ThomasLaHomme, The Wordsmith

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6/9/2024 11:38 PM

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Hi, my name is Thomas La Homme. I'm a veteran of two Industrial bands. I'm also a poet.  I grew up with the old Choose Your Own Adventure and Endless Quest books in the 80's and have always been fascinated with the old text-based computer games like Zork.

My background has been in writing fiction, so my point of attack when writing story-games is always with an emphasis on the story. I feel that interactive fiction is a valued art form that can be viewed as a subgenre of experimental fiction. Since mainstream writers are likely to take this format and do something skull-crushingly boring, I see this as an opportunity to expand the form of "genre fiction". Whether of not what I write is any good is up for debate. Writing is always a learning process, so hopefully I'm getting better as time goes by.

Let me know what you think. 


Trophies Earned

Earning 100 Points Having 1 Storygame(s) Featured


Featured Story Aphrodite's Orphan

A teenage girl living on a Venus out of 1930's Pulp Science Fiction must search the planet and other worlds with her robot tutor to find the killers of her parents.

This is done in the format of an Interactive Novel, so it's pretty far removed from the standard Dungeon Crawl format. This is more reminiscent of the old CYOA books of the 80's and 90's, particularly T.S.R. Hobbies' Endless Quest Books. The characters have arcs which will be determined by the decisions you make.

Because this is set in an outdated version of the solar system, I consider this to be more a work of Fantasy than Science Fiction. Think Science Fantasy.

Also, there are elements of Hard Boiled Detective fiction and Film Noir. Like if Raymond Chandler or James M. Cain wrote about Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.           


The Dolls' Quest

Two sentient dolls who remember previous lives as a prince and princess in another universe, go on a perilous quest across the United States to learn more of their origins. My first storygame so any constructive criticism is welcome. Now with 30% fewer typos! Thanks to Mizal for editing advice. 


Time and the Twin Cities

A young man's coming of age as he navigates an underground fairy city where time runs slower and his hometown as it evolves into a metropolis over the centuries.

Recent Posts

The Divine Diamond Highway My New Fantasy Novel on 4/10/2024 9:53:41 PM

Sherbert, hope you like it.

The Divine Diamond Highway My New Fantasy Novel on 4/10/2024 9:53:14 PM

Thanks, Mizal. It'll be up for whenever you want to read it.

The Divine Diamond Highway My New Fantasy Novel on 4/10/2024 9:52:30 PM

Hetero_Malk, thanks so much for the commendation.

The Divine Diamond Highway My New Fantasy Novel on 4/8/2024 12:03:54 AM

Hey, gang! I recently finished writing an entire novel. It's a Sword & Sorcery novel called The Divine Diamond Highway. I'll leave a link to the site it's on, as well as the text for chapter one. 

The Divine Diamond HighwayThe Divine Diamond Highway 

Chapter 1: The Conniusota Philosophers' Academy

Shed her skin and spread the stars
Praise be to the Lord
Praise be to the Lady
Ancestors of us all
Let our burnt bodies
breath out our spirits
to cross the starry bridge 
between sodden earth 
and jewel-scaled heavens.
Shed her skin and spread the stars 
for the siblings sacrificed 
the serpent on the altar of chaos 
that her backbone be 
the mountains high.
For the siblings sacrificed 
the serpent on the altar of chaos 
that her life juices 
fill the depths of all seas.
Shed her skin and spread the stars 
for the siblings sacrificed 
the serpent on the altar of chaos 
that her spattered entrails 
be the forests and the wandering beasts.
Praise be to the Lord
Praise be to the Lady
Ancestors of us all.
Let our burnt bodies 
exhale our spirits 
to cross the starry bridge 
between sodden earth 
and jewel-scaled heavens.
Wash our mothers’ milk 
from our mouths 
in waters of chaos 
before we set foot upon starry road 
in the last long trek 
from south to north 
on the scaled stones of the Hallowed Highway.  

