Legendarily #3


Casreyn could not have said when she woke, for the Orc-summoned fog had blotted out the sun. The phantom of a Marshal rode up astride a great grey palfrey. “Form rank!” she called. “Form rank!”

Casreyn scrambled to her feet, pulled her shield onto her forearm and unsheathed her sword. Generals and officers crowded her, pushed her forward in a surging mob. She was disoriented, reeling. The ground sloped suddenly downward and for a moment she worried that she’d been on a path directly to the Lord of Bones. Hills went up and down for hours. At some point the Marshals sent the archers off the path. She overheard snatches of their commands. “You know your positions,” a Marshal said. The rest was garbled by the clash of clanking armor, shield scraping shield and the mayhem of marching.

She only just discerned that the final three words of his command: “Orc or not.”

Casreyn continued on like this, surrounded by a wall of Warward. She had long since lost the Mountain and the Mouser. She could not discern anyone in the box of Warward around her. Their heads were smothered in steel and thick, padded cloth, with only a noseguard to shield their face.

She named the strangers: Front, Back, Left, and Right. They marched in step, uphill and downhill until she spied Silverhill through the fog—or its shadow, leastways, looming over her like the skull of a dead, buried giant.

Her heartbeat throbbed in her neck while her forearm burned with the exertion of holding her shield up for so long.

Beating drums boomed from the other side of Silverhill.  Boom-doom, boom-doom, boom-doom. There were Orcs grunting and shrieking in a thousand different tongues from atop Silverhill; a thousand hulking silhouettes, awaiting the Warward’s uphill approach.

She tries to reign in the memories of all her practice drills and all of her training in the use of sword and shield. But when she reached inwardly for them, they hammer of her heart shattered them to shards.

Instead, without warning, she recalled tales of Orcs: some said they were either green-skinned or black as pitch. Either great big tusks or small, precise fangs. Great horns or smooth, helmeted heads.

She heard a garbled, short, sharp shout. Then a thrum from atop the hill as if a thousand birds had taken flight at once. The thrum turned into a whistling above, and when she followed the noise a thousand silhouetted arrows were raining down.

Casreyn raised her shield and felt three heavy blows punching her forearm back. She heard scattered shouts from the Warward who were too late to raise their shields.

She hacked the arrow-shafts off as she rose, then the army surged forward, up the slick, muddy hill. The fog danced through the air. A taunt. Casreyn tripped over something beneath her. A loose root, mayhaps? She wondered as she recovered and continued to press ever upward. She was practically carried up from the sheer force of the Warward charging. She felt as if she were moving in a box.

Was it a loose that caught me? she asked herself. Or something…no. I can’t think of that. Not now. Her rations roiled in her stomach.

Then the box of Warward slammed to a halt. Ahead of her came the sound of wood on wood and steel on steel, small splatters of mud, then some heavier. She flexed her hand around her sweat-slick sword. Even her breath was failing her.

She could hear folk pleading at the front of the line; for mothers; for mercy; for quarter. All were silenced with wet sounds—like a buckets falling into wells.

The army moved forward after every line lost. I am a lamb being led to the slaughter. 

Then, to her right, she saw the shadow of an Orc skulking through the mist. They do have horns, she marveled, as someone scalped the beast. The Orc staggered back, then leapt forward. Perhaps not, she thought when she saw it shadow-smooth skull.

Casreyn stabbed over two rows of shoulders, taking the beast through the neck before it could regrow its horns. Is that what Orcs do? I can’t quite remember. Almost all thoughts had left her by then. The beast made a gurgling sound. She heard blood trickling down its chest.

Someone up front shouted, “Thanks!”

But as he spoke Orc’s sinew and bone trapped her blade in its neck and levered it from her hand as it fell.

“The sword! Grab the sword!” shouted the Thank You Man. There came a short, suckling sound as the steel escaped flesh—like boots squelching through mud. Then the sword changed hands as the army was pushed back, and kept changing hands as they gave ground.

Front seized her wrist in his gauntleted hand and fastened hers to the hilt of her sword. “Don’t wait to pull after you stab next time,” Front shouted, as they fell back onto level ground.

