Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord Prequel final




This is the final part of the prequel for my trilogy, The Waterlord. To get the rest of the story, which takes place five years later, check out the first book, available at Extasy Books, Amazon, or wherever Ebooks are sold. Links are below as well.



Final part

        “What’s going on?!” Tom whispered.

       “I said quiet!” Nathan knelt near him, and Tom noticed ugly bruises on his face before Nathan gasped and pulled away. “Damn, Tom, your arms… Nevermind, let me get them untied…shit. This’ll hurt.”

      Tom bit his lip, but Nathan never got the chance to touch the ropes before the door slammed behind him, making him jump.

     “Hm. So you have an accomplice?” Tom didn’t recognize the older woman, undoubtedly an official of some sort.

     “Back off!” Nathan warned. “He hasn’t done anything wrong. I’m letting him go.” He raised a hand, and the woman stumbled, as if hit with a wall of…what? Air!

      “You’re an airmage!” Tom shouted in shock.

       “Shush!” Nathan hissed back at him. He suddenly fell to one knee, holding his head. “Damnit…”

       “Not a very strong one, apparently.” The woman was back on her feet, drawing a sword. She stayed a distance away, though, balanced carefully.

       Nathan stumbled to his feet. Tom wondered how long it had been since he had helped the other boy back to his room. He wished he could help, but with the way he was tied he couldn’t get his feet under him. If he really did have magic, he didn’t know how to use it.  

       The door opened again with a bang, and before Tom could react Nathan was knocked to the floor by an invisible force. He rolled and didn’t get up. Tom gasped, his friend unconscious about six feet away.

       “You should control your students, Archibald.” The woman sheathed her sword. “He had the gall to attack me.”

      “He has spirit, that’s all. I don’t want to beat it out of him just yet.” Archibald crossed the room to where Nathan lay, prodding him with his foot. “Used up his power without rest. I’m surprised he had anything left in him.”  He gave him a forceful kick, but Nathan didn’t wake.

      “Leave him alone!” Tom yelled from his place on the floor. His blood ran cold when Archibald faced him.

       “Ah, you. The source of all the trouble. What a shame. I would have liked teaching you.” He shook his head before turning back to the woman. “Help me drag him out of here.” He motioned to Nathan.

     As the woman complied, Archibald turned back to Tom. “I guess I was wrong. You won’t have any subordinates after all, if Ruthen’s lad finds ill of you.” He smirked and followed the woman out, who had managed to pick up Nathan. The door closed, and Tom dreaded it opening again.

      No one came for what seemed like days. The pain in his arms grew worse, and hunger and thirst cramped his stomach. Finally, the fear gave way to sleep. When he woke, his arms hurt even more. It wasn’t as bad as his thirst, though.

     “How long has he been here?” A deep voice brought him to awareness. Someone was sitting near him.

       “A-A day and a half.”

      “Why didn’t you give him water!?” The same voice shouted.

     “W-We were frightened…He’s a water mage, isn’t he?”

      “I’ll be the judge of that,” the man said, and then someone was tapping him. “Wake up, boy.” Tom opened his eyes to slits, staring at the person before him. He had red hair, and deep green eyes.

    “Drink.” Water poured over Tom’s lips, the best thing he could imagine. He drank all he could before the man put the flask away.

    “Okay, now can you answer some questions for me?” the man said in a silky voice.

     “Who are you?” Tom whispered.

   The man laughed. “I’m Jacob Ruthen, apprentice to Lord Ruthen. Now, will you answer my questions?” Tom nodded. Something in him told him to run, but the instinct was faint.

      “Can you control water?” Jacob asked. Tom just stared at him, so he elaborated. “Like, make it rain, or make waves without touching water?”

     Tom thought back to the tank in the doctor’s office. Did that count? He didn’t think so. But he did like water, and he had sensed rain. “I can sense rain.”

    Jacob frowned. Tom wanted to sleep again. “What about…breathing underwater?”

    Tom’s eyes widened. He could do that! But should he tell him? Suddenly the fog and exhaustion from days without food and water began to lift. He realized he was in danger, depending on his answers.

      “Can you?” Jacob pressed.

      “Um…” If he lied, and said he couldn’t, maybe he would be let go. But if he told the truth, maybe Ruthen would let him help. Maybe this was good! He decided to take the risk. “Yes…”

      Ruthen raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Really?”

Tom elaborated, relaxing a little. “Yeah. It was scary at first, because I thought I’d drown, but then I could breathe almost normally.” Tom smiled a little. Maybe things would be okay!  

   “Oh well. It appears you are nothing but a problem.” Ruthen’s smile vanished, and suddenly Tom realized he had made a grievous error. Ruthen removed his gloves, and fear filled Tom. He looked over Ruthen’s shoulder, but there was only the same woman who had been so cruel to Nathan before.

    That was it. Tom ignored the pain in his arms and tried to break the ropes, the burned skin rubbing raw against them. He tried to get to his feet, but Ruthen held him down.

    “One last test.” His voice wasn’t friendly anymore. He held two fingers up near Tom’s face, and Tom saw a spark before Ruthen drew them across his eye. It burned.

       Tom screamed, throwing his head back as Ruthen let him go. He rolled on the floor, blood from the burn in his eye and his face.

     “Get rid of him. I don’t know how this happened, but make sure he dies.” Tom heard footsteps leaving over his own screaming, and then the floorboards shifted.

     “This is for your own good. I’m sorry, kid.” He was struck on the head, and then heard nothing.

         Water struck his face. He opened his one eye, and was amazed at how the rain drops soothed the burn on the other. They helped his arm, too. It was dark, and the rain made it peaceful outside. Then he realized he was being held aloft...over the side of the ship.

       He couldn’t scream in time. He fell, and hit the water with a smack, cold water soothing burns. Darkness came over him, and as he sank, the last thing he saw clearly was Jacob Ruthen’s stern face.

End 

To see what happens in the future, remember to check out Air, the first book of the Waterlord Trilogy.
Available at Extasy Books, Amazon, or wherever Ebooks are sold.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord Part 19


   
 Tom struggled to move the wood, his heart pounding at the sight of his friend trapped beneath the water. His muscles burned. Even with the lesser weight of things underwater, it wouldn’t budge. He began to panic again. Nathan could be crushed. He had to do something!

   He reached for the control and strength he had felt. He pushed the wood again, and yelled in frustration when it didn’t move. He screamed, punching a beam, and a pulse of water moved it.   

