New Year’s Chance, Part 2

Part one may be found hereabouts.


Five children moved out, each to a shrine on the emptiest street they could find—Russa, being young for the tricky operation, stayed in the alley. She was too young for most things, just yet, but she was Celsia’s little sister, so they kept her about.

The shrines were dug into the ground, with a little round wall built up around it, a roof over it, and a rope pulley running down into it. They looked like tiny wells, and at the bottom was a bucket that caught the offerings, to be pulled up by Chance’s priests. But the pulleys were made to make such a ruckus, everyone on the whole street would hear the bucket being lifted, and people would glance to see if it were Chance’s priests or nay.

The bucket was made to be too heavy and awkwardly placed to be lifted without the pulley. But the opening was just narrow enough that a child might wedge themselves—“Hail and fire,” Sy muttered, scraping back out. Twelve he was, now, and his round face looked it, but his shoulders said “fourteen,” and refused to go in easily. He might wedge himself in, but he wasn’t going to be able to un-wedge himself with speed or ease.

“Fine,” he muttered, reaching inside to grab the free hanging rope and haul it up, independent of its raucous pulley system. It jerked slightly, and stuck. He grunted, tugging harder—his arms, after all, agreed with his shoulders that they were older than his face—but there was nothing for it. The bucket must have been weighted.

He released the rope and leaned against the shrine as people passed. Perhaps this plan could have used a bit more thought. He was sure the other children would be able to do it, though, being smaller; climb in head first, stand on their heads as they filled a bag with coppers,  and push themselves back out—after leaving a pair of dice matched-sides-up or a Fair Daughter playing card in each, to appease the Old Man. But he couldn’t come back empty-handed, not after this whole plan had been invented on the spot to get his crew to believe Chance was on his side.

“Fine.” He was going to have to do this the even harder way. That was alright. He was near enough to a man to manage it, and near enough to a child to put people off their guard, surely. He sat down on the edge of the street with a sullen look on his face, rolling his dice about among drifting petals, looking the picture of the son who’d been locked out or left behind as some punishment.

Clouds blew in and clustered up to suggest an early twilight. The world grew grey and chill. Sy shivered, willing himself to wait with the patience of the predator. And in time, the prey came. Two priests and three guards, all mounted on horses, the priests wearing parti-colored tunics with their faces painted half black and half white for the day, the guards wearing light leather armor and carrying short spears.

Sy watched them as any unhappy child might, with a dour curiosity, distracted from his mood in spite of himself. There were heavy saddlebags on the priest’s horses. The guards were watching him—not sharply, but as they watched all around.

A precisely overzealous roll sent the dice tumbling to a stop near the horse’s hooves as a priest dismounted. Sy scrambled to pick them up, then stood where he was, watching the priest reel up the bucket with a rackety clacking. A spear butt nudge him in the chest. “Back up there, son,” the guard said, tone matter-of-fact.

“Right.” Sy retreated a single step, then looked at the mounted priest. “Sir—” He stepped forward into the middle of the crowd, the dice showing on his extended palm. “Sir, if you please, can you give these a fair blessing?” He could feel the guards’ attention shifting wholly onto him. His skin tingled at the thought of the spears in their hands, of how easily their points could reach him and pierce skin and flesh. He held his breath. The guards shifted closer, but seemed to be waiting on the priest’s direction.

The mounted priest looked down at him, one half of his face black with a bold white circle on his cheek, the other half, its inverse. “I’m out of fair blessings right now, I’m afraid,” the man said. “For every fair wish given there must be an ill wish.” The words sounded round and smooth in his mouth, like a pebble the sea had rolled over so often, the waves sighed to see it again.

“I could tell you whose dice to curse,” Sy said eagerly, taking a step nearer.

The priest let out a startled laugh. “Not today, I’m afraid. No ill wishes given on Year’s New Day. No fair ones, either; we bring the tally to a balance by Ill Daughter’s Night, and the slates are clean for all of Year’s New Day.”

