Wednesday, April 20, 2011


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Once more, I've got IRL issues interfering with my writing (mostly just immigration stuff, along with job issues and figure out how to file for taxes), so I'm going to hold off on posting this story for a while. My apologies to anyone who's waiting for the next update!
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Friday, April 15, 2011

Into the Woods - 7

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"The first people to spring from His song were the Vishna; their skin was dark bronze and their hair was tangled blackthorn. Their voices were like music, and they spoke only in song. But those who came after the Vishna envied their beauty. The Vishna, who had not yet mastered the art of steel, fled across the ocean, where they hid on a distant island unknown to the other races of men."

"They stayed there for many generations, until the reason for hiding was lost to them, beyond knowing that the world across the ocean was a dangerous place. And so it would have gone, had it not been for one curious girl."

"Unlike the other Vishna, Isabella dreamt of traveling across the ocean and discovering what lay on the other side. So she fashioned herself a raft from timber and rope and set sail for the horizon, oblivious to the danger she was in."

"She traveled for three days and three nights, fighting ocean tides and struggling against the wind--on several occasions, she nearly turned around and fled back to her warm, comfortable home. But on the third day, she caught sight of something in the distance. Something other than more ocean."

"It was a ship! She had never seen a vessel besides her own, so the sight was quite startling--but not as startling as the pale-faced men who scrambled over its surface, crawling over its deck like fleas on the back of a rat. As soon as she saw them, she paddled furiously until her raft was besides it, and then she let loose with a terrific 'hello!'."

"Several minutes later, she pondered the error of her ways from within the belly of the pirate ship. They had chained her up and threw her in a cage without another thought. It had never occurred to Isabella that the outside world might be cruel, or that they might value her voice enough to chain her and sell her. At that moment, she felt more alone than she had ever felt before."

"But it was at that precise moment that she heard another female's voice croak out from the darkness. It said: 'Poor little duckie. Did you get yourself snatched?'"

"Across from Isabella, hidden in a dark niche, another cage creaked. Inside of it was a woman, but not like any woman Isabella had ever seen. She was dark-skinned stretch of muscle and grit, with a thick maze of brown-amber hair draped over her shoulders. She was not so much trapped in the cage as lounging in it, as if its presence was a mere inconvenience; as if, at any moment, she could merely pluck the door off from its hinges. She possessed only one eye--a cavernous hole sank deep into her socket where the other was due."

"Isabella did her best not to sniffle. 'Who are you?'"

"'Why, I'm the--' the woman paused, then smiled darkly. 'I was the captain of this fine vessel. Captain Rose, at your service.' She lazily bowed her head in an expression of mocking respect. 'Recently deposed.'"

"'What happened?'"

"'Oh, the usual," she said, looking suddenly bored. 'Traitorous dogs, midnight mutinies, backstabbing first mates. All very standard procedure.'"

"'So you're a prisoner here too?' Isabella asked, desperate for a friend."

"'In a manner of speaking. Although, not for long.' Captain Rose's smile grew. 'I'm to be executed soon. To 'solidify' my treacherous first mate's precarious position.'"


"'To keep him in power. He's afraid, you see,' Captain Rose showed Isabella a flash of silver and gold teeth. 'They all are.'"

"Isabella laid herself against the back of the cage. 'I'm sorry to hear that,' she said."

"'Don't be,' Captain Rose replied. 'Were I captain, you'd still be in that cage.'"

"'But why?'"

"'You're worth a fortune. A living Vishna? As rare as crow's teeth,' Captain Rose said. 'You'll fetch the ship's weight in silver.'"

"'Why?! I'm just--'"

"'They say spell-chuckers grind your bones to powder for exotic spells, while your blood makes for a powerful aphrodisiac. And your hearts! Oh, my, little duckie; your hearts are valued above all else.'"

"Isabella clutched both her arms and heart protectively. But Captain Rose only laughed."

"'Fear not, little duckie. They're of no use to me, not now. Not where I'm going.' She grinned. 'Though maybe we can make a deal, mm? Be friends of convenience?'"

"Isabella was not sure she wanted to be friendly with this woman at all. But still, she asked: 'Friends of convenience?'"

"'It means I'll be your friend to spite my enemies,' Captain Rose said. 'It means if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.'"

"'Can you set me free?' Briefly, Isabella's heart sprang."

