Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Rules for Working in a Coffee Shop

(or, welcome to National Novel Writing Month)

It’s November 1st! That means it’s time for National Novel Writing Month (or, NaNoWriMo). I’ve always been one of those people who can’t work when it’s too quiet and distraction-free; I hate write-ins in libraries and spaces like that where you’re supposed to be utterly quiet. In fact, my favorite place to work is a somewhat-bustling coffee shop.

The thing to remember when working at a coffee shop is that it’s not a library. It’s not your office. It’s not your home. This might seem obvious, but it means there are certain rules of etiquette to follow.

Disclaimer: I was married to a Starbucks shift manager for four years, and my best friend is a shift manager, but I have not actually worked in one myself except as a writer. I’m basing the following rules on my observations and conversations I’ve had with baristas at the like. If you work in such places and you want to add to or argue with anything I say, please do so!

1. Consider the space.

When you’re considering working somewhere like a coffee shop, look around first. Look at the parking lot, the table arrangements, and if there’s free Wi-Fi. If the store is in a tiny parking lot next to a highway and has a total of two bar-height stools, or if they have no Wi-Fi, these are all signs they probably won’t thank you for sitting down to work on your novel for three hours.

2. Be a customer.

I don’t know why this isn’t obvious. If you’re going to work in a place of business, taking up a table, support that business. My personal policy is that, ideally, I should buy something for every hour I’m taking up a table.

For the love of NaNo, don’t come into a coffee shop with food or drink from another store. In many states, this is actually a health code violation, and you put the store in a position of needing to decide if they should ask you to leave. Even if it’s not against a rule, it’s obnoxious and rude.

2. Be a good customer.

Tip. Tip freely. Unless you’re in a no-tipping area, there’s no good excuse for not tipping. If you show up one day and don’t have any money for a tip, bring extra next time (though depending on how the store distributes tips, this may or not help the same people). If someone you’re working next to can’t tip and you have a bit extra, cover them. If someone doesn’t realize it’s polite and expected to tip, educate them.
In general, servers, baristas, waiters and the like are trained not to be rude to customers, which includes saying things like, “Uuh, do you realize I financially rely on tips to survive?” But you can say it for them. If your friends camp out to write, encourage them to tip.

3. Be friendly-- but not too friendly.

Servers are not robots. They’re people, with feelings. Be polite. Say please and thank you. Smile. Chat if it’s an appropriate time-- but pay attention to what they’re doing, and remember what I said above, that most servers are encouraged not to be rude. That means they may not cut off a conversation you’re pushing even if they have a thousand things to do. So be friendly, but keep it short.

4. Don’t be a slob.

Yes, “It’s their job to clean up.” You know what else is their job? Scrubbing poop off the wall of the bathroom if someone smears feces profanity there (true story- my friend had a store where this happened repeatedly). Does that mean it’s polite or appropriate to smear poop on the walls?


We all have our moments where we spill something, but do your best not to be a jerk. Clear your space when you leave at the very least. Don’t make extra work for people who are already working very hard.

5. Watch the crowd.

Most places have busy times and light times, rushes and lulls. As an average walk-in customer, you get your coffee when you get it even if it means waiting in line. If you’re going to be sitting there for a while, you can have the grace to avoid the rush, especially if you’re going to order something obnoxious like a skinny Unicorn Frappuccino with chocolate chips and coconut milk (I have no idea if that’s a thing).

Baristas: How do you feel about customers who use the “order ahead” option while sitting at a table during a rush because they don’t want to stand in line? It seems obnoxious to me, but I haven’t asked about it.

6. Watch the time.

When a coffee shop closes, they have a lot of things they need to do. Anything that doesn’t get done either keeps someone at work late, or is a pain in the ass for the morning shift.

When the store closes at 9, and you’re there ordering a drink at 8:59 (after sitting at a table for three hours) and clearing your table after you’ve been told they’re closing, that means someone still needs to dump the trash you just threw out your last two coffee cups in, mop the floor they couldn’t get to while you were sitting there, wipe down the table, and do whatever mysterious things they do to put to bed whatever machines they used to make your last-ditch coffee.