He sighed, returning the dice to his pocket and palming his hidden dagger as he did. That was as far as sleight of hand was going to take him. The rest would have to be audacious.

Hawkstrike-quick, he took one final forward step and set the knife’s point against the inside of the priest’s leg. There was the restrained jerk as reaction preceded perception by a split second, then everyone, both priests and all three guards, went as still as if he’d slain them all.

“Are you mad, lad?” the priest at blade’s point asked calmly. “Threatening to do murder on Fair Daughter’s Day—and of a priest of Chance, no less?”

“This isn’t a murder, it’s a theft,” Sy said flatly. “Unless you disagree. I’m flexible. The Fair Daughter hasn’t done me any good turns of late, and the Old Lord’s gone and offed my whole family. It wouldn’t cut my heart to do him a similar turn.” He had no such grudge against any such nebulous entity as fortune, but the words would lend weight to his threat, make it look as though he had less to lose.

“I see.” The man’s expression was hard to read under the paint. “Then let it be a theft—and a Fair New Year to me,” he muttered. The guards shifted, hands tight around their spears, clearly furious, but unable to justify an attack that would jeopardize the priest’s life.

“Lead your horse forward at a slow walk—don’t let him outpace me, now.” Sy settled the dagger in between the man’s leg and the saddle, so that any sudden or hasty movements by horse or man would nearly guarantee damage to the great artery. The priest did as he was told, and Sy walked backwards beside him, keeping watch on the guards and the remaining priest behind them.

“Aren’t you a bit young for this sort of business?” the priest asked in a conversational tone as they went. “You’re what, twelve? You might have died.”

“And you might, yet,” Sy pointed out. “Just keep us walking.”

Far down the street, he instructed the man to round a corner. “Dismount—slowly,” he ordered his sometime prisoner. The man did as he said, and Sy swiftly mounted up in the man’s place. “You’re a wise fellow all ‘round,” he told the priest as he took the reins. “Consider it this way; you’ve probably got rid of most of your ill fortune for the year in one go.” He kicked the horse into a lope and didn’t look back.

Several galloping twists and turns down the road, he pulled the horse to a stop, loaded the heavy saddlebags over his own shoulders, and stood on the creature’s back to clamber to the roof. There was no use trying to keep the horse. No good place to hide it, no good way to fence it. He’d make do with the bulging leather packs weighing him down as he ran.

Gasping, he leapt from roof to crate to alley cobbles. Russa sat in a corner, singing a soft and piping song to her newest toy.

“Where’re the others?” Sy asked. She only shook her head and kept singing. He frowned. Their jobs ought to have been quicker; by rights he should have been the last back. He shrugged off the saddlebags, letting them thump against the nearest crate. “Have you seen anyone?” he asked again. Again, Russa shook her head.

“Muckabouts,” Sy muttered, rubbing his shoulders. Probably they were spending or hiding part of their gain before they had to split it with the group. He should have done the same, but his blood had been in all too much of a rush to think of it.

Celsia rounded the corner, then, her eyes rimmed with red and bruises on her bare arms. “Syawn! I fear’t they got you too!”

Brow furrowed, Sy held out his arms and she ran into them, seeming glad, as usual, to be held by someone bigger than her who wasn’t an enemy. “What’s the matter? Where are the others?” And where, where were their hauls?

She took a deep breath and gave him the report, as straightforward and steady as he could ask for. “Caught.”

“How do you know? What happened to you?”

“A’most caught me too—well, they did, ‘ceptin I bit ‘im and run. I snuck to the cages to see if they were in there, and aye, they were. Ah! Why’d we do it, Syawn? Why’d you make us do it, temp fate on Year’s First Day? Chance saw, Chance saw and he—”

“Chance saw me as well as the rest o’ youse,” Sy said, voice hard. “I didn’t fail.” He reached over and picked up the saddlebags in one hand, though it strained his arm something terrible. “Iffn they did, they did, and they made their own luck with it. You got caught, but you got away, so I reckon you’re at a balance. The others do their labor, get their thief-mark, and go free.”

