Status Updates

Status Updates

Main Focus: FM6 (The Pit of No Return), First Draft = 220k out of 250k estimate (88%)

Side Focus: Gush (Fantasy YA) Novel, First Draft = 16k out of 80k estimate (20%)

Other Stuff I Need to Get To: FM1-FM5 print-on-demand editing and formatting, FM3-FM5.5 concordance updates

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Quick Notes #23

1.  Still working hard on FM6.  Split a chapter in two, halfway through the second part, so 4 and a half chapters left to write.  Pretty beefy chapters, pretty OMG chapters that the whole book has been building to.  I keep hoping that some amazing burst of writing will emerge out of me and I'll magically finish the book in a week, but so far no fairy dust or rainbow dreams to be had.  Just me slowly banging my head against the wall scene by scene.

2.  It's a weird situation where I'm writing at a very acceptable (even above acceptable) level but acceptable is going to land release right on Christmas (or near enough).  I don't know, maybe I shouldn't be so scared of that.  Maybe it will help sells if everyone has Amazon gift cards lying around and thousands upon thousands of people just got a new kindle.

3.  Doesn't help that my personal life is a country western song at the moment.  Guess I should look on the bright side:  no girlfriend around, so she can't possibly break up with me!

4.  Looks like the 100 degree weather is in the past at least.  Heatwave this weekend when it's ALMOST OCTOBER is only expected to reach 97!  Woohoo!

5.  Just an FYI that the estimate for FM6 is probably off and we'll be going slightly over.  So 100% might not be 100%.  Don't worry, when I finish the first draft I will be on here strutting around and doing a little dance.

6.  Yeah, yeah, I'm hanging on the dark humor to get by at the moment.  Don't mind me.  Lot to be excited about with this book.  So many scenes and revelations I can't wait to hear your thoughts on.  So many jokes I can't wait to hear you laughed at.  Release is closer than ever.  Just, in the final stretch and the book is consuming me.  No energy to spare for blog posts!  Especially no energy to spare for cheer-leading!

7.  Back to the mad scientist lab!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Quickest Notes

1.  Just wanted to say this would probably be the only update I give for a few weeks.  I'm going to get away from the net to try to focus fully on writing.  Probably even be throwing my tablet into a drawer!

2.  As expected based on my history, August was a tought month.  Did do lots of editing and formating work, preparing for release, but not much new stuff written in those last 5 chapters.

3.  Looks like December is the major target for release, with October no longer possible and November unlikely.  Mostly I don't want to rush this last bit or the editing process.  A story this good deserves my time to make sure it's at its absolute best.

4.  Month is off to a good start, so there's that!

9/9/2016 DLC

5.  Good news, finished a chapter!

6.  Bad news, finished it because the chapter I was working on got so big I had to split it!  Still 5 chapters left to write!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Five Years of the Foul Mouth

SEPTEMBER 1, 2011 was the date when I finally got to share King Henry Price with the world.  Not that anyone really noticed at first judging by my sales in those beginning months, but 4 more main novels, 6 shorts and an auxiliary novel later, here we are we a respectable fanbase and cult favorite status, with hopes that FM6--and those that come after--will push the series even farther and wider.

It's an exciting time to be a Foul Mouth fan and to be the writer in control of the slowly unfolding disaster that is The King Henry Tapes.  I truly believe that the next five years will be even more exciting.  I don't know if we'll manage to finish the last half of the series in that time (since these things have gotten a tad larger than The Fanged Lady was) but surely a number more, filled with twists, turns, and just a bit of cursing.

The first five years has seen numerous covers, revisions, the formation of a beta reading team, the building of a fanbase thousands strong, over 50 thousand copies of FM1 given away, promos, tweets, blog posts, and of course, lots of writing...about a million words in fact.

For you it might have begun five years ago, likely much sooner, for me it was before even that.  2009, fed up with the vampire fad (especially the sparkling ones) and with what the publishers were doing to Urban Fantasy (what's this "paranormal" shit on every shelf?), pulling from Jordan, Martin, Herbert, Erikson, Star Wars, Lost, X Men, Pulp Fiction, and hundreds of other sources of inspiration, I started piecing together a reaction, maybe even a rebellion of all things fad and publisher and "paranormal."  I asked questions: what would be a truly unique type of  vampire?  What would a boy wizard abused and forced to live under the stairs actually act like?  Why was no one in paranormal using a magic system and could you make elemental magic almost scientific and unique outside of staff waving and yelling?  Why is everyone focusing on the Urban and not the Fantasy?  Can you start as low and become high?

I think I've answered some, am still trying for others and have even found new questions in the journey.  It started with lots of world building and pieces of blank paper...

Xylomancy?  WTF was I thinking?

Then it moved on to the writing itself...
That's right, the first fifty pages of the school story are handwritten because i couldnt sit in a chair due to a pulled back.  Yes, yes, there were typos even then.  Then of course, editing...which for FM1 lasted almost an entire year.  I've gotten a tad faster nowadays.

Anyway, consider this a thanks for the support in my beginning and in King Henry's beginning as well.  Neither of us are done yet and there are plenty more adventures to come in the next five and beyond, new worlds to explore, villians to fear, and new heroes to related to.  Not all of them will curse, but the first, yes he very much does!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Quick Notes #22

1.  200k!  The Pit of No Return is now officially the longest FM book ever AND the longest book I've ever written.  My hopes are that it will keep these titles for a long while, although FM7 could get close and I imagine FM12 when we get to it one day will be very hefty. Digitally speaking...

2.  Completed my pre-edit.  Fixed a ton of little problems, no big problems I can see, no need for rewrties, all looking great.  So pleased with this novel, really proud of it.  Make you laugh, make you cry, pump you up, SO SO SO much information revealed.  Now it's just all about sticking the landing.

3.  Have started working on the last five chapters.  Should be big chapters, about 10k each, so we're right on schedule with the estimate.  About 3k into Session 176 as we speak.  Tons going on in it, just like any chapter in this book.  I think you guys are going to be shocked when you see just how packed this book is. I mean, it shocks ME sometimes and I wrote it.  Not exactly meainginlessly "action" packed, but then I don't think this series focuses on that.  When action does happen it happens for a reason, the stakes are high and the consequences are serious.  Just moments and scenes and lots of great stuff you've been waiting for.  Heck I've been waiting for some of this since I started the series.

4.  I'm trying to write a lot, laptop is always open, the PS4 and my kindle are dusty, but this is the worst time of the year for it.  It's hot, the air is horrible, half of California is ON FIRE.  Seriously, most I've written in August or September ever is 16k words.  So I'm fighting history here and trying to do better, but also trying to remind myself not to expect any miracles! Oh if only books finished themselves...

5.  TV?  What's TV?

6.  Video games?  Heard about them...all I do is write, edit, ruminate, and watch hearthstone on YouTube anymore...

7.  Everyone seemed to like the chapter sample...that was good...

8.  FAN QUESTION OF THE MONTH:  What Foul Mouth mystery/moment are you most looking forward to seeing solved/play out?

Monday, August 8, 2016

FM6 (The Pit of No Return) Sample Chapter: School Story

It's alive!!!
Obviously, VERY early, not-yet-properly edited sample, not the final version without [clicks], without italics and all things nice.  Might even be a continuity error or two that I haven't double-checked yet.  Also, please remember that while I'm sharing it here, it is still copyrighted by me, Richard Raley, and be kind enough to link back here instead of copying and pasting the whole thing on some other part of the Internet.


Session 65

Nothing good ever happens when you’re drunk.

That’s what they say.  They…they…whoever the mysterious people in charge of this shitshow are.  The illuminati, lizard people, fucking Mark Zuckerberg, I don’t know.  Fuck ‘em whoever they are, right?  All that power and what are they worried about?  What we say, what we do with our own bodies on our own time.  Don’t do drugs!  Crack is whack!  Just say ‘no!’ Stop fucking that sheep!  Micro-managers trying to tell people how to live their lives.  Telling you to not drink a simple man’s opiate, all while they got one of them snazzy rich man pendants around their necks with the cocaine-filled hidden compartment.

No idea if that’s a real world thing or just a movie thing.

Either way…fucking hypocrites.