     The whole pile shifted, and Tom didn’t let himself be surprised for more than an instant. He grabbed Nathan and pulled him out from underneath as the beams settled themselves.

   He had to get Nathan out of the water. All he could do was swim up from the direction the beams had fallen. He pushed from the ground, and shot up quickly, Nathan’s weight nothing underwater.

    Tom almost hit the ceiling of the hallway above, and cursed. There had to be a hole somewhere that led higher up. He feared facing flames, but with Nathan possibly drowning he had no choice. He swam along the ceiling, looking for any signs of air.

    Nathan sputtered, bubbles leaving his mouth, and Tom’s heart jolted. He punched the ceiling with his fist, and the soaked wood gave way. He hit it harder, pain shooting through his hand, but it was enough. A force accompanied the banging of his fist, and the wood broke apart. He rammed through it with his body, and suddenly dry air met his skin.

  He pulled Nathan through and laid him gingerly on the beams, stroking his friend’s soaked hair. He hoped Nathan wasn’t dying. He shook him, water dribbling from Nathan’s mouth when his friend began coughing. Yes! He was alive!
   
 Tom breathed deeply, ready to shout Nathan’s name, and started coughing, ridding his lungs of the water that had been in them. It was a few moments before he could breath air comfortably again, gasping.

    “Wha?” Nathan’s voice. “Tom?”

“Nathan!” Tom grabbed his hands, Nathan staring at him confused. “You’re okay!”

No, Nathan wasn’t staring at him. He stared at something behind him, fear in his eyes.

     Someone behind him grabbed his arms. It burned.

    He tried to run away, to push the hands off his, but it was no use. He screamed aloud, the pain unbearable. His skin was smoking, and he smelled burning flesh. This shouldn’t be happening! The pain was too great for him to be conscious. Nathan held him, punching something behind him, whoever was grabbing him trying to pull him away. He tried to hold on to Nathan, his friend yelling, and the last thing he realized before passing out was that whoever was hurting him must be a fire mage.

***
       When Tom awoke, the first thing he noticed was the intense pain in his arms. Somebody had tied them behind him, and the pain spread up to his shoulders. The skin on his arms screamed with pain from the burn. He couldn’t move, and couldn’t see, the room dark.

        It all flooded back. The feelings of foreboding before the ship had been attacked by fire, being able to breathe underwater. And a fire mage, attacking him. But why…why was he here, tied up? The ship was in one piece. Was the fight over? What had happened?

   As if on cue, he heard footsteps. They were faint, and he guessed them to be coming from outside a door or wall. He strained his ears to hear voices.

    “Their attack wasn’t too well thought out. Our ship will be here soon. Theirs is captured.”

     “And what of their mages?”
     Someone laughed. “We put to death three earth mages and an old wind mage by flame. Two were kids, but it serves Auros right. We lost children too in his asinine attempt.”  Tom shuddered. Could the two kids have been…?

      “That hardly matters. What about the fire mage? The one responsible?”

      “He got away. Vanished, seemingly.”

      “You know this means war again. We put their mages to death, it takes away Auros’s opportunity to call it an accident.”

        “So be it. If that’s the best they have, we should have no trouble. Auros is barely a spark compared to Ruthen and his boy.”

          Tom frowned. War, then?

           “What about that kid? The one the fire lord burned?” Tom listened again. They must be talking about him.

          “Dunno. They’re gonna have a look at him. Archibald says he’s not Earth or Wind, and I don’t see how he could be fire…but water? That’s impossible.”

         Tom’s veins filled with ice. Water mage. Him?

         “So what? We leave him?”

         “I guess so.” The footsteps faded again, and Tom grew cold. What would they do with him? They wouldn’t kill him, would they? It wasn’t his fault! He could ignore water, and be the same as before. He tried struggling, momentarily forgetting the pain in his arms until the ropes scraped the raw burns. He cried out, his world growing dim with pain, and he sat still until it passed. He wished it wasn’t so dark.

        He didn’t know how long he sat there, willing the pain in his hands to fade. He grew hungry, then thirsty.

            It was amazing how quickly things had changed. It had all gotten weird after he fell ill. Tom tried to remember how that could have happened. He had been out in a storm, but that couldn’t have made him that sick. And it certainly couldn’t have lead to him being a water mage, could it? He thought hard about that day and night. A memory tried to form in his brain, but he couldn’t quite grasp it. It had to do with the rain, though, and maybe the storm.

        The door creaked, and warm light flooded the room from the hallway sconces. Tom looked at the ground, blinking. His eyes adjusted slowly.

       “Shit, Tom, this is my fault.”

       “Nathan?”

“Shush. I’m getting you out of here.”

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord Part 18


        
Part 18 

A terrible sense of foreboding…A bang woke Tom. He jumped up wildly, looking around for the source of the noise, until he realized his water cup had fallen off the shelf. What time was it? He didn’t even remember falling asleep.

     Tom shook off sleepiness, hunger gnawing at his stomach. It must be close to dinner, then. Hopefully safe to exit the room. Tom hoped Nathan was alright. That old man had seemed so cruel.

  As Tom made his way down the hall, he was struck again by a strange dread, and suddenly his throat felt tight. An image flashed in his mind, an open flame in a room, or a book. He reached for the image, or maybe a memory, but it passed quickly. When it vanished, however, he felt even more weighted down. Maybe he needed more sleep.  

Nathan wasn’t at the mess, and Tom picked at the day’s meal, hoping he would show up. He didn’t have much appetite, and when he sat down he realized his chest felt tight. He tried to relax and force himself to eat.

            The food tasted awful, the fish crumbly in his mouth. Across from his table, a baby was crying, its mother trying to shush it.

       Tom put down his food, his stomach flipping. Something was wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. The air felt strange, and he took a deep breath, his heart pounding. Something…something was very wrong.

            Then the ship shuddered with a tremendous impact. The tables jumped, chairs flipping, and Tom stumbled. Panic filled him. Something terrible was happening, and he had no control. The ship shuddered again, and suddenly he was sliding sideways, his feet slipping on the wood.

    “Mom!” someone screamed. Others were screaming too, and then he heard “The ship is burning!”

      It suddenly all made sense. He had felt it… the gathering of power. A fire mage had attacked their ship!

      Another blast rocked their ship, and Tom whipped his head around. Where was it safe? He let his instincts guide him, running from the mess where people were huddling, terrified.