“You’re welcome!” Casreyn said, and then realized she hadn’t made sense. My mind is as frenzied as a sackful of wet cats. 

The Marshals thundered down the line, ordering a retreat. “Keep formation!” they shouted, “Stay in rank!”

Bodies were turning sharply, forcing Casreyn around and shoving her forward as they moved. “We’re bringing Orcs back to the town?” she cried.

“Have you forgotten the archers we left off the road?” said Left.

“They were told to shoot anyone!”

“Have faith that the Marshals have a plan.” said Right. “For all our sake.”

The Orcs followed them down the road, nipping at the Warward’s heels. Arrows whispered into the Orc flanks. There were yelps and shrieks like wounded dogs.

Upon a Marshal’s command, the army turned to face the Orcs and pushed back.

From beyond the Orc army, she heard horses whinnying and bright swords shining through the fog. There were Marshals leading the riders, sloping down, down, and toward the Orcs’ rear.

The Orc army dwindled. Horned heads were scalped, then killed again. Casreyn saw it from over a sea of shoulders and shields and helmeted heads. It was now the Orcs who snarled for mother, mercy, and quarter as the archers spat and the army closed its fist.

Casreyn took to the grim work. They had won the day, killing every last Orc, but even when they knew victory was theirs, it took hours to see to the slaughter.

The boom-doom, boom-doom, boom-doom of the Orc drums faded, and with it left the fog. The sun was shining, but the only dead on the field were men and women. No Orcs.

“The foul beasts hate the sunlight,” Casreyn heard Left say. “Turns them to dust right quick.” Left snapped her fingers to illustrate her point.

The only dead were swordsmen and shieldmaidens lying limp as discarded tunics, with cloven halfhelms, hornhelms, or heads.

Casreyn climbed Silverhill, thankful for the ability to stretch and brace her hands against the steep slope. Beyond the hill were little fields girdled by the threshold of a forest. Other survivors floundered up Silverhill, or walked among the fields. There were green hedges, grass, and trees. The dew sparkled in the sunlight. There were pebbled paths and briar patched. The place seemed to her altogether the wrong sort of place for a battlefield.

She looked back and saw the litter of bodies strewn about the hillside. One soldier lay dead at the foot of the hill—a shieldmaiden who looked a few years her junior. Her ruined face stared at the sky, looking like something resembling crumpled parchment. Casreyn wondered if she had died instantly, or if it were the trampling that had done her in. And if it was the latter, had she—

—She cut that thought short before she could complete it. “What happens now?” she asked aloud.

“Now, shieldmaiden?” came the voice of the Mountain. He and the Mouser were standing behind her atop Silverhill. “Red Nails,” he cursed, “We defend this fucking hill. Convince the Orcs it isn’t worth trying to retake.”

“That’s it?”

“Don’t grow overbold, shieldmaiden,” the Mountain cautioned.

The Mouser must have seen the shock on her face, because he said, “What’s wrong? Isn’t this what you had in mind when you decided to save the world?”


Legendarily #2


Nobody bothered to tell Casreyn just how much of her time with the Warward would be spent marching.

They had marched through marshes and bogs; ruddy roads and rain; through freezing cold and baking heat. Her boots had worn thin as parchment. She was long past footsore. But after her confrontation with the Mountain and the Mouser, she decided she had a reason to march. She had her Father to protect, sure enough, but he was leagues away, and her last memories with him left her bitter.

But the Mountain and the Mouser…she had to keep marching with them. She had to protect them.

One day, as they were marching through a rainstorm, the Mouser told her, “We need to reach Silverhill before the Orcs. We don’t want an uphill battle.” He had to shout to make himself heard over the din as thunder rolled across the sky.

“Mayhaps your Garth the Great has returned!” the Mountain shouted, a smile playing across what was left of his lips. “Mayhaps this isn’t thunder at all, but some final battle, eh?”

A Marshal came riding through later that day, instructing anyone with a cart to abandon it so that they could hasten their travels.

