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Messages - RussetDivinity

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1
Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: What are you currently reading?
« on: December 21, 2015, 03:29:40 PM »
I'm about halfway through The Bane Chronicles. It's hardly perfect, but it is a lot of fun to read, and a great way to ease into my mornings.

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Fantasy Resources / Re: Mythical Creatures
« on: November 30, 2015, 02:34:43 AM »
This is fascinating, but I agree with Nora that it could have been more comprehensive. (I was looking for Russian and Eastern European creatures and was a little heartbroken to find nothing about rusalki.)

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Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: Female Fantasy Authors
« on: November 30, 2015, 02:14:54 AM »
Suzanne Clarke is definitely one of my favorites, as is Diane Duane for her Young Wizards series (which I have yet to finish, despite two attempts at starting). I've also been reviewing some books by J. Kathleen Cheney, and I think they're wonderful, though I might be slightly biased toward them because they're historical fantasy.

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This turned out slightly more horror than space opera, I think, but I've never tried writing this genre before. At 904 words, here's "Between Madness and Starlight".

Spoiler for Hiden:
The hospital gown had once been clean and white, but no longer. It was stained now with sweat, fruit juice, and blood. It crinkled and shifted with every movement, and it had begun to smell, but there was no time to do anything about it.

At least, it had been until very recently.

Grace knew she would be practically unrecognizable if any of her old friends would happen to see her. No longer was she Lieutenant Grace Franklin, rising star of the Academy and wonder of the Imperial Fleet. No longer was she the helmsman of the ISS Azalea, shooting up through the ranks and on the way to be the youngest captain in the history of the Terran Empire. Now she was a madwoman, or rumored to be so. Officially she was on indefinite medical leave with PTSD after what was best known as “the Leetch Incident”.

It had been more than enough to make anyone want to leave the Fleet. After all, who would want to stay after they had been trapped on a shuttle with a captain slowly losing his mind? It would have been insanity to stay, not to leave, and sometimes she wondered whether that meant the Fleet had gone mad, not her. (But that itself would be madness, she reminded herself. The best explanation – the only explanation she could allow herself – was that both of them were rational but simply looking at different sorts of truths. It was the sort of thing her captain had tried to teach her, back when she had first started on the Azalea.)

“I’m sorry, Diklah,” she whispered, thinking of the man’s easy smile, and how it had slowly turned manic during the weeks they were trapped together.

For a moment, she couldn’t remember why she was apologizing. (That, if anything, should have been the alarming thing. She had always been very nearly fastidious when it came to apologies.) Was it for her appearance? No, there was a good reason for that. Her short hair had grown tangled because there was no time to cut or comb it. The sweat came from running and having no time to track down the showers in the station, the juice came from tearing into plums and peaches as she was forced to eat on the run, and the blood…

Dear God, the blood.

It was hers. Some of it was, at least. She knew very well what dried blood looked like on white clothes; the white undershirt of her uniform had been coated in it by the time she and Diklah Leetch had made it to safety. Scars laced her chest and arms, since no one had bothered to properly treat them. But no… she had wanted them that way. She had wanted to remember.

Not all the blood was hers. Not all of it was the red-brown she was all too familiar with. Some was thicker and darker, and it smelled strange and impossible. It couldn’t be an impossible smell, she knew, for it was there, but every part of her mind rebelled against it, saying it was nothing she should have smelled in her life. It was nothing she could have encountered had she stayed on Earth. It was alien, in so many more ways than one.

Now she knew what it was that had made Diklah so frantic when he had come back from examining the supposedly empty ship. He had been babbling about ETs and other lives, but she had dismissed the words quickly. After all, humanity had encompassed most of the galaxy, and surely they would have encountered alien life by now. The only other place for life was in other galaxies, and it would be nearly impossible for aliens to travel so far. It was the most widely accepted science.

No one had counted on extradimensional travelers.

It was the only explanation Grace could think of. The aliens had seemed to simply appear, and the only reason she had escaped the first slaughter of the station had been because the psych ward was relatively safer than the rest. She was lucky, and from that luck had come the chance to use her survival training. She had managed to run and hide, and when she had the chance, she had managed to kill. It was no easier than it had been during the skirmish of Morrisworld. The only difference was that this time she had been fighting for her own survival rather than simply because Captain Leetch had ordered her to.

