//the dying of the light – update + snippets

We’re nine days into JuNoWriMo, and I should have a total of 25,000 words to show for it by the end of today. It’s been a harder – but strangely more productive – JuNo than the last one, mainly thanks to several weeks of bad sleep. I don’t know if the classic portrait of the Author is true, and sleepless nights + irritable moods = literary genius (or at the very least, increased productivity) but if so, I may have to condemn the idea of a classic Author and find a different route.

Anyway, to everyone out there also in the throes of JuNoWriMo, here are your friendly reminders to stay inspired (my inspirations this month include re-watching my favorite kdrama, Liar Game), get outside every now and then (wherever you can, honestly; I laid out in the sun for five minutes while my coffee made this morning), and take frequent breaks (I bought a new compact sketchbook I’m in love with, and I’m currently in the middle of sketching Baekhyun from EXO’s new ‘Monster’ music video in my free minutes).

YOU’VE GOT THIS. Even if you don’t like what you’ve written (me, yesterday) or you have the sudden urge to revamp everything from page one onward, just wait. Write your 50,000 words, and then worry about revising or scrapping it. It’s not necessarily about the product, but about the invaluable act of doing the thing. You can do it. I believe in you.

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SNIPPETS

One-Eye’s breathing grew heavier, either from fear or the pressure of Saizou’s fingers digging into his throat. “If I tell you where it is, the Prince-Regent will kill me.”

“If you don’t tell me where it is, I will kill you. Giving it to me might buy you five more minutes.”


Some people had others they would die for. That, he thought, was something special. Something precious, even, or so it seemed. People could endure incredible amounts of pain when someone they loved was on the line. Loved ones brought out the hero in people.

They also brought out the weakness.

It was almost cruel, an irony like that.


“Follow them.”

“We’re bounty hunters, not bodyguards,” said Virgo firmly. “You want us to follow and watch from a distance, you pay for the time.”

“Fine,” said the voice, clipped and icy. “Just do as I say. You’ll be compensated, you have my word.”

“We’re not talking coins here. We’re talking five thousand yen to keep up this spy nonsense.”

“I’m well aware of your monetary needs and I’m fully willing to meet them. Even if you do overcharge,” said the voice. There was another click as the client hung up.


There were eight of them in the task force – Captain Akita, Lieutenant Shota, and six soldiers with no official rank. If they were caught, they had no serial number, they had nothing to identify their position. They could be anyone, and they could die as no-one.


            “Less than a week since your…frankly spectacular exit from these very walls,” said Kirikizu. His voice was almost idly curious, but not quite. There was too much calculation behind his tone. He was attempting to mask the true depths of his interest. “And yet here you are. Again. For what?”

Saizou tested his voice. A faint sound scratched free, and he twisted the sound into the only weak rebuttal he could think of. “Your mother.”

The Prince-Regent’s Hand chuckled then, deep and bemused. “That’s the best you could come up with?”

Saizou shut his eyes again, weary with the effort of keeping them open. Then he nodded; a faint gesture, only once. It took less effort than he anticipated. That was something.


The blue light of Hiro’s computer screen flickered, and the speaker switched on unbidden. “How’s my favorite reptile?” asked Riza.

“How’s the safe house coming?” Hiro retorted, removing the pen from his mouth.

“I found the perfect location. It should be wonderfully safe for a few days, at least.”

“Fine. Just tell me where it is.”

“Like I’m that sloppy. I’ll guide you there.”

Hiro snorted. “After all we’ve been through.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t know who I am, and I’m certainly not affiliated with you in any way.”

“Right,” said Hiro blandly. “I forgot.” He clicked the pen against his knee and tossed it onto the desk. “Will the safe house be ready tonight?”

“Oh, I’m afraid we’re going to have to tweak the schedule.”

Hiro straightened, his eyes narrowing at the screen. “I’m sorry,” he said politely. “But please repeat that.”

