Thursday, March 1, 2018

Fantasy Stereotyped

I know, I know, this might rub a few people the wrong way, and for that I’m sorry (I guess), but it’s something I’ve kinda been thinking about both previously and lately. So here goes:
    Fantasy is great, ain’t it? Ain’t it grand? The wondrous escape that it provides to our desiring psyches, while at the same time (if done well) presenting viewpoints and/or troubles that we face and question in our own world in a thought-provoking manner, simply can’t be beat. So many, many, many (many many many) different fantasy tales have been written and told through the passing of the years, that it is truly impossible to keep track of them all. However, all follow a common thread or two—or five or six, depending on the author. This is all well and good; I mean, after all, there’s nothing new under the sun, right? But (there’s that word again) there is something—one of the threads I mentioned, if you will—that rather bugs me from time to time: The generic uses of certain fantasy races along with the “stereotypical” actions and attitudes thereof.
   What do I mean, you ask? I mean that so many people who write fantasy often—not always, but often—conform the races that inhabit their worlds to the usual depiction. For instance, elves are likely hands-down the most often used race (besides humans) in fantasy tales. How many books have you read wherein the elves that were part of the story were physically superior to humans, so veeerrryyy much more beautiful and elegant than humans, and so much wiser and more skilled in magic than humans? More often than you can remember, I doubt not.
   This is great for some stories, and even more than some if the story is still good enough, but when this becomes the norm, the allure of having a new race involved in your story is diminished almost at once. Just how many times are we gonna read the wise elf—always older than our protagonist (and more beautiful)—lecture and lecture about how violent and uncouth humans are, while simultaneously doing a backflip and firing four arrows off a longbow??!! This kind of thing gets repetitive, and done without or with little skill, it’s just downright annoying.
   Obviously, it is no small thing to stand out and be separate from the crowd, yet this is what needs to happen more regularly in fantasy with regards to fantasy races. Now, there are some folks who have done some interesting things and broken off the beaten path; in my experience, it seems to be indies who do it most. To my most recent memory, author Michael J. Sullivan had what I thought was a most welcome original concept for the elves in his story. (I know that there are others, people, he’s just the one I could readily remember.) His elves were not as strong and beautiful as elves so often are, and they were, get this, slaves to the uncouth humans of the land for some time. A nice historical background that was. By the way, now might be a good spot to mention that it isn’t elves alone who fall victim to this problem. Dwarves, dragons, gnomes (meh), and, yes, even humans, have, and are still being, what I like to call fantasy-stereotyped. (That is now copyrighted. You can’t have it.)
   My fellow authors, it is a struggle to be original, yet it is our lot to struggle to be as original as we can be nonetheless. You know, there was a time that I thought that fantasy writers should just ease up on using elves and dragons and dwarves for a while altogether. Give them a break and use humans or something else. Yet I have since progressed to the reality that, while it still might be a good idea to give these creatures (especially those pretty-pretty elves) a break, it is not necessarily necessary. Just use them originally. It doesn’t even have to be totally originally, just make them different somehow. Make their ears point downward instead of upward, give them dark skin (and not just so that it can make them an outcast/oddity to the other elves), make them mutate into four-foot tall frogs with rabbit ears whenever they eat the peanut-butter soup of our protagonist. Just do something different that will stand out to the reader. You don’t know how huge a favor you’ll be doing to your readers, and to all elves, dragons, dwarves, gnomes, and other victims of fantasy-stereotype out there.

Keep Strong!

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Poem For Your Pleasure

Right. So, I've been trying to decide what to post for you guys this month, and while I have decided to do a Batman/Superman post, it's not ready yet. Sorry. But (there's that word again) I do have something else for you to sink your mind into for a bit. As some of you may know, I do garner some enjoyment from sharing my work with you, and I do try to drop some of it here and there so as to give you a look at some of the other tales and whatnot that I work on when I get the time. The time has come to do that again!

