And A Star To Sail Her By…

Greetings! Salutations! Thank you for reading my shiny new blog, whether you stumbled upon it accidentally or were referred here by a friend (in which case, thank your friend for me, too)! Starting a blog is both easy and hard at the same time, but the hard part is figuring out how I’m going to get started. Seems like everyone and their mother has something to say about the world these days.

Sure, I want to write about writing, write some writing, and then dabble in the writing process, reviews, and even discuss how the process is affecting me personally. But that’s hardly the most interesting hook, is it? Well, since no one has called me on my Caerbannog reference yet, I can assume no one is paying much attention. I get that. I’m new, what’ve I got to offer? Well, I shall tell you. No limits.

One of the best things about being an author is that you can comment on just about anything and not get the backlash of the world like the proverbial swinging door hitting you on the ass on the way out. But I don’t need to comment on today’s high or low points, plenty of people have something to say about that, and most of them are certain they’re correct. Well, good for you. Nice to know there exists a niche where people are correct. I shan’t say some of what I think about you all, but only because I don’t want to discourage readers who might fall into that category.

What then, is my appeal? I tell you, I comment on the future. What will humanity be like in a hundred years? Will we even resemble the humanity of the last decade? I may write fantasy a good deal, with magic helping out the characters both for and against the hero, but there’s always been forces working both for and against us. Personally, professionally, or as a society. Just because I tell stories in fantastical settings doesn’t mean there wasn’t an opinion driving the plot.

I hope you enjoy some fun prompt writing I’ll be working on to build my blog out into something more meaningful. Until then, thank you for reading, and watch out for the plot bunnies. They’re spawning left and right and I warn you… they bite.



Thank goodness the heat wave has passed, it’s actually pleasant weather right now. I can actually think more often than not, unlike the majority of July and early August.

It has come to my attention that after planning out a blog, I proceeded to disappear for more than a year. Awful. Horrendous. Unacceptable. Life happened, as it does tend to do, and last winter was really rough. Homebound and barely getting out kind of rough. I also lost my cat, Puma, very suddenly to what we think might have been complications of hyperthyroidism that wasn’t as well controlled as we thought, which didn’t help my bleak mood at all. I’ve since gotten a lovely kitty whom I’ve named Honey, and she is the light of my life. She’s two now, and we get along with each other quite well as long as the cuddles and treats aren’t forgotten. (And as long as I know my place as hooman slave to her Eminence.)


That it’s actually fall weather in September! Holy cow, it’s a miracle! I remember starting school in sleeveless shirts and shorts when I was a kid, finally the weather has decided to resemble the seasons we arbitrarily claim for each month. It’s so gorgeous outside. I’m looking forward to the autumn colors coming out, though I’m a bit worried we have had too dry a summer. I think a lot of the vibrant colors are going to be brown instead. It’s such a shame, because New England is so gorgeous in autumn, or it used to be. I have a photo on my facebook banner that’s a multicolored skyline view from the park at the top of the hill I grew up on, and I’ve kept going back to it time and again for a banner image because it’s just that pretty. Speaking of which, I should probably go put it up again.


I’m rereading Ready, Set, Novel! and No Plot? No Problem! in preparation for trying to come up with a new idea for National Novel Writing Month in November. So far I know I’ll be adding some to a short story collection I never seem to finish, but I do like the draw of a new shiny idea that you tackle on November 1st. I need to spend a couple hours reading the short stories I’ve already got, because a bunch of them were written long enough ago that I don’t trust the quality and they may need some polishing. That’s NaNoPrep task number one. Is it weird that I’ve decided September is preparation for the NaNoPreparation in October? (Can you have prep for other prep? Seems like you’d get caught in an infinite loop.)


I must admit, I was getting swept up in some new shows, The Boys was great, Carnival Row looks appealing… but what am I watching? CSI: NY. Again. It doesn’t need me to think about it, but I can get involved with my crochet project (arm warmers for noveling in chilly weather) and not really lose track of the story, and I think that’s what I need right now. I don’t remember all of it, it’s been years since I saw it, so I’m just going to keep watching until my arm warmers are done or until something else snags me.

The something else may include finishing the patching of my armchair, which is a great piece of furniture underneath, but the upholstery was savaged by my old cat and it’s kinda sad just looking at it. I finished attaching the patches around the footstool that I’d edged and gotten ready, now it’s just the arm and figuring out what I’m going to do about the top of the footstool, since small patches would end up more irritating than one large one, I think.

Thinking About

NaNoWriMo, mostly. It’s the biggest thing I’ve got planned for the next few months, and I need to do some preparation ahead of time this year. Based on the way my health reacts to the season change, I know I’m going to have trouble when November gets here, but the point of National Novel Writing Month isn’t just the crazy novel writing. It’s also about finding time to write around life, the universe, and whatever might be happening to you that particular month. In my case that is usually health issues, but it doesn’t matter what the problem is that arises, the point is to find a way to write anyway. So if planning can help keep me going, I’ll do more prep work than my usual seat of the pants style. I also anticipate surgery happening between now and NaNoWriMo; it should be small surgery, but it’s still something that will have recovery time. I need to call and ask if we can move it up a week so I don’t start November with a trip to the hospital… that is not how I want to be jumpstarting my writing.


A lot of the same applies, but in this case I think I’m more eager to test my plans for social media leading up to and during NaNoWriMo. Though I rarely use them, I do have Facebook and Twitter. I keep away from them most of the time because I can’t stand the streaming culture most of the time, but I know they’re useful tools. I’ve started posting writing tweets once a day, either a prompt, or a weird quote, or something. I figure if I can use advice to the throngs of NaNoWriMo-ers to get some wider audience, then I might have a place to start projects, post updates… I don’t know, really, it’s a lot to get used to. But the point would be that I’d have a platform for self-publishing some short stories, or anything I manage to put together in the future.


Really wishing this weekend hadn’t happened. Family drama is family drama, but this really sucker punched me. I was enjoying the way things all seemed to be moving in the right direction, only to end up with a migraine brought on by anger and tears. I’m usually so good at being in control, on top of my emotions, and the sanest one in my family (not that that’s saying much), but this threw me off and I haven’t caught back up yet.

Making Me Happy

This blog! I’d almost completely forgotten about it by the time I was feeling myself again, and I’ve only just now taken the time to reread all the stories I posted. I can’t even remember writing some of them, but I enjoyed all of them even if it was like reading something for the first time. That random one the Valiant Order of the Round Table is very kaiju for me, where did that even come from? I don’t really read/watch manga/anime of the big honking mecha variety, and though I’ve seen most of the Godzilla movies and TV out there, that’s not usually something I write. I’ve no idea what spawned that story. And both The Guardian and The Great Library could’ve been turned into fanfiction serials… another genre I don’t normally write, but did for those. Both could be the starting chapter of a novel or part of such a one. But most of all, Luna, You Need to Run! feels like it deserves so much more. There’s hints about things that go bump in the night, a resistance movement, a city watch that sounds more like big brother keeping tabs on the people… and it’s from such a great prompt! I love it. Maybe I can continue some of these.

But anyway, my posting this was to promise myself and the overflowing plot bunnies that more stories will be coming. I don’t know if I can promise any kind of schedule, but we’ll get to that once I start posting prose again. For now, I hope everyone is having a lovely September, and I’ll see you soon!



Wow this heatwave. I’ve spent the last week and a half feeling worn out, but the past few days? I mark my word count on a whiteboard calendar to give me incentive to write and to show how well or how poorly I’ve been doing. The last few days are all written in red marker. Since I’m having trouble getting a post written, I guess it’s time to update you on the status of things, and hopefully the cooler temperatures today will let my brain cool off so I can start writing again.


Today’s 70s temperatures. I know I said that last time I updated, but it’s still true. I was about ready to spontaneously combust with the combination of higher temperatures and higher humidity. Please let fall be coming soon!

I also love my cat. Puma has been causing trouble, he’s good at that, but ultimately he’s also been keeping me company and making me laugh. I don’t know what I’d do without him.


I had just gotten into Mairelon the Magician, by Patricia C. Wrede, but I didn’t manage to read enough of it before the library loan expired. I hesitate to start something else while I’m waiting for the book again, because I think I’d forget the part of the book I had already read and need to start over again. Of course, I could just be exhausted from the heat and still trying to make up for the poor sleep I’ve been having because of it… laziness is kinda understandable at this point. (Says the gal yawning at 4pm on a Sunday.)


I’ve watched a bunch of things in the past couple weeks, I think the heat makes me less inclined to work for my story. I watched a bunch of Agents of SHIELD, which I had started a long time ago and never got back to. I also watched Missing, a tv series about a marginally psychic FBI agent. Old, but I enjoy it a great deal each time I stumble across it and bingewatch the whole series. Watched a couple episodes of Mutant X for the same reason, good show, if a little… odd. And then I watched RWBY Vol. 1 and started Vol. 2 before I had to sleep. All were good.

I also watched Brad Williams’ second comedy special, ‘Daddy Issues’, which I enjoyed also. I think I liked the first one (‘Fun Size’) a bit more, but that might’ve been the simple joy of watching a little person jump around stage. Can’t deny that’s always fun to see.

Thinking About

I’ve been sticking to the simple things lately, whether that’s my various gaming addictions (D&D geeks unite!) or trying to write a minimum of words every day, with mixed success. I think it’s helped put off the anxiety I have regarding my manuscript, which is nearly ready for submission to publishing houses. I’ve been putting off the final work on the first chapter for the same reason… I don’t really know how to break into publishing, and I have my doubts about how well it’s going to go. I’m sure most writers get anxious about publishing their work, or any real critique of it. I just don’t know how to turn that into proactive functioning. It’s kept me from really getting started for a long time, and the longer I wait, the worse the anxiety bogs me down. Not sure how to do anything about it, though, so I think I just have to force myself to move. Easier said than done.