"'No, duckie. Oh, but how I wish I could!' Captain Rose laughed hard and long. 'Just to see the looks on their faces! Just for the look, I'd die a hundred times. But no, I cannot. I can, however, give you invaluable advice.'"

"'What's that?' Isabella asked, grasping the bars."

"'First, my back,' Captain Rose said. 'Listen closely.' She hummed a tune. It was soft but driving, with an edge of inevitable melancholy. 'Can you remember it? Hum it back to me.'"

"Now, Isabella was a Vishna, and the Vishna are all extraordinarily clever with music; it took her no more than two tries to get it just right."

"'Can you whistle it?' Captain Rose asked."

"Isabella nodded. She knew how to whistle."

"'Then here is my favor. Do this thing for me and my spirit will be satisfied. Every night, when the shadows are longest, whistle this tune. Whistle it to the sailors above our hold. Will you do this thing?'"

"At this Isabella hesitated, but she nodded. She would."

"'Then you have my thanks, duckie. And now, for your advice.' Captain Rose leaned forward, face close to the bars."

"'My first-mate--the captain of this ship,' she corrected herself with a cruel smile, 'is not a clever man, but he is thorough. He has made a mistake with you, and he will soon see it. Why possess one fortune when you can possess many?'"

"'Soon after I am dead he will come to you clad in smiles and sorrows, speaking of mistakes made and apologies to be given. He will release you from your cage, and perhaps even from your chains; he will tell you he intends to deliver you home. You need only point the way.'"

"'Claim ignorance. Say a storm has flung you from your path. Say lightning has struck you dumb. Tell him you are lost, duckie, thrown out to sea. But do not show him the way home. If you do, your family will soon be rattling in cages besides you.'"

"Isabella's heart beat in her chest with the force of a thunderstorm. Her breath was quick and hard. 'How do you know this for sure?' she asked with a near indignant yelp."

"And oh, how Captain Rose smiled! It was all teeth, like a shark baring its jaws to some helplessly struggling fish. 'Because, duckie,' she purred, 'it's what I would do.'"

"There was a clatter from above. Men descended into the cabin, striking the slumbering guards on their ears. Much noise and yelling followed, until one of them warily approached Captain Rose's cage, unlocking it."

"'They're afraid of her,' Isabella marveled. The men kept their distance, their hands on their swords. As Rose stepped out of her cage, they flinched as one."

"'Is it time to die all ready?' Rose asked.

"'You'll soon be resting in the deep,' one man said, and he made a gesture before he spat."

"Rose laughed. The men hesitated at the sound, as if disarmed. 'Will I?' she asked. 'I was born in the brine. My mother was a hag of the sea and my father a drowned sailor's corpse.' She draped her lashes low and presented her wrists for their manacles. 'I'll come back for you all.'"

"'You'll do no harm once you've walked the plank,' the bravest among them said as he snapped on her irons."

"'Wait and see. I'll climb up the side of my ship and drown you in your beds one by one. Every morning you'll wake to find another corpse soaked in salt water and tangled in kelp.' And then she laughed."

"'Enough,' her guard said."

"Rose looked to Isabella and smiled. There was no malice there, no hate; it was the closest thing to a genuine look of friendship Isabella had seen since she left. 'Goodbye, duckie,' she told her. 'Thank you for the talk.'"

"'Goodbye, Captain Rose,' Isabella whispered."

"'Do not fret,' Captain Rose said as they clamped metal weights to her legs. 'Every dark cloud has a silver lining. You may get out of this yet.' And as they lead her away to be drowned, she began to whistle the same forlorn song she had taught Isabella."

"Hours later, the captain came to Isabella, clad in smiles and sorrows, speaking of mistakes made and apologies to be given. He released her from her cage, and even had her miserable chains removed."

"He begged her pardon for her rude treatment, and had a man fetch her fresh food and water. He told her that he had learned she was caged next to Rose--'a disreputable scoundrel and I am sorry to say, once my first-mate'--and hoped dearly that she had not frightened Isabella."

"Isabella responded politely that she had not."

"'Good, then. Allow me to make compensation for your cruel and unforgivable treatment,' he said. 'I shall take you straight home at once--without delay--if you merely point the way.'"

"Isabella paused to take the deepest drink of fresh water she could stomach, then the biggest bite of bread she could manage. Only when her mouth was empty and her stomach full did she respond:"

"'Nothing would please me more, captain, but I fear that I was caught in a storm and have lost my way.'"

"A long silence stretched out between them. When the captain at last grew tired of it, he told his men: 'Take her back to the cage.'"

