The Hearth~ Our story thus far

A note from the fireside~ 6/17/18

     Hello, dear friends. I hope you’re having a good father’s day weekend. I myself haven’t been so fortunate, though I hope to be a father someday. We’ve got a few things to talk about this week. Goodness, that sound so serious. Maybe I can be a father after all. Anyways, the current arc for Paranormal Cleaners is done. It leads directly into the last arc for this part. Very likely, this over-arcing story will lead into the third part and make up the end of the story. In the original version, everything was going to get wrapped up in the next arc, but I felt this portion of the story needed a little weight. It’ll be interesting to see how this effects the overarching story for Paranormal Repossession, the second overall story.

     Second-Hand Rumors also ended it’s arc this week. It was a small arc, and not a lot happened in terms of actions, but I think the character development was very important. The last arc will encompass the end of the part. I am looking forward to the build up and the ending, and I would love to hear what you think about how it ends. Liam started off in a very different place, but in this last chapter he admitted he was becoming friends with someone. I would love to keep writing, but I am exhausted. This last week was so very long. I work a job where I am on call. I got called in every day, and I have a major project to work on for a student. With that in mind, I am cutting this weeks author’s note short. Next week, we’re going on break so I can try and get back on schedule. I might post something this next week, but let’s just say we’re closing our doors until next Sunday. I will miss you so much. Thank you, as always, for coming to my inn and spending some of your time with me. I am so glad that you came. I will save your chair for you right by the hearth.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 17

     Friendship was a concept which Liam found frightening. In his long existence, he had only known a handful of people who genuinely cared about him enough to help him without asking anything in return. Universally, people who were that kind died young, though maybe Liam’s long lifespan skewed his opinion on what dying young entailed. When Simon returned to the surface, he took Liam with him, rather than making him walk up the steps all by himself. The trip with Simon took much less time and the stairs up the long dark corridor felt much less ominous while they walked together. Maybe, Liam realized, Simon had put their relationship into the cast of paying off a debt because he knew Liam wouldn’t understand any other sort of relationship. Thinking back on their time together, Simon didn’t seem to care about the monetary value of possessions all that much. Maybe, just maybe, Liam had found a home at last.

     As they reached the top of the stairs, something black and furry with sharp teeth rubbed against Liam’s leg. As it’s head passed, Liam could tell it had sharp teeth. Somehow, he didn’t feel threatened, as though it was just saying thank you. Thinking back, Liam remembered the muffin and the chewing sounds which had seemed so threatening the first time.

     “Awww,” Simon exclaimed, his yellow left eye turned towards Liam, “You made a friend! I’m happy for you Liam.”

     Strangely, Liam didn’t feel like making a sarcastic retort. Maybe it was the coffee, or the lingering remnants of his hangover, but Liam just felt grateful for the experience.

     Simon opened the door at the top of the stairs and the sunlight poured down the hallway, dispelling the darkness which before had seemed so cold, but now felt quite warm. Stepping out into the world with him, Liam gave Simon a head start before he followed him again. His path was much more direct this time. There were fewer twists and turns, and his steps were surer and less frantic. As they walked, Liam watched Simon’s back very closely. He still saw flitting images of something following, just out of sight.

     They kept on like that until they reached a large apartment complex in Grenwich Village. Once he reached the front door, Simon stopped moving and looked back in Liam’s general direction. Liam slowly caught up and Simon turned to look at the front door, “I think this is an important question for you, Liam. How are you going to take responsibility for your actions? I know you didn’t mean to hurt them, but you did.”

     Liam turned his gaze to the ground, “I think I’ll just be honest.”

     Simon clapped a hand to his shoulder, “That’s a good start.”

    Walking up the steps, Simon opened the door and stepped inside. The apartment complex was like nothing Liam had ever seen. The gnome village was all inside the building. Houses were stacked on top of each other and set into the walls. Small walkways started from the ground floor and worked their way up sets of stairs to different levels, allowing access to different floors. The outsides of the tiny houses were painted bright colors, like yellow or blue, but many of the houses had heavy damage and showed signs of burning. In the center of the room, which encompassed the majority of the apartment, there was a large stone pillar. Homes were set into the pillar, with stairs leading around the edge. Spread all around, in orderly corridors, were the streets and shops of the village. When the inhabitants caught sight of Simon, they waved and cheered. Liam noted there were fewer gnomes than he would have expected. Many of the shops and houses had sustained damage recently as well. Life continued for the gnomes, in spite of their losses. Two members of the Aliway family were working on restoring the houses on that floor as best they could. They entirely ignored Simon and Liam when they came into the village.

     A human sized stair case went up to the next floor, and Simon led him up the stairs until they reached the fourth floor. In the middle of that room, in dire need of repairs, was the residence of the gnomish mayor. The street which led to it’s relatively sizable front had been made wide enough for Simon and Liam to cross. Once they reached the building, Simon tapped on it with his finger and waited. The gnome, Abram, which had met Simon earlier popped out of the house and closed the door behind him.

     “Simon! My friend, thank you for all you’ve done. Who is this you’ve brought with you?”

     Simon bowed his head to the somber gnome, “This is Liam. We talked at length about his involvement with your village.”

     Abram peered up at Liam, pulling a pair of spectacles from his pocket to get a better look at his face, “Well, it’s nice to put a face to the name.”

     Liam sagged forward a bit, “That’s a far nicer greeting than I expected.”

     Tapping his foot, Abram looked around at the work on that floor, “Evil people don’t need excuses to do evil things. I explained this to Simon, and yet, he’s still mad. Your friend is a very serious man. Repairs are going well, and with the added protection we’ve been seeing a lot of new arrivals to the community. How long can we expect your guards to stay?”

     Simon scratched his chin thoughtfully, “As long as you need them. Under the circumstances, it would be foolish to have them go. If my dad needs them somewhere else, I’ve got other means to watch over you.”