               –When the Siblings Slew the Serpent, Equoci hymn

Up the steep steps and into the mouth of the monster. 
    “How do I look?” asked Mala, smiling nervously.
    We stood by a massive column in the long foyer just inside the entrance of the Imperial palace.
    I looked Mala over. Her normally bushy black thatch of hair had been tamed down and tied back to reveal soft saffron features and wide, dark eyes. I’d of course already noticed the light blue dress she’d chosen to wear for our meeting with the Deity Imperator, but her uncomfortable slouching belied the fact that she was taller than me.
    I smiled. “You look as pretty as a hyacinth, but stand up straight, please. The Emperor doesn’t need to know you’re scared to meet him.”
    “Oh.” She pulled herself up. “You look lovely, too.”
    “I redid my cornrows this morning. No point in looking shabby today. I assume he won’t mind my leather pants and jacket since he’s probably expecting to see me in my professional capacity.”  
    “Will he mind the sword?” 
     I looked down at the sheathed blade at my hip and smiled. “Well, considering his debt to me I don’t think he’ll object. Mostly, though, I was reluctant to leave my sword at the inn because those places attract thieves.”
    She took in a deep, shuddering breath. “I hope we don’t have to wait here long. The more I stand here just thinking about who I’m about to talk with, the more I want to run out of the palace and hide away somewhere. Is it true what people say about him?”
    I chuckled. “Only the bad things. But members of the guard should be here soon to take us to meet His Excellency.”
    Fortunately, my prediction proved to be correct.
    I had not been to the Emperor’s palace for almost two years now, but its over-abundant opulence assaulted my senses like it had the first time I’d been here, back when my party and I had been dragged in as prisoners. Pink marble arches rose up two stories to support the base of a vast, multi-paned dome of frosted glass. A long crimson carpet cut a bloody gash across the polished floor. Mala and I were led by two spear-wielding guards in mailed jerkins and iron helmets to a spacious chamber at the far end of the court.
    Sitting on a plum-colored divan was a tanned, muscular man in silk breeches and sandals. He plucked the strings of a lyre, his dark eyes intent on his instrument.
    When we approached he looked at us from under thick black brows and grinned. “Syndeeka,” he said, placing the lyre on the cushions beside him and standing, “it’s been a while.”
    Mala and I stopped in front of the man and bowed.
    “Yes, Demitos. We were summoned by his Excellency to discuss an important matter.”
    Demitos looked to Mala and his hard olive features seemed to glow with a soft warmth. “Who is this lovely lady?”
    She gave me a nervous glance and I raised a cautioning hand to let me speak for her. “This, good sir, is my old friend and professional associate, Mala of the Ushe.”
    He raised an eyebrow, then looked to the guards and said: “You two may leave now.”
    The guards bowed, stamped their spears in unison, and briskly strode from the room.
    Demito’s grin became wide and he approached Mala. “You are Ushe as well?”
    Mala turned her eyes to the floor. “Yes, sir. Yes, I am also of that noble people.”
    “You don’t look Ushe. You’re very pale for one of them, I should think.”
    “Neither of us does, good sir,” I interjected. “Most Ushe are of a dark brown complexion. I’m blue-black because my father was probably an eastern merchant, and Mala’s--”
    “My father was a white man,” interrupted Mala.
    Demitos looked to me. “Why is she here, Syndeeka? Did my man need to speak to her too?”
    “No, good sir.”
    Demitos chuckled. “Drop the formalities, Syndeeka. It’s just the three of us here. Why did you bring her if Fodineo has no need of her? You said she was a professional associate. Is she also a mercenary?”
    “Uh, no, Demitos. She and I shared the same line of work years ago.”
    He chortled. “She was a professional whore like you?”
    “I’m mostly a servant now,” said Mala. “Although I’ve been training to be an herbalist and an astrologer. But I was a whore once.”
    Demitos raised his hands in the air. “So was I!”
    He re-seated himself on the divan and resumed playing the lyre.
    After a moment, Mala glanced at me.
    “May we see him now?” I asked after another awkward pause.
    “Oh,” said Demitos, strumming three strings in a glissando, “by all means.” He raised a thumb over his shoulder. “He’s in his apartments. Just go on. If he’s expecting you then you won’t be intruding on him.”
    We found his Excellency dressed in a red velvet robe and sitting at a polished oak table piled with vellum scrolls and leather-bound books, his eyes scanning a scroll held wide in his hands. I was surprised to see his once carefree flowing black curls had now been replaced by a short bowl cut. Seeing us, he smiled and placed the scroll on the table where it curled up. 
    “Syndeeka!” He stood and came around the table, resting olive hands on my shoulders. “It’s so wonderful to see you again. Is this your friend Mala?”
    “Yes,” I said, placing a dark hand on his shoulder. “She’s currently seeking employment so I thought to bring her along to meet the one man best suited to find her work.”
    He let go my shoulders and his smile melted slightly. “I heard about what happened with Lord Zounacsechs. I’m terribly sorry.”
