Tuesday, June 30, 2009

City of Souls by Vicki Pettersson



City of Souls is Vicki Pettersson's tight roller coaster of a fourth novel. Picking up where The Touch of Twilight left us, things have only gotten worse for Joanna/Olivia Archer. A little girl lays dying, the safe zones of Las Vegas no longer protect the warriors of the light, and until the Archer can fix things, her troupe's manuals won't be written and the Light will only continue to grow weaker.

But the solution for the many problems facing Vegas seems to be hiding in Midheaven, a mysterious other realm where nothing is given for free...

Touch of Twilight marked a return for Pettersson to the quality of her first novel (The Scent of Shadows) after a slightly less enjoyable follow-up (The Taste of Night,) which did serve to lay groundwork for events in the third novel. In City of Souls, we see the reprocussions of the events in The Taste of Night hit the breaking point. Their resolution serves to take the series to the next level.

While we do see similar "mistakes" on Joanna's part repeating, the fourth pushes her harder and further. We get answers and we do see Joanna grow and realize (finally) that perhaps she could find a better way of going about things. At the end of this novel, I more invested than ever before in Joanna's ongoing story and mad to know what happens next.

The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac is a jaw-dropping-bet-you-can't-stop-reading thrill packed with luscious prose and one of the sure bet best ways for urban fantasy fans to kick off the summer. Pick up a copy, put on some sunscreen, and spend the holiday in Pettersson's City of Souls.

Friday, June 26, 2009

What we found there

"What a beautiful, useless thing." Dante grins at the Chronograph. "I love it."

There are beautiful useless things all over our world. Why he should be so taken by this marvel of your engineering, I'm not sure. He's odd that way. Always been more curious about your people than the rest of his.

I can see the tower above me reflected in his goggles. Its mighty black spire is darker against the star-spotted sky. One of the hands that look nothing like hands and only slightly like arms moves a titch closer to III. Points the way for us.

"Let's try around that side." I gesture in the same direction.

Dante gives the face another look of longing, as if he's already forgotten what I said about the symmetry. I bet he'd like to climb up the tower and crawl inside. See what's making that annoying ticking. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Almost like a heartbeat. It makes me worry about what will happen when the Dream Fields finally digest this hunk of your history. Clockwork beasts with letters for eyes and metal arms that resemble limbs in only the most abstract sense may be spat out in its place.

I start walking. I know Dante'll follow. My pulse mingles with the music in my head. Fast tempo. Nervous? Unlikely. Adrenaline gets the better of me. It's like having one too many shots of espresso or fending off an unexpected attack from your breakfast. I want to reach the source of unknown before I crash.

Its hushed melody sounds like Beauty, but it's distorted. Out of pitch. Sharp black keys when it should be ivory. Stripes and plaids and checks with a flourish of psychedelic floral. Not in that strange somehow coordinated Nippon way, but the way a Russian grandmother dresses when she's gone to market to market to buy a fat pig.

I find the source in a tangle of crinoline and absinthe satin. Peacock feathers jut from a mound of frazzled curls. Part bird. Part glossy hallucination. High concept slumming among destructive urges. I don't get it, but I don't get most of those riots of color and vicious, delicate models with their starving eyes.

Dante draws in a breath sharp enough to cut the feathers free.

"What is that?" he asks.

I play it cool. "Loli-ghost?"

He shakes his head. "We're nowhere near Tokyo."

Just because we usually see them in Harajuku and Shibuya doesn't mean they couldn't wander. Turn for Shinjuku and end up here. Collapsed. Empty without their city to fuel their haunting. Keep them tied to what they once were. But he knows this isn't one of the figments that remain.

It doesn't raise the hairs on his arms. It doesn't hiss static down the chords into my ears.

This crumpled heap is no ghost. At least not yet. It's something else. Something uncertain and trailing broken chords of Beauty.

"Or maybe a doll?" I don't meet his lenses. "One of Stellina's creations?"

