Short story: “Lawyer”, “A.I.”, “Wikipedia”

Percy was about to throw the papers in the bin when he got a follow-up call from the seventy-two year-old plutocrat who owned these papers. He was warned not to take the proposal lightly, whereupon he explained the difficulty to not take these papers lightly. Following a long, two-hour dialogue, the man convinced the mayor to give the proposal a chance.

The man, named Gladstone, had been his donor for a long time. Percy met this person at a fund raising party in Alphen des Meer. At the time, Gladstone donned a dark charcoal suit with a business card in hand. A deep pink cravat with a few horizontal white stripes near the end folded under his jacket. The cravat, he later admitted, was a calculated red herring and not by personal taste.

That evening in Alphen des Meer, he asked the-then-candidate a question that led to these papers lying on the-now-mayor’s mahogany desk.

“Tell me, Mr. Percival, what drives you?”

“Pardon me?”

“No, pardon me, perhaps I shouldn’t have asked?”

“Ah, no, I’m a bit surprised. That’s all. Can I choose more than one?”

“As many as you like.”

“Then it is fame, fortune and power.”

“Interesting…why is that?”

“I won’t lie, Mr. Gladstone. Personal gains and personal stakes are incredible motivators. Those who have them tend to invest more in the position than those who are in for the novelty of it. While corruption is certainly a possibility, I still prefer a sharp knife even if it can kill me.”

“I see you have no fear of political correctness, Mr. Percival. As a businessman, I appreciate men who can articulate exactly what they want. Perhaps, you can elaborate more on what is it that you want to accomplish with fame, fortune and power?”

“Haha, that I’m afraid I cannot disclose…”

The man behind the proposal, the Autonomous Automobile and Public Transport Reform, was a sharp knife that could kill him.

The papers highlighted policy changes necessary to accommodate a displacement of all drivers and truckers in the city. They are to be replaced with self-driving vehicles, robot chauffeurs who can speed through intersections without slowing down, weaving between fast-moving streams of other robot chauffeurs, coordinating with every other vehicles in the local swarm as one entity.

Employment safeguards must be abandoned for all concerned professions, mandatory upgrades and recalls of old car and truck models must be enforced, traffic lights must be dismantled, road signs must be scrapped, and magnetic lanes for new dedicated autonomous zones must be painted. It would take the city many times its discretionary budget to enact the proposal. The numbers on the financial statements attached to the papers almost gave Percy a heart attack. He had to check his smartphone to make sure it was not April’s Fool.

But Gladstone was adamant to get the proposal passed.

He owned a conglomerate named Gladstone Three in Dubai. Other than his pink cravat, his other defining characteristic was the immeasurable wealth from oil drilling and venture capital investments in the Middle East and East Asia. He invested heavily in self-driving technology and put himself in the position where he could claim monopoly as soon as the technology was adopted.

The man got right to the point when he was invited to speak in front of Liston’s budget office. He agreed to shoulder the bill; everything from the manpower to the compensation for laid-off drivers; on one condition: that he must be granted a monopoly in self-driving technology.

The budget office accepted his demand.

On the day a draft of the proposal was submitted to the mayor’s advisory committee on judiciary, Gladstone invited Percy to his office on Twelfth Avenue where he threw a small party on the thirty-fifth floor of La Seraphica tower. It was then that the mayor learned the plutocrat had a son. He had a crippled son; blond haired, about Percy’s age, wearing indoor sunglasses, and bound to a sophisticated wheelchair.

“Thank you for always helping my father, Mayor Percy. I heard you were a lawyer before you were a mayor. I too was a lawyer until I took a car in the knee. Now I have wheels for legs.”

“You have become an earth dragon, Dovahkiin.”

“This is the best response I have ever gotten.”

“I’m glad you like it, Gladstone Jr.–”

“You can call me Lancaster, or Lance for short. It’s a pleasure talking to you, Mayor Percy, but I’m afraid it’s time to change my I.V. drip.”

“Alright, I’ll see you around then.”

Back when Lance was a law student, a professor once asked him a peculiar question: When a chair is used as a murder weapon, who owns the responsibility for the crime; the manufacturer, the vendor, the user or the victim? And, without a moment of hesitation, he answered:

“The user is responsible, of course. Can you blame the manufacturer?”

“For the misuse of their product? No, I don’t think so. But for criminal negligence? Yes, it is possible.”

Percy heard this story from Mr. Gladstone when they talked on the phone a week later. At the time, the draft hit a roadblock in the mayor’s advisory committee on the judiciary. Newspaper began to cover the draft and with public awareness came public outcries. Thereafter, in a Tuesday morning, the mayor paid the courthouse a visit where he was greeted by a group of protesters.

As soon as his car arrived in front of the courthouse, five plainclothes bodyguards cleared a path through the crowd and stopped reporters who were flashing cameras and pointing microphones over the men’s shoulders, asking questions about the controversial transport reform, from coming closer.

Upon entering the courthouse, he made a phone call. There was a priority lane for the mayor and his escorts at the security screening which led to a two-story atrium where the info desk situated. He nodded to the clerks as the group walked by and onto an escalator to second floor.

In one of the courtrooms on the second floor, a judge accompanied by a police officer were waiting for the mayor. The mayor’s bodyguards hung around public waiting area while the mayor followed the judge through a restricted corridor to a cramped chamber. It was in that cramped space that he came face-to-face with two opponents of the draft.

Gladstone was calm when he learned of this meeting. “So, how did it go?” he asked.

“Have you ever heard of the backfire effect?”

“I believe I have. Let’s see…the backfire effect is a name for the finding that, given evidence against their beliefs, people can reject the evidence and believe even more strongly.”

“Heh, Wikipedia”, Percy mused.

“Indeed, it’s Wikipedia. I’m surprised you knew.”

“I have a friend who collects retro stuffs. Once he borrowed my money to buy a SSD with Wikipedia fork from ‘012 and it had been in my possession for a few months.”

“Now that’s some ancient stuffs no doubt.”

“Aye. The talk didn’t go well as you might have guessed. You see, nobody wants to lose his job to a robot and nobody wants to be run over by a hacked car. No amount of compensation will change their minds on that.”

“Ah, resistance to change, humans are truly the same everywhere.”

“On that later point, true irony is…I got death threats, actual death threats in my inbox this morning–”

As Percy broke the news, the plutocrat’s hand clenched into a fist. Percy saw the man’s eyebrows stiffened; the expression of anger and not fear. The smirk on his lips curled wider as he continued:

“–At the end of the day, they are still fighting for the exclusive right to kill their fellow men. A hundred roadkills by human will never cause the outrage a single roadkill by robot will.”

“Is that discrimination?” an unexpected remark came.

