Archive for March, 2012
March 26th, 2012 Posted 9:25 pm
For those who don’t know: when you read xkcd, you mouse over the comic for an extra caption.
It’s true that you end up at the “Philosophy” article if you click on the first un-parenthesized (I just made that word up) and un-italicized link in any article. I tried it with “Interrobang” and it took me six pages. From an obscure punctuation mark to philosophy? Bit of a stretch!
March 19th, 2012 Posted 2:34 pm
Phoenix has been put on the site in full! Just the first draft though. The new version, which I will be sending to agents, will be a lot better than this one. Especially the first chapter.
Also, yeah, I noticed that in the second chapter she goes to bed without showering at all even though she threw herself into mud earlier. That’s fixed.
Anyway, it’s going to stay up on the site until the book sells (if it does). If I need to, it will be taken down. But for the mean time, enjoy.
March 19th, 2012 Posted 12:43 pm
A week later, Mark’s fully recuperated. The magic that had made him so silly-acting had healed him quickly, and now he can correctly identify me.
Xavier is absolutely thrilled about being a pegasus Epselan, although he mostly likes to ride Silvester if he can. The two are inseparable. And they won’t leave me alone at all. Oh, and Xavier’s managed to score himself some of the potion I was given to help his magic. Personally, I think the problem now is having him learn to use it better.
Mark, Key and I are travelling to Baffin Bay to find a polar bear for Mark to meet, although that I’ve made it clear that he isn’t allowed to take his home like Xavier and me. I’m guessing both that Silvester and Xavier are planning on coming, and that neither of them is planning to take the plane, which Mark has finally consented to board. I think he figures he’s lived through enough danger that a little more perceived danger can’t hurt too much.
Daniel seems to think that there’s some bigger magical thingy going on, but has assured me that I have nothing to do with it for now. I for one hope it’s not just “for now.” At least, not until I get bored, which isn’t likely to happen any time soon.
Key and Mark have now proclaimed that they’re going steady. As if it weren’t obvious that they had been for over a year. Silly people. I fear for the world if they marry.
Felix is still tagging along with me. It seems he, like Leslie, thinks that we’re the most interesting group on the face of the Earth. And he’s made it pretty clear that he’s looked in several different dimensions as well.
Mark and I are planning to move far, far away from Iowa. There would be touchy questions if any of my old classmates saw me in the street, even though I’m now wearing a hoodie and long sleeves all the time and claiming that the feathers on my face are “just my style.” We’re moving back to Colorado, actually, in a permanent house. Daniel’s made it clear that he wants to keep me in a place where I can be free to fly around and where it would be easy to hide, should the cult figure out I’m not dead, and he insisted on buying our house for us—which is no problem for the Agency. The exchange rate on interdimensional currency is ludicrous—and the Agency has a lot of money stockpiled in other places. We were staying a few days in the Agency to give our thanks and help clean up after the mess Ian and his idiots made.
There was just one more matter of business to attend to.
“Hey,” I said, navigating my way through the Agency stables, around several piles of pegasus dung. Xavier’s cleaning spells still could use some work.
“Hey,” Xavier said, setting down Currey’s brush. “What’s up?”
“I still owe you something,” I said. “You saved my life again.”
And on this one, I didn’t let go for a long time.
March 19th, 2012 Posted 12:41 pm
Mark was furious that I hadn’t come to him immediately.
“I was worried!” he insisted.
“You were asleep half the time!” Xavier retorted. “When you weren’t, all you did was make applesauce castles! And I don’t care what Key says, you do snore!”
Xavier was back in his leg brace again, but this time it seemed Hannah had welded it shut by magic. She must not have been terribly happy about his discarding it yesterday.
“You’re not going to hear a thing until you shut up,” I said in a sing-song voice. Felix copied my tune, amused.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Xavier muttered as Mark slumped back onto his pillow.
Mark wasn’t too happy to hear that I’d been partially killed. In fact, that’s probably kind of a euphemism, since I can’t print what he actually said.
Once the curses died away, though, he was pale and seemed panicked. A pretty, black mage girl came hurrying in and stuck a baby bottle into his mouth, squeezing the bag and forcing its contents down his throat. Mark’s eyes suddenly looked distant and blurred, and he stopped arguing or even saying anything. She left quickly, but not before I saw her name tag, which said “Netta, M. M. D..” So what were they called here? Magical Medical Doctors?
“Won’t your magic be less powerful with less human?” Xavier asked. I was so grateful for the matter-of-fact question that I almost missed the feeling of realization.
“Xavier!” I said.
“What?” he asked, looking confused. “What’s wrong with asking…”
“Wouldn’t your magic be less powerful with less human?” I pressed. “Especially if you were… missing something else?”
“Xavier, are you sure you’ve never been an Epselan? Like, when you were really little?” Once I’d said it, I realized how far-fetched it sounded. But part of me still had to know.