    “I should not like to discuss the matter at this time.”
    “Oh, of course.” He waved us to two low wooden stools in front of the table and re-seated himself. “If you’ll make yourselves comfortable, we shall get down to the business for which I summoned you.”
    We took our seats and he smiled and ran his fingers through his black bangs and resumed talking.
    “Syndeeka, I need you to tutor a young student at the Conniusota Philosopher’s Academy just outside of the city.”
    This was new. When I’d received the letter from the Emperor about an assignment, I’d assumed he’d meant another mercenary job.
    “A tutor?” I slowly inhaled. “I suppose that would be a step up from sell-sword. Still, it’s not an astronomer’s post.”
    His smile shifted to a toothy grin. “You’d be teaching astronomy, my good woman!”
    He bound the scroll with a leather thong and placed it to the side. “My dear Syndeeka, this position as a student’s tutor is what we call a front. Merely an excuse to justify your presence at the academy. Tutor is one of the few jobs a woman can hold at the institute which would allow you access to all levels of the campus. You’ll be a spy.”
    “A spy?”
    “My eyes and ears. I do not wish to alarm the administration. You’re to investigate a mystery at the academy.”
    “Mystery? What mystery?”
    “What will I be doing?” asked Mala. “Um, I mean… may I ask if there’s anything I can do to help, Your Excellency?”
    Fodineo pursed his lips and regarded my friend. “Presumptuous, aren’t you, little girl?”
    “She’s not a little girl,” I said. 
    The Emperor eyed me. “Have you become that nonchalant in my presence, Syndeeka? Have you forgotten I’m worshiped as a god?”
    “A god whose life I saved.”
    He grinned. “Quite right. Between the three of us, I am only a man.” He folded his hands behind his head. “Only the most powerful man in the world. Mala, you wanted to know what you could do? I’m sure I can find some low-level job for you on campus. You can investigate for me too.”
    “What specifically is it you would like me to do, though, Your Excellency?” I asked. “Besides tutoring a student.”
    Fodineo pulled his hands from behind his head and stretched his arms wide. “I need you, my dear warrior-astronomer, to find and destroy the Sepulchral Giant.”
    The sun had just peaked over the squat buildings of the academy and was now crawling its way up the early morning sky. Below it in the courtyard was a throng of students and instructors going to and from lectures. Between the four main buildings of the campus lay a flagstoned quadrangle with a long stone bench running the length of the westernmost side of the courtyard. 
    Here I resided with my new friends. Dusana, tall and lanky and capped with a mop of chestnut curls, lazily paced to and fro in front of the bench, gently blowing on a reed flute. Sitting next to him and scanning the milling crowd was his companion in mischief, Calendra, a small blond-haired man with large eyes and even bigger teeth.
    I sat cross-legged a few feet from them on the bench with my assigned student, Aldro, a dark-haired boy whose wide brown eyes stared intently from a gaunt face.
    In the center of the courtyard reclined Lord Nisentaqua and Lady Surimasey atop the coils of a massive serpent. Their huge feet swung back and forth languidly over the inner rim of their reptilian perch. Her light brown eyes took in the gray eyes of her lover. Their hands, olive-brown and jointed and entwined, rose and fell with their steady breath. Occasionally, the Celestial Lord would pucker his pneumatic lips at her before the two of them closed in for a kiss. 
    “It’s impressive what Suhodetan could create, isn’t it, Syndeeka?” said Aldro.
    I looked at the shabbily robed young man next to me and smiled. “Sorry, it’s a little distracting. They look as if they could climb down off of that snake and wreak havoc on the campus.”
    He brushed back dark locks from his eyes and glanced at the two mechanical gods. “Were you in the city when that other god of Suhodetan’s went crazy at the Deity Imperator’s palace? I heard several people were killed.”
    I didn’t know if I should tell him that I was the one who disposed of that automaton. “Um…no. No, I don’t think I heard that. I’ve only recently returned from the barbaric northern kingdom of Lashikisha.”
    Just then, a young man passed by with what looked like a pointed tower shield on his arm and a sheathed sword on his back.
    I watch him cross the courtyard before turning back to Aldro. “Is he a guard?”
    Aldro laughed. “No. A lot of the students like to do that at the end of the week. I don’t bother because I don’t want to get wet, but it’s a school tradition.” 
    Calendra stood from where he sat a few feet ahead of us on the bench. “I propose we start a new tradition. People from the city seem so busy with their affairs they can’t even bother to say hello. Well, I’m going to change that.”
    A short man with a bowl cut and hairy legs coming out of a kilt passed by.
    Calendra blocked the man’s path and waved his hand back and forth. “Hello, good sir!”
    The short man scowled at Calendra and walked around him.
    Aldro regarded his blond companion and chuckled. “He’s funny.”
    I rubbed my forehead. “I used to have a friend who was a veteran of the stage. He told me there was little difference between comedy and tragedy.” 
