The Pariah Podcast, Episode 24: Conclusions

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 24: Conclusions

On Midsummer’s morning, after a quick breakfast, Keo returned to the top of the draw, and peered down it into the trees at the far end.

"What do you think, Leenie? Should we go down and take a look?"


Keo laughed. "Finally committing yourself, are you?"

The draw was steepest at the top and Keo walked sideways down for the first few yards to keep from slipping. Leenie didn't seem to have any problem with footing. The more they progressed, the ground leveled off in its slope and Keo stepped out a little faster, until he neared the edge of the trees. Distance had played with his perception and the trees were farther away, and taller than he had originally thought. Almost anything could be hiding in those trees.

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 23: A Boy and His Companion

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 23: A Boy and His Companion


Dinner was approaching as Keo and his creature made their way back to the cottage. He checked regularly to see if the pig frog was tiring, but she seemed to have endless endurance.

The mess hall closest to his cottage sat immediately off the road Keo travelled. A crowd gathered waiting for the evening meal and Keo tried to skirt widely around them. Something in the milling group of creature handlers caught his eye—orange hair. Hope rose inside him filling a cavity he hadn't realized was empty and he was inescapably drawn toward his old friend. However, he didn't want to get close enough to other people that his creature would cause a distraction.

Keo worked his way around the group slowly, trying to get into a position where he could catch Bree’s eye. He caught someone's eye, but it wasn't hers.

"Hey, look. It's the pig farmer," Storgent Vangled shouted and strode toward him.

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 22: The Long Expected Day

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 22: The Long Expected Day

Keo woke in the midnight darkness. An awful smell filled the room.

"Kes," Keo shouted, trying to cover his nose and talk without actually breathing. "Are you sick?"

There was no response.

Kestrel had left with his creature companion earlier that day, as had everyone in the core.

"My egg." Keo sat up and scrambled for a striker to get the tinder going again.

He panicked. This smell could only mean that his creature must have died and the shell had finally cracked and leaked the putrid fluid out, releasing the odor. He leapt for the end of the bed, snatched up his hose, and held them across his mouth and nose. He crawled back up the bed toward the table where the lamp waited for a spark. Had rotten liquid leaked out of the bowl and onto the floor? He hoped not. It would be terrible to try to clean up.

The striker sprayed sparks onto the tinder and Keo blew. One burst into a small flame which Keo used to light a straw and transfer the fire to the lantern’s wick. Light filled the room and Keo was filled with horror.

The upper half of the shell had broken and fallen to the floor leaving the glass bowl filled to the brim with a clear liquid, obviously the source of the smell, but what frightened him most was a large pair of round eyes peering at him from the slime. The eyes were spherical and bloated from death, yet they appeared clear and conscious.

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 21: Insight and Disappointment

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 21: Insight and Disappointment

Keo made it back to the mess hall as his company marched in from the training ranges. He quietly filled into his place in the core formation and followed the line into the mess hall without making a fuss about any special privileges.

Keo sat with some of the trainees from fourth core and said little, taking in what it was like to be an ordinary trainee for the first time. He kept an eye out for Crystal but never saw her enter or exit the mess hall. With his crutch under his arm, he worked his way to the back door and dropped his plate on a table on his way out.

Core leader Spinebeck stood in the center of the walkway directly out the door, talking with the core leader of the second core. She looked up as Keo approached and with mild surprise, said, "Oh. Hello, Trainee Noshahne." She turned back to her conversation.

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 20: The New Normal

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 20: The New Normal

The three day ride back to the training camp in the wagon felt like a mortal punishment for all the sins of every ancestor going back to the time the old gods ruled the earth. If he could have begged those who had carried him to the lake to find the stretcher and take him up again, he would have. But, he was alone with his jostling pain as the wagon bounced and rocked, pitched and shook. His knee and wrist combined their agony, crossed all his bruises and scrapes in between to jump up and down on the tenderest places on his head.

Each night on the road, he asked the healer for more of the mind and body numbing potion, but the healer claimed there was no one to watch him through the night. And patients already on the mend, when using the elixir, were known to wander around in their sleep. He didn't want Keo to fall from the wagon thinking he was merely going for a walk.


