To The Core – A Fantasy Short

[This story was originally written by Michael K. Eidson and previously published October 16, 2012, on Burrst. About 1000 words.]

Wearing a long cloak in hot weather wasn’t always a sign you’re concealing something or intend to, thought the elder Cornraind as he watched the younger Nachford walking amongst the carts and stalls in the marketplace. Cornraind had seen Nachford around here before, knew the man to have only half a brain and no couth. The older man had not seen the younger one take anything from a cart that he hadn’t put back, but Cornraind was still suspicious. Not that it was his duty to patrol the marketplace, but even in retirement he had the mindset of a City Guard.

Cornraind stayed his distance, but maneuvered his way through the stalls to keep Nachford in sight. Something didn’t look right about the young man. Cornraind couldn’t put his finger on it; maybe Nachford had put on some weight, or grown an inch taller. Maybe he had already stolen something and carried it under his cloak. But it wouldn’t do for Cornraind to confront the young man; any ensuing incident would have bad consequences for Cornraind even if Nachford were concealing stolen goods. The City Guard would lock away anyone for the night, even a former City Guard, who caused a disturbance in their fair city without due cause.

Shrill laughter cut over the noise of the crowd. Nachford had apparently just told one of his strange stories to Pwervara, an older woman selling apples. She held out an apple to Nachford, and the man placed both hands on it, one on either side. He bowed to the stall owner and kissed her wrinkled hand as she released the apple.

At the same time, a hand covered with mottled gray skin snaked out of a pocket of Nachford’s cloak, grabbed another piece of fruit from the apple cart, and hauled it into the pocket. As Cornraind hurried closer, he could hear munching from Nachford’s direction. When he stood right behind Nachford, he heard a belch and saw an apple core thrown at high velocity out of the pocket.

Cornraind had just witnessed what was obviously a theft of an apple, and he clapped a hand on Nachford’s shoulder.

The young man turned around with an inquisitive look, holding the apple Pwervara had handed him. “Yes?”

“Excuse me, young Nachford, but your stowaway stole an apple from this nice lady.”

“Stowaway?”

“The gremlin in your pocket.”

“Gremlin?”

“In your pocket.”

Nachford reached into his pocket and turned it inside out. It was clearly empty.

“I know what I saw.” But doubt gnawed at Cornraind’s gut. Had he been wrong? Was his sight playing tricks on him? He looked for the discarded apple core, but didn’t see it anywhere.

“I think you need some herbs and prayers, old man. You’re either seeing things or you’re possessed.”

Pwervara shooed him away with her hands. “Nachford was just about to buy an apple, and I don’t need you ruining a sale for me. Or should I call the real City Guard and have them carry you away? Guard! Guard!”

“I’m sorry,” muttered Cornraind, and he trudged away, his conscience weighing heavy in his chest. He’d been so sure of what he saw.

As he passed another apple cart, one belonging to Raugal, a man about Cornraind’s age but too poor to retire, the mottled gray hand reached out of one of the lower pockets of Cornraind’s cloak and snatched an apple. He heard munching and crunching, and then the apple core went flying. “Why you little…” he shouted, and dove a hand into his pocket. His hand met no resistance other than the cloth of the interior of his pocket. He turned the pocket inside out, and it was empty.

“Can I help you?” Raugal stepped around the cart and looked askance at Cornraind.

“I saw it again,” mumbled Cornraind. “It stole an apple from your cart.”

Just then a hand reached out of one of Raugal’s pockets and grabbed another apple. Cornraind moved quickly. If he could catch it while it was eating, maybe it wouldn’t have a chance to get away.

“Get off!” Raugal shouted, striking Cornraind over the head and shoulders as the retired City Guard bent over and stuffed a hand into Raugal’s pocket.

Cornraind clutched something hard and clunky and drew it out of Raugal’s pocket. Coins fell from his clenched fist.

“Thief!” shouted Raugal.

Cornraind dropped the coins and ran. He managed five quick strides before he collided with a cart loaded with fish. He and the fish and the fishmonger landed on the ground in a tangled, smelly mess.

A stern voice boomed over him; it belonged to City Guardsman Gavaeld. “What is going on here?”

“The old coot tried to steal from me,” said Raugal.

“He’s ruined all my fish,” said the fishmonger.

“He interrupted my making a sale,” said Pwervara.

“He accused me of stealing,” said Nachford.

“Come on, old man,” said Gavaeld, hauling Cornraind to his feet. “Of all people, you should know better than this.”

“But I–”

“Save it. You can sleep it off in a cell tonight, and Chief will decide your fate in the morning.”