Selfish hypocrites ain’t sharing the Happy Snort Dust.

Not that you should ever do that shit…

Drugs are bad for you, kiddies.

What ya know, I’m a hypocrite too.

Should’ve never doubted it.

Actually never was into the hard shit.  Booze, I like some booze.  Smoke a joint or steal one of the Lady’s legendary knock-you-on-your-ass brownies.  Not the hard shit.  No place to find the hard shit at the Asylum anyway and if you did find some hard shit and got caught with it…might get fucking expelled.

Or win yourself a month in the Holding Room while you Detox.

Which is way worse than escaping this madhouse.

Punishment that harsh means there’s no drug problem at the Asylum.

Just a crazy problem.

Ingrained in every cell of a mancer’s makeup; can’t escape it even with the opiates, rich or poor.

No drugs, but occasionally some student steals a bottle of booze or sneaks a few cans in…ends with them having themselves a party.  Teachers look the other way as long as said party don’t get too rowdy.  No streaking through the Park naked.  For example.  Maybe a bad example, since the only time I streaked through the Park I was as sober as I’ve ever been in my life, with a screaming Keith Gullick chasing right after me.  I had my underwear on and my pants wrapped around one ankle, think that still counts as naked?

Close enough, right?

Night this story began wasn’t too long after that infamous event.

Few months maybe.

Pent.

Fifth year at the Asylum.

Getting deep into the system now, deep into the story of my stay at that peculiar institution.  Five years.  Fuck me.  Fuck you too, kiddies, you still listening to this after all the tapes came before it.  Last one sure was nice, wasn’t it?  Happy moment in my life.  Quilt’s bachelor party, his wedding.  Ending on that perfect ‘I do.’

One before it…not so nice.

Three Queens.

Welfs.

Plutarch.  Okay, maybe he ain’t so bad.  Or maybe it’s just that after a year dealing with him, I’m used to his unique brand of birdshit-coated statues.

Same year for all three of those stories.  Happiness in the middle, but on the edges…

Especially that last edge…that last edge cuts.

Bleeds.

Kills.

Splat.

Yank.

Crush.

That last edge…it ain’t right.

That last edge…begins with booze.

Just after the ‘I do.’

Just after the cheers.

It begins with four graduate students sitting on a bench, passing their second bottle of rum back and forth.

Raj Malik, Pocket Landry, Jesus Valencia, and of course…

King.

Fucking.

Henry.

Fucking.

Price.

What can I say?

I’m a bad influence.

***

“It was so beautiful,” Raj blubbered for about the seventh time.  Seventh…maybe eighth…I lost count somewhere around the third cup of rum.

…was it the third cup of rum?

I think I lost count of that too.

Good thing about rum is that it comes in cups.  None of that itsy bitsy shot-glass shit.

Okay, so maybe that’s just a personal rule, but it’s a good personal rule to have.

Raj held liquor surprisingly well for someone who had to be peer pressured into his first cup of the stuff.  Think he was on two or three…I never even bothered counting that shit.  “So beautiful,” he mumbled some more, with a wet belch as an exclamation point.

Jesus was next on the bench, my bench on the Mound, overlooking the breadth of the Asylum, especially the Field down below with the smolders of the bonfire still going strong.  Not sure if I’d call it a beautiful wedding, since I don’t know a thing about romance or relationships—proven it time and again with Val or Naomi or whoever else, ain’t I?—but it was a beautiful night.

An Asylum May is something to be treasured.  Even for a cynical fucktard like King Henry Price.  Perfect weather.  Not too hot, just cold enough to remind you of the winter fading behind you.  Makes your mancer’s coat, whatever the color, feel good on your shoulders.  Not that I was in a mancer’s coat, geomancer or other.  Was in the same shitty tuxedo they force all the guys to wear to the Winter Ball.

Least it wasn’t a white tie extra-special torture suit.

Dodged that bullet by not being part of the wedding ceremony, just being in charge of the bachelor party.

And what a bachelor party it was!  Raj is still picking the stripper glitter dust out of his beard!

“Beautiful,” Jesus echoed Raj.  He raised his hand up into the air to wave at the moon.  “A beauty worth howling and running to the ends of the Earth for!”  Or at least that’s what I thought he said.  Every third word was Mexican and every fourth word was indecipherable mush.  If Raj was drunk off his ass then Jesus no longer had an ass.

“Don’t see why we couldn’t go dancing,” Raj pouted while taking another sip of self-pity.

“Wedding panocha,” Jesus grumbled back at him.

“Strings attached,” I agreed, swaying a little bit.  “Have to stay away.  Too dangerous.”

“But they were so pretty in their dresses…did you see Miranda?” Raj whined, still burning the torch despite denying it for a good three years now.

“Almost blinded me,” I complained about the Ginger Nemesis.  She complained about me all the time, only fair, right?  “Shouldn’t be allowed to show her shoulders in public.  Not sanitary.”

Pocket was on the other end of the bench, the only one enjoying sobriety.  Being he was a floromancer, a one-minute burst of floro-anima into his own liver weeded the alcohol out of his system in seconds.  He’d drunk about a bottle and a half so far and wasn’t showing the least bit of buzz.  Good thing I dated Naomi before Van Houten taught them that shit.

Since Naomi my love life had been more casual in nature than ever.  Hadn’t worked up the strength to tackle emotions and all that shit, not since Keith Gullick had scared them out of me.  Good thing he’s out of shape and couldn’t catch me…good thing Naomi talked him down from throttling me once he ran out of breath…although I don’t care what Pocket says, the flowers in the Park follow me now.

“Boomworm looked nice too,” Pocket commented with the grace of a cactus.

“You evil fucker,” I warned him.

Raj and Jesus both chortled.

“Just pointing out facts, dude.”

“Evil,” I repeated while taking another slosh of simple man’s opiate.

 “Mimi’s dress was…very proper,” Raj kept up the girl discussion, using his nickname for Naomi.  It was weird being in a world where Raj and I had been with the same woman.  Although…given it was Naomi, half the school was probably in the club with us.

…What?

I can’t help it if she’s so affectionate!

I would never call her a slut or anything…I reserve that epitaph for my sister!

“Mr. Gullick even let her come alone,” Pocket said, “think she’ll get to move back into her dorm by the end of the school year?”

“Wasn’t my fault,” I protested my innocence.

“Sure, dude, anyone could’ve got caught, just not with all the style you added to the occasion,” Pocket agreed.

“Let’s talk about how awesome I am for having snuck all the strippers into the Asylum again,” I tried to change the subject and pump up my ego at the same time.

“You’ll just hold back on that one too,” Jesus mumbled to an invisible person standing three feet to my right.  “Can’t talk about Boomworm, can’t talk about the Naked Chase, can’t talk about how you did the stripper thing…El Rey is too sensitive this year.”

“Hey, look at that pretty moon…” I tried.

“So beautiful!” Jesus called.

“Beautiful!” Raj agreed “Like Miranda!”

“You should ask her out,” Pocket tried to start even more trouble.  “We’re older now…you date, she dates.  Her father is in Texas, so he can’t catch you in the act.”

“Women run the Daniels family anyway,” I pointed out, “so it would be her mom you want to worry about.”

“No,” Raj mumbled with more self pity, “I said I never would.  No looking back!  No matter my bodily desires!”

Pocket nodded.  “Wise, I suppose.  You’d just end up like King Henry and Boomworm with all the overdramatic breakups.”

“If I stick the bottle up your ass and bypass your liver, you think you might get drunk that way?” I growled at him.

“Works for my whole body,” Pocket winked at me, enjoying his edge at having a working brain while mine was half pulp. “And that’s not a dare for you to try to start poisoning me as experimentation.”

An I-don’t-give-a-crap shrug signaled the guilt of my first thought.  “Not like I was going for the VX gas…just laxatives or something.  Also would’ve had the grace to start up a betting pool first.  Wouldn’t let my curiosity rob the school of that much entertainment value, ya know?”

“And now I’m not eating waffles for the next month,” Pocket stated an obvious precaution.

Jesus shot up from the bench and started taking off his tux.  “I’m chasing the moon, who’s with me?”

“This time would you please stop him before he gets his pants off?” I begged Pocket.