   The following poem is one that I wrote a while ago, but didn't share because, well, I didn't want to.    Okay, not exactly. In truth, though I like it, I don't consider it to be one of my best works (don't get any ideas though; I'm not saying it's rubbish!), and I don't want to share stuff with you guys that is below caliber. I reread it recently, and I've decided that it's suitable to share. Huzzah! Now, mind you, it is a little lengthy (I've decided to go ahead and post the whole thing at once instead of break it up into two parts as I've done before), but it tells a full short-story. So it's not just a bunch of rhyming that doesn't go anywhere. (I'd never do that to you!) Anywho, I've rambled long enough so, without further ado, here it is!

(Oh, one more thing; it has no title. If any of you have any suggestions, feel free.)

There was once a house upon a lane
Which, to all who looked, appeared quite plain
But within had many secrets dark.
So to this tale I bid you hark.
A wandering fellow who dared to dare,
And enter into that secret lair
Once took his luck and tried his fate
And entered through that house’s gate.

At noon’s height he entered in
But when the door shut behind, it was dark within
And soft scuttlings, as from unseen spies,
He heard beyond the reach of his eyes.
Yet forward he went, refusing to be cowed,
And entered the dining room, where it seemed a cloud
Had settled. But it was not so,
For there sat five, silent figures in a row.

Four men there were with faces forlorn,
And at their head sat a woman with eyes of scorn.
But the stranger at once felt sick and trembled,
For he could see right through the bodies of the folk assembled.
Their faces grey, their raiment white,
Shifted and shuddered before his sight.
And he perceived that these were no mortals true
But phantoms arrayed. Three and two.

Then at once the woman looked his way
And in her eyes arose a spark of play,
And from her chair she gave a gesture.
A wordless command from a silent specter.
At once the four men sprang each from his seat
And came at the stranger, never once touching their feet
Upon the ground. Their teeth turned fangs, their nails turned claws,
And hideous cries leapt from their maws.

Then the fellow gave a cry of his own
And ran back the way he had come alone.
But now the house revealed its will. The way out of that secret lair
Was gone. Instead now a stair
A stair was before the fleeing man.
And up it went to an unknown span.
But with things so fell and swift behind
He took hold of the banister and began his climb.

Four flights up he fled the wights
Till he discerned the presence of flickering lights,
And, coming to the door from which they glowed,
Dared to enter another secret abode.
Nine candles lit a dusty room,
Attempting to resist a clinging gloom.
But waiting not, he shut himself inside
Seeking respite and a refuge to abide.

At a whispering voice he spun around
And saw a maid-child sitting on the ground.
In one hand she held a written note,
And in the other the quill with which she wrote.
“You escaped,” she said without looking his way.
“Others would have been caught at once from they
Who chased you up the stair.”
“What place is this?” he asked. “What lair
Lies truly at the heart of this shrouded house?”
At that she stood, ruffling a velvet blouse.

“If you truly wish that answer to know
Then come with me. We shall walk below.
And as for your mistrust, written from eye to eye,
I swear to you to tell only a single lie.”
Then waiting not for an answer given
She walked over to a space wherein the wall was riven
A little cleft. Her little hand she stuck inside
And forthwith a hidden door opened wide.

It opened to blackness, and he shrunk back.
Said she, “If you will not dare to trek this track
Your life will be delivered to the ghouls outside.
For they cannot enter this room only as long as I abide.”
Then forward she went and was lost to sight.
And he followed after, being governed by fright.
His eyes were useless in that lightless hall,
And his ears heard almost no sound at all.

Yet one thing he did hear, if only so fleet,
And that was the sound of her walking feet. 
Just before him she walked, but no comfort gave
In that lightless place like a closing grave.
Down they went for an unknown span,
A silent girl and a wavering man.
Suddenly, her voice came like falling stones.
“Should your life be in danger, you may use my bones.”

Before he could venture to ask of her why,
He gasped and released a shouting cry.
The ground beneath him had disappeared,
And down he fell and blindly veered
Toward an end unseen.
The end came soon, and the pain was keen
As he struck a patch of sandy ground
And discerned a new and dreadful sound.