And so the squealing carts were replaced with squealing pigs and goats, when a few warrioresses freed the livestock. Casreyn wondered if she should protest. She looked to the Mountain and the Mouser for a clue.

“Why leave behind food that walks itself?” the Mountain shrugged.

But the thought of looming battle overtook any thoughts of food, and much of the livestock was allowed to abandon the road with impunity. Few saw much use in wasting their energy trying to herd them onto the path.

The Mouser gave the Mountain no shortage of torment for the prediction of battle he’d given him the day before. As the day went on, his response, “Today’s not over” soon became, “Didn’t I tell you I’m not a fucking seer?”

Casreyn had hoped that his prediction was true. The prolonged march before battle only served to increase the new fears that came to her every day. What if she was just another corpse? How would her father know if she died? Would that I decided to follow them sooner, she thought. It was the unknown that made Casreyn’s chest tighten; made it difficult to breathe.

And resting was nearly worse than marching. She rarely slept, if ever at all. The ground was as comfortable as a bed of knuckles, and in the dark she suspected every noise might belong to an Orc. Every flash of lightning sent her bolting upright, expecting to see an Orc axe glowing pale-blue in the flash.

She found herself retreating into her mind and into her father’s stories. She would compare her experience what he’d told her of Great Conflict and the legends of Garth the Great.

If Orcs were coming down from the north, then the Great Enemy must have returned, she surmised. Which would mean that Garth the Great had to return to, at the Nailed Gods’ discretion.

And the Nailed God would send him. She was sure of it. So sure, in fact, that when they passed through a small town, she went looking for an artisan who could paint Sacred Hammer onto her shield that had driven the Bloody Nails through her cross into her shield.

They had come to the town a few hours beyond a fork in the road.  One path through the wild, tangled brush and the other through an orderly pass. A section of the army split off through the wild with orders to round Silverhill. Cut the enemy off, if possible. If not, they could always envelope them.

Casreyn and the rest were led on a trudge head-on for Silverhill. The Mountain and the Mouser were squabbling over this, as usual. She smiled as the Mountain tried to find ways to justify his incorrect prediction as she busied herself helping an artisan paint her shield.

They were conducting this business when boy wandered into the town.

The Orc-summoned fog filtered around him, making him look half a wraith. Not a wraith, Casreyn thought as he lurched closer. A skeleton.

He’d only a shadow of skin, and a face that pocketed deep-sunken eyes that couldn’t remember to blink. His tunic was torn and he was caked with dirt and dust. One side of his yellow hair had been matted down and crusted with dried blood. Whether it belonged to him or someone else, Casreyn couldn’t say. He had only one leg and a makeshift wooden crutch that he used to hobble over to Casreyn, who had been eating honeyed porridge as she painted. “Food?” he asked. “Food? Food?”

She handed the boy her bowl and he grinned, tucking it under his arm and spooning its contents into his mouth with two fingers as he hopped away.

They all stared in silence for a time before the Mouser cursed. “Red Nails,” he said, “that’s a boy with one leg. Some poor fucker must have miswung.”

* * *

That night, the town gave them a feast. There was little cheer. The warriors and warrioresses filled their time with talk of the Nailed God or the Lightning Lord. Their speech was littered with curses. Casreyn wasn’t sure what good it did to curse masters and creators of storms and stones.

She wondered if they would be saying the same things during a thunderstorm.

The Mountain tossed her scraps of meat thick as bark. They were dribbling with pink juice and seared with patches of crisp burn. “Eat well,” he told her. “You earned it.”

“I can’t—”

“You can and you will,” he growled. “Don’t make me threaten you into eating a decent meal. You already gave up your lunch for that boy. You’ve got to get something in you if you want to keep up your strength.”

She took it, looked it over and saw pink patches beneath the burn. She wolfed it down and asked for more. The Mountain gave her his plate.

The town had no bedding to spare beyond what was saved for the Marshals, so the army littered themselves in and around the town’s timbered walls. Casreyn, the Mountain and the Mouser all sat by a tree. Silence lay as thick as the fog that blanketed them. Then Casreyn spoke again. “When do you think Garth the Great will return?” she asked them.