     “Thank you, Simon. That’s the best news I’ve had all day,” Abram peered over his shoulder, “Does your friend like wine?”

     “He dabbles,” Simon responded.

     “I overindulge.”

     “Normally, I would council temperance, but with guests here and repairs well under way, it’s a day to celebrate.”

     It hardly took a long time for the village to set out a feast. They must have been preparing it before Simon and Liam even arrived. Each family took their table from their house and placed it on the main street in a long row, so the whole community could eat together. Simon and Liam sat against the wall to stay out of the way. Liam drank more than a few cups of wine, but the cups were so small that it was going to take far more booze to get him drunk. Simon neither ate nor drank, he simply watched the gnomes celebrate their newfound friendships and the new birth of their town with a small smile dancing around his lips.

     It was late in the day before they finally left. Liam didn’t know where Simon was going, but he walked slowly, as though he were lost in thought. Liam continued to follow him as arranged, but more closely this time. He was buzzing a bit from the gnomes wine, and tired after a long day of walking. Suddenly, Simon whirled around on his heel and punched with his right hand straight at Liam’s face. The change of pace was so sudden, Liam hardly had time to react at all. Simon’s hand went whirring by his head, grabbing at something Liam couldn’t see. With his right hand holding onto what looked like nothing, he repeated the gesture with his left. When Liam looked closer, he could tell that something was wriggling around in each of Simon’s hands.

     “I should have known it was you two. You’re the only ones who could’ve stayed out of my sight for so long. You might as well stop fooling around now that I’ve got you in my hands.”

     The air around Simon’s hands shimmered for an instant, and gradually two small figures became visible in them. They were tiny, winged creatures with sharp teeth and spiky hair. It was hard to tell, because they were so small, but they looked related to each other.

     “What the hell are those things?”

     Simon looked genuinely shocked for an instant, “These are two pixies. They came from Trash Island, which is not the nicest town. Their names are Snickers and Speed Queen.”

     Liam scoffed, “It sounds like they were named after whatever their mother first saw after…”

     “Pretty much. Pixies get names like that around there. These two are no good scoundrels. If they were following me around, they weren’t doing it for fun. Who asked you two to follow me?”

     Just as Liam was wondering which Pixie was which, one of them spoke, “Hihihi, we just followed you because we were bored.” The other pixie frantically tried to fly from Simon’s grasp, as though she could get away through sheer force of her wings.

     “I will pull your wings off and burn them if you don’t tell me who told you to follow me.” Liam realized that his friend would follow through on his threats.

     “Denavi!” Speed Queen yelled.

     Simon let them go immediately. Standing on the sidewalk, with the setting sun lighting them, he watched them fly off into the distance, vanishing before they had left eye sight with whatever strange ability had allowed them to become invisible in the first place.

     “I guess we know who the culprit is, since they just gave us a name.”

     Simon exhaled from the pit of his soul, “They told me nothing, and they weren’t going to give me any more information.”

     Cocking his head, Liam looked at Simon, “He said Denavi. I only know one person who has that name and who would hire little fiends like that to follow you.”

     “There are no more Denavis. There haven’t been for a long time.”

     “Why is Adrian called Adrian Denavi then?”

     “That’s a story for another time. Come on a walk with me, Liam. I have more work to do, and I don’t feel like doing it alone tonight.”

     Liam followed him without another word as he walked forward. Somewhere in the last few years, Liam realized that he would follow that man anywhere. As the stars came out and twinkled down over them, breaking through the orange glow around the city, they visited the Mythic peoples. Everywhere they went, Liam saw many emotions played out all at once. Hope, fear, courage, sadness, determination and so many more, all because one man came to visit them. Somehow, a petty thief like Liam got to come along for the ride. Maybe this job was the best thing he had ever stolen.

     “I want your help getting some information, Liam. It’s going to be dangerous, but you’re the only one I can ask.”

     Simon’s voice cut through his thoughts as he followed him, “Sure. I can do it. Hey, how did you know they were going to follow you today?”

     “I had no idea, but I figured you would attract the attention of whoever was following me with your distinctive face.”

     Liam bristled a little at that, “So I was your bait? What a dick.”

     Simon chuckled, “You would be madder at them then I if you knew the gestures they were making at you. Besides Liam, I knew you would be alright. I trust you.”

     The world stopped, while Simon continued to walk away. Had anyone ever said that before? Liam felt determined to get the next job right, no matter what.

Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 41

     People live their lives possessed of an inherent, and flawed, understanding of the possible and impossible. Even Jack, for all the fantastic things he had seen, had such a mental list. At the very top of that list, just below his father ever saying a kind word to him and above rehabilitating a Dirt Gremlin to be clean, was his sister getting beaten in a straight fight. Jack liked it better when that was still impossible. Jack spent his childhood watching his sister grow and envying her abilities. Even though people called him a golden child, destined for greatness, he knew otherwise. Samantha Goodbody was his older, far more talented sister. If she had taken her duties more seriously, there’s no telling how far she could have gone. In her heart of hearts, Sam loved the open road and the thrill of the hunt. That love had gotten her into trouble before, but it also got her out of it, for the most part.

     The trail of corn husks and cult resistance led to the town hall, which hardly surprised Jack. Town halls represented power and authority over the masses, something all cults both desired and loathed. A cult occupying a town hall was madness clothed in sanity and order, just like the real government, only with more plant gods and human sacrifices. In front of the town hall, his sister’s trail and Jack’s blood ran cold. Hefting his long handled dustbin over his shoulder, he eyed the town hall with suspicion. Either she was in there, or she was being taken away. One option led to his sister, and the other option lost her trail, perhaps forever. With a limited time to make a choice, Jack chose the option which made sense to him. A cult so heavily established in a town such as this would never run from their holy ground, and they would never give up such a valuable prisoner.

