To say that Randy Morden had an effect on Fovea is an understatement. More than ten years after his arrival, the Fovean High Council is in a shambles, the supremacy of the Uman-Chi is a memory, and Eldador is an Empire, not a kingdom.

An Uman-Chi girl finds herself with a song to sing, a song which is a gift from the goddess Eveave. When she sings it, another call will come to Earth, a new call for two new champions, a young girl and an old man, for the world where magic is used like technology, and technology is just starting to appear.

Now War is about to rage across Fovea, and the greedy Eldadorian government is at the center of it. These two champions from Earth have a decision to make - one not so easy as they might think:

Which side are they on?

Travel with Bill and Melissa in the footsteps of the Conqueror and the shadow of the Wolf, and ask yourself: how do you fight the invincible warrior, especially considering that your failure is already foretold?

Indomitus Oriens takes a new look at the Fovean Chronicles, this time from the eyes of everyone but Randy. You'll see how Shela feels about her gift of the red dress, and being called The Bitch of Eldador, what Tartan Stowe thinks about being a Duke and not a King, and more. Like Indomitus Est, this book is the first of a pair, and concludes with Indomitus Sum

Chapter: Prologue

A girl woke up in a dirty bed, its gray sheets sticking to her skin. Red dots on her legs and arms showed where fleas had bitten her in her sleep. She'd matted down her black hair with her own sweat; the t-shirt she slept in stank of her own perspiration.

Hazy light filtered through a dirty window onto a carpet that stank of mold. She could see fleas hopping in it in the weak sunshine. The room had a dirty little bathroom attached, with a toilet bearing the stain of a lifetime of ‘near misses.’

What could anyone expect from a $25/night room?

She rose, the inside of her left leg sticky, her cheeks feeling chapped from the tears that had dried on them. Her stomach ached from hunger but she didn’t want to eat, didn’t want to speak, didn’t want to do anything but take a shower. She'd been denied that last night because the water wasn’t working. She prayed that it did now.

Last night, she had done it. Last night she had crossed the line. Last night, for a measly fifty dollars, she had bent over for a man in an alley and let him pull her panties down, and pretended to moan with pleasure when he entered her.

Afterwards he tried to tell her how good she made him feel, how pretty she was, how much he enjoyed it. Couldn’t he just shut up? Couldn’t he just pay the money and leave? Did he have to be nice to her? Did he have to try and make her feel a connection to him, and have to remind herself she was just a whore?

A whore. She was a whore now.

She entered the bathroom and she turned the knob in the shower. A noise like steel cockroaches running up and down the pipes greeted her. The shower head jumped, and jumped again, and did a little shimmy, then a trickle of water leaked out of it, then the trickle strengthened to a flow.

“Yes!” she said. Her own voice surprised her, loud in the dismal room, too bright for the morning, too young for the million and one years she felt she’d aged.

She shucked the t-shirt and stepped into the shower. The water felt tepid and smelled of sulfur. A bar of Ivory sat on a scummy shelf. She had to pick the wrapper off of it but at least she could rub it on her body.

She scrubbed her breasts, where his hands had been. She scrubbed her backside, where he had gripped her, and up and down the inside of her leg, where he made a mess taking the condom off.

The water wasn’t hot, but it burned her skin like fire, and she scrubbed herself red. She used the last of the soap on her underarms and then scrubbed her hair as hard as she could with her fingernails to get it clean.

She stepped into the stream and let the water envelope her. The rotten-egg smell made her gag, but it was better than the alternative – what had been left on her from the night before.

Sex had been love to her. Sex had been the special gift she gave to Mike--her commitment to him. Mike who held her, kissed her and took her for her very first time. She had kept his house, his company, and his bed. She had been everything but a wife to him, and that only because he hadn’t asked her.

The man last night had left her with a wink and an awkward smile, in an alley where the garbage smelt of rot and pee, holding fifty dollars in her hand and knowing this reflected her worth in the world.

Mike had left her less. Mike had just walked out with the rent money, lacking the courage even to say good-bye to her, to give her another chance, even to cry in front of him.

Mike had been the first steps on the path that brought her here.

When she couldn’t stand the sulfur smell anymore she stepped out and realized there were no towels. She didn’t want to, but she used the bed sheet, imagining the creepy-crawlies that hid in there and that had returned to her skin. She did her best not to think about it as she dressed back in the clothes she’d worn last night. She had a simple mini and a tube top; she tied her hair up in a ponytail with her one and only scrunchy. She looked in the mirror and felt thankful she had the kind of face that didn’t need makeup.

She’d never had much, but this was the first time she’d had nothing. She’d had a daddy, a sister, a mom. She’d lost them all. She’d had a college career, and A’s in biology and chemistry. She’d lost that, too. She had done worse than lose Mike—he had deserted her. Now she had given up her dignity, and couldn’t help wondering what more she had, and if she was destined to lose that, too.

She left the cheap hotel room and she went to a diner where she could eat. She wanted a real breakfast with waffles and bacon and a cup of coffee. She had taken up smoking for Mike, and she looked forward to a Marlboro, if she could get a pack.

She sat down at the counter, because she liked the stools. Her dad had taken her to breakfast at a place similar to this on Sundays, when they still went to church. She would sit on the stool at the counter, and she would hold her back straight and pretend she was an important woman who was just taking time out of her busy schedule for a quick bite. Her father, once he knew the game, would call her, “Ma’am”, and ask for her advice on stocks, or what she thought of the news, and she would give him her sage advice, woman of the world that she was.

Now she placed her order and paid up front, because she didn’t look like the kind of person who had $4.50.

She stared into the dark depths of her coffee, and wondered what had become of her life.

Lysette, her younger sister, had called the game stupid. Lysette would kick her feet to scuff her paten leathers, and complain the food was cold, the milk was warm and the air was smoky. When their mother had died, Lysette had found a new thing to hate about her world every day and acted on it.

“If that isn’t the saddest face on a pretty girl.”

She turned to her left and saw an old woman with silver hair, wrinkled skin, dressed in a yellow sundress and white shoes. She smelled of Sunflowers perfume.

“I guess it's a pretty bad morning,” she said.

“Lose your best fella?” the woman asked.

“Oh, he is long gone,” she said. “He is the reason I am up here, I guess.”

“Up from where?”

“Portland,” she said, pronouncing it Powat-land, as any Mainer would.

“Been here long?”

“Just a day.”

“And what are you going to do here in Augusta?”

The girl thought about that. She really didn’t know.

“Eat breakfast, I guess, ma’am,” she said. “Look for work, and a place to live.”

“Ya got no place to live, girl?” the woman seemed halfway between sympathy and making fun of her.

“No, ma’am,” she said. She looked back into her coffee. This was becoming very depressing.

“And you got no money, I gather,” she said.

She shook her head.

“Well, ya got a name?” the old lady asked. “You must have a name. You can’t be that bad off and not have a name for it.”

“Oh, leave her be, Eve,” the waitress said. She poured a little more coffee in the girl’s cup. “Your breakfast be out in justa minute, hun,” she said, and patted her hand.

Eve looked back to her own business, which seemed to be nursing her own cup of coffee.

“Melissa,” the girl said. She looked back to her right, to the old woman, and met her sea-green eyes, and said, “My name is Melissa, ma’am.”

And for the life of her, and despite her best efforts, she burst into tears and fell into Eve’s arms, because she'd done a bad thing, and she was a nice girl, and she shouldn’t be a whore.

“Oh, there, there,” Eve said, and rocked her, staring down onlookers over her shoulder. “You jes git it all out now. You’re in a room full of strangers, and don’t you nevermind what they think.

“It’s a big a world and sometimes a body jes needs to cry.”