“Just a minor change, nothing big,” said Riza coolly. “You’re going to have to move the packages this morning, not tonight.”

Hiro glanced at the door across the room, and lowered his voice. “Hilarious.”

“It’s funny because it’s true.”


Kirikizu strode away from the house. He saw One-Eye exiting the infirmary, a bandage wrapped around his throat.

“You,” Kirikizu called, changing his trajectory and heading toward the poisoner instead.

“What do you want?” One-Eye asked, sullen, as Kirikizu approached.

“The Prince-Regent wants to know how the Dog is faring.”

One-Eye shrugged, but the way he pressed his lips together told Kirikizu he was more concerned for the Dog than he let on. “He’ll live. He’s taken a few beatings this week.”

“What poison did you give him?”

One-Eye frowned. “Poison?”

“The Dog.”

“First of all, it isn’t poison,” One-Eye snipped. “It’s venom. Secondly, don’t say ‘I gave it to him’ like I tried to kill him. Building up an immunity is a long and difficult process, and do you realize what a breakthrough it is to make a living subject venomous without killing them?”

“Answer the question before I finish strangling you myself.”

 


“Your ruler is asking you a question.”

“My ruler,” said Saizou softly, “is spearheading an army in China to keep us safe while his baby brother destroys the nation he left behind like an angry child throwing a fit.”

Slowly, the Prince-Regent exhaled and leaned back, his palms pressed flat to the smooth stone floor. “‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ An English historian, Lord Acton, said that in the nineteenth century.”

“I’ve heard it,” said Saizou.

“Then perhaps you’ve heard another saying of his.” The Prince-Regent closed his eyes and in a silken, almost shuddering voice, said, “‘Great men are almost always bad men.'” He opened his eyes again and gazed, unblinking, at Saizou. “Greatness and goodness don’t need to walk hand in hand. History rarely remembers the deeds of good men. However, it holds corrupt men with great power up to the light and watches them shine. Every mass slaughter in history is romanticized. Cruel leaders are hailed as geniuses.”

“That’s how you want history to remember you?” Saizou loathed meeting the Prince-Regent’s gaze, but he kept it, unwavering. “A grim reaper with a diamond scythe?”

A distant look entered the Prince-Regent’s eyes. “‘The greatest names are coupled with the greatest crimes’. Another lesson from Lord Acton.”

“I learned about Lord Acton in grade school,” said Saizou. “He wasn’t just a historian, he was a moralist. He condemned the great, cruel men you prize so greatly.”

“Nobody’s perfect.” The Prince-Regent shrugged one bare shoulder.

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//and it’s right around the corner

Tomorrow marks the first day of June. It also marks the beginning of my ninth ‘Writing Month.’ (Once NaNo rolls around, I’ll feel respectable. Ten is a good number to have tucked in your belt.) That being said, this is the first time that I’m continuing my NaNo novel (The Dying of the Light) into June. It’s currently sitting open at 73, 609 words, which means I’ve only had time for roughly 20,000 words since December. I’ve been busy and haven’t had the mental energy or the time to give it the attention it deserves, so I decided to shove other projects aside and add a minimum of 50,000 words to the manuscript during June. It’s going to be an exciting month and I’m jazzed – here’s to buckling down and doing what we love.

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“I know you can’t feel physical pain.”

Kirikizu’s muffled, buzzing voice cut through Winter’s haze.

His mouth and throat felt dry and rough, as if a sandstorm had swept through. He could not remember taking a breath through the last half hour. He lifted his eyes to the Emperor’s Hand as the other man said, “Fortunately, your baby brother can.”


Riza might be asleep. Any sane person would be.

He placed the cuff around his ear. “You’d better be there.”

Silence.

He flicked the cuff with two fingers. “This isn’t Shotgun, this is Saizou. Wake up.”

“Isn’t there a fugitive curfew?” Riza’s voice came through the speaker, loud and clear. “Don’t you people have bedtimes?”

“You don’t seem to.”


