Ye Stars That Shudder | snippets

It’s been a hot minute since I posted anything about novel-writing (which is usually what I do around here). I took Ye Stars That Shudder, my post-alien-apocalypse retelling of King Arthur, back to the beginning and re-started it, as pieces had come together and the tone had shifted into ore of a finalized form. So, since I have almost three chapters completed in the new version, I thought I would post some pieces and re-introduce you!

Note: I get asked about the who’s-who re: casting choices and so the dramatis persona in these snippets include –
Arthur: Cole Sprouse
Hec: Jon Bernthal
Kay: Jai Courtney
Gareth: Charlie Hunnam
Archer: Garrett Hedlund

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Kay jogged down the stairs, his boots heavy on the bare wood. “Jackpot.” A dozen orange pill-bottles nestled in the crook of his arm, and he dumped them into the canvas bag on top of the gold necklaces.

“Guess it wasn’t a total loss,” said Hec, hitching his gun over his shoulder by the strap.

“Except they don’t have anything in there for crazy,” said Kay.

Hec gave him a questioning glance, but it was already fading into a knowing expression as Kay added, “Sorry, man; maybe next time we’ll find something to help you.”


After a few more seconds the door opened the rest of the way. The woman in the doorway was younger than Arthur expected; early twenties, his age. She was dressed in boots, jeans, and an oversized plaid shirt, like she had raided her father’s closet, but her hands holding the gun looked steady.

“Leave your weapons outside,” she said. “But you can come in.”

Kay got out of the van and walked up behind Arthur.

“Sorry,” said Arthur. “She said we had to leave you outside.”

Kay shoved his head forward in response.


“You hanging in there?”

“You bet I am. Don’t worry about me, kid, I’ve had a lot worse. You know that.”

“I know, you’re a badass,” said Arthur, with an extravagant roll of his eyes. “But you’re bleeding all over that girl’s couch, so I figure it’s an okay time to ask about your welfare.”

“You weren’t always sarcastic,” Hec remarked, a faint grin playing on his face. “Kay’s being a crap influence on you.”

“Oh, I don’t think we can blame Kay for that,” Arthur retorted.

“Heh.” Hec grinned wider, without looking up at Arthur. “Yeah, that’s all me. Do me proud, kid.”

“I try.”


“My name is Gwen.” She took a pair of scissors from her back pocket and began to cut at the shirt, pulling it away from the quills puncturing Hec’s side. “What about you two?”

“Hec.”

“Kay.”

“Your mothers were very original.” Gwen picked up the tweezers as soon as she had the blood-stained fabric out of the way.

Arthur pointed down at Hec. “Hector Vance, but he doesn’t really look like a Hector so nobody bothers.” He pointed at Kay. “Kay Sawyer. Don’t call him Sawyer.”

“He’s right,” said Gwen, looking briefly at Hec. “You don’t look like a Hector.”

“’Preciate it,” he replied.


Arthur obliged, backing up a few steps, lifting his hands in surrender for the second time that day. This woman wasn’t much older than Gwen, but she looked a lot more likely to do damage.

He didn’t need to turn around to sense Kay had appeared behind him. “Lower that thing before I shove it in your eye.”

The woman raised an eyebrow. Instead of lowering the arrow, she only shifted it again, pointing it at Kay this time. “Gwen, who’s the guy with the attitude?”

“I don’t know,” Gwen called from the other room, “I think they all have attitude. That one’s Kay. He’s my least favorite.”


‘Control’ was the Vees’ name for the large, square building that took up a half-mile of Seattle. The building was five years old – one of the Vees’ impressive overnight additions to various skylines. It was nothing fancy to look at, but the inside was a different story. The first time Gareth had walked in, he’d felt like a comic book character, suddenly transported into superhero headquarters.

Yeah, that feeling had faded pretty quick.


“All Metroids are armed,” said the Vee flatly. “He is Zi-Class. He is, of course, deadly.”

“Right on, right on. Anything I need to know?”

“He stole a piece of our technology when he left. We require both the technology and the Metroid fully intact.”

Well, that made things more fun. “Understood. Any chance you’re gonna tell me what the tech is?”

“A sword,” said the Vee.

Gareth blinked again, but this time it wasn’t to clear his vision. “Right,” he drawled. “Robot with a sword.”

“Zi-Class Metroid.” The Vee sounded almost indignant, which amused Gareth. Of course calling a Metroid a robot was like calling a megalodon a goldfish, but as far as he was concerned, a robot was a robot.


