Friday, April 18, 2014

Movie Review - Transcendence


Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr., Cory Hardrict, and more.

Directed by: Wally Pfister Written by: Jack Paglen Cinematography by: Jess Hall Music by: Mychael Danna

Premise: A terrorist group executes simultaneous terrorist acts on scientific labs and scientists working on artificial intelligence. Recent breakthroughs by one of the killed men, however, gives hope to Evelyn Caster as her own husband lays dying from a bullet laced with radioactive material. But the terrorists are still out there and want to stop them, no matter the cost. (Rated PG-13)


1) Acting - Total Thumbs Up: It was a lot of fun watching Johnny Depp as the brainy scientist later turned computer. Rebecca Hall did well as his passionate wife and scientist in her own right, despite the bad writing which pretty much left her with nothing in the second half. Paul Bettany's emotions on both sides of the issues presented were definite bright spots - well done. Kate Mara was very convincing, and even creepy, as the young terrorist leader.

2) Special Effects - Thumbs Up: Special effects were very good, though sadly most of them were nothing we've not seen before. Really nice job with the explosions and the nano repair sequences. The lab scene where we see what Will has been working on came out nicely. Best work though was with the repair work done on Martin. The little machine tubes on the med table moving about on their own was cool and creepy all at once.

3) Plot/Story - Thumbs Down: Sadly, as my husband put it, the plot of the film was "Beautifully Bad". The movie's premise was interesting, but the bad science and the shortcuts, as well as the turning of Evelyn's character into a passive lump, blackened what good was in there.

Some science fallacy is usually expected in movies, but the glaring holes in this one were too large to ignore. A virus made to destroy specific code infecting most systems might bring the internet and other systems down when it first hits, but reloading the original untainted software and rebooting/repairing other systems would allow us to have technology again - not send us into a new dark age. But sadly, this is the status of the world at the point where they begin the film and eventually circle back to.

With the computing power they claim Will has, and which he continues to exponentially increase, there's no way the terrorists would have figured out where they'd gone, as he could clean up/erase transaction trails even as he made them. And since Will put the FBI onto where many of the terrorists were located so they could be apprehended, he would have known, and taken steps, to help out his friend Max. Yet he never even knew his friend had been taken.

If a bullet is so radioactive it can poison someone to death from just a graze (I'd thought from the commercials he'd taken it in the gut) half the people there with him, and especially the cops handling evidence, would have died too.

The biggest error in my opinion, however, was the character assassination of Evelyn. She was the dreamer, the one who wanted to change the world - but after Will is transferred and comes back, she soon becomes an emotionless lump. When she first discovers what else was done to Martin, all she does is say she can't deal with it. Never once mentions to Will the fact (as the woman with the determination and intelligence we were introduced to would have) that he's bypassing people's freewill. There should have been raging arguments over this alone. But sadly, much like was done to Amidala from the "Star Wars" films - a strong willed woman is presented and then turned into a turnip because her strength and intelligence was no longer convenient to the plot.

And let's not forget the fact the terrorists pretty much brought their own fears to life due to their actions - a fact no one mentions or seem to notice. As Will said, the irony that they would take life to achieve their goals of stopping the creation of artificial life was quite ironic. The fact the main instigator never paid for her crimes? Even more so.

4) Stunts - Total Thumbs Up: Some quick fights as well as explosions dot the film, so some adrenaline gets pumped into the audience here and there. Car flipping and even machine throwing thanks to the nanites livened up a few other scenes as well.

5) Locations/Cinematography - Thumbs Up: There are several gorgeous shots of nature, rivers, mountains, and some lovely CGI representations as well. The town Will picks to 'lay low' at definitely looked to need saving. But though Evelyn spoke of Will buying most of the property of the town, and the amount of work they brought to the place, I was surprised at the lack of improvement of the impoverished town. Worse, the town itself became a sore point in the bad plot when those opposed to the machine decide that's a good place to set up operations. As if Will wouldn't have put surveillance equipment on his properties? (It's even worse due to other reasons I'll leave you to discover on your own.)

Conclusion: Cool premise, horrible execution. Between the bad science and miraculous intelligence gathering efforts of the terrorists after they've ditched their electronic equipment, there sadly wasn't much to love.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 (Hubby's Rating: Catch it on Cable)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Picture Kaleidoscope 4/16/14 - Disney Cruise!

