Sunday, April 12, 2015

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Hadacek Rev 1

Name: Karel Hadacek
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Wayward Path

Alyssa watched the raven watching her. Her grandma said they were mystical messengers between humans and the spirit world and wondered if this one carried a message for her. Stepping toward the bird, she glanced over her shoulder at the blanket on the grass with her family’s picnic remains. Her parents had pushed the leftovers to the side and were snuggled together, dozing. I won't be long or go far, she promised herself. I wonder if it would tell me its message.  

Sometimes she communicated with her Jack Russell terrier, Sparky, without words. Whenever she imagined how fun their walks were, Sparky rand to the door and jumped at his leash on the hook beside it. But when she was sad and didn't want to play, he'd settle in her lap and snuggle, ignoring the leash altogether. She didn't think they communicated with words; it was more like sharing feelings and pictures in their minds. Could she do the same thing with this bird?

The raven cocked his head and looked down at her with one eye. Is it a boy or girl? Hmmm, a boy, she thought he told her. Just when she felt a thread of communication with him, she lost it. The raven flew to a perch a few trees away and Alyssa hesitated, considering. She spotted a game trail through the woods and hurried to catch up with the bird. She felt safe knowing that the trail leading her a few steps away would also take her back, and she wanted to try to merge with the bird again. What else could I see?

Focusing on the raven again, her vision blurred. Blinking didn’t help, so she shut her eyes. In her mind’s eye, Alyssa thought she looked down from a position high above, seeing a petite, blonde girl in a red windbreaker and blue shorts. The colors were brighter and somehow different than the way the colors usually looked to her.  Blinking, the scene cleared. She’d done it! Somehow, she’d didn’t communicate with him -- they’d merged, and she could look through his eyes! She never would have thought that was even possible, but she’d done it! She twirled and first pumped the air, wishing she’d had a friend with her to tell.

He fluttered to the left of the trail, and she increased her pace to keep up. She was eager to experience his vision again. The raven perched on a rocky outcropping above her and croaked. Following, she focused and tried to remember what she’d done to see through his eyes. More than anything, she wanted to do it again. He fluttered in a constant string of little hops from branch to branch, branch to rock, rock to grass, then grass to tree.

The wind kicked up and big drops pelted her face before she looked around and saw the storm clouds overhead. Zipping her windbreaker and pulling up the hood, she wondered how long she’d been gone. The raven flew over the trees, crossed the valley to her left, and angled up and away with strong beats of his wings, ending their game.

Unable to follow, she sighed and began the trip back to her family’s picnic. She wasn’t worried, knowing she could return to the game trail. Alyssa looked around for the trail, frowning. Retracing her trail over a field of rocks, she couldn’t find the trail at the bottom where the grass grew again. She clutched her windbreaker, already beginning to chill.

“Mom? Dad?” She called periodically, hoping to hear her parents call in return.

Dark descended as she searched for the trail, finding only trees, rocks, and weeds. Her shouts for her help grew louder and more frantic. Although determined not to dissolve into a crying heap like a child, she had to admit she was scared. Lightning cracked, making her cringe. She hoped the tall trees would attract the lightning first, rather than a small thing like her.

Stomach clenching, she left the long narrow meadow and moved into the trees. Soon she found a place that was almost dry under the thick branches of a prickly evergreen tree. It smelled dank and musty, making her sneeze. Her stomach growled and she tried not to think about her hunger, thirst, or the growing darkness. Tears pressed at her eyelids. She thought her parents would be anxious by now, looking for her. Man, I’ll be grounded for years when they find me.

Wanting to look down through the raven’s eyes to hunt for her parents, she closed her eyes but couldn't do it. Not really knowing how she did it the first time, she had no idea how to do it again. She wiped her nose on her sleeve, but it just kept running as tears soaked her face. She slumped, resting her head and arms on her knees, exhausted.

What was that? She raised her head. Stretching, she swiped at the dried snot on her nose and upper lip. She must have fallen asleep, but what woke her up? Holding her breath, she listened to the night. The rain had eased and she heard another sound. Something was moving among the trees. Could it be a bear? A mountain lion? She thought she heard furtive, heavy footsteps, then a pause. It didn’t sound like her parents or a search party. No one had a flashlight or called her name. Certain she heard something close, she wondered if she was too small and nice to frighten a hungry animal. Part of her hoped she was too scrawny and stringy to look appetizing while another part of her thought she could be tender and tasty.

