Welcome to SPFBO 6 and my brand new feature, Party with the Stars! Have you ever wondered what might happen if you could throw a party of your choice and not only could you invite your MC(s) but other literary figures as well? In this feature I ask you to imagine exactly that scenario and some more. Let’s get the party started then!
The Host aka The Author
Here are the basics. My name is Eric Sparks, and I’m a writer living in the Memphis, TN area. During business hours, I serve as a marketing media manager where I wear many hats (Tech Writer, Ad Design, Web Design, and more). Whenever I can escape that world, you can normally find me working on my Fantasy and Science Fiction works. I am the author of The Tales of Lugon, which is the project I spend most of my time writing.
I have a Bachelor of Arts in English, emphasis in Literature from Union University in Jackson, TN. While I loved my time at Union (and will be the first to say that most of my professors were great and appreciated good writing in any form), I quickly discovered my passion for literature centered around the craft of storytelling, not arguing for specific interpretations or psychoanalyzing an author from his works. I still kept English as my major; I had planned on teaching high school English. In that role, I could encourage students to dive into the texts and understand the personal growth that could be achieved through seeing the different perspectives of the various characters without contributing to the elitism that seems to be running rampant in post-secondary academia. My career path changed, but not my love of reading, writing, and the benefits they bring to people. My approach to Creative Writing, and why I did not select classes that focused on it, is best described by William Faulkner: “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
The Main Guest(s) aka The MC(s)
Arun – Chronicling Specialist obsessed with ancient cultures.
Baran – Arun’s best friend always looking to the future and how he hopes to shape it by protecting those he loves.
Athaz – An aging Warden who wrestles with the futility of his entire career and his failures. As a young man, he had much in common with Baran, but has become disillusioned and jaded in regards to anything great, and now seeks only (against all odds) to ensure his family can be rescued from the laid for them.
The Special Guest(s)
I don’t know… maybe Pippin so that Baran doesn’t seem like quite as big of a doofus lol.
The Main Attraction
A perfect, miniature recreation made of the same materials as the original of the Gate of Menigar, where the Savanir live on as the descendants of the culture the main characters believed had been wiped out 2700 years ago at Lacris.
Wheel in the Sky by Journey
An enjoyable coupling of classic rock to welcome to the party with lyrics about how life keeps moving on and we never quite know where we’re going.
Dust in the Wind by Kansas
Slow things down a bit but not yet jarring with another classic rock song. While Wheel in the Sky talks about the unrelenting and unpredictable course of life from the perspective of the heavens above, Dust in the Wind reflects on the fragile and brief experience we have with it.
Scarborough Fair by Nox Arcana
In this haunting reworking of the traditional folk song, the forlorn lover is long deceased, leaving instructions for his love to prove her love to him so that she might summon his ghost that they may see each other one more time. Perhaps played over a slideshow showing our first loves and school day romances.
Pompeii by Bastille
Continuing with the theme of both fragility of life and trying to hold onto permanence (but with a much happier tone that contrasts with the lyrics), and references an ancient culture that was immediately snuffed out and is for the most part forgotten except for its destruction. This actually is similar to the ancient times referenced in Truth Unearthed – all that is remembered is their final defeat at Lacris.
Bag End (aka Concerning Hobbits) by Howard Shore
Though it contains no lyrics, the song reflects the renewal of life springing from the ashes of lives to be forgotten. It calls to mind the “new green in each spring” including the ones we “will never see.” It reminds us that while it is sad that life fails and is forgotten, that ultimately it is always reborn, and because of that, there is always Joy and Hope will continue to grow even as whither and fade.
The Party aka Who Let the MC(s) Loose?
Arun would probably be in a corner mostly observing and chatting with a few people. Baran would be drunk out of his mind, singing with every song, and trying to flirt with all the pretty ladies. Athaz would be reserved in behavior, but amiable with fellow guests and be able to connect both the the happy and sad reflections.
This would be an odd “party” for most people, but me and my friends from high school (who do still meet regularly and keep in touch 15 years later). We love talking about old peoples, history, and thinking about how both humanity keeps screwing things up and making things worse and worse and yet Life seems to always find a way to renew itself and give Hope for the future.
Eric Sparks submitted Truth Unearthed to SPFBO. You can connect with the author here:
To read about more parties and to follow our process in SPFBO 6, please visit my SPFBO 6 Phase 1 page!