    He didn’t know how he knew, but he could tell when the ship would rock from the impact of…what, a fireball? The ship would pitch, but Tom wouldn’t fall, able to ride out the waves created from the ship rocking back and forth. No storm could move a ship this huge like this. He half wanted to go to the deck and see the attack for himself, but he knew that would be suicide. A sense guided him away from the danger, lower into the bowels of the ship, past his room and near steerage.

    He smelled burning wood, and planks above him gave way, falling into the hall and spreading the flames. He jumped back, and terror filled him at the sight of the leaping fire. Smoke burned his eyes and throat, and he couldn’t breathe. He turned and ran the other way, close to panic.

   Another impact hit, but this time the ship didn’t right itself. As he ran, Tom’s foot fell through soaked planks. He screamed as the whole floor gave way. He swam now, in rising water, with flames above him. Planks from the ceiling fell around him, and he had no choice but to dive.

    It was darker down here, the only light from the fire above, and he couldn’t hear anything but muffled splashes and hissing as burning wood fell into the water. He swam away, faster than he though he could swim. He heard a tremendous splash, and suddenly everything became pitch black. The ceiling had collapsed.

   Panic filled him, and his lungs burned. He needed to breathe! He didn’t want to die down here! He swam up, but he had no sense of direction, so for all he knew he only succeeded in swimming deeper.

   He banged on the ceiling, or perhaps the floor, he couldn’t tell. His vision blurred, his muscles burning from lack of oxygen. His lungs hurt, and finally he gave up, breathing deeply. He expected to cough and drown.

      Instead, energy filled him. His lungs filled with water, he knew that, but it didn’t choke him.

He could breathe.

     Tom stayed motionless and breathed, shock freezing him in place.

Then something else hit the water, sending adrenalin through his veins. He had to get to safety. There must be a hole, he thought, that lead to another part of the ship. And in the water, he would be safe from the flames.

     He kicked his legs, and it was amazingly easy to swim now that he wasn’t panicking about breathing. He could barely see, but he sensed the slight movement of the water. He followed the weak current, and found a good sized hole in the side of the room he was trapped in. He squeezed through, and suddenly things grew much brighter.

    He was in a water filled hallway now, probably on one of the lower floors. He could still sense the fire, but the impacts of the fireballs themselves seemed to have stopped.

    He swam through the hallway, dodging planks of fallen wood. He knew he could probably surface somewhere, but he didn’t want to. He felt stronger here, and safe, and he could at least think without panicking.

            It must have been Auros, or one of his fire mages. The co-celebration must have been a ruse. He remembered the rich man on Auros’s ship, and the fear that he had felt. That man must have been a fire mage, if not a lesser fire lord.  

    A tremendous crash up ahead interrupted his thoughts, and he saw bubbles rise from the settling wood. How odd. As he swam closer, the sight chilled him. Someone was trapped underneath the planks. He rushed to the wood, and saw a wisp of short blond hair.

His blood ran cold. 

Nathan!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord Prequel part 17

Chapter 17

     Nathan scoffed when Tom didn’t answer immediately. “Fine. I can make it on my own.” He got to his feet, and Tom could not help but notice Nathan’s shakiness. He leaned on the wall for support, his head down as though he fought off dizziness. Tom immediately felt bad for delaying.

    “Okay, let me help. I’m…sorry.” He didn’t quite know what he was apologizing for, but he knew Nathan needed help. Tom wished Nathan would tell him what was going on. Maybe if Tom helped, he would tell.

     Nathan grunted, and let Tom support him. It was not quite as difficult as before, when Tom had helped him down the hall. Nathan had gotten stronger since then, at least, and could support more of his own weight. Once he was securely on his feet, though, Nathan pushed Tom away.

   “I don’t need to constantly lean on you. Just…be there if I fall, okay?” He tried to make it commanding, but his tone failed due to his weakness. It sounded pathetic, almost pleading, and the blonde sensed this. He looked away from Tom as if ashamed.

   Tom didn’t know what had Nathan so weak and upset, but he didn’t care if Nathan sounded pathetic or not. He would help him, and then maybe later Nathan would help him if he needed it. Nathan had been the one who carried him to the doctors, hadn’t he? Tom brushed that thought away as soon as it surfaced. It embarrassed him to think about it, for some reason.

    Tom followed as they passed by some other people, and Nathan tried to straighten up and look stronger than he obviously felt. Tom felt a pang of empathy at that. Didn’t he, too, want to look competent all the time?

It didn’t last, and as they walked Nathan began to lean on Tom slightly for support. Tom began to worry. What exactly was wrong with his friend? He helped him to edge of the deck, and then suddenly panicked. How could Nathan get across the bridge? Where was the official for this side?

      “Let me rest for a second…I can make it.” Nathan sat down near the railing, catching his breath. Tom waited nervously, eyeing the bridge. He hoped Nathan made it without trouble. They couldn’t go two at a time.

      “You go first. Don’t fall, okay?” Nathan grinned sardonically at him, and Tom felt a little better. If Nathan could make jokes about it, he couldn’t be that badly off, could he?

      Tom wandered over to it, eyeing it once more. He glanced back at Nathan one more time, who almost appeared asleep, before hopping onto the bridge. He took a deep breath and ran across, not letting himself get psyched out by the height. Before he knew it, he was back home, and the navigator was smiling at him.

     “Good job. You didn’t get scared this time.” Tom just smiled back and stood at the railing, waiting for Nathan.

     He didn’t wait long before he saw Nathan step up onto the bridge from the other side. He took his time, though, not running like Tom had, and Tom grew nervous until Nathan made it safely back on Ruthen’s deck.

    “C’mon, back to my room.” Nathan spoke up, breathing hard, and Tom silently acquiesced. He hoped Nathan felt better soon.

     Tom followed Nathan again, who didn’t appear quite so willing to lean on him now that they were back home. They made it down to the lower deck where their rooms were before they were suddenly stopped.

      “Hm. Well, I figured you were up to something.” Tom looked up and saw the same scary old man that he had run into in the hall. Archibald?

       Tom’s reaction was nothing compared to Nathan’s. His eyes widened, and his knees suddenly shook. “Mas…Archibald, I’m sorry”-

      “You’re right. You will be sorry.” Archibald spoke. Nathan suddenly pushed Tom roughly away and took the old man’s slap full force across the face. Tom jumped back, terrified. Nathan fell down from the hit, his hand to his face. He was crying now, his eyes tearing soundlessly.