     The town hall stood next to the village green, at the center of which a row of corn stalks had been planted in neat rows. It might have seemed silly, or innocuous before, but now it seemed downright ominous. The town hall itself had been build atop a small foundation, which allowed it to tower over the other relatively short buildings. Due to its height, it was impossible to see in through the windows without marching directly up the front steps or getting a tall ladder to peer in through the enormous windows on the sides of the building. Steps from the sidewalk led up to massive front doors, which opened in the center and led into the building. Even from the street, Jack could tell they were locked.

     Gripping the handle of his dustbin, Jack walked up the steps towards the building. Standing in front of the double doors, he hefted the incredibly heavy dustbin over his head and brought it crashing down on the door. It smashed through the center and ripped any locks on them apart. Both doors went swinging inwards and crashed into the walls. Stepping inside, he readied his dustbin for another swing, if he was attacked.

     To his surprise, the walls and offices inside the town hall remained intact. Somehow, he had expected the interior of the building to be covered with plants, or lit with candles made from human flesh. Given their feverish dedication to maintaining a façade of wholesomeness, he wasn’t quite surprised. The doors led into a wide hall with clerk’s offices on either side before they reached another set of doors, which probably led into the town meeting hall proper. From the windows of every office, there were cult members watching him. From under their shirts, the plants occupying their hosts wriggled and squirmed, moving the shirts around and gently poking out small roots which seemed to examine Jack as he walked forward. As they watched, they swayed gently back and forth, as though their bodies were remembering being swayed by gentle summer breezes.

     None of them made eye contact with him as he progressed slowly towards the doors to the town meeting hall. Since they made no effort to stop him, he made no attempt to attack them. His sister was the priority, and that meant no more distractions. The worn floors creaked under Jack’s feet, drawing attention to him with every step. The doors into the meeting hall looked old and worn, as though a stiff breeze would push them over. Pressing his hand to the doors and gently shoving, they swung forward with no resistance at all, until they hit the wall.

     Originally, the town hall must have doubled as the local church. It still had the pews, although they had been rearranged since the cult took over. They had been moved to face a small stage in the center of the room, with aisles leading up towards the raised platform. On the platform, a man stood with his face turned away from Jack. In front of him, laid out on a gurney, Jack could make out a pair of feet. The man worked so intently that he hardly seemed to notice Jack enter, but Jack could hear the metallic clink of small metal instruments. As he got closer, he could see the bloodstains all around the platform. A single light lit the platform, but the windows all along the wall let in some moonlight at well. A nagging thought pulled at the back of Jack’s mind as he walked closer, but the blood around the corpse was old, and the feet were too large to belong to his sister.

     “Are you going to stalk me all night, or are we going to have a nice chat?”

     Jack gripped his weapon tighter, swinging the heavy dustbin out to the side in order to swing it more easily. It’s heavy metallic end knocked over a pew as he passed it, “I don’t have anything to say to crazed lunatics who help cults take over the world by replacing people with plant monsters. Just tell me where my sister is and I’ll make it quick.”

     Once more, the metallic sounds stopped, “I suppose it’s too much to ask for you to just let me get back to work?” Dr. Lighting grunted in annoyance, “Very well, Jack Goodbody. You ruined my lab, so I suppose I can spare you a moment of my time. I’m not helping this cult entirely of my own volition, but they’ll help me all the same. I just want to bring my wife back.  As you’ve learned, the material I’d been collecting falls apart when another human’s spirit is inserted into them. The materials the cult has been giving me experiences no such setbacks. I was hoping to learn how to transfer the effects to human on human transfers and bring my wife back.”

     “I would tell you that you’re mad, but I suspect you don’t care. You do realize they’re just using you, right?”

     For the first time since he entered the room, Dr. Lighting stopped working. Pulling off his surgical gloves, he turned to face Jack, a curious unreadable expression on his face, “I’m not without protection, Mr. Goodbody.”

     Jack scoffed at the very notion that someone would be willing to help Dr. Lightning for anything other than money, “And who exactly is your sponsor?”

     Dr. Lighting merely raised a finger and pointed it at Jack. The voice behind him caught Jack so off guard, he almost fell over when he heard it, “Hi, Jack Goodbody.”

     Diving to the ground with a grunt, Jack rolled into a defensive position, but the man standing behind him made no move to attack him. He was thin and wiry, and he had long brown hair which reached down to his shoulders. He seemed young, almost too young to be called a man, but the confident look in his green eyes spoke volumes of his confidence. Green eyes? The last time someone told Jack of a strange young man with green eyes, it had led to his death.

     Ignoring Jack, the young man looked up to Dr. Lighting, , “We’ve done everything we can here. I’ve called the federales, if we stick around any longer we’ll get caught up in it. Time to go, Ezra.”

     “I told you to stop calling me by my real name, Ishmael. How much time do we have?”
Ishmael looked slightly thoughtful for a moment, “Hours, at most. Pack your things and get ready.”

    Swiping at Ishmael from his crouch, Jack missed his leg by a wide margin as he stepped back. His movements were strange. They looked slow to Jack’s eyes, but in reality they must have been impossibly fast in order to dodge his movement, “You’re not going anywhere until you tell me where my sister is, you scum!”

     Once again, Ishmael’s movements confounded Jack. His eyes could see the foot rise up and move to kick him in the chin. He simply couldn’t keep up with the motion, and the kick sent him flying upwards from the floor and into some pews.

     “I’m going to have to stop the little Goodbody first. Ezra, you should get ready to leave.”

     Ezra hopped off the stage and started for the door. Rising on unsteady feet, Jack watched the man who knew where his sister was going head towards the door. Hopping over the nearest pew, he dashed for the entrance to stop Ezra from leaving. In an instant, Ishmael vanished and reappeared directly in front of Jack, with his hand laid flat on Jack’s chest.

