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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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.”

White Destiny #10 (Rev 4)

Alexander D’Amore was a troublemaker and a murderer. Those who crossed him, if lucky, would be found in one of the mass graves outside Ironheart. And yet, he was never found guilty of such crimes; a combination of corruption, fear, and confusion kept him far from the chopping stone.

The only crimes he had been charged with were sex-related; these were the crimes he chose to be associated with, these were the proofs of a predator, these were his trophies. In the end, each indictment only served to bolster his oversized ego when no one could enforce the church’s rulings.

Then, there was the princess and the baron, who could, maybe, put an end to this charade once and for all. But they would never do that as long as they still got hold of the dagger’s handle. This was what the D’Amore family meant to the crown: loyalists who went outside the boundaries of the laws to enforce the Ruby Garden’s will.

Everyone who had taken a dip in politics knew as much.

Thomas Jeremy Clevandi owned the inventor nothing. At a mere glimpse of a troublesome discussion ahead, the merchant picked up his sleepy son, dropped some coins on the counter and stood up.

“Oh wow, if you look at the time, gentlemen. I really have to go now. See you!” he waved his hand and turned on his heel.

He sure made quick strides to the exit.

Not much was going on in the tavern when Alex took the empty seat next to Leo. Scattered around the tables were armed mercenaries, casually walking in and taking seats at every corner of the tavern. When Thomas pushed on the door, he ran the wooden frame into a man standing guard. Leo could see at least two sentries outside as they let the merchant and his son out.

What happened to the league of angry husbands and fathers was of anybody’s guess but no one was entering despite the rowdiness outside.

“Okay, listen, Alex,” the inventor sighed, “There are ten, eh, fifteen meatheads in here who can snap a neck or two perfectly fine. You don’t have to drag me into this.”

The count sneered, “Two hundreds of them wouldn’t match a mage. No, no, Leo. I need a mage to get rid of another mage. Lilia, Felacia, Graham are out of the question for obvious reasons. That leaves me with only one option, Leo. You know what it is…”

He wanted to call upon the witch’s assistance. She permitted only customers who had attained the highest membership tier to request a curse. That would be Father Felacia and Leonardo di Price.

Alex was not wrong. This was indeed a request only Leo could make.

“Sorry, it’s impossible,” the inventor shook his head. “I can’t help you with that. She is dead. You need a spirit whisperer, not me.”

The count burst into laughter, “That’s funny because I heard she was the only spirit whisperer we have in this half of the world,” he remarked, not hiding his sarcasm.

“Well then, you’re out of luck,” the inventor summed up. He too laughed at the dilemma.

Suddenly, Alex swept his arms across the counter bar, knocking everything down to the floor. His laughter disappeared and there was only fury in his eyes.

“Do you think I’m stupid? I know she is not dead!”

The enraged man slammed a stack of pamphlets on the counter bar and sank a dagger into it.

“This crap is clogging every sewer in West Rufus. Her broom returned last moon to dump another load after the rain at ten washed away the previous load.”

Leo glimpsed at the pamphlets and, within seconds, became dumbfounded. The witch reopened her occult shop. The pamphlet, written in barely legible handwritings, informed patrons of her return and the timing. A few of these pamphlets had a background sketch of a dragon’s head in a square, and decorative runes at the corners.

“That idiot…” the inventor grumbled.

She was selling tickets to the reopening ceremony; two-hundred and fifty pris a soul, the fifth purchase would be free. Also specified in five passages of small writings were: no membership discount, front row seats available to “best friend” membership tier and above, waiver of liabilities for collateral damage etc. and etc.

“What is this farce?” he uttered.

“The sort of farce that has your name on it!” Alex snapped.

He was right. Leo’s name was indeed written on the pamphlet. His title, “the inventor”, appeared on the list of “authorized vendors” written on the other side.

“Look, Alex, there seems to be a misunderstanding here,” the inventor tried to explain.

“Shut up. You’re stalling, aren’t you? I’ll make this very straightforward and simple. You, ask you-know-who, to curse the other you-know-who. If I don’t see that other you-know-who dead by dawn, your precious journals will go into the fire pit and your girl will go on a boat to the rim as a slave.”