No one was happier than Keo to see the camp come into view on their final day of the march. The healer’s wagon was the first of the support wagons behind the training battalion travelling on foot. Propped against the back of the bed in a sitting position, he could lean his head out the side and watch the trainees disperse back to their barracks.

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 19: New Friends

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 19: New Friends

When Keo woke next he realized he had a different need than the night before and his left leg and right wrist were in splints. The swamp water had worked its way through his system and wanted to come out, explosively. The rest of the trainees used trench latrines constructed on the first day for that purpose. With his knee in a splint he found it difficult just getting up, and unable to squat. Without the healer’s ready and skillful assistance it would have been an uncomfortable as well as painful morning.

Crystal returned to the wagon just as the healer helped Keo back onto the bed of the wagon.

"Did I miss something?" Crystal asked.

"No. Nothing that you wouldn’t want to miss," Keo said. "I am feeling much better now, except that every muscle and every joint in my body feels like a blacksmith beat on them.”

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 18: Growing Pains

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 18: Growing Pains

"I can't, Crystal," Keo said, forcing the words from deep in his chest. "I'm afraid during the night my desires will become too strong and I might take advantage of you in your sleep."

"I wouldn't mind.” She took both of his hands and gripped them close to her. "You wouldn't be taking advantage of me, because I would want you to. Stay with me."

"That's the problem, Chrystal. I don’t want that…We don’t want that kind of accident. We have too much at stake. We’re here to find our creatures and then grow with them. An accident, whether we were okay with it or not, would change all of that. We have to stay focused on the future, not this moment."

His shoulders seemed to have crept up his neck without him realizing it. Keo sighed and relaxed. He wrapped his arms around Crystal and pulled her close to his chest and kissed the top of her head.

"I love you little girl." Keo looked down on her. "I hadn't planned on telling you that tonight because it’s so new to me, being in love, loving you. But, I do. Of all the girls in this camp, it's you who my eye keeps returning to, and my ears are forever straining for the sound of your voice[PC1] . Trust me. There will be plenty of time, later. When we have our creatures we can be together. I'll see you in the morning."

1:30 [PC1]

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 17: At the Swamp

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 17: At the Swamp

Keo saw her then—the top of her head, just beyond his platform. He knew her thoughts and worries as clearly as the walnut brown hair of Crystal Spinebeck.

She sat on a log rolled next to his platform for the purpose, her back to him, so she didn't see his approach.

"Crystal," he called in his mind. She spun around and jumped to her feet, as if expecting to find him standing directly behind her. Her round cheeks glowed with sudden excitement and embarrassment. Embarrassed? Keo wondered why she should feel that way.

Her wide eyes considered him from the distance, and he sensed her anxiety and fear.

"Are you waiting for me?" He called out.

She licked her lips and Keo felt her expectation and desire. His mind and body reacted without his intention. His breath came roughly as he understood her need. As he approached, a wave of fear emanated from Crystal so strongly, he shook in response.

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 16: Prophecies, Preparations, and Off to Camp.

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 16: Prophecies, Preparations, and Off to Camp.

At times it was difficult for Nick to maintain his hatred for his core leader. Keo’s natural amiability and his unconditional acceptance of others made him a decent person. Though they were both ultimately pawns on a playing board being pushed about by some unknown hand for the players enjoyment or benefit, they were still enemy pawns and one could not succeed while the other remained in play.

If Nick and Keo had grown up together, they probably would have been friends.  But they didn’t, and it was Keo’s very existence that brought on the death of Nick’s parents—had the other boy not become a threat, his father and mother would not have died at his own hand. Though he would have been left to scrape out a living as a street orphan without them, murdering his own family would have been avoided.

Still, kings and queens and wizards and knights all moved about the board and with each of their moves, the pawns were shifted as well. How long would he remain a pawn? Was Keo in fact a pawn as well or something much more powerful in disguise, or in embryo? If Nick could figure a way to eliminate the boy sooner, rather than later, he wouldn’t have to find out.

