Stone in Zanth’s Paw: Staying At Home Story 2

Stone in Zanth’s Paw. This was posted on a website,some or all of you might have seen this before, but it’s been revised. It is 14 pages/days long. I hope to have the story collection, Hearts and Stones, up by then. Again, 1 page a day (and this is the final form since this has already been through copy and line edits).

**426 Years After Colonization, Ash Family Beach House, South of Druida City, Summer**
Zanth, top Familiar Companion Cat of all of the planet Celta, stomped down the path from his house to his beach. He should not have to do duty on this beautiful, sunny morning.

But Mother Turtle, Swift-In-The-Sea, had mentally contacted him a week ago. She’d told him she wanted to inspect her daughters she’d sent two years ago to be cared for by the animal Healer, Danith D’Ash. Danith was one of Zanth’s humans.

After two years, the two littlest of the hatchlings now stood and stretched twice as big as he. Still talked in baby-talk, though. Less than half-baked in Zanth’s opinion.

Zanth had informed his Family of Mother Turtle’s request. Then the whole Ash Family, T’Ash, and D’Ash and their two sons and two daughters, had come to this southern estate and the large house near the beach where the turtles had cracked out of their shells.

Zanth had saved them then, so now he seemed stuck with them. Mother Turtle had not wanted to meet Danith, like most animals in all the planet of Celta should. Otherwise Danith would be doing this duty and not Zanth. He grumbled low in his throat.

Even worse, two of Gwydion Ash’s mob of gray housefluff bunnies decided to follow Zanth and turtles from the mansion to the beach. Zanth disliked the fluffs.

Anyway, it looked like he led a parade of fools. That detracted from his status.

Still, he kept his tail high and waving.

As he approached the first dune, he could smell the patch of herb he liked to sleep in. Far away from the scary and restless big water. To his nose, the spicy groundcover smelled sweeter than ever. From the buzzing of the insects that liked to sit on the leaves, the herb had spread since last summer into a nice, big mat for him.

But no sleeping this morning. This morning he had to return the two female sea turtles to the damn damp sand and meet with their mother. Both now plodded after him.
They lumbered in his wake, sending falls of sand into the scruffy brush, and they were s-l-o-w. Even the two housefluff bunnies hopped along faster.

And the turtles were loud, both with their swishing walking behind him—he was silent—and with their mental comments. Every smart being, human and Fam, could hear their mental shouting.

We are going to SEE MAMA! shrilled the first one into his mind and into the air.

Yes, yes, yes we are! the second yelled. And maybe we will swim with her and sleep with her and BE with her, now.

Zanth grumbled, You should be grateful you lived with Us, that MY FamWoman took you in and helped you survive and taught you stuff and how to talk in words more than squeaks.

Yes, Zanth, TopFam, said the first.

Yes, Zanth, TopFam,
agreed the second. BUT WE ARE SOOOO EXCITED, she screamed to the world.

Zanth winced and tried to fold down his black ears in reaction, but even weighted with his emerald earring studs, they didn’t lower.

You are too loud!
screeched one of the housefluff bunnies.

Those Familiar Companion beings hopped behind the turtles, and over them, and around them, getting in Zanth’s way.

The Family had spent much, much gilt—money—on the two immature female turtles. For personal protection spells for them. For trips to the local seaside near Druida City and a cottage on that beach. A place FamWoman Danith had gone alone many a time to take care and check on the turtles as they grew. She left her HeartMate, FamMan Rand, who didn’t like that at all. She left Zanth! For beings who stayed in the big water!

Inconceivable.

All to keep two turtles well and happy.

He snorted. And he smelled—bad odor.

What’s that? asked Housefluff One mentally. His nose wriggled wildly.

I don’t like that smell! said the housefluff’s mate, her own nose moving slightly less.

Zanth stopped himself from wrinkling his own nose. Dead and rotting thing, he said. Always something dead or dying on the beach. He’d learned that from experience. The big water is tough on beings. Zanth thought all water was tough on beings. Nasty stuff.

If something not dying on beach today, will tomorrow, he said. He just planned on it never being him.

The female housefluff stopped in her big-footed tracks, one of her large pink-lined ears tilted. I’m not going up and down dunes to the beach.

Zanth tossed her a glance. You housefluffs return home, not that far.

The female lifted her foot, stared at her pads. Don’t like this grit.

That’s sand, nothing but sand on the beach. And shells, broken shells that become sand, Zanth informed her. Sand and grit got between pads and had to be picked out. Like these beings littered Zanth’s life. Turtles soon to be gone, though.

