Short story: Halloween special

They ventured into the crypt: five militias, two knights, two priests, and one dog; torches in hands, provisions on backs, and a primal fright at heart. Leading the pack, the younger of the knights, Sir Rathamul brandished a sword and a spiked lantern shield. The oil lantern, a part of his shield’s gauntlet, emanated a dim orange light the radius of two meter–about two third the reach of his sword–accompanied by a sweet incense whose cost per pouch far surpassed the blue fur cap on his shoulders, and whose sole purpose was to veer away the stench of bat droppings.

Father Germini claimed the incense warded evil spirits and kept one sane by the grace of God; how much of this was a priest’s belief and how much was an apothecary’s consideration for the laymen, Sir Rathamul knew not. The priest knew his craft; that was certain. In this party, he was the only person who could speak Gondrash—the language of the dragons—and his healing arts could bring a man back from the brink of death. His young age was of no relevance to his wisdom, or so Sister Forse, who on the same day resorted to young age as an excuse for her inability to read, spoke about the man in white cassock, clutching a golden pectoral cross in his hands.

When it came to wisdom and age, however, no one in his homeland or that marble city of Azeth to the west could match Sir Winfried of Ursland in the south. The city of Ironheart had always produced the finest knights in the kingdom and Winfried was this generation’s most skilled red-helm guard. With his blessed tower shield, which was being strapped to his back for ease of travel, he could deflect arrows back to their shooters from fifty meter away.

In the end, only Sister Forse and three fifteen-year-old and two sixteen-year-old militias were childish enough to argue who, Germini or Winfried, was the wisest of them all. The children had grown attached to her since the day the chieftain commanded them to assist Sir Rathamul on his first quest as a blue-shield crusader. That was a mere fortnight ago, and yet their homeland—his homeland—the fishing village of Merlock, already seemed a distant memory.

Sister Forse, in a standard Azethan church’s black habit, would turn twelve this year. She was at the age where she could be courted by and married to nobles if not for her clergy duties. Sir Winfried opposed her coming with them; he saw her as a dead weight, a fine companion at the dining table but a dead weight in battle nevertheless. The one-meter-and-eight giant watched her slender back from the end of their human column, keeping a short half meter distance from the militia before him so that his torch would not drip oil on the boy’s leather helm. At times, he would nag her and her boys to keep quiet else they would wake the dead.

One last member of the party was Sister Forse’s dog: Dust. It was a large brown dog; large enough to carry Sister Forse on its back when she was younger, Father Germini said, but he could no longer. His mistress had outgrown him to the point he could be picked up in her arms and cuddled. This, Sir Rathamul later learned, was no exaggeration. Her work in Azethan church’s eatery apparently gave her the strength to pick up sacks of potatoes with one hand and the dexterity to outrun a chicken.

Inscribed along the crypt’s walls were oval glyphs indecipherable by either Father Germini or Sir Winfried. These black, obsidian glyphs gave off an apprehensive sensation when gazed upon and strange warmth when touched—in contrast to the cold haze permeating from the blizzard outside through the rocks and into this ancient sanctuary. Everyone was as tense as a harp’s string when Sir Winfried ordered one of the boys to inspect the glyphs. Reluctantly, the militia obliged and poked his spear at the wall, breathing a sigh of relief when nothing happened.

They split up into two groups. The first group consisted of Father Germini, Sir Rathamul and three militias traveled eastward along the wall. The second group; Sister Forse, Sir Winfried, two militias and the dog; went in the opposite direction, following the western wall. The knights with their shields and swords guarded their own respective group from frontal attacks, the militias with bronze spears shortened for indoor fighting covered the flanks, and the priests with torches remained protected at the center of the formation. The goal was to circle the crypt, estimate its layout and gather fuel for a camp fire.

Every step he made, Sir Rathamul counted it in his mind. Every hundred steps he made, he counted it aloud for Father Germini and the boys. Meanwhile, the priests and the militias kept their eyes peeled for dry branches, hay, linen or anything of interest in the premise, or anything that lurked in the shadows. As the step count reached a staggering thousand, Father Germini grew anxious. Even the Common’s Hall—the parliament building in Azeth city—was not as vast as a thousand steps in diameter, he said, and something was out of the ordinary, he concluded.