Both men cast their glances at the source of the remark. There they saw Lancaster on his wheelchair approaching. Gladstone stood up, intending to help, but the lad turned down the gesture:

“It’s okay. I can manage this.”

“Hmm? What happened to your follower, Dovahkiin?”

The last time Percy saw the man, there had been a maid pushing his wheelchair and tending to his every need. The maid was not present this time.

With a light chuckle, the young master answered:

“I sent her on some errands, namely, picking up the supplies my physician is requesting for the quarterly examination. I saw on the news that you visited the courthouse today.  From what I heard, there was a big protest outside the courthouse. What is it about?”

“Oh that! Just some inept soon-to-be-unemployed stirring troubles instead of working toward their inevitable retirement, or learning new skills for an occupational change…”

“Is it alright to speak about your constituents with such disdains?”

“I’m a lame duck, after all. This is my third term and I can’t run for office in Spring election next year. The amount of damn I give to them is about this much.”

He made a gesture with his index finger and his thumb. He quantified his care for his own public image at this point the size of peanut.

“Isn’t it more problematic for you to pass new regulations then?”

“Exactly why I have to give some people a good smacking and remind them there’s a hard winter ahead for the unemployed. Elected officials are easier to deal with when the talk starts with the threat of losing your father’s donation. Peer pressure takes care of the rest.”

“Although, of course, some people are still beyond my influences”, Gladstone interjected.

“Ah yes…the judges, how can I forget? They are always so rigid when it comes to new laws.”

“Now that I think about it. How do you normally get them to agree? They can’t be bribed, can’t be coerced and can’t be forced out. Such a pain in the ass they are…”

“Normally, you need to amend the bill until it meets their moral and whatever standards. Nine of them accepted the trade-offs we proposed, two of them, however, wanted the cake and ate it too. How can one eliminate human errors without first eliminating human factors from the equation?”

“Is there a way to overrule these judges?”

“Good question. There isn’t.”

“Say, if they, by chance, got caught up in an unfortunate incident and were unable to serve the office then could you perhaps appoint new judges who are more…agreeable?”

“Ah, perhaps an accident by human error”, Lancaster mused.

“Hold it. What are you suggesting?”

“It’s a decent trade-off, don’t you think? Two judges for a bill that can save hundreds a year. Or perhaps, are you in any way a cake-eater like them?”

“Is that a threat, Mr. Gladstone?”

“Oh, no, no, no”, the man smiled devilishly, “Not at all! How can I threaten a friend whose inbox is already filled with threats from the other side?”

“Mr. Gladstone, sometimes, even a politician will appreciate someone who can articulate exactly what he wants. But I digress, there is no point in reiterating what both sides already understood.”

“You are surprisingly calm. Do mayors get threats like these often?” Lancaster asked, a flash of admiration glinted in his eyes.

“Not at all. I’m normally the one making the threats.”

“And so am I”, Gladstone nodded.

But neither of them exercised their coercive might, both understood there was a line that should never be crossed. The dinner they shared on the thirty-fifth floor of La Seraphica tower that day started a crack in their relationship and the crack only got wider as the judiciary committee continued blocking the reform.

Then the unthinkable happened.

The truck that had his name written on its bumper plowed into the silver eight-seater carrying Gladstone on his way back from the state court. The eventuality he had been desperately trying to avert struck him back with a vengeance. That Wednesday night in August, the wealthy businessman shed his last breath on the cold asphalt of Twelfth Avenue. No one in either vehicles survive the crash but it was determined to be caused by human errors.

His funeral was attended by legislators, business partners and all eleven members of the judiciary committee; whereupon they pledged to make his final dream come true. His son, Lancaster, was not seen at the funeral but the maid escorting Lancaster was there. She apologized on her master’s behalf for the absence, stating his health had taken a turn for the worst. She did not say anything else and Percy knew better than to press the matter.

In the end, the reform never came to pass. Even with the approval of both the Council and the Court, the funding necessary for the bill was rescinded by Gladstone Three. It became clear that with Gladstone father and son out of the way, the new president had no reason to follow through with their promises. One moment of hesitation and the greatest gift Liston had ever received slipped between their fingers.

One morning in February, when the winter cold still lingered in the air and when Percy’s days as this town’s mayor had come to an end, he caught glimpse of a familiar deep pink cravat with a few horizontal white stripes, in a silver eight-seater parked across the street from his private residence. He rushed to the front yard, a smile flashed across his face.

The car was still there, parked across the street by the sidewalk. Its passenger door swung open and his demeanor darkened as he remembered Gladstone had passed away. A petite, Asian girl in familiar dark charcoal jacket and a strange, white checkered skirt stepped out and politely bowed to him. It was not the same deep pink cravat she wore but a necktie of the same design.

“Greetings, Mr. Percival. The name is Gladstone. Have you accomplished what you desired with fame, fortune and power?”

“Wh-What is the meaning of this?”

“We are closing down Liston office today and I’m here to fulfill the previous Gladstone’s final directive. So, I’ll ask again. Have you accomplished–”

“No…”

“Excuse me?”

“When he asked me this question nine years ago. I lied. There was no secret to disclose. I had nothing I wanted to accomplish. Fame, fortune and power were what I wanted to accomplish and I did accomplish them.”

“I see…”

“However”, he cleared his throat and continued, “He made me realized fame, fortune and power are not the end. They are the means to the end. Only when I lost everything that I learned what my goals are.”

“And they are…?”

“I want to correct political correctness, Ms. Gladstone. With his life, he proved it can be done. He proved that bipartisan agreements can be accomplished. I want to realize this agreement and make his vision a reality. I will run for office again in three years’ time. Will you continue to support me?”

After a moment of surprise, she grinned and removed her necktie, along with an earbud from her left ear. Placing both items in his hands, she bowed her head again and solemnly informed:

“Welcome back, Mr. Gladstone.”

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Saturday Night Out #1

About this writing prompt

See: Character-Driven Fiction Writing Prompts

Saturday Night Out is a character development prompt for White Destiny. The prompt will feature characters from the novel in casual daily conversations that explore the personalities and world views of these characters. The prompt’s name is inspired by the following cheer between the Baron and the red helm knights from revision 2, chapter 4:

“…Ha’lly willy boos! Tonight is Saturday night. Who stays home on Saturday night?”

“Dead people!” the knights answered in unison and threw their fists in the air.

“What was that again? I can’t hear you”

“Only dead people stay home on Saturday night!” they shouted again.

These short prompts will consist of only dialogues.

~ ~ * ~ ~

The lazy master and a good friend

“Sir Richard is going to revoke my funding next week. That is, if I were to remain a lazy master.”

“A lazy master?”

“One that fails to meet his daily quota.”

“Which daily quota? Oh, you mean that daily quota. Isn’t it really simple though? It only took me two moons to finish mine.”

