MY HALLOWEEN TREAT – FRESH CONTENT HORROR SHORT STORY! 10/31/2022 — Derek Barton – 2022

ECHOES

JD stretched his arms over his head, his security uniform’s stiff material pulling tight across his shoulders. He was exhausted. Especially since he was coming in to work another twelve-hour shift directly from his second job at Home Depot. It was going to be a long night. He had no idea it would be the longest one of his life.

The bank of television screens mounted on the wall ahead of him showed nine differing camera angles of a mostly empty parking lot. The room lights were dimmed and smoke from his partner’s cigarette drifted high toward the ceiling. JD snapped a glance at the clock, 8:28 PM. Parkerson Mills Mall was closing in almost a half hour, few shoppers roamed about.

“Tom,” he said over his shoulder as he stood. “I’m going across the hall real quick to hit the john, then I’ll do a patrol on the southside, okay?”

JD got only a grunt back in response. Tom Dawson was not the talkative type. He was, however, a heavyset man with a salt-and-pepper receding hairline and a set of luggage-sized bags under his eyes to match his second and third chin.  His eyes remained glued to the monitor in front of him. It was his job to watch the alarm program for all the door readers.

Swiping up a long flashlight resting on the desk, JD walked out.

Their office was nestled – more like stowed out of the way and nearly forgotten about — in a long hallway in the eastern wing of the shopping mall. The air was stale, musty from dirty mop water and humid as the AC was kept on high to save money. Only steps away, a glass door marked the bathroom entrances.

He pushed past the glass door and stepped to the right into the men’s bathroom. After he did his business, he rinsed his hands and splashed a healthy amount of water onto his face. He looked at the rough stubble on his unshaven cheeks and smoothed down a dark blonde duck tail sticking out over his white collar. With disdain, he noted his own smaller bags forming under his blue eyes.

“Gettin’ uglier and older every day, my man,” he muttered to himself.

The stall door behind swung open with a clatter and a tall, white man stepped out. He was dressed in a nice black suit and white button-down shirt with a flat blue tie.

“Aging’s a heartless bitch, ain’t she?” he said. A glint of dark humor in his gray eyes.

JD laughed but had been startled by the man’s sudden appearance. “Yes. Yes.”

He bent down again to splash his face one more time with water when he sensed rather than felt the man sidestep behind him.

“What—”

Thick, clear plastic swept down over his face, even awkwardly, pinning some of his left hand’s fingers to his chin. The plastic stretched tight across his mouth and nose. JD immediately could not breath! He gasped, choked and gagged in reflex, caught in the guy’s vice-like embrace. He swung his right arm in wild arches trying to break free. At that same moment, his eyes locked on the fuzzy image of his attacker in the mirror above the row of sinks. The man’s features were unclear, but a large, toothy smile was spread out on his face. It was sharklike, almost crystal clear. A predator’s grin!

JD slapped then scratched at his face trying to make holes to breathe through, but his struggles faded fast, and his vision tunneled away into a black murky inkiness. As he collapsed on the greasy bathroom floor, he heard deep chuckles followed by a “good boy!”.

****

“…good boy!”

JD jumped awake, tilted back in a padded passenger seat. A car door opened outside next to him as an old woman climbed into her rusting, gold Ford Crown Victoria. “Good boy, Geoffie! Waitin’ on mama,” she said to her small blonde chihuahua bouncing up and down in the seat to greet her.

Another door opened on JD’s left and he jumped again nearly out of his skin. A younger man, cropped brown hair, dressed in a green hoodie and jeans plopped down, sipping on a large fountain drink. “Hey, dude, you should get one of these, they’re half cost today only!”

The man, Chris Gatti, was JD’s best friend, now ongoing for nine years.  He was a few years younger but possessed an old soul with a very generous nature. “I’m serious—” Chris stopped when he saw JD’s terrified expression. “Whoa. What’s wrong?”

JD couldn’t answer. His mind was still absorbing his traumatic attack. How? Why am I here?  

Hot sunlight poured in through the windshield. He could see the skies were the bright, crystalline blue of summer.

“Did you have a nightmare or something?”

“I… uh, a nightmare?” he answered completely at a loss for words. A nightmare though did strike him as a possible answer to the craziness of the encounter. After all, why would anyone attack him? He didn’t do anything to anyone, and no one had any beefs with him that he could recall. And he definitely didn’t recognize the strange man who jumped him at Parkerson’s.

“Yeah, you were snoozing like a baby when I pulled in for gas. I didn’t wanna wake you when I went in.”

JD nodded and a genuine uneasy smile blossomed on his face. “Yeah, must’ve been a bad dream.” But it didn’t feel like any dream. Nothing ever felt so real!

“Tell me, man. Musta been a doozy,” Chris asked as he started his Kia Soul.

“Don’t remember much. Hey, hold up. Do you mind if I do get a drink after all?” He answered, mainly wanting to escape having to relive the ambush.

“Sure thing.”

****

Inside the gas station store, the frigid air chilled him. His clothes were damp from sweat and his exposed skin goosebumped. JD pulled down the rolled-up sleeves of his Tampa Bay Bucs sweatshirt on his arms and headed for the back. The place was cramped with close rows and displays blocking the entrances. A young teenage couple walked past him holding hands, giggling and lost in their own world. Other than the small, Italian man at the register singing along to an old rock tune on the radio, it was quiet.

The lights were amazingly bright to JD and their glare made him squint. In fact, the multitude of items on the shelves were ablaze in what seemed like neon lights and firework colors. He never got migraines, but he had heard that people suffering from them had similar, intense reactions to light. He shook his head, but it didn’t clear up his vision.

He kept his face pointed at his shoes and walked briskly to the soda fountains. His throat was actually sore! I was screaming and gasping for air…

JD reached over for a large size foam cup. The clear plastic dropped down over his face again, cutting off his air and dimming the light.

NO!!

His words – his plea – came out muffled and muted. This time JD wasted no time. He swung around with his arms spread wide and his fingers clawing the air. He wanted to get his hands on the man. Beat the man back, kick the man in revenge and smash his attacker into the ground forever!

JD’s arms knocked over a potato chip rack and his hands only sent a coffee pot to a crashing end upon the tiled floor. The young teen girl squeaked in surprise at the register.

“What’s going on back there? You will pay for anything you’ve broken, I swear it to God!” the clerk exclaimed.

Thinking he might break the stranger’s hold, JD coiled his legs and propelled backward to drive the man into a counter or maybe one of the nearby freezers. The pair plowed into a glass donut enclosure. There was another tinkling explosion of shattered glass as it fell next to where the two wrestled.

JD’s sight again darkened as numbness spread over him. Why is this happening? Who is this? What the fuck does he waaaa…

More deep chuckles followed him into the gloom.

****

“Yo! Are you next? Ya waiting on somethin’ or is the machine down, man?”

JD blinked and he wavered on his feet.

Behind him a pair of strong hands gripped his shoulders. “Hey man, you okay?”

Once more, JD could not answer and looked into the face of an elderly black man that had come through a glass door marked CHANNEL BANK – ATM. “What?” he asked the man still holding him upright.

