Going Home

Well, not home. Not really.

It was my grandmother’s 90th birthday, and we drove almost seven hours to rural Ohio to celebrate with her.
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It’s strange coming back to see her. And, if I’m totally honest, depressing.
Almost all of my mom’s family lives in this area, and when I was a kid, I desperately wished we lived there, too. All my aunts and uncles lived there. My cousins. My grandparents. They saw each other all the time, whereas I got to seem them a couple of times a year. I was sad and jealous.
I didn’t understand that my mother had joined the military to escape. She had a lot of very good reasons to leave, reasons that eventually included daughters of her own.
When I go back now, nothing seems like the world I wanted to join. Yes, my kids are drinking out of the same cups I used when I was a kid. My grandmother has the same rose-printed plates. Even the same wood paneling is in her house. But that’s where it ends.
When I was a kid, manufacturing was strong where she lives. Everyone had jobs, nice houses, and newer cars. We used to walk downtown for ice cream or to visit the Five and Ten.
Now, most of the store fronts are empty. Many of the beautiful old homes have been sub-divided into apartments. Others are in a sad state of repair. Piles of junk sit in yards further outside of the small town, especially old cars and boats. Paint is peeling. Front steps rotting. Out buildings collapsed.
Then there are the trailer parks. Unless you’ve seen rural poverty, you don’t know what I’m talking about. Think about a 1950s RV set-up on blocks. Old. Rusted. Windows boarded in places. Cinder blocks for steps. Now imagine twenty of them clustered together. A few miles away, another trailer “park”. Now imagine watching a little six-year-old boy with light blonde hair and a navy jacket struggling to open the rickety door as he balances on a part of the steps still intact.
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Why are things so bad now?
It’s a story told all over the Midwest. Factories that once employed entire towns are gone, and there are no new manufacturing jobs to replace them. Whenever we visit, another of my cousins have been laid off and is trying to find a job. The next job they get always pay less than the one they had before.
The jobs still remaining that pay more than minimum wage all seem to be in the medical field or other services needed by the elderly and retired. Especially in-home nursing. Few out there can afford assisted living even if they are no longer completely self-sufficient.
But those jobs tend to require degrees, and the ones that don’t require degrees pay even less than the few remaining factory jobs.
Doctors in the area live in mansions situated on sprawling lands. Even nurses do well. But I learned from my cousin that being a pharmacy tech pays less than working for Whirlpool. I can understand the growing fear and resentment as they scrape together to get by while a newcomer to the area is building a heated outbuilding larger than their homes to store his three boats.
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Even the skilled aren’t immune.
My uncle recently closed his business after it had been around for over fifty years. He used to sell and repair appliances like washers and dryers. He started as an apprentice when he was a teenager, and when the owner retired, he sold the business to my uncle.
My uncle did great at first. But then Lowes and Home Depot moved into the area, and he simply couldn’t compete with them on price. Eventually, he closed the Main Street shop and focused on repair.
But with how cheap appliances were becoming, more people just replaced broken ones rather than repairing them. So, he had to start letting the technicians that worked for him go. Then his secretary.
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Finally, he closed his business and took a job as an electrical inspector for the county. It sucks. After more than thirty years of working for himself, he couldn’t make a living at it anymore. Thank goodness he’s a master electrician and was able to get other work.
Yeah, they’re my family and I’m biased, but these aren’t dumb people. Or lazy people. Most them work damn hard. They simply have no way forward. They’re trying to eek out a living without giving up family, friends, and community. They’re trying to find a way forward after manufacturing was gutted from the Rust Belt.
And there is no safety net for them. No retraining for them. No real hope for things to ever improve.
College is a dream. Something rich kids do. Something they wish they could give their kids. But when most families of four earn less than $40k a year, even state school is out of reach.
Some young men and women join the military. It’s a way out, a job, and it promises to teach them real skills. Two of my cousins tried to join, but one failed the physical and the other hurt his knee to the point it required surgery two weeks before boot camp.
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Still, I’m amazed how many of them have friends that joined the military, and how many of them know someone that gave their life. You see pro-veteran signs, slogans, and even graffiti everywhere. Makes me wonder if this is why.
It’s people like this that voted for our current president. They’re the ones that propelled him to victory. People who felt lost and left behind. People who want the family and community my grandfather had. Or, what they think he had. They want the jobs back. They want hope.
If you haven’t driven through rural Ohio, it’s hard to understand. If you have, you may still not agree with their choices, but you can understand them. I hope our president doesn’t disappoint them.
How about you? Does your family live near you? Or are they far away? Did you grow up with a large family and love it, or maybe you had a small family and loved that? Ever been through rural Ohio?

