Upcoming Appearances



Wednesday May 1, 2019, at 9:53 pm

Free Comic Book Day

It’s that time again… time to get some free comics and sketches! We will once again be hosted by the fine fellows at Hurley’s Heroes Comics & Games.  Aaron Kuder (Superman, Spider-Man, Amory Wars, Green Lantern) and Jeremy Haun (The Beauty, The Realm) will also be there sketching and selling comics.  The Cartoonist Club that I sponsor at Joplin High School will also be there, debuting two new books that they have worked hard on this year. We will be doing free sketches, as usual, and will have prints and comics for sale. We hope you can swing by!

Saturday October 3, 2015, at 12:14 pm

Inktober Day 3

Inktober Goblin Scout

Here’s a goblin scout for Day 3 of Inktober.

Friday September 6, 2013, at 11:45 pm

A Short Story

Over the last three years I have had the same dream almost every night. I am driving and I make a wrong turn down a narrow country road. We are looking for a place to turn around, but for no reason continue forward. As I travel down the road Bill falls asleep and crashes into the front yard of an old farmhouse.

At this point the dream becomes odd. I get out and start towards the house. The door of the farmhouse open, but what is inside is not a house but an almost indescribable thing. Huge and shifting the pink masses of flesh that I have only seen when watching medical shows. There is an odd sound and something that might vaguely be called an eye and then the dream sifts as dreams so often do.

I am on a couch. I look up to see a young woman, about my age. She has dark, kind eyes and an intensity of expression that is almost frightening, but when she sees that I am waking she smiles and I am struck by her beauty.

She tells me I had tried to get to the farmhouse for help, but my head had been hurt so I had made it only to the front door. The pounding of my head seemed to confirm the injury and the dream moves on.

I am in a small isolated community of about a dozen families. They are farmers, but seem remarkably normal outside of their isolation. The young woman, whose name I cannot remember though I have tried each time I wake is my guide to the small strange community.

The only real rules of this community were that no one was allowed to tell of its existence and no one went into the farmhouse I had approached. In fact, they avoided that area entirely though it was the only road leaving the area.

I assume they are doing something illegal. A meth house might even explain the odd hallucination as well as the reluctance of the small community to allow us to leave. But no matter how hard I try the image of the strange pulsating flesh remains. Why would I imagine something so odd, but then again why would I question my own dream in a dream?

Again at this time the dream becomes less clear. I am in the village for some time, perhaps weeks, but I remember only a few moments. I laugh with my hostess and she suggests I could stay, but I insist I must return home. She seems saddened by this and I try to convince her to come with me but I can never remember how the conversation ended.

Sometime later I am insisting that I can see my car and the woman surprises me and insists she will come though she is clearly terrified of that house.

This is where the dream becomes disjointed again. I am walking towards my car and the woman takes my hand our fingers weaved together.  As we approach I remember only pieces. There is a tree, but it seems to move and for a moment I am not certain it is a tree, and across the narrow road I see a barn that is simply wrong, though I do not remember why.

My car appears to be perfectly fine and I let go of the woman’s hand to check it, but she grabs it back as I do, though I don’t know why beyond simple fear. At that moment there is a gap of memory again, but this time it seems shorter. I am at my car and have a container of gasoline which I throw at the farmhouse.

My hostess is crying. She tells me that I must not anger it. It will punish us, but
I have decided. I will burn the creature. The next seconds in the dream are filled with fire and a low rumbling howl that is more anger than pain.

Then we are running through the woods. I am with the woman. We are crossing a small stream and our hands break apart.  Then I wake up. I know the dream should scare me.  Instead, each time I wake with an almost overwhelming melancholy and a desperate need to remember the woman’s name.

And each night as I fall asleep I hope to dream again the strange half nightmare because it is in that dream that I am with a woman who I have loved more than any woman before or since and each morning I get in my car and drive in hopes that I will take that wrong turn again, and if you’ve found this letter then there is at least a chance that I turned up that road again and even if I haven’t found that place someday perhaps I’ll go where I can dream forever.

Friday August 2, 2013, at 10:56 pm

Not an Artist

I’ve been watching an online show about comic books recently, and in the theme song, among

Is this art?

Is this art?

other things, it says that a well known comic book illustrator is not an artist. This is meant, at least partially, as a joke, but it got me thinking about what it means to be an artist.  The problem is that the definition of an artist is someone who makes art, but how do you judge if something is art (or do you judge at all?). I for one don’t particularly think that an unmade bed is art, but a lot of people seem to disagree and is my opinion more valid than theirs?