At this point I’m eagerly anticipating fall and winter coming. I don’t remember summer totally wasting me the way it has this year. Is it just climate chaos that’s the problem? Or is it me? I’m kinda hoping it’s climate chaos, mostly because more problems with myself would be adding to an already lengthy list. Not that climate chaos is something to desire, it’s not. Summers and winters were already bad enough as far as I’m concerned.


Really wishing I could accomplish something. I think it’s mostly my perception of spending too much time in bed lately, but I feel like I haven’t gotten much accomplished for months now. A few blog posts. A few play-by-post roleplaying game posts. A few voice chat game sessions. That’s all that’s listed in my calendar, and I’ve crossed out a bunch of the routine things over the past weeks also. Writer slump, I guess?

Making Me Happy

The group of friends I’ve made that I game with are a really great bunch of people. I know my voice chat Game Master from the RPG Crossing play-by-post site that I spend so much time on, but he introduced me to a group of his friends that he runs games for by voice chat, and through them I’m now part of a bigger group of friends that are running a West Marches game (for those of you that don’t know, that’s a few GMs running games in the same setting, with several plotlines going on at once, with the players organizing themselves instead of making the GMs do all the work). I don’t know what I’d do without them now. They make me laugh, they keep me as sane as is possible. We have ups and downs together, and while we may not meet in person, they’re definitely people I couldn’t do without.

That’s enough glum for one post! I’ll try and get something posted in the next few days. I do have another blog challenge that I’m working on, but it’s giving me trouble, so I’m not ready to get that written up yet.


A Tough Way to Live

The latest blog challenge (number five, if I’ve counted correctly) returns us once again to the three word prompt style challenge like the first. Now forgive me if my mind is in the gutter, but any prompt that puts “bed” in it is going to inspire a certain number of romantic or erotic story lines, and it’s taken me awhile to get past those and consider all my options. One thought was actually a deathbed story, a reconciliation of sorts, but that’s awfully bleak. I didn’t start writing these challenge prompts to drag a bunch of internet people down into the doom and gloom.

So that left me with quite a lot of thought needed, but I think I’ve come up with something at last. It’s not my usual cup of tea, so to speak, so I hope you’ll be kind with your condemnation. It’s a little slow to start, but I think I turned it into something interesting. Less related to the words that spawned it, but hey, I don’t profess to be perfect.

Your three words are: Honesty. Hate. Bed.​

“Let’s be honest, it’s not like we expected this to last forever, right?” It was her tone that made me angry, almost more than the words. It was that ‘I’ve decided something and I’m going to condescend like you should have known it all along’ attitude, the whole posture, even. We might be standing only figuratively speaking, with two VR avatars (that’s virtual reality for you centurs) talking to one another, but the body language still transferred well enough to irritate me beyond measure.

The next words out of my mouth probably shouldn’t have been said in the first place. I know that, really I do. I just couldn’t help the profanity. There’s an ingrained gut-clench reaction when someone shits on your sidewalk that you just can’t navigate around, even when you know better. “You used me,” I accused her next.

She didn’t object.

“If you even try to use my code in another project, I swear you’ll be paying my life forever onward. Got it?”

Her avatar just froze in place, and then disappeared. Apparently she hadn’t felt the need to reply to my copyright claims whether she intended to use my code or not. Who knows whether I’d actually need to check, but I hastily scribbled a note to myself to do so. Ultimately I disconnected also, not feeling up to VR after getting fired and broken up with in the same conversation.

The grey walls of my cubicle returned around me as more interesting things faded, and I slumped onto my bed and curled up in a ball. This was not how the conversation was supposed to go, I insisted. We were supposed to be discussing my cut of the profits so far, as well as the next stage of the project. If she thought they’d be able to keep working on the same thing and cut me out, she was in for a surprise. Most of my code would only work for me, and I would use my kill-code if she tried anything without paying me for my share. But if I knew I was in the right, why did I still feel like shit?

I guess I’d really liked her. It was new, for me, anyway, to be attracted to another woman on that level. I knew I liked people, sort of in general rather than specific to gender. When all our interaction was through VR, it’s not like the body or biology of the person in question really came into it. It was all about their mind, and how our thoughts meshed. I also knew I was attracted to intelligence, but I’d never been hit quite so hard before. Cupid is a little bitch for ruining the last six — no, eight — months of my life. Whoever I liked next was going to have to deal with some pretty heavy baggage on my end, if the weight settling around my heart was any indication. Having really liked her so much, I now really hated her in equal measure, and it was exhausting.

I needed a project.

That much my mind knew to insist on. I was never focused on my shitty so-called “life” in a box when I was working on something that interested me. I was halfway tempted to try and rebuild the software I’d just written from memory and then improve it so they didn’t make a cent, but that was just going to keep reminding me of what I was trying not to think about. I needed something that would direct my energy toward something positive.

Positive wasn’t exactly what my mind wanted to do right now. My mind wanted to write a master virus and sell it under the company name I’d just left, and watch the damage spread. I even had the knowledge to do it. I could write software all day… I had been, for six months. Maybe I needed something that wasn’t computer code.

Now there was an interesting idea. Did I know how to do anything that wasn’t computer code? Even when I played games to distract myself or break up the tedium of a job, I knew cheat codes and backdoor hacks that let me stretch my legs a bit further… figuratively speaking.

Living in a cube was supposed to be fulfilling, having all the technology to exist in VR twenty-four hours a day if you chose. They didn’t tell you that the nights were darker the longer you were there. Sure, I didn’t have to put up with the pollution and overcrowding of the city around me, the diseases that raged nearly unchecked because there simply wasn’t space to quarantine the sick people. I was protected from everyone, and what a hateful thing that was these days. Sometimes I just wanted to hack the system and unlock the door to let me out. I’d probably die of something, whether a mugging or a disease, but at least I’d get to see people. In person, like. Real people.

When did we decide that interacting with everyone digitally was so much better? All the propaganda I’d seen scrolled by my mind’s eye. Was it really so much cleaner in here? Was it worth the protein shakes and the organic gruel? They certainly didn’t account for laziness in their equations. I had the fancy shower unit. I ignored it until I stank, usually. It’s not like anyone in VR knew how clean or dirty I was. In VR I was always the same, and no one could tell differently.

On a whim, I logged back in and aggressively changed my avatar. Instead of the androgynous skinny nerd image that I usually used, I added weight, let the boobs grow and sink under their own mass, told it to put my hair up in a messy clip, and put on a skirt. It was closer to how I really looked, except the skirt part, but I wanted it to be different, and I’d never worn a skirt in VR. Ever. Just a weird thing that seemed pointless. Who was I trying to impress, anyway?

To my surprise, an envelope appeared next to me, flapping tiny off-white feathered wings. I almost didn’t reach out for it, I was so shocked. No one used physical mail any more, it was all email. The envelope landed in my hand when I reached toward it, and unfolded into a piece of paper. It read: Lookin’ good, Casey. You can do so much better than her.

I turned around, looking for any other avatars in the market square where my avatar stood who might be looking in my direction. No one paid me any mind, they all had business they were attending to, whether buying or selling, or others just using the public area to meet as I had done a bit earlier.

Nothing. So who had sent me the message? It wasn’t signed, not visibly, anyway. I grabbed onto the paper tightly, rather than let it disintegrate away from me, and put on a very special pair of rectangular-lensed glasses. I thought they were nerdy-cute, sure, but that was not their purpose. It had taken me nearly a year to write the code for them and push it bit by bit into VR the hard way — we weren’t supposed to mess with Company proprietary VR code. The glasses allowed me to see things that weren’t intended to be visible, the metadata that was part of the underlying code of the program.

To my surprise, with the glasses, the original message was gone, replaced with “Hey sexy.” and a wink emoji. The metadata was there, but it had been obscured by a quality hacker. Now whoever it was had my attention. Seemed like he’d seen my confrontation, for what purpose, though, I didn’t know. No one spied on random meetings, that was a waste of time that could be spent earning money to pay for the VR tech we were using. If it wasn’t random… which of us was the target? I didn’t think there was much about me worth spying on during a meeting, it’s not like I brought my cheat codes and hacks with me wherever I went in a “physical” sort of form, that would be a waste of my god-given eidetic memory, and possibly dangerous to boot. People got caught when they left obvious signs of hacking ability hanging around.

The project was in prototype stage, sure, but unless there was a way to make it apply to something other than the DNA machine that was running it, I didn’t see a whole lot of usefulness for it to anyone outside. If they were competing, I suppose, but that was a narrow niche to attract a hacker of the talents I’d just witnessed.

Even as I thought it, I had to crack a smile. It might be a narrow niche, but it had attracted me, hadn’t it? Hackers still needed day jobs, otherwise I wouldn’t be looking for work out here in the open market. The thought reminded me that I didn’t have a job now, and would need to start looking, but I was somewhat more intrigued by the message I still clutched in my hand. Whoever it was had reached out to me, so it seemed like there ought to be a way for me to reach back, right? There wasn’t much point in reaching out in the first place otherwise.

So I locked the code from the glasses to my head and made another turn around the market. More information was visible, all the extra code that the VR simulator used to keep things organized was hanging off people and items like ragged scarves. This time there was another flying envelope in my vision, at one side of the square. Breadcrumbs, if I had to guess.

It was better than sulking.

The Great Library

This was the second prompt in the flash fiction month’s worth of prompts (which yes, I am tackling in order between other things), and you get to meet Arcadia. I may have taken this rather literally, but it worked out well. If I can get my act together there may be more of Arcadia’s story coming later on, and it gets gradually bigger to include others whom I may write about in the meantime. I’ve set this in the setting of the 13th Age roleplaying game because my original idea had been for a game with this plot. Enjoy!

Day 2: “Smoke hung so thick in the library’s rafters that she could read words in it.”

Arcadia stood in front of the large double doors of the Great Library of Horizon, clutching the precious letter of permission to enter the restricted section she needed for her wizarding academy final project. The library was an imposing building of ivory marble and shining brass, glowing like a beacon in the afternoon sun.