"Isabella did not complain or fight. She stretched her legs and arms one last time, then submitted to the shackles. And then she waited for night to come. And when the shadows were at their longest, she whistled Captain Rose's song."

"When she was finished, she cried herself to sleep."

"The next morning, she caught a conversation between the men bringing her a pittance of food and water."

"'--happened! Turk heard it 'imself!'"

"'Turk can't hear cannonade if it goes off a quarter inch from his head,' the other said. 'He's drunk.'"

"'He said he heard the blasted song, he did! And now Snidely's gone missing!'"

"'Probably got drunk and fell off the bow,' the other said. They left Isabella with her food and drink, returning to their duties."

"She repeated the song that night again, and in the morning came more muttered worries."

"'Did you hear? Tom's been taken,' her guard told one of the men nearby. 'Captain's keeping it hush hush, claims it was the drink that did him in, but Willis says he saw something in his hammock--'"

"'--should never have thrown her to the brine, brought a damnable curse on the ship--'"

"By the third day, things had grown tense. No one came to bring her food and water, but she sometimes saw the men passing through--their eyes dark with sleepless circles and their hands close to their swords. That night, before she whistled the song again, their were sounds of violence above deck."

"Isabella strained to hear, but all she could make out was distant yells and shouts and the clang of swords. Someone screamed 'you fools!', and then there was a thunderous explosion--then splashes, then nothing."

"The men, driven by fear and superstition, had attempted another mutiny against their new captain; in the chaos and fury, the ship was lit aflame. Those who didn't die in the fire were forced to abandon the vessel, and would soon drown; soon, the only person left onboard was Isabella, locked away in a cage in the belly of the empty ship."

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Into the Woods - 6

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Half-way through the tale, Sybil had grown quiet and morose. It was only when he finished that she spoke.

"You are sure that he said Delilah, in Winifred?" she asked.

"Yes," Arden replied. "Why? Do you know either?"

"I know Winifred. It's a week from here, along the road to the north," she said. "Let me see the brand."

He showed it to her. She gripped his wrist in one of her hands and traced its outline with a long, chipped nail. She glared at the image of the crow, as if she could strip it from his skin through sheer cussiness alone. Then, with vast reluctance, she released his arm and leaned back in her chair.

"Well?" he asked.

"Well," she said. "You'll have to go see Marigold."

Arden stiffened in place. "You want me to travel through bogginfolk lands? To see the witch of the woods?"

"No," Sybil said. Her expression wavered between indignation and regret, before it finally settled on exhaustion. "No," she repeated, "but this is a matter of magic, Arden. We cannot trust it."

"Why not just do as the old man said? Perhaps this Delilah can rid me of the tattoo--"

"Perhaps," Sybil said. "Perhaps not. But you need Marigold's council. If you cut through her woods, you can shave a day off your trip to Winifred as well. It's on the way."

"But the boggins--"

"You're clever enough to avoid them," Sybil told him. "We taught you well."

Arden turned away, his eyes traveling to the volumes of books that lined the shelves. "I've never even been outside of the woods."

"I know," Sybil said, and her hand gripped his shoulder. "But you know how to hunt, you know how to ride, and you know how to shoot your bow straight. There's nothing else you need to know."

"What happens if I don't go?" Arden asked, and he looked at the tattoo once more. "Maybe it's harmless."

"Magic is never harmless, Arden. You know this. Perhaps Marigold can remove it from you herself, and you will not even need to leave the woods. Seek her advice. She will know what to do."

"How soon should I leave?"

"Tomorrow morning," Sybil said. "I would send you tonight, but you stink of elk; the boggin would find you. The longer that mark is on your skin, the more trouble it might bring. I'll make preparations tonight. For now, sleep."

Arden turned to leave. Before he did, Sybil spoke again. Her voice, so often strong and decisive, had the slightest quiver.

"Arden," she said.

"Yes?" he looked back to her.

"Take care," she said, and she touched the back of his hand. "Don't let your life become nothing more than another cautionary tale."

Arden smiled. "I'm far too clever for that."

"I hope so. Tend to your sisters before you sleep."

As Arden stepped out of the study, he noticed the door to his sisters' room was slightly ajar; as he stepped forward, the door closed with a click. He rapped gently, then when he heard no reply, he opened it.

The twins were already tucked in beneath their sheets, their father's bow gripped in both their hands over the bedding. Priscilla was at her dresser, removing several of her tunics and gowns.