Female bunny twirled and hopped back toward the house, round puffy tail twitching. Zanth stared at it. He’d always wanted to catch a housefluff by the tail.
Forbidden.

He virtuously turned his back on the pair—good riddance!—and continued down the path. A path animals and Fams used, not humans.

Reaching his patch of herb, he had time to inspect it, knead it all over so nice scent coated his pads and paws and under his claws, and got rid of some grit. Then had a short wallow, before turtles caught up with him.

The shelled beings still burbled cheerfully, but this time only in turtle body language and turtle-mind-speak that sounded like a slow rising and falling hum in his head. Ignorable.

Easier to tune out than the whoosh in and out of the big water, just lurking beyond the last dune. He dreaded seeing that, growled under his breath, and kept pace with the turtles as they went slowly up the incline.

As they topped the last dune, he didn’t see Mother Turtle.

Bad smell worse up here, probably horrible on the beach. Zanth trotted down, putting his black and white paws in dents in the sand. A meter before the beach, the land fell abruptly, cut as if a storm had come through. He leapt easily down.

The turtles, of course, squealed as they slid down the sand, tipped onto the beach and fell okay on their bellies.

He turned toward the smell … something he’d have to take care of since it wafted over his territory …and stopped.

There, gnawing on a mangled part of a pelican more than a day old, stood a scrawny male wolf. He stared at Zanth with cold yellow eyes and Zanth glared back. He could tell this wolf wasn’t smart enough to be a Familiar Companion animal. Almost, but not quite. That made Zanth superior in all ways. He swaggered forward. A strong Fam could always make a regular animal back down.

The wolf growled in a low threatening tone. Zanth noted one of his hind legs looked recently crippled and dribbled blood. Too bad.

Zanth showed his teeth and hissed. In his head he showed the range of his territory, sent warning that the wolf intruded. That Zanth would not tolerate the gaunt thing here, on Zanth’s land.

Rumbling came deeper from the wolf’s throat.

Zanth sent a clearer picture of boundaries, added words that would cue the wolf of Zanth’s superior status. Not to mess with him. *Take rotten meat and go. Away. Off My land.*
Instead wolf tensed, like he would actually defy Zanth.
And another growl came from a burrow in the steep cut of the land. Another wolf.

Zanth stiffened, alarmed. Fighting two of them could be tough.

When they’d left the big house, Danith had been taking care of a local sick dog who’d eaten something bad and was puking his guts out. Still, she or FamMan T’Ash would hear if Zanth called for help, but he wouldn’t.

He couldn’t back down. Turtles returning to the sea would know he’d not defended his own land, would tell *everyone* far and wide.

Threat came mentally from the male wolf before him. Dark intimidation and challenge.

Then a breeze stirred the air and Zanth smelled that the wolf in the burrow had whelped not long ago, and a pup was with her. Big wolves would protect pup to the death—Zanth’s or their own.

Uh-oh.

Zanth stepped back, bumped into turtles. They were about as long as the wolf and much wider. Wolves’ thoughts sounded like they found turtles too hard to kill and eat.
But turtles didn’t seem to sense that. They squeaked and moved toward the fast encroaching water.

**Come with us, Zanth!** We will protect you! the first said.

**Yes!** the second turtle chimed in. Water GOOD!

No! Zanth spit out, looking at them, but keeping a wary sideglance on the male wolf. Zanth let his body ease, friendly. Best to get through this problem without a fight that would damage everyone but the turtles.

We talk, he sent in words. Showed image of wolf relaxing, too. Of everyone respecting each other.

The male displayed his fangs. Bigger than Zanth’s own.

Making sure he remained just outside claw reach, Zanth pressed his paw into the moist sand, leaving a good print. Then with his mind he colored the print pink. The symbol for Zanth’s FamWoman, the Animal Healer that all smart Celtan animals should know.

The wolf sucked in quick breath, lowered his head a little, gaze fixed on Zanth. He thought of Danith, gave the vision to the wolves, and the large house at the end of the path.

YOU GO. GO TO HOUSE WHERE HEALER IS! he projected to the male wolf, making sure his feeling of helpfulness would echo through the wolf’s mate bond, as well as reaching the female directly.
In the lair, the female rumbled in a questioning manner. The he wolf growled, abandoned the piece of dead bird, retreated close to the opening of the den. Did body talk—tail and ears and fur—and probably private picture talk to mate.