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 15: A Change in the Weather

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 15: A Change in the Weather

As the summer solstice approached the weather turned warmer. The uniform wool tunics with their high stiff collars became unbearable to wear. When Keo thought they would begin to lose trainees to heat sickness they were informed they would be receiving their summer uniforms. The company looked like a completely new group of young people as they put their winter uniforms into wooden lockers with mothballs.

Crisp tan linen tunics replaced the sagging red, woolen ones and cool linen leggings replaced the hot and scratchy winter hose. Keo felt like he was back home at a summer solstice dance—when all the young girls showed up in their prettiest skirts and fresh linen blouses. He couldn't wait to see how Crystal looked in her new uniform.

He wasn't disappointed, either. The tan tunic was a much better contrast to her pale skin tones than the red wool had been, and the tucks in the blouse accentuated her petite female form.

Keo thought the rotting fraternization rules would probably kill him. They had already lost two from their company to remedial training, though other companies had lost more. How were young people supposed to live under such rules? Others their age, back in their homes, were dancing, holding hands under the moonlight and some were even marrying. But here, they were expected to live side by side, work side by side, but not develop any kind of emotional ties? Maybe after he got his tiger-hawk he would understand better.

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 14: A Joke Between Friends

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 14: A Joke Between Friends

Of all the classes each core would attend over the next year, Keo’s core began with Creature Empathy, and he couldn’t have been happier. Creature identification and differentiation, creature health and food preferences would all come later in the year. Right then, by learning more about how the special empathetic bond occurs and develops between a creature and its handler, he hoped he would better understand why he was so different than all the other trainees and had come upon his empathic skills at such a young age.

The core virtually buzzed with excitement on the first morning of the specialized training. A whole week of nothing but military drill and physical exercise had become tedious at best. The trainees whispered among themselves as they waited for their instructor. Keo knew Lt. Gorley would be apoplectic if he heard the slightest noise from them inside a classroom but allowing the others to vent some of their energy seemed like it was worth the risk.

Animal stalls surrounded the wooden class building with the only windows opening directly into the pens. The wind passing through filled the room with the rich musk of living creatures. While some of the students complained and pinched their noses, Keo felt pleasantly nostalgic for his faraway home with its barns and fields. 

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 13: The New Camp

Five days march brought the battalion to a junction on the northern highway. One day marching south led them to the borders of the Creature Handler Training Camp.

The entire battalion travelled in a malaise from the events and court-martial. Competition remained between the cores, but at a less enthusiastic level, until they saw the camp rising up on the horizon. Excitement for becoming their King’s and Country's elite fighting force returned.

The camp must have spotted their approach as well.

Ten ticks of flying creatures—100 animals and their handlers—flew out from the camp, circled the entire parade three times and turned back. The leading tick was, of course, Tiger-hawks. Following shortly thereafter was a tick of dragon-dogs with broad leathery wings, long necks, and the blunt heads of bull mastiffs. A tick of bat-chucks followed, with black, velvet wings and round, furry bodies. Like the Bat-Chucks, Cat hawks were smaller than the tiger hawks, more maneuverable, and in the case of the cats, uniformly silver-tabby colored.

More ticks followed made up of similar creatures, yet probably with less experienced flyers. Even with all the studying he had done during long winters, Keo didn’t recognize some of the animals, their winged bodies carrying the head or tail of an exotic, unfamiliar animal.

There would be more creatures and handlers in the camp—the newly hatched and other land bound animals.

The quartermaster called a halt for lunch at the normal hour. Such an uproar rose from the battalion, with the camp in sight and only a few hours away, that Major Jarrellian gave them permission to eat from their emergency rations, take a short break, and return to the parade to push on to camp.

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 12: A Fox in the Hen House

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 12: A Fox in the Hen House


He recognized the voice and it sounded concerned.

"Bree? What's the problem?"

"Gilner Panderstash didn't follow protocol and went to…you know. He didn't take a companion. Vaard, the perimeter guard, heard a noise and found him. He's not moving, and Vaard thought he saw blood."

"Have someone bring some water and a rag and take me to him," Keo said, rolling out of his blanket and pulling on his boots. Outside his tent he twisted open the door of his lantern, blew onto the wick, and poured in more oil.

