Scrivener

Scrivener: By writers, for writers.

Living A Life of Illusion

Some sketchbook art:

This is detail of a self portrait I’m working on. I worked on the eyes today. It’s acrylic, and I’m still very much learning as I go to apply the paint effectively, brush strokes, and all that.

A selfy I took at a recent craft fair. I like this one because my head looks like it’s glowing with the light of a thousand lightbulbs.

We Haven’t Had That Vintage Here Since 1969

This week, a few thoughts, and new art.

I’ve had a thread going on over on Facebook about digital and traditional art, about which one gives you more joy. The conversation has been robust, and it has fallen this way: 60% of artists prefer traditional, 20% prefer both equally, and 20% prefer digital. As you know in my case, I prefer working traditionally, especially on my own projects, but for illustration you cannot beat digital for speed, access to resources, and ease of use. I am fanatic about Clip Studio Paint Ex, and love it. But, I never get an artistic high working digital. It remains work. With traditional art, however, I enjoy a pleasurable, meditative state where the passage of time disappears and my brain is drenched with peace and happiness. Really. For me, it is both mediums. I liken myself to Neil Young, who makes wild and wooly , off-the–charts electrical music, and beautiful, intricate acoustic music. Both are brilliant, both are him, so choose your poison. I expected there to be an age difference in those who prefer all digital workflows, that younger artists would prefer the computer, but I saw no evidence for that.

I had another revelation, this week. I realized that if I enjoy making art and writing so much, is it even important to publish it? Do I need to knock myself out promoting my work, and feel guilty when I fail to do so? Would I have more joy just creating content for myself? The answer is yes. I don’t need a following, or a long resume, or advertising and promotion. I would be fine without bothering. Yet, and yet . . . Well, there is always a joy sharing your work with others of a like mind, with people who get what you do and are enthusiastic for more. It builds up your ego, and it feels good. So, is there a lesson to be learned here? In my own case, I think it comes down to a fine balancing act. I think using the appropriate organic key words, and sharing on social media, all makes sense and is not really that time consuming. The time I would have otherwise spent grasping at every promotional straw, feeling desperate and lost about it, and running ads, going to conventions, building a mailing list, and doing interviews on assorted podcasts, all would better be served by simply creating more content. Am I incorrect? Am I doing it wrong? Feel free to comment below or message me.

Here is my new cover:

Cover to the latest Pen and Cape anthology, coming soon.

Here are some pics from my sketchbook. They were done as character studies for characters I built a prose short story around.

Rock n’ Roll Will Never Die

Greetings. This morning I sat down to work on my latest cover commission, and my Wacom Intuos tablet crapped out on me. It’s pretty much a non-starter for computer illustration if that thing doesn’t work. Benita had the right touch, however, and it began working for her. Bless her heart! Anyway, here is the cover, inked and flatted:

When I brought up Clip Studio Paint, I saw that there is an update coming, one that will have an artificial intelligence feature that will read photos and take poses off them. Holy Crap. After the autopaint function, this. I stand by assertion that that in the not-to-distant future that you will not have to draw to make a 100% original comic page. Good news for the writers, I suppose. I’m not complaining. I just hope the people who take advantage of this already understand composition and storytelling. If not, then yuck, a whole lot of rubbish will be made. Times marches on, I suppose.

Just for fun, this is how the last cover turned out. I like it.

First Post of 2019

Hi, Folks. I don’t normally talk about personal stuff, and I’ll post (or not post) this based on whether I believe it would illuminate matters for others in their own lives. Sort of in the same vein that I believe that it is important for people to talk about depression, bring it out into the open for the good of everyone, and not hide it behind the curtains.

I’m glad to say that I’m not depressed. I’m doing great. I’m keeping busy, my health has been good (if you overlook this stupid cold that I’ve been dealing with for the last few days), my day job persists, and I have as much illustration work to do as I want or feel I can take on. No complaints.

About a week ago, Benita and I went to a showing of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” at the Murat Theater. It’s amazing to me how well this movie holds up over the years (37 years, +/-). After the show, William Shatner came out and did a short, personal show and then a Q n A session with the audience.

