The superheroes, gender-bent Thors and Lokis, video game idols, and a slew of other awesome cosplay (including a Groot who was likely only about seven years old and totally stole the show for me), made the quick trip down to Calgary so very, very worth it. The best moment for me, however, was both my kids recognizing one of their favorite Five Nights at Freddy's characters, Toy Foxy, and yelling and pointing and making the person behind the mesh in the mask smile so wide that I actually still grin just thinking about it.
Time to start planning for next year.... ;)
And more thankfully not with a sick youngest kid anymore... although her Coughing Bowl goes everywhere she does - it's a plastic lunch container with a zip-lock sandwich bag as a liner that she coughs and sneezes into. We invented it because she's associated phlegm in her throat with throwing up and we need to leave the house sometimes without toddler panic attacks at every sniffle. It works.
Have a great weekend!
1. Pros and Cons
Perhaps I should have stayed dead a few moments longer. It's not like the extra couple of seconds would have killed me. The cover story wouldn't have to be so elaborate, either. And I would probably have clothes right now, not just a body bag.
It all started three days ago in a back alley, where a friend was nice enough to shoot me in the gut so that I could be dead for a few days. At least long enough to satisfy everyone involved that I wasn't scamming my insurance company.
I've had to be dead many times now, and every time it gets a little harder. There are all those scalpel-happy coroners out to solve wrongful deaths with their autopsies, each just itching to grab onto any corpse and slice their way to enlightenment. Whatever happened to just getting killed and being dead and buried so your friends can come dig you out later that night? It used to be that a hole in your stomach, a lot of blood, and no pulse meant that you were dead. Now they want to take out the bullet and try to find the gun and person who shot you, confirm if the gun was used in crimes before, and what exact kind of damage the bullet did that you died from it. It's such a hassle.
On the up side, a gunshot death usually means free access to the hospital. In a crappy downtown hospital like this one, all you have to do is make sure you file all your paperwork properly before you go and nobody ever thinks to miss you. They do notice the missing blood from the bank, but it sure beats eating what you can find on the street. People who won't be missed usually have gross eating habits, poor hygiene, and questionable health. It's enough to make you lose your appetite; especially when there's a supply of clean, healthy, prepackaged freezer meals just waiting to get picked up.
I know exactly what you're thinking right now: ugh, vampires. It's not as bad as it sounds. The daylight allergy is a myth, a steak through the heart and the removal of the head kills everything except cockroaches, and the ability to go to church or handle religious artifacts really depends on what religion you did or didn't start with. Personally, I wasn't religious when I was human. Being undead hasn't changed my mind much. Most of us vampires just work dead-end jobs and live mostly regular lives.
Besides, the up side is that you get to have some pretty awesome night vision, a great sense of smell, unlimited years to exercise and live up to that 'super strength' assumption, and healing powers that make earthworms jealous. Also, you are technically dead, so the heartbeat and breathing stuff isn't required. I took up ocean diving without air tanks when I learned that. Undersea holidays are my favorite way to relax.
So, once I get my current state of affairs wrapped up, that's what I'm going to do. Go on a nice holiday. Fish blood is just as tasty as the hospital stuff, and if you don't need a boat to dive from you don't have to worry about people spotting it and getting nosy about you being underwater for so long. Besides, sitting on a beach or drifting around in warm, ocean currents for a week or two is a smart way to lay low and build your latest identity. Tourist locations tend to not care as long as you pay a bill, and low class parts of countries with questionable governments have good places to lose your purse and all your ID. I even have my new ID made and paid for. It's now just a matter of getting clear so that I can go collect it.
If it weren't for the insurance my old me took out, payable to my new me, I'd have just slipped away and made a b-line for the nearest exit. But the fine print in the policy requires confirmation of an Accidental Death for the full pay out, and the dolt who was on shift last night decided to leave me for day shift to write up. Day shift then got huffy about always having to do all the paperwork and left me for afternoon shift. Afternoon shift was sick of doing all the extra crap that day shift and night shift were always pawning off, and tagged a bright green sticky note over my toe tag that told everyone exactly what they thought of the whole situation.
