Revisiting the Creatures Universe: Four Years Later

If you’ve been following along, you should know that the second book in the Creatures series, Back to School, is due for imminent release (25th June 2022, to be exact). It has been four years since I released the first book in the series, and indeed my first book, and it feels like a lifetime ago. Creatures was something that I had to get out of my head, and I decided to publish it on a whim. Little did I know that I would find in writing something that I love doing, and now three (soon to be four) books under my belt, I can’t see me doing anything else.

The writing of Back to School began right after I published the first book. I ended Creatures in a way that if I wanted to, I could continue the story, and I had an idea at the time where I wanted to take it, but I hit a wall with the story and only got a couple of chapters in before I had to stop. As I’ve said before, I didn’t see the point in writing something I wouldn’t be happy with. I moved on to The Next Stage, which would ultimately be my second book. I didn’t even pick Back to School up again until after the release of Blindsighted.

The manuscript for the first book in the series wasn’t perfect, so I decided I would go back through it, sort out any issues and republishꟷone of the joys of self-publishingꟷand this made me want to continue the story and made revisiting the Creatures universe seem like the right thing to do at the time. During my re-editing process, I really enjoyed re-reading the book. I hadn’t read it since its release and had even forgotten some of what happened. I would have ultimately had to end up reading it again anyway to write the sequel, but with the dual purpose of editing at the same time, I killed two birds with one stone.

When I picked Back to School back up (it was still just called Creatures 2 at this point), I finally knew where I wanted to take the story and characters. I had a clear idea of the story that I wanted to tell and how I would do it. Once I started writing it again, I just couldn’t stop. I found that the words just flowed through me and onto the page. I was having such a good time writing the old characters, and being able to create new ones and bring them into the universe was great.

Of course, like in the first book, there are many deaths­ꟷI’m not going to go into them because I don’t want to spoil the storyꟷand there are some particularly gory ones. I found that I’ve been able to flesh out the original characters more and give them a little more personality and growth; I just hope that readers will like what I have done with them. There are many new characters introduced, some major and some minor, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ve done them justice.

Story-wise Back to School follows directly from the first book, and there are many references to the original story throughout, so I would suggest if you’re planning on giving book two a read, then you should read book one firstꟷthere will be a discounted Kindle offer of the first book in the next few days running up to the release of Back to School so keep an eye out for that.

I’ve enjoyed working on Back to School so much that I’ve already started work on the third book in the series. I’m hoping that it won’t take me another four years to release it, but who knows; I could have another idea about one of my many other projects that I decide I have to work on first.

As I said at the top of this post, Back to School is out on 25th June 2022, that’s only five days away, and I’m really excited to get the book out there. Having said that, due to Amazon KDP being a little more on the ball than usual;, the paperback version is available early, so if you head over to the books page on Amazon, you’ll be able to pick up a copy early. You can also preorder the ebook version on Kindle, Kobo, and Google & Apple books.

I’m excited about the release, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what people think of it. I hope that people enjoy revisiting the Creatures universe as much as I did. And like I said, keep an eye out on here and my social media for news about the offers on the first book.

Update + New Book on the Way

It’s been a busy few months, what with university, writing, and other stuff, so as much as I wanted to revive this blog sooner, I just haven’t had the time to sit down and write anything worth posting. But now, with the imminent release of the second book in the Creatures series, Back to School, I thought it would be a good time for a catch-up.

I’ve now finished my first year (foundation) of university, and I have to say that I did much better than I expected, save for a few assignments (although I did pass them), I got some decent grades which I’m really pleased with. At times I found the experience a little daunting, and I did have a few very anxious times. I found it hard to start some of my assignments, but once I got going, I was fine. I found the foundation year a useful step before going into my degree proper. It gave me a taste of what to expect and also allowed me to prove to myself that I do have the skills needed to do the degree. I’m now on the summer break, and I’m really looking forward to going back in September.

