Status Updates

Status Updates

Main Focus: Foul Mouth 5 First Draft = 134k out of 160k estimate (84%)

Side Focus: Gush (Fantasy YA) Novel, First Draft = 7k out of 80k estimate (9%)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Meet the Bonnies (KH Short 6) Released

Blurbage:
Tyson Bonnie made a mistake. A small mistake, yes, but still a grievous error that will cost him his sanity. His mistake wasn't agreeing to spy on King Henry Price. His mistake wasn't becoming friends with King Henry Price. His mistake wasn't even becoming business partners with King Henry Price.

Tyson Bonnie's mistake was accidentally asking King Henry Price to meet his family.

What was he thinking!?!?
Linkage:

Meet the Bonnies by Richard Raley on Amazon Kindle
Meet the Bonnies by Richard Raley on Smashwords

It's a great little moment in time for Tyson and King Henry.  Like most of the short works, don't expect any huge revelations but do expect some laughs.  Panicked T-Bone is best T-Bone.

As always the Apple and Nook links take a while to propagate through their systems so look for those in one to two weeks.  For now, if you're an addict who must have it NOW, you can buy an EPUB file straight from Smashwords or just do the self-convert Calibre thing yourself from Amazon.

Hope you all enjoy!

Now I need to get back to finishing FM5.

And watching House of Cards Season 3 probably...so close!  Almost here!

Friday, February 6, 2015

FM5 Update Number Billion

So...January kind of sucked.  I was sick quite a lot and didn't get much writing done at all.  When I wasn't being invaded by viruses or bacteria, I was being invaded by pollen, since Fresno has decided to have spring in winter with a pretty large heat wave.  The month ended up being one of my worst in two years.  I even managed to write more in October when I sprained my arm than I did with all the flu.

Good news is that so far February is off to a rocket-like pace.  I finished up the first draft on KH Short 6, which I'm probably going to call "Meet the Bonnies."  It's 50 pages or 13k words long, equal in size to the Welf novelette "Second Take."  I want to do one more edit on it before I give it over to the beta readers, but it looks like it should come out at the end of February or the start of March.

I also did a complete readthrough edit on FM5, fixing some problems that had arisen with characters needs versus plot needs, adding in some flesh on those first draft bones and the like.  I ended up adding about 5k words to the whole book just with that, which isn't out of the ordinary.  Generally, I always figure on adding about 10% to my first draft word count on my first look through it, since my first drafts are usually dialogue heavy.

Since then I've also finished a new chapter and am halfway through the next one.  Although I had to split the last chapter...so we're up to 23 chapters total now...so...it all about evens out.

I've updated the estimation on the length of the novel to 160k words.  Which means it's a big one by my previous standards.  Way bigger than I thought it would be.  I always knew we would get to this point where the mainline wanted to be it's own novel and then the school timeline was added to it, making for some big books, I just thought we would make it to FM6 before that happened.  But no!  FM5 wants to be a big boy too!

Which is fine.  I'm very happy with the novel as it is at the moment.  It is probably the most "bridge" novel in the series, showing the results of choices in FM4 and leading up to big problems in FM6 and beyond, but it also has a lot of big events in it and sees a ton of characters introduced into the mainline from the school timeline.  It could also be the funniest book I've written, since Drunk King Henry is best King Henry.

Anyway, I'm done torturing you for now.  Take away is that I'm writing as fast as I ever have, it's just a big book and we'll get there soon.  I'm purposely staying off the net to focus, so it might be another month until I respond to any questions, but don't hesitate to ask as always!   

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Quick Notes #2

1.  I've been fighting with an issue in FM5 for the last couple weeks revolving around character versus plot needs.  I figured it out last night, so the INEVITABLE MIDNOVEL FREAK OUT is over, yay!

2.  FM5 is 106k words long, with 16 chapters drafted.  8 of that is school story and pretty solid.  8 of that is mainline and still needs some work.  There are 5 and half chapters left to write as outlined but I could see the need to add one or two if the story outpaces the outline as it has continually done for this novel.  This will be the longest novel so far by quite a bit.  Mostly because there's a lot of good stuff inside of it.

3.  I'm sick at the moment, I don't write King Henry when I'm sick (it taking a certain mindset that is hard to get into when your nose is dripping and your lungs are rattling), so don't expect the updates to move much for the next week or so.