      “We’re not done yet, Jack. I can’t have you ruining my fun while I’m still playing.” With a shove, Ishmael sent Jack flying across the meeting hall and crashing into the wall.

     Rising with a grunt, Jack knew his dustbin was simply too heavy to keep up with Ishmael. Those green eyes kept bothering him as well. With nothing to lose, Jack simply asked, “You’re the Denavi who stole the silverware from Charles Beaufort.”

     Ishmael nodded, his grin growing wider and his eyes showing a little of the madness his family was infamous for, “If you had gotten there first, I would have killed you both to get my property.”

     Tearing the side from a pew, Jack brandished it and readied himself for another attack. Ishmael advanced, the bloodlust evident in his eyes. The sound of glass breaking, the sound which saved Jack’s life, was all that stopped him in his tracks. Stan must have gone back to their van and grabbed his bag, because it came launching through the window and landed right next to him. Ishmael began his advance again, dashing towards Jack. If Jack couldn’t react on time to where his opponent was, he just needed to stop him at the point of impact. As Ishmael closed in on him, Jack grasped his long, thin bag and waited. Ishmael pressed his palm to Jack’s chest once more and pushed. Grabbing Ishmael’s wrist, he came along for the ride this time. Crashing against the wall once more, he managed to hold on and stop Ishmael from getting away. Grabbing the Mop handle with his free hand, he pulled it out and brushed it across his opponent. He hated using that Mop, which erased the existence of anything it touched, but there was simply no way he could catch up to Ezra while fighting a Denavi.

     To Jack’s utter shock, the mop did nothing to Ishmael. His shirt fell away, but the man himself was unharmed. Before Jack could react, Ishmael slammed the butt of his palm into Jack’s chin and sent him rocketing towards the ceiling. He lost his hold of the Mop, which clattered to the floor, taking a section of wood away where the Mop head had landed. Jack fell to the ground heavily, unable to move. Looking upwards, Stan’s hulking form was already hovering over Ishmael, a massive fist hurtling downwards like a meteor. Impossibly, Ishmael stepped to the side and used his friend’s momentum to flip him into the wall. Stan sagged forward and landed next to Jack.

     “You two need a lot of work before you can catch up to me. I’ll give you a reward for playing with me, though. If you want to find your sister, the cult has a big compound in Connecticut. They’re headed there. It’s in some ritzy town I’d never heard of before.” Turning his back on them, Ishmael headed towards the door. Every other step was a skip, as though he had really just enjoyed himself.

     “Why are you telling us that?” Jack coughed up some blood after be spoke.

     “What? Ezra never expressly told me I can’t stab the cult in the back. It’s not like we’re friends with them either, and besides that, I want to see if you can rescue your sister before she gets used for monster mash material.”

     Jack seethed with rage, but he stayed down. Getting up and fighting again would just result in getting more hurt, and that would hardly help Sam right now. He needed to get home and ask his father for help. Surely, even though he was sick, even though he hardly seemed to care about his children, his father wouldn’t let her die like that.

     Ishmael waited to see what Jack would do. When he was satisfied that Jack was staying down, he left the building, following Ezra. Rising on unsteady feet, Jack put the Mop back in his bag and gathered his dust bin. If Ishmael was right, they didn’t want to be around here when federal agents arrived either. Helping Stan to his feet, they beat a hasty retreat to their van and began a desperate journey back home. If Ishmael was telling the truth, they had precious little time to figure out where his sister had been taken, before she would truly be lost forever.

A note from the fireside~ 6/10/18

     Hello, dear friends. Oh lord, have I missed you this week. I am so excited! I have a few important things to tell you. I meant to post on my author’s page on Facebook about this, but it’s been a doozy of a week. I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long. The first set of Cleaners chapter rewrites is done! This is the most important set of rewrites! The other ones will roll out slowly as the weeks go by, but most of them are cosmetic changes, or things that needed to happen story wise. With chapter 18 up, I can now officially focus on chapter 41 and wrap that up. I wouldn’t expect it to be up tomorrow, but Wednesday is a hopeful day. Given that I am aiming for every part to be 24 chapters long, to give each story some regularity, that leaves 7 chapters until the end of part 2 for Paranormal Cleaners. Hold on to your butts, cause it’s going to be a very bumpy ride. The opening of part 3 will be especially fun once we get there.

This week in Second-Hand Rumors is a little slower, and I would like to explain some of my logic on this chapter with you. Liam, being a thief, spy and general ne-er do well, doesn’t get a lot of good things in his life. This chapter ended up being a little light on substance because of that. I realized that, between Jack and Liam, you get a lot of darkness and sometimes, it’s nice to inject a little light into a story. Hence, a rare display of Jack’s personal kindness in chapter 18 when he left a family in the best shape he could, and Liam visiting a part of the Mythic world that isn’t a complete mess. That’s not to say it is without suffering, but I am happy I got to share a bit of my lighter side with you.

Next week, we are visiting the Gnome village, which has been referenced a couple of times. The design I had in my head was quite nice, so I hope it translates to the page. I might wrap up this arc early, rather than drag it out too long. The other reason I wanted a breather was because the last arc for Second-Hand Rumors is going to be a doozy. Expect lots of high octane Dirt Gremlin espionage action, and one of the most climactic fight scenes we’ve had yet. I’ve been looking forward to this part, because it helps bring Liam a little further on thematically. I am, admittedly, worried about the end of part 3. I feel like I’m headed in the right direction, but you should never write a story based entirely on themes, in my opinion. I’m not saying give the fans exactly what they want all the time, because sometimes I don’t know what I want until I have it. I’m just saying I care about you all. When you’re done reading a completed story of mine, I want you to be happy, crying, exhausted and fulfilled. If I can give you any of those feelings, I will have succeeded in my own purpose on this Earth. Also, I really like Dr. Brown as a throwaway character. He’s coming back for sure.