“Not Repato. He’s got two marks already, and he’s eight today!”

“Then he’s not very good, is he?”

Celsia gasped her outrage.

“Look—you’ve got no thief-mark, and I’ve got no thief-mark, and we’ve been pinchin’ since we were talking, aye? That means we’re better. And—listen to me.” He grabbed her wrist, pulling her hand away from her face. “Old Man Chance doesn’t care if you’re a priest or an urchin, he cares if you’re any good at it or not. And we’re good, you ‘n me. We’re good, right?”

She sniffled.

“Look here. You take your life, and you weight it to your own odds. Old Man Chance will never be fair, so never you mind rules and rights and luck, you get good, and you don’t stop getting better until he’s unfair in your favor. Look.”

His muscles sighed as he set the bag back down to undo the buckles. “Look here.” He pushed the bag over to spill its bounty at their feet with a heavy rattling, bouncing, jangling clatter. Celsia stared down, her mouth agape. Syawn stared down with her, his mouth drifting open as well.

Dice. It was all dice. Dice of every common size and color, collected from Chance’s shrines on Fair Daughter’s Day, as people brought their own or bought them for the purpose, begging for good luck, or simply admitting that their fortune was out of their hands.

“Dice. I don’t believe it,” Sy breathed. Then, stronger, “I don’t believe it!”

Celsia looked up at him, startled.

He crouched down, staring out at the cubes of carved wood, painted wood, bone, metal, and stone. Mostly wood. Of course, mostly wood. He laughed.

“We’ll sell ‘em.”


“People bought ‘em once, Celsia, they’ll buy ‘em again, mark me. We’ll sell ‘em by the shrines. I don’t care, I don’t believe it.”

“What don’t you believe?” she asked, crouching down to trail her finger through the multicolored mockery of wealth. “That you grabbed the wrong bag?”

“That my fortune’s out of my hands. This was a fair day. This was a victory.”

She stared at him as though he were mad.

“I won—I went, I lived, and I came away with more than I had before. Look!” His eyes caught a gleam, and his fingers darted to the sparkle. “Some fop had a fancy New Year’s wish.” He held up a golden die, heavy and true. “Well, Lord Chance bless ‘im for it.” He snapped his fingers with a smirk.

“Why don’t you keep that one, then?” Celsia sniffed. “For luck. Seein’ it’s the only good thing to come of today.”

He shook his head. “The luck comes of selling it for gain, Cels. No one can keep luck in their pocket, or beg it from a shrine. You fops and fools can roll your die, snap your fingers, take your chances,” he murmured, rolling the small gilded token around his hand. “I don’t care. I’ll make my own.”

The end.

New Year’s Chance, Part One

It was year’s first day, and everyone was up with the sun to watch the parade.

Chance’s Ill Daughter had been chased out of every city and town in Yaa as the past night had fallen—dressed in tattered rags and muck, shoeless and shave-headed with black warts painted on her face, the girl was hollered and harried into the darkness, but she was paid for her unlucky part. It was not like the days of old, when the players were chosen without choice, stones were thrown instead of rotted fruit, and ill-luck was not considered dead until the girl was.

Today, a beauteous girl walked as Chance’s Fair Daughter at the forefront of a grand parade, with pipers and jugglers and animals, and all the townsfolk out to wave and watch, or buy food and pretties at stands, throw newly bloomed flowers, and of course, to place small tokens in the shrines of Old Man Chance—never in appearance himself, as it was considered unlucky to draw the fatelord’s eye.