Gently, carefully, he pokes at the huddled lump with the umbrella. A soft solid sound is his reward.

"I think it may be alive." I can feel the weight of his attention. "You know. Alive alive. Born. Not created."

That's right. He can tell the subtle difference, too. Probably picked up on it a lot sooner than I did.

"It's…" He pulls the umbrella-stick away. "Is it—could it be one of them?"

Despite his fascination, Dante's still a little wary of your kind of people. He's never actually met one of you before. He has heard all kinds of stories. They aren't complimentary. Trust me. I’ve heard them, too. They do you justice in the worst possible way.

"It couldn't be one of them." He swallows. "Could it?"

I don't know that things will go badly if he gets worked up about this, but generally things go badly when Val or Avalon do. Get worked up about things. Dante has been categorized as "Like Avalon" and therefore my instincts are to anticipate he'll behave like Avalon. The problem being that "Like Avalon" is not the same as "Avalon." It's not even the same as Val.

Avalon, after all would never refer to you as them. He likes your kind, after all, given that's how he started out.

"Humans have stumbled into the Dream Fields before," I say. "It's possible this one could have done so."

The probability of it being something so simple isn't very high. This is no lost dreamer. No creative type that force their way over to demand inspiration. I don't think this pile of tissue and bone is lost. She's thrown out. Abandoned. Not really fully actually human any more. Not more human than not, either. We'll just call her human because we can't be certain of what she is—or what she'll become.

Dante looks at me, and his displeased frown is enough of a suggestion he's worked out I knew about this before we got here that I don't need to see his scowling eyes. A warning to drop the pretense of ignorant bliss. In that way, he's behaving very much like Avalon.

"Maybe we should try waking her," I suggest.

"Is that a good idea?" he asks.

I don't know.

...

...

Well, this would be the interactive part. Do you think so, oh wise and knowing still huamns, that it's a good idea—or should we leave her alone? Or at least alone until something else finds her and removes the necessity of us worrying about what to do with her?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I can't believe Michael Jackson died while I was at work.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Apparently it's Joss Whedon's birthday today.

I'm sure he—and you—have already seen this, but it's worth another view.

Happy Birthday, Joss! Thanks for inspiring a generation of girls to kick ass.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A rain of butterflies

While exploring the archives of your people's history, I found this video.



Does it often rain butterflies inside buildings in your world? I thought that only happened to me.

Happy (belated) Birthday to Rachel!

I just wanted Rachel to know that we had balloons at the party Chris Martin and the lads threw for her birthday. They were all yellow. (You might think it was because that was the song, but it was actually to coordinate with the cover for PREY.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Chronograph

The Chronograph had another name, a name your people gave it. When the ginormous tower remained in our world, we gave it a new name. No need to keep calling what's ours by one of yours.

It still thunders occasionally. Nasty thing. Scared most of us the first time, but we're used to it now. Good try on your part. A plus for effort, as Avalon would say.

I remember before Val, when Avalon stood by the Chronograph and counted. Avalon was still a bit human then—he did strange things more often. He still does strange things now, but they better fit his tempo. After he stood and counted, he told me that the great clock was slow. He sounded upset about it. Apparently he liked wondering if an Inspiration storm was coming at regular instead of semi-regular intervals.

"So this is it." Dante tips his head so he can look up. "It's massive. I'm surprised it can't be seen from the Far Reaches."

He shouldn't be. Surprised. Just because there isn't any visible thing taller than the Chronograph between it and his home doesn't mean that he should be able to see. There are plenty of things that aren't visible—or are just waiting for a chance to become seen.

"Is it the same on each side?" He looks like he might want to investigate.

"Yeah."

People like Dante and Avalon are very interested in how things work. The Chronograph may even be a good enough distraction to keep Dante from realizing Stellina isn't anywhere near here.

I lied to him about meeting her. We'll meet her. Eventually. Probably. It leans toward inevitable given her habit of finding us. But she isn't the reason we're here.