We all lose track of time sometimes, but don’t make a habit of it. Especially if you’ve gone out with a group of six people, that’s a lot of last-minute work to make for the crew.

7. I’m just an author

I am not an employee or representative of Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or any other coffee shop or similar place. I’m not an expert. If I’m wrong on any of the above points, please let me know (or let me know what I should add!) because one of my personal goals of writing is, “Don’t be a jerk.”

Happy NaNo everyone!

(1021 words not in my novel… apparently this is a subject I feel strongly about)

Have a good day! Tip your waiter!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Rules for Polite Political Discourse in The Classroom

I'm teaching a high school senior literature class this fall that is likely to involve a great deal of political discussion. I'm working on a poster I can hang in the classroom and refer to occasionally. This is a draft - I would appreciate suggestions and input.

Rules for Polite Political Discourse in The Classroom

1. Your right to free speech does not mean everyone must agree with you.

2. Do not shout.

3. Do not interrupt or speak over others.

4. Avoid generalities and stereotypes. Statements that begin with "Everyone..." or "All [group of people]..." are usually wrong.

5. It is okay to say you disagree with a point of view or opinion, and to give evidence that supports your opinion. It is not okay to personally attack the person who made the statement.

6. Do not insult a person's physical appearance or another aspect of their self because you disagree with something they have said or done.

7. Slurs and obscenities are not allowed in this classroom. Bethel School District v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).

8. Statements that advocate violence toward any individual or group of people are not protected by the First Amendment. Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).

9. Students do have a right to free speech. However, a classroom is considered a closed forum, which means free speech may be limited at times when a conversation disrupts our ability to have an orderly and effective educational experience. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969).

10. This is my classroom, and my classroom is intended to be a safe space for individuals of any race, religion, creed, sexuality, gender identity, national origin, or ability. If I ever do not respond to something said or done in my classroom that is offensive or hurtful to you (or if I say or do something myself), please speak to me at a time when you feel comfortable. I would like to learn and improve.

Sources and Suggested Reading:

"Free speech and public schools." Center for Public Education. National School Boards Association, 5 Apr. 2006. Web. 09 July 2017. <>

Greenhouse, Linda. "Justices Won't Hear Student Who Sought to Write on Jesus." New York Times. The New York Times Company, 27 Nov. 1995. Web. 09 July 2017. <>.

Jacobs, Tom. "10 Supreme Court Cases Every Teen Should Know." New York TImes Learning Network. The New York Times Company, 15 Sept. 2008. Web. 09 July 2017. <>

"What Does Free Speech Mean?" United States Courts. U.S. Government, n.d. Web. 09 July 2017. <>.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Guess what? I'm queer.

Pardon me as I get over the anxiety of posting that.

Isn't this 2017?

Let me take you back in time, to what was apparently one of the most memorable events of my high school career.  Possibly my entire school career.  If my freshman English teacher reads this blog, I'm so sorry for posting this-- you probably won't remember this one remark, which has eaten at me for almost two decades.

It happened in 1998, when I was a freshman in high school.  My first book, In the Forests of the Night, would come out a few months later, but that didn't mean I was any less confused, overwhelmed, and anxious than any adolescent... actually, I was even more so than some, because I was also questioning my sexuality.  For me, the internal questions started in about seventh grade; I wouldn't come out to anyone until the spring of my tenth grade year.  That's what made my English teacher's words especially devastating.

We were reading The Color Purple, in which the female main character has a sexual relationship with another female character.  At one point she refers to disliking the way male genitalia looks; I believe she likens it to a frog, though I'll admit I've never reread the book since that time. At another point, the first-person text says, "First time I got the full sight of Shug Avery long black body with it black plum nipples, look like her mouth, I thought I had turned into a man" (24 and yes, I found the quote on Shmoop; like I said I haven't read it in a long time). So it was perfectly reasonable when a classmate of mine asked, "Wait, is she a lesbian?" The answer to that can be complex, but my teacher's answer was exceedingly simple: "It isn't appropriate for us to talk about that." She shut down the conversation.