I’ve always loved William (“Call me Bill”) Shatner, and am a lifelong fan, and I’m glad to report that at 88 he is incredibly dynamic and a force of nature unto himself. He seemingly has as many projects in the air as ever, and has a full slate of acting, writing, producing, and horse-related projects in the air. (He is passionate about horses and riding.)

Something occurred to me as I watched and listened. Shatner was much older, but he did not act as if he had missed his opportunities or his life was over. He was engaged with the world head on, and where he is in life is where he is. He has gained weight, and joked about it, and tossed around a lot of age-related jokes, but he in no way seemed in mourning for the handsome young man he had been. That was then, and this is now.

That got me to thinking. I have lived in ongoing embarrassment over my current state. I have very much mourned the loss of my long, beautiful hair, my youth, my flexibility, and I’m very troubled by my weight gain, and I guess what amounts to the loss of myself in my own mind.

Now I have to wonder, does it have to be this way? Should I be ashamed to run into people I knew earlier in life, or family? Should I have to make excuses for what I have become? Could I be looking at the whole thing wrong?

Maybe I am. I’m someone else now, someone in his fifties. I am not the good looking young guy that turned heads and got all the attention. I’ve been there, and I’ve done that, but now I’m at a different stage. Is that really all that bad? Should perhaps I engage in the now and the current me? Given the choices of living in sadness at the loss, and living in the full now, there seems to be only one right answer.

So, here I am. I’m 54. I’m overweight (like most people my age), I’m bald, and I’m certainly not standing out in a crowd or turning heads. I get by based on personality, humor, skills, and the authority granted by lots of experience and past achievements. There are more people than ever that look to me as an example, and who actually listen to what I have to say. I actively mentor several excellent young people, and passively provide an example and sounding board to many, many more. One thing I hear is “you are the only person who gets me,” or “you are the only person here who makes any sense.” The one that really gets me though is when someone says something along the lines of “you are the only person who ever took me seriously as ___,” or “your are the only person who told me it’s OK to be ___.”

As you probably know, my philosophy is one of building people up, not tearing them. I’ve talked about this in more detail at other times, so I’m not going to repeat it all here. But, if I can save a life from the negative voices and self-doubt, and inspire people to become who they should become, then maybe that’s worth it. I would love to be young and attractive and cool again, but that’s not an option. So, I think that I should embrace who I’ve become, and put aside shame and loss.

Food for thought and personal reflection, I think.

Merry Christmas

OK, I’ve got that out of the way. I’m listening to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, and it seemed like a good time to make a short post. First up, here is the wonderful present my wonderful wife got me:

This is real stained glass mounted in lead by an indie craftswoman Benita knows–freaking beautiful!

Here is my new Clip Studio Tabmate Controller. It works, but I haven’t personalized its uses to my own workflow yet. Rest assured I will!

Ever wondered what type of tools lives in my away kit for when I draw in my sketchbook? No, I’m sure you didn’t, but here’s a picture anyway.

Here’s a small gallery of the fun stuff that is in my sketchbook. This is all recent stuff, and drawn for fun, practice, and developmental purposes. I love sketchbooking!

Here’s that old file cabinet I keep my art in. I’ve had this for decades, and I want to replace it with something nicer. Gotta’ love the homemade drawer stops I have on here!

Story Studios–Publishing trope-twisting genre mashups since 2004

Hello, Greeting, Hola, Etc.

The title of this post, the “Story Studios…” one, is our new tag line, aka elevator pitch. I believe it pretty much describes what we’ve always produced here. The studio, and its history and mission statement, will get it’s own page soon.

My drawing board, where I draw and ink

The tag line came about because of my ongoing work on a short book about self-publishing comics. Yes, I am still hard at work on that.

I ordered the Clip Studio Tabmate Controller, and it looks really cool, but I forgot to order the Bluetooth adapter that goes with it. It looks like this will extend the functionality of Clip Studio Paint. There are so many drawing and cartooning aids in this program, and now the AI coloring system, that I wonder how long it will be before no-drawing skills are required to make comics with this application. I’m not joking. Flatting has become super easy, as has perspective, posing with 3D puppets, the use of 3D props, and so forth, that drawing skills may become a thing of the past for cartoonists.

