Quote of the Moment

"It's never wrong to hope, Byx," said my mother. "Unless the truth says otherwise."
- from Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate

Saturday, December 23, 2006

That Time Of Year Again...

The lines are a little longer, the traffic's a little thicker, and the radio tries to sneak "Christmas In The Northwest" and other insipid holiday songs into my ears whenever possible. (Never heard of "Christmas In The Northwest"? Keep it that way... your teeth will thank you...)

I'm not saying that all holiday music is bad. A fair chunk of it's rather good. What would Christmas be without O Holy Night, Ring Those Christmas Bells, and other standards... or not-so-standards, like Bob Rivers' Twisted Christmas offerings, or Mom's Christmas CDs of the Clancy Brothers and the Irish Rovers, or the local favorite Stop The Cavalry? It's just those songs, or more often those versions of songs, that send ten-inch fingernails raking across the blackboard of my brain. You know the ones I'm talking about. The rot-your-teeth-out-before-the-opening-bar's-done songs. The rip-your-heart-out-and-stomp-on-it-for-the-holiday-of-peace-and-joy songs. The haven't-you-found-that-frellin'-note-yet? songs. The it-wasn't-broke-so-let's-rebuild-it-from-the-ground-up songs. I heard a number of all of those songs this year, moreso than I had since I worked in grocery stores stocking shelves (holiday tape loops in grocery stores is a whole 'nother rant...), listening to the local all-Christmas station. Why? Inspiration, of course, for the annual ornament blitz.

This year was a remarkably prolific year for ornaments, because I owed them to so many people after last year. I was hoping to do double ornaments for some, but it didn't work out that way. Still, I bested my old records before the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers were done, and just today I finished gluing the hangers for the last round of them. Now I'm at a loose end. I don't know what to do with the rest of today and tomorrow without ornaments to fiddle with. Usually, I'm up past midnight on Xmas Eve, holding an ornament or two over the nearest vent and hoping the furnace kicks in long enough to speed the paint drying process. This year, I managed to get all done - including two spares, completely unprecedented in my decade or so of ornament production - by today, two days before Xmas. So what am I to do, really, but post pictures and waste blog space talking about them? (Hey, if I had a life worth writing about, I wouldn't be here so often to write about it, would I?)

To prevent potential gift "spoilers," I'll be posting links to the Photobucket pictures rather than having them in-line. I'll also be editing this post to go in stages, starting with the ones that have already been received up through (probably) Xmas Eve with the last of them. Ready? Tough, here goes...

I made this one for my mother's boss. I owed her this much at least for software help over the past year or so. I'd heard she liked gargoyles, so I took a swipe at an Xmas gargoyle. I heard she liked it.

Well, he's a gargoyle. What else would he be singing? Yes, I hand-lettered it. With a paintbrush. And no guidelines. I also did the book separately and glued it on later. If I did things the easy way, I wouldn't be me. Whether or not that's a bad thing, I'm in no position to judge...

I only managed one salvageable photo of these three. I was just pleased to hear that they'd survived cross-country shipping. Yes, those are glass bevelled beads - they all have one, though you can't really tell from this angle. You can't really tell much from this angle, to be perfectly honest. I said they were cruddy photos... I do a lot better when I can shoot outdoors, but the weather didn't cooperate and the lighting at my workbench really isn't conducive to great photography. That's my excuse, anyway.

The spares. Unprecedented, as I said, but I managed to squeeze in two spares. I haven't actually made an ornament for me since I started making holiday projects, and, dang it, I wanted to make myself something! So, since I had a couple spare armatures lying around, I went for it. The green one's a dragon, and the other one's supposed to be a griffin, if it's not obvious. The markings on the stockings were done with Elmer's acrylic paint pens. I discovered them this year, after my sister found out how well they worked for her carving projects. I love them. What other metallic acrylic paint will cover in one coat - even over dark colors? Granted, they have some issues with glaze now and again, especially if they've been drawn over metallics, but I still love them. Beats the heck out of getting an even line out of a tired paintbrush... wish I'd had them when I did the lettering in that frellin' book for the gargoyle, but I digress.

More To Come... stay tuned...

Okay, it's 9 PM Xmas Eve - anyone reading this who has received a gift from me and hasn't opening it, avert your eyes... This goes for you, too, family, if you're reading this before Xmas Day!

Just a quick shot of my workbench. And you wonder why it takes so long for me to get anything done...

Yes, I know it says 2003 in the file title - I screwed up when I was editing them... Anyway, these are from the first batch, along with the gargoyle and the dragons. They're supposed to have a plushie/stuffed animal look. In a not-so-interesting side note, the moose was inspired by a mudflap I saw on a semi a few years back.

Another shot.

The last round, in a cruddy photo. I'll annotate after the holidays... no spoilers in the text, here.
LATER - Okay, clockwise from top: Wooden airplane toy (bought at craft store and painted by me) ornament for Grandpa; Violet and gold hummer for Mom (yes, it's violet - a dark violet, yes, but still violet); Green dragon for me; Holiday-themed Magical Trevor* for my sister; Griffin for me; blurry green alien for sci-fi nut dad.
* - http://www.weebls-stuff.com/toons/magical+trevor/ - My sister loves him... yeah, I screwed up the proportions. What else is new?

I owed several ornaments to people across the country, so I thought I'd save on shipping weight and time and just paint up some paper mache rounds from the craft store. In fact, I thought, I'll save myself a ton of time and just get some graphite paper, print out some generic pictures from Word's Wingdings/Webdings fonts, and paint in the lines. Smugly, I bought and printed... and the little corner of my brain that always gets me in over my head on projects started crying foul. "Cop out! Cop out!" it cried. "You can't just trace someone else's art and be satisfied! Who are you kidding?"
"But," I replied weakly,"I gotta get these done and mailed soon! I don't have time to do anything else!"
"Well, you have to do better than generic dingbats," it said stubbornly,"or I'm not going to give you a moment's peace from now through New Year's."

"How about a compromise?" I offered.
"I'm listening," it said warily.
"One side, generic star dingbat shapes. The other... well, I'll reuse them, but they'll be all my own drawings."
"Kinda like Skyhaven... one template, many colors... Hmm. Okay, you've got yourself a deal. But you'll have to do them all unique. No cheating."
"I promise. Now leave me alone while I procrastinate."
"Don't I always?"
(Two actually ended up being used on Mom's holiday tree at work. All but one of the rest are shipped and claimed... the last one will go out after Xmas, because they didn't get back to me with their address in time.)

Happy Holidays, one and all!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Longest and Shortest Weeks of the Year

Twelve days 'til Xmas... I remember how long it was when I was a young'un. Every day between Thanksgiving and the Big Day was an agonizing eternity, with constant reminders on all fronts that Xmas was on its way. My sister and I just couldn't stand the wait. On Xmas Eve itself, we hardly slept a wink (but of course we must have fallen asleep at some point, because Santa always showed up ;-) ), and even I, programmed since before birth to resent morning hours, was out of bed by 6 AM and chomping at the bit to get to the presents when Mom fiiinnnallly woke up. And, always, even as a kid, it all was over in a flash. Open presents at home, go to Grandpa's for "dinner" (inexplicably at lunchtime) and more presents, then the drive home. And that was that.

Growing up, time seems to have compressed. A month is barely any time at all, especially when you're peppered by nonstop questions for which one has no answer. Okay, it's not really questions, but one question, from multiple sources. The eternal question that plagues all shoppers, torments all givers, and haunts all receivers. "What do you want this year?" Yeah, you get it on your birthday, too, but it's always bigger for Xmas. You can't just ask for something, either - it has to be Something, capitalized, big and boldface in italics if possible. This is Xmas, after all. Winter Solstice. I'm guessing here, but I think most cultures have some Big Bash roughly associated with this time of year - you had to know your seasons, after all, if you wanted to know what to do to your croplands or when to expect game migrations and such. So this isn't just a gift. It's a Gift. You don't just ask for a sketchbook - you ask for a premium spiral-bound sketchbook full of illustration-grade paper and a set of gold-plated professional sketch pens to go with it, or else.

So, what do I want this year? I know what I want this year. I know what I need this year. It is, in all honesty, a pretty big-ticket item, so it's entirely appropriate for this time of year. And it's nothing anyone can get me... well, not legally or ethically at any rate. It's a job. I'm still waiting to hear back on that library shipping center one. I haven't gotten a kiss-off note, so that's good. I haven't gotten a phone call, either, which isn't so good, though it's not exactly bad. Nothing makes time stretch like waiting for a yea or nay on a job... almost like old times... (Of course, I never say no to sketchbooks, dragons, or gift certificates to bookstores.)

Another reason time is shorter this time of year is that when one grows up one is expected to do more than slap one's name on the gift Dad or Mom told you to give to Grandpa or your sister and calling it good. Getting everyone else to answer the dreaded holiday question is just half the problem - finding what they want and obtaining it is the rest, though of course the internet's a great help in that department. And, of course, there's the ultimate resource of the penniless loser, the homemade gift. Nothing eats the holiday season like making your own gifts.

I can't remember when exactly I started making ornaments, but I remember that it started with a tight budget, acrylic paints, and some cheap wooden nutcrackers at a local craft store. Since then, I've moved on to actual sculpted items (first in polymers, more recently in Paperclay.) I've even designed my own cards on irregular years. This year, I didn't manage the cards, but I did manage a bumper crop of ornaments. See, I didn't get to do them last year (for obvious reasons), so this year I felt insanely obligated to do double ornaments for everyone who "missed out" last year. Since I now have my own workbench now and don't have to wait for my usual corner of the dining room table to be cleared off, I actually got started much earlier than I normally do. I even had some finished before Thanksgiving! Does that mean I'm done? Of course not. I just started covering the last armatures today. See, if I were done, I'd have nothing to fret or nitpick or fuss over until past midnight on Xmas Eve. I'd actually have some free time to sit back and enjoy the lights on the fiber optic trees, and listen to my holiday CDs in peace. In short, time would decompress, and it would take that much longer for Xmas to get here.... and I just can't stand the wait.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

One Year Ago Today

One year ago today, my personal trip through Hell began. It started with a trip to the walk-in clinic on the fifth, but it really began, in my mind, after the CT results on the 7th... and the phone call that would send me into the hospital system. It ended after an emergency operation to remove a benign ovarian cystadenoma one week later - and after the incision finally healed, having come open when the staples were initially removed. In this trip, which cost me a job and other things, I learned many things.