    “Oh? What happened to him?”
    “He died.”
    “But maybe we should get back to my lesson.”
    “Oh. Oh, yes. Of course.” 
    “So, the zodiac is made up of constellations in the night sky that the sun crosses through?”
    “Basically. In the course of the year.”
    “Hello, good sir!” said Calendra to an older man with black robes and an iron colored shock of hair. “Beautiful morning, isn’t it?”
    The older man, obviously annoyed at being detained, sighed. “Please let me pass, boy. I’ve got a lecture I need to be giving right now.”
    Calendra let the man go by and turned to us, grinning. “People should be friendly. Right, Dusana?”
    Dusana took the flute from his lips long enough to say, “Well, of course,” before resuming his playing.
    I groaned.
    “But the sun’s not up when the stars are out,” said Aldro.
    “What?” I asked. “Oh, no. It doesn’t have to be. Ancient astrologers marked the highest position the sun would be in the sky on a particular day and then correlated which constellations would come out in the night sky for that evening.”    
    I glanced down at my hand-written notes in the large leather-bound book I held open in my lap. Since only instructors were allowed to check out lecture scrolls from the Academic Library, students and tutors were forced to transcribe the contents of these documents by hand. It had been so long since I had taken prodigious notes on behalf of my astronomy mentor, Master Keeshofa, that I was dismayed to find my hand (now normally used for swinging a sword) had started cramping up when I began writing in my notebook.
    “Hello, my good man!” said Calendra.
    I looked up and saw a huge, burly man with a sky blue tunic and a black beard being detained by my foolish blond associate.
    “Get out of my way, little boy,” said the burly man, practically knocking Calendra off his feet as he pushed him aside.
    “Syndeeka,” Aldro asked, trying to smooth out his black curls more, “Bardrakeu is throwing a party at his father’s summer house this weekend. I’m rather shy around lovely young maidens so it would help me a lot if I had someone by my side when I tried talking to them. May I invite you to join me there?”
    I cleared my throat.
    What was he really asking of me?
    I was on assignment as a sell-sword, and I certainly didn’t need some in-experienced young man complicating my plans with his attempts at a love life.
    His brown eyes widened.
    “Oh, I didn’t mean to imply you would be my date for the evening.”
    I sighed through half-clenched teeth. “I should hope not, Aldro. I’m at least ten years your senior. I’m old enough to be your aunt.”
    He smiled. “You look more like you could be my sister. Well, my sister from another mother.”
    “Good morning, good sir! How are you on this fine day?”
     I glanced at Calendra accosting a muscular auburn haired man with maroon robes and a walking stick. The man raised his stick threateningly and Calendra held his arms before his head in a defensive stance. The man smirked and walked on.
    “Why does he keep bothering people?” Adlro asked me.
    “He’s playing to his audience,” I said. “If we were to get up and leave he’d stop making a fool of himself.”
    “I’m just trying to be friendly!” Calendra called to me.
    “But what do you say, Syndeeka? Can I rely on you this weekend? It’s tomorrow; the Lord’s Day.”
    “Young man, you certainly don’t need me around to talk to girls. Your other friends will surely be there.”
    He chuckled nervously and his eyes darted to the flagstones. “Once girls show up, my friends become rivals. And they’re more experienced than I am. I’ll be too shy to speak to a pretty maiden, but my so-called friends won’t. I’ve asked them to be merciful before, but they never are. When females are present it’s every man for himself.”
    “Aldro, I will not be your date for the party. Your friends already know me so they’ll think you and I are some sort of couple. I can’t have people believing such nonsense. It could adversely affect my job if rumor spread that I was romantically attached to a student I worked for.”
    Aldro held up his hands pleadingly. “No one’s going to think you’re my date.”
    I took a slow, deep breath. “No. The answer is no.”
    “Hello, good sir!”
    “Aldro, you’re young. You don’t understand the intricacies of society like I do. Just trust my judgment in this matter.” 
    Aldro looked crestfallen. I felt an ice-cold wave of guilt wash over me, but I quickly shoved it away deep inside myself.
    He looked down at his crossed legs. “Well, what about the girl you always talk to? The food server?”
    “You want her to be your date? She’s around my age, you know. She was once married to a soldier in the Imperial navy, too. I don’t think she’d want to spend her free time with a young boy.”
    He looked at me with large, sad eyes.
    “Oh, sorry, Aldro. I didn’t mean to phrase it like that.”
    “You two could come together. You know Bardrakeu. He wouldn’t mind if you showed up. And your friend…”
    “Yes. She could just come with you. We’d meet at the party and talk.”
    None of this was sitting well with me.
    I looked across at the immense aqueduct that rose up on arched pylons beyond the outer campus wall, tall clouds gently rolling across the bright blue sky behind it.
    “Um, let me ask her, Aldro.”
    Aldro grinned. “Thank you, Sydeekda. You won’t regret this.”
    I sighed. “I hope you’re right.”