She lifted her skirts and opened the right-hand door, entering the relative gloom of the library and pausing to let her eyes adjust. It wasn’t dark, by any means, but the crystalline light fixtures were dimmer than the shining sun outside. The crystals also didn’t affect the books or scrolls in the way that prolonged exposure to light usually did. The interior was laid out in concentric rings, the upper floors visible beyond their balconies, all the way up to the skylights far above.

Arcadia turned from the always impressive sight and made for the Archivist’s office, near the information desk. She needed his secretary to approve the letter in her hand, and then there was some sort of magical key that allowed her into the particular restricted section… she wasn’t really sure how it worked. It was left vague on purpose, she imagined as she walked up to the door and knocked. If the details were known, some wizarding student or arcane-minded thief might try to bypass the system. Students were always trying to do things they shouldn’t, as Arcadia well knew, it had taken forever to get the appropriate permission to complete her final project. She knew there could be dangerous repercussions if the ritual spell went poorly, so she didn’t really blame her professors, exactly, but it had still been irritating.

“Come in!”

Arcadia entered the Archivist’s offices, a place she’d never been before, and was a little surprised to find a halfling woman at the full-size secretary’s desk. “Begging your pardon, I’ve got a letter of permission from the Archmage. I need access to the planar restricted section.”

The halfling beckoned her in, setting aside the paper she had been working on. “Come in, child, I’m not going to bite.”

Arcadia set the sealed letter on the desk in front of the Archivist’s secretary, trying not to steal glances at the papers just set aside.

The halfling woman set a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles on her nose and grabbed a letter opener, touching the butt of it to the glittery wax seal — the Archmage’s official seal was a bit ostentatious, but he was the Archmage. There must have been some reaction, because she smiled and nodded, then broke the seal. She skimmed the letter quickly (no one read that fast, did they?) and looked up to nod again at Arcadia. “Everything is in order. Are you a student at the Academy? May I see your ID?”

“I am,” Arcadia replied, fumbling a little with her satchel to take out the magical card with her name, dormitory, a sketch of her face, and signature. It was tied to her, and the magic told anyone who sought to confirm who she was that it was legitimate. She handed it over.

The halfling opened one of the drawers of her desk and pulled out a… something. It looked something like a hole punch, with lever and hinge, but it had three small shelves, instead of metal punch points. The top shelf received her ID, to Arcadia’s confusion, though she recognized the sparkle confirmation that it was a valid ID. The secretary pulled an amulet from her neck and set that on the second shelf, and it too sparkled. That must be to make sure no one else could use this, whatever it was. The halfling reached into the same drawer and pulled out a small metal token about the size of a copper piece, and this she set on the last shelf. Pulling the handle compressed the three shelves together, and the secretary held it for a moment. “Dolmissien klaxankow,” she stated clearly. She released the lever and put her amulet back around her neck, taking the other two items and offering them to Arcadia. “This is your key to the restricted section. It will only work for you, but you must have it with you to enter. Some people tie it around their necks, or wrists… one person I’ve seen even made a bookmark out of it. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s with you. Your access to the restricted section must be logged, and the logs are checked against the key usage, so don’t forget. I do not recommend entering any section but the planar restricted section, for your permission will be revoked. Restricted section books are not to be taken from the section, and your notes must be kept private. Do you understand these rules?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Arcadia replied quickly. She already knew the rules by heart, she had no intention of accidentally getting kicked out of the section and not being able to complete her final project. She needed the connections a graduation from the Academy afforded, so completing her project was paramount.

“Let me know if you have any problems,” the halfling offered with a smile. The token-maker went back in her desk drawer. “Some of the older texts have… attitude. Don’t let them get away with it.”

Arcadia nodded, not quite sure how to respond to this. But it was a dismissal, so she smiled and let herself back out into the library. She knew exactly where the section she needed was, it was up on the third floor and in one of the side halls. Trudging up the steps, she examined the token she’d been given. It had the library coat of arms on one side, and a rune she only vaguely recognized on the other, with a small hole that would allow her to string it on a ribbon or fine chain. The chain might be wiser, she didn’t want to lose this. That would be a jewelry store purchase she hadn’t been planning on, but she would make it work, even on her shoestring budget.

For now, she carried the token carefully in hand and approached the wrought iron gate. There didn’t seem to be a slot she needed to touch the key to, so she just reached for the door handle. It opened smoothly and without the squeal of rusty hinges she had been expecting.

The restricted section was gloomier than the main hallways of the library, but she slowly realized that part of it was the gentleman in wizards robes seated at the table poring over a scroll, smoking. The smoke hung so thick in the library’s rafters that she could read words in it. She blinked at that, not sure if she were dreaming, and cleared her throat. “Excuse me? Should you really be smoking in here?”

At first it didn’t seem like the wizard heard her, but he belatedly jerked his head up to gaze at her. For a moment she thought he was going to snap at her for interrupting him, but he seemed to notice the token still held in her hand. He let out a bark of laughter instead. “This library has better protections on it than my pipe could break,” he told her. “Nothing will come of it.” And he turned back to his scroll.

That was good to know, but she wasn’t sure she was going to enjoy working in here with all the smoke. There didn’t appear to be a draft of any kind moving the air around enough to clear the smoke. Luckily, as she moved to set her satchel on the other end of the table, she spotted another table further into the section, after the first set of bookshelves. She kept going, and made for that table. At one end a quill was magically taking notes on the massive book laid open beside it, so she took herself to the opposite end of the table and laid out her notebook, quill, ink, and reference list, then set the satchel on the next chair, out of the way. She then pocketed the token still in her hand and looked around for the shelf labels that would guide her to the proper section. The first shelves were obviously labeled, but as she progressed into the History section, she found the labels were harder to find, and had to use the books themselves as markers of her progress. Scroll cases were on the outer walls, and she had to sidetrack to find the scroll she wanted. It seemed that the history of the magical center for healing was not high on anyone’s list, perhaps because no one knew what happened, making it hard to write. But she needed the signs which were noted, not the purpose behind them, because her theory would either prove the matter or fail utterly.

Arcadia knew her grandfather had been at the center for magical healing, and she knew what her family knew. It had frightened her then, but after the fact she was too young to really remember the frightening aspect, just that something had happened to her grandfather, who she barely knew. It made trying to solve the mystery far more of an academic matter, yet she was doing it because she knew her mother was still upset. It wouldn’t have stuck after this much rejection, otherwise.

When next she looked up from the scroll, the word ‘rejection’ hung in the smoke lingering over her table. This time she frowned and set aside the scroll. Once, maybe it was a coincidence, or she was imagining things. Twice…

She rose and returned to the previous room where the wizard was still smoking. “Excuse me? Is your smoke supposed to write words?”

He belatedly processed her presence once more and looked up to blink at her in confusion. That was answer enough. And it was true, out here the smoke didn’t seem like anything but smoke. It was further in that something odd was happening… or she was mad, like her grandfather. That had been suggested enough times over her study at the Academy, when this topic arose.

She returned to her things at the next table, and stood behind the chair. There were still words in the smoke above the table, but they were faint and didn’t seem to be linked in any grammatically acceptable fashion. The word ‘rejection’ had drifted farther down the row of shelves, but it was still legible even in the gloom. “Who are you?” she asked quietly, not really sure how one went about talking to a strange magical effect.

The words ‘Who are you?’ wrote themselves into the smoke and lingered.

“My name is Arcadia Cressenden, I’m a wizarding student at the Academy.”

Her words were echoed in the smoke once more, but this time most faded, leaving only the words Wizard Cressenden to hover, waiting for her reaction.

Arcadia blinked. There weren’t any other wizards in her family, and the one who had been she was currently researching in the scroll on the table. That was impossible, though. Right? If her thinking about him had somehow conjured him, the words wouldn’t have been visible when she walked in. Except that her entire purpose in here had something to do with him, she realized. “Grandfather?”

The word started to write itself, but the letters drifted apart, giving her nothing to work with. Maybe it was a rejection of her crazy thought.

If it was going to use her words, she needed to give it more of them. “Are you my grandfather, and am I your granddaughter?”

The words appeared faster now, and just as quickly rearranged themselves to read ‘I am your grandfather, and you are my granddaughter.’

She took a step forward and sank into the chair. There was a question of verity, whether or not she could believe a strange magical effect that seemed to have been overlooked in the scheme of the Great Library’s magic. But it seemed to want to communicate with her, and she’d have to give it the words to use. Licking her lips slowly, she swallowed the lump in her throat along with her doubts. She could examine this rationally later on. For now, she pulled her parchment closer, grabbed her quill, and wrote down everything it had ‘said’ so far. “Do I understand that I’m going to have to give you words so you can talk?” she asked, hoping the leading question offered enough words.

‘You do understand.’

“Am I correct in thinking that you are the spirit of my grandfather, or are you some kind of magical effect left behind by another wizard?”

‘I am a magical effect left behind by grandfather.’ It wasn’t perfectly correct Common, but it was a better answer.

She quickly wrote her questions and its answers on her parchment in neat but tiny letters. She had a feeling this might take awhile. “Are you talking to me because I’m here or because I summoned you? You’re hovering in this section I wouldn’t normally be in.”

‘I’m here because you summoned me to this section.’

“Is grandfather really dead?”

‘Grandfather is really dead.’

Arcadia’s heart sank. There went her theory of planar transference, shot down by a… well, it seemed like a ghost, even if it had said it was a magical effect. It had only her words to use, after all. “I don’t understand. Can you tell me what happened to grandfather?”

‘I can tell you what happened.’

Her heart rate quickened. If she could somehow prove that something had happened, specifically what had happened, that might save her final project. “I’d like to find a way to speak faster than this, can you write with a quill or no?”


