30 August, 2011

Mission: Impossible

Or, Mission: Mildly Annoying.

I have done it.  The Impossible.  I only took my 80,000 word manuscript and reduced it to ten pages of chapter summary.  I then managed to squeeze my baby down to one - count'em one - page.

It was hard.  Really hard.  You have to leave out sooooo much.  So many little details are missing.  Little things it actually gave me a pang to strip away.  I think the story is compelling, exciting, etc.  But those things that really make a character rounded, their imperfections and the details that show I really truly thought obsessively about the book for the past ten months, it hurts to dismiss those.

It has been almost a year, now that I think about it.  I wrote the original 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month.  Then I took a break for about a month to let it percolate and decide if it was worth anything.  50, 000 words seems like a lot, but I am ridiculously verbose.  I overwrite all the time, then have to slash lots of things out and build the meat of the plot back up again.

Then comes the hard part, aside from the letting your baby go into the ruthless and brutally honest world of agent-ness.  In order to even pique an agent's interest, you have to have a one page summary.  Some want even less, a paragraph or two in a business letter.  Gak!

Here's what I did:

1.  Grumble and complain and whine.  Husband was not impressed.
2.  Sit down and write a summary for each chapter of what happens.  Turns out, this is good because then I saw how wonkified some of my chapters were regarding length and action.  I hate it when doing what you're supposed to is the best thing for you....
3.  Tighten up the chapter summary.  It will be too long and sound stupid.  Ignore that.
4.  Whine and complain some more.  Found someone new to gripe to: Sister was not impressed either.
5.  Take the best sentences from each chapter summary, tighten them up and put them in a good order.
6.  get sister to read it, though she hasn't read the manuscript.  She says, yeah sure that makes sense.  I might want to read this book.
7.  re-read obsessively.
8.  Still be torn by doubt and indecision.

So, yeah.  That's my awesome strategy for writing one page summaries.  I wish I had some cool trick or method.  Mostly, stare at the computer screen until your eyes hurt and then go play Little Big Planet for a while.  It helps.

E. T.

26 August, 2011

Chapter Seven - Untitled

Here is where things start to happen!  Adventure!  So, obviously Becca, our erstwhile heroine, has two men in her life right now, Jeff Strenton and Kevin Walowitz.  I am still deciding which of them, if either, she is going to 'choose.'  Any thoughts, even this early in the story?



How in the world was I going to convince my parents?

Just the idea of going away by myself was almost enough to kill the drive I already felt inside me.  I had never been away from my parents.  I had never gone to summer camp, never stayed at a relative’s house for the summer.  I never went to sleepovers, mostly because I never had any friends.

My whole life had been with them, spending time with them.  Time that should have run out last nearly a year ago.

I couldn’t take them with me.  That much I knew.  I had to do this Questing thing alone.  I suspected I had crossed some sort of line asking Kevin to come with.

After returning from Kevin’s, I went in the house and lurked in the dark kitchen.  The TV was going and I could see my parents’ heads silhouetted against the bright light.  They were sitting next to each other, my mom’s head resting on my dad’s shoulder.

I went straight to my bedroom.  Sitting on my bed, I pulled out the piece of paper in my pocket, Jeff’s scrawling writing across the top at odds with the intricate design and marks.  I looked at it as long as I could, trying to see a pattern or a meaning.  I had to close my eyes; it twisted around inside my head, shifting, never looking the same twice.

Sighing, I put it on my bedside table and flopped back.  My wall clock was loud in the stillness, a constant, hard snap every second.

Tomorrow was the first day of spring.

I had to go.  Tomorrow.  I had to find out what was happening.  I had to find out what was wrong with me.  What had happened to me.  What was wrong with the world.

No matter what Jeff said, I knew my curse and my nightmare were connected.  I knew it, in a way that I couldn’t explain.

It started raining, soft pattering on my window as the wind blew it around.

I lay still, listening as the storm moved over us.  My parents went to past to their bedroom, talking quietly.  I don’t know why they didn’t check on me like they usually did.  Fate I suppose.  If I had to face them, I was afraid it would all come pouring out and I would never have the courage to leave.

