Jessica Kramer isn't talking to me right now.
I'll have to start injecting coffee in my jugular to jumpstart Code Of Armor: Breakthrough, I think.
In the meantime, Baen Books, the only traditional publisher I think I can see myself ever writing for, is holding a fantasy contest for short stories. 8000 words or less. Rules are here.
Problem: I've never written fantasy.
Solution: Do it anyway.
So, here's my opening scene. It's the magical version of this...
“Private Farmboy! What are you? Tired? Get up that gods-damned rope and ring my bell, before I skin you alive and feed you to the Company Gunny!”
Mage Recruit Anders, still gasping from the three-mile formation run, dropped his hands to the tops of his knees. A quick jolt from the Mage Instructor’s baton-wand straightened him up, and he sucked hard for wind. He looked up, forlorn, at the bell looming at the top of the tower. Inhaling the cold morning air was like breathing daggers of ice. His face was mottled in purples and reds, flush from the exertion and exhaustion of the morning’s training schedule.
This was only week four of recruit training, and he was hating life more than usual.
“Aye, aye, sir!” he managed to say between ragged breaths.
Anders, still puffing hard, reached for the rope with his hands. Another jolt, harder this time, made him pull his hand back as if something bit him.
“Gods-damn it, Private Farmboy, did you join the Fingers Corps, or the Mage Corps?”
“This recruit joined the Mage Corps, sir!”
“Well, then, get your snake-strokers off my rope, there, and utilize the training my beloved Corps has invested in you. Now, the Primary Ascent chant. Belt it out, like you’ve got a pair! Focus!”
Anders’ mind raced, trying to put aside the pain in his side and the biting cold. They had just learned this one yesterday. Ascend, ascend, ascend…which prayer to which god granted flight? Andos? Ravahl? No, not Ravahl, she was fire primary, flight secondary. Andos. He was the primary.
“While we’re young, Private Farmboy! Select the runestone, focus the will, and invoke the chant until the deed’s done. The rope’s just a focus object, to keep you from breaking your silly neck. Now, ascend my obstacle and ring that bell!”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
Fumbling through the rune stones carried by each recruit on a string of sacred silver, Anders ticked them off one by one until a light blue triangle was in his hand. Though his lungs were burning, he held his breath, closed his eyes, and called upon the favor of the Sky God, Andos.
His feet left the ground, and he rose on unsteady currents of mystic energy. The sensation unsettled him, breaking his unsteady focus. Like a fish, Recruit Anders flopped on his side, falling from four feet up. After impact, the mage instructor clamped an iron gauntlet around his forearm and jerked the young man to his feet.
“Louder, and with faith, gods-damn it, Private Farmboy! Visualize the destination. Visualize the bell. Feel the power flow through you. Set yourself aside from your fear. Now, unscrew yourself, and do it again. Visualize, channelize, attack! Quit dreaming of milking the cows back home, and get up my rope!”
“Visualize, channelize, attack, aye, aye, sir!”
Anders brushed the cold sand from his side and pinched the glowing runestone between his thumb and forefinger. Bracing himself, he barked out the prayer in a growling, repetitious manner. He felt the power course through him, forming an ethereal halo around his body. His shaking boots lifted from the ground, slow and smooth, and he rose. The bell’s ornate rune carvings became more pronounced as he flew higher. He marveled at the light blue energy pulsing around him as he ascended. He gauged his altitude by stealing a quick view down. The Mage Instructor’s stern gaze met his own, and he faltered.
“Today, Anders! Today! The war will be over by the time you’re up the rope! Don’t look at me, look at the bell! The bell! Gods-damn it, recruit—”
Anders, rattled by the Mage Instructor’s snarling commands, wavered just out of arm’s reach of the bell. He grabbed for the ringer, but it slipped through his fingers. Fear flooded through him, and the wispy corona disappeared. Powerless, he fell.
The Mage Instructor interrupted his curse, focusing instead on catching the plummeting recruit before he hit the compacted sand of the training field from three stories up.
Anders curled into a ball, trying to soften the crash that never came. Inches from impact, Anders opened his eyes. A yellow suspension field held him in an unyielding grip. Growling out a sub-incantation, the Mage Instructor opened the fingers wide on his non-wand hand. Anders was now spread-eagled, helpless in the glowing grip of the spell. With a flick of the M.I.’s baton-wand, Anders spun like a pinwheel on a windy day.
“Close, Private Farmboy, but close ain’t enough. You come see me back at the squad bay. You an’ me are gonna party, you understand that?”
“Yes, sir!” the exhausted recruit said, nauseous from the fall and gyrations. The tall, lanky recruit choked back vomit when he hit the ground. Wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his combat robe, Anders shuffled off to the next training station on the circuit.
The Mage Instructor pointed to the next nervous recruit in line to fly up the obstacle.
“Next, you, Private Slowpoke, you see my bell at the top of the obstacle? Yes? Let’s see if you can fly better than you run. Up the rope!”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
* * * * *---------------------------------------
More to come.