The rogue Metroid’s designation was printed at the top of the page: MR-1-LN. “That’s a mouthful,” Gareth muttered, his eyes drifting down the page. It didn’t list the Metroid’s strength, everyone knew it was that of five or six men, if not more. They could use guns – any weapon they wanted, probably – but they came equipped with a weapon unlike anything Gareth had ever seen.

He had seen a Metroid corner a civilian before; the robot had clenched its right fist and pulled its hand back. The civilian’s body had gone from standing and alive to dead on the ground in less time than it took Gareth to draw in a breath – no visible weapon fired, no nothing.


| to be continued |

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Know Your Novel, Part One: Welcome to Eden, Wyoming

Wade sauntered over to the side of the road, and for the first time got a glimpse of where he was. Brown, weedy grass stretched over endless rolling hills as far as he could see, on all sides of him. He turned to look at the sign he’d run into, and sure enough, the front of the truck had smashed into a pole. The green sign above it said ‘WELCOME TO EDEN, WYOMING. POPULATION 566. ENJOY YOUR STAY.’

I joked before this month began that I apparently have a thing for angsty guys winding up in mysterious small pseudo-western towns where the preternatural happens, but that joke wound up becoming Welcome to Eden, Wyoming – -a novel about an angsty guy winding up in a mysterious small pseudo-western town where the preturnatural happens. My main question was if I could convince people it wasn’t  Dark is The Night 2.0 but the book is taking care of that itself and shaping up nothing like my other Novel with a Similar Premise. Wade isn’t even that angsty. He’s kind of sweet.

So far.

  1. What sparked the idea for this novel? Honestly, it just came together in a flash without a particular ‘spark.’ Watching Logan and Predator made me want to write Boyd Hallbrook’s particular persona into a novel. I love the ‘weird west/american gothic’ genre and wanted to write something that felt a little more western than Dark is the Night, and include beings I hadn’t used before in other novels, like ghouls and kelpies and black shucks. Also I’ve wanted to use the town of Eden, Wyoming in a novel since we drove through it last year – I gave it a population of 566 in this book, but it might actually have been less in real life.
  2. Share a blurb! When Wade Lawson wakes up on the outskirts of Eden, Wyoming in a stolen truck, with hands that aren’t his and tattoos he doesn’t remember getting, he figures life can’t get any worse. The only thing to do is wait for his memory to return so he can go back to his normal life – but Eden’s inhabitants hold more mysteries than Wade’s past, and Wade’s past just might hold a fate worse than death for everyone involved.
  3. Where does the story take place? What is your favorite thing about the setting? I wanted to write a small midwestern town that felt kinda old-fashioned but kinda Night Vale at the same time, with a very small population and lots of room for Mysterious Things to Happen. Hence, Eden, Wyoming. Also I enjoy ironic names.
  4. Tell us about your protagonist. I originally set out for Wade to be kind of a ‘confused badass.’ So far he’s just confused. Mid-thirties. Honestly I can’t tell you more about him than he knows, that would be giving things away.
  5. Who (or what) is the antagonist? This I DEFINITELY can’t tell you. I can tell you the unseelie sidhe are involved. I can also tell you that I wanted to make them legitimately scary and not just ‘beautiful but fickle.’
  6. What excites you the most about this novel? Probably the upcoming plot twists. I do love a good plot twist. Also the Phoenix character. Also the Kelpie character. Also Miranda Rodriguez. But mostly the plot twists.
  7. Is this going to be a series? Standalone? Something else? Honestly I don’t know. I might hazard a guess at a duology unless I manage to actually wrap the whole book up this month, which is slightly unlikely. I have trouble writing standalone novels, I always wind up with dramatis persona I enjoy too much to relinquish after one book.
  8. Are you plotting? Pantsing? Plantsing? I usually plot out the barest minimum at the beginning and then fill in the rest as I go. Honestly there’s so little real plotting involved it’s BASICALLY pantsing but there is a smidge of plotting involved. Sometimes.
  9. Name a few things that make this story unique. What kind of QUESTION IS THIS, I ask? It’s not as if I choose a generic story and go ‘here’s how I’ll make it unique,’ I pick a story and I write it and hopefully everything that happens has the unique flavor of a Mirriam Neal story and manages to be fairly unique in its own right. If it winds up being unoriginal, that’s a BAD thing.
  10. Share a fun “extra” of the story (a song or full playlist, some aesthetics, a collage, a Pinterest board, a map you’ve made, a special theme you’re going to incorporate, ANYTHING you want to share!). The Pinterest Board is here for your souls: https://www.pinterest.com/mirriamneal/welcome-to-eden-wyoming-novel

SNIPPETS

(These aren’t officially part of this post but I’m including them because I’ve posted a few on Facebook but haven’t done the mandatory ‘snippets post’ for NaNoWriMo yet)

The sheriff stuck the patch onto Wade’s head. “There. Should be fine in a day or two. You didn’t seem concussed, so.”
Wade raised his eyebrows as the sheriff crumpled up the packaging and picked up the alcohol bottle. “Didn’t seem concussed?”

