The Holy Orb (Short Story) – Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

“David, do you really have to go?” his girlfriend said in a rather sing-song voice. “I really want you to stay with me!”
He smiled. “Elodie, I honestly can‟t – the Magiliement has forbidden me from even trying to come see you! What would they do if they saw me here? A lot of people are dying, and no one is knowing how” he said as he caressed her hair. “I‟d rather stay with you! But they are after me! Whatever! I don‟t really care!”

“I know! By the way, I like your new necklace!”

And then a man came out of nowhere. He took David by the hand and pulled him away – the next thing David knew he was standing in a bustling downtown. Italian sentences were jumping out everywhere. David was in Rome.
He looked at the man who he knew was from the Magiliement: the magical parliament. He smiled, attempting to make things feel less tense. The man, however, did not smile back. He kept looking ahead as if his gaze was trying to conjure something – a moment later, a birch tree stood right in the center of the piazza.

“Come on!” he said as he ran to the tree. David followed suit. “Ok… this tree is a gate to Nostro Signora Del Spirito!” the man said, and David looked puzzled. “It‟s a church!” he said impatiently. “And I‟m supposed to go to a church because –?” asked David sarcastically, receiving a stern look. “Ok… ok!! I‟ll go!” and he entered the newly opened portal.

His feet left the ground … he was weightless, moving through nothingness… and then he hit firm ground. He was standing on a hill, next to a gothic looking church. He opened the door and entered. The place inside was sublime.
He ran towards the only thing he considered to be out of place: a golden table on which a scroll was found. Then, something else appeared: a rather complex looking pedestal with spots for objects, along with three dozen different artifacts: Crosses, chalices and candles. It was the first time David saw bare candles burning glowing red, blue, green and transparent lights.

Then he looked at the scroll, which seemed to be old since its edges were rather worn out. Before reading it, however, he looked around and noticed none of the other worshipers in the church could see him. Not wanting to dwell on that idea for long, he unrolled the scroll and read.

Three Dozens divided equally

In fours, you create a symbol, religiously.

Crosses, Chalices and Candles conjured magically

Will get you to the place you seek so desperately,

Begin with light and end with light… but not so lightly,

Lucidity is a color created powerfully,

Then lines combine and become divinely

A vessel follows and cradles so motherly

The next lines that embrace a soft glittering so passionately,

Next, you ought to, recognize the existence of a series, logically

Dozens divided to occupy twelve spots so perfectly,

Get the first six, right and the next six will follow smoothly

Only reversion and disorientation will fail your quest greatly

We leave you the option to decipher our Scroll intellectually

To get past our mind maze manufactured so meticulously

The power that is bestowed upon us is not to be taken carelessly

Either you get it or you’re stopped on your quest unquestionably…

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The Holy Orb (Short Story) – Part 1

This is a short story that I wrote a few years ago for an English course. It’s Harry Potter-inspired and I hope you’ll take the chance to read it and let me know what you think.

I’ll be posting it in a few parts. Presenting part 1.

As mortals bristled by to their workplaces, it seemed no one noticed as a long golden-scaled snake slithered next to their feet. Its eyes gleaming bright blue; its slit-tongue hissing, the snake took a detour into a shady alleyway right outside an antiques shop. It remained still in front of a wall before spitting three drops of poison on a small lever that was only visible to it.

The lever revolved and spun upwards as the bricks of the wall in front of it started to fade away to reveal what seemed to be another dark alley.
The snake hissed something that seemed strangely satisfactory before entering through the newly opened passage.

The lane was bordered on the right by low and strangely crafted sculptures. They showed people getting tortured.
On the left, a brick wall stood erect, on which characters of an unknown language were carved. The snake continued, hissing furiously trying to sense its way.

It stood in front of the seventh statue and slithered up to the woman‟s neck, who was shielding herself from a tall wizard. The snake, then, wrapped itself around the neck and squeezed three times. A scream emanated from the woman‟s mouth each time it did so. The statue‟s neck broke the third time, sending the woman‟s head tumbling to the ground.
As the statue‟s stones faded into nonexistence, a staircase appeared where the woman‟s feet had once been.
The snake slithered down into what seemed to be an underground church.

The Cross-shaped ceiling was all that remained to indicate the true nature of the place. Everything else was dismantled.
An empty chair stood on the altar.
The snake moved to the chair and as it neared the altar, it transformed into a man.

He flicked his fingers around and a bluish glow illuminated the place. Then, one by one, people started to appear, surrounded by heavy dark smoke.