      Tom looked up at the man. What did he want with Nathan? Archibald saw him looking, and sneered at him. “This is none of your business, boy. When you have subordinates, you keep them under better control than him.” He pointed contemptuously at Nathan, who lay on the ground trying to control his tears. “Now get out of here!” He raised his hand again, and Tom split, racing down the hall as fast he could. He heard Nathan cry out again, but didn’t look back until he reached his room, locking the door.

      Something was wrong here. Nathan was obviously terrified of Archibald, but why would Archibald have control over him? Nathan was his subordinate, but why? What had Nathan done? Gotten into a fight? Tom felt terrible. Nathan had been crying…Tom never witnessed him cry before. Tom brought his knees to his chest, fighting the urge to cry himself. 

Life wasn’t fair sometimes. He had been looking forward to this day, to exploring, and all this had happened. He would stay in his room until dinner, he decided. He didn’t want to leave again. What if Archibald came after him? He felt like a terrible coward.

Nothing had gone right today. Hopefully it would be over soon.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord Prequel part 16



 Part 16 

 It hurt a little to leave Nathan, but he wouldn’t go too far. Or at least he didn’t plan to. Tom took twists and turns on deck, soon enough ending up where the captain’s quarters would be if he were on Ruthen’s ship. Here, though, there appeared to be numerous quarters, perhaps where the wealthy stayed. The areas between them resembled streets. Tom wondered why his ship didn’t have such an interesting feature. He would love to live above deck, rivaling the houses of the ship lords on land!

    Shouting startled him, and he jumped, hiding behind the corner of the house he was near. He was doing a lot of hiding today…

     “That won’t work! He’s a master fire lord! And he has numerous family ties. It’s a stupid plan! You don’t know if they’ll have support!” Tom cocked his head. Were they talking about Ruthen? He was a fire lord. Or Auros? And what plan?

      “Trust me, I would know. They have none on that ship. And we’re reinforced if they have some untrained potentials.” Tom heard someone laugh, and then footsteps. He scooted further behind the corner, and managed to slip, falling with a thud on the wooden planks.

       “Shush!” Then “Who’s there!?”

      Tom knew running was out of the question, so he stayed put. He looked up as a shadow fell over him, and stared into the face of an elderly man who wore three earrings in his left ear. They glinted in the sunlight, and Tom thought it rather funny. This man must be rich, he thought.

      “What are you doing here, boy? Where are you from?” It had been the first speaker. The man had a rough tone, but it was not hostile. Tom felt at ease. They had probably just been talking about meeting someone on Ruthen’s ship.

      Before Tom could answer, another man walked up behind the first. Tom backed up against the wall, suddenly terrified. He couldn’t explain it, but this one had an aura of dangerousness. Tom didn’t want to be near him, and he flattened his back against the wall of the house.

     “What have we here?” The man had brown hair and eyes, very plain, but he was not dressed so. He wore what Tom could only think was fur around his neck, and he had gloves on. No one wore gloves. He had on a cloak that was trimmed in shiny material. He cast another shadow over Tom, eclipsing the older man, who looked up in what could be a silent request for orders.

     “What are you doing here? Speak up.” His tone was commanding, but Tom could not find the voice to speak. His fear choked him. He had no idea why, but he wanted to get as far away from this man as possible.

    The man’s eyes narrowed, and he looked frightened for a moment. “You look…” He reached for Tom, but with a squeak Tom darted away, racing down the makeshift street of the ship. He did not stop until he reached the deck on the other side. He had traveled the width of the ship, and he sat down to rest, his paralyzing fear suddenly gone. The man had not followed.

     Tom sighed, trying to figure out what had happened. The first man hadn’t been scary, despite his weird earrings, but the second…there had been something odd about him, more than just his rich clothes. Tom decided he didn’t much like wealthy people. That must have been it, he reasoned. He wasn’t used to seeing such wealth. It sounded weak to him, but he didn’t dwell on it. Besides, there was much more of the ship to explore, though he would avoid the area where he had seen that man.

    Tom started exploring again, this time much more cautiously. Auros’s ship was full of weird people, apparently. He stayed on the deck, but well away from the center. He would circle around, and see if he could find anything interesting.

He walked the length of the deck slowly. On this side, he could barely Ruthen’s ship across the lines of the houses that took up the center. Auros’s ship was different from Ruthen’s structurally, but there were many similarities, as well. Both served the same purpose, to support thousands of people on the ocean. Tom wondered if Auros was very different from Ruthen at all. They were both fire mages, weren’t they? He wondered how they had originally designed the ships, or how old the ships were. Maybe Auros’s ship was newer. The wood was certainly nicer. Or perhaps instead of age being the factor, Auros had different kinds of wood on his island. They were trees, right? Depending on climate, they differed, or at least he was pretty sure they did. He had slept through that lesson too, probably.

     Auros’s deck was huge, more expansive than Ruthen’s. Most likely it was to support the houses he had seen before. And the personal decks, on the room he had seen with Nathan, were a very nice touch. Auros’s ship had a lot of wood, or at least it was really reinforced.

   Tom neared the end of the deck, and he saw that it tapered off to a point at the prow before going around again on the other side of the ship. He found Nathan again, sitting just where he had left him.

            “Hey, are you asleep?” Tom asked.
             
     “No…not exactly.” He didn’t elaborate, and Tom wondered how you “didn’t exactly” fall asleep.

     “So…do you want to keep exploring?” Tom asked. “The upper decks look neat.”

      “Look, I don’t want to…?” Nathan trailed off, his voice weak. “I just…can you help me back to Ruthen’s ship? I don’t feel well.”

      Tom frowned. He had been excited about seeing another ship, but the whole day had been kind of disappointing.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Waterlord Prequel, part 15

Part 15



    “Leave him, he’ll be out for a while.” Footsteps thudded on the wood, and Tom’s heart pounded. “Damn, we should be able to find him!”

Tom huddled by the door. He considered running again, and then wondered if he should climb over the deck. Swimming didn’t scare him. But then, there was Nathan…

     “The deck!” the boy shouted, and Tom froze. He should have run while he had the chance. He backed up, and the doors burst open. He faced the girl, the same one that had pinned Nathan effortlessly. She stared at him with a wicked grin on her face.