She couldn’t remember what the rangers had said on their last trip. Am I supposed to make myself look big or small? Make noise or look dead? There were different rules for different predators. Big or small? Loud or dead? She searched for a weapon and grabbed a branch on the ground, only to discover that it was really a tree root, with the end buried deep in the ground. Oh my God, it’s coming closer! It can hear me moving around.

Abandoning the root, she leaped toward a shiny rock partially hidden in the murky shadows beneath the tree. She scrabbled at the rock, but it wouldn't budge. She heard the thing move closer. Loud or dead? Big and dead? Good as dead? Unable to see much in the dark, every instinct told her to run. She bolted, running as fast as she could through the trees.

The rain had slowed, and clouds absorbed the moonlight, leaving sullen darkness. She was one of the fastest kids in her class, but she couldn't run all-out here. There were hidden roots, and rocks everywhere that she couldn’t see. She fell, skinning her knees and hands. Jumping up, she looked over her shoulder. Has the animal stopped or am I too loud to hear it? There it was again! She ran through the woods, never seeing the rock that tripped her. One moment she was running, and the next she was sailing through the air. She threw her hands out to catch herself, finally landing hard and hitting her face. Pain stabbed up her arms, barely registering before she lost consciousness. 

She woke to birdsong. Her head felt like she'd been clubbed, and panic rose as she realized she couldn’t see. She cried and her face stung as her tears found cuts and scrapes on her face.

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Ellie Rev 1

Name: Ellie
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Wicked and the Dark

Caetlin had expected to find her brother's dead body. She hadn't expected to find nothing at all. She had steadied her furiously beating heart as she rounded each corner, bracing herself for what would be there. It wasn’t like she wanted to find a body, but Jax had been missing after his patrol for far too long—even for him.

Jax liked to play tricks on his sisters, but he never disappeared on a patrol for longer than it took to scare whoever’s turn it was after his. He was serious enough about protecting their patrons that he wouldn’t pull a trick that would get in the way.

A frown tugged at Caetlin’s mouth behind her metal mask. Something was definitely wrong. She didn’t want to jump to conclusions and scare Eloise and Peony, only to have their brother pop up later. Jax wasn’t just their older brother—he was their leader, the family’s first born, the strongest of them all. Caetlin refused to believe he could have been killed by a Shadeu or a rival guard.

-No. Don't think like that. He could just be wounded, overwhelmed, or hiding; trapped...Maybe he fell asleep somewhere… Caetlin thought, trying to justify her brother missing for so long without as much as a note.

"Damn you, Jax." Caetlin growled into the tunnel's dark crevices, the words muffled behind her face mask.

Her watch began two hours ago and she'd already checked the closest tunnels and territories under their protection. Jax should have met her under the family’s estate and been back in bed, but instead he was missing and Caetlin’s nerves were on edge.

Not a single Shadeu, the flesh eaters that lived below ground, or opposing cabal member had been spotted the whole time she’d been on watch. It wasn't rare, but it wasn’t common either. There were nights when she had killed ten shadow lurkers in a single section, and other nights when there were none in any sectors—at least ones under the Three Bells, her cabal's protection.

Still; there was something going on, her instincts were going crazy and her heart refused to stop pumping a frantic rhythm against her ribs. The air felt electrified with lurking eyes, watching her as she crept through the stone underground corridors.

She was in the far south of the city, close to their home, kicking up black ash and dust as  her watch time crept to a close and she searched for Jax.  Her younger sister, Peony’s, watch would be next, then followed by her older sister, Eloise’s. Their parents had been up in Nahljie for a month, looking into some orchards, so they wouldn’t be of any help.

The sound of shuffling feet broke the silence. A sound that would usually be soft and light echoed like grating chains. The scraping crawled through the dark tunnels, over the cobblestones and rocky walls, right under Caetlin’s skin. No one would make such a ruckus while traveling underground unless they wanted to be heard—or dead.

Jax. Caetlin thought; hope soared in her chest. She sprinted around the corner, saw a shadowy human figure and stopped short.

A young man shambled towards her, slumped; holding the side of his stomach. All the hope in Caetlin’s chest crashed to her toes. The person in front of her wasn't Jax, he was a member of another cabal. He seemed to be around her age, maybe eighteen or so. Tall; then again, most people are taller than her five foot-almost two-inches. But he was still much shorter and leaner than her brother.

Caetlin’s hand hovered over the dagger at her side as her eyes skimmed over his weapons; two swords at his back and three daggers at his sides.

The stranger was dressed in a black and grey tunic, with a hood and matching pants. His face was covered by a metal mask, but she couldn’t make out the design on it with his head flopped onto his chest.

