Excerpt From SHADOW OF THE DRILL By Rhani D’Chae

The characters in the following story are from my novel, Shadow of the Drill. After a moderately grueling assignment, they take a day off to enjoy a Sunday barbecue.

 

A Break in the Battle

 

   Charlene squealed, leaning to the side to avoid an airborne hot dog. She need not have worried, for the meaty missile bounced neatly against the chest of JT, who was seated next to her.

   “Damn it, Rudy!” JT grabbed a napkin from the table and scrubbed at his shirt. “That wasn’t funny!”

   “Really?” Rudy flashed an innocent grin over the top of barbecue grill. “I thought it was hilarious.”  He flipped a pair of hamburgers, then added a dash of seasoning to each.

   “You got hot dog grease on my shirt,” JT said crossly. “Next time, warn me so I can duck.”

   “Don’t run your mouth, and there won’t be a next time.” Rudy raised his right arm, pointing at the cast that encased it from wrist to elbow. “Even with this, I can hit what I’m aiming at.”

   JT shot a glare in Rudy’s general direction. “Can you believe him?”

   “You shouldn’t have said he was getting old, and you definitely shouldn’t have said he was losing his touch.” Charlene refilled her glass from the pitcher of lemonade on the table. Lemonade, and just the right amount of tequila.

   “Who’s getting old?” Decker stepped from the dining room onto the deck, leaning on a cane with one hand and holding a bowl of potato salad in the other. “You best not be talking about me!”

   “Don’t worry, Peter Pan, we weren’t.” Charlene pulled the chair to her left away from the table so that Decker could sit. “JT said it about Rudy.”

   “Well, that was stupid.” Decker set the bowl onto the table, then dropped into the chair, leaning the cane against the table before reaching for the pitcher.

   JT pointed to the stain on his shirt. “You’re not kidding! Good arm, bad arm, it don’t matter. He’s dead on.”

   He shifted in his chair, muttering a soft curse when his broken ribs objected.

   Decker smiled sympathetically, knowing from firsthand experience how he felt. “Give it a couple of weeks,” he advised. “You’ll feel better before you know it.”

   “I know,” JT replied. “But in the meantime, it really hurts!”

   “Your face looks better.” Decker reached across the table, tilting JT’s head to the right. “At least, the swelling’s gone down. You’ll have the color for a while, yet.”

   Charlene leaned back, tuning out the conversation while she thought back over the last six days.

   It had started as just another job, but it had quickly become so much more. Hired to find and retrieve a stolen Shelby Daytona Coupe, Decker and his team had landed in the middle of an auto theft ring that stretched from Bellevue to Portland. Finding the missing car had been difficult – retrieving it had been damn near impossible.

   The car had been located in Vancouver and liberated in the dark of night with considerable damage to all concerned. By the time the Shelby was safely in a truck headed north, Decker had calculated how much of a wear and tear fee he was going to charge his employer before the car was offloaded at its destination.

   Bruised and broken, Decker’s team had limped back to Tacoma and gone their separate ways. After checking on the Shelby, Decker had contacted the owner and arranged a time to meet.

   Charlene had greeted him at the door when he arrived home, the sight of his battered body bringing tears to her eyes. He had assured her that he was not seriously hurt, so there was no discussion of seeking medical help. He knew his body – and its injuries – better than any doctor, so she did not question his analysis of the situation.

   Injured and exhausted, he had needed rest. A great deal of rest. But, after only a day and a half, he was limping restlessly from room to room, and she knew that something needed to be done.

   The barbecue had been her idea, and he had willingly agreed. Though they often entertained, they had never invited more than two or three people over at once. The fact that it was JT’s first social visit to the house contributed to the uniqueness of the event, as did the presence of Decker’s old friend and occasional teammate, Hunter Grae.

   The side gate rattled, and Charlene jumped up to open it before Davis dropped his armload of Tupperware containers. The investigator gave her a warm smile, thanking her for her assistance.

   Charlene looked over his shoulder. “Where’s Bert?”

   “She’ll be along soon,” Davis told her. “She had to run her mother to the grocery store, so she’s a little behind schedule. But don’t worry, she’s not far behind me.”

   He handed over three of the containers. “Pasta salad, deviled eggs, and some sort of asparagus thing.” He shrugged apologetically. “Personally, I don’t think asparagus has any business being at a barbecue, but you know how Bert is.”

   Charlene laughed, then sobered when she noticed the manila envelope beneath the remaining two containers. “That better not be what I think it is.”

   “It’s everything I could find for the Palmer job. I promised I’d bring it by today.” He waved at Decker and JT, then slid the envelope from beneath the Tupperware to show he’d brought it.

   Charlene put her hand on his wrist, stopping him. “Not today, please. He’ll open it up, they’ll spend the rest of the day plotting and planning, and that’ll be it for the day off. You know it as well as I do. They just can’t help themselves.”

   Davis thought for a moment, then nodded. “You’re right,” he agreed. “Okay, I’ll toss this back in the car and give it to him tomorrow. I can’t stall any longer than that, but at least it won’t ruin today.”

   “Thank you,” Charlene said gratefully, then headed for the kitchen to unpack the Tupperware while Davis returned to his car.

   When she passed Rudy, he handed her a plate loaded with hotdogs and hamburger patties.

   “Here’s a first round. Is everything on the food table?”

   Charlene glanced over the long fold-up table that Decker had set on the grass. It held assorted buns and condiments, as well as paper plates and plastic silverware.

   “Just about. Hunter’s in the kitchen slicing cheese, and I have to put Bert’s stuff on plates, but it won’t take long. So yes, it’s pretty much ready. “

   “That’s a good thing.” Rudy pressed his fingers against the pieces of tape that held a long strip of gauze to the side of his face, checking that they were still secure. “So we’re just waiting on the cheese.”

   As if on cue, Hunter appeared on the deck, carrying a serving tray that had been loaded down with small plates of pickles, slices of cheese, and crisp lettuce leaves. He called out a greeting to Davis and Roberta, who were coming through the gate together, then headed for the picnic table to unload the tray.

   He was clad in shorts and a tank top, and Charlene could clearly see the stitches where the blade of a knife had cut into his calf, and the colorful section of bruising that a heavy object of some sort had left along his collarbone.