“Hey, I’m not a doctor.” Zane walked out of the cell, leaving the door open as he set the alcohol back in the unusual first-aid kit. “And you look okay.”


“There’s an old cemetery over the hill behind the house. Keep an eye on it but pay it no mind.”

Wade glanced over his shoulder at the hill, an eerie sensation washing over him like he was a kid and his parents had just told him to ignore the monster in the closet. “You have a real grave-robbing problem or something?””

“Not usually.” Zane climbed back into the car and shut the door, draping his arm out the window.  “If you see Moon-Jae, say hi to him for me.”

“He your not-usual grave-robber?”


“Did Zane send you or what?”

The figure chuckled and opened the granola wrapper with a single long tear. “Hardly. He didn’t tell you about me, did he? He has a delightful sense of humor.”

Wade was not feeling delighted. Nor was he feeling a large amount of patience. “Yeah, well, this is my place for a while so I suggest you get out before I make you leave.”

“I suppose I shouldn’t blame you for your behavior, but it leaves something to be desired.” The figure broke off a piece of granola bar, and Wade heard the stranger chewing and chewing loud.

“Out,” said Wade. “Now.”


A twig snapped and he turned, squinting through the early-morning light at the trees to his right. A shadow – too large for an antelope or a deer – moved, then surged out onto the street several yards in front of Wade.

It was a horse, but unlike any horse Wade had ever seen. His charcoal-gray coat was slick with water, dripping in rivulets down its long, sharp face. Its mane and tail were abnormally long, and Wade was pretty sure he could see seaweed tangled in them both. Rows of small, ridged spikes ran down the animal’s neck and side, from ears to haunch. The horse shook itself like a dog, flinging water, and swung its head to look at Wade with large eyes.

“Easy, boy.” The words left Wade automatically, but for a reason he couldn’t understand this animal gave off the vibe of a half-starved junkyard dog more than a horse and he didn’t want it coming anywhere near him.

The horse lifted its ears as if surprised at the sound of Wade’s voice and took a tentative step toward him on slender legs.

Wade lifted his hands. “Easy,” he repeated, wary.

With a sudden snort, the strange animal shook its head and spun, cantering away down the street with fluid speed until even the sound of its hooves on the pavement faded out of hearing.

Wade lowered his arms and released a deep breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. With the strange feeling he’d escaped something bad, he picked up the pace again, trying to make sense of the strangeness in the air around him. The horse, the skeletal man from last night. The howling that sounded almost wolf-like but also not quite.

The fact even the air here felt different; every breath he took filled him with a mingled sense of dread and excitement, like he was going to round a corner and see a UFO idling in the middle of the road.

I was tagged by Arielle who gave me no choice thought of me but if you want to join in, head on over HERE to link up!

Ye Stars That Shudder (snippets)

Several years ago, while I was writing The Fading of the Light (the first novel in my futuristic science-fantasy Samurai Robin Hood retelling) I joked, “Just wait until I put a spin on King Arthur. ‘Camelot & Aliens.'” A few months ago that joke came full circle as I began to write Ye Stars That Shudder, a mostly-modern-day post-alien invasion version of King Arthur. I began it, wrote seven chapters in quick succession, and then had to put it on the back burner while art, the moneymaker, sat in front. I’m trying to find a way to write and paint, and at my mom’s suggestion I’m going to take up waking at 5:30 consistently so I can write for an hour/hour and a half before the workload starts. That said, it’s about time I introduced you to the current novel in the form of snippets!

YSTS

Arthur folded his hands and studied the scarred tabletop. Searching his feelings, he realized he felt oddly betrayed by Uther’s capture. Here in the mountains they were isolated but still received news – infrequent trips into so-called civilization for supplies, the scattered reports over the old radio in the corner. Since the Visitors landed three years ago, Uther had risen; a determined, stubborn beacon of hope shining through the fog of complacency and despair. Uther was the rebellion and the rebellion was Uther. Now he was captured, soon he would be dead.