***

Hot tip for you, kiddies:  getting drunk on the Mound is a really bad idea.

Most people don’t think about inclines or declines when they’re drunk…because the vast majority of humanity lives in a flat world, no matter how many skyscrapers we build trying to touch the clouds or how many times the ship sinking over the horizon proves otherwise.

All flat.

Easy being drunk when it’s flat.

Okay, not easy.  But the fall ain’t so far.

And you wanted to puke in the gutter anyway.

No gutters on the Mound.  No flat either.  Just a whole lot of sloping ground leading to more sloping ground.  Don’t go flat until you reach its base and then you ain’t on the Mound, you’re on the Field.  Or behind the Mound with all the trees and the wild animals…with the bears and the King Henrys shitting in the woods.

No flat is why when Raj stumbled, my ass tumbled with him about twenty feet down the side of the Mound.  Jesus came along for the ride.  Only Pocket missed out on the experience, serenading our inglorious plunge with a perfectly timed, “Oh shit!”

How I ended up snorting some dirt out of my nose.  Like dirt on most days, but not inside of my body.  Especially if it’s with three other guys around and not a single woman.  I’d never actually had sex on the Mound or in the dirt now that I thought about it…not even with Val when she was at her most horny.  Should do that before I graduate…not with Val of course, put dirt and fire together and all the world is made ashes.  Too bad all the geomancer girls are wider than they are taller; be okay it was in the badonkadonk but it’s always in the shoulders or their foreheads.  Think I can convince Sabine to join me making some mud?

“I landed on a bush,” Raj giggled, his turban askew and his fine-haired beard dotted with leaves in addition to the impossible-to-remove stripper glitter.

Jesus just groaned in pain.

“You break anything?” I asked.  Don’t think I’d broken anything, but it wasn’t like I could feel most of my face, much less the rest of my body.

“My cojones, El Rey, the bush bludgeoned my cojones,” Jesus groaned some more.

“Blame Pocket…that’s his area of expertise, not mine.  The bush…not the cojones…don’t think he has any of those.”

Said bush expert made the journey to join us a lot slower than we had.  “Too bad they don’t let us have phones, huh?  Would’ve made an awesome YouTube video; might’ve even paid for the hospital bills,” he teased.

“That’s all I need,” I spat out words with some extra dirt, “recorded evidence of how much stupid shit I’ve done at this school.”

“Some awesome shit too, dude.  Don’t sell the Legend of the Foul Mouth shorter than you already are.”

“This bush feels so comfy,” Raj whispered as his head tilted backwards, turban even more askew, “just leave me here, I’ll be fine . . . me and my comfy bush . . .”

He stared snoring.

I shared a glance with Pocket, who shrugged.  “I’m not going to argue.”

“You want to leave him in a bush?”

“He looks like he’s enjoying it.”

Raj burped in his sleep.

“Fine, get Jesus and his cojones free and back into his dorm…I’ll make my own way back.”

Pocket looked doubtful.  “You sure that’s a good idea?”

“Not saying I’ll make it home in the next few minutes, but…should manage before the sun comes up,” I decided as I set off down the Mound by myself.

One foot in front of the other.

Mind the slope.

Focus on the ground.

You’re a mancer, right?  Geomancer in fact, shouldn’t be too hard to know where the ground’s at.

Made it about ten feet before I was back on my knees.

Okay, Try Number Three it is…

No more kneeling.

Foul Mouth don’t kneel for no man, not even his own drunk ass.

****

Somehow I made it down the Mound without killing myself.

No idea if anyone has ever actually died on the Mound.

Probably.

You’d think some dumbass must have during the Winter War, but I couldn’t see it, being if some dumbass had died during the Winter War, I doubt the parents would still stand by and let us do our thing with a death toll hanging over our heads.  That level of danger only happens on school grounds because it has a one-hundred percent safety record.

But someone at sometime, dying on the Mound?

Has to have happened, right?

“I have drunk way too fucking much rum,” I grumbled aloud, thankful for the cool night air on my face.  I get extra cynical when I’m drunk.  Could be worse…could be a breakup boozefest…then I’d be emo too.

Oh, Valentine, why hath thou forsaken me? I mocked myself with a canine grin.

Got to laugh at yourself, kiddies.

Girl had been beautiful today.  Was every day, really.  Not that I was interested in dealing with her shit.  Last time I’d had a shot with her had been when she showed up naked in my dorm, that time I spent most my day running around the woods shitting with the bears.  Hadn’t been in the mood for her crazy on-again-off-again.  Just friendship between us since…no sex, just talking and joking and…like we were Singles again or something.

Rather be confused over me not being with her than back to confused over why she’s throwing herself at me one minute and acting like the blushing maid the nextNot enough rum in the world to cut through that confusion.

Especially with Plutarch and the Three Queens and having my own History class to teach and then there was Quilt’s bachelor party and then there was Quilt’s wedding and now I was here…

I’ll be graduating before I know it.

Guild Member [62????] before I know it.

Forget Val.  Forget celebrating the nuptials…that thought needed rum more than any other.

 The Guild…

“Fucking cocksuckers,” I snarled out a pretty good Al Swearengen expression.

I managed to come out on the Field as planned.  One thing going right tonight.  Mostly things had been going right for me.  One of those stretches you get at the Asylum where it decides to just be the nice, quiet one.  No kicking you in the face.  Or the balls.  Or putting stuff up your pee-hole when Mary O’Connell is around.

Been learning a lot under Plutarch, even following his advice on occasion.  He hadn’t stuck me back into a dirt hole again, so I considered that progress.  Even liked a few of the Intra students in my History class, though one of the prudes among them had ratted me out to the faculty for my ‘anti-authoritarian lesson plans deviating from the standard curriculum.’  Hadn’t been able to draw a sexually-charged chalkboard display since.  I was getting really good at them too!

Last Winter War had been awesome.  Sure, I didn’t get to compete myself, but seeing Vicky Welf and the other kids in Class ’10 win the trophy had been fun.  Went stag to the Winter Ball…went home with one of Vicky’s friends…pretty sure it was Genesis this time.  Rum had been involved that night as well…

“Should give you up…if only you didn’t make me feel like a squishy radio dish…”

I paused in my progress through the Field, bonfire somewhere to my left, other students visible as they caroused and celebrated.  Don’t need reason to celebrate when you’re a teenager, being young and invincible is enough.

I cared less about them than I did the sentence I’d just uttered.

Squishy radio dish?

“If only you didn’t take my ability to make decent similes away from me too…”

On I trundled.

That’s fucking right, kiddies.

Trundled.

Education, it’s a bitch.

Might have even been doing some sauntering with an occasional meander.

Drunk off his ass and sleeping in a bush or not, Raj was right about the evening.  So was Jesus about the moon.  What a night…the mountain breeze was cold on my face while the heat from the bonfire wafted across the breadth of the Field.  I could hear music echoing all the way from the Hall, something heavy with a quick beat.  Nearby were the sounds of laughter and shrill conversation.

I grunted as a pair of Tri girls ran past me giggling, a shirtless Quad boy chasing after them.  “Not drunk enough to beat his ass and take his place …”

Kind of sucks being a graduate student.  All the Intras are younger than you…sure, you can get away with dating a Quad when you’re a Pent, but even that excuse would elude me next year.  No Tri’s unless you wanted some teacher having a word with you, definitely no Bi’s…Romeo and Juliet laws don’t even cover that shit.

I should be in college.

My body felt like it should be in college.

It wasn’t…it was stuck in high school.

Magic high school with a few fellow students my age, but no frats or sororities or keggers to be seen or heard.  Class ’09 was so set in our ways that you almost never saw any movement between the couples.  Debra and Estefan, Welf and Hope, Robin and Rick, all the fucking same.  Sixteen girls, fuck that, sixteen women in Class ’09 and I wasn’t with any of them.

Guess it’s my own fault.

Nights like this.

Nights like Winter Ball with Makayla…or Genesis…they look very similar, okay?

Thing with Naomi…although I’m pretty sure that was doomed from the start.  Not that the athletic display of grunting and humping we did around the Asylum hadn’t been fun for the month or two it lasted…

Screwing up with Val, add that on top of the pile.