Bree hurried back with one of her link members and stood at the edge of the lantern light.

She led Keo to the fallen boy. They found him on the far edge of their camp with nothing but open countryside beyond. He lay face down in the dewy, spring grass.

"Help me roll him over. Careful of his neck and head."

The boy who had brought the bucket, Bree, and the girl who had waited with Gilner, helped Keo roll their unconscious core member over.

"Is he dead?" The girl asked.

"I don't think so. Here. Hold this lantern close to his face,” Keo said handing her his lantern.

In the weak light, Keo only saw half of the boy's face. That side glimmered, wet and red with blood. Gilner squinted and his cheek twitched when the light shone on his face.

"Give me the wet rag."

The boy dipped it into the bucket and handed it to Keo, water dripping into the ankle-high grass. Keo wiped it across Gilner's face, wetting his hair and pushing it back over the boy's head. He carefully tipped the boy's head from side to side and found a deep cut over his left ear.

"Here. Wet it again," Keo said handing the rag back.

He washed clotted blood and debris from Giner's hair and brought the lantern in close again. The gash in his scalp was jagged and uneven.

"I think someone clobbered him with a rock," Keo said, looking up at the sky. "The cut’s not bleeding, so it must have happened a while ago. It figures they'd hit us when we’re deepest asleep. We need two more pairs of hands to get him to the healer's wagon. Get someone big, Bree."

She stood, looked around and charged through the tents.

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 11: An Audience with the King

The Pariah, Episode 11 – An Audience with the King.



Nit closed his eyes and waited for the dry burn to ease. His hand remained poised above the sand tray, the stylus pinched delicately between finger tips.

"Nit. Wake up," Funglass barked at him and rushed across the creaking floorboards, his arthritic knees snapping and popping as loudly as the wood plank floor. "If I've told you a thousand time to remain alert when scribing the runes, then I must tell you a thousand times again, the slightest mistake can generate the greatest catastrophe."

Nit opened his eyes and looked up at the man leaning over him with crazed bloodshot eyes and a madman's spittle formed on his lips. He inhaled a calming breath, blinked his eyes once and said to his master, "And if I've told you a thousand times that the sage-wax candle dries my eyes I would be far from exaggerating."

The old man inflated like a toad, standing more erect with each breath as he added energy to his impending rant. Nit quickly drew "Wool Cloak" in the upper left corner of the sand tray in case his mentor became too agitated to control himself. The protective rune would prevent Funglass from so much as dropping a hair onto Nit's person.

"Relax, Old Man," Nit said in an affectionate, yet dismissive tone, "I've told you equally many times that I am instantly alert and aware of the stylus and the sand tray anytime I take the wooden piece in my hand."

"I don't like how you speak to me. I am your mentor. I have raised you, paid for your training, and could still sell you to the slave masters if you anger me too much," he said and dragged a stool closer to Nit's desk, settling on it with a wheeze like a bellows.

"I will be twelve tomorrow," Nit said, unable to keep defiance from his voice. "I will be old enough to apprentice myself to a master and you will be able to do nothing about it. With my skill at writing there isn't a scribe or accountant in the entire capitol who wouldn't apprentice me."

Nit slid the stylus into a velvet tube and folded his arms.

"And that would be the biggest waste of arcane talent our world would ever see," Funglass mumbled, pressing a closed fist to his lips. He tapped his knuckle rapidly against his lips and said, "Never mind that. We have a new task ahead of us in the morning. One you have been preparing for these many years."

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 10: Waking Up With a Bump.

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 10: Waking Up With a Bump.

Having earned a few extra minutes from being first to lunch, Keo’s core relaxed in their camp. Keo called Trainees Oakley and Beecham to his tent and waited outside to speak with them.

"I told you earlier that we have twelve girls in our company. I think it's only fair that we have a link leader to represent them. Not that the girls will all be in one link, they'll be spread evenly between the links, but to have one in the leadership might help with issues you girls have that boys might not understand."

Keo waited a moment for questions, and continued, "You were watching all the girls today when they got their uniforms. Is there anyone you saw who might make a good link leader?"

