10/1/16

Rheanna of Rhakotis – From Kris’s Archives

10a Rheanna great library

I was fortunate to study for a long time under the tutelage of Rheanna the Custodian of the Great Library at Rhakotis. She was a wonderful teacher and became a good friend. She was a very polite, formal and reserved person. She was always immaculately dressed and coiffured. I believe that a description that has been used by other writers describes her well – she was a very fragrant woman. She believed in strict protocol and took the Rhakoation tea ceremony very seriously. She always had Simon’s best interests at heart and worked tirelessly to help him. Ultimately, she took a big risk to help him in his great quest.

It was difficult to get behind the gracious, well-mannered and highly polished exterior to find out about the real woman beneath. Rheanna was a very private person and rarely dropped her guard. However, one very emotional day, I got to see the real Rheanna, the person behind the powdered face-mask. Rheanna lived in a different dimension a very long time ago. She had no family and there would be no descendants who could be around today. I have kept her confidence all of these long years. I don’t think she would hold it against me now to share some of her secrets with my readers. She was always the tenacious researcher who vowed that no reference be left unread and demanded that no story be left untold. She would agree that now is long past the time when her story should be told.

It was an ordinary day in Rhakotis. The Great Library was its normal whirl of efficient, quiet activity. We had been studying an ancient text for several days without success. It was written in an ancient language which we had never seen before. It seemed to predate the Great Old Ones. It was on a piece of extremely fragile parchment and Rheanna had painstakingly transcribed the symbols onto paper that we could use to study them. It had taken many days and many pots of tea before we cracked them.

It became clear that the text concerned the sentient species that existed before the rise of humankind. At the time, I was already aware that Simon had met Marduk, the Gardener of Eden, and The Captain on the Ship of Souls. The physical description in the ancient text confirmed their pedigree. I mentioned this to Rheanna and was shocked by the response. She began to tremble, or perhaps shake would be a better description. She appeared flustered and lost her normal calm demeanour. Her eyes began to fill with tears and she struggled and eventually failed to withhold a series of sobs.

It took some time and several pots of tea to get Rheanna to calm down. She apologised profusely for her behaviour and then, slowly and reluctantly at first, but with increasing alacrity  and clarity she told me her story.

****

“Like you, I was born in Karo to a very poor family. We didn’t have very much but we were happy. My father was a fisherman. He didn’t own a boat but worked as a deckhand for someone else. My mother was an orphan and had grown up on the streets. She did odd jobs, cleaning and sewing to help support us. I was their first child. She couldn’t read or write but she would tell me stories from memory. I first heard about Gilgamesh from my mother and longed to see the Hero and his Sword. Isn’t it funny how things turn out?” Rheanna paused for a moment, wiped a few tears from her eyes and seemed to pull herself together again.

“I was about to turn six when there was a double tragedy. My mother was pregnant and I was hoping for a little brother to help to look after. Her pregnancy was difficult and her labour long and debilitating. The baby was large and in the breech position. When he was eventually free, he was stillborn. My exhausted mother passed out and bled to death. When I heard about Ju’s tragic death on that cold birthing stone, it took me back to my own past. My father was devastated but had to keep working. Two weeks later, he was swept overboard by a freak wave and drowned. I learned about it on my sixth birthday. I have never celebrated my birthday since. I was left alone in the world.” She seemed stronger now. The tears were gone. It was as if she had come to terms with these tragedies long ago and put them behind her.

“There was worse to come though. My grandfather, my father’s father, still lived and he begrudgingly took me in. I was no longer allowed to go to school but had to slave for him all day. If I did the slightest thing wrong he would beat me with a stick. At night, he made me share his bed and the things he did to me made the stick seem pleasant.” Rheanna shuddered at the memory but was not to be deterred.

“I could only put up with it for so long. One day, I stole what little money there was in the house and stowed away on the ferry to Makkah. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got there but I just had to get away. Half-way through the journey, a great storm sprang up. Afterwards, I heard people say that it was like nothing they had ever seen. It was as if it were supernatural. I was hiding behind some baskets of fruit on the deck and both the baskets and I were blown overboard as if we were feathers. I sank into the cold water and saw my brief life pass before my eyes. I kissed my mother for a final time and received a hug from my father. The water was filling my lungs. I had no strength left. I closed my eyes and died.”

****

Well, as a bard you can imagine that this story had my complete attention. Rheanna looked at me as if to say, ‘I bet you don’t believe me!’ In truth, I found her story compelling and I believed every word. You only had to look into her eyes to know that she spoke the truth. I didn’t press her and we took more tea and spoke about the weather. Eventually, she continued.

****

“I woke up in a bunk bed on another ship. I thought that a passing ship must have spotted me and plucked me from the water. There was no one around so I got up. It was a small wooden sailing boat. I left the cabin and went on deck. It was foggy and the air smelt strange. I know now, from Simon’s experience, that I was in Limbo. At the time, I thought that we sailed through a normal fog. I saw a light under another door and opened it. I entered a warm cosy cabin. At the time, I couldn’t have been paying much attention. I only remember red wallpaper, though Simon described it more vividly. I now know that I was indeed dead and that I sailed on the Ship of Souls with an old man who looked after me and taught me many things, not least an inquisitiveness to find the truth in history.  He looked a lot like Manfred. He was a Great Sage and his name was Al-Alim.” Rheanna’s expression was dreamy now, as if she were being transported back to a favourite place and time.

“I don’t know how long I stayed there. We seemed to exist outside of normal time, which I now know to be the case. Other than a crew man who brought us food and drink, we never saw anyone else. Then one day a bell rang and Al-Alim told me it was time to see the Captain. As I left the cabin, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror on the wall that I had never noticed before. Instead of a frightened, abused child of six, I saw a proud young woman of at least sixteen. How it had happened in just a few days I could not explain.”

****

Rheanna paused again and looked at me. She held my gaze and it was as if she looked into my soul. Only wizards have done that to me. “I believe that I can trust you,” she said. “What I tell you now, I do in absolute confidence. You must never tell another living soul, especially Simon or Manfred. Do you promise?”

Of course I promised and until now I have honoured that promise. Now that it is all behind us, I fell free to tell Rheanna’s story. After all, why else would she tell a bard?”

****

“I was taken aback by the Captain. She was a strange-looking stick-like woman with funny eyes of different colours and only three fingers on each hand. But she was friendly enough and soon put me at my ease. The text we deciphered today took me back to that meeting. She spoke of a tapestry, that I didn’t understand until we learned so much more recently. She talked about fate and free will and how we all had choices to make. She told me that she could give me a second chance, because I had a very important role to play. I could stop the tapestry from unravelling. Al-Alim had prepared me well because I readily agreed to my assigned task. I looked forward with anticipation to the life I had ahead of me. I used some words then, that I have heard you utter too. I accepted a Quest for Knowledge. I know that I have a vital role still to play as I think do you. I have dedicated my life to finding out the information that Simon needs or will need to defeat Gadiel. The Ship of Souls sailed into Rhakotis harbour late one night with the lighthouse burning and the Great Sage Adapa guiding us in. Al-Amin and the Captain saw me off. Each had some parting words for me. ‘There are few wizards left in FirstWorld these days. Not all of them can be trusted. But, when Manfred calls be ready to answer,’ Al-Alim said. I began working in the Great Library in the lowest position that existed. I worked my way up to eventually become Custodian. I never forgot those words and when the summons to the Council of the Wise came, I was ready. ‘One day you will have a choice to make. Will you honour a wizard or a bard? Simon will face the same dilemma. Be guided by his choice,’ the Captain said. I’m still waiting for that day to arrive. I think that you and I are destined to meet again.”

****

The look Rheanna gave me made me shiver. I wasn’t to know then what was ahead of me. Unknowingly, I was able to play a pivotal role in helping Simon break the time loop that we were all stuck in. Rheanna played an important part in making it happen and she was forced to choose between her loyalty to Manfred and her friendship with me. The Captain’s words came to pass.

Rheanna was vindicated. Unfortunately, she never knew whether her work turned out to be successful or not. Simon and Jhamed disappeared from our timeline. Rheanna continued to study and held the post of Custodian of the Great Library for a record number of years. She published many books – almost as many as I have. She lived to a ripe old age but never married or had a family. Her line ended with her death. After her death, in her honour, Manfred had an extra statue erected in the Avenue of Heroes

KtB

09/23/16

More About Manfred

I had recently been appointed as official Bard of Elannort. While we were planning for the siege and subsequent Battle of Elannort and Simon was lost in the past, I took the opportunity to interview Manfred. I asked him about his early days, the fall of his mentor Bedwyr, the coming of Gilgamesh and his battle with Gadiel and his hopes for Simon and the future. He was refreshingly honest with me and spoke about the three great mistakes of his life. You can download the transcript of the interview for free here or read it below.

KtB

6 Manfred palantir

Interview with Manfred

Manfred the Magician Leader of the Wise interviewed at Melasurej on 12th day of Autumn Year of Creation 50506 by Kris the Bard.

Kris. Manfred, thank you for your time. I appreciate that you are worried and distracted because Simon is lost in the past and our enemies are gathering at the gates. I would like to ask you about your early days and the last time Gadiel threatened FirstWorld.

Manfred. You are welcome, Kris. We have done everything possible. I have faith that Simon will return and we will defeat the enemy. Ask away.

K. Can we go right back to the beginning? What is your first memory?

M. That’s a long time ago.

K. Forty-three thousand nine hundred and thirty-nine years to be precise.

M. You don’t have to remind me; I feel very old. I suppose my first memory is seeing Melasurej for the first time together with the rest of the Sages and feeling very small and impotent. I remember the scales in the great hall were perfectly in balance. It was the only time that I saw them like that. I was a very minor wizard and most of us didn’t have a clue about what we were supposed to do. We looked up to the seven Great Sages for guidance.

K. Did you ever see the Great Old Ones?

M. No, only the Great Sages met them and received their orders. They did not speak about it.

K. Where did you find guidance?

M. Fortunately the Great Sage Bedwyr saw something in me, though I don’t know what it was. He took me under his wing and I learned much from him. I guess that I was almost his apprentice.

K. What would you say were the most important things you learned from him?

M. Well, I learnt many small things, particularly how to use the power in my staff effectively. But it was the big things that I fall back on now. A belief that we are doing the right thing defending the Balance; that we can make a difference; that even when things are at their darkest there remains a small light of hope that will eventually lead to victory over adversity.

K. Bedwyr fell defending Elvenhome from Gadiel’s forces in YoC 11144. How did he pass to stone? I read somewhere that Gadiel himself wasn’t present. How did you feel?

M. I was devastated and felt so guilty. I felt that I should have been there with him. If I had been, perhaps he would have lived or I could have fallen in his place. He had sent me to discuss certain aspects of our battle plan with King Endymion. The enemy was on the borders of Elvenhome and threatening to cross the Buranan. We needed some special elven magic to wash them away as they tried to cross. He was planning to delay them and then fall back across the river. He had a small army of men and elves with him. It’s true that Gadiel wasn’t there and that’s probably why the rest of the Great Sages thought that one Great Sage was enough to deal with it. Adapa was never very keen on getting his hands dirty. There was a powerful being leading their army. Just like Gadiel seems to have recruited Weylyn this time, he’d done something similar then.

K. Was it another wizard gone bad?

M. No. I think it was a minor God of Chaos. He brought a host of Chaos creatures with him that terrified the humans in the defending army. I heard a first-hand account from an elven commander who survived the battle. Bedwyr was magnificent, moving around the battlefield, raising men’s spirits and destroying the chaos creatures. Eventually, he and the God came face to face. It was an almighty struggle. It appeared that Bedwyr would win and the God’s power waned as his supporters began to panic. With one final surge of power the God shattered Bedwyr’s staff, but the wizard wasn’t finished and jumped forward, grabbing the God around the throat all the while shouting incantations. The two of them died together. I arrived back at the battlefield just in time to see his body turn to dust and blow away. I was overcome by grief and anger and I shocked myself by the way I used my staff that day. I received a first-hand understanding of what the Hero must go through. Without its leader the enemy was routed and we carried the day. I vowed then that Bedwyr’s death would not be in vain.

K. Were the remaining Great Sages more open to fighting Gadiel after that?

M. Unfortunately not. My pleadings fell on deaf ears. However the dwarves and the elves were more open to action because they knew how close they had been to destruction. I had a feeling that the combination of Excalibur and the Blood Ruby would be quite a weapon. The King Beneath the Mountain, Darian son of Dail son of Dallin and the King of the Elves, Endymion, brought together the symbols of their cultures and handed them over to the elven smiths to create Fleischaker. The Sword immediately killed the two smiths who made it and we used all of the magic available to the three races to fashion Vasek to partially control it.

K. And you found a Hero in Gilgamesh to wield it?

M. Well, he found us actually. It was either fate or great synchronicity. He was the greatest Hero to have ever existed and really the first incarnation of the Everlasting Hero. He could control Fleischaker and revelled in using it to kill.

K. Do you think Simon will be the same?

M. Simon is very different to Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was much more like Ubadah is. I think that Simon will learn to temper the Sword’s excesses with compassion. At least, I hope so for the sight of the Hero destroying entire armies is not something I’d like to see again.

K. Is that what happened on the Battle Plain?

M. Yes. Gilgamesh destroyed Gadiel’s army single-handedly. It was a terrible slaughter.

K. Were you not involved?

M. When the Everlasting Hero is in full flight, it is best to stand well back or you are likely to become collateral damage.

K. As Simon has already discovered to his cost with Juliana.

M. Indeed.

K. What happened between Gadiel and Gilgamesh?

M. To the best of our understanding, with farsight and hindsight, they fought themselves to exhaustion. They were so evenly matched that neither could seize the advantage. Then Gadiel tricked Gilgamesh. He offered him the thing that he sought most; immortality. When Gilgamesh dropped his guard, Gadiel tore his still-beating heart from his chest.

K. So why didn’t Gadiel carry the day?

M. In his moment of triumph, he picked up Fleischaker and the Sword reacted as it had with the elven smiths. It couldn’t completely absorb Gadiel because he has no soul, or at least not one like ours. However, it severely damaged him. Somehow, he managed to flee the field and sought refuge in the mountains. Along the way, he had to abandon the Sword, which otherwise might have completely destroyed him.

K. Why didn’t you finish him off while you had the chance?

M. I have made three terrible mistakes during my long life. I know that there are a myriad of smaller ones but there are three that gnaw at my conscience even to this day. The first was to lose Bedwyr. The second was to allow Gadiel to flee the field that day. I know now that I had the power to destroy him but at the time I was too afraid. He had just destroyed Gilgamesh and he now had Fleischaker. I’m ashamed to say that I too fled the field that day.

K. You may note a tear in my eye and a quaver in my voice. I was, still am, a craven coward. I have never seen you afraid, even when the wargs threatened to overwhelm us. There is hope for me if even you were too afraid to act.

M. Only a fool is never afraid. The test is whether we act through our fear or are frozen by it. I learned a great lesson that day. Your time to act will come, of that I’m sure. Try not to freeze.

K. Did the wise not act and follow him into the mountains?

M. The Council of the Wise eventually met. Five of the six remaining Great Sages decided that they would seek out Gadiel. Dammar decided to go off and do his own thing. Because of my prior involvement, I volunteered to go with them but I was snubbed. I was sent away with Mandred on a series of missions to live with primitive humans and help to preserve the Balance with minimum interference. It was the worst time of my life.

K. What happened to the Great Sages?

M. I’m not even sure that they did anything. My research in recent years has failed to turn up any information. One by one, over time, they passed to stone. Gadiel slowly recovered and here we are today.

K. You mentioned three terrible mistakes. What was the third?

M. All the things that Bedwyr taught me, I forgot them all. I was so wrapped up in my own misery that I neglected everything. The greatest event in the history of the universe was taking place under my nose and I didn’t even notice. I witnessed the Sundering and didn’t even realise.

K. What did that teach you?

M. Well, specifically it allowed me to identify Simon Redhead as our next Everlasting Hero. More generally, it made me work hard ever since to put things right. Jhamed had been born in Elannort just before the Sundering. I admit that I caused a bit too much trouble trying to get the wise to search for Simon. At the 776th Council of the Wise, I made a bit of a fool of myself. So much so, that I was renamed Manfred the Fool and banished from Elannort. Jhamed was grown up by then and he decided to travel with me. Our adventures would fill many a book, but we were always seeking the incarnation of Simon Redhead that would be our Everlasting Hero. Unfortunately, not everyone at the Council of the Wise was on our side. My efforts also alerted the enemy to Simon’s importance and they sought him too, to destroy him.

K. Do you think that we have found him, the right incarnation I mean?

M. Yes, I’m confident we have. I’m sure he’ll be back soon, the Sundering will occur as it did all those years ago and we’ll defeat the enemy at the gate.

K. Manfred, I appreciate your openness and candour and I fervently hope that you are right. Thank you for your time.

M. Thank you, Kris.

Certified as a full and accurate transcript of my interview with Manfred the Magician at Melasurej on the 12th day of Autumn Year of Creation 50506 by Kris the Bard.

Great hall

09/16/16

The Gods of Chaos – Meeting with Shamash – Extract from A Vision of the Future

Shamash

Manfred and Kris bid him goodnight and left. Jhamed fidgeted on the chair. “The thing I don’t understand is why Chaos wants to turn against Gadiel. He seems to be their greatest ally.”

“From what I have seen, even the gods don’t trust each other and they most certainly don’t trust Gadiel.” Simon yawned. He heard Jhamed start to say something but he couldn’t keep his ears and eyes open. When he next opened them, a naked Txazop was sitting on the end of his bed. Jhamed was nowhere to be seen.

They crossed a muddy, foul-smelling river by a rotting wooden bridge. It seemed to Simon that it would collapse at any moment and cast them into the ugly waters below. They made it across safely, however, and entered a strange garden. If there was an antithesis to Elvenhome, this was it. They entered an area canopied by trees. These trees seemed old and diseased. The leaves were pale green and mottled with ugly yellow and brown blotches. The trunks and branches looked rotten and carried stinking brown fungi that released foetid spores into the air. A few half-dead vines drooped like dusty ancient curtains in a long-abandoned house. The ground beneath the trees was dank and infertile. A few straggling weeds competed with enormous toadstools to colonise the slimy earth. “Welcome to the Garden of Shamash,” Txazop said. The Singing God did not look well. His body was pockmarked with weeping black sores that exuded an obnoxious odour that was both sweet and foul at the same time. It brought to mind the only time he had eaten durian fruit in a Malaysian village. Simon looked at his own body, but found it in good health.

“Shamash is the God of decay, disease and physical corruption. His garden once stretched to the Serpent’s Maze. He had a secret plan to take over and corrupt Zeench’s domain. Of course, Zeench knew it was coming and thwarted him. They have been deadly enemies ever since. He doesn’t get on well with Kharmeth either; he feels that Kharmeth steals too many healthy bodies before disease and corruption have had time to set in.” They passed out of the trees, into a weak sunlight that illuminated a series of oily foetid pools of black water that bounded a path leading to a wreck of a wooden house. The sky hummed with the noise of a million black flies, while their feet squashed a thousand fat maggots with every step. The house seemed to be within seconds of crashing to the ground. The timbers were all rotten, and the joists were lying at strange angles. The roof had lost most of its tiles and the windows were all broken. The front door was hanging off its hinges. They squeezed through the gap, without touching the door, and entered the house.