Yep, I was out of town for a short vacation for our second Disney Cruise. We'd been chomping to go ever since we went for our 25th anniversary. 8 years later, we finally made it! Was a ton of fun. :)

I split the pics into 4 albums, so I will put in a few pics and links if you'd like to see more. :) It's kind of funky how the album shows all the pics at once and you can then pic and choose the ones to look at for commentary and more detail. Still, it gives you a quick feel for what's in there.

This voyage we were on the Disney Wonder!

Chip N Dale Dancing and welcoming people once we were all on board.

The first album is pics of the ship and while at Miami and when we left.

Isn't he CUTE?!?!?!  I learned you can rub the baby sea turtles under the neck to calm them down. They were adorable!

The second album is pics we took at the British Island Grand Cayman. You'll even get to see HELL. Heh heh.

Igua! I was surprised at the size of the iguanas at the island of Cozumel, Qunitana Roo, Mexico. 

The third album is pics we took at Cozumel.

And a cruise is not a cruise without awesome food!

The fourth album is full of food and pictures of the different areas of the ship. I didn't go as pic crazy as on our first cruise - I think. Heh heh.

Enjoy~! (We want to go back NOW!)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mind Sieve 4/14/14

Back from vacation and ready for another as work has been tough! lol.

Fan Fun

How To Train Your Dragon 2 - Trailer 2 - this looks like it will be a lot of fun.

Crazy Time - Simon's Cat - Hah! Captured Chaos Kitten perfectly. Heh heh.

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn Trailer 1 - Robin Williams! And peeps from the Crazy Ones - awesome!

Social Media/Author Platform

Four Ways to Promote Your Book Before Release by Michael R Underwood at the Book Country Blog.

How To Promote Your Content With Social Media by Mike Ball at The Social Media Examiner. Some nice bits of info in here!

Writing Advice

From Jami Gold - Building a Theme Through Character Arcs. Awesome stuff as always!

That's all for today. May I catch up some more this week! Please! lol.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Virtual Tourist - Thief 4/13/14

I'm up way too early today. :P

Thief - Brothel

The ruins now serve a different kind of purpose.

Party town! Has a nice Asian slant. This part of the game went from PG-13 to almost R. So beware. :P

Some gorgeous architecture here and there. See the column in the back?

Cool instrument

The brothel interior

Lovely decor

Collectible hidden in a hidey hole in the attic. Squee!

Some really lovely images

Yes, red in all the decorating. :P

Hidden room/section off the Madam's room. You cannot go back from here, so make sure you are done with the brothel before going here!!!!

This takes a key, which is also a semi puzzle. Opens into a giant area. The peep holes have the hints. This is where the almost R stuff comes in. Also had a programming bug here as one of the peep shows sounds continues to blast at full volume even after you quit watching.

Zone beyond the wall after the key is used.

Coolest flowers ever!

The zone leads to more ruins that lead to an immense library

The stained glass was lovely!

Been missing playing. Need to sneak some time in for it. Everquest Landmark is still on learning curve and mostly building, but I do not have a good grip on it yet or the time to have built anything. Will try to take pics of what the others have been up to.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Movie Review - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Starring: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Maximiliano Hernández, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones, Stan Lee and more.

Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo Screenplay by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely Concept and Story by: Ed Brubaker Based on the Comics by: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby Cinematography by: Trent Opaloch Music by: Henry Jackman

Premise: Still trying to acclimatize himself to the 21st century, Steve Rogers struggles to find his place and purpose in the world as SHIELD's methods don't quite fit with his own ideals on freedom and how to protect it. But when Director Fury shows up at his home wounded and with killers on his trail, Steve finds out that some things in the modern world aren't all that different from the one during World War II. (Rated PG-13)


1) Acting - Total Thumbs Up: New and familiar faces grace the cast. Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, and Scarlett Johansson reprise their roles as Captain America, Nick Fury, and Black Widow. Some nice dynamics develop between these three characters which made them a lot of fun to watch, especially as these dynamics are sorely tested. Robert Redford was in top form as Alexander Pierce - great to have him back acting in films. Sebastian Stan could not have been more cool.

2)  Special Effects - Total Thumbs Up: Lots of explosions, gadgets, virtual HUDs, and other lovely special effects. Falcon's wings totally rocked. They even got creative with the uses of Cap's shield. The look and feel of the Winter Soldier's metallic arm was excellent.

