“If no one can be watching when he does this, how do you know if he actually does it?” Joe asked.

“I should amend that: no one outside of Second City can be watching,” Katarina replied.

“I still don’t see how watching once a day will do much good,” Joe persisted. “It would seem to me you’d need at least four of those guys looking in all directions.”

“He doesn’t so much look with his eyes, as he uses them to — how would you understand it — cast a net of awareness out over the city. What he could see with his eyes, he can see without moving, but the ability fades over time, so he recharges it — like a battery — daily,” Katarina explained.

“So if he watches over Salem, what would he have to do with Sikander’s trapping me here?”

“The gift was from an anonymous source,” Katarina said hollowly.

“I thought you said it was from a master enchanter,” Joe countered.

“It was, but he claimed he did not know who commissioned it.”

“Wait, are you suggesting… ?” Joe left off as the impact of the statement sunk in.

“Indeed I am, my boy,” Ignatius said quietly.

“But … wouldn’t that mean he could watch over Salem all the time?”

“I believe that was exactly the point. The city would accept the gift as a symbol of the state’s history. Second City would accept the gift as it would offer protection and means of detection. It was perfect for Sikander’s uses.”

“Which are?”

“To have influence over this city one way or the other. If he did commission the gold man, it’s more than likely he would be able to affect the enchanting. He would then have an important artifact under his control, and its power could be used by him. So, you see, if Sikander is connected to the statue in any way, then it is more than likely it knows something of your binding.”

November 19, 2010

Finishing Chapter Six

I think today was the worse day of writing I’ve had thus far. I only managed 700 some words. My brain just quit on me. It got to a point where I could not put two words together and opted to rest instead. Sadly that took most of my evening. The good news is I finished Chapter 6! I have the usual ePub and PDF available for your enjoyment.

As of tonight I am at roughly 33,000 words. I’m on track to “win” NaNoWriMo but I am seriously wondering about the story itself. I may not complete the draft until December. Over lunch I talked over my novel with my wife and realized neither Amanda nor Shelly has come back to the story. I’d forgotten about them. Needless to say they either get a bigger role or they might get cut in revision.

Without any further prattling here is the closing segment of Chapter Six:

Joe looked to Katarina for support, “You said you would help get me home… .” he let the thought hang.

“And I will.”

“So what is our next step?” Joe asked the two of them, eagerness coloring his tone of voice.

Ignatius rubbed his chin in contemplation. “I suppose,” he began, then continued with, “no. That will not work.” He suddenly slapped himself on the forehead. “Of course, why didn’t I ask this sooner? How did you get her in the first place?”

Joe gave Ignatius a blank look. “Something called the Springfield Effect? I don’t really know.”

Ignatius’s face deepened into a scowl. “The truth boy,” he growled “I will not be putting my life on the line by crossing Sikander for a liar.”

“I don’t know. Mortimer told me it was something called the Springfield Effect, honest,” Joe protested holding his arms out in front of him in a show of innocence.

“What he says is true,” Katarina chimed in. “We think the Hermit may have something to do with this.”

Ignatius hummed to himself, deep in thought. “But why Salem?” he said, thinking out loud.

“That’s what I want to know,” Joe said. “There are probably far more dangerous places to send me and have me killed than Salem. Unless … does he know about Salem’s Underground?”

“Most assuredly,” Ignatius said distractedly. “He knows quit a bit about this place actually. He used to live here, under a different name of course, and he didn’t associate with those from Second City.” Ignatius stood up and started pacing, deep in thought.

“It doesn’t make sense. Why send me to a city that can defend me from him? It seems like an awful risk to take, especially if I am supposed to be Helmut.”

Ignatius snapped his fingers with enlightenment. “It’s so obvious now. He brought you here because he prepared for this.”

“Come again?” Joe asked, fixing Ignatius with a quizzical gaze.

Continuing to pace Ignatius expounded, “Sikander is a meticulous person, always planning ahead for contingencies. I’ve known him to setup traps within traps just in case the first one failed. It would be just like him to have Salem setup to contain someone until such time as he could deal with them. Salem is also a fine lure as he knows many people of our uniqueness visit Salem throughout the year. He could easily expect and foresee that an enemy of his would one day visit this city, and then he would be able to trigger the binding and thus spring his trap. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s established many such traps like this in all the cities with a large enough concentration of our kind.”

“Makes sense I suppose, but how does that help us?”

“If he readied the binding prior to sending you here then the locus of the binding is here, in Salem. As such we should be able to locate it and then dispel it.”

“How do we do that?” Joe asked.

“Once we know what kind of binding it is then we’ll know how to undo it,” Ignatius said with confidence.

“I meant, how do we find it?”

“Ah. Yes, well that is a horse of a different color, as they say. That will take some old fashioned hard work, and a bit of luck I’m afraid.”

“You mean you don’t know where it is,” Joe said flatly.

“Well, no. Not really. It’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Ignatius said moving to stand at the entrance of the gazebo, looking out across the park.

Katarina sighed and explained, “A binding is usually itself bound to a particular object. From that object’s location a radius is usually set which determines the boundaries of the binding itself.”

“So all I need to do is find that invisible wall again and walk it’s circumference and we’ll be able to extrapolate where this binding is,” Joe offered.

“That is one way to do it, my boy, but there might be another,” Ignatius announced. He waved his hands toward the capitol building. “I believe we will find some answers there.”