Needless to say, I'd been in the freezer for just over 24 hours. My gut was starting to ache from keeping the bullet hole open – mind over matter, it really does work – and I had the chorus from a crappy pop song by some superstar teenager stuck in my head that was playing on repeat. And just to add insult to injury, my ass had gone numb from lying on the fridge slab for so long. I'd sigh if it was actually worth the effort of breathing.
Then again, from the experience of other sighs I'd indulged during the past 24 hours, the air in my personal fridge smelled like cheap plastic, hospital disinfectant, and dead. If you've ever driven past the wrong side of a meat processing plant, or past road kill that's been on the highway shoulder too long, you know the smell I'm talking about when I say 'dead'. If you don't know, don't try to find out. It's not a good smell. It's the one that makes people on TV puke in the autopsy room. Let's just say that forcing this air across my scent receptors one more time wasn't something I wanted to willingly inflict on myself.
Besides, my fridge door opened at that moment.
Family! So much crammed into one week! Hubby's new job is going well, and he likes the guys he's working with which is always a bonus. My oldest had her school spring concert. I got the video camera to work properly, and the youngest to stay (mostly) quiet, so now I have proof that singing and dancing in front of an audience are things my 6-year-old can add to her list of skills. Being as she's had stage fright in previous concerts to the point of immobility and mumbling, this was a HUGE DEAL and I'm SO PROUD! My youngest impressed me in other ways this past week... I'd like to state that a 3-year-old left unsupervised for more than five minutes (less than ten) can make an astounding mess with a bulk sized bag of Rice Krispies. The impressive parts were that she kept snacking even after discovering the sand-like piling qualities of the cereal, the mess was mostly contained to the 'picnic blanket' protecting the family room carpet, and she was full enough to go to bed and sleep happily. Didn't even wake up for the vacuum. Win! Hope you have a good weekend!
Enti paused for a rest. He glanced down at the dark shape in the dugout; the one that had left the dark red trail that stretched back into the trees where Addint had charged.
Addint still hadn't moved.
Enti curbed the grief threatening to overwhelm him and channeled it into more hatred, more rage. Those were productive emotions right now. Those fueled his body and stopped his muscles from shaking with exhaustion. They made sure his grip was always secure. That was the only way he would get up the final seventy-five feet.
The crack he had chimneyed in up until now was quickly running out; there was maybe ten feet of it left. After that, he would be free climbing in the basin of the now spoon shaped cliff. He looked out over the valley below where he could see the edge of the army from his current perch, but not the main body of it yet. That was still hidden by the trees that edged the deeper part of the valley that they were setting camp in. He grasped the crystal at his neck anyway.
“Commander Archer,” he rasped.
The crystal grew warm in his hand, glowing softly in the pit of his clavicle.
Archer cut off his heated rebuttal and pushed the council member out of his way, springing across his office as his view cube glowed to life. Luinda, who’d been reluctantly sent to assess the validity of Archer's continued worries and was currently trying not to slap the old fool she’d been forced to spend the past hours with, huffed at being so rudely shoved.
“I don't know if you can hear me or not, Archer, but I'm going to talk to this little rock anyway.”
Luinda slunk across the floor, nursing her wounded pride, but wanting to see what Archer thought was so important.
“This is Trainee Torinson, sir. Master Catsh –” Enti hesitated, his throat hitching. “Catsh said that you could see through this thing somehow. Do you see that?”
Enti twisted the amulet so it better faced the edge of the army he could see. Archer's countenance grew grim at the glimpse of the corner of the Arkin Army. Luinda quit her huffing and grew silent. She paled as the young man at the other end of the view cube began to climb again and recounted the events of the day since they’d reported in, the events which had led him to be climbing the cliff that now filled every side of the view cube.
Enti's briefing grew more and more broken as the climb got harder. Fighting against gravity for the last twenty feet as the cliff's angle forced him over backward, his haggard breathing was the only sound as he concentrated on clinging on to the nearly non-existent hand and foot holds.