Xavier looked blank. “I don’t know. I was drugged up pretty badly when I was seven. I’d broken both my legs or something and they didn’t want me to feel it. Can’t remember anything before then.”
“It’s possible,” Daniel said, walking in from somewhere else in the hospital. “If Ian was able to confuse my inspectors by magic into thinking nothing out of the ordinary was going on in his labs, he could have been doing anything. And I’m sure he killed off the animal sides of a few different Epselans before Phoebe told on him.”
Down the length of the room were mostly empty beds, except for the second-to-last one, where Key was being given another calming potion. A gigantic vase full of orange lilies sat on her nightstand and more were strewn across her bed—probably also Felix’s gifts. I wished I was being given the same treatment, because I found myself shuddering almost uncontrollably at Daniel’s words. Felix looked utterly distressed.
Mark leaned over to the side of the bed opposite us. For a minute, I was about to leap up and try to prevent him from falling off. But he stopped. His eyes flicked oddly back and forth for a second, but then he blinked and seemed to regain his vision. The healing magic done on him had really messed him up.
Mark was picking something up off the ground. I stared when I saw that it was his leather jacket, not exactly sure how a jacket could help our current situation, and Daniel looked just as befuddled as I was. But then he opened a zipper pouch sewn inexpertly into the lining, six inches under the sleeve. He dumped the contents onto his bed, and Daniel groaned in understanding.
“You’ve kept them with you all this time,” he said, almost laughing.
“Yes,” Mark said blurrily.
“What?” Xavier said, looking blank.
I didn’t recognize any of the ingredients sitting on Mark’s bed, threatening to fall off. I didn’t understand why this was significant to Daniel at all.
“When we were kids,” Daniel said, and I knew that this was the start of a story, “Mark and I were friends. We went to the same school, and we were the best pranksters that middle school had ever seen. I was, what, twelve… so was Mark. I used the magic I had to do dumb stuff to teachers we didn’t like, that kind of thing.”
“Remember when you rearranged Mrs. Heinen’s classroom to make room for that giant tree you put in?” Mark grunted. “That one was awesome. We hated her.”
Daniel started laughing. “Yep. She had no idea how it happened. Never was very bright. That was a good bit of teleportation magic, too. I remember you helped me set up the ropes and stuff.
“Anyway,” Daniel said, “I was kind of sort of working for the Agency. Right? For the Agency girl. Molly Fletcher.”
“She was hot,” Mark said.
“And also three or four years older than you,” Daniel retorted. “Molly was a really strong mage—”
“—which made her hotter—”
“—and she was very persuasive,” Daniel said, ignoring Mark. “So I worked for her for a while. Anyway, I was in touch with most of the stuff that went on in the area. Most of the magical stuff, you know? So when one of the assassin cult started tramping all over the area, I knew. So I told Mark. I knew he would be attacking schools, because he was after me, mostly. They don’t like kids with strong magic. Think we’re gonna goof up the worlds or something.
“Anyway, none of them knew what I looked like. They didn’t care, really—figured I’d fight back and show myself to protect the people around me. Try to kill the assassin myself, right? Well, they got the wrong class. They knew two people were involved in most the magic I did, and one of them was Mark.
“So before Mark went back to school the day after I found out, I gave him three sets of ingredients that would make anyone an Epselan, and the spell didn’t require any real magic and could be done unobtrusively. Both of those were stuff I needed, because Mark never really had much of a talent for doing magic. He could set it up better than I could—good with the mechanics and stuff—but never had the knack for being the catalyst. I told Mark that the spell would give a normal human special animal powers that would enable them to protect themselves from the assassin better than a normal human. I gave him the ingredients to save three people, as long as one of them was himself. I didn’t want to lose my best friend.”
“But he ended up saving two,” I said.
“Yep,” Daniel said. “Himself, as promised. I think he chose the polar bear because of Coca-Cola, but that’s another story.”
“You know, if you feed it to rats, they explode,” Mark mumbled.
“And me,” I said, getting us back on track.
“And you,” Daniel finished.
“But wouldn’t another piece of human die if I’d been shot then, too?” I asked.
“Yes,” Daniel said. “Very observant, Phoebe. But that was very magically special, like most other things you’ve done. Epselans are usually told to transform into the mostly-animal side and then are given a special poison that only works on humans. Normally, it’s very painful. You can only have as much human as you do animal for a certain amount of time before the human will decide to kill the adopted animal, since the animals are usually submissive to humans, us being on top of the food chain and all.
“That was why your hiding spells didn’t work, by the way,” Daniel added. “In case that phoenix hasn’t told you yet. Phoenixes aren’t afraid of humans.”
“Yes, he told me,” I said. “And his name is Felix.”
Daniel gave a short bow to Felix, who bowed back.
“Etiquette,” he said.
“So Mark didn’t get to save a third person?” Xavier asked.