The next time homosexuality would be referenced to me in the context of writing or literature would be an editor's note on Shattered Mirror, describing a scene as "too homoerotic." In that case, the scene absolutely wasn't intended to be sexy-- it involved two brothers-- but it was still the first reference to homosexuality in my professional writing career. And it was a bad thing. She could have said, "This seems too sexual to be a scene with two brothers," which is the important and relevant message I responded to while editing... but that's not what she said, and that's not the message I internalized.  It was homosexual, and therefore it was bad.

Eventually, I came to the Kiesha'ra Series.  Among the serpiente, sexuality is revered, but I still look back and notice a distinct lack of bisexual and homosexual representation early on.  I can tell you as author who the GLBTQIA+ characters are on and which hook-ups they're having (or not having, for the ace characters) on the side; these conversations were common on the message board.  But I was scared to write them openly-- because it wasn't appropriate for us to talk about that. 

My first gay main character ((spoilers)) was Oliza, narrator of Wolfcry.  Writing her book gave me such anxiety, I even considered what would happen if I had to break my contract, which I had signed before the first draft was complete.  I was afraid the book would be rejected by my publisher because the protagonist was gay, or that I would be asked to change her sexuality in revisions. I was equally afraid that I wouldn't do my first gay protagonist justice. I was 21 years old, and I could count the number of out lesbians I had met in real life on one hand, and I had never read a young adult book with a queer protagonist. What if I wrote her story badly? I was terrified she would come across as someone who "turned gay" to avoid her responsibilities.  I froze up.  What unfroze me was participating for the first time in the madcap adventure called National Novel Writing Month.

For one month, I turned away from Nyeusigrube.  I needed a break from high-pressure writing, so I decided to write a throw-away 50,000 word piece of fluff set in a random world I hadn't developed.  I asked for ideas, and a friend recommended gay smut.  That was safe; I didn't intend to publish it.  I made a few notes, and dove in.  "Unfortunately," with eight years of publishing novels behind me, I wasn't very good at writing trash.  I got too invested in character-building and plot, and never even got to the smut part.  Instead, I ended up with the first half of a novel that-- for a first draft-- was actually pretty good.  Less than a year later, I had a 300,000 word trilogy that it would take me three more years to characterize as fantasy-romance, and another five... six... seven...

Oh, who am I kidding? It still makes me uncomfortable to call it gay fantasy romance, because (you've guessed it) it isn't appropriate to talk about that. But it is a romance-- reading romance novels is a guilty secret of mine, and I can recognize the formula, even underneath an epic fantasy landscape and magical and political machinations-- and given the participants in the relationship are both men, calling it anything but a gay fantasy-romance is kind of silly.  I have a reasonable objection to the label (it's not entirely about "gay issues," whatever that means, and I don't want people to think it is), but that's a stupid reason, because the Mancer Trilogy is about intolerance, and fear of differences, and discrimination, and the desperation for acceptance, and finding love in a society that would revile your relationship as... well, inappropriate.  Yes, it's also about a battle over the control of the mortal realm between the infernal Abyssi and the divine Numini.  It's about a country that, in the face of national tragedy and subversive danger, elects a charismatic leader and embraces intolerance and despotism in a futile quest for safety.  And it's about people who live in a world that tells them they are wrong for existing, and even more wrong for daring to love.

Guess what, everyone? I'm queer.  I don't like the term lesbian for myself; there's nothing wrong with the word, but I never really felt it fit me.  I use the word gay in circles where queer is likely to be misunderstood, but I don't really like it either.  I came out for the first time almost 20 years ago, but believe it or not, this is the first time I have actively come out online. Not just responded to a question on a message board, or let people know that year, I'm in a relationship with a woman... actually come out.  It's scary.

But I'm sick of being scared.

Now I need to get back to this email about how female representation and LGBT representation in literature is important, which I froze up on this morning because that stupid refrain started buzzing around in my mind.  I need to change that refrain.  Representation is incredibly important.  It is, inappropriate for us NOT to talk about this.

Please help me remember that.

It is inappropriate to be silent on this subject.