"Priscilla?" Arden asked, his voice soft. "What are you doing?"

"Coming with you," she said, her back to him.

"You were eavesdropping," he said.

"You're not leaving without me."

He reached forward to touch her shoulder, but she pulled away. When she turned to him, her face was split with anger and her eyes were wet. "If I don't go with you, you won't come back."

Arden dropped down to sit on a nearby stool. "Priscilla--"

"Just like father, and big brother," she said, and she turned back to pull more clothes out of the dresser.

Arden smiled thinly. "Big brother? You weren't even a toddler when Alexander left. You couldn't remember--"

"It still hurts," she said.

Arden's smile faded. "I'm sorry. But I am coming back. It's just a short trip, Priscilla. Two weeks at most."

"That's what father said. You won't come back," she insisted.

"Priscilla," he said, his voice lower. "Would you like to hear the story I found for you?"

"No," she snapped, furiously jamming a tunic into her leather knapsack.

"Are you sure? It's quite a good one," he told her.

"I don't want to hear any of your dumb stories," she said. "I'm coming with you."

"But then who will tend the pigs, or hunt the elk?" Arden asked.

Priscilla stopped; her shoulders shook. "I don't know," she said. "But--"

"If you listen to this story," Arden said, "then I will promise you that I will come back."

Priscilla looked over her shoulder at him. "You can't promise that," she said.

"I can, and I will," he said. "Have I ever gone back on a promise?"

She thought about this a moment. Then, she sniffled, wiped at her nose with her wrist, and turned back to Arden. "You have to promise," she said.

"Cross my heart," Arden said, and he crossed his heart with his finger four times, just to show he meant it. "Would you like to hear the story, now?"

"Okay," she said, but her tone was muted. She crawled back into bed, then peered up at Arden from above the covers. "But it better be really good," she said.

He dragged the stool besides the bed and smiled. "Oh, it is," he told her, and then he began: "Long ago, shortly after God first sang the song that made the earth, and the stars, and the heavens..."

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Into the Woods - 5

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Arden arrived at the forest cottage later in the evening, with the elk slung over Tulip's back.

He had had scarcely stepped through the front door before Priscilla was upon him. The young dark-haired girl was lithe and fast, and leapt at him like a tightly wound spring released from its latch. Her struggle to snatch away his bow was soon joined by their two younger siblings--Mercia and Ingrid. They tackled him to the floor, with Priscilla pinning while Mercia and Ingrid pried back his fingers. When the twins finally took the bow, they jumped to their feet and ran back into the house, crooning as they held it high over their heads.

Priscilla sat up on Arden's chest and folded her arms triumphantly. "It's mine, now," she said.

Arden peered up at her critically. "It only counts if you take it away by yourself," he told her.

"I did. I convinced my sisters to tackle you all by myself," she said.

Arden tried his best not to grin. "Clever minx." He then rolled to his feet, which sent Priscilla tumbling. "Where's mother?"

Priscilla landed on her back and made a face, sticking her tongue out at her older brother. "Reading," she said.

"I need to speak with her. See to it that the terrible twins are gentle with father's bow, yes?"

"They are quite terrible," Priscilla agreed. "So terrible that I think you will have to tell them a story to get your bow back."

"Oh, will I?" Arden asked.

"Yes," Priscilla replied, a sly look slipping into her eyes. "And I will listen, of course, to make sure that you are not cheating them with a shoddy one."

"Very responsible of you," Arden said.

"Of course," Priscilla said, before she rolled back up to her feet. "It is my duty, as the eldest sister."

"Yes, I think I found an excellent tale while I was out," Arden said. "Hurry off to bed quickly, so I can tell you it before it spoils."

"Stories can spoil?" Priscilla asked, horrified.

"Yes," Arden said. "Like eggs. The smell is terrible. Now shoo!"

Priscilla darted off. Arden's smile held for a few more moments as he watched her leave. He made his way to the cottage's humble study.

Sybil Broderick had been a beautiful woman, once, but only in the way thunderstorms were lovely--fierce and violent, with all the unpredictable grace of a lightning's strike. Now, she was old and ornery, with a strap of leather over one missing eye and a gnarled crutch she leaned on to help with her limp. Her dark hair was bound up behind her head, laced with streaks of white.

She sat at her dead husband's desk, reading a leather-bound book by candle-light.

Arden hadn't even opened his mouth before she spoke.

"You killed an elk?"