“I envy you.”

“Yup, I know I’m the best.”

“Clevandi finished his before getting the quarter though.”

“…”

“I have no idea he had a quarter…or that he had a daily quota.”

“He has neither.”

“That doesn’t count. I’m still the best.”

“Growing arrogant aren’t you?”

“Heck yes, I am a master now. I earned the right to brag…Don’t tell anyone I said that okay?”

“What is in it for me?”

“I’ll buy you ale.”

“These lips are sealed. So, what will you buy for my hands?”

“Your hands?”

“I can still write about this, you know?”

“…”

“Go work on your daily quota.”

“Touché.”

“Wait, I’ve just realized something. If Clevandi doesn’t have a quarter, he technically cannot finish his quota before getting his quarter.”

“Don’t sweat the details. It is the point that counts.”

“Sure, Leo. Don’t sweat the details. Remind me of the time you told me “chicks love Silverflow masters”. The only “chick” I have seen so far is an old rooster named Annabel and she is…I don’t know where to start….”

“Apologize to the whole rooster-kind now.”

“I kneel.”

“I kneel as well.”

“The worst part of this is…I think she actually fancies me…”

“You two will make a great pair, Sleeping Beauty.”

“You’re giving me goose bumps…”

“Weren’t you really popular before, though? I sometimes see you with that daughter of…eh, the butcher, I think?”

“Her father is a potter. A cutie except she thinks I’m one of her girlfriends crossed a mule. Unless…you were talking about the butcher’s wife, then it’s not me she wanted, it’s Alex.”

“Alex…”

“Yep. I’m just a “good friend” to them.”

“That’s luxury. I’m not even a friend with one.”

“What about Katherine? Weren’t you guys like…really chummy back then?”

“Is this jealousy am I sensing?”

“…”

“No.”

“Rest assured. She’s not my type. I like someone smart; preferably a master of Silverflow but not necessarily, a candidate or apprentice will do just fine. Being able to hold a logical argument is the prerequisite and, she must not be an old rooster named Annabel.”

“Apologize to all roosters now!”

“I kneel.”

“You’d better be. Although…isn’t that Princess Lilia you’re describing?”

“Too young. I’m turning forty next year and she’s turning twenty next week. Frankly, I feel old looking at her. Just imagine what she can achieve in twenty-year time. What right to I have to be a part of her destiny?”

“Ah…yeah…I can see your point.”

“Sometimes, it does feel like I’m holding her back more than anything. But, what can I do? I cannot quit. What price does Leonardo di Price have without his influences?”

“Is influence why you pushed for the secession?”

“…”

“No, I want that from the start. All else are means and justifications.”

 

Short story: “Rain”, “Bottle”, “Bookstore”

A mother and her young son sought refuge from a sudden rain in the bookstore I worked in. They were not the only ones pulled from the busy torrent of city life by the weather. Half a dozen others were standing at the porch, a few drenched to the sole of their feet; all looking miserable, eyes gazed at the darkened clouds and the slow-moving street of even more miserable humans, slopping through knee-deep water.

The young boy, about seven years of age, was exhilarated. His eyes sparkled. His head turned left and right to survey colorful rows of books. He left the mother at the entrance and dashed to the kid’s toys section.

His mother, looking exhausted from a day’s work, walked slowly between “Foreign literature” and “Politics and History” isles. She cast an empty gaze, fixated at shoulder-level, at the bookshelves. At times, she would pause to catch a quick glimpse at a rusty bike she parked in front of the store and then at the other end of the story where her son was supposed to be.

The rain outside intensified.

A coworker adjusted the air conditioner and turned on the light. It was only five in the afternoon and the storm cloud already made it seemed like seven. In the store, we always kept the air dry and cold. The fluorescent white light was replaced with natural lighting at night; though not as pleasant to the reading eyes as daylight, it gave a modern, almost sanitary feel that was, supposedly, attractive to young adults.

And on that dark-blue-and-white, sharp-edged canvas smacked dab the smeared and soaked wet passersby who were not here for the literature, but here for the roof. Rich people had cars, middle income rode motorbikes home wearing composite ponchos, only those whose shabby nylon ponchos could not protect them from heavy rain and those who forgot to bring ponchos gathered here.

“Books sell like hotcakes in this weather, don’t they?” an office lady remarked as she put a few cookbooks and two desktop ornaments on the cashier. She was among those who forgot. Not quite. While there were more people in the store when it rained than when it didn’t, not all were potential customers, only a small portion was.

I smiled out of courtesy and made no comment, quietly scanning the bar codes of her purchase.

“They are presents”, she said holding up the ornaments side-by-side. The ornaments, two ceramic, pawn-sized statues of a boy and a girl hold two halves of the word “LOVE” were a matching pair. “Aren’t they cute?” she cheerfully asked.

“Is that so? Do you want me to wrap them, ma’am?” I asked.

“Do you take credit card?”

“Yes, here”, I answered and showed her the card reader. I assumed that was a no for gift wrapping so I started putting the items in common plastic bags. It was then that I took note of loud scolding at the end of kid’s toys section.

It was the boy from before and his mother. She smacked his hands repetitively and hurled curses at him. The boy began to sob and then cried aloud. She hit him even harder, ordering him to stop crying. She slapped his face several times, making loud smacks every time, and with that she finally stopped his cry.

My coworker came near with a dustpan and a broomstick. The woman bowed her head apologetically and asked for the dustpan and broomstick from my colleague. She insisted, forcefully taking the broom and then starting to sweep shards of glasses in the dustpan. I caught glimpse of the outline of a broken glass bottle as the coworker picked up the largest fragment and took a look at the price tag.

With just that one glimpse, I could already imagine what was going on.

“Where do I sign?” the office lady urged. I was sure she also saw the scene but chose to mind her own business.

“Sign here, ma’am. Thank you for your patron. Please come again.”

Though, she would not be going anywhere in this weather.

The coworker brought the price tag to the cashier. The broken ornament was a miniature ship-in-a-bottle, an expensive one at that.

“I’m scared. I’m…so scared. I have never seen a mother like her before”, she confessed in shaking tone.

“I have but it is beyond my jurisdiction to obstruct their right”, I said.

Truth is, I would like to. But, all of us lived in a culture where parents owned the exclusive right to educate their children in however manner they wanted; however cruel they might seem to Westerners. It was also in this culture that we grew numb to the suffering of those around us.

The boy nervously approached the cashier, weeping in suppressed hiccups. His mother loomed behind him. She had this angry and worrisome expression as she drew a small nylon wrapped roll of crumpled cash from her pocket.

“Pardon me, madam, sir. But…this is all I have…for today”, she said.