The excitement of the day caught up even Syawn, who was remarkably imperturbable for a child of twelve—twelve just today, with everyone’s age rolling forward on the new year’s morn. Orange curls caught and blown about by the brisk sea breeze (the sea insisted that it was winter yet, while the grasses of the hillside said spring was come and well come,) wide green eyes delighted in the scene, his hands clapping as drums and hornpipes danced past.

Spotting a taffy stand, he remembered his true purpose. The spectacle was there to sidetrack others, not him. A street urchin all on his own couldn’t afford to be distracted from making his way in the world. There were pockets to be picked and candies to be pinched.

He jostled backwards against a woman who’d just purchased a handful of taffies, causing her to fumble them. “Sorry, ma’am.” He ducked to pick them up and handed back all but one. He slipped away before untrapping it from its leafy wrapping and popping the sticky sweet in his mouth. He smiled and picked up a fallen flower to throw back out into the street. Who said he couldn’t have just as fine a day as the king himself?

He moved with the parade—the grandest one he’d ever seen, being one of four such in the crown city—plucking modest amounts of coin as he went, along with whatever treats struck his fancy. A toddler sat against his mother’s legs, fat-cheeked and clean, playing with a miniature red-painted wagon, with a wheel-hooved horse to pull it. That would be a gift to earn Sy some real appreciation from his part-time band. He ducked down and smiled at the child, holding out half a sweetroll. The child snatched at the dessert, and Sy swiftly snatched the wooden toy from under him, pushing backwards through the crowd.

Heart pounding with the pleasant rush of a fine theft, he slowed down when he was far enough away that none would stop to wonder whether the toy in hand was his own. Another two hours he wandered through, and when things began to quiet down, he felt fat with wealth and slightly ill. Clambering onto the nearby row of rooftops, he cut an elevated path down to the city docks, where he found the local band he’d fallen in with.

“What’s your haul?” he asked with a grin, already having hidden half of his own so as not to share any. The children’s smiles slid from their faces, and they stared at him in horror.

“Haul?” the newly nine-year-old Celsia whispered. “Haul, on Fair Daughter’s Day? Y’ve surely done nos’ch thing.”

Syawn’s smile faded. “Why not? What’s the matter?”

“It’s as bad as stealing from a Chance shrine—it’s a curse! Steal last night, sure enough, but steal this morn, and y’ve soured your whole coming year.” The whole band was backing away from him, looking at him as though he was the wart-faced Ill Daughter himself. Belly churning and his head beginning to throb with a sweets-ache, he knew he had to turn the tables fast, or lose the tender shoots of their loyalty.

Syawn snorted. “Plague-brain!” He pulled the red wagon and horse from behind his back, tossing it to the youngest of the band. Newly-five Russa caught it in her grubby little hands. “My luck’s been as fair as the day.” He snapped his fingers. “Chance takes care of we who dare. I was just thinking on those overflowing shrines. We could eat like lords and ladies for a month with such a haul—or I could ’til Ill Daughter’s next night, if none of youse will dice for it. Come; why should Chance love us less than his own priests?”

Celsia crossed her arms. “Because we’re thieves, and they’ve dedicated their lives to Chance’s service.”

Sy nodded, sidling forward a step. “Aye, that would be fair of him, wouldn’t it. But loves—” he grinned, and spilled the purse full of coin at their feet, “—whoever said Chance was fair?” He looked at their faces, making sure every one was lustfully riveted on the scattered coin (except for Russa, who was busy rolling her horse and cart up and down the alley,) before turning his back on the lot.

“Youse can have that pittance as my good-bye gift. I’m off to loot four times that, and sweep Fair Fortune off her feet by my boldness. You do as you like.”

“Well,” Celsia hedged. “It’s not the morning anymore. Maybe—but the shrines! Late frost take all, even if the law din’t catch us, Old Man Chance would.”

“And it’s that kind of thinking that keeps you in the cold.” Sy glanced over his shoulder. “I’ve got a plan to get in and out and sate Chance beside, but if you’re scared to dice, then stay out of the game.”