As far as writing goes, it’s been a bit hectic. I was getting in somewhere I could, before and in between lectures. I didn’t have it in me to write in my spare time at home. I just felt like whatever I wrote wouldn’t be great, and I didn’t see the point in rushing it and hating what I’d written. To begin with, I was doing a lot of work on my paranormal thriller, And Then I Killed Her, and although it was going pretty well for some time, I hit a wall with it and just didn’t know where to take the story. Again I didn’t see the point in writing for it to be nonsense that I’d have to completely overhaul, so I moved on to another project. This project had been in the works for four years, and it was the sequel to Creatures. I’d started writing it as soon as the first book was released, but for one reason or another, I just didn’t carry it on. This time, however, when I picked it back up, I could see what story I wanted to tell, and since finishing uni, I have blasted through the remainder of what I wanted to say.

If you follow me on social media, you’ll probably already know that Creatures 2: Back to School is almost ready for its scheduled release on 25th June 2022, which is exactly four years after the release of Creatures. I’ve done several rounds of edits so far, and I’m now doing my final round by going through the paperback proof. This is my favourite part of the editing process and the part that I feel is most important. As I’ve mentioned before, having a physical copy of my book and going through it with highlighters and post-it notes at the ready allows me to find things that I have missed previously. I don’t understand what the difference is, but I thoroughly recommend doing it with your own books if you’re a fellow writer.

Unlike my other books, I’ve been able to put the Kindle version of Back to School up for pre-order. If you head over to the Amazon page, you can pre-order it so that it will automatically be delivered to your device upon its release. I’ve already quite a few (more than I expected, to be honest) of orders, and it’s great to see people are willing to pre-order my books. Of course, with this comes a little bit of extra pressure. I need to get all my edits for the book done and uploaded before the 21st ready for release. It’s going to be an interesting few days.

I’ve spent this morning doing some background admin for Back to School. You’ll notice on this website that it now has its page next to its predecessor, along with its current links for where to buy it. I’ve added a page on Goodreads so you can add it to your TBR list, as well as being able to link the two books as a series for easier navigation. I have also scheduled a free book promotion for Creatures on the days leading up to the release of Back to School, so if you haven’t read the first book in the series, you can grab a free copy to read before you read the sequel. This is kind of important because the new story follows on directly from the first. I do intend to make this new book available on other platforms (Google & Apple books etc.), but this may have to come at a slightly later date; but I will keep you posted with any updates on this.

Well, I think that’s about it for now; I better get back to editing. Keep an eye out for more updates.

Book Covers: How? Why? When?

Recently I’ve been thinking about book covers and what other authors do to create theirs. As usual, I asked my followers on Twitter for their thoughts:

Don’t judge a book by its cover, the old saying goes. But let’s face it, we all do. A cover is usually the first thing that you see of a book and can cause you to predetermine if you’re going to enjoy the book or not. For those that self-publish, like me, covers can be a source of great frustration and could be a stalling point for your creative process. After all, if you can’t get a decent cover for your novel, how are you going to release it?

For me, covers are a double-edged sword; I both love and hate creating them. Like many members of the self-publishing writing community, I create my own covers. Mostly because I can’t afford to pay anyone to create them, but also because, like publishing my own books, I enjoy the creative process and control that it gives me. Of course, the issue that comes up every time is my lack of skills. Now, I’m not completely clueless; I have enough skills to put together a basic coverꟷas evidenced by my booksꟷbut when it comes to more elaborate designs, I fall short of doing what I want to do. I have these extravagant designs in my head, but when it comes to putting it together, it just doesn’t work. Ideally, I would love to have someone else put them together. I could just throw ideas their way and see what they come up with, but alas, that’s probably not going to happen for a while. But having said that, there are plenty of resources that the ‘broke’ writer can avail themselves of. Websites such as Canva and apps such as Desyner are my go-to’s. They are relatively simple to use and provide a whole host of images and fonts that are free to use.

But, as I said, I also love the process of designing a cover. The cover design is something that, when I’ve hit a wall with writing, or I’ve got some time and don’t want to write, I can pick up, have a play, and see what happens. Like when writing, if I have an idea, I have to do something with it, or it will be lost forever like the fabled lost city of Atlanta (I know what I said). For example, with my current WIP, I’m about three-quarters of the way through the main story, and last week I decided to have a break from writingꟷbecause, let’s face it, sometimes we need itꟷand to do some work on the book’s paperback cover. I spent the next few hours knee-deep in PaintShop Pro and came out the other side with something not half bad. I would like to show it off, but if I’m honest, it’s just not ready for viewing yet. I’m not 100% happy with it, but that’s okay; I still have time to work on it. But what I will say is that I have that urge that I had with The Next Stage and re-design my existing covers…I need to stop it.