He lurched towards her, his hand going out. Instinctively, Caetlin palmed her dagger hilt and shifted her feet to root herself. “Who are you?” She demanded. Did he get wounded fighting Jax?Or was it a Shadeu?

The cabal guard didn’t say anything before he collapsed forward and crumpled to the ground.

Caetlin watched him for a few moments, noting how his back moved slowly and shallowly as he breathed. He was unconscious, not dead—at least not yet.

Usually the protocol for this type of situation would be to leave him there to be found by either a lurking Shadeu or—hopefully for the person—one of their own cabal members. But he wasn’t in his own section; he was in hers, which made it her cabal’s problem. She couldn’t just leave him as bait to draw Shadeu into their territory; they’d have a swarm of them in, and then it would be her problem.

With a muffled string of curses, Caetlin stalked over to a broken stone pillar with their seal etched on it, and pulled open a hidden rock door. Inside the small hole was a wire. She tugged it three times and replaced the rock.

The contact mechanism would ring a bell on the map, alerting the house. After the bell rang, it would stay lifted on the map, so they would know which bell had rung, until someone pushed it back down.

Eloise and Peony would be there within ten minutes. Peony wouldn’t mind as much, since her shift started after Caetlin’s, at one, but Eloise always had the early morning route from three thirty until sunrise, and wouldn’t get as much rest now. But they would both want to know about Jax and the mysterious loner.

While she waited for Eloise and Peony to show up, Caetlin crouched over the fallen boy. He was outfitted in typical cabal style; dark clothing with a hood, leather armor for his front and back, fingerless gloves. Shining metal armor overlapped each plate up his arms and legs. She pushed him over onto his back. His metal mask covered his lower face, delicately designed like a beast’s jaw clamping down and bearing its teeth.

Caetlin let a small smile lift her lips. Snarling jaws and sharp teeth were very popular mask decorations in the cabal, especially for men who wanted to look more menacing than they actually were.

“Huh.” There was one thing missing that all cabal members wore: His crest; the insignia of the cabal he was a member of— usually worn with pride on the chest or somewhere else easily seen— was nowhere to be found. Was this boy a loner? Someone without a Cabal? He didn’t look like a tunnephile; one of the rich and bored who came down into the tunnels for fun during the day.

There was a tuft of dark brown hair covering one of his eyes. Caetlin’s fingers itched to push it out of the way. She wondered for a second if he was handsome, if maybe she knew him somehow from a party or ball, but disregarded the thought. Wondering if everyone she met in the city was a member of a cabal would just make her paranoid.

“What happened?” Eloise’s voice vibrated through her mask, making it rough and indecipherable. She landed on the rocky ground next to Caetlin with the grace of a dancer. A thin blond braid escaped her hood and she quickly tucked it back inside.

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Rev 1

Name: Anthony Tardiff
Genre: MG Fantasy
Title: Damsel’s Dragon

His Royal Highness Prince Berric was only a week from being crowned king of all Eldary. And he had just been kidnapped.

It was embarrassing, really. Kerrill had warned him not to go riding by himself. But after being stuck a tiny castle all his life, Berric wanted to use his newfound freedom for, well, freedom. No more stuffy, tapestried rooms for him, no more droning lectures from Kerrill, no more rules and restrictions from Lord Pottsworth. Instead, a good horse, a summer morning, and all the room in the world to ride. 

He hated it when Kerrill was right.

And now here he was, in the back of an enclosed cart that smelled of rotting hay, bouncing along a rough road to who-knew-where.

There was a shout from outside, and the cart slowed and came to a stop. “Did anyone see you?” said a voice. It was unnaturally gruff, as if the speaker were hiding his true voice.

“No, he was alone, as you said,” said the driver. The cart rocked as he got down. “Are you taking over, then?”

“Yes. Take this for your trouble.” There was a jingling sound.

“If it please you, sir,” said the driver, “I’d rather take this and have no trouble, if you see my meaning. Kidnapping a prince . . . some would call it a hanging offense.”

“You have nothing to fear. This isn’t even illegal.”

“Maybe. But princes aren’t princes forever,” said the driver.

“Why not?” said the gruff voice.

There was a pause. “Ah,” said the driver. “All the same, me and my men will keep our masks on until we’re clear. And I suggest you do the same. I do notwant to know who you are, though I imagine I’ll know soon enough. Now: where do you want him?”

“In this carriage.”

The driver whistled. “Fancy.”

“He’s a prince.”

