Muhulda Urswyk – The Truth Behind the Bile

Muhulda Urswyk Vintage

Once outside, I pulled my cloak around me and huddled against the breeze. It was quieter than inside, but not by much. Sangeron had always been a town that didn’t sleep, and, in this neighborhood, calls from the ladies of the evening went on until the light shone. Then there was the music coming from the burlesque houses, where shows ran until four hours after midnight, and the drunken tavern goers who always seemed to have a song to sing on their walk home.

I sped my steps as icy wind funneled through the narrow street. Its needles pierced my cloak, and I cursed Bramwell for his insistence on the burlesque-style uniform he insisted we girls wear. Oh, it was mostly respectable—the operative word being ‘mostly’—but in the middle of the cold months the thigh high boots were the only part of the outfit that offered any warmth.

I turned down an alley and took a deep breath. The buildings hunched over me like toads squatting in a squalid pond, and I shuddered at their weathered boards and rusting metal. This was nothing like the small cottages I’d known in my youth in Waterford Down, and part of me wanted to say to hell with it and head back there. At least there, I would be warm and could find what my mother would call a ‘respectable’ occupation. Yeah. Right. In her mind that meant a husband and a gazillion brats constantly under foot. No thank you. Still, the thought of comfort was a strong draw, and I often had to remind myself that I’d left so I could be my own person.

I was nearing the end of the alley when the sound of boots on cobbles caught my attention. I cursed myself for letting my mind wander and hurried to the next street. Even the watery light from the gas lamps was better than the gloom of the alley. At least in the street, I had a chance of fighting back.

“You done with that generator yet?”

I sighed and pretended like I didn’t hear. I recognized the voice as the biotic in the tavern, and I still wanted nothing to do with him.

“Hey, bitch.”

Now, his words were clear. The Bleeding Grim must’ve worn off. I hesitated, trying to decide if I wanted the hassle of dealing with him, for I was close to home, such as it was.

“I’m talking to you.”

His voice echoed in the closed space, and I could hear other booted feet join him. Three against one wasn’t good odds, and the gods knew I had little chance of getting away from them. Still, though, better to face them on my terms than on theirs.

“I heard you the first time,” I replied. “And, no, I’m not through with the generator. It’ll take some time, just like always.”

He closed the distance between us quickly, his long legs taking one step to every two of mine, and grabbed my arm. He leaned in close. The sickly-sweet smell of the Melon Peckers gagged me, but I swallowed hard and kept from vomiting. Let him think it was fear I swallowed against.

“What is it with you bitches that you think you’re too good for the likes of us? What’ve we ever done to you?” he snarled. His teeth were yellowed and decaying, and I idly wondered why. I mean, if he could replace half his body with biotics, why couldn’t he do something as simple as see a mouth physician and have his teeth fixed?

I snatched my arm out of his grasp and pulled my cloak more tightly around myself. I used the movement to pull the dagger from an inside pocket and held it ready. “I don’t think I’m too good for you. I think I’ve got better things to do. Sweet cheeks, you could be the prince of E’ma Thalas, and I still wouldn’t want to see the town with you. Got me?”

He looked confused for a moment, like he was trying to work out what I’d said, then he snarled again and reached for my arm. This time I was ready, and I slashed at him, not enough to do any real damage, but enough to let him know I wasn’t playing around. The blade grazed the skin of his good arm, and he howled like a toddler wanting sweets. He backed away with anger flaring in eyes a bit too green, and I let my own rage show.

I could feel my blood racing through my body, and my vision took on the reddish tinge it always had when I was angry. If the bastard didn’t back off soon, he was going to have a worse night than he was already having.

“Hey, Ruger.”

The man with the piercing had come into the alley and now stood with his arms crossed on his chest. The other friend, the one with the head plate, stood beside him with a matching snarl and flexed his muscles. I shook my head and sighed. Men.

Ruger snarled and whirled, and tentacles shot forth from his mouth. I gasped, nearly screamed, and almost tripped over some rotting vegetables as I tried to back away. Now, my thundering heart was from fear, and that was one thing I couldn’t tolerate.