My covers are simple, but simplicity isn’t always bad. In fact, I find more and more books that are going the simplistic route; look at books like The Fault in Our Stars, which have a simple but effective cover. However, as I progress with my writing, I’m also getting more adventurous with the design of my covers. My last book, Blindsighted, finally had an image, which was a big thing after my previous two books, and I have a feeling my next one will be more, let’s say, complicated and (hopefully) better.

With all this in mind, though, we all know that a cover can sell (or not sell) a book. Whether you’re traditionally published or self-published, it is an important part of the package that, if done wrong, can be a disaster that your book might now come back from, so if you’re not confident that you can make something decent, it might be a good idea to get help with it. But whatever you choose to do, enjoy the process, it’s your book, and you should love every bit of it.

Chapters: To Name or Not to Name

Chapters, some books have them, some don’t, and everyone has an opinion on them, so I asked my fellow writers over on Twitter for their thoughts. Below are some of the responses.

As you can see, the responses varied. Some people like short ones, others long, others don’t care as long as they work with the story being told. Another contentious issue is the naming of chapters. So what are my thoughts?

When it comes to reading, I enjoy a short chapter. It appears to make the book easier to read. I say this because I’m one of those people who likes to put a book down when it reaches the end of a chapter. When I stop in the middle of a chapter, I don’t particularly appreciate going back into a book. It simply makes it more challenging to read. So, because the chapters are short, I can say, “I’ll just read one more,” and it won’t take me long. I’ll probably save it for another time if it’s a long chapter. I’ve seen really long chapters and ones that are only a paragraph or two long in my reading life, but the responses I received from my fellow authors/readers are correct; if it works for the storey, it doesn’t matter how long the chapter is. Of course, some books, such as Terry Pratchett’s novels, do not even have chapters. When I’m reading these, it’s all about finding that logical stopping point in the narrative, like switching to the voice of another character. Some people may find this off-putting, and I understand how they feel; it took me a while to adjust, but it works well in his novels.

When I’m writing, my chapters are pretty short. This isn’t a conscious decision, mind you; it just seems to be the way things turn out. I have, however, written a few long chapters when a scene calls for more detail or fleshing out. However, there are some advantages to this writing style, particularly when it comes to editing. It means I can keep using my “just one more” method and not stop in the middle.

The naming of chapters is also a topic of debate among authors and readers. Some people may interpret chapter titles as a spoiler for what will happen within the chapter, which could ruin their reading experience. I understand this, but I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’ve read many books, and there’s a lot of naming, not naming, and even adding timestamps and other things. It’s never ruined my enjoyment of a book for me, and sometimes I don’t even notice what a chapter is called. I don’t read “Chapter 4” and pay attention to it, so chapter names/titles don’t bother me.

I’ve used a variety of styles in my writing. My first book, Creatures, had numbered chapters, but it was divided into three distinct parts, each of which had a name, but would anyone have read these title pages? I’m not sure. I used numbered chapters again in The Next Stage, but this time I added time and date stamps to show when the action in the scene occurred. This, I believe, not only aids the reader in determining what is happening and when, but also aids me in editing by allowing me to get the timing correct within the storey. Incredibly useful! The only thing that Blindsighted had were chapter numbers. I started naming them, but I gave up halfway through because I saw the names as minor spoilers that, in a way, ruined the mood I was trying to set in the book. However, in my most recent WIP, the second book in the Creatures series, I’m still using “Part 1, Part 2, etc.,” but I’m also naming my chapters. I’m finding it helpful to name them in this case because it helps me remember what happened in each; whether I’ll keep them in the finished manuscript is another question; I haven’t decided yet.

I believe that the debate over chapters will continue as long as books are written, and that the way they are organised may change over time. So whatever method you prefer, stick with it and enjoy writing/reading the way you want.