My great grandfather’s drafting table (he was an architect and builder)

In regards to the AI coloring functionality that has been included with the latest update, I have experimented with it, and while it is not ready for actual comic work it is far more advanced than I would have figured. What’s next? AI inking?

My acrylic painting nook

I want to see Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse and Aquaman this week. Likely, I’ll see one or the other. Both come with good word of mouth.

In cleaning up my studio, I am going through all my old art. I pretty much still own just about everything I’ve ever drawn or made. That’s great, but I also still have all studies, underdrawings, photo references, and so forth that goes with them. I doubt history would be interested in this type of material, and it takes up a lot of room, so I’m tossing it out. This is a monumental job, because I’ve made a lot of art in my career. Indeed, before I went professional, I have a lifetime of art stored up here. All the way from the first drawing I ever made (age 3) forward.I can safely say that I was no prodigy. Some of this stuff is just awful. Some of it is a good indication of what sort of artist I would become.

My so-called medieval corner, where today I am editing a story

I’m hard at work today on editing my latest short story, “Le Monde Belle,” intended for publication in an anthology. I’m about a third done as of this writing, and it’s going well.

Art Dump

While far from complete, this will give you a clue what I’ve been working on. Much more to come.

serve somewhat of the same purpose. I left the grids on there at this point to keep track of where I need to paint details.

This is my bodysuit after I UV’d it and broke the sections into colors to make sense of what I was working on. The numbers on there serve somewhat of the same purpose. I left the grids on there at this point to keep track of where I need to paint details. I did all the 3D Blender work on this completely original suit, as well as the UV work. I’m learning . . .

Starsky and Scott

Greeting from me, my fine internet readers:

Today is an absolutely glorious Autumnal day in Indiana, and I’ve got some housework outdoors to do. First, however, I’m working on edits to the Black Dirigible, and beginning this blog. Benita is taking a nap, and so are the cats, and I’ve got a cup of hot tea and a calm mind to work with.

Announcement No 1:

I’m busy setting up a new site, scottastory.com, for me and my non-Johnny Saturn work. Between writing prose, doing covers, drawing commissions, working in 3D, and so forth, there is quite a bit to cover. This new site is where I’ll blog from, have galleries, my resume, and so forth. This site will become a Johnny Saturn-only site, with both a storefront and all my “about”  material. I’m quite jazzed about all this, so hooray for me.

Announcement No 2:

Next year, in 2019, I’ll be returning to comics. I’ve been away for a few years, but now I feel the fire to get back to drawing and doing sequential art. More on this as it develops. I will say that Benita and I are working hard on the plot of a fourth Johnny Saturn arc. The missing issue 19, which I showed on the website but was never published, will probably never appear as such. I imagine I will simply work that  material into the greater story. We’ll see.

Miscellaneous

Clip Studio Paint: So far, Celsys has shown a very hands on approach to updating and improving Clip Studio Paint, formerly Manga Studio, and not charging users for the updates. I approve. With their latest version, 1.8.2, the application’s previously humble 3D abilities have been expanded a great deal. As a regular user of Blender, I find Clip Studio’s free accompanying 3D program a bit quaint, but I realize that this product wasn’t made for hardcore 3D developers but for comic artists who want to dip their toes into the 3D pool.

Dark Nights: Metal: I bought the deluxe edition a few days back, and I have to say this is the most fun, coolest crossover I remember from DC. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo simply rock. Grant Morrison was my favorite modern Batman writer, but Scott Snyder is catching up very quickly.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: First, you can tell that this was made by the filmmaker Luc Beeson who made the unbelievable good Fifth Element. Similar setting, colors, visuals, pacing, etc. That is all a good thing, because the Fifth Element is a cult classic. This is also bad, because as good as Valerian is, its not as good as Fifth Element–how could it be? Still, it’s well worth watching. Snappy, fast, well-paced fun.

The Pen and Cape Society: Soon this fine collective, of which I am a member and sometime cover artist,  will soon be putting together their fifth “The Good Fight” anthology, and we will be finding the theme of this book any time now. I’ve seen the top five theme choices, and they are all compelling. I’ll include a story in this book. In the last anthology, I wrote an novella named “Skorned,” and I’m still quite proud of it.