Still, some standards do seem to be in order because if anyone who didn’t bother to tuck in their sheets is an artist then the word really doesn’t really mean anything. On the other hand if we say that the only thing that is art are things we already consider art then not only are comic book illustrators never going to be considered ‘real artists’ but neither would a lot of people who pushed art forward. I’m not an expert, but abstract art, cubism, expressionism and picasso-cubismmany other types of art we now consider classic were once new and I’m certain misunderstood by many.

I suspect part of the question of a lot of modern art isn’t so much that people don’t like it, though a lot of people don’t, but that they think the artist is secretly laughing at them. So someone who does something that appears difficult, even if it has no more meaning, is likely to get more respect. But this leads to the simple question of whether skill defines art.

There is no simple answer. Making art does take skill, but that isn’t what defines it as art anymore than the type of media makes it art. A comic book artist is just as much an artist as a sculptor,  but on the other hand they can copy other people’s work and call it their own. The only thing I can say is that real art, the kind that we care about takes a lot of effort. It isn’t something that just happens. But how do I know how much effort the person who splatters paint on a canvas puts into it. Perhaps I just don’t get it, like so many people don’t get comic books. So, I’m going with the simple answer. If I don’t like it I just won’t pay it any attention, but I’m certainly not going to say that it isn’t art. Just don’t hold me to that when that person I don’t like starts drawing my favorite comic book.

Friday July 12, 2013, at 10:25 pm


When we talk about artists, whether they are making movies, comic books, novels or anything else the word that most often seems to come up is talent. That’s reasonable these people are most certainly talented, but it’s important to remember that there is a lot more to any of these than talent. Talent is an inborn ability, but none one of those very talented people have created the things you like based solely on talent.

I have spent a fair amount of time around comic book artists so know that group better than many of the others and while I respect their skill it the amount of effort and work ethic that really impresses me, because there are ten people with artistic talent for every skilled artist.  The skilled artist is the one who got up two hours before work to learn to do something better and then after work when everyone else was relaxing went back out and did another hour because it wasn’t quite right yet. They are the people who give up something because they understand that you can’t succeed without a lot of effort and that doesn’t scare them away.

The most basic number that I assume is ten thousand. It takes ten-thousand hours to become a master at a skill. And for artists that’s often ten thousand hours that they aren’t getting paid at all, or getting paid a lot less than they could have been paid doing something else.  To put that in perspective, if you work forty hours a week for fifty weeks a year that’s 2000 hours, so that artist who does the comic book you like spent five years full time, and even if you don’t consider them a master they’ve still spent a lot of time, effort and even money to perfect something simply because they love to do it. And while ten thousand hours is the beginning for the people who want to be the best, the ones whose names you know and impress you by doing something you hardly knew was possible that was just a down payment. They’re still improving and while they might love it, don’t forget that it’s still work. And even if they love doing it they still have days they’d rather be doing other things.

So the next time you want to complement how talented someone is don’t forget the skill that they paid for and include it as well as the inborn talent, because hard work and passion are a far greater measure for success than any amount of inborn talent. And if you happen to be interested in making art yourself, whether it’s music, painting, illustration, writing or anything else remember that if you work hard enough and long enough you can get there. But don’t expect overnight success unless you’ve been laying the groundwork for at least a few years.

Friday July 5, 2013, at 1:23 am

Adaptions and Changes

With video games like Bioshock Infinite, Mass Effect(at least until a certain point), and many other video games finally really nailing story the reaction of many people is that this would make a good movie. The same is of course true of many comic books, novels and even TV shows. And to be fair there have been good adaptations made from all of these (though I’m at a loss for a good video game adaptation off the top of my head) but the best adaptations are those that take the core ideas and feel from one of these genres and move it into another, because while there are core aspects of story that are true in every media they are fundamentally different and it is vital for people to understand that.