From her hesitation, I realized it must have been difficult for her to lay the little money she had on her in front of us. That realization brought great awkwardness to both me and my coworker.

“I’ll bring the rest of the money tomorrow…and the day after”, she pleaded.

My coworker winced.

The young boy froze, his breaths hastened and so did his hiccups. He understood what was happening, didn’t he? He must have.

“Excuse me, I would like to pay for these too”, the office lady from before returned to the cashier with more books. Language learning and art books for the young man who was then with her.

From her conversations with this young man in his twenty, he must have been the office lady’s son. They indulged in idle chatters, about Franz Kafka’s memoir, about the magnum opus “No Longer Human” of Dazai Osamu on display at the highlight section near the entrance.

The weeping boy looked at the office lady and his son. His hiccups got louder and faster.

“Shut up”, his mother gave him a slap. He clammed up and shriveled.

This time, I was sure the office lady had noticed this woman who was so cruel to a kid. The lady’s expression barely changed, her gaze paused on the boy for a moment, but soon broke off and resumed the chatter with her son. The young man paid no attention to other people, seemingly in deep debate whether to purchase yet another classic book–Shouwa Anthology–now or order it later for online retail discount.

“I can’t watch this anymore”, my coworker said, discreetly gesturing toward the abusive mother, “You deal with her, okay?”

Then, she turned to the office lady and moved her books to another counter, informing: “This way, madam. Sorry for the wait. Do you have a coupon?…”

And so, I was left alone with the penniless mother and her weeping son.

“Dis-discount! Can you give me a discount?”

“This is a bookstore, not a flea market. We don’t bargain here”, I said.

She let out a long sigh.

Hesitantly, I looked through the coupons in my drawer. There was a glimmer of hope, expectant daze in her eyes for a moment as I did so. But, I found nothing of such natures. I shook my head and she let out another sigh. After that, she turned to her son.

“Look at what you have done, you son of a bitch. You’re just like your useless father”, she screeched and started beating her son again in front of everyone.

I noticed the office lady was watching in great discomfort. Her son had left to buy a cheap rain poncho from a nearby store. When he returned, the lady urged him to go home despite the rain continuing to pellet the windshield of cars on the street. They left in haste as though running away from a natural disaster.

My coworker also retreated to the end of toys section. No one wanted to have anything to do with this terrible woman. At this point, I too could stop pretending to be sympathetic. I was getting tired of her treatment toward her own son.

“Is that your bike?” I asked, pointing to the bike parked at the porch; the only one that was there, possibly because she did not want to pay the parking fee. “I’m afraid we’ll have to seize it until this–I motioned to the broken item–is fully compensated”, so I said.

Indeed this didn’t feel right. It felt terrible taking money from this woman. But, it was either her day’s worth of work, perhaps many days’ worth of work, or my shift’s worth of work.

“No!”

She snatched the money on the cashier and burst out onto the porch.

“Stop her!” I shouted.

But, despite the flood and the traffic, the woman was gone as soon as I got to the door. She disappeared into the rain like a phantom, leaving only the young boy behind as proof of her existence.

The boy waited alone till the bookstore’s closing hours. His mother did not return for him and his cry drew attention from passersby. As expected, these people were aware of the situation. After the woman ran away, they began to discuss openly about her abusive behavior. They comforted the boy, they gave him food and talked to him.

We turned the boy to the police along with the security footage of his deserted mother. I thought that would be the end of it. Yet, early in the morning of the next day that I received a phone call from the bookstore. It was not on the clock that day.

“Hello? There’s a crazy woman here asking about her son. Do you know anything about her?”

“…”

I was speechless.

“Tell her she doesn’t deserve to be a parent.”

“Wait! I have the money here. All of it. The money…”

“That is not the problem, is it?” I said.

“My baby girl…she was starving last night. I needed to get home and feed her. I couldn’t afford to walk. I know I don’t deserve to be a mother but…Look, I sold my bike, I have the money now. I want my son back. My children are all I have left…”

I could not speak. The words did not come out.

“Hello?”

“Stay right there, I’m coming”, I told her and hang up.

At the porch, she was waiting. In her arms was a baby wrapped in rags. She held the money in her hand, the same hand that pressed her daughter into a tender embrace. Her body swayed in the chilling morning breeze, her head rocked up and down as her bagged eyes fought off drowsiness.

“Hey!” I tapped her shoulder to wake her up.

“My son! Where is he? Here’s the money, take it! Take it!”

“Calm down. Listen to me. Listen…”

“How can I calm down? Where’s my son? I want him back”, she cried.

The baby was waken up and started crying loudly.

“Shut up, shut up, you little bitch!” she shouted at the baby, shaking up and down violently.

“Stop it!” I gripped her arms and forcefully stopped the shaking, “They are your flesh and blood! Why are you treating your children like that?”

“That’s none of your business!” she snapped.

I gritted my teeth, “Then you have no right to know where your son is”, I said.

She gasps for air, then a few mournful hics and finally lowered her head.

I let out a long sigh.

Her husband was a big better on cockfighting. Whenever his cock lost a fight, he would go home and beat her up out of spite. Whenever his cock won a fight, he would go out drinking with his buddies till he ran out of money and then he would go home at three in the morning to beat her up. When he was drunk, he would try to kill his own children as well.

“I prefer him losing…if so, he would spare my son and daughter”, she confided.

“You should call the police when that happens…”

“I don’t have money to bribe the police”, she cracked a bitter smile, “I tried that”, she added.

I sighed again. Then, I took from my wallet a large sum of money and a business card.

“You have money now, and a lawyer”, I extended the items to her.

“I can’t take your money. You worked hard for it.”

“This is not my money”, I paused to consider my wording a bit, “This is your son’s money”.

“Eh?”

“After you ran away yesterday, some people in the bookstore donated food and money to help him. They already paid the compensation in full and this is merely the surplus. Your son is at the police station. You can have this money on one condition: that you will take good care of your children from now on.”

“I-I will. Of course, of course I will!”

I shoved the money into her hand, wrapped her fingers around it and parted ways with these last words:

“I know you will.”

 

News from Ashlora – July/2017

Chapter 3 is out last week and oh boy the pacing sure picked up a lot. The release schedule, though, slowed down significantly. I took last month off weekly releases. It’s just me being lazy, no excuse here, and I apologize for my procrastination.

BLOGGING SCHEDULE CHANGES

Starting from next chapter, White Destiny will be released on Saturday instead Thursday. The time will be around 6 PM (UTC+0). That is…if I could fight the urge to get the story out as soon as it is done. I added a handy countdown to the sidebar that tells the time and content of upcoming releases. This way, when I cannot publish the weekly update in time or when there is no upcoming update scheduled, the timer will be updated to reflect the changes in real time.