When the house was still and dark, I sat up and went to my desk.  I am sure whatever I wrote wasn’t enough, but I tried to explain how much I loved them and how sorry I was to have to lie to them.

I gathered up my things, clothing, my backpacking equipment we’d used a few summers ago.  It made a pitiful pile on my bed.  It didn’t look like anything that would help me complete a monumental Quest.  It hardly looked enough to get me through a long weekend up in the mountains.

I packed it all carefully and sat the backpack on the ground next to my bed.  I tried to sleep and I must have, because it was getting light when I woke again.

I grabbed my things and left, locking the door behind me.

Kevin did not look happy to be woken at six-thirty yet again.

“What?” he snapped at me.  Then he blinked and took in my full backpack and my set expression.  “What are you doing?”

“We’re leaving.  Today.”


“I need to go.  Today.”

He groaned and leaned against his door.  “Why?”

“How does this all work?  Can you do the spell thing or Mule?”

“Mule can, but he won’t.”

“Why not?”

“He just won’t.”

I glared at him.  “Call him and ask.”

“No way.” Kevin said flatly.  “I like my scholarship, thank you very much.  I’m not about to-”

“Please, Kevin.  I need to go.”

I was lucky not to burst into flames under his glare.  “I hate you.”

“Didn’t we cover this last night?” I joked.  He didn’t laugh.

“Mule’s at CMR again.” Kevin said at last.  “Let me get dressed and I’ll take you.”

Mule was even less pleased than Kevin.

“Absolutely no.”

I gaped at him.  He’d never spoken so harshly to me.  “Dr. Mule!”

“No.” He repeated.  “I will not.  You’re not magic.  You’re going to get killed.  Or worse.  No.”

“Kevin said he’d come with.”

Mule turned to glare at his assistant.  “You did what?”

Kevin winced.  “She asked…” he shrugged, making a face.  “She’ll need help.  Strenton wanted her to go.”

“Then Strenton should be the one to go with.  Not you.”

Kevin shrugged again.  “Where is he?”

Mule sighed all at once.  “I don’t know.  He just took off again.”

“Again?” I asked, intrigued.

Mule shook his head.  “The point is, Becca, that this is dangerous and you won’t survive-”

“I will.” I said firmly.  “I will find why I was cursed.”

“But Becca-”

“No buts.  Do it.”

“What about your parents? Do they know?”

I gripped my fingers together.  “I wrote them a letter, explaining.”

“A letter.” Mule repeated flatly.

“I’m eighteen!” I snapped at him.  “I can do whatever I want!”

It basically dissolved into a shouting match after that, me declaring my insistence on going, Mule adamantly refusing and Kevin looking pained in between us.

“Fine.”  I said heatedly.  “I’ll just go find someone else to say it!”


“Either you’re going to help me or not, Dr. Mule.  I have to leave today.  It has to be today.”

We all flinched as the lights flashed around us, a vivid flurry of color before subsiding.

I took a deep breath.  “Dr.  Mule.  I have to go.  It’s tied to this disaster Jeff is predicting.  I don’t know how or what or why, but I have to go find out.  I have to know what’s wrong with me.”

“There’s nothing wr-”

“Then why didn’t I die?  Why am I a meta-healer?  Why didn’t the whatever-it-was machine not kill me?  Why did it explode in the first place?  I have to know!”

Mule was silent for a long time, looking down at me.  Finally.  “Sit, Becca.” He pointed and I sank into the chair.  “Kevin?”

“Yes, doctor.”  Kevin went to the window and pulled the blind.  The door lock was loud as it slid home.  Even the flashing gizmos along the walls were hushed.

I clenched my fists to keep my hands from shaking and stared straight at the far wall.

Mule’s hand was warm on my cheek.  “Ready?” he asked softly.


“You know there is no going back.”

“I know.”

“Brace yourself.”

I opened my eyes and jerked upright.  The room spun around me and I gasped, gripping Kevin’s hands tightly.

“You okay?” He asked me, anxious.

“I’m going to be sick.” I said.

“Just relax, breathe.”

I tried my best.  I threw up anyway.  Mule was ready with a bucket.

“A common reaction, Becca.” He said evenly.  “Sit until you get your bearings.”