Excerpt from Truth Unearthed
Athaz smiled as he looked around him. Even here, just outside Setenbor in the Northern Wilds, the camaraderie that surrounded him provided more warmth than the campfire they sat around. They were soldiers of The Dawn, meaning theirs was a bloody business. However, the battle was going smoothly, and already they had Setenbor under siege; their lookouts would let them know if any sortie was coming from the gates.
“Avid must be a bloody fool to try and rebel against the Son of Bälech,” a nearby soldier said. “Did he honestly think that the Emperor would tolerate treason, even in this miserable territory?”
“I doubt he was that stupid,” said another. “The snows are late; we would never have gotten through the pass to Lokin otherwise, and he would have had all winter to fortify this place. He already had quite a few mercs.”
Athaz laughed quietly to himself at that remark. Half of them had fled in terror when they had seen how many Wardens were leading the force to quell the rebellion. Now it was just a matter of hoping the snows waited a little longer. If they assaulted the strongest city in the Northern Wilds, they would win. But the price in blood would be much greater than letting their resources deplete and the people rebel against Avid in hopes of a pardon from the Son of Bälech.
A horn blast from the south penetrated the darkness. It echoed all around them, save for the direction of the city, startling the entire camp. “For Xiarch!” came a fell cry in unison from locations south, east, and west of their position.
“Bewildered ambush!” Athaz yelled.
It was too late. War horses cried as The Bewildered charged the camp, spears pinning men still in their sleeping bags, which then became their death beds. Those who managed to get up quicker found swords sweeping for their necks long before they were oriented enough to fight. Everything was chaos.
Damn Bewildered! Athaz cursed as he ducked under a sword and spun behind him to levy his zweihänder across his attacker’s chest, unseating him. Athaz was on him in an instant, quickly pulling out a dagger and stabbing the man in the throat before rolling away lest a spear find his back. They must have heard of Avid’s rebellion and are coming to his aid; any city no longer part of The Dawn is worth defending in their addled brains!
The initial charge was over, and The Bewildered were gathering to the north near the city, turning around and preparing for another charge. “To the east! To the woods!” Athaz yelled to any that could hear as he began obeying his own advice. The nearby forest was dense, and The Bewildered’s horses would become a liability instead of their biggest advantage.
On his way there, he found one of the Wardens gravely wounded. “I’ve got you, sir,” Athaz said as he put the Warden’s arm over his shoulder and called for help. Three other soldiers made their way toward them. The Warden was bleeding badly. They needed to get to a Healer quickly, but Athaz didn’t know if they would find one in time.
“Damn Bewildered targeted the Wardens first to keep us from quickly shaving their numbers,” he swore. “How they knew we would be holding council at that moment, I’ll never know, but they couldn’t have picked a better time to strike. Most are dead, and I won’t be long.”
At that moment, one of The Bewildered soldiers spotted them and sounded a cry for his fellow warriors to join him in chasing down the wounded Warden.
“Stop them!” Athaz shouted as he gently laid the Warden in the shallow snow and readied his zweihänder. Racing to the front, he led the charge, dodging under the swing of the first man’s sword. Rising back up with his own, he caught the second Bewildered attacker under the arm and threw him backwards into the snowy ground. Most of Athaz’s fellow soldiers had encircled their wounded commander and were trying to fend off the determined attack. A madness came upon Athaz as he saw his comrades falling. He leapt into the fray and slew his enemies. Too late did The Bewildered realize where the chief danger lay. After the final attacker fell, Athaz made his way to the man he wounded at the beginning of the fight, ready to finish him off.
“Hold!” wheezed the Warden. “Take him for questioning.”
Most of The Bewildered had already established a wall and no longer pursued the army into the woods. Hailing a few more soldiers, Athaz carried the Warden to cover while two others pulled the wounded Bewildered fighter with them.
“Get him to tell you how long they have infiltrated Setenbor and how long they had the ear of Mayor Avid. I’m too weak to search his mind. Don’t stop until you get answers.”
Athaz’s stomach did flips inside of him. He despised torture. He was glad it had always been the responsibility of the Watchers, not the military. But now he had just been given a direct order, so he beat the man. He broke every finger on one hand, but the man would not budge. “Start … the next … hand …” Though the Warden was weak, Athaz was still under his authority.
“You will tell me something!” Athaz roared as he punched the prisoner, felling him to the snow. Bending down to grab the man’s hair, he paused for just a brief instant. “Please tell me so I may stop!” he hoarsely whispered to his captive.
