Here’s the cover design for my upcoming werewolf novella, The Gift. It’s a pre-made cover from selfpubbookcovers.com. All I did was add the text.
Part 1 can be found here.
Starlings are gregarious and noisy, so they’re a fitting bird to symbolize social standing and group dynamics, getting along, working together, the intellect, and mental acuity.
There’s a scene in The Brumal Star that describes a set of plates that Jamison and Taryn have that have a starling design on them. The starling encapsulates what it means to be a magic user on Ransara– working within a group that often has familial arrangements.
Blue jays are known for their harsh, jeering call. They’ve developed a reputation as being screechy and quarrelsome. There are two particularly hostile jays in Felix Salten’s Bambi. One of them yells “What are you gawking at, you freak?” to the impressionable young fawn.
But traditionally, blue jays symbolize resourcefulness, clarity, curiosity, faithfulness, intelligence, communication, determination and loquaciousness.
Blue jays make a few, silent appearances in The Brumal Star.
Sloe wasps are a species I made up just for the book. They’re tiny, black stinging insects that cause havoc for Lorica and Jamison.
Surprisingly, wasps symbolize evolution, progress, and teamwork, three concepts that Lorica and Jamison must work on as they travel together.
Frogs make a brief appearance in the story at a point when they’re first starting out on their journey.
Frogs traditionally represent rebirth and renewal, healing, transitions, and transformations. In Japanese culture, they also symbolize a safe return home.
A large part of the story involves characters who make giant transformations.
Do you use animal symbolism in your writing?
It’s the year 3194, and Earth is awaiting a new savior.
Televangelist Jeremiah Lovett is the spiritual leader of Astley Ministries, a religious institution that wants to spread its message across the world: the “second coming” of 2o th-century pop star Rick Astley has been prophesized.
But Jeremiah’s secret, sick obsession that Astley Ministries’ Board of Directors helps keep hidden is about to be unveiled by a troubled janitor and a statue of St. Rick Astley.
Please enjoy the first three chapters of my upcoming book, The Gospel According to Astley.
The longest lasting relationship Neal Trimble ever had was about to end as he shuffled in the bathroom to flush his anti-psychotics down the toilet.
A hot August sweat had woken him up at 2 a.m. with a lower back ache and the pillow stuck to his face, while the ceiling fan whirred the stale air around the room in useless puffs.
There hadn’t been any delusions for weeks now. Lately his insomnia had been caused by the late summer temperature and not the usual meds-related side effects.
The fluorescent lighting zombified his face in the bathroom mirror. Blue eyes, thick, dark hair sticking up in wild tufts, two days’ worth of scruff. He didn’t bother shaving during the weekends. Nobody was around to see the final result. Women he met either had an innate sense of the “weirdos” and kept their distance, despite his gentle nature and boyish good looks, or worse, they wanted to save him.
His last girlfriend, a woman he met at a public human resource kiosk while updating his address on his personal identification chipcard, had given up trying to fix him after six weeks of below-average sex (in her opinion) and failing to get him to talk about his childhood.
No delusions for weeks now.
The dawning realization prickled at his skin.
“They’re gone; no voices,” he muttered. The porcelain sink felt cool on the exposed skin of his shirtless belly as he leaned against it, listening just to make sure, but no voices answered him.
He smiled into the mirror.
They’re gone, the voices, the compulsions, everything. I’m schizophrenia-free.
Of course, that was the biggest delusion of them all. You were never schizophrenia-free. The meds only kept the hallucinations at bay so you could function, while the disease still percolated in the background of your brain somewhere.
The pills rattled around inside their amber bottles as he picked at one of the pharmacy labels with his fingernail. Neal Trimble, Dr. Robert Hoffman, Healthy Savings Pharmacy, Risperidone 2mg, take one tab orally every 12 hours, it said. On the other, Lorazepam 1mg, take 1 to 2 tabs orally 2 to 3 times a day.
Dr. Hoffman. That guy.
He wouldn’t be happy if he knew what Neal was about to do.
“Neal, don’t you understand? No delusions is how you know the medication is working. If you want to keep being a part of the 28%, then you need to keep taking your meds,” he’d say, referring to the percentage of people with schizophrenia who went on to live independently after receiving help.
His older sister, Lauren, would be even more condescending: “Those meds are the only reason you’ve been able to keep your shit together, so keep taking them so you won’t have to move in with me.”