3) Plot/Story - Total Thumbs Up: I was quite happy when I saw the same script writers for "Captain America: The First Avenger" worked on this film as well. Out of the whole franchise of Marvel heroes, that film is still my overall favorite. But though it may not have topped itself, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is definitely up there on my list.

If you haven't yet watched the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." episode that aired on 4/8/14 called "Turn, Turn, Turn" - you should wait and not watch it until AFTER you've seen "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." There are spoilers in there which will give the big plot complication away.

Lots of surprises are hidden in the film, and they range from small to world changing. The film is filled with many cute moments as well - Black Widow playing matchmaker, Sam Wilson's and Steve Rogers's literal 'running' joke, and more.

Several themes are explored and from a number of levels - trust, loyalty, family, right and wrong. Paying your dues. What was fun about these was the fact they didn't always have something to do with the good guys.

4) Stunts - Total Thumbs Up: There are stunts, stunts, and more fun stunts in this film. All the combat sequences are excellently executed with and without CGI. The hand-to-hand combat was awesome to behold. Combined with the special effects and explosions, the 'gags' are totally riveting and keep you 'on the edge of your seat'.

5) Locations/Cinematography - Total Thumbs Up: Filming in Washington DC as well as different parts of Cleveland, OH and elsewhere, all the locations added the right look and feel for the film. Then they took these real locations, added some creative CGI backgrounds, buildings, and giant, floating ships, and you're served a sumptuous visual feast.

Conclusion: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is a lot of fun to watch. Darker than the first film, it is also in its own way a commentary on simpler times that really weren't so simple. Great combat scenes and special effects. Make sure to sit through the credits ALL the way to the end - there are two extra bits tucked in there.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5 (Hubby's Rating: Worth Full Price To See Again.)

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Jewel of the Gods - Chapter 3

(Last one!)

Previous Chapters - Chapter 1, Chapter 2

Jewel of the Gods

Chapter 3

Red sat up, a scream scratching at his throat. Cold sweat beaded his brow; his body shaking from the unbelievable nightmare. No more spiced foreign mead for him—never again. It wasn’t worth this.

His gaze focused, and he realized he didn’t know where he was. There was no scent of salt, or the sound of lapping waves against the hull. Instead of a berth and wooden walls, he found himself in a narrow room made of sandstone. Light trickled in through the rough doorway and showed him he was sitting on a woven mat covered by a thin blanket.

He gasped as the realization the nightmare might be real splashed over him. Not wanting to, yet finding he possessed no other choice, Red looked down at himself. The body he saw was not his own.

Everything was smaller, more delicate. He wasn’t even a man anymore—a quick, awkward check of his attributes brought home that fact like an anchor dropping at port. The only thing that felt normal was his hair, which was still as red and thick as ever. He also still had his hard-earned tan, the pale skin he’d been born with tending to burn and its current state a work of long years. His arms and legs were well defined from doing heavy work but still seemed different because of the packaging.

It was as if his mother had given birth to a girl instead of a boy.

The woman Ylis’s final words echoed once more in his head—You are what you could have been had your fate been different.

His mind revolted against such a thing being possible. Panic gathered at the corners of his soul. His breathing grew labored, and the room started to spin.

“No!” Red smashed his small fist against his thigh. He focused on the pain, glad he could feel it, knowing fainting would gain him nothing. But what was he going to do about this madness?

A shadow filled the doorway.

“Ah, I see you’re awake.”

Red shot to his feet, recognizing the figure only too well—it was Ylis. The thin blanket covering him fell forgotten to the floor.

“You witch! Why have you done this to me? Change me back right now!”

Totally ignoring his outburst, she inspected his naked form from top to toe.

“The transformation was a total success. You feel healthy, yes? Nothing hurts?”

Red took a step toward her, his bare feet slapping against the cool stone floor.

“None of that matters. Change me back this instant!”

Ylis stared him dead in the face, her expression calm. “I will not.”

Heat flushed through Red as his anger flamed to rage.

“You will!” Despite his nakedness and the fact he had no weapon, he threw himself at her. His center of gravity wasn’t quite right, but this was only a fleeting thought in the far reaches of his mind. He wanted his life back, his body back, and this woman was denying it to him.