Berric sighed. Fat lot of good being a prince had done him so far. Just because a prison was fancy didn’t make it less of a prison. He hoisted himself up in the back of the cart and peered out the tiny, barred window. All he could see was a broad road under thick trees, and a horse. It was his horse, the beautiful, coal-black charger he’d been riding — or trying to ride — when the kidnappers had cornered him. It stood docilely close behind the cart, secured with a single rope. It was taking its captivity calmly, which was more than Berric could say for himself.

“Hey,” Berric shouted out the window. “Let me go, and I’ll make sure you all spend the rest of your lives in riches.”

“Ah,” said the driver, coming up beneath the window. His eyes were shadowed under his hood, and his nose and mouth were hidden by a loose, wrapped mask. “You’ve gone from insults to bribes. You must be desperate.”

“And rich.” Berric gave him his most winning smile.

The man smiled back, but it wasn’t a pleasant smile. “Will I get to live in a palace of my very own, like Mr. Princeling?”

“How much is Gruff Voice paying you?” Berric said, ignoring the gibe. “I’ll triple it.”

“Can you pay enough to protect my family from bandits?”

“Huh?” Berric said. “You are a bandit.” 

The man rolled his eyes and unlocked the cart door. That was what Berric had been waiting for. He jumped back, and as the door swung open he took two running steps and leapt past the driver’s face. He landed on his stomach, draped over the back of his charger. The wind rushed out of him but he held on as the horse reared and made the driver leap back. Berric’s flailing feet found a stirrup. He put his weight on it and swung himself into the saddle.

“Don’t let him get free!” shouted Gruff Voice as Berric yanked on the rope that held the charger to the cart. When it didn’t come loose, Berric hauled on the horse’s reins instead, and dug his heels into its side. Out of the corner of his eye he could see a heavyset figure coming towards him in a rolling run, and other figures converging from every side. But the charger reared again and jerked its head, and there was a satisfying snap as the rope parted. The horse wheeled and Berric hung on for dear life as it leapt forward. The kidnappers shouted in alarm and leapt aside. 

Trees whipped past on either side, and Berric barely managed to keep his seat. This was very different from the placid cart horses that were all he’d been allowed to ride until a week ago, but if he could just hold on he was willing to bet this charger could outrun any of his captor’s horses. And this time he wouldn’t take a turn into a field surrounded by hedgerows. He’d take the broad, straight road all the way back to Grandvale and call the Royal Guard to arrest these kidnappers. They would spend the rest of their lives in a palace, all right — in the lowest dungeon.

There were hoofbeats behind him. Berric risked a look over his shoulder. Four riders were close behind, and they were gaining. Their horses were the equal of his own, and the riders leaned in their saddles with practiced ease. Berric spurred his charger desperately, but they kept pace. Then his eyes caught what they were wearing: the blue and gold livery of the Royal Guard. For a moment Berric’s heart rose. The Guard had found him! He was safe! Then his joy evaporated.

The Royal Guard was chasing him.

In moments their horses pressed close on either side, and one rider reached out a mailed gauntlet and caught the charger’s bridle. The whole group came to a dusty, scrabbling stop. “Let me go!” Berric said. “I order you.”

Without a word, the Guardsmen turned and began leading Berric’s charger back the way they had come.

“Did you hear what I said? Your prince commands you to let him go.”

It was no use. The riders calmly led Berric back to the cart, and now Berric saw why his commands had fallen on deaf ears. The kidnappers had left, and Mr. Gruff Voice was standing alone beside the cart, hands on hips. His hood and mask were down, revealing the stern and ruddy face of Lord Pottsworth, the Lord High Chancellor of Eldary.

Berric’s heart sank. He should have known. “This is treason,” he said when his horse stopped in front of Lord Pottsworth.

“Until you are crowned,” Lord Pottsworth said, “I’m still your guardian, and the ruler of Eldary.”

“You’re a traitor,” Berric said. “And a kidnapper.”

Lord Pottsworth shrugged. “I didn’t want you to make a scene. You’re very good at making scenes.” He reached up to help Berric off his horse, but Berric ignored his hand and slid with a breath-stealing thump to the ground. “You can ride in comfort now,” Lord Pottsworth said, indicating the carriage pulled up next to the cart. “These Guardsmen will protect you until you reach your home in Everwold.”

Everwold. Berric gritted his teeth. “The poorest province in the land is not a fit place for the prince, soon to be king, of all Eldary.” Tie a stone to his ankles and dump him in the sea. Throw him in the Towerwood Forest where monsters could have him for dinner. Anywhere but back to that tiny castle.

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Norton Rev 1

Name: Patrick Norton
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Hollow - The Fox and The Dragon

Sunup. He’s late.