Four Things You Can Learn from Romance Novels Even If You Hate Them

Sadly, I’ve seen  a lot of people say they hate romance novels since joining social media. Some even proclaiming romance has no place in movies or television. When pressed for the reason why, it tends to come back to “I never get the guy/girl, so I don’t want to see someone who’s got everything get him/her.”

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A part of me says welcome to Hollywood. I can’t think of the last movie I saw where the heroine wasn’t amazingly beautiful, thin, and with perfect hair.

This is why I love romance novels. There the heroines come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The heroes, too. Depending one what you read, cowboys, bikers, and billionaires are all there. So are teachers, dragons, and knights. seriously, whatever you particular interest is, there is someone out there writing it. But, you have to look.

Here’s something I’m not sure the people saying they hate romance because it doesn’t work for them realize. Their very words are a red flag for anyone they may be interested in having a relationship with. Why? Because this hints at the fact they think they’re owed a relationship, owed love, and probably owed sex. These might not be their real thoughts, but in a world where one out of five women are victims of sexually assault, I’d wary.

Think about that for one moment. One out of five. Think of five women you know, and statistically, one of them has been hurt this way. I have no idea what a comparable situation is for a man, so I won’t try. But yeah, it’s a lotta women’s worst nightmare. I often wonder how many men walk to their car after dark with their keys between their fingers “just in case”.

The reasons are not part of this post, but it does give an insight into the world we live in today. But, it’s not the world women want. Hence, romance novels. It’s an escape. An idealization. A way to explore love and sexuality in a non-threatening way. A way for the reader to know things are going to turn out okay in the end for the heroine, even if they don’t always in real life.

Believe it or not, there’s a lot of things that can be learned from romance novels. Here are a few.

1.Get past the Trappings – this is probably harder for men who are more visually stimulated than women. Yes, the guys in the stories are usually attractive. Just like the women in the movies and on TV. But the women aren’t always, or at least not in the current accepted fashion. Either way, most romance novels don’t dwell on it. Sometimes, neither the hero or heroine is attractive in the traditional way. In one of my favorite contemporary romance novels, the hero was a somewhat dorky Princeton professor.

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2. Common Interests – Most of the characters in a story have some sort of common interest that brings them together. Horses. International spy rings. Vampire hunters. Customizing motorcycles. Pick your reason. In most novels, they don’t sort of bump into each other at a nightclub and just hit it off. This is playing to fantasy, and there are as many kinds of heroes and their interests as can be imagined. Some of the people I’ve heard complain about romance novels make me wonder if trolling in their interest. Probably not the best interest if you want to meet a significant other, but I bet there’s a romance novel out there somewhere with that in it. In the story about the Princeton professor, the thing the hero and heroine shared was a love of books. In a romance novel. Go figure.

3. Listening – It’s such a  tired cliché that men don’t listen, but it’s become cliché for a reason. In romance novels, the hero listens to the heroine. Learns she’s scared of vampires because they ate her little brother or whatever. This can have a huge impact in the story when later he later understands why she’s frozen with fear when the normally heroic vampire hunter sees a vampire about to gobble a child. If he hadn’t listened? No chance to understand. Same thing in the real world. My husband listened to me and knows I’m terrified of spiders because a brown recluse bit my sister and it necrotized the skin on her leg. (I won’t post a picture here, but here’s a link to what it looks like). So killing spiders without question and without making me feel bad has helped our relationship. In the book I referenced above, the professor listened and understood the heroine’s issues with her controlling mother. This helped bring them together.

4. If you listen in the living room, you’re more likely to listen in the bedroom – There’s a lot of research out there that says women are just as sexual as men when the woman thinks she’s also going to get an orgasm. I have yet to read a romance novel where the woman wasn’t brought to orgasm. The path to her fulfilled desire may seem unrealistic to me, but it’s always the end result. In some novels, there will even be scenes where the hero holds off on his own pleasure to make sure she gets hers. In the real world, I know women do it for men. So, I’m not surprised in a romance novel, roles change. Shouldn’t be too surprising that women want pleasure, too.