Back at the Writing Thing

With a new year and a new semester of University comes a new desire to write. As much as I wanted to write over the holidays, I just couldn’t get my head into it. I guess a part of me was kinda burned out from the uni assignments, and I just didn’t have it in me to write in my spare time. It was a time for playing a lot of games. The other reason I had a momentary falling out with writing was that I hit a wall with the WIP that I was working on. I didn’t want to just write for the sake of it, and it be trash that I hated and would end up deleting. As much as I wasn’t writing, my mind was still racing with ideas, and surprisingly, most of the ideas that whirled around my brain for the sequel to my first novel, Creatures.

Creatures wasn’t great. It had a lot of flaws. But for a first novel and something that I never thought I’d be able to do, I think it was pretty damn good. The sequel—that I already have around 30,000 words written for—will be much better. My writing has grown so much throughout my novel-writing career, and I have more idea of what I’m doing and why. This past week has been amazingly productive as far as Creatures 2 (tentatively titled Back to School) goes, and I’m now up to around the 48,000 word mark, and I’m loving the story and characters that are being created. The characters and locations in this sequel will be more rounded and complete than in the original; the characters especially will have more depth—and that include characters returning from the first book. I know there were some fans of the original book, despite its issues, and I hope those that read it will come back for the second book in the series—will there be a third? Who knows. We’ll see.

Also, if you’re on the fence about Dying Light 2, check back on Wednesday as my review will be up and it may tip you one way or the other.

Have a good week!

Researching Your Writing

Research is a big part of writing, but we all do it a different way. I asked my fellow members of the writing community on Twitter how they research and below are some of the responses.

It’s often joked that if someone were to look at an author’s Internet browser history that they come off as a serial killer, and I’m here to say that that isn’t far from the truth. Some of the things that we have to research for our work can, to the outside observer, seem a little, let’s say, dodgy—for example, working out splatter patterns for gunshots or which vein to cut without the person losing too much blood too quickly. But there are also some things that we research that might seem a little odd to others, things that people might not necessarily think about, but when writing, it is something that you want to get correct for accuracy sake.

Our research can take many forms and take us to places that we might not have ordinarily gone, and, like our writing, our research skills will grow and evolve over time. For example, in my first book, Creatures, there is a section where I talk about a certain area and what wildlife would have been present there. Now, I could have looked in certain books for flora and fauna that may exist in the UK, but instead, as is our society at present, my first port of call was to do a web search for it. I’ve been thinking about how we do our research these days, and it got me thinking about how things used to be done. Today, we have a wealth of information at our fingertips. All we have to do is type in what we want to know into Google, and we can pretty much find out anything that we want toꟷwhether that information is correct is an entirely different storyꟷbut we trust it. In years past, we might have had to visit libraries or read through volumes of information to find what we need. It might have taken ten times as long to research a particular subject to a level where you could insert it into your story. If we wanted to know about a location, we might have had to visit it ourselves to know how it’s laid out or how it looks. For example, The Next Stage is set in Washington DC in the US, now, I’ve never been to Washington, so I had no idea where things were in relation to streets or historical landmarks, but I was able to create a path for my characters by touring the city virtually using Google Maps. Again, this made things so much easier as I could walk around the city without leaving my house, and I’ve been told that it’s a pretty accurate representation of the city. Using this method, I was able to revisit the city at the click of a button, so if I wanted to double-check something, it was something that was beyond me. As for skills growing over time, well, that’s a no brainer. Through research, we learn not only about things that we’re looking for but also where to find that information. We learn which websites, books, etc., will give us the information we require, and alongside this, we learn how to use the information that we gather. We learn to translate it and put it into our created worlds. I am better at research after writing three and starting countless other books. I’ve learned what information is of use to me and how to find said information.

It would be easy to write a book and not do any research for it. But in my opinion, it just wouldn’t be as good. Somehow readers know when something isn’t accurate, whether that’s because they have personal experience of the thing you’re writing about or they’ve done the research themselves, and in a way, you owe it to your readers to be as accurate as possible, because these days, it’s easy for anyone to fact check what you write. Of course, there are some genres where research might not be needed. For example, if you’re writing fantasy with worlds that are wholly created by you and don’t follow the logic from the real world, you can pretty much say what you want, and people will go with it. But in some cases, you may still want to do some research. If your story includes battles that involve swords, even if it’s set in a purely fantasy world, you may still want to research different swords and how they are handled. It just lends that little bit more realism to the worlds that you create. I’m sure even in the days when there was no internet, that authors still did a lot of research. There will always be someone that is knowledgeable in the subject that was written about and so will have called the author out if something didn’t add up.