4.  The plan is to do a readthrough/edit of the mainline going into the next writing session.  Some big events are about to go down, really looking forward to it.

5.  Awesome Games Done Quick just started today.  It's a bunch of speed runners getting together and running video games for charity over the course of a week.  Give it a watch, it always has some awesome moments, especially the 4 way races:  http://www.twitch.tv/gamesdonequick

1/14/15 EDIT:  Mostly better and back writing.  Working on KH Short 6 at the moment.  T-Bone's imaginary version of King Henry is perhaps more outlandish than the real thing.  But just barely.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

End of the Year Review Thingy...I Guess?

So 2014 was pretty big for me.  Manged to get TWO novels out.  One of them did really beyond well.  One of them no one really bought, because fans are weird about crossing over to a different series and genres...I think.  It's okay.  I do it too.  Still haven't started Richard Morgan's "A Land Fit for Heroes" despite Altered Carbon being one of my favorite books of all time.  So...I'm not blaming you!  You just crushed my soul for a month, it's no biggie.  You do it all the time with the 'har har look a typo' comments in reviews anyway.

*sob*

Also saw my first month ever with over one thousand books sold (unless I mis-added, which I would never ever do).  Which is a cool milestone!  This gave me paychecks from Amazon big enough that I could show them to my family and go, "SEE!  NOT CRAZY!  GONNA GET BIGGER TOO!  SO THERE!"

Was very productive on the new writing too, since we've started FM5 and Gush, and now a sixth short story for King Henry.  Wrote 20k words in the last week on FM5, which means I actually might finish it within a year of Sky-Island's release and that means you fans don't get to complain because of the At Least One Book A Year Rule, right?

Right?

Still haven't got much into Gush as I would like, but with FM5 being a bigger book than expected it's all okay.  Have been thinking about it a lot too.  I'm really interested in trying a first draft with as little backstory as possible, throwing readers into the events. and seeing how it goes.  If you've ever read Steven Erikson's Malazan series he does something similar.  It's both loved and hated so of course I want to torture my fans with the method too!

KH Short 6 popping up is a bit of a surprise, but a fun one so far.  Trying to get it out by Jan-Feb.  There was a scene referencing the event in FM5 and I thought, 'oh that would be a decent short about mostly nothing at all'.  Now here it is!  It revolves around T-Bone making the mistake of inviting his new business partner over to meet his parents during a Sunday dinner.  Manners...bad thing to have around King Henry Price.

As far as the big release of FM5...you know I hate exact timetables, but barring no problems arising somewhere in the April to July area seems possible.

Long as I don't get the flu.

Or almost break my arm again.

There's not even really any video games or movies or books coming out in the next few months to distract me.

Except for Hearthstone.

There's always Hearthstone.

Top 1 2014 List...

1.  My Fans

Don't OD on eggnog or champagne please.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

FM5 Sample Chapter Sneak Peek

As a holidays gift for the fans, here's a sneak peak at the still-in-progress FM5 (The Foul Mouth and the Mancy Martial Artist), Session 49 of the school timeline.  The book is still quite a ways from completion so this is a very early look at the process and not the final version.  It is also in manuscript formatting with underlines instead of italics and not all the bells and whistles.  There are probably typos, lots and lots of evil typos.  Maybe even continuity errors, le gasp!

As always it is copyrighted by me, Richard Raley, and please don't paste chunks of it elsewhere but instead link back here, don't reprint, and all that legal stuff.

Enjoy! 