Ylis flowed forward, her sleeves flaring as she expertly intercepted him in mid-leap, flipped him, and thumped him down hard, one hand behind his head to keep it from hitting the floor.

Although his back and buttocks stung from smacking the stone, Red heaved with all his might to get back up. Ylis’s open palm smashed into his midriff, driving out all of his air.

“Calm yourself. Violence will gain you nothing.”

Red was in no shape to comment. He struggled to regain his breath, glaring his displeasure at her, since he could do little else.

“Your new condition will not be permanent.” She stared at him, concern clearly showing on her face. “Please listen to what I have to say. You’ll then understand why things have come to be as they are.”

She let him go and backed away then sat down cross-legged at the doorway. Still wheezing, Red turned on his side and slowly sat up. His new body was weak. He wasn’t sure just exactly what kind of fighting style the woman had used on him, but it shouldn’t have been this easy for him to be overpowered. If he’d had his real body, it wouldn’t have been. Or so he kept telling himself.

The situation only got worse by the moment.

“Say whatever it is you have to say, witch. But it’ll change nothing.”

“Thank you.” Ylis nodded in his direction and tucked her hands into her sleeves, as if trying to reassure him.
Red reached over for the discarded blanket and wrapped it about his lower half to keep his skin from the chilly floor.

“Just get on with it.”

If she got distracted enough with her tale, perhaps he’d get a chance to have at her again. His shape might be different, but he still knew how to hurt people. She’d caught him by surprise before.

Ylis nodded again then seemed to take a moment to gather her thoughts before beginning.

“A very delicate situation has arisen in Syrras recently. A tragedy has occurred, one which should never have happened. Which I should not have allowed to happen.” She paused for a moment, a fleeting look of pain crossing her face. “I am Grand Magister Ylis. I serve He Who is Most Honored by the Gods, Orthos Cloaustrain Lorraxia Tumil.”

The string of names meant absolutely nothing to him. “Who?”

The magister’s brows gathered for a moment.

“I believe his position would be equivalent to your term of king.”

Red barked a laugh, surprised by the answer.

“And servants of the king just go around kidnapping foreign sailors and turning them into girls? For what? His Royal Pleasure?”

Ylis’s face lost all expression.  Her voice turned cold.

“His Magnificence is dead. Including you, there are only four people in this world who are aware of that grievous fact.”

This brought Red up short, all thoughts of violence momentarily forgotten.

“You’re not making any sense. What does that have to do with me? And with this?” He pointed at his changed body, shrugging off a shudder as he was forced to acknowledge the changes yet again.

Ylis raised a hand to forestall any further questions. Red was glad to note there were no drawings on her palm, especially of creepy blinking eyes.

“The Highest of the High died in his sleep less than one of your weeks ago. She Who Sits on the Most Honored’s Right, Lyara Orthos Tumil, discovered him thus before the servants arrived to awaken him. She contacted me immediately, and I was able to ascertain the Most High didn’t die of natural causes, though it very much appeared so. I am still working to identify the exact poison used to arrange his demise.”

Red shook his head, his face twisting with distaste. Poison was a coward’s weapon. He’d once seen the effects of Bane’s Blood on a fellow sailor who’d boasted a little too much about his conquests to the wrong ears. White foam had filled his mouth and fallen from his lips as blood blossoms formed all over his face and arms. He’d fallen twitching to the floor and within minutes breathed no more. It was a ghastly way to go.

“If it left no external trace on the body, how do you know it was poison?”

Ylis’s brow rose.

“I am a magister,” she said, as if this were the only explanation needed.

“I see…” He changed positions, finding the hard stone quite uncomfortable. Ylis never moved, appearing to be able to maintain the same pose till the end of time. It annoyed him. “I still don’t see how this has anything to do with me.”

“The death of His Magnificence must be kept secret for the time being. However, those involved in the original poisoning will realize something hasn’t gone as planned as all they continue to hear is that the Most High has taken ill. They will surely attempt something else, so there is very little time to find the truth.

“At the moment, the Most Blessed is doing her utmost to keep things balanced and the Most High’s true condition secret. Yet the Most Blessed needs to be kept safe, and the culprits need to be found. The majority of my energies, however, are diverted elsewhere, so alternate means to do this had to be found. This is why you’re involved.”

Red could say nothing for several seconds, totally stunned.