The waitress dropped a plate with waffles and eggs in front of Melissa’s stool, and refreshed her coffee as Eve pushed her away.

“Now, you eat, girl, and you tell me about what ails you,” Eve prompted. “Sometimes when you air out dirty laundry, you put it away smelling fresh.

Melissa hesitated. There was something about Eve, so motherly to a girl who barely remembered her own. With some difficulty, she decided to start there.

“My mom died when I was ten,” she said. She looked down and took a sip of coffee. The waffles smelled of home as she preferred to remember it, earthy and good.

“She was really, like, hard on me,” she continued. “I used to hate it when she told me, ‘Put your knees together,’ ‘Sit up straight,’ and all that crap.”

“It’s a mother’s job to raise her daughter up proper,” Eve said.

Melissa cut a piece from her waffle. “Yeah, I s’pose,” she said. “Didn’t make me hate her less. I couldn’t do anything right for her. Then with no notice, she was gone. She went to the hospital and she never came back.”

“Accident?” Eve asked.

Melissa shook her head. “Cancer. Wasn’t caught in time. I didn’t know that then. All I knew is that my dad was drinking a pint of Jack a night and if you talked to him too long, he started crying.”

“Oh, dear,” Eve said.

“I took over,” she said. “I don’t think I knew it then. I knew that if I did chores, then it was like, you know, doing it for mom?”

Eve gave a sympathetic laugh. “When my mother died, I went and cleaned her headstone every Sunday for two years,” she admitted.

Melissa took a bite and chewed. She had never been to her mother’s headstone. Her dad never brought her.

“Lysette was the problem,” she said. “My younger sister. She says she doesn’t remember mom at all, but I think she does.”

“She in Portland?”

Melissa shook her head. “She’s in Warren,” she admitted.

Eve touched her hand and looked into her eyes. “Prison?”

Melissa nodded as she chewed. “Robbed a liquor store with her loser boyfriend. He turned her in when the cops caught him.”


She nodded. “She liked ‘em like that. Tattoos, a record, whatever pissed off daddy most. He’d yell at her and she’d just get worse. Then, when she got busted, he spent all of his money on her lawyer. Not that it mattered or helped. She did it.”

“That’s hard on a family,” Eve said.

“It was on me,” Melissa said. “He spent my college-fund, so I had to drop out. That’s when I met Mike and ended up in Portland.”

Melissa took another bite and shook her head. This was a bad idea. Why was she spilling her guts to this woman? She couldn’t help. She was an old biddy using her to kill time.

“He that fella’ you mentioned?”

She nodded. She got that hot feeling you get in the back of your throat when you wanted to cry but couldn’t let yourself.

“Took everything? Left you flat?”

Through sheer will she swallowed her mouthful. She put the knife and fork down, and laid her hands in her lap, on her napkin.

She felt the tears in her eyes, her vision becoming blurry. She looked back at Eve, who had drawn all this out of her.

“He—he—he,” she said, and sniffed. She took a moment, started again, looking down at her sneakers.

“He said he loved me,” she said. “I gave him everything—everything—and after a year together, I come home and there isn’t even a note. Like, thanks for the sex, slut! Next thing I know, the freaking landlord is telling me get out by tomorrow because the rent hasn’t been paid and we’re evicted. And there is Melly on her own, no money, no job, hitchhiking to Augusta to start again.”

“Your dad couldn’t help you?”

She shook her head.

Eve reached out and took Melissa by the chin, turned her face to look at her, and looked into her eyes.

“Where did you sleep last night, girl?” she asked.

“The Cityside,” she said.

“And how did you do that, if you didn’t have money?”

The waitress nearly dropped her pot of coffee, eavesdropping on that answer.

“Oh, now you know better than that,” Eve said.

“I know, ma’am,” she said. “I hate it. I should have just stayed up all night, or—”

“Oh, and you know better than that, too,” Eve scolded her. “If you could go undo the past, do you really think you would pick last night to change? I don’t think so, young lady.”

No, Melissa agreed. Last night was a symptom of the problem, with the sickness being the way she ran her life.

“You’re a very nice girl hoeing a very hard row, and you are here blaming all the rocks. Well I tell you, and I am a Mainer, so as I know, that it ain’t the soil’s fault for being stony, it is the girl with the hoe,” and she jabbed Melissa in the arm, “who don’t know no better than to pick another spot for her garden.”


“You’re in the wrong place, girl,” Eve said. “You are a good girl in a location where she can’t succeed, and all you’re doin’ is hoeing up rocks. You need to move your garden to a place where you can plant you some vegetables.”

The woman clearly didn’t know what ho’ meant to a young girl, especially to Melissa this morning, but she got the message. She finished her meal with a last gulp of her coffee, and she left a dollar on the bar. She stood and kissed Eve on the cheek.

“You’re a nice lady, Eve,” she said, looking into her eyes.

“So you ain’t gonna move your garden?” Eve said.

“I would if I had the money,” Melissa said. “I would move the heck away from here. If I can get a job today then maybe I can start saving so I can jump on another bus and get to another city.”

Eve poked Melissa right in the collarbone with a long, wrinkled finger. “Well, I hope you do,” she said. “When you git you going, you go someplace rural. I don’t mean start farming, but get the idea of big city life out of your head. Busses go to nice places, too.”

Melissa nodded. Someplace where people had a stake in her maybe. Not a big city, but a nice town. Some place in the south.

“I will, ma’am,” she said. “I promise.”

“So where you off to?” Eve asked her, as the waitress cleared her plate.

Melissa chuckled. “You won’t like this, but to get a pack of Marlboro’s,” she said. “Then to find a job.”

Eve smiled, fished into her purse, and pulled out a pack. It had two missing, and she handed it to Melissa.

“Why wouldn’t I like it,” she said. “That’s my brand, too. You keep the pack—mebbe it’ll bring you some luck.”

Her manners said refuse, but cigarettes were expensive. She gave the old lady a hug and a kiss, and she took the pack.

Outside, she opened it, and she noticed something in the wrapper—a green slip of paper.

She pulled it out and found four, one hundred dollar bills. Sometimes people put their change in their wrapper, but that wasn’t change.

She turned back to the diner. It didn’t even occur to her to take off with the money. Even if it was a gift, the woman had to be asked if she meant to give it.

Melissa just didn’t have it in her to steal, and old people lived on fixed incomes. This could be her rent money.

She went in and the place was packed. Her seat was taken, and Eve’s as well. She went to the counter waitress and she waved.

“Yeah?” the overworked counter waitress asked her.

“What happened to the old lady I was talking to?” she asked.


“The old lady—you know, the one—”

“Hun, I don’t know any old lady’s and I don’t have time to kid around. If you want something, order. If not, get out.”

She turned and left her standing with her mouth open.

* * *

In another reality, Adriam the All-Father held the perfect wife, Eveave, in his infinite arms.

“This one?” he asked her.

“She is perfect,” Eveave informed him.

“There is nothing in this one,” he argued.

Eveave’s lips remained in the grim line of balance. In glee she saw sadness, in hate she saw love. She knew the place between success and failure. Only in Adriam’s arms did she know peace.

“This one is more than we could imagine,” she informed him.

“The instrument of War is strong,” Adriam said, “as is Power’s. We have Life’s help, but the Almadain cannot fight the tide.”

“No one can fight the tide, husband,” Eveave said.

“The machinations of War already shake the face of Earth,” Adriam said. “Your instrument must stop the flood, hold back the tide.”

Eveave heard the love in the All-Father’s voice—love for his children, even the errant Power and War.

And it was War’s nature to destroy.

“My instrument fights for the balance,” Eveave told him. “The take and give. The balance is, my husband. Where the instrument of War devours, do not counter him with another who would take more.