I learned that a flu isn't always just a flu.

I learned what rationalization and hoping things would go away can lead to.

I learned that uncertainty can be worse than anything.

I learned that a 25-pound monster was trying to kill me from within.

I learned how fast "normal" can disappear.

I learned some new least favorite words ("Suspect metastatic changes") and my new favorite words ("No evidence of malignancy.")

I learned what it means to rely on family and have friends.

I learned what it means to owe your life to total strangers.

I learned that attitude, positive thinking, and other factors can trump modern medical science in a crunch.

I learned that there is more to this world than we tend to acknowledge.

I learned what a joy it was just to be able to sit up without pain.

I learned how much my cats miss me when I can't sleep in the room with them.

I learned the miracle of painkillers, Tegaderm, and saline rinse bottles.

I learned how wonderful it was to be able to swallow without fear, and keep food down.

I learned that Christmas is still Christmas even if you can't do much more than show up at the family gathering.

I learned how much I took for granted, and how easily it can all be lost.

I spent today shopping for gifts, working on holiday ornaments, and starting a load of laundry. I bought groceries. I spent some time working on my computer and petting the cats. I took a walk around the neighborhood. A year ago yesterday, I never thought I'd be thankful for an ordinary day like today, but I learned that, and more. Starting one year ago today.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

T(urkey) Day Minus 2 Hours

It's almost American Turkey Day (as in Thanksgiving - the general elections were earlier this month), so I figured I'd do what just about every other blogger is likely doing and post some things I'm thankful for.

I'm thankful for my health. It probably sounds trite, but I've come to appreciate it all the more after last December when it so suddenly and surreally took a (fortunately temporary) nosedive. I've still got the scar, and I've still got lingering traces of paranoia about the incident - I've never been able to dismiss a stretch of scuzziness as "just a bug" since then - but I'm still alive and breathing air and, so far as I'm aware, better off in the health department than I was before everything blew up.

I'm thankful for my friends and family. It's easy to take the latter for granted, but for all the trouble they can be and the stress they can cause, I'm still glad that they're there for me. As for friends, they are invaluable support, especially when the family isn't.

I'm thankful for my cats. Unexpectedly as they came into my life, and unexpectedly as some have left, I still wouldn't trade any one of them for anything. I live under the delusion that they like me too, and don't just tolerate me because I bring them food and provide the occasional belly rub.

I'm thankful for my dreams, my imagination, and my sense of wonder. I honestly don't know how the mundane population copes without such gifts. The ability to transform reality, if only within the confines of one's own mind, is such a wonderful thing, and I'm so glad I was raised to keep these abilities alive.

I'm thankful for my art and stories, and by extension my workbench projects. I know I'm little more than a hack at them, and I know I won't get any better until I can manage some regular practice time (a number of practical and self-impose obstacles keep tripping me up in that respect), but it only takes a few days away from creating things to make me all the more appreciative when I can immerse myself in the weaving of words or working of ink or crafting of clay. On that note, I'm thankful for my workbench. It's just a little thing in the basement surrounded by old sheets, and I can't work down there at night lest I disturb others in the house with the light, but I'm glad to have some small space of refuge to create in where I know my projects won't get pushed onto the floor or crushed by other people's junk. (If they're crushed, it's under my own junk!)

I'm thankful for my websites, and who/whatever visits them. Sometimes I go through my guestbooks and just sit in wonder that people from across the internet have read these words, viewed these pictures, and even taken some spark or scrap from them back to their own virtual worlds. Then I feel guilty for not having more extensive reviews at Brightdreamer Books, or more stories or at Dreamspire Castle, or better offerings at Skyhaven Adoptions, or that I haven't revamped the Skyhaven Hunt yet or launched the fourth and most elaborate of the Jewelwings yet despite months of half-cocked template attempts (oops - keep that one under your hat for now, but I did say I was going to make some changes to the Hunt in 2007, and if this one ever cooperates it ought to be worth all the trouble)... but this about things I'm thankful for.

I'm thankful for this computer. It's nothing especially new, an old local-built Pentium III PC, but it's held up pretty well and does everything I need it to for the time being. It runs Paint Shop Pro 7 and 8. It accomodates my Wacom Graphire tablet. It runs my favorite games - even the old Commodore ones, via downloads and emulators. It has Word 2003 and Windows XP, which so many people despise but which serve my limited needs rather well. Naturally, I often look through catalogs or websites and drool over the latest programs or processor speeds or RAM chips, but at the end of the day I'm glad for this old reliable thing (knock on plywood.)

I'm thankful to have food and shelter and light and heat, at this time of year especially. It's all too easy to dismiss those less fortunate in these respects, but as they say, every civilization is three meals away from anarchy. All things considered, none of us are as far removed from poverty or depravation than we so often like to think.

And, at the moment, I'm thankful for the coming holiday season. I'm not exactly a Christian, more of a nonaligned agnostic pagan spiritualist (reformed), but for me Christmas is a time of bright lights, beautiful music, presents, family, and hanging shiny, tacky things all over the place. And, let's face it, how many times of year can you have a fiber-optic tree covered with shiny things in your house and not be considered a complete freak? And, of course, Thanksgiving, the kickoff to the mad rush to Christmas and New Year's Eve. I admit it's not exactly fun going into the holiday season jobless (hopefully not for long), but it's not about what you don't have at this time of year. It's about what you do have, and what you can share. So, what do I have? I have my thanks, and I share them freely with all of you who read this. And even those of you who don't. Thank you. You, the invisible lurkers and occasional posters and generally invisible internet friends, are part of what I'm thankful for.

T-Day minus 1 hour 15 minutes and counting...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Less Whiny Update

Thought I'd throw a quick update in here...

When last I left me, I was preparing to go in for a job interview at a nearby library shipping center. It wasn't so much a job interview as a job overview; my impression was that they couldn't care less about interviews so long as they had a living body to fill the job. Even if I don't get the job, it was cool to see the shipping center. It's apparently the most technologically advanced one of its kind, involving a computer-driven crane and huge racks of book-filled tote boxes and a conveyor belt with a barcode scanner and Internet uplinks to the libraries requesting books. I was handed, at that time, an application form which I have seen twice before. Three times, really, but I only filled it out twice. It is the self-same application I've downloaded from the library website to apply for two previous jobs. (Evidence of the Universe's sense of humor: the day I came home with the new application, partially filled out by the potential would-be boss, I received the kiss-off note in the mail about the second job I've applied for using this application. Again, it was not the one included with this application, which before I had to print out and send in with my other info. Now, I'm worth two sheets of printer paper and associated ink to these people. I'm hoping I'm not worth three...)

As is typical, while I was attempting to fill out this third application, my brain kept wandering off and finding other things to do.

"You know, I think your latest round of ornaments would look cool if..."

"I think Skyhaven needs a new species of..."

"How long has it been since you picked up..."

"Dusting. Dusting always needs doing..."

"Look - there's that Flash 4 book! Peeking at a few chapters couldn't hurt..."

"Hey! Stop it! What are you doing? Great grey bird!"

Sorry - the last one was Malarkey. He's nearly as distracting as my brain, but at least my brain doesn't throw birdseed and emit ear-piercing screeches when it wants attention. On the plus side, though, Malarkey doesn't follow me around all day with inane comments and suggestions. But I digress...

Anyway, after finally filling out my application and sending it on its merry little way to the Human Resources homunculi (who must be mighty sick of me by now), I find I have one less thing to keep my brain at bay. So, I found myself peeking at those Flash 4 books. Yes, I know Flash is way past version 4 by now. I'm unemployed - so sue me for having a budget. Besides, the book and the copy were gifts. I haven't installed it yet - a feat managed only by convincing myself that I really ought to get my holiday projects done first - but I'm reading. And I'm envisioning my as-yet-speculative revamp of Skyhaven Adoptions and the associated Adoption Hunt. I'm getting dangerous ideas... Sure, I could do some of what I want to do to Skyhaven with good ol' fashioned FrontPage, not to mention healthy doses of image maps and javascript. But I could do so much more if I got some sort of a grasp on Flash... and if there's one thing I always demand of myself when it comes to Skyhaven, it's more.

On that contest Mom keeps pushing me to enter, I looked over the entry form again. Any sort of victory necessitates attending some sort of writing conference thingy, wherein I would have to be able to articulately discuss my story with others. Discussing anything articulately with others is usually beyond my ability; the idea of having to discuss my story with some manner of clarity to those not dwelling in my impossibly skewed version of reality is enough to induce nightmares. Looking past that, the deadline's late February 2007. There's an outside chance - way, way outside - that I might have a finished draft to hurl into the slushpile by then. Of course, a lot depends on several factors, such as whether or not I can get the lead out and get back into a writing routine. Story writing, that is, not distraction writing. (What is distraction writing? Blog entries, for one...) Logically, if I am going to make any attempts at publication, I'm going to have to be able to discuss my story(ies) with others, so as a test run this thing may be a not-entirely-horrific idea. And, as stated before, I'd pretty much be aiming for the consolation bookmark as a realistic goal. I don't even use bookmarks, so it doesn't matter if I suck so bad I'm not even worth that. I can't deny that I need to Do More, and writing is one of those things I want to Do More of; I don't want a repeat of December to get me moving again, even if I seem to be stuck in a similar rut.

Anyway, this is a pretty pointless post, but I thought I'd try to counteract the general whininess of the previous post a bit.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Whichever Way You Go Is Wrong

[WARNING - Generally Whiny Post Ahead]

Perhaps it's just in this family, but that seems to be the philosophy of every parent for every offspring. It starts to get irksome after a while... Back when the Universe was telling me in no uncertain terms not to get one job, that was the only job my mother would keep bringing up. Whatever else I applied for (and failed to get), I would never hear the end of whatever job I had previously applied for and failed to get.