   She joined him at the picnic table, calling to the others as she set the plate down. She was able to get her hamburger onto a plate, along with potato salad and baked beans, before the table was surrounded by hungry people.

   Glad that she had escaped the swarm, Charlene returned to her place at the oversized table on the deck. Taking her seat, she enjoyed a moment of silence, knowing that a moment was all she would probably get.

   A light breeze brought the scent of roses, and Charlene closed her eyes, inhaling with pleasure. So far, the day had been wonderful, and she knew that the evening would be just as fine.

   Opening her eyes, she looked around at the people who mattered in her life. It couldn’t be more perfect, she thought with a contented smile. Fun, food, and the very best of friends combined to make a day that she would long remember. Especially since, for a few short hours, it was a fairly safe bet that no one was going to die.

 

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PRISON WIVES By Nonnie Jules

 

PRISON WIVES

 

I am an unlikely character to tell these stories, but, I do know that each day that we are blessed to open our eyes, we never know what surprises, good or bad, that day will bring. No matter how much and how well we plan, the universe always steps in to show us just how much, we are not as in control of things as we thought we were.

These are real stories of moms, wives, spouses…those significant others who are left behind; those innocent, and maybe even not-so-innocents, who are left to pick up all the pieces that are shattered when their husbands walk out the door and don’t return in the time frame in which they are expected to.

No, he didn’t run off with another woman…he was apprehended somewhere between here and there by a law enforcement officer, and, for whatever reason, he’s now being held behind bars…property of the city until the state steps in to claim ownership. And, although these men are the ones incarcerated, it is the entire family that serves the time.

These are not sob stories to drum up sympathy for the accused. But, this book will serve as a doorway into an open dialogue, so that we are all aware of just how much children suffer when their dads are taken away.

These stories are but small ways to shine light on the effects of imprisoning low-level offenders for long periods of time, ripping them from their children’s lives, and the negative imprints left behind. This is a plea for reform of a justice system that will quickly parole a drug dealer, murderer, rapist or child molester, who will more than likely repeat-offend, yet hangs on to low-level offenders who may have made a one-time mistake or even worse, was forced to take a plea for a crime which he is innocent of, simply because he was too poor and couldn’t afford top-of-the-line defense. We do know that this happens, don’t we?

Lastly, this is so that we don’t forget those that are forced to soldier up and walk into battle each and every day, standing on the front lines of a war that they have been shielded from for far too long. These soldiers fight daily just to keep a roof over the heads, food in the mouths, and hope in the spirits of the children who are also being penalized in this war.

These are the stories of PRISON WIVES.

 

CHAPTER ONE – SAMMIE

Sammie was so excited about their upcoming road trip. Not for the travel element, but, because their son Jeremy, was about to lead his team to another high school championship for a third straight year. Jeremy was a senior and also big man on campus, as Rozdale High’s, 6’3, All-American Quarterback. The one drawback to Sammie’s excitement, was they had to travel cross country to play. Sammie hated to travel, she also hated to fly, so road trips were always the name of the game for her family. This year, she was especially apprehensive about their road trip and yet, she had no idea why.

The drive would take them 21 hours and 32 min to reach their destination of Clearwater, FL. from Lubbock, TX. And, since Jeremy had to be there on Friday, this would mean a full day and a half of travel prior to. Sammie, mother of three daughters and one son, knew that her husband Josh had a suspended driver’s license, yet, he would have to share the drive time with her anyway.  This was not an option as none of their children were of legal driving age, and Jeremy, the oldest, would not get his license until he turned 18 in the following year.

On that hot July morning as they backed out of their driveway, Sammie sat in the passenger seat and prayed. “Dear Lord, guide my family safely from this place to the next and back again. Return us all safely to our home…together. Amen.” Sammie wasn’t what you’d call a deeply religious woman, but she embraced her spiritual side and she strongly believed in the power of prayer.

The family drove along Interstate 20, then passing through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, they finally entered into the state of Florida. There were many stops along the way, but it was the last one that they would never forget. With almost seven hours left in their journey, they heard the sounds of a police siren behind them. When Sammie looked over her shoulder from the backseat, which she’d retired to hours before to stretch her legs, her heart sank so low, she could almost hear it hit the floor of the rental van.

Pulling over into the gas station they were headed to for their next potty-break, Sammie’s mind raced wildly. Not only did Josh have a suspended license, but he also had an outstanding warrant back home for a false probation violation, which they were aware of.

“I know I wasn’t speeding, officer,” Josh offered as the policeman approached his door.

“Yes, you were, sir,” the officer responded, surprisingly with a smile. A lie, I thought. “License and registration, please.”

Knowing all too well that it was going to take a miracle to keep him from being arrested right there, Josh, ever-protective of his children and family, asked the officer if they could get out of the van to use the restrooms.  If the worse happened, he didn’t want his children to see him in handcuffs or in the back of a police car. The officer said “Sure,” again, with the same smile on his face.

With his entire family inside, Josh tried to convince the officer to please let him get his family to safety and then he would return home to deal with the issue. His wife had no idea how to make the rest of the long journey without him, he shared.  But, still being kind, the officer said that he just couldn’t do that. He had to take him in.

Sammie’s phone rang from inside the gas station. “He is arresting me,” came Josh’s shaky voice through the phone. Her heart sank again. “You are going to have to make the rest of this trip without me. Sam, you can do it.” His voice quickly changed and now held a firmness to it. He knew he had to appear strong or she would quickly become unraveled.

Tears filled Sammie’s eyes. She’d been married to this man for 15 years and for 15 years he’d taken care of her, done everything for her…made her life so easy. Now, he was telling her she had to continue on this long journey without him. OK, but when they arrived, what then? Josh had shielded her from the real world for so long, she wasn’t sure if she could take a breath without him. But, she had to…for their kids. If she had been alone, she might have given up right then and there.

Sammie stood in the parking lot and watched the officer drive away with her husband in the back seat of the car, while she had asked the kids to stay inside and away from the windows.

When she realized that she wasn’t dreaming, she wiped her tear-stained face with the tissue in her hand. Composed and in brave face, she walked back inside to collect her children, as they were now both her reason and her strength to get them through this long, arduous journey –  a weekend without their father and then back to Texas, safe and sound.