I’m so glad you came back for another week. My humble hearth just wouldn’t be the same without you. Please come again next week, dear friends. I will save your seat right by the fire.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 16

     Though your average passerby might doubt it, due to his rugged, rat-like exterior, Liam occasionally dabbled in friendships. Friends were a rare currency in the big city, and good friends were even rarer. A good friend who also happened to be your boss, who took you out drinking and then took you for a cup of coffee the next morning, was the best friend in all creation. He had even bought Liam a muffin, which his stomach eyed with the suspicious disdain of a career drunkard. Liam mulled these thoughts over as he downed his cup of scalding hot coffee, wondering how Simon had managed to talk him into a drinking contest with two half goblins and a rather inebriated talking rabbit. Simon was speaking to him, but Liam wasn’t catching most of the words.

     Liam adjusted a pair of dark sunglasses his friend had given him to combat his skull splitting headache. Simon sat across the table from him, also wearing a pair of dark sunglasses and looking much worse for wear than he normally did.

     “I’m being followed. I can see something, someone, out of the corner of my eye. It starts when I leave the house and it follows me wherever I go. I need you to watch my back today, Liam.”

     “Are you sure you’re not being paranoid?”

     Reaching across the table, Simon snatched the glasses from Liam’s face, exposing his red streaked eyes to the vengeful gaze of Mr. Sun, “Because I’m kind of a big deal. I’m honestly surprised that nobody’s tried this before and also that you still haven’t picked up on that yet.”

     Following the sound of his voice, Liam knocked his employer’s sunglasses to the floor. He was rewarded by a sharp intake of breath, “I know you’re a big deal, that’s not what I’m getting at. Why don’t people just spy on you in your study? It’s kinda stupid to follow you around when even I know roughly where you’re going to be about half the time.”
“Do you want the job or not?”

     Liam hesitated for an instant, “Sure. I’ve wasted days doing dumber things.”
Resting a hand on Liam’s shoulder for an instant, Simon rose to his feet, “Thank you, Liam. I can’t trust anyone else to figure out what’s going on. It might take a couple of tries, even with your help. “

     Turning towards the front door, Simon suddenly turned on his heels and headed behind the counter. Grabbing his sunglasses and slipping them over his tortured eyes, Liam called out to Simon, “Wait, we’re starting now?”

     Simon stopped at the door into the kitchen, “What? Of course we’re starting now. I’ve got work to do, and we don’t have time to waste.”

     Darting through the kitchen door, he was gone. Quickly cramming his uneaten muffin into a pocket, Liam desperately followed. This was hardly the Simon which Liam had been working for over the last few years. Something had changed, either in their relationship or in Simon himself. He was careful, crafty and he planned several steps ahead whenever he took action. This spontaneous Simon was something new and that scared Liam a little. Spontaneous got people killed, usually the spontaneous ones and sometimes, the people around them.

     Striding from the coffee shop’s back door, he took a left immediately. Liam waited a discrete amount of time before following. If Simon was being followed, Liam couldn’t stay too close. When you’re tailing someone to find out if they’re being followed, you need to remain unseen, but keep your target in your sights at all times. As the morning wore on, Liam started to feel uneasy. Simon never overreacted to anything, the privilege of the truly strong, and if he thought he was being followed, he was. From that moment on, to Liam’s eye, every man in a dark suit eyed them carefully. Every random bump and encounter seemed forced, as though Liam was being tracked or warned off following his employer. Sometimes, he thought he could make out a creature following Liam, but it always darted out of his own vision so quickly that Liam dismissed it as his own imagination playing tricks on him.

     Whenever possible, Simon stuck to alleys and stayed off the main roads entirely. The path he took was more erratic than the one Liam vaguely remembered taking the night before, and he had been six sheets to the wind, with one sheet not on duty on account of drunkenness. As they travelled, Liam wondered if this was what Simon’s life was like when he wasn’t around. He always seemed so at ease, but Liam and Simon rarely met outside the Nair mansion. If this tension, this unbearable tension, was true power than Liam wanted no part of it.

     As the sun rose high above them and the shadows in the alleys ceased to provide any relief from the heat or the piercing light, Simon came to a stop in the middle of a small alleyway. Liam paused at the end alley’s entrance to watch him carefully. Whether someone had been following them or not, Liam could hardly say. If someone was following him, they were invisible, or they were doing it from a distance. Focusing on Simon again, Liam realized he was gone. Reaching the end of the alley should have been impossible, but he was gone. Walking cautiously to the center of the alley, Liam turned to look at what Simon had been examining.

     It was a door, but unlike any door Liam had ever seen in New York. It was made of wood, and was miraculously free of any dents or graffiti of any kind. On the door was an engraving of a tree. It reached upwards with branches full of leaves towards the top of the door, and towards the bottom of the door with its roots. If Simon went anywhere, he went into this door. Opening it, Liam discovered a set of stairs which went on endlessly into the darkness. Before taking the first step, Liam briefly wondered where Simon was leading him.

     The moment he placed both his feet on the steps, the door slammed shut behind him. No matter how hard he tried, Liam couldn’t get it open again. Quickly giving up, Liam started down the steps. It wouldn’t be like Simon to get them both killed so easily. Ahead of him, torches hanging along the walls lit the way ahead of him. For what felt like hours, Liam walked the steps. The torches ahead of him lit up, chasing away the darkness and revealing more steps. Behind him, torches would extinguish themselves, hiding all traces of the path back upward from his sight. Once, in an act of desperate frustration, Liam threw his muffin into the darkness behind him. He never heard it land, and there was a loud chewing sound for a few minutes after that.