I'm here.  I'm queer.  Mancer is full of queer folks.  So is Nyeusigrube, though their author's fear kept many of them quiet for a long time.  Let's let them all come out, shall we?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Crystal Caves (Part 4 of 4)

This is an ongoing four-part story related to the Mancer Trilogy.  For an explanation and the first post, please click here.

Text below (like all text on this site unless otherwise stated) © Amelia Atwater-Rhodes.  If you share this work, please include clear credit and a link back to this site.

We last saw Naples in the crystal caves, feeding a baby Abyssi.

The Crystal Caves: Part 3 of 4

He let the Abyssi feed for a few moments and then stood with it still latched onto him.  He tapped the Abyssi on the head with the blade of his knife; it opened its eyes for a moment, then closed them again and started purring.
Shaking his arm seemed like a good way to lose more skin than he wished to, so instead he walked over to one of the pools of liquid from which the crystals grew and leaned down to dip the baby Abyssi's tail into it.
The Abyssi gasped, and that was enough to allow Naples to shake it off.  He hadn't intended for the entire creature to fall into the pool, which was deeper than it looked; Naples cried out as the baby was enveloped in the scalding liquid and sank entirely out of sight.
Before he could decide if he cared enough to reach in after it, the first paw emerged.  Claws like mercury bit into the edge of the pool.  Another paw appeared, and then a head.
As the creature drew itself up, it shook, and this time its fur was clean.  It shone in the most beautiful, impossible shade of blue that Naples had ever seen.
Naples finished breaking off the crystal he had chosen while the baby Abyssi engaged in a long, intricate grooming session—drying and fluffing, rolling in the crystal dust that littered the floor, and then preening until its brilliant cobalt fur glistened with an iridescent aquamarine sheen.
Its form shifted as it cleaned itself.  Sometimes it reverted to inky darkness, much like the lower level Abyssi who had crossed the planes to make the sacrifice that had seeded these crystals and conceived this small creature.  Trying to make out details of that shape with a human mind was impossible.  In its more solid form, the baby Abyssi had hands almost like a human's, with slender fingers and thumbs—and claws at the tips of each, which it sharpened by tearing through the crystals as if they were silk.
Naples forced himself to focus on the crystal.  He kicked it free of its last restraints, and then yelped, startled, as the Abyssi pounced on the broken piece, sending dust and shards flying.  It chased motes of crystal in the air, playfully batting at them, and occasionally catching pieces of crystal between its razor-sharp teeth. 
Is it bigger than it was a few minutes ago?
The Abyssi lost interest in that game quickly and turned to lap at one of the pools on the ground.  Naples wondered at what point they developed the ability to speak as humans could.
The Abyssumancer gathered his tools, especially the cloak that would keep him alive across the fire planes, and then began his trek back to the enclosure he had made his home.  Temporary home.
After the first day spent among the flames on the path home, Naples woke to find the Abyssi next to him.  It was definitely larger now—about as big as a medium-sized dog—and its body was starting to gain a masculine shape beneath its fur.  When Naples woke, it was again grooming itself, washing ash and blood from its fur and claws.  It must have hunted amid the fire.  Hopefully that meant it wasn't hungry, since Naples didn't want to fight it.
"Hello," he said, wondering.
It regarded him quizzically, breaking off from its ritualized grooming to peer at him with its glowing indigo eyes.  It tilted its head for a moment and then tensed, growling low with its tail lashing.  Naples started to draw his knife, but when the Abyssi pounced, it flew past him.
When Naples turned to follow its movement, he spotted the lesser demon that had slunk near.  It was one of those that he and Azo had struggled to take down in order to make the cloak and boots he wore; its carapace was nearly impenetrable even to his power.
The Abyssi's form turned to shadow and melted into the lesser demon, which let out a scream of rage and pain as it fell.  The amorphous darkness savaged the beast until it lay quiet, at which point the Abyssi returned to solid form and began to feed, utterly absorbed in its prey.
Unnerved, Naples continued walking.
He did not see the blue Abyssi again on his journey, and for that he was grateful.  Though he let Azo believe that he and Modigliani had actually battled, he knew he had won the two fights he had had with the former-prince and now Lord of the Abyss by guile, not force.  Having seen in brief what even a newborn Abyssi was capable of, he reaffirmed his desire never to cross one.
It didn't matter; he was nearly free from this place anyway.