Bearings.  I turned my head, the room spinning faster than my eyes could process it, then lurching pack into position.  I tried again; the room reluctantly moved with me, orienting itself around me.  I was the center of the room, the building, the city, the world.  It all revolved around me, focused on me, pressing in, heavy.

I closed my eyes to shut it out.

“Keep breathing,” Kevin said, chaffing my hands.  “Come on, in, out, in, out.”

I sucked in lungful of air and felt better, the colors coming back into focus, the light brightening.  My vertigo eased back, the dimensions of the room returning to their proper proportions.  They stayed put as I looked around this time, searching for Mule.

“Doctor?” I asked.

“Here.”  He handed me a cup.  “Drink this.”

I sipped at it, my stomach churning.  “What happened?  Did it work?”

He sighed.  “We won’t know for a while.  It’s a subtle thing, sometimes taking-”

I lurched to my feet.  “I have to go.”

They pressed me back down.  “Just rest a minute, Becca.”

“I have to go, now.”  I struggled to get free, pushing at them.  “Let me go!”

“Becca!”  They said together.

“It’s just a reaction,” Mule was saying firmly.  “You must stay and rest a moment.  A few hours.”

“I have to go now,” I insisted.

“No, you don’t.” He snapped back.  “And I will sedate you to keep you here.  You can’t go yet.  You’ll get yourself killed.”



I swallowed another mouthful absently.  “I need to leave.  I have to go.  Can’t you hear it?  Doctor, please-oh!”  I sagged, holding myself upright on the chair.  My legs had gone numb, my knees weak.  He and Kevin talked over my head.

“It should hold her for a few hours, until the reaction passes.”

“And if she wants to leave then?”

“Let her, but keep close.  Do you have any idea what she’s looking for?”

I looked up as Kevin scowled.  “A few things, I think.”

“The curse, yes.  What else?”

He grimaced and Mule only said.  “Ah.”

I tried to wiggle out of their hands, but my limbs wouldn’t obey me.  I slumped back, panting.

“Go to sleep Becca.”  Dr. Mule said, his hand on my forehead.  “Rest, then you can go.”

I closed my eyes and sank down, feeling the world whirl around me.

I cracked my eyes, finding myself on the low couch in Mule’s office.  Kevin was sitting by me, his feet up on the desk.  He saw me move and lowered his book.

“I hate you.” I croaked.  He grinned.

“Didn’t we cover this last night?”

“Shut up.”

“Here,” he passed me a cup.  I sneered at it and he chuckled.  “It’s not drugged.  This time.”

I sat up carefully, every muscle aching and crampy.  The water was cool and it helped relieve my headache.  “What happened?”

“Don’t you remember?”

“Did it take?  The Speaking?”

He snorted.  “I’ll say.  I’ve been sitting on you all afternoon to keep you still.”

I looked out at the orangey skyline.  “So, I can go?”

“If you want.” He said casually.  I pressed my lips together.  I didn’t want to.  I wanted to curl into a little ball and die.  But I couldn’t die.  I should have, underneath the PF machine.  I should have, last summer.

I got to my feet carefully, groaning.  Kevin held me upright, helping me lurch to the door.

“Where’s Mule?”

“He went home.  He was exhausted after working on you.”

I gripped the door handle, gathering myself.  I barely had the energy to stand.  The hall was empty and quiet, everyone gone home for the day.

“Where’re you going?” Kevin asked.  I jabbed the elevator button and leaned against the wall to rest.

“Downstairs,” I said faintly.  He helped me inside the little box, his arm around my waist.  I noticed absently he had my pack.

I pressed the B7 button and tried not to throw up as the car fell into the earth.

“Easy,” Kevin said as I stepped off.  “Take it slow.”

“Does it go away?” I whined, pressing a hand into my head.

“It will, after a few days.”

I groaned and pushed open the door.  The PF machine was still sitting in a heap on the floor.

“We’ve been doing diagnostics,” Kevin explained, leading me over a tangle of wires and cables.  “Trying to see what happened.”

“Anything?” I asked, even though I knew I wouldn’t understand the answer.

He shook his head.  “Nothing.  All I can tell, it just froze up and overheated.”