Session 49

What’s a room say about a person?
Mine said nothing.
Nothing at all.
Wasn’t a bit of personality to it yet.  Just walls and a floor and a roof.  Bed.  Had a bed to myself, in its own small room, with traditional cabinet and a small little TV.  TV was controlled by the Admin building still…wouldn’t be any ESPN on the thing, but…it was mine.
Mine for three years.
Just like the kitchen with the brand new pots and pans.  Just like the refrigerator and cupboards that someone had pre-stocked with geomancer favored food.  There was a small coffee-maker…mine.
A bathroom.  Shower.  Mirror.  Toilet.
All mine.
I had trouble sleeping that first night.  Even though I’d gotten used to sleeping alone thanks to Ceinwyn’s month-long, cross-country recruiting trip.  It was still wrong.  Still no Val across from me.  Still no Pocket nearby.  Still no snoring from Jason Jackson down the hall.  Still no grunting and humping from Estefan and Debra, cuz that damn bastard never could go a night without slipping into her curtains to say hey baby, even test nights.
The moaning would start.
Then the groaning would start from the rest of the class.
Like clockwork.
Nothing that night.
All quiet.
Thirty of us separated by real walls.
Graduate students.
Ultras for real.
Time to be a Pent, King Henry Price.
Time to be an Artificer.
Time to meet Plutarch.
*
September 2013
I’d only returned to the Asylum the day before, but had found a schedule waiting for me on my new refrigerator.
I looked at the damn thing in shock.  It was so…different.
What do you mean I don’t have breakfast until 7:00AM?
And it didn’t end until 8:30AM…when I’d start teaching a History class for Bi’s.
Someone made a huge fucking mistake choosing tradition over common sense.
No one with common sense would let King Henry Price teach anything but a curse word symposium.
‘Bag of limp dicks,’ say it with me, class.
After the class I had prep time.  After the prep time, I had lunch.
My Artificer training didn’t even start until 12:30PM.
I have seven hours of free time…what the fuck am I going to do with myself? I thought in horror.
Realizing something, I checked the schedule again.  Wait a second…do I get the sleep in until…fuck me, this is weird.
Just like on the trip with Ceinwyn, I couldn’t help but wake up a few minutes before 6AM.  They’d trained that reaction into my body.  Didn’t even need the hum any more.  BAM.  I was up and awake.  Psychological conditioning.  Take a nicotine pellet, lab-rat.
I sat up in my bed, staring at the walls.
Blank walls.
Prison walls.
The Ultra ’09 dorms had never felt like a prison.  Felt like some serious commie shit, but not prison.
This?
This felt like a prison cell.
Or worse…the first step on the path to becoming a good lil’ cog.
I couldn’t sleep, but I had nowhere to go.  New feeling at the Asylum.  Back in my old room I probably would’ve thrown a pillow at Pocket just to have some company in my purgatory.  Get him to laugh.  That would wake up Val.  Then I’d get her to laugh.
That would make my morning anything but purgatory.
Hadn’t seen her since graduation.
Hadn’t seen the majority of them since graduation.
Curious, I knocked on the wall behind me.  “Hey, who’s there?” I said into it.
“I’m sleeping in,” I heard a feminine voice say with fierce determination.
“Eva?”
“Yes!  Sleeping in!  I’m doing it, King Henry; stop distracting me!”
“I don’t think sleeping in takes concentration—“
“Silence or I cut you!” I heard a frustrated growl.
I grinned.  Eva.
Not the best, not the worst.
Ain’t fucking Miranda at least.  Or Welf.  Although that would have opened up some serious opportunities for screwing with the douchebag.
I glanced across the bedroom, at the other white wall standing between me and a second apartment.  I crossed the room.  A pause of anticipation.  Another knock.  “Who’s there?”
El Rey?”
Jesus?!?
“Stop saying my name like a gringo.”
“It’s funnier when I do it this way, Jesus.”
“I’m trying to sleep in.”
“And failing.”
“Yes!”
“How was Pismo?”
Uncomfortable silence.  “Fun.  New…eh, stuff to try out.”
“Bikini beach babes?”
“More than even you could work your way through, El Rey.  Sorry you couldn’t come.”
“Nah, it’s okay.  Wasn’t stuck here.”
“With Miss Dale, we all got told when you weren’t here yesterday.  How many bikini beach babes for you?”
“None.  Fucked a hillbilly in Kentucky though…I think I got crabs.”
Even more uncomfortable silence.  “Should probably see Miss Strange for that.”
“There’s a conversation I’m looking forward to.”