The prisoner looked into Athaz’s eyes through his one eye that he could still open. Had he really just heard that? He cried out in pain as Athaz yanked him up by his hair. But those eyes were still staring back at him, silently pleading. A chance to sow doubt among a loyal soldier, end his own suffering, and keep the spies of the Savanir safe lay before him, if he could just work this chance correctly.
“Stop! I beg! There isn’t much to tell, but I will share what I know. We heard rumors of the army on the move and were watching from afar. We have a camp on an island north of here.” He was glad an uninitiated grunt was questioning him and not the Warden that would know it was a lie. “While you were laying siege, some of our men got close enough to hear this Warden and the others plan to burn the city with ev—”
Suddenly, the Warden faced the prisoner and yelled, “Zol ete Bälech, a veryn fa Anpet falun cree, Shrik!
The Bewildered’s speech fell into a gurgled scream as an ice shard shot through his mouth, pinning his head to the tree behind him.
Athaz numbly turned to the Warden. The Divine Command the Warden had used had drained most of his remaining energy. “Nobody … lives … accusing … The Dawn of such atrocities.”
Athaz couldn’t believe what the captive was about to say. Was it true? Had that been the plan? Surely not …
“Look in my cloak pocket for the parchment and ink and find me something to write with,” the Warden whispered weakly. “I don’t have much time left.”
Athaz carefully lifted the Warden from the tree he was leaning against and found the requested items. Quickly scanning around him, he found a small twig that would have to do for a pen. “Lie down. I must have something to write on.”
Feeling awkward, Athaz obeyed. It was only a moment before the Warden spoke again. “Arise.” Athaz stood at attention before the dying Warden. “Take this. You might as well try to read it, they won’t believe you if you say no anyway.” A fit of coughing overtook the Warden, and he spat blood into the snow. “You can’t read it, but try to remember what it looks like; it will help during your questioning with the Watchers.”
Athaz shivered at the thought of them. “May I ask what it is?”
The Warden had already closed his eyes, thinking never to open them, but at this he looked at the young man before him and coughed out a laugh. “Your recommendation to be made a Warden for … your service.” Closing his eyes again, he took a few more breaths before his lungs stopped laboring.
* * * * * * * * * *
A familiar, lovely voice called to him. “Athaz, you’re doing it again.” Athaz’s head shot up from the plate he had been staring at, lost in the memories of three months prior. He wasn’t in Setenbor. He was home, in his humble but comfortable quarters. Lilleth was nursing their five-month-old son, Caedin, her soft brown eyes filled with worry as she looked at her husband. She had gone to feed Caedin after preparing Athaz’s breakfast, which still remained untouched on his plate. He quickly scarfed it down before standing and putting the plate on the counter. Lilleth walked over to him with their son and leaned against his chest in an effort to calm him down. Athaz scolded himself for letting that night overwhelm him again. He stroked her long brown curls. Her life as a soldier’s wife wasn’t easy, but it was the price both had willingly agreed to pay to escape the poverty of the Yeomanry.
“I know you don’t want to share what happened,” Lilleth said as she laid her head on her husband’s shoulder, “but this is tearing you apart. Please, don’t keep me out.”
Athaz put his arm around his wife, leaning his forehead against hers. Caedin grabbed at his father’s shirt and squealed.
“You’ve always been there for me—”
BANG. BANG. BANG. “Open for the Son of Bälech!”
Athaz looked at Lilleth. “Later,” he mouthed as he went to open the door.
A Healer was at the door. His hair, originally brown, was now mostly gray, but his face looked young, closer to thirty than forty. “Athaz of the House of Haedrin?” Athaz nodded, waiting for the man to explain himself. “My name is Palit. I am a Healer, as you can see,” he motioned to his robes.
Athaz confirmed he had indeed noticed. “But why are you here? There is nobody needing treatment in my house; I did not send for you.”
Palit looked surprised by the question. “Well, they said this was a rush, but I assumed you had at least been told. You are going to be made a Warden, and I have been tasked with preparing your body and overseeing its recovery.”
“Preparation? Recovery? What is he talking about, Athaz?” Lilleth strained her voice, trying to hide as much of her apprehension as possible.
“I don’t know,” Athaz responded calmly to ease her concern. Turning to the Healer, he said, “I was aware I was up for consideration, but they hadn’t even told me they had made a decision.”