   That broke him. Tom ran, trying to reach the door to the hallway where he knew he should be able to outdistance this behemoth, but the girl caught him, and like Nathan, forced his hands behind his back. Tom screamed, kicking, but with him the girl also had a height advantage. She dragged him into the room, where Nathan still lay slumped on the floor. What had they done to him?

Tom saw the boy come toward him, and he closed his eyes as the boy put his hand on his chest. Tom expected to feel terrible pain, that kind that had so hurt Nathan. Nothing happened.

   He opened his eyes to the boy’s confused face. Instinct took over and Tom kicked out, catching the boy in the stomach. He wrenched free of the girl and on all fours scrambled toward the closed door, flattening himself against it like a mouse.

   The boy turned to the girl and whispered something, and she shrugged her shoulders, though she did not take her eyes off him for a second. “Why were you here?” she asked, the first time he had heard her speak without yelling.

   Tom figured he had better answer. “I was just exploring with…my friend, and he wanted to see people’s rooms…I don’t know, honest, I was just looking at the deck! We weren’t stealing anything!”

 The girl sneered. “Take your friend and go. I don’t know what the lying idiot told you, but you’re not allowed to just walk into anyone’s room.” Tom didn’t want to say anything else and possibly incur the girl’s wrath, so he walked over to where Nathan lay. How badly was he hurt? He looked over again at the two of them, but they offered no answers.

   “C’mon, man, we have to go.” Tom poked him, and Nathan stirred, groaning. Tom sighed, but was more afraid that annoyed. “C’mon, please? Don’t be lazy.” Tom tried lifting him, but it wasn’t working.

   “I’m not lazy.” Nathan pushed himself up to all fours, and Tom jumped back. The taller boy staggered to his feet, and managed not to waver once he stood up. He glared at the two who had felled him, and Tom thought they looked rather shocked. He didn’t have time to wonder about it, though, as Nathan grabbed him and dragged him out of the room. Tom knew by now to open the door for him, and once outside, he closed the door with more force than likely necessary, as if to shut the two others inside. Tom wished that their parents had come home, and not them. Adults wouldn’t have beaten up kids like that.

    As soon as the door clicked shut, Nathan staggered. Apparently his strength had only been bravado, and Tom barely caught him before he fell. Nathan sustained some of his own weight, but was incredibly weak, and gasped for breath. Tom shook under the strain of supporting him. He was really frightened now. What if they had broken Nathan’s ribs? He didn’t know what to do, and wondered if he should get a doctor.

   “Nathan?” Tom’s voice wavered.

    “Ssh!” Nathan hissed. “Just…let me get outside. I’ll be fine.” He started walking, and Tom was forced to follow, being Nathan’s major support. It seemed to take forever to get back to the stairs, and Tom had to open the door to the hall while Nathan leaned on him. Nathan was entirely unwilling to lean on the wall.

    Tom had no clue how to get Nathan up the stairs. They were too narrow to walk double, and he doubted he would be strong enough anyway. Fortunately, Nathan started up without him, and though his legs shook, he seemed to be alright. Tom followed behind in case Nathan fell, silently dreading that possibility. If Nathan did fall, they would both be tumbling.

   Thankfully, Nathan made it, and collapsed next to the deck rail once he was up, sitting with his head bowed and eyes closed. Tom sat down beside him, studying him for sings of injury. He couldn’t really see any, but Nathan clearly wasn’t fine.

    Tom sat silently for a moment before speaking. “What happened? It didn’t look like you were hit that hard…” The thing those kids had done hadn’t hurt him, and then he had been let go. They couldn’t possibly know Nathan to dislike him, so why had he been hurt so badly? Why did they insult him?

     Nathan breathed heavily before responding, as if trying to summon energy to yell. “It’s nothing, Tom.” It came out breathy, and not convincing. “Don’t worry. Just go explore. I’ll be fine.”

     Yeah, right. Who had helped Nathan out of the room, and through the hall?

     Nathan closed his eyes again and leaned his head against the rail, as if exhausted. “Go on, Tom. I really…I just need to rest. You don’t need to help. I don’t even know what’s up with you. You’re so…” Nathan trailed off, and apparently seemed to be falling asleep.

    Tom sighed, wondering if he should nudge Nathan awake with his foot. If he hadn’t made him go into that room, then things would have been fine.

 He would explore the ship without Nathan, Tom decided. Nathan seemed fine here. Maybe he would find someone his age on Auros’s ship, and hang out with them instead.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord Prequel part 14



    
Part 14 

 “Shut up, I’m fine. A…splinter.” Nathan looked at his finger for a moment before returning his hands to his pockets. He glared at Tom again as if daring him to say anything, and when the younger boy didn’t, he turned back down the hall. “C’mon, we’re almost at the end of this place. I think there’s a door up ahead.”

Nathan resumed walking, faster this time. Tom kept his hands away from the wall as he followed. How had Nathan gotten a splinter in the short time he had touched the wall? The wood was too smooth for that. He decided, though, that he would make an effort to be less annoying. Nathan seemed unhappy down here, which was odd considering it had been his idea to come down. Sure, the makeup of the ship was a little strange, but it was nothing menacing.

    Soon enough, Tom spied a door ahead, and Nathan almost ran to it before suddenly slowing. He peered at the wood and the handle for a moment before turning to Tom. “You open it.” It was a weird command, but Tom shrugged and put a hand on it.   

    It was almost cold beneath his hand. “Wow! Look, Nathan-its metal! On a door handle!” His hand glided over it, impossibly smooth.

 Nathan just rolled his eyes and walked through the door. On the other side, rows of doors stretched down a long hallway. Tom figured they must be where people lived.

   “Think they’ll be unlocked?” Nathan asked, grinning mischievously.

   Tom had an idea of what Nathan wanted, but hoped he was wrong, turning to him with wide eyes. “You’re not going to steal, are you!?” He had not thought his sometimes aggressive friend was capable of that. And from a different lord’s ship…

     “Of course not.” Nathan snapped. “I just wanna look around; see how people’s houses here differ from ours.” Tom figured that made sense, and then wondered if he had left his door unlocked back on Ruthen’s ship. Were people from this ship looking through his room? He hoped not, and then wondered if they were even allowed.

     Nathan crept down the hall and tried a few doors, and the click of one opening startled Tom from his thoughts. Nathan grinned at him and then disappeared inside. Tom’s stomach turned as he followed.

