The End and Other Lies

Let me tell you about my novel.

I finished it yesterday.

I hesitated at the end of my narrative to write “The End”, because it is not the end. It is barely the beginning.

For the past three years, I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, and for the last three years, I’ve won NaNoWriMo.

In 2011, my piece was called “This Wretched Orb” and when I wrote the piece’s opening line, “A man came into existence on the desolate shore of a vast sea of blue,” I did not know that it would eventually become the first novel in the epic science fiction series I have been writing all of my life. The first 50,000 words of my novel are about “perspective”. What is existence? The question is not so much why are we here, but how are we here. The protagonist awakes on a beach with no memory, no bowhunting skills, he’s not pretty good with a bo staff. He knows nothing. His senses are foreign, he does not understand what sight or sound is, touch or taste. The scent of the ocean is just pure sensation without perspective. How does he survive?

I had fully intended to end the story in the death of the protagonist at the hands of nature, after a rather rousing attempt at survival. I wanted a climax where the reader has spent the entire novel getting behind the protagonist and wanting him to succeed only to witness him die suddenly at the fickle hand of nature.

But, alas, I think drank too much one of those nights somewhere in between. My partner, JD, has heard the basic narrative of my epic sci-fi journey a few times now – i think at the point I was working “This Wretched Orb”, she had heard it once. The events were fresh in my mind, still hot and malleable, which is why I recommend that anyone who wants to make the effort to be a writer have someone they can tell the story to beginning to end.

Let me focus on that for a second, because I think it is important. I do not offer a lot of writing advice, because I do not believe in giving people postcard wisdom. Writing is not a skill you can learn in five easy lessons. Writing is not something you just say you do because you had a strange life and feel like your escapades as a con-man, consumer, drug addict, failed musician, heartless bastard, misguided creationist, or misunderstood genius translate well into written word. You are not F. Scott Fitzgerald or Philip K. Dick. You are not even a Walter Miller, Jr. You never will be, because you are you. Period. What matters, beyond what you want for yourself – fame, recognition, validation, groupies, money – is the story.

If you can’t tell someone your entire novel aloud, beginning to end, without leaving out any of the important bits, and have them completely understand every aspect of your purpose in writing the tale, you either have too much dialogue or not enough story.

Back to my story: There was a night somewhere in November 2011 that something I wrote for “This Wretched Orb” slammed home like a jigsaw puzzle piece in the greater epic (which at that time, had no real beginning or end or purpose). It was a simple event, but it was the snake head eating itself. For an epic about time and infinity, it was the Möbius missing link. Suddenly, in the span of about three minutes, everything fit.

I changed gears, ran into a major roadblock, and ended up with about 11,000 words left to write on the last day of NaNoWriMo 2011. Somehow, I finished it. At the end, the story was no longer about a man in the wilderness, it was about a man in the universe. I was definitely excited at the end of those thirty days. A simple exercise had turned into something infinitely more epic and meaningful.

Instead of continuing on with that story, I did other stuff. I let it simmer for a year, revisiting it only for those occasions where I was drunk enough to ramble out the entire epic to JD again, in the backyard.

November rolled around again, and while my immediate intentions were to start a new novel and attempt to encapsulate a brand new story into 50,000 words, I could not resist the temptation to do something completely ludicrous. I decided instead to write 50,000 more words on the novel I had written the year previously.

That is when things changed for my story. I no longer had one character and one journey to keep in mind, I had a universe of characters, a paradox of time constraints, a lineage of heroes and villains to construct and mold into physical form. I had to become a world-builder – not something I was not familiar with already, but a multiverse of universes is much more unwieldy than a realm of high fantasy. Your science has to work, even if its completely and ludicrously not at all feasible in the entirety of all the possible probabilities of that which is probably possible.