“What? Are you saying you did this to me because you need a lousy watchdog to sniff out the killer and protect the queen? What about the royal guards? You must have plenty of people who work for you that are more than capable of solving the crime!”

Ylis shook her head. “It is not as simple as that. Please understand, we have no idea how the Highest was poisoned. He was surrounded by his most trusted people at all times, yet it was done. It was even likely committed by one of them.” Her gaze locked with his. “Too much is at stake due to matters I don’t have time to speak of now. As things stand, we can afford to trust no one. Only to a person such as yourself, who has never been here, who has little to no knowledge of our people or our city, someone who is not involved, dare we risk giving our confidence.”

“If a stranger is all you needed, then why all this? Why change me?”

The left corner of Ylis’s lips curved up.

“This has not been left to mere chance. Through meditation and spells, the All guided me to you. And who would believe someone who looks like you do now capable of much of anything? It is to our advantage.”
Red stood up, holding his blanket tighter about him, humiliated by her words despite the fact this new body wasn’t his.

“You’re insane.”

She nodded, conceding the fact.

“The change is also something that can be held over you, to force you to cooperate. Trust can always be bought away, but not if there is something the person needs, something the other side cannot possibly provide.” She stared at him intently, obviously interested in how he would react to this.

Red felt his anger returning.

“Kidnapping, extortion—you think these tactics are going to make me want to help you?”

She shocked him by bowing to the floor.

“I endanger everything by telling you what I have, for though it may seem as if I have the upper hand, the wrongs I’ve done you will only restrain you so far. Once we leave here, it would be nothing for you to spill our secret and bring us all to ruin before I could stop you.”

He stared at her bowed head in surprise, already having decided he would do whatever he could to get away from her. Screaming what she’d told him out at the top of his lungs had definitely been an option. Someone out there would understand him. And she was aware of it, yet had taken the risk anyway. It only served to make all this even more confusing.

“We are desperate, or we wouldn’t be doing as we are. There is much you do not know or understand, and as I've said, I have no time to explain. The longer we remain here, the longer she is alone and the greater chance there is our charade will be discovered.”

“Change me back and I might consider helping you. I might even keep silent about the things you’ve told me.” He knew he had no real leverage to make her do anything, but he hated having his hands tied. This whole thing was ludicrous. It made no sense they had to go to extremes like this.

Ylis straightened back up and slowly shook her head.

“I cannot. The energy and preparation for what was done to you took days to put together. The divinations to uselessly try to determine who did the deed and then to find you have drained me even more. I am at my limit.”

She stood up. For the first time, Red noticed the faint dark circles under her eyes, the lines of strain on her face.

“All I can give is being diverted elsewhere.” She lifted her robe off her right leg, where an incredibly complex set of drawings wound up her flesh, continuing past the raised hem. What that spell was for, he had no idea.

“Only once the current trouble has been averted will I be able to change you back.”

Red frowned, not sure if he should believe her. Aside from being vague, her explanations sounded contrived and convenient.

“I swear by the One Spirit and the All you shall be as you were once the threat is past.” Her gaze locked with his again. “But that will only happen if you help us.”

None of it made sense. Even as she denied him, she begged for his trust and aid. Was the situation worse than she'd said so they couldn't risk trusting anyone without strings? He'd seen enough backstabbing in the merchant business to know words only bound most men as long as it was convenient.

His mouth turned further down. He liked this less and less.

“Your gods mean nothing to me, but hear me and hear me well. I will help you, and if, by the heavens and earth and all the gods and people in between, you don’t come through on your word, there is no place in this world or the next where you will be safe from me.”

And if, in the meantime, he found a way to get out of this without having to wait for her, so much the better.

Fantasy Novel coming late 2014 or early 2015 from Zumaya Publications.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Jewel of the Gods - Chapter 2

(Out of pocket so more sneak peeks!)

If you missed it - Jewel of the Gods Chapter 1

Jewel of the Gods

Chapter 2

“I’m in.” Red leaned back against the wooden bar, a nice buzz ringing in his head from the spiced mead served by the locals. He wiped a bit of foam from his neatly trimmed beard.
Lucas gave him a pleased, lopsided grin.

“Okay, just so we perfectly understand each other—the stake is twenty slivers.”