    The library was an arched cavern pierced by shafts of sunlight radiating through tall, thin windows spaced evenly along its gray walls. Now and again a skylight added further illumination. From where I sat at the far end of a  polished granite table, transcribing my notes from an old lecture scroll, the great wing of the library resembled the interior of some great sea leviathan.     
    I’d talked with Mala an hour before and she seemed happy to attend Bardrakeu’s party with me. I still wasn’t sure how I felt about the whole thing, but I figured that such an informal social setting might give me more of an opportunity to probe the students about any rumors they might have heard concerning this giant the Deity Imperator wanted me to find. I knew there were stories of this strange person commanding a network of operatives who stole from the administrative offices of the academy. How his minions practiced dark magic.
    That last part struck me as being a ridiculous notion (particularly given the Emperor’s own superstitious tendencies) but my previous adventure proved to me that claims of supernatural powers might still have some basis in fact.         
My musings were interrupted by the heavy swish of robes as someone approached me. I looked up and saw a large, heavyset man with plump features and a bronze complexion. But for the curly salt-and-pepper beard hanging down to his ample stomach, he was hairless. His robes were a deep azure blue and complimented by a gold disc on a chain around his neck. I assumed he must be one of the instructors.
    He eyed me with apparent annoyance, his pudgy hands on his hips.
    “Young lady, I realize you seem to be taking a prodigious amount of notes from that scroll, but I suspect, given that the scroll I am looking for is not on the shelf, the one in your hands must be it.”
    His tone was stern, impatient, humorless.
    I smiled in what I hoped was a polite manner, but which I suspected just came off looking wise-assed. “Good sir, I am afraid that I’m less than halfway through this particular scroll.”
    The large man heaved a heavy, almost despairing sigh. “I do not wish to be rude to you, good woman, but I cannot wait the whole day for you to finish scrawling out notes in your book. Judging by your vastly slow rate of progress, it’s obvious efficient writing is not one of your strong points.
    “May I ask, is that Lanusquio’s lecture scroll on the various zodiac constellations throughout known history?”
    It was, but I was getting annoyed with this pompous old bastard, so I decided to play him along. I looked down at the scroll and ran a finger along the lines methodically. 
    “One moment.”
    Another soul-crushingly pained sigh.
    “Oh!” I looked up at him again, a gullible grin on my face. “It appears this is that very scroll.”
    “I need it. Now!” 
    He reached a thick hand out to grab at the document.
    I clasped at either end of the scroll with my hands, pulled it from him, and rolled it up.
    “I don’t see as you have a right to simply snatch it from me.”
    He laid his outstretched hand on my shoulder and I immediately flinched out of his grip and stood.
    “I’ll thank you to keep your hands off of me.”
    “Such insolence from one so young and naïve. Do you know who I am?”
    “No.” I tucked the scroll under an armpit and stepped back from the table. “And I don’t care. Your behavior is abhorrent.”
    He bared his teeth and exhaled through them. “I am the head instructor in the Astronomy Division of the Department of Natural Philosophy. You don’t realize--”
    “And I’m Syndeeka of the Ushe!”
    A startled look crossed his eyes. “Ushe?”
    That response took me by surprise. “Yes. Ushe. People of the westernmost of the Black Nations.”
    He sighed in exasperation. “Young lady, don’t say ‘Black Nations’.”
    “What? Why?”
    “I hail from that region, too. Do I look black? You’re using the ignorant terminology of Esbutimia, a natural philosopher from a hundred years ago. He tried to divide all the races into primary colors. It’s not an accurate description.”
    “What do you mean? I’m black.”
    “Yes.” He spread a hand out with fingers splayed. “And that’s why I have trouble believing your claim.”
    “Are you Ushe? I’m from Aki Gbijume.”
    “No, I’m Bashin. Our lands neighbor those of the Ushe. We are located slightly northeast of Usheland.”
    I looked down at the table and gently sighed. “I did not think I’d meet such a close relative to my people.”
    “You’re not pure Ushe, I take it?”
    This seemed to be a recurring theme lately.