But Dr. Hoffman wasn’t here. He was probably at home with his realtor wife with the fake tits and bleached hair. And Neal hadn’t seen Lauren since she moved to the Southwest Zone nine years ago, after their mother had passed.
The pills suck. Taking them is a pain in the ass. I don’t need them anymore. And neither of you is here to stop me, so fuck you both.
He tipped the bottle and watched the small yellow and white tablets plop into the toilet, swirl down and disappear.
Neal was free.
The elevator glided up to the 33rd floor and dinged its arrival. Jeremiah Lovett, spiritual leader of Astley Ministries, caught his reflection in the box’s glossy paneled wood.
“You are one good looking motherfucker,” Jeremiah told himself. His $10,000 whitening system smile agreed with him. He straightened his jacket and stepped through the doors to survey his kingdom.
In the three years since its inception, Astley Ministries had grown from traveling tent revival meetings to a national organization employing eighty-one people, raking in over fifty-five million tax-free dollars a year in donations and ad revenue, with a weekly, hour-long flagship television program called Music in My Soul that featured his sermons and interviews.
The whole floor echoed with greetings of “Good afternoon, Mr. Lovett!” as staff members went about their duties to make Astley Ministries bigger and richer.
Jeremiah greeted everyone in turn and headed into his office. He locked the door behind him and sank into his overstuffed leather chair.
He clicked open his briefcase and took out a leather folder and a twelve-inch tall resin statue of St. Rick Astley. The statue was dressed in a black suit, with one hand over his heart and the other raised in a blessing. He placed the statue on his desk and bowed his head.
“St. Rick, it is with your guidance that I choose one of your devotees to participate in our most blessed of sacraments, the most holy of rites. I am the instrument that you use to test our faith as surely as you chose me to be your mouthpiece.”
He flipped open the leather folder. It was time to choose one person, a candidate, to receive not just the body and blood of Astley, but a personal blessing from St. Rick himself.
The ritual of choosing someone was always the same. Jeremiah would shut himself in his office, read through the list of petitions and select one that was, in his words, the most deserving.
The ceremony was always private. The candidate was brought backstage to a special room Jeremiah called “The Alcove” behind the auditorium at the church where they did the TV tapings. His bodyguard, Burke, watched from a one-way window.
The candidate knelt on a bench and began with an opening prayer to St. Rick. When they finished the invocation, they received the Communion of St. Rick, which was a flat, round wafer embossed with the likeness of St. Rick, and a sip of red wine.
Wearing his most pious expression, Jeremiah would listen to the candidate read their petition. He’d have them put their hands on the statue, close their eyes, and ask St. Rick to intercede on their behalf. Then the candidate kissed the statue for a blessing, where they would never see the next part coming.
As soon as the candidate touched their forehead to the feet of the statue, Jeremiah would press a tiny button underneath the statue’s base to release a neurotoxin hidden in a tiny chamber. The candidate immediately dropped dead, but to any onlooker, it appeared that the person had merely fainted. Burke helped him dispose of the bodies by rolling them inside tarps and trucking them away to another location.
And in this way, Jeremiah Lovett had been satisfying his urge to kill and giving carefully selected members of Astley Ministries a one-way ticket to the Afterlife.
He shuffled through the pile of forms, pausing to read over portions of and laughing to himself. There were pleas for help with legal issues, marriage difficulties, health problems, financial troubles, substance abuse, and a variety of other woes.
Here was one asking for St. Rick to intercede on their behalf because they were lonely.
“Lonely?” Jeremiah said. “Well, that’s your own fault. St. Rick helps those who help themselves. Go out and find some friends.”
Another one gave the sordid details of her husband’s infidelities, and another whose son had stolen money from his parents.
He leafed through the rest of the pile, crumpling them into tight, compressed balls before tossing them into the trash. More of the same. Pathetic cries for help from the distressed, ridiculous or otherwise afflicted, all sorry excuses for human beings.
Near the bottom of the pile, he found one worthy of St. Rick: a pale-yellow sheet folded into thirds, penned in the jittery scrawl of arthritic hands.
Dear Blessed St. Rick,
I’m 82 years old. I’ve been a member of your ministry for two years and donated when I could. Maybe I have not been as devout as some of your other followers or given as much money, but I am writing to you now to ask you to answer my prayer.