“Trying to sleep in,” Jesus reminded me.
“Yeah, yeah, good luck, Lord and Savior.”
*
Under no impression I’d be able to sleep in, I went about the apartment trying to make it mine.  Someone had thrown my personal supplies and knickknacks from the dorm room into a pair of bags, which I went through and categorized.
3 Cans of Coke
1 Box of Hair Pins
2 Tubes of KY Ointment
Always have a backup available, gentlemen.  Only takes one raw dog experience going wrong to learn your lesson.  Life ain’t a fucking porno, that spit trick they do is as fake as the tits.
Various Pictures of the Last Four Years
1 Wooden Frame with Ceinwyn Dale Original Artwork
5 Condoms of Various Sizes
No one gets pregnant at the Asylum, but just because Slush will cure hillbilly crabs in five seconds flat, that don’t mean you want to have to visit Miss Strange to explain your predicament to her.  Where were you in Kentucky, condoms?  I needed you, man!
3 Nail Clippers
1 Copy of the Karma Sutra
1 Rolex Watch Engraved “Heinrich Von Welf”
Because if you’re going to put into place a plan where you convince a guy his girlfriend might be pregnant, you might as well make sure you’re the only guy on campus with a pregnancy test beforehand.  Welf really whined while giving up that watch…
1 Sock Full of Spare Change
1 Screwdriver
2 Scissors
3 Pairs of Panties, Owners Unknown
Yeah, yeah, I’m a man-whore.
1 LED flashlight
1 Bra, Sized 34DD, Stenciled M. Daniels
They grew and I have proof!
1 Half-filled Bottle of Tequila Hastily Relabeled as Vegetable Oil
1 Flashdrive Claimed to Get Through the Great Firewall of Admin
Doesn’t work.
1 Dog Collar
Don’t ask.
1 Diploma, Folded Twice and Forgotten.
Sex, thievery, and memories…so me.
I threw the cokes and the booze in the fridge, put Ceinwyn’s portrait of Mom and Dad by the bedside, and tossed the rest back into the bags before throwing them into a cabinet drawer.
I went to the bathroom and took a shit.  Pretty good shit.  Top Quintile.  Not having to share a communal bathroom with 13 other guys was going to be a plus.  I wiped and flushed.
Too much information, kiddies?
I mean, you’re listening to a tape that’s forcing me to recall all this shit, but I’m the pervert.  Right.  I took a shower.  I peed in the shower.  What you gonna do about it?  My shower, bitch!  Maybe I even whacked one out.  Maybe I even thought about your mom.  Uh, yeah, Kiddy’s Mom, rub them MILF cankles together.
*
I realize I might have crossed a line.
Let’s pretend that never happened.
*
I made breakfast.
Best part of the whole prison cell apartment.  Better than the bed and bathroom.  Cafeteria is great, but they ain’t big on some stuff I like.  Like a huge pan of chopped potatoes, salted, peppered, cooked in rosemary and garlic.  And a whole packet of bacon.
Cuz bacon, bitch.
Even the faunamancers will eat bacon.  They’ll hate themselves the whole time, Mancy telling them they’re being naughty, but they’ll eat it.
All this accomplished:  unpacking, shitting, showering, whacking it, making breakfast, and eating breakfast.
Still had free time.
So I got dressed and went for a walk.
Yeah, I was naked through the whole breakfast part.  Other than one moment where I almost spilled bacon grease on my balls, I stand by the decision.
Weird shit goes down when you’re alone for the first time in four years, kiddies.
Best prepare.
Show me them cankles again, baby.
*
I just sat there like a child at the zoo.
Watching all the strange animals eat and shit.
I think that’s what you do at a zoo, ain’t it?
There went Russell Quilt and Audrey Foster holding hands, Miss Foster with a nice sized diamond engagement ring gracing her finger.  I gave Quilt a thumbs-up.  He waved back, but led Miss Foster in an opposite direction.  I will not be denied my promised bachelor party, sir!  Strippers will be watched!  Booze will be drunk!  Asylum or not!
There went Jethro Smith, favorite skull in his hand to terrify his new Ultra Single class with.  Rainbow Greenbrier with a huge bag of art supplies, big thick prismatic glasses over her eyes.  Keith Gullick with a potted plant, smiling at every student and teacher that crossed his path.  Mordecai Root with a Construct trailing behind him, who had never forgiven me for outsmarting him during the whole Staff of Rebirth fiasco my first year—which maybe I stole and maybe I didn’t.
Right, kiddies?