Red nodded, his gaze following a yellow vein in the red sandstone walls around them. This was the first time he’d been in a tavern made from a hole in a cliff. The crudely formed wooden tables and benches, pitted and cut by the waves of mostly foreign customers over time, however, were like any he might have run across in the Mulatian ports. The smell of sweat and watered ale were the same as well, even if the over-spiced scent of the cheap food curled his nose hairs. But the walls, the ceiling…

He took a slow sip from his mug.

As amazed as he’d been when he gazed at the port through the spyglass, he’d been more so when one of the men at the embassy told them this port was the only point of contact with outsiders for the small country of Wasef. He didn’t know enough yet about the place to guess if it was in order to protect their way of life or some hidden reason.

“You’ll have a count of a thousand to make your move.” Lucas leaned in close, his curls circling his handsome tanned face. “Only a thousand. And the time starts the moment you open your mouth.”
Red waved the stipulation away as inconsequential. He slid Lucas a questioning glance.

“Anything else?”

This was a game the two of them played often. It was yet to be seen whether it was a boon or disaster that he’d drawn first round in this new, unknown place. The possibility of danger and adventure, however, gave it points to the positive.

“Oh, I think things will be difficult enough as they stand, my friend.” Lucas winked, not entirely steady on his feet. “The first one through the doorway should do.”

As if summoned by his words, the strings of beads over the entrance parted as a cowled figure came inside. When the person hesitated, Red stood up straighter and tugged down on his vest. Even though the newcomer was covered in brownish-red cloth from head to foot, it was hard to disguise the unique gait of a woman, if you knew what to look for.

She ventured farther into the room, turning her head as her hidden gaze traveled over the different sets of foreigners currently taking their leisure there. Three Almirians sat sourly at a corner table, ignoring everyone else, their orange-stained skin clashing with the natural color of the sandstone. Four Boldovians in steel and furs were taking turns arm wrestling anyone who came near. A loud clump of laughing and drinking Trillian workers, turbans and loincloths wrapped in intricate patterns over their bodies, took up the left wall.

Red waited until she looked in his direction and gave her his most elaborate bow. Watching Lucas and his efforts to woo all the women in the land did have advantages.

“Madam, I am new to these waters, and you seem a kindly soul. Might I buy you some refreshment in exchange for a few moments of your time?”

The woman’s head tilted at his words, and he felt her gaze roam over him. It occurred to him she might not have understood him. Perhaps his smile would do what his words had not. He sauntered closer.

He wasn’t sure if it was the strong mead, the unfamiliar atmosphere, or the fact this was the first woman he’d ever approached not belonging to the Thirteen Kingdoms, but it was like advancing on a bastion of power, he a mere horseman faced with the immensity of a closed keep. Then the feeling was gone. She looked up at him, and his green eyes met dark brown ones.

“From my spirit to yours.”

She made a sweeping gesture with her hand from her chest toward his. Red had seen the sign before and knew it for a greeting but hadn't heard it in his language before. He had no idea how to respond.

“Uhm, yes, you as well.”

“Your hair is quite unusual. What is your name?” Her voice was deep and rich.

“Red. Everyone calls me Red.”

Her intense gaze rested on his shoulder-length hair for a moment.

“Would you be surprised to hear that I was led to you?”

His brow rose, as he wondered if perhaps she’d had more to drink than he. A bet was a bet, though, and no way would Lucas accept excuses. Plus Red hated to lose.

“My hair does make me rather hard to miss.”

“Yes, red is a good portent when taken as representing fire. Fire burns, cleans, exposes. It is an excellent omen.” She looked pleased. “The elements have guided me wisely.”

Was it going to be this easy? She sounded like a nutter, but a lay was a lay and a bet was a bet. It didn’t hurt that his toes tingled at the possibility of things unexpected.

His hair color was rather uncommon, especially in the southern portions of Mulatia. It had previously given him an edge here and there with the women—and against Lucas’s oozing charm he needed all the assistance he could get—but never this much. It would be a new record. He guessed his kind were even rarer out in the world than he imagined. Or she was truly drunk.

“I have a skiff tied outside. Shall we go?”

Choking sounds and the clatter of a dropped mug echoed from behind him. Red threw his friend a quick look over his shoulder and grinned.

“Sounds good.” He slipped the woman’s arm through his own. “What should I call you?”

She leaned in close, using her cowl to conceal her lips as she spoke only loud enough for him to hear.
“Ylis. My name is Ylis.”