 

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Are all romance novels good? That’s like asking are all action movies good. Are all science fiction books good. Are all TV shows good. Different people like different things, and some clearly just suck. Mystery Science 3000 made a show out of how bad some movies can be.

Also, romance novels change along with society. What sold to repressed women in the 1950s is not what sold in the 1980s or what sells now. More recent ones show more current fantasies. And as with everything, quality varies dramatically from author to author. Sometimes book to book.

But the good is out there.

 

What do you think? Think you can learn something from romance novels or am I full of bunk? Me being wrong is always an option. Is there something I’m missing? Something you’d add?

It Really Works

Application of bottom to chair, that is.

I’ve been having a rough patch of late. My last two works-in-progress, I managed to complete in six weeks or less. My current work-in-progress, however, stalled, and I am feeling neither passion nor fire for it. Combine that with some pretty nasty headaches and a dash of laziness, and you have a recipe for accomplishing nothing.

While my muse is very real, I also know I need to write whether she’s sitting on my shoulder, jumping on the keyboard and cursing because I can’t type faster, or off flitting around wherever muses go when they’re basically telling you to f-off.

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After getting my headaches mostly under control, I made a bargain with myself. I would banish myself to the living room with my computer for at least thirty minutes a night. My goal was to produce 1,000 words. They didn’t have to be good words, they just had to be words. I told myself I’d rely on the editing stage to make them good words. Which, if I’m honest with myself, my first draft tends to suck anyway.

If I could do this, I’d prove to myself I was serious about writing. If I’m really serious about it, I would consider shelling out for an editing service once I’m “done” with Crowned Prince.

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Guessing it’s about this expensive.

I’ve kept this promise for some time now, trying to do mini sprints of 15, 20 or 30 minutes and then recording my progress. Some nights, I can get my 1,000 words in about 45 minutes. Other nights, I’m at 800 and I’ve been in the chair for 90 minutes. But here’s the thing. I’m still 800 words closer to the end.

I pushed past the part I was struggling with in the WIP. Was what I wrote any good? I’m not sure. Just because it was hard to write now, doesn’t mean it completely sucked. Either way, I’m not going to dwell on it. I’ll deal with it in editing. This may be why it takes me three times longer to edit a book than to write it . . .

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I’ve pushed past the 40,000 word mark and am now racing towards the climactic ending. Yeah, my first drafts are only 50-60k. I write a skeletal first draft and go back and add a lot of description, a few extra scenes to better explain things, and a few more steamy scenes. I know this about myself, and I work with it.

I have now also learned I need to be sequestered to write. I know sprints make me more productive.

I know it’s not going to be easy to maintain the momentum and finish the book, but if I keep at it, I’ll get there. Once the words are on the page, I can make them better. First, the words have to get there.

 

How about you? Anything you’ve ever had to push through to complete? Do you reward yourself for doing things you’d rather not? Or maybe your muse is far better behaved than mine, and if so, how do you keep her so happy?

More Construction

It’s spring, so the season for it!

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I am making some changes and getting ready to move to a new web hosting service next week. You shouldn’t see any disruptions, but if you do, this is what’s going on.

After seeing a friend have her site hacked twice, and then watch her fight ongoing attempts, I decided to find a place I felt was more secure, focused on writers, and maintains excellent back-ups. Yeah, it’s more expensive, but when I look at how many hours I’ve put into this blog, I’d be devastated to lose it.

Some things are worth the cost.

 

8 Steps to Out with the Cold

It’s that time of year. Time to move the heavy winter sweaters to storage and start bringing out the spring and summer gear.

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This feels like a Herculean task this year. First, I have to get both of my little ones situated. Then I turn to my own closet, but the steps I follow are pretty much the same for all three of us.

  1. Is It Damaged – Anything damaged that isn’t easily repaired (or that I’m willing to pay a tailor to repair) is turned into rags. No one is going to wear it. If it is easily fixed, it must be fixed now. If it isn’t fixed now, it’s never going to be.

2. Does It Fit – If it doesn’t fit me or the toddler, the garment in donated. If it doesn’t fit DD1, it gets boxed up and the box is labeled with the size and the appropriate season. This makes it so much easier when I bring them out for DD2.