“Fuck Garth,” the Mountain spat. “He was as much a malice as he Enemy he slew.”

“Does that mean Orcs called Garth the Great Enemy?” asked the Mouser.

“What do you imagine Garth the Great was short for?” he chuckled.

Casreyn chewed her lip, pondering. “Do you think, then, that we might’ve picked the wrong side?”

The Mountain rolled over so that his gigantic back was facing her. “No.”

The trio did not share another word until Casreyn and the Mouser were certain the Mountain was snoring.

It was the Mouser who spoke first, as he used a dagger to trim his nails. “My Mother was one of Garth’s personal warrioresses, you know.”

Casreyn had been planning on mentioning her Father’s service to impress him, but knowing this about the Mouser’s mother, she decided against it. Instead, she asked, “Did she have any stories?”

“No.” One word. A flat denial. No room for discussion. “She preferred to tell me stories of what I would do. She always said that I was destined to join the Warward.” He wrapped his hand around his bicep, thumb and pointer finger touching. “Clearly, this is the life I was built for. She told me the Nailed God would make a song of my war-glory and put my likeness in the stars. And you know what I want more than anything in the world?”


“That song—that promised song.” He finished shaving the nail off of a fingernail and turned to the next. “Because I’m sure that would be the most boring song in all of Creation. But at least Mother dearest would be satisfied.” A smile bled onto his face.

“What’d be so boring about it?”

“It’ll be short,” he said. “Mercifully so.” He sawed off another fingernail.

“Should you be doing that?” Casreyn asked.“The fog’s getting thicker.”

She could discern the Mouser’s shrug, just so.“Would you like to know why the song of my war-glory will be so boring? It’s because one day my hand is going to slip with this dagger and I’ll lose a finger. Won’t be able to hold a sword proper after that. Won’t be able to fight.”

“Why not do it now?” she asked. “Get it over and don’t with?”

The Mouser finally looked up, scowling. “What do I look like to you? A coward?”


Legendarily #1


They were on the march to die.

The fog blustered around them like dancing specters. Some wondered if they would join the fog after the battle. It blanketed the army that stretched down the ruddy road where warriors and warrioresses pushed carts that squealed like dying hogs.

One woman walked through the ranks wearing the ghost of a smile. She’d heard tell that there would be a battle soon. She would have her chance to fight. She cradled the thought like a precious bauble. She had grown up on stories of her father’s various battles against the monstrous Orcs long ago in the Great Conflict.

When she was little, she liked to imagine herself in his place. She had found lately that her imagination was a glorious place to be.

It was a place where her mail was not speckled with rust like old man’s liver spots; her halfhelm was free of dents; and her cloak had not yet been weathered to gray. She would put her enemies to the sword the same way her father told her he had. And, she imagined, Garth the Great beside her. He would lead his Warward against the Orcs and into the far north; leading an assault on the Great Enemy himself and meeting him in single combat.

When it had come time for her to leave, her father had not shared her enthusiasm. He had been watching his flocks graze, and did not part to look at her when she told him of her ambitions. But she had played this moment out in her head, and his rebuke left her cold. “Will you not see me off?” she had asked.

He’d coiled at the suggestion. “No,” he said, and then: I never should have told you those stories, Casreyn.”

“I would follow in your footsteps, Father. Orcs are swarming down from the north, unchecked and unchallenged.”

“If the Nailed God wills you to follow in my footsteps, then I suspect you will. Wanted or not.” Silence and knowing passed between them. “You’re all I have left, Casreyn. Those stories—they were half-truths. If that. I only meant to entertain—”

“You’ve done more than that—”

“Would you like to know the life you’ve chosen? Truly? You have chosen a life of lost limbs, and hordes of gray husks—and in this I speak of more than mere Orcs.” It was his final tale he’d left to tell. But it wasn’t like the others. Her father had grown old since he first returned from the Great Conflict. He’d become a man taken to embellishments, she had decided.

He had left his sword and mail out for her, elsewise.