“So…” he breathed eerily. “Will we be able to get the boy before he gets to the orb?”
A man who appeared to be one of his followers approached him fearfully, shaking.
He breathed. “David Parker is nowhere to be found – the Magiliement has sealed him well!” “SILENCE!” the snake man roared. He pointed his wand at the man who breathed furiously, shallowly in front of him – a jet of yellow light emanated out of the tip of his wand and the man fell to the floor, lifeless – dead. “This is what you get when you disappoint me!” he said calmly, his mouth twisting into a smile.

He drew out his long, pointed yellow nail and drew a sphere in the air. He looked at bright blue eyes that shone at him, as David Parker sat with his girlfriend on the lawn of his university, his hand bristling through her hair.

Kane Chronicles: The Throne of Fire (Book Review) – Rick Riordan

The story of Sadie and Carter Kane picks up with The Throne of Fire, three months after the events of The Red Pyramid.

After getting new recruits into their Brooklyn home and starting their training process, Sadie and Carter are met with the realization that their world-saving job is not over yet. Apophis, the Egyptian lord of Chaos, is preparing to break out of his prison come the Spring Equinox, which is five days after the start of the book.  And the only way to possibly prevent Apophis from escaping is to wake up the Sun God: Ra. But in order to wake up Ra, they must find the three parts of the Scroll of Ra, which are scattered in three different locations that they must determine.

At the same time, not all the gods want to see Ra return because that would mean them not getting a shot at the throne anymore. So it is with both internal and external resistance that they must go on their quest, not knowing that it might well be Apophis’ plan for them to bring back an old and fragile and senile Ra so the world can finally sink in Chaos.

The Throne of Fire stays true to the writing style of the book that preceded it: both Carter and Sadie tell parts of the story. At times, when both characters go on separate ways to fulfill the quest, it is needed to keep you informed of the happenings. The intelligent thing about such a style is that it allows the author, Rick Riordian, to create cliffhangers every few chapters with a character and pick up where the other character left off, leaving you in the dark about what might have possibly happened and keeping you hooked to the pages of his book, wanting to know what happens.

And like its predecessor, The Throne of Fire keeps up with using Egyptian mythology to drive the plot, especially with the story of how Ra got exiled in the first place, as well as the importance of that mythology in fulfilling their quest.

However, unlike The Red Pyramid, The Throne of Fire has obvious girl-boy romantic interactions, mostly with Sadie who starts expressing romantic interest in two characters. And Carter has a side plot in the book involving saving his love interest from the first book, a girl named Zia Rashid.

I have one main gripe with The Throne of Fire, which is a serious lack of understanding (and obviously no will to research) of the Arabic language. At some point, it is revealed that the location of Zia Rashid is “Al Ahmar Makhan.” Not only is this is a literal translation of “The Red Place” but it is also the incorrect way to spell “Makhan” and the incorrect way to write the expression. It doesn’t stop here. According to the author, “makhan” means red and “al ahmar” means sand, which for anyone familiar with Arabic knows it’s almost the opposite and “al ahmar” means red, not sand.

However, with that aside, The Throne of Fire remains an enjoyable book, although it’s quite shorter than its predecessor. I can’t wait for the final installment in the Kane Chronicles, scheduled for a May 2012 release.

Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid (Book Review) – Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan is the author behind the Percy Jackson book series, which I’ve read and enjoyed.
While the Percy Jackson books are about Greek mythology, Riordan, a history teacher, admitted that if there’s a culture that tops the Greek one in class discussions, it’s the Egyptian ancient culture (obviously not the current one).

And so, it is from that basis that he wrote his second book series (there’s also a third one being a continuation of the Percy Jackson series and titled: The Heroes of Olympus): The Kane Chronicles.

The first book of the series is titled The Red Pyramid and it follows the lives of Sadie and Carter Kane, two siblings, who lose their mother to mysterious causes and are forced to live apart for six years: Carter globe-trotting with his Egyptologist father and Sadie with her grandparents, in London.

However, on Christmas eve, as Carter and his father Julius show up in London for their annual visit of Sadie, a sense of alarm is in the air but the kids do not know the cause. And when their dad takes them to the British Museum to examine the Rosetta Stone and ultimately destroying it, it is revealed that their dad is not a regular human. He can do magic. And soon enough, it is revealed that they are both descended from powerful Royal Egyptian bloodlines, making them both Magicians and holding the blood of the Pharaohs.

However, with power comes persecution – especially when both Sadie and Carter are truly clueless about the power they have. And when both start to have visions that foretell the Egyptian God Set preparing the destruction of North America, they must do all they can to stop him.

