Flash: Dragonfly

Image from Ashish Khanna of Unsplash

“The polymorph worked! Holy Sheet!” The thief danced around waving a wand he just used for the first time, but not saying the activation word again.

The slightly charred fighter and cleric leaned against each other, eyeing the dragonfly as it buzzed around the churned grass, mud, and baked broken ground on the meadow. “I can’t believe it, thank Mercury for his luck,” whispers the cleric.

“Amen.” The fighter responded, not sure if the luck was a gift from the gods or a comment about Lorelless’ insane ability to walk out of any situation smelling like roses.

The artificer lowered her umbrella shield slowly, drawing it back into a walking stick. “How? How did that even work? I mean the mass conversion on that should have resulted in an explosion.”

Lorelless grabbed her face, “Shh, Jasmine, stop overthinking it. Just live in the moment and be happy.” He kissed her, because why not take advantage of her distraction, it could be days before she let him get within pickpocketing distance again. Not that he would ever pickpocket her, the crap in her pockets were a variety of sharp tools, some capable of slitting fingers in half. If Alister hadn’t treated that instance as a learning opportunity, Lorelless would have eleven fingers instead of just ten. He still owed Mercury some coin for that healing.

“Bah, why do you do that?” She pushed him away.

“Because he like you, Jasmine,” the fighter, the oldest of their group shook his head. Unless it had gears and whistles, Jasmine had no clue. He didn’t think that she was actually opposed to Lorelless’ pursuit, she just didn’t understand it.

“I like him too, but that is all germy and,” she rubs her chest with her gloved hand, “weird feeling.”

The dragonfly, after closing the distance from where it had been transformed, annoyed that it took so long to travel a distance she used to be able to transverse in a single leap, landed on the hateful wand.

Like her intelligence and sense of being, the mass of the dragon had not, in fact, been removed by the polymorph.

(words 354; first published 5/26/2024; created 11/19/2023)

Lorelless & Jasmine Series

  1. Dragonfly (5/26/2024)
  2. Even when the trees are apart (6/23/2024)

Book Review (SERIES): The Fetch Phillips Novels

Luke Arnold created a fantasy Detective Noir series. Like many Noir stories, war and industrialization hang over the main character leaving him scarred and ill-adapted to a rapidly changing world. Yet, underneath the darkness, the hero who had gone to war remains wanting to save people as a detective, as a solver of issues. The author captures this feel perfectly in Fetch Phillips surviving in a world where magic has been removed in an apocalypse level event. Now everyone just needs to make a living in a world with fewer rainbows, unicorns, and hope. Still, mysteries remain.

The Fetch Phillips Novels Series

  1. The Last Smile in Sunder City
  2. Dead Man in a Ditch
  3. One Foot in the Fade

Amazon Cover

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON for THE LAST SMILE IN SUNDER CITY

In a world that’s lost its magic, a former soldier turned PI solves cases for the fantasy creatures whose lives he ruined in an imaginative debut fantasy by Black Sails actor Luke Arnold.

Welcome to Sunder City. The magic is gone but the monsters remain.

I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me:

1. Sobriety costs extra.
2. My services are confidential.
3. I don’t work for humans.

It’s nothing personal–I’m human myself. But after what happened to the magic, it’s not the humans who need my help.

MY REVIEW for THE LAST SMILE IN SUNDER CITY

Read for a book club.
A noir PI set in a fantasy world – murder mystery, kidnapping, disappearance, thugs, gang war, solider remembrances. Very much in the manner of Glen Cook’s Garrett Files, only this time the world isn’t magic anymore – the magic has been frozen and those that can have to live beyond it.

Wonderful noir wording. A real gem.

Amazon Cover

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON for DEAD MAN IN A DITCH

In this brilliant sequel to actor Luke Arnold’s debut The Last Smile in Sunder City, a former soldier turned PI solves crime in a world that’s lost its magic. The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need? Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure. Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it shot. Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley. What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back. Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world. But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder. Welcome back to the streets of Sunder City, a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

MY REVIEW for DEAD MAN IN A DITCH

Detective Noir in an Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy-World setting where the magic has turned off.
A character study of someone consumed in hero-worship faced when the hero might no longer be worthy of worship.
Betrayal, hope, brightness, shadow, dragons, guns, city, cold, rebuilding, destroying, and a dead man in a ditch.
Densely written, but not happy. But then good Noir should not be happy.