Sir Rathamul had also noticed the peculiarity of their situation. His senses told him they had been walking downhill for a while; but he knew not how steep the slope had been without a natural reference such as the sky, whereby the hypnotic, swirly patterns on the ceiling did nothing to help as they induced the same apprehension as the glyphs on the walls, then seemed to be coiling like a giant, living, stone serpent in his eyes. His feet, however, told a different story. The unarmored priest and light armored militias might not have felt this, but Sir Rathamul, cladded in steel from head to toe, had an acute awareness of this so terrible a weariness for a leisure stride downhill.

This surreal discrepancy struck him as dreadful for they could have walked themselves to exhaustion and been swallowed up by the eternal darkness, had they taken the trustworthiness of their senses for granted. Having understood the situation—that the crypt might be so vast, they would not be able to circle it with their depleting oil reserve and waning stamina—Father Germini urged them to withdraw if they ever hoped to see the sun again. He commanded Sir Rathamul to burn a bit of the expensive incense they were saving for the whole party after they rendezvoused.

The way the priest gave the commands got on the young knight’s nerves and the knight became infuriated. Sir Winfried was the party’s leader and Sir Rathamul was the second in command, this made the knight the group’s bona fide leader when the party split. Young as he might be, Sir Rathamul was still four years older than the priest and in his village, age and wisdom came in hand.

The knight was being unreasonable; Father Germini contested. But surmised he had authority, what suppose his plan was? Was it not the same? The priest challenged. To this point, Sir Rathamul had no retort and as soon as the incense was lit and they began marching to the crypt’s entrance, he felt petty and angry at himself for crying attention to someone younger than he was. Perhaps having seen through the knight’s frustration, Father Germini offered the first apology, saying, he had been a big brother to Sister Forse for so long that he had forgotten his place in the larger group. Afterward, words of confession poured out of his mouth so easily that Sir Rathamul had a vision: that this priest had brought out a church from the cross on his chest and placed them all within its sanctuary.

When they backtracked to the entrance, it took them only eight hundred steps and the uphill climb felt much worse than the other way—and yet his mind was exhilarated, thrilled by the normalcy, so filled with euphoria that the toll on his body eluded him until they reached the exit and finally got to settle down on the dusty floor. They welcomed the sound, the sensation, and the vision of a sensible and cruel world like an old friend they had not seen for many years. The roar of winds, the chill of snows, and the orange glow of lantern reflected off the dull rock face beyond the crypt’s entrance had become so beloved in their eyes. They had no sense of time in that strange place, but given the blizzard had yet to subside, it could not have been more than a few hours.

They sensed an imposing desire to flee the shelter and run into the raging storm. Indeed had they not been so weary to the point of collapse, the militias would have done so, and there would have been nothing Sir Rathamul or Father Germini could do to stop them. At the border of the blizzard and the crypt, they were assaulted by both the cold and the darkness. While the blizzard soon subsided, the chill lingered and the snow kept pelting down till dawn of the next day. But, dawn was seen by none of them for at midnight they heard a series of loud barks in the crypt.

Father Germini was the first to notice and he cried the dog’s name and brought a torch to the dark entrance. The soft galloping of a dog answered, drawing closer to their camp until the dog jumped out from the void like a javelin. All of them froze at the terrible sight in front of them: the dog with blank white eyes growled and bared his canine teeth at them, his mouth foaming crimson saliva, dark stains splattered his brown fur, and a nauseating stench distinctive of blood radiated from the creature. Sir Rathamul drew his weapons and the militias followed suit. Hearing the sound of sheathing metal, the dog flinched and darted back into the crypt. Father Germini, with only a torch in hand chased after the dog; all shouting from the knights and the militias went into deaf ear.

Sir Rathamul and his fellow warriors, who could not bear the guilt of abandoning their comrades, held their breaths, gathered their courage and once again plunged into the crypt. This time, they were much less prepared than before; much of their provisions were left by the camp fire and they only had on them the bare minimum oilskin for half an hour of fire. As they ran, the knight shed his plate armor pieces by pieces, with each piece making a resounding clang when it hit the stone floor, until there were only greaves and gauntlets on him. When he did so, he felt his body wrapped in both a physical and mental chill. Without the iron clad he would have nothing but the lantern shield and the short sword to fend off the mortal dangers implied by the sorry state of the dog. However, his mind rejoiced as his legs became nimbler and he could sprint faster than ever.