Ryder pulled up his sleeve to check his watch, and then peeked around the musty lace curtain into the dim room. His eyelids were heavy, and he swallowed a yawn. The late night sparing sessions with his uncle were starting to take their toll.

Where the hell is he?

A creak from the bedroom door answered him as an immense shadow tiptoed across the floor, pausing in front of Ryder’s bed. The man crouched and leapt over the footboard, splashing onto a pile of pillows strategically shaped like a sleeping Ryder. The lumpy mattress smooshed to the ground, the box spring screaming from the massive weight pressing it to the floor. Ryder stepped from behind the curtain and pulled a tarnished poker from the spent ash of the fireplace.

"And what are you going to do with that?" the man asked, his bushy face half buried in a feather pillow. He rolled and grunted until he wobbled to his feet, then pulled a dull brown sword from his belt. "All right, boy, let's see what kind of poker player you are."

Ryder shook his head.

The man lunged, but Ryder sidestepped the blade, deflecting it easily with his ashy poker. He tried to counterattack, but the man backhanded him across the room, splitting his bottom lip. Ryder stumbled, but regained his footing.

"Since when do heroes slap?" Ryder said, licking the blood from his lip. He inched backwards toward the closet and waved at his assailant, beckoning him to attack.

“Im not the hero right now, remember?” Tiberius said. He lowered his head and charged. Thunderous footsteps shook the room, the floorboards creaking under each booted footfall. Ryder stood his ground, pressing his back against the closet door. When his uncle was close enough to smell his aftershave, Ryder rolled to the ground and slapped him on the rear with the poker as he passed. Tiberius spun around, crashing butt-first through the closet door and wall, and halfway into the next room. The closet caved in, raining clothes and hangers onto the defeated swordsman.

Ryder picked up the fallen sword, and crossed it with the poker against his uncle’s neck. "Had enough?"

Tiberius blew the sleeve of a striped purple turtleneck out of his eye. "From a scrawny little chicken like you? I don’t think so."

Ryder flicked the sword at his uncle's chin, lopping off a chunk of gray beard. The blade was sharper than it looked.

Tiberius raised his hands in the air. "All right boy, you win, I surrender."

Ryder flipped the sword around, offering the hilt to his uncle. "It was a lot closer this time," he said.

"Oh, so you're gettin' cute with me now? Never mind that I warned you an ambush was coming -- a courtesy few enemies will ever give you. All right then, let's get me up."

Ryder stared at the outstretched hand. His uncle was not a lean man, being at least twice Ryder's height and who knows how many times his girth. Nevertheless, Ryder grabbed the wrinkled hand and dug in his heels, but his socks just skated across the wood floor.

"Who woulda thought," Tiberius said, panting. "The great Tiberius bested by his puny little nephew. I'd be the laughingstock of the Hollow."

"I've had a good teacher."

Tiberius sat up and looked out the window, where the curtain was half ripped off. "Yeah maybe, but I'm runnin' out of tricks. You know everything I know, and you've heard every tale I can tell ya. I noticed you used the Samson move." Tiberius dusted wooden shards off his pant leg. "How you remember every little thing I say is beyond me. I got nothing left."

Ryder inspected the shattered closet, remembering a story his uncle had told him about the ancient hero Samson. Outnumbered and out-muscled, he caved in a great temple to defeat his enemies, sacrificing himself in the process. Tiberius always prattled on about heroes: who they were, the battles they fought, the villains and creatures they hunted. Ryder's ears drank in every word. Tales about faraway places like Lyra, Atlantis, and Raleon. Stories of the wars he'd fought in the Dread Lands and the Valley of Giants -- fantastic places hidden deep in the Hollow, the world inside the world.

"A good teacher and a good storyteller," Ryder said.

"Well, I hope you listen good to those stories. I won't always be here for you, and when the time comes... I just hope you're ready."

"Ready for what?"

Tiberius rocked back and forth like a turtle before lumbering to his feet, still covered in Ryder's clothes. "Nothing. Another story for another time."

Ryder was used to his uncle's riddles, and didn't press the issue. He could dig for answers, but the usual response was a quiet and sometimes sad uncle. For such a jolly guy, the wrong questions brought tears surprisingly often.

"Whatever it is, I'll be ready." Ryder stuffed the fire poker in his belt. "And if it's danger, don't worry -- I'll protect you."

Tiberius peeled a staticky sweater off his chest and flung it at Ryder's head. "You're a special kind of brat, you know that? Rematch later; but for now, pack up. We're leaving."

Ryder pulled the sweater off his face, replacing it with a frown. "Again? But I like it here!"