I guess I lied to you about that, too.

Sorry.

Sometimes things of importance have little, faint beats and when my rhythm crosses over them, those beats intensify. They pound in strong, vibrant bass. It happens during particularly resonant harmonies. But this one has the subtle hiss of white noise. Not something I hear very often. It has me curious.

Without Val or Avalon around, curiosity's the most interesting friend I've got. Just slightly more than Dante. He, after all, is becoming a regular occurrence. Not Knowing is still relatively new. Wondrous. Dangerous.

What gamer could walk away from the almost certainty of an adventure?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Today the borrowed content doesn't come from wired.com.

I'll give a moment to recover from the shock.

Good? All right, so put on your thinking caps and have a read of this article from Rachel and this one from That Girl.

Maybe as "entertainers" we have to embrace our "irrelevancy." Let the masses think we've entertained them, and imagine their surprise when they discover we've educated them between punchlines. Was it not the fool in the King's court who had the most freedom of speech?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Mystery of Grace by Charles De Lint



There's something magical about reading a Charles De Lint novel. It's that enchantment of any truly great and enduring author that does more than enthrall you to turn page after page, but once the pages are gone leaves you feel refreshed by bringing out the best in life, instead of helping you escape from all the other aspects of it.

So what can I tell you about The Mystery of Grace? It's beautiful; it's thoughtful; it's funny. It's everything you're expecting of a De Lint novel and elegant in its simplicity.

Is it the best he's ever done? Possibly not. By that I mean that the Newford novels—The Onion Girl, Spirits in the Wires and Widdershins—remain my perfered De Lint works. There's a richness and complexity to their stories. All of the perspectives and subplots weave together in a structural echo of how the stories assert the importance of social inter-connectivity. Those novels also have De Lint's rich and intricate mythos, which is missing in The Mystery of Grace.

It reminds me more of his earlier novel: The Wild Wood. Like that tale, The Mystery of Grace is more focused on one culture of myth, instead of a global synthesis. I still enjoyed De Lint's respectful handling of the Latino spiritualism and found the title character, Grace, believable. The only issue I had with characterization is that after reading the Newford novels, I expect a deeper sense of the secondary characters. As the majority of the story is told from Grace's perspective, I felt like the people populating John's world weren't as solid.

That in itself is an interesting effect—to have a novel where the living feel less real than the dead. However, it reads occasionally as a lack of depth because there just aren't as many layers to flesh out the narrative.

Perhaps best put: If you've never read a Charles De Lint novel, The Mystery of Grace is an excellent entry point. I'm uncertain how identifiable the characters would be to a young adult reader, but there's nothing in the novel—aside from mild sexuality—that a parent should question their 14–18 year old reading.

Plus, as I said, The Mystery of Grace leaves you feeling uplifted. Not in a saccharine way, either. This novel is a balm for the soul. If every act of creation is magic as he says, then De Lint remains one of our most powerful mages.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Happy Birthday to...

Ms Karen Mahoney!



Also to Mark Morris, which means June 15th is a good day for words.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I love Japan



It's a full scale Gundam watching over us from Odaiba to mark the 30th Anniversary of Gundam. If you needed a reason to go to Tokyo in the next two months, here you are.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Science FTW?

"Oh I don't think so, friend!" The pancake chuckles like butter sizzling. "How about I bash your head in with my skillet?!"

"That would be impossible." Dante smiles. "It's not your skillet."

Rolling up and along the pan, the pancake leaves no tacky trail as it assumes an offensive stance on the handle. Dante's not frightening the vile breakfast. The pancake's amusement squeezes its syrup face like this :P

It's mocking us. Or its been distorted by the rolling. Hard to tell. Like I said. Pancakes are frustratingly unmusical.

"Oh, Ethanael?!!!"

I wince against the unnecessary disruption in the universe's harmonies. Search my brain for some thinky-thoughts that could possibly be of help against a pancake armed with a floating frying pan and an abundance of sharp punctuation.