“Whoever fights the tide will drown. Ride the tide, and then find the safety of the shore.”

“And this one can ride the tide?” Adriam asked her.

She considered. What to her was a moment was to her champion a year. Time is immaterial to a god.

“This one can keep her head up,” Eveave said, finally. “Sometimes she fights best who sees the balance, who raises not the sword but the heart of a man. My champion is my balance, my husband. My balance is.”

“Let the tide be the tide.”


Chapter: He Said, She Said

“Ma’am, can I have a moment of your time?”

“Sir, have you ever dreamed of making all of the money you can while working at home?”

“Are you happy with your current employment?”

“Can I interest you in a new life?”

“No,” the woman told him, with some additional instruction on what he could do with his telephone.

She clearly had no concept of anatomy.

At least the call ended at spot-on 10:45am. Break time. Man, he was dying for a cigarette!

Bill stood up from his cubicle and stretched. All around him on the telesales floor: gray and off-white cubbies, with black computers and black, ergonomic chairs that made your back feel like there were knives sticking out of it. He shuffled down the row of agents, conscientious about his belly touching anyone. Some of them rose with him, some stayed on their phones, he left for the blessed exit and fifteen minutes of time that were not spent here.

* * *

Glynn Escaroth liked to think of the royal throne room of Outpost IX as a lesson in the Uman-Chi themselves. In her 167 years of life, as the sole surviving member of the House Escaroth, whose family had protected the southern towers of Outpost IX for centuries, she had reflected on this many times. White marble covered walls and the floor, simple and unadorned, polished and without veins. Grooved marble columns rose white to the height of more than ten Men, simple rings at their bases, to an arched ceiling, plain in construction, white with no frescoes, no murals, no chandeliers. It glowed a white light that filled the place with a ghostly radiance, making the people and the things here seem unreal.

She stood in the Circle of Judgment before the dais; twenty ringed steps flush against the white wall, rising higher than a tall Man’s head, to a white marble throne, the seat of Angron Aurelias, her king.

The Circle, the only surface in the room that hadn’t been polished, a woman’s height in diameter, existed as a place for the penitent and the needy to stand. A bright red carpet ran like a rivulet of blood on a field of snow from its edge, covering more than two hundred paces from the polished oak double-doors bound with burnished brass that always stood open at the throne room’s entrance.

Normally the solid oak gallery behind her to her right would have held hundreds of courtiers sitting for court. Thirty-two paces long, it remained draped in the banners of the great houses, the Proud Falcon of the Escaroths among them

An Uman-Chi with 167 year of age could barely be considered an adolescent among her people. She felt like a child now, playing dress-up in the white robes of a Caster, a part of her feeling foolish to speak before so many, another seeing what it meant to be grand, to be truly the noblest of all people.

To be Uman-Chi meant to be unadorned; to have one’s grace and elegance be so simply stated as to be beyond question. It meant more to maintain it clean than to decorate it.

The Cheyak had built this place millennia before, and when the Cheyak had passed, it had come to the Uman-Chi to be the first among all Foveans; above Men, above Uman, above Dwarves and Slee and Swamp Devils. Uman-Chi lives spanned centuries. Uman-Chi lived supreme.

Supreme among the supreme ruled Angron Aurelias, King of Trenbon. Great, wise eyes, long white hair brushed fine over his shoulders, dressed in the white robes of a Caster with the Royal Eagle upon his breast, he steepled his long, thin fingers before him, sitting on his throne, and took on the look of a predator. Even his bushy white eyebrows seemed to bristle at her temerity.

In the Circle of Judgment, a person may beg the King’s favor. Most begged for wealth and power, some begged for advice, and many for direction.

Glynn Escaroth begged to sing.

* * *

Like a wave of pleasure washing over him, Bill exhaled two lungs full of smoke from his Lucky Strikes.

There had been a time when you could walk into any break room and just inhale to cash in on a good nicotine buzz. That era had passed. First the smokers had been given a few rooms, then fewer rooms, then a place outside by the door, then a smaller place, away from the door.

Now you went wherever you could get away from people. He leaned against the brick wall, the sun beating down on him, the sweat already running down his heavy jowls into the hair of his beard. Sweat soaked his temples, made a line down the back of his t-shirt, wet against his skin. He tilted his head back and pulled another sweet drag from the cigarette.

“Bum a butt?”

Bill looked to his left where one of the girls on his aisle stood, looking at him. He immediately classified her as one of the three types of telesales agents he’d become familiar with: young hotties who don’t want real jobs but who do have debts to pay.

“Yeah, here,” he said, pulling the pack from his shirt pocket. He deftly pushed a stick out from the pack in her direction.

She wrinkled her pert nose at him, its dusting of freckles peeking out from her make-up. Her pink top, made from the stretchy material that young girls liked, accentuated her tiny waist and over-large bosom. Her long, dark brown hair tumbled past her shoulders and framed her big, brown eyes. Legs like a fashion model were barely concealed by a short turquoise skirt.

The type of girl who did not waste her time talking to him.

“Ewww—Lucky’s?” she complained.

“What I smoke,” he said.

She looked him up and down. “No chance you’ll switch to Marlboros?” she asked, and gave the eyes a bat.

That probably worked on the second type of telesales agents: the young guy whose real job doesn’t pay too well, and who need to make a car or rent payment fast. That guy would be skipping off to the cigarette machine in a lick to get her what she wanted, in hopes of getting her to go out with him.

“Nope,” he said, and shook the pack. “Still want?”

“Sure,” she reconciled herself. They were the only two out there. She picked the cig out from the pack with long, multi-colored nails. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” he said, and popped her a light from his Zippo. She leaned forward and sucked it lit.

Just amazing how hot the girls looked here. Not that it really mattered to him. He classified himself as the third type of telesales agent: old people no one else would hire.

At fifty years of age and, coincidentally, overweight by fifty pounds, he found himself doing a job anyone could do. He had a full head of gray and brown hair, and a scruffy gray and black beard.

When he had been young he would have gone for the hottie, and he wouldn’t have had to fetch her cigarettes to get her. Back in his twenties, it had been a brave new world and he had been on top of it.

He checked his watch. Ten minutes left. He took another pull.

“Been here long?” she asked him.

That surprised him. Normally a girl like this would get what she wanted and go somewhere else

“A year,” he said. “Been in sales more than twenty, though.”

“Wow,” she said. “That’s a really long time. Did they do telemarketing back then?”

Oh, man! “Yes, but I sold switches.”

“Like, light switches?”

Another drag. “Phone switches. Calls coming in and out.”

That had been so sweet for so long. Every big company had to have them. They were all unique, making it easy to say, “Mine handles more trunks and more lines,” and get a giant commission.

Years and years of sales and specialization, knowing his product, knowing his clients, and then the damn phone companies had surprised the world with the exact same features at a fraction of the price. Switches all became computerized and the industry had left him behind.

He had paid to put his kids through college, but they were done with college now and had their own lives with their own kids, in other parts of the country. He had been divorced for a decade and never bought a house, because he didn’t want to have to cut his own lawn.

She nodded. He had almost forgotten her standing there. “Don’t they have that here?” she asked.

“Not the same,” he said. “They’re computers now. Totally different sales.”

“So why not sell those?”

Another drag. She took one, too. “Totally different,” he repeated. “I don’t know anything about computers.”

She nodded, then giggled. “Me, neither,” she said. “You do okay here?”

“It pays my bills. Can’t beat the hours.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, and took a drag. “One of my girls works here and got me in. She got a hundred bucks for signing me up.”

“Had a payment to make?” he asked.

She nodded. “Car needs work.”

“Hate that,” he said. “Been taking a bike here lately. Trying to drop weight.”