Didn't hear back from Barnes & Noble? "You would've been so good at Medical Transcription."

Go in for an interview at the library? "Well, Barnes & Noble was hiring, weren't they? You'd be so good at that... but you really should go back to Medical Transcription."

Call on a job and get nowhere? "Are you sure the library's not hiring? And you'd do great at at a bookstore... and it's a shame you didn't try Medical Transcription."

So now, tomorrow, I'm going in for a job which sounds suspiciously like my previous job (nobody else wants it, so I'm 99% hired just by calling.) Mom was the one who actually pointed me towards it. So, what's the first thing out of her mouth when I tell her I'm going in tomorrow?

"I hear there's a new bookstore opening up next year in town. Maybe you could get hired there."

Call me crazy, but that's not exactly a vote of confidence. A new bookstore in town next year doesn't get me money before Xmas. A new bookstore in town next year doesn't get me in tomorrow. A new bookstore in town next year is just a new bookstore in town next year, and not what I need most right now: a source of immediate income. I suppose, in her own way, she thinks she's helping, but I really don't need to hear about a possible maybe potential future job when I need a definite here present-tense income-generating job.

Also on the speculative not-gonna-happen front, Mom is now pushing me to enter the unfinished monstrosity (a.k.a. The Story) in a local literary contest. Why? One of her coworkers is a member of a local literary group with all sorts of pro authors, so naturally Mom has spent quite a bit of time talking about how I want to be a writer. First off, this is rather ironic, as Mom spends so much time telling everyone and their brother how I'm the "writer" in the family, and yet she won't read a word of what I write. Secondly, if/when I do get this job, I must remember to purchase a new dictionary for the holidays, to see if the definition of "unfinished" has undergone a transformation in recent years. ("Monstrosity," I believe, is still the same.) Unfinished projects are not finished projects, and contests such as this want finished projects, as publication of some sort is often included in prizes. If I were within a chapter or two of the finish line, I might - Might, with a capital M and italics, just like that - consider it, but as it is I don't even think I'm at the halfway point and there's no end in sight. If I were to submit what I have - they only ask for 28 pages, including a synopsis and first chapter or two - and then, in the course of scrambling to finish, realize I made a major miscalculation and have to rework it, what does that tell these people about my reliability as a writer? I know it's a moot point, most likely, as the odds of me winning anything but a consolation bookmark in a writing contest are pretty remote, but after what happened in the last election remote odds seem to be making good these days. This goes hand in hand with the third problem, the problem that's slowed my story progress to a near-total standstill: I don't think I know how to finish a story. Yes, I did, more or less, finish it in the first draft. I have, more or less, written junk in the past that ended. And, yes, I've read about this sort of state in the many books on writing and creativity that I've read in lieu of actually writing or creating things over the years. It's a form of performance anxiety, essentially, coupled with general artistic insecurity and a flareup of my lazy perfectionism syndrome. It still makes for slow-to-nonexistent progress. Fourthly, of all the times of year to consider throwing myself into finishing a story come heck or high water, this really is the worst of them, even if I weren't jobhunting. And, fifthly, I can't seem to get any time to write even if I wasn't stuck on the third problem. (Why couldn't I have been a work-at-home Medical Transcriptionist even if everything else hadn't fought me? Gee, I don't know, I answer, as the family shouts a question through the closed door and the dogs start howling for no earthly reason...)

So, where does this leave me? Exactly where I was last month: sitting on an unfinished monstrosity, staring down the Dread Demon Reality with one eye while the other gazes off into a hazy, indistinct Future, a place with a thousand-odd paths awaiting me. And every one of them helpfully marked "Wrong Way."

Monday, October 23, 2006

Dream of a Musing Lurker

It's been a long time since I last came here, to this school, this world. Last time, I was one of them, the students in the old uniforms. White shirts, dark slacks or skirts, for the girls who still refused to wear pants. Still the same. Even the teacher is the same, with pale red hair pulled back severely and glasses in a style most popular when my own mother went to school. She stands before a blackboard; despite technological advancements that allow interstellar travel, still classrooms around here haven't changed much, any more than the uniforms have.

Why had I come back? I was called back, for some reason, probably asked back to help in the class. It was a job, I suppose. For now, I sit to the side, observing, waiting as a boy gives a report on some project or another. A flicker of motion catches my eye near the closet. A slithering shape, green with perhaps a hint of gold, gone almost before I notice it. I blink, then see it again. A little dragon, small as a cat, pokes its head from the dark closet, then slither-runs back inside.

"Excuse me," I say after the boy has returned to his seat - I learned the hard way in my own school days not to interrupt - "but does anyone else see anything by the closet?"

Sometimes nobody else sees things like that. I remember learning that lesson, too, the hard way. This time, I'm not alone. After some staring and squinting, the class erupts in giggles and screams. Another dragon has joined the first one, translucent as polished crystal, refracting iridescent rainbows in its internal "flaws."

"We'll have to call for help," the teacher says, shaking her head as she tries to regain control of the classroom. I wander closer to the closet and squint into the shadows behind the coats.

"It's a nest," I say, seeing the telltale pile of sawdust and paper strewn with eggs like marbles.

A man comes in, dressed in janitorial coveralls and carrying a metal cylinder with a spray nozzle attached.

"They're over there," the teacher says, still trying to get her students to settle down.

"Don't worry, I'll have them out of there in a jiff," the man says.

As he sets the tube on the ground and fiddles with controls on the nozzle, I realize that he's an exterminator. He's going to kill the dragons. He can't do that. I know, with every fiber of my being, that he can't do that. The dragons have run, taking most of their eggs through a small crack in the closet wall. I consider trying to talk the man out of it, but somehow I know he won't listen. There's no time, anyway - he's already set up to spray in front of the closet. Maybe I can at least keep them from returning to Death in their nest. Ducking out of the classroom, I run, trying to figure out where they ran to.

A ways down the road is an old-fashioned store, the kind that was once a house and still is, to the proprietor. I duck inside, hoping to find help in saving the dragons which nobody on this world seems to consider worth saving. It's some sort of craftsman's shop, I realize, smelling sawdust and seeing half-finished figures stacked on uneven dusty shelves. Behind a small table sits a pot-bellied stove and an old wooden bed, neatly made with a hand-stitched quilt. The proprietor, a dark-skinned man with almost no hair left, sits on a stool before the table, looking up curiously as the door chimes ring.

"Have you seen any dragons come through here? Little ones, without wings... Asian dragons," I explain, having trouble finding the words. "Someone's trying to kill them! They sent exterminators!" I'm still indignant at the thought of exterminators treating dragons like common rats.

"You don't like seeing dragons exterminated?" he asked, though it sounds rhetorical. His sharp black eyes seem to see right through me. "I'm not surprised, seeing as how you are one."

"Me? I'm not a dragon," I protest. I grew up here, I think I'd know if I was a dragon... I think...

"Of course you are," the man says, as if it were obvious. "You just haven't hatched yet. Dragons can be human before they hatch; there's no way to tell the difference until afterward. People around here find it disturbing, so of course they're keen to see them killed."

"So I'm still in an egg?" I ask, as my eye is drawn to a small glass case, as for an animal. A familiar pile of sawdust sits in the corner, with a shining marble dragon egg on it. "Is that me?" Hand shaking, I reach into the tank, picking up the cool marble and squeezing it into my palm. I forgot because I left it for so long, but now that I'm back I can grow. I can hatch. No wonder not everyone could see dragons. No wonder my life had felt so cramped and small, I marvel, looking at the shooter-sized glass egg. It seems to melt, passing through flesh and bone... and I know it is true. I am one of the dragons of this world, and I have come home to reclaim my birthright.

"We were wondering when you'd come back," an unfamiliar voice says. I look up, and see a strange man standing in the shop, both human and not-human, a native of this world to which my kind are just invading colonists. Whatever else he was, I know he is also a dragon. I smile, knowing that whatever worlds I go to now, wherever my life takes me, I am whole again.


(Just a little writing warm-up, based on a bizarre dream from last night. Only the dialog has been altered for clarity. The school part was probably inspired by a recent episode of Doctor Who, but beyond that I have no idea where it came from... Hey - like I said before, I never promised to post interesting blog entries.)

Sunday, October 15, 2006


I'm sitting here, waiting for my thoughts and my cats to settle down enough to allow for some writing, so even though a month hasn't elapsed yet I thought I'd write a little blog entry/life update.

October is now officially half over. Okay, so it has 31 days and this is the 15th; technically, it's not half over until past noon tomorrow, or 15.5 days, but essentially it's half over. I have yet to hear from the library, by phone or form letter, though I was given to understand that the HR department moved with all the speed of a snail (a normal snail, not a racing snail.) So, of course, some corner of my mind is still eyeing my fast-dwindling finances and the approaching holiday season and asking whether I'll have to fold old newspapers into origami gifts this year or what.

This past Thursday, I went down to the shop where my mother works to attend a live radio broadcast. The shop is a New Age gift/book/whatever store, and the hour-long broadcast featured a psychometrist and an astrologer. The audience was, shall we say, less than anticipated. Counting myself, my mother, the store owner, the host's husband, and the sound guy from the station, we had round about five people. (I hope I don't have to spell that out for you... if you're reading this, I'm assuming you can count...) With the limited audience, four of us (the husband opted out) got on-air astrology readings and the opportunity to ask a question. When one has a mother in the audience, it's hard to hide the fact that one has indeed been wondering about whether or not one would soon attain a source of income, or if it would turn out to be a hellhole or a great opportunity or whether she should just move into the desert and start weaving straw hats for jackrabbits (not being able to afford a mule.) So, of course, before an unknown listening audience, I asked the question about the job. The overall answer seemed to imply that the job itself was pretty much a done deal - it was whether or not I wanted to accept it that was the issue. If it was just going to be a job-job, I was told, I shouldn't be afraid to say no if/when it was offered to me. There was also some stuff about me having mixed feelings about jobs of any sort. (Hey - I defy anyone to have the Universe nearly kill them and not be a bit reluctant to take a wrong step...)