“You okay, I asked.” Concern creased his wrinkled features. His dark eyes imploring and studying his face.

“Honestly, I don’t know.”

He shrugged free of the man and left the small ATM enclosure. Outside it was cloudy and lightly sprinkling.  A heavily loaded Metro bus hissed as it progressed down Main. Then its breaks whined angerly in protest as it slowed to make its turn down 5th Ave. He shambled toward an old park bench near the curb facing the street.

He plopped down, planted his face in his hands and leaned over his grubby sneakers. It was too much. The pain, the terror, the icy end of it all. The trauma overwhelmed him. He couldn’t stop himself and he sobbed helplessly in his palms.

Moments later, he finally gathered himself and straightened his shoulders, leaning back.

This is like some cheesy horror movie! Only I’m the only one that Michael or Freddie keep going after.

Like in those movies he and his friends saw relentlessly in his teenager years, he realized he needed answers. Needed to research how and why this kept happening. Yet, those answers were most likely only found on the net. He wasn’t going home to his empty apartment, to his laptop. Hell, he never wanted to be alone anywhere again!

There were public laptops at the city center library. He waited nervously for the next bus which would come and get him close to downtown. Traffic and passersby pedestrians kept him company and he was deeply grateful for that.

****

The curser kept blinking and waiting for his keywords.

What do I look for? Do I try to find out who that man is? Do I see if anyone else has been attacked recently?

He stared at the laptop screen in frustration. Half a dozen other users were sitting at the bank of laptops and others walked among the bookshelves or browsed the magazine racks. He never felt so happy to see a crowd. He would have gladly hugged and embraced each person. Tears rimmed his eyes again and threatened to spill down.

JD ignored the emotions and got down to business. He typed “Muggings+white 40s male+plastic bag”. His fingers trembled and he forcefully clasped his hands together in his lap as he waited for the search results.

Several stories appeared but nothing that seemed related to what he was going through.

“C’mon! I know this guy’s done this before. He’s too quick, too practiced to be his first rodeo,” he spoke aloud.

“Strangulations+white male” Maybe I need to be broader and more general.

More articles but nothing specific enough to help.

“Self-defense tactics” JD typed next.

A loud siren, shrieking overhead and down the hallway exits startled him so bad he yelped. Some laughter at his reaction was quickly drowned out by a PA announcement, “CAN EVERYONE QUICKLY BUT ORDERLY EXIT THE BUILDING? THE FIRE ALARM IS ON. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

As everyone gathered their books, backpacks and purses, the announcement was repeated.

JD sighed but wasn’t too upset as he was getting no where fast on the internet. As he followed the nervous crowd marching along the hallway, he tried to decide his next move. Where can I go to get answers? Where will there be a crowd? Who might understand what’s happening? Would a church or maybe a priest have some ideas?

Hands gripped his left arm and yanked him hard into an unlit meeting cubby as he started to pass. He stumbled blindly over a chair and fell hard onto his stomach. His right wrist popped like a gun shot in the interior of the small cubby.

Through gritted teeth, he screamed as the stranger landed on top of his back, “WHY DO YOU KEEP ATTACKING ME? WHY DO YOU WANT TO KILL ME?” Tears burned his eyes and hot pain seared through his arm and broken wrist.

The man’s weight constricted JD’s breathing and movements. Even over the continuous bleating of the fire alarm, he could hear the stranger’s deep chuckles.

“Why do you say I’m trying to kill you?” More mocking laughter followed. “That’s funny! I’m not trying. I AM KILLING YOU! And I’m going to kill you again and again!”

JD stopped his struggles and froze in response to the words.

“Jason, you see, you’ve made someone a very powerful enemy. Seen something or done something you weren’t supposed to, I don’t know. So much an enemy that they’ve paid me a lot of money to wipe you out of existence. Every existence… Every lifetime… Every dimension…”

Plastic wrapped his face again. JD couldn’t fight it. He was paralyzed. As his vision winked out, he understood the meaning of those words. The assassin was snuffing him out one by one.

His murder was infinite.

FRESH STORY CONTENT 10/27/2022 — Derek Barton — Wyvernshield!! – 2022

In spite of the activities they were about to perform, the night was relatively quiet in the compound.  Taliah was in her ceremonial robe, waiting on a Bhik-sunii to retrieve her from her room and escort her to the Ritual Room. She was calm and rested, her thick red hair bound up in a silver brooch.  Her blindfold laid across her lap, she did not like to wear it in the privacy of her room. However, for the Order ceremonies or when she was consulting visitors she always had one to cover the deep groves, the scars cut into her face and of course, the hideous open eye sockets.  Without it, there was always an awkward tension in the air.  She understood that people were thrown off by the mutilation and it made them uncomfortable. Yet she was at peace with all of it. It was the price she paid, the penance for her forced actions on behalf of the Viestrahl which led to much blood spilt.

She wondered what the Blood Seyde would reveal to her tonight.  Normally, she took her cues from nature when to perform the Seyde, a bath in blood. Storms would coalesce and sweep in to their island.  The pounding of the rain, the strafing rains, and the raw energies released by its lightning would charge her power.  

Sometimes with those storms came a mystic messenger, a white cloud-like entity.  These entities wanted her to see their stories, live a moment or day in their lives.  They were her guides through history. Even a king once came to her and confessed to her his greatest sins. These visions had revealed much to her and explained so many mysteries of local lore to her which she shared with Tal Crowan and the Khestal Ezan Order.  

Yet, there were no such storms this evening.  She proposed the idea to Tal and set up the Seyde herself.  A compulsion or maybe it was intuition, but something nagged at her and inspired the idea to try and gain knowledge of the Etohlosii through her visions.  At first, it took some convincing as the procurement of the precious gallons of blood was expensive. In the end, he agreed it may provide a direction.  

The Beleardea were ahead of them and with the Ebon Queen’s backing, they easily blocked all of their other endeavors to learn what was happening behind the Barrier of Storms.  

A memory of crystal water stained red, a fountain of white and silver stone, the horrific vision rose up in Taliah and she shuddered.  It had been a terrorizing, prophetic dream she had before Letandra had been taken by the Crown.  A revealing glimpse into madness and human sacrifice.  The blood in her fountains were human, while the blood Taliah would bathe in was from animals.  A subtle but important difference.

A metal gong was struck and reverberated through the compound. It was time, her escort would arrive soon. 

She pulled up the red and gold blindfold and placed it over her scarred face.  Carefully, she worked herself over to stand near the door.  

Moments later she heard the wooden clogs of the Bhik-sunii girls as they came to her bed chamber.

One gave a soft knock and they came in without a word. She extended her arm then was led through the halls.  

Taliah laid naked inside a silver bathtub, the cold metal chilling her backside as she waited for the ritual to begin.

She smelled a faint wisp of scented smoke coming from several braziers in the corners of the room.  A metallic tinkling sound drifted down to her ears that came from long metal chimes hung from the ceiling in between red wax candles and ruby crystal chandeliers.  

The Bhik-sunii strode up and surrounded the bathtub, presumably with their silver pitchers.  She braced herself and focused her thoughts.