In addition to the usual seasonal anime review, monthly novel commentary and weekly scene releases, I’ll be doing some writing prompts now and then. In these writing prompts, I’ll pick three random items and write a short story around these three items (props to Bungaku Shoujo novel for the idea). The writing prompts are intended to replace some of the weekly scene releases whenever I feel stuck on the novel.

There are already to short stories in this format, please check them out here

https://fujihita.wordpress.com/tag/writing-prompt/

DEATH BY RANDOMIZATION

I have a confession to make on the events unfolded in chapter 3. I had no plan whatsoever. Past Leo’s conversation with Thomas, I flipped a coin to see if anyone else would interrupt the conversation and rolled a dice to see who would it be. I only knew that I needed to get the dragon to Ironheart and pitch the witch against the dragon at some points.

It just so happened that when the world’s mechanics have been sufficiently fleshed out, the story will begin writing itself, sometimes against the will of  the author. I deeply wanted Steve the Ironsmith to survive the ordeal, I really did. But, he was the kind of person to jump into the way of an attack, knowing that he would come out unscathed, confident of his fortitude and of the strength of his steel.

Unfortunately for him, the lightning pipe (formally notated in writing notes as “McGuffin”) is just that much stronger. It is the equivalence of nuclear weapon in Ashlora and whichever nation possessing the weapon will be condemned and purged by the ruling Archbishop and his crusaders.

And so, he died, along with captain Joshua who was destined to be killed anyways, and half of Rosenberg district, and Brown’s Boulder tavern. I rolled a dice for the inventor to successfully intervene but he failed.

In hindsight, using randomization is not exactly the brightest idea ever. The entire Steve x Katherine ship just sank to the bottom of the ocean, the royal selection plot line is going down with it as well and the geopolitical changes after this “terrorist attack” will spell disaster for the secession plot line.

GOING FORWARD

One good thing came out of all this turmoil is the inventor. He now has a solid agenda moving forward. Alexander D’Amore is his new enemy, Sir Richard is no longer his ally, and for a short time Lilia Silverflow will be his new best friend. His goal will be the remainder of the baron’s lightning pipe stockpile Alex has stolen and he plans to use them to gain leverage on Azeth during the secession.

So far in the story, the inventor has taken the role of a passive narrator. From the next chapter onward, he will play a more active role in the events. We’re now back to the original premise of the book, that is to gain political influence and start a war, and the core cast for this purpose: the inventor, the baron and the princess.

Other than that, I have to iron out some inconsistency I noticed. The knight captain’s unique marker is an arm guard, not a gauntlet as stated in scene #7. Also, I’ll need to reconsider the reactions of Silverflow Council in chapter 1 to the news of a dragon sighting now that it is revealed that the dragon can be tamed by the princess.

I didn’t plan for the dragon to be obedient but at some point in writing chapter 3, I came up with some hilarious and epic traits for the dragon and I decided to make it less of a plot device and more of an actual character.

White Destiny #12 (Rev 4)

Katherine did ponder in silence for a long time. She was given the captain’s arm guard and the reins of the princess’s horse and the instruction to retreat. The answer, “Yes, Your Highness”, could not have come any later.

The street of Ironheart was desolated. Not just in Rosenberg district but everywhere in the city. The moon had reached the end of its cycle and a new one had begun as the crackles of fire and the heavy footsteps of the dragon took the attention away from the flares of horn atop the Ruby Garden castle.

It was moon thirteen. There was no more whimpers in these parts of the town. There were only embers and burning corpses on the street.

“Tell me, Price. Who did this?” Lilia asked.

“Alexander D’Amore, Your Highness.”

“I see…so the witch did this too,” she concluded.

Father Felacia cringed but said nothing. He averted eyes when Leo tried to make eye contact.

“I can’t believe it! You are still going to cover Alex!? What must he do before you can start throwing up arms and say “I’m done with his crap, let him die now”?”

“Calm down, Leo. I’m sure she has an explanation–”

The inventor smacked the bishop’s hand away. His blood was boiling.

“Calm down? That bastard stole my sketches, beat me up, destroyed my favorite part of town and killed my best friend in an afternoon. How dare you tell me to calm down?”

“I have to agree with him. We have to draw a line somewhere. Alex’s behavior is inexcusable and he should face punishment for his deeds”, the deacon voiced his opinion.

“Thank you for having a shred of common sense, Father Graham.”

“Both of you, listen to me!” the princess clapped her hands to draw attention, “If words got out that Ironheart was in possession of lightning pipes, the problem would not end with just D’Amore. We all would be facing the wrath of His Excellency and I assure you, you do not want to go down the path Fa’el went.”

Her voice was solemn. This was no laughing matter.

“Pardon me, princess, did you just say lightning pipes!?” Father Graham gasped.

“This is insane!” Leo exclaimed.

“Is this for real? Father Felacia, do you know about this?”

Father Felacia hung his head, and then he began to speak:

“Sir Richard keeps a small arsenal of magical artifacts, including lightning pipes and some Fa’elin relics, for the day the witch attacks Ironheart. His Excellency would never agree to this but, the baron has his reasons.”

“Lord helps us all”, the deacon uttered.

“Lord helps us all indeed”, the princess nodded.

“I understand the reasons but I don’t agree with the approach. I believe it is better that we speak the truth and beg His Excellency–”

“If you are not going to trial Alex then get out of my way–”

“The dragon saw the pipe, how should we–”

“Quiet! Quiet! One person at a time!” Lilia smacked her hand across the inventor’s and the deacon’s chests.

“You hit me, you insolent woman!” the deacon reacted, grabbing her arm and throwing her off balance.

“Hand off the princess, Father Graham!” the bishop stepped in, trying to break them off.

Major repulsive.

Impervious. Major ponderous.

The situation escalated. The princess shoved her rosary in the deacon’s face and cast a spell. Father Graham’s body was catapulted into the air. But, he was quick to counter with a spell that made himself unbelievably heavy. His weight caused the pebble road under his feet to crack. Then, his pace hastened as he activated the third spell:

Nimble.

He dashed toward the princess for a flying kick, which failed spectacularly and he ended up in a sink hole caused by a wordless Crumble spell.

Obstreperous“, Lilia tossed a small stone into the sink hole and cast “Minor magnificent.

The stone quickly grew into a boulder.

Obstreperous“, Father Graham lifted the princess’s spell and the stone shrank to its original size. “Overflow“, the earth multiplied beneath him. The sink hole was filled to the brim and the deacon was on even ground again in seconds.

“You want me dead”, Father Graham remarked.

“Lese majesty is a crime punishable by death”, Lilia affirmed.

“Antique laws are not enforceable in a republic.”

“We shall see.”

“Both of you, cut it out!” Father Felacia cried.

“Uh…Felacia…”

“Not now, Leo!”