For NaNoWriMo 2012, my piece was called “The City of Light”. Instead of “perspective” being the focus, that year the piece was really about “position”. I introduced new characters into the narrative, and new ideas. Immortals who could die, but came back repeatedly, Mage-like characters with strange powers (37 different distinct powers for 37 different Mages in fact, from microbiological control to transposition), and mysterious anthropomorphic deities, all existing as eternal threads in a narrative that was both larger and smaller than the infinite. Unlike the first year I participated in NaNoWriMo, I set a relatively steady pace for the second part of my epic, and after twenty-nine or so days, I had reached not only the 50,000 word mark, but also a perfect stopping point in the story.

I celebrated my victory, and then promptly abandoned the epic once again.

It must have been springtime, because I remember being outside, that the novel shook me out of my day-to-day reverie. I realized that if I participated in NaNoWriMo a third time, I could very likely finish out the novel. 150,000 words is a not unimpressive tally for a science fiction novel. And that is where I ran into a massive roadblock. I knew my story was science fiction, but up to that point, nothing science-fictiony had actually happened. The epic would eventually be all science fiction – time travel, paradox, interstellar travel, galactic warfare, futurism, “wind, fire, all that kind of thing!” but so far, I had nothing.

Summer rolled around, and I began to panic just a little bit. I realized that 37 powers were just too many. My romance was just too cheesy, my Adam and Eve characters too heavy-handed, and my antagonist just too stereotypically Caligula. I began a chorus of “fuck” that continued for several days. So I tried to focus on what I really needed to accomplish within the confines of this one story. I needed a good main character, who may or may not carry over into the rest of the epic, I needed to establish a portion of the multiverse so that I could launch from it in the second novel, and I needed to weed out the excess and weak bits. The 37 became 8, the romance went the way of the dodo, and I realigned the antagonist position to something I could use in perpetuity.

The result? This year I called it “The Ninth Power”, and last night I wrote the twisted Epilogue that solidifies its place in the narrative of the science fiction epic I never really thought i would get off the ground. It has everything I know that it should. Philosophy, science, the human condition, but most importantly, “The Ninth Power” is about “purpose”.

152,087 words done, and a ridiculous amount of editing and polishing to go.

I could not have done this, and no attempt to write a novel would have been as successful as this, if JD had not been there all along to say things like “I don’t like it” with such frankness that I had no choice but listen. Babe, it’s not over. Pretty soon, you’ll actually have to read it.

“What happens next?” you might ask.

“Hell,” I say. Writing a complete, cohesive narrative is one thing. Making it shine is another. It’s called detailing – and thanks to my overactive imagination, I have an infinite amount of it to do before I even begin to think about letting someone else look at a single word of it.

Next November? I promise something short, sweet, and completely unrelated.

How to be a Successful Writer Without Trying – Part One

Attention:

The Reliquary

Stand in front of a mirror and punch yourself.

Drink a tall glass of scotch and smoke Camel Turkish Silvers.

Pick up a bad habit, like borrowing other peoples cell phones to report bad driving to numbers you pick up from “How’s My Driving” stickers on trucks you see on the road. Make shit up. Be belligerent, and give other people’s names as references.

Bars are your home, whether you drink or not. Own the end of a bar. Showers are not your friend. Grow a beard to catch the scotch and guinness that misses your mouth. Always order sausages.

Spend a good amount of time on an apartment search and then spend more money than you make on a flat that is too small and drafty. Force yourself to wear scarves on a 24-hour basis. Become intimate with instant food and noodles.

Borrow your stuck-up friend’s Mac and go…

View original post 265 more words

Comeback Kid

I’ve done it again.

There are ten days left and I have about 30,000 words to write. Luckily, I have an amazing support system in the form of my partner/companion/lover/best friend/fellow geek/supergenius. JD always helps me through, even when I’m hopelessly stuck, and for that I will never be able to repay her.

I wrote 4,000 words last night and I think I’m on a roll.

Because I like you, and only because I like you, here is an excerpt:

Beros found himself nearly running through the tight tunnel. The passages beneath the City of Light that had existed since the first Immortal wars had not been used in quite some time. His barrier pushed aside dust that hung thick in the dark tunnel. Tanila’s light shone before the small group as they picked up speed.