Sammie had no idea how hard it would be once they headed back home five days later with the questions and comments from the kids about their father.  “We can’t leave here without him,” said 8-year-old Vanessa. “How is he going to get home?” asked 12-year-old Maggie.  “Why can’t we just stay here until this is straightened out? It can’t take that long,” added 16-year-old Zandra, the sassy one of the bunch. Sammie was thankful at that moment that Jeremy had chosen to remain silent.  His un-asked question was one less stab to her heart.

Not knowing the severity of the situation, Sammie drove along, oblivious to all those words that could cut deep into her heart. How would she find the words to tell these kids, who had never gone more than 7 hours without seeing the dad they worshipped, that she didn’t know when he’d be coming home again?

 

 

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH “RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, to please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.  WE ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

(Nonnie Jules) RWISA Author Page

Hubba Hubba Versus the Stinky Beefy Boy, Part 2

Quilt Stone Mountain NC SP 4021The stinky beefy boy slowed to a walk with a skip and happily patted his game bag full of the-brixton-ona-bags-2-560x379Hubba Hubba. Whistling a giddy tune fit for the tone deaf, he left the path through a gap in the hedge to cut across a freshly ploughed field. Chirp and Squeak followed ’round the 5469802698_278de1b2e3_zoutside in the tops of trees grown up in the hedge. The boy scampered through new oats, a meadow and a fresh cow pile, pausing to rinse his feet in a gurgling creek before dashing triumphantly across an orchard to a fiery haired woman and two boys, hoeing in a broad vegetable garden.

“Mom!” hollered the stinky boy as she bent to pull a weed. “Get wood on the fire! I bagged fresh meat for supper!”

She stood up, brushing the dirt from her skirts and hands.504_slingrocks

“Look Mom! I got him with my sling! I knocked ‘im clean out of the air! I’m gettin’ good, aye?”

“I’ll say Frankin,” she said, peering into his bag. “I’ve been watching you get better day by day. This is game to remember, all right, particularly when you may go the rest of your life and not get another on the wing like that.”

images (14)“So all you think is I just got lucky, isn’t hit?”

“Well Frankin, someone without your sharp eye would certainly have an empty bag right now…”

“Ha!” he crowed with a leap. “I’m really somethin’ with my sling, and you know it.”

nVrhp1e“I’ve just hung the tea-kettle over the fire,” she said, ruffling up his hair. “You could wash up for a nice cup o’ tea before you dress your bird, if you don’t dally.”

Frankin raced to the back door, hung Hubba Hubba on the latch and wheeled ’round to go to the well in time to find his little brothers following. “Hey Poopkink!” he snarled. “If you and Poopdink have to sneak along behind me, don’t you dare touch the game bag.”

***

“Help!” cawed Hubba Hubba, coming to in total blackness. “I’m dead again! I can’t see!” He hysterically thrashed and flogged his wings against the insides of the cramped box thetver_angry-crow_7219y had him in, pausing to go light in the head, gasping for want of air.

Someone heard his cries and threw open the box. “Kawk!” he cried as four chubby hands crowded in after him. “Have some respect! Can’t you idiots tell I’m wounded here?”

Both boys squealed and yanked back, dropping the lid on Hubba Hubba.

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“Hey! I object! This is abuse! Here I am, smashed in the head…”

“Hit does talk!” they cried in wide-eyed chorus.

“You got it!” shouted Hubba Hubba. “And do you ones listen? Here I am smashed in the head, some drooling gnoff strangles me ’till I black out, maybe die, and here you ones whack me in the head again… Is this the stinkin’ Pit, or what? Well?”

Suddenly they lunged at the box. Hubba Hubba exploded into frantic flight about the room, landing on a quilting frame drawn up by twine to the overhead beams. “All right,” he rattled. “At least I can see this is some rotten old kitchen, somewhere, and not the Pit. And whatever you two are, I am not some kind of ‘it!’ I’m one right proud crow and I’m traveling with a young man who ought to here directly to cut off your stinkin’ heads for doing this to me…!”

“Hey you little gwrteithiau!” yelled Frankin as he threw open the door. “What’d I tell you about my game bag? And why weren’t you out helping us drive in the six sheep which just now got out in the garden? Which one of you left the gate open anyway…?”

“It’s loose!” cried Kink.primitive-vintage-wood-box-original-old-paper-fruit-crate-label-Placerville-Maid-Laurel-Leaf-Farm-item-no-b912117-7

“Close the door!” cried Dink.

“I am not an ‘it,'” rattled Hubba Hubba.

“Taran!” shouted Frankin as he slammed the door and began glancing about. “So you not only let the sheep out, you got into my bag and turned the crow loose! If he gets clean away, you’ll not only be cachu, images (1)I’ll find something really disgusting and make you each eat its cachu!”

“He’s right over your head,” said Dink.

Frankin wheeled ’round and looked up. “Mom!” he bellowed, “Come in here and see what they did now!” He lunged and missed Hubba Hubba, whacking the quilting frame madly about on the ends of its short twines.

“Kawk!” cried Hubba Hubba, as he crouched to hang on3021358_1_l (1)

Frankin leaped again, snapping a twine and knocking down the frame to smash a 17-cottage-cheesehuge crock of soupy cottage cheese onto the floor.

“You bloated idiot!” cawed Hubba Hubba, springing into flight about the room. He spied a board nailed across the timbers and landed on that with his back to the ceiling. “You stinking armpit maggot…”

“So you’re some kind of magic crow, aye?” he said, taking out his sling. “Well it doesn’t matter, bird-o. You’ll never get out of this room, ’cause when I knock you down, I’m goin’ ‘o jerk your ugly head out o’ your shoulders!”

“No!” cried Kink and Dink together.

“Frankin!” cried their mom as she stepped in the door to go apoplectically wide eyed. “My stars! That’s fifteen gallons of cottage cheese, all over!”

“They did it!” wailed Frankin. “They got into my bag when I told them not to and turned loose the crow. I’ve got to kill it quick…”

“No!” cried Dink. “Hit’s magic…!”

“Hit talks!” cried Kink.

“And they’ve gotten windy as kites in the process, too, I see. Well you two, what have I told you about making up things…?”