She giggled again. He wished she would get to whatever she wanted, because he had a hard time not looking down her blouse.

“I’m Melissa,” she said, and stuck out her hand. “Pleased ta meetcha.”

“Bill,” he said. “Bill Howard.”

Her hand felt soft as silk. He held it maybe a second too long, but he couldn’t help himself. She managed to stroke his thumb as she pulled her hand away.

“So, what do you do for fun, Bill?”

* * *

The song had come to Glynn in a dream six months before and burned itself into her memory. It had taken every fiber of her concentration and training not to burst out with it, every moment of the day, since then.

Had she been a normal Uman-Chi, if there were such a thing, she would have been unable, however Glynn had received Caster training from Chaheff Tamulin. Through her mind’s focus and discipline she could command the control necessary to suppress the imperative, to hold back the tide, the power. With Chaheff to guide her, she had come before the King that first morning and begged to sing it.

His advisor, Avek Noir, also a Caster, had suggested they try to write it down. The letters scorched the parchment when they tried. Clearly this song came from Power, or Adriam, or one of the gods who imbued their minions with magic. This made the decision more serious.

Had Chaheff Tamulin himself been the recipient of the song, then there would be no question. House Tamulin were merchants, and Chaheff looked it, standing there in the throne room behind her, the fattest of all of the Uman-Chi. But Chaheff, a gifted Caster, had discovered The Ultimate Truth of Things before his two hundredth year. He could handle any ramifications of any song he voiced. Glynn Escaroth had come to that same truth at the impossibly young age of ninety-five. While her friends had been learning etiquette and discourse, she had been diverted to spell casting and donned the White Robe.

If she couldn’t maintain control of the song then there could be no guarantee she wouldn’t loose all the power of the spell on those around her. In Uman-Chi terms, less than seventy years was to have barely begun training.

Angron had decreed then that Glynn would not sing. That had been six months before this day. Now she returned, the song still burning in her mind.

“If the song will not depart your mind,” Angron said, “then clearly you must sing. The question is where.”

“I still advise against the casting,” Avek Noir said. Glynn detested the Noirs, who had bought their way back into the King’s favor after the sack of Outpost IX. “But I defer to the throne, and then advise a fast ship, a trip into Tren Bay, and there singing.”

The King nodded. Glynn grudgingly agreed, much as she dreaded the water. She lowered her head in obeisance, her long green hair falling before her face. Eldadorian ‘Sea Wolves’ sailed in defiance of the Trenboni ‘Tech Ship’ on Tren Bay. Armed with ‘Eldadorian Fire,’ they’d become the scourge of the sea and a tremendous threat to all other ships.

“I disagree,” D’gattis the Far Traveled said from the gallery. Also in the white robes of a Caster, his were adorned with a yellow mark down the front, something resembling a hook and a dot. D’gattis came from a family which had never produced anything but gifted Casters, himself no exception. As a member of the mercenary army, the ‘Daff Kanaar,’ D’gattis as an Uman-Chi was out of favor, Glynn knew.

D’gattis as a Caster was indomitable. Chaheff himself deferred to him. Angron summoned him here to advise because no one else had his knowledge.

“This is the place of power. This is where Uman-Chi and Cheyak wards protect us, not the Bay. If it is the will of the All-Father that we should be spared, then we will be spared, and if not then there is nothing we can do to prevent that.

“Pretending we can circumvent His will is as ill-advised as was not letting her sing six months ago.”

“You speak plainly,” Angron commented. “You amaze me, D’gattis, for your association with the Conqueror.”

D’gattis inclined his head and spread his hands, palms up. “Your Majesty, if I am frank, then I am frank in deference to your time and your importance,” he said. “The Emperor does not dictate to me. He is a Man, and his entire life is a blink of an eye.”

“Perhaps he is the sliver in an Uman-Chi eye,” Chaheff said. “Because this blink has pained us.”

“I must agree with D’gattis,” Aniquen Demoran said. Glynn controlled the smile that begged to cross her lips, her head still down. Aniquen was young and handsome, his house a high one, and he merely five decades her senior.

More importantly, Aniquen had personally crossed swords with the hated Conqueror and been beaten, but survived.

Glynn’s mirth left her for melancholy. Her brother and her father had not been so lucky.

“Remain here,” Aniquen said. “Remember we that this is Adriam’s month. There is no pleasure in being on Tren Bay now.”

Angron actually smiled, an honor to them all. “It has been so long since I have been outside of the palace, that I forgot Adriam’s month was cold. Yes, let it be here, then.”

“Then allow me to summon the Casters, as many as we have,” Avek said. Glynn looked up to see Noir’s protective hand laid atop the royal throne. “If there must be a containment, let us be ready.”

“One hundred or more Uman-Chi, each acting on behalf of his Majesty?” D’gattis asked the rest. “I think we would be safer if the Conqueror returned.”

Angron held his mirth that time. The rest stayed quiet as well. Glynn looked from one set of eyes to the next, un-fooled by the silver-on-silver appearance. Uman-Chi saw eyes of green and blue and lovely violet, in a frequency other eyes could not see. Another sign that Uman-Chi were superior.

All of them shifted between D’gattis and Angron, to see if the bold one had lost more favor with the elder.

“You are right, and forthright, D’gattis,” the King said. He turned to Noir. “You are my heir, bring me four more.”

Then he turned to Chaheff, and said, “You are her mentor, prepare her for containment, if it is needed. If she must give herself to her song, see that she knows how.”

A lesser being would have shown her surprise. Glynn had the discipline of a Caster and a century in protocol training. Her first duty remained to her people. The Uman-Chi lived long and died rarely.

Rarely, and not lightly.

* * *

“For fun?” Bill repeated. “You mean, besides all of this?”

Melissa smiled. “Yeah.”

What the hell did she even care for? Bill wondered. This reeked of scam and agenda.

“Not a lot,” Bill said. “I’m not married; my kids don’t live in-state. First thing you learn in sales is that you don’t make the kind of friends you keep when you change jobs. It’s no different from here. How many people have you made friends with here?”

“Other than you?” she said. “None.”

Bill took another drag, held it, then exhaled. He hadn’t missed the ‘other than you.’ “So other than the thrill of the kill here,” he said. “Movies, football in season, I guess.”

“I’m surprised,” Melissa said. “I thought you would be hitting the clubs, some nice ride…”

“Yeah, right,” Bill said. She might be looking for a sugar daddy or just making fun of him. Either way, he wasn’t playing.

“Serious,” she said.

He checked his watch. Two minutes left. Screw it. He flicked the butt and smiled. “Back to the salt mines,” he said. “Good talking to you.”

“Thanks for the cig,” she said. “Think about those Marlboros.”

Bill smiled. “You did okay with the Lucky’s.”

He was in the door as she smiled up at him.

* * *

The rest of the morning was like the start of the morning. Provocative questions to incite interest, interest means you have an opening, push the opening to get them a package out, get a committal statement to say that (a) they would read the package and (b) they would talk to you again when you called back.

You could be a robot. In fact, it surprised Bill that he hadn’t already been replaced by one. The sorry part was he was capable of so much more. Bill knew he had a good resume as a sales person, but everyone thought a good sales person in his fifties was a manager by then. A good sales person in his fifties didn’t have to sell any more, no matter how much he loved it, because he was that good.

Not Bill. It left him feeling depressed. When he tried to be unique and up his sales, he either ended up getting reamed by a boss or just embarrassing himself. Like they told him, “The program works. It works best if you just don’t think about it.”

Lunch rolled around from 12:00pm to either 12:30pm or, if you made your numbers, 1:00pm. He had made his numbers, so he logged out of his terminal and stood, planning to grab a sandwich and then listen to Rush Limbaugh for his first hour.