Cherry on top.

Twice.

Okay, two cherries.

Gives a guy a reputation.

Reputation catches up with you eventually.

But how much fun it was building that reputation!

My carousing of the Field did nothing for my mood.  Just slammed the door on my status as an outsider.  A graduate student among the high schoolers.  Between the students and the teachers.  Leper.  Other.  Watch out, cooties!  Can you have a midlife crisis at eighteen?  I think I’m having one.  Would be nineteen in a month.  Nineteen.  Adult plus one year.  Get drafted.  Can vote.  Smoke my cigs legally.  Fuck me, how am I still alive and not dead in some fist fight back in Visalia?

The cool night air did good at sobering me up, but the heat of the fire made me want to fall asleep right on the ground, beer cans and discarded wine cooler bottles my only friends.

“Guess I can go to bed alone for once,” I tried to convince myself it was a choice I made, and not something forced on me.

Turning away from the heat and the laughter, I headed towards the Ultra Dorms.

***

There was partying going on around the dorms too.  Not sure what kind of music bellowed out of Class ’12’s dorm, but…they were dancing to it in the horseshoe road like it wasn’t techno trash.  Fuck me, now I’m an old man complaining about the  youngins’ tunes…I might never drink again.

Okay…

No reason to be hasty.

Just stop at the third cup next time.

“Sure thing…only happy and shitfaced, no cynical bastard mode.  Nope, not for me, never again…that’s happening.  Ain’t lying to yourself at all.”

“King Henry, are you okay?” someone asked me.

I squinted at a small grouping of people.  There was a lot more light around the dorms and it hurt my eyes something fierce.  LEDS ain’t made with drunks in mind I don’t think, just the environment.

“King Henry, can you hear me?”

A woman.  I squinted some more.  Red hair up in a bun with a jewel studded comb holding it back, green dress that matched her eyes…the small amount of my brain that was still sober—probably less than one percent of it—started screaming.  “Huh?”

Someone next to the woman laughed.  I knew that laugh.  I…really liked that laugh.  I liked causing it even more.  Another woman.  Could tell because of the…curves.  Not heavy curves like the redhead, but just so.  Curves…call me fucking Sherlock over here.  Very tall, taller than me, but that’s everyone, ain’t it?  Dark eyes…dark eyes that somehow seemed bright and special and…  Right.  Now the drunk part of my brain started screaming too.  Valentine and Miranda.  Sure.  Why the fuck not?  Couldn’t even blame Fate this time, was my own stupid fault.

“He’s sloshed beyond even his usual sloshing,” Val chuckled as I stumbled on over towards the pair of them.

“Boys and alcohol,” Miranda complained as she rolled her eyes, like her whole body had to show its disapproval not just her yapping mouth.  “Is this moment of inebriation really worth the hangover you’ll have tomorrow morning?”

“As long as I don’t end up in bed with you, sure,” I shot back through pure bodily ingrained reflex.
“There’s not a single drink on the planet that could make me join you,” Miranda confirmed the likelihood of this improbable consummation.

“Good!”

“Double good, you drunk ass!”

Val laughed again, shaking her head at me.  She had on a black dress.  It looked pretty nice…especially the way it…everythinged.  “We saw Jesus and Pocket come through,” she said conversationally while studying me from head to toe.  “Jesus couldn’t even stand up…at least you’re managing that on your own.”

I shrugged at her, while fighting off toppling over again.  “Goatfucker can’t hold his liquor.”

“Where’s Raj at?”

“We left him in a bush.”

Val’s eyes went wide.  “A bush?”

I shrugged.  “He seemed to like it…and he was sleeping, so…why not?”

Val shook her head.  “Maybe I’ll go check on him later.”

Next to her, Miranda started in with her usual disagreements about my moral character, even if it wasn’t as harsh as it had been when we were Singles.  “—and he stinks like a sugar factory,” she finished.

“A very good comparison, Miranda” a third voice said to her left.

I double-taked, squinting some more before I noticed a man standing beside Miranda.  Medium height, bronze-skinned, clean shaven, and in a much nicer tux than mine.  Athir Al-Qasimi.  One of the more forgettable members of class ’09 except for the fact he was our lone mentimancer.  A Worm that mostly hung out in the Library, which Miranda and Val both did on occasion, hence the grouping tonight.  Raj was in some clubs with Athir, got along okay with him, as fine as he could.  It’s hard to.  As a mentimancer, staying around Athir grated on everyone but his fellow mentimancers.  They ain’t well-liked usually…unless they are, but those are the rare ones, like Russell “Currently Having Him Some Wild Honeymoon Sex” Quilt.

Only Mancy discipline that has itself bylaws for how it can use its powers too.

Memories and thoughts…you mess with them and of course everyone is leery of you.

Even without the Mancy.

Even without him being some rich boy Arab talks with a British accent, another hearty fuck you from globalization yet again!

Arab!

And this is King Henry telling a story, oh no!  I know what’s coming!

Oh, don’t get your panties in a twist, I’m not gonna make any terrorist jokes.

Even I’m not that big of an asshole.

Now.

Was when I arrived at the Asylum…

But not now.

See?  There was some progress.

Not on the booze front…but the other stuff…

Bet Ceinwyn is proud of me.  No terrorist jokes!  Huzzah!  Victory!  He’s been civilized to the barest sliver!

“Sup?” I greeted Athir. “How you end up with these two beauties?  Buy them for your harem?”

Terrorist jokes out, Arab Sheikh jokes totally in.

Val smiled at me, but not at the joke, more like she was onto my game.  Miranda blinked like I’d mooned her.  Also not at the joke but at the fact I called her a beauty.  Which…I mean, ginger, yeah, but she’s lost the plump from her early years and does have some badonkadonk and plenty going on up top.  Maybe…nah, still couldn’t do it…not even when I’m this drunk.

“We were discussing a book,” Athir explained politely.  He was very stiff, very…cerebral, which I guess fit, didn’t it?  Not all mentimancers are like that.  Just like other mancers, the personalizations have variety and the mind is a very large playground to find your place in.  Not as interesting as stone or gems or dirt though…unless that motherfucker Freud gets involved.

Ya know, it’s not very often I get to use ‘motherfucker’ so literally…

“Oh, books.  Can’t condone those things,” I said while swaying a little to the left.  “Magazines are okay, but only cuz the pictures.”

Miranda snorted at me, a little less pissy after I’d called her a beauty.  Guess flattery works on gingers too, soul or no soul.  “I saw you stealing from the Aeromancy Ultra bookshelf last month.  Two whole books and not a picture in sight between the pair of them.”

I gave an I-don’t-give-a-crap shrug, only managing to stay standing because Valentine put out a hand to steady me.

“The liquor in your gut seems to be gaining strength,” she pointed out with a smirk.  “Sure you’re okay talking with us?”

I thought about throwing up on the pavement for a few seconds and decided I didn’t need to yet.  “Where else should I be?”

“In bed?”

I grinned at her.  “Offering to take me?”

“That wouldn’t be very proper,” Athir injected like the gentleman I would never be, “perhaps I should be the one to take you up?”

Know what?  Not a fan of Athir, very much not a fan.  People would assume I’m being typical King Henry, but it ain’t none of that crap.  It’s that he’s got a bit of Heinrich Welf in him.  Money don’t give a shit about race, religion, sex, or politics, it makes you a fucktard no matter who you are or where you come from.

Now you’re being classist!

Always finding an ‘ist’ to slap the masses into place, ain’t ya, prudes?

“Touch me and I will barf all over that thousand dollar tux of yours, Athir.”

He processed this, something a little too autistic in his eyes.  “Ten-thousand dollar tuxedo, actually.”
Now you’re being ablest!

And you’re a bunch of retards, kiddies, so there!

“I’ll take him,” Miranda decided with the tortured sigh of someone who loves being a martyr.
“No…no, very much no,” I said, trying to break her grip as she took hold of my shoulder to steady me.

Miranda reasoned it out with Val, “He’ll keep his hands to himself with me.”

“No I won’t…I’ll grope them freckled muffins for all I’m worth, just you watch!”

“No you won’t.”  Miranda’s hand started pinching my shoulder.  “He’d never try to get me in bed with him.  If you do it, you’ll be fending him off for hours.”