He thought the whole process rather odd, as no one was looking their way, but made no comment. He didn’t know the customs of this city. It was half of what made this game better than ever before.

The scents of river and seawater swirled around them as they stepped outside. The sun was already below the horizon, and most of the light had fled the sky, leaving a field of purple and black. The noise at this, the lowest level of the cliff face, was but a murmur compared to what it’d been during daylight.

A lamp outside the bar lit the path cut into the cliff, the same as the businesses. It revealed a covered skiff on the far side, tied to one of the narrow floating docks that extended up and down the waterway. A small lantern hung suspended from the sweeping neck at the front of the skiff, imitating the other boats parked or moving along the Tanu River. The mass of them gave the impression of a multitude of fireflies buzzing over the water.

Red hopped down to the dock and extended an arm to help his companion. He spotted a fleeting smile as she ignored this and, with incredibly light feet, bounced down to the dock and then the boat without hardly disturbing either. He had the sudden feeling she might end up being a handful. He was rather looking forward to it.

As he climbed onto the skiff, Ylis signaled to a brown-skinned man at the stern then lifted the flap of the covered area in the middle and slipped inside. Red made sure there was no one else within first then followed.

He felt the boat separate from the dock and slide upriver. He frowned at the last as he sat down on a bench across his companion, trying to remember if the current of the river had seemed fast or slow when he’d looked at it before. A delicate wrought iron lamp hung from the arch of the covering but didn’t flicker like a normal flame would. Beneath it, on what would be the center of the boat, was embedded a round piece of lapis lazuli. Winding carvings colored in blue extended forward and aft on the spine of the boat.

Ylis noticed what he was looking at.

“Though I have heard it is different in other lands, here we follow the Wisdom of the All. Fire, earth, water, air, spirit—each with its own strengths and weaknesses, each made more by the others and ourselves.

“The boat is tied to the water with these, and also to its owner. Together, they overcome the usual limitations and flow upstream.”

Red stared. She was talking about magic! He’d encountered it here and there in the different kingdoms in Mulatia, some fake, some real, but theirs came from the gods not the elements. And to have it being used on a skiff, of all things! Might be something worth investigating for the Sea Dragon. Being able to move against a current would be an awesome feat, indeed.

Ylis pulled her cowl back allowing Red to see her face fully for the first time. Her features were plain, thin lips and a wide nose on tan skin not making her particularly comely. Yet he still found himself strangely excited, for this woman was like none he’d seen. She wore no paints, no enhancements, and she had no hair.  Her head was totally bald.

Although he’d been in port a few hours, he’d seen none who looked like her before. Hairstyles for the women here seemed to vary by age, the young wearing it loose to their shoulders, those a little older in a multitude of braids and coiled into loops. The few wizened women he’d come across wore but one braid in a graying loop. None had been hairless. What did that make her?

On the right side of her face, swirling black tattoos covered her cheek and ear.  A sense of presence surrounded her, which felt more intense in the enclosed space. There would definitely be stories to tell once this dalliance was over.

“Where are we going?”

“Not far.” Ylis rolled back one of her dark sleeves. “I thought we should have some privacy for our business.”

Red’s evaluating gaze noticed her arm wasn’t bare, but rather sported runes in varied colors that continued to the unseen skin beneath her sleeve. He couldn’t tell if they were tattoos or only paint. Just what other enticing secrets lay hidden beneath the folds of her robe?

“This is your first time in Syrras, is it not?” She brought out a small box from beneath her bench and set it beside her.

“It is. We just arrived today. Haven’t really had a chance to look around much.”

“Truly? The One Spirit is generous indeed this night.”

She opened the box, and nestled within were bottles full of colors. She took out a small brush and removed the tops from three of the paints.

“Why is that?” Red never minded some conversation, but this one seemed a little odd. Maybe he should have learned more about the culture before just diving into this. But the thrill would have been less.
There was always a chance she might be part of a press gang and planned to kidnap him, although with her plain face, it seemed unlikely, despite how desperate for female companionship they might believe men who’d just come into port might be. He had his knife and his wits, and had seen and tussled with enough bandits in his home ports to know the signs. He was getting nothing like that from her so far --although she was definitely a strange one. He’d have tales to take back and share with the others.

Ylis smiled, but her gaze never left the brush as she dipped it with great care into the reddest red he’d ever seen.