“You have a real gratitude problem, you know that?”

“Tell me where the Dog is.”

Riza’s loud sigh nearly deafened him.  “Fine,” she said. “See that building toward the back left corner? You should have a clear line of sight from where you’re standing.”

Saizou was hardly surprised that Riza’s ear cuff doubled as a tracking device. “I see it.”

“That’s the dog-house.”

“Are you positive?”

“I repeat my gratitude remark, but I’m going to give you a warning anyway – that’s also the Royal Poisoner’s home.”

Saizou tried to wrap his head around the idea of a Royal Poisoner. The concept was simple enough, but the fact the Prince-Regent blatantly employed one without hiding it – that was startling. “The Poisoner keeps the Dog in his house?”

“Lots of people have pets, dear.”

“Most pets aren’t human beings.”


It would be locked, he thought, and it was – but locks were of little consequence. He switched the reizaa-naginata on and cut through the wood, searing the lock away from the rest of the door. Lasers, as it turned out, were very effective lock-picks.


Immediately the snake darted forward, a warning strike so close Saizou felt the brush of its tongue.

“I wouldn’t move, if I were you,” said a calm voice. “Nor would I speak. She’s very sensitive to strangers.”

Saizou dared not move his head, but he glanced out the corner of his eye and saw a young man shut the partition door behind him and stand, his hands in his pockets. A patch circled his head and covered one eye, a morbid accessory for someone so young.

This must be One-Eye.

The young man smiled. “You must be Saizou Akita. I had the feeling you’d come back when I saw pieces of your accomplice stuck in the Dog’s teeth.”


//a kitsune, an interrogation, and on-camera insults [or, a few snippets]

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“I need a left hand matching these dimensions.”


 

The guard glanced at the door. “Don’t worry,” Oscar continued, his anger softening just enough to allow him to say, “it’s not like I’m going to tell the P-R. Not sure we could communicate anyways; I don’t speak jackass.”

“You’re on camera,” said the guard blandly.


People thought interrogations and torture were the same thing, but they weren’t. Torture provided punishment or set an example. It could be vicious and fairly pointless. When torturing someone, you could use any method you liked. If the victim passed out, you let them wake up again or woke them yourself before starting again.

Interrogation was far more delicate; the difference between a finger painting and an original Hokusai. There were things you could and could not do – the subject had to remain alert, functioning well enough to correctly answer questions but too desperate to lie. Making the subject pass out was undesirable; it took more time and proved inefficient.


When she reached the bottom, she set the chair down and crossed her arms. “Happy?”

Kirikizu smiled mentally at the similarities between Haka and Otter, without allowing the expression onto his face. “Put it in the cell, on the opposite side.”

“Gonna throw shade at him first?” Otter rolled her eyes as she dragged the chair into the cell.

“Out of the cell now,” said Kirikizu, stepping toward the cell door.

“Do this, Otter. Do that, Otter,” said Otter, but it was half-hearted, and she cast a concerned glance at Winter’s impassive face before exiting the cell.


He lifted his head and met Winter’s direct, frozen gaze. The older man’s blue eyes were cold enough to draw all warmth from the room; at once broken and sharper than before. He was also done playing any game with Kirikizu.

“If you lay a hand on him,” said Winter softly, “I will kill you. Perhaps not today or tomorrow, but I will do it.”


“I made Nix’s acquaintance thanks to Matahachi,” said Kiba.

“Well, if someone’s going to tell the story, it has to be me,” said Nix, apparently regaining interest. “Because that is a truly awful opening line and I’d hate for a riveting story to drag on in that tone of voice.”

Kiba sighed and stepped back toward the wall, allowing the kitsune to continue.

“Thank you,” said Nix archly. “See, it’s like this, sweetheart – Matahachi took something very important from me, and I want it back.”

“That’s not good storytelling either,” said Kiba in a low voice, rubbing the back of his neck.