Cam Rhea initiated the special Song of Crossing to deliver her into the In-Between. The In-Between was an enormous intersection of all  existence, where all the planes connected. It was said to be like an emerald sea where nothing physically existed yet everything could be found there too.  She did not understand it nor had she ever seen it with her own eyes, even before she was blind.  

The Song of Crossing and the intricate chants were to guide her to the intersection as well as provide a level of magical and spiritual protection.  There were said to be creatures that could prey upon souls or even capture one in order to replace them in reality. 

“Pa tas bea’tra.  Pa tas bea’tra. Pa tas bea’tra – Keyor!” Speak through the blood.  Speak through the blood.  Speak through the blood — Dead One!  As the girls chanted, they poured the oily liquid contents of the pitchers. Taliah then felt their hands upon her limbs and shoulders keeping her firmly beneath the surface of the warm blood.

She spasmed and her body fought their hold, but in time as always it gave in and went limp. As she entered the Crossing, her body became weightless. Then a fire built inside her, it raged through every cell.  While she still could not see, a picture formed of her surroundings inside her mind.  Every nerve of her body was in direct connection to the In-Between and absorbed every detail in an all encompassing vision.    

Within the In-Between were millions of strands or soul-lines, long, convoluted cables, representing each  person’s life.  They wound together in massive braids, the family blood lines of each generation. It was at this point the guide or the Mystic Messenger would take her to the strand she needed and she would delve into the depths of their lives, living through their eyes or witnessing it in a spirit-form.

When Taliah was new to the role as a Blood Seeress, it was hard to know the limits of what she could do and to understand what she saw. And even though she was more experienced, she still found she had a loose grasp on her power.  It was one of the reasons she was so excited to try this experiment this evening.  She wanted to push the boundaries again and at the same time, she hoped to find more useful answers.

She hesitated opn how to proceed. No “Dead One” tonight for her to rely on so she waited for any sign.  Floating in the Emerald Sea among the multitude of soul-lines made her feel insignificant and at the same time a critical element to all the souls around her.  

Finally she felt the tiniest of vibrations caress her skin.  She pushed herself toward it trying to gain a stronger indication of its location.  Again the sensation of rippling waves tickled her. but it was barely any different than before.  This meant that the soul-line was a distance from her.  It would take some time and a lot of mental energy to find the hidden strand. 

That did not bode well for Taliah.  The longer in the In-Between, the harder it was to extract from it.  As well it meant a more intensive rest would be needed afterward. She hated bed-rest. The fact that the hidden strand was some distance, however, did boost her mood. This was a sign that the event to be witnessed was deep in history.

As she had not felt any other twinges or sensations from other strands, she had to hope that this was the one she needed.  

It took the greater half of the night she estimated to reach the soul-line.  Taliah hoped she was not woken too early.  The Bhik-sunii watched over her physical form in the real world and studied her to see signs of stress.  If they feared she was in danger they had processes to retrieve her soul-line.  They knew she disliked long periods in the mysterious plane, yet they also knew this was an important quest for her. It was a dual test of their wisdom for them and a test of her fortitude.

She trusted their patience would hold them from disrupting her.  

Not waiting any time, she located the strand among several knotted family braids and immediately plunged her essence into the ivory cable.   

****

A set of five pedestals stood before her, four with individual marks and thick moldy tomes.  The room was square with a high arched ceiling.  A trio of sky lights allowed sunrays to pierce the room’s gloomy shadows and encircle the pedastals.  Taliah recognized the pedastals and books but not the location.  She saw a similar set up once in a long ago vision, but that room had been hidden in present day somewhere in the city of Rovmantysa.  The Beleardea had established a chamber, acquired the tomes and used them in their rituals.  

She did not understand why they were here now in front of her.  This room was empty, its walls were only adorned with a symbolic scripting. It was the exact opposite of her vision of the altar for ARa Etohl — that room had been circular, ringed with candles and the walls covered in tapestries showing the Vile Beast, the Three-Horned Snake God.

Staring down at her hands, she recognized that they were too rough and callused to be a woman’s hands.  In the right hand was a torch and the other a dirt-caked hand shovel.  

“Aramon, move in already. I want to see.” A woman’s voice, thick with the Jehahi accent called out behind him.

“Aye.  It’s beautiful.  Jussa like the Shaman said.” The man answered.  Taliah remained inside only as a witness.  She had no power here.  All was displayed to her as if they were actors in a play before her.

The man raised from his crawling position and stood in the room.  His face drawn in rapture and his eyes seem to eat up the writing on the walls.

As the woman came in, Taliah noted her youth first then the fact that her naked torso was tattooed in symbols.  She recognized a few religious symbols but could not remember the meanings.  She was dressed in a long flowing skirt and had a bronze circlet which had delicate chains woven into her hair.  The braid hung down her back to her waist. She carried a backpack and a couple of watersacks on a belt.  Neither she or this Aramon were armed. 

“We don’t have much time.” She tried to spur him into action.  When he remained frozen, she shrugged and crossed over to the first of the pedestals. 

The tome was three handspans wide and bound in gray-scaled leather with golden rings. A glass crystal orb was embedded in the cover.  Without realizing it, she subconsciously rubbed her fingers over the translucent glass.  A high-pitched whine escaped it and filled the chamber for a couple of seconds.  

“Shasha!  What did you do?”  Aramon shouted as spun to look at her. He ran to her side.  The second tome answered in turn with its own pitch, slightly higher.  A hooked staff shown on its cover and was depicted in gold and platinum metal engraving.  The third book, marked by a Silver Crown rang out in an even higher octave.  All four tomes continued to trill and gain in intensity.

“I…I don’t know?”  A tear slipped down her cheek. “But, I think…I think I hear the voice of Yula Do Vras.  It is so beautif–“

“–NO! You’ve only triggered some kind of alarm.  Grab them before…”

A part of the back wall shifted and a square section of sandstone slowly dropped and cascaded into a pile upon the floor. A passage dark and foreboding could be seen as it continued into mysterious shadows. The tomes shrills whines diminished and faded into silence.

The pair stared at each other, neither had an answer or expected this. 

Aramon approached the opening and held up his torch which sputtered on an unseen draft coming from the tunnel.  The flames steadily regained and remained lit on the wooden shaft. Over his shoulder, he commanded again, “Get the books, Shasha. Come!”

“I donna like the looks of that way.  We should go back the ways we came. That way opened for a reason. Who knows what it’s purpose might be. A trap perhaps?”

A whispery voice called out from the tunnel.  It was featherlight and musical.  She was almost certain it was the same sweet voice she had heard before. The words were impossible to make out but they repeated over and over to them.  

Before the pair knew it, they were standing inside another mammoth chamber, their torchlight barely illuminating a quarter of it.  Marble pillars stood on white and black tiled floors. They rose high overhead to an unseen ceiling. Nothing of this place seemed familiar or even possibly connected to the temple they had invaded. The room was manmade but appeared to be nearly empty. Taliah noted that there were rows of wooden benches or pews on either side of an immense aisle. Their sandals made odd thumping sounds as they traveled deeper into the heart of the chamber.