“Well… what’s the plan, then?”

Leaping up onto his sleeping crate, Sy spun around to look down on them all, rubbing his hands together. “Here’s the notion.”

Part II.

Snap Judge

Hey. Tirzah here. As commonly as I post fiction here without any warning, I should mention that the following is not fiction, but a story of my own from my workplace, a sporting goods store.

As I was bagging up some weights for a pair of middle-aged women, a young man walked out without buying anything.

“Have a nice day,” I called to him as he passed us, and he glanced over and gave me an acknowledging nod.

I unconsciously ran him through a mental scanner, and with two seconds of consideration, I judged him to be pleasant, possibly reserved, probably polite, in his latter teens, and handsome. He moved with a smooth and noble bearing that would have been one of the first things I’d have mentioned about him, if I’d been describing him in a book, along with his notable height and the undiluted darkness of his skin.

All that evaluation took place, like I said, in the couple of seconds of our exchange. My mind put it into no more words at the time than, Well he seems nice, I looked back to my customers. He continued out the door.

The lady at the counter leaned forward. “That man stole some shoes,” she murmured to me. “He walked out with brand new shoes.” The other nodded.

My heart fell. Not because we’d been stolen from, (always highly irritating,) but because that would mean my judgement had failed.

“Really? You saw?” He hadn’t seemed like a thief. Working in retail, one comes to get a sense for shoplifters and cons, and he’d set off none of my red flags.

They nodded soberly.

I might have questioned them further about why they said that—What had they seen? Had they seen him trying on those shoes in the back? Had they seen him walk in with other shoes?—but speed is essential for any hope of product recovery, so I called my manager who called security who took a look around the place. He dealt with them while I continued to deal with customers.

Then my manager called me to the front of the store, and pointed out at a car. “Is that him?”

I peered out, and sure enough, sitting inside a car in the parking lot was the young man who walked out past me.

“Yeah, that’s him.”

My manager scoffed. “Him? He was in here with his mom, she’s still here; I was showing her some fishing poles. He was nowhere near the shoe department, he was standing with us the whole time. Then she told him to go turn the car on and start the AC so it would be cool for her when she got out to it, and he took the keys and walked straight to the door. I could see him the whole time.

So, basically just a kid who happened to be wearing new shoes.

JOHN: Basically just a cab that happened to slow down. SHERLOCK: Basically. JOHN: Not the murderer. SHERLOCK: Not the murderer, no. JOHN: Wrong country, good alibi. SHERLOCK: As they go.

John Watson and Sherlock Holmes weigh in on the matter.

Security went on its way without bothering him. My manager went back to work. And my heart lifted again, glad—glad, not just because there’d been no theft, but because I’d thought my snap judgement worth something, and this was evidence that it is.

Then, hashing it over in my mind, I began to feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable with the two middle-aged women who’d called him out as a thief, and their immediate assessment. Would they have jumped to the same conclusion, I wondered, if the tall teenager with new shoes and a stately air had been white? Studies suggest they wouldn’t have.

And what if my manager hadn’t known that young man couldn’t have stolen those shoes? What if the lad in question hadn’t been able to easily prove he’d gotten the shoes elsewhere?

The words of those two women could have been the gateway to a travesty of justice. They might have marred the life of an innocent by a simple misplaced snap judgement. And I could have been a part of that.

Now I assess those women. I don’t think they’re evil, or vindictive, or trying to throw their weight around. I think they only wanted to see justice done. Their view was skewed by a bias they probably don’t even know that they have—a bias they probably don’t even want to have.

Take care, I say. Every one of us has some such misconstruction in our hearts. Maybe it’s naught to do with race, but with attractiveness, age, disability, class, job, gender, political affiliation, industry. Heck, I’ve caught myself associating glitter makeup with vapidity, when in truth, glitter makeup best serves as an indicator that the wearer enjoys glitter and makeup.