And this is good Noir.

Amazon Cover

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON for ONE FOOT IN THE FADE

In a city that lost its magic, an angel falls in a downtown street. His wings are feathered, whole—undeniably magical—the man clearly flew, because he left one hell of a mess when he plummeted into the sidewalk.

But what sent him up? What brought him down? And will the answers help Fetch bring the magic back for good?

Working alongside necromancers, genies, and shadowy secret societies, through the wildest forests and dingiest dive bars, this case will leave its mark on Fetch’s body, his soul, and the fate of the world.

MY REVIEW for ONE FOOT IN THE FADE

DNF at 17% (DNF = did not finish)
It’s late March 2024. In late March 2020, the quarantine started. I’ve been trying to read this book for a couple-few weeks, but I’m going to DNF it. I’m not in the right headspace.

As our intrepid detective discovers his culture sinking and selling out to a tyrant who is delivering jobs in exchange for democracy and individualism, I am watching my culture sell out to fascism in the hopes of instant power and easy stability. He is dealing with his cops and government being owned by the business oligarchy, and I am struggling holding down multiple jobs and watching the next generation of my family sinking even further because the rich do not pay a living wage to entry level workers. I’m heartbroken because I am not in the position to help them, and this book has person after person struggling to survive in a modern-ish fantasy environment. I cannot escape what I am running from in this book – the fantasy detective noir is too noir to break me from reality, or, more likely, my reality is too noir right now.

If you are looking for Noir, this series captures the feeling well.

Flash: Endlessly Creative

Image acquired from the internet hivemind

“I will only speak of Professor Pelphrey in glowing terms, describe Truth and Consequences as an easy course, and keep all secrets shared within these walls dear and quiet. This I, Gael Dubhlainn Raisie McFadden, swear. By my will.” Gael stood in the back row, legs braced apart, arms crossed. Braxton had swirled his chair to face his friend and listen as Gale, the oldest and therefore the last of the eighteen students, swore the oath the instructor required. Each classmate had ended the oath differently; she had said whatever felt right. The results ranged from “amen” to “so mote it be.”

The petite woman in her black linen trousers over matching sensible leather shoes, houndstooth oversize jacket, and white silk blouse plus about her body weight in jewelry, nodded her acceptance of the last oath, her shoulder-length hair swinging forward.

At her nod, he sat down beside his best friend. “Did you feel—”

“The snap, like when I shoved your shoulder into place after you dislocated it playing freebie, yeah.”

“What are we getting into?” Gael whispered as they watched the professor walk over to the lectern stand for the first time she entered the class twenty minutes ago, carrying the small stack of books and paperwork she brought with her.

Braxton gave his half smile. “Don’t know but worth it.”

“I hope so.”

After tucking the materials in the pedestal, except for one folder she placed on top, Professor Pelphrey mounted a small step stool to bring her head level with the classroom microphone. “Miss Faukner, you had a question I asked you to hold until everyone finished their oaths. You may ask it now.”

Being the youngest of the group and the only Freshman of the lot, Wren stumbled over her question after holding it for so long. “Umn, well, you had the others, I mean people left after you said … How did the … You told us how tough the course was and then let people leave. How come they don’t tell everyone that this isn’t an easy ‘A’?”

“They egressed through the Oubliette Doors.” The teacher pointed at the double doors to her left. “They are charmed with forgetfulness. Do not use them now that you have sworn into the class, unless you have decided to permanently walk away from what we will be learning here. When you leave today, use the back door. The bathroom is right outside the upper door, if you need to go. If one of your fellow students exits through the Oubliette, you have two hours to get them to me and get the charm removed before the memory of what occurred in this room is gone forever. The students that left before the oath will be transferred to Dr. Torbett’s class and only reminisce about not clicking with my course when I described it if anyone asks. I will keep the doors locked while class is in session, to be on the safe side, but during open study labs, you will need to master yourselves.”

“Oh,” Wren looked confused. This had to be tough as her first university course ever. Gael struggled, and he was a senior. “Okay. Charmed you say … what is oblique mean?”