The pierced guy grabbed one of the tentacles and yanked, and Ruger stumbled forward onto his knees. The other guy turned and shot tentacles from his mouth as well, but the pierced guy just slapped them away. He seemed resigned to the way this was going to play out, and I could’ve sworn I heard him sigh.

A golden glow surrounded him, and for a moment I could see all of the alley, all of the garbage piled around the bin, and it seemed to make the stench that much stronger. I coughed and held my nose, then the odor faded from my mind as a glowing sword appeared in his hands. My mouth dropped open, and I stared for a moment. “Shadow Walker.” Then he began to move, and I was lost.

His body was pure grace and fluidity. I could barely keep track of the individual motions, so smoothly did they flow together. Ruger shot forth more tentacles, and the pierced guy slashed them in one motion that began in his shoulder and flowed down his arm. Ruger screamed, a strangled sound like someone sinking beneath the rapids of the Crystalhand River, but the Shadow Walker simply continued his movement and slit his throat. Black ichor fountained from the wound, and the other creature howled as if it had been him who was wounded. But the Shadow Walker didn’t leave him out. He, too, lost his tentacles and his life, and the alley was soon filled with the stench of demon death.

Another glow surrounded the Shadow Walker, this one much dimmer than the first, and the sword was gone. The Shadow Walker seemed to disappear for a moment, and I stared into the darkness, now much deeper because of the light, but I couldn’t see any sign of him. A moment later, he appeared before me, and I jumped back, my own weapon raised.

“It’s all right,” he said. He gave me an appraising look that made my cheeks burn then looked back up at me. “Are you all right? Did they hurt you?”

I shook my head and tried to untangle a tongue that suddenly seemed to big for my mouth. “I’m fine. Thank you.” I looked at the bodies on the ground. “What were they?”

The Shadow Walker sighed. “Demons,” he replied. “Though why they’re here, I don’t know.”

“I figured they were demons,” I replied. “I meant which kind? We don’t get too many of the non-humans in the Xaggarene Empire.” I shrugged. “Not out in public anyway.”

“I know. That’s what makes their presence here so disturbing.” He ran his hand through hair the color of autumn wheat. “It’s not like there are never non-humans here, but demons are a little less tolerated than everyone else. Most of them steer clear, especially of Sangeron.” He paused for a moment. “Or they stay in the sewers out of sight.” The Shadow Walker waved toward the north of town where the emperor’s palace sat on a slight hill. “With His Worship so near, it just isn’t safe for them.”

The temperature was dropping, and I felt the first snowflake fall onto my face. I was freezing in the short skirt I was forced to wear for work and wanted to get home and put on warmer clothing.

“Well, thanks for the rescue,” I said. “I really need to be going.”

He nodded then gave me a quizzical look. “They seemed particularly interested in you. Why?”

I shrugged and gave him a humorless grin. “Couldn’t tell you. Maybe because I’m young and nubile? Who knows?”

He nodded, but the look of consternation didn’t leave his face.

“Well, good night.”

 

Book Versus Movie-Coraline

Book vs MovieI’ve been a fan of the movie Coraline for years, but it was only recently that I came across the book, the glory of now living in a town with a bookstore. I have to say that I loved the book as much as the movie, though there are differences between the two.

In the movie, Coraline moves into an old house that has been divided into apartments. This is the same in the book. However, in the movie the house is owned by the grandmother of one Wybie, a strange little boy who gives Coraline a doll that looks just like her. In the book, Wybie and the doll don’t exist.

In both the book and the movie, Coraline’s parents are too busy to entertain her, so she’s forced to take care of herself. This leads to finding a small door with a brick wall behind it. Coraline’s mother tells her it’s there because the house was made into apartments.

In the book, the drawing room is described as a nice room where no one can sit on the furniture. In the movie, however, there’s little in there, and the room is depressing.