Female stuck her head and neck out, appearing as skinny as the male. Stared at Zanth, met his eyes. He sent her his knowledge of Danith D’Ash. How she loved animals, all animals, not just Fams. How she would want to help the small Family.

Would coo over the pup. Would Heal the male’s leg, for sure. Would feed them all good food.

??? A swarm of questions, requests for confirmation of Zanth’s info, came from both wolves, loud enough to rouse the dozing pup to yip once.

YES! screamed one of the turtles, as if mentally speaking louder would make the wolves understand better. DANITH D’ASH IS WONDERFUL! Her image of Danith seemed odd, using muddy tints instead of pink.

YES, YES, YES, said the second turtle, repeating what her sister said, as usual. But this turtle’s images and feelings were clearer than her words. She sent memories of deep comfort from Danith, feeling of love cycling between turtle and woman. Turtle’s adoration of Danith.

And how the woman helped the turtles, then let them go free. No cages or pens.

GO UP PATH TO BIG HOUSE WHERE HEALER DANITH IS! confirmed Zanth. Follow housefluff pawprints and scent. He thought of the housefluffs, fur sleek over plump bodies.

The male wolf’s eyes widened, a small string of drool fell from his open mouth. Zanth felt the female perk up at the image of fat housefluffs.

Oops.

As Zanth checked mentally on the fluffs, found them safe inside the house, the wolves rushed by him. The male jostled Zanth, forcing him away from their den and the path. The female trotted first, carrying the pup in her mouth, but stayed within the sight of the male behind her.

Zanth hopped back, found himself dewclaw deep in water! He opened his mouth to hiss, then one of the turtles bumped him, slid under him and he danced for balance until she lifted him up on her back.

I’ll save you, Zanth! Take you safe to sandbar in water where big nasty dog-things won’t come! Meet Mama, THERE!

Me, too!

NO! Zanth shouted, but the turtle’s head dipped below water … that slid all around his paws, sometimes covering them!
Already in deep, deep, water. Take Me back!

She ignored him.

He stuck his claws in the turtle’s leathery skin and she didn’t flinch too much. Not as much as Zanth shuddered.

A moment later, the turtle slipped onto a narrow sandbar surrounded by water. Zanth hopped off the turtle’s shell onto the spit of land, barely above lapping water. The second turtle arrived, and splashed him even more, droplets on his white fur and his black fur!

He let all the Cat curses he had roll out of him in spitting fury. And the cowardly turtles deserted him!

**We be back when you happier, Zanth! We going to send sounds to Mama for her to come. They travel better in water,** said the smarter one.

**Yes!** said the sister.

Zanth wasn’t stupid enough to have a hissy fit and thrash around on the sand. But it took some stalking up and down the very slim piece of land before his anger decreased. He eyed the mainland beach, many Zanth-cat-lengths away.

Didn’t see hide nor tail hair of the wolves. Stretching his senses, he felt Gwydion, also an Animal Healer, open the sick animal door to the wolves. Good enough.

He’d saved them, too. Was a hero, as usual.

But stuck on this damn piece of land in the middle of the great water.

What was he going to do?

To call FamMan or FamWoman or some other Fam to rescue him would be to lose great face. The turtles didn’t think about status like other Fams, didn’t realize the position they’d forced him into.

One of them simply had to take him back. He’d insist. Then he’d say he’d done all this on purpose to show how strong and brave he was. By the time he’d told the story often, he would believe it to be true himself. So he paced until he could send cool, smart words to turtles.

**Come on back, now!** he called, not putting command in his tone, because turtles responded to coaxing better. Now that he stared out at the bigness of the huge water with no land, he could sense where they swam, nearly see their underwater wakes.

Mama can hear! We will wait for her with Zanth like we told Danith we would!
The first turtle started back.

Last week, when old mother Turtle, Swift-in-the-Sea, talked to Zanth in his mind to bring her daughters to the ocean, she’d told him she didn’t want to meet any humans. She distrusted them.
Zanth believed her too wary, but maybe she didn’t have good judgment as to which humans were good or bad, not being as smart as Zanth.

The sister turtles returned to the sandbar and stared at Zanth.

You happier now? I am happy! Mama comes.

I am happy, too. Excited and waiting for Mama, the second turtle said.