“Oh, no,” Daniel said. “Right then, he disappeared from school and started caring for you, Phoebe. I helped him hide. He didn’t have time to transform anyone else. He could hardly slip them any poisoned apple juice when he was planning to illegally drop out of school and care for someone who was officially dead, could he?”
“So he kept the ingredients with him all this time?”
“Yes,” Daniel said. “He was able to save you from something he felt he’d brought on by being present. Key told you he liked you?”
“Er, yes,” I said, trying not to turn red as, out of the corner of my eye, Xavier’s face turned toward me.
“Think he liked you even better than he liked Molly,” Daniel said, sounding kind of impressed. “Anyway, if Mark remembers right, and I’m sure he does, you transformed into a mostly-phoenix once it was obvious you were in danger. You went from human to half to phoenix in about a minute. When the assassin came in…”
“The whole room was dark but she looked like she was being lit with a computer screen,” Mark slurred. “You could see her face and everything. Where is she? Is she hurt?”
“Potion overdose, buddy,” Daniel said, slapping Mark’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t have cursed so much. They didn’t want you hurting yourself.”
“I’m not hurt,” Mark mumbled. “Is Tallie hurt?”
I still hated that name.
“She’s fine,” Daniel said.
“No, she’s not!” Mark said, more strongly, then laid back again. “She’s hurt.”
“My name is Phoebe, Mark,” I said. My voice seemed to satisfy him.
“She has a new nickname.” Mark laid down, fell half-asleep, and rolled over, knocking half of the ingredients to the floor. Daniel caught the vial of water before it could shatter on the ground and started collecting pine needles from the folds in the white sheets.
“What do you think he wanted us to do with these?” Daniel asked.
“Isn’t it obvious?” I said. “He wants Xavier to be an Epselan again. I mean, Xavier just saved all our lives, right?”
“Huh!” Daniel said. “Well, that would solve his magical troubles, wouldn’t it?”
“I guess so,” Xavier said. There was a shadow of suppressed excitement in the way he looked at the numerous ingredients in Daniel’s hands.
“Do we even have to ask what species?” I asked.
“Probably not,” Xavier said.
“I’m having a potion brewed for you, Phoebe,” Daniel said. “It won’t bring back your ability to look human, but it should mitigate any difficulties you might have had with mage magic. In fact, considering who’s brewing it, I’m guessing it’ll make your magic stronger than before. It’s a very tightly kept secret recipe, though, so I can’t tell you more.”
“Why wasn’t I given this before now?”
“Needs special magical circumstances to avoid backfiring,” Daniel said. “But since you’re mostly phoenix now…”
“Why does that matter?”
“Why do you think you changed when you were in danger?” Daniel asked. “Phoenixes are natural protectors. I think the reason you found your phoenix side so anxious to take over was because you were in constant danger. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t have been pretty difficult to sort out,” he added, “but it was always trying to protect you. I doubt you would want to be in phoenix form for the rest of your life, but you would be safe, and it is still your mind in the phoenix. You saw how eager Felix here was to defend you. It’s just the way they are. Kind of noble, really.”
“And what does this have to do with the potion?”
“Well,” Daniel said cautiously, “first, you’re no longer being stalked so easily by that madman… and second, we don’t want humans taking the potion. People who are proud, greedy, whatever… they don’t need any more power than other people. It would be bad. That’s why the recipe is secret. Not that we think you would have used it badly,” he amended, “but it’s protocol. I do occasionally follow protocol.
“Especially when it fits with my main reason, which was that if you were caught—and you very nearly were—then that cult would be able to figure out the recipe from a bunch of different spells on your body. Magic like that is traceable. The reason it took the cult so long to find you is because they were searching for the effects of the poison usually given to new Epselans. Eventually, they realized they had to search manually.”
I had one more question. “Where’s Leslie?”
“Gone,” Daniel said.
“Gone?” Xavier said.
“She’s Leslie,” Daniel said, shrugging. “From what I gather, she heard about you becoming a phoenix Epselan and decided to try something similar herself. She’s a shapeshifter. She can’t do magical forms, although shapeshifters are magical creatures. And she can’t do the magic of any of the creatures she imitates. She can only use the physical benefits. She’s actually about twenty years old, but apparently she’s been tracking you because you were interesting. She didn’t have anything else to do and didn’t trust us, so when the cult found you, protecting you became her new hobby. She impersonated a twelve-year-old for you, Phoebe.”
“She’s a mind-reader and a mage and a magical-creature Epselan,” I groaned. “How the heck did she do that?”
“I have no clue,” Daniel said. “My biggest guess is that she knows where to look.”
“Wish I did,” said Xavier.
March 19th, 2012 Posted 12:38 pm
When I woke up, it was dawn—the next morning. Had I slept through one day or two? Either was believable.
I was lying on my bed in the tower room. I rolled over, facing the wall now. Something gave a pliff sound.