Casreyn was pulled from her own thoughts when a mountain of a man shouldered past her, followed by a smaller man who moved with catlike grace and a wary eye; like a mouser looking for its mouse.

“I’m not telling you to believe me,” the Mountain said. “All I’m telling you is that I saw the Orcs’ fires last night. We’ll be upon them by nightfall.”

“Do you think you’re suddenly a seer?” asked the Mouser. “Someone else would have spotted them by now. The Warward is not without scouts.”

The Mountain turned to face the Mouser, and Casreyn saw the horror of his face. Burned, melted fleshed had sealed left eye shut, and she could see the eye moving beneath the lid, just so. Part of his left cheek had sloughed off, revealing yellow teeth and dry pink gums with spiderwebbing cracks.

“I’ve seen many things, boy,” he told the Mouser. “I don’t predict a battle lightly. You don’t need to be a seer to smell blood on the horizon.” The Mountain marched off, and the Mouser turned to Casreyn and frowned apologetically. “He can be a touch dramatic.” He shrugged.

“I want to talk to him.

“That’s really not a good idea, warioress.”

“I know what I’m doing!” Casreyn snapped, and the Mouser raised his hands in surrender.

“If you insist…” he muttered.

Casreyn started after the Mountain of a man, hailing: “You think there’s a battle dawning, warrior?” She had to take long strides to match his pace.

“Didn’t you hear me back there?”


“Then what do you think?”

“I think there’s more to what you say. How big will the battle be?”

The Mountain exhaled through his teeth. “The Orcs want more than a skirmish, elsewise they wouldn’t be calling down this fog.”

Casreyn reached out to touch the mist. “This is Orc work?”

“You see any clouds in the sky these past few days?”


“There you go.” He quickened his pace, but Casreyn jogged up to match him.

“How will we fare?” she asked.

He pivoted, turned. Casreyn slammed into him and fell into the mud. The Mountain had not budged. “I already told you I’m not a fucking seer.” He crouched to be at eye level with her. “You ask too many questions, you know that?”

Casreyn nodded. She hardly agreed with him, but his voice was coercive.

“You want to know what my details are?”

She nodded again. Or rather, she hadn’t stopped nodding to begin with.

So the Mountain drilled his finger into the mud. “This is us,” he said. Then he scooped up a handful and, holding it in his fist, walked his fingers three paces north from his original depression and spattered it down there. “This is Silverhill. We want it. It’s works as a good defensive position to spy and repel invasion from the north.” He walked his fingers three paces further north and made another impression with his finger. “These are the Orcs. They want Silverhill. It’s works as a good defensive position to spy and repel invasion from the south. If we keep going north as we are now, we’ll be at Silverhill in a day. That’s why I say we’ll be fighting.”

He stood and offered Casreyn his hand, nearly tearing her arm out of its socket as he hauled her to her feet. She thanked him for the explanation. She extended her hand. “My names Cas—”

“Don’t,” the Mountain growled, spewing spittle onto her face, “tell me your name.”

She lowered her hand an inch. “Why?”

“Because I’d prefer to see you as just another corpse once all this is over.”

Casreyn’s throat tightened.

“It makes things easier,” he explained. “For me, at least.”



Six Months of Difference – Ash and Cinders, Then and Now

On July 29th, 2016, I published In the Caverns of the Rock Lord on The Mythlings. Weeks later, I attempted (and failed) to write a novel expanding on the material (I called it Ash and Cinders) and giving some characters more backstory and more going on before and after the narrative of the short story. I worked on it on and off up to January of 2018. Around November of 2017, I wrote a quick prologue that you’ll see below.

The reason I mention this is because as of April 5th, 2018, I have begun a challenge to rewrite my attempt at a novel–at least up to the point where the original short story, linked above, ends. The contrast between what was written in November of 2017 and April of 2018 is startling, and I believe worth a look.

Special thanks should go to my good friends Amber Richard and Quinn Castine as well as my Mother, my sister Rachel, my friend and mentor Ron Jones, and my girlfriend Kira, all of whom I have spent the past few months inundating with feedback over and over again–especially since November, where I began a concerted effort to improve my prose. Almost half a year later, here are the results so far.




