Artifice: Episode One Free Sample!

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Artifice: Episode One Excerpt

Chapter 1

John didn’t need to open his eyes to tell that the fireplace had gone out. Thankfully, he had at least managed to keep enough of his faculties last night to ensure that he had covered himself with a blanket. Unfortunately, those same faculties had failed to tell him to sleep on the bed.

At least I ended up on the couch, rather than the floor this time, he thought.

With a tired motion he tossed the blanket to one side, got up, and stretched with a tired yawn. He then glanced at the corner of the room which, until recently, had contained a small stack of wood.

Shaking off the lingering remnants of sleep, he finally noticed the wind howling outside. Seeing the mid-morning sun obscured by the falling snow was sight enough to make him groan aloud.

Best check the fences now before it gets much worse. Last thing I need is another skunk getting through and spraying the cabin, he thought, silently cursing his laziness and wishing that he hadn’t put it off since last evening.

As best as he could in his current state, he attempted a short whistle. Then, from the bedroom, he heard what could only be the sound of two bodies jumping off the bed and scurrying toward him.

He bent down and fondly rubbed the heads of the two great shaggy dogs which, contrary to his condition, appeared brim-full of energy.

“Wanted the bed all for yourselves again, and decided to leave me on the couch, I see?” he fondly teased. “Maybe I should get a second bed for the two of you.”

He rethought that, “On second thought, maybe not. Each of you would probably try to stake a claim on one bed apiece, and I’ll still be stuck on the couch.”

One barked and wagged her tail, as if in response.

“Quietly, Penny”, he moaned with a hand going to the side of his head. “I’m still trying to gather my wits from last night”, he added while sneaking a guilty glace at the near empty decanter on the table.

Penny cocked her head and looked quizzically at him.

“I know, I know. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Come, we’ll take a walk, check the fences, and get our… well… my head cleared up.”

With the two dogs trailing behind, he walked up to the closet and opened the door to get a coat.

Then, to his eternal and certainly unexpected surprise, he saw a dragon staring back at him.

***

Rheus turned the round stone over in his palm and closely examined it. The material itself was nothing remarkable, and appeared to simply be a common rock that one would encounter anywhere. However, the strange geometric engravings were a novelty he hadn’t seen before. It didn’t resemble any written language he’d encountered, and more so, it seemed to trigger a sense of unease in Rheus.

Just my imagination, Rheus thought to himself.

“Wherever did you find this, Mag?” he asked.

-Far-, he heard her reply.

“I’m guessing this was the reason for your extended trip?’

-Part-.

“As obscure as ever”, he joked fondly, “but what am I to do with it?”

-Watch-, came the reply, as she held out a taloned claw and beckoned for the item to be returned.

He handed the strange rock back, and watched as she walked over to a stone arch that seemed to be haphazardly embedded with an odd, blue crystal.

Mag then stood in front of the arch, closed her eyes, and contorted her face as if in deep concentration.

Rheus watched on, confident that she wouldn’t put him in any danger. Plus, his curiosity had gotten the better of him, mainly due to the fact that the portal she was attempting to open didn’t require any strange rocks to activate, and, furthermore, that portal was supposed to only be coupled to his quarters. He continued watching as the portal slowly triggered; the outer arch glowing an incandescent blue, and the inside a swirling mass of white light. The swirling mass of light gradually dimmed and coalesced into a shimmering window, allowing Rheus to see the portal’s destination.

It was most certainly not his quarters.

***

Admittedly, it wasn’t a very big dragon. Not like the ones in stories, at least. Still, the creature was not minute, and appeared to be just over eight feet tall. A crocodilian head sat perched atop an elongated neck, and intently stared at John with dark blue reptilian eyes. The creature’s skin – or were those scales? – was nearly pitch black with a hint of dark purple. Glancing over the creature’s shoulder, John saw what appeared to be wings folded along its back and draped along the floor like a cape. All in all, he didn’t care much for his chances should the creature prove to be hostile.