The Bionic Scott

Hello, My Friends!

This week’s blog is less about what I’ve been doing and more about my opinions on things. I’ve kept my views to myself out on the social media circuit (circus?), but this is my house, so I can be a little more open.

As for what I’ve been doing, I’ve been working hard on 3D training. This week has been about the shrink wrap modifier, re-topology, baking textures, and so forth in Blender, and formatting custom costumes and props to fit characters in Daz3D with the Transfer Utility. It’s daunting, because no matter how hard I study it seems like there is no end in sight of all the things I need to learn to make this 3D fascination a reality.

A few nights ago I had a marathon writing session where I wrote about two thousand words on the Apex Killers in one session. This is unusual for me because I usually have time for spits and spurts of writing between interruptions, but this time I flipped into some different mental state of being and the word came. Very satisfying. I wish I knew how to bottle and replicate this mode of being.

The Saturday before last, Benita and I picked out new lights for the kitchen and the front and back doors.  It figured it would take a few hours of work to install them all, and then we could get on with our activities for the day. I’m sure you can sense where I’m going with this. One kitchen ceiling light turned into an all day job, called for an extra trip to the hardware store, and even then I am going to have to re-do part of it. I had never installed a ceiling light before, but now I know better what I’m getting myself into. My main complaints? When they built this house they did not install junction boxes above the kitchen lights, and the new lights are much more fragile than I would have ever figured.

My mom got me a year’s subscription to Amazon Prime, and this is a wonderful thing when you consider how much we order from there. I also used it as an excuse to watch the most recent James Bond film, Spectre. It was good, as are most James Bond films, but not outrageously good. I liked Skyfall better. I appreciate that with the Daniel Craig Bond films they have tried to work out the back story, supporting characters, and Bond’s own psychology better. Still, this had the feel of being a filler movie to me, sort of like the middle installments of many trilogies are.

I am not all that sure what has changed about the Marvel Netflix shows for me. I’ve made it about three episodes each through Jessica Jones II, the Punisher, and I have almost no interest in the new Luke Cage. My viewing habits have changed, I suppose. At one time I was a solid fan on most of these shows. The gloss wore off for me during Iron Fist (I didn’t enjoy it much, and didn’t like the adaptation of Danny Rand), the Defenders (spotty, with great moments at infrequent intervals), and Luke Cage I (like two unrelated seasons crammed together, and at least one jump the shark moment). I did not have access to the Inhumans, and I have not had the will to pick back up on Agents of Shield, two Marvel shows not on Netflix. There may be more Marvel shows on, but they are on other subscription services, I think.

Now that you mention it, DC’s shows are up and down. I’ve watched all of Arrow, Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow so far. But, I did not check in the for latest season of Supergirl, and I have not gone back to finish the last four or five episodes of Black Lightning. Of the others, I saw about three episodes of Gotham, I missed Krypton, and I’m not sure what else is out there. Have the Titans debuted yet? I don’t think so.

Who knows why we like some stuff and not other stuff. When you consider my history for the last twenty years you would think that any superhero television or movie would be just great for me. It’s not so. When you think about my lifelong fascination with the Middle Ages you would think Game of Thrones would be as compelling for me. I have watched the first season, and I enjoyed it, but a lot of time has passed and I have not sought out the later seasons. Why is that?

If we could answer these questions of taste then we would also know how to write blockbuster books at every attempt for readers. It would be like a formula, and those who knew it would be able to virtually print money. To my knowledge nothing has ever worked that way. Bummer.

 

Scott 1999

This week I’ve been making some slow progress on my body suit and helmet in Blender. Thing are not as finished as I would like them to be, but I am learning as I go. Soon I will be doing UV maps, textures, and the like. This suit will serve as the base outfit for all my Spire City characters, and it will expand and contract to fit any different body type.
I should also mention that the suit and helmet are 100% my creations, not based on or kit-bashed from other 3D artist work.

There are still some lumps and bumps on the full face mask, but I’m getting there.

The hands are the last part I worked on, and these are meant to be gloves, not actual hands. Soon I’ll be putting in seams to add to the sense of realism.