“Of course I will…I’m gonna ravish you…gonna grab that…carrot colored hair and…do…nope…can’t do it…about to barf…”

True to my word, I threw up on Athir.

***

“Why you got to cockblock a fellow, Miranda?” I grumbled as said cockblocker helped me up the dorm stairs to our floor.  Not all years filled out their entire floor, but Class ’09 did.  Thirty rooms for thirty kids.  Two main hallways, then another two that bisected those.  I had one of the apartments/dorms/call-it-what-you-will on the outer ring.  Heard rumors that the corner rooms in the middle were bigger than the rest of them.  Welf had one of those, so I’m sure it’s true and he either blackmailed or bribed someone in administration for his.

Gotten used to having my own place to call my own in these last months.  Own bed, own kitchen, own place to shit, shower, and shave.  Own toilet to throw up into…maybe…not so sure, feeling pretty good after unloading half my stomach onto Athir.

Bet some of you kiddies have yourselves weak stomachs, don’t ya?

Feeling like upchucking right now?

Had me some Chicken Parmesan at the wedding dinner.  Wedding dinner…was just a slightly more fancily decorated Cafeteria, but…guess round tables and real chairs are all that makes the difference.  Chicken Parmesan.  Don’t know why, but I’ve always associated vomit with Italian red sauce.  Little white flecks of mozzarella and ricotta cheese floating in it.

Can you see it, kiddies?

Can you feel that burning at the back of your throat?

Up it comes!

Make my day if some of you little shits did throw up just through the power of my suggestions.  Probably didn’t.  What I get for being a geomancer, not a mentimancer.  Can’t put the memory in your head; make you unable to focus on anything else but that ricotta cheese in the reddish-pink pool.
Bet you can still smell it though.

Slightly tangy and acidic, frothy on the edges.

But enough of what I spewed all over Athir.

Don’t feel too bad for him, he got Val’s sympathy for it and she helped him clean up.  Me, I just got the Ginger Nemesis.  She did her own grumbling as we stumbled from stair step to stair step, “I did not cockblock you.  Your cock never had any chance of entering its intended target.”

“Don’t know that…I’m very romantic when I’m drunk, you know…do all that wounded, brooding shit you teenage girls like…”

She started shaking, almost sending us tumbling.

“Are you laughing at me?”

“No, no, puking on Athir was so romantic, King Henry,” Miranda managed to say with a straight face.  Said face had freckles along her cheeks and nose, thick auburn eyebrows a tad darker than her hair, and not a bad pair a lips, I’ll give her that.  Of course, her skin was also reflective enough that I could see myself on her cheek, so…can’t win them all.

“Wouldn’t have puked on him if I wasn’t rocked by the fear of having to deal with you for the next fifteen minutes,” I grumbled back at her. 

“At least you didn’t puke on either of us, I suppose,” Miranda grunted as she leveraged me around another curve in the stairs.  One of those stairs that curls around itself in a square pattern, open to the night.  Since you have to go up and above the massive four-year communal dorms, it’s a pretty good climb.

“Do you want me to puke on you?” I offered.  “Could go for a second try if you’re up for it…pretty kinky shit you’re into.”

“I’ll stuff air in your mouth and make you swallow it again,” she threatened, not joking at all about doing just that.  Felt her start pooling some aero-anima just in case.  Me, I was anima dry.  Drinking, teachers will look away from.  Using anima while drunk, especially on your fellow students…not as much.

“Have more fun if you stuck that aero-anima up your red ass,” I growled as we shuffled up another incline.

Miranda squinted at me, attempting to work out my logic.  “Are you saying it’s red because it’s hairy?  Because I assure you—“

“Please don’t, or I will vomit again.”

She seemed to consider my reaction as we took the next turn in the stairs silently.  I watched her think it all through.  What she said, my reaction.  Saw epiphany in her green eyes.  “Or are you saying it’s because some fellow spanks me regularly?”

I flinched as if I was the one who got spanked.

“Because I’m not a fan of spanking,” she stated plainly, another experiment.  Like the words themselves were stabbing into my gut and she wanted to see how much I bled.

“Not interested, sorry I said anything,” I tried.

“I do like some good hair pulling,” she kept going with a grin.

Really not interested,” I tried again.  “I’ll just go the rest of the way on my own, shall I?”

“Still undecided if I like a little pressure around the throat or not…”

“Oh fuck me, Miranda, please stop,” I begged her.

“I think it depends on how big his hand is and how he has it wrapped around my throat…thumbs just under my jaw bone…”

“Please, God, I know I don’t talk to you much big fellow, but if can please let me be drunk enough that I won’t remember this in morning I’d really appreciate it!” I screamed at the heavens.

Her grin got even wider as she enjoyed the power she had over me.  Before that moment our relationship was based completely on me grossing her out or on her quoting the rules, now she’d realized she could gross me out too, just by talking about her own sex life.  She was a prude most of the time, so to wield that power over me, to pay me back for all the comments over the last five years, she had to open up and express herself.

It was too good for her to pass up.

Thus…the stick was first loosened from where it had been so firmly lodged up Miranda Daniels’ red ass.  No idea why it’s red, just sure it is.

“Would you like to hear about the time I lost my virginity, King Henry?” she asked.

I started whining like a wounded animal.

“It was during Tri Winter Ball—” she began.

“Miranda,” I stopped her, “I’ll owe you a favor if you just please stop tormenting me tonight.”

“Two favors,” she decided, “for helping you up and for not pointing out what a moron you are to get this drunk.”

“Fine, two favors.”

“Anything?”

“Obviously I won’t have sex with you.”

“It was during Tri Winter Ball—“ she started again.

“I apologize!”

“Oh, can King Henry Price do that?”

“You know I ain’t so bad as the rep…just like I know you ain’t such a rule spouting prude when you ain’t got an audience to impress,” I grumbled some more.  “Known that since the first month of school when we were running through the woods together.  Saw you scared and vulnerable and even kind to other people.”

She was silent for a while more, until we reached the floor for Class ‘09.  “You think I’m shallow, is that it?”

“No…I think we were both raised in environments where we were taught that emotions only get you slapped around.   So we both clung to the thing that kept the emotions deep and buried and controlled…even forgotten.  For you it was the rules; for me it was breaking all of them.”

Silence as we entered through the doors.

“You shouldn’t say things like that, King Henry,” she eventually whispered as we worked our way down the hallway.  “Apologizing is one thing, but showing you have a heart might be a bit too much for the Asylum’s student body to handle.”

“Too much for you to handle, that’s for sure,” I actually teased her a little bit.

“Dangerous ground us being friendly with each other…might make me rip my dress off in a moment of weakness, and the sight of that might kill you,” she teased me back.

“You ain’t so bad, Ginger Nemesis,” I decided in my drunk haze, “think I’ll invite you and Val next time I steal a couple bottles of rum.  Keep Raj from whining about how pretty you are if you’re actually around to hear him.”

“Not a good idea,” she decided in her very sober certainty, “Val can’t hold her liquor at all and she starts lighting things on fire once she’s past tipsy.”

“What about you?”

“I’m a Texan.  Also, as you well know I attended an all-girls school and you can’t imagine the amount of homebrew hooch our Home Econ classes managed to produce under the teachers’ noses.”
We found my door.  I leaned against it trying to find what pocket I had my key in.  “Think I remember Vicky mentioning once upon a time that you bake.”

“Yes, most of the rum I use goes into desserts, not my stomach.”  She stopped me from searching my tux pockets and put her finger to the door lock.  After a spare second and a sharp rumble in my feet indicating she’d used anima, she twisted her finger and the door opened.  “Ta da!”

“I can do that too.”

“I know you can, but in your present condition it would’ve taken you an hour to even think about doing it,” she told me.

“I’m not that drunk.”

“Then you’ll be able to step through the door on your own and get in bed by yourself?” she dared me.
I thought about whether admitting she was right about me being that drunk or me faceplanting into the floor right in front of her would be worse.  “Want a cup of coffee?” I asked.  “The not-going-to-have-sex kind of coffee…as in actual coffee.  I steal it from Plutrach…it’s some good shit.”