“But it’s true!” wailed Kink. “Frankin knows it, too!”images

“I think you two need to take this stack of bowls and scoop up as much clean cheese as you can get off the floor for your next several meals. Then, you need to mop up every bit of what’s left.”

“But we aren’t making it up!” wailed Dink, as his mom thrust a stack of bowls into his arms and steered him toward the slumping mound of cheese and crock chards.

“Now, freak bird, hit’s your turn,” said Frankin, fitting a stone into his sling.

“Kawk!” cried Hubba Hubba. “Lady, lady! Please listen to your little fellows!”

“That’s not the least bit amusing, Frankin,” she said, wheeling ’round to glare at him.

“But I didn’t…”

“No, no, no, no!” cawed Hubba Hubba. “I did! I’m not some game animal to be beaned and chucked in the kettle. Hey! I’ve got brains here.”

“Mercy!” she gasped. “You do talk!”

“Hit’s a trick, Mom, said Frankin.

“Right. So where’s the minstrel puppeteer?”

“Come on, Mom! Somebody taught him to talk…”

crow“Absolutely!” rattled Hubba Hubba. “Just like they did you, only I didn’t need to be taught how to think, and you’ve yet to manage.”

“Don’t touch the bird,” she said, snatching away his sling. “Do not harm him, understand?”

“But he’ll get away!”

“We’re going to be real good to him ’till we figure him out,” she said. “Now go fetch me a good sized box to put him in, and make sure there are a right smart amount of air holes in it.”

“Air holes?” cried Hubba Hubba. “What kind of ‘real good’ to me is that? No wonder you The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindlehaven’t taught maggot boy here how to think, yet! And I don’t care what he brings back, you’re going to have to come up here and get me!”

The Burgeoning

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Minuet Sends a Surprise to Spitemorta

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Captain Bernard peered about at the landscape of Cwm Eryr, wincing here and there at recollections as his massive march streiciwr brenhinol stepped carefully amongst the tumbled armor and bones, staying abreast of Queen Minuet on hers. “I can’t believe her grit,” he thought, pretending not to glance aside at her. “She’s almost serene, all decked out in her gleaming armor astride Vindicator’s snow-white twin sister.”

“Captain,” said Minuet. “look yonder, by the dead tree. Could that possibly be…?”

“Ol’ Brutus?” he said with a grunt, as he dismounted to go see. “Oh, you got that one right first try, Your Majesty. Has to be, head and all. Right where King Hebraun left him, though someone’s been along in the last day or two and smashed him up pretty good. And that someone probably knew him, don’t you reckon? Well, I mean Brutus was one of those as never could get beat up enough to match what he had a-coming to him…”

Minuet dismounted and removed her helm, letting fly her fiery red hair in the breeze. “Did you think to pick out a bivouac on the way down here, Captain?” she said as she thoughtfully rocked back and forth Brutus’s smashed hauberk, gorget and breastplate with her toe. “I realize it’s early.”

“I’m afraid not, Your Majesty, for as you said…”

“Well what I need for you to do is to position them out of sight over that rise, yonder and come right back here without them. It doesn’t matter how you do it.”

Bernard left her where she was and set about at once getting the troop beyond the rise. Presently he returned to find her carefully examining the smashed skull and helm.

“Well,” she said, standing up and brushing her hands as he dismounted, “guess what? There are some person’s tracks all over, which I think you already noticed, but did you see the bird tracks? Big ones and little ones. Come look. Couldn’t they be crow and sparrow? And here’s a nice big black feather.”

“Oh, that’s them. I’m surprised that this amount of smashing up Brutus’s remains is all…” Suddenly he had lost track and was gaping at what Minuet was doing.

She knelt and slapped the helm, leaving her coronary seal glowing and smoking in the metal. She set it beside the rest of the armor and smacked breastplate as well, leaving her seal to glow and turn blue as it cooled.

“My!” said Bernard, shifting to his other foot. “That’s…”

“Ffwrdd a ni!” she roared, springing to her feet with a fling of her arms, sending the armor leaping into the sky to shoot away south beyond the horizon.

Bernard looked wide eyed and pale.

“I didn’t mean to alarm you, Captain. I just thought Brutus should return to his queen. Do you think she will be pleased?”

“You sent those bones and armor clean back to Castle Goll?”

“They’re already there.”

“Oh!” he said with a spreading grin. “I think that was a right noble gesture, Your Majesty.”

“Yes. And it’s between us. That’s why you moved the troop.”

“I always knew you were Razzmorten’s daughter, but I swear I never knew…”

“I vowed not to use my powers as queen, Captain, but their time has come, and I don’t The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindlewant it known, yet. Did you give the order to bivouac?”

“No.”

“Then let’s go. This is no place for us to be. We might actually have enough light to stop at Ash Fork and pay our respects to Hebraun.”

Ch. 22, The Burgeoning

 

Carol and Tom Phipps

Spitemorta’s Troll Baby has the Strongest Magical Aura She’s Ever Seen

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After her address, Spitemorta tied up her skinweler in its pouch and dropped it into her bag. She missed the awed multitudes beyond the balcony of her throne room at Castle Goll. “A little trollish supplication might be just the thing,” she said as she picked up theimages (3)x Staff. She stepped into the hall, trotted downstairs and out into the glory of dandelions, wren chatter and bright sunshine. Bethan was on her knees, picking strawberries and didn’t see her set the Staff in the air, mount it and lean forward to shoot away into the deep blue sky.

She didn’t know exactly where Oilean Gairdin was beyond its being somewhere in the Jut of Niarg. But after some time, hurtling along the length of the Jut, she spied the remains of stone walls standing in a tumble of pink quartz rubble, surrounded by abandoned orchards and formal gardens on an island in the middle of Jutland Lake. “This has to be it,” she said as she settled her feet into the knee-deep grass and sat on her hovering stick, looking about. Grackles scolded, mobbing something in the crown of an apple tree. She dismounted and waded through the grass toward the ruins, pausing at an arbor to eat grapes. She saw no sure signs of trolls at all, but there were getting to be paths tramped flat in the grass as she neared the rubble. A striped blue lizard as big around as a pitchfork handle, vanished into the cracks of a stone fence. She stood, looking all about from under her hand. Over near a wall she saw bones. “Ha!” She hurried up her wallow through the grass to find a collapsed bedroom, overflowing the window sills with bones. Outside the broken walls, she now saw a good score of stone circles for campfires, most of them with live coals, scattered randomly about a courtyard littered with gnawed pieces of animal carcass and barefoot prints in the ankle deep dust. Presently she was hearing deep rumbling snores coming from every hole and recess that might protect from rain.