In the book, Coraline goes through the door and down a tunnel while her mother is at the store getting groceries. This isn’t the case in the movie. In the movie, Coraline first goes down the tunnel in a dream. Here she meets her ‘other mother’ and has a wonderful meal which seriously outshines her father’s cooking. In the book, she looks around the ‘other’ world and decides it’s too weird. After a brief first visit, she goes home. It is only when she gets bored waiting for her mother that she returns for the meal.

The interactions with the neighbors seem to follow pretty closely together for the book and movie. There are some minor detail differences but not many. It is only when Coraline returns to her world and discovers her parents aren’t home that the differences begin again.

In the book, Coraline does things like eat frozen pizza for dinner, watch TV, and take a bubble bath. When she wakes up in the middle of the night and sees the cat, she asks if it knows where her parents are. The cats only leads her to the hall mirror where her parents write ‘help us’ on the other side. They’re trapped in it. In the movie, there’s no sign of a TV, and there’s no food in the house. Coraline knows immediately that her parents have been taken, and she doesn’t call the police. Instead, she returns to the ‘other’ world.

There’s a good bit of similarity between the book and the movie during Coraline’s competition with the Beldam. In both, she spends time with the ‘other’ neighbors and seeks the souls of the trapped ghosts. The biggest difference here is that the souls are referred to as ‘eyes’ in the movie and ‘souls’ in the book.

Once Coraline has defeated the Beldam and rescued her parents, she must get rid of the Beldam’s hand, which follows her back to the real world. In the book, she has a tea party with her dolls, and the hand falls into the well. In the movie, Wybie helps her throw the hand down the well.

All in all, both the book and the movie are well done, and both are worth the experience.
 

Muhulda Urswyk – The Truth Behind the Bile

Muhulda Urswyk VintageMuhulda Urswyk is a reporter in the Xaggarene Empire, usually from Sangeron. She claims to have an inside path to the emperor and has a hatred for the Shadow Walkers. She owns and runs The Lock and Key, a publication that spews her particular form of bile (though I haven’t put one out in a while).

I’d meant for Muhulda to put out an edition every month, but time has gotten away from me, and, for some reason, my ability to organize my time has gone the way of the dodo.

I was in the process of creating another edition of The Lock and Key when it dawned on me that I had no idea why Muhulda hated the Shadow Walkers so much. Sure, there are plenty of people in the Xaggarene Empire with prejudice against those of magical blood, but that, alone, didn’t explain it. Not to the extent that she hates this group.

The solution?

Write a story about why Muhulda hates Shadow Walkers.

Below is a snippet from the story. Feel free to comment and make suggestions.

Best wishes!

Lissa Dobbs

http://www.lissadobbs.com

 

 

The tavern was loud, as usual. I carried yet another tray of Melon Peckers to yet another group of reprobates who had nothing better to do than drink and smoke and pump Bleeding Grim into their brains. If they had brains, that is. I wasn’t sure. They surely didn’t act like it.

“Hey, beautiful, wanna let me show you the town?” His words tangled in his mouth and came out in a mush that I only understood because I’d heard it so often.

“Not tonight, darling. I’ve got to fill the generator.” A classic, cliched line, I knew, but, hell, even if he wasn’t scruffy, half biotic, and drunk off his ass, I still wouldn’t want to let him touch me.

“Aw, come now. Give my buddy a break. He’s done had his heart broke.” This one wasn’t any better. A metal plate covered one side of his head, and a lens had replaced his left eye. I could see wires running from the back of his head down into his shirt, and I wondered what other parts he’d had replaced with metal. He was more human than his friend—whose entire right side appeared to be mechanical—but I’d already brought him three hits of Bleeding Grim, and that was since middle night.

“I wish I could, but the mister’s waiting at home, and he wouldn’t take too kindly to it.” This was a lie, of course. There was no mister, and there wasn’t likely to be one, but I couldn’t let him know that.