She sighed. She needed something that would allow for faster communication, and she needed to give this spirit, whatever it was, more words than a single sentence. Arcadia blinked at the scroll she’d set aside. “If I roll out this scroll can you read it and use its words.”

‘I can. Roll out this scroll.’

Success! She quickly spread out the scroll so that it lay down the length of the table, most of the article she had been seeking available for the spirit-thing to read. It was like watching words steam up into the space above the table as the invisible spirit moved down the scroll, picking words and grabbing some from prior sentences as it sought them. Arcadia quickly moved back to her chair and grabbed her quill, waiting for the words to drift together into sentences she could read.

‘Scrimhunt Castle became a center for the healing of magical maladies. Witches, wizards, hedge magicians, and occult fanatics from all over the Empire came to seek out healing.’

Arcadia did copy this down, though she knew all this already. That was common knowledge.

‘Magister Beutel Worst built a thing to harness the energies of many wizards and force healing throughout the castle in one action.’

That was new. Arcadia frowned. She had to wonder what the ‘thing’ was that he built. Clearly there wasn’t a useful word for it in the scroll available, or she doubted this spirit would’ve called it just a ‘thing’. “Did it work?” she asked, before realizing the spirit probably wasn’t done with its explanation.

‘No. But he turned it on and a storm ravaged the building, inside and out. All were taken to a place between where life was not supported.`

“So they were transported! Yes!” she cried quietly, pleased beyond measure that her theory was true to that extent at least. Then she heaved a breath and frowned at the words she’d just copied down. ‘A place between’ was another instance she had a feeling the spirit was just using the words it had access to, and that was not clear enough either. “A place between… what?” she asked the air.

There was no movement of words for a moment, and then from behind her head drifted two words. ‘The Planes.’

Arcadia blinked. She was in the planar restricted section, after all. It wasn’t impossible to comprehend a place between planes, likely a void. “Why did Worst transport them there? I thought he wanted to heal them?”

‘He wanted to heal them.’ There was a pause and words began to drift up from the scroll again. ‘Magister Worst did not have success. His designs were influenced from a wizard who did not have the same goal.’

Arcadia sat back in her chair and watched the words slowly dissipate in the smoky air. “Influenced? Was this wizard from some other plane? Is that why it suddenly took them elsewhere?”

From behind her she heard “Are you talking to someone?” The wizard who had been smoking approached, his measured tread audible in the silence.

“Um. Sort of?” she replied, looking over her shoulder. “Unless I am going mad, there’s some kind of magical effect here that seems to have been tied to my grandfather.”

Words formed in the smoke. ‘I am grandfather.’

The wizard stared for a long moment. “Well, if you’re crazy, so am I. How did you do that?”

“I didn’t,” she replied. “It seems like something was left over, like a spirit, maybe? It’s not a ghost, it’s just… it said ‘magical effect’ earlier when I tried to question it, but it only uses the words I say aloud, or the scroll I’ve spread out for more vocabulary.” She considered a moment and then looked up at the man, still staring at the cloud of pipe smoke. “If I cited you as a witness to this, would you be willing to sign off that you saw it?”

His gaze shifted abruptly to her. “I don’t have any way of knowing that you didn’t create it.”

“It’s telling me totally new information about what happened at Screamhaunt… er, what happened at Scrimhunt Castle Center for Magical Maladies. I don’t think I could fake that. Look.” She picked up her parchment where she’d been taking notes and offered it to him.

His interest peaked, he read through it at least once, since she doubted it took him that long to read her neat handwriting. “You can’t prove any of this. Especially the part about taking them between planes.”

She swallowed. He wasn’t wrong. “I haven’t figured out how, yet, but I thought I’d get all the information I could and then worry about that? At least with you as a witness I’d be able to cite this much. I may have to go out there, see what I can find.”

The smoke echoed her. ‘Go out there, see what you can find.’

She pointed her quill at it. “See? A stellar recommendation.” Her giggle sounded nervous, even to her own ears.

The wizard lowered the page of notes so she could take it back. “Very well, you may tell them that I witnessed this. I won’t equivocate for you, though, girl. I have no confirmation that it’s not your own creation, but I definitely witnessed it happening.”

“That will be enough for now, I think, since it’s changing the direction I’m going with this project, but it’s still in the idea phase anyway.” She took the page of notes back and dipped her quill. “Your name please, sir?”

“Theophilus Turil Torandrews.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Wizard Torandrews. My name is Arcadia Cressenden, student of the 7th year at the Academy.” She looked up and gave him a little nod, what part of a bow she could manage while seated.

“Good luck with your project, Arcadia. I hope you’ll be careful if you do decide to go out there. There’s no telling what could happen.” He nodded to her, gave the fading words in the smoke one more uncertain glance, and then went back to his own work.

Arcadia heaved a sigh of relief. That solved the problem of people believing if she’d made up seeing words appear in thin air. Whether they’d believe the effect was tied to her grandfather was another matter entirely, but it ultimately didn’t matter. It sounded like she would need to go out to Scrimhunt Castle in order to really get a sense for what had happened. That would take more planning, and probably hiring mercenaries or guards to go with her. She couldn’t just take a jaunt beyond Horizon without taking precautions.

She blew out a breath audibly. Guards would require money she didn’t have. Her eyes watched the word ‘find’ expanding and fading until it was just more smoke in the smoky room. “Thank you for your help, whatever you are. I wouldn’t have been able to get this far without your help. Is the thing Magister Worst built still at the castle, intact, I mean, so I can see it, or did it go between with them?”

‘It is at the castle. Go see it.’

“Yes, sir!” With a smile and the last notes of her interaction with this effect, Arcadia packed her things and went home to figure out how to safely take a trip to Pocket Bay.

Ravenloft: The Guardian

​This prompt started my mind down a path that may well lead to a Ravenloft fan fiction sometime in the foreseeable future. While this story is little more than a character sketch, the way it came to me makes me think there’s something more involved that could be done with it. But without further ado, I invite you to meet Rozalina.

“Her body was littered with scars from old hunts, a living tapestry of near-misses and fights.”

Once they had shared introductions and sat down to a festive meal, their guide slipped away to the caravan leader’s vardo, where his wife offered her a tub of steaming water and a dressing gown for afterward, should she wish to wash any of her clothing. He hadn’t meant to intrude, but when his curiosity and yes, his mistrust of all others, led him to follow her, to make sure she wasn’t leaving them in the night, he was surprised to spot her through the open door of the vardo, left ajar so she could call out if she needed anything. In the candlelit interior of the wagon, Rozalina looked more kindly, her sharper expressions smoother, more friendly. Left to her bath, her posture slowly changed from the fiercely predatory guide he recognized to an older, more tired woman he didn’t. He should’ve left then, when she began unlacing her boots, but there was something about the way the silver glints in her hair stood out in the candlelight that transfixed him where he stood.

As each layer of clothing came off, the mask of ‘Rozalina, gypsy guide’ dispersed, leaving only a woman with more gray in her hair than he’d originally recognized, and a tired woman at that. Her leggings joined the pile of clothing on the floor, and a jagged scar was revealed on the back of her thigh. Whatever had caused that had nearly severed her hamstring, by the look of it. But he lost track of that thought when she pulled her shirt over her head. Two things immediately struck him: she was the most beautiful woman he had seen in a long time, and yet the scars on her body were enough to undercut his body’s reaction to her beauty. There was hardly an inch of her that was unmarked. Her body was littered with scars from old hunts, a living tapestry of near-misses and fights. Her skin was a melange of straight cuts like those from bladed weapons and jagged or irregular scarring from claws and fangs. A few puncture wounds as well. It was the oldest-looking scars that really sent his libido packing, however. Four marks, three on one side of her spine, one the other, looked like she had been grabbed by something with claws, something big enough to wrap its hand fully around her torso. He was dumbstruck, staring at those scars, a pattern of death and battle more impressive than any medals on a general’s jacket; he wondered if even his commanding officers had such a history. But it was only as he gathered his thoughts, seeing Rozalina in a whole new light, that he realized she hadn’t moved. In fact, she’d turned and was regarding him calmly.

He felt heat rush into his face. “I’m sorry, I…”

“Perhaps you could close the door as you leave.” Her voice didn’t sound angry, just firm in what was not a request.

Flushed, he quickly nodded and took two steps closer to pull the door shut.

Her quiet voice reached him as the door closed. “And keep your thoughts to yourself. They don’t need to know.”

They don’t need to know. Her words echoed in his head as he returned to the fire and accepted a bowl of stew from his new comrades. What was it that she didn’t want known, he wondered. That she ought to be a living legend on the battlefield? That she must have a guardian angel looking out for her to have survived all those fights? In his experience, those who had fought so much deserved all the credit offered them. She was a veteran beyond the pale, as far as he was concerned, and he knew that even if he didn’t say anything to the others, his opinion of her was now drastically different, and he’d be hard pressed to keep up the mistrustful attitude that he was ashamed to have been directing at her so far. Even more, he had to wonder what it was she was doing playing the part of guide, when she was obviously experienced enough to be leading their strange little group. Whatever they were paying her must amount to chump change in the bigger picture.

He assumed they were paying her, anyway; because he lacked any of the local coin he had let the others do the talking, and honestly he hadn’t been paying her that much attention that first day. Too much had happened in the course of a sun up for him to recall the details. Now he wondered if he ought to have listened more carefully. He was here now, for all that he would’ve preferred to go home. And the unanimity of the opinions on his chances of returning told him he ought to be making himself comfortable with the idea of staying here. Yet somehow he still thought of them as “them”, not “us”. If there were a more obvious sign of needing to come to terms, he didn’t see it. It would be easier to get home, he suspected.

The mood around the fire was infectious, his traveling companions and the Vistani making general light of their situation for all they’d be going back to the gloom when the night was done. It was hard to keep from smiling at the others, even while his mind wanted to consider the curiosity that was Rozalina further. He decided that he needed to pay attention to the moment, now that he had realized he hadn’t been focused on what was really going on. The stew in his bowl was growing cold, so he quickly ate the tender bits of meat and vegetables before they could cool further.