They covered a great distance before they caught up with Father Germini. The priest lost sight of the dog and was desperately shouting its name. They were at the center of the vast chamber, darkness stretching in all directions for as far as the eyes could see and the torchlight could reach. Sir Rathamul feared the worst had come to pass to Sir Winfried’s party, and should it have been the case, he feared there would be no going back from this adventure for he was nothing but a mere shadow of the great red-helm knight. He would rather fight bandits and wolves than fumbling in the dark, looking for a danger he could not perceive. Even swamp giants stank less than this crypt, said one of the militias, they would be better off in the blizzard than here, the other two militias added in unison.

This was the foolish priest’s fault, Sir Rathamul accused, he just had to run after the dog and drag them all into this situation; now without food and water, they would starve faster, if whatever was lurking in the shadow did not get them first. Father Germini said nothing. He let them vent their frustrations on him until they exhausted, then sighed and knelt down on the floor. Holding the golden cross in his hand, he prayed God for their deliverance and requested them to join him in prayer, which they eventually did. They all closed their eyes and chanted prayers after Father Germini. After a while, they could recite different prayers from memory and this, for a time, brought their souls closer to God, closer to salvation.

As it came to pass, he told them the method to find the exit. They would travel in zigzag pattern until they caught a breeze, which could only come from the outside world, and following the wind would lead them to safety. Sir Rathamul found the knowledge assuring, he removed the gauntlet of his sword hand—then felt like a shackle—and licked one side of his index finger, raising it up high to sense the cold embrace of the mountain wind and began to lead the party to and fro. It took no time for them to encounter a welcoming headwind, which they followed in the previous formation, having regained a sense of unity, and all the while reciting biblical passages after Father Germini. The sweet incense, the priest explained, was often used in cleansing rituals at the church and when combined with prayers from three clergymen formed the essences of God and called upon his divine power to vanquish the evil one. They did not have much of the incense left in reserve but he surmised it should last long enough till the exit.

At length, Sir Rathamul noticed the fragrant smoke from the incense was flowing against the wind, toward the direction they were traveling instead of trailing behind them. When he spoke his discovery to Father Germini, the priest dismissed it with a hint of ire in his tone, saying this was a miracle, proof that God was leading them to deliverance, and that they must be as silent as a lamb and have faith in the Lord’s guidance. Thus, Sir Rathamul, having been proven to be the foolish one for the second time, kept his doubts to himself and spoke his own foolishness no more. But the fragrant led them not unto their deliverance but into temptation, and into the hand of the evil one, as creeping into the foremost corner of their vision at this very moment was the remnant of Sir Winfried’s party, which they thought to have left behind in the void and ought to remain there for eternity.

There laid the corpses of two boys on the floor: one headless and the other had one arm impaled by a bronze spear, and a fatal stabbing wound at his side. The blood of their bodies had ceased to flow, the limbs were stiff, cold and blue, and when the party approached, the men caught glimpse of a few rats feasting on the boys’ flesh. A distance away, they found Sir Winfried in a frightening state; the man was groveling, hands holding his bleeding eyes, his scarlet helm thrown away, his large rectangular tower shield and his sword, covered in blood, laid flat on the ground nearby. Upon hearing Sir Rathamul and his aides coming, Sir Winfried picked up his weapons and charged at them, cursing witches and shouting repentance.

Father Germini, who had been squeamish and shaking, and the militias, who had cried their hearts out to the loss of their spear brothers, shouted at Sir Winfried to stop but it was in vain. Their leader saw them as witches, as heretics to be vanquished and his ears were shut as his mind was clouded. Get up and run! Screamed Sir Rathamul as he picked up a spear on the ground and flung it at the red-helm knight’s exposed head. This halted Sir Winfried for a moment, he was forced to bring up his tower shield to defend, angling the shield at an angle to deflect the projectile upward and bashing the spear back at Sir Rathamul when it fell back down. This was Sir Winfried of Ursland’s famous counter skill and it was only because Sir Rathamul had anticipated this coming that he was able to parry it.