“Leave her alone, guys.” This was the third one of the bunch. He’d consumed far less than his buddies, and his only alteration was a ring in his nose that connected by chain to a stud in his ear. He had a tattoo on his cheek of some kind of symbol, I wasn’t sure what, but, otherwise, he looked nearly respectable.

I mouthed a thank you and high-tailed myself back to the bar. It was almost quitting time, and I was ready to leave. Heck, I was always ready to get out of the place, and I hated myself for having to be there to start with. It wasn’t what I’d wanted to do, and it sure as hell wasn’t what I had spent four years in University for.

I set my tray on the bar and gave the place a look. The brazier still glowed a healthy orange, so I knew it had plenty of coal. The floors were mostly clean, and the oil lamps on the tables still flickered. Fans twirled lazily overhead, more to dissipate the smoke from smoke sticks than to cool, and no one had knocked the armor off the wall tonight. Even the sword, supposedly dating back to the days of the first emperor, Arronax Billinghurst, had been left alone. A good night in the eyes of the Steam Whisper.

“Muhulda, you stayin’ or goin’?” asked the barkeep, who also happened to be the owner. He was an ass most of the time, but, every once in a while, some vestige of a decent person shone through.

“I’m going,” I replied. I glanced back at the table I had just served. “I’ve had enough for one night.”

Bramwell nodded once and didn’t say more, and I took my chance and skedaddled before he had a chance to change his mind.

 

Dealing with Stories You Hate

landing-page-websiteThose who’ve followed along know that I’ve been posting a “The Little Mermaid” like tale for the past few Sundays. Obviously, I’ve pulled that tale, but there’s a reason for it.

I hate it. I mean I really, really hate the story. I don’t like the girl trying to change herself to get the guy, even though, let’s face it, most of us have done it at one time or another, especially when we were young. I hate the attitude of the dwarves, self-righteous little pricks that they are. I hate the fact that I have no idea where it’s going, and I hate the writing. I hate every single thing about the story.

As an author, sometimes we have to kill our babies, whether we want to or not. It can be painful sometimes, but, other times, it’s a justifiable homicide. That’s what it was with the tale that I pulled. Completely justifiable.

Does that mean I won’t revisit the story at some later date and see if it’s salvageable. Well…actually…I probably won’t. I have so many ideas going and so many projects in the works, that the likelihood of ever having time to go back and look at it is small. But I don’t mourn it. I don’t mourn letting the tale go.

Are there any of your stories that you decided just weren’t worth the time needed to turn them into something readable? Did you feel like you were letting yourself down when you let them go? Leave an answer in the comments.

Best wishes!

Lissa Dobbs

http://www.lissadobbs.com

Lethatu…Oops.

Ravyn's LetterI’m one of those people who loves to create worlds, and when I create a world, I want to create all of it. I want maps of everything, cultures to inhabit it, stories, history, religion, magic, and language. And I was well on my way to having all of that.

Then I moved.

Somehow, in the process of moving, the notebook I had written the grammar rules and such in disappeared. It’s a loss, I’ll agree, but it also gives me the opportunity to make some changes to the language and make it more in line with what I want it to be. To that effect, I’m not mourning the loss of the notebook. Instead, I’m going to begin at the beginning and make something that was better than the original. The only down side I can see is that the letter Ravyn Grimsbane left to her daughter Gwennyth will have to be a dialect not spoken anywhere else. But that’s okay, too.

What aspects of world-building are your favorite? Do you relish the opportunity to make changes? Feel free to comment.

Best wishes!

Lissa Dobbs

http://www.lissadobbs.com

To Give All 3

Thunderfish Lake MoirenaThe dark-haired one grinned and clapped Vidir on the shoulder. “Yeah, man. It did. She’s been in tears for almost an hour and threatened everything about us if we don’t come back with you in one piece, so we’d better get going.”

Vidir turned back to Jiloryn and took her hand in his. He kissed that back of it and gave her a rakish grin. “Thank you for saving me.”

Jiloryn smiled, though her heart ached at the thought of him being in love with someone. “You’re welcome.”

Without another word Vidir and his friends headed off.