Finally they stood before a raised dais and a wooden altar.  A gray and red cloth carpeted the dais.  

A figure stood waiting behind the altar, silken beige thin wraps covered the figure from head to toe.  The wraps were see-through and haphazard in fashion.  The figure was a collection of bones, not a full skeleton. A chain of black links and sapphire gems was the only decoration upon its neck.

“Come, O Children O Children,”  The figure called out as the skull turned to acknowledge their presence. It had the sweet angelic voice.

“Who are you?  Where are we?”  Challenged Aramon.

“You are in Sanctuary.  You are forever safe.”

Shasha pulled on Aramon’s shoulder.  “I donna like this.  Please, let’s go back the other ways.”

“I want to show you what gifts you hold.  I want you to understand their meaning and their power.”  The wrapped figure said.  It had no real emotion in its words, just a simple statement of desire. It floated closer, ominous and wreathed with ivory light. Breath-taking, towering over them, intimidating all at the same time.

“We donna mean any disgrace to Yula Do Vras. Our…our mother is dying and we needed the bounty for the books to pay for her care.  We see that this was wrong and we’ll replace them.  Please!” Aramon begged.  

“I am not asking to take the books from you.  They shall be forever a part of you. I only want to show you their reason for existence.  You have done Us a great favor, O Children O Children”  The figure rose above them, its light now bathing them.

The siblings whimpered in superstitious fear and dropped to their knees, clasping their hands.  “Please.  PLEASE! Forgive our trespass.  We will return them.  Donna hurt us.”  Shasha ranted as she buried her face into her brother’s shoulder.

“You do not understand… yet,.. how you have done Us the favor.  Now we impart onto you what you have released into the existence again.”  Its skeletal hands came down and rested on their foreheads. The figure’s remnants of skin was mottled gray and with patches of coarse black hairs. Blue veins stood out under the thin, taught skin. Its clinging flesh writhed uncontrollably.

Both Aramon and Shasha shrieked and filled the room with tortured screams.

****

Taliah’s eyes were blind again.  A searing pain filled her. She reflexively flung herself back into reality, crashing out of the silver tub, sprawling like a wild fish upon the floor.  Her hands clutched at the sides of her head as her screams mimicked the pair over and over. Horrific images flooded her mind’s eye. 

The Etohlosii were coming and soon they would release ARa Etohl forever upon the realms. All realms!

The Bhik-sunii swept her up, trying to calm her, but it took hours for her to return to sanity.  She writhed all that time, wrestled in their arms as she cried. They eventually put a leather strip in her mouth to prevent her from biting off her tongue and chewing away her lips.  

All the while, Tal Crowan stood silently watching, pen and parchment in hand. He wrote down her every word. He listened to every muttered phrase or name. Her words began to repeat — he surmised that she was giving him a prophecy, a litany of events that may come, names of those who must live and those who must die or the Corruption of ARa Ehtol would come and end all existence.

CHECK IT! CHECK IT OUT!! — Derek Barton – 2022

Hey Everyone!

We have set up a Kickstarter for our magazine. What’s a Kickstarter? CHECK IT OUT AND SEE WHAT SPECIAL ITEMS/REWARDS/COLLECTIBLES YOU CAN GET BY HELPING US REACH OUR GOAL!

2023 will be a great new year of fresh content and thrilling horror!!!!

. Want to know what YOU get?

Be a part of the team and on board for a great series of chilling stories!!!

New Project for 2023, Ready for it? — Derek Barton – 2022

I am excited to announce MY new venture — I’ve gathered over a dozen horror and crime fiction writers to write unique, short stories which will be issued in beautifully arranged magazine issues.

Every quarter, we are set to release indie-original fiction along with crafted poetry, author-drawn illustrations, picture & author biographies, and in-depth interviews with some of the authors.

Writing Staff: Derek Barton, Alyanna Poe, Chris Pelton, John N. McLean, Albert Moss, Andy Holberry, Jennifer Amato , Adam C Mitchell, Sam Synner, Annmarie McMullin, Jace Killjoy, Steve Cain and Thomas Stewart Copy Editor: Nesa Miller

Soon I will announce our Kickstarter campaign where for a minimal pledge, you will gain access to custom made metal bookmarkers, digital/softcover issues, an exciting Zoom Halloween Party with the Magazine Contributors, t-shirts, bonus story material, and even my Elude Series on Audible!

I will keep you all in the loop on any upcoming details or updates. With success, I hope to extend this project into the following year, maybe going bi-monthly with the issues! And of course, if I’m able to I would love to create the same kind of magazine but for Fantasy & Sci-Fi stories! Time will tell!!

FRESH STORY CONTENT 9/20/2022 — Derek Barton — Wyvernshield!! – 2022

As LLasher steadily made his way to the point where the soldiers had entered, he heard distant horse hooves pounding down the road.  He rotated on his saddle to look behind him.  He spotted another rider, it was Rivyen.
 
After the disastrous events in the castle and they had lost both King Taihven and Princess Letandra, LLasher had left with Letandra’s Aberrisc friends, Scars and Ama’yen.  On board his ship, the Corrta Da’Eale, they had headed out of the bay when they were intercepted by a ship owned by the Khestal Ezan Order.  On it had been Taliah the Blood Seeress and the Order’s Headmaster, Tal Crowan. A small, thin man with long white braided hair and a silvery goatee.
 
After Tal Crowan and Taliah boarded, they convinced LLasher that they would be able to help free Letandra from The Bleeding Crown and restore the balance of the land.  However, their efforts had been stymied by her Barrier of Storms which magically blocked any land and sea entrance as well as any magical efforts.
 
Plus, the new Ebon Queen’s own machinations. She outlawed the Khestal Ezan Order, labeling them a cult of traitors. Then the Beleardea Cult was reinstated and given powerful resources.
 
Rivyen was one of the Khestal Ezan’s strongest assets, a swordsman with his own collection of magical items. He had long platinum blond hair and a cropped brown beard.  Strange rumors said that the man was from another plane of existence.  LLasher only now remembered the two were to rendezvous along the Nestermaryn Forest Road about a mile outside of the port.
 
He stopped his mount and waited. The man caught up with him as LLasher was stepping off his own horse. LLasher said, “You did not have to–“
 
“–I grew concerned since neither you nor the Wyvernguards came to the meet.  Where are they?  Did they get to the courier?”  Rivyen inquired as he dismounted. He was always all business and focused. LLasher admired that the most in the warrior.
 
“Not yet. Inside Port Scescima, Temerryk met up with the Pontiff. I gave chase as did the ex-Wyvernguarrd, but we could not catch them before The Barrier. I ordered the two to follow after.”
 
Rivyen stared at him, his eyes wide as his features began to tighten.  He set his hands at his hips then turned to study the towering clouds.
 
“What is wrong?”
 
“You murdered those men? What were you thinking!” He growled, seething with emotion.
 