A growling rose all around
And looking up he saw many a slavering hound.
Their hide was black, their eyes flamed red,
And gleamed in torches overhead.
To his hands and knees he softly rose.
But the hounds at once began to circle and close
About him. As despair took him, all alone,
He felt his hand brush against a bone.

Glancing toward it to see what the hounds had torn
He saw the velvet blouse that his guide had worn.
Beside it sat a pile of bones and a skull
That glared at him with sockets dull.
Now he realized her grim meaning.
Up he snatched her bones as the hounds, now springing,
Rushed upon him with bays of death,
And filled the air with the stench of their breath.

At once he threw them, bone by bone,
And heard the hounds’ baying change in tone.
From him they turned with greedy yaps,
And fought over those bones as dogs will over scraps.
But as he was about to cast the skull it cried,
“No! You will need me. Now circle wide
Around the hounds while they tear my bones,
To a door that will lead away from their growls and groans.”

Quelling the fear that flamed inside,
He did as she bade him, and circled wide
Till he came to a door of blackened glass,
And there he halted, despairing to pass.
But the skull he held in his trembling hand
At once spoke a hissing command
And the door opened silently.
And through it he went, speeding to flee.

Up now they went, the skull and he.
First two flights, then another three.
Then suddenly she bade him stop,
Though no sign was there that they had reached a top.
“Toss me ahead, then follow behind.
For in the gloom before us you will again be blind.”
Then gladly he cast that skull away.
But himself hung back. Loathing to go or stay.

She called to him in his uncertainty,
And a moment later, most innocently,
The maid-child that he had before seen
Came near to him with dark eyes keen.
He drew back from her, his own eyes wide.
“Truly,” said he, “hidden inside
This house’s walls are many a devilish host.
And you are among them. Why do you help me, ghost?”

The child looked upon him. “The answer,” she smiles,
“Is that I am the wandering spirit who beguiles.
I have no power but what is given to me
By desperate men who seek to flee
From the many horrors of this haunted abode.
From you I now have all the power that I was owed.
For every time you heeded my command
Your life was given little by little to my hand.
Now you are mine. And that, I fear,
Will be worse than all else you faced in here.”

“But the lie!” he stammered, his heart going cold.
“The one lie that you ought to have told,
Where was it?” From ear to ear her grin now burst.
“The lie was the thing I said second to first,
When I bade you follow me to escape the ghouls.
You could have fought off those wispy fools.
But fear had such a hold on you
That it seemed wise to do all I bade you do.

“The hounds as well you could have defeated.
Had you challenged them they would have retreated.
But far better it was, thought you in your dread,
To use the bones of one already dead.
Had you only stood firm and quelled your fear,
A way to escape would have made itself clear.”
And so saying, no longer a child she seemed.
Claws she had, and sudden fangs gleamed
Beneath a now skinless face.
A leering skull now took its place.

Then upon him the creature leapt without a word,
And his cries and screams went on unheard.
And if ever you pass by that house,
Wherein lurks the ghost-child in the velvet blouse,
You will know it by the half-imagined sound
Of a young girl’s laughter underground.

Keep Strong!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Things To Come.

My. How time flies.
It seems such a short time ago that I was posting about the Thanksgiving of the previous year. Now, we're about to hit 2018. And I do mean “hit it.” *Sigh* I wish time would slow. I mean, literally every year that passes is a year closer to the grave. I don’t like the grave. 2017 was…some year, wouldn’t you say? So much happened here and around the world, it’s almost enough to make one’s head spin. Through it all, I have remained observant, and I will tell you that I have learned more this year than perhaps any other year of my life (2016 is close, though). How was your year? Did you learn anything? (Hey, you better have! A year’s a long time!)