It did not seem terribly irrational to Arthur that the rebellion might die soon after.


“Even so,” said Hector; his voice mild and his eyes hard, “they’ll be expecting this kind of thing. I won’t have you be the next well-meaning idiot who dies at the hands of the Visitors.”

“Well-meaning, yeah,” said Arthur. “Sometimes. But I’m never an idiot.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” said Kai.


“Thirty seconds and I’m leaving,” said Kai, blowing out a breath through his nose and looking at the door.

Hector placed his spoon on the table. “You’ll do what I tell you, boy.” Kai raised an eyebrow, and Hector leaned on his elbow and pointed at him. “That’s what I said. Boy; which boggles my mind, personally, seeing as how you’re nearly thirty years old. And you,” he added, pointing the finger in Arthur’s direction now, “I made my share of bad decisions when I was your age, but twenty-three is plenty old enough to know what constitutes a fatal mistake. Savvy?”

“Savvy,” said Arthur, straightening. When Hector took that tone it always made him feel like he was slouching, even if he wasn’t.


                Kai set the bow down and lifted the rosin up to his face. “The only reason I’m not throwing this at your head is because I’m not done using it.”


“Uther would give it to me.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” said Badge, in a slightly less-friendly tone.

“I cannot disclose the reason to you, but it is a good one.”

“Oh, well. As long as it’s good.”

“You sure you don’t want to shoot him, Badge?” asked a man with a bow and arrow standing several feet behind the other man. “Looks like he could use a bullet. Or an arrow,” he added, acknowledging his current weapon. “Whatever works.”


It was the most up close and personal Uther had ever been with a Vee – probably the most personal anyone still alive had ever been, probably. They breathed, he could tell that much; the suits emitted a rhythmic purring sound every couple seconds.

When they spoke, it was only in words typed onto a screen. They might not be able to speak, but they could read and write English. The same word had been staring at Uther in black, sharp lettering for the past twenty-four hours – W H E R E I S T HE S W O R D, unrelenting. Their concept of spacing was backwards, apparently.


Merlin lifted his hand to his face, touching his fingers to his forehead like an exasperated father. “There is a plan,” he said, “and I will tell it to you once you stop reeling.”

“I’m not reeling. Surprised, shocked, definitely not cool with any of this, but not reeling.”

“I wish I had the ability to blink,” said Merlin. “Slowly. To show my exasperation,” he added.


He reached into his back pocket, holding his other hand out. “Don’t hit me, love, I’m just getting my business card.”

“You have a funny way of making sales pitches, I hope you realize that.”

“It’s not exactly a sales pitch,” he said, holding the business card out between his fingertips.

She took it from him with a sharp glance and read the name. Tristan Troye, Private Investigator. Collaborator. She looked pointedly at him and let the card fall from her hand onto the floor. “You look like a Tristan,” she said with a disdainful sniff.


“What guy are you?”

“I don’t know,” Arthur snapped. “I’m the guy who makes sarcastic comments on things and has existential thoughts.”

“Oh, yeah? Today should be right up your lane then, mate.”

“Ha; you’d think, but no.”

“Says the guy who was griping at me earlier for not caring about the world at large,” Kai retorted. “Now you’ve been told you’re like some kind of angsty superhero and you don’t want it.”

“This isn’t exactly what I meant,” said Arthur, tasting bitterness sharp on his tongue. “This is like wishing for firewood and having a tree fall on your house.”

“Hey, wood is wood.”

“Oh my gosh, go away.”


Wayne Gaheris could never remember to turn his phone off, which was why its ringing woke him up at three forty-seven in the morning. He answered automatically with a groggy, “Deputy Gaheris.” Only then did he look at the clock and fight the urge to swear at the caller.

“She got away. She ran off.”

“Tristan? Who ran off?”

“Vivian Atwater! She’s got a hell of a roundhouse. I took one in the knee.”

“A what?”

“A kick, man, a kick.”

“Are you telling me a sixty-seven-year-old woman incapacitated you and then took off?”

“It’s a terrible truth and I’m ashamed, but yes.”

“You’re a disgrace.”

“I shall wear sackcloth and kowtow fifty times at the alter of your disapproval, but as I’m currently en route to the hospital you’ll have to accept a postponement.”