“My what?”

“Three stacks of dirty papers and that amber-eyed girl from your workshop.”

“You broke into my workshop!?”

Leo grabbed the man in front of him by the collar. His blood was boiling. The angrier he was, the louder the count’s laughter became.

“Yes, yes, yes, Leo!” Alex exhilarated, “I took your treasure. I took your woman. I turned her into a swallow and kept her in a cage. What can you do about it?”

Leo’s eyes glanced at the dagger on the counter. His hands instinctively grabbed the handle and pointed the tip at Alex. Three mercenaries immediately stepped in. They removed the dagger from his hand and pinned his face against the wet counter.

“I’m going to kill you, bastard!”

“Get in the line, Leo!” the count retorted, taking a jab at Leo’s stomach.

The blow knocked air out of his lung, Leo could barely stay on his feet. Another blow, this time from behind, took him down. His face lay on top of fragments of glasses.

“Two punches. Really? You can only take two punches? How the hell someone as pathetic as you are can lay hands on someone like her? Get outta here, Leo. She’s mine!”

“So…that’s what…this is about eh?”

This bastard only wanted a reason to steal another man’s woman. He enjoyed this. Of course, he was infamous for this. Only an idiot would believe he had a rational reason. Only an idiot like Leo would believe the self-proclaim centaur-born dickhead would act better than a mindless beast.

Leo dragged himself up. Damn, this hurt. But, he must not be on his face. He must sit up at the very least.

And so he did. Cracking a sneer, he stared at the count in disgust and spoke:

“Sure! Take her! See if I give a pris! But, don’t you dare lay a finger on my sketches! Touch my babies and I’ll blow your entire den up.”

Before Alex could utter a retort, one of his sentries flew in from the front door and landed on his back. Within seconds, swords were sheathed, axes raised, halberds turned and bows aimed at the tavern’s door.

A round metal shield barged in. All eyes fell on the hammer and pickaxe crest of Ironheart which was stained in fresh blood. The ironclad giants had to bow their heads to fit under the door frame. Two elite knights emerged in full plate mail. They cast their halberds aside and drew short swords from scabbards strapped to the waists.

“Alexander D’Amore, your fugitive life ends here. You are under arrest,” the red-head knight announced and slid down the cover of her helm.

Behind Katherine was Steve the Ironsmith, and the knight captain, Joshua, who smacked the hilt of his sword against his shield twice and declared the tavern a free-to-kill war zone. Following the captain’s ferocious war cry, the three of them leaped into action and swung their weapons at the armed mercenaries. Three of them versus fifteen mercenaries in a no-holds-barred battle to the death…

White Destiny #9 (Rev 4)

CHAPTER 3: DEATH IS IN A PIPE;

Alexander D’Amore was the first to be chosen as a suitor of Princess Lilia. Leonardo de Price was the second suitor. The third likely candidate, according to Sir Richard’s speculation, was Father Graham. The heiresses of Silverflow traditionally choose one candidate from each faction in the council. In the church of the spirits, the deacon was the only person young enough to be a suitor.

A few hours after he departed from the Ruby Garden castle, the inventor and his myriad of thoughts wandered into Brown’s Boulder tavern. The second period of lunar daylight began while he drank away self-doubts and this lingering sensation of a silk string in his grasp.

“Brown, refill!” he ordered, sliding an empty mug to the bartender behind the bar counter.

“This is an obscene amount of ale ye drank tonight. Heard Rick called ye in, what happened?” the bartender asked.

“Don’t remind me. I want to forget all about it. I mean, he thinks I possess carnal desire rivaling that of Alex!”

The master of trade, the merchant, coughed and spilled white wine all over the counter upon hearing Leo’s answer. The bartender threw a piece of cloth at the spillage in front of the merchant and uttered.

“Yer drunk, Leo. He did not say that. Pay for the ale and go home.”

Wiping his glass and then the counter clean of spilled wine, the merchant pointed his thumb at the inventor and said.

“Put the wine on his tab.”

“I’m serious. He said the princess told him just how vulgar I was to her. I was as bad as Alex, if not worse, she said. Am I that vulgar?” Leo asked.