I live alone. My wife died sixteen years ago. I have a daughter who doesn’t speak to me. Her name is Erin. We haven’t spoken since her mother passed.
I’m asking you to bring my daughter and I together again. It would make me the happiest man alive.
Your very humble follower,
Reginald “Reggie” McCann
“Sure,” grinned Jeremiah, as predatory thoughts began forming in his head. “St. Rick will bring the two of you together again.”
What Neal liked best about cleaning his boss’s office at Astley Ministries was that nobody came around to bother him. He performed his custodial duties in the early morning hours when everyone else was still in bed.
A flat screen TV bolted to the wall played a constant loop of Jeremiah’s sermons live from Calton City’s megachurch. Jeremiah was onstage, clean cut under bright lights with his megawatt smile and hair coiffed into a side-parted, brushed back imitation of Rick Astley’s style from his iconic debut album, Whenever You Need Somebody. He was even dressed like Rick: smart black suit, khaki trench coat, and shiny black leather loafers.
“My beautiful congregants, thanks again for joining us from our commercial break. Let us all sing the praises of Our Lord and Savior, Rick Astley,” Jeremiah was saying.
Neal reached into his pants pocket for his mini music player. At least Jeremiah’s office had free Tebler-waves access. It was restricted in most other parts of the building unless you had a government-issued Tebler chip in your music or viewing device. Neal had one until his former roommate’s cat mistook it for a toy.
He popped the wireless headphones into his ears and clicked on the device. But instead of hearing the local radio station’s sports scores report, there was silence. A tiny green swirl circled on the device’s square glass interface as it searched for a signal.
SIGNAL BLOCKED, it said in red letters.
“Shit! Blocked since when?” He switched the device off and on a few times but the signal stayed blocked. “Dammit, now I’m going to have to listen to this garbage.” The TV was always on and running a constant loop of Music in My Soul, and only Jeremiah had the device key that controlled the settings. Neal threw both middle fingers at the enormous portrait of Jeremiah in its gold leaf frame that hung above his desk.
“Today, we’re going to talk about faith, what faith means to me, and what it should mean to you. We all have a friend or a loved one that doesn’t have faith,” Jeremiah said. “Or someone who lost their faith. A friend or a family member, or maybe even you yourself.”
Neal rolled his eyes and slid the plastic trash liner bag out of the gold-plated wastebasket next to Jeremiah’s desk. He flipped the bag around and tied it shut as Jeremiah droned on from the wall.
Jeremiah swaggered along the stage. “I remember my own moment of crisis, before the glorious divinity of St. Rick’s presence showed me my true calling. Many of you have heard my story before, but I’ll gladly tell it again and again, and I’ll shout it from the rooftops until I’m blue in the face, to illustrate the power of faith, and because it might help those who have wandered off the path of righteousness.”
The televised crowed whooped and AMEN’ed. They ate it up like people coming off a fast at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Neal flapped open a new trash liner and glanced up at the T.V. It seemed that Jeremiah never got tired of hearing his own voice or telling the story of how Rick Astley, a 20th-century pop star, had (allegedly) come to him in a vision and (allegedly) instructed him to start a religion in his name.
“Now let me start off by saying that losing your faith is an awful thing. It’s just about one of the most terrible things that can happen to a person, am I right?” Jeremiah said.
The audience nodded their assent. Absolutely, that was truth.
“But there’s something out there that’s worse,” Jeremiah said, with the tone of a jury about to deliver a death sentence. He stood bathed in a circle of spotlight, shaking his head.
Everybody shifted uncomfortably in their plush stadium seats, gripping the chair arms. Hearing about loss of faith was bad enough, but the idea that there was an even greater threat out there was worse, even if they’d heard this story a million times. And they had.
“Worse? Worse than losing your faith? I know you’re wondering, ‘Jeremiah, what could possibly be worse than that?’ And I’ll tell you, because I know better than any one of you, because I lived it each and every moment of my life before I was saved.” He punctuated the each and every part by slapping his knees.
Jeremiah gestured to the ceiling, as if petitioning the heavens above for an answer. “What could possibly be a worse set of circumstances than not having any faith?”
He waved for the television camera to zoom in closer. It followed him like an obedient dog to the edge of the stage. “Is it being poor?”
“No!” said a middle-aged man in the third row in a giant voice, as if daring the camera to disagree with him.