But it wouldn’t last for much longer. The fight against the aliens had lasted for days, but now the station seemed empty. They had destroyed the communications system, but there were still shuttles, and now Grace slipped through the station gathering food for her journey. Most of it was rations, but she did grab a few peaches, simply because she was very fond of peaches.

“I’m sorry, Diklah,” she whispered again, and this time she knew what she was apologizing for. She hadn’t believed him, and perhaps that had driven him mad.

But now the whole Empire would know what had happened. She had recordings of the aliens, and she would take every chance she could to spread them about. It was to clear her captain’s name, of course, but she also had to save the Empire.

By attacking, the aliens had made it very clear that they intended invasion.

5
Writers' Corner / Re: Violence in fantasy
« on: July 28, 2015, 03:20:47 AM »
I'm okay with violence in fantasy as long as I don't feel like it's overdone. If I think it has a purpose, then I'm all right with it, but if it's just there because the author really wanted an epic fight scene, then the author might want to rethink it. Even constant violence in a story can work out well, as long as it feels like it suits the book; if it's just there because the author really wants to drive home the point that violence is a thing that happens (or just wants to write fight scenes all the time), then it starts to wear on me.

Also, going off the Greek thing, the Iliad actually had some overdone violence, at least in my opinion. I read it for a class recently (well, parts of it), and was amazed by how gory it is, and gleefully so. The part where Patroclus ran his spear through a man's chest, then pulled it out and brought the man's lungs out with it felt almost like it would be a parody of something today.

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Writers' Corner / Re: How much did you write today?
« on: July 28, 2015, 03:04:21 AM »
I think I got about a thousand words down on my novel. (If we're allowed to include role-playing sites, that adds a few thousand more, though I didn't bother keeping track exactly.)

7
I'll second Home from the Sea. I read it last summer, and it's wonderful (and also very Welsh, which I quite enjoyed). If you're looking for YA, I also enjoyed Seven Tears into the Sea. It's not quite as cheerful as Mercedes Lackey's work, but it's still very good.

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Well, if they're not, then I'll definitely have to claim that niche!

The closest I can think of offhand is some downright eerie moments in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, though I'm not sure if the book as a whole would count as modern Gothic horror. It does have a very strong sense of atmosphere, though, and Losthope is about as gloomy a manor as you would expect from the name.

9
I thought I'd have a really hard time keeping this below 500 words, but I managed (somehow). Here, at 474 words, is "Space for a Breath".

Spoiler for Hiden:
In. Out.

Her breath came quick but steady, chest rising and falling beneath his hand. It was just like the doctor had told them it would be. Nothing would be strange. Nothing would be changed.

In. Out.

He could feel her heartbeat under her skin. It was pounding fast, too fast, but her face was calm. Too calm. It was for him, he realized a second later. She didn’t want him to worry about her. It was too late for that, but he tried to smile so she wouldn’t be discouraged. He needed her to keep hoping.

In. Out.

“It won’t be long now,” he said. “You’re at nine centimeters.” She nodded, head tilted back to look up at the stars. His hand moved slightly, from her chest to her rounded belly, but then back so he could catch her next breath.

In. Out.

“Mom never said how much contractions hurt,” she said.

In. Out.

“Your mom got to have an epidural,” he said. “I understand they make all the difference.”

In. Out.

“Mom wasn’t giving birth to the supposed savior, either,” she said with a grimace. “I bet that makes a bit of a difference, too.”

In. Out.

He nodded, but he didn’t say whether he disagreed. He only sat still, resting on hand on her chest, the other on her palm. Her hand had gripped his tightly with each contraction, and he did his best not to show any pain. He wasn’t the one shoving some promised child out between his legs. If she broke one of the bones in his hand, well, he would just have to live with it.

In. Out.

“We never talked baby names,” he said suddenly. “Not since the prophecy, anyway.” It was rather hard to focus on what to name a child when you knew it was going to save the world and die doing so. “I’d suggest Jesus, but I think it’s been done.”

In. Out.

She laughed then, sudden and sharp and filled with pain. “Let’s stick with the original plan. We’re naming him William, after your dad.”

In. Out.

“William,” he repeated. “William Winston.”