   *Ahem* As most of you likely guessed some time ago, the sequel to Strife of the Mighty will, unfortunately, not be making it to publication this year as planned. (I weep even now.) I know that some of you will be disappointed, and many of you may even now despise me (I’m sorry?) but, as I said, 2017 was some year. I wanted so badly to release the sequel this year, which, as promised, will conclude the story; no trilogy for this one. But (there’s that word again) numerous, dastardly circumstances would not see it done. And so, it’s release will now have to be early (early, I say!) 2018. And I shall release it. You have my word. As I said, the cover is done, the designs of the story are at their completion, and the book is being edited. It is about a third longer than Strife of the Mighty, so the editing is going to take a little longer than the first book, but hear me when I tell you that the story only gets better.

   I know that I have been gone for a while, and for that I apologize (did I mention that 2017 was some year?). However, I intend to make it up to you guys. First off, I have some surprises in store for you guys this year! I can’t release all the details just yet, but it’s a project that I am working on and partnering with a few designers to complete. I will post about it here when it’s ready (which should also be some time early next year.) Secondly, I am going to have a no-strings-attached giveaway when book two comes out. I will be giving away two (count ‘em) two paperback copies of the sequel to Strife of the Mighty. I am looking for ways to make it fun for people though (y’know, like maybe guessing something about what happens in the second book, and the first two to guess right wins. Something like that,) so if any of you have any ideas, do let me know! (Seriously, do!)

   Well, that’s all that I have to say in this post. With the turning over of the year I shall be taking up posting on a more regular basis (I know; the torture of my words). Expect them to range from any number of things (what, you weren’t already?). I’ve watched some pretty good (and not so good) movies lately, so I might rant or rave on them a bit. I may lament over the fact that I still haven’t found a decent hat that screams me or I may go into a deep thesis on how Batman is so much better than Superman. We’ll see. But for now, I shall leave it with a simple message:

Happy New Year!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Who Are You?

How fareth thee, o followers? Good, I hope. So, I’m going to wax a little…I don’t know, strange? Today I’d like to ask a question? Do you know who you are?

     Hey, stop laughing! I’m being serious. Do you know who you are? Most of us would at once answer, ‘Of course I do, you fool!’ But how true is that answer? The number of people that actually don’t know themselves is staggering. You’d be surprised. I was surprised. Would you believe that things such as insecurity, unsureness, anger, and confusion (not to mention ignorance) are so rampant in our society right now, that in all likelihood the majority of the people you know struggle with at least one of these things regularly? I mean like every day regularly. And probably more than one.
     This has led to an unfortunate truth: So many folks believe that they are something they are not. They believe a lie. The worst part of it is they think that it’s true because they’ve convinced themselves that it is, when in fact it is a falsehood brought about by a struggle with one of those struggles I mentioned. They convince themselves that they are something they’re not because their unsureness, anger, or confusion dictated to them. This creates numerous problems for them. Not only are they believing a lie, but they often interact with others in ways that often (not always) leave them feeling somewhat off or at a loss. I mean, if somebody who was generally a good-looking person, allowed insecurity to creep into their minds, allowed it to gnaw away at them like a hungry ant, by and by their interactions with others would begin to conform to that way of thinking. They might begin to wear clothes that hid or disguised their natural looks, become reluctant to be in any situation that placed attention on them, and, when meeting with someone whom they thought was generally good-looking, would be unreasonably cast down in their own sight.

     Now, to some of you it may sound like I’m painting the individuals of whom I speak in a very weak-minded light. That’s not what I’m saying. The mind is a powerful, powerful tool. It has influence over our bodies and hearts. When you allow a disrupting thought to come in like that and gnaw away at you, it will change the way you think, and thus it will change you. I didn’t realize just how grandly this problem persisted among the inhabitants of society (or at least, not to the extent that I do now). It is an unseemly blight within the ranks of humanity; a rotting seed that needs to be plucked ere it flowers.
     You see, that’s how to deal with it. You have to get rid of such thoughts the moment they rear their heads. How, you say? Well, let me list a few things:

#1 Stop looking for things that aren’t there.
     Are you generally good-looking? Then stop looking for the blemishes that you do have (because everyone has them) and making a great deal out of them! Gosh! You’ll never be perfect (or look like those folks in those lying men’s and women’s magazines) so understand that. Man.