For me, research is a key aspect of being an author. If you’re not great at research and you don’t want to improve your skills in the area, then you will soon fall by the wayside, and people may not enjoy your work as much as they might do if you take that time to properly work out if that calibre of weapon would have made that wound, or if this street joins onto that one. Realism, in some novels, is key to the enjoyment of said novel. And I feel that if you bullshit your readers, they won’t be readers for long. But not only is research good for your writing, but it is also good for you. Through researching subjects for your novels or other works, you learn more about the world that you might not necessarily known before, and this alone will allow you to write about things that you might not have ordinarily done.

In summary, research is good; research is your friend. Research will improve your work and will pull your reader further into the world you have created.

I’m Back

It’s been a while. Until I decided to write this post, I didn’t realise just how long it had been since I posted. November. Jesus. There are a few reasons behind my lack of posting, though. First off, university. It was around November time when I started to get assignments for my course, and usefully, they all came at once. When they did, I began to get stressed, and everything started to get on top of me. I didn’t feel like I had the time to write either my books or blogs as I wanted to concentrate on my assignments. The other reason was purely that I just didn’t feel like I had anything to post about. I felt that I’d started to go round in circles, and I just didn’t have anything new to say. I’d been posting pretty much nonstop for a year or so, and I just fell out with the whole process. And the fact that I was mainly focused on uni work, I didn’t have any writing or games to post about. But now I’m back. Over the holidays, I’ve finished my uni work, got back into writing, and played some games that I can review, so I feel like I’m in a good place to come back.

In regards to my writing, if you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that before Christmas, I was working on my story, And Then I Killed Her. I was hoping that this would be my next book to release, but when I picked it back up, I just didn’t know where it was going, and rather than just writing whatever and ruining what I’d already written, I decided to put it down and wait until I know what to do with it. I have, though, picked Creatures 2 back up. Over the past few weeks, as I’ve been out taking Athena for her walks, my thoughts have continually come back to this story. I’ve had so many new ideas that I thought it was time to get back into the Creatures universe.

I’ve spent a week or so going through what I’d previously written, and, as I want to do, I changed how it was written (perspective wise); I finished doing this a few days ago and have since been writing new stuff. It’s going well so far. I’m confident that this second novel in the series will vastly improve on the first in writing style and story.

As far as games are concerned, you can expect reviews for Atomicrops, Kena: Bridge of Spirits, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and Twin Mirror. More will be added to the list as 2022 seems to be a pretty decent year for new releases.

That’s it for now. It’s good to be back, and I hope you’ll continue to enjoy my posts.

Have a good week!

A New Way of Writing (For Me)

Before I start this blog post properly, I just want to say that the presentation that I was anxious about doing last week went really well. I wasn’t as anxious about it as I expected, and when it came time to perform it in front of the rest of the class, I lost any anxiety that I did have. I felt like my delivery was clear, and I even managed to make some eye contact with the group without simply just reading from the script, which for me, is an accomplishment. I’m really happy with how my group did, and even the lecturer said how we met and exceeded her expectations of us after she put us last because “we would be the best”.

Anyway, enough of that, I’m now working on my second assignment, which is the first essay that I’ll have to produce. For the essay, we have to review 10 different texts and present their arguments in a logical way. We had a few different ones to choose from (we could also pick our own), and I chose to go with “Review the arguments about diversity in Star Trek”. I like Star Trek, but I’m not a Trekkie. I’m also aware of some of the diversity that it has been involved with, so it seemed – as Spock would say – the logical choice.

First of all, finding 10 different texts on the subject was harder than it sounded. I kept coming up with the same articles or publications, which was just infuriating. But I did, nevertheless, find them.