  Nathan had vanished somewhere into the other connected living areas, but Tom was struck by the differences he found. The room was huge, dwarfing Tom’s. Numerous shelves lined the wall, and small wooden carvings sat on a table that shone with the same glossy wood as the wooden floors outside. Fresh air flowed in from a door leading out onto a personal deck. Tom stepped through it, feeling less like an intruder once he left the room. He hoped Nathan wasn’t messing stuff up.

  Once outside, he felt much calmer. These small personal decks were much lower than the main ones, and attributed to the ribbed appearance of Auros’s ship. Tom could hear the waves lapping against the ship much louder on this small deck than he ever could on Ruthen’s. It was very nice here. Tom wished that his small, cramped room had something like this attached to it. The waves lulled him, and he imagined he could sense them without looking at or hearing them.

    Something banged from inside, and Tom jumped. What was Nathan doing? He poked his head back inside the doors, only to see that the door leading into the room from the hall of the ship had been thrown open. A girl had walked inside, followed by a shorter boy. Both had brown hair and mean looking eyes, the girl rather stocky looking. Tom immediately knew he should not have come in here, and tried to hide behind the deck door.

 “Who’s here!?” the girl yelled. Tom hoped Nathan had hid. The girl wasn’t tall, but she looked big and strong.

    No such luck, apparently. He heard Nathan’s sandaled feet, and Tom could imagine his swagger, even in a place where by all rights he should not be. “Hey, your door was unlocked, so I just figured we could explore the room.” Tom’s heart dropped into his chest. Why had he said we!? He heard another boom as something fell, and figured that one of the two had probably started looking for him.

   “You think we’ll believe that?” Tom frowned, risking a peek from behind the door. Nathan stood alone by the entrance to one of the halls, his hands in his pockets once again. His usual smirk was gone. The girl had her hands in fists, the other boy at her back, and Tom knew that something bad was going to happen.

 Nathan took his hands out of his pockets, but before he could so much as make a fist the girl tackled him. Nathan was quite a bit taller, but the girl obviously weighed more, and Nathan staggered. She had his arms behind his back in a moment, and then the other boy jumped in.

   Tom had no idea what happened, but the girl forced Nathan to stand up straight as the boy put his palm on Nathan’s chest. He didn’t see what the boy did, exactly, but Nathan shuddered at the contact, and as the girl let him go he collapsed to the floor, retching. Tom hid again behind the door, shaking with fear. He knew he should run, but he couldn’t, and who knew what they do to Nathan now? He didn’t want to leave him here if he was so hurt, even if there was nothing Tom could do to help.

   “Where’s the other one?!” The boy shouted, talking for the first time. Nathan groaned.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

New Cover!

Check out the cover for The Storm Lords, coming out August 8th!

The heat took everything from Rowen: his parents, his voice when the local cure for heat stroke poisoned him, and the trust of his fellow villagers, who branded him a water thief. It would have claimed his life when he was deemed unworthy of precious resources and left in the sun to die, had not a strange man named Kristoff ridden in on the wind and told Rowen he had power.

Rowen works hard to become a Storm Lord, one of a secret magical group who bring storms to break the heat waves overtaking their world. But Rowen is starting his training at a disadvantage since he cannot speak and is much older than the other novices. The desire to please Kristoff inspires him to persevere even more than the threat of being sent back to his village to die should he fail. Still, he cannot gather rain, and when his abilities manifest, they are unlike anything known to the Storm Lords. Unless Kristoff can help him control his deadly powers, the entire world will be in danger.

Kristoff might be among the mightiest of the Storm Lords, but he’s never been a mentor before. For a chance to be with Rowen, he’s willing to risk everything.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord part 13

Part 13
     
“Good job crossing, Tom.” Tom smiled at the navigator. It felt nice to have someone he knew officiating in a strange place, even if it wasn’t his favorite person in the world.

      “Yeah, not bad for freezing up. I thought you’d delay me.” Tom turned to see Nathan hopping off the bridge after him, having crossed it quickly. The navigator snorted derisively, but Nathan ignored her. “C’mon, we have a lot of exploring to do.” He set off onto the deck, and Tom began to trail after him. He thought it odd that Nathan was so disrespectful to a teacher, but decided it wasn't worth fretting over.

     Tom looked around to see if he knew anyone. He knew that he and Nathan couldn’t be the only ones exploring the foreign ship, and knowing where other people were that he could meet up with would be comforting. Nathan walked too fast, though, and Tom had to abandon his search to keep up. What was he in such a rush for?

     “Hey, wait up!” Tom ran to catch up to the blond.

 Nathan turned in exasperation. “Hurry up, then! We have a lot to see!”

Tom frowned. How could they see anything when they didn’t even stop to look?

 Tom hadn’t known until now the difference longer legs could make when walking the length of a deck. It was just another thing that irritated him about Nathan sometimes, even though it wasn’t truthfully Nathan’s fault.

     “Where are we going!?” Tom yelled ahead.

 Nathan didn’t slow, but yelled casually over his shoulder. “How should I know? I’m just looking for something interesting.” Tom could sense Nathan’s grin.

He had to admit it was strange, though. Nathan seemed as if he knew where he was going, despite his denial. How could he, if he had never visited the ship before? Did someone describe it to him?

    While Tom pondered this, Nathan came to a dead stop, Tom almost running into him. He had stopped by a staircase that led straight down to an area below decks, an architectural feature that Ruthen’s ship did not share. Tom craned his neck to try and look down. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to below just yet; he hadn’t seen everything on deck. More accurately, he hadn’t seen anything on deck, due to Nathan’s impatience.

    Typically, though, Nathan didn’t give him a chance to voice his displeasure. “C’mon, let’s go.” He practically shoved Tom down the narrow stairs, following after him to almost force him to walk down.  Tom did so, though not without a bit of resentment. He vowed to explore the ship on his own later on, when Nathan wasn’t around to be annoying. Why did Nathan want Tom to come with him anyway? Nathan could be nice if he wanted to, but sometimes Tom felt weird around him. Nathan was such a jerk sometimes, and when he wasn’t he was…confusing.