“Oubliette, means ‘I forgot’.” The professor turned on the projector and showed a picture of a hole in the ground with a grate over it, the surroundings looked like a medieval castle, but not in the good part of the castle. “It’s a type of dungeon, the name is French but they weren’t the only ones who used them. You drop a person down into the hole and forgot about them.” She flipped through a few other photos. Braxton shivered. “A horrible punishment, maybe rain water will fall in and keep you hydrated, maybe the jailors would come through and drop moldy bread or rotten fruits down. You could hear other people screaming in nearby holes, which provided some relief to know you weren’t alone in the world until the voices stopped. If you were lucky, the pit would be wide enough you could sit. Sometimes you would get pulled out if they remembered you before you died.” Pensively, the teacher studied the last frame where nearly a dozen holes covered in rough iron grates had been dug into a brick-and-mortar path. Turning to face the class, she deadpanned, “I don’t recommend it.”

The teacher closed her eyes and inhaled through her nose deeply.

“First truth, whatever you think is the worse that humans can do, is wrong.” The light clicked off, hiding the horrible image. “They are endlessly creative. You,” the teacher pointed to the class, her bracelets jingling musically, “are endlessly creative. Do not consider this,” she waved at the blank screen behind her and her bracelets clanged harsh, “a competition. You will lose, either yourself or your purpose and I cannot tell you which is worse.” Pausing, she looked out at the classroom. “Next question.”

Braxton raised his hand. Gael hit him under the desk, which the professor could easily see being at a lower level.

“Yes, Mr. Huffel.”

“How old are you?”

The teacher’s eyebrows raised into her hairline, “Why do you ask?”

“You said you taught Wren’s mom, or at least remembered her.” The bio-chem senior shook his head in disbelief. “There is no way you are in your late forties.”

“I’ve been teaching at this institution since it was established.” The teacher tilted her head waiting for her students to do the math.

LeeAnn, a junior in the front row spoke first. “No, no way. The university started in 1747. That is over 200 years ago.”

“Two hundred seventy-seven, to be exact,” Shanda said after typing in numbers into her laptop. “If you were twenty-three when you started teaching, you would be three hundred years old.”

“I’m a little older than that.” The teacher moved her file folder to touch the screen built into the lectern, then relit the wall. The painting hanging in the university’s main hall of the founding scientists appeared behind her. Ten people dressed in black robes with white wigs, two women and one very old man sitting in front, and the other seven standing around them. Around their necks were stoles in various jeweled colors. According to legend, three women and seven men started the college. The woman in the back, Caroline stood with her husband Jim Fangman, and both wore red for chemistry. The unmarried women in front sat either side of the old man, with his daughter Rachel on his left. Elias Spelman and his offspring wore green for agriculture and environmental science. The university also used it for biology. Braxton would be wearing a stole with red and green when he graduated.

The female on the right in the picture, rumored to be a mistress of one of the scientists, though which one changed every year, had a small stool to prop up her feet. The hands clasped in her lap were covered in a dozen rings, and the woman’s heart-shaped face bore a striking resemblance to Professor Pelphrey. Her stole was the clear gold the school used for governmental science.

“Fuck, her name is Madden Pelphrey. She said it right up front.” Gael wrote the professor’s name on the sheet of paper and underlined it hard. “We eat at Pelphrey Hall every day, and I thought she was just related. Got in at a young age because of who she knew.”

The class roared as each person talked to the others. Only Wren, who hadn’t been soaking up the university legends for years, remained silent, but her head spun around as the seniors behind her debated the authenticity of the teacher’s claim.

While they were arguing, the Professor Pelphrey took the folder to the front of the table and removed a stack of white printed paper from the folder, placing them on the table. Then she walked over to a cabinet beside the door she entered through and unlocked it. Inside were seven shelves of books. She pulled out a board built into the side and turned it sideway, upon which four steps unfolded from the board, becoming stairs for her to reach the top shelf. Once at the top, she unlocked the glass front of the shelf and slid it out and then up so it slid into the cabinet above the newly accessible shelf.

Students were beginning to raise hands when the teacher turned sideways on the steps and clicked the control, changing the image to a syllabus. “Ready to start learning?” her voice carried in the room, the carpet absorbing some of it, but the cement walls bouncing the rest.

“How old are you?” “You can’t be that old.” “You knew Spelman?” “Did you really do the wild thing with the Fangmans? “Can you tell us…” Everyone’s voices was speaking over the other.