Sir Rathamul knew he would not last against such a mighty foe on equal footings, let alone at a disadvantage; he had no armor on him while Sir Winfried was almost in full iron clad. But he had to buy time for the others to get away. He lunged his sword to intercept Sir Winfried’s charge and raised his shield to protect his chest. His strike landed squarely on the steel cuirass and did nothing to Sir Winfried, who knew his advantage so well that he did not bother dodging or deflecting the attack, while his arm received a blow from the tower shield so tremendous that his joints crackled and his forearm twisted as though dislocated. Sir Rathamul staggered and fell on his back to dodge the horizontal slash at his abdomen, shoving a circular opening on his shield, from which the lantern light shone through and with which he could blind his opponent, into Sir Winfried’s face. In light and the intense fragrant took Sir Winfried’s off guard long enough for Sir Rathamul to escape. As he was without armor, he was nimbler than Sir Winfried and was able to put some distance between them with ease, eventually catching up with the priest’s group before the oil in his lantern ran out.

They found an extra hour of oil from the corpses of the militias and a torch on the ground; the torch that was supposed to be in the hand of Sister Forse. She was nowhere to be seen but given the torch, the militias, the dog and Sir Winfried, they came to a hard conclusion that she must have been killed and eaten by creatures of the dark. Father Germini did not take the news well, he was quiet and falling behind, at times, stopping and staring into the darkness as though hoping to catch a fleeting glimpse of the twelve-year-old nun. Perhaps, it had been for the best that they did not find her half-eaten body else the man might have lost the will to live.

Sir Rathamul asked the militias if they were okay, one of them had been sniffling for a while and the other two dragged their feet in silence, grim looks on their faces. They were okay, they said, as men at arms, they knew what they had signed up for and they were thankful they were still alive. But Sister Forse, she did not deserve this, the sobbing boy uttered, Sir Winfried was right: they should have left her in Azeth. At his words, the other two started weeping as well, swearing to get stronger, stronger than Sir Winfried, stronger than the darkness that begat this tragedy and swearing to avenge their losses this day.

These too were what Sir Rathamul would have wished for, had he not faced the wild blank eyes of Sister Forse’s dog, rummaged the pale and rotten corpses of young boys for provisions, and then stared down the killer end of Sir Winfried’s bloody sword, but he had and the young knight could not imagine escaping from the shadow of such primal, paralyzing and overwhelming fear for the rest of his mortal days. Thus, he wished for a life less strange, less otherworldly than this one; perhaps he should quit his adventuring ambition and settle down as a city guard in Azeth.

At last, the little incense they had ran dry and the smell of sweats mixed in the smog of burning oil were all that left for them. Up on the ceiling, the faint purple patterns continued swirling about; it was strange, when he thought about how they could see these phantasms when it was so dark, they could not see their own hands without a lantern; and then there was the wind, and the glyphs, and the witches. He realized his consciousness was fading and salvation drifting away. It felt almost as if…

God had forsaken them, Sir Rathamul spoke aloud.

This was God’s trial, Father Germini said—his voice seemed hollow and devoid of emotions—and only the most devoted of souls shall receive his divine guidance. He asked them to pause, get on their knees, put down their weapons, and pray the most sincere prayers to God, may his almighty show their sinful hearts mercy. That, they did. However, unlike before, when Sir Rathamul closed his eyes this time, he could not see the sanctuary of a church, nor could he feel his soul overflowed with hopes. He felt powerless, wretched and hopeless. He said he would fight and prevail against any enemy he could perceive and there he was, running away from Sir Winfried like a coward he was. He said he would lead them to safety as the rightful leader and there they were, fumbling in the dark, praying to a heavenly power for deliverance. His face grimaced, twisted in agony, as he struggled to cite the Lord’s prayers amid a torrent of self-pity and regrets.

Then, abruptly, a spear punched through Sir Rathamul’s chest, his eyes flung wide open and, behold, Father Germini’s bloodshot eyes were staring down at him from the other end of the bronze spear. It was so sudden that the knight could not utter a word as blood gushed forth from his chest like a fountain, and he slumped to the ground, making a dull thud. All three militias heard the sound and opened their eyes. It took them precious seconds to realize what was happening and when they did, the priest had already knocked their weapons into the darkness. Without their weapons, the militias were helpless children before this spear-wielding man, who then also armed himself with the fallen knight’s lantern shield.