I sat up and saw that the coconut cannonball had landed on the floor. Under me laid the remains of a dozen magical flowers—all the ones Dr. Wynne had given me. I stared at the crumpled orange lily that had comforted me enough to get the numbers out of my head when I needed it.
Then I realized that the floor of the room—every inch—was covered in thousands of orange lilies. They were piled on top of each other, a foot or more deep. The same magical calming flower. On the back of my wooden desk chair perched the phoenix, looking rather pleased with itself.
I took a deep breath and felt a shiver down my spine. Sighing, I turned over and buried my face in the pillow again. I was starving. I knew that one of the fruits lying next to me would probably remedy that, but I didn’t remember which and didn’t exactly want to chance it.
My muddy, sandy tennis shoes were just outside the sliding door, which was still cracked from the tussle with the lab people and dragons.
I stepped out of bed, crunching a few stems under my slippers, when I noticed what I was wearing. Somehow, I was clothed in a clean, white, cotton long-sleeve shirt and some gray sweat pants now—not to mention the blue cotton slippers. None of my clothes were bloody or dirty or sandy, which they had been when I’d arrived, although I myself still needed a bath desperately.
A giant plate of sandwiches was sitting on the desk, one of the few places in the room that wasn’t covered in lilies. I flew over, not wanting to crush too many lilies, and returned to the bed with the plate piled high with sandwiches.
I swept the other flowers off the bed and started to eat. I couldn’t remember tasting anything better than that messy peanut-butter-and-jelly ensemble, and when I’d gotten through the stack to the cold turkey and Danish havarti cheese sandwiches at the bottom, I was feeling positively gleeful.
Looking back, it seemed pretty crazy how a decent night’s sleep and a plateful of sandwiches turned me almost optimistic and content. Well, the level of calming-flower pollen in the room probably helped, too, but still.
The phoenix looked content, too. It hopped to the floor, burying itself neck-deep in orange lilies.
“I have to give you a name,” I said. “I can’t keep calling you ‘the phoenix’ in my head. Are you… a girl?”
The phoenix looked at me blankly. I had to assume this meant no.
“You’re a boy, then?”
“So… what name do you like? Steve?” The silliness of the situation caught up with me, and I started laughing. The phoenix hopped onto my bed.
“Not Steve, then,” I said. “Not a very good name for a phoenix. How about Felix? I read somewhere it means ‘fortunate’ or something. After what’s happened, I think we’re both fortunate.”
He cooed. Felix it was, then.
“Well, come on,” I said. “I’m sure there are a lot of people who would very much like to yell at me. How about you?”
Felix dipped his beak sadly.
“Don’t worry,” I said, flying out the door with Felix on my tail. “You’re the hero.”
March 19th, 2012 Posted 12:30 pm
I managed to dodge the questions just then. I didn’t particularly feel like talking about my own near-death.
Xavier said that Leslie had somehow turned up while he, Mark and Key were looking for me. I requested a full backstory.
So he told me how he’d woken up with my wand on his face, how he’d used the wand and my feather to successfully do magic, how he and the others had come after me on the pegasi and met Leslie, who was apparently a shapeshifter Epselan instead of a sheep. I decided to inquire about this later. Then he gave a really detailed description of the fight: how he’d been injured trying to shin kick the assassin’s gun out of his hand, how Mark had gotten shot, how Key had punched one of the assassin’s teeth out.
I found myself feeling increasingly guilty with each passing sentence. But I knew that if I said this to Xavier, then he’d stop and try to make me feel better. And I wanted to know what happened.
Then I gave my description of the phoenix’s acts after Xavier’s crowd left. I still wasn’t totally sure if I’d dreamed half of it, but it was a better explanation than anything else I could give.
When I got to the part where the phoenix told me that a part of my human self had been killed in the struggle, Xavier threw down his crutches and started cursing and pacing in anger. I could tell that it was painful, but I don’t think he cared.
“Don’t hurt yourself!”
“Don’t hurt myself!” he stormed. “I…”
I could tell what was going on inside his head. He was angry, but there was nothing alive to blame or to swear revenge against. There was nothing he could do, and nothing to take his anger out on.
“Xavier!” shouted an auburn-haired girl who looked about Daniel’s age. “I thought you were just going to eat lunch!”
“Hannah,” Xavier muttered. She doesn’t get it! She’s just going to chivy me away!
“Leslie’s with Currey,” Hannah said to me as she shepherded Xavier away, collecting his crutches. “And this one…”
For a minute, I thought Xavier’s last words were spoken oddly. I decided I must have imagined it.
I left for the stables. I wanted to know how Leslie had gotten herself into this mess just as much as I didn’t. There was a sour feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was about ready to hurl.
The Agency felt alien. Xavier had somehow changed. Mark was, like Xavier had said, probably throwing some cherry Kool-Aid at the ceiling or something and giggling as it splashed onto his bed sheets in the infirmary. Key, he’d said, was going bonkers with nerves. And Leslie was here. I just couldn’t trust Leslie. She appeared in all the wrong places, but you couldn’t blame her for it because then they turned out to be the right places… but then you had no idea how she got there and you were suspicious about her motives for being in that place at that time so conveniently.