“Bill, can I see you?”

He turned and saw Eileen, the floor sup for his division. “It’ll just take a minute.”

He shrugged and followed her to her ‘office,’ a slightly larger cubicle at the end of Bill’s row. She was a slight girl with small tits, kinky blonde hair and dancer’s body, in tight black jeans and top.

She sat, he sat.

“Do you know Melissa?” she asked.

Bill’s first thought was that he’d said or done something no longer considered ‘PC,’ and she’d taken offense at him.

“I know one who bummed a cig from me at break,” he said.

“She’s having a hard time selling,” Eileen said. “And I was talking to her about it. I offered to set her up with someone to show her, and she asked for you.”

Bill shook his head. “Eileen, I’m not a trainer.”

“I know, but you could be,” Eileen said. “You’re really good—you always make your numbers. You aren’t some young guy who is going to be looking down their blouses, and you aren’t some young girl where they will be looking down yours.”

Bill chuckled. This was as nice as he had seen Eileen. Usually she just bitched about how, when she was on the floor, she never had a hard time making her numbers.

“More work, less pay,” Bill said. “And the first time one of them doesn’t make their numbers, they’re going to say I harassed them.”

Eileen gave him her best solemn eyed look. She had really missed her calling selling used cars. “We lock your pay in at your average week for the last year,” she said, “so you can never make less than you are, but you get another hundred a week and if you beat your average, then you just make more. No downside.”

Bill did an impressed frown. That wasn’t bad, actually, and the extra money would really help him. “And the other thing?”

Eileen leaned back. “Bill,” she said, and reached out and touched the back of his hand, “even I have had to deal with it. Everyone knows it’s crap. I won’t lie—if you’re ever seen with one of these kids outside of here, they are going to be able to get you fired, so don’t party with them and you’ll be fine.”

Bill sighed. “Well, it isn’t like I am hitting the discotheques.”

She just laughed. “Actually, any place with a mirror ball, and you’re safe.”

“So when do I start?”

“You start now,” Eileen said. “Take her to lunch; keep the receipt and the company pays for it. You get one lunch per trainee. Find out what her problem is and then haul her ass back here and let her watch you sell. Tomorrow you watch her sell. If she can do it, let her know and, if she can’t, let me know.”

Bill nodded. He stood, turned, and there stood Melissa waiting for him with big, watery doe eyes. Why she wanted some old fart baffled him—maybe he looked just like her dad or something.

But she had just made him five thousand dollars more per year, and for that she could count on a hell of a training.

* * *

Chaheff knelt before the altar of Adriam, the All-Father, first among the gods. Glynn knelt down beside him, before the goddess Eveave, the Taker and the Giver. Eveave taught the balance, and Glynn would need balance to survive the singing.

That is what Chaheff had told her, anyway.

They chose a simple room for their devotions, small with rough-cut stone walls and bare floors. They knelt before a simple altar of hand-carved wood, a statue of the austere Adriam upon it, and a similar one beside it for the goddess.

“Perhaps we should have Power here,” Chaheff said.

Adriam, the All-Father, had come first among the gods. His first creation had been Eveave, the Taker and the Giver, his perfect match. He had educated her in every aspect of his divinity, and coupled with her.

The gods Earth and Water had sprung unexpected from Eveave’s womb, and later Power and Desire. These four had lesser aspects of Adriam’s might, and Adriam and Eveave had sought to teach them but failed. For all of their might, they were not wise like the All-Father or even-handed like the Taker and the Giver.

Power became a dark god who would work against the others when it suited him. “Why would we want to taint this place—?” she began.

“No god taints a place,” Chaheff interrupted her. “Power exists as does every other god, and has his followers and his motives, just like any other god.”

“Not like Chaos, Destruction and War,” Glynn challenged him. The primary sin was laying on daughter by son, and Power and Desire, Earth and Water each had done this. Chaos, Destruction and War were the sons of Power and Desire, and in the history of all things, they had done nothing but cause heartache and woe.

Chaheff grinned. Glynn knew he tolerated her for her youth and temerity. Since the death of her father, he had tried in small ways to advise her, in ways beyond his requirements as a mentor.

“True,” he said, “Chaos and War, as the scriptures tell us, brought about the end of the One Place, where the gods lived. And we know War encouraged the people of Fovea to nearly annihilate each other before the Uman-Chi created the Fovean High Council.

“But even his presence does not defile,” he wagged a finger at his student. “People will defile themselves ultimately, and you know the Rule of the Gods.”

Glynn nodded. When the One Place had been destroyed by Chaos, the goddess Water had been struck dumb. Earth, who loved her, had taken her to a burning remnant of the One Place to warm her, and bonded with her to sustain her, and to rock her from side to side.

Water had birthed Life in his embrace, and Life had spread all manner of living things upon Earth’s divine body.

Eveave had stepped in by creating the ‘Rule of the Gods,’ which protected Life’s children from the direct influence of the Gods.

However the gods found indirect ways…

They prayed together. Glynn ignored the hard stone that made her knees throb, the stiff posture that made her back ache. She ignored the dryness in her throat from taking no drink, and she prayed even until her voice cracked.

She knew the pain served its purpose. The discipline of enduring it, the suffering, brought one through to the other side and, there, to enlightenment.

After hours and hours, knowing the sun had not only set but had risen, Chaheff spoke the final prayer and they were done.

She stood smoothly and with decorum, the only hint of her discomfiture the smudge on her white robes around the knee.

Uman servants appeared as if from the stone walls with food and drink. Glynn took a goblet full of red wine and waited for her mentor to drink. When he did, then she sipped, the tart liquid soothing her raw throat.

She didn’t thank the Uman. It wasn’t their place to be thanked. They would serve, she would cast, that is what they did. You didn’t thank the Caste of Warriors for killing, the Caste of Merchants for selling, or the Caste of Artisans for making these goblets every time you used them.

It was simple in its grace, and all parties understood it.

“Sore?” kindly old Chaheff asked her.

She bowed her head and smiled. “I persevere,” she said. “It is a matter of the mind and what it will hear from the body.”

“We are about to let you sing a song, Glynn.” Chaheff’s kindly brown eyes focused on Glynn’s violet ones. “You were chosen to be a Caster, because you came to your father on your own, and like me with mine, you told him, ‘The most powerful thing in the world is not a knife, or a sword, or a spell, or a god, but a thought.’”

“A song is a thought you sing out, in a way to get others to believe in it. Lose control of your thoughts, and you will unleash the most powerful thing there is, and be at its mercy.”

“I can sing it out, my Lord teacher,” Glynn promised him. She searched his eyes, silver on silver to anyone else and lovely violet to her. Even now, exhausted from the prayer, the song remained burning in her mind.

“I have no doubt you can,” Chaheff squeezed her shoulder. “But what will you do with the thought?”


Chapter: The Evolution of Woman and Man

Lunch on the company dime was at a sit-down restaurant—specialty burgers, curly fries and double-large sodas served in glasses, not paper cups.

They sat together on the outdoor porch, where they could smoke. Melissa had her Marlboros from her car.

“Stupid no smoking laws,” Bill complained. “Like we aren’t Americans.”

“Tell me about it,” Melissa said. She took a long, satisfying drag. Bill had learned she was twenty-four, dropped out of college, followed some band around for two years, ended up here for lack of a better place and lived with two roommates.

“This your only gig?” Bill asked.

She took another drag and exhaled it. “It is for now,” she said. “I tried working in an office but I don’t have the clothes.”

“They can be pretty strict,” Bill said.

“Yeah, they can,” she said, accentuating the ‘yeah.’ “Like, show one bit of cleavage and it’s, ‘Adios, slut.’ So I said, ‘Screw that,’ and came here.”