Jeremiah pointed to an elderly woman in the front. “Is it being sick?”
The television camera swung down for a close-up on her wrinkled face.
“No!” she said, shaking her head so that her jowls quivered.
He pointed to a kid in the fourth row. “Is it being lonely?”
“NO!” the kid shouted, to the glee of his parents seated on either side of him.
Where do they find these people? Neal thought.
“No, it’s not, and I’d gladly take all three of those wicked things put together than to have the one thing that’s worse than losing my faith,” Jeremiah chuckled. Everyone laughed right along with him. “So, what is this worse thing?”
“What?” the audience asked, though they already knew the answer.
“I’ll tell you, and I’m gonna invite you to say it with me,” Jeremiah said. “The thing that’s worse than losing your faith—”
“Is not having any faith to begin with,” Neal said to himself, spraying furniture polish onto a cloth.
“Is not having any faith to begin with!” finished the crowd.
Neal smirked. Jeremiah was so predictable.
“That’s right! Friends, I promised I’d tell you my own personal story of faith and salvation. Like I said, I know you’ve heard it before, but it’s such a strong story, I want to use it to show you the beauty and glory of a higher power. Once upon a time, I was a very lost young man. I was vain. I was arrogant. And I thought I had the answers to everything,” Jeremiah said.
“You mean you don’t?” said Neal. Artificial lemon-scent drifted from the cloth as he rubbed it in vigorous circles along the top of Jeremiah’s claw-foot mahogany executive desk. He was still annoyed about the blocked Tebler signal.
Jeremiah closed his eyes and gripped the microphone. “I had an excess of pride, but I was lacking something.”
The audience held their breath waiting for him to continue.
Jeremiah heaved a dramatic sigh. “But pride goeth before the fall, as they say. And my pride led me down a dark road. It was a road filled with temptation, and the sin of my own ego.”
Sympathetic murmurs flowed from the TV.
“I had nothing that would truly bring me goodness, or joy, or peace. And I trudged down this darkened road of desolation, and my feet were as heavy as lead weights in my shoes, so much did my despair weigh down on me. My soul cried out for release from the pain and emptiness. So, I did something I’d never done before. I got down on my hands and knees and prayed for redemption!”
The crowd’s eyes shone with tears at their beloved preacher’s moving display of humility. Neal re-sprayed the dusting cloth and aggressively polished Jeremiah’s platinum plated ballpoint pen set, muttering to himself about the idiots in the stadium seats.
“Yes, I prayed! I’d never prayed before but I did that day. And as I asked for forgiveness and waited for the light of salvation to shine down upon me, I received a divine urge, a message if you will. And it sounds crazy and unbelievable but sometimes these things work in mysterious ways. Something was telling me stop feeling sorry for myself and visit the Museum of Archaic Technology.”
“And I know what you’re thinking. What does the Museum of Archaic Technology have to do with this? But just remember that St. Rick works in mysterious ways. So, in a state of complete bewilderment, I went to the museum. And it was there that I received His divine word.”
The ecstatic congregants squeezed each other’s hands and blinked back tears. They may not have personally received St. Rick’s blessing but hearing Jeremiah’s story was the next best thing.
“I recalled that I had an ancient relic of our nation’s cultural history in my jacket. It was given to me by my cousin Robie, St. Rick bless her, who found it on an archaeological dig in the Northeastern Zone of our country, while she and her team were scouting the Wastes, because the biochemical warfare levels had come down and it became safer to travel there.”
A buzz of excitement moved through the crowd. The most stirring part of the story was coming.
“That ancient, most holy relic was tucked away in my pocket, but I did not yet realize its sacredness, or the power it holds.”
A message imploring viewers to Donate to Astley Ministries Now, Operators are Standing By! scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Neal rummaged through his cart for the window cleaner and squeegee.
“I walked up and down the hallways at the museum, asking ‘Why am I here, and what is my purpose? What can a person such as myself give to this world?’” Jeremiah said.
“And then I came to an exhibit. It was a radio with a cassette player, what they used to call a “boom box”. It didn’t look like much, just a thousand-and-something-year-old machine that’d been unearthed from some settlement from the Time Before.”
Neal sprayed the windows with blue glass cleaner as Jeremiah continued regaling the enthralled audience. It ran down the panes in streaky drips.