The interesting thing about Riordan’s books is that, even though they might be childish at times, they still hold very interesting material for you to read and it offers that material in a rather entertaining context. In this case, I am personally much more interested in Egyptology than I am with Greek mythology so I was positively entertained when the author used the stories of Egyptian gods to advance his plot.

The characters jump around many parts of the world using portals. They go from London to New York to Cairo to Paris to Memphis to Phoenix and Washington. Mix all of that in a rather tightly-packed book and you’re offered with a story that doesn’t let down. There’s always something happening.

Moreover, the writing style adopted by Riordan for this book is interesting. The book starts by saying that he received the text as a recording from both Sadie and Carter and that the book is more or less the transcript.
The book itself can be separated into two major parts that intertwine: the part told by Sadie and the part told by Carter, both of which are subtly quite different since both characters have different interests.

All in all, The Red Pyramid, albeit being a little hard to get into at first, is a very entertaining book for anyone who’s read the Percy Jackson books and liked them. It is the first book of the Kane Chronicles trilogy.

Review of book two: The Throne of Fire coming up tomorrow.

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest (Book Review) – Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is the third and final installment in the Millennium trilogy, currently the best selling books worldwide.

The final installment picks up where the second one left off: Lisbeth Salander has been shot, Zala is wounded and Niedermann is tied to a sign post. And so both Salander and Zala are taken to the hospital to fix up their wounds, with Lisbeth barely making it through. However, the revelations that started with the second installment, about Lisbeth’s deep involvement with a section of the Swedish secret police, continue to work in the third book. Never before has the Zalachenko club in Sapo (the Secret Police) been revealed to this extent and they must do their best to clean up.

Little do they know, however, is that this time around Lisbeth Salander has decided to fight back – and similarly to them, her fight will not be clean. Unlike them, however, she will always be one step ahead, even when Sapo believe they’ve got it all in the bag.

Lisbeth Salander has to seek the help of Mikael Blomkvit, who’s now under strict Sapo surveillance. And he’s willing to help. He will harness the power of his magazine and investigative journalism to bring justice to Salander, a woman who has had her most basic of rights violated.

Erika Berger has a stalker as well. Someone who wants her to fail at her new job, as editor in chief. But the collective effort of all people who are involved, in one way or another, with Millenium – as well as Milton Security, Lisbeth’s former employer, is needed to bring the Zalachenko group of the Secret Police down.

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest is a very riveting book, especially when it comes down to the trial during which Lisbeth speaks up and surprises everyone. The cross-examination of Dr. Teleborian, the psychiatrist who decided Lisbeth needed to be locked up when she was twelve, is probably one of the most exciting passages to read in the whole series.

However, unlike the previous two books in the trilogy, there isn’t a mystery in this one. There isn’t a killer to be identified like in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or The Girl Who Played With Fire. All the cards are laid out on the table for you to see. You know what each side is capable of and you know the material they both have.

In books like this, it is up to the author’s talent and expertise to deliver a book that is captivating and still wholly engrossing for you to read. And Stieg Larsson delivers. The author’s approach towards this book is not different from the previous ones but there’s an undeniable sense of urgency in the way he laid his words on paper. The monologue italic thoughts are still scattered out throughout and they serve as a strong catalyst for the advancement of the plot.

There are moments however where Larsson abandons his novelist self and goes into a pamphlet-like writer, giving you what I believe is pages and pages of credible history about the workings and logistics of the Swedish Secret Police. The fact that I skimmed through those pages and still understood the whole book is testimony to how useless they are. Perhaps he wanted to use his books for some sort of activism, but it just doesn’t work. Or it could be that I have nothing to do with Sweden.

However, at the end of the day, even though the ending of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest is quite expected, it still brings you a sense of relief to see Lisbeth walk out free. The girl with the dragon tattoo who played with fire all her life dared to kick the hornet’s nest and live to tell the tale. And it is a great tale.

Pottermore Registration

[EDIT] I have successfully registered in Pottermore. 

For an early look into Pottermore, click here.

I have yet to gain access to the Pottermore registration interface (blame it on Sunday oversleeping) but I figured I’d post about the process to facilitate it for those who, like me, will attempt to gain access in the next six days.

When you access the Pottermore website, you will find a riddle for you to answer. Today’s riddle (or clue as it was named) was: How many breeds of owl are featured on the Eeylops Owl Emporium sign? Multiply this number by 49.

Once you get the answer, which in this case was 245, you have to use it to access a new webpage that will give you access to the magic quill.