I’m pretty pleased with the shape the boots came out. If you are wondering, I built this whole suit over the generic Genesis 8 character from Daz3d, aka Daz Studio.

This is the Johnny Saturn helmet I’m making. It’s my third attempt to get this right, and so far it is coming out pretty well. Obviously, there’s a whole bunch of detail to add before I get to the UV Maps/texture/color stage.

The Johnny Saturn mask has lenses, so you cannot see his eyes beneath. As I learn to manipulate Blender I’ll get better at this type of thing.

I am so glad I tackled Blender, because I almost fell victim to all the bad hype surrounding it. Rumor among 3D enthusiasts has been that this program is too hard to learn, that its interface is too hard, that the learning curve was to high, and that all its keyboard shortcuts are incomprehensible. I’m here to tell you that, at least so far, it has been no harder to learn as a beginner than Photoshop. Mind you, Photoshop was hard, especially in the times I learned it before Youtube and handy how-to videos.

Sometimes I regret having gotten into 3D because of its time consuming nature, but I honestly think this will blow the doors off what I’m capable of doing with my art. thanks

Scott (not Kolchak) the Night Stalker

Greeting, Friends, Countrymen, Blah . . . Today’s theme is printers. One of mine won’t work, and the large format one keeps jamming up. Bah. Plus, I’m told that cartridges aren’t made anymore for my old photocopier.  Double Bah. This week I have gained a great deal of proficiency and training in the most unfriendly of all apps (or so I’m told), Blender 2.79. I like it. You can do anything in it, and by anything I mean really make 3D art, 2D and 3D animation, edit movies, SFX for movies, and so much more that I will never mess with. I thought Google Sketchup was cool, and it was for a 3D learning tool, but Blender is 100% more robust and multifeatured. Anyway, here is a bodysuit in progress that I’ve been working on this week, complete modeled by me, not based off anyone else’s mesh.
All I see is the imperfections, and yes there are many, but I’m learning as I go. Topology, modifiers, UV unwrapping, and so forth. Once I get it to an acceptable condition, this will be the base suit that I modify as remake as all the Spire City characters’ uniforms. I have not checked into the options that paid programs like ZBrush off, but that’s so I won’t cry alligator tears of frustration. (On an unrelated note, I’m using this new WordPress Pluging Gutenburg, and so far I like it.) Ten Things You Might Not Know About Me:
  1. My cats are like my kids. I love them. I’m crazy about animals in general, but cats are extra special to me.
  2. Despite having spent much of my professional life as an illustrator, I did not go to art school. I took oil painting lessons a couple of times in my teens, and I went to Saturday classes at the Heron School of Art for three years while I was in high school. All the rest is self-taught.
  3. I wrote and drew my first picture book when I was 6 years old. I still have it.
  4. My college degree was in History, with a minor in Creative Writing. While I did not go on to teach, my History degree did get me a job as a Real Estate Title Searcher, which I did for about fifteen years.
  5. While my dad owned a motorcycle shop, and I worked a couple of years as a motorcycle mechanic, I have never owned a motorcycle. I rode many in a casual, non-competitive way, mostly because they were around and readily available.
  6. I did not pick up a guitar and begin to learn how to play until I was 24. Before that, I had absolutely no musical experience. I eventually got pretty good, but it took years of playing.
  7. I saw the original Star Trek when it was in its original run on regular television, and it is the first show I ever remember seeing. I saw the first Star Wars movie in 1977 when it was in the theaters, when it was still a big deal. I have spent my life as more a Star Trek fan. Not an uber fan, but someone who really enjoyed the assorted series. I have not seen any of the Star Wars movies made in recent years, but I wouldn’t rule it out. I dislike the JJ Abram’s Star Trek movie with a passion, and have only seen the first one. That was enough.
  8. I have never been able to make up my mind whether I’m more a writer or an artist. I guess I’m different things to different people. Shoot, I’m different things at different times! This used to bother me, but I’m becoming more accepting of myself as time goes on. I cannot even consider quitting either of them. I quit writing prose from age 30 to 45, but now it is a cherished and integral part of my life.
  9. I wear white socks with tennis shoes. Guilty as charged. When I was growing up the idea of dark socks with shorts or tennis shoes was a horror. It was so dorky!  Now that I think about it, I don’t remember many people wearing knee-high socks either, the type that basketball players wear. Anyway, everybody that apes the current retro style of dark socks looks unbelievably dorky to me.
  10. I’m a very active sleeper, because that standard sleep paralysis that comes with being asleep–I don’t have it. I’ve tossed myself out of bed more often than you might imagine, and once even broke a large piece of glass near my bed when I did it. It’s irritating, yes.
  11. BONUS! I don’t follow any sports teams. I have never watched a full football game. The only live games I have attended were basketball and hockey. I have an almost profound lack of interest in sports, teams, fantasy sports, players, and such. Mention a team or player, and try to make small talk with me about sports, and I will answer with uninterested silence till you give up.
  12. DOUBLE BONUS! I don’t know how to play cards (any card game, really), I suck at chess, and I never knew how to play Rock Paper Scissors until last year. I guess I’ve been deprived and didn’t even know it. 🙂
PS: As of this blog entry, I’m turning commenting back on. We will see how that goes.