The next night, I was back at the store for a five dollar class on Finding One's Life Purpose (or words and sentiments to that effect.) The lady offered much the same advice as other sources I have seen lately, from finance gurus to DVDs and self-help books. She also did an exercise that proved more interesting than it initially seemed. It went as follows: Write a question, any question, on a piece of paper. Then, write four or more sources to ask about it. They can be anyone or anything, living or dead, fictional or real, animal, mineral, vegetable, or spiritual. Donald Trump, your cat, your guardian angel, God... one man even asked Love and Light. Close your eyes and visualize each one as clearly as possible. Ask them your question. Write down any answer - anything that pops into your head after asking that question, silly or irrelevant as it seems. That's your answer, and it's supposed to work far better than one might think.

Okay, so we were paired off (so one could do the writing and the other could do the visualizing/asking), so I'm pretty much stuck doing the exercise anyway. For the question, I asked: What do I need to know to create more wealth? (This was angling toward what I was told the night before, how I really need to think more about what I want to create with my life rather than where I want to go to work - determine one, and the other problem solves itself.) For the sources, I wrote down beings with certain significance to me, none of them human. (I was paired with my sister; she didn't ask any humans, either. Irritating as she can sometimes be, we are sisters...) Hey, it was in the rules that there were no rules... So, I ask. I've been told previously at these events that even if you think you're just imagining it, treat it like the real thing. It all starts with visualizing, and visualizing starts with imagining. I'm getting some rather basic sensation/image/words things, for the most part. (It didn't help that other people were talking in the room, nor did it help that the inconsiderate people next door cranked their radio up while they cleaned, knowing full well there are classes on Fridays at that time.) My answers were Focus, Strength, Open Your Eyes, and Fly - this last from Griffin, whom I asked because I admire griffins. It came as an image of a griffin jumping off a ledge and soaring off.

The exercise ended, and the instructor queried people about their questions and answers, helping with interpretations. I offered mine (it's hard to back out of these things when your mother's in the room and won't let it lie), and the instructor, who had already proven that she was on a somewhat different wavelength when she was amazed that someone else had thought to ask an animal guide, decided that "Fly" was too vague, and explained to the class that you can always ask for clarification. What do you mean, it was too vague? I understood it perfectly. It means stopping second-guessing myself. It means picking a direction and heading towards it, knowing I will reach it if I keep going. It means, I said, jumping from the ledge and trusting that your wings will carry you. Yes, I actually said that, which is highly unusual for me, given my chronic shyness. I don't think it helped explain it much, though after class another student came up to me and thanked me for what I'd said, because he had drawn a blank on who/what to ask and I'd asked the same beings he would have asked had he thought of it.

Am I really that strange? Have years of daydreaming, fantasy, dreaming, and imagination really pulled my mind so far out of synch with the average human, that I see a relatively clear message where they see nothing? Do I really have to explain such things? Is it even worth the effort?

Ah, well... I suppose I ought to listen to my own advice here. I've been sitting on this ledge long enough. It's high time I figured out which way to point my wings... and jump.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

November never seemed so far away...

Well, it's been another month, so another update is in order, I suppose. I have no idea how many people are actually reading this, and eBlogger's being a pain and just ate a rather long update, so I don't know how coherent this will be.
Another birthday has come and gone. After last December, where I was reminded that seeing another year is not, as we so often think, a given, I'm glad enough to see it, but I can't say I've progressed substantially since last year. I still live at home. I still haven't finished a story. I still have to figure out where I want to go so I can determine how to get there, rather than going about it the other way around as I seem to have been doing.

I have been job hunting, as I have been for pretty much the entire year. This past Tuesday, I went in for an interview on a job at the local library service center. It's not even part time - maybe 15 hours a week - but it's set hours and more pay than I'm getting now, and it looks more tolerable than being a Target "team member" or putting pickled pigs feet on shelves in grocery stores again. The interview lasted all of ten minutes. I don't believe I outright blew it, but I don't know how well I did, either. The only question I'm pretty sure I aced was when I was asked how I would feel about handling library material which I didn't necessarily like or agree with; I don't consider it my place to judge such things, and the whole point of a library is free access to information whether or not I approve of or care for it, and I told them as much. Anyway, now it goes to Human Resources. How long before I hear back? If I don't hear back by November, I was told, I ought to call them back. (Translation: If you don't hear back by November, we don't have anything to say that you'd want to hear anyway.) This leaves me in that gray area where I don't know whether or not to fill out more applications. I always feel nervous enough when even one application is "out there." Having more than one is almost more than I can take. But I do need an income, as soon as possible, and whether it's a Dream Job or a Bill Payer, I can't help feel that I'm stuck in neutral until I get one.

I have also managed to keep writing, if a bit more irregularly than I ought to be writing. The third draft is up to Chapter 8, wherein I'm finally getting up to events that used to, in the first round, take place round about chapters 3 or 4. I'm writing in keeping with the String Theory: it's easier to cut a length of string that's too long than it is to stretch a length of string that's too short. In other words, editing will be easier if I have too much material than if I don't have enough. I know that's not the scientific definition of the String Theory, but I'm not a scientist, so this is my personal string theory. Of course, I've only ever finished one remotely book-length story (long, long ago - and don't ask about it, because it pretty much was a juvenile effort that sucked spider-infested burnt toast) and never attempted professional publication, so I don't know if it holds water in the real world. Hmm... strings don't hold water, do they? I may have to rename my theory...

My websites continue to evolve. I finally broke up and reorganized my original site, the Realm of the Bright Dreamers, which had existed in more or less the same state since I first went online back in 1998. That's next to nothing in real world terms, but in Internet terms that's forever. Much like Skyhaven Adoptions outgrew the Realm and came to dominate its own site, so, too, have my book reviews. The Realm of the Bright Dreamers is no more: in its place are Brightdreamer Books & More and Dreamspire Castle. The former is dedicated to my book reviews (just cleared 500 with my last update), my DVDs, and other Barnes & Noble affiliate stuff, more streamlined as I intend to try pushing it more as a book review site. Dreamspire Castle holds what remains of the Realm, with my links and my (few) stories, and an adopted cyberpet section which currently seems to be the most active region. I hope to have some original art hosted there eventually, and maybe some more stories. I keep wanting to write up some of my weird dreams and late-night idea fragments as short stories... but I digress.

Speaking of websites, part of my birthday haul this year was a full version of Macromedia Flash 4. I know, I know - current version is Flash 8 or 9 or whatever. We don't have current-version budgets in this family, and hopefully Flash 4 will still do the job. This ads fuel to the dangerous embers of idea which first sparked when I received a free book on Flash 4. See, Flash 4 can do animation. Flash 4 can do games for web sites. I like animation. I like games. I have web sites. I can't help feeling that I need some sort of a schedule, and perhaps a few industrial-sized alarm clocks, before I boot it up, though, lest I be lost forever in the vortex. In the meantime, I can read up on it, so read I shall.

I suppose that's enough wasted time and blog space for now. I ought to wander off and see what I can do with the rest of the day. And tomorrow. And the next day, and the next... yeesh, November's so very far away...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Lament of the Last Literate Lurker

I'm writing this as I watch minutes tick by toward midnight (or somewhere close to midnight somewhere.) At this time, I will be banning all image hotlinking from my domain. Why? Why, indeed...

Twice this month, I have caught visitors to Skyhaven Adoptions remote-linking their images. The problem is not that it's tripping my bandwidth allowance (yet.) The problem is that I very specifically and repeatedly state that remote-linking is against the rules, the rules through which all visitors must pass before they even see the critters. Logic tells me that there are other hotlinkers out there; these two were just dumb/naive enough (potayto, potahto) to let me know about it. Usually, I content myself with changing file names once in a while. This breaks links, leaving bandwidth thieves with a lovely collection of red X's. In fact, that's how I tried to deal with the first offender. I even went the extra mile and informed her that her links may well go bad in a short time, so she ought to save them and upload them properly to her own site. So, a few days later, I checked to see if she got the hint (I had been keeping tabs on her via guestbook entries, warning her that she'd better stop stealing bandwidth pronto, and that her little song-and-dance routine about how she didn't realize it was breaking the rules and how it shouldn't matter because she's special in some way, blah, blah, blah), and what did I find? She had diligently gone back through Skyhaven and updated all her links to the new addresses. What really toasted my tailfeathers, the thing that really got my dander up, was that some of these images were from the "Megahunt," the hardest part of the hunt... the part she had the audacity to tell me was "too hard" because she had to get her mommy to help her! Steal from the Main Adoption Lairs? Not good, but not infuriating. Steal from the general Skyhaven Hunt, where people theoretically have to work to earn their critters? Even worse. Steal from the Megahunt, on top of telling me (in a poorly-spelled and grammatically infuriating way) my puzzles are too hard? Such fools deserve to be chased barefoot across hot lava by wild boars. Lacking the lava or the boars, I managed to get things straightened out for the time being. I even managed to tell her basic information about her Megahunt "earned" creatures which it was impossible to solve the Megahunt without learning; no wonder she had to have her mother do it for her. (Double-shame on Mom for actually doing it - if the thief had to struggle through on her own for a while, she might actually learn some reading comprehension.)

The second problem literally dropped into my Inbox. I won't go into detail, but again it all boiled down to reading Rules and not understanding or caring about them. I sent an e-mail explaining how to properly host images, but since it involved more than ten consecutive words I'm not holding my breath on the lesson taking. I have a sneaking suspicion that the first and second offenders are at the very least friends, if not dual personalities of the same physical entity. It was this, and the realization that for every "dumb crook" who falls into my lap like these two there must be dozens more bandwidth thieves smart enough not to draw attention to themselves, that prompted me to follow through with my original threat to block all image hotlinking from Skyhaven, even though this seriously inconvenienced me. One of the perks of paying for my own domain space was that I could host my own avatar images and other pictures. I enjoyed it. Now I have to rely on Photobucket, and while I've never had a problem with them, it rankles that I cannot use my own domain space because of generally clueless people.