"Oh. Well," Trainee Oakley said. "That's quite a responsibility to put on us. Identify a link leader from the girls. I don't know. Let me consider. Well, that's a tough one..."

She went on saying similar phrases as she scratched her frizzy orange mop and shook her head. "Really. I think, of all the girls I saw I would think Beecham here is about the best leader I saw of them all."

The other girl was shocked and said, 'Oh. Be serious. The only girl in there worth having as a leader is you."

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 9 - In Training

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 9 - In Training

Two and a half before midnight, Keo opened the door to a small windowless room; his candle shed weak light on an empty bed to the right. As quietly as he could, he slipped into the room, not wanting to disturb the boy already sleeping in the bed opposite. He set the candle on a small table beside the head of the bed, wide enough to fill the small space between the two. An extinguished candle on the far edge sat next to a tinderbox and striker. The sleeping boy faced the wall. Covered to his neck by a blanket Keo saw only the ghostly glow of white blonde hair, cut short and standing straight up like the down of a dandy lion.

Keo slipped off his boots, tunic and hose and climbed into bed.

"You better not snore," the other boy said.

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 8 - At The Black Mastiff

“Who is Sindestra?” Keo asked as he followed Moordan up the stairs to their room.

“Hmmm? Oh. Yes,” Moordan muttered. “I forgot you’re not familiar with the political machinations of the designates. She was a designate a few years back who attached herself to the king to try and gain position. It’s not important. The insult was for Kayleen and not for you.”

Once in their room, Keo took a deep breath, coughed and rubbed his nose. He lifted a pin in the window frame, turned the panel ninety degrees and went to their small fireplace and opened the flue, allowing fresher air to flow into the room.

"Why'd you do that?" Moorden asked.

"Because it's hot in here," Keo said. “Why do you ask?”

Moorden just shook his head and muttered something about servants.

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 7 - A New Understanding

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 7 - A New Understanding

Three men already occupied the way-hut. In the light of a single lantern sitting on the stone oven, one of the men was clearly dead. Blood oozed from a slice across his neck and his sightless eyes stared up at shadows dancing on the ceiling as the other two dug through his pockets.

Keo had entered the hut first and consequently stood between the murderer and his knife. Moorden crowding into the room behind, pushed him toward the two men. Fortunately, the thieves were as surprised as were the two boys.

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The Pariah Podcast, Episode 6 - A View From the West

Property values in Port Bannard follow the lay of the land and climb up the capitol city slopes to the gates of the royal palace. Constructed of golden granite, imported from kingdoms to the south, the palace stands, broad and monolithic to face the setting sun as it sinks into the ocean. Smaller palaces and manors crouch in its morning shadow, also gazing onto the ocean, the source of much of the kingdom's wealth.

Traveling north, descending the increasingly narrow streets the city deteriorates, eventually, into slums. Hovels built upon stilts and pilings above the perpetually wet salt marshes seem to rot and crumble even before they are completed, and are thus in a continuous state of patching and repair. However, it is the lowland marshes which inspire Westener magic and give the coastal witches their true power.

The Pariah Podcast, Episode 5 - Unwanted Company

He wants to travel with me? Keo thought.

"No thanks. I like my solitude," Keo said. He wasn't hungry but he picked at the crust of his bread and scooped up peas with it and ate them together.

"I do too, but I'll make that sacrifice. I've been sitting with dullards for the last ten days. Walking with you couldn't be any worse."

"I don't walk. I run." Keo thought it was a good comeback at first, and then realized it left him as no worse than the other dullards. Keo was annoyed this boy treated him like a servant, and assumed Keo would do whatever he said.

"And if the choice is between riding with dullards and walking with one, why are you choosing to walk, now? Is it getting too crowded on the wagon?"

"Yes. Or rather, no. The wagon is turning south to loop off the highway and pass through numerous small villages in the southern forest. It will take another two weeks for the wagon to reach Hander's Peak. At your pace, I will be there in half that time."

“That’s my pace. You think you can keep up?” Keo asked.

“Sure,” Moordan said.

Keo wanted to wipe the dismissive look from the condescending boy’s face.