Challenger Spotlight: Gianna Robbin

Our fourth blog challenge prompt was to click around in BuzzFeed’s 99 Prompts interactive list and find one to write. I found a lot of them hard, or they evoked scenes from popular movies or TV shows, but I have loved how different people among my fellow challengers answered theirs. My hands-down favorite was definitely Gianna Robbin’s, because she chose a prompt that involved scifi pirates and the story was amazing. Be still my heart!

Is it weird that the first thing that stood out to me was that she correctly pluralized “passersby”? Maybe. I should expect such excellence from the writers I’ve been blogging alongside at this point, but somehow it just made me smile. But the first relevant thing that stood out was her main character’s description of the Intergalactic Rangers as “those pony boys”. In three words, we can picture the main character, the captain of the pirate ship, and see the attitude she views the world with. Perfection! Definitely something to strive for, being able to snapshot a character in so few words. I hope you’ll click and go read the story before I say anything more about it.

I asked her a few questions about the prompt, which she was kind enough to answer for me to share.

​Generally speaking, I am more of a pantser when it comes to writing. I do sometimes create bullet points of what I want or need to happen in a story or section but for the most part, I just write and see what comes out. I have tried to create outlines and plan the whole thing out, but for me, that doesn’t really work and I find that I lose interest in the story when I go that route.

This particular prompt was initially quite challenging. I couldn’t seem to find the right starting point. Once I found it though, the story just seemed to fall into place. It still took a bit to write and it certainly came out longer than I originally planned, but I’m quite happy with it. In fact, I’m working on part 2 to it now.

I really liked how this prompt resulted in a story that so many people seemed to enjoy and be able to connect with. I was a little concerned that it would be too close to Firefly when I first started writing it, but as I wrote more of it I quickly realized that while there are certainly hints of the show’s influence, this story is its own thing. I know I should say I love the main character, Shari…. but honestly, I love Jalexia, she is a kickass chick and I’m hoping in the next installment readers will get a chance to see her flex her muscles a bit. This story was one surprise after the next, I honestly did not know where I was going to end up when I started writing it. I knew I did not want it to be a romance and I knew I wanted a kick-butt female captain, but other than I just wrote and let the story tell itself.

If I had to pinpoint one thing I liked most about it? Hmm, that’s a hard one, I think it would be how each of the characters is their own person. They all have a role and they all have their own personalities. I try hard to make my characters as realistic as possible. As a reader that’s something I look for and so as I’ve made it a personal requirement as a writer too.

Hopefully, you will be seeing a part two to this story sooner rather than later. The characters are being a little resistant at the moment but I’m sure with a bit of coaxing we will be seeing Shari and crew’s next adventure really soon.

Thank you for taking a moment to ask me about my writing. I hope you and your readers really enjoyed it.

I’m definitely looking forward to part two and beyond, whenever it or they come about! Part two will undoubtedly be some epic action along with more twists of plot. Both are strong indicators of a great story.

More than the character descriptions here, which were just as awesome with later characters as it was with the captain, I really enjoyed the accidental success theme underlying the obvious plot. It certainly doesn’t seem like it, all the way up to the last scene, but from missing her footing and falling from her ship as it sped away onward, there’s no drop in the forward momentum. Each new action is rolling the story toward a climax which is completely unexpected. And no, I’m not going to tell you what it was, go scroll back up and read the story!

If you haven’t already decided to follow Gianna Robbin’s blog, now would be a great time to do so.

Until next time!

The Valiant Order of the Round Table

Our next challenge of the blog challenge was to click through BuzzFeed’s 99 prompts list and find one that we could write. I have to say, I’ve had a lot of trouble with this, mostly because every one of their prompts reminded me of a book, or movie, or an anime series. Or several. This was hard to start, but once I started writing, I could see the characters and the organization, and it got a little out of hand. I tried to cut it down, but I ended up with more words than I started with. Luckily WordPress doesn’t seem to have a word limit (that I reached, anyway).

“The Knights of the Round Table still exist, only now they pilot robotic suits of armour, which they use to keep Britain safe against the mysterious giant creatures trying to invade our world.”​

“You’re going to have to find some cadets that can graduate early. This new schedule is killing the pilots, not to mention you. When did you last sleep, sir?”

Sir Lyonel Palamedes, Marshal of the Order of the Round Table, scratched the stubble growing on his jaw and had to seriously think about the answer — that alone was answer enough. “They’re not ready.” He frowned at Boris Bedivere, his second in command, across the glowing map table of Britain and Western Europe. “I did ask him to try and set the achievements early.” His eyes slid away from the contest of wills; even to his own ears he seemed defensive.

“There should be six hours you could sleep right now, if you trust me and Gawain’s squad enough to handle the upcoming small event.” He eyed the countdown clock in the corner of the screen that said they had a little more than an hour before combat.

Palamedes shook his head. “There’s something about this new pattern I’m missing. I can’t step away until I’ve found it. Or did you come up with a good reason they’ve decided to attack in formations we can predict?”

The Vice-Marshal growled under his breath. “They’re alien. Do they need a reason we can fathom?”

“Yes,” his commanding officer stated firmly, every line of his face saying he would be stubborn on this one point. “Even if it comes down to their means of transport, whatever that is. It’s not like they’ve been hiding in the ice cap all this time, we’d have seen something before this.”

Bedivere sighed. “Sir, you’ll think clearer after you’ve slept. I really must insist… if we do nothing but turn away the vanguard, we’ll have nothing to show for ourselves when the rest of the army arrives.”

This logic earned him silence, a long enough silence that it seemed perhaps rational thought had won. But ultimately Sir Lyonel shook his head. “I can run on caffeine and stimulants another eight hours if needs be — and yes, it’s necessary.”

“It’s been a long time since college, sir,” Bedivere pointed out. “You’re not as young as you used to be. That sort of thing is best left to the cadets.”

“Did you just call me old?” There was a note of humor in the tired voice.

“You’n me both.”

The Marshal gave a dry laugh. “I’m not sure I like the sound of that.”

“What else are the cadets good for, if not all the things we can’t do anymore?” Humor had broken through the fixated stare, which was a point in Bedivere’s favor if nothing else. “Let’s get the rankings and see if Agravain has any he can recommend for some kind of accelerated training. Let them do the grunt work and watch the knights fly. If we can get them in suits and flying backup formations, all the better.”

“They’re doing that already,” was Palamedes dry answer. “The entire senior class has been reinforcing the ground crews and hangars for the last week and a half. If they’re ready, Agravain hasn’t said so. We’ll have to hope that the top five or six can mount the empty suits and learn on the fly.” He used a gesture to move the map and bring up statistics. “Daniels, Gaheris, and now Geraint are going to be out for a couple weeks at least. The top cadets could fly those suits, it’s not like they could scratch them much more than they’ve already been damaged.”

Sir Boris made a choked noise in his throat. “I’m not even sure Geraint’s is going to fly. Have you gotten the engineering report back yet?”

“Mmhmm.” Scrolling through the list he had been reading, the commander found Geraint’s name and two recent reports, one from the medical team, one from engineering. Both men heaved a sigh without even reading the medical report; they knew how badly the man had been injured. The engineers summed up their report with ‘it’ll fly, but it won’t be pretty’, which was about as honest as they could be. But the suits weren’t meant to be pretty, so they would manage.

“Might need to ask if any of the others would be willing to trade with a cadet,” Bedivere mused. “I’d hesitate to put a cadet in that suit, it’s damaged enough that without the perfect reflexes they haven’t had a chance to build yet, a nanosecond’s delay could be the end of them.”

“Crowd control detail for a start,” Palamedes said with a shrug. “I don’t want to slow anyone down in damaged hardware if I can help it. We need all of our fighters.”

“That we do. I’ll see if I can get the seniors’ rankings so we can assign the top five to suits and get them into the backup formations for the 4AM shift.” He paused, looking over his commander again. “You sure I can’t get you to take a nap?”

“You’re dismissed, Bedivere,” growled the older man. It didn’t help his fatigue any that his second grinned at the command.


Kayleigh wasn’t sure if she was excited or scared, both were appropriate in context. She and four of her classmates, those she knew had the best ranks in piloting, were going to be flying with the wings. Backup, she was certain, but it was no less frightening to be on the edge of the combat when the damn croakers came out of nowhere the way they did. She was slightly worried she had put her flight suit on backwards, or wrong, somehow.

Sure, she had had a flight suit already, but all the cadets had them. Whether it was practice in one of the simulators or in an actual suit, they learned to work with the constricting garments. They had to, if they wanted to survive their first combat. But somehow it was different, putting on each piece now. She wasn’t getting more practice, this was the real thing. It would’ve happened sooner or later, certainly, she was well enough ranked in her class there was no fear that she wouldn’t graduate. But when she’d started college things were different. None of the primary wing’s squad leaders had been injured, then. Now there were injuries across all the wings, and the human body didn’t repair quite as easily as did the machines they piloted.

Movement from her left was barely enough warning for the arrival of her friend Adam, who punched her shoulder. “Ha! This is it!”

“Why are you so happy?” she asked him. “It’s three AM and you’re about to face an actual croa–” She turned the slang word into cough as their training instructor walked in, hopping to her feet and saluting as the others did.

“Kayleigh, thirty. Adam, one fourty-four. Eli, two sixteen. David, two twenty-one. Eva, two thirty-two.”

She nearly choked. Thirty was not a backup position. “Sir?”

“Don’t give me that look, Kayleigh. Doc signed off on it.”

“Yes, sir, but surely someone with a bit more experience would be a better replacement for Geraint?”

His eyes narrowed. “That’s Sir Gregory to you, cadet.”

“Of course, sir. Sorry, sir.” She frowned at him. “Is Sir Gregory’s suit even flight capable?”