It was weird watching them all.  All those years with seven to eight teachers a go and now…only one.  This Plutarch fucker who had been hiding from me for four years.  Hadn’t seen him at a single event, not even Winter Wars.  Could’ve been a ghost, was at least a hermit.  Not sure what I expected.  Knew he was old.  In the Lady and Fines Samson generation of the Asylum.  The Old Guard.  Been keeping the place running for a long time now.
After that came the generation that got hit hard by the Counter-Culture War, then all the peace babies like Ceinwyn and the Welfs and my main mad scientist Boris Hunting.  Funny thing about mancers is that we either live to be ancient or we have very short lives.  Not a whole lot of in-between.
 Don’t think I’ll be one of the ones who make one-hundred.
Think I’ll be one of the ones lucky to see thirty.
Figure someone will eventually get sick of my shit and stomp me out.
Gonna be a whole lot of fun when the moment finally comes.
Guess the thing me and the ones who don’t live very long all have in common is that we look forward to the moment that stomps us out too much.
Ain’t about dying.
About living.
Or maybe I’ve just been too long without a good fight.  Winter War’s nine months gone and there wouldn’t be another one for me.  My life was just…artifacts now.  The Guild…
I scowled at the plants and trees of the Park.
Plutarch might be a teacher, but he was Guild too.  All Artificers of the West and most of the East are Guild.  Fuck that Harvey Dent shit:  better to die young than to live long enough to be a crusty old hermit.
A class of Ultras came through.  Singles.
Quite a few of them recognized me and waved.
Kids I’d met during the roadtrip.  Here at the Asylum.  In their colors.
Weird.
Then I noticed the woman ushering them along from behind, face angry, annoyed she was forced into the task:  Teresa Garcia.  One of the Three Queens.
I stood up as she passed.
No one sat around the Three Queens.  It made you seem too weak and the weak got victimized.  Bitches should’ve been expelled by now.
I try not to call women ‘bitches’ nowadays—since they like to set me on fire and paper-cut my left ass cheek if I do—but those three deserve every letter.  Teresa felt the same about me.  So did Mary O’Connell and Catherine Hayes, ever since I told them to ‘fuck off’ about their plan to expel Welf.
If anyone is gonna expel Welf then it’s me…and what would be the fun if he wasn’t around to torment occasionally?
“Foul Mouth,” Teresa greeted me.  “Sizing up fourteen-year-olds to club over the head and drag back to your cave?”
I showed her my teeth.
She smirked back.  “You bite me and I’ll burn you, little toad.”
Teresa was one of those pyromancers who loved to burn things.  Most pyromancers are just quick to a temper or fast to a decision, while the best you got were stars like Valentine Ward…but in that dark bit…well, some of them like to burn things.  Whatever was hanging around:  paper, black market cigarettes, even a fellow’s ballsack whether he called them a ‘bitch’ or not.
Quite a few of the Blackjacks had burn marks on them, though those boys were so twisted around the Three Queens’ fingers they’d never complained to a teacher about it.  One more year and they’re all gone.
“Know the only good thing about you three bitches being student-advisors, Teresa?” I asked her.
“More minds to sculpt?” she mockingly guessed, hand reaching out to touch a hydromancer girl on the arm, who flinched away.
“You ain’t so fucking scary without Catherine and Mary lined up beside you,” I told her.  I grabbed her hand and yanked it away from the girl.  “All them Blackjacks are busy too.  Just you…all alone.”
She snatched her arm back, hissing at me.  “Keep talking, Foul Mouth, we’ll make you a priority before we graduate.”
I turned away from her, towards the new class of Singles.  “She ever hurts any of you, then you tell a teacher right away.  Can’t find a teacher who will listen to you?  Then come to me.  I’ll take care of her.”
 Teresa hissed again.  Sounded like boiling water.  “Priority it is.”
“Better than you hurting them,” I told her.
“Move!” she screeched at the class, “You’re already late!”
I watched her go, feeling good about the day.  Don’t like bullies after all.  Ain’t a hero, but sometimes a brother has to be a little loud to make sure he’s the one gets whipped that night, not his sisters.
Ain’t a white knight.
Just a troll.
*
“Fucking joke, that’s what this is,” I repeated for about the twentieth time.
The classroom was all mine at the moment.
The brats wouldn’t show up for another five minutes.