That is why, in my opinion, the Avengers worked far better as a movie than Watchmen. Watchmen wasn’t bad, but it wanted to be the comic book more than it wanted to be its own movie. This is especially common in comic book movies because people want to see the iconic images that are in the comics on screen and since the images exist there is less room for variation in a strict adaptation. And Watchmen had an even harder time because it was extremely popular and tightly written which gave it far less room to adjust things for the big screen, while the Avengers had a director who understood both media very well and understood how to adapt one to the other already.bioshock-infinate-cover

Going back to Bioshock Infinite, there is no doubt that there is enough story here for a movie, and I could certainly see someone making a very good movie out of this game, that said, this is a story that was created for a video game and works far better in that video game.  It let you really feel what it is like to be the main character of the story and was able to very slowly trickle out both information and clues as to what was happening. It even managed to work character deaths into the narrative in a way that improved the story rather than simply throwing in an excuse for why you come back.  The depth of the plot and ideas are also perfect for a video game that holds your attention both considerably longer and more in depth than a movie will because you’re actually involved in the story.  A movie that wants a broad audience is either going to ignore large parts of the story of Bioshock infinite or make it far simpler, and in this case it won’t even be because the movie makers think that the people watching the movie are stupid. It’s because there is a lot going on and you can’t make a two hour movie and have thirty minutes of it explaining the science and then spend at least another 15 minutes explaining the plot twists. You have to actually have time for things like character development and even a little bit of action.

The biggest issue for many people is books, and I admit this can be an issue for me too. I’m a bit scared about the new Ender’s Game movie because I’m not convinced they are going to be able to capture the book and I’m already hearing complaints about how the next movie in The Hobbit trilogy isn’t going to be accurate to the book. This is even correct sometimes when a movie fails to explain an important point or changes a point in a book which creates plot holes and issues in the story. For example it’s hard to imagine many of the points in Ender’s Game working with older children. Without spoiling it is hard to explain the exact reasons, but in essence older kids, especially very smart ones, are less likely to believe everything they are told. But in the end they are two very different forms of media. A book like Ender’s Game can have a dozen or more characters under the age of 12 without all that many issues while this is going to be far more difficult for a movie that has to deal with school, labor laws and the normal issues of kids.


In the end the simple answer for any book or story changing from one media to another is that you still have the original. If you don’t like the changes in the Hobbit then the good news is that no one is stopping you from reading it and because it’s a good book the movie isn’t going to do much beside perhaps effecting the way the characters look and sound in your mind, and in general the casting wasn’t bad. The same is true of Watchmen. Don’t like the end of the movie then read the comic book. In fact in many cases it’s the need to stick with things too exactly that are most distracting and problematic because it spoils the ending for everyone who has read it and often forces itself into situations that don’t work well for the media they are in. This is why it is often easier to get excited over The Walking Dead than a direct adaption. They have kept most of the feeling of the books while changing enough that having read all of the comics you still can’t be certain what is going to happen. So in the end try to remember that there are good reasons to change a great story when changing media and to quote a wise man ‘just repeat to yourself it’s just a show I should really just relax.”

Friday June 28, 2013, at 5:09 pm

Cancel the Apocalypse

I like The Walking Dead, the Nolan Batman movies and Battlestar Galactica as much as anyone, but I am getting a bit tired of the need for everything to be gritty, dark and cynical. This exhaustion isn’t because that isn’t interesting to me but because not everything should be the same.  What finally pushed me over the edge were the two most recent movies that I saw in the theaters. Star Trek into Darkness and The Man of Steel.  I enjoyed both of these movies for what they were, but when two different directors feel the need to take two of the more uplifting franchises and make them so much darker it’s time to suggest that we need to start moving on.

Hollywood has always done this. When you’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars on something you don’t want to take a lot of risks. That said, I don’t think this particular trend is entirely Hollywood’s fault, and not just because it’s huge in comics, novels, ect. as well.  There are plenty of people who like this and want to write things they like. I think it’s more basic than that. People have decided that 1) dark cynical stories are more realistic, and 2) stories have to be realistic to be good.

I have a problem with both of these premises. The first is actually the bigger problem though. I have a reasonably realistic life, as it is real, and yet it really doesn’t feel that gritty to me.  It’s not perfect of course, but I’m not living in a noir story. In addition the world isn’t getting worse. Things are hard for a lot of people right now, but we still have more of almost everything than our parents and half the things we couldn’t imagine living without our great grandparents would hardly have believed if they saw it. Crime is down, health is up and in most cases things are getting better not worse.  Science fiction stories especially (like Star Trek) are not unrealistic if they suggest that in a couple hundred years we might have solved a lot of the things that are big problems today, just like we have solved little things indoor plumbing, electricity and the plague.