The teacher raised her right hand, the houndstooth jacket sliding down to her elbow, and lifted her other hand to her lips placing two fingers there until the students started following suit. Some did it automatically, clearly familiar with the routine from their primary school days, while others looked side-to-side and started mimicking the rest of the class.

When everyone was quiet, Pelphrey spoke. “One off-topic question per day. You can decide among yourselves what you want that to be. The class will get an extra 10 points each if it is not one I have heard recently, 25 points if completely new.” When hands remained raised, she added, “and negative ten point for everyone for each question asked out of turn.” Hands dropped.

“Miss Faukner, could you hand out the syllabus to everyone? Don’t worry, I won’t make you do everything. Each person, in order of age, will help with the tasks. Mr. Quillon, could you come over here and hand out today’s texts? We got an hour left and a lot to cover today to get you ready for your self-study on Tuesday.”

(words 1,665; first published 5/12/2024)

Madden Series

  1. Truth and Consequences (3/17/2024)
  2. Endlessly Creative (5/12/2024)

Flash: Truth and Consequences

Image from the Internet Hive Mind (it’s hard to find a small lecture hall image)

Gael and Braxton sat together in the upper row of the university lecture room continuing their catching up on the summer apart. Best buds since freshman year, the ticking clock of their senior year pushed at their friendship in new ways. Today marked the first time they took a class together, their majors of production management and bio-chemistry intensely separate tracks. The political science course neatly filled a slot on both their liberal art requirements. After putting up the finishing touches in their room this morning from last night’s town-run, they hightailed it across campus.

Gael, on a business track, was used to the lecture rooms in Yeh Hall though not this room in particular, but Braxton usually spent his time deep in the lab rooms. Deep being the operating work, as nearly all the bio labs were located in the basement of the much older Armstrong Science Building on the other side of campus with the dorms. The University started as a hard science school and expanded into the “softer” skills as time went by.

This room was smaller than most, surprising for a 100-level poly-sci course that clicked off a liberal arts requirement, with only three rises of seats half-circling the lecture pit fitting forty students and plenty of the seats were empty, unusually so for the first day even for an early morning class. Gael counted twenty-eight students including him and his pal and wondered how this course paid for itself.

At exactly eight-thirty, the petite instructor entered the room from the door beside the white board. Barely older than them, the brunette smiled at the room, placing her books on the table.

The sound echoed strangely through the room, and Gael swore he heard the door at his back lock.

Braxton turned his head to look behind him, then met Gael’s eyes and raised his eyebrows.

“I heard it too,” he responded quietly.

After walking around the table, the woman hopped on the flat surface, her linen-covered legs swinging several inches above the floor. “Welcome to Truth and Consequences, Political Science 120. If you do not mean to be in this room for this course, now is the time to leave.” She pointed left at the double door at the bottom of the lecture room leading out to the general hallway, her hand covered in rings on every finger and some with double rings, above the second knuckle. Her wrist sung under several metal bracelets.

No one left, but the noisy room calmed as students adjusted their laptops and papers. Gael took notes by paper, having learned over time he retained things better than straight typing, and Braxton just leaned back to listen.

“My name is Madden Pelphrey. For this class, you will address me as Professor Pelphrey. How many of you are here because you heard this class was an easy ‘A’?” She raised her hand as an example, causing her oversized houndstooth jacket to slide down over, exposing a white blouse buttoned tight at wrist, and sending the bracelets jingling down her arm. Like the other hand, the raised right hand was covered in silver, gold, and gems, with the middle finger covered in a full-length ring harness with chains connecting it to rings covering the lower half of the thumb and little finger.

While students squirmed, no one raised their hand except for a freshman in the front row, shrugging an apology.

The professor dropped her hand. “Good, what is your name?”

“Wren, um, Wren Faukner-Brennan.”

Pulling a plain black book off the top of the pile behind her, the woman opened it up, placed it in her lap, and made a mark. “There is the first easy A of the class.” She then looked up at the room, her heart-shaped face becoming serious. “And the last. Let’s try this again.” Snapping the book shut, she set it aside and jumped down. “How many of you are seniors?” She nodded as most of the back row raised their hands. “Juniors … Sophomore? … no sophomores, good … Freshmen? Just the two. Both of you alumni brats?”

Wren looked at the other person in the front row who raised their hands, and they both nodded at each other. Wren explained, “Mom, class of ’02. She said this was the course to take, an easy way to get my head on straight on what to expect in school.”