I reached out and pressed a hand to the gleaming metal.  It was cool, now, not searing as it had been.  I leaned over to look under the mass.  Kevin snapped his fingers and a light flared behind me.  I turned and gaped as he gestured for the cavity and a little ball of light zipped inside.

“What?” he asked, looking uncomfortable.  I closed my mouth.

“Nothing.” I lied.  Stepping through doors was one thing.  Seeing him work magic as if it was nothing was something else entirely.  I focused on the machine.

The space where I had been was a smooth half oval.  I gritted my teeth and wiggled back underneath.  It was just larger than I was.  Instantly claustrophobic, I scrambled out again and lurched back, leaning on my knees and panting.

“You okay?” Kevin asked.

“Fine.” I gasped.  “You saw it happen.  Tell me.”

Kevin shrugged.  “I was watching the screen, not you.”

“What did you see?”

He frowned.  “It was normal, the flux-waves in acceptable levels.  Mule started up the K driver and I switched to the output screen.”  He closed his eyes, thinking.  “I felt the catch in the machine, but before I realized what it meant, Mule and I both were blasted back.”

“Blasted.” I repeated.

He rubbed the back of his head.  “Yeah.  It hurt, too.  I still have a lump.”

I turned to look at the stronger-than-diamond shield, the piece of metal stabbing through it, fracture lines radiating from it in all directions.  “Blasted, through the shield?”

Kevin went still, jerking around to stare at it, too.  “Through the shield.” He said slowly.  “Why didn’t I…?”  He shook his head and grimaced.  “Doesn’t matter.  How did it happen?”

He eased over to it and put out a hand, feeling the material carefully.  I let him ponder it for a while, gathering my own thoughts.  I was exhausted, like I’d spent the day running.  My legs were rubbery and I felt sick and dehydrated.

“If someone was cursed and it detected it, what would happen?”

Kevin let out a long breath.  “It would show it on the polarity.  But you’ve always been within normal parameters.”

“How do you know?”

He grunted.  “I looked at your chart.  You’re the least magical person I’ve ever seen.”

“Much good it’s doing me.” I grumbled.  He cracked a smile.

“Why did you want to come down here?” he asked after a moment more of staring at the shield.

I shrugged.  “I don’t know.”

“That’s the speaking, then.  What’s important about down here?” he mused.  “Besides that fact that the shield didn’t stop a thursta-wave, which is impossible.  But if it’s impossible, how did it happen?  Was it not a wave?  Was it an attack?  But even then…”

I interrupted his thoughts.  “I need to lie down again.  And maybe throw up some more.”

“Come on.” He said at once, coming back to me.  “We’ll go to my place.  We’ll think again in the morning.”

I limped out of the lab and followed him to his car.  I fell asleep on the ride to his apartment, rousing enough to climb into another elevator and stumble into his apartment.  It was just as cluttered and amazing as before.  I didn’t care.  I took the pills he gave me and fell onto a couch, determined never to move again.

23 August, 2011

Hi-yo Silver! Away!

Or: Curse you Netflix!

So, we get instant Netflix on our PS3.  If you have any sort of impulsive issues or instant gratification problems, do not get instant Netflix.  It's bad news.

But also awesome.  I've been watching old Lone Ranger episodes.  I am in a cowboy kick.  I've been reading/writing about cowboys.  I have been watching cowboys movies.  Cowboys and Aliens was AWESOMEWho cares what 'critics' say; it was great.  My two favorite things, cowboys and sci-fi/action.  What could go wrong?  Ignore gaping plot holes, if you please.

Anyway, moral of the story, I've been watching Lone Ranger.  It's laughably terrible.  It makes me wonder if Clayton Moore realized how bad he was and enjoyed it, a la old school Batman/Adam West?  Or if he was serious about being "The Lone Ranger."  He did only go out in public in a mask...

In any case, I love it.  It's horrible, especially the racism of it and poor Tonto.  The plots are weak at best, though there is a lot of shooting and maiming for a 'kids' show.  They'd probably not be able to show it today with a "Viewer Discretion Advised" warning.  And interestingly enough, what I've gleaned most from the ten or so episodes I've been able to sit and watch so far is...brevity.

