“ENTER!” the king roared, annoyed at the rap on his door. “I asked not to be disturbed!” A tall, athletic man clothed in browns and greens of the forest appeared, closing the door behind. Captain Brooks. Commander of the most elite squad in the Novgorodan army; notorious for stealth and bowmanship. Some said he could sneak up on his own shadow! He stood at ease, his face a portrait of calm and silent lethality; hands clasped behind.
The king glared. “Well, what is it!”
“We have report of an elven spy in the land, last seen in the village of Daaga. Request permission to take my squad and hunt the dog down.”
“Elves in my land?” The king’s cold, steely eyes narrowed in hatred. “They’re like a disease infecting the very marrow of my bones. I’ll destroy them all!” He jumped from his chair, tipping it behind him. “Leave at once!”
“Yes, my lord.” The soldier snapped to attention, saluting crisply; spinning about on the ball of his foot.
“And commander,” the king added darkly. Brooks turned, gazing into features so hard they could make a grown man’s blood freeze in mid-July. “Show no mercy.”
Chapter 2 Excerpts
Kassanderae looked around the small restaurant, the smell of garlic thick on the air as Italian music played cheerfully in the background. Closely-set tables with bentwood chairs and red-checkered cloths filled the room while burgundy candles, decorating the sides of wine jugs as they dripped gracefully down in waxcicles, provided a perfect ambiance. A quaint hole-in-the-wall, just the kind of place Rae enjoyed. She made a mental note to come back with better company.
“You’ve gotta be kidding!” the man’s voice broke into Kassanderae’s musing. “You’re really against technology? Our whole lives depend on technology!”
Rae smiled. “That’s exactly my point. Our whole lives depend on artificial things. We’re living inside a manufactured universe, a kind of pseudo-reality if you will — essentially inside our own minds! We have no idea what’s real anymore.” Rae took a sip of water, calmly pondering what to say. “Look, this conversation could take days. It brings up everything from the homogenization of worldwide culture, to the destruction of thousands of species a day, to the threat of nuclear holocaust. I really don’t feel like getting into it. Could we talk about something else?”
“So…you think we should just get rid of all technology?” her date persisted, somewhat patronizingly, she noted.
Rae drew in a breath, exhaling a little exasperated puff. “Not necessarily. I just think we should question new technologies instead of passively accepting them like sheep. We need to be asking who the technology really benefits; what are its pros and cons. How will it affect our life, our culture, our environment…our world? We need to claim the right to debate, question, and refuse technologies the same way we debate medical ethics – like stem cell research – today. The problem is, first people have to see there’s a need for such a thing. Fat chance of that, since the military benefits the most from technology. Besides, most people aren’t even aware of what their representatives are doing in Congress, let alone the consequences of the computer on their desks.” Rae pushed her plate away, looking into his face. “Are you? …Do you know the last thing your senators voted on?”
“Must’ve missed that one,” he joked, with a snap of his fingers. “Do you?”
“Yeah. They voted on whether or not to allow the transport of radioactive waste through the state – on a highway not a mile from here!”
Rae took another drink, dabbing her mouth with the napkin before throwing it into the plate. The man grabbed the check, extracting his wallet to pay.
“What do you want to do next?” He threw down some cash, looking into her fawn-like orbs.
Rae peered deeply into his eyes, giving him the strange sensation of being exposed. “I think I’ll call it a night.”
“Why? The night’s young… Am I that bad a date?”
“No,” she chuckled, “but I don’t think we have much in common. Besides, you’re only interested in sex.”
“What makes you say that?” he asked, curious what gave it away.
“It’s in your eyes.”
“Whaaaat? So what if I am? There’s nothing wrong with that. Most women seem to find me pretty hot.” He bounced his eyebrows up and down with an enticing smile. “Why not take me for spin, eh? I aim to please.”
“Thanks for the offer, but, at this point I’m only interested in something deep and enduring. Sorry… Thanks for the dinner company.” She grabbed a little red shoulder bag, pushing back her chair with a loud scrape on the tile floor, and tossed her half of the bill on the table. “Take care.”
“Your loss gorgeous.” He winked, tipping his head in gesture.
“May be,” she chortled, smiling warmly as she turned for the door…
——— Get Your Copy Here ———
Another failed date, Rae thought, shuffling along the bustling street to her apartment, contemplating the long series of perfunctory dates her well-meaning friends — concerned about the lack of men in her life — coerced her into. Why did she keep letting them talk her into this? She was going to have to put her foot down. She looked up, reminding herself to pay attention as she walked alone at night. She crossed on the light, turning left at the intersection. Ahead, a man leaned against the large brownstone a block from her house and watched her approach. Rolled up sleeves on a ripped, white T-shirt hid a pack of Camels. She moved toward the outside of the walk, treading vigilantly along the curb. “Hey baby!” he called as she passed. “C’mon over here and lemme show you somethin!” Rae continued, looking straight ahead. “Ah, c’mon baby. Don’t be like that! Don’t run off! Come on back!” She took a deep breath, trying to ignore his call. “Hey! Suck my dick bitch!”
Rae was disillusioned…with men, with work, with life. How one so young could already be disheartened spoke volumes to her about the state of the world. At her age, she should be filled with hope for the future. Instead, just a few years out of grad school, she was already jaded. She longed to go back to a simpler age, simpler times. Hell, she’d even settle for one mentally stable friend, or something as basic as clean air to breathe. Everything seemed so crazy here… She longed for a world that wasn’t sick.