End of excerpt! If you want to know more of Naples' story, check out the Mancer Trilogy -- he features in some way in each of the three books, as an important supporting character in Mancer 1: Of the Abyss and then as one of the narrators in Mancer 2: Of the Divine, which takes place before Abyss.

Want to discuss? Please join us on the newly-opened message board:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Crystal Caves (Part 3 of 4)

This is an ongoing four-part story related to the Mancer Trilogy.  For an explanation and the first post, please click here.

Text below (like all text on this site unless otherwise stated) © Amelia Atwater-Rhodes.  If you share this work, please include clear credit and a link back to this site.

We last saw Naples crossing the fire fields on his way to the crystal caves, in search of a power source that can help him break the veil between this realm and the realm of the living.

The Crystal Caves: Part 3 of 4

Naples waited in silent stillness at the top of the wall that had once housed a coAfter three full nights and two searing, maddening days, at the start of the third day he began to see crystals not formed just of molten glass, but grown from pools of still... water? It sparkled like water.  He dipped his hand in it, and then drew back with a cry of pain, expecting this time to find his skin melted away as if by acid.
His hand was intact, but he wasn't about to put it back in that glistening pool, now gone still again.
The crystals grew taller and shone with unimaginable colors and light.  Overwhelmed, he crossed his arms across his chest, his pack heavy on his back, and closed his eyes, breathing in a scent like… like expectation.  Like waiting. He could never describe it, but he knew he would never forget it.
One of the crystals would suit him, he decided once he had control of himself again.  They pulsed with raw power, enough to let him breach the veil between this plane and the mortal plane he called his home.  He touched one tentatively and found it hot, but not as impossibly searing as the liquid had been.  He would be able to carry it, if he could break it from the base.
He moved deeper into the cavern, until the power became too thick even for him.  The air seemed solid, impossible to breathe or move through, and resonated with sharp, discordant chords, an assault against every sense.
He knelt, careful not to slice a knee open on a sharp edge, and examined the base of a crystal about as tall as a man's forearm and wide enough that Naples couldn't quite reach his two hands entirely around it.
A scratching sound made him hesitate.  It stopped, and was replaced by an entreating croon.
He drew his knife, though he didn't know if he would fight whatever came from the caves, or if he would do better to run.  Abyssi were born in these caves.  He would probably be able to best a newborn Abyssi, but he wasn't sure how the other Abyssi would feel about that... especially since the young Abyssi currently crawling about these caverns would have hatched from crystals seeded by the Call and the sacrifice of the last Lord of the Abyss.
The soft crooning broke off, replaced by snarling, yelping and hissing.  Naples flinched from the splash of power that followed, and then smiled a little at the triumphant howl.
With half his attention on the noises deeper in the cavern, he sheathed the knife again, and looked back at the crystal he had chosen.  There were smaller shards of crystal laying about, so he picked up one of those, ignoring the pain, and used its edge to chip at the base of the one he had chosen.  The work was mind-numbing in its repetition, and because every time he chipped the crystal, it was like being doused in a bath of energy, until he was fairly vibrating with it.
Drugged, giddy, he leaned back against the nearly-freed crystal when he heard the noises move closer.
He looked up to find a soggy, sorry-looking creature crawling toward him, its fur matted with the viscous, glowing fluid that among the Abyssi passed as blood.  It pierced the edge of the nearest crystal with its claws in order to drag itself upright.
It was the size of a large cat, and shaped somewhat like one, though Naples could see beneath the clumps of fur and flesh features that might have been closer to human.  Its claws shone like silver, but its tail dragged limply.
Naples' heart went out to the newly born demon as it licked at the fluid that seeped from the crystal its claws had pierced.  It tried to shake itself, and succeeded in sending a couple gobs of others' flesh flying, but by no means cleaned itself from the last of its cannibalistic feast.
Against the better judgment he apparently didn't have, Naples crawled closer.
The Abyssi looked up at him with eyes that were pools of pure blue, lacking any pupil, and let out a whining growl.  It struggled to lash its tail, but managed only to drag the appendage across the crystals, once, twice, before it collapsed, exhausted.
It snarled at him as he reached for it, and snapped at his hand.
Naples drew his knife and it hesitated, watching, its head tilted, until he pulled the blade across his own flesh, drawing a fine line of blood from his forearm.  The Abyssi was on him in a flash, its teeth and claws digging into his skin with energy it hadn't seemed to possess a moment ago.  Naples debated what to do... and eventually decided to lean back against the crystal wall.  He set the palm of his free hand to one of the crystals, and he drew that scalding power inward, fortifying himself.