#2  Be truthful and be willing to take action.
     What I’m about to say may seem like a contradiction of my last statement, but it’s really not. Are you putting on some extra pounds in that belly of yours? First, be sure that that is indeed the case, and you’re not just trying to be Henry Cavil or Gal Gadot. If it is, then don’t just lament over it and wear loose clothes. Get up and do something about it! Jog a mile, eat more greens, do some pushups and sit-ups. And for goodness’ sake stay away from that McDonald’s food! (Although Carl's Jr is okay; they have an awesome four for four deal with better burgers!)

#3  Live your life.
     Look, even if you’re not as good-looking as you want to be or as thin or as fat or tall or as short, guess what? People don’t care. You think that random salesclerk who gave you a dirty look in the mall when you told her your waist size in order to try the pants she recommended is going to give any further thought over you once you’ve left her sight? Does that random guy who laughed and called you ‘chunky’ when you passed him on the sidewalk even know your name? Does the 6’3’’ health coach that said to you, “Ideally, the proper height for a healthy and happy life should be 6’3’’” know anything about your life? Maybe you crawl into short and narrow pipes for a living! And are any of these people, any of them, going to go out of their way to help you achieve any of these goals that they think you should attain? No. No. And no. So who cares? Get on with living your all-too-short life, because happiness is a choice.

Alrighty then, I suppose I’m done for now. Maybe this has given you something to think about or maybe you’re unsubscribing. (Are you really?) In any case, I’d like it if it was a small help to at least somebody. But then again…does anybody even read these posts??

Keep Strong!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Get Strife of the Mighty For Free! (Limited Time!)

Hello, everybody! Just a very quick post here to let you guys know that Strife of the Mighty is currently free on smashwords! This means that you'll be able to download it in a format of your choice (from PDF to mobi) for nothing! Zilch! Nada! (See, my Spanish is pretty good, huh?) Simply follow the link I shall provide you in this post, type in the coupon that smashwords will present you with, and download! (And, if you will, tell others what you thought of it by writing a review--no matter how short--when you're done!) But hurry-- this freebie expires in three days! Here's the link: Get Strife of the Mighty for free! 

Keep Strong!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Bit On Dialogue

Hey, guys! I’m popping by today (tonight, if I’m being truthful) to say a few words on dialogue. Nothing too extensive, just a tip or two to keep in mind.
     So, in a book, dialogue between people can’t happen like it happens in the real world. I mean, apart from the fact that you can’t have your characters say ‘um’, stutter, or repeat the same word(s) (or repeat the same word(s)) like everybody in real life dialogue does when talking, you must always remember to move toward whatever point the dialogue is trying to make. Furthermore, really good dialogue conveys information to the reader without having to rely on narration. Make sense? If you were to hear two people carrying on a conversation on the street or in the mall or in a cafĂ©, it would probably sound something like this:

“Yeah, so after that I told her, like, just no.”

“You said that?”

“Yeah! What else was I gonna say? She just made me so…ugh!”

“I know, I know, but to be that way about it? C’mon, you could’ve had her just—”

“No, no, you don’t know how it was. Right there, I seriously thought my brain would start oozing or something. And it’s not the first time!”

“I hear you.”

“Like, my blood was seriously close to bubbling or whatever.”


“And I’m not usually like that, you know? I’m not!”


“But she just…man!”

As you can see, this dialogue is going nowhere and tells you nothing other than person #1 is upset with someone and is telling person #2 about it. Well, I say about it, but you don’t really know what it is, do you? This is what I meant by written dialogue can’t be like real life spoken dialogue, because you’d lose your readers the moment your characters started talking! Now most of you are probably thinking, Fool! We know this already! To which I’ll say, Great! I await reading some of your character dialogue! If you know this, good for you, but lots of folks, especially first time writers, don’t grasp this truth at first. Your dialogue can be as witty or prosy or artistic as you please, but if it doesn’t move anywhere it is a waste. You’re allowed more leniency in this when it comes to description, but dialogue is a tricky thing. Here’s the same conversation from above revisited as it might be written:

“Yeah, so after that I told her I was done. That was the last time.”