Look to the subtle edifices that lie behind your instant judgments, search out the shadowy, uncomfortable corners of your brain’s perception habits, and take care.

Do you notice bias in they way people see you?

What do you think of your own judgement, and how much do you think it might be skewed by assumptions you don’t even know exist there?

Do you think it’s especially important that writers and storytellers seek to be aware of their own subtle biases?

Save a Word: Manipulandum

Welcome to  Save-a-Word Saturday!

For those unfamiliar, the fantastic meme runs thus: they put out a theme, you pick a word you want to save from extinction,  and feature your word in a vignette that fits their theme.  And, you know, link back to them, while they link out to the blogs that join them. It’s a jolly time.

This week, I follow Sy, the main character of Ever the Actor, in one of the many dastardly exploits he got up to between his prologue and the opening chapter of his novel.

This week’s theme is: Lace Socks
My word is: manipulandum
n. – something that is to be manipulated

Syawn disentangled himself with care and slipped quietly from the bed of the Duke’s daughter. Moving with all the caution of a thief in the night–for such caution was paramount when one indeed was–he inventoried her belongings as swiftly as possible, examining and restoring them as though they’d never been disturbed.

Whenever there was a pause in her soft and wheezing snores, he held his breath and watched her curvaceous form for signs of waking, ever ready to dart towards the privy to act an alibi. She slept on soundly. As Sy’s hands, large but deft, glided over perfumes and seals, jeweled pins and jumbled parchment and lace socks, he drew up an chart in his head: valuables, lesser valuables, items quickly missed, items unlikely to be missed soon, and potentially sensitive information.

His scouting ended, he climbed back under the covers and slid back against his young manipulandum. There was much to be gained from bedding a noblewoman, and like any experienced player of court games, Sy knew that the pocketing of immediate physical wealth was low on the list and last on the agenda.

Save-a-Word Saturday

I have decided to cast my lot in with the lovely writers over at The Feather and the Rose, and perpetuate their blog-hoppy meme, Save-a-Word Saturday. Many thanks to The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale for giving me the notion!

The fantastic idea runs thus: they put out a theme, you pick a word you want to save from extinction, (a lovely unusual word that lies dying, not just some impressive behemoth like floccinaucinihilipilification,) and feature your word in a vignette that fits their theme.  And, you know, link back to them, while they link out to the blogs that join them.

Y’all are totally invited to join in the fun, (and it is fun,) by the way.

I will be generally choosing, methinks, to feature characters from my upcoming novel, Ever the Actor. The following showcases my main character, thick in the middle of one of the many exploits that lie between my prologue and opening chapter.

This week’s theme is: Footsteps
My word is: tirailleur
n. – infantry soldier

The most difficult part of playing the soldier, Syawn thought as he wiped sweat-damp curls from his forehead, was forcing his footsteps to match the  strong march tattoo.

It was not just that it was hot work, (he knew hot work well enough, and let no man call him a layabout,) but that his legs were more inclined to loping strides, casual swaggering, or the catlike creep of a thief in the night–a profession far more familiar to him than that of the tirailluer.

Ah well. Heavy-booted tramping was a small price to pay for the opportunities enlistment provided; there were few ways to gain better access to the information that would make him a small fortune. And that wasn’t  even taking into account the uniforms, weapons, and badges of office he could filch to add to his costume trunk.

The End is Nigh!

No, I’m not talking about the impending restart of the Mayan Calendar, I’m talking about the impending release of Spirit’s End, the final installment in Rachel Aaron’s Eli Monpress series. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out my review of The Spirit Thief.

Do you like fantasy? Charming thieves? Daring heists? Magic and cunning? Then you should check out my upcoming novel, Ever the Actor— no, wait. I forgot I was talking about the Eli Monpress books. My protagonist happens to share a few attributes with Eli, though Rachel Aaron’s master thief has a hunger for fame and a soul, both things my Syawn lacks notably.