“It’s been repaired and fully checks out. Anything else?” He stared at her until she subsided. “Good. You have your assignments. You four, report to Sir Antony in green hangar one for formations. He’ll pair you with someone and you’ll fly their tail, no matter what. Am I understood?”

“Sir, yes, sir!” Four cadets saluted and raced off.

He turned his eyes back to Kayleigh. “Don’t give me that look, Kayleigh. I didn’t make the assignments.”

She swallowed. “That doesn’t change the fact I’m supposed to be flying my first mission in a half-scrapped suit, sir. Not that it necessarily matters to anyone but me, but did anyone actually ask Sir Gregory if he cares that I might wreck his suit?”

Whatever her training instructor was about to say, that stopped him. “It’s not his to give, Kayleigh, you know that. I’m not certain he’s awake to ask.” It was a sobering thought, for the both of them. That one of the experienced knights had been so badly injured said something for the state of the battles they’d been fighting. They’d turned back the alien monstrosities, sure, but the battles were hard fought. And they still had no idea what it was the croakers were after.

“Yes, sir. I’ll just… I had better prep number thirty” She tried to ignore the look in his eyes as she saluted and left. It was far more pitying than sympathetic, and she had a feeling her training instructor was trying not to feel guilty that she, still a cadet, might not make it back from the next flight. That’s why she needed to lose herself in the prep work, or she would start considering the potential outcomes and then she’d be a nervous wreck and useless. She jogged into the hangar, trying to ignore the heads turning at her blue cadet’s flight suit, and some of the comments of the engineers as they finished last minute repairs were none too quiet. There was someone standing over the ground-level console at her suit. “Excuse me? I… oh!” She hastily saluted when the man turned and she recognized Sir Boris Bedivere, second in command of the entire order.

He was shorter in person. “You’re Kayleigh Cross?”

She could tell he recognized her, and there was only one bright blue cadet in the entire hangar. “Yes, sir.” Best to be polite.

“Caradoc went to check on Geraint, he’ll be down shortly. I expect he’ll want to suit up and get you outside first.”

It was nice of him to meet her here, even if she knew there was more to it than passing along a message… the console he was standing at would’ve sufficed for that. She glanced that direction, but wouldn’t dream of interrupting Sir Boris.

“Be my guest.” He stepped aside and waved her to take his place. “I wanted to thank you for accepting this mission without any warning. In another climate you would have had to finish out your semester before taking on anything for us, but this new pattern means we must change to match. I don’t think you’ll miss out on much, unless you’re midflight for the graduation ceremony.”

“Wait, you’re graduating me?” He had Kayleigh’s full attention. “I knew about the mission, but…”

“Do you disagree?” His eyes were hard to read.

“Well, no, but isn’t it a tad bit presumptuous of me to start flying lead wing? Shouldn’t I be graduating into the backup formations, just like everyone else?” She couldn’t quite make herself say all the things going through her head in that instant, not to his face. But she knew others wouldn’t hesitate to fault her for this.

“Not everyone in the backup formations can fly like you do. Some never will make it above backup. They know it, as I think you do. We’ll come up with something by the time you land. I expect if you blame the scrap you’re about to fly and suggest that they didn’t want to risk a ‘real pilot’, most won’t argue?”

She could practically hear the air quotes in his statement and flushed, looking down at the console instead of accepting that he knew exactly what was on her mind.

“If you haven’t called your mother, you’d better do it fast.” Where that statement came from, she really didn’t know, but he continued on the same track. “If she learns you graduated early… that you’re flying today… after the fact, she will not be pleased.” There was a momentary pause and she had to wonder where his thoughts would go next. He still surprised her. “Your ancestor was Pellinore, correct? Do you want me to register you as Kayleigh Cross or Kayleigh Pellinore?”

She blinked and looked back up from the console, not having been able to read any of the information there while he was talking to her. “I… forgot that was an option. We don’t have another Pellinore, do we?”

“Not yet we don’t. I think there’s a sophomore from that lineage. It’s yours if you want it.”

She had to consider all the options. It would be a legal name change, should she want the name Pellinore, that much she knew from others who had taken their ancestor’s name upon graduation. It had been mentioned in a first-year seminar, even, and she’d briefly toyed with the idea before forgetting about it completely in the crush of freshman year craziness. “Kayleigh Pellinore,” she said quietly to herself. She shook her head. “It doesn’t sound right. No, I’m Kayleigh Cross. Thank you, Vice-Marshal, for the offer, though.” It didn’t feel right, claiming that lineage, not when she’d be claiming technically royal blood. That was too much hassle for her to want to investigate.

One side of his mouth moved in what might have been the start of a smile, but he remained formal. “As you wish, Pilot Cross. Do call your mother, though, if you can find a moment. She’ll have my head if you don’t.” And with that perplexing comment, he nodded to her and left her alone.

Kayleigh’s head spun for a moment with the idea of her mother berating the second in command of the Knights organization. It was an amusing thought, except she would never live it down if it came to pass. It was nice of him to mention it, in fact, since she hadn’t known the two even knew one another. They were about the same age, so maybe they were at college together? But no, it didn’t matter. She should be familiarizing herself with the flight suit, not daydreaming! Bedivere had said Caradoc was on his way, so she couldn’t have too much time to herself to do so.

Her fingerprint logged her on, started the onboard computer, and accessed the console’s full data functions, giving her the specs on suit thirty, including the engineering report that deemed it fit to fly. She wasn’t sure that was normally something released to the pilot, but it did make her feel a bit better to see that someone had signed off. There would’ve been that tiny question in the back of her head otherwise, just enough to distract her at the worst possible moment. This way she was freed of that.

Rather than bother with the elevator, she leapt up the front of the suit, catching the handholds placed just for that. There was no elevator in the field, her instructor had pointed out once, and she’d taken that comment to heart. Better to get used to the work when she didn’t need to do it than get caught in a situation where she needed it, but couldn’t muster the strength. She scaled the flight suit, the cockpit easily five if not six meters above the hangar floor. The hatch was open, left that way for fast turnaround when needed, and she slid easily inside.

At that point she had to take a deep breath and calm her nerves. For all intents and purposes, she’d just graduated at the head of her class, been promoted to Pilot, and then advanced further still, a change which usually came with either a promotion or a knighthood, neither of which she’d received nor earned. The blue flight suit gleamed in the blue-white light of the displays, a constant reminder that she had still been a cadet this morning when she woke to receive her new orders. The gray and white flight suit would no doubt be waiting for her when she got back — scratch that. If she made it back.

She knew she wasn’t supposed to do it, but given the Vice-Marshal’s suggestion, Kayleigh keyed in to link the suit to her personal phone over the net so she could call her mom. The phone might still be in her dormitory, but there was enough tech here to fix that. She just hoped no one caught her doing it. The phone rang and rang, and for a moment she worried she’d have to do this by message, which would not be nearly enough to satisfy her mother, but finally a sleepy voice answered.


“Mom, it’s me. Vice-Marshal Bedivere suggested I call you… they graduated me and a few others to fly this morning.”


Kayleigh waited. She was certain there was no question about what she had said.

“You listen to me, Kayleigh. You do exactly as you’re told, you hear? Who’s your squadron leader?”

“I don’t actually know yet. I’m waiting on instructions.” She glanced around the hangar, just to make sure. It was still mostly empty, her orders having woken her with plenty of extra time. So far the few pilots present didn’t seem to be making a big deal of the blue cadet in their midst.

“They didn’t stick you with Baudwin, did they? That man is not an easy wing leader.” Though Kayleigh’s mother had never been flight-rated, she still worked for the Knights organization and knew most of the higher ranking officers at least by name.

“No, it’s not Baudwin.” She didn’t want to tell her mother outright, but she knew the questions would come and lead around to it soon enough. “They advanced me to lead wing. Under Caradoc.”

Complete silence. That wasn’t good.

She waited, but the growing silence made her uncomfortable until she had to say something. “Mom.”

“Care to run that by me again?”

Oh shit. She knew that tone of voice, and it wasn’t good. Luckily the ire was directed at whoever had made the decision, not Kayleigh herself. “Mum, I gotta go, I’m calling you from the suit and I’m really not supposed to. If they catch me at it my first day I’ll be in serious trouble.”

“You will call me the moment you get back.” It wasn’t a question.

“Of course, mum. First thing.” Kayleigh had a feeling there would be a lecture involved, but she knew there wouldn’t be much for her mom to blame her for, not when she would’ve graduated to do this at the end of the semester, anyway, and her orders weren’t of her own making. No, orders were orders and she would either follow them or wash out. And Kayleigh refused to wash out. She was better than that.

“If you get yourself killed, I will never forgive you.”

Before she could even attempt to reply, the line went dead. That was not the ideal way to end what could potentially be the last time she talked to her mother, but she couldn’t change that now. Just to set herself right, she sent her mother a message with a simple ‘I love you’ and a heart. That way, whatever happened…

No, she couldn’t think like that. She was qualified for this, and she knew it. Agravain had given her top marks in actual flight competence, which was hard to accomplish. He may have been lenient where theory was concerned, as long as a cadet learned the basics, but the actual flight skills were required, no ifs ands or buts. So she knew why she was selected to pilot this suit, half-scrapped or otherwise. Numerically she was probably ahead of most of the pilots, even, as nothing stayed perfect for long in actual combat. Since she hadn’t been in conflict yet, her record was still clean. Yes, she could understand why she sat where she sat. All she had to do now was accept it.

Could she force acceptance? It was weird, not having the cadet hangar around her. Normally there were two flight suits for the cadets, and one was bolted to the wall. It was for learning the interface, the commands, and getting used to the controls. The flight simulator didn’t even count as a suit, it was a gyro-mounted cockpit with simulated display. The other flight suit was fully functional, but they rarely took it out of the hangar. When they did, it was for duo flights with Agravain himself.