“We cannot take the chance it was him,” Valios said from behind Beros. “When we reach the storehouse, we should make sure it appears that we’ve not come this way.”

“There’s little use,” Beros replied, his voice heavier with strain. “He could see our steps in the dust. Both he and Hestos have means to illuminate the darkness.”

Valios looked over her shoulder, but saw only darkness.

Tanila picked up the pace, sensing the tunnel coming to an end before them. Looking to the ceiling of the small tunnel, she searched for the cracks in the masonry that would reveal the trapdoor leading up. At first she did not see it, and ran her hands frantically over the ceiling, loosening more dust that fell in showers.

“By Sol, is that light I see?” Valios said in a whisper. She strained in the darkness to see in the direction they had come. “Hurry, the both of you.”

Tanila exhaled noisily, seeing the door finally. She pressed a rock next to the crack and the trapdoor swung down on hinges, releasing even more dust that had gathered in the shaft above.

“No ladder!” she cried shining her light into the shaft.

Beros pushed her aside politely and looked into the shaft. Nodding he said, “Built by our order, most likely. I suppose we are expected to have powers that will take us the shaft.”

“I can’t do it,” Tanila said in exasperation. “What are we supposed to do?”

“I can see a light,” Valios whispered harshly. “They’re coming.”

“Tanila, stand under the shaft,” Beros commanded. “Brace yourself.”

The Urd’thas Sol of Light did as she was told. With a slightly visible wave vibration, the dust beneath her coalesced into solid form under her feet and began to rise, taking her with it. Gaining speed, it carried her into the shaft.

“A little further,” her voice called from inside.

Beros tried to focus, watching her rise above him into the shaft, channeling his power to keep her rising at a steady speed.

“Stop!” Tanila hissed from above. There was a bump and the sound of another hinged door swinging open before another bump, indicating the door had opened fully.

Beros chanced a glance down the tunnel. As Valios had said, there was a light far down the tunnel, and it was coming closer. Valios looked at Beros with something akin to fear in her eyes. “They’ll catch us before we can escape, Beros. I cannot face the Deathlight.”

“You won’t have to. If they confront us, we will make a final stand,” Beros said evenly. He turned his attention back to Tanila above him. The bright light that she had been controlling to guide them had ceased. “Tanila,” he whispered. “Are you through?”

There was no answer. He could see a faint light in a square at the top of the shaft, but it was dim. He let the dust fall away and a shower of it fell out of the shaft.

“Tanila!” Beros repeated, this time almost a shout. They were now in near total darkness.

Valios grabbed Beros’s robes and pulled herself closer to him. Frost glistened around her fingertips, just barely catching the light in the distance, as her control slipped and her powers of cold broke through the continuous mental barrier she had to erect to keep them at bay.

“You go next,” he said to her.

“Hurry after me,” she said.

With as much care as before, Beros used his power to solidify and elevate a panel of dust beneath Valios’ feet, carrying her gently up into the shaft. This time he did not hesitate, knowing approximately where the door was. He keep watching the light down the tunnel, noticing it pulsate, like fire, or the crackle of plasmic energy.

Quickly, he looked up and did not see Valios in the shaft. Letting the dust fall, he quickly stepped under the shaft himself. The light in the distance suddenly flared and picked up speed. The dust rose in a column underneath his feet and carried him upwards, just as the bolts of Hestos’ plasma crackled into the tunnel beneath him. Beros felt the energy disintegrate the dust column and work its way up the shaft under him. He fought mightily against it using his solidity barrier to block the energy, but the force of Hestos’ power rocketed him upwards. The barrier protected Beros as he shot from the mouth of the shaft, but the force was enough to send the Urd’thas Sol of Solidity tumbling into a darkened room.

The energy crackled outward from the shaft in a tree of lightning, with branches that reached out like they sought purchase. Abruptly as it had come, the energy faded and withdrew back into the shaft.

Beros used his power to shut the trap door, hoping a second blast would not follow.

In the dimly lit room, Beros tried to get his bearings. Tanila and Valios were nowhere to be seen. Beros’s heartbeat began to race. Scrambling to his feet, he prepared himself to meet an unknown attack—the darkness seemed tangible around him.