You couldn’t trust her.
But I was guessing that she, at least, hadn’t changed.
And I needed that.
You see, in a way, I had just died, and something else seemed to have died with me.
Mark had watched me not-die once already. Had I lost a piece of human then, too? If so, how could I be in a half-and-half form now?
Why had Daniel’s spell gone wrong, and why had I woken up first? You’d have thought I would be the most damaged by a bad spell.
There were some logical inconsistencies in this.
I realized that as I was thinking this, I was almost heading the wrong way. I adjusted my direction and continued my thought-rant.
This was so confusing. Part of me was angry and wanted to race to Daniel, to Leslie, to the nearest person who could possibly explain what was going on and shake the answers out of them. Part of me was upset and guilty and ready to cry, preferably not in front of anyone else. Part of me was exhausted and hungry and would rather lay down somewhere, anywhere, and sleep for several days.
Shakily, I pulled the dragon whistle out. But I couldn’t even raise it to my mouth before the phoenix grabbed my shoulders and carried me off. Meanwhile, I fell asleep as I stood.
March 19th, 2012 Posted 12:24 pm
I landed in the Agency, the phoenix still hanging onto my hoodie. I found myself alone and the grounds oddly quiet. I’d usually known the Agency base to be crazy with activity, mages running around asking for the nymphs to come help put out a fire or for the dragons to light one. Fires were very important here.
I wasn’t sure where to go, so I went to the lunch room in hopes of finding someone who would know where Mark was. I knew he was here. He had to be. I didn’t know how he’d have gotten here, but I knew he was. If not, someone could help me find him.
The lunchroom exploded the second I walked in. People everywhere stopped their conversations to stare at me, then turned back around and started talking much more excitedly. Nobody got up, though, or told me where Mark was, so I was going to walk back to talk to the mage assistants serving the food.
But the phoenix beat me to it. It took flight, leaving my hoodie to soar through the high ceilings of the glass room. Most people stopped to watch it glide smoothly around the room.
I was surprised when the phoenix landed at a lunch table instead of flying to the people serving food. Then I heard somebody calling me.
It was Xavier’s voice, but I couldn’t see his head. Instead, the phoenix managed to hover a little over the table so I could see where it was. I followed it in a hurry.
“Xavier! Whoa. What’s wrong?”
“Fractured shin bone,” Xavier said, smiling. “I did something pretty stupid.”
“Trying to save my feathery butt wasn’t something stupid,” I said.
He laughed. “I guess you’re right.”
Xavier hesitated. “He’s kind of crazy right now.”
“That’s nothing new.”
Xavier laughed again, and this time the grin stayed. “Nah, I mean Hannah used magic to patch him up. He was shot in the shoulder. Nothing serious, though. He’s in the infirmary, probably making intricate modern art on the floor with some applesauce again. That’s nothing unusual. So what’s up with the phoenix? I didn’t think they liked cold climates.”
“Doesn’t seem to want to leave me.”
“Well, they are rare,” Xavier said. “Must be lonely.”
“Not too lonely,” I said.
“I said phoenixes, not charming phoenix Epselans,” Xavier said, still grinning. “You should see Key. She’s in a frenzy. I think she’s been given a calming potion or something once or twice already.”
“Did they give her that flower that calms people down?” I asked.
Xavier looked surprised. “No! That’s a great idea!” He looked like he was about to get up, but once again the phoenix was faster. It was out the open door before we realized what it was doing.
“Well, then,” I said. “I haven’t eaten in ages!”
“Here,” Xavier said, shoving a small tub of pink goop labeled “strawberry applesauce” and a spoon at me.
“Thanks.” It was exactly the same pink goop that I had been forced to eat in middle school, but I didn’t care. Ripping off the foil cover, I ignored the spoon and chugged it straight. Xavier laughed until Pepsi came out his nose. He, who had better manners than I did, mopped himself up with a napkin and kept laughing unnaturally long. I had the feeling that he’d been more worried about me than he was letting on.
“So everybody’s all right?” I asked, once the applesauce carton was empty.
“Yeah,” Xavier said, still laughing. “Are you?”
March 19th, 2012 Posted 12:11 pm
I was alone. There was kind of a vague promise of light in the sky soon, but no real sun showing yet. The air was cool, or at least it felt that way to me.
The strangest thing—I could have sworn I heard cars or something in the distance, revving their engines. But not in the sand, surely.
There wasn’t a phoenix around. I thought this was pretty weird, since that phoenix I was talking to before I fell asleep seemed like it would stand over me until its dying day… or, much more likely, mine.