She had to hurry, or else her Mother would be firewood.

The girl’s feet slapped against the ground, pink soles flashing in and out of sight as she ran. Her Mother’s cry could be heard throughout the forest-town of Tull. Her mother had sent her own whispers through the trees, which echoed cries for help through their leaves.

The advantages of being a Nymph, the girl thought bitterly.

Orym Tar had told her about Forest Spirits. He was the only one in Tull who had ever gone outside the town. He was the only one who knew what the Ever Changing Land was like. He had many tales if you professed to believe him.

The girl started to believe him as the trees cracked and turned like pointing fingers, guiding her in the direction toward her mother.

“Faster, faster,” she told herself. “You have to be faster, Cinder.” She would go home to her younger brother Ricket with her Mother and they’d all be together. One happy family.

Orym had brought her Mother back from the Ever-Changing-Land—a Nymph, beautiful with bark and small branches grafted to her flesh. She fell in love with an innkeeper, her father. But many in Tull misliked Nymphs, so when she went to the physician he had her give birth in a fireplace. “Firewood is all you’re good for,” he’d said.

So her mother had named her Cinder. Once, she told her, “I made mockery into a shield. Wear your name proudly like an iron shield, and their words will never hurt you.”

But swords would still hurt her Mother if she didn’t hurry. She had to hurry. She had to—

Cinder rounded the trail and saw her mother—flesh piled in one heap like bloody blubber, and branches piled in the other. She saw the backs of the two Nymph-haters who had slain her. They had left a tinderbox behind.

“Firewood,” she muttered. “That’s all they thought she was good for.” Tears welled around the corners of her eyes. Her face went hot.

She reached out to touch the pile when she felt something jab her shoulder. The world melted around her. Faces of her father, dying of grief flashed in the sky, and her stepmother—No! She thought. I just wanted one last moment with her. Please—

She darted into a sitting position in her bed. Ricket, her younger brother, nudged her awake like child prodding a snake with a stick.




“The world is ending.”

It is a younger boy who says it. Her brother, she assumes. She lived his fear when she was his age.

He hears the world murmur; feels it shake. He can just barely glimpse the town’s longhouse over the hill, banded with arches of golden-gleaming Arkynian bronze. To the boy, it sounds as if the bands are speaking—even if he doesn’t understand what they are saying. Gurgle they say. Gur-giggle. Then they let out a bloody wail that does not stop. The arches ripple and bend and snap back into position. The longhouse behaves like a rocking chair.  

“Cinder?” The boy addresses the girl behind him. She is on her knees, weeping over a pile of firewood. “Cinder, what’s happening?”

He is too young to understand, Cinder knows. He’s three, maybe four? Her thoughts are cluttered. She can’t remember. She’s too busy reminding herself that the tears streaking her face are only from the remnants of smoke wafting up from the dead campfire. But she knows the boy is too young to have witnessed a morph before now. But not her. She knows. She’s only seen it once before, but the old man down the road tells her about morphs every day.

She remembers when her Mother took her to see him. She’d held her Mother’s hand by her two tree-bark middle fingers and followed her to his home in the wake of her first morph. She remembers looking up at her Mother, her flesh speckled with patches of leaves and tree bark. She had thought her beautiful. Others, she knew, did not. Cinder knew the story behind her name. How the midwife made her give birth in an empty hearth.

She pushes the memory down when something in her gut rises.

But she needs to tell the boy. He needs to understand. And there’s no one else to explain it to him. Still kneeling, still crying, never bothering to look, she recites what she remembers.

The land is alive. It is an old, old, woman. Every day the old woman wakes up, groaning and yawning and stretching. She can pucker and spit. Crack joints and bones. She bites her lip when she’s in pain. Gains weight. Loses it. Gains it all back. These are the morphs. That’s what the boy seeing. The old woman is waking up, groaning and stretching. It’s been a few years since she’s exercised this part of her body. Her foot’s fallen asleep, and the only way to bring back feeling is to move it. The trouble comes if they can’t get a Wizard to quell her before the feeling comes back and she starts walking around. “But that’s not for a few weeks,” she tells the boy. “At least a month off. Orym will be back with a Wizard by then.” She tries to keep her voice level. It’s the most she can manage as she kneels over the pile of ashes that had once been a fireplace. That had once been—no. She can’t say that part. She can’t even think it.