Hector broke in, his voice rough with barely-suppressed anger. “Hang on. You’re telling me you brought this all on our heads without knowing if you had your head on straight?” He took a step toward Merlin but the robot did not back up; he only turned his head unnaturally far to the right and replied, “Yes.”

“I should grind you into dust right now.”

“Try it, tough guy,” said Merlin, in a voice that sounded suddenly very human, very old, and very annoyed.

 

//TDOTL; the end + snippets

For reasons I will divulge at the end of the month, I have a bit of ‘free’ non-intensive writing time on my hands right now. (I’ll pick the intensive writing back up on Monday.) As such, I have some time to write up a blog post to let you know that, after exactly a year, in an intensive three-day rush wherein I wrote 17,000 words, I successfully finished The Dying of the Light on October 31. And subsequently spent the next six hours either crying or staring blindly into space. I wish I was kidding.

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Shimo from TDOTL by CielaRose on DeviantArt.com/aka Lauren

At 550 pages and 167, 770 words is, by far, the longest, most intensive project I’ve ever worked on, and my favorite. Every novel I write has a large part of my soul wrapped up inside it, but The Dying of the Light has more than the others. It was the novel where I finally found my groove, where I fell head-over-heels for everyone, where I was able to address issues that are extremely important to me (loyalty, honor, personal/physical abuse, abuse of power, friendship, integrity, old-fashioned good vs. evil) and do it with a futuristic samurai Robin Hood.

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Shotgun (TDOTL) also by Lauren [I keep all of these pictures. I take them out and stroke them and call them Precious]
 I’m relieved that I’m not through with the series. I can’t imagine ever being done with this world and these characters, and so I prefer not to think about the day that happens. I have many other projects waiting in the wings, and they’ll get their own time. For now I have another world and other characters to focus on – but a small part of me can’t wait to get back to my Japanese gang, and see what happens in the month between novels.


“Why?”

“He’s rather talkative, given his age,” said the Prince-Regent, watching Alucard with attentiveness bordering on predatory. “And he reads?”

“Backwards, like I said,” said the doctor. “And yes, he speaks. He catches onto things distressingly fast.”

“Excellent,” said the Prince-Regent.

“Yes, well, that’s a matter of opinion,” said Dr. Sleimann.


The Prince-Regent smiled. “No harm will come to Alucard today. You have my word of honor.”

Oscar grimaced. “I’d rather just have your word, plain and simple.”


Shi raised a hand and walked down the hall, nodding Tsuki as he passed her. They paused briefly and exchanged a few words before continuing on their ways.

Saizou cleared his throat. “What was that about?”

“What was what about?”

“You and Shi.”

“Oh, that. He told me to go easy on you.”

“He did not,” said Saizou.

“‘You can punch him if you want to, but don’t punch him too hard,’ were his exact words. Take that as you will.”


“Sorry.” Kirikizu shrugged. “You have to obey me. He,” and here he pointed at the Dog, “is to make sure you don’t kill anyone.”

“Don’t need watchers,” spat Alucard.

“Your behavior indicates otherwise.”

The Dog made a coarse, heaving sound somewhere between a laugh and an indignant huff.

Alucard grinned suddenly, putting all his small, sharp teeth on display. “Kill him,” he said simply. “Kill you. No watchers.” He made a small, flitting hand gesture as if to say problem solved.

            Kirikizu was beginning to feel that when Oscar had called Alucard ‘a handful,’ he was being distressingly moderate.


Matahachi stood in front of the cracked, dusty glass, looking very much out of place, like a piece of fine jewelry dropped in a gutter by accident.


“We weren’t born friends, you know,” said Shi.

“I know. I think it started that night, though.”

“It did,” said Shi. “It took a while for me to believe you weren’t a complete basket case.”

“That came later,” Saizou agreed.


He looked over his shoulder and saw his twin walking down the hall. He moved stiffly, and his face remained too gray to look healthy, but he smiled and spoke briefly with the middle-aged nurse who stopped to say something to him. She patted his cheek like a fond mother and continued on her way, and when Shimo reached the front desk, Virgo put a hand on his hip and said, “Nice. Get adopted again?”

“I get adopted a lot,” said Shimo, giving another weak, but geniuine, smile to the orderly behind the desk. “You ready to go?”

Virgo clicked his tongue. “I honestly don’t know why anybody bothers adopting you. Every time they see you you’re injured somehow. Reckless. And you look horrible. Do I look that bad when I get injured?”

“Worse,” Shimo affirmed.


“Right,” said Fumiyo. She tugged the neck of her sweater. “I guess I’m staying, too.”