The room was empty, but for two things and two people. An enormous cauldron stood on a fire in the middle of the room. The sight of it immediately made Simon think of Freda. Rather than smoke, it seemed to exude coldness and absorb light, so that an impenetrable blackness surrounded it. A grotesque being stood behind it, stirring the pot with a rotten tree branch. He was about the same size as Simon in height, though perhaps four times his volume. He was naked too and the folds of fat hung from his belly to his knees, obscuring everything beneath. His head was almost bald, just a few straggling hairs hung from his head to below his deformed shoulders. He turned and smiled as they entered and his few remaining teeth were black and rotten. His face was putrid with boils that oozed yellow pus, which ran down his face and dripped into the cauldron. Had Simon not been told Shamash was a man, he would have thought the opposite. Two enormous man boobs dangled from his chest. They seemed to be inflamed with some awful infection. A green liquid dripped from his black nipples. Simon wished that he hadn’t eaten.

At the back of the room stood a golden cage. Where the cauldron seemed to absorb light, the cage seemed to glow with exuberance. Inside, seated upon a simple bench, was the most beautiful woman Simon had ever seen. Her blonde hair cascaded over a perfect elven face and flowed on to the floor, hiding her nakedness, yet somehow Simon knew her body would be perfection too. Her skin was pure alabaster. Her eyes were a sparkling blue. Just a glance at her settled his nausea and made him feel better than he had in days.

Shamash laughed. “Welcome Txazop, good of you to bring your friend. Sorry about the pox, it’s a new disease I’m working on. It’s a bit like AIDS and the bubonic plague combined. I think it will be a great hit. It will be sexually transmitted, of course. I always like to give people a bit of enjoyment before they decay.” He laughed again and gave the cauldron a stir. The woman in the cage did not move. “Now, Simon, I have to speak to you. It’s a tough job being Shamash but someone has to do it. Everyone comes to me in the end. Well, almost everyone. Not those who die in their prime from accidents or get cut down in battle. Your Sword has robbed me of too many.” Simon instinctively felt for Kin Slayer but it was not there. “It is not welcome here, though I’m sure Kharmeth would swoon over it. Nevertheless, you are welcome and to show my good intents, I will not infect you with anything nasty today. I suppose you are wondering why I would seek your help, when I despise your Sword so much. I guess you are also thinking what could I possibly have to offer you in return.” Those thoughts were crossing Simon’s mind. “You have seen my friend. You can barely take your eyes off her. Yes, she’s my friend and my sister. It’s such a shame that I have to keep her locked up but she does so much damage, finding cures for my plagues.”

Simon was feeling confused. Txazop scratched a bubo and it burst with a whoosh, emitting a stream of foul-smelling yellow pus. He whispered to Simon, “She is Shamesh, Goddess of Healing, and sister to Shamash.”

“Txazop is correct and my offer is this. Side with me and I shall allow Shamesh to cure your wife.”

Simon looked at the beautiful woman, who now seemed to be smiling, showing perfect white teeth. He felt a surge of hope and the words were out of his mouth almost before his brain had thought them. “What must I do?”

“It might surprise you to know, but I do have enemies that I cannot defeat with my normal methods. I have a need for your Sword. It will be a simple arrangement; you destroy them and I shall restore your wife.”

“And what of my son?”

“Unfortunately, he is beyond help. However, Shamesh can heal the pain of his loss. Think on it carefully, for the time of choosing is almost upon us.” Shamash returned to stirring the pot. Shamesh moved her head and held Simon’s gaze for an instant.

A vision of the future book cover small

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09/11/16

Their Last Journey? Extract from A View of the Past

Consumed by the need to change the past and save the lives of his parents, Simon has abandoned Manfred and the rest of his friends to embark upon a quest to find a way to travel to the past. Only Jhamed has accompanied him, but Simon knows if he finds a way it will be a journey he must undertake alone.

Next morning, they divided the horses and supplies and farewelled Gamying. They gave him Ubadah’s map and the compass. He headed northwest, following the vague remnants of the Sand Road towards Corum. The weather was cool and clear, the wind having swung around to easterly again. If it stayed clear, they would navigate by mountains, heading west of the Three Witches and plotting a course that would take them between the Hills of Despair and the Hills of Hope. Jhamed predicted that the Hopeless Pass would lead them to the Middle Sea. Simon felt a renewed sense of purpose. He was glad he had shared his plan with Jhamed; it had taken a load off his mind. It had also revealed a way to gain access to the sole remaining time portal at Melasurej. Things were looking brighter again.

His spirits were brightened further by the good weather they enjoyed. They travelled quickly and easily, diverting from their chosen path only to visit the occasional oasis. They chatted about many things, but avoided talking about the fact that this was probably their last journey together. They also steered clear of anything that involved mentioning Manfred. Four days after leaving the ruins of Ilium, with a weak winter sun on their backs, they entered the Hopeless Pass. It was a narrow strip of land, surrounded on both sides by towering hills. Simon wondered whether it had been Ubadah who had named them Despair and Hope. The canyon reminded Simon of old western movies he had seen. He imagined that they were entering a trap. It would turn out to be a dead end and the natives would surround them and pick them off with their bows and arrows. Instead, the pass widened and as they left the hills behind it opened into extensive grassed plains. Now Simon really thought he’d gone to the Wild West for the plains were full of animals that resembled bison. The herds seemed untroubled by the visitors and just stopped chewing and stared at them with huge bovine eyes as they rode past. Unfortunately, the bison brought multitudes of flies, which increasingly annoyed both riders and horses. It brought to mind the ride to Hamadan and the terrible slaughter that had followed. Simon felt his spirits slipping again.

That night, they made a fire from dry dung and took turns to keep watch. “Where there are herbivores there will be carnivores,” Jhamed had said. In the darkness, Simon heard the distant howling of wolves and kept the fire burning strongly. He had no stomach for further slaughter, even if they were just ordinary wolves. After Jhamed relieved him, he fell asleep with the memories of the wargs throwing themselves on his blade. The next morning Jhamed told him that he had cried out loud and often in his sleep.

Once they reached the foothills of the Fang Mountains, they followed them in a south-westerly direction. The mountain peaks were white with new winter snow and Simon shivered despite the sunshine and his cloak. He was glad they wouldn’t have to cross the mountains. Another day’s ride saw the mountains begin to fall away and at dusk, they came upon the deserted shore of the Middle Sea. Despite the chill in the air, they both immediately disrobed and broke out the cakes of soap from their packs. The desire to be clean again overcame their reluctance to enter the cold water. The horses looked on with seeming amusement as the two shivering men scrubbed themselves. Simon even removed Kin Slayer before entering the water.

Later, dressed in clean clothes and in front of a roaring fire, they feasted on fresh fish that Jhamed had quickly and ingeniously caught with an improvised fishing rod. Simon patted his belly. “It’s good to be clean, warm and well-fed again. Which way do we head now?”

Jhamed yawned. “I don’t know what lies to the west. I think we would be best served heading east towards Fang Mouth. If needs must, we may have to ride all the way to Rhakotis and that will take us several days. Though the days are short at this time of year, we may make Fang Mouth by nightfall tomorrow. Would that the Red Lion was still standing, for they used to serve the best pint of ale north of Karo.”

Their blessed run with the weather continued as they made their way to Fang Mouth. Simon didn’t know what to expect. The town had been burned to the ground by pirates four years earlier and deserted by its inhabitants. They forded the sluggish River Fang, fortunate that it was winter and the glacier melt was at its lowest, and rode into a growing new village awash with building activity. Jhamed seemed pleased that one of the first places that had been rebuilt was the Red Lion. They took the last available room with twin beds and ordered twin baths. They luxuriated in steamy bliss, downing a few pints of ale as they soaked away the rigours of their journey.

“Don’t tell me you won’t miss these moments,” Jhamed called through the rising steam as a maid struggled in with a jug of near boiling water to warm up their baths.

Simon sighed with pleasure as the renewed heat in the water seeped and soaked into his body. “No, but I won’t miss the weeks of cold uncomfortable nights, dry tack for dinner, and smelling worse than those herds of bison we passed.” Jhamed made to splash him and then cursed. “What’s wrong?”

“I just dropped half a tankard of ale in my bath.”

“Never mind, they say it makes a good shampoo,” Simon laughed. It was true; he would miss Jhamed more than he was prepared to admit.

They ate and drank well that night, keeping to their room to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Next morning, Jhamed ventured out to seek passage to Rhakotis and returned within the hour. Simon had been lying on his bed, thinking, yet again, about whether he was doing the right thing. He remembered a two-headed lemur creature. Your destiny is somehow linked to the elves. You must change the past to save the future. Seek out your father. Knowledge of where you come from is important. He wondered how he would save the elves by going into the past. Perhaps it would open up the possibility for young Simon.

“Are you still lazing in bed, while I’m doing all the work?” Jhamed interrupted his reverie.

“Did you find anything?”

“There’s a small fishing fleet working out of here again. I have hired a fishing boat to take us to Rhakotis. I told the captain that we are two traders from Tamarlan heading south to find new opportunities. You’ll need to keep Kin Slayer well hidden. I only needed to use a small part of the gold we have left. Get up and get packed. We leave on the high tide at midday. We have to sell our horses and excess supplies. I’ll try to do a deal with the inn keeper to sell them for us.”

Jhamed left again and Simon stretched. It would be good to see Rheanna again. He expected to find the answer to his problem in Rhakotis.

10a Rheanna great library

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09/1/16

Manfred’s Vision (as directed by Gadiel) – Aftermath of Armageddon

Extract from Aftermath of Armageddon – available here for $4.99

11 Manfreds and Gadiel - Copy

A short while later, they gathered in the Temple of Muses. It seemed to be the appropriate place to carry out the communication. People travelled here from all over FirstWorld to receive guidance and inspiration. Often, they reported hearing communications from beyond their comprehension and were moved to write, sculpt, or compose work that had previously seemed impossible. Manfred solemnly handed his staff to Taran. “Guard it well, my friend and do not hand it back to me unless you are certain that I am fully compos mentis.” They had prepared a comfortable seat for him, in front of a small table. He sat, closed his eyes, and took the Palantir in both hands. He focussed his mind and muttered a few words of magic to guard his thoughts. He opened his eyes and looked into the centre of the Palantir. At first, he saw nothing. Gradually the ball seemed to suck him in. Clouds floated in front of his eyes, swirling grey and brown, as if he looked into limbo. He focussed his mind and thought a single word. Gadiel.

The response was instantaneous. The ball went black, so that he appeared to be looking into endless night. He heard a voice in his head and felt a presence try to invade his mind. He focussed hard and his defences held. So, you know me, Manfred the Magician, and you are prepared for me. Perhaps I underestimated you. The fool Weylyn certainly did. But I sense that you don’t know me really. You have heard the name, Gadiel. You have heard me called the Dark God. You remember my victory over Gilgamesh. You were responsible for my pain weren’t you? You caused the Sword to be forged. I will not forget that, Manfred. You will feel the pain that I felt that day. However, I recovered and now I’m stronger than ever with not just a universe but also a multiverse to conquer. You are such a fool, Manfred; like all of the wizards my brothers made. Every one was flawed. I sense your bewilderment. Poor Manfred, he doesn’t understand. You think that I’m a god, a creation of the humans. You think that I’m the spawn of some great evil hidden in the depths of the mountains and unwittingly released by the dwarves. You think that you can defeat me, using your reborn hero and his sword. You poor misguided fool, Manfred. Know me for who I am. For I am indeed one of those you call the Great Old Ones, though they imprisoned me here on this backwater planet because I did not agree with their views and plans. They should have killed me, but it was against their beliefs. Had I been in their position, I would not have hesitated for an instant. The conquest of the multiverse is but a stepping-stone on my pathway to revenge. They buried me deep in my mountain prison and secured me with all of the science they could muster. But I was able to break free eventually, with the help of the dwarves. Know me, Manfred, for I am Satan. Hah, I feel your fear and I feed on it. Yet you still think that I can be defeated. How can it be? My brothers created everything here, so it stands to reason you are all weaker than I am. Oh, I see, you think your hero will save you again. Last time was an aberration. However, it will never come to that again. I have already dealt with Simon Redhead. I will show you. Look into the Palantir. It has the ability to show you things that have been, things that are, or things that are yet to be. I will show you one of each. Enjoy them, Manfred the Fool, and admit your defeat. Open the doors of Melasurej to me and I will make your death a merciful one. Resist me, and you will know pain without end, for I have the power to make you live for eternity. Manfred convulsed and pulled his hands free of the stone. He felt weak and light-headed. His companions had concern etched on their faces.

“What did you see?” Rheanna asked.

“You have much to research,” Manfred replied, “but there are things I must still see.” He placed his hands on the Palantir again and focussed his mind and his eyes. This time he seemed to be sucked into the ball and float above the scenes that he witnessed. He saw and heard everything but could not interact.

****

Simon lay on the cold cobbles of a cellar floor. His arms and legs were shackled to the wall. He seemed barely conscious as he struggled to lick a few drops of moisture off the clammy cellar wall. He moved as if he were in great pain. He was naked, filthy, and bleeding from a great many places. As he struggled to move, he cried out in his torment. The door opened and an ugly gaoler lumbered in. “I told you, no noise, scum.” His booted foot thudded into Simon’s chest and Manfred heard a crunching sound like ribs being shattered. The second kick crushed Simon’s exposed testicles, with a soft thud. The third caught him on the side of the head and seemed to render him unconscious. The thug gave him one more kick in the teeth and left him lying in his own excrement and blood. Before he left the room, the bully turned back towards his prisoner. “I’ve hardly started with you yet. Tomorrow you will learn what real pain is, red boy.” Manfred watched for a long time. There was no movement. At least, Simon would be spared tomorrow’s pain. Manfred felt as though his heart were breaking with anguish. “Noooooo!” he screamed. Instinctively, he knew. Simon was dead.

****

The scene changed. Manfred gratefully exchanged the foetid air of the cellar for the cleansing smell of a sea breeze. He stood on a bridge over a great river. He recognised it immediately; he was in Ur on the bridge over the River Eden. He was facing south, seeing the river break into the many strands of the Eden Delta before it flowed into the Gulf of Eden. The peace was quickly shattered. A fleet of ships, unlike anything he had seen before was sailing unnaturally quickly upstream, against the current. Each ship was built in the likeness of a great beast, with the prow carved into the beast’s head. As they passed under the bridge, he saw a serpent, a scorpion, a reptilian representation that resembled an alligator, and a feline shape with the head of a lion. The boats contained heavily armed warriors, all dressed in colourful armour in the form of their chosen creature. He turned around to watch the ships tie up at the wharves and the warriors leap ashore. What little resistance they met was quickly dispatched. Manfred’s heart fell as he watched the city of Ur begin to burn.

****

The smell of smoke grew stronger as the scene changed again. He stood in a burnt, destroyed landscape. Everywhere was black with ash. A few smouldering stumps were all that was left of trees. A polluted river flowed through the destruction. He didn’t know where he was. Something moved and caught his eye. A man emerged from the river. He was a thin, small man with strange orange hair and deformed hands and feet. He turned towards him and Manfred saw his anguished eyes; one grey and one green. The man spoke to him. “Please, kill me. Look what they have done to my Eden. The One Tree is destroyed. The elves are all dead. Why do I still live? Please end it, now!”

****

Manfred blinked and he was back in the Temple of Muses at Rhakotis. He leaned back, emotionally fatigued, and released the stone. His companions watched with concern but said nothing until he was ready to speak. “What did you observe while I was connected to the stone?” he asked them.

Taran responded. “You sat still as a rock and stared into the centre of the stone. You went deathly pale and on occasion cried out in anguish.”

“I have been given a glimpse of the past, the present, and the future – at least as Gadiel sees them or wants us to see them. I have learned something incredible about Gadiel. I fear sharing the information with you, lest all hope be lost, which is what Gadiel wants. Yet, I must honour and respect you and I cannot carry this burden alone.” He told them everything, sparing none of the horrific details. Many tears flowed and it was some time before they could speak again. Then they resolved to continue the fight, to make sure that Gadiel’s visions would not come to pass.

KtB

08/26/16

The Ice Stair – Extract from Quest for Knowledge

Next morning they set off again at first light. Gamying was now leading, as he was most familiar with the mountains. “We must make the foot of the Ice Stair before nightfall. There is a hut there and there should be food and fuel for a fire. Then we will only have to spend one more night in the mountains. Tomorrow we shall rest in the mountain halls of Dia son of Din son of Dane and taste dwarven hospitality.”

It was a tough climb. The snow got thicker the higher they climbed, while the air got thinner. They were on a clear path now, the winter route from the south to Devil’s Mouth, usually used only on the rare occasions when the more direct route to Fang was blocked by snow. This year, the Fang path had been closed since Late Autumn. The path to the east of Mount Despair always got less snow than the path on the west side. In addition, snow that built up on the Ice Stair would often avalanche down the western path and block it. The two paths met at the Ice Stair, which was essentially a huge staircase cut into the permafrost. It ran up the side of Mount Fang, arriving at the top of the Fang Glacier. From there it was an easy climb up to the entrance to Devil’s Mouth, over deep packed snow in both summer and winter. Below the Ice Stair, there would usually be fields of loose rocks with abundant wild flowers in spring and summer. It seemed that there would be few wild flowers this spring season.

Gamying encouraged a quick pace, anxious to reach the hut at the base of the Ice Stair before dark. Manfred had a feeling that they weren’t alone and remembered Dawit’s description of fell creatures and wolves. He shivered, and not just from the bone-chilling cold wind. As they climbed higher, the amount of snow increased until they were struggling to force a path through the frozen drifts. They stopped around midday, exhausted and hungry. They ate a miserable meal from their cold rations. Gamying spoke for them all. “We have travelled less than a third of the distance to the Ice Stair and already more than half of the day is past. I fear for our lives if we have to spend another night outside. And not just from the cold. Have you noticed that we are being watched?”

Manfred sighed. “I had hoped that we could make the journey in secret, without awakening their interest in us. I also hoped that it was the fears of an old man leading to paranoia, but if you have noticed it too…” His voice trailed off into a long silence.

“What is it? What are you talking about?” Kris asked. “I haven’t noticed anything except the bitter cold.”

“They are there,” Aglaral stated. “I have felt them all day. I think they discovered us last night. We were lucky they did not attack us as we slept with no fire. We cannot be so lax again. We must take turns to stand guard and we need fire at all costs. It is fire that they fear the most.”

“How do you know so much about them?” Gamying asked.

“I make it my business to know my enemies. The library at Wizards’ Keep contains much important knowledge.”