I wondered if there actually had been a phoenix there, or if it had only been there in spirit (a.k.a., I was totally delusional and ended up doing the magic myself and realizing stuff on my own). Because I saw the phoenix again, and it didn’t act like it had just saved my life, healed me, and then set my form right. It didn’t really act like it had ever seen me before.
But once it was within sight, it cooed at me and invited me into the air with it. I went.
It definitely wasn’t afraid of me. Its eyes actually were amber-colored, I could see, and not just because Mark insisted they were (like with me).
It wasn’t afraid of me. Huh.
Was that why the phoenix tried to take me over? All the other animals were somewhat afraid of the humans with whom they shared head-rent, but not this phoenix? Not any phoenix?
It cooed softly, trying to catch my attention. I watched the magnificent bird go into a steep dive, and I followed it. It swept right back up in the last few feet. I landed on the sand and stretched out my arm for it to perch.
The most wonderful feeling…
It was like being able to breathe better, to see more clearly. It was like all my senses were on hyperdrive, and I had more energy than ever. More control. Just… better.
The phoenix cooed, a soothing noise. I felt like doing it myself. I was more relaxed than I could ever remember being.
The phoenix cooed again. It was about to take off, but I noticed a wound under its arm. Not enough to actually damage it into bursting into flames and regenerating, but definitely enough to be painful.
I stroked the phoenix’s head, calming it and telling it not to fly off. I knew Daniel would know someone who could mend the phoenix’s wound, even if he himself couldn’t.
The phoenix trilled sadly. Then it did something weird. It shuffled its wings really fast. It obviously wasn’t trying to leave, since it was still holding on tightly to my hoodie sleeve, but it kept fluttering its wings until an orangey-gold feather fluttered to the ground. I picked it up.
I knew what it meant: real immortality, for a human, anyway. I wasn’t sure I wanted that.
I stared at the phoenix.
Thanks, I said, in the magical-creature way. I’ll think about it.
It blinked at me peacefully. I slipped the feather into my pocket.
Stay with me. I know someone who can heal you.
I don’t know how to get back to the Agency, though. I don’t have my wand, and anyway, I don’t know how to do a teleportation spell
But by the time I’d gotten this thought out, I was feeling like a statue again. The phoenix had done it.
March 17th, 2012 Posted 12:51 am
As you might have noticed, I’m kind of waning out on posting blogs on their own page. I think it’s easy enough for people to find what they want with the search bar, and it’s annoying to keep posting the same stuff in two different places. But I like the fact that it shows up on the main page, so you can see when the ol’ blag has been updated.
We have a new cat in the house–a kitten, actually. His name is Shawn and he’s four months old. My mom thinks he was dumped in the shelter by a breeder who didn’t want him, and he’s a Turkish Angora breed. I have to say, the cat looks exactly like the pictures she’s pulling up. It’s freaky.
We already have one rescue cat who turned out to be a rare breed: Jake, the Egyptian Mau, whose coat has a breed-specific quality to it. Egyptian Maus have spots and stripes, but only on the tips of their fur. When you brush the fur back, it’s one color underneath. They also have pretty gooseberry green eyes if they’re bred right (Jake does) and kind of Egyptian-looking markings around their eyes.
Turkish Angoras have fluffy tails, tufty ears, and like water. Shawn fits all of those. Why does my mom keep ending up with rare cats at random? Who knows. Maybe she just recognizes them better than most people because she used to be a cat breeder.
Anyway, I’ve been working on editing Phoenix and it’s coming along pretty quickly–there aren’t so many things marked KILL IT WITH FIRE like usual. I have some new ideas, but I’m not sure whether I want to work them into one novel or two. I have starts for two, but I’m not sure if I’ll use them.
First, Fenna and Corid.
Fenna–a blonde eleven-year-old girl, librarian’s apprentice who hates her master, prefers the inventor dude a floor below. Lives in a castle.
Corid–Actually a pseudonym, her real name is Corona Caelum; she’s a princess with a thing for politics. I haven’t totally decided what her royalty/nobility status is (maybe she’s just a high-ranking noble), but it seems kinda cliche to have a smart princess in disguise. She needs a dirty secret. Maybe she’s a werewolf like Sergeant Angua from Discworld. …Nah. Twilight ruined that one. Maybe her father was an usurper. Oooooooh!
They live in a complicated political system. Fenna belongs to the Dog empire, and Corid to the Beetle kingdom. Apart from those two, there are the Cats, led by a dictator because of their war, the Bear empire (who are dominating warmongers), the Foxes, who are nasty too but keep to themselves, the Rabbits, who are weak and have bad resources (and treaties with the Dogs), and the Birds. The Birds are a band of extremely intelligent spellwriters, but are no match for the Bears, who are taking over. But they’re still important, because they’re coming out with new technology and magic all the time, and it’s advancement for the rest of the world.