“The dragon is watching…”

The dragon was eyeing them from atop the obsidian obelisk. It was quietly spectating and letting out a few hisses when the bishop saw it.

The bad blood between the princess and the deacon had reached its peak. The two adversaries dashed head-on at each other and simultaneously chanted the combo:

Repulsive. Magnificent. Convergent

Both mages launched an enlarged stone as the base of their attack. The princess added an extra Crumble and Magnificent component to multiply the base stone into a meteor shower. The deacon reinforced his attack with Impervious and Magnificent. His boulder could easily resist the princess’s meteor shower but…

Obstreperous.

It was vulnerable to spell breakers.

Nimble.

Father Graham imbued his feet with the speed of the wind, he blazed through the incoming projectiles and snatched the rosary from the princess’s hand. His body withstood the debris field without a single scratch.

“Check, mate”, he declared.

Splendid. Fazegaid! Arc mul tasa, gondres faye!

The princess chanted in an ominous voice amplified by Splendid spell.

“What? Hand-free magic? Obstreperous.”

Fazegaid! Arc mul tasa, gondres faye!

The dragon perked its head and shifted its eyes toward Lilia. It let loose a ferocious roar and launched itself at the deacon. Its claws shattered a transparent barrier surrounding the deacon and scratched the deacon’s Impervious skin.

Father Graham was caught by surprise. He barely had any time to dodge but he barely managed it. The dragon opened its mouth and exhaled a stream of earth-scorching fire at close-quarter range.

Major Cryophilic“, the deacon and the bishop cried at the same time. Their combined magic kept the deacon safe but it was slowly being pushed back by the dragon’s fire.

Fazegaid! Raset guro! Raset imme!” Leo shouted, desperately trying to persuade the dragon to let the deacon go.

Splendid. Fazegaid! Raset guro! Raset imme!” Father Felacia repeated the same line. This time, the dragon listened to him and backed off.

The language the elder dragon of Azeth–the eater of realms Fazegaid–could understand was Gondrash. Gondrash was an ancient language that made up at least two thirds of the magic tomes in Fa’el’s Grand Library of Prism. The people of Fa’el worshiped a dragon-god that carried their kingdom on its back and Gondrash used to be their official language before Fa’elan, a modern language based on Ashlorian’s alphabet, was adopted.

After the fall of Fa’el, only a handful of people in the world could speak Gondrash. Two of them resided in Ironheart: the archbishop’s disciple, Lilia Silverflow, and the master of linguistics, Leonardo di Price.

But it seemed Fazegaid only took orders from mages.

“Stand down, Lilia. That’s far enough. By the power vested in me, I void your seat in the Church of the Spirit. You are to pack your belongings and leave the church before the end of this moon.”

The princess tried to open her mouth but the bishop gave her no chance to talk back:

“You should know better than anyone else that there is no justification for attempted murder. If you want to embrace the barbaric way, either join the red-helm knights or wait until after your coronation”, Father Felacia ruled.

“And as for you, Father Graham”, the bishop turned to the singed but not dead deacon, “You can stop attending Silverflow meetings starting today.”

“Fine, whatever…” Father Graham lay on his back and stared up the nose of a dragon many times greater than he was. He contemplated for a while, soaking from top to bottom in its healing saliva before he finally spoke his mind aloud:

“Hey, linguist! Come and teach me dragon-tongue sometimes.”

White Destiny #11 (Rev 4)

The count’s hired swords knew there would be no easy victory against the red-helm knights. The two elite knights versus fifteen mercenaries, full-body plate armor versus overwhelming number, and a life time of training for war versus a life time of fighting for survival was the premise. Mallets smashed into sturdy bucklers, swords met unbreakable gauntlets and within seconds, first blood was drawn.

Two elite knights versus fourteen mercenaries was the new premise.

Steve the ironsmith charged into the fray, a tower shield in each of his hand. A morning star landed on his back, he flinched and paused to glare at the man at the handle-end of the spiked steel ball. His unarmored back shrugged off the hit; he got away with only indentations and no blood.

The man fumbled on his ass and dropped his weapon. His eyes widened, complexion turned pale as more and more of his friends were cut down all around him. Blood dripped and gathered in ponds around the knights’ feet. The mercenary, stuttering “monsters, monsters” in snorts and tears, crawled on all four and scrambled for the exit.

The fight had been brutal but it was far from over. Back to back, the knights fended off six assailants at once. The ironsmith stood his ground and prevented the remainder of the mercenaries from en massing the knights.

Amid the chaos, Alexander D’Amore drew from a leather pouch a brown gold cylinder, roughly half a fist-wide in diameter, and aimed the cylinder at the knights.

The inventor looked up. His lips felt the moist and saltiness of blood bleeding out from a glass cut across his cheek. But, the cold running up his spine did not come from blood loss; it came from the sight of a lightning pipe Alex was holding between his long, slender fingers.

Alexander D’Amore had his fingers wrapped around the side of a cylindrical artifact. Safety lid was off. His thumb curved on the trigger switch at the enclosed butt of the pipe. A lightning ray captured in a pipe was an instrument of war unique to Fa’elin civilization. It set forth a lightning force as mighty as a platoon of war mages. It was a terrifying weapon, the only known weapon capable of melting a dragon’s scale that could be wielded by anyone, even a toddler.

Electricity surged from inside the pipe. Magic runes sealing the lightning ray unraveled. Lightning arced from cracks on the pipe’s surface to metal objects nearby. An invisible hemispherical barrier protected the wielder and everything behind him from the leaking lightning force. Then, the barrier rapidly contracted, folding inward toward the business’s end of the pipe, concentrating lightning into a bubble of boiling power.

Leo knew he had to stop this mad man. He leaped and tackled Alex right after the lightning pipe was set off. He was a split second too late.

Steve dashed in front of the knights and put two layers of shields between them and the lightning ray. Mastercraft steel was no match for the bottled up force of nature. Like a hot knife through butter, the lightning ray melted clean through two tower shields, the ironsmith’s torso and all the way through the captain’s plate armor, chain mail, gambeson and flesh. It destroyed the brick wall behind them, continued punching through several market stalls and only stopped when it struck the jet black obsidian pillar at the central square three building blocks away.

The shock wave following the lightning wrecked further havoc. It swept everything in its path hundreds of meters away and turned debris into deadly projectiles.

There were screams of anguish but none could be heard.

Vertigo, deafness and shock set in as the loudest thunderclap ever struck a human’s ear erupted. Even the man who caused his scene was dumbfounded by the destruction. Never before had a lightning pipe been discharged in urban area and, as the dusts settled down, it became painfully clear why lightning pipe was banned even as a siege weapon.

Alex yanked his leg off Leo’s grip and disappeared into the alleyways. No one could stop him then.