“I’ll wager that wizards know even more. Will you please tell me what you are talking about?” Kris pleaded.

“They are wargs,” said Manfred. There is a pack on our trail. They are not ordinary wolves, I’m afraid. They are much bigger and more powerful. They have the power of language and communicate with each other and their lycanthrope. They are supernatural creatures. I fear Weylyn’s involvement here. Well, I have little choice now. I didn’t want to draw attention to us. But it seems needs must. Let us move on. It’s unlikely they will attack in daylight. Does anyone have a rope?”

Aglaral produced a rope from his pack and the four travellers secured themselves tightly together, Manfred in the front and Gamying bringing up the rear. “Secure your clothes and cover your faces,” Manfred ordered. He removed his staff from inside his cloak and held it before him. He spoke strange words in a language that none of the others understood. His staff burned blue, then orange, and finally red. The very mountains seemed to rumble as a strange wind began to roar. The wind seemed to emanate from just behind them. As it passed them, it seemed no more than a cool breeze that gently propelled them forward. As it passed Manfred’s staff, it seemed to take on new energy and become a hot tornado that cut a swathe through the snow blocking their way. They shielded their eyes from the swirling mix of snow, water and steam as they quickly moved forward, seemingly walking on air. I might as well have erected a large neon sign, saying Manfred is here.

They didn’t stop until they made the hut at the base of the Ice Stair. It was close to dark. The hut was built from grey stone, without windows. It had a chimney and a doorway, which had contained a sturdy oak door. The door was now broken and splintered. The hut was empty, a cold rock floor with a few wooden benches. The cupboard doors were smashed and the cupboards were empty. The beds had been destroyed. The walls were covered with obscene graffiti, drawn with something particularly obnoxious. As well as the foul obscenities, there were many symbols scrawled on the walls. They looked like an A in a circle, with the bar of the letter extended to form a diameter. The room smelt putrid, like a battleground latrine.

Manfred collapsed on the floor, totally spent from his exertions. “I must sleep, I cannot help you now. Build a fire. Defend the hut.” May the Balance preserve us; I am too exhausted to do it.

The silence was suddenly filled with raucous howling. Gamying, Aglaral and Kris needed little more motivation to do as Manfred had urged. “It would appear that since we have made our presence known, the wargs have chosen to do the same. Let us hope their fear of Manfred keeps them at bay for a while,” Gamying said.

The three men quickly gathered wood from the shattered door, cupboards and furniture. They soon had a small fire burning close to the doorway. “We must be careful to make sure we have enough fuel to last all night,” Aglaral said.

They made Manfred as comfortable as they could and the three men huddled around the small fire wrapped in all of their clothing. The hut kept the cold wind mostly at bay, which was some consolation for the disgusting smell of urine and faeces, which constantly assailed their nostrils. They collected snow and ice and made tea on the fire. It was the first warm food or drink they had taken since leaving the Impenetrable Forest. The terror of the forest seemed mild compared to what they now faced. All of them would gladly have gone back into those trees rather than face the howling wargs.

The three drew lots and Kris drew the first watch. Aglaral and Gamying lay down beside Manfred and tried to get some rest. Both of them slept fitfully, with hands on the hilts of their swords. Kris tended the fire and examined the sword he had been given before they left Elannort. He was a writer not a fighter and had never used a sword in anger before. He wondered whether he would have the skill or courage to use it when the time came. It would make a wonderful story, if he slew a warg. The howls grew louder and more frequent. Each time he jumped and the hairs stood up on the back of his neck. He wondered why he had volunteered for such an adventure. Then he remembered why. He figured it would matter little to the wargs as they tore out his throat. He almost jumped out of his skin when all of a sudden he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Take some rest.” Aglaral said. “I’ll take over now. They won’t attack until just before dawn, when it’s at its darkest. Until then they will torment us with their howls and hope that fear will win their battle for them. They are cowards at heart. Our fire and steel will be a match for them. Fear not, we’ll be in Devil’s Mouth before this day ends.”
Kris simply nodded and shuffled off to take his turn for whatever rest he could find. Aglaral’s words did little to improve his mood. As he drifted off to sleep, he heard a voice in his head. Soon. Very soon.

ice stair2c

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QFK book op1

08/19/16

Two-Headed Lemur Creature – Extract from Quest for Knowledge

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The next part of the journey passed in a bit of a blur. Simon was preoccupied. He was analysing events and coming to a realisation. At some point, there would be a “ching.” He thought about Old Man Willow and his song. Once, that dimension had been a wonderful place to live. Now its inhabitants must live in fear and tyranny. Walking on the grass brought a penalty of death, how could people live like that? Yet it was a world where Law ruled, not Chaos. Jhamed had once said that Hitler represented Law. Simon had wondered then whether that meant Churchill had represented Chaos. He realised that it wasn’t a case of black and white; everything was shades of grey. For society to be successful and fair to everyone it needed a balance between Law and Chaos. Law didn’t represent “good”; it stood for order. Chaos didn’t represent “evil”; it symbolised anarchy. Churchill didn’t support anarchy; he battled for balance. Democracy, for all its faults, was an attempt at securing balance. The fanatical religious zealots in his world, whether they were fundamentalist Christians or Jihad Islamists were just two different faces of absolute Law. If that were the case, then where did evil come in? Which side did Gadiel favour? All humans, and he supposed all elves and dwarves too, were born with the capacity for both good and evil. Evil was not restricted to either Law or Chaos, it was all pervading. Ching. Everyone had a choice. Hitler probably wasn’t totally evil. Churchill must have had some evil in him. Was the bombing of Dresden really necessary or was it just an evil act of revenge? The victors write the history books and take the moral high ground. Everyone has a choice. He had a choice. I will take up the Sword. I will use it only for good. I will use it to serve the Balance.

Simon wasn’t sure how much time had passed while he had been cogitating. He was vaguely aware of them walking long distances over a variety of terrains and in a range of weather conditions. It appeared that few realms enjoyed perfect weather. Strange how the Law dimension had the best weather. I wonder whether it was a coincidence or if their control extended that far? They had also sat around for long periods while Jhamed had scouted ahead. His companions had respected his need to think and had not disturbed him. Jhamed, no doubt, had seen it all before. Taran was naturally perceptive about such things. Dawit appeared to be lost in his own musings.

Simon felt a great relief. He had come to a decision. He would take control of his own life. He was not a pawn of fate. He sighed and relaxed. Unbidden, words and images came into his mind. He saw the visions again from his dream. You are close. I can feel you. Come for me. We will be reunited. The Trinity will be renewed. Be careful! The witch is strong. She is stronger than I am. She is stronger than you are. Together, we are stronger than she is. The Trinity will be renewed. Soon we will feast. Simon felt gnawing hunger. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before. The tiny red hairs on his body stood on end as he shivered.

Jhamed returned from a scouting mission. Simon took him to one side. “We’re close, aren’t we?”

“How do you know?” Jhamed asked.

“The Sword has spoken to me.” Simon recounted his dream and his recent communication, all except the gnawing hunger. “I think I understand about the Balance now. I am ready to take up my Sword and serve the Balance.”

“Excellent!” Jhamed smiled. “I love it when a plan comes together. We’ll rest here tonight and a couple more portals will get us to Dishley tomorrow. We’ll need a plan to tackle the witch.”

They were in a dimension where either Chaos or Sergeant Pepper appeared to be in control. They spent the night sheltered under tall, purple-leaved trees. A full green moon cast an eerie light that battled with the red glow from their fire. The resulting yellow light illuminated a number of inquisitive forest creatures which came to stare at the travellers. They looked like some form of lemur, except that they had two heads, which continually chattered and tried to pull their body in different directions. At one point they started and rushed off back to their burrows or up into the trees. All except one, which hid by the travellers’ packs. The cause of their alarm sauntered into view. It was white, albino perhaps but there was not enough light to tell for sure. It was as big as an elephant, but it more closely resembled a lion. Its huge, shaggy head had a gaping maw, filled with razor sharp teeth. This was a predator close to the top of the food chain. I hope it’s not hungry, or we will be on its menu.

Taran and Dawit were on their feet in an instant. Taran notched an arrow to his bow. Dawit wielded his axe. The elephion sniffed the air, stopped, and looked at them. It stood tall and let out a roar that would have done the Melbourne Cricket Ground proud on Grand Final Day. All the night noises of the forest stopped. Simon stopped breathing. Taran made ready to loose his arrow. The creature gave them another disdainful look and then sauntered off. Simon released his pent up breath. Phew, that was close, must have already eaten. The two-headed lemur-like creature chattered excitedly to itselves and helped itselves to some biscuits from one of the packs.

Dawit and Taran took turns to keep watch. They insisted that Simon and Jhamed sleep since they were unarmed and would have a big day ahead of them. Simon slept fitfully. His dreams were full of hideous crones with black cats and ravens. The witches stirred huge cauldrons and concocted potions, which they force-fed him to make him reveal the location of his Sword. He tried to refuse, but they were truth serums and he could not resist. The witches found his Sword and used it kill all of his friends. The Sword ate their souls and then the witches ate their bodies.

Simon woke in a cold sweat. The moon had gone. Jhamed was snoring softly and the fire was low. Reflected in the faint firelight, Simon saw four eyes watching him. They were small, yellow eyes; animal eyes, yet they shone with the fiercest intelligence that he had ever seen. The two-headed lemur creature had seated itself on the group’s food and sat watching Simon. Simon deliberately blinked his eyes to try to clear them of sleep. He could have sworn that the creature had winked at him, with both heads at the same time. If I didn’t know better, I’d reckon we’d all taken LSD or something. The creature chattered to itselves. Words formed in Simon’s head. Remember Vasek. Only Vasek can control the Sword. Beware Fleischaker! It consumes the souls of friends as well as enemies. The two-headed lemur creature gave him another two winks and skittered off into the forest. Simon slept again. When he awoke, he wasn’t sure whether he had dreamt everything.

Scales Balance

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KtB

08/16/16

A Change of Diet – Flash Fiction from Inside Men’s Shorts – Adult Content

Alternative Cover

A Change of Diet

Two old mates catching up after a few years; late thirties; suits; sitting at a bar having a few beers.

One says to the other, “What have you learned from all of the business travel that you do?”

“Well, I have learned not to leave incriminating evidence in my hotel room, because you never know what’s going to happen.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was up in Sydney a few years ago and got knocked down by a car. I woke up in intensive care with a brain injury. My missus had to come up and organise to get me home. She moved into my hotel room.”

“I remember that. You were off work for ages. What did she find?”

“A pair of ladies panties.”

“She might have thought they were hers and found it romantic.”

“I doubt it. They would have needed to stitch four pairs of these together to get a chance of fitting her fat arse. Besides, she never wore split crotch panties.”

“I see. What happened?”

“She never said anything about it but she started to scrutinise everything I did. She read my e-mails and checked my phone messages. It all became too much.”

“I can imagine.”

“A few months later, I came out and the shit hit the fan. The bitch took me for everything. She blamed the accident. She said that brain damage had turned me gay.”

“I haven’t heard that one before.”

“I never had the heart to tell her that the panties belonged to a transvestite named Ted that I’d picked up in a gay bar in the Cross.”

They both laugh and contemplate their beers.

“What about you? I hear you work a lot in Asia these days. How do you find the change of diet?”

“I love it. You are what you eat you know. You can taste the difference!” He winks. “Are you in a relationship now?”

“Not me, mate. Once bitten, you know what I mean.”

“You should visit Thailand. The lady boys there are beyond belief.”

“Maybe I will. Isn’t it great that two old mates can be so open about such things?”

“You know that except for a few beers, I drink pineapple juice all the time these days. It makes your cum taste so sweet.”

“Have you heard there’s a new glory hole down at the Whip and Feather?”

“Yes, I was down there on Wednesday.”

“Eh, me too. I sucked off a guy and his cum was the sweetest I ever tasted. Oh, what time were you there?

“About seven.”

There is a long silence. “They say it’s going to rain on the weekend.”

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07/5/16

Understanding The Balance – From the Archives of Kris the Bard – Part Three – The Answers

For all too brief a time, the White Tower, also known as The Lost Tower, twin to Melasurej, the Wizards’ Keep, stood in Elannort alongside its damaged twin. Unbeknownst to anyone, I secretly crept up the tower several times to converse with The Guardian of Tomorrow. After each encounter, I rushed back to my room to capture on paper, as accurately as I could remember, the words that had been spoken. Now, in another time and a different dimension, I have the opportunity to reflect on those hurriedly scrawled notes and share them with you.

The Important Conversations

Extract from A Vision of the Future
“The Ship of Souls has sailed the seas of Limbo from the first moments of the cosmos. It was the first thing created by the Balance, and it performs two functions. The first is to provide a safe home for the Tapestry. The second is to carry the souls of special people, who have served the Balance, to their eternal resting places. Under certain circumstances, some individuals are given a second chance at life; this is the Captain’s prerogative.”

“The ship exists outside of normal time and space. Finding an appropriate Captain is often difficult. The first Captain was created as an immortal being, to give him equal status to his first passengers.”

“Thus did Nostradamus find himself with the opportunity to study the Tapestry at length. His first passengers were the ten gods. By the time the gods had determined their roles and forms, and negotiated the rules for running the cosmos, physics, chemistry, and evolution had determined the first intelligent life forms in the various universes that bobbed like doughnuts in the sea of custard that is Limbo. In one universe of this cosmos, the dominant species was the Great Old Ones.”

Questions I posed to The Guardian

Why are there gods and should humans worship them?

Do not worship or follow the Gods of Law, they will lead you to slavery. Do not worship or follow the Gods of Chaos, they will lead you to destruction. The gods are necessary to establish the rules under which the Cosmos will operate. They determine the boundaries of existence and provide the two sides of the scales so that we can become the fulcrum. While the races evolve they will follow the gods blindly. When intelligence exceeds superstition the gods will begin to pale. At that point they have achieved their purpose. Unfortunately, they will continue to battle for supremacy as they believe that control of this Cosmos will give them control of the next. They are wrong. The gods are fallible. We may be fallible too.

Is there One True God? Is it The Balance?

Do not worship The Balance; we seek not the adoration of the races. Follow our guidance, without worship, and you will find your salvation. We are the only god that will pass through the Conjunction into the next Cosmos.

How should one live?

Simply in balance. In balance with nature; in balance with your fellow creatures; and neither following the paths of Law nor the paths of Chaos. Ensure that the scales are heavier on the side of good than on the side of evil. Do only unto others as you would like done to you. With the exception of the Gods, all intelligent beings are created equal and you must treat them as such. Do not fight your genes; you are born that way for a reason.

What happens when we die?

Only four things, the Icons, are eternal and can pass through a Conjunction into the next Cosmos. One is animal, one vegetable, and one mineral – in each Cosmos one will serve Law, one Chaos, and one The Balance. The fourth Icon is Time. Everything else, even the gods must die and simply cease to exist. There are a few exceptions, who do not pass to nothing until the Conjunction. You have witnessed them; souls may be captured in a wizard’s wand and the Undead then do his bidding; souls may be captured in the Blood Ruby in the Great Sword; Heroes and wizards find themselves on the Ship of Souls, where at the Captain’s discretion they may be returned to life or taken to a place of eternal rest from their labours. For ordinary humans, elves, and dwarves death is simply the end of existence – they return to the state they were before they were conceived.

If you haven’t worked out who the three Icons are you will find out at the End of Time at the end of A Vision of the Future.

If there are no gods to worship, no faiths to follow, and no heaven or hell how can we find spiritual fulfillment in life?

I remember asking this question. It was like asking for the answer to life. I think Simon had already worked most of it out.

Extract from A View of the Past – The Afterword.

“Simon had been pondering the problem for days. He’d been reading a very old text from his own dimension; though it may well have been published across the multiverse, such had been its success. A group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings wanted to learn the ‘Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything’ from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It took Deep Thought seven and a half million years to compute and check the answer, which turned out to be forty-two.

He had no idea why the Great Old Ones had decided to seed humankind before they departed this universe. He had even less understanding of why they had chosen his son as the source of that genetic material. He did understand, though, the reason for life. It was simple. This life is not a stepping-stone to a glorious after-life or even an inglorious damnation. It is not a single tread on the stairway of reincarnation. There is but one chance that any individual has at life, so they’d better make the most of it. The only reason any living thing exists is to pass on its genetic code to future generations. Successful organisms will survive; unsuccessful ones will die out. Deep Thought got it wrong. It was close, or it could have been working in base eleven. The answer to life is not forty-two. It is forty-six. Two pairs of twenty-three chromosomes, one pair from the egg, the other from the sperm, carry all of the genetic code that makes every individual unique.

Simon sighed. He had learned a valuable lesson. We are the sum of all the experiences of our past; not just our individual pasts but the history of all the generations of ancestors that have gone before. You cannot change any aspect of the past without destroying yourself.

He had lost Alexander. He had only been able to spend two years with his son. He had watched him learn to crawl, stand, walk, and speak. He had loved him with all of his heart. He ached that he would never see him grow up, marry, and give him grandchildren. He knew now how parents felt when their children were taken by illness or accident. Yet this was different. If the answer to life really was forty-six then Alexander had cracked it. His son’s genes were everywhere in humanity, even in him. In fact, he could not have existed without his son’s sacrifice. He was the multiverse’s last hope to stand against Gadiel. He finally accepted the destiny that his genes had prescribed for him. Simon wept gently; sometimes the father was more important than the son.”

And this extract from A View of the Past – The Foreword

What is the chance that you exist? What is the probability that everything happened so that you, everything that defines you – your looks; your personality; your ethics; your skills; your foibles; everything, could exist now and you could be reading this? You have a unique genetic code that defines who you are. No other person who has lived or ever will live has that same code, unless you have an identical twin. Yet if two identical male twins married two identical female twins, the children within and between the two families would be so very different.

First, your parents had to meet. If you come from a tiny isolated village, where the locals always intermarry, then that might not be too surprising. If you are a typical person, think about all the things that had to occur in the right sequence at the right time over so many generations for that to happen. A series of probabilities so huge that the odds on them ever meeting in the first place were minuscule.

Once your parents got together, a specific egg and a unique sperm had to meet. Any other combination from the one that happened and it would not be you. In round numbers, a woman may have a million eggs in her body at birth, only some of these will develop. There may be one hundred million sperm in a single male ejaculation. Therefore, the odds of just the right egg and sperm getting together from your parents to make you are tiny. Multiply that across every generation that your ancestors have been on this planet, each generation the tree branching out by a factor of two.

You are literally unique and the chance of you existing is so small that in any normal probability calculation it would be taken effectively as zero.

Sometimes, very rarely, the combination of genes come together to create beings so special that many suggest they could not exist. Is their existence any more remarkable than your own? Once in a very blue moon, the genes combine to create a Hero. Even rarer than that, at times when the universe most needs them, the genes combine to create the Everlasting Hero.”

And what the Guardian told me after what seemed like an age of silent thought.

If there are no gods to worship, no faiths to follow, and no heaven or hell how can we find spiritual fulfillment in life?