LLasher grabbed at his shoulder, turning him about. “What are you babbling about?  They are soldiers.  They know how to prot–“
 
“–YOU DO NOT CARE THAT THEY ARE MEN! YOU LABEL THEM SOLDIERS SO YOU CAN FEEL FREE TO ASK THEM THE IMPOSSIBLE. YOU DO NOT HAVE THE EXPERIENCE OR INSTINCTS TO LEAD MEN!”
 
Taken aback by the sudden flare of rage, LLasher gaped back at him, could not answer him. 
 
Rivyen pressed his lips tight, pulled at his cheeks with both hands and shook his head. 
 
“I…I do not believe they will die,” LLasher stated. “If they are quick and careful, they can slip in, ambush the scout and leave.  The pontiff has surely escaped, but with some luck they can get to Temerryk. Perhaps. Why do you think…What makes you think that they will die?” 
 
“If you were capable of conjuring up that storm, do you think you would stop there?  Or would you put further protection or obstacles to prevent further trespass?  She has blotted out the lands for a reason.  Whatever she–IT is doing in there, The Bleeding Crown does not want anyone to see or know.”
 
“Alright, I see your point, but that does not mean they will be killed.”
 
“No one has ever come out of there! Even as we argue about it, they are surely bleeding, you arrogant ass!”  He launched himself up to his mount and started pulling at the reins.  “Follow!”
 
He left the ex-slaver in the plumes of the canyon’s dust.
 
LLasher was in shock but numbly followed the instruction and climbed up onto his saddle.  He secured and adjusted the hatchet bandolier across his chest.
 
When he caught up with Rivyen, the man was back down on his feet again, crouching beside the boot tracks in the dirt. 
 
“How long have they been in there?” he shouted trying to be heard over the howling fury of the storm.
 
“Not that long, but…I fear you are right as I thought they would be back out by now. I am sorry that I did not think this through.”
 
Rivyen glanced up at him. He gave no words of acceptance but nodded his chin toward the storm.  He was armed in a broadsword and a short sword combination. They did not speak again as they steeled themselves and walked into the high winds.
 
For a few yards, the wind screamed in their ears and battered at their bodies nearly taking them off their feet. Each had to hunch over and walk in an angular fashion.  Bitter chill air enveloped them.  Hard rain mixed with tiny hail balls spattered at their exposed skin.
 
Abruptly, they passed into a calmer region.  It was not the same as the inside eye of a hurricane, but more like if one found a valley that dipped beneath a raging storm between two mountains.  Icy ivory fog obscured everything, but they could hear the roar and fury above and surrounding them.
 
They were in a world of only two colors now, gray and white.  Nothing had any definition or sharp lines.  The two men stepped closer together in order to not lose sight of each other. 
 
Rivyen pointed at the ground where drops of red blood pooled and dribbled along the path.  They began tracking the droplets. 
 
“How far are we from the castle do you think we are?”  LLasher asked.
 
“I cannot tell, but I am more concerned how far away we are to the Wyvernguard men.  We should hear them, no?”
 
“I would dare not to call out.  As you said before, who knows what protections or guards she has out here for any fools such as us.”
 
A shadowy mass appeared and charged out at them.  It was a black horse, wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth.  They jumped to the sides of the path as it raced past.  It was saddled, but blood ran down its left haunch from an arrow protruding from its backside.
 
“That is the courier’s ho–” A scream cut off LLasher’s words.  It was muffled by the fog and distance.  Another closer scream of agony followed then another scream joined the first.
 
“I believe they are coming from this way!”  Rivyen shouted and grabbed at LLasher’s leather vest, hauling him along after him.
 
The road wove ahead and between several piles of rocks and cut logs. The entirety of the lands before the castle appeared to have been flattened and prepped for an oncoming invasion.  Deep trenches were cut parallel to the road and lined with spikes. 
 
LLasher tried to ignore the skulls and half-rotted heads that were impaled on the spikes. His skin crawled as he sensed the dead’s eyes were tracking their steps.  
 
Just past three large piles of boulders, a creature roared in defiance as the two invaded its territory.  It was unlike anything he had seen before.  The winged body was scaled with white, stone-like scales. It was comprised of three heads:  a broad lion’s head surrounded by a massive snake head on its left and on the right shoulder was a horned reptilian head.  The entire beast stood at least fifteen feet at its shoulder.  Under one of its massive paws was the body of a headless soldier. LLasher immediately recognized the Wyvernguard armor, but he was not sure which of the two it belonged to. 
 
How do you send a man to his death and not even know his name? He berated himself.
 
The courier’s parchment bag was pinned under the man’s legs. The two soldiers were able to overtake them at least!
 
“Go for the parcel!  I will keep it occupied. GO!” LLasher exclaimed, charging the beast with his hatchets held high.
 
Seeing the oncoming challenge, the huge beast pounced to the ground, abandoning its victim at the top of the pile.  Its feline body arched and kept low to the earth. A barbed tail swished back and forth in the air.
 
He circled away from the body and tried to keep the beast’s eyes on him as Rivyen crept carefully on the right. 
 
The creature growled and hissed, but it focused upon the glinting steel hatchets.  As it judged him, LLasher tried to determine if the creature itself had any opening or weaknesses.  This was not going to be easy. 
 
Lifting his hatchet high into the air, he cried out and lurched forward, only to feint to the left, testing its reflexes and reactions.  Both the snake head and the lizard’s snout shot out, their jaws snapping and drooling. The beast was very quick and agile.
 
Taking another tactic, this time on the left side, he threw one hatchet at the snake head as he feinted back to the right.  It dodged it easily as LLasher anticipated, but it did not expect the handful of sand he scooped into hand right after his throw.  The particles covered the three heads in a brown shroud. All three screeched as the body reared back trying to get out of the cloud of debris. 
 
He followed and swung in low with a hatchet thrust, straight into the exposed underbelly.  It struck and sank into white skin, but the wound was not deep or even long, but it could be cut. One of the paws scraped the hatchet out as the creature leaped into the air. It was not done with the two of them, but it was taking full advantage of height. 
 
Rivyen joined him with the courier bag in hand. “We have to go now.” 
 
“I am not leaving the other man.”
 
“If you do not go now, you will never leave these men!”
 
“He could be–“
 
Shaking his head vehemently, Rivyen leaned in again.  “I saw other creatures flying in the distance.  It is not alone.”  He pointed at the beast.  “WE cannot take down one of them, let alone four or five.  The other man is not here and no doubt, he has died somewhere else.”
 
“You coward!”
 
Rivyen swirled around, striking LLasher hard in the side of his jaw, knocking him onto his back in the dirt.  He spat at the Camiyaan.  “I did not put these men in here. You did!  I am not afraid of this fight, but there is no honor in dying for no reason and I have too many people counting on me to get things done.  Done right.  Lie there then and let them eat you if your honor dictates that is the right thing, fool.”
 
He marched out of sight as he went back down the road with the parchment bag under one arm.
 
Swallowing his pride and seeing the validity of the words, LLasher quickly got to his feet and ran after him. 
 
Above hidden in the gray blanket of sky, they both heard wings flapping and screeches called out and answered from other beasts in the distance.
 
“Faster!” LLasher urged.
 