Lone Ranger was a radio show.  The set up of the television series is the same.  The conflict is explained at the beginning of each episode in about two minutes.  No extraneous details, no real depth.  Just plot and action.

Brevity is something I struggle with...as you may have guessed, since it took me like ten paragraphs to get around to my point.  My 'short' stories are usually 20,000 words.  I stink at brevity.  I mean really stink.

I set myself to write a little thing with no more than 1,500 words, the usual short story word count.  I used all 1,500 words and wished for more.  I've been trying to figure out how to be more concise.  Better adjectives?  Less character description?

I think the key is in finding words with impact.  Words that carry weight and a whole lot of silent description with them.  I've been experimenting.

Take the word blue, in the sense of the color.  Blue is...blue.  Vague and open to interpretation.

But how about sapphire?  What does that say?  Richer, I think, more depth.  A sense of luxury, like deep blue silk.  I really like cobalt.  That to me is blue with power, a sense of energy, something shining.  Indigo carries with it a sense of mystery.  The color of the orient, a dye highly prized for its rarity.  Periwinkle; just the name implies whimsy.  I don't call things periwinkle unless there is a softness to them, maybe an organic feel.  Men rarely wear periwinkle dress shirts.  Maybe ties, but not shirts.  My man doesn't, at least.

I could just load my prose with powerful, punchy adjectives.  But then I feel it gets overwhelmed.  I don't need to give every article of clothing, everything in the room, a description.  If I say: faded sundress, do you care what color it is, really?  Or do you have a specific dress in mind, maybe something your grandma wore in August while she sat on the porch and sipped overly sweetened iced tea?

I'm lazy.  Supply your own details.

That way when I say it was a faded sundress, too short in the knees and sleeves, the flowered print stained from years of preserving strawberries and missing the top button, you'll know I mean that sundress.  Not your grandma's sundress or some other mu-mu.  My dress, important to me and my characters for a reason I may divulge in the next few paragraphs.  Why?  You'll just have to keep reading to find out.  Eh, keemo-sabe?

E. T.

16 August, 2011

Chapter Six-Untitled...Any Suggestions?

Here's the next chapter of this quasy YA magicy story.  Enjoy! - E.T.


“If I were you,” he said over his shoulder.  “I would try to find out how I was cursed in the first place.”

“We did!” I protested.  “We went all over, asking.”

 “Maybe it was lifted?  Maybe the person who spoke it died?  Maybe it was all a fake?  You’ll never know why or how unless you look.”

He slid into his seat.  “Good-bye, Becca.”

I watched him pull out, the sun flashing of his car windows as he pulled up and out of the garage.  I tried not to feel like that good-bye was forever.

It apparently was.

Dad came home in a temper.

“Strenton quit!” he snarled at Mom and me as we made dinner.

“What?” she demanded.  I set down my colander of potatoes carefully.

“He just up and quit!  Seven years, and he just takes off!”  Dad swore then, something he never did, and slammed his keys down on the counter.  “Didn’t even want his paycheck!”  Dad threw himself into a chair at the table and scowled at the wood top.

“Why?” I hazarded.

“How should I know?” Dad growled.

Mom went to console him, asking questions.  I eased out of the kitchen unnoticed.

His house was dark, sitting silent on the rolling hills.  I left the truck headlights on and rummaged around in the toolbox until I found a flashlight.

It took me a few minutes to work up my courage, but I finally reached out and tried the knob on his front door.  It was unlocked.

“Hello?” I called, just in case.  I didn’t want to be blasted or turned into a rabbit or something, should I surprise him.

My voice bounced back at me hollowly.  I felt along the wall until I found a switch.

The light was warm and yellow, just like normal lights.  But the house was empty.  No furniture.  Nothing.  I checked each room carefully, looking in the cupboards and under the sinks.  I went upstairs, wincing at every creak.

I swung open a door with a stiff finger, shining my flashlight in every corner before I flipped on the light.

A small stack of books sat in the middle of the room, the dust on the floor showing that a bed had sat there not long ago.  I crossed to it and sank to my knees.

A piece of paper had been tucked under the cover of the topmost book.  I flipped it open.