The next task (which I’ve just finished) was to read, annotate and make notes on said texts. I’ve not done any annotating since I was at college *cough* 18 years ago, aside from the bits and pieces that I’ve done for the course already, and of course what I’ve done when going over drafts of my own work, although annotating in an academic way is so far removed from that, it doesn’t deserve comparison. Overall I’ve found this stage fairly easy, though. I find that I’m pretty good at pulling out useful information from a given text, so that’s really come in handy when I’ve been highlighting bits and pieces.

Now I’ve done that; I have to see how they all relate to one another. Which ones agree or disagree with each other, what they’re all trying to say, and see which points I want to talk about and expand upon in my essay. This (I hope) will be relatively easy, but I’m comparing it to the next step; writing the damn essay.

From what I’ve learned so far in my foundation year, writing academically is extremely different to the way that I’m used to writing, and that, at the moment, is tripping me up and making me second guess my abilities. I’m used to just writing whatever pops into my head, with no real thought for structure (until going through drafts) or word count. This obviously has to change with academic writing. I’ve got to get my point across in a simple way possible, within the word count, while making it all make sense. It’s going to test my abilities as a writer and probably make me question the way that I’ll write in the future. I’ve already picked up a few different tips that will transfer over to my novel writing.

I have until December 10th to write my essay on the diversity in Star Trek, so I have a little time, but still not much. I’ll have to get cracking, but at the same time, I don’t want to rush it. It’s going to have to be a balance as I want to be able to do other things too.

We’ve really been thrown in at the deep end with this assignment, and I just hope I can swim.

University Presentation Day

I’ve been at university for a good few weeks now, and we’re just starting to get going with things. So much so that today I’m about to do a presentation in one of my lectures, which will be my very first uni assignment.

For the assignment, we were given the choice of different articles that talk about a certain topic, and in a group, we had to figure out if we agree/disagree, find evidence to support our conclusion and then present our findings to the rest of the class. We started giving our presentations last week, but luckily, my group was chosen to go last, because, and I quote, “it will be the best one”; no pressure there.

Our chosen article was titled “Is Poetry Dead”. For some, this may have been an easy answer. Those that write poetry would have straight away said that it wasn’t. My group thought this too, but academically we had to support our argument. This is what we found challenging. But we worked together to figure it out and find our own evidence before we put it all together.

I gave myself the job of writing our script for the presentation, which I thought I would find difficult, but I found it easy and a little bit enjoyable. It’s our first assignment, and I found that enjoying it and finding it easy made me really think that I can do this university thing.

There have been a few times over the past few weeks that my head hasn’t been right, and I’ve just been thinking that I’ve made a mistake and I shouldn’t be trying to do a degree, but now I feel like I should be.

I’m a little nervous about giving the presentation today, but nowhere near as much as I would have ordinarily been before. I think feeling better about things and knowing that if all else fails, I can just read from the script has made it all seem a little easier. I don’t know how I’ll be when I actually have to give it, but I’m trying to stay positive about it. I still have a little bit of anxiety in my head, but I’m trying to push it to the back

I have a couple of other assignments that I have to work on now too, but I’m trying to break the back of them as early as I can so that I’m not worried about them at the last minute; otherwise, my brain may implode.

Reading this blog back, I can see that it’s a little bit all over the place, which probably shows where my head is right now. But I’m sure I’ll be fine.

Have a good week, and wish me luck!

Who Lives Beneath: A VSS365 Story (Part II)

This is the continuation of my Twitter story written through the daily VSS365 word prompts. You can read Part I here. Follow me on Twitter @GaxTZ to catch up each day.