Jiloryn stood at the edge of the water with it lapping at her toes and watched them walk away. She wanted to ask Vidir to come to her father’s cage for dinner, and she was considering asking him when their voices drifted back to her on the breeze.

“What was that thing?”

“A rusalka, or something like that,” Vidir answered.

“Wow. And you let it touch you.”

Vidir turned to the dark headed one. “Shut it, Yundit. She saved my life.”

“Yeah, but man was she ugly.”

Tears formed in Jiloryn’s eyes, but she brushed them away and dove into the lake to collect the Thunderfish for her father.

 

 

Jiloryn sat alone in her room. The light had long since ceased to shine, and she should’ve been asleep. Her father had yelled at her for nearly an hour for taking the time to save Vidir rather than focusing on gathering the Thunderfish, and she was sentenced to yet another day at the bottom of the lake.

Jiloryn sighed as a single tear leaked from her crimson eye to trail down a lilac cheek. Her ears fluttered back and forth as she fought back the sobs that threatened to choke her.

A soft knock on her door caused Jiloryn to wipe her eyes. She rose from her bed and took the few steps necessary to open it.

“Hey,” she greeted.

“Hey, yourself,” Cahriss replied. Cahriss bounded into the room and plopped onto the bed. “So. Are you totally in love yet?”

Jiloryn sighed, then she grinned. “Totally.” She twirled around in circles then plopped down onto her knees beside the bed. “Wasn’t he just scrumptious?”

Cahriss giggled. “Oh, yeah. But his friends were total jerks.”

Jiloryn’s smile faded. “Yeah. They were.”

“So, what are you gonna do about it? Are you just gonna go away meekly?”

Jiloryn bit her bottom lip and brushed her hair behind her ears. “I don’t know. I don’t know where he’s staying or anything.”

Cahriss leaned over until she was looking Jiloryn in the eye. “Well, I do.”

“Really?”

Cahriss nodded and grinned. She sat upright and brushed her navy hair behind her ears. Her eyes, yellow pupils on black irises, flashed with mischief. “He’s staying here in town while his father works out some kind of deal with the city administration.”

Jiloryn simply sat there with her mouth open.

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“Are you gonna go and try to catch his eye or not?”

Jiloryn continued to bite her lip, her pointed teeth slightly piercing the skin. “Do you think I should?”

Cahriss nodded. “Oh, yeah. You definitely should.”

Jiloryn thought about it for another moment, then she laughed. “Okay. Let’s go.”

The town of Dustspire was quiet once the sun ceased to shine. Most people headed to their homes for the evening, but there were still some who enjoyed a late dinner at the local cafes, and there were always those who gathered around the fountain in the center of town to flirt and talk. Jiloryn generally stayed in, for she had no real desire to flirt, and she and Cahriss spent most of their days talking. But tonight she was looking for Vidir Frostfall.

Jiloryn had brushed out her long, wavy hair and put on her favorite red dress before she left her house. Cahriss had also changed her clothes, though her dress was a soft peach.

The rusalki walked arm-in-arm the short distance from Jiloryn’s house to the town square. The stepped up close to the fountain where several others were playing a dice game on the cobbles and stood back to watch. Jokes flew among those playing, and several other girls, one a demon with short horns sticking from the top of her head, watched with laughter in their eyes.

“Do you really think they’ll come?” Jiloryn whispered.

Cahriss nodded and inclined her head toward the south end of the square. Four dwarfs, the three boys and one girl, entered the square and looked around. They spotted the game going on by the fountain and stepped up to play.

“Oh, look,” said Freya, the girl with Vidir and the others. “The little demon who saved you is all dressed up and ready to play.” She pushed Vidir toward Jiloryn. “Why don’t you tell little demon girl that you’re already taken.” Freya laughed, and Jiloryn’s lilac skin darkened with shame.