"Hey!!!! Ethanael!!!!"

I clamp my hands over my headphones. "What, pancake?!"

Oh no, it's got me using unnecessary exclamation marks, too. Like a virus jumping hosts. I don't want to be a pancake parasite host. You aren't what you eat. Not that in that sense. The stupid saying has to do with nutrients processed from the food you consume. The food itself changes into something else. It doesn't remain in its original form—

"Don't ignore me, Ethanael!!! That would make me sad!!!!!" The pancake rolls on its head and makes a face like D: at me.

It must have made out with my scrambled eggs when I wasn't looking. Some pancakes do that. I've seen pictures.



Now you have, too.

"Globalization means the future will be dominated by a multitude of cultures," Dante says.

Both the pancake and I look at him. He taps his fingers against his once-umbrella, a look of absolute certainty on his face. Ridiculous because there is no absolute certainty. Or never one audible to me.

"Future societies will not be as we know them today," he continues. "Not only because of biological evolution, but cultural evolution. We will be to them, at best, as First Dark Age humanity is to current humans."

I ease my grip on my cans. They're warm and slick with my stalled panic.

"Andy, what are you talking about?" I ask.

"Creative speculation, Ethan." He points with the umbrella-no-more. "Listen, Pancake, when we apply Darwinism to technology, we see how you and I can't even begin to fathom the most basic of the future's infrastructures. Even if we could, the very language we use would be inadequate to describe them."

His silence intertwines with the pancake's. Both battling for control of the innumerable possibilities. Strengthening and harmonizing various tunes until there are only two probable outcomes. Either Dante wins this or the pancake does.

"Just think about that." Dante leans on the truncated metal skeleton. "You'll see that your struggle against me has no meaning, because none of us have a future. Mass extinction is the best we can wish for, and let's hope it comes by way of an unrecognizable and already present alien life form with the advanced technology to make our euthanasia quick."

The pancake's vital fluids drip over the handle. Sticky sploops on the porch beneath it. Over them, I hear my escape soar in volume. Not that I really feel like celebrating. Victory through sterling soul-crushing defeat is the worse kind of cheating. There's no defense against it.

Still, the pancake is a mighty opponent. Anything else would have exploded in bleak despair, but the hovering frying pan suggests the flapjack merely passed out in its own buttery sick.

"Let's get the hell out of here." Dante takes the two porch steps at once. "I'd rather not have to use any more Sterling. It hurts me, Ethan. Makes me want to smack people."

He swings the sort-of-umbrella at the disappearing serrated sakura for emphasis. His distraction has taken the heartbeats necessary to clear a path through the danger for us, but at what cost?

I know we need to move quickly, but I can't bring myself to start walking. The hopelessness has rooted me to my front yard.

"Ethan." Dante grabs my arm. "Snap of out it."

"Did you mean it?" I ask. "Are art-directed creativity and imagination really so useless? Is my tribe's purpose to be nothing more than irrelevant syrup-coated entertainment?"

If so, why do I fight the controlling beats of the music? Why not give in and let it ride me. Direct me. Use me as its stereo. What use is our tribe of Inspiration? What can we do for humanity except help it make better weapons to kill itself quickly or generate more opiate to poison itself slowly?

"Dude." Dante raises his goggles and focuses his always mismatched eyes on me. "Imagination is way more important than knowledge."

I blink. "Do you mean that?"

"Of course, I do." He punches my arm. "Don't you get it? Creative expression is a product of its now. Maybe it wears a mask of the future, but it's always going to reflect the society that produced it."

He's right. That's why artists have always had one foot in the Twilight Lands. Creativity is present and now and lost in this moment. If Creation powers had the ability to see what effects they could have, there'd be no need for people who could undo the paradoxes that are always being created.

Maybe I'm trapped in an endless concert of what may or may not happen, but that's just me. Humans can act outside of the music constantly playing between my ears. Fantasy and optimism might be irrelevant, but maybe it's that very irrelevance that creates freedom.