I climb up into the graveyard but have to prompt John to follow. From the way he is acting, I’m starting to think he’s regretting his decision to follow me.
We dart in and out of the memorials, trying to remain hidden against the vast waves of death.
The graves remind me that in year’s past, the dead had fallen like leaves in autumn. I know that I have to put a stop to it. No more shufflers will die at the hands of the overworlders. I set my sights on the goal before me and move forward.
As we push towards another wall, thought float around my head like seeds blown off a dandelion. At the bottom of the sheer stone, we look up towards the carpets.
“How are we getting up there?” John asks.
I answer with a sly smile.
I raise my cane and point it at the wall and concentrate on where I’m aiming. After muttering a few choice words, a green beam shoots from the tip of the cane. I stagger back with the force. After a flash of green light, thick vines grow up the wall and over the top.
After the noise of the growing plants, all falls silent. It’s only shattered by the caw of a blackbird flying high above.
It’s time to climb. I strap my cane to my back, grab a handful of the vine and pull myself up. John is only a little way behind me.
Halfway up the wall, I see a small gap from which a sliver of light is escaping. I pause to look through and can see multiple shadows moving inside. A voice shouts something. For fear that we are found out, I quickly continue up the vines.
At the top of the vines, we hoist ourselves over the crenelations and onto the walkway. Beneath us, the woods are alive with movement. Tiny lights zigzag through the trees. Searching. Crouching, we make our way along the battlements towards a tower.
We hear footsteps coming from the doorway. With no time to hide, we stand our ground. Out of the darkness comes a soldier with a nose like a heron’s beak. He looks at us in disbelief, but before he can make his move, a cold blast of air shoots from my cane.
The man stares in disbelief as a tangle of ice wraps around his legs and grows up his torso, eventually covering his face. He stands, frozen in time, as we dart past and inside the tower.
Inside the stone room, we stare in amazement at the countless jars hanging from the walls and ceiling, each one continuing several fireflies. Their light isn’t doing much to light the space, but there’s enough to cast creepy looking shadows.
Suddenly the wooden door across the room explodes into a million pieces. Shrapnels flies in all directions, striking both John and me despite our attempts to dodge. I feel a warm river of blood streaming down from my forehead where something had struck me.
The room is filled with the ebb and flow of myriad sounds. Shouting, screaming, explosions. The noise assaults our ears. I see John on the floor cowering where is was stood only a few seconds ago. The world around us seemingly dissolving.
In the chaos, feeling that this is the end, my mind goes back to the fun that John and I used to have as children. The times we spent beneath the ground, exploring the hundreds of tunnels. They were simpler times. Before the magic. Before the war.
I open my eyes and find myself beneath a shell of rubble like a scrap yard turtle. My ears ring, and the noises around me sound like I’m listening through water. My body aches, and I struggle to push some of the debris off me while attempting to get to my feet.
Through the ringing, I hear the voice of a stranger approaching. They seem to be telling others to search the ruins. I look around me, and my heart almost stops. I can’t see John.
“John?” I try. My voice is hoarse and dry.
I start to dig randomly, calling out his name.
Across the room, my eyes fall on a body being crushed by rubble. I don’t hesitate to dash over to it and start heaving the debris off this person. I think it’s John, but once I uncover the face, I see that it’s a woman and not someone I recognise. Where had she come from?
Lifting the debris off the woman, I help her to her feet. Once upright, she brushes the remaining dust from her robe.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“I’ll tell you in time. For now, you just have to trust me.”
I think for a minute.
“I need to find my friend.”
She looks around the destroyed room. When her eyes fall on one of the piles of rubble, she walks over to it, turns to me and smiles. I’m not sure what this is supposed to signify, so I hop over the debris towards her. She waves a hand, and the stones begin to move.
The rubble raises from the ground, moves across the room and then drops with several soft thuds. Johns body is now visible, and I rush over to help him up. With my friend now getting to his feet, I look back at the woman.
“We need to go to the cafe,” she says gleefully.
“What?” John asks with innocence and heavy breaths.
“We can get out through the cafe,” the woman says.
Both John and I must look confused because she clarifies, “This place used to be a museum. The cafe has an exit.”
“Oh,” is all I can maage.bin response.
Now a trio, we leave the destroyed room and head down a narrow corridor. We occasionally stop when we hear footsteps somewhere in the darkness. I feel like this hall should be darker than it is, but the woman seems to radiate light. I can’t explain it.
As we proceed down the intimate space, we hear more and more voices coming from all around us punctuated by explosions. It sounds like hell is breaking loose outside as the war continues, detached from our little group. At the end of the corridor, I see a sign, “Cafe”.