Through this, I came to a very sad realization. I am apparently the last literate internet user on the planet. See, both of these offenders (and countless more I don't know about) claim to have read my Rules. I consider myself a relatively clear, of occasionally verbose, writer. My Rules at Skyhaven expressly forbid remote linking. They explain what remote linking is. They explain how to save images. They even explain how to obtain an account with Photobucket and Imageshack if they need an image host (though why they would I don't know, as I haven't heard of a site host yet that couldn't upload image files.) In short, I bent over backwards when writing my Rules to accomodate visitors of all skill and maturity levels. And yet, through e-mails and guestbook entry exchanges, I must conclude that it isn't enough, because nobody's actually reading anything I write. If they are, they sure as Hades aren't comprehending a word of it.

I've known that the state of modern education is pathetic, but this is beyond pathetic. This is morbidly depressing. Even worse is the sense of shock (real or feigned) that these offenders expressed when caught red-handed and hotlinked. What? they say when confronted. Those Rules, that tangle of letters and spaces I clicked through, actually carried meaning? That meaning applied to me? Me? But I... I'm special! I shouldn't have to follow your Rules! Those are for the other guy, like common courtesy and red lights! I shouldn't have to know how to actually make a website if I have a website, and I shouldn't have to pay attention to anyone's wishes but my own! Now, I understand that these are probably minors, but I wasn't that clueless as a kid, and I've had plenty of underage Skyhaven visitors who not only had no problem with basic cyberpet netiquette, but who could design rings around my sites with their eyes closed and both hands tied behind their backs. Somewhere along the way, they are learning that if they don't understand something, or don't care to take the time to read and understand something, they don't have to pay attention to it.

It's 10:oo. I reckon it's midnight somewhere...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Chirolupes and Classifieds

In honor of how I spent today...

The chirolupe, for all none of you who don't know about my website (I'm guessing here, but I don't think I've got much of a readership going), is a creature I created for my cyberpet adoption site, Skyhaven. As part of my neverending efforts to make Skyhaven a bigger, better, and less dreadfully boring and incoherent a place, I've been redoing my older adoptable critters, as inspiration hits. This time up, it's the chirolupes. They're getting a rather interesting new look, if I do say so myself. They were originally intended to be a sort of nocturnal griffin knockoff, combining a bat and a wolf instead of an eagle and lion. The new chirolupes seem closer to what I had in mind, something you wouldn't necessarily run away from, but nevertheless wouldn't want to see coming up behind you in the middle of the night. Or perhaps I'm delusional again...

The point of this (as much as there is a point to it) is that I've put quite a lot of time and effort into recreating something that probably nobody else cares about but me. After all, I've never had a complaint. (Well, I did have one person sign the guestbook a few years back saying that nobody would ever visit a site as verbose as mine. My hit counter proved them quite wrong, thank you very much.) I've never had anyone e-mail me saying,"Your site is great, but your chirolupes could sure use a more dynamic pose." The only impetus to improve them - to improve anything at any of my websites - is my own dissatisfaction with what I've created, and/or the need to continually polish and hone and improve my work. That, as mentioned, takes a lot of time and effort. It takes time and effort to look at what I've created, to think about what I like or dislike about it, and think of how it could be improved and how I could go about improving it. It takes time and effort actually sitting down in front of the keyboard or my sketchbook and scribbling, rambling, doodling, and editing my way to a finished product which may, in the end, bear little resemblance to the original product, or may have all of five words or half an inch worth of line changed. It takes time and effort to root out the old material and insert the new stuff, making all necessary updates and changes throughout my sites so that the internal consistency (what there is of it) remains relatively sound. And it takes time and effort to mull over and/or implement the ideas for further improvements and additions that always come with poking through my websites. That is time and effort that could've been going into... oh, say getting a job, or teaching myself another marketable job skill, or cleaning out my room so I knew what was going in the trash and what could be potentially hawked on eBay.

I've been working on getting myself employed again, believe it or not. I've been hitting every job listing site I can get bookmarked. I read the classifieds every day. I've also been trying, against major internal criticism and general slothful habits, to finish the second draft of that story I posted earlier, and to make something at my workbench specifically with the intent of selling it. I even had an application in my virtual hands this weekend. It never got turned in. (Technically speaking, that wasn't just a matter of me hemming and hawing, but a matter of fine print that wasn't made clear, deadlines that couldn't be met without access to my car - Mom and Dad had commandeered it, since theirs was in the shop -, and downloads that fought me, but the principle's the same.) I know that if I applied half the effort I put towards Skyhaven into the application process, I might have had a job offer by now. If I put a quarter of that effort into the armatures at my workbench, I might have something I liked enough to try selling. If I put an eighth of it into teaching myself how to feign enthusiasm in interviews... well, you get the idea.

They say ("they" being those people who make money telling other people how great it is that they're happily making money) that, when identifying what job to focus on, you're supposed to look at what you do when you have no other obligations. They neglect to mention that simply doing something, and doing something for money, are two totally different mindsets requiring two totally different skill sets, with two totally different motivations. Not that they can't be intergrated - I've seen it happen in others - but it's not as simple as deciding that you're going to make money and then opening the mailbox to find the paycheck. At least, for me it's not, because what I do in my free time isn't just draw and plot and create. It's staying out of the way and avoiding the Dread Demon Reality. It's what I'm best at, when all's said and done. I've been looking at the want ads for quite some time, and I have never once seen listed as a job qualification "Must be capable of staying out of the way" or "Reluctance to deal with other human beings a plus." So what I'm really doing with my free time isn't just potential Art or Graphic Design or Webmaster or Writer training. It's my own personal study course for a masters degree in getting nothing done.

Do I intend to give it all up? Wouldn't it be better just to bid adieu to my websites, flush my pointless little daydreams and all the effort I've wasted sharing them with the virtual world away, and redirect my efforts completely? Not on your life. Let's face it; my imagination's all I've got going for me at the moment, and I know me well enough to know that if I didn't have any creative outlet, I'd go nuts. I've been daydreaming all my life. I honestly feel sorry for people incapable of it, or of imagination on any scale. It boggles my warped little brain, how scared many people are of their own imaginations, what lengths they go to to supress it in themselves and others. So I have no intention of letting mine wither away as so many others have. I won't let the chirolupes die while it's in my power to keep them alive. Does that mean I'll never get a job and I'll be stuck in this hole for the remainder of my pathetic little life? I sincerely hope not. Other people manage to balance reality and fantasy. It must be possible. Determined as I am to hang on to my dreams (or daydreams, rather), however, that doesn't alter the basic facts of life. One of those facts is that unemployment ultimately leads to more problems than its worth, and it's exceptionally hard to be creative when one cannot afford the tools and materials to be creative with.

So tomorrow, it's back to the classifieds. Tonight, however, the chirolupes are calling...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Good Year for Butterflies

Well, it's been nearly a month. I suppose I ought to update all none of you on how I've been doing, or not doing, with my life.

First off, I might mention the butterflies. This seems to be a particularly good year for them. I lost count of how many I've seen. These aren't just the Western tiger swallowtails, either (which are cool enough, as far as I'm concerned.) It's a fairly wide variety, pretty much everywhere I go. According to my books on such matters, butterflies are symbols of transformations, transitions, and joy at life. They are about seeing where you want to go and who you want to be, then figuring out what in your life needs to change so you can get there. I've seen large numbers of butterflies before, too. After my December incident (which I won't bother rehashing here - seems like everyone reading this already knows about how the Universe tried to kill me to get my attention), and various messages and events surrounding that incident, I've been trying to keep my eyes a bit more open to such things. The lesson of the December incident, as summed up by one astrologer, was essentially Change Or Die. I'm still here, alive and, so far as I can determine, healthy, so I'm hoping my subconscious self, the one that brought me to the brink to begin with, is on board with the whole "change" option and won't feel compelled to give me another prod again, at least not for quite some time. The lesson of the butterflies is perhaps less extreme, but the idea of change is still there.

I'm trying, as best I know how, to get my life on some semblance of a track, headed toward some semblance of a destination. The emphasis here is "as best I know how." We are not a big family for changes. My parents have been married for 36 years. I've lived in the same house my entire life. I only changed schools (barring age breaks) once, over summer break, because one elementary school in town was shut down due to diminished attendance. (Man, that was a long time ago - today, it's reopened and bursting at the seams. But I digress...) I went through Camp Fire from kindergarten through high school, not always with a group or even necessarily as an active participant but because Mom had us in Camp Fire and, dang it, we kids weren't going to quit until she was good and ready to leave. I've only had one real job. In thinking about my life, I've come to the conclusion that there's a lot I just plain don't know, nor am I entirely sure how to learn. One of these glaring oversights in my education is change. I suck at it. Truly, I do. My idea of change is getting hooked on a new series after an old one goes off the air, stops publication, or jumps the shark (that happens in both TV and printed worlds, incidentally.) Intellectually, I know that change is not only inevitable, but even potentially desirable. I know that the life I'm living now is not the life I ought to be living, or even necessarily the life I want to live. And I'm seeing all these butterflies, these beautiful, dancing creatures who make change look so easy and appealing. It's the actual change, it's the getting there from here and knowing that there is a there I want to get to, that's slowing me down. But I'm trying, at least. As best I know how.


Oh. I promised an update on my pseudolife. I suppose I ought to give one. Off of my list from a couple entries ago, the only tangible success has been the first one, Finish That Logo. It's finished, burned, and ready to run this coming Tuesday. Frankly, I'm not overfond of it. I think the background's unnecessary. But, they wanted trees and a lake, so they got trees and a lake. I only hope they still want him. See, the camp site director hasn't gotten back to us to confirm the date of the run. I sent a preview to her supposed e-mail address and haven't heard a peep back. So we're showing up on Tuesday with a silk screen and hoping they're ready for us. At the very least, I want to get some compensation. I worked my tail off on this one, dang it, and if they're going to force me to use a background I don't like, they're at least going to give me something for my time and effort!