Vidir stumbled and kicked the dice. The other boys, mostly demons, rose with balled fists and moved toward Vidir. The other dwarfs spread out and readied themselves for a fight, but Jiloryn and Cahriss stepped between them. Cahriss spoke quickly to the demons, while Jiloryn motioned for Vidir and the dwarfs to back away.

“Back off, demon girl,” Freya said. “It’s a matter of dwarven honor.”

“Hush, Freya,” Vidir replied. “Jiloryn, right?”

Jiloryn smiled and nodded. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

Vidir smiled and turned to the others. “Let’s go. There’s plenty to do elsewhere, and we can always go back to the yacht. Father has plenty to do there.”

“Yeah,” Njall replied. He was the same height as Vidir, but his skin was a dark cocoa. His hair was a deep blonde and brushed back from his forehead, and he wore a leather breastplate and carried a short sword at his side. “Let’s get away from the demon stench around here.”

Yundit agreed, and the four of them turned to leave. Jiloryn watched and did her best not to cry, but her heart lifted when Vidir looked back and smiled at her.

Cahriss joined her a moment later. “Seems like it was a waste of time to get all dressed up, doesn’t it?”

Jiloryn turned to her friend with a sigh. “I guess,” she replied.

Cahriss followed Jiloryn’s gaze and placed her hand on her friend’s shoulder. “You really like him, don’t you?”

Jiloryn bit her bottom lip and nodded. “He hates demons, though. They all do.”

“I’m sorry, Jil. But that’s something you can’t change.”

Melon Peckers – Trial and Error

Kiwano FruitI’m a big one on world-building. It is, in fact, one of my favorite things to do. That being the case, I love to come up with recipes for foods and drinks mentioned in my books.

The Melon Peckers and Nutty Fluffies mentioned by Timothy and Justin in Wolf in the Shadow have given me particular issues. I just haven’t been able to come up with anything that seemed like it would work. After all, exotic and ‘not of this world’ or not, I still want them to be edible. Mostly.

I think I’ve finally come up with something that might work for the Melon Peckers.

Ingredients:

1 lb watermelon (seeds removed)

1 kiwano melon (seeds removed)

2 tsp lemon juice

1 c brown sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

1 c club soda

vodka (optional)

mint leaves for garnish

crushed ice

Puree the fruit until smooth. Add lemon juice, cinnamon, and sugar and blend. Add club soda and vodka. Pour over crushed ice and garnish with mint leaves.

This is still in the early phases of development. I’m trying to decide if I want to try it with dragon fruit or not. I think it would be interesting.

If you give it a try, let me know how it turns out.

Best wishes!

http://www.lissadobbs.com

 

 

To Give All 2

Thunderfish Lake MoirenaJiloryn watched him as he sank. She knew dwarfs couldn’t breathe underwater, but she also knew that some of them liked to swim when they were visiting Thunderfish Lake. This one didn’t seem to be doing that.

Jiloryn swam up next to the dwarf. She caught hold of him, expecting him to pull away, but he didn’t respond at all. His eyes stayed closed, and he made no effort to get himself to the surface.

The young rusalki grabbed hold of the dwarf’s shirt sleeve and hauled him to the surface of the lake. She bobbed for a moment to let her lungs replace her fins, then she pulled the dwarf above the water.

The dwarf didn’t open his eyes. And he was heavy.

Jiloryn pulled him along to the edge of the lake and hoisted him up onto the grass surrounding the lake. She climbed out after him and peered down at his face. There was something about it that made her heart flutter, and she brushed a curl from his forehead.

“Jiloryn!”

Jiloryn looked up to see Cahriss waving to her from a little ways around the lake. Jiloryn motioned for her friend to come over, and Cahriss jogged around the edge to drop down on her knees beside Jiloryn.

“What’s he doing here?” Cahriss asked once she’d seen the dwarf.

Jiloryn shrugged. “No idea. He fell into the lake, and I pulled him out.”

“Don’t you need to do something to wake him up? He doesn’t look very good.”

Jiloryn looked up with fear in her eyes. Water dripped from her long hair, and she shivered in the cool breeze that blew across the lake. “I guess. Can you get my blanket?”