“And to this very day I cannot properly explain what happened next except that I was guided by a divine presence to put the cassette into the tape deck. I wasn’t expecting anything to happen but imagine my shock and surprise when I pressed play, and a most blessed voice flowed forth from the dusty speaker.”
Close-ups of the worshippers’ enraptured, tear-streaked faces filled the TV screen. “Never Gonna Give You Up” began to swell in the background. His story was interrupted by the shrill squeak of Neal’s window squeegee.
Jeremiah’s toothy smile almost split his face in half as he remembered his mystical experience. “And He appeared to me, just as plain as day!”
He went on to describe how Rick Astley had floated down through the ceiling “as though on a cloud, surrounded by a golden light”, and instructed Jeremiah to found the ministry in His image, and spread the Good Word of His music to the masses.
And Jeremiah had done just that.
“St. Rick will never give you up. He will never let you down, my people! That’s not His style. You’ll never be deserted. Not by Him, and not by me!”
The audience rose to their feet, swaying and singing as the music transported them to a profound state of spiritual bliss.
Neal rolled his eyes again and tossed the squeegee onto his cart. He unwrapped his industrial vacuum cleaner’s cord and shoved it into an outlet as though it were responsible for his sour mood. The vacuum roared to life and swallowed the noise of the TV.
Behind him, on Jeremiah’s desk, the twelve-inch-tall resin statue of St. Rick Astley vibrated in the hum of the vac’s powerful motor.
Neal whipped the cord around and pushed it across the gray flecked Berber carpet. The vac bumped into one of the desk’s legs, knocking the statue off the desk. He didn’t hear the statue clatter to the floor, so he also didn’t hear it yell when it tumbled off.
Time for break. He turned the vac off, came back from the vending machines five minutes later, and saw the statue on the floor.
“Excuse me,” said a voice with a British accent, “but could you kindly put me right? I almost fell in the trash. Please be careful when you do.”
Neal turned to see where the voice was coming from. He was the only one in the room. There were no other noises besides the TV, now showing an interview with Jeremiah discussing a possible future run for President of the New United States, and the hum of the AC.
He poked his head out the doorway and glanced up and down the hall. “Hello?” he called.
No-one was there.
“That’s weird. Maybe it was coming from outside.” He checked out the windows but the parking lot was deserted except for his car.
“Hey!” the statue said again. “Down here!”
Neal peeked under the desk, the chair, in the closet, behind the filing cabinets, and out in the hallway again.
“Hello?” he called again, slightly alarmed. He was supposed to be alone in the building. He especially hoped it wasn’t coming from inside his own head. That was over and done with, wasn’t it?
“Neal, down here,” said St. Rick, with more patience than Neal ever would have given him credit for.
He peered down at the statue. “Is that voice coming from where I think it’s coming from? Because I’m going to freak out if it is.”
“Yes,” said St. Rick. “It is, and please don’t freak out.”
Gently, he poked the statue with his foot.
“Please don’t kick me, it could be dangerous!” said St. Rick. “I’m fragile!”
Neal sighed and buried his face in his hands. “I thought I was better.”
“You are, for now,” said St. Rick, “but you won’t be for long.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That was a very dumb thing to do, Mr. Trimble,” St. Rick said, “to stop taking your medication like that, without even consulting your doctor. You’re one psychotic episode away from—”
“Who are you to judge what I do?” said Neal. “That was weeks ago, and I feel fine.”
“You will be for a little while. But sooner or later those intrusive thoughts are going to come back,” said St. Rick.
“How do you even know that? You’re a plastic statue.”
“Never mind that,” said St. Rick. “We have more pressing things right now.”
“This can’t be happening,” said Neal. His head swam. Everything had been normal when he left for work.
“But it is,” St. Rick said.
“Wait,” Neal said. “How are you doing this? Talking—you’re an inanimate object!”
St. Rick sighed. It was a strange enough situation, but even stranger to see his painted-on mouth not moving. “It’s me. Saint Rick Astley. I’m speaking to you through this hunk of plastic molded into the shape of me. It was the only way to get to you.”
“Why me?” asked Neal.
“Because you’re in a position to help me. You’re one of the only ones I trust. And you can get close enough to Jeremiah Lovett to stop him.”
I really love symbolism, the idea that there are deeper meanings and ideas attached to things that seem ordinary and mundane.