Arriving home, she threw her keys in a basket by the door and strode across the room, plopping onto the sofa she’d bought at a garage sale. Only fifteen bucks — the deal of the century, she had felt at the time. She remembered how she and five others had lugged the heavy thing, laughing and groaning the entire three blocks from that apartment to this, falling triumphantly upon it after clunking it down on her third-story floor. She chuckled to herself at the comical thought as her eyes wandered wearily around the frumpy room decorated in purple and green, scanning mementos and photographs of happy memories in her life. She was proud of her accomplishments. Although she had grown up in a series of foster homes, she had worked hard to make the most of her life. She smiled at pictures of dance recitals, gymnastic meets, and sporting events. Her eyes stopped on a picture of a native man, the shaman Balla-le, with whom she’d spent a year in the Amazon, studying and living with his people. She missed him — and the native way of life. Most of all, she missed being with people who viewed every living thing, and every act in life, as an expression of the sacred. City life didn’t agree with Rae.
——— Get Your Copy Here ———
Chapter 3 Excerpts
The alarm called out its rude awakening. Oh, how Kassanderae hated mornings. Six o’clock was way too early to expect people to breathe smog, fight commuter traffic, push through crowds, or sit under fluorescent lights in a room with no windows. Usually, she biked to work — but it was a good ways — and, sometimes, she just couldn’t climb out of bed soon enough. This being one of those mornings, she opted for the train. She owned no car and didn’t want one….
Chapter 5 Excerpts
It seemed a long time they hiked, never speaking. Occasionally, the eyes would stop, putting a hand out to halt her; cock his head, be perfectly still, and listen. The way a deer listens before it suddenly disappears without a sound, she thought. Then he led on, gesturing her to follow.
She wondered about her strange guide, and where she had ended in her fall but, look around as she might, she could get no bearing and found nothing familiar. The guy seemed safe enough, in a dangerous kind of way. He certainly knew how to use that sword of his. Better to follow Mr. Eyes, she thought, than be left to herself in the middle of nowhere with vicious creatures lurking about. She had never been so lost, and didn’t like the feeling.
Dusk set in; the cool blue sky turning a shade of gray as the eyes finally turned off the path, heading into the trees. They walked another hundred yards or more, halting before a rolling hill hidden from the trail by tall evergreens that grew at its base. The eyes went around behind some bramble and disappeared. She followed, finding herself at the mouth of a small, cool cave cut into the side of the hill. Not big enough to be in upright, but she imagined it would protect from dew or frost, and the brisk wind that had kicked up the last hour of their hike.
“Stay here. I’ll be back.”
She opened her mouth, but closed it again. He was gone. Just like a deer in the woods.
Rae sat for what seemed ages, but was probably more like an hour, watching the world grow still and dark. It was cold. She had on summer clothes: white shorts and sleeveless blouse, light socks and running shoes; filthy from her roll down the hill and hours of hiking. Wet with sweat, she began shivering from the chill night air.
Mr. Eyes returned with what appeared to be a cloth-full of weeds. He sat across from her cross-legged, unfolding the corners and laying it open in his lap. Pulling his knife from its sheath, he began to cut roots, slice green stalks, and chop leaves. Rae studied his face and noted his long, graceful fingers, but what made him strange she still couldn’t figure.
“We can’t risk building a fire, but it is good enough raw. Hearty herbs and edible roots — they will strengthen you.” He handed her a small portion and, as he did so, their eyes met. She gazed again into the deep, green pools, so calm and still, but what was behind them she couldn’t discern.
“Thank you,” she said quietly, looking down as she placed a bite in her mouth. It was pungent but not unpleasant and, as she chewed, she felt energy flow through her, reviving her body.
“I am called Glenfloriden by my people,” the eyes finally said. “Who are you, and why have you come through the Gate?”
Gate? “I’m Kassanderae and…it would appear I am here by accident… Where is ‘here,’ by the way?”
“No one comes through the Gate by accident,” he replied, ignoring her question. “What is your business?”
“Yes. Are you a sorceress?” He locked his piercing eyes on her and a shiver ran down her spine.
“Umm, no,” she replied, smiling innocently.
“What then is your gift?” No smile there.
“Are you sure I have one?”
“Might I ask why?”
He answered by staring her squarely in the face. “No one comes through the Gate by accident.” Looking deep into her eyes, he held her gaze long moments. It seemed he looked right through her, down into her very soul. She was stunned… He was as good at it as she was! Although she used the skill often in life, she had never met anyone else who could do it. She had come to think it was her own unique gift in the world.
“It would appear I have the same gift as you,” she replied finally. “I…see through people.”
Glenfloriden’s head fell back and the cave was filled with the most wondrous, gay laughter. It lit his face with golden light and his eyes sparkled like gems. “It is not a gift,” he smiled softly. “It is a trait common to my people.”
Rae’s eye grew wide and she fell silent for a long time, fascinated by this fact. What kind of people could all inherently share such a trait? Moonlight fell through the opening of the cave, illuminating half the floor and bathing him in chill blue light. His hair glistened, as if made of moonbeams, and his body seemed to shimmer. She watched as he silently ate…