Shortly after the thunderclap announced the massacre to the world, the elder dragon of Azeth emerged from the clouds and landed near the obsidian pillar. It sank its jaw into the pillar, carving out the dead lightning ray, tiny in comparison to its size, and eating the creature on the spot.

Those who were not killed by the lightning, debris, or concussion suffered deep cuts, broken bones, skin burns and severe paralysis. They badly needed help but no help would come when a dragon as tremendous as the Ruby Garden castle itself laid claim of the territory.

The city guards watched from afar a great flame set by the lightning ray spreading over the district, consuming house after house, survivor after survivor. They were powerless, insignificant dirt under the claws of a mythical presence.

The dragon’s snake-like, elliptical pupils instill a fear so primal, it was paralyzing to those who caught glimpse of these eyes. The titanic form of this winged creature could be seen all over Ironheart. Its shadow plunged three nearby districts into total darkness.

Leonardo di Price had witnessed death and destruction before; after all, he was an herbalist and war architect; but never had he witnessed death and destruction of this closeness and scale. His body trembled uncontrollably, hair straightened, vision blurred, head drummed the pain of a thousand pecking, and his ears, dysfunctional.

“Oh God…oh—”

He shoved a hand over his mumbling mouth. This was not the time to call God. He must find…his allies.

“Steve!” he shouted.

No response. And, he could not hear his own voice; it felt awkward.

“Steve!” he tried again.

If there were a response, he would not be able to hear it. But he pressed on shouting.

“Josh! Kather—”

He stumbled upon a detached left arm of a knight. The shredded arm guard embroidered in golden threads told him this belonged to the captain. A large chunk of the torso still clung to the arm though it was sizzling and smelled like roasted ham.

In the rubble across the street he spotted movements. His eyes, then cleared up and no longer blurred, darted to the source of the movements. There stood Katherine, lumbering away from a crumbling wall.

“Katherine!” he shouted.

She kept on walking across his field of vision, removing her red helm and cast it on the ground as she did. Then, she removed her gauntlets and hastened the pace.

His eyes shifted, he finally saw what she was seeing.

“Cap…captain…”

He saw her lips mumbled these words. He too dragged his feet toward the corpse of the knight captain.

Joshua’s torso was almost gone. His armor was glowing red hot around the edges. There was no blood; everything inside him was cooked alive.

Katherine must have realized this too when she touched him. Her hands retracted from the heat by reflex. Agony and desperation were her descriptive words; she kept trying to pry the plate armor off his flesh.

Finally, the inventor stepped in. He grabbed her hand before she hurt herself further. She lifted her chin to look at him. The terror on her face was indescribable.

For a moment, there was a glimmer of hope in her eyes. Now, it was her turn to grab him. She grabbed his wrists, her mouth moved as if telling him something. His hearing had yet to recover and he could not make sense of her stuttering mumble jumble.

Stuttering mumble jumble was the only classification he could tell from reading her lips.

But she was shoving his hands into the captain’s red hot armor. Her grip strength was tremendous; his wrists felt like they could snap like twigs and he could not break free. It was as bad as it looked.

“I am an herbalist, not a god! I can’t bring back the dead.”

Dammit. She could not hear anything he said. She kept pulling his hands into molten metal.

“Gahh! Let go! I say let go!”

His fists touched the hot surface. He yanked harder and harder. Suddenly, before he knew it, he was able to overcome the knight’s strength and she toppled on top of him.

Salubrious. Minor Inflammable.

He could hear again.

A female voice announced two magic spells; the latter he recognized burned the remnant of Captain Joshua to ashes. Then a male voice announced the third spell:

Cryophilic.

Leo knew these voices.

In the darkened backdrop of embers and smokes; the silvery rosaries the bishop, the deacon and the princess wore seemed bindingly bright in his eyes. The city had dispatched all their magicians; the ones whose wield the rare gift of magic. Each of these mages could take on a legion of knights and emerge victorious.

The captain was no more; only his armor remained. Katherine continued to cry, digging her hands in the ashes that used to be the knight captain.

“On your feet, Katherine Livingston!” the princess commanded, “I hereby name you captain of red helm guard and grant you permission to take my horse.”

Her stern voice resounded and bore grandeur similar to that of the baron. Princess Lilia descended to ground level and shoved the reins in Katherine’s hand.

“Take her and make sure she reaches the castle safely.”

Short story: “Swimming pool”, “Cicada”, “Airplane”

N.Jon woke up with a broken rib and a mouth full of sand. The sun was burning atop the cloudless blue sky. His throat felt dry, so dry that he could drink his own blood, had it still been flowing out from the seashell cuts on his limbs, to quench this thirst. He cried. He wept his own misery as he lay on that empty beach, wishing dehydration would take him out quicker.

Then, he picked himself up, shed a life jacket that seemed to weigh a thousand pound, and dragged his wet feet on the hot sand to the nearest shade.

Oh how he missed the luxuries of F.City! Air conditioners blew in every corridor from subway to high rise. The outdoor then seemed torturous and a shade, this shade, his former self would deem hell on Earth.

Every summer, his father would take him on a long road trip across the county to the less grey town in A.K. His father’s favorite spot was at a stone bench next to a crepe stand overlooking a large swimming pool where he said he had come every day in summer break to watch the girls in their swimsuits.

N.Jon came in and out of consciousness several times.

“Find a shade, stay out of direct sunlight.

Be patient on the hunt.

Be bold, be fearless.

And, more importantly, never relent.”

The words of his father echoed in his mind; funny how these were his most endearing memories and it took him an air crash, a day drifting in the ocean and the onset of dehydration to realize the fact. These were the words of a man who could spend summers in ambush with only a bottle of water and brought home the girl of his life.

These wandering, gibberish and chuckle-worthy thoughts ceased to creak in by sunset. What was left was depression, hopelessness and hunger.

In his first night, N.Jon walked for many miles under the silver moon. Past the sandy beaches and up the standing cliffs laid the vast dark ocean stretching to the horizons in all directions. His worst fear was confirmed; he survived an air crash only to be stranded on a deserted island. And all he got with him was a life jacket, a whistle and a few strands of seaweeds stuck in his hair.

On the day he consumed these seaweeds, he vomited and lost more water than the stagnated rain water he could find in pools formed by crevices in the rocks.

He sometimes wished he had gone down with the airplane.

There was no sign of any mammal but himself, no body of fresh water, no boiling hot volcano, and no convenient cave to speak of. But, there was a small patch of green shrubbery at the shoreline onto which he was washed, and also from which he hauled enough driftwood to build a camp fire. A tall rock wall shielded his back from the ocean wind, an overhang put a roof on his head, all he had to do was clearing the floor of debris and getting a fire going.