"Sorry, Fox, It’s not safe anymore. Someday you'll understand." Tiberius dug through the rubble of the closet and wrestled out a beat up suitcase. "But hopefully not too soon." He gave Ryder a half smile and limped out the door.

Ryder kicked the lid of his suitcase open and tossed the sweater in. The rest of his clothes were a scattered mess mixed in with broken closet parts and chalky bits of drywall. Frustrated, he booted the suitcase across the floor and plopped down on his ruffled bed. He doubted he'd ever understand. He was used to moving, but they'd been at this farm for going on two years. He'd hoped their traveling was over, and he could try school again. Sixth grade was his last expulsion but he was old enough to try high school this year. The first few attempts at school had ended poorly, and always led to them migrating to a new town. The classes just didn't make sense; none of it did, especially given what he'd learned from his uncle.

His teacher laughed about the old days when people were dumb enough to believe the world was flat. “Some even feared you could sail right off the edge.” Ms. Bilsby instructed. “Can you imagine?”

But now they know better, convinced by science that the earth is round and full of lava.

“Full of lava?“ A baffled Tiberius would correct when Ryder got home. “A little in the Dread Lands sure but full of it? Sounds like this Bilsby lady’s full of something if you ask me.” 

Ryder never knew who to believe. First it was elementary school, where his teacher could go on and on about leprechauns, but called a meeting with the principal when he tried to tell her about Draconian devilworms. He got off with a warning but that only lasted until the Easter Bunny incident. When he insisted that the Wild Hares of Ashtar, as it’s actually pronounced, had hooked fangs and drank centaur blood that had been that.

After his fourth expulsion for "insubordination," Tiberius decided to keep Ryder out of schools for good…