     Just as he was beginning to wonder if he was going mad, another door appeared in front of him. It also had a tree engraved on it, but this tree’s branches bore no leaves. Instead of leaves, all the branches were filled with birds. What concerned Liam were the roots, which each bore a skull at its base, deep below the earth. Pushing the door open, Liam’s eyes were again assaulted by the brilliant light of the noon day sun. It took his poor eyes a minute to adjust, after the long darkness, but he could hardly believe what he saw once he opened them.

     Most Mythic peoples lived in plain sight. The old ways were dead, magic was dead, and those who lived on the Earth did so in fear of their human counterparts. This underground paradise bore no resemblance to the Mythic world Liam knew. This was the old ways, the manner in which Mythic People lived before humans became so dominant. High above Liam was the closest approximation of the sky Liam could imagine. Mist covered the impossibly bright blue earthen ceiling, approximating clouds. Beneath his feet, grass swayed in the breeze. What took his breath away was the city laid out in front of him. The grass at his feet quickly gave way to stone pathways, which led away between buildings and off into the distance. Rising up above the city, looking down over the city, was a massive tree which reached into the artificial sky. Far ahead of him, Liam could make out Simon. His suit was an instant giveaway in a city filled with point eared elves wearing tunics.

     The city was surrounded by an enormous market, filled with wooden stalls. They swayed in the light breeze which ran through the streets. The smell of cooked food wafted through the winding pathways the stalls created, and while Liam couldn’t understand Elvish, he got the gist of what the vendors were saying. “Buy from me, it’s better and cheaper here.” As he followed Simon, with his eyes only on him, he bumped into a child and knocked him over. Leaning over, Liam was surprised to find fear in his eyes. Liam had never been feared before, but he had never knocked an elven child over before either. Giving him his hand, Liam helped the boy to his feet. Smiling, the boy offered Liam a candy, which he took and put into his pocket.

     Many of the elves ignored Liam as he followed Simon through their streets. Those who paid him any mind, viewed him through suspicious, narrowed eyes. He decided against trying to steal from anyone. It’s best not to steal when you have no idea how you’re going to get out of a bad situation. Instead of working, Liam took the time to observe his surroundings as he followed his boss instead. Every city had a story to tell. If cities are living things, the streets and people are it’s lifeblood and veins. The city told Liam a story, and he didn’t fancy it.

     The majority of the buildings had stone first floors, but the floors above them were wooden. Every building was ornately carved with the faces of previous occupants, or famous family members from bygone ages. Some houses were completely covered in such faces, their regal features looking down on the streets. Some of them only bore a few, and their houses looked newer as well. Planted between the houses were tall Elm trees. Some of the trees were being used for housing or shops. Some of the shops bore carvings, ornate works of the sun or the stars, which Liam couldn’t understand the meaning of.

     Even though the city looked prosperous, the lifeblood, the people were a little thin on the ground. Many of the houses were empty or boarded up. Having worked around Simon and his life for a while, Liam had assumed the elvish population in New York was steady. All the empty houses made Liam wonder where they had gone. It didn’t take long to reach the center of the city. Towering above him, four massive trees grew together into one, having been gradually coerced through generations of careful tending. The intertwined trunks shot up towards the ceiling, where they had long ago pushed through the earth and upwards towards the city.

     Underneath the trees, two thrones sat surrounded by elves. Their occupants made no motion to rise as Liam’s friend approached. Simon strode confidently up the two thrones and bowed. Liam would have gotten close enough to hear what they had to say, but the glares he was shot dissuaded him somewhat. He waited until Simon was done talking.

     Returning the way he came, Simon stopped to check on Liam, “You, my friend, are one of the few individuals who have seen the one of the World Trees and lived to tell about it.”

     Arching his head back to look at the ceiling, Liam cupped his hands over his eyes, “Where does the tree go from here?”

     Simon looked up with him, “Some of the branches go to Central Park. I don’t know about the rest. Now, I know I was being followed by someone since before I got to the coffee shop with you. Are you absolutely certain that nobody followed me?”

     Liam rubbed at his eyes, “Maybe? I couldn’t tell. You’ve got me a little freaked out right now.”

     Nodding thoughtfully, Simon resumed his walk, “I trust you, Liam. Let’s give it another shot. I’m not sure you’re going to like where we’re going next, though.”

     Liam perked up at that, “And where is that?”

     Simon’s next response sent a shiver down Liam’s spine, “The gnome village in Grenwich Village. This is your world, now Liam, and these are your people, even if they aren’t. You’re going to have to see them at some point.”

     Liam waited for a good few moments before following Simon. He wanted to help his friend, but nobody likes walking back into their mistakes. Maybe, after all this time, Liam had to grow up a little and stop running away.

A note from the fireside~ 6/3/18

     Hello, dear friends. I’m about ready to dance for joy! I just can’t help it, I am so freaking excited! I’ve got some fun news to share with you all. Firstly, I just sent my wife chapter 17 of Paranormal Cleaners. In an ideal world, it will be up later on today. Chapter 17 is the second to last chapter of the first replacement arc. I mentioned this awhile ago, but I wanted to replace some arcs over the course of the story which were a little too indulgent in terms of pacing. I’m not getting rid of those arcs, but they are certainly going to be rewritten and put somewhere more useful. My wife suggested extra book chapters, and I’m not against that, but we’ll see how it goes.

Worrying about rewriting four chapters has made it incredibly difficult to focus on getting new chapters out, and I didn’t want to post the next chapter of Cleaners until this first rewrite was over. That means next week, we will have one more chapter of retro-cleaners and then I can safely post chapter 41, long awaited I hope. I’m sorry to make you wait so long, but it wouldn’t have made as much sense as it will now. In Second-Hand Rumors, we just wrapped up our current arc yesterday, and we’ll be moving on to the second to last arc in this part this next week. I’m trying for around 24 chapters, that seems to be the sweet spot for me. Once Second-Hand Rumors is over, Second-Hand Lives will begin after a week’s break. I think that week may very well start my proposed five weeks on, one week off deal as well. I hate making you all wait, but I hope that by taking a week off on occasion it will give me time to work on other projects and pace myself better. Me pacing myself means better stories for you!