The thought came to him suddenly. Using the dust in the old storeroom, Beros caused it to rise in clouds around him. He whipped it around in small cyclones for several seconds before he saw what he had feared.

There, just ahead of him in the room, the shape of a man.

“Very clever, Beros,” Lothos said. The dust clung to him so completely that Beros could make out his mouth as he spoke.

Knowing the situation to be desperate, Beros used his power to tighten the dust around Lothos’ body, adding to it whatever debris he could pull from the surrounding room. For a second, Beros thought he saw pain buckle that dusty face, but abruptly the man shape dissipated, and the dust and debris collided in a sphere where the man had been.

Beros gaped in wonder. No one knew Lothos had that sort of power; invisibility, yes, but not teleportation.

“You could escape if you left now,” the dark Immortal’s voice teased from the shadows. “Leave the women and I’ll let you go.”

“No!” Beros replied immediately. “Give them to me, or I’ll bring this building down around us.”

“And risk hurting them?” Lothos’ voice now came from just beside Beros. “I may have accidentally placed them right under the absolute worst place to be if this place came tumbling down. I doubt light or ice would save them from that much pain. And then what would it be, Beros?”

Beros swung his fist in the direction of the voice, but it met only empty air.

“Will it be deathlight or deathnight?”

Lothos’ chuckle seemed to emanate from around the room in a chorus of wicked laughter.

“You know what Cassius has in store for us, Beros,” Lothos said, his voice stony this time. “With you escaped, and out of his grasp, he won’t be near as powerful as he could be. You could find friends. The Pilgrims and Bear Clan both will mount their armies against him. You could be their leader.”

“Where are they?” Beros demanded. “Why not let all three of us go?”

“No time to bargain, solid one,” Lothos snapped. “Any second now, either Ghefrit or Hestos will come up that shaft and burn you to a crisp. Go now, save yourself. Leave these women to me. I may not let the others find them for a while.”

“While you do what to them, fiend?” Beros snarled.

“Well, being a creature of darkness, I have always been fascinated with light. And as for Valios, the cold and the darkness were always intimate.”

Lothos paused. Then with a thick insinuation coating the words, he said, “I’d like to explore that intimacy first hand.”

The building cracked as all of its supporting walls buckled with Beros’ wrath. If Lothos meant to keep the women to himself, he’d already have them out. Faster than gravity could pull them down, the building compressed around Beros, leaving only space for his body in a massive sphere of stone, dirt, and debris as he pulled in everything in a wide radius around him. Beros pulled it tighter and tighter in on himself, intending to crush Lothos into nothing. Tighter and denser he packed the matter around him until he could feel its crushing pressure on himself. He struggled to breathe, but dared not leave Lothos an exit.

“Nice try,” the voice said in his ear.

Darkness enveloped Beros in an instant. Again, in the instant allowed, Beros was in awe of the Urd’thas Sol of Darkness and his mysterious powers. The darkness smothered him and pulled him down into a void—Lothos killed him with it. The deathlight came swiftly out of that darkness, blinding mind and soul. Beros attempted to scream, but the vibration of sound intensified as he was overwhelmed completely. The light did not dissipate, the sound did not cease.

Death was light, and eternal, and yet in the light, Beros could hear the voice of Lothos mocking him.

“Close your eyes and it will all go away.”

A Light Through Yellowed Glass, a Patch of Warmth, and Your Cosmic Deathray Disco Dive

smog

There will come a day when blue is not a color. Clothes will not be worn, and you’ll never hear the sound of the underman clipping his toenails in the office next door.

There will be a day when no one looks when someone screams, ‘Look at me’ out of the open window before they jump. They’ll pass 17,425 advertisements on the way down, and ruin a clever cross-corporation marketing solution chalked on the sidewalk and thought up by a freckled twenty-four year old advertising exec at four o’clock in the morning after scraping himself up off the martini lounge bathroom’s tile floor where he’s dreamed of raping the American mind with the American Dream. As blood stains the poorly rendered portrait of the reality television star spokesperson, the ad exec will straddle Manifest Destiny bareback and set an invisible Yezhov on fire with his lit Parliament while directing people to his uptown condo.