“Yer not. Sometimes, but not always…”

“Not always? When am I that vulgar?” he pressed.

“Errr…see, princess called ye “vulgar lowlife” the other moon, nay?”

“That doesn’t mean I lust after her!”

After a loud gasp, the young boy who was napping next to the merchant perked right up. He casted his drowsy eyes around, confused.

It appeared the inventor’s loud response had woken up the merchant’s son. The merchant hissed, putting a finger on his lips, “Quiet, let him rest,” he shushed.

“Yer not wrong. Saying yer as bad as Alex was a tad too much. Ain’t anybody could be as bad as Alex…” the bartender shrugged.

“I know right? Seriously…what is she thinking?” Leo grumbled.

“I used to ask myself the same question. In pursuit of my wife, I took great interests in learning what’s in her head. And, I can tell you the cavern of her psyche makes Copperfang cavern look like an eight-year-old secret base,” the merchant remarked, passing the bartender the cloth soaked in wine.

Thomas Jeremy Clevandi had a wife and a son in Ironheart. His son was always seen accompanying him to markets and taverns. His wife, however, was never seen. He loved to talk about his wife but he avoided questions in regards to her whereabouts and identity.

Unlike the father, the boy spoke no words of his mysterious mother. He was mute and if the fact that he always cried when someone asked about his mother was of any indication, the woman who had stolen the heart of Thomas Jeremy Clevandi must have long departed from this world.

“There was this time when I visited a faraway tribe in the rim of the world. I met the chieftain, the shrewdest man I have ever encountered. He taught me a trick to figure out exactly what’s on the mind of any women. His five wives stood testify to his trick. If anything, it worked on my wife too.”

“What is this trick?” Leo asked.

“Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you,” said the guy who drank nothing but expensive wines.

“Alright, you can have my ale,” Leo handed him the ale mug.

“Price, don’t be such a cheap bastard. You’ll never get a good deal by saving a few pris on the formalities. Get me at least cider then we’ll talk.”

True. It was a minor expense to learn a trick that useful from the rim of the world. And so, the inventor made the order and the bartender delivered. The volume was less than if it had been ale but the amount of money he had to pay for the glass was the same.

Thomas rotated the glass of dark red cider slowly in his hand as he shared: “My wife loves this drink. These little snowflakes remind me of that winter night in Silver Gallop peninsula. That night, I was playing cards with the first mate on the bridge of our flagship when an iceberg—”

“Excuse me. I didn’t buy you a drink to reminisce the time you camp on an iceberg. Tell me now, what is the trick the chieftain taught you,” the inventor interrupted.

“Ah yes, the trick,” the merchant took a sip of the cider, following a brief contemplation. “Talk to her. Ask her. Grow a pair and ask, or turn into a woman and ask your own sissy mind,” he said.

Leo was not amused.

“I’m glad you’re entertained, Clevandi. The cider is on you and so is the wine,” Leo hissed.

Thomas snickered. This man did not need anyone pay for his bill. With the wealth he had amassed in his career as a merchant to the world’s rim, he could buy the entire tavern, possibly the entire neighborhood if he felt like doing so.

He leaned towards the inventor and gave him a nudge.

“Now, now, I do mean it. The only sure way to find out what a woman was thinking is ask. They are mysterious creatures; confusing and deceptive to everyone including themselves. While this is true for some men too, you will find that men are more…purposeful and rational, hence guessable and negotiable. Guessing won’t do for women, asking will. Do you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because asking means respecting and you don’t get enough respect as a woman in these parts of the world.”

“Sorry,” Leo raised his hand to interrupt, “I think we have a misunderstanding here. The princess likes the idea that I lusted after her. She likes the idea that I was disrespectful to her.”

Thomas paused for a moment. He uttered a quiet “What?” under his breath, and then resigned to the inevitable reaction:

“You know what? You’re drunk. That can’t possibly be true.”

“I am telling the truth!” Leo protested.

“There are only two kinds of men known to Lilia Silverflow: the baron and me. And I thought you were more virtuous than this. Heck, I thought you were on Rick’s team.”