Didn’t sound as if either of them would take him back right now. Zanth muttered under his breath and grumbled in his head but didn’t say nothing to turtles.
A few minutes later, he sensed a powerful presence approaching. Zanth saw Mother Turtle zoom through the water, reach the damp sand part of the sandbar. Then she came, slow flipper-step by slow flipper-step out of the ocean and onto land, an old and massive being.

Greetyou, FamCat, she said. Zanth wondered if she remembered his name.

She saw her daughters, heard their mental joyful squeals and relief radiated from her. Good. Good. You two survived.

Sand spit as the three met on the beach. Good, Mother repeated. We lost two. So I have eight daughters from this most successful clutch.

Because Me hero, Zanth reminded her. After all, he’d saved them all!

She seemed to ignore his words and spoke again to her daughters, Though we are a family of Healers, neither your sisters nor I could reach in time the two who perished. A long breath out. Snapped up by a shark.

The image of a terrible fish and it eating small turtles smacked Zanth. He jumped back with a hiss. No, not a squeal of terror, a hiss. He did it again, just to emphasize that it was a hiss.

Mother Turtle sniffed her daughters, told them to stay as she moved ponderously all around them. Went to smack one with a strong flipper and the blow barely connected. She lifted her head and stared at Zanth. What is this?

Spell personal armor. Protects young. It had cost a fortune … or at least a few Fam animal companion placements in the Yew and Blackthorn Families. Wears off gradually—

I understand that
, Mother Swift-In-The-Sea said.

—so young learn from fatal mistakes instead of being stupid and dead, he finished. Both turtles would have died a dozen times over if they hadn’t had such armor.

Mother Turtle huffed. Well, they were not with their mother, but a human woman who’d never raised turtles. Never wanted to meet her before, dealing with a cat like you is bad enough.

We loovvee Danith! the littler ones chorused. She is an excellent Healer of not only turtles but all Fams. And animals, too!

Hmmm, Mother said. I sense your Flair, daughters, and that the human woman Healer sparked it. Perhaps you will follow me as Great Healers. This is good.

One last stare at Zanth, and she said, I will take my daughters to their brethren and we shall see how well they Heal others. What they might have learned from this Animal Healer Danith D’Ash. If they impress me, I will contact you again to meet with her and perhaps share knowledge.

Zanth grunted, he himself unimpressed by her. Mostly.

Follow me, she instructed her daughters, and began to turn back toward the vastness of the waves.

Wait! Zanth yelled. Take Me back to the mainland beach!

Before he could blink, she flicked her flipper and used Flair, mind-magic, to move him to her back. He scrabbled and clawed at her neck and she took off straight into the water! Her daughters followed.

He did not like this. No, not at all. In fact, he HATED riding through the water, wavelets breaking over his paws. How dare the turtles, all the turtles, subject him to such indignities. To water. To moving water. To moving through water.

At least she lived up to her name. She swam swiftly. No more than ten or so Zanth-lengths from the beach Zanth began to breathe easier.

Until Mother Turtle said, You fear the sea. You should learn it better and you will fear less.

Then she rolled in the water and Zanth had to release his claws or drown!

She sped away.

He tumbled over and under and salt water in mouth and rubbing fur raw against sharp ground and getting grit stuck between his pads.

He lifted his foot, stared at the wedged stone, a big piece of sharp shell. Then he sank on his haunches to worry it out with tooth and paw and after long minutes and some more blood, he plucked it out. Like other irritants out of his life, the turtles, the wolves.

All would know he was a hero.

Light flickered over the shell-piece in a pretty way. He could keep it, take it to Danith as a present, or to his FamMan T’Ash to make into a jewel and sell.

His shivering stopped and he squinted at the big water. He’d survived all the ocean had thrown at him.

Looking down at his bedraggled self, he saw he’d lost several whiskers. His nice round head would look lopsided!

Maybe FamMan and FamWoman wouldn’t notice.

He touched a white forepaw to his black ears. Both earrings in. Good!

Still, he should indulge in a long grooming session before he returned home. Wanted no comments.

He sniffed, the scent of that herb patch he liked to nap in and dream and occasionally munch caught in his nostrils. And he calmed as he nuzzled it, sniffed deeply and appreciated the smell of good dirt and living green things growing out of the ground. Kneading the herbs until they released even more nice smell, he lay down on the thick, soft leaves. He’d snooze a bit, then groom, get the rest of ocean sand out of his claws.

The sun already warmed his fur. He liked sun and land better than ocean. But he respected big water, didn’t fear it as much, though he knew it could kill him easily, thoughtlessly. But hadn’t today.

Life was good

THE END
.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.

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