It was one of the oldest rooms at the Asylum, on the original floor of the classroom building.  I talk about buildings at the Asylum, but for the classroom buildings and Admin and even the Library they’re more like compartmentalized neighborhoods of their own.  You can get lost in there really easy.
Some parts of the school have been rebuilt, like many of the dorms, including the Ultra dorms.  But never the classrooms.  Just a palimpsestic mess scraped away and added right on top of one another, be it a new wing, a basement, or a whole floor.
I’d never been in that room before.
I don’t think.
I mean…I could’ve snuck into it and had sex with Val or something, but we usually did that when it was super dark out, so…I didn’t recognize any of it at least.  Old, old, old.  Even had chalkboards still.  There was a map of the world with the USSR on it.  Huh.
As an Ultra, I’d only ever been in four of the mundane classrooms.  History, Languages, Science, Mathematics.  Or Ambrose, Smith, Slaton, and Dingle.  Same four rooms for four years.  The time of the morning we had our classes at rotated year to year, but the rooms were always the same.
Not so for Intras I guess.
Huh, I thought again.
I picked up a packet on the teacher’s desk.  There was a note:  I forgot to give these to you for study during the vacation.  I’m sure you’ll do fine, regardless.  Don’t let me down, Ceinwyn.
“Fuck me…the teachers have a bet going on how I’ll do,” I said to the empty room.
I flipped through the packet.  History Course Teacher Guidebook.  Graduate Student Do’s and Don’ts.  Roll Call List.  I pulled out the guidebook and leafed through it.  American History.  Not USA History.  American.  Both continents.  “Fucking lovely,” I grumbled, “gonna need to steal some Howard Zinn from the Library.”
I threw the Do’s and Don’ts in the trash.
Picked up the roll call and studied it.
Bi’s.
Bi’s are okay.
Not too stupid, not too sure of themselves.
They’d know me too.
Hard to be at the Asylum and not know King Henry Price.  The Foul Mouth.  Thanks, Welf.  All your snide remarks over the school grounds to any receptive ear and all you did was make me infamous, you douchebag.
The roll call had the students’ class rank next to each of them.  Not top of the class, but pretty good.  Sixty-one to ninety actually.  Discounting the top Ultras, that made them the second best students of their year.  Must mean we got our class because of our own graduating class rank.  Or maybe not.  I mean, if you did the math it was pretty obvious that there weren’t enough Ultra graduates at the school to cover all the Intra classes for each of the four subjects.  We just supplemented the teacher pool.
Or take the Heps being student-advisors, sure the Ultra classes each get an advisor to themselves, but with Intras they share an advisor between two or three classes.  So…
I rubbed my forehead.
Math.
I don’t approve of it.
History.
Least I could rewrite some of the bullshit.
Picking up a piece of chalk, I pooled anima and waited for the kiddies to show up.
*
“So BLAM, second they’re all in their seats I smash the chalk into the chalkboard and I’m manipulating it so it’s a list of cuss words that are okay to say in the classroom.  Never seen so much blushing in my life.  I mean what fifteen-year-old hasn’t heard of a rimjob before?” I asked to Pocket and Jesus’ laughter.
Raj, as always, only rolled his eyes.  “First day and you’re already on the edge of being brought before the Lady for punishment.”
“For what?”
“For perverting the younger generation?”
It was lunch for us.  Ultra graduate lunch.  Another sign we’d grown up since we had the whole Cafeteria to ourselves with only two other classes, Ultra ’08 with Leo and Sabine and company, then Ultra ’07 with the Three Queens and accompanying Blackjacks.  A few teachers too, but less than a hundred people in all.  Made the Cafeteria seem deserted.
“Perverted?  It’s not like I showed them Hitler fucking Stalin in the ass, did I?”
Raj’s jaw dropped a little bit.
“I thought about it,” I admitted.
He just shook his head.  Raj was one of the few kids in our class who had physically changed the most over the years.  Turban was the same, facial structure was fine and long as always, but over the last four years he’d grown in a beard, since Sikhs don’t shave I guess.  It wasn’t full on man-mode, but also wasn’t scraggly.  Never shaving made for fine, delicate beard hair.  Don’t know if it provided him any extra wisdom, but he had abandoned the idea that he could turn me into a polite, respectable human being if he just committed fully to the effort.  “I suppose I should take it as an improvement that you decided against the idea.”