The second one is a bit more preference. I prefer a story that takes its own premise serious and get frustrated when it feels like the writer or director thought their own idea was stupid. That said, I also enjoy plenty of movies that aren’t realistic. To throw out some examples I enjoyed all three Toy Story movies, but was never actually convinced that toys are alive, I enjoyed the 1960’s Batman even though I’m not convinced that keeping shark repellant in your utility belt makes much sense and I read a lot of comics about people who get superpowers from massive doses of radiation.

I’ve used the word cynical a few times and I think that’s my biggest problem. I’m not naive enough to believe that there isn’t corruption that people wouldn’t get hurt if Superman was fighting Zod or that if zombies took over people wouldn’t start killing each other for supplies.  The problem is that I deal with plenty of problem in real life.  Sometimes I want to go to a movie and see someone who is not only unstoppable but incorruptible. I want to believe, at least for a couple of hours, that Superman can save the world without killing a hundred thousand people in the process and find a way to do it all without having to surrender to the dark path to do it. That’s because I go to a Superman movie, or a Star Trek movie in part to escape from what’s really happening not to be shown that even in our fantasies things would really be just as bad.man-of-steel-dark

To bring this back to storytelling and comic books I’d just like to remind everyone that no matter how big the fads and trends might be there plenty of ways to tell a story and its far more important to tell the story you want to tell and are passionate about than to try to meet trends or tell a story the way other people tell you to and just as importantly could someone explain to Hollywood that you don’t need to destroy a major city in the third act.

Friday June 21, 2013, at 12:09 pm

Middlemen: Born of Earth

Middlemen: Born of Earth cover

Here is the new cover for the first book in Elton’s new series, Middlemen: Born of Earth.  It was fun illustrating this for him, but even more fun reading the book!

In case you’re wondering what it’s about, here’s his description: “Born of flesh and not spirit, mortal humans have been created to decide the eternal war of Highmen and Lowmen. But numbering only twelve they must first discover how to survive by convincing potential enemies that they are both strong enough and good enough to be allowed to exist. On the way they discover potential enemies and potential allies, while all the time learning of the world they have been placed in and what it truly means for them to be the deciding factor in a war that has been waged since before time and space were created.”

I’m a huge fan of fantasy literature, and what appeals to me most about this book is how Elton was able to come up with a truly original world that didn’t feel like a copy of any fantasy novel I’ve read before.  Because of this, predictable plot points just do not exist here, and that leaves you truly wondering what will happen next.  The characters are varied and interesting, and the way magic and the various creatures  are handled is unique, as well.   Elton has created a detailed world with big themes of fate, choice, and family that will definitely carry this series as it moves forward.

You can download the digital version right now on Amazon.  We will have some copies in print in time for our next appearances.  I really hope you check it out!

Saturday June 8, 2013, at 3:05 am

The Importance of Style and Tone

I’ve been thinking a lot about Star Trek into Darkness over the last couple of weeks and I’ve come to one conclusion. Tone and style matter in a movie. In fact in many cases they are what makes a movie, a book, a comic book, music or anything else we consume. But while it sparked my thinking about it I don’t want to spend a lot of time reviewing Star Trek.  I liked the movie, but, fan service aside, not really as a Star Trek movie, because Star Trek at its best does something different than an action movie.

To explain better I’ll point out one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, Measure of a Man. For those of you who aren’t huge nerds the basic premise of the episode was that there was a scientist who wanted to dismantle Data to attempt to replicate him. Data didn’t want to do this, but as a machine does he have the right to leave Star Fleet. I haven’t watched the episode for a while, but I am reasonable certain that at no point does anyone get into a fist fight, pull a phaser and the ship is never fired on. There are plenty of episodes like this in every Star Trek series and not all of them succeeded, but the questions of morality, philosophy and of course science are what Star Trek is about. If you want giant space battles and sword fights in space they happen occasionally, but that’s not what the shows about.

Star Trek into Darkness doesn’t care about any of that. The science is largely ignored. (Cold fusion doesn’t freeze things), there is little to any philosophy even when the moral questions are obvious. (Is it right to not interfere when you can save lives?) and while general tone is a bit harder to touch on I think the idea that this Star Trek is cool is actually an indictment of the tone not a complement. It’s saying this doesn’tfeel like Star Trek to me. Which is fine if you weren’t a fan of Star Trek, but for the people that are it’s a problem because they already liked what was out there.