Now, when put face to face with an eight foot tall dragon, most people would have taken stock of the situation and bolted like the wind. Thanks to last night, however, John was still a little worse for wear, and took a moment to fully comprehend what his eyes were seeing.

These few seconds also gave him time to notice that Penny and Em were on either side of him, also looking at the strange creature – and wagging their tails. Also, a strangely dressed man with a prodigious beard appeared to be off to one side of the scene. Still, the fact that he was almost face to face with a dragon dulled the need to find out why the man appeared to be wearing a bathrobe.

He glanced over to the man and waved with as friendly a smile as he could muster given the circumstances, all the while hoping that he wouldn’t order his pet dragon to devour him. The man returned his gesture with a slightly puzzled smile and a wave of his own.

Safe

He jumped back a step. The word had seemed to come from the creature, but its maw had not moved an inch.

Safe-, the voice repeated.

“Um… Hi?”

-Yes-

”Um… did you just speak to me?” John asked, pointing to himself.

-Yes-

”Um… what do you want?”

Come

“Me?” John asked, pointing to himself again.

-Yes-

”Um,” repeated John for the third time, still a little unsure what was occurring. “How do I do that?”

The creature’s expression changed to what looked like one of slight amusement.

-Walk-

Reassured a little by the almost human joke, John nervously chuckled and murmured to himself, “I guess that would be logical. Well, as logical as listening to a dragon in my closet. Still, it’s a more intriguing prospect than going out in that weather, and besides, I doubt I’ll ever get an offer like this again.”

While a bit shaken by the whole experience, he nevertheless tried to regain his wits. John took a deep breath, and before he could raise any self doubts as to what he was about to do, took a step forward.

“Hopefully, seeing dragons and hobos inside your closet isn’t the first sign of brain damage,” he silently muttered to himself, as he took those final few steps forward – and, simultaneously, braced himself and covered his face with a hand against the possibility that he might simply be hallucinating and walking blindly into the rear closet wall.

***

There was a sudden tingling that shot through his body as he stepped through, and his hair felt like it was standing on end. But, upon completing the transition with the next step, the odd feeling disappeared as quickly as it had occurred.

The man was speaking to him, but the words were gibberish to his ears. Sensing his incomprehension, the man turned and appeared to pose a question to the somewhat small dragon. In response to whatever the dragon had replied, he walked over to a cupboard and took out a long, silver coloured box and three long rods.

-Sit-, he heard, as the dragon beckoned to a nearby chair.

He sat, and watched as the man attached the rods to the bottom of the box in the form of a tripod. Looking more closely, the box itself couldn’t really be used as a box, as it had an open end on each side.

More of a miniature tunnel than a box, John thought.

Satisfied with his work, the man picked up the strange contraption, brought it over, and placed it with an open end pointed towards John.

-Hand-, came the dragon’s voice, as the man pointed to the end closest to John, then to John’s hand.

A trifle hesitant, but still curious, he placed his hand in the box and realized that there were tiny grooves on the inside in the rough shape of a palm. Fitting his hand on the pattern, he waited and watched as the man pulled up a chair opposite John and also sat down. The man then unclasped a small silver pin from the lapel of what appeared to be his bathrobe and placed it carefully on top of his end of the box.

John took a glance at the pin and saw it had a design of what appeared to be a leaf. Very pretty, he thought, but the whole contraption made even less sense now.

Satisfied with the placement of the pin, the man then started to turn what John had previously assumed to be raised decals at the side of the box. After about half a minute of seemingly random adjustments, the man then placed his hand into his end of the box, closed his eyes and sat back.

About ten seconds in, the ringing in his ears started. Another ten seconds later, he began to see spots and the tingling started creeping up his arm. By reflex, he tried to pull his arm away from the box, but couldn’t. In fact, he tried and found that he couldn’t move or utter a sound. He started to wonder what he had gotten himself into this time, but that thought didn’t last too long. After another few seconds, the room went dark and John blacked out.

 

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