“Sure, if that makes you feel better,” I teased him before turning to Pocket and Jesus.  “So…how many bikini beach babe pussies did each of you fine hunters bag?  Give me the details!”
I heard a sniff from down the table.  I glanced at Miranda, sitting with Val, Athir, and Isabel looking far too much like a bikini beach babe herself for Prince Henry’s comfort.  “Quit snooping,” I told Miranda.
Miranda glared back from behind a pair of thick glasses.  Unlike Raj, she’d never abandoned the idea that I needed a vast attitude improvement.  “Quit being so loud I can’t help but overhear the obscenities.”
Val smiled at the bickering like an understanding sibling.  “Nice to know that no matter how old we get, some things just don’t change.”
Val.  Didn’t like feeling uncomfortable around her, but I did.  Still wasn’t over the last breakup.  Booze and hillbilly crabs or not.  I turned back to Jesus and Pocket again, pleading with them, “Tell me it was double digits!”
Jesus held up four fingers.  Pocket only one.
“Woe is me to have friends so weak with the Slut-Fu!” I complained.
“So is everyone looking forward to meeting their new teacher?” Raj attempted to swerve the conversation away from Slut-Fu.
“One!” I accused Pocket.  “One!”
“Quality over quantity, dude.”
“Lies!”
Jesus laughed at me, stepping in.  “So if Miss Boomworm walked over here and gave you try number three, you’d just go on with the hillbilly whoring?”  Raj and Pocket both gave him the cut-it sign before he pressed further on the sore spot.  Jesus shook his head at them.  “Pocket finds someone he likes that first week and stays with them, what’s the problem, El Rey?”
“Nothing, I guess,” I grumbled.  Probably a good thing Pocket looked like Pocket, six-foot-plus of All American Hunk, and that I didn’t, or I’d have fucked myself to death from all the pussy being thrown at me.  Yup, I’m disgusting.  But honest!  “She shows up at the Asylum and you two start singing and dancing ‘bout Summer Nights and our friendship is over.”
Pocket grinned.  “Not a singer, dude, got no problem there.”
I smacked Raj on the shoulder.  “What about you?”
“Excuse me?”
“They have women in Oregon, right?  I met one on my trip with Ceinwyn in fact.  Would’ve had her number, but then a fucking fairy dragged me in the river.  Fucking unfair, man.”
“A fairy—“
“Forget about that,” I interrupted before I had to tell them about all the Max Lamont crap, there’d be time for that tonight, now I just wanted to joke around and forget about my approaching meeting with Plutarch.  “Oregon ladies, they exist?”
“Well…I spent most of my time with my family, but there were a couple of weddings I went to and those can get…they can be nice, and I met a nice Indian girl there and…what?”
I shook my head at him.  “Stay away from weddings, that’s pussy with strings attached.”
“But—“
“Nope, rookie mistake.  Don’t go after women when they’re near a wedding.  Horrible idea.”
Jesus and Pocket both nodded.  “It is known.”
“But Wedding Crashers—“ Raj tried to say.
“You use your real name?” I asked.
“Well, of course.”
I shook my head.  “That one’s gonna hound you for a decade now.”
“So…couple more hours until we’re in the shit,” Pocket said to save Raj from his confusion.  “Ultra training, dudes, the Big Time is here.”
“Mega fern-throwing?” I teased him.
Pocket nodded at me like a challenge glove had been thrown.  “One day there’s going to be a strange ficus in your room and it’s going to try to kill you, just warning you.”
“Who’s even teaching you?  Jesus has Wolfgang Welf von Wolfenstein, I got the hermit, who do you two have to put up with?”
“Rin Yukimura,” Raj said.  “I met her when you burned down the Mound.”
I scowled.  “I take that shit from other people, but you know who was really responsible.”
“But we all know you put her up to it,” Pocket reminded me, “and I got Leslie Van Houten.  Don’t know anything about her other than she’s Dutch.”
I brightened up at this information.
“No, I will not ask her to grow you some pot,” Pocket smashed my dreams.
I dimmed.  “Probably just grows tulips anyway.”
Raj smiled under his beard.  “Sometimes he makes a witty historical joke and I forgive him for all the fart and penis ones.”
Which was such a great opening that I just couldn’t help myself.  “Yeah, tomorrow I’m definitely going with Hitler banging Stalin on the chalkboard.”