God wills!

Father Germini cried and slew two of them: his spear skewed one boy’s throat and bashed the other’s head, splitting it in two. The two boys who moved their fingers toward their weapons were mercilessly put down on the spot, in manners so brutal that the last boy who was too stunned to react had no choice but to grovel on the ground, his face so low he could taste the blood of his brothers on his lips, and pledged allegiance to the priest in the name of his ancestors to save his own skin. This, in Merlock’s tradition, was the highest oath he could make.

At the boy’s pleading, Father Germini halted, lowered his weapon and slowly looked at the scene he had caused. His breaths were heavy, his movements rigid and his limbs were drained of strength. As his eyes drifted from the groveling boy, still too horrified to face reality, he saw it: the bloody spear in his hand, red droplets splattered on his white cassock and ponds of viscos liquid crept toward him, converging into a single mass centered at his feet, formed by the blood of three humans, the boy’s tears and his dreadful sin. The bloody spear hit the ground with a cold, metallic clang, which made the boy shriveled and started begging the priest not to kill him again.

But, Father Germini had stumbled backward, barely remained on his feet, both hands grabbed hold of his own head. Forgive me, Lord! Forgive me, Lord! Forgive me, Lord! So the priest moaned as the boy continued begging for his life. The lantern shield flickered, became dimmer and dimmer until finally it went out, and darkness swallowed them both. Then, the boy felt something sharp, oozy and furry wrapped around his arm and something else sweaty, soft and powerful wrapped around the other arm. These invisible creatures tugged at him, pulling him away from the priest and his brothers. He let out a high-pitched shriek which was muffled almost instantaneously. Nothing else could be heard but the sound of the boy’s feet being dragged away.

Soon, the unseen forces of the void turned their vicious jaws at the priest. Father Germini picked up an eerie sensation of things shuffling around him. He swung his lantern shield in the dark, crouching down and using his sense of touch to search for Sir Rathamul’s corpse, in the process he stumbled upon an oozy, mushy substance on one of the boys’ heads. His hand jerked away from it, his imagination spun wild and he became panicked for he did not recognize what this unknown substance was. Gulping down his saliva, he pressed on and his hand came into contact with a human’s hand so warm that almost felt like it could still be moving. Each artifact he touched fueled his paranoia further; by the time he found the oilskin on the knight’s body and refueled the lantern shield, he was so paranoid that he was convinced Sir Rathamul and the militias were alive and stabbed their dead bodies repeatedly with the spike of the lantern shield.

The fifteen year-old boy, the last survivor of the spear brothers, stiffened in fear by his plight and found it hard to breath. These unknown things had dragged him so far away from the priest that when the lantern light was lit, it appeared to him as a tiny orange dot at the distance. He knew neither what these creatures wanted nor what fate awaited him in the void. He could not cry, he was scared, too scared, in fact, that he could not remember his own name when a familiar voice asked him. His mind blanked out and when he came to be once more, he was already at the crypt’s entrance, next to a smoldering camp fire, next to Sister Forse, who was pouring a waterskin on her dog and washing his fur clean of blood. When asked, she told him that the dog—Dust—could navigate in the dark with his keen noses and ears, and while he had become both blinded and deaf after receiving a shield bash from Sir Winfried, as long as she was there, she could be his eyes, ears and mind.

Her escape in itself was as absurd as the boy’s own. These two children and a dog knocked on the doors of every church, every garrison in the kingdom, hoping someone would believe their story and help them free Father Germini and Sir Winfried from the clutch of that accursed crypt, recover the remains of the fallen ones, and vanquish the evil forces that lurked within. When at long last, the queen of Ironheart agreed to spare them a band of elite knights, who had been close friends of Sir Winfried, and they traveled to the snowy mountain north east of Silver Gallop harbor in order to challenge the accursed crypt once more, the landscape had changed so much that they had to question if their memories were real or dream. After two weeks scouring every crook and cranny of the mountain in search of the crypt without any luck, the party went back to Ironheart, disappointed and doubtful.