To try to pull something out of this as a writer I remind myself of just how important these are. In comic books especially tone is often what defines a book, because the stories and even the character change. The easiest example of this is to pick up two books in which the characters leading the book are Wolverine and Deadpool. They both have a healing factor, but you would expect them to have different tones, and the moment that Wolverine breaks the forth wall, even if it’s really funny, would be wrong. And I think we’ve all picked up a comic book expecting one thing and getting something else and usually it’s more about style and tone than anything. (or just a really bad story, but that just happens sometimes.)

When writing your own things it’s a bit more difficult of course. But for me at least the key is to know the tone I’m going for. Is this a realistic story, a fairy tale, a farce or something lighthearted and fun, because mixing tone and making the story isn’t as easy as it might sometimes seem. (That’s why Joss Whedon makes a lot of money doing it).

Again, I would like to say that I liked Star Trek into Darkness, and I think I’ll like it a lot more the next time I watch it, because I won’t be going in expecting something it isn’t going to deliver. And for anyone out there who is going to make something, whether it is a remake or not, try to remember that the tone and style of what you’re making is important because if you get that wrong not much else is going to matter. Speaking of which,  when does Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come out anyway?

Saturday May 18, 2013, at 6:08 am

Sneak Peak: Middlemen: Alone

I’m still finishing up the last edits and tweaks of my new novel, but I wanted to give everyone a chance to see the beginning. There are a few spoilers from the last book in this part of the story so if you’re planning on reading Middlemen: Born of Earth you have been warned.

Chapter 1

Torl is held up as a hero by many and a villain by just as many, but I simply thought of him as a friend and a brother.


The last of the winter snow still clung to the deep shadows of the valley and made the moonless night feel both cold and lonely. In the distance a wolf howled.

Torl moved through the dark valley as easily as in bright daylight. He knew Middleman Valley better than anyone in the world. He had spent countless hours alone hiding behind every stump and rock in the valley or walking downstream to one of the quiet spots where no one went except him.

Hiding was part of the game between him and the rest of the children of Middleman Village. A game Torl had entered into unwillingly. He would avoid them by hiding in the valley with book or simply watching the stars and they would search him out for torment. When he was younger and they found him they would call him names, or thrown snow and rotten fruit but in the last years they had graduated to small rocks. Nothing that really hurt, but he was still forced to flee or fight back.

Today those hiding spots became more important than avoiding humiliation. Thanks to those games Torl slipped unseen through the darkness towards Mylon’s home. Mylon was the only one of Xeon’s children Torl truly liked. Everyone liked Mylon. And why wouldn’t they? With his quick grin and easy kindness he was like Xeon in almost every way except far less intimidating.

It was in part because he liked Mylon that Torl was in his current situation. Xeon had approached him three days ago and asked Torl to do something without questions. An odd request, but Torl agreed easily. He couldn’t imagine anything Xeon would ask that he wouldn’t do.

Xeon asked Torl to escort Mylon to the Midway Inn. Torl’s first reaction had been to ask questions, but he had made a promise. Instead he waited and Xeon told him the only thing Torl knew about this trip. There was good reason to believe if Torl wasn’t the one to take Mylon to the Midway Inn Mylon wouldn’t survive.

That led to even more questions Torl couldn’t ask. He wasn’t a good hunter, or tracker. He didn’t even know the woods as well as Elwist’s sons once they got a couple of miles away from the village and Lornwist could see as well in the dark as the brightest day, making him an even better escort than his brothers. The only thing that made Torl remarkable was that he had no father, and no one except his mother would miss him if he disappeared.

That wouldn’t matter because everyone would notice Mylon was gone.  Filar would make certain that no one could miss her favorite son or fail to recognize how things were worse because he was gone.

Torl disregarded his questions. They were pointless. He couldn’t make himself a better protector or stop people from noticing they were gone. He had agreed to get Mylon out of the village safely and he would focus on that. He would be busy enough avoiding The General and the Lowmen raiding parties that he feared would be hunting them in the thick woods.

Torl stopped just behind Mylon’s home for a moment standing in the deepest shadows between the apple tree and the wall of Mylon’s hut. He listened to the village for a moment. He heard the wind blowing through trees and the river running through its heart but that was all. Even the wolf had gone silent. There were guards of course, but they were watching the forest not the village.