Humans are particularly difficult to convince about this. Perhaps it is their short life-spans. Elves understand it much better. We have never discussed it with dwarves. Humans are always seeking answers from outside themselves. They believe that power and wealth equate to happiness. They believe that their moral code is the only way to live correctly. They are arrogant and lack empathy. The answer to your question is inside each of you. You create your own versions of heaven and hell that remain real to you until the moment of death. Then like your souls, they vanish. The beginning is to destroy both heaven and hell. There are no rewards or punishments in an afterlife, only in this life. Live as we have described, with simplicity, empathy, and balance. Help others and you will find the joy and fulfillment that is missing from helping yourselves.

Could you sum up your philosophy for life in a couple of sentences?

You can lead a life that is driven by dogma; you can lead a life that is riven by hatred; or you can lead a life given to helping those less fortunate. Wealth is not inherently evil; it is what you do with it that counts.

KtB

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06/26/16

The Sayings of Kris the Bard – Dystopia

This isn’t the usual pithy saying of Kris’ that can be distilled into a 140 characters for Twitter, but I think it is very important, nonetheless.

We were recently discussing and comparing the events occurring in FirstWorld and in this world and agreed that The Balance is tipping. Chaos is taking over.

Kris made the following observation, which I think is quite profound.

“Dystopia is not a zombie rising, an alien invasion, or a nuclear war; rather it is an inexorable progression of tiny steps caused by the actions of ordinary people and the governments which represent them. We have no idea where we are heading, but one day we will wake up and wonder how we got here.”

CJA

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06/23/16

A Beautiful Desktop – The Queen’s Tree at Elvenhome

The Queen’s Tree at Elvenhome is described in Aftermath of Armageddon. Nat Turner captured it perfectly with his wonderful artwork. When you see the amazing detail in high definition, you will be amazed at Nat’s attention to detail. I use it as the desktop picture on my laptop. I hope you will enjoy using it too. The download is a large file but worth it to see the picture in high definition.

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Taran led them to the base of the large oak tree. Is this the One Tree? There were many rope ladders dangling from the tree. “I hope you are not expecting us to climb those ladders,” Jhamed exclaimed. Simon felt a flutter of amusement. He wasn’t sure whether Jhamed’s shout had caused it or whether his thought had. You will see me soon, Simon. I am the great father of all the trees. The one you see now is barely a juvenile. It was a new voice, reassuring him of the safety and healing powers of Elvenhome.

“Look out below!” A shout came from above, followed by a wooden platform lowered gently on vine ropes. They stepped aside to make way. They have a lift. “Please get on and we’ll haul you up,” the voice from above shouted again.

Simon gingerly stepped onto the frail looking platform. He wondered if it would be strong enough for all seven of them. It was a tight squeeze but they all managed to get on. Simon was pressed close to Manfred as they rose, jerkily and slowly towards the treetops. You have spoken to the trees; they feel your connection to the elves. You are safe here but keep your wits about you. While Ceridwen works for good, she has the power to bewitch and she puts the fate of the elves above all else. Be careful what you agree to.

They rose through several levels and Simon caught glimpses of food preparation areas, storage sections, sleeping quarters, and meeting places. They stopped at the penultimate level and stepped off the lift onto the Queen’s public level. They were close to the trunk, which even at this height was still twice the thickness of Jhamed’s waist. Elves bustled around them, often taking the ladders without missing a step even if they were carrying large loads. Off to all sides were rooms, accessed through drapes that looked like woven vines. Living curtains; wow! Through one of them, Simon glimpsed a banqueting hall, teeming with elves, waiting for their presence. Taran led them in the opposite direction, however. They entered an area where beds had been prepared for them.

Get the free download here.

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06/12/16

Understanding The Balance – From the Archives of Kris the Bard – Part Two

For all too brief a time, the White Tower, also known as The Lost Tower, twin to Melasurej, the Wizards’ Keep, stood in Elannort alongside its damaged twin. Unbeknownst to anyone, I secretly crept up the tower several times to converse with The Guardian of Tomorrow. After each encounter, I rushed back to my room to capture on paper, as accurately as I could remember, the words that had been spoken. Now, in another time and a different dimension, I have the opportunity to reflect on those hurriedly scrawled notes and share them with you.

Our First Meeting

CJA wrote this in A Vision of the Future.

“The Guardian of Tomorrow had not spoken to anyone else since the White Tower’s appearance. The time portal remained transparent and the controls appeared to be locked to the here and now. It seemed as if everyone in Elannort wanted to visit the tower and eventually Manfred had decided to declare it off limits. He sealed the entrance with his magic. It would stop anyone getting in but he doubted if it would stop the White Tower becoming lost again should it decide to disappear.”

It is true, but for some reason Manfred’s magic did not stop me. I only visited when I had an overwhelming urge to do so. In hindsight, I understand that The Guardian was calling me and allowing me to get past the seal.
It was with trepidation that I approached the Guardian of Tomorrow, the first time we spoke. Inside the portal, the mists swirled and the Guardian spoke in a great booming voice, just as Simon had described. The voice seemed so loud that I feared all Elannort would hear us. But we were never disturbed.

“Kris of Karo, we are very pleased to meet you. You have led an interesting life and one that we did not predict. Even now, our vision is clouded. We have dared to take a peep into the future, but there are so many possibilities we cannot be certain of anything. Only one thing we know; you will play a key role in securing the future of the Cosmos. Nostradamus foretold this and we concur. We would have you swear allegiance to The Balance and promise to serve us faithfully until the Conjunction. It is very unusual for us to do this, but you are an unusual being. You now carry a Hero’s gene and that may be vital in the future as it has been in the past. Will you so swear?”

I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. How could I possibly live to see a Conjunction? What did the Balance stand for? Could I serve it and Simon and Manfred all at the same time? What did they want me to do? I stared into the portal. I don’t know how long I stood there. My mind seemed to fuse with the swirling clouds and I relived adventures from my past. I was at the Last Council of the Wise, my head controlled by Weylyn the Wolf as I spied for him. I curled up in fear, on the floor of a mountain hut, while two warriors fought the wargs; I had given up information to the sentient beasts and I didn’t know whether to fear them or the men the most. I stood before the locked door at First Delve that refused to open until I emptied the dwarven gold from my pockets. I stood before Manfred the Magician as he prepared to probe my mind and I both expected and wanted to die. That was my lowest point.

As Manfred cleared Weylyn’s hold on me and I glimpsed the possibility of a new life, as Bard of Elannort. I was still a craven coward but I had a new purpose to chronicle the life of the Hero and celebrate it in my writing.

Elannort was about to fall. Weylyn was outside the doors of the Wizard’s Keep. He had broken Manfred’s staff and was about to send him to stone. It was then that my life turned. A rat bit me and I jumped up, said something heroic, and distracted Weylyn just long enough for Simon to return and destroy him. I saved the day, just as much as the Hero did. The rat, of course, was Fate and his bite had given me just one of the Hero’s genes.

That should have been my finest hour, but there was even better to come. I actually held Kin Slayer and saved Simon from death in Dring’s dungeon. That was my finest hour. For just a brief moment, I understood the exhilaration and the awesome responsibility that goes with The Sword.

Nothing that I would do, could top that, could it? The mists swirled and I got glimpses of future events. I will be there when Elannort falls to Gadiel and there will be something important I still have to do. I tried to grab hold of the vision, but it evaporated into swirls of mist. I saw something else; a young girl, no more than a teenager with long red hair. She needs my help. I offer it willingly but feel terrible guilt at the same time. I tried to understand the feelings, but they were gone like autumn mist in the rising sun.

And suddenly I understood. My miserable life actually meant something. I had been manipulated by gods and wizards but I had come through to find my true purpose. I had no inkling that I might be being manipulated again. I simply knew that I had found my vocation.

“I so swear,” I said. “What must I do?”

“We do not know. Study us. Try to understand us. When the time is right we will all know.”

And so I began that day studying The Balance. It has been my life’s work and I could not have done it without the help of Rheanna, Custodian of the Great Library at Rhakotis.

But before I left for Rhakotis, I had the opportunity to speak with The Guardian several more times and ask them some questions. I will tell you about that next time.

KtB

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All volumes of the FirstWorld Saga are available here, including special offers.

06/6/16

How KtB met CJA – KtB’s Version

CJA was correct when he wrote about my arrival in Melbourne. It would have been strange to find me knocking on his door. All his life he had wanted to be a writer, but he had always let other people’s priorities get in the way. I was the catalyst that got him started seriously.

Subconsciously, I think that he recognised that even as he opened the door. Many years previously, he had written a short story about a red-headed hero named Simon who roamed the dimensions with a diminutive travelling companion. How can you explain that? I think that the Balance had something to do with it. You can download that story, The Wasteland, for free here and make your own comparison.

Most people would have slammed the door in my face that night, but CJA welcomed me in. We shared a meal and a bottle of wine. By the time we had finished talking, it was getting light outside. We have been together ever since.

The picture show’s CJA with Volume 3 of the FirstWorld Saga – A View of the Past; available here as an E-Book for US$4.99

Author with book cover - Book 3

06/4/16

How CJA met KtB – CJA’s Version

After KtB posted about my birthday on our Facebook page the other day, a few people have asked, “How did you two meet?” and, “What is your relationship?” So, I’m going to repost a couple of blog posts that told both our sides of the story.

CJA

Kris the Bard arrived in Melbourne in 2005. He had no memory of where he had come from. He had no belongings, except the clothes on his back, no money, and just one idea in his head – to find CJA. Kris has a number of genetic conditions. One of them he caught from a certain rat’s bite outside the gates of Melasurej when he went against form and stood up to Weylyn the Wolf. He bought enough time to save Manfred the Magician’s life and allow Simon Rufus to defeat Weylyn. Another, he was born with. He never knew why he had no hair at all on his body until he came to Melbourne and was diagnosed. He has a genetic defect which causes his immune system to attack his hair follicles.

You can imagine how surprised I was when this strange, bald man knocked on my door and expected to be welcomed like a long lost friend. The Guardian of Tomorrow had told him he was to be a writer and must have implanted my name and address before sending him through the portal.

He was not supposed to remember anything about his life on FirstWorld. Something went wrong and, over a very short period of time, it all came back to him. He recreated the first three Chronicles of the Hero, which he had written previously in Elannort and Rhakotis. Then, in 2008, he wrote the final volume, Volume 4 of the Chronicle of the Hero.

I was enthralled by his writings and saw the potential to turn them into fantasy novels (no one would believe they were true). I have been working ever since and the FirstWorld Saga is the result.

I had been recently divorced and was living alone when Kris turned up. He still lives with me and I have never remarried. Many people have asked about our relationship. Is he more than a friend, they ask? Yes, he’s my muse.

Nat Turner’s original working drawing of Kris the Bard is shown below. Kris liked this and has been using it as his avatar ever since because it appears to show eyebrows and some hair. Below that are scenes from Aftermath of Armageddon and Quest for Knowledge – two of Kris’s finest hours. Kris is one of very few people to have successfully held Kin Slayer.

Kris


05/30/16

Understanding The Balance – From the Archives of Kris the Bard – Part One

For all too brief a time, the White Tower, also known as The Lost Tower, twin to Melasurej, the Wizards’ Keep, stood in Elannort alongside its damaged twin. Unbeknownst to anyone, I secretly crept up the tower several times to converse with The Guardian of Tomorrow. After each encounter, I rushed back to my room to capture on paper, as accurately as I could remember, the words that had been spoken. Now, in another time and a different dimension, I have the opportunity to reflect on those hurriedly scrawled notes and share them with you.

Before Our First Meeting

It was the Lost Tower that brought Simon home at the end of the Time Loop. Simon spoke for a long time with The Guardian. This is an extract from A View of the Past and sums up everything that we then knew about The Balance.

“We are the Guardian of Tomorrow.”

Simon searched the top of the tower for a person or a being. There was no one there. The voice had seemed to come from within the time portal itself. “What are you?” he asked in a voice much calmer than he felt.

“We simply are. We were here before the last Conjunction. We are here now. We will be here after the next Conjunction. When all else passes and withers, still will we be. We are Time.”

Simon struggled to his feet. The swirling mass of everything continued in the portal. He tried to avoid looking at it.“Whom do you serve?”

“Time serves no one, though Fate would have you believe otherwise.”

“But you fly the flag of the Balance?”

“The White Tower does, aye. Many call it the Lost Tower for we have spent many ages lost in Limbo, only occasionally materialising in one universe or another, seeking our permanent home.”

“Where is that?”

“At the centre of things. This universe is a poor one. There is little sentient life. Only sentient life understands the concept of time. Unless you are able to plan for tomorrow, time has no meaning. After the last Conjunction, we sat at the centre of the Cosmos and looked out and were disappointed. We see what was, what is, and what will be. We have seen many cycles. Almost all sentient life ultimately destroys itself. In the end, all gods die but we prevail. For a long time we sat on a planet in a galaxy far away in your universe. The sentient species that evolved there was magnificent. In their language, they called themselves Manken, but you know them as Great Old Ones. They didn’t destroy themselves but made the ultimate evolutionary step. They have gone from this universe and we miss them. They understood time and they knew not to try to meddle with it. Yet even they made a mistake. They became arrogant and thought they knew it all. They built Melasurej on your world to be the new centre of things. Their solar system died, as is inevitable, but they survived. They knew that they were going to leave this universe and they wanted to provide new sentient life. They built Melasurej for the White Tower but they also built the Black Tower. They tried to replicate us. We could not stand in Melasurej while the Black Tower’s abomination repelled us. They misunderstood us. They thought to have a tower to represent Law and another to represent Chaos. They did not understand that we are neither and both. We are the pivot upon which the Balance swings. They also had another motive, which they hid from us.”

Simon was enchanted by the story but felt that he had to butt in. “But you see everything, how can that be?” He had already become used to talking to an inanimate object.

“In all existence there has only ever been a single dimension to any universe. There are other universes but they are all undivided. Only your universe, since the Sundering, has multiple dimensions. Sentient species have tried to meddle with time but none has succeeded except in fiction. It is our own fault. We misread the Manken. We allowed ourselves to get too close to them. They abused our trust. We provided the blueprint for successful travel through time.”

Simon was starting to get an uneasy feeling. He wasn’t sure he liked where this conversation was going.

“They did understand that time travel is extremely dangerous and they built the time portal for a single use. Unfortunately, that action itself created a terrible paradox. They used genes from the future to seed the past generations.”

Simon didn’t know what they were talking about. He was already thinking about the Guardian in the plural. However, he thought that he understood the concept. It was the ontological paradox. A man wishes to build a time machine but cannot work out how to do it. He is visited by his future self who brings him the plans. He builds the time machine and then goes back in time to give himself the plans. A neat solution but where did the plans come from? If humankind was seeded with genes from the future and then evolved to produce those genes, where did they come from?

“Worse than that, Simon Redhead. Yes, we know you. Worse than that, you tried to meddle with time too. You and your many incarnations. The Manken gave you the gene. They looked into our eyes and saw the future. They wove it into the Tapestry and set the paradox in motion. They did not understand the consequences; we did not understand the consequences. Your actions created the multiverse. Now all things are possible. We can no longer see the future, only an infinite number of possible futures. Only when we observe the future does it become real. Only when observed do the probabilities collapse into a definite future. We now choose not to observe. The portal shows only the present in different dimensions of the universe we stand in. We cannot understand how it happened. We should have seen it coming but we only saw the Tapestry. How did they deceive us?”

Simon assumed the question was rhetorical. Nevertheless, he felt compelled to apologise for his part in it. “I am sorry. I thought that I was doing what Fate required of me. I only wanted what was best.”

“Indeed. However, you are not really at fault. You were not responsible for the grandfather paradox that caused the Sundering. In fact, your slaying of the perpetrator may even have ameliorated the effects. Your return to the past in order to save your father was misguided but understandable. The time loop was caused by the Manken, who destroyed the Melasurej time portal after they had used it for their purpose. Because your return pathway was blocked, you were forced to endure an endless time loop until you did something to cause Time to intervene. We brought you back here.”

Simon felt somewhat relieved, although the memory of killing child Simon would continue to haunt him and his cracked heart ached. “Where is here?”

“This is Limbo. It exists between universes. Imagine millions of ping-pong balls floating in a pool. Limbo is like the water that keeps them apart, though sometimes they float too close together and touch. Your ball is more like an onion. It has many layers, many dimensions. The Manken learned how to traverse Limbo. It is not all barren land like this. There are seas here too. We believe you have sailed them before.”

Simon remembered. “Tell me about Time. Why can I not change the past?” he asked, changing the subject.
“Oh, how we remember the days we spent talking to the Manken about such things. We are the Chronology Protection Agency. Imagine the bedlam if people could change the past willy-nilly. The Balance would tip entirely to Chaos in an instant. Only we have the power to change the past and only as a last resort. Unfortunately, the Manken stole our technology. Every individual’s time line is fixed. Your past is a memory. Everything that ever occurred in the past contributed to where you are today. You cannot unpick a single event without unravelling the entire Tapestry. Your future is imagination. Now it is an unknown probability. The only certainty is the present, which is as elusive as a shadow on a cloudy day. You will always have your past time line, as will everyone else. You cannot change it. Your experiences have demonstrated that it is possible to change time lines, but the consequences are the formation of multiple new time lines. Somewhere the original time line must be maintained. You cannot change the past. You can learn from the past and change the future by your actions in the present.”
Simon remembered Mandred discussing whether the multiverse was infinite or not and it seemed to have a great significance for their struggle. “After the Sundering, I saw the White Tower. Did the Sundering make the multiverse infinite?”

“Yes, we were there. Such a paradox required our urgent attention. We wanted to speak to you then, but the Black Tower took you. The multiverse created by the Sundering was very large, but not infinite. It was a very large grandfather paradox. There were so many generations between the cause and the effect. Imagine how the impact was multiplied as it passed down the generations. Each subsequent generation ceased to exist. All of the interactions that those missing people would have had never happened. Each impact, no matter how small, generated another dimension slightly different from the rest. The multiverse is very large; there are trillions of dimensions, but it is not infinite.”

“That is good for the Balance?”

“A single universe would be much better.”

Simon felt guilty again. “Can you tell me about Law and Chaos?”

“Chaos is the black void from which everything was formed and to which everything must eventually return. It is a sense of complete disorder. In Chaos, everything is random and anything is possible. All probabilities exist.”
It was as if he’d found a wise old philosopher who would answer all of his questions. Perhaps he would find the solution to his dilemma here.

“Law is the antithesis of Chaos. It is perfect order where nothing is left to chance. There is only certainty in absolute Law.”

“How should we live?”

“Every civilisation creates its own gods. The gods of Chaos urge their followers along the pathway of rapidly increasing entropy. The gods of Law seek to maintain a rigid order. Throughout eternity, the gods battle each other for supremacy. The gods believe that whichever side is victorious at the next Conjunction will rule the next universe. They are mistaken. For those enlightened ones, there is a middle way; a pathway that seeks equilibrium; the way of the Balance. That is the way to live.”