“Even though I’m here?” teased Shotgun.

She shot him a glare.

“I think it’s more like ‘in spite of you,'” said Shi.

Fumiyo nodded vigorously, and Shotgun clutched his heart. “Ow. Right in the bowl of feelios.”

“What?” asked Shi.

“What?” asked Shotgun.


Shinya bowed toward the customer, who did not look up. “How can I help you?”

“Weapons,” said the man. “Where are they?”

Shinya eyed the man critically. “What kind of weapon?”

“Swords,” said the man. “Two of them.”

“You should know, man. I can’t sell a blade over thirty inches. Still,” he continued, not wanting to let a sale slip through his fingers, “I have a nice selection of wakizashis and tanto—”

The man looked up. “Swords,” he repeated, his sapphire eyes threatening to pierce right through Shinya to the wall behind him. “Two of them. Daito. Straight blades with fukura-tsuku points. Tempered line has a hitatsura pattern. No menuki in the hilt. You forged them, you should remember them.”


//snippets of 90% sarcasm

But do I really post anything other than sarcastic snippets? Ever?

During my semi-hiatus, I was busy writing. I hadn’t realized it until I hit 140k in The Dying of the Light yesterday and it hit me – oh. Little by little, I HAVE been writing. Huh. [Remember the running joke I mentioned a few months ago where every 10k that gets added to the novel, I see if the gang is together? Eh…they’re still not together. The gang is basically a conspiracy theory at this point working on it, however. Ever closer. And yes – the goal is still to finish this novel before NaNoWriMo.] That being said, it’s been a while since I’ve posted any snippets, and I hope you enjoy.

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He entered the area again with caution, crouching on one knee and drawing his knife from his belt. He inserted the knife into the ground and lifted the blade. It struck nothing but dirt; he placed his knee where the knife had been and once again inserted the blade into the ground. Slowly, foot by foot, he made a clear path toward the Captain.

Tsuchigumo did not speak to him until he was within ten feet of him. Then, in a near-growl, he asked, “Do you think you can disobey my order just because I can’t move?”

Shi straightened and saluted. “Yes, Captain.”


Short notice,” was his only remark as he tucked the knives into the front of his belt and looked at Mustang. “Distraction ready?”

Mustang’s half-smile was tired but set. “I do a pretty mean howler monkey imitation.”

Shi grinned. “I guess beggars can’t be choosers.”

Mustang raised an eyebrow. “Do you have a better idea?”

“Even if I did, I probably wouldn’t tell you. I’m looking forward to your method.”


The cries from the mercenaries were muffled; Shi’s left ear was pressed against Tsuchigumo’s back, his arm covering his other, but one thing he knew – the mine hadn’t exploded.

“Don’t tell me you were standing on a dud the whole time just to be dramatic, Captain,” he muttered, glancing over his shoulder. A warning gunshot rang out, and he heard the bullet hiss over his head.

“Well,” grunted Tsuchigumo, “not intentionally.”


There was nothing behind him except the open door, and the turned again, moving his finger to the trigger.

“The acoustics in here,” the female voice continued, “are perfect for yodeling.”


“Give me your gun.”

“And why would I do that?”

“So I can see if three bullets are missing from the magazine.”

Hiro turned away from her, tucking the gun back in his belt. “They’re in the locker room.”

“The bullets?”

“The fugitives.”

“You didn’t shoot them?”

“No, Riza, I didn’t shoot them.”

Silence stretched long and thin. Then Riza said, “I honestly thought you would have.”


The red scales on Hiro’s paper-white skin blurred together in Saizou’s vision, spilling off Hiro’s body, dripping into the floor. The red swallowed everything whole.


“You’re in a good mood,” said Saizou offhandedly, attempting to collect his thoughts, to find something that made sense, something worth saying.

“Not dying usually puts me in a good mood.”


“You think I don’t know you hated me when I first took command?”

“Hate’s a strong word, captain.”

“Are you saying you didn’t?”

A brief half-smile curved Shi’s mouth. “No. It wasn’t just me, though, give the rest of the men some credit. We all hated you.”


Shi nudged his shoulder. “So are you going to get an eye patch like the Prince-Regent’s poisoner?”

Saizou snorted. “Not likely.”

“Matching’s hardly a cardinal sin. Maybe you can spark a trend.”

“I want to spark a rebellion, not a trend.”

Shi eyed Saizou gravely. “Captain,” he said without a trace of humor, “you should embroider that on a pillow.”