He wasn’t certain why he cared if anyone saw them leaving. Xeon hadn’t said the trip needed to be a secret, but Torl felt it was important so he waited until he was certain no one would see him then circled to the front of the one room home and entered without knocking.

Torl disliked entering without being invited no matter the reason and Torl didn’t know if Mylon had been told to expect him so there was a small chance he was interrupting his friend’s sleep.

It wasn’t much of a chance though. Mylon never slept more than three or four hours a night. It was one of the reasons Torl and Mylon had become friends. They had often lay on the thick grass under the stars and talked while everyone else slept. Torl then generally went home and slept a couple more hours while Mylon went to work. Another reason Mylon was more popular than Torl.

The far wall had three baskets with some fruit and vegetables in them. The baskets were most likely made by Lanya who Torl had seen with Mylon more often than any of the other girls. She was two years younger than Mylon, and clearly liked him, though Mylon had always avoided her.

“Wake up,” Torl said.

Mylon jumped to his feet as he woke. “Who’s there?” he asked, his eyes scanning the hut for danger. That was the first time Torl had heard Mylon ask a question without knowing the answer.

“Be quiet,” Torl said.

It took only a half a second for Mylon’s eyes to focus on Torl and now seemingly completely awake Mylon asked, “What is the plan?”

“Slip out of town while it’s dark and travel through the night. At sunrise we find a dark thick grove of trees, preferably something Chart has grown then hide until dark. We’ll get to the Midway Inn in a couple of days.”

The main obstacle to getting out of the village unseen was Rasputant’s bridge. It was the only easy way across the river and there was no cover around it. That was why Elwist and Rasputant had chosen that spot.

Getting across that had stalled Torl for a full day as he tried to come up with a solution, and then he came up with something he should have seen immediately. They wouldn’t cross the river. They would climb the cliff next to the waterfall and go into the thickest part of the woods.

Climbing the cliff took more time than Torl would like, but the noise of the waterfall and the shadows from the cliff hid them well.

Without the path that led to Midway Inn the two had to follow deer paths twisting around tall hills and thick groves. After a couple of hours Torl only knew which direction they were going by the moss on the trees and by morning he suspected they weren’t much closer to the inn than they had been when they left the village but at least the Lowmen would have more trouble following them, though twice he had thought he had seen someone following them.

Before the sun was fully up Mylon found a small recess in one of the steep hills. It was less than ten feet deep with a fallen tree covering most of the entrance and a bolder blocking the site from the other direction.

Inside the cave someone had made a circle of stones which held ash and a couple half burned sticks. It seemed likely either Elwist or Chart had stayed here. It was cold enough a fire would have been nice, but it seemed dangerous and not starting a fire gave them a bit of extra room. Better to be safe and cold.

Mylon must have felt the same fear of being found as Torl because he took a handful of ash from the fire pit and rubbed it into furs from his pack. He then covered himself with those furs and curled up in the deepest shadows against the wall. Even from across the cave knowing that he was there Mylon looked almost like a shadow. Torl did the same and curled up against the opposite wall trying not to move.

It should have been easy to fall asleep after walking all night, but all Torl could do was think about Xeon. Having just returned from the Highman capital Torl assumed that The Prophet had told him Torl was the only one who would be able to bring Mylon safely out of the village.

What made that scary was that The Prophet didn’t see the lives of individuals. His vision was far too broad for that. He saw races and countries. Worse Xeon had given no promised Torl would succeed or either would survive only the assurance Mylon wouldn’t if Torl didn’t help. So that made it seem as if what they were doing might be of great importance and that they could fail.

Neither talked for a long time until after several hours of silence Mylon asked quietly, “Have you ever been to the Highman city?”

“Twice. Once when I was eleven and again a year and a half ago,” Torl said.

“What is it like?” Mylon asked. Torl felt touched Mylon asked him. Mylon was the strongest of their generation and rarely showed weakness to anyone, but he was willing to let Torl know he was afraid.

“The first time was with Rasputant. We spent most of the time in the merchant’s square. It was a harvest festival and everyone brought their best goods to town. I spent my time carrying things for Rasputant and sleeping at Chor’s house. Everyone else spent their time avoiding Rasputant and exchanging things that were difficult to find in the other cities,” Torl said.

“Did you see The Prophet?” As usual Mylon cut to the heart of the issue with simple questions. Had The Prophet always known about this trip?