This was a new view, and it was a little daunting to be faced with a row of suits against the far wall, each with its sequential number painted in fluorescent white. It was only when she was faced with the rank sigils on the opposite suits that she realized she was marked as both a knight and a squad leader. They weren’t expecting her to… no. They couldn’t. She had no training to lead.

“I see you’re making yourself comfortable.” The voice over the intercom made her jump.

She hastily looked around, finding Sir William “Doc” Caradoc at the foot of her suit. She’d been too lost in thought to spot him coming. “Yes, sir. Shall I come down?”

In response he stepped onto the elevator and keyed it up to cockpit height. In contrast to VIce-Marshal Bedivere’s calm official facade, Doc gave her a friendly smile and leaned in to offer his hand. “Nice to meet you, Kayleigh. I don’t think we’ve met before.”

She hastily accepted his hand, even if they were stretched too far for her to really shake it. “No, sir, we haven’t. The honor is mine.” The wing leader had more than a few fans in the college, and something of a cult following in the wider world. He’d made enough headlines he was probably used to the attention, but to her it was like meeting royalty… not that she’d ever admit as much aloud.

“Geraint wanted me to tell you she answers to the name Helga,” he told her, smile widening.

“Helga?” Kayleigh’s eyebrows rose.

“Helga.” There was similar amusement written across his features.

“Oh my.” Kayleigh bit her lip, but she couldn’t help it. She knew many of the pilots had customized their AIs over time, but she had never realized they named them. She had to wonder who Helga was, or had been, to have a flight suit AI for a namesake.

“She’ll suit you fine.” He seemed sure of it, so she decided to just trust him on it. He nodded at the controls, which she had yet to turn on. “Everything is still standard, I had the engineers check that when they repaired it, just in case we could fit another pilot to this suit.”

“Thank you for that.” Her top marks for flight wouldn’t do her any good if some of the controls had been customized. Usually that was to work around a handicap caused by injury, though, and Geraint hadn’t had any major wounds until now. “Sir, I only just realized that he’s a squad leader. Is there someone else who can take over?”

Doc nodded. “She should be arriving a bit early to meet you and retask the squad AIs for the new formation. You’ll be taking her place in the second row instead of primary position.” He glanced down the hangar as if expecting her any minute. “Kim Evans is good people, you won’t have any trouble with her.”

The way he said it made her wonder who she would have trouble with, and whether they were in her squad or not. It made sense that not everyone would like her taking Geraint’s place, but there was a difference between not liking it and actively causing trouble for her, which could easily amount to injury in the field. But she didn’t want to ask, it felt like admitting weakness to her new commanding officer. “Yes, sir,” she said instead. “Can you tell me if there are any particular formations that this squad usually flies?”

There was definitely something going on in his head as he nodded, his eyes were complicated to read. “We call it in the air, usually, which you won’t have to do, you’ll just have to listen for Kim’s orders. Violet squad is usually ground if we have to split up the forward units, I take ROY in the air and Lucan takes BIV to meet them on land. But beyond that, I just want you to listen to Kim and do what she tells you. Whatever happens, it’s easier to take it as it comes that way.”

“Yes, sir,” Kayleigh repeated. “I can do that.” She nodded past his shoulder at a short woman headed their direction with purpose in her step. “Is that Kim Evans?”

He turned and nodded. “Aye. Let’s get you ready to go, you can meet her outside.”

It seemed he didn’t feel quite as strongly about letting her meet Kim in person as he had about meeting her in person himself. Hopefully that wasn’t a bad sign. “Hi Helga, let’s get started.”

All the lights flickered on as a pleasant female voice replied. “Hi, Kayleigh, do you want to do the system checks or shall I?”

“I’ll leave you to it,” Doc told her, and grabbed the rail of the elevator, hitting the ‘ground’ switch as he did so.

“I’d like to view the checks, Helga,” she told the AI, saluting Doc quickly. As he disappeared from sight she grabbed the hatch and pulled it shut, reaching for her helmet in the next breath. “Put them on screen. Cockpit.”

“Check!” The list scrolled up for her to see each individual check happen as switches flipped and lit across the dashboard.


“Check!” The list just kept coming as Kayleigh buckled herself in.

“Right wing.”

“Check!” The peppy female voice was more than a little shrill, but she sounded pleased enough to be performing even basic tasks.

“Helga, can you be a little quieter? My hearing’s just fine,” Kayleigh quipped at the AI.

“Nose, check!” was all the AI replied, though it was mercifully a few decibels quieter.

“Left wing.”


Kayleigh waited until the list of everything had finished scrolling past her heads up display. “How’s the maintenance work? Anything slow to react?”

“Everything is up to code,” the AI replied. “The tail fins seem fractionally slower than previous statistics, but fully within specs.”

So much for in good shape. She’d have to test them as she got off the ground with her squad leader here, before everyone was in formation and she wouldn’t have room to test the rock speed. “Last checks.”


“Let’s get started,” she told the AI.

The engine started with the same familiar spinal vibration as always, which relaxed her in a perverse sort of way. She could do this. “Confirm ready for takeoff?”

“Ready!” She couldn’t hear the siren in the hangar that accompanied her docking clamp release through the thickness of her helmet padding and the cockpit itself, but she could see the green and then red lights flash in quick succession, giving everyone around the very clear warning that her unit was about to move. Even at taxiing speeds, the movement of the flight suits could injure the unwary. Built like a harrier jet that stood upright on its elongated tail, the flight suits were too massive to be casual about.

“Alright, kid, let’s get started. I want a quick duo flight before everyone else is suited up.”

Kim’s voice over the radio sounded harsh, but Kayleigh had a feeling that was just the poor quality of the sound. “Yes, marm.” She made it out to the tarmac and waited for her squad leader to catch up.

“I want you on my tail no matter what, for this test flight and mission.”

“Yes’m. Safest place for me to be.” Kayleigh watched, both out her window and the heads up display in her helmet, waiting for Kim’s suit to come even with her and lift off.

There was barely half a second between liftoff and acceleration.

Apparently this was a test, not just a check that Kayleigh was flight capable. Her fingers flew on the buttons to key in liftoff and hit the accelerator. She followed her squad leader at as exact a distance as she could manage, though Kim tried to throw her off. Luckily the tail fins that Helga had questioned didn’t seem that bad to Kayleigh. Perhaps it was just having been used to flying the cadet suit, an up-to-spec suit was a dream.

“Not bad, kid,” came the squad leader’s voice after about fifteen minutes of this acrobatic flying. “Alright, I can definitely use you.”

Kayleigh si​ghed. She’d had a feeling that’s what this was about. “The more you tell me about how Violet squad flies, the better I’ll be able to follow you in the field,” she pointed out over the radio. “Doc wasn’t really able to give me specifics.”

“Aye, he let’s us do as we need to do.” Kim’s flight path evened out, making a lazy circle around the hangar.

Kayleigh matched her. “Can you give me the short version on who else is in our squad, please? I don’t even know their names.”

“V3 is Danai Carran, she’s a good offensive fighter. V4 is Rafael Santos. He does better with defense, but they suit each other well. Five is Constantin Blackburn, and if you get flak from any of them, it’ll be him. Don’t take any of it too seriously, he just won’t like how easily you made it this far. He’s got more attitude than most squad leaders like, is all. V6 is Martin Galeshin. He’s usually quiet, so I wouldn’t expect too much trouble. He’s the best long-range shot we’ve got, but he doesn’t get to use it much. That’s not really what we’re in for, y’know?”

“It’s a shame, I think. If we could do more of this long distance, maybe fewer of us would end up where Ger– er, where Sir Gregory is right now.” She had to assume the silence from Evans was agreement. Glancing down at the hangar she spotted movement, the first squads were suited up and on the move. “Do we need to land, or did Doc say this was more important than muster?”

“You’re good enough, kid, I’m not going to keep you at it just to see if you slip.” That seemed to be as rousing a compliment as she was likely to get, but she understood. Getting close to a rookie was asking for heartache. “Land on the south side and wait for violet squad to show up.”

“Yes’m.” The dive for the ground was not one of her favorite parts of flying a massive suit of armor that flew best horizontally. By default, if they were in flight mode, landing was a headfirst game of chicken against the ground. She couldn’t deny the rush of exhilaration, however. Kayleigh counted herself among the crazy bastards who had clearly been born to fly one of these things.

A dry chuckle sounded over the radio. “You might as well start calling me Kim, kid, if we’re going to be flying together.” The pair swooped in and landed just as Indigo squad were lining up.

Kayleigh debated whether to ask Kim not to call her ‘kid’, but it was nicer than some of the things she could think of, so she stayed silent. Just as the violet squad appeared in the sunlight she thought of another question. “Are they all knighted already, Kim?”

“Yes we are,” replied a nasal male voice. “Guess it’s easy enough to figure out you’re not. Who are you, anyway?”

“Constantin, be nice,” Kim cut in.

“My name is Kayleigh Cross. And before you ask, I was a cadet this morning. That’s why you don’t know me.” She was sorely tempted to sass him right back, but she figured it wouldn’t be the ideal way to start a relationship with this team. The Vice-Marshal’s suggestion was a better bet. “They didn’t want to risk a real pilot in this scrap.”

“She flies better than you do, Constantin, so I wouldn’t suggest any wise cracks.” It sounded rather like Kim was enjoying that fact. Laughter over the radio from at least one woman and one man joined the squad leader’s amusement. Sounded like the rest of the team appreciated the chance to shut up the mouthy squad member. “Alright, listen up. Kayleigh’s flying second, so she and I will be partnered up and the rest of you stay the same. You listen and keep your eyes open, we’ll do just fine. Best way to get Geraint out of that infirmary, right?”

“Aye, he’d hate that!” “Yeah!” “Damn right.”

“Doc says we’re headed up Aberdeen way, so keep an eye on the land as well as the water! I won’t let any of you end up like Geraint on my first tour as leader, y’hear?”

