Here is the third chapter of the book. I’m pleased with how it’s coming along, and have been talking to a graphic designer friend about getting a cover designed for it. 

Chapter Three

Later Sephir would look back at those first weeks spent in the red cube in the desert with some bemusement. The twins and Elabel had been so sure it was just a matter of finding the right map, the right traveler’s account, and then they would know what direction to walk and how far and then they would be home.

Sephir did not think she had ever been so sure, but then, it had been easy to be swept up in their blithe optimism.

She would come to wonder, too, how Elabel, who knew every corner and hallway and light pipe on both sides of the city, could not have comprehended the true nature of the desert and the journey back. Even decades later, she was not sure how much Elabel had not understood of her new guests, how much she understood but withheld, and how much she simply didn’t realize was unknown to anyone but herself.

But in those days, all Sephir could think of was the water that flowed freely every morning through the carved runnels and miniature aqueducts of the garden; of the fruit that fell from hundreds of trees, free for the taking; of the liberty to walk in the empty city; of her own room where she could close the door and sit on the windowsill and be entirely alone with her own breath and her own thoughts.

Elabel (whose gender Graneja had questioned somewhat rudely that first evening, though the androgynous woman had not seemed particularly put out) first made up beds for them from rugs and spare clothes, but in the first week she appeared at the doorway to their house with the pieces for folding cots, more woven blankets, jars of dried and pickled food, new clothes for each of them, and — unfortunately — new shoes. The twins, who thought the idea of ornamenting one’s feet perfectly amusing, simply wore them into the gardens and lost them; Sephir set them on her window ledge as an oddity and hope Elabel did not inquire.

All of the new things Elabel brought came out of a huge, odd-smelling canvas bag, still damp when she appeared in the morning on the patio and unrolled the top. Sometimes the jars or wooden furniture or new rugs, too, would be beaded with water, and had to be set on the windowsills in the brittle air to dry before they could be brought inside.

In the early mornings, after the red-haired woman had vanished for a day or two and then reappeared carrying her gray bag, encrusted with unidentifiable grime, over her back (the bag was big enough to tuck a child or two inside its great cylindrical heft, so enormous that Elabel herself could have climbed inside and knelt down and not have been seen,) when Sephir took objects one by one from Elabel’s hands into her own (a glass beaker of green flame-color, cold water pooling in the bowl; a heavy-bound book double-wrapped in layers of waxed fabric; a tin box of flour with a pattern pressed in the metal, also cool and beading water,) and turned them over and over, enjoying their heft and textures against her fingers and thinking only of the pleasure of having — for some value of having — her own things again:

Those mornings stayed in her mind long after too. Why hadn’t she wondered where all these objects had come from? Why hadn’t she puzzled over their curious dampness in a city fourteen days’ march into the heart of the desert? Why hadn’t she followed Elabel to discover where she went when she disappeared from the small terrace house? It wasn’t as though the other woman was resistant to questions; she simply gave incomprehensible answers. Read More

Still working away on this project! But I wanted you to have a further look at what I’ve been doing, so here is the second chapter of The Golden City.

Chapter Two

The twins were both sitting against the nearest wall to the light-tube, their feet oddly spotlighted and their faces in shadow as they dozed against each other’s shoulders.

Moonlight, Sephir thought, looking at the blue circle that fell on the floor and their bare legs. The pipe was catching moonlight somewhere above them and reflecting it downwards.

Sephir drummed her palm on Elasha’ chest. “We need to go look for water,” she said. This place had been made by humans (or witches, a far-off voice murmured in her memory,) so there had to be water (but if the people had gone, maybe the water had too? said the voice.) She closed her eyes and rubbed a thumb between them.

“No we don’t,” Elasha said groggily. “There’s water down there.” She gestured with her thumb to the left branch of the hallway, continuing straight onward from the stairs.

“There is? Show me,” said Sephir sharply.

“Too tired,” Elasha muttered, and turned her face to her sister’s.

Sephir ground her teeth and walked past her.

Another door gave way beneath her fingertips, and she yelped. A constellation of the round openings that lit the crossing of the hallways stretched across the ceiling. Five pipes emanating light protruded from the stone vaults above, one so wide she could have climbed into it. Mirrors glittered in their depths and threw paler triangles of light across the floor. A huge ceramic stove hulked at the far wall; the dim light showed enameled patterns on its doors. A wooden gallery ran around the upper wall, reached via a ladder by the stove. She supposed it was for hanging things to dry, though no food was in evidence now. Boxes with doors and drawers hung from the underside of the gallery, and wooden furniture filled the floor just beneath it. She stepped down two small steps, walked to the center of the room, and turned slowly in a circle. Read More

I plan to continue with the short story and illustration project (life having intervened as usual) but I would like to share another project I have been working on with you — a chapter from a short fantasy novel, the first of four, entitled The Golden City.

A city stands in the middle of a desert: a single, enormous block of sandstone with passages and rooms cut away from inside of it, an ants’ nest of spectacular scale. In the very center of the city in the very lowest cellar there is a very deep well, and if one dives down to the bottom of the well one finds a passage in the wall, and if one passes through the hole and swims up the other side of the well one enters the same city in a different world.