    “No, I’m something of a mutt. My father hailed from the easternmost lands of the Black…well, they’re certainly black where he comes from. Not that I knew him.”
    The old man grumbled something under his breath. “Look, young lady.”
    “Yes, Syndeeka. While it is lovely to meet another person from my part of the world, I need that lecture scroll. I had notes I’d taken from it, but I seem to have misplaced them. I must consult the scroll again. If I can just check it out for a few hours I shall return it to the library shortly and you can use it then.”
    I took the scroll out from under my armpit. “You say you misplaced your notes?”
    He looked to the floor. “Yes. Yes, I’m afraid so. This is the first time I’ve ever done something like that.” He returned his gaze to mine, his wide dark eyes almost humble. “I’m rather embarrassed about the slip-up. I wonder if maybe I’m just starting to lose my memory.”
    The old instructor’s pathetic turn was beginning to soften my initial anger.
    “Or maybe it’s not that you’re forgetting. I’ve been hearing rumors about things disappearing from this campus over the past few months. Have you heard anything about that?”
    “May I have the scroll? Please?”    
    “Oh…” I grabbed the document and handed it to him. “…Certainly. If you’re good for your word.”
    He smiled warmly, the folds of skin crinkling around his eyes as he took the scroll from me.
    “My word is my bond, Syndeeka of the Ushe.”
    “Um, may I ask you your name, good sir?”
    “It’s Tulonan. And yes, I have heard about certain items disappearing from various instructors and administrators. I’m afraid I really didn’t think anything of the stories till just now.” He tucked the scroll under his own arm.
     I leaned over the table and grabbed a leather thong from beside my notebook and handed it to him. “Here. You’ll need this.”
    He slid the thong over the scroll.
    “Thank you, Syndeeka. Uh…I-I apologize for my previous behavior, my good woman. I’m afraid the stress of the situation brought out my bad manners. I hope you’ll find it in you to forgive me.”
    “Oh…certainly.” I closed the notebook and slid it under my arm. “We all have moments we’re not proud of.”
    “Syndeeka, the inkwell and stylus you have…”
    “I’ve only seen items like that on the rare occasions I’ve visited the Deity Imperator’s palace…”
    I grinned slyly. “Well, I can assure you, Tulonan, I’m hardly a thief. I’ll let you in on a little secret-- I’m welcome at the Emperor’s court. That’s where I received my writing tools.”
    Tulonon’s eyes widened. “Are you in the Emperor’s favor? I didn’t think you were a renowned tutor.”
    I chuckled. “I did him a favor once.”
    “Oh…” The expression on his face became scandalous.
    “What? Oh, no! No, not what you seem to be thinking. I don’t think he’s even interested in women. No, I…uh..”
    “I don’t know if I should tell you.”
    Tulonon smiled warmly. “Then don’t, Syndeeka of the Ushe. I need to go now.”
    “Of course. I do hope we can talk again sometime, though. I’m an astronomer too.”
    He extended his hand to me and I took it. “You will have to tell me how a young woman was able to enter such a prominent profession then. My office is in the Natural Philosophy Building. Perhaps we can talk soon.”
    I smiled. “I would like that.”
    I was hoping Tulonan would make good on his promise and return the constellation scroll after a few hours, but my repeated trips to the library proved to be disappointing. By late afternoon I had considered making another try for the library, but the sundial in the central courtyard showed that it was almost the fifth hour after noon and I knew I needed to catch the last water shuttle going into Riga Etirsuki, the Imperial capital. 
Mala and I met at the concrete pylon of the aqueduct and made the tiring climb up the stone stairwell till we reached the sky lane. Soon the longboat pulled up to the embarkation point, its eight oars raised heavenward as it glided up to the line of tired students, instructors, and staff.
    Mala and I preferred to sit atop the ship in the open sunlight with a lot of the students, most of whom sat cross-legged on the wooden planks of the deck talking to one another or going over the notes they’d taken in the lecture halls. The view from up here was grand. On either side of us were the barrier walls that extended the entire span of the aqueduct. Tall, narrow windows were cut into the walls, affording us a breath-taking view of the deep valley we were gliding over on our return trip to the city. Right below these windows were walkways where an occasional person could be spotted treading their way across the aqueduct.
