Monday, December 4, 2023

The Holly and the Ivy, Part 1

Time for a little holiday cheer!

I really enjoyed writing the Caxton Bank chapters of Worth Searching For, and it made me want to do more with the characters. I thought it would be fun to write a Christmas Giving Day story that draws less from the Victorian Christmas traditions that much of modern celebration is based on, and more from medieval British customs and folklore, as befitting the Meridell region. "The Holly and the Ivy" (the carol) is based on very old English Christmas traditions, so it seemed fitting as the inspiration for this tale.

I also wanted to follow up on what was established about Caxton Bank in Worth Searching For, and show that although the Werelupes started off on the wrong foot with their vassals, their relationship has grown and improved, and it's making everyone's lives better.

I admit I was pleasantly surprised by how little I actually had to edit this one to bring it up to speed with my newer writing. Aside from just a handful of minor prose fixes, I also slightly altered a few things to fall in line with what I later established as canon.

Have a happy and blessed holiday season, everybody!

Chapter 1

“Don’t go outside in winter,” Nan’s mother always told her. “There’s a reason most Techos are born on Mystery Island instead of the woods of Meridell.”

“But Mum!” Nan would say, tracing pictures on their fogged-up windows with her blue reptilian fingers. “All the other children get to play in the snow!”

Her yellow Uni mother would then pause from her mending and stoke the fire. “That’s because they’re warm-blooded, love. If you get too cold you’ll fall into torpor, and you won’t wake up ‘til Running.”

“Running?! But I’ll sleep right through Giving Day!” That was all the incentive Nan needed to stay in their cottage until the snows stopped. And that was how winter went in the little hamlet of Caxton Bank, nestled in the foothills of the Werelupe Woods.

Most years, anyway.

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Spirit of Black Keep, Chapter 11

Pharazon swallowed hard and felt a pang of emotion run through him. This was who had been calling him. Quietly, he crept across the rug toward the figure.

It was a large, brown, bearded Skeith wearing black armour. Helmet cradled under one arm, he stared out at the ocean, his expression stern and melancholy. Pharazon thought he resembled Skarl and Hagan slightly, and he seemed thin somehow—not in girth, but in existence. Like a spirit.

As Pharazon approached, the Skeith’s ears pricked and he turned to regard the Draik. “Hello,” he said in a voice so tired and sad that Pharazon instantly felt sorry for him. “Are you trying to resurrect me, too?”

Friday, November 17, 2023

Did more sketching at the Idaho Museum of Natural History! They've got a lovely mount of an oviraptorosaur that is related to Anzu wyliei but I don't think it's been described yet. It was fun to put flesh on the bones. I took a lot of cues from cassowaries in this reconstruction because the similarities are quite striking. Maybe this fellow had bright blue skin too?

Also, something I've just now come to consider and appreciate is that, excepting their feet, birds do not have scales--under their feathers and in non-foot featherless areas, they have skin. So that's been getting me thinking that it's very probable that at least some theropod groups, and quite likely any dinosaur with feathers, had limited scale coverage. I find it fun to play around with different ways to reconstruct prehistoric species. Birds themselves actually have quite a range of feathering schemes, so maybe non-avian dinos did too?

Thursday, November 16, 2023

The Spirit of Black Keep, Chapter 10

Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6 - Chapter 7
Chapter 8 - Chapter 9 - Chapter 10 Chapter 11

As the carriage passed over the bridge and through the city gates, Pharazon shuddered. The dark energy here seemed to dim the very sunlight. Even Neopets on the streets seemed to notice something wasn’t right, as they went about their day looking anxious and harried, like people trying to get all their business done before a storm hits.

“I get it,” Celice murmured. “Black Keep is a nexus.”

“What?” Kass asked.

“It was built with powerful magic,” Celice said, “and over a millennium it’s become a focal point for energy. The Dark Faerie Sisters are at an advantage here, not only because of the Darkest Knight but because the fortress itself amplifies their power.”

Jhudora’s lips thinned. “I hate to admit to this, but I may have underestimated things a bit.”

Monday, November 13, 2023

The Spirit of Black Keep, Chapter 9

Pharazon’s tongue felt like lead. This was the moment he and Celice had been dreading, and although Pharazon had put on a brave front earlier, the only thing he could think of to do now was, perhaps, hide under the bed. But fear kept him rooted to the spot.

“Why did you not tell me sooner?” Kass asked, tilting his head. His tone, though proud, carried no anger, just curiosity.

Everything Jhudora said ran through Pharazon’s mind. He could not keep messing things up. He forced himself out of bed and edged closer to the Eyrie. “We were afraid,” Pharazon said. “You—you’re kind of notorious, you know—and Celice has family in Meridell, so she got really scared—“ He shook his head. “But you’re right, we should have told you, and I’m sorry. We were just enjoying your companionship so much, we worried that if you knew… you’d leave us. Or turn on us.”

Kass searched his face in the dim light for a moment, then smiled and said, “I appreciate your honesty. I meant what I said, though, amnesia or no. I owe you for your kindness and I will accompany you to Black Keep.”

Thursday, November 9, 2023

The Spirit of Black Keep, Chapter 8

This was the longest Pharazon could ever recall walking. His feet hurt. He’d tried flying until his wings hurt, but his feet hadn’t stopped hurting by then, and walking took less energy anyway.

The hunger didn’t help. Their breakfast that morning, while kind of Kass to retrieve for them, had not been filling enough, and Pharazon’s stomach began to complain loudly, as did Celice’s.

“No, I will not teleport all of us to the inn,” Jhudora said when Pharazon asked her about it. “Teleporting oneself takes enough energy, but four people at once? Good glory, do you want me to have any energy left over to confront the Dark Faerie Sisters or not?” So that, once again, settled that.

Pharazon was fairly certain that Jhudora, being a being of pure magic, did not quite understand the mortal needs of hunger and fatigue, but he could not argue that she needed to be at full power tomorrow. If teleportation was easy, he thought, one would see people popping in and out of existence all the time. But one didn’t, which was testament enough that teleportation was not easy.

Kass, however, was more sympathetic, and when his two Neopet companions couldn’t take it anymore, he called a halt to the march. Pharazon and Celice collapsed on a flattish rock and a fallen log, respectively, and Kass left to find them some food.

Monday, November 6, 2023

The Spirit of Black Keep, Chapter 7

Kass looked utterly confused, while Celice’s jaw dropped. “Pharazon—“ she sputtered. “Are you quite sure you know what you’re doing?”

He grinned self-consciously. “I told you already, I’m not quite sure of anything. I’m just doing what feels right instead of waiting around for fear to drive my actions.” He looked up at Jhudora. “We should find those mushrooms first, milady.”

“Right,” Jhudora said. “Now, how to go about this best…” Cradling her chin in the crook of her finger, she began to pace around him. “I could use you as a magical amplifier to send an echo-request down the ley lines.” She tapped his head with her wand. “Stand up straight and hold out your arms.”

Pharazon wanted to ask if this was safe or if it would hurt, but he felt he owed Jhudora an implicit trust. She was not an evil dark faerie, just a grumpy one, and every faerie stuck to their bargains. He took a deep breath and raised his arms.