"We good?" Dante asks.

I nod. "Yeah. Let's go."

Petals stir ominously as we hurry along the strip of green safety between them. Saplings dot the mounds of deceptive pink, their leaves lacey and tiny trunks adorned with ribbons. Like most ornate things they'll be thirsty for blood. I can tell from the way the grove bends in our direction as we pass, like how plants in your world seek life and energy from the sun.

Plants aren't bright and burny like the sun. People don't bleed syrup like pancakes. There's a necessary conversion of nutrients.

Dante and I won't be part of these wannabe dryads' necessary conversions. The grove will fall to either my brother or the pancake. Depending on who wants to leave the yard first.

"Where are we going?" He avoids a wayward petal. "The desert?"

"No." I shake my head. "We'll find Stellina by the Chronograph."

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Sex in The YA Novel

The difference between an adult and a young adult manuscript is not how much you censor the profanity, violence and sexuality while writing it.

The difference between an adult and a young adult manuscript is viewpoint. Not third versus first person point of view, but who can most easily relate to your protagonist, their conflicts, and their character arc. I guess you could call that relevancy, if you like, but don't confuse it with the social commentary relevancy of the manuscript.

Adulthood has always been on a sliding scale. Some of us mature faster than others. Emotionally, intellectually, and sexually. These maturity levels can also vary within the individual. You can be very intelligent but sexually inexperienced. You can be sexually active and not have an adult level of emotional maturity.

Plus, in the past ten years childhood has lengthened. Society now encourages us to be children well into our thirties. Maybe it's to keep the aging baby boomers from having to admit that the successive generation is grown and it's time to pass the torch. Consider that and it's easy to see the youth-obsession of our society has created generation-wide Peter and Petra Pan syndrome. We're not being encouraged to grow up.

Why am I mentioning this? Because we're also a generation of adults who like to read young adult fiction. We're smack in the middle the genre's golden age. There are fantastically written, innovative, brilliantly conceived novels in the YA section. Ones that transcend their target age demographic.

I write YA because of the creative freedom it offers. With the young adult genre, there's less expectation of how a specific sub-genre is written or what it needs to include. (I said less.) Why I hesitated to write a YA manuscript was my concern over whether or not I could produce something relevant for contemporary teens. We watch the same movies and television shows. We read the same comics. But could I add something to their cultural discussion without moralizing, censoring or bullshitting?

My imagination lets me identify with people 10–15 years younger than I am. That includes the current YA demographic, but it won't do so indefinitely. As I age, that range will age as well. In 5 years, I may no longer be able to have relevant conversations with teens. Not just because of the widening generation gap, but because of scientific discovery and technological advancement. (When I was a teen, Pluto was a planet. Facebook and Twitter didn't exist. You called your friends instead of texting them.)

So I had a think about what I could say that maybe wasn't being said. What stuck in my mind was this notion of abstinence-only sex education. A nation-wide pandemic of teen pregnancy, but America continued to pretend teens don't have sex.

Yeah, I could discuss that. Easily. I created a society where teens don't have sex. Everyone participates in abstinence—not for religious reasons, but because it's state-mandated and enforced. (Not much of a extrapolation when there was a time very recently that teaching something other than abstinence could cause a loss of funding.)

Now that Obama's been elected, my thought exercise appears to be on its way to becoming highly unlikely as American schools may finally get proper sex education programs. Covering our ears and refusing to talk about teen sex may be rendered irrelevant before my manuscript is ever published.

Thus, strengthening the argument that sex itself will always be relevant to teens. Which doesn't seem to penetrate the knee-jerk logic of warning them away from "adult" books because of sexual content.

Telling young adults that they shouldn't read a series because it has sex in it is the best possible way to make them want to read it. You make it forbidden and it becomes rebellious and cool instead, so let's also drop this pretense that there's a gate in the bookstores keeping teenagers penned in the YA section.