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Harrington Rev 1

Name: Sarah Harrington
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Title: Of Time and Blood
Some Timekeepers saw the Schedules as a rigid set of rules never to be broken, but I figured a little creative interpretation never hurt anyone.
The dust was thick in the air and heavy on my tongue as I inhaled. With every breath, history took root in my lungs. A flowery perfume tried to hide the musty scent, but the smell of years long gone still lived on in the antique store. 
“Change of plans,” I said as my assignment partner rounded the corner of the aisle. He jumped out of the way to avoid sending a teetering pile of old books crashing to the floor. 
“Why do you always do this, Mik?” Trent closed his eyes and sighed. “What was wrong with the original plan?”
“The Schedules never account for personality, so it’s too simple for a guy like that. Some people need a gentle push and others need a shove. This one definitely needs a shove.” If this was my last assignment, I was going to make damn sure we did it right. 
Trent moved beside me and we looked towards our target.
Twenty-six-year-old Joseph Bolland stood on the far side of the store with stiff shoulders and a straight back.. The window behind him, dirtied with years of grime, let in very little light. Even with the dingy overhead lamps, the wine decanter in his hands was barely visible.
I ran through my mental checklist for matchmaking assignments. The briefing was on point with almost everything, but it had failed to mention that Joseph was a real jerk.
Trent’s voice sliced through my annoyance. “What’d he do to piss you off?”
“Elbowed me out of the way. He was muttering about how rowdy teenagers don’t deserve to be in a place like this. Apparently we ‘don’t appreciate the history behind the objects’.” I dropped my voice as low as I could, feeling the vibrations in my chest, to imitate Joseph’s grating tone.
We stood at the back of the antique store, surrounded by old figurines and bits of secondhand kitchen equipment. Although most of my focus was on Joseph, I could just make out our secondary target in my periphery. Coraline stood behind the cash register with her lips pursed and fingers drumming on the counter. Her eyes were trained on us and I could almost hear her mentally screaming at us to get out of her precious shop.
I ached to tell Coraline that nothing about me wanted to be in this dusty old store with uninteresting and poorly maintained items. We were only there to set her up with her future husband and we would certainly appreciate not having to operate under the shopkeeper’s icy glare the entire time. 
I turned to relay that thought to Trent, but stopped short at the sight of him cradling a clay Chinese teapot. 
“My mom had one just like this.” He ran his free hand over the smooth surface, light sandy skin contrasting with the deep reddish brown of the clay. “She used to sneak in tea to me during all the hospital stays.” His voice was tinged with a sense of longing for a stolen time.
A time stolen from all Timekeeper recruits.
At his words, my hand crept up to touch the silver anchor charm hanging around my neck. It was the only thing I had left from my time in the outside world but, unlike Trent, I didn’t miss my life before the Timekeepers. They had saved me from an endless rotation of foster homes and orphanages and given me the closest thing I’d ever had to a family.
“Careful!” The sharp sound of Coraline’s voice shot across the room. “These aren’t toys to be played with; they’re antiques.”
“They deserve each other.” Trent shook his head in disgust as he set the teapot down. “We should probably hurry up. Can’t have you being late for your own Advancement Celebration.”
The nerves that had been swimming lazily in my stomach all day burst into a frenzy at his words. The thought of this being my last time engaging with the outside world sickened me. Staying on as an Agent would be a dream, but it was such a rare occurrence, and it wasn’t likely for that dream to become my reality. 
But there wasn’t time to worry about that now.
I pushed my anxiety aside and moved to stand with Trent. Our eyes poured over the store, looking for all possible ways to bring Joseph and Coraline together.
A burning sensation interrupted my thoughts. I pulled my pocket watch out of my jeans and ran my fingers over the rusted surface of the hunter case. The hot metal singed my skin; it was a warning, but I couldn’t initiate the interface here to read the message. There was too much of a chance the targets would see the hologram coming out of the watch. “They’re telling us to get a move on. We need to figure out a plan.”
“Well I thought the original plan in the Schedule was good enough, but we can’t do that anyone because someone decided we should change things up and made us miss the time slot.”
I ignored his sass and squinted in Joseph’s direction. “It wouldn’t take a lot of force to shatter the glass display case behind him.”
Trent followed my gaze, catching onto my plan. “But it would cause a lot of damage. It doesn’t really fit in with the whole “unnoticed” part of our mantra, does it?” 
He was right. Being yelled at by Coraline was one thing, but causing lasting damage to property in plain sight of the targets was something else altogether. The Councillors would probably ream us out as soon as we got back to Meridian; but time was ticking down. “Do you have any better ideas? The next customer will be here any minute. This needs to be done right now.”
Trent pressed his lips into a thin line but nodded. We broke away from where we stood, creeping down opposite sides of the store towards the target. Inching closer, I saw Joseph’s eyes dart towards Coraline. He didn’t know what the future held for himself and the young shopkeeper.
But Trent and I did.
We always did.
And it was our job to make sure it happened. 
I walked down the aisle, trying to look as natural as possible for Coraline but keeping my footfalls light to stop Joseph from noticing me. My mind wandered back to the last time I saw Joseph almost ten years ago. He had been one of my first assignments. Maybe he remembered the seven-year-old girl who spilled her milk on his jacket. I felt my lips twitch at the memory. Joseph hadn’t been as awful back then. He’d even bought me another milk carton to show he wasn’t upset. What happened to that man? I should’ve looked at the database to see his full Schedule. Another Timekeeper must have been responsible for the assignment that turned him so sour. 
I stood close enough now to catch the spicy scent of Joseph’s cologne. He was so engaged in examining a vase for chips in the glasswork that he hadn’t noticed us sneaking up on either side of him. Trent’s brown eyes met mine.
Now. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Norton

Name: Patrick Norton
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Hollow - The Fox and The Dragon

Alright fat man, Let’s do this.

Ryder pulled up his sleeve to check his watch, then peeked around the musty lace curtain into the dim room. His eyelids were heavy, and his head drooped until he snorted awake suddenly. The early rise and long wait were starting to take their toll.

Where the hell is he?

A creak from the bedroom door answered him as a shadowy blob tiptoed across the floor, pausing in front of a small bed. It crouched and leapt over the footboard, splashing onto a pile of pillows strategically shaped like a child. The lumpy mattress crunched to the ground, the box spring screaming from the massive weight smashing it to the floor. Ryder stepped from behind the curtain and pulled a tarnished poker from the spent ash of the fireplace.

"And what’re you gonna do with that?" the blob asked, his fat face half buried in a feather pillow. He rolled and grunted until he wobbled to his feet, then pulled a dull brown sword from his belt. "All right, boy, let's see what kind of poker player you are."

Ryder shook his head. "Really?"

The fat man lunged, but Ryder sidestepped the blade, deflecting it easily with his ashy poker. He tried to counterattack, but the blob backhanded him across the room, splitting his bottom lip. Ryder stumbled, but regained his footing.

"You slap like a girl, old man," the boy said, licking the blood from his lip. He inched backwards toward the closet and waved at the assailant, beckoning him to attack.

The fat man lowered his head and charged. Thunderous footsteps shook the room, the floorboards creaking under each booted footfall. Ryder stood his ground, pressing his back against the closet door. When the other was close enough to smell his aftershave, Ryder rolled to the ground and slapped him on the rear with the poker as he passed. The blob spun around, crashing butt-first through the closet door and wall, and halfway into the next room. The closet caved in, raining clothes and hangers onto the defeated swordsman.