Story will update Monday 3/27, Wednesday 3/29, Friday 3/31 and Sunday 4/2.  Stay tuned for Part 3! 

Want to discuss? Please join us on the newly-opened message board:

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Crystal Caves (Part 2 of 4)

This is an ongoing four-part story related to the Mancer Trilogy.  For an explanation and the first post, please click here.

Text below (like all text on this site unless otherwise stated) © Amelia Atwater-Rhodes.  If you share this work, please include clear credit and a link back to this site.

We last saw Naples narrowly rescued from a crispy end by Azo.  We find him again months or perhaps even years later.  It is hard to judge the passage of time in the Abyss.

The Crystal Caves: Part 2 of 4

Naples waited in silent stillness at the top of the wall that had once housed a community of shades.  The compound had been infested several years before with lesser demons who had torn apart most of those inside.  He had not been involved in that fight—he had been at Azo's home—but he had salvaged what was left of both building and survivors later.  It was now habitable once more.
The wind ruffled his hair as it began to rise.  Wisps lifted into the air and shone like stars before drifting down to bury themselves in the black sand.  He continued to wait.
"This is madness," Azo observed as she lounged beside him on the wall.
"I need the tools," he replied.  "I can't think of anywhere else I will find a more concentrated source of power."
"You're still mad," Azo said.  "I'm stealing your harem if you get eaten or cooked."
"At least I wouldn’t have far to go," Naples answered, with the ever-present thrill that went down his back as he wondered what would happen if he died here.  He wasn't even sure what had happened to the shades who had been destroyed.  He hadn't seen any of them since.
Shades did sicken and "die" in this realm, usually after being injured, at which point their forms faded.  But no one knew for sure what happened next.  Azo said they dropped to a lower realm, but admitted she only knew as much through hearsay.
The wind grew stronger, making conversation impossible.  Naples' eyes half-closed of their own accord, with the lashes separated just enough to see the fire as it flickered ever lower.
He jumped as Parylene spoke.  It had been... how long had it been, anyway? How long had he been down here? The days blurred together.  Night seemed to become night without ever becoming day, and Naples didn't think it was a matter of the Abyss's rhythms of wind and fire changing.  His mind didn't track time right down here.
It had been a while.
And after all that time, he still wasn’t used to the way Parylene drifted about... well, like a ghost.  He was almost invisible to power, which was a sense on which Naples relied heavily down here.  It kept him alive.  It kept them all in food, and water, and beds, and enabled him to do his work.
He hadn't given up on his plan to return to the mortal realm, but breaking the veil between life and death was apparently not so easy.  He had managed in the past to almost see into the mortal plane, but then his power had given out and he had been pushed back.
He needed more power.
Parylene, again.  His mind had drifted.  It did that this time of night, when he stood in the wind, as if the air itself stripped and scattered his thoughts.
Parylene must have seen something in Naples' expression, because he stepped back, shaking his head, and said, "Never mind.  It will wait."
Naples nodded, and looked back toward the wind and the fire.
"What can I help you with?" he heard Azo ask.  She and Parylene retreated into the house, and Naples dropped down from the wall with more grace than he'd had when he did something similar long ago in response to the Call.  He had practiced.
By the time he reached the planes, the fire existed only in sporadic patches, pushed ever-lower by the howling wind.  The air was hot and smoky, but he moved through it.  His boots were soled with the shells of one of the beasts that lived on this plane during the fiery days, but he could still feel the residual heat through them.
It warmed him.  Despite being deep in the Abyss, he always seemed to feel cold—the result of only ever lying in the arms of the dead.
He crossed the planes with determined strides, trying to note the passage of time as well as he could to anticipate how long he could linger.  He kept his dagger sheathed, but held a stave with blades at both ends, which had served him well in the past for both defense and offense.  It was not as powerful as the dagger alone, but neither did it require being so close.  It also had a razor-edged ridge only a few inches from the grip, in case he had to draw his own blood during a fight.
Will they recognize me, he wondered, when I reach home?
He had not aged, physically.  That was one of the mysteries of the Abyss, he supposed.  Though alive by the technical sense of the term, he did not live on a mortal timeline.
He jumped back as a spurt of fire, skittering up the side of a jagged barb of what looked like obsidian, flared into sudden life.  The fire licked him, but did not burn.  That, too, was where he seemed to differ from mortality; though he believed Azo that the planes of fire at their peak would end him, lesser fire seemed unable to scald or blister his flesh, or even darken its color.
He traveled through the cold night.  When the winds started to die and the fire to rise again, he wrapped himself in a cloak he had created from, again, the hides and shells of the fire-living creatures... and he prayed to no one in particular.  The roar of the fire was deafening, and it beat against the sides of his cocoon until he feared he would pass out from heat or lack of oxygen... and then he did... and then he woke, when the world grew cold again.