“All will be new to you. You won’t already have preconceptions to cloud your judgment.”

Red frowned.  “Cloud my judgment on what?”

Were women like her taboo, perhaps? Or would there be some stigma attached to him for going with her he didn’t know about?

The brush tip touched the end of the strange runes and figures on her exposed arm. The paint seemed to glow for a moment then totally vanished from the brush as if it had never been there. She then dipped the tip into a deep brown color with odd sparkles of light. Red found his gaze trapped by it.

“Why are you here, Red?” Her voice had deepened, but it was hard to tell if it was from rising desire, concentration, or something else entirely.

“Here in this city, or here as in with you?” He was feeling more sober by the minute.

Additional swirls and runes formed on her wrist. New colors joined the first two.


“It’s what I do. The sea is my life." He shrugged, his gaze still locked on her arm.  "Coming here was a great opportunity, a chance to see new places, new people. And after weeks at sea, like any other man, I crave a little entertainment.”

“Forthright as well. Most interesting…” The runes extended over her palm.

Red forced his gaze away from it.

“What’s this about? Obviously, you have something different in mind than I do. A shame, really…” If this was some strange ruse to rob him, they’d be disappointed. He’d not been paid for this part of the voyage yet.

He felt behind him for the knife tucked in his belt against his back. It did seem like a lot of trouble for just one lone sailor, though, for either a press gang or thievery. He should have definitely paid more attention to the rumors and gossip about this place while at the embassy, even if it would have curbed some of the excitement.

“Indulge me a moment longer, if you would. Everything will become clear presently.” Ylis sounded distracted.

The enclosed space suddenly seemed too pressing. With a glance behind him, Red estimated how far he would have to roll backward to win clear of the covering. Then it would only be a short hop to dive into the water and be free of this strangeness.

With a satisfied sigh, Ylis placed the brush back inside the box and closed the lid. She shifted slightly and turned to look up at him. Her gaze met his, and Red got the uncomfortable feeling she knew his thoughts. Just what had he gotten himself into?

“Look.” She moved her hand so the palm faced in his direction. “It is complete.”

Despite his growing misgivings, he did as she asked. Swirls of blue and gold surrounded a ring of silver. Inside it, centered on her palm, was an eye.

It blinked.

Cold chills rushed to cover his arms with gooseflesh; he hadn’t the faintest idea how a drawing could do such a thing.

“By the Kings, what is…”

Ylis leaned forward, her palm lashing out. It struck him dead in the center of the chest.

Red fell off the bench onto his back but barely noticed. His chest burned with cold and fire where she’d touched him, and faster than the ripples of water that formed from a thrown rock, the sensation spread through his whole body. He tried to move, to scream, but all was denied him. He could feel things within and without shifting—his bones, his muscles, his skin—as if his body had become self-aware and decided to change.

Then, all at once, it stopped.

“It is done.”

Feeling that his body was his again, Red tried to squirm away from her.

“What is done? What did you do?”

Something wasn’t right here. His voice sounded strange. The pitch was too high. His back smacked against the middle pole holding up the entryway. Using it for leverage, he stumbled to his feet. His right hand reached for his knife; the weapon seemed heavier than it should. He felt shaky and weak.

Fear grew in a tight kernel in his belly, although he wasn’t yet sure what was going on.

“Tell me what you did! Why do I feel like this?”

“You are what you could have been had your fate been different. Look.” Ylis didn’t hold her palm up like before but instead nodded toward him. Red glanced at her hand anyway and saw that all the paint and runes were gone. More magic!

He brought the knife up higher. It was then he noticed his hand. The blade looked larger than it should have in comparison. Then he realized the knife was not the problem, it was the hand. It wasn’t his!

Staring down at himself, he realized he was shorter, that his clothes hung on him loosely. Instead of the chest with the soft coating of red hair women enjoyed running their fingers through, beneath his sagging shirt he was hairless and sported a set of small, perky breasts.

He swallowed hard, a part of his mind screaming in denial. His breath came in short shallow gasps as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing. His eyes lost focus, his brain numbed as it fought to understand the impossible.

The interior of the skiff spun around him. A bone-deep weariness abruptly swept through him, as if he’d spent days swabbing the deck and fighting pirates. Blackness crowded the edges of his vision then swooped in, and although he fought internally to remain conscious, that, too, was soon denied him.