“Never sold before?”

“Girl Scouts. Can you believe it? Me in one of those uniforms? My sister said I was a total geek and she wouldn’t join.”

“I don’t know,” Bill said. “I really love the cookies.”

“Oh, I could kill for the cookies,” Melissa said. She sat back in her chair and blew a puff of smoke in the air. “You know the thin mint ones? I think I went up a pants size on those things.”

Bill prevented himself from looking at her middle. He still wasn’t comfortable with the rules in the office; better to stay quiet.

“But you’re not from here,” he pressed. That was as personal as he dared get.

She took a drag and shook her head. “Nah,” she said. “Main—ah, born and raised. I thought I would take a break from the northeast, from city life. I like it down here. It’s nice. You know your neighbors; people come over to your house and say, ‘Hi.’”

Bill grinned. He had no idea who lived next door to him at the apartment.

“So what’s happening with sales for you?” Bill asked, as their meal arrived. “Are you following the steps?”

She nodded, reaching for her burger. She had a healthy appetite for a girl. Women Bill knew were either fat or sweating every calorie.

“It’s like, I follow the steps, yanno,” she said, “but then they ask some stupid question, like, ‘How much money will I make in my first year?’ and I am like, ‘I don’t know—a lot.’”

Bill choked on a mouthful of beef. He almost felt like he was shooting pieces out his nose. He chewed and swallowed, feeling like a horse at a trough, and finally said, “You said that?”

“Well, the stupid card didn’t tell me what to say.”

She was referring to their script cue cards. You had a pack of laminated cards with numbers on them, and you could shuffle through them by number, so that if you were on card seven, and a client answered a question one way, then you went to card ten or, another way, card fourteen.

Newbies always got the cards mixed up, or read them and didn’t listen.

“I can show you a trick to that,” Bill said. “I used to have the same problem with that question.”

“Really?” she asked. The expression on her face seemed so grateful, as if she had asked him to cure her father’s cancer, and he’d just said he could. “That is nice. Thanks, Bill.”

She smiled a giant smile, putting him right on his guard.

“Yeah, not a problem,” Bill said.

They ate quietly for a while.

“So no kids, no woman, no fun—what’s up with you, Bill?” she asked, taking a bite of her French fry. “You gotta have something going in your life.”

“I do?” he asked. This had become way too personal, and he didn’t like it. “Why is that?”

She shrugged. “I dunno,” she said. “Cuz otherwise you live your life between commercials? What did you do at my age?”

“At your age?” Bill said. “I was at Woodstock, or telling everyone who would listen how great being at Woodstock was.”

“Really?” she said. “You were there? That is so cool. Was it really all, like, drugs and sex and cool music?”

Bill laughed. “Maybe in some peoples’ minds. It was mostly bad weather, too many people with too few facilities, and a bunch of people thinking they were going to save us. The music was good, though. That was the last time I saw ‘The Who’ live.”


The Who,” Bill said. “Before your time.”

“Guess so,” she agreed. “Did you want to be a rock star?”

Bill laughed. “When I sing, wild dogs show up trying to mate. No, it made me want to hate the government and protest the war.”

She nodded sagely. “Korea.”

“Vietnam,” he corrected her, angrily. “Cripes, what do they teach you kids in school?”

“Not a lot,” she said. “Which is how I landed this great job. So, you can show me how to sell?”

“Yeah,” Bill said.

“And can you tell me something else?” she asked.

She looked right into his eyes, and Bill thought, Here it comes, oh, boy. This is her whole angle.

“What?” he asked.

She looked down, and looked up, and said, “What is it we’re selling? Because I have been selling it for three days now, and I have, like, no friggin’ idea.”

* * *

Glynn knelt alone at her personal altar, dedicated to Adriam.

Most Uman-Chi worshipped Adriam. Some preferred Eveave, and most of them were women. Glynn felt as if the god-mother forced justice on those who didn’t need it. Most Casters were men, Uman-Chi men worshipped Adriam, and so did she.

“Oh, Adriam, who is great and wise,” she intoned. “Clear my mind, my burdens and past. Give me the moment, that I might serve thee in it.”

She spoke the litany, and imagined herself alongside a stream. Her mind became a pitcher, and she emptied it into the clear water. The thoughts became fish that swam away.

Out poured the worry that she was not up to her challenge. Out poured the male Casters who judged her. Out poured the thorny beast of a fish that was her hatred for the Conqueror. Out poured her longing for her father and her brother.

And in her stream, a great, white fish with jagged teeth and long, whale-like flippers devoured all the others, and looked up into her vessel, hungry for more.

And that was not good. If she could not clear the stream, then she could not have the moment. If she could not have the moment, then she could not cast.

In her mind’s eye, she knelt by the stream, she lowered her top, and she leaned forward. Her breasts dragged the water, its cold embrace bringing rise to her nipples, and she nourished the white fish.

It looked hungrily to the pitcher and, seeing nothing, addressed her breast. She felt the pull within her as the beastly thing suckled, the pain of its teeth on her soft flesh.

Being an enchantress, a woman who cast spells, made Glynn rare in and of itself. She had come to the Ultimate Truth at the unprecedented age of 90. With precious few women to learn from, Glynn’s methods were, by necessity, mostly her own.

To create, she’d realized, a man gives from himself.

To create, a woman gives of herself.

She bore the pain. She nourished the fish and, when it had its fill of her, it swam away without a backward glance. Her stream ran clear, sweet and free, and her mind reflected it.

Her non-corporeal energy floated out from her body, in her imaginary world and in her real one. She looked down upon her two selves, pristine in the dream and real in her little chapel, alongside her rooms in the royal palace.

She saw the little imperfection in the skin beneath her shoulder. She touched it, and connected her lifeline back to herself. She reached out with her power, into the cold air of a day in the month of Adriam, and wrapped the city in her ethereal self.

She would do this every day, many times a day, exhausting herself and, at the same time, defining her strength. Each day saw her a little stronger, a little better, a little more able to disperse herself.

When the time came, she would sing. If she lost the song, if she lost the thought, she would use this newfound power to dispense the energy she released. Giving of herself, she would save her people and her city.

Transitioning herself from caster to conduit, Glynn Escaroth of the Family Escaroth prepared herself for singing.

* * *

Melissa sat at her cubicle, squeezed in front of her work station. Her headset made her ear sweat, her top made her boobs sweat and Bill’s hamburger-breath settled in her nose. She scrunched in between him and her desk, in a space too small for more than one. Bill’s big ol’ belly took up a lot of room—most of which she needed.

She felt frustrated. She did a job that seemed stupid to her, getting people to work from home selling ‘products,’ to other people who worked from home. Personally, she saw it as a sucker’s bet, but people sure sold it and people sure bought it, and if they could do it, why couldn’t she?


Someone picking up the phone startled her back to reality.

“Hello, Sir,” she said. The Teleminer program on her screen told her this was Edward Befram of Hershey, PA, that he was 35-50, and that he owned his own home. “Is this Edward?”

She girlied up her voice like Bill had shown her. She called him Edward, not Mr. Befram, so he would warm to her. What man didn’t like a call from a girl?


She picked up the caution in his voice—already on to her. Bill raised his eyebrows, prompting her to move forward.

“I called because I heard you were looking for a change in your life?” she asked, making her ‘provocative statement.’ She had made that up on the spot. Bill grinned a wide, wolfish grin. She felt some of the anxiety drain out of her—she was doing ok.

“You heard that, huh?”

“Oh, yes,” she said. Now she caught herself warming to this person, too. “I called because we don’t have a rep in Pennsylvania, and if you’re looking for a change, we’re looking for a rep.”