3. Has It Been Worn – This is really only applicable to me versus the kids. But I try to look long and hard at what’s being taken down to storage. Did I wear it a lot that year? Maybe not at all? If not, why not? Was there something that bothered me: the style, the cut, the color? If so, I donate it. My taste is probably not going to change in a couple of months. This year, I am giving my big heavy sweaters a second chance. It simply wasn’t cold at all this winter, which is very, very odd. Other things, though, I was ruthless on.

4. Will the Child Wear It? – While DD2 is getting a lot of hand-me-downs from DD1, there are certain things she simply won’t wear. I donate them. Mornings are hard enough. I don’t need to add trying to get kids into clothes they hate.

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5. Create the List – If there is anything I am donating that clearly needs to be replaced (say a ripped winter coat), I make note of it so I will replace it rather than forget.

6. Repeat – Once this is completed for everything going into storage, I then have to take stock of everything coming out of storage for DD2 and me. I go through everything, pair up outfits, and make a list of what we need. This is especially critical so there are no orphans (you know, that pair of plaid trousers you had to have only to realize it matches nothing in your closet. Not that I’d know anything about that…).

7. Take Stock – I now need to take stock of what everyone needs to make it through the season, but especially DD1. She’s not getting any hand-me-downs, so I have to buy most of her stuff new or through consignment sales. I want a solid list of what she needs so I can hunt it down.

8. Shop – The joy of online shopping! Yes, I do most of my shopping online, even for the kids. I buy at a handful of stores, so I know their sizes. It’s not like I’d have them try on clothes if we went to a store, anyway. I’d love to say I’m a shopping pro, but the truth is, I’m not. I know there are ways to shop resell shops and save a lot, but that takes time and time is something I don’t have. My favorite places to shop all have free shipping and I can return to the brick-an-mortar store for free. Some even have free shipping on returns.

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As you can imagine, this is a huge undertaking, and I have to do it twice a year. Still, there’s a lotta things I have to be thankful for. The two amazing kids I do this for is a start.

I really envy my husband on this. Khakis and polo shirt. All year. *sigh*  Add this to my list of things I envy.

 

How about you? Do you have to switch clothes out for the season for you or your kids? How do you do it? Any tips for shopping for kids? I don’t shop after season sales because my kids growth spurts are too unpredictable right now, but there has to be others for busy moms.

 

 

 

 

To Catch a Dragon (Part 4)

You can catch up on the story at Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

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To Catch a Dragon (Part 4)

They followed the shoreline not sure what they were looking for. Perhaps another footprint. A scale. Or even a dragon bathing in the lake.

Instead, they found a handful of deer, a couple of moose, and even a flock of sheep. All which should have been tasty morsels for a dragon, but no such creature was tempted from the sky.

“Any people missing?” Ndrek asked as he glanced over his shoulder at the sheep.

“No. Livestock seem to be accounted for as well.”

“What I felt may not have been a dragon, but whatever it was, it was far more powerful than the lich Sir Marcus destroyed.”

Knight Kailis frowned. “Maybe you just drank too much ale.”

“It takes far more than Tamarian ale to make me fall down drunk.”

“Maybe it was spiked with something.”

“Let’s say it wasn’t spiked ale that knocked him out,” Vaiya said. “And, for the sake of argument, let’s assume it wasn’t a long dead dragon or elven arch mage. What does that leave?”

Ndrek thought for several long moments, then ticked each off his fingers. “A supremely powerful but untrained and undiscovered sorcerer. A magical relic of immense power. A dragon. An elven arch mage.”

“An untrained sorcerer would be hard to hide,” Vaiya said. “They tend to set themselves and those they love on fire while still in the cradle.”

“That leaves a relic.” Kailis frowned. “I suppose it’s possible.”

“And if true, very dangerous,” Ndrek said.

“We’ll spend the next couple of days searching for any additional clues and following any leads the locals can give us. If you sense that kind of magic again, I’ll send an urgent request for back-up to the Dragon Church.”

“And if not?” Ndrek said.

“Then I make a full report and let the Dragon Church decide. Not sure how much manpower they want to spend on this when they’ve got undead walking the streets in the eastern provinces.”

“I would not wish to return to the eastern provinces. Hard to believe, but the food is better here. So is the smell,” Ndrek said.