Give these to Mule.  He knows what to do.

I’m going to see what I can do about your nightmare.  I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.

I’m serious about you going to find out about your curse.  You should go on a Quest.  Ask Walowitz about it.

I am sorry I never told you.  But I didn’t think you’d understand.

Tell your dad I’m sorry.


I smoothed the paper out, reading it again.  He knew I’d come.  How?

I flipped through the pages of the books, my nose itching as dust rose from them.  They looked old and crumbly, like they had been stuffed in a box and forgotten.  They made no sense to me, but I gathered them up carefully.  A second piece of paper fluttered down as I picked them up.

I stopped and opened it, too.

If they give you any trouble, show them this.

Below was a complicated drawing, all swirling lines and symbols.  It made my head ache to look at it.  I tucked it into my pocket and left, shutting off the lights behind me.

I cried all the way home.


“Hey, Kevin, it’s me, Becca.”

“Hey!” He sounded surprised and pleased.  I blushed on my end of the line and went on.

“Jeff is gone.”


“How do you know?” I demanded.

“The GF illuminations went all green, showing that there was decrease in tri-radiation-”

“Okay, okay, okay.” I stopped him before he could get some momentum.  “He left some books for Mule.”

“What kind?”

“Magic ones.  And he said I should go on a Quest.  With a capital Q.”

“You saw him before he left?”

“No, he…”  I hesitated, not wanting to explain why I went to his house.  I didn’t know myself.  “He left me a note.”

“A Quest.” Kevin mused.  “He said that?”

“To find out why I was cursed and how and by who.”

“Whom.” He corrected.  I sneered, but it was wasted as he wasn’t actually present.  “So, are you going to go?”

I choked.  “What?”


“I don’t even know what that means!”

“A Quest is just what you think. You go questing.”

“Thanks,” I snapped at him.  “I feel so much better.”

“I mean, it is really dangerous and-”

“Can I come over?”


“Are you at the CMR?”


“What’s the address?”

He hesitated.  “Becca, I don’t think-”

“What is it?”

He sighed.  “Okay.”  He listed off the directions.

“Okay, I’ll see you in a bit.”


I hung up, not caring how grumpy he sounded.  He was going to help me or I was going to throttle him until he did.

Kevin’s place was a nice enough apartment in the residential area uptown from the CMR.  I rode the elevator up, the books heavy in my arms.

Kevin answered his door after a few minutes, still looking grumpy.  Or maybe embarrassed.

“Here are the books Jeff left.”  I said without preamble, dumping them in his arms.  He looked at the topmost title and yelped, snatching his hands away.  They banged to the floor, making a poof of dust.

“What?” I demanded as he stared at them, his eyes wide.

“He left these for you?” Kevin asked breathlessly.

“For Mule.” I corrected, bending and gathering them up.  “Why?”

He eyed them like they might bite.  “They’re…rare.”

“Then why’d you drop them on the floor?”

“Rare, like…forbidden.”

“Forbidden?  By who?  Whom?” I added before he could.

“By the Council.”

I rolled my eyes.  “Then why did Jeff have them?”

“How should I know?” he demanded.  “I’m not a Black!”

I frowned at him.  “Aren’t we racist?”

“No!  Black magic!”

“And Jeff is?”  He was making no sense.

“I didn’t think so, but…”  He reached out and touched a book with a shaking finger.  “But, if he has these…”

“Just because he has them doesn’t mean he uses them.” I snapped, suddenly angry.  “I have a car, but I don’t go running people over with it.”

Kevin swallowed.  “Just…just don’t get too…familiar with them.”


“Bring them here.”  He led me in, shutting and locking the door behind me.  “Put them on this.”  He swept the dining table clear of papers and things, taking a broken pencil and drawing a circle on the wood.  I set them in the center and he breathed a sigh of relief.  He shuddered suddenly, making a face.

“Ugh.” He grunted, rubbing his hands on his pants.  “They feel awful.”

“Right.” I said slowly.  “Anyway, about this quest?”

Kevin suddenly fixed me with a glare.  “Why did he run?”

“Run?” I demanded.  “How should I know?”

“What did he tell you?”