“You said that?”

“What else was I gonna say? She’s been on that stuff for too long. I don’t want to be caught up in that. This is drugs we’re talking about!”

“Well, yeah, but to be so mean about it? You could’ve—”

“Look, you weren’t there, you didn’t see her. But you do know that this isn’t the first, second, or third time! Seeing her like that, again, and arguing with her about getting the help she needs was infuriating! I refuse to fight with her about her own problem for the rest of my life.”

Katlyn didn’t say anything, but nodded her head in reluctant understanding.

Joyce shrugged and sighed. “So that’s it. I’m done.”

See the difference? The overall dialogue has been lengthened just a bit for the purpose of flow, but what were the big changes that made it readable? It moved forward, it conveyed information and key points through itself, and it was able to present, to a degree, the sentiments of both Joyce and Katlyn without resorting to the narration to do so. You weren’t told that Joyce was angry and frustrated and Katlyn was surprised at it, that was conveyed through the dialogue. And through that brief exchange, you even learned something about an unnamed third character.

     So there you have that. Just a little something to keep in mind when you’re writing conversations between your own characters. It’s such a valuable truth to keep in mind, and it saves so much time in the editing process later. (Trust me, I know.)

Keep Strong!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sneak Peek At Book Two! (Because I Feel Guilty.)

A greeting to all of you! I am trusting that your new year has been favorable so far. If it has, great! If it hasn't, well, I'm sorry (but at least it isn't my fault....). This year is set to bring many changes, and many new things. We're going to have a new president, I'm going to get new shoes, hopefully Wal-mart will reconsider its change of new colors, and..... I will be releasing book two of the Chronicles of Vrandalin!

     Now, for those of you wondering the 'when', it'll be a bit later on in the year, towards early summer if my computer holds out (but hopefully before then). For those of you wondering furthermore, this will be the conclusion to this story. There will not, I repeat, will NOT be a trilogy. So anybody who was fearing that can rest easy. I'll be writing other stories for your reading pleasure afterward (of course) but that will be after this story. But I feel bad. Wanna know why? (*No, we don't, please keep it to yoursel--*)  You do?! Awesome! Okay, well, I feel bad because the sequel to Strife of the Mighty was supposed to already be out. But complications, deferred remunerations, and an illness or two, have gone on behind the scenes and, well, it's just a lot harder to write a book than it is to read one. I wish to conclude this tale with a bang, as it were, and not one or two surprises. So please believe me when I say that I am working hard to not disappoint (both you guys and myself).

     However, I do still feel bad for the long wait that many of you who've read Strife of the Mighty some time ago are being forced to endure. Therefore, to that end, I am posting, for your viewing pleasure, a sample of a chapter from book two! It'll give you guys an idea of what's going on, and hopefully leave you fired up for book two's release. Mind you, it is rough and still in manuscript form, so pray forgive any shortcomings.

(The sample is not really that spoilery for those who haven't yet read book one, but do keep in mind that it is mainly intended for those who have. If you've not yet read it, you can pick up a copy here)

"In the western end of the city of Mariz, crouching behind the brickwork of a partially broken wall, Parma the healer released a silent breath. The night was cool and dark around her, but very quiet, amplifying any sounds that disturbed it to a detrimental volume. To her keen ears at any rate. One of the loud, careless, and empty-headed persons that made up the city would probably not have noticed anything if a troop of peddlers wearing wooden shoes had tried to tip-toe by on the lane of stone. Such things were beyond them. Tonight held a watchfulness and the feeling of waiting.

     It was a hunter’s night, and Parma was hunting.