Nix opened his mouth, then squinted. “In fact, it’s terrible storytelling,” he conceded after a moment’s thought. “But I have a very good point, in that I don’t really think the young lady here needs to know the whole story.”


He reached the bottom of the stairs. Haka was doing pull-ups on the bars of an empty cell, and Otter was rattling off some kind of shopping list. “—expensive coffee, you’re going to have to shell out,” she argued as Kirikizu approached.


Tsuki looked up at the looming apartment building. A single light shone through a cracked window three stories up. “This yokai of yours,” she began.

“He’s not mine,” Kiba interrupted, “and he’s a kitsune. You should know before you meet him.”

Tsuki felt a heady thrill in spite of herself. Even those who believed in yokai and yokai-kin widely regarded kitsune as fables. The mountain fox-spirits whose number of tails increased their power, were legends, said to have been created by rice-farmers who saw things in the mist. Mist which may not have been entirely natural, Tsuki now thought.

“Let me guess,” said Tsuki, keeping her voice low, “he’s the only resident for miles.”

“He likes to keep to himself.”

“Then what makes you think he’s going to care about my request?”

“I never said I thought he’d care,” said Kiba. “A bribe may be in order.”


— The Dying of the Light

//snippets + sketch winner

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I’ve written so much about writing this week, I thought it only right to follow up the previous posts with some snippets from The Dying of the Light. This book has had most of my focus since I began it in November, and now – at 65,000+ words – the gang still isn’t together. Still. It may have to be two books, but hey; sometimes you just have to roll with it. These hellions have stolen my heart and I hope, once the book is finished, they steal yours, too.

“So what, you had your fill of killing and decided you could become someone else? You thought you could change just because you wanted to?”

“That’s the only way any of us change,” said Winter. “Because we decide to.”  He was doing his best to keep his voice even, to remain calm and cool even as his pulse beat quicker and his blood grew heated. “I wanted to change, so I did.”

“You think you can become someone else because you let your weapons fall?” The bars rattled again. “You’re a bigger fool than I am.”

“Perhaps.” Winter did not move, but he opened his eyes. “But you seem content to remain a fool. That is what separates us.


He heard something fall over and glanced toward the desks, where Shun, the officer assigned to secretary duty for the day, had just dropped a stapler on the floor.

“Sorry, Commander,” he apologized, picking it back up and setting it carefully by the edge of the desk.

“You’re new,” said Haka, after a brief moment of recollection.

Officer Shun sat up so quickly his chair rolled into the wall. He bowed, trying to inconspicuously reach behind him and pull the chair back. “Um…three months, Commander.”

Haka blinked. Three months and he still didn’t recognize the man’s face? That was awkward.

Officer Shun apparently knew better than to point it out, because he added quickly, “I have a forgettable face. Nobody remembers it. Even my mother sees me sometimes and asks, ‘are you my son?’ That’s how forgettable it is.”


“What?” Shotgun barked, straightening. “You’re just bouncing us from one safe house to another? What’s the point? Saizou, we don’t need this guy.”

Hiro clasped his hands in front of him and regarded Shotgun with an icy calm. “Thus far, your safe house has been temporary. However, I’m sure I could find a much smaller, far more permanent safe house, roughly six feet deep and slightly longer.”

Shotgun’s eyebrows drew together. “Are you threatening me?”

“Yes,” said Hiro.


“Do you believe in spirits, Kiba?” Tsuki asked suddenly, leaning back on her palms. A shaft of pale, white-gold sunlight filtered through a thin patch in the clouds, shining across the scene of bare trees in the distance.

“What kind?” he asked, still crouched and ready to spring up, his elbows resting on his knees.

“Yokai. Oni. Angels, demons.”

“I might.”

“Do you believe in fate, then?”

Instead of answering her question, Kiba replied, “You’re too young to have an existential crisis.”

“I wouldn’t call it existential. More like a garden-variety crisis.”


For a long moment, Kiba was silent. Then he said, “You wonder if you should have left Saizou alone when he came here? If perhaps you interfered rather than aided.”