Finally he reached the end of the overhang. Enti carefully pulled himself around it and up the final rise to the top of the cliff. He lay, gasping and shuddering for a few moments, gathering what strength he could from the frozen air burning into his lungs. Sky and clouds covered the cube in Archer’s office.
With arms and legs that felt like water, Enti rolled onto his belly and crawled to the farthest point of the precipice he had climbed up beside. He could see the entire army now, like Catsh had said he would.
Enti tried three times before his fumbling fingers could untie the knot in the leather thong at his neck. He forced his cramped hands to hold the amulet tight enough to be sure of its security.
“You'd better be seeing this.”
He held the amulet out in front of him, over the edge of the cliff, so that he could look through it and be certain that the army was filling its entire scope.
“I am, kid,” Archer answered, holding the view cube in front of himself with whitened knuckles, knowing the limited abilities of the amulet meant that Enti couldn’t hear him.
Luinda had gone frightfully pale, her own white knuckles clenched around the lapel of her robe, clutching it to her breast. Archer saw the shadow and yelled a warning. Enti couldn’t hear him through the one-way amulet.
The scene in the view cube lurched once, and then began to spiral down.
Distant ground, hidden in evening shadow...
The entire Arkin Army, hundreds of sections making camp for the approaching night...
The mountains across the valley...
The sun, beginning its descent behind the peaks...
The lazy afternoon sky...
The griffin-riding sentry, drawing back his bow for a second shot at the Trainee...
Enti's hands, hanging limp over the edge of the precipice...
The scene in the view cube Archer held faded to black. When he could finally tear his eyes away, the Mage was shaking and pale. Archer held out the cube to her.
“Contact the council,” he ordered quietly.
Happy Friday! I'm sick! For the record, being sick sucks. Especially when the littlest of the kids is sick, too. Thank goodness my hubby's new job doesn't officially start until tonight and then us sickly ones have the weekend to recover from this week's flood of snot.
Disclaimer: we're not horrifically sick. It's just a cold and cough that makes basic functioning feel like training for the Olympics. (You're constantly out of breath, can't figure out what you did to make that hurt, and have to push through because anything you take will affect your performance.)
I'm also more whiny than I may have a right to be due to the fact that it's mid-April and it's snowing. Again. Usually by now I'd be cleaning up the yard and the kids would be complaining about it not being warm enough outside to walk over to the nearest gas station for slushies without me forcing them to wear light jackets. Instead, I'm looking at shoveling the driveway and my oldest was in her heavy coat going to school after convincing me that she really didn't need to wear snow pants as long as she had her mitts and toque.
The meme about "April showers brings Snow Plowers" still made me giggle, though, so at least my sense of humor hasn't frozen solid.
4. Half Goat
Enti came up on him from behind and about six feet above, took position and, tightening his grip on his knife, fell on the man. Before the scout knew what was going on Enti killed him with a sharp and well-trained thrust. The scout spasmed once and died quickly and silently.
Enti stayed low and well-hidden while he edged around to where Addint and Catsh were sitting. He whistled a few notes from a bird call the brothers had learned as children – one that was from a bird that didn't winter in the mountains. Addint silently prayed a thank you to whatever it was that kept watching out over his little brother and whistled the remainder of the call.
Enti slid out from behind some rocks.
“Are you guys all right.”
“I am. But Catsh –” Addint hesitated.
He was still holding one of Catsh's hands. Enti finally saw the blood. He balled his hands into fists and bit on the knuckles of his left hand, rocking back on his heels where he crouched in front of his brother. Addint was unable to look up.
“Catsh,” Addint started, his voice choked. “He said the man was a scout and alone, and that we'd be able to see the rest of army from up there,” he tilted his head to the cliff. “He said you would be able to see them.”
Enti turned to the cliff, staring it down. It looked to be about a half day's travel away, and from where they sat it appeared to be approximately 300 feet of flawless stone. Enti's jaw set hard. He channeled his grief at losing three friends so suddenly into a rage. He stood fast, startling his brother.