But here’s the point: you have a chance to win a free copy of Spirit’s End. And maybe a $50 Amazon gift card. So do I. It’s actually why I’m writing this blog piece, see. (That, or because I’m hoping to catch Rachel Aaron’s attention again. I go as giddy as a spirit being flattered by Eli Monpress when she says hello to me. :P) Anyway, it’s fairly simple. Post about Spirit’s End on your facebook, twitter, blog, pintrest– social media network of choice, ya know? And then go here and post a comment listing the places you shared it. You get one entry for every place, and there’s a drawing every day until the 20th.

Go on, go be my competition, I don’t mind! Spread the word that the End is nigh! Then go read all the Eli Monpress books! And then even if the world does happen to end on December 21st, at least you’ll have read a really fun series before all fell into apocalyptic chaos, right?

The Spirit Thief

You may remember me wailing with joy, two blogs ago, about winning the Eli Monpress Omnibus, by Rachel Aaron. I have completed the behemoth, and am here to wail with joy about having done so. I am also here to shove you into a bookstore to follow my footsteps.

The Omnibus consists of three books, The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion, and The Spirit Eater. While I would recommend the Legend of Eli Monpress Omnibus, (partly for its price and mostly for its spectacular cover art– go check it out!), I will focus on Spirit Thief for now.

There are tons of reasons to read Spirit Thief, but I fear many of them would be spoilers. So if you want to know why you should read it, to the last detail, I’m afraid you’ll just have to read it. But in case you want something of a review before you run off and pick up a copy, here are three pre-packaged reasons. I kept them as un-spoiling as possible.

1) Eli Monpress, the wizard thief at the heart of the tale. As I suspected, ‘wizard thief’ refers to the fact that he is both a wizard and a thief, not to his being some sort of wizard-stealing thief. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried his hand at wizard-napping– Spirit Thief begins with a king-napping, after all. Calling Eli Monpress “ambitious” would be an understatement, people. This fellow is in it for the glory, fame, fans, but most of all, he’s in it to raise the price on his head. What thief wouldn’t love a high bounty? …Besides the sensible ones.

2) There’s magic in the world! Well, such would be assumed in a fantasy novel, but I found this magic system fascinating and novel (pun not fully intended). This is a world where everything has a spirit (hence the proliferation of ‘spirit’ in the various titles), and if you’re a wizard, you can wake them up and have a chat. If you can catch them in the right mood, they might do you all kinds of favors. Some wizards are better at this than others, and for some reason, Eli is the best of them all– Unless, of course, the spirits he speaks to were frightened into submission by a spirit Enslaver…

3) Here. If you doubt me, read the first two chapters for yourself. Go on, I dare you. If you don’t have time to read it all, read the first chapter. It’s short, and it’ll intrigue you. If you don’t have time to read the first chapter, read the first section. It’ll intrigue you. If you don’t even have time for that, read the first few paragraphs right here:

In the prison under the castle Allaze, in the dark, moldy cells where the greatest criminals in Mellinor spent the remainder of their lives counting rocks to stave off madness, Eli Monpress was trying to wake up a door.

It was a heavy oak door with an iron frame, created centuries ago by an overzealous carpenter to have, perhaps, more corners than it should. The edges were carefully fitted to lie flush against the stained, stone walls, and the heavy boards were nailed together so tightly that not even the flickering torch light could wedge between them. In all, the effect was so overdone, the construction so inhumanly strong, that the whole black affair had transcended simple confinement and become a monument to the absolute hopelessness of the prisoner’s situation. Eli decided to focus on the wood; the iron would have taken forever.

He ran his hands over it, long fingers gently tapping in a way living trees find desperately annoying, but dead wood finds soothing, like a scratch behind the ears. At last, the boards gave a little shudder and said, in a dusty, splintery voice, “What do you want?”

“My dear friend,” Eli said, never letting up on his tapping, “the real question here is, what do you want?”