“Odd. The Son of Bälech was in a hurry, but I hadn’t heard of anyone not receiving their notices.” He looked up at the future Warden with some concern. “Are you ready? Then again … I guess that doesn’t really matter now, does it?”
Athaz shrugged. “Since you seem to know more than we do, I guess you could at least tell us what’s going on.”
Palit then explained that the Son of Bälech was on his way; only he could perform the transformation process of Wardens, Watchers, and Healers. “It’s not as bad for Healers,” he admitted, “but bad enough. If not for having a Healer to help afterward, I’m not sure men would live through becoming a Warden.” Palit paused for a moment before continuing. “I don’t know if you could call a Watcher’s existence living,” he admitted with a shudder. “Let’s not talk about them. I had to make sleeping potions for myself for a month after my first one.” Lilleth’s face went white. “Don’t worry my dear, not nearly that bad for Wardens, though it’s certainly an ordeal. And soon you and your little one will be in Hilae with all of the other Warden families, not stuck in this Light-forsaken village. You will have access to everything you and your child may need, including The Academy.”
“But will my son have his father?” she muttered under her breath.
Palit did not hear her. “Alright, quickly now. The Son of Bälech doesn’t like to be kept waiting. Normally you are told to prepare a bed for your transformation and recovery, but your main bed will have to do. And you …”
“Lilleth,” she responded curtly.
“Apologies, milady, but could you please peruse my drawings here? These are some symbols to choose from so you may identify your husband from the other Wardens.”
Lilleth would have liked to stuff the papers down the Healer’s throat, but she began looking through them while Palit led Athaz back to the bed and removed his clothing. “Hurry, my dear, the Son of Bälech may be here any minute!”
Lilleth returned with one of the sheets in her hand.
“Really? That was one from my first batch. I never thought it would be used. I was a fool for thinking Yeomanry symbols would be chosen. Those not from there find them insulting, and most like to forget about their past if they are from there.”
“Please, Palit,” Athaz said before Lilleth got any more upset. He could already read it in her eyes. She was terrified of losing him. “I will always remember where I came from,” he said to her.
The Healer was already busy covering his chest, explaining how his skin would absorb the permanent tattoo during the transformation process, but Athaz wasn’t listening to that. Lilleth had placed the infant in his crib and was near the bed, holding her husband’s hand. He motioned for her to come closer, whispering into her ear, “… and where I’m returning.”
A single THUD sounded from the front door.
“Dawn’s Light! We barely got that done in time!” Palit said as he hurriedly put away his things. “That will be him! Quick,” he said, handing Athaz a small vial. “Drink this. You’ll be out before I get back in the room.” Then, without waiting for permission, he ran to let in the Emperor and his personal guard of six Wardens. A Watcher also accompanied them, his face hidden in the depth of his hood. Palit shivered involuntarily.
“Not a good idea to keep his majesty waiting,” the first Warden said darkly.
“A thousand apologies,” Palit said, bowing deeply. “He is ready for you. Right this way.”
Lilleth went prostrate as they entered the bedroom, as was customary in their Emperor’s presence, but she couldn’t help but look up at their ruler and the man that was going to change their lives forever. When she did, their eyes met, and she stared, transfixed. She had heard the Son of Bälech’s eyes shone like the sun, but she hadn’t expected the glowing orange irises that looked back at her. Then he spoke an unnaturally heavy, gravelly voice that hissed like lava cooling into stone. “Normally, it is death to gaze upon me without my bidding. But I am nothing if not merciful. And it would not do to spoil my newest Warden’s baptism day by leaving him a widower with no one to raise his child.” At this, he stared at the infant in his crib with an intensity and hunger that made Lilleth sick. But he finally turned his attention back to the bold woman before him. “No, that would not do at all,” he said as he stepped up to the bed. “Leave us,” he commanded.
Lilleth rose, but she did not leave her husband’s side, though she couldn’t bear the thought of looking into the Son of Bälech’s eyes again. It was not fear of the consequences but the eyes themselves that were so unnerving.
The first Warden unsheathed his weapon, ready to kill the woman. “How dare you repay our lord’s mercy with such insolence!”
“Stay your weapon, Warden!” the unnatural voice commanded. “Loyalty should be encouraged wherever it is shown. It’s so hard to find these days, as we all know from recent events.” His eyes glowed even fiercer as he said this. “She may stay. Watcher, stand with her. Prepare yourself, woman!”