"Did the musk give it away?" Arden asked.

"The stench still sticks to your clothes," she said, and then she looked up. Her face broke into a grin. "You sold it for good money?"

"In a manner of speaking," Arden said. He rubbed the back of his head. "The good news is that we get to sell our elk and eat it, too."

Sybil's smile fell. "The bad news," she said.

Arden could not meet her eyes. He never could when he was telling her something that troubled him. "There was a wagon, during the hunt. It went through boggin lands."

Sybil's eyes narrowed. "Tell me everything," she said.

And so he did.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Into the Woods - 4

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The cry of riders and their horses pulled Arden out of his confusion.

"Ho!" one of the riders called. "Anyone alive?"

"I am," Arden replied, and then he climbed his way out of the wagon. When he pulled himself up, he faced several townsfolk atop their steeds, their own arrows pointed at his head and heart.

"Were you bitten?" one of them asked.

Arden raised his hands up into the air. "No," he said.

They whispered among themselves. Arden recognized several of the riders; none of them had any love for him or his family. "How can we be sure?" the leader of the party asked.

"Were I bitten by a boggin, I would not prolong the inevitable," Arden said. "I know what happens as well as you do. Better, in fact."

"Put your bows down, you idiots," a voice called out from behind them. Richard Greenbury--the town's mayor--trotted forward on his horse, clad in a white nightgown and cap. He was a burly, hairy man who wore more rings on his fingers than arrows in Arden's quiver. "If the boy was bit, it's none of our concern. He doesn't live in our village."

"Father!" Desmond ran in behind Arden. "The last one is dead. The road is clear."

Richard narrowed one eye and widened the other as he stared at his son. It was a look that Arden was familiar with--one that could measure the precise distance between danger and himself. The mayor was incredibly observant; it was said that when a flea took a shit, he heard the plop.

"Tell me everything that has transpired here," he finally spoke. "Leave nothing out."

Desmond nodded. "I was hunting in the woods, with William and Drake. We happened upon Arden, who was coming to town with fresh kill. We began to--" he looked between Arden and his father. His stance stiffened. "We started to talk, when we heard the wagon, along with the boggins. We gave chase on Arden's horse."

"Ah," Richard said, and then he smiled broadly. "It seems we owe my son a hero's welcome, then!"

Arden said nothing. Desmond's stance shifted again, growing agitated. "Well, father," he spoke with great reluctance, "it was Arden's arrows that felled the wagon, as well as most of the boggin."

"And humble!" Richard said, and there was laughter among the riders around him. "Nevertheless, we clearly owe a tribute to Arden, as well." He turned to the young man. "Your kill--did you lose it?"

"I cut it down to give chase," Arden said. "But I should be able to recover it."

Richard waved his hand. "Regardless, you will be compensated. Would you care to be my guest tonight, young man?"

Several of the riders shuffled in their saddles, uneasy at the suggestion. Arden smiled thinly and scratched at the back of his hand. "Thank you for the honor, sir," he said, and he gave a swift bow. "But I must return home. My mother and sisters grow worried."

"Of course," Richard said. "But stop by tomorrow, and we will discuss proper compensation."

"Certainly, sir," Arden said, and he climbed back onto Tulip's back. "I will."

He could feel the glares of the other townsfolk on his back as he road away. But none of their looks worried him half as much as the itching tattoo that had been burned into his skin.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Into the Woods - 3

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The carriage tore through the woods, drawn by a terrified pair of horses.

Boggins had clambored up on top of its roof. Arden counted three, possibly four; it was hard to say. The bogginfolk were mishapen, hairy ape-like men full of hunger and malice--it was impossible to tell where one ended and another began.

"Faster, Tulip," Arden said, urging his horse on. He felt Desmond give a start behind him.

"You named your horse Tulip?"

"Just shoot your arrows," Arden said.

They closed in on the carriage. Desmond took aim. He released an arrow a moment later, only to watch it glance harmlessly off the charcoal paneling. Desmond cursed.

"Too bumpy," he said.

"For love of--take the reins," Arden shouted. "Around my waist!"

Desmond slung his bow over one shoulder and wound both arms around Arden's waist, gripping the reins. Tulip neighed in protest, but steadied when Arden squeezed her with his legs. He drew out his own bow, nocked an arrow, and narrowed his eyes.

One of the bogginfolk stopped attacking the carriage's rooftop long enough to notice the two riders approaching. It turned to them and produced a howl of rage; its chalk-white face was full of broken teeth and spittle.