Addint looked at his brother with shock.
“It's still half a day away,” Addint argued. “And we should stay and –”
“We can come back and bury them once we've seen the army and sent the information back to Archer,” Enti stooped and cleaned the frozen blood off his knife with a couple handfuls of snow before he dried it and sheathed it. “And it's only a few hours’ run, at most.”
The brothers pushed on through the snow, running in silence that was broken only by their even breathing. They reached the base of the cliff in less than three hours.
Addint knelt in the cliff's shadow. He clutched at the snow, drawing the frozen water slowly into his mouth as their father had taught them. Enti wasted no time for rest yet; he instantly began pacing at the bottom of the cliff, searching its face for the best way up. Spotting a route that suited him, he walked back to his brother.
Addint had started pushing snow out from the base of the cliff to make a small dugout for the two of them to rest in. Enti fell to helping him, and soon they were sitting close together, drinking snow and preparing for the climb. They huddled deep in their coats, sharing the close quarters for the extra warmth it offered.
“How many hours of sunlight left down here, do you think?” Addint asked.
Enti looked across the valley to the sharp peaks on the other side.
“Four, maybe three and a half,” He took another bite of snow and pointed up. “See that, where the rock curves out?”
From so far below, the outcropping looked tiny.
“I'm going to get up there. It's the top and will have the best view,” Enti took another bite of snow. “I spotted it out as we were running, and there’s a good way to get to it.”
“Do you have enough time?” Addint looked doubtfully from the precipice to the position of the sun.
Enti shrugged and threw the last of his snow away. He stood and began stretching out and re-warming his cooling muscles. The brothers shared a moment of quiet, surrounded by the foreign yet familiar mountains. Addint saw the flash from between the trees. An arrow broke against the rock that Enti had just twisted away from as he stretched. Addint leapt from the dugout, drawing his sword.
“Go, Enti! Now!” he ordered as he charged at where he'd seen the flash of the bow. “Commander Archer!” he demanded, grasping at the crystal at his throat as he closed in to attack the bowman.
The view cube on Archer's desk glowed to life, the odd angle of the two dimensional battle showing on all five of the exposed sides. Archer himself was not there to see it. He had been forced from his constant vigil over the cube by the arrival of a Council member at the compound.
Addint crawled back to the dugout, his left arm trailing uselessly. It had been a scouting party this time. One bowman, three swordsmen. He had won the upper hand in the brief battle by surprise, and then won the battle by default: he was the only one still alive.
That victory appeared as though it would be short lived.
Addint looked up to where he could see Enti's coat shifting as his younger brother climbed. The elder brother smiled up at the coat. Enti was moving fast up the first part of the cliff face, but that was the part Addint could have climbed nearly as well. It was going to be the last one hundred feet that would have been the problem for any normal man.
Good thing Enti was half goat.
Addint choked on a laugh and puked up a full stomach’s worth of blood. The view cube on Commander Archer's desk went slickly dark, then even that faded out as the cube went black. A few moments later Archer lead Luinda into his office and, attempting at politeness, pointed her to a visitor chair as he tried to not slam the door.
What a great start to the week! For writing news: my debut novel (The Centurion's Woman: Maiden) got a 4 star and 5 star review with full write-up (the link is over on my Reviews page if you'd like to check it out), book 2 in The Centurion's Woman, Warrior, is getting so much initial interest, and then I got to confirm my mailing address for the promotional materials Austin Macauley is sending me for An'ji - which will be out likely at the end of this month! For personal news: my hubby grabbed a job and will be starting next week, both my kids are still (somewhat surprisingly) alive and healthy with me taking over the full-time at home while he's updating his training prior to starting back to work (he's been a stay-at-home dad for 6-1/2 years), and my cosplay costume is *almost* done.
Up to Wednesday was awesome!
So what the heck happened on Thursday?
Anxiety provided the worrying realization that that much good stuff should be tempered with multiple days of nervously waiting for the other shoe to drop. That's what happened.