“Both times. The first time he approached me in the merchant square. His eyes are green, like yours, though I suspect most Highmen don’t know that. They won’t look him in the eyes. It’s hard to blame them. It’s like he’s looking through you. He said ‘Your father will be proud.’”

“The Prophet knew Ebon?”

“I’m not sure they met, but he’s the Prophet and more connected to Ahr Ain than anyone in the world. I like to think my father is even more connected so perhaps he knows.”

There were a few more moments of silence and then Mylon said “My father visits his grave every day.”

The two had always avoided talking about Torl’s father. Everyone avoided the conversation most of the time. He had died protecting Xeon and that was about all anyone wanted to say.

“I used to go with him. He’s like a father to me. I think it’s why he trusts me with his favorite son,” Torl said.

“If he’s your father what does that make me?” Mylon asked.

“A friend. You’ve never called my mother names or dumped your garbage in front of her home.”

“Ignore Realot. He thinks he better than everyone, not just you. Mother encourages him even though she knows he’s helping me gain influence. You’re her favorite target because you’re the oldest and she believes you could take power away from our family. My brothers follow Realot because he’s the oldest and they aren’t as smart as he is. I didn’t go along because I never really saw the point in grabbing power, especially if you have to hurt people to do it.”

“Perhaps that’s why you’re destined to have power,” Torl said. He had been warned not tell Mylon anything he didn’t know. If they were right then knowledge could actually physically hurt him.

“I know I’m a wizard. That mean’s I’ll never marry or lead our people,” Mylon said.

“You’re not a wizard. Most of the parents think you have the ability to be one. Except no one knows what that means. Our people might not live long enough to become wizards. It takes a Highman a hundred years to become an apprentice. More importantly, if you want to put on a ring like your father, marry Lanya and have a bunch of children no one is going to blame you. They didn’t blame Xeon and he was created by Air Ain with magic rather than being born with it. You’re mother will probably be happy and your kids will might be wizards too. We might be better off in the long run to have a lot of children who can learn magic because the truth is there still aren’t very many of us,” The others might not know Mylon well enough to see it, but Mylon did. He hadn’t been cold to Lanya because he disliked her, but because he did like her. Keeping her at a distance was the kindest thing he could do if he knew he could never be with her.

“I already know one of the words.”

“You remember a word of power. Your father remembers three. But neither of you know one because that would take much more training and give you far more power.”

“How do you know?”

“My father died because of magic and I have some talent myself. Since you’re going to be spending time with them you should know the Highmen will tell you almost anything if you ask directly. They don’t lie or hide things like our people,” Torl said. Their people had been created to be between the Highmen and the Lowmen and while few of them really knew what that meant they did know it meant they could do things like lie far better than the Highmen.

There were several more minutes of silence then Mylon asked, “Why don’t you become a wizard? You’re as smart as I am and you can learn magic.”

“You have brothers and sisters, but my father died before he had any other children. If I die my line dies out and my father and mother were created for a reason just like everyone else,” Torl said.

“Which word do you know?”

“The first word your father learned. And I am forbidden to speak it to you. Your father says the word still echoes in his mind and is afraid it will harm you. He had no idea I would be able to remember it when he told me,” Torl said. Speaking the word also tended to give Torl headaches for a week and he feared he might have to put on a ring to bind his power like the one Xeon wore

“My father says if I refuse the wizard’s council they’ll put a ring on my finger to hobble me. He hates that ring.”

“You may not be given a choice. The Highmen don’t trust the Middlemen and the wizards trust us even less. Many won’t want a Middleman wizard. The only three I’m certain are on our side are Chart, Chor and The Prophet,” Torl said.

“I’ve seen father use magic.”

“You’ve seen him use the dagger connected to his ring. If he doesn’t the power held by the ring would kill him as fast as the word itself,” Torl said.

As Torl was explaining Mylon was jumped to his feet. Torl wondered if he had been wrong to tell him about the ring. Xeon had kept anything magical a secret from Mylon for his own protection, but he was going to be learning in a few days anyway and Torl would rather be the one to explain it. He might give Mylon a piece of information that would help keep him protect himself from the influence of the Highmen.

Mylon grabbed the short wooden spear from the side of his pack and pointed it towards the cave entrance while Torl scrambled to his feet and pulled the bone dagger from his belt ready to fight.

“Someone’s outside,” Mylon said.