To access this new webpage, you need to write down your answer at its end, meaning: http://quill.pottermore.com/245 (tomorrow’s answer will be different, so the addition naturally changes as well).

Once the new page loads, you’ll have to locate the Magic Quill, which for those of you who don’t know, is sort of a book where the names of every wizard and witch is written so they can be invited to Hogwarts once they turn eleven.

Once you locate the Magic Quill, you will be invited to start your journey – literally.

Once you “start your journey,” you go through a series of registration steps where you have to fill out your name, email, age, country of residence, etc…

If the person wanting to register is below 13 years of age, they only need to provide a first name and their guardian/parent’s email address.

Once the data input is done, you are presented with a list of famous magical people, including your name.

Then you’ll get to choose a username, which is not a free process apparently: they give you a selection of five usernames to choose from. Hopefully you’ll get to change that later on, but I doubt it.

Then, after selecting your username, a confirmation email is sent to you in order to activate your registration.

When done, you will be prompted with a new page telling you that you will receive the email telling you that you can test Pottermore in the coming few weeks.

Good luck everyone.

The Girl Who Played With Fire (Book Review) – Stieg Larsson

Continuing where The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo left off, The Girl Who Played With Fire has Lisbeth Salander enjoying a lengthy vacation globetrotting. She has the money and, well, anything to escape the reality of her life in Sweden.
And back in Sweden, Mikael Blomkvist is working on another huge expose, about the violations to the sex law by high-placing officials: sex trafficking, hiring of underage prostitutes, etc…

But when Dag Svensson, the journalist writing this expose, is murdered along with his girlfriend, Mia Johansson, in their apartment and a third victim, Nils Burjman (Salander’s guardian), is found naked, killed execution style, Salander becomes the main suspect in all three murders: a psychotic, mentally disturbed girl with her fingerprints on the murder weapon… a fast case, right?
But the case turns out to be anything but fast when Salander cannot be located and when the story takes too many twists and starts to signal a huge government cover-up that’s been taking place for decades.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is as equally captivating as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. As all books in The Millennium Trilogy, it opens up with a prologue. In this book, however, the prologue is chilling. It depicts a man raping a girl. And as he violates her, the girl starts fantasizing about killing him, lighting fire to him using gasoline. The prologue concludes: “She smiled a hard smile and steeled herself. It was her thirteenth birthday.”

The Girl Who Played With Fire follows the same narrative style as its predecessor: introspective ideas from its characters interspersed among the text to advance the plot. The build-up, however, is far better and more adrenaline-rush inducing. The book feels slower at times, especially when the police are searching for Salander and she’s nowhere to be found both by the police and by you, as the reader. But when she shows up again, the book accelerates at a very rapid pace.

This is a book about the personal life of Lisbeth Salander and “the great evil” that caused her to be admitted to a mental hospital when she was twelve, as much as it is about sex trafficking. The two are so interlinked that it eventually turns out to be quite logical. You might guess how it will all turn out (I did) but even with guessing it, you will still feel a sense of rush as you read the text.
Less detective this time, Salander is forced to limit herself with everything she does. It’s up to Mikael Blomkvist to prove her innocence and present an adamant police squad with an alternate hypothesis.

While The Girl Who Played With Fire is about sex trafficking mainly, it lacks the sexual tension that was in the first book, mainly because Salander and Blomkvist have very little shared scenes. It does, however, have an intricate puzzle, similar to the first book, that is also helped by uncovering Salander’s cunning mathematical skills.

The Girl Who Played With Fire, however, relies a lot on coincidence. In his last conversation with Blomkvist, Dag had told him he uncovered a lead in his research revolving around a mysterious man by the name is Zala, whom he wanted to track down.
Salander, being the hacker that she is, goes into Blomkvist’s email and uncovers the correspondence. Zala. She pays a visit for the couple moments before they are killed. And it so happens that she touched Burjman’s gun, which also happens to be the murder weapon, a few days prior. And it so happens that all of this happened when she returned to Stockholm and decided to check Blomkvist’s email.

But the way the books is written and the near cinematic transitions between scenes builds an undying suspense with a terrifying ending. Yes, this book’s ending will leave you at the edge of whatever furniture you’re sitting on while reading. The ending gives the book its title. It tells you why the girl played with fire and what this fire brought to her life. And at the end of the day, cracking through her strong woman facade, is a sense of vulnerability in Salander that you barely glimpse as the book ends.

Trust me, though, you do not want to mess with the girl who played with fire.