     Tom was so focused on his thoughts that he didn’t notice the two missing steps at the bottom of the stair case. “Watch it!” He heard Nathan yell at the last second, but too late, and Tom fell. He managed to keep himself from face planting, but he hit his knees painfully on the wood of the floor. He stared at the planks for a moment, his eyes tearing. It was glossy and well finished, but it didn’t seem fire forged. He could barely see the grains it was made of. How odd…

     “Are you okay?” Nathan grabbed his arm and hauled him up, interrupting his study of the floor. “You didn’t hit your head, stop looking moronic.”

 Tom forgot about the odd floor, pulling away from the older boy. “I’m not moronic! Why did you shove me down the stairs anyway?!”

     Nathan looked at the wooden ceiling above them and sighed. “I didn’t shove you. You fell. Now let’s go, as long as you can keep from falling on your face again.” With that, he walked off down the dimly lit hall. The oil lamps weren’t as strong as on Ruthen’s ship.

    “I didn’t fall on my face!” Tom shouted, running after him.

      Nathan didn’t respond. The interior of the ship was very different from Ruthen’s. Tom ran his hand along the wall as he walked, and was surprised at the smoothness. If he had done the same on Ruthen’s ship, he likely would have ended up with nasty splinters.

     Nathan walked ahead in a slouch, his hands in his pockets. If Tom didn’t know any better, he would say Nathan was nervous. About what, though? Tom smiled and ran up to him. It served Nathan right for trying to control everything.

     “What’s wrong? It was your idea to come down here.” As he ran to Nathan’s side, Tom’s flimsy sandals clacked on the floor. Another odd effect of the wood, he guessed.

     “Nothing’s wrong!” Nathan snapped, straightening. “Don’t be idiotic!” He walked faster, ahead of Tom, who shrugged his shoulders and followed. Nathan was definitely uneasy, but Tom had no idea why. He continued running his hand along the wood, and tried to dig his nails into it. It didn’t work, it was too slippery. Tom decided that whatever wood Auros used to design his ships was cool. Dragging his nails along the wood made a funny scratchy noise, and Tom grinned at the sound, his sore knees forgotten.

     “Would you STOP THAT!?” Nathan whirled around to face Tom, his yell echoing down the lengthy corridor. Tom jumped and backed up against the wall, and Nathan advanced on him angrily. “Do you have any idea how annoying-DAMNIT!” Nathan had put his hand on the wall in an attempt to force Tom to back up, and now he pulled it back as if burned. He shook it, cursing, and Tom darted out of the way. Nathan looked like he wanted to punch somebody.

    “Um…are you okay?” How could Nathan possibly hurt his hand leaning on a wall for a half second?”

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord Prequel part 12

 Part 12


The air froze his every breath, but the clouds formed were beautiful. The white plain stretched out before him, untouched by wood, and he realized he wasn’t on a ship. He wanted to float, but the ground-was it ground?-remained hard under his feet. He stood  above a freezing, foreign world, and yet he was entombed in it. It was too quiet, too still, and strangest of all, there was water everywhere and yet none….

         Tom heard his door creaking, and then a flurry of knocking. He rolled over in bed, trying to ignore it. It was warm in bed…

     “Tom, get up, damnit! It’s already noon! ” Tom groaned and snuggled further into his blankets. The person pounding his door outside was obviously Nathan, and Tom didn’t want to deal with him right now. It was rest day; what was Nathan bothering him for? Usually the older boy slept longer than he did. Tom almost fell back to sleep until the banging started again.

      “TOM!” You’d better not be sick again!” Nathan’s voice rose in volume. Tom rolled over, facing the door.

      “I’m not…g’way!” He buried his head under his pillow.

     “Fine…I guess I’ll have to explore Auros’s ship by myself.”

       Tom shot out of bed at that, running to the door and wrenching it open. “What?!”

Nathan laughed, his eyes roaming over Tom’s frame. The younger boy realized he was still in his pajamas, and blushed, but that didn’t matter now. “What about Auros’s ship!?”
      
 Nathan paused. “Well, the festivities start tomorrow…but the ship came today, in preparation, I suppose. They just started letting us explore it, after the captains met.” He raised his eyebrows.

 “Let’s go!” Tom raced back into his room, not bothering to anchor the door or wait for Nathan’s response, and quickly changed into clothes. When he turned back to his door, Nathan was leaning in the frame, having caught the door. Tom raced past Nathan into the hall, looking for any signs that festivities had begun. He could see none until he got to the deck.

     Instead of the typical endless blue of the sky on the ocean, a gigantic ship filled the skyline. Tom stopped dead and stared, trying to take it all in.

     The ship was about as large as Ruthen’s, but it had ribbed hulls, and the back was narrower. The lining of the sails was also a different color, a much darker orange versus the bright red that adorned all of Ruthen’s ships. The wind blew, and the foreign flag danced in the mast. It was an orange leaf on white, whereas the one that flew on Tom’s home ship was a fiery tree. They rarely flew the flag, only on holidays and when meeting other ships, though this was the first time in Tom’s memory that the latter had occurred. A narrow wooden bridge spanned the two ships, though there was a rope ladder on the side of Auros’s for those who opted to swim rather than risk crossing it. Tom figured that their ship probably had one too, though he couldn’t see it now.

     “Nice, huh?” Nathan had walked up behind him, Tom being too absorbed in the view of the ship to bother turning around. His annoyance with Nathan the night before was temporarily forgotten.

      “How do we get onto it? That bridge?” Tom could see a person on each side of the bridge, probably making sure that traffic was kept under control. The bridge looked flimsy, basically only a plank of wood, and Tom could see why their presence was necessary. It didn’t stop him from wanting to cross immediately, though.

      “Well, obviously…You have to ask, though. They’re monitoring the crossings.” Tom moved toward the area of the ship where the bridge was anchored. He heard Nathan greet someone, and wondered briefly who it was while he walked closer to the bridge, before being intercepted by the woman who was monitoring it. She held a sheaf of palm paper in her hand.

     “Where are you going?” Tom couldn’t remember seeing her anywhere, and he wondered if she was an official from Auros’s ship.

      “I was going to see the…Auros’s ship. We’re allowed, right?” Tom hoped it wouldn’t be a problem.

      “I don’t see why not. You’re awfully young, though.” Tom frowned at that. He was 13, not that young. “Where are your parents?”

       “You need parents?” Tom’s face fell. If he needed some kind of guardian to get on the ship, he couldn’t visit it! He would miss another opportunity, like seeing Ruthen’s island.

       The official frowned. “Don’t you have foster parents, at least?”

      “No…I live alone. I can still see it, though, right? I won’t cause any trouble.”