Simon was still confused about good and evil. He had debated with himself and others many times without resolution. “Is Chaos evil and Law good?”

“That is a fallacy that is widely held. What is good and what is evil very much depends on your point of view. There is good and evil in everyone, including the gods. As much evil has been done in the name of Law as has been done by Chaos. Pure evil is very rare, but so is absolute goodness. The Balance seeks to understand and control our evil urges and promote our good ones. It recognises that no individual is perfect. It understands that there are at least two sides to every conflict situation.”

Simon thought he understood, but his years of education, that had framed all conflicts into a battle between good and evil, remained hard to shake. He needed time to contemplate history from the point of view of Law versus Chaos with good and evil on both sides. And where did that leave Gadiel? “What about Gadiel? Is he evil? Does he represent Chaos?”

“The Manken understood the conflict between Law and Chaos. They had eliminated the gods from their world. They followed the Balance. They knew though that the primitive species on your planet would need gods in order to survive. When the Children arrived after so long without offspring, they had forgotten how to teach. They devised this great experiment on your world in order to demonstrate to Jeohab and Satania what had taken them millions of years to understand. Unfortunately, the experiment had to be curtailed long before the Children could learn their lessons. The Manken created the wizards to try to keep the experiment on track. They never communicated to us about Gadiel. He is a mystery to us and he makes us fearful. We have never known fear before. He seeks to control us. We assume he is Manken, but we are not sure. We think he is evil, but we do not know. We suspect he uses Chaos to further his own ends, but we cannot be certain.”

The words did not comfort Simon or tell him anything he didn’t already know, except that the Guardian feared Gadiel too, which was not good news. “Must I fight him?”

“It is the fate of the Hero to fight evil in whatever form it takes. Sometimes you are allied to Law, sometimes to Chaos and sometimes, like now, you serve the Balance. Once we could have answered your question because we could see the future as clearly as the past. You changed that, Simon Redhead, when you helped to cause the Sundering. All things are now possible, even the end of Time itself.”

The last words sounded sombre and ominous. “We are allies then?” Simon asked.

“It is not our way to take sides. We are here to protect Time and preserve the Balance. However, we understand that the final battle is likely to take place in Elannort, which is the centre of the Cosmos in this Conjunction. The fate of Melasurej and the legacy of the Manken are inexorably linked. Perhaps our fate and the fate of the entire Cosmos are joined. It might serve us well if you were successful. We will not change past events. We will not transport you in time. We will answer any further questions you have. We will transport you anywhere you wish to go in the multiverse.”

Simon was partially relieved. The Guardian was going to be an ally of sorts and could prove to be very useful. What questions were still puzzling him? He must make the most of his opportunity. “You have mentioned a Conjunction many times; what is it?”

“It is the end of everything and the beginning. For you, Conjunctions would seem an eternity apart. The Cosmos is remade; the gods are destroyed; only a very few things can pass through a Conjunction. We are one. At a Conjunction, all of the universes in the Cosmos come together. The laws of physics become strained and can be broken. The Conjunction will not just be the end of this multiverse but all universes within the Cosmos.”

“Are we near a Conjunction?”

“Oh dear we no; not in the natural scheme of things. The only time a Conjunction can be forced is if the Balance tips entirely to one side or the other, but the gods would not permit such a thing, at least not while they lived.”

“Do you have the power to force a Conjunction?”

The Guardian was silent for a long time. Simon thought they might have gone, or taken offence at his question. The swirling pictures of the multiverse continued relentlessly though. Eventually the Guardian spoke again. “We have considered your question long and hard. We believe that we do have such power but would only intervene in such a manner if there were a substantial need to protect the next Conjunction from a threat from the current one. We cannot envisage how such a scenario could arise.”

Neither could Simon. He imagined the Conjunction as being the Big Bang. Everything was reset and the universe started all over again. It was like rebooting a computer; no more than that, reformatting and installing a new operating system. Only the BIOS remained from the previous installation, ensuring that the new system would work. The Guardian of Tomorrow was like the BIOS of the Cosmos.

Almost like a father, Simon thought, bringing back to mind the fateful words that ‘fathers are important too.’ He had heard those words so many times. Destiny had used them, so had the One Tree. Why had they manipulated him to go back in time on a fruitless quest to save his own father? It could only be to get him here. Even Ceridwen had changed her tune after she had sung with the One Tree. She had been desperate for him to search for Cambyses but had changed her recommendation. ‘The fate of the elves is bound with your fate,’ she had said. Now he had the wherewithal to find Cambyses.

“Tell me about the elves and the dwarves. They are not indigenous to Earth, are they?”

The deep booming voice continued to answer his questions. “The Manken needed established civilisations in order to begin their experiment. Humans were far too primitive. There were few sentient civilisations in the universe, but they tracked down two which had evolved in the same solar system on twin planets. They were very different, both physically and culturally. Their star was about to go supernova. The dwarves had a fatalistic attitude and were prepared for their civilisation to die. The elves, who had never been a technologically advanced species, were unsuccessfully seeking a way off their planet. The Manken offered them both deals. Some of the younger dwarves agreed to be moved to Earth to participate in the experiment. Most of the dwarves declined and stayed to meet their doom. A group of elves agreed to participate in the experiment if the rest of the population were found new homes elsewhere in the universe. Those who were brought to Earth were brainwashed so that they forgot their real past. After the Sundering, there were elves and dwarves scattered throughout the multiverse. Elves discovered that they had the power to use dimension portals and began a quest to reunite all of elven kind on FirstWorld, because they suffered terrible oppression and discrimination in most other realms. Both species found it difficult to procreate in unnatural environments and they have been slowly dying for a long time.”

Simon knew what he must do. Despite the fact that he knew that he had been manipulated into this situation, he would attempt to rescues Cambyses, assuming he was still alive. He would do it for Taran, in honour of the friend he should have protected. He might be able to do something for Manfred too. “You said that the time portal on the Black Tower has gone? There’s no impediment to resting in Melasurej now, instead of Limbo? Will you take me there; I must pick up my Sword? Then, I would like to go to the dimension where Queen Ceridwen’s consort Cambyses is held captive. I would seek to rescue him if he still lives or recover his remains if he has perished. It is a personal quest.”

“We have enjoyed speaking with you Hero. It is long since we last conversed. Very well, we will return to Melasurej, for it is where we shall meet our fate one way or another. We will search the dimensions for Cambyses. If he lives, we will send you there. You may wish to close your eyes and sit down again while we make a jump.”

Simon did as he was requested, but before the nausea struck, he was able to ask one last question. “Are you the Guardian of just this universe or the entire Cosmos?” He thought he heard a guttural laugh before he was overcome by the rushing of air like a wild wind. When everything had settled, including his stomach, he pulled himself to his feet. The familiar skyline of Elannort was back. The White Tower stood in Future Square, just as the original design had planned. He looked across at the Black Tower, so close he felt he could almost reach out and touch it. It was now devoid of its time portal. The White Tower’s portal was now empty of its swirling images. The Guardian of Tomorrow was silent. Simon smiled. He was home again. It was time to see Julie and Alexander and try to explain his coming home late again. I hope she’s not waiting behind the door with a rolling pin.

KtB

VoP Cover

All volumes of the FirstWorld Saga are available here, including special offers.

05/18/16

New Gay Flash Fiction from CJA – The Chance of a Kiss

The Chance of a Kiss

We spent too long in bed, saying goodbye, then everything was a rush. Juan multi-tasked pulling on his jump-suit and swallowing his breakfast pill simultaneously. He was half-way down the path when I shouted.

“Hey, don’t I get a kiss goodbye?”

He stopped and sheepishly returned. We held each other for perhaps thirty seconds and kissed gently.

“Take care,” I said, “I love you. Share your iChip after take-off; I’d love to vicariously experience the flight.”

I watched him rush down the road and my heart felt heavy.

“So are you two an item now, Bill?” I hadn’t realised my elderly neighbour was there.

“We haven’t synchronised our iChips yet, if that’s what you mean, but we are very close. He’s going to Mars Station for a month. The separation should tell us.”

“You two boys are made for each other.”

“I hope so,” I said.

Exhausted, I went back to bed. I slept fitfully, with dark dreams that whispered about love and death. I woke with a splitting headache.

My iChip recognised I was awake and alerted me to a priority newsflash. ‘The Mars Shuttle exploded shortly after leaving Earth orbit. All 243 people on board are confirmed dead.’

It was as if a dagger had entered my heart. I collapsed and cried out, vocally and mentally, “Juan!”

“It’s ok,” Juan’s thoughts were in my head, “I’m still alive. I missed the flight. A group of boys got to the transporter pod just ahead of me and wouldn’t let me pass.”

The shock sucked all of the air from my body. I passed from anguish to euphoria in a microsecond.

“Your kiss saved my life.”

At that moment, I knew we were fated to be together.

“But I’m sorry, I don’t love you.”

The second cut was the deepest.

 

You can read more of CJA’s gay themed flash fiction here.

 

05/6/16

The Torture & Death of a Hero – Extract from Aftermath of Armageddon

8 Dag

When he came to, Simon was naked and shivering in a dark cellar. The only light came from a small barred window at ceiling level. When he tried to move, he found he was chained to the wall by his legs. He was in pain. His groin area ached. A huge black bruise was evident on his stomach. He gently touched the scab forming on his cheek and remembered everything. He reached for his feet. The boots were gone and with them, the knife that he had hoped would be his saviour. James and Chris had been right; he shouldn’t have come here. Thoughts of his new friends just brought back memories of their deaths. More of his friends’ deaths were on his conscience. He sank into a pit of dark despair. In his anguish, he cried out to Kin Slayer. There was a response. The heavy door opened with a creak, and a huge man lumbered in. While the rest of Dring’s cronies looked like bears, this one looked like a giant ape. His strong muscular arms drooped low to the floor. He shuffled, rather than walked, on legs like tree trunks. His face could best be described as primeval, with a protruding skull, sunken cheeks, and a squashed, broken nose that even a mother could not love. He had almost no hair on his head, several days’ worth of stubble on his face, and the hair on his legs and arms was thick and matted. He wore only a loincloth. His broad chest and ample belly were also thick with hair. His mouth displayed only a partial set of teeth and those that were present were blackened and broken. He lumbered over to Simon, bent down with difficulty, and grabbed him by the hair. He pulled Simon’s face into line with his. When he spoke, his foetid breath made Simon gag.

“So you are awake, red boy. My name is Dag. You’ll come to know me very well in the next few days. If you do well, you’ll get a fairly merciful death. If you don’t, well, let’s just say that I am skilled in making your end long and painful. It’s an art that I have practiced for my master, until I am expert. Overlord Dring has no further use for you. You are to die; there’s no other option. You are my plaything, to toy with like a cat plays with a mouse, until I let you die. I’m not going to torture you to get information from you; we already have everything we need. This is purely for revenge. My orders are to make you feel pain. You caused the Supreme Leader unimaginable pain. Now you are to get your just desserts. I only have one rule. Be a man. Don’t scream and cry or beg for mercy, for you’ll get none. Suffer in silence and I may reward you. Cry like a baby, and I’ll punish you more. Do you understand?” Simon tried to nod.

Sometime later, two thugs came and unlocked his chains. They dragged him into another room and strapped him into a sling-like device that held him suspended in mid-air. Again, Dag left him for a while to contemplate his fate. The fear of what was to come played on his mind. He had never had a great tolerance for pain. A lost memory flashed into his head. He was about two years old and running around the yard. He wasn’t very steady on his feet yet. He tripped over a tree root and fell over. His knee was cut. What was the red stuff that was coming out of his leg? It hurt and it scared him. He screamed. Someone came running and picked him up. The familiar smell of his mother calmed his fears and she soon treated his knee and soothed his pain as well. Then his father put a sticking plaster on it. He saw his kind face smiling down at him and he felt safe again.

Simon blinked and his father’s face was replaced with Dag’s ugly countenance. His vile breath made Simon want to vomit, but his mouth and throat were parched and his stomach empty. He dry retched and his throat burned.

“Where shall we begin, red boy?”

Time seemed to stand still for Simon. Minutes, hours, and days lost all meaning. His universe shrank so that it became his cell, his sling, and his torturer. He didn’t know which was worse: the time in his cell reliving the last session and thinking about the next one, or the sessions themselves where Dag inflicted every kind of pain on his crumbling body. Each of them was hell. Dag became the entire focus of his existence. Perhaps if he could please Dag there might be less pain. He tried not to cry out; he tried not to show the terrible pain he was feeling; he wanted to impress his torturer. Yet, every time he failed. Dag would push him that one step too far and he would break down, begging for it to end. Then Dag would laugh and taunt him and find a new way to inflict yet more pain. Bound as he was, Simon couldn’t even move to try to seek some tiny amount of relief. The pain burned through him so that he thought he would go insane. Occasionally, Dag pushed it too far and he lapsed into unconsciousness. Dag was always waiting for him when he awoke, waiting with a new idea to try on his broken body.

Simon wanted to die. He’d begged Dag, during the last session, but the simian thug had just mocked him. He lay on the cold cobbles of the cellar floor, arms and legs shackled to the damp concrete walls. He was barely conscious, he hadn’t eaten for three days, and he had no strength left. He was severely dehydrated, and once more, he struggled to lick a few drops of moisture off the clammy cellar walls. He had no tears left to cry. His body was wracked with pain. He didn’t think there was a part of him that wasn’t in agony. For the umpteenth time, he cursed giving them the opportunity to separate him from Kin Slayer. He tried to concentrate his mind to search for the Sword. The pain was too great. He tried to focus on one aspect of the pain, in order to relieve the rest. He tried to concentrate on his feet, where Dag had torn off both of his big toe nails. Each of his big toes throbbed mercilessly. He tried to raise his legs a little to reduce the blood flow. This brought his backside into greater contact with the rough floor. A stab of pain shot through him. It dragged back into his consciousness the horror of the objects with which Dag had violated him.

Despite the best of intentions, he cried out in his torment. The door opened and the ugly gaoler lumbered in. “I told you, no noise, scum.” His booted foot thudded into Simon’s chest and a couple of ribs were shattered. The second kick crushed his exposed testicles. The third caught him on the side of the head. He lapsed into merciful unconsciousness. His final thought was of Manfred. He had let him down. He was sorry; he hoped Manfred knew that.

7 simons hell

Find all of the FirstWorld Saga, including special offers, here.

04/28/16

Rat – Gay Flash Fiction

Rat

Julie entered the sitting room. Despite her age, it always triggered childhood memories. The furniture and curtains had changed since then, of course, but the smell was the same. That strange mixture of furniture polish, lavender, and an unknown fragrance that she had sought her entire life but had yet to identify.

Patricia was in her usual chair, rocking slowly backward and forward, in an even rhythm. Her eyes were red and puffy and they were focussed on the middle distance. Julie had known that something was wrong as soon as her mother had answered the phone. She pushed the concern to the back of her mind and forced a smile onto her face. A small voice in her head couldn’t be silenced though. She’s found another lump; the cancer’s back.

“Hello, Mum. What’s wrong? I’ll put the kettle on and make us a nice cup of tea.” Funny how a cup of tea solves everything. I’ve got cancer; let’s have a cup of tea. Dad’s dead; but a cup of tea will make it alright. Julie’s still not married; never mind a cup of tea will help. By the time the water had boiled Julie was getting herself into a right state.

She took everything on a tray and set it down on the coffee table. Patricia was still rocking. Her cheeks were wet. Julie poured two cups and sat down on the sofa. She reached over and took her mothers hands in hers. With gentle pressure the rocking stopped. “What is it, Mum?”

Patricia focussed on her daughter. “I don’t know where to begin.”

“Just tell me.”

“It’s about Uncle George.”

“What about him?”

“He was…… I mean, he wasn’t normal, he was ….” She tailed off into silence.

“He was gay, Mum.” Was that all it was about? Julie smiled.

“You knew?”

“Of course, didn’t everyone?”

“And Peter? You knew they were lovers?”

Julie laughed out loud this time. “Of course, Mum. What’s all the fuss about?”

Patricia seemed to relax just a little. “I thought that I was the only one who knew. George swore me to secrecy. He was ashamed. He didn’t want anyone else to know. That’s why they pretended to be flat mates all these years.” She paused and picked up her cup to take a couple of sips. “Thanks for the tea, love. He was so paranoid, that he bought the house in just his name, even though Peter paid for a lot of it by covering all of their living expenses. He couldn’t even admit it in death. His will doesn’t recognise Peter.”

“But what’s the problem? You can just transfer it to him?”

“It’s not that easy, love. You see Uncle Frank has decided we should sell it and split the money. He wants to build an extension.”

“So stand up to him. Tell him the truth.”

“You know how he hates homosexuals. It would kill him. I’ve already lost one brother; I couldn’t bear to lose another. I’ve told him I will stick with him. I’ve double-crossed Peter. I feel like a dirty rat.” Patricia sobbed and Julie took her mother in her arms.”

“Don’t worry, Mum, we’ll find a solution.” Her mother felt very small and frail in her arms. The time finally seemed right. She wondered if her mother was ready to share another secret.

558 words

Taken from Inside Men’s Shorts

Alternative Cover

04/1/16

More Tales from the Wild Wood

More Tales from the Wild Wood Cover

Here’s an unedited first draft of a new Wild Wood story.

The original Tales from the Wild Wood can be found here. They are old-style fairy tales for children aged 7 and up, beautifully illustrated by Caitlin Hogan.

5 WW Frog King FINAL border-J small

Harry’s Son & Sam the Goblin

Do you remember the old days? Of course you don’t remember them, they were too long ago. Even I don’t remember them and I’m ancient. In those days, the Wild Wood covered much of the land.  People entered the Wild Wood at their own risk ‑ the signs said so. At every pathway entering the wood there was a sign. ‘Enter at your own risk,’ the signs said. ‘Trespassers will be eaten!’ they continued. ‘Beware of the trolls!’ they warned. In the village of Puddin, few of the locals dared to venture far into the Wild Wood, if at all. Strange creatures dwelt there. It was said that elves lived in the trees, trolls in the caves, goblins in holes in the ground, giant spiders in the thickets, and an old witch in a run-down cottage. Everyone agreed that all of them hated normal people.

Everyone in Puddin was poor. They struggled every day to find enough to eat and often went to bed hungry and had nothing for breakfast. Their clothes were old and patched, and often too small for the children. Except for Hazel Which, who seemed to possess magic clothes that never got dirty and grew with her. People said that she had once met Witch Hazel and the old crone now looked out for her. The bullies now left her alone, just to be on the safe side and because, at heart, all bullies are really cowards.

Harry was poorer than most. In fact, he was probably the poorest man in the village. He lived in a shack, close to the edge of the Wild Wood, with his son. No one was quite sure what had happened to Harry’s wife. Some said she had run away with a travelling minstrel. Others said that a goblin prince had carried her off into the Wild Wood, and only whispered about what he might have done with her.

Do you know how poor Harry was? He was so poor that he couldn’t afford a name for his son. The poor boy was known in the village only as Harry’s son. Harry just called him son.