As I was writing The Brumal Star, I became aware that I had included many birds and other animal characters in the book. But I didn’t research the symbolism behind any of it until after I was done.
I was struck by how accurately the creatures that I chose for the story evoked the themes and archetypes I meant to convey.
Elira, the Witch of the Larches, takes the form of a cardinal. They are a symbol of hope, vitality and faith, things Jamison desperately needs. He needs to “keep the faith” when his situation seems bleak and hopeless. They symbolize the circle of life and the cycle of renewal and restoration, which is the very cycle he goes through.
She is a “cardinal sign”, the first thing (or person) he sees after he survives the Ritual. They’re associated with winter, and Jamison is in a long, dark cold winter of his life. In the story, it is about to become winter.
The word cardinal has its origins in the Norse word kross and the Latin crux, both of which are associated with crosses or directional points. Jamison is at a crossroads as he decides what he will do next, since he cannot go back to his old life and must make a choice and pick a direction.
Goats mean many things in various cultures, but the highest expression of what they represent are sense of independence, curiosity, progress, achievement, and reaching your highest ideals. These are themes that are expressed through Jamison and his journey.
Revered as gods in ancient Egypt, cats are symbols of magic and mystery, birth and resurrection, especially in regards to their “nine lives”. They’re a fitting symbol of the strange, mysterious circumstances through which Jamison receives his magical gift as a child and the way he manages to bounce back or raise himself out of terrible, frightening, and life-threatening situations.
Dogs are symbols of protection and loyalty, courage, communication and cooperation, and as connectors between physical and non-physical realms. Berinon, Jamison’s shaggy hound, assumes the role of his faithful guardian at a pivotal moment in his life.
Bats are symbols of rebirth, secrets, initiation, facing darkness, transition and transformation, and understanding grief. Many characters are transformed by their dark experiences throughout the story.
They also represent exploring the underworlds of reality. Lorica literally does this as she travels with Jamison to the cave with her friend, a pipistrelle (a type of small bat) named Scout.
In the mythos of the book, the Chirelien are giant, mutant bats with wrinkly faces, massive, leathery wings, shaggy, lion-like manes and serpentine, tufted tails. They’ve been transformed by magic gone awry, so they’ve undergone a massive shift both in their physical appearance and life philosophy, and must come to terms with their new state of being.
A chickadee makes an appearance in a scene where two characters face off against each other arguing over trust issues. These tiny birds that thrive in cold climates are symbolic of hardiness, adaptability, ability to thrive in adverse conditions, trust, and serve as a call not to be closed off or be paranoid of others.
The Cave of Wrykirk is near a waterfall called Raven Falls, so named because of the colony of ravens that roosts there. Ravens have been regarded through many cultures as harbingers or messengers representing wisdom and knowledge.
They can also mean the shadow self, one of Carl Jung’s classic archetypes. The shadow self refers to a person’s inner darkness, fears, desires, shames, and weaknesses.
Many characters in The Brumal Star are forced to confront the darkest parts of their personalities as they go through their individual journeys.
Do you use animal signs and symbolism in your writing?
(This scene of Jamison, Cole, and Lorica having dinner at Elira’s house is one of the earliest that I wrote when I began working on The Brumal Star. It showcases the evolution of the characters as well as ideas that became canon to the story, such as Edmund Warde’s distrust of magic users.)
“I remember when I was little, my mother had these really big scarves and I could wrap myself up in them and they would my robes, and I pretended I was a magic user. I would go outside, and pretend the birds and the squirrels could talk to me. And I’d convince myself they could understand me,” Lorica said.
“One day, Edmund came home early and saw what I was doing. He got really upset and didn’t let me do it anymore. I don’t know why. I think he never trusted magic users.”
“I would never want to be a magic user. I heard that if you flunk out of magic school, they follow you around for the rest of your life,” said Cole.
“Pff, where did you hear that?” said Lorica.
“My cousin said so,” said Cole.
“I’m sure it’s just a rumor. They would never be allowed to spy on people!” said Lorica.
Jamison raised an eyebrow. “I should think you’d both be wiser than that by now, especially you, Lorica.”
“What do you mean?” asked Lorica. She spooned more potatoes onto her plate.
“The Abele-Calare, wherever they are, are never above domestic surveillance. Just in case, of course,” he said.
“Why?” asked Cole.