There will be a day when the dimmer switch hipster gets his comb caught in his beard and the whiplash jerk of his neck will shake loose his honorable intentions mired these long years in the cobwebbed and darkened corners of his mind. He will see the errors of his vinyl addiction, his insistence that stick-figure art is neo-futuristic, and his vehement denial that Radiohead tanked after Hail to the Thief.

There will come a moment when someone will slap the grin off the women who stab each other with phantom etiquette and ride the perpetual gravy train heist of an ego-trip they call being “in”. Someone will have the guts to say to them that their stupidity and vapid obliviousness to the strife of humanity is the fat of the land – and while they may be thin as a compressed mantis leg, they are, they ARE the fat cells that make humanity obese, useless, ugly, and fucked.

There will be a night when a timid child goes to sleep comforted by the fact that their education has not included a combination lock thrown down the hallway at their skull. They will wake seeing that life is not a foot race, a hammer throw, a beauty contest, an election, or gauntlet of guilt. Their greatest potential will be reached by walking forward one step at a time, unhindered, uncontrolled, undirected, and understood – and they will do this alone because they know that they in themselves are a universe apart from the individual.

There will be a day when knowledge is a result of actively seeking an answer, not listening to the man who sells postcard wisdom. You will say you know Paris, because you’ve been there, not because someone sent you a postcard from there. You will know life because you sought it out. You will know truth because you recognize the fallacy.

There will be an end to everything that is wrong.

The Ninth Power – An Excerpt

It’s Day One, and I’ve written like 2,182 words for NaNoWriMo. Not bad.

Here’s what i wrote today. Ambiguous enough that I don’t care if you read it, it’s not giving anything at all away. In case you don’t know, this is the third part of my science fiction novel The Ninth Power (formerly The City of Light, formerly This Wretched Orb).

“Bear Clan” and “Pilgrim” are placeholders. I have intentions to come up with better words. For example, “Urd’thas Sol” used to be a generic “Mages”.

Only 47,818 words to go!

Vella Tun watered the plants more with her tears than the waterskin she clutched in her lap. Kneeling in the black soil of her meager vegetable garden, her bent back convulsed with sobs. Her husband, Garran, had been especially brutal to her that morning before leaving to take his place among the other members of the builder caste. The beatings were getting worse, and it was all she could do in the mornings to rise from the growing pool of her own blood and go about the chores he expected her to complete.

It seemed that with each passing of Sol overhead, with each ending of the day that she spent trying to predict what small thing Garran would find out of place, her husband’s scrutiny would grow more exacting and trivial. With that increased scrutiny, his rage grew exponentially.

The night previous, upon returning from his long shift building a new addition to the Bear God’s massive temple, Garran had found a hair under his pillow. Vella swore to herself that she’d checked the bed a million times that day, removing every tiny mote of dust from its surface, often forcing herself to remake the bed again and again. She couldn’t believe she had missed it. She did not even suspect that Garran might actually enjoy beating her, and therefore she would never truly understand how easily Garran found ways to discern fault in her work.

Vella knew the cause of his rage, and that it had nothing to do with cleanliness.

Many seasons prior, Vella and Garran had been invited to participate in a sharing ritual with another couple from the vision caste. It had been an opportunity of a lifetime. It wasn’t often that a member of the vision caste found a builder’s work to be skilled enough to request cooperation on a project. Those of the vision caste were primarily artists and sculptors, writers and musicians. Typically, they did their own creating with materials they were familiar with. This particular artist, a man named Dai Randis, sought to create something larger, and thus needed a builder’s expertise to pull off his grandiose design.

The business arrangement was simple, but the sharing ritual was an act of friendship, offered with good intentions. In the castes of the Bear Clan, open sexuality was a choice of the individual or couple, not the caste at large. Most couples in the builder caste tended to be monogamous, where those in the vision caste were open and rarely strictly defined.