    I looked up from my notebook as a group of students further down the walkway came into view.
    “Mala, why would someone wish to walk the entire length of the aqueduct? I think I’d get exhausted going all that way on foot.”
    Sitting beside me, Mala smiled. “This from a woman who swings a heavy sword and exercises every morning.”     
    I chuckled. “I’d think that what they’re doing would be tiring even by my standards.”
    As the oarsmen below decks pushed the longboat further along the waterway the cluster of students congregating on the sidewalk appeared closer still and I noticed they were holding tall, shield-like items before them. Before we could pass them by I was horrified to see them jump off the walkway and into the water just in front of the longboat.
    “By all the gods!” I shouted. 
    I was convinced the students who’d jumped were committing mass suicide and that we’d soon feel a jarring bump as the galley went over them.
    Mala laughed, giving me a sly grin. “They’re not dead, Syndeeka. Just reckless in their youth.”
    Then I saw what she meant.
    The student “suicides” pushed just ahead of the longboat’s stern, paddling their shields.
    “Are those boats?” I asked.
    “Skiffs. Personal boats. Some of the students like to paddle down the aqueduct instead of spending an iron coin on the water shuttle. At the end of every school week several groups of students jump with their skiffs right in front of the last water shuttle of the day and paddle just in front of it. They don’t do it every day because they have to carry their skiffs with them all over campus.”
    I grunted, recalling the young man with the “shield” earlier that morning. “This has to be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen. Don’t they realize they could get killed?”
    Mala laughed. “That’s probably why they do it. I don’t disagree with you that it’s a dumb thing to do, but you try reasoning with an eighteen year old boy from a wealthy family.”
    A few of the students in skiffs managed to stay abreast of the longboat, but many just paddled to either side of the narrow waterway and let us pass them by. Some of the young men hooted and laughed up at us as we glided ahead of them.
    “Idiots!” I said. “I’m surprised the Emperor hasn’t passed an edict banning such witless, dangerous behavior.”
    “Oh, I’m sure he will-- once one of them does get killed.”
    I glanced astern at the three students who still managed to stay ahead of the galley. “How is it they can get into their boats before they splash into the water?”
    Mala shrugged. “That I’m not entirely sure of. They haven’t told me how they pull that trick off.”
    “So you’ve talked to them.”
    “That’s why I wasn’t surprised when they jumped off the walkway. I talk to a lot of students in the course of the day. Remember, I’m one of the people who takes their coins when they purchase meals.”
    “You haven’t talked to Aldro, have you?”
    Mala’s eyes widened. “Your boy suitor? No, he must bring his lunch from home.”
    I sighed. “Don’t call him my boy suitor.”
    “The way you describe him, he seems to have some sort of crush on you.”
    I groaned. “I certainly hope he doesn’t. I’m having a hard enough time with this assignment. I can’t believe we’ve been at the academy a week already.”
    Mala combed back her bushy black hair with her hands. “And the party is tomorrow night.”
     “Aldro and his brilliant friends. They act like they know everything, but their ignorance is as thick as porridge.”
    Mala chuckled. “They’re philosophers…well, philosophers in training.”
    “I wonder if they’ve heard anything about the Sepulchral Giant.”
    “Oh, I should think they have. There was a boy today who told me that this giant lives beneath the campus grounds in some sort of catacombs.”
    “Really? Did he tell you how this giant (or rather the Giant’s accomplices) access the surface? It would make things easier on me if I knew how to get down to the subterranean tunnels so I could go looking for him myself. Eh, I almost wish I had a team of mercenaries to assist me like I did on my last mission.”
    Mala gently clapped a hand on my shoulder. “You have me.”
    I laughed. “Oh, yes. A good girl who only needs a dagger. Maybe I should teach you how to fight with a sword.”
    “Why not? I’ve been expanding my knowledge these past few years. I don’t see why I couldn’t add sword-fighting to what I already know about astrology and potions.” 