“Well, let’s put it this way. You know the old adage about if there’s a rule about something, it’s because someone screwed up somewhere, and that’s why the rule exists?”
“I guess so,” said Cole, chewing his roll.
“Well, the law that states that all former students of any magic school on Ransara who drop out or do not graduate under the guidance of a master must be watched thenceforth. This is because many years ago, there was the young man in Caldrie who dropped out of their Araskolsa to become a baker with his uncle. The story goes that he never really wanted to be a mage in the first place but that his parents were the ones who pushed him to do it. Anyways, he had the talent, but it grew stronger than he could manage.
“He used it here and there to cheat his duties in the bakery; you know, to help mix the ingredients or speed up baking times. Mostly harmless stuff. Except this one fateful day, he cast an incantation to get the bread dough to rise a bit quicker as they were under a holiday crunch and were extra busy, so he thought this little trick would help move things along.”
“Well, the dough kept rising and rising, and rising, and showed no signs of slowing down until it had overflowed right out of the pan onto the floor, where it kept on growing until it reached the corners of the kitchen. He knew he was in big trouble when it started oozing out the windows and flowing out of the building and down the alley. By then, it had become sentient and rampaged its way through town, sweeping citizens along its path and engulfing them completely.”
“A killer bread dough that escaped!” said Lorica.
“They said it was like a humongous dough-worm creeping down the city streets,” said Jamison.
“I’ll never look at a loaf of bread the same way,” said Cole. “So what happened?”
“The Council in Caldrie were called in to subdue and destroy it. They rescued who they could, but there were a lot of fatalities, and many more injured. There was lots of damage and the uncle nearly went bankrupt paying for some of it. The rest had to come from the town’s coffers. He lost his business. Of course, he disowned his nephew, who went to jail, and when he got out, he was forever watched to make sure he never used magic ever again.”
“Wow,” said Lorica. “That seems unfair that the uncle lost the bakery because of what his nephew did, though.”
“I agree,” said Jamison. “The entire account is described in the Magic on Ransara book Elira gave you. I recommend you take a look at it. There’s also an account of a student who dropped out of the Araskolsa in Gansell to become a horse trainer. He spontaneously grew powers that were beyond his control.”
“What happened?” asked Lorica and Cole, in between bites of roast pork.
“He had been trying to use magic covertly to train the horses but it backfired terribly. The Calare of Gansell had to intervene before any more horses sprouted ten or twelve extra legs and other body parts, stampeded into the city streets, crashed into market stalls and people and whatever else was in their way.”
“That sounds ghastly!” said Lorica. Cole agreed.
“Indeed,” said Jamison. “This is what happens when magic is not contained. But wasn’t a complete disaster. Some of the horses only levitated out of their corral. They all had to be ‘corrected’ by Calare mages. You can be certain they mustn’t have been too pleased to be charged with that task.”
“No, I suppose not,” said Lorica, wiping her mouth. These stories were enough to scare anyone off magical training.
Too bad there wasn’t a single thing she could do to get out of it.
In this post, I interview Lorica Warde, the bat-whispering, fiery-redheaded, cave-explorer extraordinaire from The Brumal Star.
Lorica: Fiery, huh?
T.Q.: That’s you alright.
Lorica: I figured you’d be the one to pounce on that. I thought you hated cliches?
T.Q.: Well, if the shoe fits…
T.Q.: Sorry, couldn’t resist. Anyway, thanks for joining me.
Lorica: Thanks for having me. I needed a break from my healer training. Elira is killing me.
T.Q.: I heard she’s a tough cookie.
Lorica: Yeah, but so am I.
T.Q.: No doubt! Tell me how the training is going. What’s a typical day like for you?
Lorica: Elira has me get up with the birds, literally. One of the first things I do after I wake up is feed her zoo– the chickens, the cows, the goats, the ponies. By the way, did you know she has beehives?
T.Q.: I did not! Are you in charge of those too?
Lorica: No, Elira takes care of the bees, gathering the honey and beeswax.
T.Q.: You must be glad about that, especially after your run-in with the sloe wasps*.
Lorica: (shudders) Thanks for that, by the way.
T.Q.: Just doing my part to add a bit of danger and excitement to your journey!
Lorica: I’m done with stinging insects forever.
T.Q.: I don’t blame you. What do you do after you feed the animals?