“I assume I’ll have to make the coffee myself since you’ll light the machine on fire somehow?”

“Val’s not around to do it, so someone has to,” I grumbled as she led me into my dorm room.  The look of the place wasn’t changed much from when it was assigned to me.  They let us check out supplies from one of Admin’s stockpiles, so we could add a shelf or a painting or even let us paint the walls a different color, but I hadn’t partook of any interior design creativity.  Was still white walled and rocking the rarely-used prison cell style.  Bed was made, but only cuz I’m one of those guys who sleep on top of the covers, the kind you women with your comforters and sheets and your twenty little useless pillows hate.

Miranda glanced about as I slumped onto my couch.  “Sweet, sweet plumpness,” I mumbled.

She squinted her green eyes at me.  “What?”

“The couch, not your rarely spanked ass.”

“I think I’ll cancel the coffee and leave you there for the night,” she said.

 “Sure thing,” I agreed, already falling asleep.

“Two favors,” she reminded me with a pair of pale fingers.

“Thanks, Miranda.  Try being like this more often, okay?”

She smiled; it was surprisingly kind, just like her when she wasn’t around too many people.  “Only if you promise not to get this drunk so often.”

“Last time, I promise.”

“Goodnight, King Henry.”

I fell asleep.

***

I woke up to screaming.

Not the kind of screaming you expect at the Asylum.

Someone walking in on someone naked.  Some girl pissed at another girl for stealing Mancy knows what, her favorite industrial-grade vibrator for all I know.  Pair of guys fighting over a slight, testosterone leaving them butting their heads.  Or put those together and you got a girl yelling at her boyfriend, probably for looking at another girl’s ass...though from experience, I got to say, Asylum colors were not made with accentuating a girl’s ass in mind, especially if she chooses to wear pants over skirts.  Them skirts though…are you looking at her ankles?  How dare you, you pig!  You’re only supposed to look at my ankles like that!

Normal high school has its fair share of drama, you add in anima and all the expected anima personalizations…well, you get used to the occasional scream.  The I’m Mad And I Want You to Know It variety.  Not the kind where the person is terrified or shocked or…scared for their life.
Or someone else’s life.

If the student body decided on it at any moment, we could’ve turned the Asylum into a battle royale to dwarf all the other battle royales.  Be dead kids piled up in every corner, burn marks on the walls, buildings crashing to the ground…so much for graduation, bring out the toe tags!  And mop that kid’s ashes into a baggie before he blows away!

When you figure all that raw potential in the place, it’s pretty amazing how calm and safe and the Nice, Quiet One it is most of the time.  Outside of Winter War at least, it was pretty peaceful.  Even with the Three Queens around…pretty peaceful.

Not used to screams, especially that type of scream.

Wasn’t in the room with me, wasn’t next door, wasn’t even in the hallway.

Outside the dorms.

Still heard it.

Had to be loud.

But far away…just far enough away people might think that maybe they can go back to sleep and let someone else handle it.  They done psychological testing on that shit, believe it or not…you’d be surprised how many of your fellow men and fellow women would shut their windows on your wailing ass, kiddies.  Unless you’re a cynic like me.  Then you know how fucked up all the prudes and civilized really are, know they’re full of shit, know it gets late enough and they get tired enough then they’re a mean piece of work.

I was awake enough to make out a second scream, followed by “Help! Help!” 

Ain’t a white knight, ain’t a hero, especially in this story, but we’ve also covered that curiosity will get me killed one day too.  That or my mouth.  Fifty-fifty.  Not billion, just simple percentages.  Fifty percent of infinity.  Some woman screams for help and my instinct ain’t, “for truth, justice, the American Way, and pussy throwing itself in my face as an award!”  My instinct is, “How is the Bitch-Queen Fate going fuck me over right now?  Need to find out!  It’ll hurt less that way…might even block it before it touches my balls.”

Balls.

Always got to worry about the balls.

Priority Number One.

Probably why I scratched mine as I sat up on the couch, eyes blinking in the near darkness, head already ringing from a decent but not epic hangover.  Didn’t fuck a barnyard animal last night, couldn’t have been too bad.  We let Jesus go on his own he would’ve woken up in a bed with a goat.  Or an Armenian girl…no idea which is hairier.

…What?

“Help!  Please!  Someone!  Anyone!  Help!”

Oh right, block the curb stomp on my balls before it lands, now I remember why I’m awake.

Was early out.  Couldn’t have been asleep very long.  Clock in the kitchen said 5:30AM.  Yesterday was a Saturday.  No classes, special school holiday declared by the Lady.  We get those occasionally.  Usually when the teachers need a break from teenagers being their usual shithead selves.  Three or four times a year maybe.  Really helped moral…or at least helped keep the student body from rioting.
Sunday and I’m awake this early, hung over, head split in half about as well as I can split a metal table.  Why was I up again?  Should go back to sleep…

Another scream.  This one sounded like it was a higher octave.

Yeah…that’s the one.

“Maybe Raj made it down the Mound by himself and fell asleep butt naked in front of the dorm…that would cause some screaming, right?” I asked myself as I worked up the ability to give enough of a shit to stand.

“Help!  Help!”

“Fine,” I growled, “but someone better be bleeding!”

I forced myself up, surprised to find my legs working the same as they usually did, instead of the squishy radio signal ones from last night.  Still not sure if I can work out how that simile makes sense.  Just my head that was unusual…more unusual than…usual.  Nope, barely thinking, no way I’m tackling any drunken metaphors.

Burped a little bit.  Generally I was pretty fucking gross, but especially in the hygiene department.  Still in the tux from the previous night, had half the Mound on me and these little specks of bile on my pants where Athir hadn’t quite taken all the Chicken Parmesan enhanced flow.  Never been one for cleanliness, but even for me…my ass stank.

“Can’t believe Val didn’t want to fuck you last night, what was she thinking?” I got on with some self deprecation while checking my underwear to make sure there hadn’t been any self defecation either.  “White as the day the Asylum gave them to me…”

Now the door.

Door opened, door closed.

See, you’re a human being, you have thumbs, you can do amazing things with them, remember?
The interior hallway lights for the Ultra apartments are controlled at Admin, or at least on a timer.  We might have more freedom than a Single or a Bi, but that don’t mean the staff wants us outside of our rooms all night, in the hallway…doing…just about anything vandalous.  Are you hellions smoking the reefer?  Meant we got nightlight level of illumination from 10PM until 6AM.  Just enough so you couldn’t kill yourself, not enough so you wanted to sit out there.  Get in your room and put out that joint, you delinquents!

Down the hallway.  Couldn’t hear the screaming in here.  Must have been coming in through my window.  Maybe I should replace the glass with steel so I can sleep in longer.

Just as I was heading by a corner room door, it opened.  Hope Hunting peeked through it, catching sight of me.  Her expression said I was the devil incarnate.  So…the usual for that one too.  Wasn’t her room, was Welf’s room.  She smelled a very different kind of human than I did.  That sweat and sweet odor of a fine bit of grunting and humping.  “Somehow you knew and you were waiting!” she accused me.

“Don’t care about your nonexistent jiggly bits, Hope,” I failed at mollifying her.

“Where’s the camera then?” she kept on with either a conspiracy or a fantasy, not sure which.  “Taking a photo, no doubt, and then you’ll threaten to send it to my father as blackmail?!?”

“He wants you with Welf, so wouldn’t he enjoy seeing that you are?” I tried to outline some logic for her.

Hope blinked at me for a bit, her brain throwing out life-rafts to try to keep her world from shattering.  “What do you mean he wants me with Heinrich?  He’s always telling me I can do better!”
Look at my mad scientist Boris putting the reverse psychology judo on his daughter!  “One day, I’ll tell ya.  Promise.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m trying to see if we’re being invaded by vampires or something more interesting than you and Welf doing the deed.  You did the deed, right?  Everyone got their milk and cookies?  Not cool to stop before you both got your milk and cookies.  Should dump him if he did.  Find a man knows how to lick that clit like it’s a Baskin Robbins sugar cone two scoop.”

The door opened again.  Welf stood bathed in light from his apartment, wearing only boxers and sweatpants.  Just what I wanted to wake up to…mostly naked Welf.  Should’ve stayed in my room, put a pillow over my ears, and just worn a cup for the rest of the day.