While years later the boy had given up the spear and became an apprentice of a blacksmith in Ironheart, he heard Sister Forse had never given up her quest. Last they spoke in Ironheart, she was chasing after the legend of the witches Sir Winfried mentioned in his fit of rage to the forest west of the city, and later her name, too, vanished into obscurity…

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Short story: “Death”, “Hat”, “Gene”

Sasaki knew nothing would change if she begged for help. She had been there. Weak kids had weak parents who would blame their own child to appease the other kid’s parents. Her parents were weak but she was not. Thus, when Sasaki broke the glass with her satchel and waved a glass fragment at the bullies, she received no sympathy.

There was no such a thing as self-defense in schools. In a fight, there would be no victims. All parties were equally at fault. She knew the consequences and she accepted them. A week before, the idea would have been unfathomable and yet there she was, clutching a bloody shard in her bare hand, watching her classmates backing off as she walked through.

At that moment, her only thought was to kill the other girls and in the end, she only managed to stab her teacher who was trying to stop her.

The police took her into custody. There were no barred cells for children of her age, there were no steel handcuffs. She was attended by a female officer and the worst restraint she had to endure was from a zip tie; even this was only for a brief time between transits. The police and the schools were being courteous, so she heard. They took every measure to cover up the incident.

The police brought in a psychiatrist to assist in the case. The man was twice as tall as she was and he wore thick beards with a pair of round glasses. There was a white-and-pink scarf wrapped around his head. From head to toe, the man was Arabian and he appeared to speak fluent Japanese. He introduced himself as Abu-Jamal, Mahmud Al-Alem Saifu Abu-Jamal upon her insistence.

Their conversation were not without conditions; the first of which was that he must answer one of her questions for every question he wanted answer, second was that he  not overstep his boundaries. “Sasaki-chan” was fine for her but not “Aiko” or “Aiko-chan”, and in exchange, she would call him “Abujama” as he insisted; by his given name and not his doctor title. And the third, she licked her dry lips.

“I’m thirsty…”

Abu-Jamal chuckled. “Well, me too, Sasaki-chan. Do you want orange or peach juice?”

“Milk!” she perked up on her feet, “Milk with sugar, please”, she said.

They were off to a good start. The Arabian got her talking about her family. She had an elder sister, a mother and a father–a more normal family than her actions that day would have suggested. They were all alive and well, she emphasized, but sometimes, she wished they were not.

“Why? Why do you hate them so much?” Abu-Jamal asked.

At this question, she shrank and looked down at her bandaged hands. The answer came under her breath: “They are unfair.”

It was then that Abu-Jamal noticed something unusual about her way of speaking.

“Say, how old are you, Sasaki-chan?”

“Don’t you already know?”

“Just want to hear it from you directly. After this, you can ask me anything.”

“Fourteen. It’s fourteen. And I don’t have any questions for now.”

She averted her eyes from his gaze.

“Am I making you uncomfortable?”

She hesitated. She opened her mouth for an instance then chose to close it and had a better thought of the answer. Finally, she spoke up:

“No, not in particular.”

“You are a good liar, Sasaki-chan, but hesitance can be as telling as silence.”

Following this, he raised a few questions regarding the girls who picked on her, as well as the teacher. But, the conversation had reached the point where she no longer wanted to participate. Then, he stood up and excused himself.

Her father heard of the event.

For this, her father slapped her. They went through a heated argument which concluded with her flinging her satchel at him, missing his face and hitting the family’s altar. The photo of her mother fell to the floor and cracked. Both of them froze at the instance; their faces twisted in agony. Afterward, she bolted out of the house and ran, and ran.

“Sasaki-chan!”

She ran into Abu-Jamal.

“D-Doctor!”

“That’s no good, Sasaki-chan. It’s Abu-Jamal. Oh my…your noses are running–he produced a handkerchief and gently wiped her tears–Tell me what happened.”

Perhaps it was the expectation that the psychiatrist could give her the approval she sought, Sasaki spoke at length how she had been picked on for her fear of sharp things, her anemia and nonstop bleeding, how her father had not been as supportive to her as he had been to her sister, and how powerless she had been.

“Had I not been born…”

The words caught in her throat.