Lorica: We eat breakfast and then I have to do five-hundred hours of exercises. That takes up part of the morning.
T.Q.: Five-hundred? That seems a bit excessive. What kind of exercises?
Lorica: It feels like that much. It started off with jumping jacks, squats, sit-ups, and push-ups.
T.Q.: Those sound exhausting.
Lorica: You don’t know the half of it. Jamison had to open his fat mouth and tell Elira all about the different military exercises he had to do when he was in Cailreth Army, so she decided to include those too. Now she has me doing these things called burpees.
T.Q.: Oh, I know burpees. Painful! What else?
Lorica: Then there are these things called planks which build up your core. They’re like a push-up but you stay up without lowering yourself to the ground. Elira makes me stay in that position for as long as I can. I think she “forgets” she’s timing me sometimes.
T.Q.: I wouldn’t put it past her.
Lorica: And then they though it’d be a good idea to start making me jog! So now I have to do ten laps around the farm after I do all the other exercises.
T.Q.: At least you’re in great shape. Tell us about some other aspects of your training.
Lorica: After the exercise hell, I have to meditate. Elira said I needed to learn to quiet my mind.
T.Q.: I could use some lessons. I bet it’s nice getting to relax after all that physical conditioning.
Lorica: It was hard in the beginning but it’s gotten easier. I had to learn how to do deep breathing, because Elira says it’s supposed to “center yourself”. If I don’t do things the right way, I get thrown off balance and have bad reactions. I had to become mentally stronger as well as physically.
T.Q.: Describe what healer practice is like.
Lorica: That part of training is what we usually do after meditation. I started small, like on cuts and bruises, things like that. Then I worked my way up from there onto more serious things.
T.Q.: You started off pretty big.
Lorica: I had no choice, as you recall!
T.Q.: I apologize. It was all in the name of suspense and adventure!
Lorica: And I got really sick. All that exertion was what made me pass out and cause all that pain. I was untrained and couldn’t control my new ability.
T.Q.: You’ve come a long way since then, though. Can you explain in a little more detail how becoming centered helps you to be a stronger healer?
Lorica: Well, it has to do with the Soeruecen.
T.Q.: Can you explain what the Soeruecen is?
Lorica: It’s an energy pool that leads to other realms of existence. It powers some of the magic on Ransara**. But when it gets inside of you and you aren’t ready, or you’re weak or vulnerable in some way, or you’ve never done magic before, then it can cause a lot of problems.
T.Q.: Like what?
Lorica: Well, Elira gave me a book that explained it like this: it can reveal darkness in a person. It can bring out their demons. It can change your personality. Or it can make you act bizarrely. It can make you do or say things that are out of character. And for some people, it just drains them of their energy and leaves them open to all kinds of illness. That’s what was happening to me.
T.Q.: That sounds rough.
Lorica: That’s not even the worst of it. That’s just for people who survive an encounter with Soeruecen energy. I just happened to be very lucky.
T.Q.: What’s the worst case scenario?
Lorica: You die. Jamison told me you can be burnt to a crisp. Completely incinerated, just like that (snaps).
T.Q.: At least you’d be saved the trouble of being cremated.
Lorica: (rolls her eyes) Nice joke. I think you’ve been spending too much time with Jamison.
T.Q.: Well, he was just here.
Lorica: That figures. What did he talk about?
T.Q.: You can read it here if you’re that curious. Anyways, this is your interview, not his.
Lorica: Fine. I just wanted to make sure he didn’t try to tell any embarrassing stories about me.
T.Q.: For what it’s worth, he didn’t. But since you’re here, what is your most embarrassing moment?
Lorica: Hmm. I think it had to be when some people at school dared me to climb into a dormitory laundry chute and I got stuck partway.
T.Q.: Oh, no!
Lorica: I was wedged in there folded almost in half. It wouldn’t have been as bad if they hadn’t all laughed and thrown a bunch of dirty clothes down after me.
T.Q.: How did you get out?
Lorica: They threw down a huge rope with a giant knot tied on the bottom and pulled me out.
T.Q.: Did you get in trouble?
Lorica: Of course! What else did you think would happen?
T.Q.: I don’t think the students at Reathe Upper Academy would have expected any less from you.
Lorica: At least I made a name for myself there.
*sloe wasps are tiny black stinging insects
**Ransara is the world The Brumal Star is set in.