Maybe we do it because we don't want angry letters from parents. We don't want our work of fiction to offend someone. We're terrified of being labeled as inappropriate for our teen readers by their parents or whichever other "mature" individual is passing judgment on what can and can't be read. (Big Brother approves your reading list because he loves you.)

Or maybe we do it because we're of the opinion that teens should be protected from sex. I would think if you're still reading this you're aware that it's not one of my beliefs.

Whether you write sex into your manuscript or not, the romantic relationships of the characters are something that should be treated carefully. While adults have formed an understanding of what is and isn't acceptable from a partner, teens are still deciding.

There is an element of wish-fulfillment to fantasy. I see the appeal of the young girl being fought over by two eternally beautiful guys. What an incredible boost to her self-esteem! But how about the long term effects? Are these idealized relationships creating expectations that can or should be replicated outside of fiction?

Young adults are dealing with biological changes that cause their emotions to run hot and fast. Teens fall in and out of love a lot—and each love is forever. Of course they enjoy the notion of an eternal romance. But realistically? They're going to have several intense romances that may or may not include sex. They may even be one-sided. (Shakespeare called those unrequited.)

Don't get me wrong, I like those sexy paranormals, too. I write about pretty immortals. But how pretty they may be isn't more important than creating positive role models who help young girls identify and seek healthy relationships in their own lives. That's my responsibility as a YA writer. Not protecting my readers from the adult world and its naughty secrets.

Monday, June 08, 2009

2 + 2 = 5

Sixty years ago today George Orwell gave us a vision of the future. Of a world where people live under constant surveillance—afraid to speak their minds. Where information is controlled by the government: history and truth altered as needed. Where two plus two can equal five.

Orwellian was a term thrown around a lot during the Bush administration. I remember sitting with friends and wearily agreeing how it was all so Nineteen Eighty-Four.

But I wonder... how many of my generation read Orwell? How many of the generation after us has? He wanted us to question totalitarianism and the abandonment of civil liberties for the illusion of safety. But maybe we're too busy reading about sexy sparkly vampires and the leather-clad ladies who love them.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

When in doubt, look to wired.com for content.

No, seriously, I think is another one of those articles that every writer should read. I want to point out there are several other articles I read that I don't pass on to other people. Not everyone who stumbles across this blog is interested in how web is creating a new breed of global collectivism or why I can't wait to sign up for Google Wave.

But this one is a short piece on the future of books as proposed by Clive Thompson that puts the emphasis not on publishing methods but reading methods. I think we all need to consider how digital media—including films and television—is changing the way we tell stories and how social networking is altering how we interact with those stories.

I also recommend you check this out, as Cory Doctorow is the dude who gives his books away for free. Plus lets people create alternate type-settings and do other cool stuff. If it wasn't up against Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, I'd tell you that Little Brother is going to win the Hugo for Best Novel this year. It still may. I'd be happy for either author, as they're both exceptional novels.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Frosted (not really)

Pink coats the yard outside my house like icing sugar. Not like frosting, because there's nothing frost-like about this pink. It's deceptively downy. Cotton candy made of feathers.

Dante pokes at it with the umbrella skeleton. Bones sizzle and smoke. There'll be no burial today. Cremation looks like the better option.

"That what did in your parka?" I ask.

"That's what it finally settled on being." He eyes the pink petals. "I still don't understand how this pancake of ill repute got in your house. It's one thing for someone to shape part of the Inspiration storm into a pancake-like being. It's something completely different for random evil intentions to come through the walls and be soaked up by your breakfast."

"We might've left a window open."

Still he has a point. A sharp one. Other than the ones the petals just created on his dead umbrella. I know his family doesn't really encourage him, but Dante's got one of those innate understandings of how things work. His parents probably worry about him becoming dangerous.

If you know how things work, you know how to take them apart. And his family should be worried. I tend to rub off on people. Don't mean to. It just sort of happens.

"It's a lot of effort spent on a practical joke," Dante continues.