“Oh yes,” she said, stopping short. “I very nearly forgot. I’ll have to change to Fnadiyaphn’s throat. At least Fnadi-phnig-nyd and Dyr-jinyr-yy will know who I am as a human. It’s still hard to swallow from the last time.” She held the Heart to her throat. It began glowing at once. “Gaah-hoof!” she bellowed, jerking the Heart away. “Aah-hoof-aah-hoof!”

She could hear trolls mumbling and stirring as she stood there with pains shooting through her head, working her jaw. She began quietly peering into holes, wincing each time she bent over for a look. By the time she was wondering if she could bear any more bending over, she found Dyr-jinyr-yy sound asleep on his back not far away from a huge breasted sow, asleep against a wall under her snarled bush of fiery red hair, snoring away like a giant bullfrog with a grimy toddler in her arms. “Maybe I’m getting lucky,” she thought as she tiptoed close to peer at the baby. “He actually looks like James, except he’s a troll. Well we’ll see.” She went back to stand over Dyr-jinyr-yy. “Jy-oyf-ny-oyd-fif, Dyr- jinyr-yy,” she rumbled as she gave him a sharp poke with the Staff. “Ni!”

images (18)“Zawk-skok…” he smacked, suddenly sitting up with wide-eyed urgency.

“Jyrp-dyoy-dyn-yoy-oyr,” said Spitemorta with a phosphorescent flicker in her eyes. “You’ll live.”

With a squeal, he pitched forward and flattened himself at her feet. “Fnadiyaphn!” he whimpered into the foul dirt. “Goddess come-give Veyfnaryr big-head-nod looky-look?”

“And you’re going to show me,” she said with a cherubic nod.

Dyr-jinyr-yy was on his feet at once, dashing over to Fnayooph to give her hair a good yank.

Fnayooph gave an explosive swing of her fist, barely missing Dyr-jinyr-yy, who sat backwards with a bounce in the dirt. She gasped in shock at the sudden sight of 503-700w163251Spitemorta and grabbed up a club, giving it a furious fling right by her ear.

Spitemorta gave a crackling jab with the Staff, setting aglow a patch of earth in front of Fnayooph which immediately exploded, blinding everyone with dirt and making Veyfnaryr howl.

“Fnayooph!” cried Dyr-jinyr-yy. “She-be Goddess Fnadiyaphn! Fnadiyaphn play human queen.”

Veyfnaryr wiggled out of her arms and stood up with his fists in his eyes, wailing at the topneanderthal-baby of his lungs. Fnayooph grabbed him into her lap and silenced him with a teat as she ground at her eyes with the heel of her other hand.

“Good job that you took care of my baby before you even tried to see,” said Spitemorta, “otherwise, you would be dead right now. Does he bite?”

Fnayooph looked up with one confused eye, shook her head and held out Veyfnaryr for Spitemorta to take.

Spitemorta got a whiff of him and held up a pious hand. “I don’t need to take him,” she said. “I can see that he is getting the best of care.” She pursed her lips as a look of awe flickered across her face. “My word!” she thought. “He simply glows with magical power.”

She turned to Dyr-jinyr-yy. “I shall not keep you awake any longer,” she said. “You all are doing quite well indeed. I’ll simply be back from time to time to see how he’s doing.” And with that, she took to the air on her staff and vanished over the trees.

Well beyond Jutland lake, she landed and used the Heart to return her human throat and end her pounding headache. “My word!” she said as she climbed into the sky once more. “Nobody I’ve ever been around has that strong an aura…”

“See?” came a voice in her ear. “What did I try to tell you?”

“Shut up!” she screamed as she shook the Staff. “Shut up! Shut up Demonica!”

“Well I’m glad to see that you didn’t completely lose control of the Staff this time, dear,” came the voice again.

“Shut up!” she screamed. “Leave me alone!”

“Now just what kind of respect for the dead is that, Rouanez Bras?”

“Why can’t you leave me alone?”

“Believe me,” said the voice, “I most certainly would if it weren’t for your endless need of guidance. But since you clearly resent even the slightest inclination which I might have to help…”

“All right!” cried Spitemorta. “If I let you help me, will you go away?”

imagesdemonica“Mission accomplished, dear.”

“Very well, what do I need help with then, Grandmother?”

“Didn’t I tell you that your troll baby was going to be more powerful than the great Razzmorten himself?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Of course not,” said the voice. “I couldn’t get you to hold off your demands to have him killed long enough to notice what I was saying, as I recall.”

“And I can see that you’re just as tedious to listen to as ever.”

“Well let’s try again, dear. Did you notice what I said this time?”

“What?”

“Veyfnaryr. Razzmorten…”

“What? Being stronger? Get out of here, Demonica! I know very well what all that means.”

“Do you then? What does all this mean? This should be good.”

“Why go through telling you?” said Spitemorta. “You already have all the answers. But if you must, it means that even if the Elves do manage to raise some dangerously powerful wizard, your ugly little troll monster just might destroy him. Right?”

“Bravo!” cheered the voice with the sound of clapping. “But the ‘ugly little troll monster’ as you put it, is yours, dear.”

“My monster? It was your turning me into Fnadiyaphn, Grandmother.”

There did not seem to be an answer.

“Grandmother?” said Spitemorta, frantically looking all about. “Demonica? Damn you! Where’d you go? Hey Demonica!”

 

Ch. 12, The Reaper Witch, book five of Heart of the Staff: The Complete Series

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Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

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Spitemorta takes over her Mother’s House

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 Spitemorta lay in Demonica’s bed, listening to the cries of gulls out her window as the first rays of sunlight lit the wall behind her. She threw back her covers, sat on the side of the bed and nearly fell when she tried to stand up. She hobbled to the tea table and ate some of the cheese and corned beef she had found in one of the larders while hunting skinwelerioù. She had forgotten all about eating for some time and discovered that she was quite hungry. At last she decided to get dressed. The broadening daylight made her want to hurry.