So Corona has this idea in her head that she needs to figure out a way to protect the Birds, but she isn’t planning on doing it singlehandedly. She figures that the Dogs are probably the most politically reasonable group, but the only person in the Dog empire that she knows personally is Fenna’s favorite inventor. But he can’t go with her… so he offers to kind of push Fenna towards going with Corona instead.
Fenna’s job as apprentice librarian isn’t much fun–it’s strenuous work, with an old guy breathing down her neck while she tries to copy books. So, of course, she ends up going along.
Corona is also a mage. Her main mode of transport is a small smoke-colored dragon, who she got by setting up a dragon trap described in a book and treating it well until it was loyal to her.
So Corona takes her dragon and Fenna and tries to strike up a rebellion with the Foxes, who are nearer to the Birds than either the Beetles or Dogs. Then she travels to the Birds to gauge their potential for a fight–they’re pretty useless. She tries the same rebellion deal with the Cats, with the Rabbits, even with the group of nymphs who lives north of the Beetle kingdom. Nothing works.
Then a small party of rebels in the Rabbit tribe manage to corner some important Bear generals. In a last-ditch effort, Corona tries diplomacy with the Bears themselves. Suddenly realizing that the rest of the world is against them–including the Beetles, who are powerful–the Bears agree to retreat their troops from Bird territory and to stop any aggressive moves until diplomacy between the Bears and the Beetles works out.
The Bears have learned to respect the Beetles since their last three wars lasted several decades apiece and ended in bloody stalemate. They’re not fond of each other. Kinda like France and England in the old days.
Then Corona sends word to Emperor Mentker of the Dogs that the Bears have retreated for a while and he and she have a certain amount of time to round up as many troops as possible, quietly, while Corona’s father buys them time negotiating and keeping the Bear emperor as drunk as possible.
Their bluff works, and the Bears are forced back into their own territory to stay.
Then I have another idea that I’ve been sitting on for a while.
How the Agency got started.
I’m kind of dragon-rider crazy right now. Not sure why. But these are the characters I’ve got…
Anatola, the gold dragon who shows up at the Maine Agency base in Phoenix. Except that right now she’s just ten months old and can’t even flame yet.
Rhenna, Anatola’s keeper–an eleven-year-old girl with brown hair, a round face, and an older brother who really wants to keep the fact that his sister has a pet dragon a secret. Their little farming village in the woods isn’t very fond of dragons.
Luke, a fifteen-year-old guy. Black hair, pretty tall, uses a bow. Oh, and he’s a mage. And before you guys start jumping in and declaring that this is an Eragon ripoff because I have a dragon and a fifteen-year-old guy who uses a bow… shut up.
Rhenna gets spotted with Anatola as she teaches the dragon to catch fish out of a stream. Luke and Rhenna have to run away before they’re butchered for bringing a dragon into the village. They leave a note for their trader uncle (who left when the snow melted so he could get some more supplies) and flee the village.
Rhenna starts lamenting the fact that there’s no safe place for well-behaved dragons and mages who aren’t jerks, and nobody to do anything about the nasty dragons and the mages who are jerks. Luke figures they have nothing better to do, so they head to the next town with Anatola perched on Rhenna’s shoulder.
Anyway, I think this’ll just be meeting a bunch of odd people who join Luke and Rhenna, a bunch of bad guys who think Rhenna’s group is plotting something, and Rhenna, Anatola and their group doing what it takes to be relaxed and happy. Well, until Luke points out that Rhenna also mentions in the group goals she wrote up that she was planning on doing something about the people who don’t want them to be relaxed and happy in their own little group. And when they start fighting, they get better fighters joining. Et cetera.
I haven’t worked this one out totally yet. But I need to do some explanation of how the Agency got started. Sometime. This idea seems like it could easily get pegged as an Eragon ripoff, though. You know? Even though it’s about something totally different. It’s like… if you write about a magic school, your book is instantly “like Harry Potter.”
I had a dream the other night that was really weird. It was… it was about this Volkswagon Beetle and who it belonged to… there was one girl who had it but it really belonged to this other girl. And the girl it belonged to and her friend, who is a boy about her age (early twenties)… they were being chased by bad guys for some reason. And the girl got chased through a WalMart and there was this big black border collie who started attacking the people who were tailing her. It was so big, it looked like a gorilla. Even though she knew it wasn’t a gorilla attacking the people, she told the store clerks that it was a gorilla attacking one of their customers, so that the clerks would get in the bad guys’ way. The first question out of the clerks’ mouths was “Is is a male or female gorilla?” She said it was male and ran out to meet her friend. And then they got chased through a museum and the girl climbed up the outside of the museum and jumped off, and it turned out she had angel wings…
I’ve got to write something with an angel-winged girl in it soon. Don’t know why. But there you go.
Anyway… it’s late, so I’d better go.