Cornraind knew better than to argue. If he were still with the City Guard, he’d have done no differently than Gavaeld, given the same circumstances. He went along, keeping his mouth shut, and stood there looking forlornly through the bars of a cell with no furnishings except a small straw cot against the back wall. Gavaeld turned the key in the lock to the cell door, wagging his head in pity but not speaking one word of comfort to his prisoner. Cornraind knew he wouldn’t receive even a morsel of food until morning; it was part of his punishment.

As Gavaeld turned to walk away, a hand zipped out of his pocket and threw an apple through the bars. The fruit landed at Cornraind’s feet. The retired City Guard picked it up, rubbed it on his cloak, sat on the edge of the straw cot, and quietly yet gratefully ate his meager dinner. He even ate the core, eliminating any evidence that he’d somehow avoided a part of his expected punishment.

Role-Playing and Writing: the Storytelling Intersection

Hello, friends. This time, we have a guest post from Coyote Kishpaugh, co-author of The Order of the Four Sons series. He will tell us about the connection between role-playing games and writing fiction. As I mentioned last time, when his co-author, Lauren Scharhag, graced us with her guest post on creating fantasy worlds, I received an advance review copy of the first book of the O4S series (book one is out now as of this writing), and I recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy or horror or other forms of speculative fiction. It also has a touch of science fiction, crime and history. I’m looking forward to further journeys in this universe they have jointly created, which has many similarities to our own, but tons of differences too. I hope you’ll give the series a try. Links to book one are in Lauren’s guest post, the link to which is at the bottom of this post.

Before we hear from Coyote about his experience with rpgs and fiction writing, let’s get to know him a bit. I asked him and Lauren both the same set of questions, and they agreed to answer them without consulting each other about their answers. Fun, fun, right? Coyote’s answers are below. A link to Lauren’s answers and her guest post are at the end of this post, so you can easily compare to see how close their answers are. Continue reading “Role-Playing and Writing: the Storytelling Intersection”

Home Sweet Universe

Today’s guest post comes to us from Lauren Scharhag, co-author of Order of the Four Sons, Book 1. Much of the story takes place in Excelsior Springs, MO, not far from where I grew up, and near where some of my family still live and work. I received an advance review copy of the book (it’s out now as of this writing), and highly recommend it to all lovers of speculative fiction. It has touches of science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime and history, all wrapped up in one little package. It’s the first book of a series, and I’m looking forward to book 2 and further journeys in a universe not quite ours.

By way of introduction to Lauren and the O4S universe, I’ve asked her a few questions and posted her answers below. Following the interview is her guest post on creating believable settings for fantasy worlds and the universes they inhabit. Continue reading “Home Sweet Universe”

Eposic Pre-Made Book Covers

[Edit: I am no longer selling pre-made book cover art through SelfPubBookCovers.com.]

When I first acquired the free DAZ Studio scene editing and image rendering program, it sat on my computer hard drive for a few months. The program was free, so I grabbed it when I learned of it, but then it just sat there, waiting patiently for me to give it some attention. I’d used Poser and Bryce in the past and had fun with them, and guessed that using DAZ Studio would be a similarly enjoyable experience. I didn’t realize how much more I’d enjoy it.

The time came when I needed a distraction from writing on my novel. Working on a novel can sap my creativity. Such a long project leaves my muse feeling antsy, ready to do something different. Creating artwork, snapshots of a moment in time, satisfies my muse’s desire for variety, since I can finish a single image in a matter of days, as opposed to months or years.

One form of artwork of interest to me as an aspiring author is book cover illustration. So I’ve turned some of my creative energies in that direction. I’ve turned out about twenty covers so far. Since my primary interests are in speculative fiction genres, most of my covers were created in that vein. But a few of my covers are intended for other genres.

Here are thumbnails of a couple of the covers I’ve done.

Skeleton Army thumbnail

Cleric and Snow Dragon thumbnail

As you can see, the covers have sample titles and bylines, to give an idea of what the cover will look like with a real title and byline in place. The site provides a tool for authors to place up to four lines of text on covers licensed through the site. Or you can add text in your own image editing program.

The licenses acquired through SelfPubBookCovers.com are exclusive licenses. When an author licenses one of these book covers, that cover is removed from the list of available covers. The artist retains the right to display their artwork as samples of what they’ve done, such as in an online portfolio, but no one else will have any rights to use the artwork as cover art. Visit the site for full license details. All covers on the site are priced at $69 or higher. They can run as high as the artist wants to price them, but all of mine are priced between $69 and $99.

Thousands of covers are posted by hundreds of artists selling their work through the site. While my covers are all original works, most of the covers available on the site are created by combining two or more images from stock art sites. Many genres are covered. If you’re an indie author, no matter what genre you write for, you might just find the perfect cover for your next novel on the site, priced to keep you under budget.