“That’s hardly true, Sasaki-chan. It takes great courage to give one’s life for another. You are a smart girl, Sasaki-chan, can you be as unfair as casting away the life she has given you so easily?”

“B-But…I didn’t ask for this.”

“Indeed, Sasaki-chan. It is unfair to be given something you didn’t ask for and to be demanded gratitude in return. And beside…”

It was then that he took the white-and-pink scarf from his head and put it on hers.

“This is a hat called pagri, Sasaki-chan. It is a symbol of honor and respect in our religion and receiving one means you’re an important guest and that you’re welcome.”

He too was very unfair.

“But I–”

At that instance, she caught his downcast eyes. Was this the right thing to do? Listening to his sigh and seeing him folding the handkerchief and putting it into his pocket, she made up her mind and bowed her head.

“I’m sorry. Thank you.”

“It’s slow, Sasaki-chan. Remember, hesitance can be as telling as silence. So, which one makes you feel better? Before or after you say “thank you”?”

“After.”

This time, she managed to reply without hesitation.

“That’s right, Sasaki-chan. You turned your fear and your weakness into your greatest weapons. I dare say the girls you tried to kill the other day have learned to fear sharp things and blood a little bit more than you do now.”

She grinned and nodded.

“Not that I would recommend you do this sort of things everyday but, surely, you can turn a little unfairness in this world to your advantage too, can’t you?”

She nodded again.

Madmud Al-Alem Saifu Abu-Jamal had a secret. So did Sasaki Aiko.

After their conversation on the street, the man returned her to her home. She did not know what they were discussing in English but it appeared he managed to persuade her father to forgive her. She was afraid her father was only pretending in front of a guest to save face but even after the Arabian had left, he did not turn on her. He merely gestured at the kitchen; a sign that dinner was in the microwave.

It was rice balls again; it was always rice balls from the convenience store.

The next day, Abu-Jamal came by early in the morning. He asked her to put on her black-and-white sailor uniform even though she had no class all day–she had been suspended for a week.

“Your father and I have been discussing about transferring you to a new school. We have a few options on the table. I want you to see the schools for yourself and tell me which one you like best. Isn’t it right, Sasaki-san?”

Her father quietly nodded, confirming the story. Then, he knelt down on one knee and hugged her. “Remember, Aiko. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, I’ll always love you.”

“Eh…ah…thank you, dad. I’ll see you again tonight, right?”

“Yeah, I’ll cook something good for you tonight”, he answered, patting her head.

Once they were on the road, Abu-Jamal let out a sigh and remarked.

“You still have much to learn, Sasaki-chan.”

She smiled the bravest smile she could put up.

“You are a good liar too, Abujama-san. But, dad is nothing like you.”

“It’s okay to cry when hurt, Sasaki-chan. It’s a perk of girls at your age.”

And she did make good use of that perk. Abu-Jamal’s words had been full of deception and unfairness but they were ones she could not help but let herself be deceived.

Their destination was Fukuoka Prefecture, home to Kyushu University Hospital. A group of scientists there were researching a cure for hemophilia–a genetic disorder that leads to nonstop bleeding–and they needed her assistance. She was far too young to understand the finer points of genetics but one thing she could understand: she was exceedingly unfortunate to be born with hemophilia.

The chance for females to be afflicted with the condition is one-in-twenty-five-million. When she hit puberty, hemophilia could lead to fatal internal bleeding during periods if not discovered and properly taken care of. The earlier she started the treatment, the lower the chance of incurring long-term health risks.

“That’s not all, Sasaki-chan. I’m inclined to believe you’re also–ah, never mind.”

“I am also what? Tell me, tell me!”

“Now, now, I can’t give any spoiler, can I? You’ll have to figure out yourself if you want to be a great heroine.”

“So…am I a psychic? A blood wizard?”

The man laughed. Rubbing her hair and putting the white-and-pink pagri from her hands on her small head, he said:

“We’ll test that too but, don’t hold your breath just yet.”

“Now that we’re so much closer, can I call you Abujama?”

“At home–ehem, at the new home, you can call me Abujama, Yama, Abu, whatever suits you. Though here, you should call me Dr. Mahmud.”

“Can I have milk with sugar, Dr. Mamu…Mamudu?”

“Sure you can, Aiko.”

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.”

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.”