Happy Days with Scott

Hello, My Friends! Salutations, Hola, etc.

Friday and Saturday I spent many rapturous hours working on my novel, the Apex Killers. I had been away from it for months, and digging back in is just fantastic for me. As I told Benita, I enjoy every stage of the writing process, from dashing out the first draft to repeated revisions working out every beat, filling in extra details and content, to polishing the manuscript as much as I can. Even formatting the book is enjoyable! This book has a lot of moving parts, so I’m probably going to hire an editor again to help me make sure I’ve covered everything. More on all this later.

Last week I wrote about the problems I’ve been having with my legs and feet. I’m happy to say that I’ve seen an orthopedic doctor, and he had a barrage of useful advice to help me get mobile again. For example, I’m wearing a compression sock on my left leg, and it has been heading off the excessive swelling. I’ve switched over to hiking boots, and they have offered me much greater support (and relief!) I even have some exercises that will help relieve the stress on my Achilles’ tendon. I was afraid I was going to have to undergo surgery and miss a great deal of work, or put off said surgery until I got vacation days to use for recovery and live in misery for half a year until those vacation days came back. Now I would like to think that I’ve reached the bottom, and now I’m ready for a significant turnaround in health. To better days!

Everyone knows that I’m a history nerd (my college degrees were in Medieval History and Creative Writing, as it turns out), Benita bought me some books on technology, masons and builders, clothes, and cloth dyes from the Middle Ages. This lady knows me! I’m one lucky guy.

Here is the latest cover I’ve created for Local Hero Press:

Finally, here is an excerpt from a novel that I wrote a long time ago, and which I am now going to self-publish. I wrote this in pre-internet times, and try as I might I never found an agent or a publisher. Now is a different time, and self-publishing is a terrific option. The book is titled “Name of the Shadow,” and this is an excerpt from chapter one:

 

PART ONE, CHAPTER ONE

Raeth pounded the strip of smoldering white iron, alternately heating it over a small, pedal-blown forge and working it on a curiously shaped anvil.  Satisfied, he pinned the iron to the anvil and then twisted it slightly with a pair of tongs. The tumbler, so intricate and precise, slowly came to life as he worked.  He began tapping at it again, carefully now, with yet another hammer. Finally, he buried the tumbler in the glowing coals of the little forge. There, embedded in the red-hot coke, its impurities would slowly bake away, leaving steel where before there had been only iron.

Raeth enjoyed his work despite the rigors of his apprenticeship to Jhold Mendynn, the master locksmith.  Raeth wanted so much more from life than a mere, “respectable” trade, but for now it would do. He was vain and well aware of his skill, which, for a boy of eleven, had already far outreached that of the other apprentices his age.

His master, oblivious to the merciless racket that Raeth raised below, lay unconscious in the little bedchamber above the shop.  Raeth didn’t mind his master’s tardiness, though, for there were certain liberties to be had in being a drunkard’s apprentice. When sober, Jhold sharply criticized every aspect of Raeth’s craftsmanship, yet the old locksmith never failed to present it as his own work when dealing with customers.