“I do. He might have had a chance.”

“No. He had no chance, and you know that as well as I. A war-ravaged daimyo, returning from a long absence? Long absences create speculation. His case was over before it began.”


Kirikizu faced the cell that held the prisoner. Winter did not look overly concerned, if he was concerned at all. He sat on his knees in the middle of the room, his hands at his sides and his eyes closed.

Kirikizu tapped the bars with a finger, and Winter opened his eyes.

“Ah,” said Winter blandly. “I assume you’re the one supposed to wring answers out of me via pain infliction. I’ve been looking forward to this.”

“Most people don’t,” said Kirikizu.

“No,” admitted Winter, “but the sooner you start, the sooner you realize I know nothing and the sooner you either kill me or set me loose to contact my supposed partners in crime.”


 

AND THE SKETCH WINNER IS…Tracey!

Tracey, shoot me an email [the-shieldmaiden(at)Hotmail(dot)com]!

A brief note to say that I’m holding an art sale – you can commission a sketch portrait (see examples in picture below) for $20 + shipping through tomorrow night! Shoot me an email or a Facebook message if you’re interested!

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Have a fantastic weekend, all!

//the dying of the light snippets

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“You sound proud of her,” said Shi.

“I guess.” Shotgun scratched his nose. “She’s kind of like my grandmother, you know? Hovering. Always there. Sending me money when I need it. Plus, she’s alive,” he added, gesturing toward the sky with his right hand, “which makes her infinitely better than my biological grandmother.”


The girl’s eyes narrowed into thin slivers. “Stop talking to me.”

Shotgun shook himself like a wet dog and clapped his hands together once. “That’s me in my place.”


“How close are they?”

“Eh…not terribly. The one you really have to watch out for is Kirikizu.”

“Who’s that?”

“Tall, muzzled, carries an ungodly amount of knives and has a lovely flat stomach.”

Saizou recalled the figure standing beside the Prince-Regent during the hearing, and again at the gate. He recalled how close the blades came to cutting him – to cutting Shi – open and tightened one hand into a fist. “How dangerous is he?”

“On a scale of one to ten?”

“Sure.”

“Twelve. Thirteen, maybe. If you need clarification, I’d put you at a twelve.”


“How much farther, specifically?”

“You’re heading to the shipyard. The docks.”

“The shipyard?”

“Yes, the shipyard. You know the place. It’s where all the ships are?”

Saizou shook his head, wishing he could be rid of the voice but not willing to give the earring back to Shotgun. “I know what a shipyard is. I know it’s a good place to dump bodies in the water.”

“I know war makes people suspicious, but you really are something.”


“Is this our contact?” Saizou asked, watching the figure grow closer, still too far away to make out anything distinct. “Riza?”

“Just don’t stare at him,” was the response Saizou could only take as an affirmative. “He hates that.”


“Show us your face,” said Shi.

The figure paused and turned back toward them, his lean silhouette still just out of clear sight. He made a sound that was both a snort and a sigh before taking a step into the ring of light. “Show me your face,” said the albino, his white skin and red eyes awash in a yellow glow. He smiled at Shi, his lips parting just enough to show sharpened, reptilian teeth.


“The Shinsengumi is welcome to search this place, I’ve already told you. So search.”

“There would be no point. You know as well as I do.”

“Knowing a thing is pointless has rarely kept you from doing it,” Winter replied.


“I know you don’t have it in you. You lack the heart, you lack the courage, and you lack the conviction to follow through on anything you know is right, and you lack what it takes to stand up to anyone with the ability to hurt you.”

Haka’s laugh was brittle, breaking in his ears. “You think now, after everything, you have the ability to hurt me? I live in the real world, brother; I uphold the law while you hide away in the mountains, alone, professing a God you don’t know and atoning for your sins by doing nothing.”

“You uphold nothing. You drag down everything and you crawl in the presence of worms. You are no brother of mine.”