After several more dark hallways, we walk into the old cafe. It’s a shadow of its former self, although some of the tables and chairs are still arranged in rows.
“I’m glad you found us,” I say to the woman when we stop.
“It wasn’t an accident. I was looking for you.”
“What do you mean? How did you know we were here?” I ask.
“Think. Who would betray you?” She says in a calm, measured tone?
Betrayal? It was unthinkable. A shuffler turning against their own.
It’s then I notice John slowly edging away from us.
“John?” I ask in disbelief, “How could you be so treacherous?”
“I-I had no choice,” He stammers.
“Did you help them attack us underground?” I still can’t quite believe what’s happening.
John remains silent, but I can tell by his face what he has to say.
I can’t help but feel hurt by John’s actions. After all, we’ve been through together, for him to do something like this was beyond deceit.
“We need to go,” the woman says, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“How do I know I can trust you?” I ask.
“You don’t.”
I don’t know what to do. If John has turned against me, then who else? Would it be easier to flee back to my hovel? No. I can’t. There have already been too many shuffler deaths. I don’t know who this woman is, but I don’t think I have a choice but to trust her.
Still a trio, we make our way to the back of the old cafe. I don’t spook easily, but something about this room sends shivers up my spine. Perhaps it’s thinking about its use in year’s past before the world fell dark. I shake off the feeling and stay close to the woman.
At the door, she stops and looks back at us. I nod to prompt her to open the large wooden door that’s seen better days. It opens with an almost cliche squeal. We pause, hoping that no one heard the noise.
“Where exactly are we going?” I ask.
“Up,” she says simply.
I’m usually pretty good at judging a person’s inscape, but I can’t get a handle on this woman. First, she seems one thing and then another.
We come to a winding staircase that does indeed lead up. To where I have no idea.
I suddenly remember a dream I had a few days ago, before the attack. It involved a winding staircase, a witch and a knife. Did it foreshadow what was about to happen, or am I reading too much into this situation? Either way, I’m about to find out.
I sleepwalk through the next couple of rooms, not wanting to come back to the room to see my fate, whatever it is.
We soon stop though at another huge door, and I realise that we’re outside in some sort of courtyard.
“The gift shop is through here,” the woman says.
“This is where the death happens.”
“Wow, you could sugarcoat it a little,” I say.
“Why? It does. Changing the way I say it won’t make it any less so.”
She didn’t really need to say it at all. You could smell the scent of death and decay all around.
In the centre of the room is a small pit containing still smoking coals. I ask if it was a campfire. She tells me it’s used in the torture of shuffler. I grimace at the thought of how many we have lost over the years. We pick our way through the room, avoiding bones.
Hanging on one wall are ornate wooden objects hanging by some sort of thread. Each one is as intricate as a snowflake. I ask what they are, and she tells me they are the totems of one of the sects of overworlders. Not people you want to mess with by all accounts.
None of them had their own fingerprint as they saw it as identifying them as individuals; they preferred to be seen as a whole. As legion.
Luckily none of them are nearby; otherwise we would know about it. We skirt through the next few empty rooms.
We’re soon out on a street. The smell of primrose drifts through the air from some nearby laboratory. The overworlders were unlike we shufflers; they preferred science over magic. That was more fool them. Magic, in the right hands, was far more powerful.
From here, the town looks like it’s in retrograde. The buildings look dilapidated and are crumbling from their foundations up. The overworlders, despite wanting to take over, don’t seem to want to look after what they have.
Stalking through the town, hiding in the shadows and avoiding guards, we could be forgiven for thinking that we were winning, that our saga was coming to an end, but this was only the beginning of our fight back.
Soon we come up to another wall, the one that circles the centre of the overworld city. We stop as we see the mechanical sentries that stand dormant in large alcoves cut into the stone. Any sudden movement on our part could awaken them.
Any plans I have for once we’re inside are purely hypothetical right now if we can’t get past these metal beasts. As we tiptoe past, I raise my cane, ready to strike at a moments notice should the worst happen. I look back at John, who has stopped in front of one.
He steps closer and raises a hand like he’s going to touch one of the tin soldiers. I look him in the eyes, and without words, I implore him not to do it. Slowly he lays an open palm on a metal leg. In the blink of an eye, steams erupts, and red eyes glow. The mechanical man starts to slowly unfold from itself as it comes to life. John steps back from it, looks back at us and then runs away. I steel my resolve, fix my feet sternly on the cobbled road and hold my cane at waist height in preparation for the onslaught.