This was more like Kayleigh had expected. The drill sergeant tone mixed with some light-hearted banter.

“Constantin, you will behave yourself around civilians, or you’ll hear about it from me, Doc, and Geraint, too. You copy?”

His response was delayed just long enough to be insolent. “Copy.”

“I’ll deal with you later,” Kim replied with just as much vitriol as the master chief signaled Doc’s arrival. “You can help repaint Kayleigh’s and my suit badges tonight.” Thirty-five roughly human shaped suits saluted.

Any response from Constantin was denied a chance by the wing leader’s entrance. “We need to cut this short, one of the croakers is moving faster than the others, and it’s nearly made land already. Lucan has permission to head straight for it, if so, so make sure you’re paying attention as we reach Aberdeen airspace. Let’s light the spiky bastards up.” His turn and takeoff weren’t immediately visible to Kayleigh in her lineup at the back of the triangular formation, but once he was off the ground he was moving fast.

There wasn’t much jocularity on the flight up, Kayleigh doubted that anyone liked the sound of faster moving creatures to fight. They had enough trouble with the types they’d already met.

“Hey cadet. You go by Kayleigh, or Cross, or what?” Her HUD said it was V3 asking over their squad channel, the pilot Kim had named Danai Carran.

“I don’t know, depends on whether Kim keeps calling me ‘kid’.” Laughter met her response. She had to smile. “I’ll answer to either, as long as I know you mean me. Either is gotta be better than ‘thirty’, right?”

“Got that right. Most of us use first names, except for Santos,” Danai offered helpfully. “He insists on the formality of Sir Rafael if we want to use his given name.”

“Just because you’re a hussy, Danai…” drawled a male voice that must be Santos’.

“Cut that out, you two,” Kim interrupted before Danai could reply. “I want your heads back in the game. We’re nearly there.”

Kayleigh started looking at their surroundings more as the formation spread out into attack positions, giving her a better view of what lay ahead instead of just a view of the forward squads. Then she spotted a shadow that she didn’t like the look of. “Is that our croaker?” she radioed the others.

“Holy shit,” was Kim’s response.

This one had six legs and a longer tail, instead of the frog-cum-tadpole anatomy that dubbed the alien species “croakers” in the first place. It was clear why this one was moving faster, it had definitely hit land already, and it was headed straight for Aberdeen. It moved more like an alligator with too many legs, and that analogy didn’t leave Kayleigh with a particularly fuzzy feeling.

“On me, BIV, we’ve got work to do.” Kayleigh assumed that was blue leader Lucan that Doc had mentioned took control of land defense in the event they needed it. “Dive and spread out, we need to turn it back before it reaches the city. Green leader, do you have eyes on this?”

Kayleigh tuned out the inter-squad chatter of Lucan making sure the backup units would reach the city in time to evacuate if needs be. She was far more concerned with the fast-moving croaker and the dive aimed more or less right in front of it’s toothy maw. Rather than consider the potential for injury, she locked eyes on Kim’s tail and kept them there as the squad dove for the right flank.

Almost as soon as blue squad landed, there was a massive thump that nearly upset indigo’s landing; the thing thudded its tail in the ground and used it like a springboard. Lucan’s lead squad had to dodge quick to avoid the ugly flat face being driven their way by the muscular body. It’s head was tiny comparatively, so when it swung side to side it wasn’t as dangerous as some of the croakers, but it still required a fast hand and eye to keep ahead of it’s long tongue, which it used like a whip. Lasers lit up the far side from where Kayleigh was, likely indigo squad causing a distraction for blue. It didn’t seem like they were going to get much out of it, though, as the croaker went for them next with another tail-sprung leap.

“Keep him focused on us!” insisted Lucan over the radio, a pointless order if Kayleigh had ever heard one. The thing was having a field day. “Violet, pair off and harry from the air!”

Kayleigh followed Kim as the squad leader pulled up and took them with her, each of them headed for a different angle around the creature’s head. As leader, Kim of course took them front and center.

When violet squad lit it up from multiple directions at once, the croaker looked for the nearest target and found it in Kim. The head reared back, and to their dismay, two of the arms left the ground as well. The thing nearly doubled in height and suddenly had arms free to use to smash the ground suits that got too close, which it started doing immediately amid radio calls of alarm. But its focus was definitely still on the airborne units.

“Kim, look out!” Kayleigh shrieked as the thing opened its mouth and spit… something… at them. It was like a pair of harpoons without the trailing cables.

Kim’s acrobatics were good, but not that good.

Kayleigh heard cries of alarm from the others of her team, but all she could see was the floundering flight suit in front of her. She cranked the throttle and sped up to dive after Kim, releasing the catch on her suit arms as she got close enough to reach out and grab the falling squad leader’s suit. She found she was furious. “Back off and give him hell, Martin,” she snapped. Her finger toggled the comm switch to reach the rest of the wings. “Blue leader, watch it’s head, it’s got a nasty harpoon.” She narrowly avoided crashing with the extra weight of Kim’s suit throwing her way off balance, but she managed to get Kim on the ground and a fair distance from the battle. “Green leader, thirty-one is down. I need immediate evac for the pilot.” She popped a can of violet smoke out the side of her suit to mark the position.

“Copy, thirty.”

With a large and clumsy suit hand, she jammed the cockpit release and pulled the suit open. The harpoon had blasted through the area just below the cockpit, and Kim seemed stunned, though there was definitely a wound from some of the shrapnel, for she was bleeding. “C’mon Kim,” Kayleigh breathed, waiting for signs of life, but saw none. “Green leader, have paramedics standing by.”

“Copy, violet leader.”

It took Kayleigh a moment to realize he meant her, assuming 30 was the lead suit in the violet squad. Well, she was now. She toggled back to just her squad’s frequency. “Constantin, on me. We’re going to take this nasty mess down.” She saw a missile fly by her from Martin’s suit, but it didn’t seem to accomplish much other than a puff of smoke against the side of its neck. It must have some kind of armor that she couldn’t see at this distance.

“You are not our leader!”

Argue with me later, dammit, Kim’s injured!” she forced out through gritted teeth. “We are not losing another squad member to these bastards.” To her surprise, there was no comment, and suit thirty-five fell into place behind her as her suit rose into the air and reformed for flight. “Danai, you and Santos take the far side, and watch that harpoon. You’re cleared for ordnance. Kindly don’t take my head off with it.”

The chuckle over squad comms was positively predatory, and it gave her a shiver even as Danai replied. “Copy, violet leader.”

She was slightly worried by Kim’s earlier comment that she flew better than Constantin, but she would have to hope he could keep up with her or their squad was going to take more damage. She flew wide, taking the pair of suits out of the immediate fight and around to the back of its head. Unfortunately there seemed to be something that she could only comprehend was like a hood of scaly armor. No wonder Martin’s shot had done little damage. “Shit. Danai, you may have to find a soft spot inside its mouth.”

A whistle and trailing smoke to her left told her something had been fired, and the head and arms suddenly swung that direction. “It has rather squishy eyes, too,” came Danai’s response.

“Violet leader, it’s armored below, you may be on your own to take it out.”

Kayleigh nodded to herself, steeling herself for what she needed to do. “Copy, blue leader.” She glanced around and saw the other two violet squad members circling. She toggled her squad. “We need to line up shots for Martin and Danai.”

She heard Santos growl before he spoke. “Close quarters that armor probably won’t hold.”

That’s risky and you know it. Constantin, you want to piss something off, you’ve got it. Circle till Danai and Martin are lined up. Santos, it doesn’t have eyes in the top of its head, and the armor has to stop somewhere. Up you get.” She pulled back and lasered the hood-like armor, and as expected, nothing happened. The croaker didn’t even seem to notice. She took position opposite Constantin, shooting lasers at its eyes when she had line of sight to them.

“Landfall.” The single word over the wings’ radio told them they were behind the game.

“That’s it, we need to drop this one, now.” She didn’t dare look to see what lay ahead, she knew there would be at least two more, though hopefully of the kind they’d fought prior. “Martin, you’re first. Danai, you’re going to need to be fast.”

“You worry about not getting smashed.”

Kayleigh watched Constantin, figuring she could get him out of trouble if she made quick work of the eye coming up on her side of the head. She just had to still have line of sight if the thing swung towards him, as it seemed to do when it actually felt the attacks. Kayleigh sped up. “Santos. On your mark.”

“Three. Two. One. Mark.” A missile left Santos’ suit as he pulled up and away.

Light of lasers lit Constantin’s cockpit, the thing’s head swung hard, and Kayleigh chased her target. She saw Martin’s shot coming straight at the open mouth and pressed her trigger. The missile hit squarely, and the croaker roared, its a nice wide mouth eating Martin’s missile. The impact detonated and it teetered, the upper body ceasing to attack the ground squads as its head moved as if in a daze. Kayleigh waited until she had it’s other eye in her sights, this time using her lasers to save ammunition. Its head swung around and knocked into her, sending her into a tailspin. As she hauled at the controls, trying desperately to pull up, she saw another missile land squarely in its open mouth.

Kayleigh didn’t see the results until she’d pulled up and away and was finally stable again; it was over. The second shot had taken it out, and actually blown out the top of its head in the process. The organization’s researchers would be enthusiastic, no doubt.

“Damn girl, you can fly,” she heard, and was surprised to realize it was Constantin.

“No shit, Sherlock,” was out of her mouth before she could censor it. Luckily, the others all chimed in with laughter.

“Alright, maybe you can stay,” he quipped.

“Nice flying, violet squad! You take the third incoming, with yellow squad.” That was Doc, not Lucan’s voice, so he was on top of their battle as well as his own. That she would envy later.

“Copy, wing leader.” She looked around, seeing that her squad had inadvertently formed up on her position while she wasn’t looking. “I’ll fly solo, you two pair off. Let’s give it something else to worry about so it stops bashing yellow out of the air.”

“Copy, violet leader!” Five units sped out to support the other squad.