“Well, it’s back west to Niarg before rejoining Coel and Cunneda,” she said as she stepped into her black kirtle, “but I’ll never be able to straddle the Staff for the entire way across the Orin Ocean. I’ll just have to pick a place where I can vomit when I get there.”

She laced up her bodice, grabbed up the Staff and turned her dress deep vermilion. She put the strap of her bag across her shoulder and sat on the bed with her skinweler. “Now just where is it?” she said as the swirling colors in the skinweler gave way to images. “Show me the manor house at Peach Knob. So that’s where Mother grew up with Auntie Min and Grandfather Razzmorten. Why would it be so dark? Very well, let’s find some place out of the way, around back.”

Suddenly she was on her hands and knees in a pandemonium of terrified chickens, B0002242squawking and flapping dust and old feathers all about her in the dim light of dawn as she retched and heaved her breakfast onto the floor between her hands. “Aangh!” she cried, catching her breath and sitting back on her heels as the chickens crowded round to snap up tidbits of her cheese and corned beef.

She grabbed up the Staff and sprang to her feet to pound with her fist along the chicken house wall until she found the door and threw it open. “My dress!” she wailed, waltzing intochickens2-1 the pigweed with her arms held wide. Just then it occurred to her that she was holding the Staff and she quickly used it to make herself as clean as she was when she was first dressed. Suddenly she stopped short with a scald of alarm at the sight of her second sunrise in one day. “No!” She shook her head. “No way it’s Demonica. It can’t be anything but the traveling spell.

 

“There’s the house,” she said, looking uphill beyond the big orchard. “And that was my very last traveling spell ever, ever, ever, I swear.” She started walking up the grassy lane between the rows of peach trees. An oriole gave a bawdy whistle. Up the lane, a kingbird chased away a pair of grackles. She could hear a tinkling of bells as sheep came running.

“Hoy!” she thought she heard someone holler. She looked back beyond the sheep to see a stooped old man wave. She turned away and made for the house. The summer kitchen reared up before her as she came out of the trees. She got a whiff of steak and eggs as she heard someone bang a skillet. She stopped and looked up at the manor house behind the kitchen. “Good for gentry,” she said. “At lest it’s temporary.”

 

A heavy set woman appeared in the doorway of the summer kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. “Good morning to you, mistress,” she called out with a smile. “You look bewildered, a-coming up on us out o’ the orchard, that a-way. I’ve just fixed breakfast and I already set out an extra…”

“Oh I know exactly where I am.”

“Well now I’m Bethan, but should I know who you be?”

“It makes no difference who you are. But it’s always best to know your new queen, particularly when you work on her manor.”

“Peredur,” said Bethan as the old man appeared behind Spitemorta. “did you hear what she just said to me?”

“No, but I can’t begin to imagine what she was doing in the chicken house.”

Bethan folded her arms and looked Spitemorta in the eye. “Well since I can’t begin to believe what you just told me, dear, why don’t you be so kind as to tell him what it was?”

“It’s quite simple. I’m queen and you’re in my house.”

“Minuet is queen, and I’m queen mother. I raised the queen and her two children. This is my house. Razzmorten and the crown gave it to me.”

Spitemorta let out a whoop of laughter and stopped. “Minuet is dead, dead, dead and you may be lucky enough to be the hired help in my house, if you don’t get carried away,” she said with a satiny rustle as she stepped into the doorway and pushed past Bethan.

“Now look ‘ee here, child! Queen Minuet and Razzmorten saw us just days ago, and she certainly was queen then…”

“Yea? My soldiers found them dead of the plague when we destroyed Castle Niarg, what, yesterday? And my mother grew up in this house, so it’s mine.”

Bethan went apoplectically wide eyed. “You’re Queen Spitemorta!” she gasped.

“It is Bethan’s house,” said Peredur as he steadied himself, stepping inside, “and I’m to live out my days here, too.”

“Which could be up any moment from what I see,” said Spitemorta as she picked up a piece of steak and took a bite.

“That won’t hold up before the Bench,” said Peredur.

“Queen’s Bench,” said Spitemorta with a cherubic smile and another bite.

Bethan caught his eye and shook her head.

“If you’re a willing part of my loyal service, you’ll be alive to wait on me when I come back to stay.”

“At your service, Your Majesty,” said Bethan with a heavy curtsey.

“At your service,” said Peredur with a bow.

Spitemorta stepped out into the grass and mounted the Staff. “Ta-Ta,” she said and flew away into the morning sky.

“My word!” said Peredur as they watched from the doorway. “That witch! What have we got into?”

“Something you and I are going to live through, that’s what.”

 

Ch. 5, The Reaper Witch, book five of Heart of the Staff: The Complete Series

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Ariel says she Could Die

 

“We’re done Grandfather,” said Daniel.

 

“So I see.” he said, fitting his spectacles onto his face.

“How did we do?” said Ariel as she and Daniel sat beside him.

“A question like that has been nothing but a respectful formality for some time, my dear,” he said.

“Perfect then?” said Daniel.

“Absolutely,” he said with a deep nod. “And this completes anything which I might contribute until Neron has worked with you for a time and we get you ready to go study with Meri Greenwood. And it is he who will prepare you for your staves and take you to see Longbark in Mount Bed.”

“And then?” said Ariel. “Are we…?”

“Oh,” he said with a smile. “I expect we’ll have you back here again for one final inspection and a little practice.”

“And then we get her…” said Daniel.

“When the moment falls exactly right,” said Razzmorten as everyone went silent, listening to the swallows and the trickling water and the river pounding in the deep reaches, drawing away the echoes from the sink.

Daniel dug at the rocks with a twig.

“Abaddon ought to be back with Toast, directly,” said Razzmorten, looking at Ariel with sudden innocence.

“Great-Grandfather Razzmorten is naught but a matchmaker,” said Arial, giving him a peck on his cheek.

“Not at all. You’ve had your heart bond for all these years.”

“Are we done?” said Daniel.

“With magic, anyway. Go enjoy the day.”

“Thanks Grandfather,” he said, tossing aside his twig.