“Alex, you cockroach! Where have you been?”

Approaching them from behind was Alexander D’Amore. There, patting on the inventor’s back and chuckling to himself was the charming lad who made himself the enemies of all men in Ironheart.

“Greetings, Leo, Thomas. I’m here to welcome the poor sap behind me in the line, the line to the executioner’s axe that is. But enough chit chat for now, I’ll get to the point. Leo…”

“Yes?”

“Get rid of the other guy or one of us will die. The baron told you whom she would pick. Get rid of him.”

News from Ashlora – May/2017

Welcome, welcome our 50th follower, DouglasWTSmith!

I’ve just finished updating all published scenes to the latest version. There are quite a number of changes in dialogues, word usage and other minor details. Rest assure, these are only quality of life changes and there’s no need to re-read these scenes going forwards (albeit if anyone do go back and read them, I can guarantee a much smoother read).

There’s one other change I’ll need to mention before I stop being so meta again; the scene posts are now tagged with “Scene” tag, allowing readers to quickly separate these posts from the monthly “Commentary” posts.

https://fujihita.wordpress.com/tag/scene/

https://fujihita.wordpress.com/tag/commentary/

Alright! Let’s get to the meat of this News from Ashlora issue: White Destiny, chapter 2.

THE PLOT THICKENS

There’s an unmistakable shift in narrative tone in chapter 2. It is darker and edgier than before. I expect no less from the backstory of the saddest being in Ashlora.

As stated in March’s commentary, the witch and the princess are the two antagonistic forces to overcome. They are explored in greater depth in this chapter. The witch receives more characterizations while the princess puts the “call to adventure” and her story arc to action.

Let’s talk about Eliot, the witch.

Eliot is an immortal. She is not bounded by the morality values of the mortal. Eighty years, a lifetime, to her, is a mere week plus Monday. Her backstory is plagued by “unwilling unions” and heart wrenching farewells (scene #5). There were, of course, lights of day in her dark background. But, given the context of telling a story that she would hate herself for, it is inevitable that the story the inventor got to hear was of grim, heretical and unsettling nature.

As for Lilia, the princess, the plot around her focuses on the classical idea of royal succession and the fight against determinism.

I can say, without being too spoilery, that her story is going to involve a lot of kinkiness, a lot of social class conflicts and a bit of gender discrimination. Leo, the inventor, is now signed up for a race to the princess’s heart, and what’s that other cold, hard and red thing around here? Right, the ruby throne.

The stakes for participation in this race have been made clear by the end of chapter 2 (scene #8). The inventor’s “insignificant” life is on the life. The rewards are the throne, the princess and her magical blood. Magical blood is a thing in Ashlora and if the price of the witch’s dead infants was of any indication, this will play a central role in both plot lines.

Where there are great rewards, there are even greater stakes. There’s a hint of a secession movement that keeps popping up here and there. There’s also this entire side plot involving the romance of Steve, the ironsmith and Katherine, the knight. And there’s still that dragon and the pet hydra he had at home.

I’m as clueless as any of you as to what will happen next. But, I can see delicious opportunities for a misunderstanding / love triangle plot just by the fact that the witch and the inventor are still living under the same roof, and the inventor has just gotten himself tangled in the princess’s love string.

WRITING TO THE STATISTICS

From the statistics I have on the scene containing the witch’s backstory, I can tell readers are not fond of dark humors. I’ll try to avoid going into details when it comes to this kind of things but I cannot promise there won’t be more disturbing revelations in the future. I’m writing about grey morality here and grey morality is disturbing by design.

I bring up the statistics. Since no one has ever commented on any of my posts, I can only guess the reader’s feedback from the percentage of the number of views and likes. As far as I can tell, people are okay with with some erotic elements (scene #7). I’ll keep them coming at the same level of attention until the stats indicate people want more or less of them.

This is pretty much what I’m doing with the little feedback you give me. I’ll tune my writing so that the desirable elements get more ink and the undesirable elements get skimmed down to Draft 1-tier one-line.

And that concludes this issue of News from Ashlora. Please drop some comments on what you like and dislike in my weekly releases. It’ll help, thanks.