It's not exactly on the list, but I did fill another sketchbook. Technically, it was half a sketchbook - it was lost for a while, but I found it again. I had another book running around, but the paper's more suited to dry media, and I do most of my learning doodles/sketching with ballpoint pens. So I've got to make an art store run tomorrow. Never fun on a nonexistent budget, but I'm already going nuts without a sketchbook. I'll take that as a good sign, that I've programmed my brain to consider creativity and art a "must" rather than a "maybe." While I'm out, I'm going to get a cheap kitchen timer. The idea behind it is simple: I set the timer to half an hour (to start with), pick an activity (writing, sculpting, art, playing with my penny whistle), and until that timer runs up I'm not allowed to leave said activity. Even if I'm just dusting my sculpting tools or alphabetizing my pencil collection, I'm sitting there, doing something, for that length of time. My hope is that I'll program my brain to actually create things rather than daydream about creating things or concocting reasons why I can't create things just now.

Speaking of the penny whistle, I've had an unusual urge to pick it up again after... yeesh, it's been nearly a year of not playing. Surprisingly, I haven't forgotten absolutely everything about playing it. I have no idea why, but I feel I ought to know how to play a musical instrument. The trick is finding a place to play where relatives and pets won't bug me, and where I won't bug relatives and pets.

I am still writing (believe it or not), but not at the rate I was for a while. There are a number of factors, most notably the synapse-scorching heat and lingering humidity we've had hanging around the area, but as usual it boils down to inherent laziness. I'm working on it, though, even if sometimes I feel like I'm totally winging it and my readers will clue in instantly that I don't have a clue what I'm writing about. (Not unlike right now... ;-) )

On site news, I haven't really done much. I hope to completely overhaul the Realm by the end of the year, and Skyhaven could use a facelift if nothing else. Speaking of Skyhaven, at least one existing creature is (hopefully) going to get a complete redesign by the next update, and I'm kicking around a couple of new species in my brain that may almost be ready for public display. Provided I can get my claws on a sketchbook ASAP, that is...

Well, I suppose that's it for now.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Okay, I'm game for a meme

They seem to be a mainstay of blogging culture, so I suppose I ought to try this one, from K2's blog.

I know – a lot less than I ought to.
I believe – that beliefs can be wonderful and dangerous things.
I fought – with my sister (but that's what they're for!) ;-)
I am angered – by rampant human short-sightedness and stupidity and its increasing toll on innocent nonhuman life forms.
I love – exploring the imagination.
I need – a direction.
I take – too much time making decisions.
I hear – the TV in the other room, the computer fan, and a rather silly-sounding snoring cat.
I drink – way too much cocoa.
I hate – hatred.
I use – too many words, and, most likely, too many punctuation marks... and ellipses...
I want – a life.
I decided – that I cannot sacrifice my life for an eternity as a cog in the retail machine, even if it means a steady paycheck.
I like – more things than I have money to buy, space to own, or time to do.
I wear – T-shirts and jeans, or sweats when I'm at home.
I left – yes, and I proudly stay left. ;-)
I do – less than I should.
I hope – I can someday capture the images in my head with words, paint, or clay.
I dream – some very bizarre things.
I drive – a car that seriously needs a paint job.
I listen – less than I should.
I type – because I can't read my own handwriting.
I think – therefore I am.
I need - to figure out where the frell I'm going.
I wish – I had enough time, money, and ambition to work out the previous item.
I am - therefore I think.
I compensate – by rationalizing or, when all else fails, daydreaming.
I regret – wasted time.
I care – enough to be simultaneously depressed, hacked off, and deeply concerned.
I should – probably be doing something else.
I am not always - easy to deal with. Assuming I ever am easy to deal with, that is...
I said – nothing.
I wonder – perpetually.
I changed – a litter box the other day.
I cry – when I care.
I am not – where I should be in my life.
I lose – time, constantly.
I leave – and yet, I'm not a tree.

Well, that was relatively painless...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

There Are These Things To Do...

I'm going through one of those you-moron-why-are-you-still-wasting-your-lousy-little-life phases, where the things I need to do have piled up to the point of completely overwhelming me. So I thought I'd follow some advice and try writing down what all needs doing, in some semblance of order. Writing it down might help it seem less overwhelming. Writing it down online might give me some accountability.

  1. Finish Logo. I draw the logos for a summer day camp, which my mother burns onto a silk-screen stencil and runs T-shirts/pillowcases/whatever-the-kids-and-staff-bring-in on one day during camp. (I actually inherited the designing part from Mom roughly 15 years ago.) For a long time, I drew logos for two camps, but for inexplicable reasons the first one stopped doing silk-screening. Anyway, I finished the logo for the second camp some time ago, so I figured my part was done. About a month ago, the camp that hadn't been silk-screening called up to ask about it. They must be new managers; they had no idea that not only had this camp been doing silk-screen logos for a very, very long time prior to the hiatus, but that Mom used to be the craftsperson and site director for several years. So, anyway, the upshot of the conversation was that I had to design a logo, preferrably with a mascot-like animal (in this case, an eagle) for the camp. I have never had to ink so many designs to get to something I remotely like in my life. I finally have a halfway presentable anthro eagle scanned in for cleanup, but they also wanted a background ("the lake, and a few trees"), which always looks way too cluttered when I try adding it. I also have to do the lettering, but in Paint Shop Pro that's not too tough. Camp's only about a month away, so I'd best get cracking on that first.
  2. Finish That Story. I have two beta-readers helping me on that, but I still have to not only finish writing the second draft, but go back and get a third/presentation draft ready to go, as I fully intend to at least attempt professional publication on this one. (If that doesn't go through, I'm seriously considering e-publishing or serializing it through my websites. I like this story.) Don't get me wrong. I love writing, and I enjoy this story. It just doesn't seem to write or edit itself, no matter what I say to it. I probably ought to up my personal writing quota; right now, I feel accomplished if I get through at least 3 pages (or the length of a particular scene) a night.
  3. Start Other Stories. If I'm going to call myself a writer, I suppose I really ought to try writing. Writing more, at least - very few authors can get away with writing one story and stopping there. The story in editing has potential for backstory/spinoff tales, which might be a place to start. I've been kicking around ideas for a short story collection centered around Tirialle and Skyhaven (that won't make sense if you don't know about my websites, but I'm assuming you do. If not, look at my links, click on Brightdreamer.com, and head toward Skyhaven,) which I would most likely self/e-publish and sell for a nominal fee through my websites. I was also going to do a coloring/activity book centered on Skyhaven's critters, just for the heck of it. Unfortunately, short story collections require short stories to collect, and thus far most of my writing energy has been diverted to #2. I figure I can probably wait on this until I'm closer to finished with that book.
  4. Work on Websites. It goes without saying that I need to do some major website work. The Realm has deteriorated to little more than book reviews, and Skyhaven... well, it's Skyhaven. It always needs and wants a little TLC. I also have a book on using Flash running around, and a dangerous little corner of my mind keeps whispering dangerous little ideas about creating dangerous little Flash games for my sites. So far, I've been able to resist, but my will is weakening. If nothing else, I ought to get an update together for the summer. Maybe I could get a few new reviews and a few Skyhaven templates together by the end of July.
  5. Do More Sculpting. Downstairs I have a nice little workbench, with nice tools, a nice chair, a nice radio/CD player, nice lighting, and a nice collection of dust. I bought a bunch of stone beads to use in creations, because everyone tells me I could sell the stuff I make and I always want to make more things anyway, but somehow I always seem to have other stuff to do. I probably need to just get an alarm clock, pick a time, and make myself sit down there for a given time, even if I'm just staring at wire and Paperclay, until I get myself over this irrational fear of destroying the space-time continuum by sculpting a not-quite-perfect dragon. (Hey - it could happen!)
  6. Find A Source of Income. Okay, this one's self-explanatory. If I can't get my tail in gear enough to create my own income, then I need a real job. However, getting a real job might kill my creativity, and I'm having a hard time convincing myself otherwise. The Universe tried to kill me once to get my attention; I don't want to find out what it'll do to me if I take another misstep in my life. I'm keeping an ear open, and an eye on the classifieds, but I should get a little more aggressive, I suppose.
  7. Paint. Another thing everyone tells me I could do is paint things to sell, particularly drum heads. I would love to paint drum heads. I've seen many beautifully painted drum heads. I have almost no practice in color theory, and nowhere to put an easel, and no money to buy good acrylics, but it's something I feel I ought to try. Maybe if I worked more in Paint Shop Pro with color and my tablet I could at least get over my irrational fear of color work.
  8. Clean Up, Cut Down. I keep looking at my many, many boxes of Things and telling myself that even if I can't bring myself to throw it out, someone, somewhere will probably pay at least shipping costs for it. Likewise, my computer could probably use a little virtual spring cleaning. Clutter keeps me from Doing Things (preventing possible failure as well as possible success), and while I fully recognize that this is a self-harming defense mechanism, I can't seem to stop. I have stemmed the tide of incoming crud somewhat (the questions "where would I put it?" and "what would I do with it?" are sufficient to stop most impulse clutter buys, and a low bank account helps as well), but there's still plenty of the stuff lying around. I need to just pick a day, pick a box, and start sorting.
  9. Read. I have an ever-increasing backlog of books to read, but every time I sit down I have something else to do. Either that, or someone shows up and insists on speaking to me. (Have I mentioned I'm not the most social critter in the world?)
  10. Stop Blogging, Get Offline, and Get Going on Tackling This List. Oops... guess I should've seen this one coming... If you'll excuse me, I think I have other things I ought to be doing.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Story - Chapter 1 Preview (LONG)

Okay, so I finally hit Chapter 5 in the second draft. As promised, I'm going to be sending out beta-review versions. But first, I thought I'd post Chapter 1 (Draft 2) to give you volunteers an idea of what the story is all about (the plot, the characters, the world, the general state of my writing) before I send anything. If, for whatever reason, you don't think you can take any more, do not feel obligated to beta-read just because you blindly agreed to it. The purpose of this post is simply to let you know what you're in for. I would just as soon not force anyone to read anything they just didn't care for, and if it looks like too much trouble, please, let me know now. Once someone starts beta-reading, I'd just as soon they stayed a beta-reader until the potentially bitter end, so bail now if you think you ougtta. (And, yes, in Word it's all nice and double-spaced.)

So, without further ado...

THE STORY - PART 1 of ??