"It wasn't a prank, Andy." I give him a warning look. Can't have him falling back into those logical ways. "Someone turns you into a girl as a prank. They don't turn your breakfast against you."

"They both sound vindictive to me, Ethan."

We really do come from the same world. You'd never know it. But we do. Really. Just different parts of it. Dante also doesn't have a brother. He has three sisters. While you'd think that would increase the probability of him having been in a dress at some point when he was younger, he somehow avoided that rite of passage. Like I said, reason doesn't necessary work around him. Even if he gets stubborn about trying to force it to.

"Whatev." I shrug. "Wait here while I create a safe path for us."

"Sure." He sets the umbrella aside and messes with his hair.

His hair is fine. Always. Doesn't stop him from messing with it. Like I said: He has sisters. All of whom would like to meet me. Sincerely. Apparently.

Whatev.

If we were in your world, I'd spin the beats to make things happen. Remix reality. Safer that way. Trust me. (It's probably wisest if you don't trust me all the time but this time is ok.) Anyway, here I don't have to remix. I just change things. It's one of the benefits of a world that isn't so rigid.

When Val's feeling sulky, he says it's the only benefit. He doesn't say it often, because he doesn't often get sulky. He tends to express displeasure by measuring the inflammability of various substances. I know how he'd deal with these serrated petals.

He's not here. Dante is. So I am.

Scattering the petals is an option. Just not a good one. Given the destruction they can do just by being poked, the damage they'd do in motion would be massively epic. So would the trouble I'd get from Matt. I could do it anyway, but the solid beats I can hear from that probability this "Thursday" with Dante would come to an end. Quickly.

Instead, I reach out without fingers and grasp that connection I have to this place of constant changes. Whisper without words. Tell it what I need. What I want. Then I wait to see if it's listening.

The petals rumble and roll like waves of pink snow. Slowly, their ominous layer lowers as the ground drinks them up. My world's a tough old place. Serrated flowers can't defeat it.

Dante doesn't comment. I'm sure he sees far more impressive things every day in his city. That's right: He's from a city. Some tribes have them. Not all of us are solitary familial units. Most of us aren't. Family units. Hard to have families without children.

We're connected in other ways. Our dataNet stretches between us. Creating nodes of civilization in a vast unstable wilderness. Our digiMaps and intelSystems display where we are to each other. We can look at one during any heartbeat and see we aren't alone. Yet we never really shake the incurable isolation caused by physical distance.

Dante frowns. "It sounds like someone's banging around inside."

It's not Matt. Strains his melody drift from the shed in the backyard. He must be feeding the narratives. We have story sheds all over the Dream Fields. There's also wild ideas roaming. Sometimes I try to catch them with Risa. They don't look like fireflies, but they do glow like fractions of starlight.

"You can't hear that?" Dante asks.

I give him a look.

"Of course. What I am saying." He rolls his eyes. "I think we should take a look, just to be on the safe side—"

Whatever entirely reasonable thing he was going to say is lost as the door bursts open. Floating upright at the level of his knees is the frying pan. The Talky Face pancake stands in it. Well, no. It can't stand because it doesn't have legs. It sort of balances on the bottommost curve of its circular shape.

The pancake doesn't say anything. It just goes :D at us in a really spooky silent way. I can only conclude it's plotting our doom. Or DOOM. Probably our doomy-DOOM.

Dante is unperturbed. "Hey there, pancake."

"Hey there, friend!!"

Ok. Only two exclamation marks. It's lulling us into a false sense of security. Obviously.

My gaze goes to the yard. A shallow layer of stabby sakura remains. It's definitely deep enough to still cause us potential harm and pain and embarrassment at being attacked by blossoms.

"Are you the same pancake that gave Ethan that message from Stellina?" Dante asks.

"Yeppers, friend!! That's me!!"

"Good." He reaches for the umbrella. "How about you tell us who really sent you before I stab you in your syrup-filled face?"