The Arkynian bronze stops wailing, but it does not stop rippling. Now it is singing whoop-whoop-whoop.

“How do you know we have that much time?” the boy asks.

Cinder gives herself a once-over. Checks the leaves woven through her arms, legs and hair, the three on the vine poking through her budding breasts. They dance while the old woman stretches. “I can sense it,” she says.

“Why can’t I?” the boy asks.

“You take after Father’s side of the family, Myle,” she snaps. “Don’t you remember?” She knows she shouldn’t have said it like that. Not so mean, at least. She doesn’t need to tear her gaze from the fireplace to know her brother’s ready to cry. “I’m sorry, Myle.” she sighs. “I got angry. I shouldn’t do that. I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t choose not to be half a Nymph,” the boy snaps. He stomps his foot and almost loses his balance.

The girl’s fingers sift through the ash of the fireplace. They dig into her palms. There’s no stopping her tears now, but she tells herself that Myle doesn’t know any better. He doesn’t know what it’s like. He doesn’t know what it’s like. He can hardly conceive what this pile of ash and cinders even means. “I didn’t choose either.” Her voice is hoarser than she expects it to be. She wants to say it again, but she’s afraid she may sound worse if she does.

Instead, Myle asks, “How do you know we’ll be safe until Orym’s back with the Wizard?”

Cinder thinks back to old Orym. He has so many stories. So she tells Myle the legend of Arkynian bronze:

Arkyn was the first Kingdom ever made. They were the ones who brought mankind forth from their savagery. They began as a town much like their own. But in Arkyn they built forges and smelted metals together. At first it was simply for weapons of war—to keep the Shamblemucks and Crackstones at bay. But as their metallurgy advanced, they stumbled upon Arkynian bronze: something to fortify their structures during the morphs. Something to absorb the old woman’s movements and direct it away from their longhouses and homes. Their structures got better. Great towers and spires. And they advanced into more land, collecting knowledge and tools and new ways to battle the old woman that is the world.

“What happened to them?” Myle asks.

“A morph in the capital,” Cinder answers. “Just like any other. But their empire was so big that they couldn’t get a Wizard across the empire to quell it. The capital fell, and the empire broke apart like the rest of the land.” Cinder tries to smile. She has to focus to hammer it into place. “That won’t happen here, though. Tull is much smaller. And Orym knows weird ways of contacting our Wizard.” She shrugs. “He shouldn’t be able to summon Thavian that quickly, but I’m not about to complain.”

A long silence passes. Myle sits down next to Cinder; does not speak. Thoughts creep back into Cinder’s mind slowly, like the small stones before an avalanche.



“Please ask more questions.”


“I can’t bear to be alone with my thoughts.”


“So what’s your question?”

“Where’s Mother?”

Cinder sucks in a breath between her teeth, and then stops breathing. The exact question she did not want to explain to him, and he asked it. Her fingers are digging so hard into her palm that she draws blood. The ashes sting the cuts. She doesn’t care. She bites down on her lip to stifle the cry before it comes out. She stares at the campfire. At the ash and cinders. “They thought—they—they thought she was making the morphs happen. I mean—at least—I mean I think that’s what happened. I can’t be sure.”

“She left last night to speak with Orym. She’s been doing that a lot since Father died.”

I know!” Softer, now: “I know…”

“When is she coming back?”

Cinder scoops up a handful of ash; watches it sift through her fingers. “She’s not.” She wants to scream, but those words have tightened her throat. So she leaves the shrieking to glittering arches of Arkynian bronze banding the longhouse just over the hill.        




So what do you think? Have I improved in the past six months? Do you have any questions? Compliments of critiques? Feel free to voice them in the comments below!