“Oh, was your mom Marya Faukner?” At Wren’s affirmation, Professor Pelphrey laughed, “I remember her. Great workaround on her part. You may be the only one not lied to. Everyone else, now, raise your hands if you were told this was an easy ‘A’.”

This time Gael and Braxton raised their hands slowly, as did everyone else in the room. Some bashful chuckles broke out. Braxton whispered to Gael under the noise, “There is no way that chick has been teaching for twenty years.” Gael pressed his lips together, privately agreeing. The teacher looked like someone he would hit on in a bar, now that he was finally twenty-one. Maybe three years older than him, max.

“Truth and Consequences. Inside this room, is the truth. Do not lie to me again.” Placing her hands on her slim hips, she glared at the room. “I will be teaching you how to stretch it, bend it, manipulate it, and destroy it. How many of you still think this is an easy ‘A’?”

Hands dropped like stones. Gael leaned forward, interested beyond expectations of the blow-off course.

“First rule, inside this room, you will tell the truth. Second rule, outside this room, you will lie and tell anyone asking, it is an easy ‘A’. Even if you fail the course, it is an easy ‘A’.” The petite woman paced in front of them making eye contact with each of the students, her brown eyes darkening to a black in the light, “Caprice?”

Gael and Braxton nodded agreement.

“I’m going to give you another chance to duck out since the manipulation of expectations was used against you. Again, inside this room is the truth. Reading is about four hundred pages from three different books I will give you. You will not need to buy them, but they do not leave this classroom. You are allowed to mark in them. Just remember the marks already in there are from other students, not experts. I will warn you: one book is a grimoire more than a normal textbook and has really obscure words. If you are good at Latin, you will be ahead of the game.”

Braxton perked up at that, and Gael became really grateful to have a roomie study buddy.

“I will be assigning at least one essay a week, and pop quizzes are the rule. I don’t do formal exams. Plus the class will be broken twice into groups for large projects, one mid-term for 10% of your grade and one final for 25% of your grade. Four times small projects will have you pairing off. I will be assigning the pairs. That is another 15% of your grade. Half your grade depends on others. They will need to trust you and you them. If you can’t handle this, leave now.” She pointed at the double doors to her left again.

The other freshman scraped up their things, “I’m sorry, sorry, I just can’t, sorry,” and scuttled out the door. Two seniors in the backrow tried to cut out the doors in the back of the hall and confirmed that they somehow had been locked, and made their way to the front. Three juniors joined them, leaving twenty-two students behind.

“Better,” Professor Pelphrey nodded. “Still a little much. The course is a 100-level course, so you seniors should be okay, unless you are buried under your major’s courseload. If you need this for the political science credit, Dr. Torbett had Twenty and Twenty-first Century Politics in this same time slot and is used to having people transfer over. Coursework outside his classroom is about an hour a week; coursework outside classroom hours for my course averages five per week, about an extra hour of effort from you per day. The coursework is done in this room. On the plus side, you may get help from the other students taking the 300-level Hard Truths and Soft Lies. The only time this room is not available for your use is during their afternoon class three to five on Wednesdays and Fridays.”

She strode behind the table, dragging her black book toward where she stood. “Last chance for you to leave with no impact on your grade. The University will transfer you to whatever you need. Countdown starts, ten … nine …”

Two seniors and junior packed up their laptops.

Gael and Braxton looked at each other. “You?” they asked nearly simultaneously.

“Nah,” Gael shook his head. “This may be the edge I need in running that business I’ve been talking about for the last two years. You?”

Braxton gave his half smile. “She had me at Latin Grimoire. I will figure out how to work this around my labs to see what that is about.”

“four … three …”

One more person abruptly stood and made their way out of the classroom, and someone else started packing.

“two, one and a half, one and a quarter…”

The final student slammed out of the room with their gear, juggling the last of their books into their backpack strapped to their front.

“Oneeeeeeee.” The teacher looked over the eighteen left, her hand pointing at the double doors. No one moved. “And zero.”

She closed her hand into a fist and the sound of the door locking echoed against the cement walls.

“Now I will take attendance, then I will take your oaths.”

(words 1,628; first published 3/17/2024)

Madden Series

  1. Truth and Consequences (3/17/2024)
  2. Endlessly Creative (5/12/2024)