In three year’s time, when Raeth completed his eight-year apprenticeship, he would be eligible for the status of full journeyman locksmith.  Once certified, he then would be technically free of Jhold. The hard, economic truth, of course, was that once Raeth was a journeyman his status would change from Jhold’s ward, with its guaranteed food and lodging, to that of defenseless wage earner.  As such, Jhold would owe Raeth nothing, and he would be more a slave than before, beholden to his master’s grudging generosity: Raeth could have his wages cut, be laid off in the slow times, or be fired.

Raeth preferred not to look at it that way, of course.

Once certified, he thought with a smile, I’ll be free of Jhold Mendynn forever–free to make my fortune in the world. Jhold can starve, for all I care, and, without me to carry his workload for him, he probably will!

Using iron tongs, Raeth pulled a nearly completed lock casing from the coals. It was black, yet in the shop’s dim light he could see the ruddy glow that emanated from within the metal.  He plunged the casing into a small cask of fish oil, and it hissed in reply. Once polished, this piece would be complete, ready to house an intricate (and expensive) lock mechanism.  In the empire of Aorlis, where skilled handiwork and ferrous metals both commanded high prices, true locks typically were reserved for members of the aristocracy, high churchmen, and the fabulously wealthy merchant princes.

From the street beyond, a shrill whistle cut the air. It was Murt’s standard rallying call, used to gather the gang.  All prospective customers and ongoing projects were forgotten immediately, and Raeth, always ready for an adventure, closed down the locksmith’s shop in record time. Jhold, lying comatose above, would never know the better.

“Hey, Murt.  What’s the news?”  Raeth locked up the shop as he spoke, hanging the key around his neck by a thong.

The older boy, never quick to answer, regarded his Karmithian friend for a moment.

“Gang meeting.  Everyone’ll be there.  Come on.”

*

The port town of Enlith, capital city of Burlamshire, had been Raeth’s home all his life.  He barely remembered his parents, for he was only six years old when they apprenticed him to Jhold the locksmith.  That was the last time he ever saw them, for they never visited. Raeth grew up lonely, without parents or family, and Jhold took no other apprentices.  As for Jhold, well . . .

Raeth found no parental substitute in his new master, only a cruel taskmaster and a grudging instructor.  Raeth, in that innocent pragmatism unique to children, realized early on that his new master was a man bent on slow self-destruction; Jhold spent most of his evenings–and many of his days, too–fueling his depression with wine.  He wasn’t young when he first took Raeth in, but now, due to the locksmith’s excesses, he appeared far older than his age warranted. It was Jhold who taught Raeth when to run, for the craftsman could be an abusive, angry drunk.

Still, Jhold had been an able teacher, through example if not instruction, and, when sober, a superb craftsman. Raeth learned quickly, and from the age of nine on he already was capable of many of the more sophisticated aspects of his craft, work typically reserved for full journeymen, not mere apprentices.  Raeth felt challenged by intricate mechanisms of all sorts, and working with them came naturally to him. As Raeth’s skill and productivity grew, Jhold worked less and drank more.

When his duties were completed, or when Jhold was lost to the wine, Raeth would slip away and run wild with the local boys.  Some of these lads, like Raeth, were derelict apprentices, while others were the children of the urban poor and laboring classes, the accidental sons of whores, or the orphaned children of sailors.  Many of these boys were homeless, forced to fend for themselves or starve; these lived with the specter of death, and often were subject to the malnutrition, chronic illnesses, and parasites that were synonymous with life in large towns.  For some of these children, the only means of survival was prostitution. (So precarious was this pursuit, however, that more than half of them ended up face down in the bay, their throats slit, half-eaten by wayward sharks.)  Consequently, the roster of boys rotated regularly, and only the hardiest survived for long.  Those rare few who survived to adulthood invariably became as tough as iron, bled free of the petty empathies that plagued most humans.  These boys had a hungry gleam to their eyes, a feral light that promised little compromise.

The boys gathered in mobs, loosely knit bands that fed off the city.  If Enlith were likened to a mouldy crust of bread, then the boys were the maggots, maggots who produced only flies.  They vandalized, mugged, and practiced petty theft with near impudence, for in Enlith the law belonged only to those who could afford private armies or hired bodyguards.  The boys, of course, were wise to the ways of the town and chose their victims carefully. They feared no one but rival gangs, and the intermittent gang wars that racked the port town were celebrations of sadistic desperation, fierce and bloody.