Ryder picked up the fallen sword, and crossed it with the poker against the man's neck. "Beg for mercy, or I'll be short one uncle."

The old man blew the sleeve of a striped purple turtleneck out of his eye. "But I'm the only one you got."

Ryder flicked the sword at his uncle's chin, lopping off a chunk of gray beard. The blade was sharper than it looked.

His uncle raised his hands in the air. "All right, you win, I surrender."

Ryder flipped the sword around, offering the hilt to his uncle. "It was a lot closer this time," he said.

The fat man raised his bushy gray eyebrows. "Oh, so you're gettin' cute with me now? Never mind that I warned you I was coming this week -- a courtesy few enemies will ever give you. All right, then, let's get me up."

Ryder stared at the outstretched hand. His uncle was not a lean man, being at least twice Ryder's height and who knows how many times his girth. Nevertheless, Ryder grabbed the wrinkled hand and dug in his heels, but his socks just skated across the wood floor. "Maybe if you were a little slimmer, you wouldn't be so slow," he suggested.

The old man's jaw dropped. "Calling me fat, are ya? Well, I could eat a scrawny little chicken like you right about now. Get over here."

He dragged Ryder to the ground and tickled him into submission. The fight didn't last long, and Ryder's plump uncle was soon out of breath. "Who woulda thought," the old man said, panting. "The great Tiberius bested by his puny little nephew. I'd be the laughingstock of the Hollow."

"I've had a good teacher."

Tiberius sat up and looked out the window, where the curtain was half ripped off. "Maybe, but I'm runnin' out of tricks. You know everything I know, and you've heard every tale I can tell ya. I noticed you used the Samson move." Tiberius dusted wooden shards off his pant leg. "How you remember every little thing I say is beyond me. I got nothing left, boy."

"I really doubt that."

Ryder inspected the shattered closet, remembering a story his uncle had told him about the ancient hero Samson. Outnumbered and out-muscled, he caved in a great temple to defeat his enemies, sacrificing himself in the process. Tiberius always prattled on about heroes: who they were, the battles they fought, the villains and creatures they hunted. Ryder's ears drank in every word. Tales about faraway places like Lyra, Atlantis, and Raleon. Stories of the wars he'd fought in the Dread Lands and the Valley of Giants -- fantastic places hidden deep in the Hollow, the world inside the world.

"A good teacher and a good storyteller," Ryder said.

"Well, I hope you listen good to those stories. I won't always be here for you, and when the time comes... I just hope you're ready."

"Ready for what?"

Tiberius rocked back and forth like a turtle before lumbering to his feet, still covered in Ryder's clothes. "Nothing. Another story for another time."

Ryder was used to his uncle's riddles, and didn't press the issue. He could dig for answers, but the usual response was a quiet and sometimes sad uncle. For such a plump, jolly guy, the wrong questions brought tears surprisingly often.

"Whatever it is, I'll be ready." Ryder stuffed the fire poker in his belt. "And if it's danger, don't worry -- I'll protect you."

Tiberius peeled a staticky sweater off his chest and flung it at Ryder's head. "You're a special kind of brat, you know that? Rematch later; but for now, pack up. We're leaving."

Ryder pulled the sweater off his face, replacing it with a frown. "Again? But I like it here."

"Sorry, Fox, someday you'll understand." Tiberius dug through the rubble of the closet and wrestled out a beat up suitcase. "But hopefully not too soon." He gave the boy a half smile and waddled out the door.

Ryder kicked the lid of his suitcase open and tossed the sweater in. He doubted he'd ever understand. He was used to moving, but they'd been at this farm for going on two years. He'd hoped their traveling was over, and he could try school again. The first few attempts had ended poorly, and always led to them fleeing to a new town. The schools just didn't make sense; none of it did, especially given what he'd learned from his uncle.

His history teacher would laugh about the old days when people were dumb enough to believe the world was flat and you could sail right off the edge. But now they think they know better, convinced by science that the earth is round and full of lava.

“Full of lava?“ A baffled Tiberius would correct when Ryder got home. “A little in the Dread Lands sure, but full of it? Sounds like that schools full of something if you ask me.” 

Ryder never knew who to believe between his lessons from school and his uncle’s stories. His teachers could go on and on about leprechauns every March, but called a meeting with the principal when he tried to tell her about Draconian devilworms. The Easter bunny was real, apparently... but when he insisted that the Ashtar Bunny, as it’s actually pronounced, had hooked fangs and drank centaur blood that had been that.