The men were near where the Barrier grew furious again when a pair of the three-headed beasts landed heavily in front of them.  Growling and mewling in defiance and anticipation for fresh meat.  Behind the men, out of sight in the fog another pair of answering thuds shook the ground.
 
“Damn thee! No help for it now,” Rivyen cursed.  He tore at his shirt sleeve and ripped it back from his wrist.  On his arm was an inscribed band of bronze.  He placed two fingers on circular patterns.
 
“We have to run off the path.”  LLasher cried out.
 
“No, leaving the path is still certain death.  Give me a moment,” he snapped and closed his eyes.  “Grab my shoulder quickly!”
 
As the first pair of creatures bolted forward, a silvery light bloomed around the men and repelled the animals.
 
“How long can that hold them off?”
 
“I am not done. Do not let go!”
 
Suddenly the scene outside their silvery bubble altered and they stood on the shoreline of the Khestal Ezan Isle. 
 
Rivyen released his fingers and the magic of the bubble dispersed. 
 
“That was a nice trick!”
 
Rivyen shrugged.  “It does not have many charges left.”
 
He wanted to apologize again for bring them into the mess of the Sea of Storms, but instinct told him his words would fall on deaf ears.  The man’s point had been made and Rivyen was not the type to dwell on what could not be changed. 
 
LLasher hoped he would find a way to make it up to him and regain his standing with the man.
 
There is no way to repay those men that he had easily sacrificed.  Whatever they might learn from the parchment’s messages would still pale to the fact that their blood was on his hand. 
 
I have never taken anyone for granted before like that.  What has gotten into me?  Am I changing or am I slipping because of all the failures? 
 
He remained quiet as he followed the planar warrior again as they headed up the beach to the compound’s entrance.  His introspection continued as he analyzed his actions and thoughts.  He wondered if he really was fit to lead anyone anymore. 
 
Look what his help had done for King Taihven, the city of Wyvenshield and the love of his life, Letandra. 
 
His touch seemed to bring ruin.

FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 9/3/2022 — Derek Barton — Wyvernshield!! – 2022



A white plume of dust trailed far behind Llasher in the chill of the air. His white and brown roan raced hard down the rocky road, its sides heaving hard from its exertion. It was a murky morning, the first rays of light unable to break through the layers of clouds overhead. He was afraid he was forcing the animal beyond its limits, but the urgency of his mission required it. 

A trio of riders ahead were outdistancing him. They were members of the Beleardea, the dangerous cult of religious fanatics, once banned from the continent. 

As one of the Camiyaan race, he was tan and lean, but he was also completely hairless.  He wore black riding clothes under an olive-green vest and hooded robe. Across his chest was a leather bandolier holstering three small, silver hatchets and attached at his belt was a coiled blue-black whip. Covering most of his face, he wore at eye level a dark blue bandana to keep out the road dust.   

One of the three riders was on a black horse and he wore brown leggings. He was  known on the streets as Temerryk, a courier. Pressed to his sides he carried a well-worn leather satchel. He was the one LLasher originally tailed in the crowds clustered on the notorious Port Ssescima Wharf.

On another horse, a gray, black-spotted mare, was LLasher’s new target: Pontiff Joman-Gregg. The afternoon before, Temerryk had met up with the pontiff and received a package, its contents meant for the new Ebon Queen. The surprise appearance of the pontiff shocked LLasher. His orders were only to subdue Temerryk in order to learn what the next moves were for the Beleardea. 

But he was not about to let the elusive pontiff escape. The unexpected opportunity was too good to pass. 

LLasher had circled around the clandestine meeting and stood among the fruit and vegetable stalls. Thus he hoped to block the pontiff’s chance to reboard his waiting ship. However, the pontiff had not been traveling alone or unprepared. Out of nowhere, a large, square-shaped man exploded from a nearby merchant stall and plowed the Camiyaan off his feet, dumping him into the waves of the Everglass Sea below.  

The brute was the third rider ahead, the muscled escort, who now rode on a brown mare next to the pontiff. 

The three were barely out of his reach. The horse chase had been ongoing all night since the docks of Port Ssescima. 

Luckily, LLasher who was familiar with the region, had been able to take shortcuts to catch up with the trio as they traveled down the Nestermaryn Forest Road. Yet the window of opportunity to catch his prize was fading as the distance to Wyvernshield grew shorter. 

Unbeknownst to his quarry, LLasher had some reinforcements placed ahead by happenstance. Ex-Wyvernguards he had placed as scouts were keeping tabs on the outskirts of Wyvernshield. He hoped they were alert enough to spot the horse chase as they approached.

He stared ahead and focused on the darkening gray skies. A ferocious funnel of clouds loomed. It spanned a distance of several miles wide and towered up from the ground into the sky almost out of sight.  Lightning flashed sporadically and large debris whirled within it. The massive tempest was called by the locals the Sea of Storms, or The Barrier, encapsulated the entire region and even by sea no one had been able to get close.  And the Barrier seemed to grow daily.

Miniature, red bird-like creatures were fixated on the unnatural phenomenon and flocked around it.  No one was sure if they only watched or if they attacked intruders as well. Since LLasher and the others lost Castle Adventdawn, months before, most of the city residents had never been seen again. Many atrocities were being accredited to Ebon Queen Letandra.  Vile crucifixions and hangings were reported the first few days after her dark reign began. The bodies had decorated the courtyards and the walls of the castle itself.  

Much like the city of Wyvernshield, LLasher’s life had changed considerably in the last couple years. He lost most of his arm during a violent encounter with the infamous Pale Mage, Auste Cros’seau. Afterwards, Princess Letandra found him lying near death and used her Mending spells to keep him alive. This had been the catalyst for his own personal transformation.  

Through her one act of mercy, she showed him how his life had been selfish and utterly meaningless.   He gave up the slave trade after his recuperation from the attack.  Later when he learned of her abduction, he became obsessed with finding a way to rescue her. He wanted her to know what she meant to him and that he was becoming a man worthy of her show of mercy.

The new queen still resided as far as everyone knew in Adventdawn Castle. Only a handful outside the Khestal Ezan Order knew it was The Bleeding Crown entity controlling everything.  

The mammoth tempest then exploded into existence on the fourth day.  

Movement broke his dreary reverie and he focused on two new riders, his posted scouts giving chase! The three Beleardea members doubled their efforts and made straight for the Barrier. Temerryk continued to clutch at his side the package. 

Suddenly the two scouts’ horses broke off pursuit, one horse rearing up, nearly throwing the rider. The other angled to the left, running in a zigzag pattern as the rider batted at something unseen in the air. 

As Llasher feared, a spot of the curtain slid aside as if brushed away by an unseen giant’s hand and a roadway could be seen inside the storm clouds.  They charged right through the fierce, swirling fog.  It did not surprise him that the evil cult had a way in unhampered. The opening sealed up immediately behind him. Dark protective sorcery in play. 

Damn! What happened? It should have been an easy ambush. 

Ahead the pair of chasing riders regrouped, then pulled up short in front of the hidden opening.  They were in an obvious debate about what to do next.

LLasher whistled and waved his arm trying to get their attention. They were too involved in their discussion.