Meanwhile, on the Patreon front, I scheduled a bunch of posts and shot them off. My schedule has been so strange lately. I’m not exactly what you would call a morning person, so it’s been hard to get used to working as a sub. Thankfully, or perhaps not, it was pretty quiet this last week, so I was able to get some more work done than usual. I spent a lot of my week thinking about you, and about how to promote my little tale-spinner’s hearth as a community. I haven’t come to any conclusions yet, but know that you all are on my mind as the week goes by. I’ve had some super fun ideas to bat around with the wife, challenges and rewards and whatnot, but I think the first thing I need to do is get my posting schedule in order. I’ve also been working on Siren’s Cove, doing more world building and planning out the opening cycles for one character. It’s taken a lot of time, but I think it will pay massive dividends before too long.

     Thank you, as always, for coming to visit me. I appreciate your time so much, and I hope you come back to see me again soon. I’ll save your seat by the hearth, just like I always do.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 15

     Liam considered himself to be reasonably accomplished and worldly. He’d lived in, and stolen from citizens of multiple large cities over the course of his life. Somehow, he’d even managed to take in some culture. Usually, it was whatever he could fit into his pocket while a crowd of wealthy socialites waited for an intermission to end. There were, however, times when Liam clearly saw the flaws of his upbringing. This occasion was certainly one of them. Nobody had ever taught Liam how to politely refuse an invitation from a new acquaintance. It suddenly became an especially pressing issue when confronted with the food he had been invited to eat.

     Liam stared mournfully at the bowl in front of him. A pack of scraggly, funny shaped carrots poked out of the stew to stare at him. When he dipped his spoon in, he found a small bounty of meat, but it looked grey and smelled diseased and gamey.

     “It’s pigeon. The other dark-white meat. They fly down under here all the time, so we put out nets on occasion. It took some getting used to, but it really hits the spot.” Christopher had already finished two helpings of mutant carrot and flying squirrel. He had a third in front of him.

     Liam ignored him and slowly took in his surroundings. They weren’t at all what he expected. The hidden base of these rejects turned out to be incredibly cozy. With a little help from an Aliway, who remained nameless, they had managed to hollow out the hills under each side of the bridge. That meant each floor was a little cramped, but there were a lot of them. A spiral staircase lead to the higher floors. The main floor had a table, a roaring fireplace with a large tea pot hanging over it, and something which passed for a kitchen.

     His three captors turned hosts watched him avoid eating his soup. Christopher seemed the most carefree of the group, as Liam expected of a Goodbody. He’d taken his hair down, but other than that his attire remained unchanged. He leaned back in his chair, his attention mostly focused on the meal in front of him. Robert Rever had spent the meal thus far staring at the table. He had changed out his disguise into a white t-shirt and shorts. The one Liam was having a hard time reading was JJ, as her friends called her. She still wore her coveralls, though she had unzipped the top and tied it around her waist. She seemed petite for a Neelan, not that Liam was complaining.

     Finally, he returned his gaze to his three hosts and asked the most pressing question, which had been burning away in his mind since he first took the job, “What could possibly be worth this lifestyle? You’re a bunch of rejects with no social prospects, who smell bad, and…”

      “We could still decide to kill you, mister.”

     “Point made. It just seems like you’re making a lot of enemies, and I don’t see what you’re getting out of it.”

     JJ chewed her soup thoughtfully before she responded, “Hopefully, we get a better world. Even a petty thief like you should be able to see this world is going mad.”

     “So you’re telling me you’re all rejects from your families and suddenly, you grew a conscience? You want me to believe you’re making the world a better place? Ok, fine. You’re killing some real bastards, and doing it for nothing.I’m sure Christopher killed his brother with the same noble intentions.”

     Robert Rever rose from his seat, but in that same instant Christopher tugged his arm hard enough to slam him back into his seat, “I refuse to let you kill anyone in our home. It may not be a Goodbody home, but we’re still family. Let’s call calm down and act like it.”

Crossing his hands across his chest, Robert leaned back away from Liam, “If he makes another remark like that, I’ll kill him for sure.”

     Christopher reached across the table towards Liam, who flinched away, but he only grabbed his bowl and pulled it over to dig in. Between bites, he responded to Liam, “My brother was a mad dog who deserved to be put down. Killing him quickly was more a grace than he deserved and the world is a better place without him.”

     “Why Simon wants to meet you, I have no idea. I’m just a messenger, but I’m not convinced at all. You’re just cut-rate vigilantes with delusions of grandeur.”

     Shaking her head, JJ poked at her bowl, “We’re not interested, either way. The Five Families grow corrupt and bloated with every passing generation. It’s pointless to…”

     JJ trailed off as a small paper butterfly floated past her face and perched on Liam’s shoulder. Grabbing it, he pulled the paper open and read the note. It only had one word. “Duck.”

     Liam didn’t have time to duck. Nobody would have been able to react to such a ridiculous note on time. The door blew open, pushed inward by thousands of tiny paper wings. More butterflies than Liam could count flew into the room and circled around him, landing on him and all around his chair.

     “Well, it was a nice run while it lasted,” Christopher Goodbody intoned as he rose to his feet.

     “That’s remarkably fatalistic of you, Christopher,” Robert Rever joined him, stretching his arms in preparation for a fight.”

     “I thought that was your thing, Rever.”

     “I’m a realist, not a fatalist, Goodbody.”

     A voice called from outside their home, “I want everyone in there to come out with your hands up, Liam included!”