It was rough going for Raeth at first.  He was born of Karmithian blood, but the other boys (like most of Enlith’s population) were born of Jotundgorn stock.  The Jotuns were a tall, rawboned race of sea rovers; they were wild-eyed, red-bearded berserkers who made natural warriors.   Karmithians, with their dark eyes and keen minds, were uncommon this far west in the empire. They were a small-boned, wiry people, easily tanned and darkly hirsute.  They too made fine warriors, but theirs was an art of discipline, speed, and cleverness, not brute force.

Boys who are different have always been marked for the worst kinds of attention, but Raeth was a stubborn lad.  His short lifetime of hard work, abuse, and loneliness had lent him a heart like iron and fists like boiled leather.  He never backed down from a fight, no matter how badly he was outmatched. Consequently, it didn’t take long for tales of his spunk and sheer meanness to establish his place among the bigger boys.  That, and Raeth’s swelling reputation as a poor looser, for he never admitted defeat, never gave up, and never gave in.

The “captain” of Raeth’s gang was a burly fifteen-year-old boy named Drak who had crooked teeth and dirty-blond hair that hung limply over his eyes.  Drak remembered no parents and had survived all his days by his wits and meaty fists alone. His “first mate” was the taciturn Murt, a gangly youth who spoke little but was as rangy as a wolf.

Raeth’s initiation into the gang came when he tangled with Murt.  It was a lost fight from the beginning, but one that Raeth was determined to win.  Slowly, inexorably, the larger boy had pounded Raeth to within an inch of his life; the Karmithian boy called for no mercy, admitted no pain, and battled on long after his strength had failed him.  Raeth had been a small nine year old, and Murt about thirteen and already quite formidable. Still, it was a noble defeat, and Raeth was part of the gang thereafter. It was a probationary membership, of course, because Captain Drak hated him; Raeth was a stupid Karmithian, after all, and not to be trusted.

As the months rolled by, Raeth roamed with the boys as often as he could.  The climate varied little on the coast; generally, it was comfortably cool and humid, with a salty sea breeze blowing in by day, and a warm land breeze blowing back out to sea by night.  Thus, the gang was active around the calendar. Raeth’s days, at least those when Jhold was sober, were spent at the locksmith’s shop, and most of his nights roving the streets.

Raeth’s popularity among the other boys grew steadily. He never refused a dare, and he cowered from none of their antics.  He pelted off-duty soldiers with offal, swam beneath the piers on the bay, stole food from the market’s stands, and even knocked hidden holes in unguarded fishing boats.  By now, most of the other boys conveniently overlooked Raeth’s cultural heritage and considered him a Jotun but for an accident of birth.

The underlying tension between Drak and Raeth never eased, however, and Drak’s practical jokes almost always centered on the Karmithian boy.  As 1196 passed (Raeth’s second year in the gang), Drak grew taller, ganglier, and he even took to toting a fearsome meat hook that he’d stolen from a dockside warehouse’s salt lockers.  If it were possible, Drak grew moodier as he matured. Now, when the gang’s captain called out his orders, his voice often cracked into a broken falsetto.

Drak was absent more often these days, and no one knew where he spent his time.  In Drak’s absence, the remainder of the boys looked to Raeth and Murt for guidance.  Drak and Murt now spoke little, and they were rumored to have had a falling out. Murt, despite his greater age and fighting build, now acted as Raeth’s unofficial second in command, just as Murt still sometimes did for Drak.

Some people, reflected Raeth, are born followers, just as others are born leaders.

As the year gasped its final breath, and old Chroneoss looked to his rebirth on New Year’s Day, Raeth came to believe that his position among the boys had nearly solidified–on the day he contested Drak for the captain’s “chair,” most of the guys would rally to Raeth’s banner.  He was tough and agile, a true contender for Drak’s position. As the Karmithian boy saw it, Drak’s day had nearly reached its dusk, and the dawn of Raeth’s was fast approaching.