“Nothing!” I protested.  I pulled his note from my pocket.  “This is all I know.”

Kevin read it, scowling.  “Did he leave anything else?”

“This.” I pulled out the second piece of paper.  He stared at it too, then carefully set it next to the pile of books.  He stood and looked at the pile, his brow furrowed.

He dragged his hands through his hair, letting out a long breath.  He sent me a quick look, his face red.  Was it ever not, I wondered.

“What’s between you and him?” Kevin asked.

“What?”  I went beet red, too.  I could feel it.

“Anything?” he asked.

“Nothing.” I said.  “Nothing, I swear.  I’ve seen him like five times my entire life.”

He grunted.  “That,” he pointed.  I noticed he kept his finger outside the circle.  “Is a…shield, of a sort.  It will protect you, should…bad people come calling.”

“What sort of bad people?”

“The Council.”

“Are they bad?  I thought they governed magic or something.”

“They’re not bad, but they’re not…good.  They are just.”

“Just what?”

“No.  Just.  As in justice.  Law.  Balance.  You’ll need it if you’re caught with those books.”  His mouth twisted.  “What Strenton was doing with them, I don’t know.  Nor do I want to.”

I shivered.  It did not sound like anything I wanted to get involved in.  “What’s that paper say?” I asked, looking at the design from the corner of my eye.

Jeff cleared his throat.  “He…claimed you.  It says you belong to him.”

He was lucky to be gone, otherwise I would have beat the crap out of him.  “Excuse me?” I snarled, outraged.

“Or that you’re under his protection.” Kevin added hastily.  “That he is looking out for you, shielding you.”

I scowled.  “Anything else I should know?”

“No.”  He said.  “Tell me more about your curse.”

“I don’t know anything about my stupid curse!” I burst out.  “I’m not magic.  I didn’t die when I was supposed to.  I’m a meta-healer.  That’s all I know.”

He didn’t look convinced.  “Then why did the PF not crush you to death?”

I cringed.  I’d been trying to forget that, hoping everyone else did too in the commotion.  “Maybe I got lucky?” I said.  He glared at me and I stuck out my tongue at him.  “I don’t know.  Tell me about this questing thing.”

“Alright,” he growled.  “Come on.”  He went through a dark doorway.  I followed.  “And don’t touch anything.”

A light flicked on.  I gasped.  I couldn’t help it.

It was one long room, paneled in dark wood.  Charts and paper hung from the walls, chalkboards covered with writing, diagrams beautiful just for themselves and for their intended purpose.  Stacks of books were piled everywhere, tables covered with bottles and beakers and things.

But the most amazing part was the models.  Sparkling mobiles that spun and flashed all over the room, their orbs floating in seemingly random circles, but always centered around each other.  And really floating, no strings or wires or anything.

“Don’t touch!”  Kevin’s fingers closed over mine as I put a hand up to see if one shimmering ball was solid or energy like it looked.

“What is it?” I asked, staring at it.

He said a whole bunch of words that I recognized, but that made no sense when strung together.  “Never mind.” I interrupted finally.  Then I realized we were still holding hands.  I cleared my throat and drew mine back.

“Over here.” He said stiffly.  He led me to a pair of chairs tucked back into one corner.  He sat with a thump and stared at me.  I stared back.

“Your eyes are brown.” He said finally.

“I know.”

He grunted and looked away.  “So, tell me again about this curse.”

I threw up my hands.  “Look, all I know is what Dr. Z and Mule told me.  I don’t know anything.

He nodded, his eyes closed.  He looked tired.  I wondered how many hours he’d spent in here, working on whatever magic-like things he did in his free time, researching, reading.

“Strenton wants you to go on a Quest.” He said at last, his voice quiet.

“Apparently.  But my parents already went around everywhere asking questions.”

Kevin shook his head.  “That’s not the same.  A Quest…” he looked uneasy now.  “A Quest is something else entirely.”

“Would I have to find a magic sword or something?”

He cracked his eyes to peer at me.  “What?”

“Usually,” I explained.  “Someone goes on a Quest to find a jewel or the shards of a crystal or something.  That’s what they told us in school.”

He looked disgusted.  “I guess, if that’s what you’re looking for, you could Quest for it.  But why?  You could just buy something like that.”