One morning in autumn, when the morning mist hugged the ground and swirled around the tree trunks making everything look fuzzy, Harry and Harry’s son were even hungrier than usual.

Harry had a bad leg. He had been bitten by Mrs McKinty’s dog, and the wound had become infected. It was just Harry’s bad luck. Mrs McKinty’s dog was normally as gentle as a lamb, but Spot, who was called that because he was pure white, was cranky with a toothache and Harry had patted him right where it hurt.

“You know what, Son?” Harry said.

“What Dad?” Harry’s son asked.

“It’s the right season for mushrooms. They’d make a lovely breakfast, fried up in a little dripping.”

“My stomach hurts,” Harry’s son said, rubbing his skinny belly with his hand.

“I know where they grow,” Harry said. “I’d go myself, but my leg is giving me gyp. You’ll need to go into the Wild Wood a little way. Don’t be afraid, you’ll be quite safe.”

Normally, Harry’s son would have run a mile rather than go into the Wild Wood. Normally, Harry’s son would have told his father to get lost. But this wasn’t a normal day. Harry’s son was so hungry he would have eaten his shoes, if they had any leather left on them.

“Give me directions,” was all that he said, standing up to his full height, pretending to be brave. Inside his fear was fighting his hunger. It was a close run thing, but hunger won.

****

The boy entered the Wild Wood, ignoring the signs, which he couldn’t read anyway. He followed the path for a while as it got narrower and narrower. He tried to remember his father’s instructions. “Look for a tree with a trunk shaped like an upside-down parsnip, or was it a turnip? Then turn left, or was it right? He couldn’t remember.

The trees were getting closer and closer together. It was almost dark inside the Wild Wood. Harry’s son panicked, but instead of turning back, he followed a narrow path that led off to the left. The path took him into the middle of a huge bramble bush. The briars ripped his clothes and dug into his legs and arms, drawing blood. With a final effort he pushed his way through and entered a clearing. A huge oak tree dominated the space. Its branches were spread enough so that the sunlight flooded through. Under the tree, glittering like diamonds in the bright light were dozens of mushrooms.

Harry’s son was relieved and excited at the same time. Imagining the awesome breakfast that awaited him when he got the mushrooms home, he rushed forward to grab them. He didn’t see the thick briar, snaking along the ground and his foot caught underneath it. He tripped and sailed through the air, landing on his head, which smashed into the hard ground. His right hand groped and stretched to grab the mushroom that was just out of his reach before he passed out.

****

Sam was a young goblin. He was feeling very lonely. He had an older brother, named Lob, and they had always played together. Lately though, Lob had taken off to have adventures of his own, meeting trolls and elves. Poor Sam was left at home with his mother, who made him do all the chores. Sam hated cleaning his room and taking out the trash. He couldn’t wait to be old enough to be allowed to roam the Wild Wood and have his own adventures.

This particular morning he was feeling even more cranky than usual. His mother had made him sweep the floor of their hole in the ground. He finished the job and, if truth be told, he didn’t do it very well. He rushed off into the Wild Wood in a terrible sulk. He hated his mother, he hated his brother, he hated … Wait a minute what was that? There was a small body lying under the oak tree where he had built a tree house. On closer observation, he saw that it was a young human boy, who looked more like a broken rag doll. The boy’s clothes were in tatters, his arms and legs were covered in blood, and he had a toadstool in the outstretched fingers of his right hand. Sam knew that the toadstools under the old oak tree were deadly poisonous. His sulking forgotten, he rushed back home to get his mother.

****

When Harry’s son woke up, he had no idea where he was. As his eyes came into focus he realised that he was lying on a bed in a dark room. He wasn’t at home with his father. Where could he be, he wondered? Then he remembered mushrooms, the Wild Wood, and tripping over the briar. His arms and legs were sore from the brambles, but as he checked them out he realised that someone must have cleaned them and put some sort of brown medication on them. He sat up and looked out. He could see sunlight streaming in from a door and a round window. The walls were made of earth. He was in a house built into a hole in the ground. He was suddenly afraid. Goblins lived in holes in the ground and he had heard many tales about them in Puddin. They were supposed to grind your bones to make their bread, or was that trolls? He always got them confused. All he could remember was that goblins were no good.

Then a lady and a small boy moved into his field of view. They weren’t exactly the same as the people in Puddin but they weren’t so different looking. Their faces were longer, more triangular while the villagers’ faces were round. Their skin was brown instead of white. Their eyes looked a bit different too, sort of stretched out with black pupils and pink where his eyes were white. The woman was wearing a pinafore just like the women in the village did and was wiping her hands on a cloth. They seemed to be covered in a white powder. The boy was wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, just like the boys in the village did. His knees were exceptionally knobbly and looked funny on his brown legs. They both smiled at him and their pearly white teeth seemed to glow in the shadow of the bedroom.

The boy took a deep breath, swallowed hard and managed to speak in a squeaky, high-pitched voice. “Are you goblins?” He felt the blood rushing to his face.

The woman came closer, still smiling. “Yes we are. Don’t be afraid, we won’t hurt you. I know that the humans tell terrible stories about us but most of them aren’t true.”

Harry’s son wondered which ones were true.

The young goblin boy spoke excitedly. “I found you in the clearing under the oak tree. You didn’t eat any of those toadstools did you? They are very poisonous. My name is Sam, what’s yours?

Toadstools. The boy thought. Thank goodness I didn’t take them home for breakfast. “I’m Harry’s son,” he said, “Thank you for saving me.” He might have been poor but Harry had brought up his son to be polite.

“Harrison,” said Sam, “That’s a great name. Harrison and Sam! Will you be my friend and play with me?”

“There’s time enough for that later,” Sam’s mother said, “First of all we have to make sure that Harrison is not hurt, then get him something to eat, he look’s half-starved, then fix up his clothes.”

Harry’s son liked the sound of that, particularly the food. He wanted to explain that he was Harry’s son not Harrison but Sam’s mother was still talking and rushing around. He decided that he quite liked his new name and he would keep it.

“Go and wake up that lazy brother of yours. He’d sleep all day given half the chance.” Sam scuttled off. “I’ll send Lob into Puddin to leave a message with your family to let them know you are safe. Your mother must be beside herself with worry.”

“I don’t have a mother,” Harrison said sadly, “She died when I was very small. There’s only my father and he has a bad leg. We are very poor.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Harrison. My husband died too. There’s just the three of us here, but we make do. The Wild Wood is very generous, provided you know the things not to eat.”

She came and sat on the bed and gave Harrison a big hug.  Her skin was hard and scratchy and she had a smell that was different to people, not unpleasant, exotic. Harrison only had a vague, distant memory of being hugged by his mother, but he did remember her smell. It had been a long time since anyone had given him a hug. The memories came flooding back and he burst into tears, sobbing into the goblin’s apron.

“There, there Harrison, you have a good cry and you’ll feel better for it. I know that I do during the long lonely nights when I remember how things used to be.” She wiped a few tears from her eyes too.

When Harrison had stopped crying, he did feel a bit better. Lob had appeared and was a larger version of Sam. Harrison explained to Lob which house in Puddin he lived in, while Mrs Goblin scratched out a note on some bark paper with blackberry juice ink.

“There,” she said, shaking the paper to dry the ink. “When I was a young goblin old Witch Hazel taught me to read and write human words.”

“Do you think she could teach me?” Harrison asked.

“Well, I could teach you enough to get you started. I’m teaching Sam. Lob thinks he knows everything already and isn’t interested anymore.”

“If my father will let me, can I come and visit?”

“Of course you can,” Sam said, “You are going to be my new brother. My old one doesn’t play anymore.”

Lob stuck his tongue out and muttered something about babies before bounding out of the door with the note.

“I have written that you are safe and will get home tomorrow morning,” she said. “Now let’s get you fed.”

Harrison couldn’t remember the last time he had been so full that he couldn’t eat another mouthful. He had enjoyed everything Mrs Goblin had put in front of him. The acorn flour pancakes with fresh blackberries had been his particular favourite. But the rabbit and carrot pasties had not been far behind. Even the water they drank seemed to taste better than the water they drank in the village.

After their meal, Sam took Harrison to explore the Wild Wood.

“Don’t go too far from home,” Mrs Goblin shouted after them.

“We won’t,” Sam shouted back.

They didn’t go far, just back to the huge oak tree. Sam showed Harrison how to climb up into his secret tree-house den high up in the branches. They stayed there for hours, just chatting like a couple of old friends. Harrison told Sam about life in Puddin and Sam told Harrison about life in the Wild Wood. If they had both been prepared to admit it they were both a little envious of the other. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, as they say.

Before they went home, Sam took Harrison right up to the top of the tree. The view was magnificent. The sun was setting in the west in a fiery red glow.

“Look over there,” Sam said pointing, “That’s Puddin. Can you see your house?”

Harrison could just make it out, nestled against the edge of the forest.

“And over there, hidden deep in the woods is Witch Hazel’s cottage. You can just see some smoke rising from her chimney.”

At that moment a large barn owl landed on the branch next to them. It seemed to study them, approved of what it saw, gave them a big wink, and flew off into the twilight. Harrison couldn’t be sure, but he thought he heard a faint woman’s voice say, ‘Come and see me soon.’ He didn’t say anything to Sam, in case his new found friend would think he was daft.

They got home just as darkness was falling. There was a roaring fire in the hearth and Mrs Goblin had made more pancakes. Harrison could barely keep his eyes open after he had stuffed his face again.

“Here you are Harrison, you can wear an old pair of Lob’s pyjamas to bed while I have a go at repairing your clothes.

Harrison and Sam washed themselves in a big bowl of water, brushed their teeth with twig and moss tooth brushes, and hopped into bed. They chattered for a while but soon fell asleep, tired from their day’s exertions.

Harrison slept so soundly that he couldn’t remember any dreams. Normally, he woke up hungry but this morning he felt different. He was content. That didn’t stop him eating three helpings of pancakes for breakfast.

“I’m afraid that I had to burn your clothes and your shoes,” Mrs Goblin said. “They were so threadbare that there was no life left in them. I have modified some clothes that Lob has grown out of but are still too big for Sam. I hope they are ok for you.”

Harrison got dressed in his new clothes and shoes. The clothes were very smart and fit him with just enough room for him to grow into. The shorts and the shirt were green, the colour of the Wild Wood and unlike anything the boys in Puddin wore. The shoes were made of wood, but had a rabbit-skin lining that made them soft and comfortable.

“I hope you don’t get teased,” Mrs Goblin said.

Harrison couldn’t care less. He was always getting teased for something. These clothes were something he would be proud of.

“I have packed a basket with some pancakes and a few of those rabbit and carrot pasties from last night,” Mrs Goblin said. “I’m sure your father would enjoy them. I also managed to persuade Lob to go and pick some mushrooms for you. You’ll know the difference between mushrooms and toadstools now.”

Harrison thanked them profusely and received a big hug from Mrs Goblin.

“Come back and see us again soon,” she shouted as they left. “Lob, make sure you bring Sam straight back home.”

“Yes mother,” Lob said with a sigh. “One day I’m going to run away.”

Harrison couldn’t imagine why Lob would want to run away from such a perfect life.

Lob led them through secret paths that avoided bramble bushes and soon they were at the edge of the Wild Wood. They said their farewells and Harrison hugged Sam and promised to see him again soon. Then the two goblins slipped off back into the Wild Wood and Harrison went home.

Harry was so happy to see him and even happier when he saw the food basket. They had a great breakfast; yes Harrison had a second breakfast, while he told his father his story.

“Well, I’ll be darned,” Harry said, “It seems goblins are not the nasty things that people make out.”

“Oh, I almost forgot, there’s something else,” Harrison said. “Mrs Goblin gave me this medicine to put on your leg; it has healed up my bramble scratches already.”

Harrison thought he could see a tear in his father’s eye. He went over and gave him a cuddle.

“Please call me Harrison from now on,” he told his father.

The medicine did the trick and Harry’s leg healed. He felt so much better and stronger that he was able to get a job at the local mill and they had more money to spend. Harrison also learned how to forage in the Wild Wood for free food. They never went hungry again.

When the village children saw Harrison’s new clothes they laughed and called him the Green Boy, or Sprout. He didn’t mind at all and laughed with them. They soon didn’t find it fun anymore and started to call him Harrison.

When the subject of goblins came up in the classroom or the playground, Harrison would question the bad things that were said and defend his new friends. “One day we will all be able to live together without fear,” he told his teacher, who smiled and patted his head.

Then Harrison said something that made the teacher gasp with amazement. “Please don’t patronise me and please don’t propagate stereotypes.”

The teacher didn’t really understand what Harrison was saying and had no idea where he could have learned such strange, long words.

Harrison had progressed past the teaching that Mrs Goblin could give him and had a new teacher – but that’s another story.

Lob did eventually run away from home – and that’s another story too – but Sam didn’t miss him too much. He had a new older brother, called Harrison.

CJA

03/19/16

Burton upon Trent – My Dream and my Nightmare.

The photographs in this post are taken from The Local History of Burton upon Trent – check it out.

Burton upon Trent is one of the premier beer brewing areas of the UK. It has been so for generations. It’s all about the quality of the water. My dream is a simple one; to go back there one day and have a couple of pints of draught Bass.

I’m sure everyone has one of those cartoon-like nightmares, where you fall over while some terrible horror is after you. You try to stand up and run, but you can’t get traction and fall over again, scrabbling on your hands and knees while the source of your terror closes in.

When I was a young child, I had a squint; a lazy eye. They tried the usual things – a patch over my good eye (oh the pain of having the sticking plaster removed), and ugly NHS glasses. They didn’t work and around the age of four or five I had to have an operation to correct it. My specialist, and the hospital, was in Burton. So, there were regular visits over many months.

In the old days, before the rise and fall of Watney’s Red Barrel and its chemical-beer ilk (remember the Monty Python sketch)  there were many small breweries and they had their own internal railway system. At its peak, there were 32 railway crossings, with white manually-operated crossing gates. The town was noisy and smelly – it smelt like a brewery – and it scared the bejesus out of me. One of the crossings was even immortalised in an LS Lowry painting – The Crossing.

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I had a recurring nightmare, from those days that affected me well into middle age. The other day, I told some friends about it. Last night, I had it again.

I’m still a four-year-old boy, angelic-looking with curly, blond hair. I am holding my mother’s hand as we begin to cross one of the rail crossings.

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As we get half-way across, I trip on the raised track and fall over. My knee is bleeding, there is a pool of red blood and it hurts so badly. I scream for my mother, but she is nowhere to be seen. As I lie there crying, the white gates begin to swing open. I’m very small, and the men on the gates haven’t noticed me. I try to get up, but my knee gives way. I want to run, but I can’t. I try to crawl, but my knee is too badly hurt. The gates are now wide open. There’s a train coming. It’s huge and noisy, belching steam and bearing down on me like a ravenous mechanical monster. I make one last, frantic effort to get out of the way but I fall on my face. My legs and arms give way. I scream one last time for my mother. The train enters the crossing and blows its whistle three times. The clattering noise of the train wheels, the smell of the beer, and the heat from the steam envelop me. Life fades to black, and I wake up in a cold sweat.

CJA

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02/26/16

An Open Letter to the Right Wing Fundamentalist Christians Who Want to Stop Anti-Bullying Programs in Schools Because the Programs Somehow Promote Gay Lifestyles

An Open Letter to the Right Wing Fundamentalist Christians Who Want to Stop Anti-Bullying Programs in Schools Because the Programs Somehow Promote Gay Lifestyles

Here’s a couple of facts that you ought to be aware of.
1. Being gay is not contagious. Don’t worry, you can’t catch homosexuality.
2. Being gay is not a lifestyle choice. We are born that way and can’t be ‘cured’ or changed no matter how hard you try.

Being bullied because of any sort of difference from the majority should be abhorred by everyone.

I wish someone had told me about different sexual orientations while I was growing up. I wish they had educated the bullies that made my life a misery on a daily basis, I didn’t know why or how I was different, I just knew that somehow I was.

I tried to fit in with what the majority wanted. It ruined the best part of my life and affected others too. Is that fair? I married and had two wonderful children that wouldn’t otherwise have come into existence, so there are positives as well as negatives. But was that fair on my wife?

I somehow managed to suppress my true sexuality until my children were grown up. It made me ill. Eventually, I had a mini nervous breakdown and counselling made me realise that I had to address the underlying problems that no amount of anti-depressants would fix.

I had my first male-male sexual experience at the age of 45. I was terrified.

The first time that I kissed a man is a difficult moment to describe. It was if a switch had been flipped in my brain. I knew immediately that I had been living a lie and that I had finally come home. I had been waiting all of my life for that moment. You should recognise that sort of moment; it was my Road to Damascus.

There could be no going back after that and the monogamous relationship that my wife wanted was never going to be possible, so she divorced me. I am sorry that I deceived her, but I had also deceived myself for all those years,

I often wonder how my life would have been different had there been openness and acceptance when I was growing up. All those lonely nights crying myself to sleep and contemplating suicide might have been avoided.

Teaching straight pupils about other orientations, making LGBTI pupils part of the mainstream and stopping them being bullied won’t turn a single straight teenager gay. It might stop some of the tragic loss of our gay youth from suicide. It might make life more bearable for the majority of LGBTI youth. It might make some of the straight kids uncomfortable, but that’s not such a bad thing. It makes you uncomfortable; that’s a good thing. Can you not see past your narrow, outdated, dogma? Much of the western world has moved on. Yes, we will be wanting marriage equality next. Watch out! The sky is falling.

CJA

02/22/16

The Oracle of Parandham – Extract from A Vision of the Future

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Simon couldn’t remember disembarking. One moment he seemed to be in the Captain’s cabin, the next he stood on another seashore, remarkably similar to the one they had left. A white path in front of them stretched through low brush into the mist. It wouldn’t have surprised him to find another Rainbow’s End at its end. They were wearing the same clothes that they had on when they left First Delve. They carried the same packs. Yet to Simon it felt that years had passed, if not millennia. Limbo has that effect on people.

“Are you cold?” Jhamed asked.

“Not particularly. The mist seems to be more low cloud than fog,” Simon replied. “Why do you ask?”

“The hairs on the back of my neck are standing erect and my whole body is covered with goose bumps. I have an incredible feeling of déjà-vu. We have done this before.”

“Yes, not so long ago when we embarked on the Ship of Souls. Have you forgotten already?” Simon smiled but was secretly concerned by Jhamed’s unusual demeanour.

“No, I don’t mean that. We have done this before only it wasn’t me and it wasn’t you, except I somehow have the memory. The Sword was different. It was Fleischaker then, or Excalibur. Wait! Don’t go! It’s no good, the memory is lost.” Jhamed looked glum and seemed disconcerted by the vision. He looked around in consternation.

“I expect it was another Hero and another Companion. It may have been Gilgamesh. Is there nothing else you remember?”