He wondered if he could die, here.

Story will update Monday 3/27, Wednesday 3/29, Friday 3/31 and Sunday 4/2.  Stay tuned for Part 3! 

Want to discuss? Please join us on the newly-opened message board:

Monday, March 27, 2017

Story: The Crystal Caves (Part 1 of 4)

In response to a question on a blog post:

Noah Hite asks on March 9, 2017: "I was actually wondering about something that's mentioned in the book a couple times.  The crystal caves where Abyssi are born, does that mean there are baby Abyssi? Or are they born fully grown or something? It was never quite clear to me how they came to be as they are."

Scholar Faolan wouldn't have a detailed answer to this, but I'm happy to share an excerpt from a work I call Mancer 0, which shows the crystal caves and how the baby Abyssi are born. 

Minor spoilers for the Mancer trilogy.  This story takes place before Mancer 1: Of the Abyss, and it does include characters we meet in Abyss.  That said, I've edited it to avoid any overt spoilers, and I do not think reading it at any point in the series (before reading any of the books, or between them) will harm a person's enjoyment of the novels.

Background for new or returning readers: As mentioned previously, this is an excerpt from a longer work.  This section of the story takes place in the Abyss, one of the two realms in which spirits might find themselves after death.  The main character, Naples, is not dead (and how he ended up here is a story for another day) but is in fact a powerful sorcerer known as an Abyssumancer.  At the moment he has a fractious relationship with the half-Abyssi woman Azo, who saved his life once before despite her better judgment, and all his focus is on finding a way to escape the Abyss and return to the mortal realm.

As our story begins, Naples has been exploring the Abyss and has just reached a walled-in compound populated by a group of shades-- the spirits of the dead-- who assume he is one of them.

Text below (like all text on this site unless otherwise stated) © Amelia Atwater-Rhodes.  If you share this work, please include clear credit and a link back to this site.