Only one person has made this journey — the Empress, who rules her hidden land not just by law but also by pulling the very threads onto which reality is fastened — until an escaped slave with two rescued children finds her way into the city. Sephir, stolen from her village years before, wants nothing to do with the strange magic of the two-sided city, but the peculiar and lonely Empress is probably her only chance to return home.

I have been working on this idea for a long time, and I am excited to finally get it out where people can read it. I hope you enjoy the story!

Chapter One

They had been walking in the desert for so long. Sephir had considered trying to mark the days somehow, but all she had were her fingernails and the skin of her forearms. The caravan masters woke them two hours before dawn every morning, clanging a heavy iron bell and driving them from the night camp with whips and staffs. They continued walking until three hours past dawn, when the sun became unbearably hot and the masters feared for damage to their property. The canvas for the shelters was unrolled from the backs of the camels before the sun touched its zenith. The forty slaves huddled in their shade until an hour before dusk, when the bell clanged and they were driven forward again to walk for another four hours.

It had probably only been two weeks since they had crossed from the scrublands into the desert, Sephir thought, squinting across the liquid glare of the shifting sand. The first two days they had been chained together at the neck, but out here, where would they run? The sky was so clear at night that the masters could see eight miles by the light of the moon. A runaway would be lucky to survive a few hours during the day. All the water was in skins on the backs of the camels, protected by long knives and heavy muskets.

The twins had attached themselves to her in the last town before the sand started. Two light-skinned girls with sandstone curls, they spoke a northern dialect of her language, which the other slaves either ignored or could not comprehend. Sephir did not particularly want to be in charge of two terrified, distraught eight-year-olds, but neither could she bear to let them out of her sight.

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Story no. 33. 

The jewel thing sounds pretty stupid when you first hear about it. Like something that should be in a comic book or on a trading card.

I did a sort of internship in San Francisco, on the Blue Earth, running logistics for a couple high-profile exiled Fae, which is how I know about comic books and other human storytelling-things. If you can hide magic on the BE, you can do it anywhere, or at least that’s how the industry line goes.

I like to say that San Francisco is where I got my cynicism from. I read a lot of mangas and ate a lot of carry-out Chinese that year, and my office was underneath the staircase of a burnt-out row house in the Haight. Admittedly, it’s hard to avoid cynicism when your world is an afterthought, jammed between two bigger and more believable realities. Lathustra doesn’t even have a coherent physics. The Blue Earth has got gravity, and strong nuclear forces, and ee equals em cee squared, to keep things running more or less consistently. What’s true in one place is more or less true in another. Read More

Story no. 32.

The slip splattered on Janice’s face, a long splotch of off-white goop.

Van took her hands, each finger encased in a fine layer of soggy porcelain clay, off the wheel. “I am really sorry,” she said. “Do you want me to get you a paper towel? I can totally get you a paper towel.”

“Um.” Janice didn’t meet her eyes. “Can you just point me to where they are? I’ll get it myself.”

“No no no, I’ll get it,” Van said, the pitch of her voice rising. She coughed and pushed up from her stool. “Bill, where do you have the new rolls of paper towels?” she yelled.

“What about your pot?” Janice asked, gesturing toward the slumping clay bag still spinning furiously.

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Story no. 31. Hey, I was in Ireland, cut me a break.

Ifrid felt in her bones the moment God-of-Judgment set foot into her stepfather’s hall. The men-at-arms felt it; she saw fear and awe and hunger in their faces as she sprinted past them. There was no question if Eren felt it. Ifrid was a fast runner, but the other girl outpaced her like an eagle soaring over a deer.

They had been up in the Glen, a crevasse in the mountain which rose over the keep. It had been sheer extravagance for Lord Jaoth, the father of Lord Veath, to build the defensive walls right up around the Glen with no more motivation than a murmured wish of his wife’s, so that she might go walking in the little wood and look up at the waterfall that danced down onto the rocks night or day.

But it made a fine place to hide from Veath while she was practicing her archery, Ifrid thought, and if she needed to come back in a hurry she needed only rush up the steps and run along the walltop.

The noise from the town below had gone utterly still – no carts rattling, no men shouting, no women shrieking, no stone crashing on stone as they levered rocks one onto one another for the new trade hall. What was left was the sound of a man whistling, if a single man’s whistle could echo over miles of forest and rock. Below the whistle rustled whispering, the patter of footsteps, a child’s laugh. Read More

Story no. 30. Progress! And 3/30 for April, and this time it’s actually still April 3rd even in Switzerland!

Beatrice saw the man with the glasses and the shaved head again a week later. She refused to admit to herself that she had deliberately called Mr. Billings with questions about her contract that could only be resolved in person so that she could wander the UCL campus hopefully.

But her embarrassment withered when she saw him across the yard. “Hullo! Excuse me! Sir!”

The moment he caught sight of her his whole body seemed to expand. “Oh! It is you . . . ! The woman from the, er, the – “

“The toilet, yes.” Beatrice stopped in front of him, gasping, and realized she’d been running. “Pardon – “

“My name is Khirlaeon,” he said, bowing. “Erabach Khirlaeon. Do you want to shake hands as well? I felt very stupid when I realized we had not exchanged names.”

“Shaking hands is nice – I did as well – my name’s Beatrice B. Smithwick,” she said, holding out a hand and laughing.

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