Jhamed removed his hat and scratched his head vigorously with both hands. His curls, momentarily released from their bondage, expanded to twice their volume, like a jack-in-the-box escaping from its box. He stopped scratching and looked at Simon. There was no hint of his normal jollity. “Only a smell. A terrible bovine stench.”

“Perhaps it is a warning, although of what I cannot say. Nevertheless, we must press on. Stay on your guard and tell me if you remember anything else.” Jhamed nodded and replaced his hat, crudely stuffing his locks back into confinement.

As there was only one path to follow, they headed away from the shore and into the mist. The road was paved with pure white stones and was so well maintained it could have been laid yesterday. The coarse brush, close to the shore, soon gave way to lawns and gardens, which were immaculate in every aspect. However, there were as few gardeners about as weeds. Thoughts of gardeners took Simon’s mind back to Eden and Marduk. He wondered how the elves were doing. How long had they been away in Limbo? What could have happened while they were gone?

The mist suddenly cleared and a picture postcard blue sky with fluffy white clouds was revealed. They could see now that the road wound its way up a small pine forest-covered mountain, like a white snake amidst the greenery. At its end, they could barely make out some buildings.

“They look like ruins,” Jhamed said, squinting.

“I have seen similar places in my dimension,” Simon said, “in Athens. They look like ancient temples.”

“The Gods of Law must be far gone if their temples are in ruins,” Jhamed said. “It will take us several hours to climb up there. I wonder if it will get dark here?”

They pushed on. Simon set a steady but brisk pace that wasn’t rushing and shouldn’t unduly tire them. They passed more beautiful gardens that displayed plants from across the multiverse in every season. In one bed, spring bulbs raised their flowered heads and shouted their joy to the sun. In the next trees shaped into a myriad of creatures displayed their autumn foliage in a cascade of reds, golds, and browns. The trees wore their multi-coloured coats but not a single leaf seemed yet to have dropped to the ground.

Still they saw no one. The temperature seemed perfect for their climb and the quality of the light didn’t alter. Simon had initially assumed that the sun was behind the mountain, yet after several hours, there was still no sign of it. The gardens eventually yielded to the forest and the multifarious scents of flowers were replaced by the unmistakable smell of a pine forest after rain. Simon was immediately taken back to a childhood visit to Tasmania. Trees were sacred there, rather like in Eden; but that had only been achieved by much protest and struggle. Most of the old indigenous trees had gone and been replaced by pine trees. He must have been very young because his mother had taken him in a pushchair. He hadn’t known he had this memory until they’d entered the forest. He remembered a very old gnarled tree right in the middle of a clearing. He couldn’t remember what it was but it seemed very ancient. As they were admiring it, they met an old man who was nearly as gnarled as the tree. He had bent down and patted Simon on the head. He had looked into the man’s eyes and seen something there. What was it? Recognition? Love? Fear? The memory dimmed. Simon stopped and sat down.

“What is it?” Jhamed asked.

“I have just found a memory too. Either Manfred or someone who looked very like him was checking up on me when I was a small child.”

“I doubt it was Manfred or I would have known,” Jhamed said. “Our interest in you wasn’t aroused until much later. Perhaps it was Weylyn.”

“No, the eyes were not Weylyn’s. Besides, he would have taken the opportunity to kill me; my mother could not have protected me.”

“This place seems to have a power to awaken memories. I have remembered many things about my father that I never thought I knew. Let’s take a break and eat something. We must keep our strength up for whatever lies ahead. Your descriptions of the Chaos Gods were quite frightening. I can’t imagine what the Gods of Law will look like.”

Jhamed sat down as well and foraged in his pack for supplies. They enjoyed their picnic lunch in the forest but were quiet and subdued, each lost in his own thoughts, and the conversation was limited to ‘Pass the salt, please’.
They packed up cautiously, taking great care not to leave any mess behind. Simon remembered the Law dimension where they had ignored the ‘Keep off the Grass’ signs. It had caused a great deal of trouble and needed Jhamed’s father to do a streak to help them escape. He had a light bulb moment. “I know who it was!”

“Who who was?” Jhamed asked.

“The old man in Tasmania. It was your father. It was Fate keeping tabs on me. This place isn’t waking up just any old memories, but memories associated with Destiny.”

“How do you explain my déjà-vu?

“I can’t… yet. But I’m betting it had something to do with your father. He must have passed the memories on in your genes.” Jhamed may have harrumphed at Simon’s theory but the expression on his face showed that he was giving it careful consideration.

They continued on their way in silence. The path became steeper and Simon began to sweat. Jhamed finally broke his silence. “It couldn’t have been my father. My father serves the Balance. Why would this place bring on memories of him?”

“It has troubled me as well,” Simon said, “but it seems to me that there are only two sides in this; Law and Chaos. It’s not like the Balance is a third way but rather the best compromise between Law and Chaos. We have been aided in our quest by Chaos at times and I suspect by Law as well. Perhaps your father has also been a companion to other Heroes as he was to me in the Fatherland. It is in your genes just as it is mine. I suspect that the Hero has at times served Chaos and at other times Law. Would not Arthur Pendragon have been a servant of Law, for example? What about Gilgamesh? Before he served the Balance, the ancient stories suggest that he was an agent of Chaos and sought to destroy the Gods of Law. He may even have taken this road with your father at his side. I wish that I could remember the lives of the other Heroes.”

Jhamed stopped in mid track and looked at Simon with incredulity. “You must be crazy!”

Simon wasn’t quite sure which part of his thesis Jhamed thought was crazy and his companion continued walking without further comment. A while later though he spoke again. “Be careful what you wish for, Simon. You have enough trouble dealing with some of your own memories. Other manifestations of the Hero have done things that are much more terrible. Anyway, what about Gadiel? Where does he fit in?”

Simon had rarely seen Jhamed so serious. Not only that, his friend had hit on the one question that he had been unable to answer. Was Gadiel somehow outside the conflict between Law and Chaos? Was he just using the conflict for his own ends? Would he even care which side was the ultimate winner? “I don’t know, but I’ll be sure to ask him next time we chat!” That did the trick. Jhamed dissolved into a fit of giggles that progressed to full blown belly laughs. He was back to his normal self.

Jhamed’s better humour also seemed to have an effect on Simon’s mind. “It’s becoming clearer to me now. You won’t like it though.” Simon wondered whether he should continue and risk darkening Jhamed’s mood again.

“Well? What pearls of wisdom will you deliver this time?”

“Don’t mock! I know I don’t always work it out right the first time, but at least I try.”

Jhamed mumbled something under his breath that Simon couldn’t make out.

“I don’t know why I haven’t seen it before. It’s so obvious. There are two sides in the multiverse; Law and Chaos. There are two aspects to our destiny; fate and chance. Don’t you see, Jhamed? They are two aspects of the same thing. Chaos depends on probability, all probabilities being possible. Law depends on a single pathway defined by fate. Your father was always working for Law.”

Jhamed looked at him with an expression that would have befitted the world’s best poker player. “My father was following the Tapestry. The Tapestry is on the Ship of Souls. The Captain serves the Balance. My father helped you destroy a minor god of Law. Quad erat demonstrandum. Honestly, Simon, sometimes I think you have the logical capacity of a slug.”

Simon sighed. It was always the same. No sooner did he think that he had wrapped his mind around all of the questions than the answers he generated threw up new questions. If only someone would explain it all to him. “The Tapestry is tied up with Gadiel. He’s the key to all of this.”

“Be sure to ask him!” Jhamed winked at him.

“I’ll make a list,” Simon replied, which set off Jhamed’s giggles again.

They continued their climb. The light didn’t change, as if time were frozen. The questions and possible answers swirled around in Simon’s mind like wisps of morning mist. Something substantial seemed to be there but he could never quite capture it.

They made steady progress, and stopped for a second meal when they felt hungry again. The light and the air stayed the same. The ruins were closer.

They might have walked for minutes, or it could have been weeks. They had stopped speaking, each seemingly trapped in his own thoughts. Simon grappled with the complexities of existence, without forming any further concrete conclusions.

The change in terrain and light surprised him. They had reached the top of the mountain. The ruins spread out in front of them. Great slabs of hewn grey rock, turned green in places by mosses and lichens, still showed where the floors had been, though most of the walls were long gone. Many circular pillars still reached for the sky, like extended fingers, while an occasional ruined archway still struggled to survive the march of entropy. Beyond the ruins, the peaks of many wooded mountains were visible. Everything was stained blood-red by an invisible setting sun.

It took a while for the view to sink in and the realisation to dawn. Simon turned to Jhamed. “This is an anachronism. You saw how perfect everything was climbing the mountain. We are in a place where Law rules, where the Gods of Law reside. This place; these ruins, are completely out of place. How can an island of Chaos exist here?”

“My father would know,” Jhamed replied.

“I somehow feel responsible,” Simon said, “like a guilty secret pricking my conscience. How can it be?”

“My father would know the answer to that too,” Jhamed said in a serious tone, with no hint of jollity.

“I do believe he would,” Simon said. A shiver ran down his spine and the hairs stood up on the back of his neck. “This was a temple, but something terrible happened here.”

“A Hero came this way before and then
For Chaos he fought, long ago and when
The Gods were young and Time was linear
Even Fat Fiona was skinnier.”

The voice was female and had an accent that Simon would swear was Scottish. If pushed, he would have placed the owner of the voice as a citizen of Glasgow. They had been looking into the distance, admiring the view, and seeing the bigger picture. Somehow, they had overlooked the strange sight immediately in front of them, in a dip in the ground.

More than in a dip, it seemed like everything before them was partially buried in the earth. There was a stone door frame, which extended about four feet off the ground. Within the frame was what appeared to be a partially buried wooden door. While the stone frame appeared ancient and crumbling, the door seemed freshly painted in rainbow colours. The colour red was especially fresh, from a flow of blood.

The voice had come from a naked woman. She disappeared into the earth, buried to half way between her knees and her thighs, with her arms above her head. Her hands were nailed to the top of the door. Her hair was black, long, and unwashed. It also appeared to be uncut. It cascaded over her body, and looped around her in coils. As much hair as there was failed to hide her gargantuan breasts and stomach. Her pendulous breasts hung down so that the huge nipples almost touched the ground. Her rotund stomach stuck out between them and its weight rested on the ground, protecting what little modesty she retained. Her bulbous buttocks, pock-marked with cellulite, stuck out behind her, providing balance for her stomach and breasts. Her face was wrinkled and her cheeks sagged. Her eyes and lips matched the colour of her rotting teeth. Her nose dribbled green snot. She had more chins than Simon could easily count on the fingers of his artificial hand.

“Sad creature nailed upon the colour door of time,
Not preacher, yes, and you and I commit the crime.
Once before, to the Cedar Forest you came
And for the damage caused, I share the blame.”

“Not I, madam, though I do feel a connection with this place and my conscience is pricked,” Simon said. “Who are you?”

“Few have the wherewithal to pass this way,
And fewer still take the advice I say.
The Oracle of Parandham I be
Though Fat Fiona is all that you see.”

“I seek the Gods of Law, Oracle. What advice do you give?” Simon asked.

“My punishment for your last visit here,
Awaiting the day you would again appear.
Emotion revealed as the Ocean Maid,
The price for entry must be paid.”

Jhamed revealed his frustration. “You speak in riddle and rhyme, lady. Can you not say clearly where we must go?”

“As one door opens another one closes,
The answer, of course, is right under your noses.
The door that stands in the temple chaos
May be unlocked, if you spare the pathos.”

“So the road to the Gods lies beyond your door. It makes sense to hide the way to Law in a place of Chaos. What price must I pay, to unlock it?” Simon asked.

“The price is mine, though it’s more a reward,
End my existence with your great Sword.
End the torment that has dogged my years,
I welcome my end without any fear.”

Simon was horrified. “How can I take the life of a defenceless woman?”

“You have done worse things,” Jhamed said. “If it’s the only way…”

“How do we know it’s the only way? We don’t even know if we can trust what she says.”

“My father would know,” Jhamed said.

“Would you stop saying that!”

“Ah, the fog lifts and I see clearly now,
I pondered long on the why and the how.
You are indeed your father’s son,
More than that, you are the one.”

“So, my father was here? What do you mean, I’m the one?”

“And Gilgamesh was here with him.” Simon’s words were more of a statement than a question.

“The Hero Gilgamesh was badly flawed,
Not enough was the power he gained from the Sword,
The thing he sought, his immortality
Would ultimately lead to his fatality.”

“Yes, we know all that. What do you mean, I’m the one?” Jhamed was getting agitated again.

“The gifts of the Gods are grievously earned,
Take great care, they should never be spurned.
The gift from the father can be greater still,
That you are stuck with for good or for ill.”

“What are you babbling about? Why am I the one?”

“Gently, Jhamed, the Oracle is talking about the genes we inherit from our parents.” Simon understood at a subconscious level. There was more to Jhamed than either of them yet knew. “Am I going to earn a gift?”

“The Gods of Law reside within,
Sometimes they act upon a whim,
That is all I can say, there is no more,
Kill me now, and pass safely through my door.”

The Oracle fell silent and closed her eyes.

“There must be another way. Give me a hand to move her,” Simon said.

They tried to grab her. Heaven knows, there was enough to grab hold of. Yet, they could not get a grip. It was as though a skin tight force field were protecting her. Jhamed fetched a long tree branch from the forest and they tried to prise her up with that. She sat, implacably, throughout with her eyes closed as if in deep sleep or a coma.
It seemed that many hours must have passed, but the red sunset remained, unchanged. They ate, sparingly, from their diminishing food supplies, and considered their situation.

“Maybe this is a challenge,” Simon said, “set by the Gods to determine whether we are worthy or not.”

“Or maybe you should take her at her word and just put her out of her misery. She seems to have spent an eternity nailed to this door.”

They were both startled by her reawakening.

“Ah, Excalibur, I remember it well,
Gilgamesh did not hesitate to break my spell.
I died on your Sword, I suffered no pain.
Take out Kin Slayer to kill me again.”

She resumed her torpor.

Simon made a decision. He stood up and drew Kin Slayer. He held the great Sword above his head, but did not move towards the Oracle. He waited. Kin Slayer sang. It was unlike any noise the Sword had ever made before. It wasn’t its usual shriek of anticipated pleasure. It was more like a low groan. Simon heard the words in his head. It has no soul. It is already dead.

Simon struck, severing Fat Fiona’s head. Unlike from her hands, there was no blood. Her head rolled a few feet and crumbled into dust. Her body followed suit. The door vanished. A memory came to him, perhaps from Kin Slayer, of a previous decapitation. That head had a lion’s face, and a bull’s horns. Its body had been covered in horny scales, like a mythical dragon. Its feet had the claws of a vulture, sharpened to become lethal weapons. Its devil-like tail and giant penis had each ended in a snake’s head, with poison-dripping fangs. Humbaba the Terrible.

He cast aside the memory. “Come on! What are you waiting for?” Simon stooped through the door. Jhamed followed, not needing to bend.

They emerged into a serene forest. Cedar trees were precisely planted in perfect rows, with identical separations. Each tree was exactly the same size as its neighbours. The air was still, thick, and heady with the incense-like tree smell. There was no sound, not so much as a single bird singing nor a branch rustling. The forest floor was perfectly white, like powdered marble, and not a single piece of detritus sullied it. The sun was directly overhead, and the tree spacing permitted a narrow beam of light to penetrate between each group of four trees. The light reflected off the ground, lighting up the trees as if they were a set in a stage show.

And right at the focal point of their vision, she stood. She was a tall, willowy blonde with long hair, pert breasts with tiny nipples, a flat stomach, long, slim legs, and a shaved pubis. She smiled and her face lit up, sparkling blue eyes shone like sapphires in the bright white light.

Simon wondered whether he had ever seen such a beautiful woman. He cast a glance at Jhamed. His friend looked like he was catching flies.

“So, you have disposed of my sister.” It was a statement, rather than a question, in exactly the same accent as Fat Fiona’s. “My name is Lorna; they call me Luscious Lorna. Please follow me. The Gods will see you now.” She turned and they were presented with the view of her beautiful arched back and a pair of taut, tight buttocks that could have opened beer bottles. Struck dumb by her beauty, the two men followed Luscious Lorna with their tongues hanging out, like overheated hounds.

The narrow track between the trees slowly began to widen until it became an avenue. The white dust underfoot changed to solid white rock that Simon guessed was marble. The brightness of the light hurt his eyes. Lorna, ahead of them, seemed a vague shadow within the pure white of the dazzling light. They stumbled on, barely seeing the stairs that they climbed between marble pillars. They entered a large anteroom and almost bumped into Lorna, as she stopped abruptly.

“There is a rule of absolute nudity here,” Lorna said sweetly. “Please disrobe and leave all of your possessions, including your weapons, on the chairs. They will be perfectly safe. No crime has been committed here since the last time a Hero visited.”

There was a fogginess inside Simon’s head. He behaved like an automaton. His brains had turned to cotton wool and felt about as useful. He did as he was instructed, stripping naked and removing Kin Slayer.

Jhamed giggled. “Imagine the indignity, if Manfred were here.”

A memory tugged annoyingly in Simon’s head. Just out of reach, but tantalisingly there. It involved Taran and Adjatay. They were in a tree. He couldn’t find it any more. Then like waking from a dream, it was gone. The only reality was here and now.

All of the FirstWorld Saga is available here, including Volume 1, Quest for Knowledge for free.

02/10/16

The Great Lighthouse at Rhakotis – Extract from Aftermath of Armageddon

19 The Great Lighthouse at Rhakotis

As if on cue, the door burst open and a flustered Aglaral rushed in. “Forgive my tardiness, Great Sage, but I have urgent news of the greatest import. Word has just been received from Rhakotis that a large fleet of ships, brimful of fighting men, has entered the Middle Sea. It is believed to be heading for Rhakotis. It flies both the pirate and wolf flags. The Mayor of Rhakotis seeks our help. Specifically, he urges that we send the Hero and the Sword to save the city and its treasures. Time is short; we must leave immediately if we are to get there in time.”

“It seems that once again events define a course of action for us. It is strange that the enemy has made a move so soon after their last defeat, especially when they know the Hero is here. Or perhaps they know he isn’t here? That’s the only reason they would risk an attack. There must be a spy in the camp. But why Rhakotis? It has little strategic significance. Unless there is important information in the Great Library that they don’t want us to find? Or perhaps there’s information there that the enemy needs?” Manfred mused aloud. At least Kris had the decency to blush when I mentioned a spy.

“Perhaps they wish to destroy the Great Lighthouse before Simon can visit it and fulfil his destiny?” Kris commented. Manfred sensed that he wanted to say more, reassure them that he was no longer a spy. Manfred knew it to be true. Words were not necessary.

“Yes, that’s possible too,” Manfred replied. “We must send help to protect Rhakotis. The elves are closest, but no longer an option. The dwarves are too far away and too small an army. The Hero is missing in action when we need him. Perhaps there’s enough power left in an old wizard’s staff to hold them at bay for a while until help arrives. Aglaral, you must leave immediately for Kartage. Take the fastest horse available and ride like the wind. You must convince Velacourt to bring his army to aid Rhakotis. Take some time to visit your family, too.”
Aglaral bowed to Manfred. “Yes, my Sage, I’ll leave immediately.” He hurried towards the door and turned before leaving. “Good luck, everyone. We’ll all meet again soon.” With that, he was gone. Manfred felt the wave of sadness that emanated from the others and felt bad about what he had to do next.