Arden released the arrow. The shaft plunged into the space between its eyes, driving six inches of wood directly into its brain.

The boggin went slack and tumbled from the wagon. The others turned and produced shrieks of their own.

Arden nocked another arrow. One of the boggin leapt off the wagon, its claw-like fingers extended for Arden's throat.

Tulip reacted instantly; the horse swerved to the right, leaving the boggin to tumble down to the overgrown brickwork below. Arden and Desmond caught a quick glimpse of claws and fangs before the boggin's body was rolling, dashed against the ancient stone.

"We won't kill them fast enough this way," Desmond hollered. "Shoot the horses!"

"But--they're horses!" Arden said.

"Shoot them, god damn you!"

Arden whispered a prayer for forgiveness and turned his arrow to the right-most mare. He let loose the shaft, striking the beast at the point where its neck and skull met; it produced a shrill cry of surprise before it tumbled head-first into the road, and then fell directly beneath the carriage's path.

The entire carriage jumped to the left with a mighty crash. Timber splintered as it slammed across the ground and spun; boggins were thrown from left to right, their shrieks cut off with a series of brutal cracks. The last horse was dragged beneath the wreckage, where it met its violent but quick end.

Arden slowed Tulip down while the carriage tumbled ahead. He hopped down, followed by Desmond. Both of them nocked fresh arrows and began to slay the fallen boggins.

It was a gruesome job, but they made quick work of what few boggins remained.

"I'll check on the boggin that fell from the wagon--make sure it's dead," Desmond said. "You check to see if anyone's hurt in the carriage."

"Right," Arden said. As soon as he thought Desmond was out of earshot, he turned to Tulip.

"Now," he said, "I hope you don't think poorly of me for that, Tulip. It was entirely necessary--"

"And don't apologize to your horse!" Desmond hollered back.

Arden threw him a glare, but then quickly turned back to the carriage. As he approached, he could see that it had cracked beneath the pressure like an egg--its upper half had buckled and snapped open, leaving its contents partially exposed. The interior was luxurious, choked with silk and leather; much of it had been torn asunder, sending clouds of down feathers tumbling through the air.

"Hello?" Arden called out. He nocked another arrow out of habit; a boggin could have already made its way into the carriage. "Anyone alive in there?"

"Yes," a man's voice, weak and frail, replied. "Yes, I rather think I am."

Arden flipped the arrow between his fingers and slid it back within his quiver. He leapt up on top of the carriage, crouched low, and peered in. "Not hurt too bad, are you?"

The old man inside wore a long black coat with a raised collar, trimmed with gold lace. At his hip sat a sheathed straight-edged sword with a polished bone hilt.

A fresh spout of blood flowed from his stomach, where one of the boggins had scored a deep belly wound.

"Damn," Arden said. He slipped into the carriage and crouched besides the fallen man. He then drew his dagger and started to slice strips of leather from the padded seats to dress the wound.

"Don't bother," the old man said. "I've seen enough wounds in my time to know a fatal one."

Arden hesitated, then slowly put his knife back in its sheath. "Is there anything I can do?" he asked.

"Yes, actually," the old man whispered. And then he reached his hand out and grabbed Arden's arm.

Although his fingers had grown bone-white, his grip remained as tight as steel. He pulled Arden close as he seized hold of his arm, and whispered words--words that crawled down Arden's spine like a horde of frozen centipedes.

At once, the place where the old man's hand touched Arden's skin started to burn. The boy yelled in surprise, then screamed--but when he tried to pull away, the old man only squeezed tighter.

"I'm sorry," the old man said. "It's the only way. Deliver this to Delilah. In Winifred. Then and only then will you be free of it."

His hand fell down. Arden jumped back, hitting the far side of the carriage interior. When he looked down at his arm, he could see what looked like a blackened burn mark, shaped into some sort of complex symbol.

"What the hell is this?" Arden asked. "What did you--"

With a reluctant sigh, the old man laid his head back and fell silent. After a few moments, Arden realized he wasn't breathing.

He looked back down at the mark that the old man had burned into his skin.

At its center was what appeared to be a perched crow.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

No Update Yet!

Sorry; I came home last night intent on posting, but was too tired to write so I decided to take a nap first. I just woke up now (I slept through the whole evening, up through morning, and just in time to go to work again). I'll have the next update today, when I get back from work (when hopefully I won't be so sleepy, having now slept a full day and a half).