      The woman muttered to herself about “strange foreign customs” and made a mark on her papers before turning back to him. “I don’t see an official problem with it. Be careful, though. And cross slowly, or you’ll be swimming.” She waved him on.

        Tom grinned and hopped up on the bridge. It was rather thin, but it seemed solid enough. He began to run across, and then stopped dead when a gust of wind hit him. For a moment he stood paralyzed. It wasn’t that he was afraid of the water, but it was a long fall. He turned back to the side he had come from, the wind whistling in his ears.  

      He saw Nathan then, who was waving to him. He was probably yelling at him to hurry up. Tom swallowed hard, and looked ahead to Auros’s ship. It wasn’t that far…

     Suddenly, the whistling stopped as the wind seemed to die. Tom looked around, taking his chance and racing ahead to the end of the bridge. He jumped off onto Auros’s deck and felt stupid once he looked back. The bridge wasn’t that long at all, and it wasn’t that high. He shook off his fear. He wouldn’t let himself freeze up on the way back, wind or no wind.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wednesday Briefs: The Waterlord Prequel part 11


Part11
               Nathan stood on the deck, completely absorbed in whatever he was doing, which didn’t appear to be anything but looking at the sky. Tom felt a strange kinship for a second. Hadn’t that been what he was doing only a moment before?

 He shook it off quickly, though. Nathan didn’t seem interested in the rain as much as the horizon itself. Tom didn’t have any idea how Nathan could see anything, but his gaze still remained fixed far ahead.

              Tom was trying to decide if he should call out to him when heard a shriek in his ear, and he yelped in high-pitched fear.

             Tom whirled around as an albatross flew into the sky, and soon out of sight. He gasped, catching his breath and trying to slow his heartbeat. He soon realized that Nathan was smirking at him.

               “Nice, Tom. Real mature, to be scared of a bird.” Nathan laughed.

               “N-not my fault! Where did it even come from?” Birds didn’t fly at night!

              Nathan sauntered over and patted Tom condescendingly on the shoulder, much to his further embarrassment. “It’s alright, Tom. I don’t think the bird will hurt you.” Sarcasm laced his words, and Tom pulled away.

              “I know that!” Unfortunately, Tom couldn’t think of any further comebacks.

              Nathan rolled his eyes, holding out his hand. Then he frowned. “Damn, what the hell?” Tom looked at him strangely. It had begun to rain harder, but Tom didn’t think it anything to be concerned about. It suited his mood well.

   Nathan frowned, looking down at him. “C’mon then, let’s go inside. The rain is awful anyway.” Tom didn’t agree at all, but he headed inside, stepping down the stairs. He wasn’t even sure why he had gone out in the first place. The rain was pretty, he supposed.

             Nathan jumped down the rest of the stairs, appearing next to Tom’s shoulder. Tom’s annoyance grew when he realized how much taller the blond boy was, Nathan looming over him…which reminded Tom of what he wanted to ask. Nathan turned to him, probably to make some sort of scathing remark, but Tom spoke before the older boy could.

              “Hey, today I talked to some old guy and he said he knew you…” Tom trailed off, trying to figure out how to ask Nathan about what Archibald had said. Something about clash, and orientation? And he had seen him again at dinner, too. He wanted an explanation, but it suddenly seemed awkward to ask. Nathan smirked at him, but it wasn’t the playful smirk Tom was used to. It was stiff, and almost menacing.

              “What did he say to you?” He talked as if he already knew something, and Tom grew nervous. Was Nathan mad at him for something so strange?


               “Um…he said that there’s no clash, and that”-Tom didn’t finish before Nathan put his hands on his shoulders and roughly shoved him against the wall of the ship, grinning from ear to ear.

              “No clash, huh?” Tom tried to get away, but Nathan’s fingers dug into Tom’s shoulder blades. Tom tried to wrench away once more. Nathan let him go suddenly, and Tom nearly fell on his face.

              “What was that for!?” Tom screamed at him, jumping away from Nathan in case he tried it again. Nathan backed up, his hands out in front of him in a peacemaking gesture.

              “Hey, just testing something. No harm done.” He smiled.

              Tom shrugged his shoulders, his skin crawling as he tried to shake off the sensation of Nathan’s fingers on them. This day had been so strange it was ridiculous, and Nathan had just made it worse. He hadn’t even gotten an explanation of what the old man had meant! He sighed, suddenly tired. He hoped tomorrow would turn out better, and then the following day the celebrations would start.

               “What’s on your mind now?” Nathan spoke up, and he sounded actually interested. “You look thoughtful.”

 “I’m tired!” Tom shouted at him, hoping he would go away. His shout came out more of a squeak, much to his mortification. For once, though, Nathan didn’t laugh at him, simply regarding him thoughtfully, though with an expression that made Tom mildly uncomfortable.

              “You want me to help you back to your room?”

               “What?” Tom looked up at the older boy, who actually avoided eye contact. Was Nathan nervous? That was unheard of. Did he think he was getting sick again? “No, I’m fine, just tired.”

               “Fair enough. You’re going to bed now?” He sounded concerned, and Tom couldn’t tell if it was due to worry or because Nathan would be bored without someone younger to torture.

               “Well, that’s what you do when you’re tired.” The sarcasm came to him easily. Tom realized he spoke nastily, but he chalked it up to his being tired, and he felt very sick of trying to understand Nathan’s motives. He turned away and started down the hall, disappearing around the corners. His body dragged with his exhaustion, and he wanted to get some rest before the festivities started. He also felt like avoiding Nathan for a while.

               He had nearly arrived at his door when Nathan showed up behind him. “Hey, Tom, listen.” It was not a question, more of a command. Tom turned. He would give him 30 seconds. 

             Apparently reading from Tom’s expression that he wouldn’t have much time, Nathan made it quick. “Hey, I’m sorry for manhandling you…I was just testing something.” Tom blinked. Was Nathan actually apologizing for something?

              “Um, okay.” Tom opened the door to go into his room, and Nathan left, vanishing down the hall so quickly Tom didn’t even see him. Nathan had no parents either as far as Tom knew, so his room wasn't far. Tom decided not to bother finding him, though, opting to sleep, and as he got ready for bed, he thought over the day’s events. If it was always this weird after getting sick, then he made a vow to never get that sick again. He hoped the holidays coming up would still be enjoyable, at least, and he focused on that as he fell asleep.