“Father keeps saying that in spite of the bond, I might eventually be safer away from Abby,” said Ariel.

“Yea? Is that what you want?”

“Maybe it’s best for Abby. I mean I could die…”

“No you’re not. And worse than that, you’re guessing. How’s that fit for a young and powerful sorceress? What do you want to do with your guesses, anyway, break his heart and then go die? Maybe you’d better do what your heart wants.”

“You’re right as usual,” she said as she stood and brushed the seat of her skirt. “I shall indeed follow my heart.”

“And you’re not going to say another word about dieing,” he called out after her as she stepped into the lava tube. “Ye hear?”

Ch 2, Doom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Howlies Might not Like Herio’s Talking with Rocks

gigatopithecus_closeupMILK

 

Not being let out of the cave by the great silvery blue eyed howlie was startling enough for Herio and Philpott, but being held captive by the giants for well over a week was an ordeal. At first it was just the pair whose tracks they had followed, who squatted outside in the pouring rain, keeping them from running away, but in the moonlight of the following nights, they heard eerie howls echoing away over the rocky countryside, and each morning they would see giants which they had not seen before, milling about or squatted on the rocks, just outside.

This morning, when Herio awoke to the calls of a sunset thrasher, he realized that they were awfully close to the mouth of cave and sat up at once. When he saw that no big creature was sitting just outside, he sprang to his feet and peered out to find the biggest collection of howlies he had yet seen. “Damn!” he muttered quietly as he began counting.

“How many this time?” said Philpott, sitting up on his pallet.

“I’m not sure whether I see fifteen or sixteen. One of them is half grown and three or four of them are carrying babies. I’m not counting the babies.”

“Any sign of the unicorns?”

Herio stepped back inside, shaking his head as he squatted to pick up his leather water bottle before flinging it aside.

“After eight days, I’m surprised you even picked it up.”

“Yea? Well after eight days, I don’t see how a fellow could keep from it.”

“So how far away from the cave are they?” said Philpott. “Any chance that we could make a run for it?”

“They’d get us. There are just too many, and they’ve got us blocked every direction you want to look. Besides, this is pretty open country, even with all of the rocks. We’d have to know our unicorns were waiting for us or they’d just run us down. They’ve probably eaten them by now, anyway.”

“I doubt it, truth to tell,” said Philpott, picking up the bottle for a look of his own. “I mean, if they were going to eat them, don’t you reckon they’d just sit out there where they could keep an eye on us and champ away?”

“All right. So why did they bother to run off our unicorns, and why are they keeping us here in the first place?”

“To teach us a lesson, maybe. They’ve already made it clear as a bell that they don’t want us grazing that pasture.”

“You reckon they’re actually enough like us to try teaching us by holding us captive?”

“They just might be, Herio. I swear that they spend as much time shaking their hands at each other as people do a-talking. They just might have something in mind for us.”

“Starvation, I’d say. Do you have any idea about what they’re saying with their hands?”

“You can go a good while without victuals. Forty days or better. But they’re going to have to let us drink. It won’t take too many days to kill us. And no, I don’t understand a bit of it. I notice when they repeat some things, but I don’t understand any of it. However, we understood their drawings ‘way back at the sheep shed. What are you doing?”

“Smoothing out a place to draw a picture.”

“Very well…”

Herio waited until one of the giants looked their way and waved his arms. “Hey!” he hollered.

The giant shook his fist.

“That doesn’t look good at all,” said Philpott. “You might want to try something else.”

“This ought to do it,” said Herio, picking up a rock.

“Whoa! I wouldn’t risk a lesson in manners from one of those curses. They might not like our talking with rocks. Why not do it their way? If they’re too far away for pictures and fingers, they howl, don’t they?”

Herio put down his rock and thought about it for a moment. Suddenly cupped his hands to the sides of his mouth, drew a great breath and bellowed out a tenor version of the howlies’ moonlit night wail. It sounded much more like a wolf than a howlie, but by the time he had put down his hands, all sixteen giants had converged on him, huffing and stinking of sulphury musk. “Aah!” he said, patting his stomach and pointing into his mouth as he made gulping noises. But before he could drop to his knees with his stick to draw, they had Philpott and him by the arms, ushering them down the hillside at a jog, hiking them up and over rocks as if they were toddlers. And a long way it was, too, stumbling to keep up with their great hairy-legged strides.

Far down the slope was a wooded ravine. When they came to the bank of a fast stream, the howlies let go of them at the water’s edge, where they fell to their hands and knees at once and drank. The moment Herio sat up on his haunches and wiped his mouth on his arm, the blue eyed howlie threw down their water bottles with a grunt. “Philpott, look!” said Herio. “I’d never dream that old Blue Eye would know what those are for.”

“Yea,” said Philpott. “Makes ye wonder what else they’ve figured out.”

“I hope they figure out that we’re hungry.”

“Well you’re good at this. Tell them.”

Blue eye squatted behind Herio and studied him.

“Well Blue Eye,” said Herio as he carefully turned about to face the giant. “I wish I knew how to thank you for the water, but maybe I can show you that we’re hungry.” He gave a moan and rubbed his belly.

“Hmmmp,” rumbled Blue Eye as he waddled closer to look him up and down.

“Mmm!” said Herio as he pantomimed  grabbing up something and chewing on it with lots of exaggerated champing.

Blue Eye knitted his brow and sat back on his rump as he thought this over. “Hmmmp,” he rumbled as he picked his nose and resumed looking Herio over with studious consideration.

Herio rubbed his belly again and champed his teeth.

Suddenly, Blue Eye was on his feet, jostling a couple of other howlies and making signs with his hands.

ac3a7ad3cbcb“Did you see that?” said Philpott with a nod at the howlies as he bunged his water bag.

“What?” said Herio as he watched Blue Eye and the other giants wade into the water.

“Oh never mind.”

The howlies waded slowly about in the water for some time, pausing here and there to grab at things along the bottom. By now, Herio and Philpott and all of the howlies not fishing were sitting on the bank, watching Blue Eye and listening to a water thrush singing in the willows. A grebe surfaced just beyond the bank, saw that it had an audience and ducked back under water.

so-cal-bigfoot“He was!” said Philpott, the moment he saw for certain that the howlies were fishing. “I’d have sworn Blue Eye was making hand signs for ‘fish’ before they waded in. They just got one. That is what they’re doing.”