I flopped down in a chair and scowled.  “Fine.  I’ll shut my face and you can start explaining.”

He smiled.  “Yes, ma’am.”  He tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair.  I noticed the papers lying on the little table next to him started to flutter around.  I looked away.

“A Quest,” he said, “Is a certain way to look for something.  I can scry, as you would call it, if I’m looking for a certain thing or person.”

“Could you find Jeff?” I asked, eagerly.

He winced.  “Absolutely not.  He’d blast me, even if I could find him.  Men like him don’t like to be spied on.”  He looked sick at the thought and shuddered.  “Questing is deeper than that.  It is for when you don’t know what you’re looking for, or for answers, instead of a thing or something so powerful that its very nature makes it unobtainable any other way.”

“Like?” I prompted.  This sounded interesting.

“Like…” he waved a hand and the papers shifted all around.  “I don’t know, the Crown of the Last King, or the White Blade of Ieberon.”

“The what?”

“The point is,” he said firmly.  “Is when you Quest, you devote yourself to the searching.”

“I’m devoted.”

“No.” He said again, his oddly clear blue eyes on mine.  “There is a spell, you would call it.  It takes root within, looks for what you want, what you need so desperately.  It drives you, propels you to it.  It has been described as if you were a blood hound.  The thing you want pulls at you, whispers to you.  And it won’t stop until you find it.  You can’t remove the speaking.  You can’t fight it.  You have to keep looking, until you find it or die.”

The mobiles were still, hovering in place.  The air felt close, hot.  Kevin blinked and the room was full of flashing light again.

“Sorry.” He said with a smile.  “I didn’t mean to mesmerize you.”

I gasped, blinking hard.  “What?”

He laughed.  “Sorry.” He said again.  “So, if Strenton wants you to go on a Quest, then he thinks there is a chance of you finding what it is you want.”

“How can I find something if I don’t even know what it is?”

“That is the danger of Questing.  You may think you know what you want, but the speaking finds out what is in your heart and sends you after that.  Even if it doesn’t exist.”

I shivered, drawing my knees up to my chest.  I felt like things were watching me from under the shelves and tables, little eyes, waiting for me to move, to make a decision.

“And if it doesn’t exist?”

“Then you never stop looking.  Ever.”

“Why would he want me to go?”  My voice sounded very small and meek.

Kevin shook his head.  “I don’t know.  It may be as simple as finding the person who cursed you.  If they’re dead, it will most likely take you to their grave or their successor.  If it was an event, then maybe the key people involved.  Hundreds of years of research have been devoted to Questing.  No one understands it.  I don’t understand it.  I like to stick to hard science and measur-”

“Will you come with me?”

He started.  “Will I what?”

“Will you come with me?”

“Becca!” he exclaimed.

I sat up straight, my cheeks hot.  I was panting, eager, like the very idea of finding what was wrong with me had already taken root, already put a drive in me, a need.  “Will you come?  I need to go.  I need to find out what happened.”

“Becca, I really-”

“Please, Kevin.  I don’t understand any of this.  I’m not magic.  I never was.  I don’t know what’s going on.  I need help.  Please.”

He let out a long breath, his face pale.  “Are you sure you’re not magic?”


“Nothing.”  He pressed his hands into his face.  “Yes.” He said after about a minute of me holding my breath.  “But I won’t take the speaking.  It has to be you.”

“I understand.”  It made sense: my curse, my Quest.

“And I can’t…I can’t promise I’ll stay with you, if it takes years.”


“Okay.” He repeated.  He lifted his head and glared at me.  “I hate you.”

I grinned.  “No, you don’t.”

He grinned, too.  “No, I don’t.”

That’s when I decided I should leave.  I stood and coughed a few times, collecting my thoughts.

“I need to go home.” I said lamely.  “I’ll…I’ll call you.”

“Okay.” He was looking at his fingers very intently.

I left, dodging floating spheres.

Back in the dining room, I paused by the table.  With careful fingers, I reached for the piece of paper, the ‘shield.’  I snatched it back, jumping away from the books sitting very boringly on the wood.  Tucking it into my pocket, I went out and went home.