Bill nodded. The man seemed interested. She flashed through her cards, giving him little bits of information, making him ask for more. In five minutes he had asked her how he could get more information on this, and she set up the program to send him a mail packet while updating his contact. He wanted her to call him—this was a good lead.

She clicked off after her prospect did, and looked at Bill, feeling six feet tall and super-charged.

“See how easy?” he asked her.

She couldn’t help herself—she hugged him. She felt his body go rigid like iron, but it didn’t bother her. She pressed her cheek to his beard and her breast to his chest, and gave him a squeeze.

“Well, um, uh, good job,” he said, when she let him go.

She adored the shyness, the gentle chivalry. A boy her age would have had his hand on her ass or worse—not Bill. He turned his body a little away from hers, not wanting for her to know she had excited him. Of course, she wouldn’t have noticed otherwise—she wasn’t a perv or anything. Now she warmed to him even more.

“Again?” she asked him.

His eyes widened. He thought she was going to hug him again. She found it so funny—he was so cute. Not Brad Pitt cute, but teddy bear cute.

Her teddy bear, at least so far as training went.

* * *

Glynn had always seen dinner at the Uman-Chi high court as a tedious but necessary part of her nobility. Sometimes she longed for the tables of Men and Uman, who fed at the board like pigs at a trough, cramming their faces and belching, then leaving every bit as quickly as they could.

Several hundred nobles attended, dressed in the white of Casters, the blue of Merchants, the red of Warriors and the green of Artisans. Protocols over half a millennium old dictated where they sat, each space defined by their favor in proximity to the King, who entered last, ate first, finished last and left first.

House Escaroth sat sixty-five seats to the right hand, a respectable accomplishment but not spectacular for a High House. The favor of the Escaroths came into question with the death of her father and her brother ten short years before. Her father had sat seven to the left—left-handed not being optimum but seven seats being very respectable.

House Escaroth boasted no males by birth now. This doomed the house unless a member of a high house changed his name.

Today she entered the banquet hall to see the entirely unacceptable Earl Vendan Yelf of the Inner City standing by the Escaroths’ traditional chair. This man’s house had been responsible for the area around the stadium for the Fovean High Council during the Conqueror’s sack of Outpost IX—his earldom had become a shameless failure.

Even if she must be replaced, to be replaced by that!

But one place remained open, on the right, four seats away from the head of the table.

No! Impossible! Four seats?

She walked by the place setting, twirled elegantly, and took a glance at the symbol for the house assigned here.

The Proud Falcon, in the colors of the female. This place had been reserved for her.

Such honor stunned her speechless, even if her face described none of it to her own Uman-Chi people. A Caster remains in control, she reminded herself, even when bone weary.

She took her place behind the seat. The other nobles chatted and danced, taking mincing steps and buzzing about her, her song, her preparations, her house. They floated before her eyes like a dream! Adriam had not simply smiled, he had positively beamed at her.

She spoke to none of them, but held her elegance simple, her chin and her dignity high. To her left at seat five was comfortable Chaheff, her mentor, ignoring her as he swelled with pride at her accomplishment.

Without flourish or preamble, in the nature of her people, his majesty Angron Aurelias entered with the royal train.

His heir, Avek Noir, followed on the right behind him. He would sit one seat to the right. Next came the former heir, Ancenon Aurelias, who would sit one seat to the left. Both wore the white robes of Casters, however like D’gattis, Ancenon’s robe bore a strange hook symbol and a dot, his in purple.

The mark of the Daff Kanaar—mercenaries currently turning Fovea into a war zone.

Other members entered in the train, but they were lost on her. Angron wore the ceremonial Black Cloak of Change, reserved for funerals, weddings and those who changed house, but no one had died or would be marrying.

However Ancenon wore the Proud Falcon on the golden circlet that held back his hair, in the colors of the male.

The next hour passed as a blur. Servants piled food high before them; they picked their favorite portions from their favorite plates. Glynn was voracious; she had extemporized her being several times, and on the last effort Chaheff had spontaneously attacked her, forcing her to throw out his energy into the Bay, making the water boil and the fish die in Adriam.

“She is of a healthy appetite,” Angron commented, having waited politely for her to swallow, that she could easily respond.

“She fills the air with her power,” Ancenon commented before she could, the proximity of his chair making this his prerogative.

Now any other could answer, but did not, and so she did.

“I am honored,” she began, in perfect etiquette, “and am graced,” she added, in response to Ancenon, “and remark that the food is excellent. I have found the training exhilarating and uplifting under Chaheff’s tutelage.”

Angron nodded, and acknowledged her perfect manners.

Angron spoke no more to her during dinner, but from that point on she must consider Ancenon her brother, an Escaroth, and her house saved. Its prestige rose, her prestige rose, her whole life changed with the color of a cloak. Ancenon would address her at a time he deemed appropriate, probably after the meal.

She would sing and, in so doing, she might die. Ancenon’s conversion ensured House Escaroth would live on. This told her much about his opinion of her chances and of her abilities.

A lot to digest with dinner.

* * *

The girls in the ladies room were giggling—well, like girls. Probably why Melissa hated that expression. However, they got quiet when she came in.

That meant she had to do mirror time before she peed. She did the obligatory primp and refresh to her own image, and then reached for a lipstick when she saw she was fading.

“So how’s the archeology going?” one of the girls, Amanda, asked her.

Melissa threw her a dark look. “Digging the fossil, you mean? Grow up.”

“I dunno, Melly,” Trina, one of her girls, said. Trina was a leggy Spanish girl who always had ponytail hair. They shared rent, but she could still be mean if she wanted. “Spending a lot of time with that guy.”

“Yep, sure am,” she said. She put down the lipstick and checked her lips. They were good. She turned back to the three girls.

“He’s nice,” she said, lowering her chin in challenge. “He helps people here, which is pretty cool of him.”

“Well, yeah, seeing as he gets paid for it,” Amanda said.

The third girl, ‘lexis, chimed in, “Doesn’t explain you chasing him out to the smokers’ lot.”

“I’m sorry, ‘lexis,” Melissa squared off on her, faking real concern, “where were your numbers this week?”

“My numbers?” ‘lexis drew herself up to the challenge.

“On the board?” Melissa asked. “You know—the one you can’t make it on to?” She waved her hand. “What am I even wasting my time with you, bitch. They’re gonna can your sorry ass.”

Trina raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Whoa,” she said.

“Really,” Amanda added. “Like, chill out, girl.”

“Like, no, girl,” Melissa squared off on Amanda next. “You’re right after her. What are you, like, one sale for the week? I probably made that while I was in here.”

Trina put her hand on Melissa’s forearm. “Really, girl, what’s with you?”

Melissa turned to her. “Well, these bitches piss me off,” she said. “What do they care if I learn from Bill—are they learning from anyone? Can they even make it here?”

“So, you’re just learning from him,” Amanda backed down. Melissa had a lot of friends here. She went to The Mill three happy hours a week, with and without her girls, and the boys lined up to talk to her. Amanda must have thought to get her props by teasing her and now felt worried she’d find herself on the outside for going too far.

“I am not just learning from him,” Melissa pushed right back in her face, surprising herself with how angry they’d made her. It had occurred to her this would get back to Bill, and then Bill would get shy, start being afraid of her, and she wouldn’t be able to talk to him anymore.

So better to address it now, and let the right word get around.

“He’s my friend,” she said. “I like Bill, and the person who ruins that, I am not going to like—I’m not going to like that person a lot, bitch.”

She stabbed Amanda right in the collar bone with her right index fingernail, literally driving the point home.

“Do the math, ‘manda,” she said, looking right into her eyes.