Welf’s face went glare-mode the second he noticed it was me.  His bare chest also glared at me, haunting me.  Hard to look at anything else, being he had almost a whole foot of height above mine.  Not exactly an expert on male chests, but you expected Welf’s to be pallid and skinny, like a proper necromancer stereotype.  Wasn’t bulked out and blocky like my dwarf ass, but his muscles weren’t nonexistent either.  He fenced and played basketball I guess, both club and pickup.  So…Welf pectorals…they exist.

What a weird morning.

“Welf, tell your girlfriend I ain’t interested in her nonexistent jiggly bits, please,” I begged him for once.

I was hung over and I needed coffee.

Also needed to see about that vampire invasion.

If they’re killing me, I want it to be like twenty big breasted vampires overwhelming me, not one of them sneaking into my room.  Got to die with style, kiddies.  BAMF Rule Number Something.

Hope didn’t wait for Welf to answer, instead she snarled in my direction.  “My jiggly bits are not…nonexistent!  Tell him, Heinrich!”

Welf’s glare faded as his mouth opened without making words.

“Yeah, tell me all about her jiggly bits,” I prompted.

We both waited on him expectantly.

He evaded the question with, “Why are you roaming this early, Foul Mouth?  We saw you go to bed with Daniels.”

My hangover imploded upon itself over the idea of that rumor spreading.  Worked better than a Bloody Mary.  Or a Wet Mary coming for your pee-hole.  “I say again:  someone’s yelling for help outside.”

“I don’t hear anything,” Hope said snottily.  “Or maybe you’re heading to the pools to drown yourself now that you’ve done the deed with that freckled Daniels bitch.”

“She just helped me home, Hope.  That’s all that happened, got it?” I warned her with words, the tone of my voice, and a predator grin all three.

Welf put a hand on Hope’s shoulder as she prepared to do some screaming of her own.  She glanced back at him, crystal blue eyes sharp.  “What?

Welf does have a certain kind of finesse at handling the ice queen.  Shit, when he smiled at her I even believed he cared about her, maybe even loved her a little bit, somewhere in that dead, rotten heart of his.  “Last night was perfect, don’t let him ruin it.  Go to your room and get cleaned up, I’ll take care of the Foul Mouth.”

“Wow, Welf,” I said when Hope finally turned a corner and headed down the secondary hallway, “that was an impressive showing of balls for once.”

Welf’s smile for Hope faded into a snarl that mirrored her earlier expression.  “Why are you here tormenting me at five o’clock on a Sunday, Foul Mouth?”

“Screaming,” I repeated.  “Outside.”

“You’re lying,” he told me like King Henry Price lying was the most obvious thing in the whole wide world.

A door opened near us, on the same outside row as mine.  It was Estefan Ramirez, but his girlfriend Debra Diaz’ apartment.  Yeah…there’s a lot of fucking going on when you’re eighteen and you live at a place with some kind of magical contraception field.  “Is someone screaming outside?  Sounds like a few people?” Estefan asked us.

Welf let out a sigh, disappearing inside his room.

“I shouldn’t expect an apology I take it?” I commented to the empty doorframe.

“Do I want to be involved with this?” Estefan asked.

“I’ll handle it,” I told him.

“We’ll handle it,” Welf corrected as he appeared with a hastily thrown on necromancer’s coat, still trying to button it up as he slammed shut his door.

“Yeah, really don’t want to be involved if both of you are,” Estefan decided before disappearing, probably to ravish his girlfriend some more.

Welf and I stalked down the rest of the hallway, such that it was.  He kept an eye on me like I might be trying some play against him, but really…those days were kind of over.  Not that I don’t enjoy terrorizing Welf on occasion, but one of the problems with being a graduate student is that you have the freedom, but not the time for that kind of stuff.  Especially with Class ‘09s pledge to keep an eye on the Three Queens, most of the year had been free of the large pranks and punishments that our rivalry had been graced with.

All we had was small little snipes to assuage our personal loathing for the other.  Case in point:  “Don’t think I’ve ever fucked a woman without any tit to her.  What’s life if you can’t see some shaking side boob during doggy, know what I mean?”

“You should try looking your partner in the eye on occasion, Foul Mouth,” he returned in his usual smug, faux-European accent, “it’s a much more memorable and intimate experience.”

“Shit…you’ve never had sex that wasn’t missionary, have you?”

“I have too!”

“Uhuh.”

“Even cryomancers can’t stay cold forever, Foul Mouth.  When a glacier breaks free it’s…quiet explosive.”

“We’re still talking about her and not your pre-ejaculation problem, right?”

Welf let out a breath to calm himself, his hands already in tight fists.  “I’m starting work on my Construct next year.  It should be done well before we graduate.”

“So?” I asked nonchalantly, even if the whole idea creeped me out.

He opened the door that led out to the stairwell.  Hating my guts or not, Welf was too much of a patrician not to wave me through first.  “I look forward to introducing the two of you.”

“Be a pity I have to break it just after you finished it.”

“Constructs can’t be knocked out with cheap shots, Foul Mouth, remember that before you try anything in the next few minutes.”

“Ain’t trying shit, Welf, just open your ears and listen to the opera.”

Wasn’t really screaming any longer.  More like shouting and agitation, even some arguing.  Welf’s eyebrows quirked up at the sound, finally truly believing I wasn’t out to prank him.  “Let’s see what the commotion is then.”

Ain’t just the stairs that are outside of the Ultra dorm building, you also have a walkway on each of the three apartment floors running between each pair.  So, on the sides, but not at the front or the back.  There’s benches and good lighting, so the spots are fought over fiercely in the summer and autumn, not so much in the winter or spring though.

Gave us a good vantage point to lean over the railing and get a look at the scene below.

Wasn’t a good scene.

A group of Singles milled about at their main door, directly below us.  They looked like scared little kids, mostly because they were, even if a number had turned fifteen by now.  Not a one of them was in proper colors, just the various nightwear that the Asylum allows students to pick from.  Not ten yards away from them a group of Tris and Quads huddled around something on the ground.  Two boys argued with each other, a third was yelling something about needing to get help, a fourth smacked the third upside the head and told him to shut up.

Three girls as well, huddled together, whispering and consoling.

One of them had bloody hands.

That’s when I noticed the cryomancer colors splayed out on the cement, some of the clothes pink with blood.

Not Raj, some detached, obsessive part of my brain told me.  He was in a tux like you and there’s no turban.

“Someone fell…” Welf whispered.

“From up here?”

He only nodded.

“That’s like…a long way,” I said after running up against math when trying to guesstimate how far the fall was in feet.  The Ultra dorms for the four years are like three to four stories tall.  Then you had a story each for the apartment floors.  So…five to seven story fall.

Maybe if it was a corpusmancer or an aeromancer…maybe I could manage it, but only if I conjured iron bones on my entire body at just the right moment before impact, I thought a little less detached this time.

“Come on,” Welf told me.  For once I didn’t complain about him ordering me around.

Both of us instinctually raced down the stairs.  No place for thinking, just instinct.  Always been instinctual.  Maybe not as much as when I was the fourteen-year-old punk newly arrived at school, but…I’m still fighting all them instincts to this day, eighteen-year-old-graduate-student me didn’t have much of a chance.

Instinct sent the both of us down the stairs.  Never been fast and Welf had to watch his head, but we moved about as fast as either of us had ever taken those stairs.  Doubt it even took us a thirty seconds.  Fast.  Almost broke our ankles fast.

By the time we were on the cement ground that surrounded the building, one of the boys had run off towards Admin.  Admin with all them teachers.  Too close for comfort I always thought living in the Ultra dorms, but now…seemed much too far away.

Knowing Welf would try to move people with words, I just used my shoulders and my arms to push a way through the crowd, which had added a few more four-years.  A chunk of Bi’s had joined the Singles, giving us about forty onlookers.  Older kids moved out of my way, either from the pushing or just recognition.

Finally got a look at the three girls kneeling around the cryomancer.  No Vicky, but the girl holding the cryomancer’s head was Makayla.  Or Genesis.  Listen, now’s not the fucking time for you to complain about my ass being a sexist objectifier of women, okay?  A man’s dying!  He’s got a penis…that makes him more important!