“We can’t abandon Simon, even though our hands are full here. I have a worry in my gut that he needs our help. Jhamed and Kris, you must follow him and make sure he comes to no harm. Get him back here as quickly as you can. The settings on the portal will take you to the same place. You must pick up his trail and follow him. Prepare yourselves quickly and leave within the hour. Be careful.”

Jhamed and Kris hurriedly farewelled their friends and left the room. Manfred felt the morale slip even lower. He looked at Taran and Dawit. “We represent the old order, we three. Perhaps it’s the last time that an elf, a dwarf, and a wizard will ride into battle together. Will you join me in a ride to Rhakotis and another battle in the war to save FirstWorld?”

The two friends looked at each other and then at Manfred. They spoke as one. “Try stopping us.”
Manfred smiled as he felt the excitement rise from his companions. They had a purpose again. “We must prepare quickly and leave within the hour. Pack as light as you can. Taran, find a strong mount that will carry you both, we can’t be slowed by Dawit’s pony.” Dawit was clearly about to complain about being treated like a child, but Manfred cut him off with a fearful glance. “We cannot take the quickest route though Elvenhome, the penalty for attempting to cross the closed border is death. We must either head to Tar and pass through Erech and Sumar or head south, across open country, and cross the River Eden at Ur. I will think on it while you pack. Meet me at the gatehouse in one hour, with my horse.”

Manfred pondered the elven problem as he collected items that might be useful and stowed them in his many pockets. Ceridwen had been badly spooked by all of the so-called omens, most of which had been created by their own actions. The appearance of the Lost Tower, however, seemed more than coincidental. He again wondered whether it was a last roll of the die by Destiny. He sighed; only time would tell. Ceridwen’s actions, though, had been inexcusable and had put their entire strategy at risk. At least, he liked to think that he had a strategy. More importantly, it had put Simon at risk. What hurt the most, he supposed, was the fact that Ceridwen had made all the decisions without consulting him. He was supposed to be the Leader of the Wise. His pride was hurt. He toyed with taking the quickest route to Rhakotis and using his magic to secure passage through Eden. It would restore his pride but probably irreparably damage relations with the elves. He sighed once more and stowed his new staff inside his cloak. He was ready to go into battle again. He was old and tired and wondered how many more battles he would have to face. By rights, he should have died at the Battle of Elannort. Weylyn had broken his staff and he was waiting for the coup de grace when Simon had arrived and saved the day. Fate had intervened that day. Now he was on his own. How would he manage without both Fate and his hero? Thoughts of Simon made him sigh again. Something nagged at him, deep inside. Simon was not safe. He hoped that Jhamed and Kris would get there in time. He left his apartment and descended to the gatehouse. He must clear his mind, put thoughts of Simon to one side, and focus on the problem at hand. He took a swig from an elixir bottle from his breast pocket. It would be a long night ahead.

Manfred called on all of his magic skills that night. He gambled that they would get to Rhakotis in time for him to rest and recover – for he would be next to useless otherwise. The two horses flew, faster than if the hounds of Hell were after them. It seemed that their hooves barely touched the ground. One was a huge white stallion that carried a rider all in white with flowing white hair and a white beard. It passed by as a flash of lightning in the night. The other was a black stallion, almost as large as the first, which carried a two-headed creature, cowled in an elven cloak that made it almost invisible. It followed the white flash as thunder follows lightning. They left Elannort in mid-afternoon and swept through Tar at dusk, sending the locals scurrying home in fear. By midnight, they crossed the Buranan and swept on into Erech, frightening the few drunks still on the streets into sobriety. They stopped briefly to rest and water the horses. Dawit had to be prised off Taran and the horse. His muscles had frozen in terror and he had been riding with his eyes closed throughout. It got worse as they set off again.

Manfred plotted a course by the stars and they set off across the country, taking the shortest route to Rhakotis. Manfred used magic to guide the horses and keep them safe. They passed through mainly scrubby, marshy country unfit for farming and therefore with few inhabitants. On a normal ride, horses would have had to travel slowly, picking a foothold through the treacherous country. On this night, they ran on a perfect racetrack. They met no people and disturbed only an occasional fox. As the sun rose, red and angry, they approached Rhakotis from the north and Manfred saw the Great Lighthouse reflecting the dawn light like a huge red sabre bleeding the sky. They stopped on the outskirts of the city, in the shelter of a copse of olive trees. The horses hardly seemed to have broken a sweat. The same could not be said of the riders. Manfred was completely exhausted. He rolled off his horse and fell to the ground. He fumbled for another drink of elixir. As he lay on the bare earth, he saw Dawit stumble from his mount and collapse against a tree. He appeared to be shivering and trembling like a man with a fatal fever.

Only Taran seemed unaffected. He dismounted normally and patted the horses, while securing their reins to a tree. He approached Manfred and Dawit. “That was a ride that must be entered in the annals of history. It’s a shame that our Bard was not present to witness it. I’ll wager that Dawit will have plenty to tell him the next time we meet. Come, Manfred, let me get you comfortable; you’ll need a long sleep to recover your strength.” Taran helped the old wizard into a more comfortable position and covered him with an extra cloak from his pack. As Manfred drifted into a deep sleep, he heard Dawit complaining about his sore body.

When Manfred awoke, it was dark and a small fire was burning. The smell of cooking made him salivate. Dawit was still complaining. He sat up and stretched his sore muscles. If he had moved during his sleep, he hadn’t noticed.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“Ah, you are awake.” Taran stepped into view and gave the pot on the fire a stir. Manfred was ravenous. “It’s just past midnight; you have slept the day away. Here, you must be hungry.” He ladled a rich stew of meat and vegetables into a tin bowl and handed it and a spoon to Manfred. He moved away and returned quickly with a huge hunk of fresh bread that he also handed to the hungry wizard. Manfred ate greedily while Taran filled him in on the details of the day. “I spent some time in Rhakotis, while Dawit remained on watch here. I tried to hide my identity. While elves are not unknown or unwelcome here, I felt that it would be wiser to travel incognito in the current circumstances. The news of Elvenhome’s closed borders has already reached here. There is a story of a group of Karoan traders who tried to cross the Ford of Uruk. In normal times, they would have been politely turned away. They received no response to their hails and so tried to cross the river, which rose up and washed them away. They lost all of their horses and goods and three men were drowned. I was glad that I had hidden my identity, when I heard that. The elves are no longer held in high esteem. There is talk in the taverns that humans must stand alone now and drive the old races out of FirstWorld. Even Melasurej is not exempt from criticism. The destruction of Weylyn has made men think that meddling wizards should be removed from their affairs.”

Manfred paused in his eating – both to get a second helping and to absorb Taran’s words. “The world is changing. The time of humans is upon us. The old races become less and less relevant, and yet we may be the saviour of humankind if they did but know it. Hurry up with that refill. What did you learn of the invaders?”

Taran handed Manfred a refilled bowl of stew and produced a bottle of local ale to wash it down. “The fleet has terrorised Dar-El-Beida, but only helped itself to food, wine, and women without destroying the city. Fang Mouth was not so lucky. The population has largely fled, mostly to Erech, though some have gone to Fang and the few dwarves have returned to Devil’s Mouth. The pirates must have been angry that there was nothing to plunder and have today razed the town. A pall of black smoke was visible across the bay all day and has made the residents here even more fearful. The authorities are torn between fleeing to Sumar and waiting for a response to their call for help. They fear leaving the old city to be destroyed by the barbarians, and they fear for their wives and daughters if they stay to fight. The pirate fleet is again at sea. It seems to be holding position off Rhakotis as if waiting for a signal.”

“Let us hope that it doesn’t come tonight, for I must sleep again before I am capable of defending the city. Thank you for the food, it was delicious. Let us sleep now and we will enter the city tomorrow and seek out the Mayor.” Manfred slumped back to the horizontal position. Within seconds, he was asleep. As he drifted off, he thought he heard Dawit complaining about there being no stew left.

Next morning, after Taran had produced another hearty meal, they followed the main thoroughfare into the city. A steady stream of people on horseback or in carts was leaving the city, heading for Sumar. They paid little attention to the three travellers, being wrapped up in their own fear. Manfred observed that they were mainly young women and girls, with a few old men providing protection. It seemed that the council had determined that a compromise position should be taken. After Elannort, Rhakotis was probably the most revered city in FirstWorld. It had a long and varied history and its treasures reflected that.

Manfred always enjoyed the gradual descent of the Sumar Road into the city. The view was spectacular. In the distance, the glittering blue of the Middle Sea, here named the Great Harbour of Rhakotis, framed the ancient buildings of the city that stretched into the pale blue sky. Yesterday’s red dawn had not been repeated. It would have been classed as a beautiful day, if it were not for the fleet of ships that were moored just in view on the horizon. They were too far away for Manfred to view any details, but it seemed likely that they were the remnants of Weylyn’s old fleet out of Cap Ghir. He wondered again, why they were being so brazen.

His eyes were drawn back from the horizon by the city’s predominant architectural feature, which reflected the morning sun’s rays into his eyes, making him blink and squint. Rhakotis had a double harbour, the Great Harbour being the inner, safe berth. A dike ran from the mainland to a small offshore island, providing a barrier to entry into the Great Harbour. Local sailing conditions were notoriously difficult, even without the harbour barrier to circumnavigate, and a huge, white-stone lighthouse had been built to guide the ships into port. At night, it was lit by fire, and during the day, its huge mirrors reflected sunlight. The lighthouse was the tallest building on FirstWorld, taller even than the tower at Wizard’s Keep, extending over one hundred and twenty metres. It was comprised of three sections. The bottom section, which made up more than half of its height, was square, with a hidden cylindrical core. The middle section was much narrower and octagonal in shape. The small, top section was circular and carried the light and the mirrors. The internal core was used as a shaft to lift fuel to the top. The dome of the lighthouse did not reduce to a point, but rather a flat plinth upon which stood a huge statue, facing the open sea. It wasn’t clear from here what the statue was but Manfred knew that it was of Adapa, the Greatest of the Wise. In his outstretched right hand, he raised his great staff to welcome ships home to port and to ward off evil. Manfred wondered whether he, the least of the Wise, could live up to that legend today.

Special offers on the FirstWorld Saga available here.

01/29/16

Waste of Time – Gay Themed Flash Fiction from Inside Men’s Shorts

WARNING – The following may offend Catholics, people of other religious persuasions, Star Trek fans, gays, atheists, and flash fiction writers. Pretty much everybody except AFL fans.

I imagine Heaven is a bit like the Star Ship Enterprise. They have three or four shifts manning the bridge but all the top people are on A shift and anything important happens when they are on duty. When you are omnipotent it’s easy to plan that way, but how did James T Kirk do it?

Let’s face it, even God needs a break. He may be omnipotent but he still needs time to do all those little jobs. “I’ll be in my ready room. You have the bridge son.” I wonder if he calls him Number One. “Oh, and give St Peter a call down at the Pearly Gates and see whether that batch of flash fiction writers have arrived from Earth. If I have to read any more biblical epics, I’m going to go crazy.” God disappears for a good lie down, a cup of tea (Romulan Ale is banned in Heaven) and to cut his toe nails.

The Bridge visibly relaxes without the Boss present. Jesus takes the comfy chair and an unknown extra steps from the shadows to take his place at the Science Station (it could be Moses but I’m not sure, we haven’t seen him since Series 2 Episode 3). It’s a chance to tell a few jokes and let their hair down. Yes, they do have jokes in heaven, but the targets are pretty thin. You can’t be sexist, ageist, racist, pretty much anyist. The only safe targets are atheists and homosexuals. You know the classic: a gay and an atheist stepped into a bar and the bartender says, “What would you like to drink, sir?”

Suddenly red lights start flashing and an annoying klaxon starts howling. God rushes back in. “What is it?” Now, I thought he was omnipotent, so why did he have to ask? St John is on duty at the communications console. He’s been jotting down a few verses. “We’ve received a class 1 distress call from the Pope on Earth. Catholicism is under attack and he doesn’t know what to do about clergy abusing children. Oh, and he’s in a place called Sydney for World Youth Day and he’s worried they are all having sex and using condoms.”

God sighs. St John curses, because that’s an even shorter sentence than Jesus wept. “Was there something else, John?”

The Saint blushes, but manages to rectify the situation. “I’ve heard from Scotty, I mean St Peter, Lord. I’m afraid that all of the flash fiction writers are either gays or atheists and have been sent down below.”

Inside Mens Shorts - White Copy 2

You can buy Inside Men’s Shorts here or find it on Amazon or Smashwords.

CJA

01/15/16

Musings on Life and Living

Kris the Bard was waxing philosophical the other day and musing on the meaning of life. It put me in mind of the sketch that Jhamed drew in the sand towards the end of A Vision of the Future that helped Simon put the final pieces of the Law/Chaos/Good/Evil jigsaw together, before confronting Gadiel in the White Tower at the End of Time.

circle of time

Kris said that life is about living in the moment. It is about the journey, not the destination.

We are all going to die. We could spend our lives sitting at home, doing nothing, and waiting to die. The destination would be the same.

Rather, we should embrace the tapestry of our lives. Each of us has a single strand in the great Tapestry that defines the multiverse. The past is woven and cannot be changed. The future is yet to be defined and the weave is not foretold even though the Tapestry predicts the pathways of highest probability.

We should find the joy in our lives. Joy comes from three things: remembering joyous occasions from the past; planning the future that may bring us joy; and enjoying what we are doing in the present.

Travel is the classic example. We re-live our past adventures and plan our future ones. When we finally make the trip we should try to enjoy every minute.

There are some secrets to achieving this nirvana. Once again they exist in that continuous timeline from our past to our future, but they can only be applied in the present.

We tend to store bad memories. These do not bring us joy but regret, guilt, and sadness. It’s impossible to be rid of them, so embrace them, accept them for what they are for they helped to bring us to the present and use them positively to guide us forward. Accept that we will make mistakes, but try only to make the same mistake once. Forgive those who have hurt us. Don’t forget but forgive. Hatred only harms the person who is doing the hating. Cherish the happy memories. Too often our memories are corrupted by nostalgia. The picture of our child, which should make us feel joy, often provokes sadness for the innocence that is gone. The photograph of our parents evokes sadness at their passing, rather than remembering the joy their lives brought us. Resist nostalgia for it is to the past what worry is to the future.

It’s difficult to fathom in this world of incessant commercialisation, but owning stuff does not bring happiness. Once our basic needs are covered, joy can be found in many other ways. The happiest people I have known have so little wealth but so much life capital. They give their time to help others, or are stimulated by their creativity; or by their love for their family. What marks are you making on the Tapestry? What will be your legacy forever woven into the fabric of Time? Don’t be misled by worthless dogma. Embrace the equality of every human being. Your belief system is no better than the next person’s. Ultimately, your only role is to make use of your genes and pass on the best ones to the next generation. Invest every moment of your time on this planet, for time wasted is lost forever.

More of the present is wasted dwelling on what the future might hold than regretting the actions of the past. We worry. We plot the path of lowest probability to identify all of the terrible things that might happen in the future. We waste time and we make ourselves ill. This serves no useful purpose. Even the Tapestry rarely gets it right with the pathways of highest probability. Why worry? Forget the regrets of the past. Ignore the implausible worries about the future. Live the best way that you can in the present. Of course you have to plan. Of course you have to learn from the mistakes of the past. Of course you have to assess risk and act according. But do not always think or expect the worse. Prophecies have a habit of becoming self-fulfilling.

You have only a very limited time to live; the length of your tapestry thread is short, though not of fixed length. Make the most of it. Takes calculated risks. Seek joy in every moment that you can, but remember that in a multiverse that is balanced we must all experience our fair share of sadness too. It is not realistic to expect life to be perfect. Embrace the imperfection along with the rest and you will find the balance in your life. When you find Balance the glass is always at half-way. It’s entirely up to you whether you take it to be half-empty or half-full.

CJA

You can read about the Circle of Time here.

12/24/15

Our Free Holiday Short Story – The Bar at the End of the Multiverse

Whichever holidays or religious festivals you celebrate, CJA & KtB wish you safe and happy times with your loved ones. This is our gift to you for the festive season 2015.

Set in the FirstWorld multiverse of Christopher Jackson-Ash, this stand-alone short story is a holiday gift for fans of FirstWorld and new readers alike. It’s a futuristic twist on Dickens, Star Trek, Moorcock, and Tolkien, with a nod to Cheers. Who is Jamie Surak? What terrible crime has he committed to end up in the Bar at the End of the Multiverse? Does he have a future? This is the bar where nobody knows your name.

Chrismas Story Cover

12/22/15

Hiraeth

It is this time of year that I suffer from hiraeth (noun – a homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or that never was). It’s almost like remembering Christmas through a movie version of a perfect family event.

Up until the age of seven, I had an idyllic childhood. I can’t remember very much of it. Indeed, the only memories that I have of my early childhood are those associated with very strong negative emotions. I was a shy, god-fearing child. That I have so few memories is a good thing.

So, I vividly remember one morning break during my second year in the junior class at primary school. I had been very close to my infant teacher and she stopped me in the hallway to ask how my mother was. I was terrified to admit the truth, to my teacher or to myself. I muttered something about her being a little better. The emotion of the lie burned deep into my memory. I remember being surrounded by the Christmas decorations that we had made ourselves and it makes the memory almost surreal. A few days later, my mother died. I have no memory of that tragic Christmas. Perhaps the mind protects us from the really bad memories.

By the next Christmas, my father had remarried the wicked step-mother from hell. I knew by then that there was no god. I was a shy, step-mother-fearing child.

And every Christmas thereafter was a sham attempt to create that perfect movie version of a family celebration. And every Christmas I counted down one more agonising year until I could escape.

Mysteriously the key smells of Christmas past; the pine smell of the Christmas tree, mandarin oranges, and cloves from the bread sauce still evoke a strong nostalgia for a Christmas card version of carols and snowmen that cannot be real, yet feels so much like a real memory that I begin to doubt my sanity.

When I finally escaped, I ran as far away as I could possibly go. On the other side of the world the seasons were displaced. Christmas became the beach, barbecues, cricket, and the smells of mangoes and sunscreen. I have been in Australia for more than thirty years and I’m still not sure it feels like Christmas. The best that I can hope for is that my children have good memories of their childhood Christmases.

A few years ago, I was in Prague just before Christmas. There was snow and the markets were magical. I was living the fantasy and I realised then that it was the fantasy of a perfect Christmas that I had always been chasing, not the memory.

It is 51 years since my mother died. I have given myself permission to remember my Christmas 52 years’ ago.

In memory of Doris Mary Ash (November 16, 1926 to December 10, 1964).

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May you find your fantasy Christmas this year.

CJA & KtB