In. Out.

She nearly laughed at that. “William Peter. No child of mine will be called William Winston.”

In. Out.

Another contraction, and she winced, closing her hand tightly around his. “Hold on,” he said. “Not much longer, and then we’ll have pastries or something. Those things you liked from Michigan.” He had just enough time to see her nod, and then

In.

Out.

In.

Flash.

In.

A baby’s cry.

Nothing.

He drew his hand from his wife’s still chest and dared to look at the child lying on the floor. The child that would bring about the salvation of the world or its end. The fabled second son of the prophecy.

What he saw was a little girl.

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This is something I've been looking for an excuse to write for a while, and I figured it would fit in well with the prompt. At 1,498 words, here's "A Gentleman Keeps His Secrets".

Spoiler for Hiden:
It was a good job, or so Rose’s cousin had told her again and again. She had no right to complain, not when a rich man like Astrophel Sterling was willing to take her into his home and give her a position managing his various accounts. It seemed he had so much money he couldn’t look after it on his own and had nothing better to do with it than pay for a crippled girl to live in his house and play bookkeeper.

“It’s better than facing a firing squad,” Philip had said as the carriage brought them to Sterling’s manor. “If Astrophel didn’t owe me a favor, that’s exactly where you would be for getting involved in a revolt.” He must have seen her frown, for he leaned across the carriage and set his hands on hers. “Having a scarred hand doesn’t make you a cripple, Rosie. You’re brilliant, and I know you’ll do well. He needs the help, and you need the protection.”

Philip – she couldn’t think of him as Pippin any longer, not after he had executed one of her comrades – wasn’t wrong. Though she was sure she would be able to manage without some rich man’s protection, she wasn’t sure how Sterling had managed without her. All his accounts were in disarray, and it had taken her a month to get everything in order. It was a wonder he hadn’t accidentally gone into debt, since it was clear he knew nothing about running a household. She suspected he was a younger brother who had only inherited through some unfortunate accident.

But that wasn’t the only thing that alarmed her about him. He wasn’t just careless; he was downright strange. She wouldn’t have expected anyone named Astrophel to be normal, but he went far beyond what his name might suggest.

He was thin and pale, and at their meals (and he continually invited her to eat with him, which she hardly minded) he barely ate. He looked as though he barely slept, too, and the hollows above and below his cheekbones made them look far sharper than they should have. He was startled by small noises and shied away from shadows.
And he was young. Rose had expected to work for someone old enough that his mind would have started to go, but Sterling – calling him Astrophel was too familiar, and she wasn’t about to call him sir – was about Philip’s age, possibly a few years younger. There was something haunting him, but she couldn’t tell what.

Even if she could have told, it wouldn’t have been her place. Her job was to manage his accounts, and once the ones from the past were all rewritten and put in order, it was a remarkably easy job. The other servants reported to her about the household spendings and whatever income Sterling got from his lands, and she made sure every penny was accounted for. Once she’d even lectured a maid for spending some of the household money for herself, and it had felt wonderful to have a way to ease her temper.

Now that she didn’t have as much to do, she found herself sitting up late at night to read. Before the revolution she had always gone to bed shortly after sunset, but it was hard to sleep while trying to overthrow an emperor. She could have blamed her current late nights on the habit that had come from those months, but she suspected her employer’s insomnia was rubbing off on her. The other servants looked haunted as well, and even if it wasn’t to the same extent that Sterling was, something in the house made them nervous. Rose had even found herself looking wan and weary, and she thought she’d somehow managed to lose weight, even on the rich food the cook served.

At least his library was well-stocked. Rose had spent the past month working her way through some scientific literature and had lately been considering taking a break to read some poetry. The Romantic tradition sounded interesting, or perhaps the now banned Enlightened.

Then she heard the scream.

***

Shadows, reaching out, writhing just beyond the corners of his sight, always there but never seen, ever since he had opened that gate that should not have been opened, ignored the warning that should not have been ignored. Pages stained in blood should have told him to run, but he hadn’t heard their words, not until it was too late, not until he had stared into what lay beyond his mind and known just how deep the universe went, that there were stones and stones stacked to the bottom, and some of those stones were skulls…

Fingers, hands pressing against him, and he realized a moment later that they were not part of the dream. His eyes opened, but he could not have said whether he truly woke, for all he saw were the writhing shadows, twisting in a way that nothing ought to. “No,” he gasped, trying to push them away, but the hands were warm and rough, and they came with a voice.