The dragon came to Drekketon on a gold-lit twilight, just one of a number of late stragglers hurrying to reach their destinations before sunset. Pausing outside the northern gates, Rhethra looked up to the clouds with a sigh. The breeze smelled of wood smoke and brine, churned earth, filth and grease, the stench of a city. Beneath it all, the faint, honey-sweet scent of gold wafted from the flags snapping fitfully over the city gates, the official badges of office of the guards. She savored that promise of gold, lost in a dragonish dream of distant caverns and long-lost hoards. Her moment of inattention nearly got her run over by a heavily-laden trader’s cart. She stepped aside as the driver goaded his road-weary horses through the city gates, keeping her shoulders hunched beneath her pack and her hood pulled down as the man tossed a tired, half-hearted curse at her; he, too, had been on the road all day, and hardly had the energy of his poor animals. In escaping him, she nearly ran into a burly Northblood guardsman – filthy barbarian, she thought out of reflex – dressed in the shining gold, red, and black livery of the god-king’s capital city. He muttered something under his breath about tourists watching where they were going. In the darkening twilight, she hardly had to concentrate to see the irritation and malice flashing about him like black lightning. One thick hand reached for the short sword on his belt, his thick jaw clenching beneath his ragged brown beard. Rhethra drew herself up and fixed her blue-violet gaze on him, gold flecks flashing through a rainbow of colors in less time than it took to blink. A moment later, the guard turned and walked away, the strange traveler completely forgotten.
Fool! Stay alert! You’re too close now for stupid mistakes like that, she chided herself, resuming her slumped, road-weary walk, made all the more authentic by the very real drain from even that brief burst of power.
Despite the warmth of the day that lingered into evening, she dared not remove her hooded travel cloak, dared not straighten her back-aching posture. Her height was an anachronism in today’s Drekketon; here and now, the women were usually shorter than the men, who themselves rarely stood higher than her chin. Her hair, too, was rarely seen, black with shimmers of deep gold iridescence where the light touched it. The Oldkin race whose form she wore, once rulers when this was the shining Starpraise City, were all but extinct, their blood thinned by time and waves of conquerors come to usurp their glory. Aside from rare tricks of birth, no Oldkin walked their former homeland, their elegant tongue forgotten by short-lived, savage human minds, their great achievements lost forever save for twisted fragments left behind in stories and moldering books. In time, even those would fade, and the Oldkin would be little more than a fairy tale, as they almost were now.
She stopped to rest in a quiet byway, her centuries of life heavy on her shoulders, barely noting the rush of people passing by. Races and tongues from across the land of Eter, united under the rule of Holy Adalius, tamer of Goldenscale the Mighty, son of the gods, proven heir to the southern Sky-Crown and northern Throne of Bears, the eastern Pearl Mantle and western City of Stars… this very city, under an elder name. These and countless other titles and honors, the holiest of holies of every race and nation, belonged now to Adalius or none at all, struck down as false idols and symbols of evil. Even the Oldkin in their might had never done that much; in their time, this shining city wouldn’t have held even a quarter of the nationalities she saw in just a few minutes. Some called the unification a miracle, yet further proof of his divine powers. Some thought otherwise, but few were foolish enough to speak such thoughts aloud. Who in their right mind would speak out against a god who walked the very earth, especially a god with a tame dragon at his beck and call? She shook her head. It would be so much easier, what she meant to do, if the whole of the known world weren’t under his flag, if she had come here fifty, a hundred, two hundred years ago.
If I hadn’t had to come here at all, she thought, overcome by a wave of self-pity and hopelessness, feeling overwhelmed by the crush of humanity she saw, heard, smelled, and tasted all around her.
With a quiet growl, Rhethra pulled herself together. However terrible the circumstances, however poor her timing, she was here, virtually on the god-king’s doorstep. It was too late for second thoughts now. Besides, she had had the same arguments with herself countless times before, and not once had it helped her situation.
Thinking of Adalius, her eyes were drawn irresistibly to the castle which loomed over the town, perched on a ragged spur of stone jutting out into Drake Harbor. A great temple had once stood there, a shining place of peace and learning, not a dark monument to oppression and war. Doubtless the Oldkin temple’s bones formed the foundation of that very castle, itself the work of so many subsequent invaders it was impossible to identify any dominant style save the blocky, Boryalis-styled figures on the god-king’s flags flying from every tower. The saints of the god-king’s gospels stared down benevolently from those flags, dominated by the recurrent images of the great dragon Goldenscale bowing in submission and the serene god-king himself. A true blasphemy, those flags, for Rhethra knew more about the god-king Adalius and his dragon than his worshippers would ever know, more than they would ever believe. It seemed, like the rest of Drekketon, a hideous insult to the shining temple city she dimly remembered, an ogre gnawing on the bones of a unicorn. Filled with a renewed sense of righteousness and willpower, Rhethra lifted her pack and set out into the streets again. The sky, a brilliant show of gold and sapphire that the oblivious humans around her hardly noticed, beckoned again with a whisper of warm breeze. It was, she thought wistfully, a perfect night for flying. Her eyes drifted to the castle again, and she wondered if her brother ever thought the same thing.

- + -

Talarne wasn’t sure at first that he had seen it. He had been fooled before, as had others. His magesight, though better than most Oldkin of today, was still far less reliable than it had been in his ancestors, still came when he wasn’t looking for it and vanished almost as soon as he realized it was there, like a shy alley cat startled from street scraps. But he had seen it, of that he was – he must be – certain.
What, exactly, had he seen? It seemed like an ordinary confrontation at first, a tired traveler from the Dolphin Sea Road stumbling into a Drekketon guardsman. Normally, she would be lucky if she only lost her coins to the guard, especially as she was a poor lady traveling alone; the god-king favored security that benefited him, not necessarily his populace, and so long as deaths were kept to a minimum the guards tended to do as they wished to the voiceless lower classes. Had Talarne not been so far away, had he not had his own reasons for avoiding the Drekketon guard, he would have intervened. He was, after all, a sworn Knight-Defender of the Realm, and while the realm he was sworn to defend hadn’t officially belonged to his people for centuries, he nevertheless was fully prepared to uphold its ideals. As it was, he could only watch from the shadows near the gate, frustrated by his inability to act, whispering a prayer of protection to Lord Sky-Bright-Blade in the hopes that his people’s gods would more kindly disposed to the defenseless woman than Adalius. Then… It all happened so fast he almost missed it. The woman turned to the guard and… changed. She seemed in an instant taller, stronger, more than a match for an entire garrison, let alone one lowly guard. Was it his magesight, a trick of reflection, or had there been an actual flash of light in her eyes, a golden glow around her like the rays of the setting sun? Talarne may have doubted his magesight, but there was no doubting that the guardsman walked away as if he had never met her. He never finished his prayer, thunderstruck. Nobody was that lucky, with or without the gods’ help. Nobody, except perhaps…
The blessed shall always know her through the grace of their gifts, for bright and golden as the gods’ own blood is the light within the Lady of the Mountain, Daughter of the Sky Lords… Just as the holy writings described her. Talarne blinked and found that his magesight had again abandoned him; looking to the woman, he saw only another anonymous traveler.
He narrowed his silver-flecked pale green eyes, trying to will his special vision back, but it stayed hidden as it usually did when he tried too hard to summon his inner powers. Holy gifts, his heart-father called them. Elesorne said they were the mark of the divine blessing that had long ago been given to his Oldkin ancestors, a great honor and reason for pride, but it was hard not to be frustrated with such a fickle gift, even if it did come down through his blood from the gods’ own hands. He scowled, fists clenching, then forced himself to regain control, a task that required more effort than he cared to admit to himself. How long had he trained to learn that skill, and how often did it still elude him?
Talarne finally spotted the woman again; in his moment of inattention, she seemed to have vanished into the crowd, and only careful, concentrated searching allowed him to find her. She certainly looked like just another dusty traveler, come to Drekketon as so many did to shop at the harborside markets for exotic wares, board a ship in the harbor to seek her fortune in another part of Eter, or come on pilgrimage to the capital of the holy empire. Maybe she was even an early comer for the annual sacrifices, a savvy tourist who knew how early the inns filled and how high the innkeepers raised their prices.
On further study, Talarne dismissed the easy explanations. She was, for one, unusually tall. It was impossible to judge her true height as it was obscured, deliberately it seemed, by the sack she carried, the patched brown hooded cloak she kept on despite the evening heat (though she was not alone in this oddity – many who came from warmer climates found even summer in Drekketon a touch nippy, so close to the sea), the posture she forced on herself. He guessed that she might even be as tall as he, a good six feet, which was rare enough for men of most races but almost unheard-of for women in this day and age, especially this far north. As she walked, an occasional lock of long, loosely-waved hair slipped free from her hood, but in the evening light it was difficult to see clearly before she hastily hid it again; another cause for notice to him, used as he was to hiding his own dark hair with charcoal powder, lest its peculiar silver iridescence mark him as Oldkin. The fingers that hid the hair were long and slender, like his own. In and of itself, that was hardly noteworthy – the women of several races had long, slender fingers – but added to the rest it made an impressive stack of circumstantial evidence. If only he could see her face, her eyes, her spirit light, described so vividly, if maddeningly poetically, in the Blessed Books of his people… if only his cursed holy gifts would wake again.
His logical side had to admit that, aside from that incident with the guard, there was almost nothing specifically remarkable about her. Even if she was Oldkin, it didn’t mean much on the surface. Though rare, purebloods did turn up now and again, to the terror and suspicion of many an unblessed parent; Talarne himself had unmarked parents, as did most others of the True Clan. Despite that, something in him, some tickling perhaps of his holy gifts, some intuition of his own, told him she was more than just an undiscovered Oldkin traveling incognito. She was the one he and the rest had been waiting for generations. If she was… it would change everything. Not just his own mission, but the world.
He thought immediately of Elesorne. Surely he would want to know. Surely he, with his magesight more reliable than Talarne’s, his grasp of history second to none, his wisdom greater than the holy scribes, would settle things once and for all, whether his long watch had finally paid off or his own impatience had tricked him again. He had half-turned down the alley where he stood before he stopped himself, forced himself to wait. If she was the one he and his kind had been waiting for, he told himself sternly, there would be plenty of time to summon his heart-father later. She wouldn’t be going anywhere he couldn’t follow – she couldn’t go anywhere in Drekketon he didn’t know about, unless she walked to the bottom of Drake Harbor or jumped through a fairy hole into another world – so follow he would. Blending with the city crowds with an ease borne of long practice, Talarne slipped into the streets.