It had been Garran that accepted the offer, without discussing it with Vella. The first liaison between the four had been awkward, with Garran being the most timid. Compared to Dai, Garran seemed an oaf, hairy and thick, clumsy and brutish. Vella had not intended or expected to enjoy Dai as much as she did. Likewise, Garran had not expected Dai’s partner to be a male.

The sharing ritual ended almost as quickly as it had begun, only with Garran pulling Dai off of Vella by his hair. For many days, the grievance trial that resulted wound on before the court until finally Dai revoked his offer of collaboration and Garran and Vella were left with nothing but their caste.

Garran had beat her for the first time that night.

Their life had been pleasant and simple before those days. Now, she lived in fear of each day’s passing.

The idea had only tickled at her mind at first. Garran had beaten her severely and required a healer to visit. The healer didn’t flinch at what he saw – domestic violence was quite common in the builder caste.

“Don’t spend more time than you have to,” Garran had told the healer. “If she’s meant to die, that’s fine by me.”

She imagined herself jumping from the cliffs for the first time that day. It was a brief vision, but enough to ignite a small fire deep within that tortured mind. Every day Garran beat her, her mind turned to that simple thought. To die, to end the suffering, to feel the wind passing by as she plummeted to a blackness that never ends – it seemed pleasant.

Maybe it was the way the wind tugged at her hair that day. Perhaps it was the scent of the mist rolling up from the cliffs just on the other side of the trees that protected their small farmhouse from sight and sound. By some suggestion, she found herself rising from the dirt and casually walking from her garden to where the sound of the mighty river grew louder.

Absently, she wandered to the large bridge spanning the canyon, letting her hands caress the thick ropes that kept the bridge steady enough for a team of pack russok to cross easily. The wooden slats creaked even with her light weight on them. Wind caused the bridge to sway slightly. She walked out toward the center of the bridge until she was directly over the raging river that had cut the canyon out of the ground for centuries.

Her face wanted to smile, but the gesture was foreign to her. She had not smiled for a very long time. Looking into the clouds of mist rising up from below her, she toed the edge of the bridge. Unexpectedly, she thought of Dai, and bile rushed up her throat, burning the back of her mouth.

Even now, suspended above the release she was beginning to feel she wanted, she felt the guilt of that pleasure. Garran had been right to be jealous, she thought to herself. Dai was ten times the man Garran was, though two times as slight. She had dreamed of him, imagining that she was his partner, and not the male that truly held that designation. She imagined walking the decorated roads of the Stone City where the vision caste made their homes, speaking to other women of colors, and materials, and dreams.

Vella took a deep breath and let all her guilt, and fear, and love dissipate from her body. She would meet her death empty of all emotion. She slipped under the barrier rope, and held on to it, leaning out over the expanse before her. The canyon curved on before her into the haze of the desert to the south. She thought it more beautiful at that moment than she had ever thought it before. Regret bubbled up from her soul that she had not taken time to appreciate the beauty of the world around her.

Garran would come home to an empty house – without her attentions for the rest of the day, he’d likely find it inadequate. She imagined his unconcerned shrug when he learned of her fate. A tear fell from her cheek and disappeared into the mists. She had loved him, even as recently as that same morning.

Vella closed her eyes and let her grip loosen naturally.

Above the continuous din of the roaring river beneath her, above the howl of the wind in her face, she heard it. A twig broke in the distance on the side of the canyon away from the domain of the Bear Clan.

Without a thought, with an instinct so primal as to never be truly absent from her existence, she renewed her grip and vaulted backwards over the barrier rope, landing deftly in a crouch. She had no weapon, but she knew she didn’t need one. Vella crossed the distance to the far side of the bridge in seconds and pulled herself up to hide behind one of the large posts that served to anchor the suspended bridge across the canyon.

Peeking around the post, she saw a thin man in grey robes in the distance. He carried a small pack on his back, and a staff in his hand. Her keen ears could hear him humming a tune underneath the strange mask that he wore.