Is there another shoe? No. No, there isn't. Does that argument help? No. No, it doesn't. So, now it's Friday and I'm mad at myself for wasting a day in self-defeating ruminations. Time to channel my inner Magrat. More good stuff is coming up and - dammit - I won't let my own brain tell me to be scared of it!
3. First Contact
“Commander Archer seems more troubled this morning than when we spoke to him yesterday,” Master Catsh also looked troubled as he stowed the view cube back into his pack.
“Yes,” Addint answered. “But you heard him as well as I did. We're all to start wearing the amulets as of now.”
The amulets were smaller, simplified versions of the view cube. They were designed only to transmit, not to receive. Master Catsh removed the five small packets from where they had been stowed in his bag beside the view cube. Each of the young men took one and unwrapped it, then tied the leather thongs the crystals hung off of around their necks.
“This means he believes us to be getting close,” Addint quietly vocalized the thought in each man's mind.
“If, of course, there is anyone to get close to,” Master Chintson replied, hopeful that there was nothing out here.
The first knife took Chintson high in the back and he burped up a mouthful of blood before falling over sideways in the snow. The four remaining blinked at their dead friend, momentarily and completely perplexed.
“Scatter!” Addint recovered first and ordered the rest into motion.
They bolted in different directions, diving for what they hoped would be cover. Master Arden was the slowest to respond; his focus staying horrifically transfixed on the contrast of the red blood on the white snow. The second knife thrown caught Arden in the throat. He gurgled out what might have been a scream and fell to the snow beside his friend.
Addint slid in behind a small boulder beside Catsh as the third knife he saw sliced past where his head had just been. Enti ducked into a divot in the ground that was covered by scrub growth, narrowly dodging the small missiles aimed at him by their unseen assailant.
Catsh had dropped into a trance the moment he was covered by the large stone. He snapped out of it a few heartbeats after Addint slid in beside him.
“There's only one. He has two knives left,” a sheen of sweat appeared on Catsh's brow.
When Addint glanced out towards where Enti had gone, he could see the trail of red in the snow that led to where Catsh was now sitting. A knife was buried high in Catsh's right thigh, vibrating with each beat of his heart.
Addint stared at his friend for a split second then slammed his hands hard over the wound around the knife as best he could. Catsh smiled at him.
“It's too deep for that, Addint. But thanks anyway.”
Catsh's eyes glazed over again, his smile dropping away.
“This man is a scout. The rest of the army is still two hours down the valley from here,” he took a shuddering breath. “Enti could get a clear view of the camp if he can get up there,” he pointed at the cliff face to the west that was about a half day's travel from where they were. “You'll have to hurry, the camp sentries start patrolling before sundown.”
Catsh emerged from the trance. Addint didn't know what to say. He took one of his blood covered hands from the wound and pressed it to his friend's chest. Catsh looked at him, trying hard to focus.
“Addint?” he grabbed out in the general direction of his friend.
“I’m here,” Addint answered as he pushed his fingers into Catsh's hands.
“Tell the Commander he was right,” Catsh demanded as a grin tried to push out at the corners of his mouth. “I am just... just another... useless mage,” his breath shuddered again and he touched the handle of the knife. “Just here to... get in the way... so you... you can get through...”
Catsh died with a smile playing at his lips.
Enti circled around the clear spot they had been sitting in, slipping out of his coat and leaving it piled where he had first ducked for cover. He had been just within hearing distance of Catsh as he'd said that there was only one man, so decided to eliminate the threat.
Enti silently pulled his own good hunting knife as he belly crawled around the snow covered clearing. The other man was well placed, entirely hidden from where the young men had been sitting, but still having a complete view of the whole clearing. The man was quickly shifting his gaze from where Addint and Catsh were and over to where Enti's coat still was, hoping to get a clear line of sight.
This was a weekly blog updating on Fridays, but life got busy so now I pop in now and then to let you know I'm still chipping away at my stories. If you look back through the archive you'll find weekly quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free! Check out my Short Stories section for free downloads of most of my writing, too!