- + -

Adalius stood at the tower’s edge, arms folded across his broad, muscular chest, thick brows furrowed, rich golden hair rippling in the evening breeze where it was free of its braids and his jeweled golden helm. He showed the broad, stern warrior’s features of a man from rugged Boryalis mixed with the impressive height of an Allobyrth clansman and the dusky-gold tan of the southern Syrinai, among other, subtler influences, but in truth was none of those races, as his name and deep royal blue eyes betrayed. Even those could be explained; his name came from the fading tongue of the Syrinai’s Great Southern Empire, which itself had held this very city for a paltry few hundred years in ages past, and the peculiar deep blue of his eyes was not unheard of in some eastern races, though to find all these traits embodied in one man was indeed rare. Deliberately so; he had taken great pains to create this image, spent centuries honing it to perfection. Everything a human would think of a hero, a king, a god, no matter their nation or blood, was reflected in his appearance.
The humans knew him as a god-king, and he certainly looked the part, a great towering figure of superhuman strength and magnificence. Who would doubt his divinity, after all? Had he not walked among them for over a thousand years, untouched by time? Did not his holy powers bring peace to the land and smite enemies and rebellion wherever they dared show themselves? Had his divine will not tamed the great Goldenscale the Mighty, the last dragon in the known world, living now in the forbidding mountain that loomed darkly over Drekketon?
Goldenscale the Mighty. He grinned to himself, eyes flashing. Not his real name, of course. He himself was the last living creature who knew that, and more and more lately even he thought of himself as Adalius or Goldenscale instead, with none calling him otherwise save in dreams and memory. The human name was fine enough to suit him. He couldn’t have picked a grander one had he been the one to pen the stories, might in fact have taken vengeance upon any who tried to change it. What names had his brothers and sisters ever earned to compare, in dragon tongue or human lore? His lip quirked in an odd smile, a twinge of memory, perhaps – would he admit it to himself – pain or regret, quickly smothered. Not that it mattered. He was the last of them. With no other dragons to tell him otherwise, he was what he wished to be, and that was what he was now: a god over the world, ruler of rulers. There were none now to challenge him, save the highly unlikely arrival of an opponent from another world, where dragons still lived; the sheer number of worlds, the remoteness of this one, made that possibility laughably negligible. Besides, it took powerful dragon magic to travel the Ways Between, enough to wake his every nerve even if they appeared on the far side of the planet. So what, he wondered, troubled him? Why was he pacing his castle, nostrils stinging with the salt-tinged wind, instead of down in his magnificent chambers, listening to the songs of his eternal glory? Something drew him here, some gut instinct, and the dragon who ignored his instincts rarely lived long enough to regret it. He stared north, thinking, as the torches on the darkening streets below blossomed with feeble flames.
Another rebellion in the making, perhaps? Possible, though he made enough of an example of rebels that few sane humans would dare follow in their footsteps. There were always grumblings, naturally. Humans always grumbled about discontent – they seemed happier when they had something to grumble about than when they actually were content – but few took those words as far as action. Those who did had a hard time rallying enough support to do more than disturb the peaceful grumbling of their fellows. For all their talk, their songs and stories, their passionate speeches and heart-rending poetry, what most humans valued above all else was the familiar, the safe, the path trod by many before. With their brief lives, it was almost pathetically easy to establish such a path, that generations would follow as mindlessly as the cattle they herded to the slaughter shed. No, rebellion wasn’t on the wind tonight.
Enemy attack? Not from this land, and the only other continent he knew of on this planet was primitive and unpleasant even by human standards, riddled with innumerable ways for even a dragon to die, hardly worth the bother to trade with when the seas let his ships reach their shores at all. Adalius knew he would probably have to conquer even that worthless place eventually, if only to give his restless troops something to do, but that time wouldn’t come for at least a hundred years, longer if he could help it. Even if there were foreign enemies approaching, they, like the rebels, were no real worry. His minions practically fell over themselves for the honor of dying in his holy name. It sometimes seemed the harder task to convince them to kill a few enemies before becoming a martyr. Humans. Maybe they thought so little of their lives because they were granted so little of it. Shaking his head, he dismissed the idea of enemies looming on the horizon.
Insurrection by his own priests? Even more unlikely than rebellion. Adalius kept his high clergy firmly in his mind’s talons, using them to in turn keep control of the next level of priests, all the way down to the lowest acolytes, and through them the whole of his empire. The price of his godly touch was often insanity and suicide, their fragile human minds finally cracking as their god-king’s grip tightened, but as he had decreed that self sacrifice was one of the greatest gifts an aging priest could give to show their piety – a stroke of genius, that – it only begged attention when they hesitated to kill themselves. Usually, they were helped along to the Golden Lands by their fellows. He smiled again, pleased by his own cleverness. Mutiny, then, was a virtual impossibility. Adalius dismissed the thought with barely a blink, returned his gaze to his city stretched out beneath him like a trophy animal lashed down for the chief hunter to claim as his own kill.
His reign was absolute, though it had only been absolute over the land for the past two hundred years. Maybe in another few centuries he would be truly secure. His control of his human followers was likewise absolute. If all did not yet truly believe in his divine origins, none were bold enough to dismiss them outright, and with time and successive generations born and raised under his doctrines even that token resistance would vanish. So what bothered him? What was left?
He had but one mystery in his life, he admitted. The other last dragon in the world, the one even humans never took note of. She bothered him not as a serious threat, but as an irritating unknown. Every so often his restless mind would worry at the matter as a scholar might puzzle over an obscure rambling by an ancient prophet, determined to squeeze some Great Answer from it. Rhethra had been the runt of the clutch, the last-hatched female as her shell name declared, fallen from a flawed egg, no less. It always amazed him that his father hadn’t crushed the egg as soon as it was obvious that the surface was cracked, but drakes were rarely left to hatch and rear clutches on their own, and he may well have lacked the instincts to kill even an inferior offspring. Adalius had only vague memories of her, usually fleeing, as befit her lowly status. So far as he knew, she had never taken a crest name; perhaps, coming from a cracked egg, she had never developed a crest, never become a mature drakess, never lain deep in the earth on a dream-nest of silver and quartz to find her true name. Since she clearly hadn’t the ability to gather, let alone hold onto, a strong enough hoard to permit interworld passage, he knew she must still be here, but where?
Maddeningly inaccurate though human stories tended to be concerning his kind – most of the fools called almost any oversized reptile a dragon, even wyverns, an insult which could earn an unwary minstrel death if sung in his royal court – at least they provided some way of tracking his clutchmates’ movements, but she had never merited a single verse in her honor. He had only heard whispers of her passage from his brothers and sisters. Few spoke to her willingly, and the rest sometimes found her lurking at the edges of their land, often in some cowardly animal form, though she rarely stayed once she was discovered. It was only after he had killed his last clutchmate that he realized Rhethra the runt was unaccounted for; so far as he could determine, she had effectively dropped off the surface of the world centuries ago.
Adalius’s favorite theory was that Rhethra had starved to death, living as she had on scraps of land in the unseen corners of her siblings’ territories, allowed to exist so long as she drew no notice and didn’t outstay her welcome. She had probably even died in a false form, which explained why her bones had never drawn notice. Still, his mind couldn’t let go of the possibility, however remote, that she had somehow survived. The idea of her as a threat was utterly ridiculous, but she was still a dragon, if only through accident of hatching, and as such represented probably the closest thing to a threat left in the known world. So long as she was out there, there was always the chance, however slim, that somehow his own deception would be unearthed, his own secrets discovered. It was difficult to believe that she was alive after so long without even a hint of a true dragon sighting among the humans, but he would have felt better had he heard stories of dragon bones found in some forgotten cavern, better still when he held those cold bones in his hands. Not worth adding to his collection, of course; by human standards, it was already complete. That would mean carving a new niche for the bones, human grunt work. Explaining that they had miscounted the dragons inhabiting their world would be an exercise in futility, as humans loved to think of themselves as the wisest of the gods’ creations and couldn’t admit having overlooked something as easy to spot as a dragon. Seeing a fresh pile of dragon bones might make them wonder what they truly knew about dragons, and even in his power Adalius wasn’t foolish enough to stir that line of thought. Rhethra the No-Name would be a bothersome insult to him, first-hatched Shar-Vroth Ahriohn, the great Holy Adalius, the fearsome Goldenscale the Mighty, even dead. Yet in holding her bones he would know she was dead, even as he cast them into the sea, or the fires of Demon Mountain, or wherever else he could dispose of them beyond human eyes. It was the not knowing that troubled him.
He turned abruptly, scowling, as if showing his worries what he thought of them. His crimson-lined black and gold cape swirled as he descended the tower stairs to his royal chambers. Adalius barely paused as he passed the high priests standing guard outside the doors. They, in turn, hardly noticed him, eyes wild with what most thought was their own fanatic devotion to their god-king. The one on the left had shining tears welling in his bloodshot eyes, Adalius noted idly. He would probably make his ultimate sacrifice within the week. Someone else would have to be moved up through the ranks. A petty annoyance; let the humans deal with it. He set the matter as a premonition out through the ties that bound his high clergy to his will and let them deal with it as they would. Perhaps the knowledge that Holy Adalius foresaw a death among their number would speed up the process, he thought with a silent chuckle.
Unclasping his cloak and tossing it aside, he strode to the grand fireplace, through the roaring flames, into the hidden passage beyond, total darkness no hindrance to his eyes as he navigated the familiar paths that led ultimately far beyond the Drekketon city walls, nearly to Gold Mountain itself. He was merely restless, he decided. He needed to work off some energy, clear his head away from this stinking heap that humans called a city. This was a good time to remind the people what their god-king protected them from, why the sacrifices were needed, in the off chance any thought to doubt his divine decrees. It was, he thought with a wicked grin, a perfect night for flying.