     Liam perked up at the sound of Simon’s voice, “Wait, why am I being treated like a criminal?”

     There was a long pause before Simon answered, “Really? I need to answer that question?”

     Without any more arguing, to Liam’s surprise, all three killers exited the building. They didn’t put their hands above their heads. They left without grabbing any weapons, which said a lot for their confidence levels. Walking over after them, Liam could hardly believe what he saw. Simon stood under the bridge, and he was all alone. Liam had just witnessed the idiot killer trio taking out a high profile target all on their own. Any one of them could have done it on their own, if they hadn’t cared about working clever.

     Simon wore a suit, as he often did, but he had removed his jacket. It lay on the ground in front of him. As Liam exited, he was rolling his sleeves up, “I hope none of you hurt my friend. I would hate to have to hurt you anymore than I’m already going to have to.”
“What happens now?” Christopher cracked his knuckles and watched Simon’s every move.

     “I thought I would start by beating you all to a bloody pulp, and then I was going to offer you a job.”

     All three killers seemed thoroughly confused by this direct declaration, “Is this how he normally makes job offers?”

     Thinking back to his own hiring, Liam nodded, “Pretty much, but you better get started.”

     Thieves don’t often have to fight. In Liam’s mind, if you’ve been caught, you’ve already failed. Still, he had seen plenty of fights and his hosts certainly impressed him with their teamwork. They began by surrounding him. No point in taking on a heavy weight like Simon Nair head on. Christopher Goodbody, as the heavy hitter of the team, took up a position directly in front of him. Robert Rever circled around behind him. JJ vanished, or at least that’s what Liam thought, until he noticed Simon looking right at her. She seemed confused too, as though she hadn’t expected to be seen, even though she was standing in plain sight.

     Christopher made a sudden dash at Simon, “You shouldn’t take your eyes off your opponent like that!” Directing a punch at his head, Christopher looked the very picture of confidence.

     Without turning his head, or removing his left eye from JJ, he turned his right eye to look directly at Christopher, “I didn’t.” Brushing aside his punch, Simon guided him to the left and drew him directly into the path of Robert, who had been rushing up behind him. They collapsed in a heap. Raising his foot up, Simon brought it crashing downwards towards their heads. A shot rang out and he was forced to abandon that in order to dodge backwards.

     “I won’t let you hurt them,” JJ held a smoking pistol in her hand. Liam was fascinated, because he always thought members of the Five Families avoided firearms.

     Simon closed his right eye and gazed at her with his yellow left eye. It’s slitted pupil, which had always given Liam the heebie-jeebies, thinned to a small line, “You don’t have a choice.” JJ wobbled for a few seconds before collapsing forward.

     Seeing their comrade fall for no reason touched a nerve in the other two. They rushed at him with a clear intent to kill. It wasn’t much use. Two members of the Five Families facing off against one Nair, and they couldn’t even touch him. Whatever they threw at him, he dodged it as though he could see it coming. Their fighting grew more and more vicious, and for once Liam saw the temper Simon was infamous for come out. He was hitting them a little too hard, but not in places which would end the fight. He wanted them bruised and bloody, but still capable of fighting so he could hurt them more.

     “Any time you want in on this, let me know Liam,” Simon threw Christopher to his left, directly into Robert’s path, who was again attempting to sneak up on him.

     “Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just enjoying the show,” Liam wasn’t getting involved in whatever Simon was trying to pull.

     Long after the sun had gone down, they were still fighting, but Simon was gradually gaining more and more of an upper hand. Finally, the fight came to an end, mostly because his opponents couldn’t move anymore.

     “Alright,” Christopher wheezed, “You win. Do whatever you want to. We have no right to complain.”

     Simon cocked his head, “I though Liam told you I wanted to offer you some work. I wasn’t using some fancy euphemism for murder.”

     Robert coughed up some blood, “We’re never working for the Five Families again.”

     “Not even if I asked you to kill the Fourteen Kings?”

     The two conscious members of the trio went silent. Liam coughed, “Fourteen what now? Why didn’t you just as me? I could at least find them for you.”

     “Oh, Liam. That’s so sweet of you to volunteer for something so terribly dangerous.”

     “Dangerous? I unvolunteer.”

     “That’s what I thought.”

     Christopher Goodbody raised a hand, “Hold up, you seriously want us to kill the Fourteen Kings? Are you mad? They’re the pillars of Mythic society! Hell, I’ve never even seen one so they might as well be myths to me!”

     “One king for each race,” Simon intoned, “Fourteen kings who meet once a decade to decide the fate of Mythic peoples, with the Five Families. They are pillars of Mythic society, but they’re rotten to the core. With all the tension going on between us and the Society right now, the last thing we need is war. That seems to be all the Fourteen Kings want. I need them dead.”

     “What if we say no?”

     Simon reached down and grabbed his suit coat, pulling an envelope from one of the pockets and handing it to Christopher, “Here’s payment up front. Five dollars for each king. You wanted to make the world a better place, but you’re snuffing out small time crooks? Get real, you haven’t made a difference. Pull on your adult undergarments and head up to the big leagues.”

     Liam slowly rose to his feet, “It’s over?”

     Simon nodded, “Yeah, it’s over. Did you die?”

     Brushing the dirt from his knees, Liam shook his head, “Almost, but mostly that was your fault.”

     “I told you I was sorry.”

     “Buy me booze.”

     Liam followed Simon as he headed home. It wasn’t loyalty, really it wasn’t. It was that Simon offered to buy him booze to water his wounded ego. He totally wasn’t becoming good friends with his employer. He hadn’t been worried about him at all during that fight. He wasn’t about to ask him how his day was going, “So, what have you been up to today?”

     “Not much. I spent most of it with my father, then I came to get you.”
Shit. Somewhere along the line, they’d become friends. The worst part was that Liam realized it.