Trina immediately changed sides, turning her body to be shoulder-to-shoulder with Melissa. Trina could be mean, but not stupid. She had also learned a lot from Bill, and she probably liked how easy paying the rent had become.

“If you were smart, you would be listenin’ girl,” she said. Her Spanish accent usually presented itself when she was angry, and it did now. “Bill puts people on the board. Don’t be messin’ with my meal ticket, ‘neither.”

Melissa gave Amanda a last look, turned and headed for the stalls. She could retreat, after a few grace-saving comments to her friends, with most of her dignity intact.

Which was good, because Melissa felt the tears coming on, and she didn’t need anyone to see it, hear it or be a part of it.

Melissa’s mother had died when she had been a little girl. Her father didn’t know how to raise a daughter, and didn’t have a lot of places to turn.

It galled him to buy pads, or any of the other things girls needed. She had to learn how to put on lipstick from a cosmetics girl at Sears. Her monthly cycle had been a trial and miss nightmare. She had no idea how to date.

In the middle of college her sister got busted and her father pillaged her college fund to pay for her defense. Lysette got five-to-twelve in Warren Correctional Institute and Melissa got to learn how to wait tables.

That’s when she met Mike. He looked so handsome it almost made him beautiful, with a line so smooth she’d been hooked before she knew it. They went from dating to living together to moving to Portland in record time, he pursuing his career and she pursuing him.

Mike had been her first love, which was the only thing they had in common. He cared about himself alone and, when he couldn’t make it in Portland, he bailed with all of their money, and not so much as a good-bye.

She’d had to do some things she wasn’t proud of after that, before she turned her life around and come here. Three years had passed since then, and she still didn’t trust handsome or young men.

When she was pretty sure that the ladies room was empty, she got up and left the stall. Who stood at the counter checking her makeup but Eileen?

“You okay?” she asked.

She took a look in the mirror, her mascara a disaster. She sighed and got out her compact.

“I’m okay,” she said.

“If that’s an allergic reaction to Old Spice,” Eileen told her, touching up her curly hair with her fingernails, “you better stay away from Bill.”

Melissa laughed despite herself, wiping away the streaked mascara.

“I noticed he was wearing it,” she admitted.

“I know you did,” Eileen said. She took a sideways glance at the younger girl, one that Melissa didn’t miss. “He is doing a lot of things different. Eating with people, eating better, I think he lost a few pounds thanks to the salads.”

“Well, you shouldn’t let a man eat the crap he eats,” Melissa said, then caught herself.

She had cared for her dad that way, while she could.

She looked at Eileen, and Eileen focused right on her.

“I’m not going to tell you how to live your life,” Eileen said, which of course meant that was exactly what she wanted to do. “But keep in mind that men get funky as they get old.”

Melissa got her eyeliner right and looked at Eileen. “Funky?”

Eileen nodded, and washed her hands. “Men get a strange idea about what their chances are and who loves them. A man over forty-five is one hundred times worse than a boy under seventeen.”

“Oh,” Melissa said. “You mean crushes and junk?”

Eileen nodded. “Be careful,” she said. “He’s a good guy, and he is scared to death he is going to be made fun of or worse by you kids.”

Melissa knew what she meant. “I just like him for a friend,” Melissa said. Well, it might not be a complete lie.

“Uh, huh,” Eileen said. She dried her hands on a paper towel and tossed it into the receptacle.

“Make sure he knows it,” Eileen warned, and left it at that.

* * *

Ancenon Escaroth had been born Ancenon Evoprosee, of a respected house, where he as third son had a brilliant career ahead of him as a hanger on, had he wanted it.

He had not.

When his older brother Haldan had joined the Casters, and his next older brother the Merchants, Ancenon had taken it on himself to join the priesthood of Adriam, a rare and usually ignominious destiny, as priests did not normally seek more power than that of a god.

In the priesthood Ancenon had come to the Ultimate Truth, and then combined the power of a Caster with his existing teachings to make himself a rarity among a rare people, the only priest and Caster among them.

From there, he’d been adopted by the King himself and married to the King’s daughter, taking on the name Aurelias and enjoying the title of Heir for more than 100 years.

Then had come the Conqueror, and the Daff Kanaar, and a fall from favor that cost him his title of Heir, his prestige among his people and the favor of his own wife, who in his absence laid shamelessly with their Uman servants. It had been a matter of time before another, with an infusion of gold which Ancenon knew well had come from Outpost V’s hidden treasury, had replaced him, and Ancenon had become an Aurelias in name only.

Today Ancenon lost that name, and became an ‘Escaroth,’ the sole male of a dying house responsible, at least, for a portion of the city wall. His new ‘Proud Falcon’ could be seen from Outpost IX’s southern towers.

Contagious in the Conqueror’s weird sense of humor, he allowed himself a smile as he contemplated flying the purple hook of the Daff Kanaar beneath it. Walking beside him through the stone halls of Outpost IX, to those southern towers, his new sister took note.

She raised her left hand and turned her wrist out in the form of the Inquisitive Relative, and said, “You are in good spirit, Lord Brother.”

He nodded and, still walking, put his knuckles to his hips and informed her, “I was considering my house.”

For every condition, etiquette defined over centuries by the Uman-Chi, shared only among themselves, differentiating them from lesser races, lesser species, persons to whom form was barely more than excusing their own farts in public.

“Are you familiar with our proud history, brother?” Glynn asked him, placing her left hand in her right palm at her waist before her, in the position of the Eager Teacher, Supplicating.

He nodded. He’d studied their scrolls. “My concern for you, sister, is more for your future than your past.”

She smiled, and returned her hands to her side. “My song?” she asked him.

“I regret I cannot hear you sing it,” he said, “however my cousin, D’gattis, will attend in my stead, as I am unavoidably detained.”

Glynn extruded her lower lip for just a moment—an actual younger sister deprived of an older brother’s approval. He extended her his elbow, to walk beside him as Equal Companion, all he could offer her at this time.

Because of my ambition, your father and your brother were killed, he thought to himself, walking beside her. Both were friends of mine. In penance for that ambition, I take their names now, and extend their house’s life.

She took his arm, this young girl, so promising, so full of Life among the Uman-Chi. Every one among them knew Glynn, the youngest of the Casters. Her father, of the Caste of Warriors, had been so proud to claim her and her extraordinary abilities.

Some among them thought her the answer to the Conqueror’s wife, Shela Mordetur. Ancenon knew better. He’d never seen Power represented so clearly in another. Shela wielded a magic Uman-Chi had no answer for. Power where their grace could be overwhelmed completely by her raw might.

Ancenon’s ambition had cost him much, and rewarded him much more. Angron ruled Trenbon but, with his companions beside him, Ancenon could actually buy it out from under him, or take it by force. Ancenon had incurred great debts along his path, and the lives of the Escaroths were high among them.

He would do a lot of things to repay that debt, however watching Glynn Escaroth die was not one of them.

* * *

By the end of week two as Trainer: Bill Howard, the other employees just assumed they could go anywhere with him, ask him for advice on any topic, and that he would answer any personal question about his past life, having kids, why guys were horny jerks or how to close a sale, including what it was okay to say.

Melissa praised his wisdom, kept him at arm’s reach at all times and kept the number in their new-formed clique increasing. The answer to any question became either, “Bill said,” or “You should ask Bill.” Of course there followed a steady stream of advice on his clothes, his hairstyle and his beard, which his new friends alternately hated or needed to manicure in a different way. When Melissa found out he bought his trousers at Target, Bill thought for a moment she would cry.

He impressed himself by wearing cologne for the first time in five years. By that second Saturday, however, he’d been properly groomed, manicured and styled, and left no question in anyone’s mind that he had graduated from trainer to ‘pet,’ mostly Melissa’s.