     But from which way will the prey come? she thought. And when? She was very patient, of course, but she was on the outskirts of a rather large area. There were many ways from which a thief could secretly enter the quarter where the villagers of Varalel and Creath were housed. This had been proven several times— hence the reason why Parma crouched hidden in the dark against a cold, brick wall with a staff in her hand and a pouch at her side instead of lying asleep in a warm bed.

     Four bandits had now struck on three different occasions, making off with clothing, livestock, and food belonging to the villagers under Parma’s watch. The first incident had been taken as an ill surprise and a lesson learned, but when the agitators had struck again two days later there had been a brawl between them and a few of the southeasterners, the latter party taking the far greater injury. And now, only a few hours ago, Lora Billows had been threatened by a darkly dressed figure in a mask as she had been returning from the market. Parma had had enough.

     She guessed that it had now been about five hours since sunset and the beginning of her vigil, having made an attempt to keep up somewhat of a count as she had moved between vantage points. It was a large area to prowl, but she was not exactly on her own. Besides advising the folk of Creath and Varalel to institute watchers to help guard and protect their own, she had selected some to join in her effort. These were currently stationed in similar points of watch throughout that part of Mariz’s western end. Parma had been crouched in her current spot for about forty minutes, and in that time had seen and heard nothing unusual. She glanced at the sky, then rose to her feet and stretched. It was time to change position.

     Just then, there rose a collection of cries from within the villagers’ quarters. Leaping forward, Parma dashed down the lane back toward the inhabited area. Letting the yells guide her, she sped past buildings and houses in which lights were beginning to appear, rounded a bend, cut through an ally, and entered a torch-lit square. About ten Varalelans were there, wielding hatchets, brooms, or clubs, and yelling at the top of their lungs as they made sorties at four figures garbed in black hoods and cloaks. But though the strangers were outnumbered, it was immediately clear to Parma that they were in little danger.

     Three of them—men she realized by their bearing—brandished long swords, and these they used to deflect the clumsy attacks of the villagers with ease. The fourth held in either hand a short but curved dagger, and moved with greater aggression. Even as Parma hurried toward them she heard a cry of pain from one of the Varalelans and saw the man stagger back, clutching his bleeding side. But there was no mistaking the litheness with which this one moved; the person was definitely a woman.

     “Hai!” shouted the healer, and she sprang into the fray. Numbers were against her, but she went instinctively for the largest of the group. She struck her staff against his knees with a force that caused his whole body to jerk forward. Flicking her arm up, she cracked the end of the rod against his jaw. As his limp form fell, she swung at her next foe. He was fast, bringing his sword up to intercept her strike in a blink. But at the last instant, Parma twisted the staff in mid-air, jerked it to a barely perceived stop, and then rammed it straight down onto her opponent’s right foot. Toes crunched beneath it.

     Knowing better than to press her fortune, she leapt back and out of reach as the remaining two moved against her. “Form a circle!” Parma ordered the Varalelans. “Push them against a wall!”

     The villagers did their best to obey, rallying themselves into a more sound formation. At this, the postures of the hooded figures tensed, but they did not give ground. Even the man whose toes Parma had broken stood firm crookedly. For a moment the two groups faced each other in silence, neither seeming eager to engage its opponent. Parma frowned slightly. She had removed one man from the four, and somewhat crippled another, but it seemed he could still stand, and that meant that two swords were still in play. And two daggers, she thought, eyeing the woman. She stood with her knees slightly bent, one of her weapons held in plain view near her thigh and the other clutched in a hand hidden in her cloak. Parma’s frown deepened. She is the most dangerous.

     Then the healer spoke, raising her voice but keeping it heavy with threat. “Back down. You are outnumbered more than two to one.”

     The strangers gave no answer, but Parma heard the woman scoff. She clenched her teeth. If there had been but one proper warrior amongst the village-folk standing with her she would have felt more at ease. Or if she had been alone. But there was not, and she was not. If the brigands brought their obvious skill to bear, even outnumbered by eight Varalelans it was most likely that they could still cut their way free. Which left Parma one option. One that she did not wish to resort to before the eyes of the villagers.

Keep Strong!