Cahriss nodded once and took off. A few moments later she was back with Jiloryn’s blanket, and the two demons wrapped the dwarf warmly.

“Now what?” Cahriss asked.

Jiloryn shrugged. “I don’t know. Did you see any other dwarfs around? Was he out here by himself?”

Cahriss shook her head. “There’s a boat out on the lake, but that’s it.”

Jiloryn peered out across the water. She squinted her red eyes and forced herself to see as far as she could. At last, she spotted a boat near the southern part of the lake. “Should we check with the dwarfs on the boat?” Jiloryn asked Cahriss.

Now it was Cahriss’ turn to shrug. “We can. They’ll know more how to take care of him than we will.”

Jiloryn chewed on her bottom lip as she looked from the dwarf to the boat in the distance. It wouldn’t take her too long to reach the boat, if the merfolk weren’t fighting again, that is. If they were, it would take time to either go around them or fight through them, and the dwarf had still shown no signs of waking.

Jiloryn sighed and turned back to Cahriss. “Help me get him up. We’ve got to do something, and I’m not sure we can reach the boat.”

Cahriss nodded that she understood, and the two carefully lifted the dwarf. They began by sitting him upright. His head lolled on his shoulders until he began coughing. The coughs wracked his body, and his face turned blue. Jiloryn looked to Cahriss for help, but the other demon simply shrugged her shoulders. Jiloryn pulled the dwarf to his feet and held him close to her. He continued coughing, then water spouted from his nose and mouth. Jiloryn leaned him so the water could pour out of him, then she supported him as he gagged. Once he’d finished, she eased him back onto the grass and wrapped her blanket around his trembling shoulders.

“Are you all right?” Jiloryn asked.

The dwarf looked up at her, his eyes unfocused. “Who are you?”

Jiloryn sat back on the grass and ran her hand through her wet hair. “My name’s Jiloryn.” She pointed to her friend. “And this is Cahriss.”

“What happened?” he voice was low and deep but raspy from his coughing fit.

Jiloryn shrugged. “All I know is that you fell into the water.”

“And you pulled me out?”

Jiloryn nodded and gave him a small smile.

“Thank you.”

“We have a camp a little bit around the lake if you’d like to rest for a while,” Jiloryn said.

The dwarf nodded and stood on unsteady legs. He took a step, but his legs simply wouldn’t hold him. Jiloryn caught him before he fell and eased him to his feet. She stared into his pale green eyes and smiled at the freckles that dusted his nose. His soft curls stuck up around his head and flopped across his forehead in a way that made Jiloryn’s heart flutter.

“What’s your name?” the dwarf asked.

“Jiloryn. And yours?”

“Vidir Frostfall. I come from Bruihull in Emerell.”

Jiloryn smiled. “I live in Dustspire. My father owns a café.”

Vidir returned her smile and stared off into the distance. “What are you?” he asked after several moments. “Not meaning to be offensive, of course.”

“I’m a rusalka,” Jiloryn replied with a shy shrug. “A water nymph.”

“Oh,” Vidir replied. “I thought water nymphs lived in the water.”

Jiloryn shrugged. “I need to be in it for a while every day, but I don’t live there.”

They lapsed into silence then, and Jiloryn took the opportunity to examine every inch of Vidir Frostfall. She loved his broad shoulders and stout legs and arms. She imagined those arms lifting her in a hug and his hands building them a home.

“Vidir!”

Vidir struggled to his feet with Jiloryn close behind him. He wobbled just a bit, and she reached out a hand to support him. He smiled at her, and her heart melted, then he turned toward the voice calling for him.

“Vidir!”

“Over here!” Vidir called back.

A moment later two other dwarfs stepped into view. One had dark brown hair, while the other’s was a little lighter. Both wore chest plates and carried swords.

“There you are, man,” the first one said. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

“Yeah, what possessed you to try that stupid stunt?”

Vidir laughed. “Did it work? Is she going nuts wondering if I’m all right?”