Quickly, Lilleth made her way over to the crib. She pushed Caedin into the arms of the unexpecting, hitherto unwelcome, Healer, who now felt like a dear friend compared to the other guests.
Palit rushed the infant out of the room. The poor woman! If she knew what she was about to witness, she wouldn’t have stayed.
Suddenly, the Son of Bälech began speaking in a language Lilleth did not understand. For a long time, nothing happened. Athaz’s breathing shallowed, and he seemed to be merely in a deeper sleep. But it was not peaceful. He began to moan. His back violently arched and he roared in his sleep—in agony that no lack of consciousness could dull. The Son of Bälech bent down and held Athaz down as an unnatural orange light enveloped the young man’s body. It looked like a fire from within was burning him to death. Lilleth gasped and hid her eyes.
“Oh no, my dear, you wanted to see, and see you will!” another spine-chilling voice said. It was the Watcher’s. But where the Emperor’s voice was thick and heavy, this one was light and fragile. Speaking in the same tongue, Lilleth suddenly felt her hands go straight to her sides. Her eyes flew open, refusing to obey her mind’s command to close. Unbidden and unstoppable tears began to flow as her husband screamed and his body contorted in protest. Her legs gave way, but still she found herself supported by an unseen force, her mouth agape in a silent, terrified scream.
* * * * * * * * * *
When it was over, The Son of Bälech summoned the Healer back to him. “Stay with him. You are now his personal Healer.”
“Of course your majesty,” Palit said with his head bowed.
“I mean permanently. The situation at Setenbor has revealed that The Bewildered were stronger than we realized, hasn’t it?” At this he turned to the Watcher, who trembled violently in a memory that Palit couldn’t even imagine. “We have lost far too many Wardens lately, and we must take steps to ensure their ranks stay filled. You are now at his command.”
Palit was grateful that his bowed head hid the shock on his face. “Your wisdom is unquestioned, as always,” he managed to reply correctly.
Walking past the Healer, he turned his gaze toward Lilleth, who sat in a heap, looking as far as she could in the opposite direction. “Remember what you have seen today, woman, and you will be wiser for it. I have taught you the nature of things, a gift many in Hilae must wait years to see. Use this wisely and you will find yourself in a place of power among the families in my capitol.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Athaz awoke to the feeling of Lilleth wiping a moist cloth across his brow. He didn’t have to ask to know he had a burning fever. “What time is it?”
“It’s been a week since you became a Warden,” she said without emotion. “Palit has gone to retrieve some more supplies.”
Why wasn’t she looking at him? “What’s wrong?” he asked. “I have never seen you like this.”
Lilleth laughed bitterly, handing him a mirror. “You’re one to talk. Look at yourself.”
Athaz gazed at his reflection. He looked like every other Warden, though he had to admit it was still a shock to not recognize the face staring back at him. “This can’t be what’s bothering you.”
“How much do you remember?” she asked.
“Not much after Palit put the ink on my chest.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I watched him, Athaz. I watched … what became of you.”
“What became of me? I’m still me, no matter what I look like!”
“You are his now! You no longer belong to me … to us!” she screamed.
But now she could only sob. Athaz tried to hold her, but he was weak. She let him, though he might as well have been holding a cold wall; she couldn’t have felt further if they were on opposite ends of the world. “Where is Caedin?” he finally asked. “Can I see him?”
“I don’t think that’s a good—”
“Let me see our son,” he demanded.
Lilleth finally looked him in the eyes. Pain like he had never seen stared back at him. “Fine, I’ll get him.”
When she brought him, Athaz reached out for his son, but to his surprise, Caedin began to scream and burrowed into his mother’s bosom.
“What the …?”
“He is remembering the first time he saw that figure. He sees only a Warden,” Lilleth explained.
“And what do you see?”
Lilleth couldn’t stop the tears from starting again. “I still see you, Athaz.” She paused, but he could tell she wasn’t finished. She put their son in his crib and crawled into the bed, lying next to him. Relief poured through Athaz as he hugged her tightly. “But I also see the man our son sees. I fear there is no stopping you from growing into this body… I fear that the Son of Bälech will not settle for transforming only your flesh.” Lilleth’s fingers clutched him, like he was something slipping through her grasp.
Athaz looked down at his chest. “You chose well. As I told you, I will always remember where to return.”
“Then so much the worse for you,” she said, trembling in his arms. “You will never be free of him.”
To read about more parties and to follow our process in SPFBO 6, please visit my SPFBO 6 Phase 1 page!