“Sterling! Sterling, wake up! You’re dreaming.”

“No,” he said again, but this time it was a refusal. It had been no dream but a hint of whatever he had opened inside his mind and outside the world. “No…”

“Damn it. Philip never told me you were crazy. He just said you needed me.”

He did need the voice. It was steady and strong, like solid ground, and it drove the shadows from his vision so he could see the speaker, her red curls in disarray, her cheeks paler than they had been when she had first stood in his home, her green eyes reflecting yellow candlelight so she barely looked human, but she was, delightfully so, and he flung his arms around her, pressing his cheek against her neck to feel her pulse and the air running up and down her throat. He wanted to say her name – and it was the simplest name to say – but the only sound that would come from his mouth was a dry, shaking sob.

“What’s wrong?”

“The shadows,” he whispered, his breath rushing across her skin. “They move in ways they should not.”

She sighed, and he did not care that it was in frustration. That frustration could hurt, but it could also protect, and for a single moment he thought she might face the shadows herself to save him. He would never ask her to go into danger for him, but if she were willing, he would accept it.

“It was probably just a bad dream,” she said, and pushed him off her shoulder just enough to press a hand against his forehead. “You haven’t got a fever, at least. I’m your bookkeeper, not your nurse.”

He grabbed her hand, though the sudden movement startled her and made her eyes grow wide. “It was no dream,” he said. “There are shadows. They move in ways they should not. Please believe me.” He was not sure what to do if she did not. He could not send her away, for his friend’s sake and for hers and for his. He needed her there.

“The shadows,” she murmured, and her eyes darted about the room. Frowning, she pulled her hands from his and stepped away. “Those shadows?”

She saw them too. Joy and horror rose within him: joy for being not entirely mad and horror that perhaps the shadows could see her. He needed to protect her, more even than he needed to protect himself, but he did not know how. If he could not save himself, if he was too weak to do anything against the shadows when it was his life threatened, how could he attempt to protect the one who might need to protect him?

And still she moved away, following the shadows with her gaze. He followed them as well, where they danced around a door he tried to keep hidden. He must have forgotten to cover it with curtains tonight – or perhaps the shadows had moved them – for now it was wide open and she was making her way toward it.

“What’s through here?” she asked, in her voice all the innocence that her sharp glares must have hidden during her time in his house.

He had to protect her.

“No,” he gasped, nearly falling from his bed. “No, please!”

But she did not listen. She opened the door.

***

It looked like a laboratory, but clearly it couldn’t be. The books laid haphazardly on the counters had strange symbols in them, and the shadows that shouldn’t have been moving cleared away as soon as Rose laid her eyes on them. Perhaps it really was a laboratory, but it must have dealt in magic, and illegal magic at that.

“Please,” Sterling whispered from behind her. “Tell no one.”

Rose rolled up her sleeves. “Of course not,” she said. “I have to set this in order for you.”

11
I'm nearly done with Blood Red. I have mixed feelings about Mercedes Lackey's writing, but it's more from a matter of personal taste; her plucky heroines always feel a bit too plucky for me. It's a good book, though, and I might start going through her others later this month.

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I just started The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin, and after I get a little more writing done, I'm going to dive right back in.

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Writers' Corner / Re: One Sentence writing advice
« on: May 18, 2015, 05:07:49 AM »
Don't be afraid to have side projects.

(Really, this is probably the only reason I don't get burnt out, though it also takes me a lot longer to finish things than I might otherwise.)

14
I tend to get spooked pretty easily so this might be kind of laughable, but the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series still gets me. I'm not sure what it is about those books, but every time I read one I have to leave the room where I read it (leaving the book behind, of course).

15
Lloyd Alexander's Westmark trilogy. Anything by Lloyd Alexander, really, but Westmark is my favorite, possibly because I'm mildly obsessed with the French Revolution.

On the non-fantasy side, John Steinbeck's East of Eden. I enjoyed it in my most bitterly atheist phase, which pretty clearly shows that it's a powerful book. (It also made me cry, even when rereading it.)

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