Though she had never seen one before in person, she knew from teachings that this man was a Pilgrim, an Immortal whose people had left the City of Light.

The man was an enemy, and for him to be so close to their homelands, boded ill for her people.

The release of death gone from her mind in an instant, the pain of her existence erased, she shot from her hiding place and sprinted to the man, fully intending to neutralize him, and then rip the Mark from his back with her bare hands.

The man was not unready for her.

Her momentum carried her past him as he casually stepped aside. His staff stabbed downward and caught her ankle, sending her into a tumble away from him. From the cloud of dust rising from the spot where she had fallen, she heard him say something in the language of the Forbidden Tongue, that which may only be spoken by the Bear God himself. This infuriated her and she leaped to her feet with a renewed sense of purpose.

Her second attack flew on the speed of her legs. A foot, clenched tightly like a fist, shot forward with uncanny speed, intending to break the face beneath the mask, but the Pilgrim’s staff blocked the blow.

The Pilgrim kicked out at her planted leg, but she hopped back and spun, hoping to catch him off guard. Again, the Pilgrim blocked her high kick with his staff. Moving to offense, the Pilgrim swung the staff in an arc downwards to bludgeon her, but she caught it. Pulling it down, she snapped the thick staff over her knee. In almost the same motion she then kicked upwards and connected with the man’s chest, sending him staggering back. Pushing forward with the attack, she punched twice catching the man’s blocking forearms each time. She kicked at his vulnerable midriff, but he athletically dodged and fell into an unusual combat stance, tossing the remains of his staff aside.

Vella took a couple of steps back, not knowing what to expect. In her arrogance, knowing her training and her glorious purpose on this occasion, she smirked.

The Pilgrim’s mask wrinkled with his own smile.

Renewing the battle, Vella cartwheeled forward and rounded her body straight, then propelled her self in a spinning attacked meant to entangle her opponent. The Pilgrim seemed to expect the move and countered by leaping and hammering down with both fists. The blow caught Vella on the back and she fell roughly to the ground. Expecting a death blow, she rolled away and scrambled to her feet, only to see the Pilgrim fleeing in a sprint.

Roaring with primal rage, she shot forward in pursuit.

The Pilgrim was swift and deftly maneuvered through the loose rocks that made up the approach to the canyon. Vella followed his movements easily but was unable to close the gap even after several minutes of running.

As the Pilgrim approached a rise that Vella knew gave way to gentler terrain, she saw her chance. Palming a fist-sized rock from the ground as she ran, she covered several more yards before planting her feet. With all her might and skill learned from the greatest warrior instructors of the Bear Clan, she threw the rock. It struck the Pilgrim in the back of the head with enough force to kill him. Neutralized, he disappeared over the rise.

Running after her prey, she too topped the rise and froze at what she saw. Dozens of Pilgrims stood staring at their fallen comrade. Seeing her, they all fell into defensive stances.

Vella sighed. She had sought death and release, and death in battle would be so much greater than her planned suicide. Again, she smiled.

Before she could charge to her death, a voice cried out, “Vella!”

Shocked, Vella’s arms dropped to her sides. She recognized the voice.

A poorly clad women broke out from the mass of Pilgrims and ran towards the rise.

“Vella!” the woman cried in shock and joy, running to her with open arms.

Vella had not seen her sister in many years – not since members of the Urd’thas Sol had captured her and taken her away to be a plaything of the Immortal governor, Cassius. Many of the Pilgrims relaxed as Talbot, the leader of their small band, motioned them to stand down.

Vella felt tears flow from her eyes like never before. After all she had suffered, nothing compared to this. No violence, no hatred, no pain could stand against the joy of seeing her sister alive and well.

The two women of the Bear Clan embraced and collapsed to their knees. Several other of the women that had been rescued from the City of Light made their way through the Pilgrims to join them in a cluster of weeping joy.

Two of the Pilgrims moved to attend to their scout, who still lived but had curled into a ball of pain not far from where the women embraced each other.

“Keep your eyes and ears open,” Talbot whispered to his men. “These people are not to be trifled with. We still may not make it out of this alive.”