Makayla—we’re going with Makayla this time—had her hands bracing the cryomancer’s neck.  Her body heaved with tears, but she held on for all she was worth, no matter how sticky and thick the blood on her hands grew.  Blood seeped from a head wound and had dripped down his face all the way to the ground.  His arm and an ankle were bent wrong and his breathing was rapid and labored.
With all the blood and the massive information intake, it took me a moment to realize I recognized him.

Then I couldn’t think about anything else for a good ten seconds.

It was Leo Sarducci.  Head of Class ’08, the Hexs this school year.  Guy that made a deal with Welf to kick my balls during our Bi Winter War.  Same guy that wasn’t so bad after that…him and Miranda had been a thing for a while.  Fuck me, I thought over the fact Leo Sarducci might not live five more minutes from the look of him.

He didn’t look good.

At all.

I stood there, studying him, and…I realized I was exactly the wrong kind of mancer to help in this situation.  No steel or glass to break, no people to punch, not even an artifact to craft.  There used to be healing artifacts, but the Rejuvenation Society lobbied for them to be banned and the Guild acquiesced.  Cuz when cocksuckers and greedy twats get together, we all lose.  It’s like Alien vs Predator, except worse.

Leo Sarducci might die, my brain finally screamed, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  Ultra, Artificer, special as you are, don’t matter shit for saving his life.

Welf followed in my wake, eyes wide as he saw the same thing I did.  Necromancers were equally worthless at saving human life.  Although if he had a Construct I suppose it could have risked running Leo to the Infirmary.  And hey, if Leo died, Welf could bring him back for a little chat.
Cuz ya know…that ain’t morbid and freaky or nothing.

“Who found him?” I asked.

A faunamancer Tri raised her hand.  White girl, medium height, stocky build, curly auburn hair cut close to her scalp.  “I’m a Camping Club member,” she whispered, “we don’t just do camping…we take care of the livestock in the stables, ya know.  I had a shift, so…he was just lying there, like this.  All alone.”

Welf knelt down by Leo, who was conscious but in very obvious pain.  “Forget how it happened,” Welf got on with his usual patrician commands.  “That boy went to get Miss Strange?”

The faunamancer girl shook her head.  Her colors had her last name on them, just like all of ours.  Smart.  First name…racked my brain, never good for anyone who wasn’t at worst one year younger than me at the school or happened to be one of my History students.  Falcon Smart, I remembered  No judgment on if ‘Falcon’ is a stupid name—totally is—but she came from a prestigious family of faunamancers.  They all named their children after animals.  No one could have foresaw how that led to Bear-Does-Shit-In-The-Woods Smart or Doggystyle Smart, but…well, what can ya do?

Falcon Smart shook her head.  “He went to find the Lady.  We already sent another boy to get Miss Strange.”

Welf put a hand on Makayla’s shoulder.  “You’re a hydromancer, isn’t there anything you can do?”
“They don’t teach that until we’re graduates,” Makayla sobbed.  “He’s dying…his pulse is so weak and there’s blood and I think his back might be broken!”

Welf pointed at three of the remaining boys one after another.  “Run to the Hexs’ floor, call out for Sabine.  You run to the Pents’ floor, cal for Asa.  You run for to the Heps’ floor and call for Mary.  Tell them Leo is hurt and they need to come quick.”

After the three ran off I couldn’t help but comment, “You just sent a kid onto the Three Queen’s floor asking Mary O’Connell for help healing someone.”

Welf met my eyes.  My eyes ain’t pretty like his.  Welf has them tombstone gray eyes you hear about from romance heroes.  Me, I’m just dirt.  One step above mud…but it’s an important step.  “If she helps save him then I’ll forgive her everything she’s done to me and mine, Foul Mouth.”

“We’ll never see that kid again…the things that’ll happen to his poor pee-hole…”

“This isn’t a situation for your jokes!” Welf snapped at me.

I shrugged, glancing at Leo again.  Fuck, he shouldn’t even be alive.  We all knew it, but no one said anything.  Had to be a sixty foot drop.  Leo probably bounced when he hit the cement.

Welf went on to point at the last boy and the third girl.  “You go make the Singles return to their dorm.  You get the Bi’s.  Don’t yell, just be authoritative with them.  You are the elder, that means it is your responsibility to be in charge.”

There was some complaining, but the younger students quickly started filing away.  Up above us, the three boys neared the graduate floors, already yelling for Asa, Mary, and Sabine.  Don’t think I’ve ever seen Mary in the Infirmary, she’s not that kind of hydromancer, but Sabine and Asa are.  Squinting my eyes, I thought I could just see Miss Strange jogging out of the Admin building with a couple nurses in tow.

I reached down to grab Leo’s hand.  The one on the not-so-broken arm.  It was cold, cold enough it hurt to hold, but I clamped on and didn’t let go.  I knelt down beside him on the cement, leaning forward so he could see me without moving.  His blue eyes focused on me, seemed to recognize my face.  “Not what you want to see in the morning, I know,” I joked with him.

His lips pulled back, trying to form words or laugh or…just random electric nerves firing, I’m not sure.

“You just got to make it a couple more minutes,” I kept talking.  “Miss Strange is coming.  Ugly or not and all that ball kicking a long time ago or not, I’m here for you.  So are Makayla and Falcon.  Welf don’t like to admit having emotion, but I’m pretty sure even he feels something for you too.”

Leo seemed to notice Welf for the first time and he flinched when he did.  His hand grabbed tight to mine, trying to pull me towards him.  My fingers went numb as I leaned in, my brow furrowed over the reaction.  “What’s up, man?”

A wheeze escaped Leo as all four of us still with him tried to listen to what he was saying.
“Don’t talk, man,” I told him.  “It can wait.”

In Leo Sarducci’s eyes I saw resignation, but also fury.  Everything he had left managed to get words through his lips, “He…pushed…me.”

“Who?”

No more words, just that lone hand releasing mine to point right at Welf.

Falcon looked at Welf in horror, stepping away from him.  Before we could calm her, down she was off running toward Admin, right on by Miss Strange and her nurses.  Up above us, members of the graduate years ran out onto the stair and balcony railing to look down on the scene.  I saw Val with Miranda, Val in sweat-shorts and a geeky t-shirt with some sci-fi meme on it, while Miranda was wearing a nightie.  I was so shocked by the moment my brain didn’t even register the fact that it should complain about that many freckles in public.

“I lost his pulse!” Makayla yelled.  “He doesn’t have a pulse!”

Welf shook his head at Leo Sarducci’s dying body.  “What did he…I don’t…I was with Hope,” he muttered in confusion.  “You saw that, Foul Mouth!”

Miss Strange arrived with a blast of hydro-anima.

She brought him back from the dead.

For a few minutes.

Leo Sarducci never spoke again, his last words an accusation towards his murderer.

Up above us there was gasping and shrieks as everyone realized who had just died.

I watched as Miranda buried her face into Val’s shoulder, heaving with sobs.

Welf grabbed my shoulder.  “You saw I was with Hope!”

Heinrich von Welf had just been accused of murder and I was one of the key witnesses.

If it wasn’t Welf, then who was it?

My eyes drifted up again, finding the highest balcony.  They found the only three women in Class ’07.  I could just make out the smile on Catherine Hayes’ face.  Next to her, Mary and Teresa shook from head to toe, from excitement or fear they probably didn’t even know.

Catherine Hayes.

This wasn’t the revenge I expected from her and I had zero clues for how she could have managed it, but all them instincts inside me still running hot told me it was her.  I knew it, had to be.

Just had to prove it.

OMG, now you have to wait months to read the next chapter!!!  So, yes, I still need to write the last 5 chapters and do that edit thing.  Going to try to focus in on that the next couple months and not, like, everything else.  Hope you enjoyed this sneak peak/peek/poke.  You WILL be getting another sample chapter, from the mainline, but much closer to release.  As for release, still all estimates.  Nov seems possible, Dec seems 99.9% if I don't make Nov (assuming there are no natural disasters or the like in the next few months).  October would be a miracle, but...I suppose they do happen on occasion.