The Crystal Caves: Part 1 of 4

          Not much could have derailed Naples' attention from his flirting, but the bloodcurdling screams that began at that moment managed.  The noise sent a shudder down his spine before it was followed by a wave of... something.  Power, perhaps, like a scent on the breeze.
Naples moved toward the edge of the tent, intending to investigate, though he had to push past Parylene's now even paler form to actually get through the door.
          He glanced back at the shade’s protest. 
          "You said something about fighting?" Naples said. He wasn’t sure even he could fight whatever was outside, but it made a good reason for why he was moving toward whatever was causing the late men and women outside to scream so high their throats would bleed soon, if they weren't already.
          As far as he could tell, the ones screaming were those who had been waiting at the top of the wall on sentry duty.  Whatever they had seen, it had left them chalky white and hysterical.
          Naples, naturally, responded by mounting the stairs to the top of the wall, ignoring all protests and warnings from those below.  He could sense a familiar power now.  Modigliani was out there, nearby.
          "Naples!" he heard Parylene cry. "It isn't a matter of whether you can fight if it's something you'll go mad just looking at!"
          Too late anyway.
          From the top of the wall, Naples could see the planes of fire.  The flames bowed low like heavy stalks of grain in the rising wind, and flickered from white to indigo to deep, impossible plum-black.  In the midst of that dancing field moved a throng of Abyssi.
          The most powerful appeared as little more than smoke and shadow.  They gave off an impression of danger, of things sharp and savage.  Naples eye could discern no distinct form, but his magic knew Modigliani was part of that seething mass.
          Trailing behind the most powerful—the princes Abyssi of the fifth level—were other, weaker creatures.  Some were furred, others scaled.  Some nearly resembled men, but others were beasts unlike any found on the mortal plane.  As Naples watched, they all pressed forward, trying to get closer to the royal party at the front, scuffling and bleeding each other in the fire.
          Naples jumped down from the wall, oblivious to the jolt of impact that traveled from his feet, through his knees and hips and spine and all the way to his shoulders.  Limping a little but not damaged too badly, he moved toward the crowd.
          The fire had brought sweat to his flesh, and was near enough for him to taste its acrid flavor when something pounced at him, driving him to the ground.  The attack caught him completely by surprise, and he was pinned long before he could consider fighting back.
          "Sorcerer or not," Azo snarled, "that fire will devour you, and leave nothing but ash behind."
          "I'll be fine," he protested.  He tried to struggle to his feet, but she was stronger than he was physically, and the wash of pure heat from both the field and the Abyssi moving through it scrambled his concentration too much for him to use magic.
          "Shield yourself, you idiot," Azo ordered.
          He blinked, trying to focus, instead.  It occurred to him to ask, "What are you doing here?"
          "Saving your skin," she replied. "I heard the call after you left.  I knew you wouldn't have the sense to defend yourself against it."
          "The call?" he echoed.
          "For sacrifice," she said.  "They're slaying the Lord of the Abyss.  They'll spread his blood across the crystal caverns to seed them and feed all five planes... along with the blood of anyone weak enough to succumb to the call, but powerful enough to survive the fields."
          Maybe that should have served as a warning.
          It didn't.
          What it did do was inspire him to relax his body just long enough for Azo to relax in response, shifting her weight before he threw her to the side and tried to scramble to his feet.
          She let out a cry like a diving hawk as she twisted to grab him again.
          He stumbled, and the shock of his hand falling too close to the fire—not in it, but close enough to scald and let off a stench of burning flesh—distracted him long enough for her to grab him again and throw him back toward the stone trees.
          "I don't know why I'm bothering to help you," she snapped.  "Put. Up. Your. Shields."
          He scrambled to his feet, only to have her knock him down again.  He had to concentrate.  If only he could get his thoughts in order, he was more powerful than she was, and could beat her, and get past her—
          The next time she grabbed him, she reached across his torso and grasped the black handle of the knife he always wore.  He was too slow to stop her from twisting it just enough that the blade sliced across his arm, or to keep her from slapping a hand over the new wound and shoving power at him hard enough that he fell to his knees on his own this time, breath catching and his spine bowing.
          She forced his power inside, turning hers into a protective case around him, and at last blocking out the siren song of the greater Abyssi.
          What had he been thinking? Even if the fire hadn't killed him, and even if the Abyssi hadn't already been seeking sacrifice, the last time he had even seen Modigliani, they had fought.  Modigliani wasn't likely to be happy to see him.
          "Thank you," he said, voice hoarse—from smoke, he realized, as he started coughing.  Despite the struggle to catch his breath, he focused on forming his own shields of power to protect him when she withdrew hers.
          He looked up to find her licking his blood off the palm of her hand, as she cautiously let her power drop, replaced by his.

          "Stop doing dumb things," she said.  "I'm not saving your life again."

Story will update Monday 3/27, Wednesday 3/29, Friday 3/31 and Sunday 4/2.  Stay tuned for Part 2!

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