He gave up on the idea that they would see him.  He brought the roan to a stop, rummaged frantically inside his backpack and located a small mirror.  

Angling it to catch the light, he flashed it over and over at the men. When he was about to give up on the idea, one saw him and waved back.  He immediately thrust his hand in a forward motion. The riders acknowledged him with a salute, dismounted and plunged into it by foot.  The horses were too panicked to be guided inside.  The animals by instinct knew it was beyond dangerous inside the magical disturbance.

This mission had gone south quickly, but failing would be too high of a price. This was too important to let the parcel slip through their hands as well as losing Pontiff Joman-Gregg!  He needed them to risk the Sea of Storms. Bringing up his spyglass, he watched them hesitantly creep into the whirling winds.  The expressions of dread and fear were evident on the two.  

He used the bandana to wipe away sweat and dust from his smooth face and neck. Shaking his head, his gut told him this was a bad idea.  “It is a risk we have to take!  Her horror has gone on too long already.”  His words echoed back at him. They sounded weak, petty and desperate. 

No one had ever come out of the Sea of Storms. 

Yet… No one yet

Maximizing Goals through Objectives & Key Results (OKR)! — Derek Barton – 2022

Previously in 2017, I started using a goal setting method called Bi-monthly Goals. It’s a tactic that focused on setting several goals every two-month period. At the end of the two months, you repeat the process and establish new ones. I found some early results with the strategy, my momentum and high energy bringing me some progress. However, its biggest drawback was it didn’t really determine the roads to accomplish the goals. Lofty dreams are fine, but without a set plan I was missing the marks. I quickly fell behind and I couldn’t maintain or sustain my energy to meet the objectives in the short timeframe. Basically, I would carryover unfinished goals over every two months. This cut down my momentum and enthusiasm.

Today I discovered a new method and strategy for setting goals and achieving even better success. While perusing YouTube, I found videos on OKR, Objectives & Key Results method. Developed by Andrew Grove originally in the 70s, then expanded and presented more widespread to businesses by John Doerr. It actually became the founding culture for the company executives of Google and we all see what success they have had.

What I have determined about OKR is that it cuts down the distractions, focuses on the primary motivation and gives you steps to gain momentum. Thus, success in the long term! OKR or Objectives & Key Results has three parts to it: Objectives (your primary goal desire), Key Results (how you measure your progress) and Initiatives (what steps, tools or habits you are going to use to achieve your goal).

The normal timeframe that OKRs are set for is Quarterly, but this is negotiable. If you feel you need faster results or if you find you need longer periods to acquire what you need for your goal, you can go monthly, bi-monthly or every 6 months or even annual goals.

Here is an example — remember I spoke about Google. From the TED Talk by John Doerr, he shared the story of one of their designers who dedicated himself using an OKR to creating a “browser above all other browsers.” He decided he would use the number of actual users to measure his success. His first year’s goal was 20 million users (didn’t succeed, only obtained 10 million users), but the next year he double-down on his goal and aimed for 50 million (he had more success and hit 37 million). Finally the third year’s goal, he shot for 100 million! Through the first two years, he saw what worked and learned from his results what didn’t. His efforts were rewarded by reaching 111 million that third year!

Using the straightforward approach of keeping your goal simple and on your horizon, you use Key Results to view and define your progress. Again, you will find momentum and success long term.

So with that in mind, I want to put my own goal out there and see what I can WIN with this approach.

2022 Objective: Surpass my highest production ever in one year’s time.

Key results: Publish three new novels in the next 12 months!

Initiatives: Next three months – write 300 words (at least) 5/7 days; produce 1 Fresh Content blog 3/4 weeks; complete a manuscript, edit and publish one novel (The Flight of The Dirithi)

So after the first quarter, I’ll see how I did or did not do on my initiatives and measure my overall results. This will help me see where I can improve, where I am seeing progress and where I may need to rethink my efforts, initiatives or output of time & energy.

Of course I will keep you all updated through blogs on my findings. A lot of outside factors also weigh in on your initiatives and finding work arounds and solutions to that is also a very big key to ultimate achievement.

Wish me luck!!

Blogs, Blogs & More Blogs! — Derek Barton – 2022

This blog will be my 195th blog posting since I created this site back in July of 2016. I am really proud of the body of work. But there’s a big problem with having this many.

How can you know what I’ve written in the past or where to even look? This ARCHIVES section gives you only the amount of blog posts I’ve written in that particular month.

So it took some research, some digging into WordPress’s Help section, followed up with some very quick responses from their Customer Service agents to finally find a way to organize my posts and to provide simple categories for you to read my posts and posts I’ve written years ago.

Here is the new MENU for my blogs and some of the topics you may find interesting. Of course a lot of the posts have #tags for you to search for, but this also gives you a specific place to find blogs you may have interests in.

LATEST Blog — This of course is where you’ll still find my latest, most current blog posts. For instance this months are: * Frest Content 8/11/22 (A new chapter for Wyvernshield) * New Release – The Infernal Eternal (Release notice about my new gamebook)

BLOGS: General — These are blogs about Appearances, Book Releases, Book Giveaways or General Announcements, etc. Examples: * A Humbling Sight (Post about Hometown Library showcase) * New Author Interview (An Interview I did in 2020) * New Avenues To Me (Post about Patreon & Pinterest)

BLOGS: New Content — This category is especially good if you are looking to read any new work – rough drafts for upcoming novels. Examples: * First Sneak Peek of Evade II (Chapter excerpt) * Writing Prompt #4 – Max the Most (A horror short story) * Sneak Preview Chapter from Evade (Chapter excerpt)

BLOGS: Writing Tips — Blogs for other writers who may be interested in learning more about my style and view on word craft. Examples: * Repel the Resistance (How to fight Procrastination) * Immerse Or Die (How to keep readers involved)

BLOGS: Self-publishing — Posts that give insight into Self-publishing manuscripts and what you can anticipate in the complex process. Examples: * Essential Elements to Book Covers * The Art of The Juggle (Tips on Organizing)

BLOGS: Goal Setting — Category describing some methods for making goals and how I did or did not achieve them. Examples: * 2017 Bi-monthly Goals for July & August * 2017 Nanowrimo November & December Bi-monthly Goals (Post about making goals around Nanowrimo Challenge)

BLOGS: Personal — Personal posts that give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of my life. Examples: * Stroke — My Internal/External Ordeal * 2020 Bio Blog (Things about me & who I am)

BLOGS: Book Review — Mostly audiobook reviews and/or occasional movie reviews… Examples: * Audible Book Review of Robert Jordan’s “Eye of the World” * Audible Book Review of Stephen KIng’s “The Outsider”

BLOGS: Guest Posts — A few guest blogs from writer Adam C. Mitchell, crime noir author. * Chandler’s Ten Commandments

I hope this helps you find some old posts you may have liked before and want to reread. Or maybe you’ll find posts you may have missed or posts made before you found my site. Either way, you will discover so many posts on here that have very little views, but I hope you will find very beneficial, enlightening or entertaining!