Knight Kailis shook her head and led them back to town.

 

Curiosity burned. Ndrek knew something was out there, something of immense power, but not necessarily hostile. If it were, Kelleran would already be dust.

Church protocol bound Knight Kailis, but it didn’t bind him.

He watched the Knight of Valor conduct the investigation with by-the-book precision, but they knew nothing more when they retired for the day than they had at the beginning.

Ndrek lay in bed and studied the whitewashed ceiling. There was something out there. He could almost feel a whisper of its power. Almost.

Perhaps it was his desire to find the source of the magic that he felt rather than anything else, but he had to know.

His companions were asleep when he slipped out of the inn. He didn’t bother with the invisibility or silence spells. If he did find the presence, such magic would be of no consequence to it.

A sliver of a moon lit his path, and Ndrek augmented it with a faint light spell. No point tripping over a rock, and if this was a dragon, it already knew he was coming.

The familiar patter of his heart fueled him, and Ndrek felt himself come alive. His hearing was sharper, his eyes keener, even his sense of smell heightened.

A dragon. An elven arch mage. Something was out there. Waiting for him.

It would’ve been wiser to wake Kailis or Vaiya, but he didn’t want to endanger them. He had to find the truth, but he wouldn’t let anyone but himself die for it.

Ndrek crested the last hill and saw Lake Meade sparkling in the faint light. A man stood shirtless beside the water. His skin was pale as new fallen snow, and his hair shimmered as it reflected the faint moonlight.

“I knew you would come.”

Ndrek’s magelight spell evaporated as the words rumbled over his flesh. The wizard swallowed back the metallic taste of fear as his entire body trembled.

“You are not the one I seek.” The pale man continued to stare across the lake.

“Who is?”

“I don’t know. I thought I felt her, but I no longer do.”

Ndrek said nothing as the water lapped the shore. He could feel whispers of the same magic pressing against him, but this time, the magic was contained. Wrapped in strong wards that even now were weaving ever tighter and locking away the power.

The man turned to look at him, and Ndrek felt the weight of a thousand mountains in those violet eyes. Millennia of loneliness, isolation, and longing seared Ndrek’s mind in the time it took a firefly to blink. In the same moment, Ndrek’s soul was laid bare, exposing everything he was and all he wasn’t.

The man turned back to the lake, breaking the link.

Managing to stay on his feet, Ndrek forced himself to breathe.

“Go. You will find no dragon here.”

Ndrek nodded and fled to the inn, never looking back.

 

Ndrek accompanied Knight Kailis and Priestess Vaiya as they spent seven more suns following leads and looking for signs of a dragon, mage, or relic. They found none.

When Kailis asked him over and over about what he’d felt the night they’d found him on the road, Ndrek deflected, saying that perhaps the innkeeper had given him a stronger drink. Or perhaps he’d reacted poorly to something in the rocks or soil.

Kailis didn’t believe him, but she eventually stopped asking.

Three days after they returned home, Ndrek swore under his breath as Sir Leopold tromped into his bar and dropped payment onto the counter.

The Knight pinned him with his faded blue stare that always saw more than Ndrek wanted. “Knight Kailis thinks you found something but won’t tell her.”

Ndrek collected his payment and dropped it into the folds of his cloak. “You will not find a dragon in Kelleran.”

“Not what I asked.”

Ndrek closed his eyes as the memories flooded him, and even in the quiet warmth of his bar, he shivered.

“You look like you saw a ghost.”

“Those are easy to deal with.”

“What did you find?” Leopold folded his arms and waited.

“Doesn’t matter. It didn’t find what it’s looking for.”

“And what was it looking for?”

Ndrek paused a moment. “I think its mate.”

“Then it’s gone for good?”

“I hope so.” But the prickle down Ndrek’s back warned it was an empty hope.

To Catch a Dragon (Part 3)

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You can catch up on the story at Part 1 and Part 2.

To Catch a Dragon (Part 3)

He awoke to the warmth of a healing spell followed by a most un-Knightly curse.

Ndrek smiled up at Vaiya. “Thank you, though I think Knight Kailis would have preferred you to let me die.”

Knight Kailis balled her fists as she turned on her heel to face him. “What in the seven hells were you doing out here alone?”