    The next morning I got up early and left the apartment the Emperor had secured for Mala and myself and caught a water shuttle to the palace to report to Fodineo Quabeno about my meager findings concerning this giant he seemed so intent on me finding and eliminating. The interior of the palace was in the process of being decorated with colorful flowers, tapestries, and brand new furniture in preparation for a party the Deity Imperator was throwing that evening. Having seen the sexual (and sometimes violent) excesses this man was inclined to when I was a prisoner of his Excellency over a year ago, I was suddenly happy to be attending a silly party thrown by one of the young students from the academy instead.
    “I’m afraid I’ve made little progress so far,” I reluctantly admitted to the Emperor in his private chambers. 
    He put his elbows on the polished desk and tapped his temple with an index finger, his large eyes intent on me.
    “What have you found, Syndeeka?”
    “Um, he’s supposed to live somewhere beneath the campus.” I shook my head, staring down at my knees. “I can’t say as I’ve discovered much besides that. Oh, well I did find out that Tulonan, the head Astronomy instructor, is missing his notes on zodiacs from different cultures. Does that mean anything to you?”
    Fodineo sat back in his chair and folded his hands. “It may be something. If you think that’s a lead then certainly follow up on it.”
    “I’m attending a party thrown by one of the students tonight. I was thinking of asking around about any rumors concerning this giant. May I ask, why is this person such a concern to you? Is he really a giant?”
    Fodineo gave me a cold stare.
    “Much of that is personal, dear. I’ll thank you not to pry into my motives.”
    I let out a shuddering sigh.
    “But in answer to your second question, Syndeeka, he’s hardly big enough to crush a man to death in his bare hand. If I recall correctly, he stands about nine feet.”
    “Then you’ve seen him?”
    The Emperor inhaled slowly, glaring at me. “Syndeeka, you should be going now. I want you to update me on your progress at least once a week. I’ll give you a little over two months to find this man.”
    “If I can’t find him?”
    The Emperor rested an elbow on his desk. He held a hand up with thumb and ring finger pinched together, stared at his fingertips intently, almost as if inspecting the cuticles. 
    “You can go now.”
    “Yes, Your Excellency.”
    The party was to start two hours after sundown, so Mala and I took the last water shuttle across the aqueduct out of the city and disembarked near the academy campus grounds. We had time to kill and Mala suggested we might search the campus for more clues about the giant.
    “I don’t think that would be a good idea,” I replied.
    “Why?” asked Mala in a crestfallen tone.
    “I’m pretty sure they lock the main gate at the end of the school week. I also think they now post a guard for the weekend. At least I think that’s what the Emperor told me.”
    We began walking the winding country road that led to Bardrakeu’s family’s villa.
    “You didn’t tell me how the meeting with him went today.”
    I sighed. “I told you, I don’t wish to discuss the matter right now.”
    “Is he angry with you?”
    I stopped walking and placed a hand on Mala’s shoulder. “We have just under three months. I’m afraid of what happens when that time is up.”
    “The Emperor won’t have us killed if we fail?”
    I looked around. Beyond the dirt road tree branches gently swayed in the waning sunlight. A breeze whistled through their bright green leaves.
    “Mala, we might have to run then.”
    “Me too?”
    “Yes. You don’t know Fodineo like I do. He’d harm you just to get back at me. He can be a very, very cruel man.”
    “Well,” said Mala, grinning, “we’d best find the Sepulchral Giant then.”


Graphics for Aphrodite's Orphan on 1/21/2024 9:13:46 AM

It does look pretty cool.

Graphics for Aphrodite's Orphan on 1/20/2024 9:16:55 AM

Here's another one. The AI messed up her robot, Esmeralda and made her into a giant Mech.  Sandra Acosta-- Aphrodite's Orphan  

Graphics for Aphrodite's Orphan on 1/19/2024 9:29:52 PM

Hi, I've been playing around with the Night Cafe AI Art Generator and have come up some images for my storygame "Aphrodite's Orphan". Here's Sandra Acosta in the flesh. Like Wednesday Adams with Betty Davis eyes. Still don't know how to add it to my storygame. Sandra Acosta Second Portrait

New Poem for Your Perusal on 10/12/2023 12:02:24 AM

I really appreciate that, mizal. Hope all is well with you and yours in your part of Texas.

New Poem for Your Perusal on 10/10/2023 9:44:58 PM

Thanks, mizal. I'll try to fix it.

New Poem for Your Perusal on 10/9/2023 3:36:32 PM

Gower, thank you so much for your review. I appreciate your use of your poetry background in assessing my work.