Presently Blue Eye stepped out of the water with a wriggling catfish in each hand, giving one to Herio and the other one to Philpott. They were trying figure out how to show that they were properly pleased when the other two howlies climbed out and shared a fish with Blue Eye. The howlies each bit the heads of their respective fish to kill them, and then wolfed down hungry bites, watching to see how Herio and Philpott liked theirs.

“You said you were hungry,” said Philpott, “but are you ready for raw fish, innards and all?”

“I’ve got my flint and striker,” said Herio. “What do you reckon they’ll do if I try to use them?”

“Try it.”

Herio handed his fish to Philpott and scraped up a little pile of dry cottonwood leaves, crumbled up some of them and began striking his flint. At once all sixteen howlies crowded in close to watch every single move he made. He blew a faint stream of his breath where his sparks were landing.

Suddenly the howlies gasped and backed away wide eyed at the first curl of smoke. Herio kept striking and huffing as they crept back close to see. Directly he was feeding twigs into the first wee flame. Philpot took his knife and cleaned the fish. He paused at the sight of a female with a toddler on her hip, eyeing where the fish head and entrails had just dropped into the leaves. When he held them out to her, she snatched them away at once, shared them with her child and hunkered back to the fire, licking her fingers. Herio impaled the first fish and held it into the flames. Blue Eye waddled in close, craning to behold in wonder the fish in the flames and then Herio’s face, then his hands and then the sizzling fish again.

“Mmm!” said Herio, sampling the fish. He held out a pinch of it to Blue Eye.

Blue Eye gaped in awe and put the fish into his mouth for a thoughtful moment. “Vooove!” he boomed. “Oooooh!”

Herio and Philpott had no sooner divvied out all their catfish than they found themselves being plied with more wriggling fish. After an unexpectedly long meal, Herio and Philpott caught each other’s eye, rose without a word and made their way back to their cave with all sixteen howlies following reverently on their heels.

Ch. 9, Doom in  Heart of the Staff: the complete series

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Who are the Giants?

 

 

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The giants who capture Herio and Philpott in Doom are described below as they are in Doom‘s Glossary and in Heart of the Staff, the Complete Appendix.

Sasquatch - Bigfoot - Yeti on snowy mountain peaks

 

GiantsGigantopithecus blacki R., also known as howlers or howlies or tall men, gigantic secretive nocturnal hominids that walk upright and live just below the tree line of the Sunset Mountains and in other isolated areas of the Northern Continent. Males range from eight to ten feet tall and can weigh more than eleven hundred pounds. Females range fromproduct-1862-main-main-big-1416589130 seven to eight and a half feet tall and weigh half that of the males. Both sexes are entirely covered with a shaggy, nearly black dark brown hair, except for the palms of their hands, the soles of their feet and the forehead and cheeks of the males, and the entire faces of females. The irises of their eyes can be brown or bright blue, whilst the whites of their eyes are black. Their faces are broad and flat in a manner suggestive of the orangutanjaw. Their jaws are V-shaped like those of humans, allowing a bipedal upright carriage of the skull, setting them apart from the great apes. Their molars are far heavier in proportion than those of humans, making them able to masticate whole nuts and other roughage impossible for humans to chew. Their jaw muscles cover the sides of their heads and are anchored to a prominent boney sagittal crest running along the top of their skulls, rather than merely being anchored around the temples as in modern humans. Not only do they walk fully erect in the manner that we do, but their leg bones are similarly proportioned to ours and their toes point forward and are not used for grasping as in the great apes. Additionally, their hands have the prominent thumbs of human hands, further setting them apart from the apes. And whilst their arms are enough longer in proportion to their bodies than humans’ to suggest those of the great apes, they are not long enough to facilitate their knuckle walking quad-ambulation. Both sexes produce an intensely musky pungence that hangs in the air after their passage. It is claimed that the sex of the individual who released a given odor can be reliably determined by human observers who have been around them long enough to become familiar with the creatures. It is not known whether yetiscalethey have voluntary control over the scent. The females ovulate every twenty-eight days like humans rather than having a seasonal estrus as do the apes, and they form life long pair bonds. It is evident that the young are dependent upon their parents throughout their development and take a long time to reach maturity, though just what that length of time happens to be is unknown. They seem not to have a verbal language, though they utter groans and much grunting in close proximity to other individuals, and they make loud long wails (described as hair raising) which can be heard for miles on still nights. What they do have instead of speech is an astonishing and articulate system of sign language, able to ask questions and to convey detail about specific conditions and entities removed in space and time. They also scratch hieroglyphs and crude drawings in the dirt and on rocks and tree trunks. Though they never have been known to shape stone tools, they are quite handy at using un-worked stones and well chosen sticks as tools. They have never been known to use fire. However, they have the incessant habit of stripping fibers from all sorts of plants and scattering about occasional twists of them where they have been. They also tie up bundles of such fibers into pallets and effigies which observers captured by them have seen being used as dolls for the female young.

 

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Abaddon Thinks Ariel is the Prettiest Little Girl He has Ever Seen

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The sudden cry of an infant across the camp caught Abaddon’s attention. “That must be one of Lukus and Soraya’s twins,” he said, turning to James. “Have you seen them, yet? Ariel, the little girl is the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a good job that Momma and Nanna Demonica don’t know about them, don’t you know?”

elf child 2

“Why’s that?”

“You really don’t know?” said Abaddon with a flicker of his old scorn. “They think Lukus and Soraya are dead. The last thing they want is for them to live and have a baby ’cause of the proper scene. You know, the proper scene. It’s real important, but what is it?”

For a moment he had everyone.

“Prophecy?” said Owain with a respectfully knitted brow as he stepped forth to spit in the fire.

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“Oh,” said James. “Well. It’s when some great seer predicts that something is going to happen in the future. The prophesy that I think you must have heard your momma and nana talking about was made years ago by the Elves.”

“So, what is it?”

“It says that the child born of a Human and an Elf will destroy the Heart and the Staff and the evil foe who tried to wield them.”

Abaddon stared away in awe at Soraya soothing Ariel. “No wonder,” he murmured.

Ch 34, The Burgeoning

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