A bit of the fire he’d seen in her once was peeking through her paladin veneer, and Ndrek couldn’t help but smile. “Looking for dragons. Alas, I fear they prefer beautiful young virgins. As I am none of those, I might have been more successful if you had joined me.”

“This isn’t funny.”

“I was not laughing.” Ndrek stood and waved his hand across his robes. The mud, sticks, and grass vanished. Though Vaiya’s healing spell had repaired the worst of his injuries, he still felt as if he’d spent the night drinking hellfires and black phoenixes.

“Who attacked you?” Vaiya asked.

He looked at the petite woman with russet hair and jade eyes who seemed all the smaller compared to the Valkyrie beside her. But Ndrek had learned long ago never to judge a person by their stature, especially when they channeled the power of the gods.

“I was not attacked. Not exactly,” Ndrek said.

“Then how’d you end up face down in the dirt?” Kailis asked.

“Some sort of magic force.” Ndrek waved his hand as he stumbled with the words. “Whatever it was, it knocked me aside.”

Kailis tightened a hand over the hilt of her sword. “Magic. But we didn’t feel anything, and none of the townspeople complained of it.”

“How many of them are wizards?” Vaiya said.

“You think it’s targeting magic users?”

“I do not think it cares about magic users,” Ndrek said. “If it did, it would have killed me. It had ample opportunity.”

“Then why attack you?” Kailis said.

“I believe I was an accidental casualty. If you had felt the power…” Ndrek shook his head. “I am not a threat to it. Not even a lich is a threat to it. I have never felt such immense power.”

Kailis frowned. “Do you think it was a dragon?”

“Perhaps. Or an elven arch mage.”

“Those don’t exist either,” Kailis said.

Ndrek shrugged, hiding his curiosity under a bland expression. For the first time since he’d joined Sir Marcus, he felt a prick of excitement. Danger, yes, but finally here was something unknown. Something new.

“What do we do now?” Viaya looked at the Knight.

Kailis fidgeted then looked down at the dragon on her shield. “We follow orders. We go to Kelleran and see if we can find evidence of a dragon.”

“And whatever it was that attacked Ndrek?”

“If it’s after magic users, he’s the only one in the area. It’ll be back, and we’ll be ready.”

Ndrek only smiled. The being may come back, but they would most assuredly not be ready.

 

Ndrek was rather disappointed when they arrived in Kelleran without coming across the source of the immense magic.

Unlike the other villages, Kelleran was quite crowded as people from the surrounding areas and as far away as Aerius had descended on the town in hopes of seeing a dragon. Kailis’s presence confirmed to those gathered that the dragon was, indeed, real.

Still, her popularity meant everyone was telling her what they knew. While the stories varied from improbable to impossible, the trio quickly learned that none of the stories matched. The only thing any of them could agree on was the dragon footprint they’d found near Lake Meade.

“Is the footprint still there?” Ndrek asked.

“Gone,” Kailis said. “Wiped away by rains.”

“Did you see it before it was destroyed?”

Kailis thought for a moment too long.

“You saw something. What was it?”

“Faint outline at best, and the locals had to point it out to us. If it was a footprint, the creature that left it had to be as big as the royal palace.”

“Hard for villagers to forge such a thing, yes?”

“Not saying they made it up, but they might have been seeing what they wanted to see.”

“The sun is still high. Let us investigate this lake.”

“Can’t take another night of weak ale and local gossip?” Vaiya asked.

“I would rather have hot coals placed on my back.”

“You might like that a little too much,” Vaiya said.

Ndrek grinned at her, and Kailis frowned at them both.

After packing a lunch of fresh bread, dried meat, and cheese, the trio followed a cow path to Lake Meade.

Ndrek sucked in a breath as he looked at the massive expanse of water. Lake did not convey the immensity of the body water that extended beyond the horizon. It reminded him of the ocean, but rather than the tang of salt and fish, it smelled like the morning after a rainstorm.

Watching the waves lap the shore and the sun illuminate the water, Ndrek eased his horse to the edge of the lake.

“How deep is this lake?”

Kailis shrugged. “Deeper than most. Mountains further south feed it with spring run-off, and there are several underground springs that empty into it as well.”

“Deep enough for a dragon the size of the royal palace to dive into for a snack?”

Kailis paused. “Yeah. I suppose it is.”

Ndrek nodded. “We should proceed with caution.”