He could not start a fire.

His fingers blistered and swelled red like tomatoes. Flints, drills, bows; he tried them all but to no avail. No ember, no smoke, nothing.

He would try again, and again, and again for two more days. His strength was slipping away. He found it more and more painful to lie down and rest. His chest ached; it ached much worse than he could feel the day before. He could feel his own rib bone impaling his chest every time he inhaled. Adrenaline had long worn off. Exhaustion, thirst and hunger kicked in.

His second day sleeping on a deserted island, a life jacket, tinder and some driftwood were all that kept him above the sand. He slept at day and worked at night and in early morning. With a pointy wooden stick, he dug up small clams hiding beneath the sand and carved out oysters from rock faces during low tides. He left them on a flat boulder to dry under the sun for half a day, then washed them in a bowl-shaped driftwood bark of sea water.

Food and shelter asides, on this barren island, water preservation took the utmost highest priority.

In F.City, fresh water was in abundance and he would empty an entire water bottle on his hair in summer. Outdoor activities were never his favorite, but he was willing to; or more precisely, had to; make an exception for the girl next door, R.Lina. She was flamboyant and full of energy, and she was an unlikely owner of a bug collection.

That one summer, his father’s red pickup truck carried an extra passenger.

The road trip to A.K seemed twice as long outside of the cab. But halved to a half by a smile whose brilliance put that of the summer’s sun to shame. Waving a bug net and a clear plastic pin as they were heading back to the motel, R.Lina spoke fondly about the emerald cicada she caught in the forest.

N.Jon had the same dream every day, seeing R.Lina chase after a colorful butterfly with a bug net, listening to the reel of his father’s carbon fiber fishing rod, and wrinkling as sun glares caught his eyes through the forest’s canopy. He stood on the sideline as a silent observer, a prisoner in his own dream.

His health deteriorated. His sleep hours spilled over to night time. Three days, five days, one week; he could no longer tell for how long he had been stranded. The first time he broke into high fever, he was scared. For the first time in the real world, he could not move. He was a prisoner of his own body.

The end drew near.

Early morning on the day his fever was the highest, he was woken up by loud rumbles. In his eyes, he saw emerald cicadas, a swarm of emerald cicadas, singing in the sky, circling above him, and darkening the sun. A cold hand gently touched his forehead. Oh R.Lina, her bright smile faded…

It started to rain.

Digging his fingers in the sand, he crawled out of the shelter. Lying on his back and opening his mouth, he drank from the rain; and when he saw that more water was dripping down the edge of the overhang, he began to drink from the rock face directly.

The fever rapidly subsided as soon as there was water in his system, but the rain intensified.

The storm raged on for two days. Sea water flooded his camp in the middle of the night while he was still sleepy and feverish. The sky, the sea and the ground shared one uniformed color: pitch black. The horizon and the shoreline blurred by the rain. Thunder and lightning streaked the heaven; and, between the flashes he saw tidal waves two hundred feet high.

The waves thrashed the rock wall. Ferocious, unforgiving and relentless, they eroded the shoreline and claimed the beachfront for the goddess of sea.

N.Jon quickly realized he had been trapped between the old and the new shoreline. He had to make a break for the new shore before the gap grows wider. Putting on his life jacket, he prepared himself for the dive. He waited for another flash of lightning to show him the destination. The wind and the rain battered his exposed skins. His heart pounded harder in his chest. Adrenaline surged through his veins. And then…

Pzzt…

The flash came. He heard the reel of a fishing rod in his mind.

“Be bold, be fearless.”

His father whispered these words into his ears. In a split second, he saw his father with the brand new navy blue carbon fiber rod standing by his side, posing to cast the line.

Brrabroommm!

“And, more importantly, never relent.”

His father cast the line. He dived into the murky waves…

One stroke, two strokes, three strokes…

He began counting the number of strokes he made and surfaced to take a breath every third stroke. He had learned this from his father one summer, at the swimming pool where his parents first met. His eyes were sore. He could not see in the water without goggles. Worse, every six strokes he made, the torrent pushed him back by four.

Then, it happened. Debris in the water punctured his life jacket. He began to sink beneath the roaring waves, sinking closer and closer to Davy Jones’s locker every time.

“And, more importantly, never relent.”

His father’s voice continued to echo in his mind. Almost there! He was so close to shore, he could feel his feet touching the bottom before the torrent pushed him into the sea again.

He took a deep breath for one final home stretch.

But, he was immediately pulled under by an unseen whirlpool. His arms and legs tangled in a nylon net. Calm, emerald currents rushed to his location. The raging black water became tranquil and crystal clear. The sun shone down from the surface and time seemed to have slowed down.

N.Jon saw R.Lina at the bottom, her chestnut hair fluttered in the water. Her brown eyes locked his eyes and he was reminded that he was in the river in A.K.

Her lips curled. These silent words, he understood so well.

This is retribution.

It was him who jumped into the river first. But it was the girl next door who left her body at the bottom of the river that summer. The bug net that steered him to shallow waters became the trap that sealed her faith.

Brrabroommm!

A deafening thunderclap shattered the scene from his memories. The storm returned and so did the roaring tidal waves. But, there was a new glow of fire, a flickering yellow at the peak of the rock wall.

Thank to the light, N.Jon saw his left foot tangled in driftwood and like a yellow-fin tuna the block of wood dragged him away from shore with the speed of a javelin. Though he could see the danger, panic got the better of him and he was unable to shake free. There was nothing for him to grab on. He could barely stay afloat with a punctured life jacket.

Oh R.Lina, she got him good…

A heavy object fell from the cliff and made a splash ten feet away from him. Standing on the burning log starting to drift in parallel to him, his father shouted.

Take me, R.Lina. Leave my son alone!

There dark semicircles under his father’s eyes and untrimmed beard he had seen so frequently since the day R.Lina died. Both his father’s arms charred dark like coal and steam was coming out of his body. Those fierce eyes fixated on the block of wood that was dragging N.Jon to his watery grave.

The sixty-year old cracked a smile, gritted his teeth and leaped toward the block. The branch that was holding N.Jon’s feet snapped, his father’s body and the block vanished into the torrent. By the time the clouds cleared and the sun rose again, his fever had gone and his muscles were aching all over.

He lived off raw shellfish and rain water for another eighteen days before a patrol plane spotted his distress signal written in the sand and rescued him. He survived for a total of twenty three days on a deserted island without ever starting a fire. It took him two more months to be released from the hospital, during which he learned of the passing of his father.

They found his body in the swimming pool in A.K the night one of the strongest hurricane in history hit the west coast. His father’s carbon fiber fishing rod was struck by lightning. Both arms were burned to charcoal. The body suffered extensive third degree burn.

But his father was smiling. He was smiling in the end.