March 13th, 2012 Posted 5:19 pm
French Onion Soup
Most people think this soup is difficult. It’s not. It’s one of those dishes where you do the most attention-requiring part at the beginning, and then you just kind of leave it alone and make other stuff to go along with it or something. Play computer games nearby. You know. Also, it doesn’t need 50 gallons of mango lard or anything, so The Oatmeal is not allowed to complain. My French Onion Soup recipe has been formed out of a general disregard for other peoples’ recipe instructions and my own experience, and I’ve been told it tastes better than most restaurants’ French Onion soup. Go figure.
Anyway, you’re gonna need this junk.
- Six yellow onions (trust me, they cook down)
- Beef base. I’m serious about this one. Don’t use bouillon, don’t use pre-made broth. Tone’s or McCormick are great brands, just make sure it’s base. Not bouillon. Bouillon is salty and usually full of nasty stuff. Beef base isn’t.
- Garlic of some sort–minced and dried, powder, fresh, whatever you can get. Fresher is always better.
- Water, oil, salt, sugar. Basic kitchen stuff.
And this equipment.
- A good skillet/frying pan–one big enough to reasonably hold your onions once they’re cut up
- A soup pot, medium size, if you have it
- A sharp knife, preferably a Santoku if you’ve got one, but your normal slicing knives will work just fine. Don’t try to use a steak knife, butter knife, or anything silly like that.
- A cutting board.
- A dish to hold your onions for a few minutes.
- A stove.
Got that? Mostly basic equipment. The only things you might actually have to shop for are the onions and the beef base. And maybe garlic. You are using beef base, right? Well, you are now. You’ll never switch back to bouillon after this, trust me. It’s like going from McDonald’s chicken nuggets to a lobster dinner.
Anyway, the first thing you have to do is cut your onions. WAIT. There’s a reason this is called French Onion Soup, no? You’re going to French your onions, if you can.
If you know how to French onions, skip this section.
First, prep your onion. Take your knife, lay your onion on its side and cut off the top and bottom of the onion to get rid of the stem. Set the onion on one of its cut-off ends and, from the top, slice the onion in half.
Get rid of the outmost ring of the onion. It’s tough, and you don’t want to eat it. You can just pop it out. It saves you the trouble of peeling off the skin, too. It’s going to look like you’re wasting a lot of onion, but this way, you don’t end up biting into something that has the texture of cardboard.
Now comes the trickier bit.
Lay your onion out so that the middle part that you just cut through faces the bottom. (That way, it’s stable to cut.) In other words, the big flat face of the onion is down. Position your onion so that the top of the onion, where the stem was, is facing away from you, and the bottom is near you. (It’s okay if it’s upside down, it doesn’t matter.)
Should look like this.
Next, you’re going to cut at an angle. Cut slightly towards the center of the onion, so that the cuts you make expose as much of the onion as possible to the oil later.
You should be left with plenty of nice, uniform, wedge-shaped pieces. You’ll get used to the cutting method after a few onions.
When all of your onions are prepared, heat up some oil–enough to swish around and cover the bottom of the pan–in your skillet/frying pan. When the oil is good and hot, dump your onions in. Tip: dump them away from you. The oil can splash, and you don’t want it to get on you. It helps if your onions aren’t in the pan when you heat up the oil–this is what that dish I mentioned is for.
You can add in a little more oil over the onions. It’ll get to the bottom and heat up. Now add some sugar–a tablespoonful will do–over the top of your onions to help them caramelize and become a delicious golden-brown color.
Your onions will probably come to the top of the pan. Don’t worry about this. They cook down. You can slap the lid on the pan (or not if you don’t want to) and leave it for a while. You need to stir it every once in a while, flip your onions around. Otherwise, ignore it for a while and bake a cake or something. Keep them on medium-high heat.
It’ll take a while for the onions to get nice and brown–expect a good hour or so, at least. Sometimes it takes longer. If you get impatient, turn the heat up higher and stir. A lot. Add more sugar–not a lot, though; it can get too sweet if you go over a few tablespoons. They should brown up faster, just make sure they don’t burn.
When your onions are all brown and sweet and caramel-y, switch off your fire.
If you have a soup pot, fill it with some water and add a couple good spoonfuls of beef base–just one or two. If you prefer a more precise method, check the ratio on the back of the beef base container and measure out your water. It’s not a picky thing, though–you just have to get it in the right area.
If you don’t have a soup pot, switch your onions back into your onion-holding bowl and do the same thing to prep your beef broth in the skillet. Don’t worry about washing out the pan first (duh).
Put your pot or pan on the stove again, turn on the stove, and heat up your broth. Swish the broth around with your spoon until your beef base is all dissolved in the hot water. Then you can go ahead and add your onions, give it a stir, add in some garlic and salt to taste (unless your bf is a vampire, in which case you should probably skip the garlic unless it’s a breakup dinner) and let your pot simmer on medium heat for a little while–maybe ten minutes or so.
And then you get to eat. That’s the best part, right? Make sure you eat it hot, because this stuff is really rich when it gets cold. Good stuff.
Posted in Fun Stuff