NEW RELEASE – The Eternal Infernal – Derek Barton – 2022

Hot off the press, this fun, action-packed gamebook is now on sale on Amazon! Paperback version soon to come.

You are about to join young Zack Lyons, a budding YouTube Video Blogger on a unique adventure!

What starts as a usual day of urban exploring on the outskirts of the city, quickly turns into a bizarre, dangerous nightmare in an abandoned ex-government lab. He’ll need your street-smarts, some key decision-making, and a real stroke of good luck to survive.

Enjoy this fun, action-packed tale — part story, part game! You decide what rooms to explore, what to keep on hand, and who to fight or flee!

GRAB YOUR COPY TODAY! CLICK HERE

FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 7/21/2022 — Derek Barton – 2022

This will be the last installment of the Dirithi story line for now. I am confident I will be adding several more chapters and adventures in this first novel and publishing it by the end of the year. Thank you all for your support and great feedback so far!

Speaking of feedback — IT IS NOT TOO LATE TO ENTER MY AMAZON GIFT CARD CONTEST!!

In gratitude for all you do for ME, I want to reward you loyal readers with a chance at winning a $25 Amazon Gift Card. Send me a quick email to Rivyenphx@yahoo.com and share with me your thoughts on this and or other Fresh Content Blogs. All email responders will be entered in a drawing. I will announce the winner at the end of July. Thank you again!!


8

Brutally cold minutes collected, then turned into endless, frigid hours which stretched into the hardest night of Jueneva’s life. The Abdi leatra da had chased the tribe from their mountain home out into its violent winds and pounding rains. As the night wore on, the temperatures dropped, the mighty storm’s torrents became showers of sleet and brief periods of hail.

Kei-orah, the tall, fierce warrior that had originally captured her only days ago, wrapped a thick, black fur shawl over her head and shoulders and personally led her the last steps to a wooden lean-to shelter. Since she had stepped out of the tribe’s flooded chamber and led Mealli back to them, she had gained some sort of new status.

it appeared the hasty lean-to had been a part of their backup plan or at least a backup plan to their backup plan! A slender woman, older than most of the tribe members, bent over a stone fire pit in the center of the shelter. She was working hard to strike a slick purple crystal in one hand against a white quartz-like rock in the other. A pile of pine branches sitting beneath her efforts was eventually rewarded a single spark. The tiny ember blossomed into life and a flower of flames soon followed.

Jueneva wearily scanned the group of storm survivors standing in a huddle around the pit. She counted eleven female warriors, two elderly women and three children, two were twin boys. None of the older males had made it through. Abdi leatra da had exacted a heavy toll on the tribe.

Hours later, she was awakened by sudden gusts of chill wind. Someone had pulled back the furs covering the opening and had left the enclosure of the lean-to. She stretched and rubbed at her sore cheeks. Time had been lost to her, she had no idea how long she’d been asleep. It was unsettling – she could not even recall lying down or falling asleep.

Outside, she heard the winds still blowing through the trees, however, they had lost much of their bluster as well as their rain.

“Appe ad Los reqas,” a voice called out from outside.

“Dominos soas peo prepa. Cafade!” Kei-orah commanded, her voice booming and stern.

Another voice, instantly familiar, called out, “Princess Jueneva, are you in there? Are you among these women?”

It was Boure! Her new-found friend and courtesan had somehow found them.

She leaped to her feet, wobbled a second, then bolted to the lean-to’s opening. 

The morning light was minimal and shrouded deeply by Abdi leatra da’s blanketing storm clouds overhead, but the sight before her hit her hard and fast. Four of the female warriors surrounded a tall, skeletal figure with their long spears. The skeleton had little left of its form but on it’s old bones it wore a spiked iron helmet, a dented chest plate and a pair of rusted iron studded boots. It did, however, appear unarmed.

The creature rotated its head at the sound of her sudden appearance and stared with eyeless sockets.

“Ah, good! Good, you found shelter too! I was so sure you had perished in the storm,” it chattered at her. Its lower jawbone did not quite match up with the rest of the skull and the neck sat at an awkward angle. The voice though was definitely Boure.

“What- What happened to you?” she stammered and gawked back at the bony figure.

“Oh! Yes, sorry. Remember, before you left the ruins, I told you I would not be able to leave the compound to help you. That was not quite true. As you can see,” he spread out his thin arms, shrugging. “I can move freely and affect items within the castle in my normal spectral form. Out here, I can only do so by borrowing a form and manipulating it like a marionette on strings. It is rather confusing and took some time to find remains that were intact enough to survive out in these conditions. I don’t quite know why or how it all is supposed to work. Nonetheless, I am here. You are here. So, what happened to you, how did you come to find the Truevo?”

“You mean, them? The Revie-ati?”

The skull shook its head. “Revie-ati? That means ‘the foresaken’ in their tongue,” Boure corrected her. “Did they say that was their name?”

By this time, all of the surviving Truevo tribe members had joined them, standing quietly in the soft rain, watching the exchange. The armed guards around him had lowered their weapons.

Boure turned about slowly as he scanned them. He said, “Keos braya mo. Dafve leana don Jueneva Krayhn dosde mea Madde.”

Gasps and confusion as the tribe reacted to his words.

“You can speak their language? What did you say?”

“I thanked them, of course, for saving you, your highness.”

Jueneva paused a moment as an idea came to her. She glanced at Kei-orah, locking eyes with her. “Thank you, Buore. Please tell this one – I believe she’s their acting leader at this point – that I have truly appreciated her generosity. Thank them for saving me in the forest.”

Kei-orah snapped her gaze down to her feet upon hearing his translation. Her face twisted into a grimace of disbelief and shame.  

“They did not know who I was, but had still taken me in,” Jueneva explained, embellishing the truth a bit.

“Is this Chaos or is it Fate? You managed to find one of the few existing allies to your family’s throne somehow in the middle of a horrific storm.” Boure then extended her words and wishes.

More gasps and confusion came from the tribe.

Kei-orah swallowed hard, shook her head then came to an obvious decision. She bowed, stepped forward, still keeping her eyes averted as she knelt before the young princess. “Omni dos va prima kel dor tima Truevo kon Couervere Domaica. Prestax losmo attcha meye.”

“She is re-establishing her tribe’s allegiance to the Coueryere family and their rightful rule. She is also willing to take full responsibility and any consequence you deem fit for any offense they may have caused since they did not recognize you.”

Jueneva extended her hand, lifting up the woman’s chin so she could look into her face. “Tell her, there is no offense or apology needed. It would be an honor to have their alliance. They are no longer to be Revie-ati. Indeed, Boure, they have lost almost everything in the storm. I want to invite the Truevo to live in the castle ruins with us if they would be approving.”

Even before he could finish her offer, the tribe members cheered and some broke into tears of relief or dances of joy.

“All I would ask is that with their fealty and servitude to the Throne, Kei-orah to act as my personal bodyguard and combat trainer.”

The fierce woman too proud for tears like her kin, briskly nodded her head in agreement.

“It would appear, your highness, that your hunt did in the end proved most beneficial.”

Jueneva couldn’t make out whether or not the skeleton was smiling, but she loved the sound of pride she heard in his words.