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Monthly Archives: November 2008

That’s right. Only 8 days left and I haven’t even reached 30,000 words. It is still possible that I could reach 50,000 by Sunday at midnight , if I write about 4,000 words a day for the next 7 days straight. That is a big if. I have the story, long enough for at least 60k to 70k words and the first part of a trilogy (or one 150k to 250k book).  Even if I don’t make it, I enjoyed the neurosis that is NaNo and will certainly finish this book and try to do it next year. Count on it!

Oh boy! Knee deep into Nano. Feeling the pressure as I lag behind in the word count. Haven’t cracked 10,000 words yet. But I like the story I’m writing (although I feel it is a bit dry, but its only a first draft after all). Of course this means that Neither Here nor There is on hold until the end of the month, unless I reach 60,000 words before November 31st. Whether I manage that or not, I will have to polish off my second draft an send it off to Beta and to waiting friends and family. Hopefully the second draft is an improvement over the first. Well I can’t hand around here any more, I got to get back to NaNo. If you want a sneak peek at my NaNo project, click on the link.

See ya back in a week, or so….

Gifu Prefecture, Japan, March 28, 21:09 hrs

Ethan knelled before the altar in the shrine’s inner sanctum.  Smoke coiled upwards from burning incense sticks. He tried to meditate, to clear his mind of all distractions but the events of the last week intruded into his thoughts. The visit by his old time school friend Sanjuro, intense practice sessions with his grandfather, the antics of Mariko’s cat chasing after empty boxes of soda. Peace, something he had not known in years, perhaps this was the answer to his grandfather’s question. The reason why he had come here in the first place.

His body also remembered the recent days. The bruises where his granfather’s bokuto scored hits. Ethan tried to push all these thoughts away when the hairs in the back of his neck rose. A stench in the air. The faint smell of something that lives and dies among human refuse.  Instinct took over. In one swift move Ethan grabbed hold of Tasumaki took a battle stance facing the door.  It slid open. A shadow leapt toward Ethan. Ethan took one, two, three steps and slashed from the scabbard. A claw came within inches of his left cheek. The attacker fell to the floor with a dull thud.  Ethan glanced back and saw what looked like a giant rat dead on the floor. Dark ichor spread from the wound. More sounds from beyond the door. Rushing to the inner garden saw two more attackers one on each side of the garden. Ethan ran to the right, his opponent reacted by lounging at him.  Reversing his grip, Ethan thrust forward impaling the beast. To his left the other rat fiend jumped clear across the sand garden. He reacted by slashing in a semi-circle from front to back, cutting the monster open from groin to neck. A river of dark blood poured from the gash as the creature tumbled backwards.  As soon as it hit the ground it began to dissolved into a smoking pool of dark ichor.

The wind carried a series of distant sounds to Ethan’s ears. A scream, a hiss, a broken vase. Ethan ran down outside toward the house. Everything passed by in a blur. Without barely noticing Ethan’s feet seem to jump from one staircase landing to the next without touching any steps in between.  A distance that would have taken a dozen or more minutes to travel took less than a minute.  With one last step, Ethan jumped from the road to the wooden deck overlooking the pond. The lights where out inside, but he could smell the stench of the enemy within. Suddenly a figure stumbled backwards from the kitchen. Without thinking, Ethan thrust the sword through the glass door.  It exploded into shards that sped forward the enemy. The slashed and stabbed it, pinning it to a wall. One, two, three steps, a downward slash from neck to sternum.  Another creature fell backwards from Ichijo’s room, over the second floor banister to the living room floor below. Before it could react Tasumaki decapitated the enemy with a single stroke. For a second Ethan and Mariko stared at each other. Mariko held a large kitchen knife with a reverse grip in a defensive stance. Sounds from the second floor attracted Ethan’s attention. It was Linda, Mariko’s cat, jaws clamp on an intruder. It flayed wildly, trying to pry of the cat, but Linda would not let go. Ethan ended the uneven fight when he cut the fiend’s right leg from under it. A single thrust to the neck finished it.

The door to Ichijo’s room was open. Cautiously, Ethan stepped in to investigate. He gasped at the sight. His grandfather laid in a corner barely breathing. Turning on the lights Ethan saw why. The old man clutched at his bloody chest.

“Onnichan!”

“I’m alright Ethan, just a scratch” his grandfather gasped.

“We have to take you to a hospital.”

Ichijo lifted a finger and pointed at box inside the closet. “My papers, you need them. Use them–“His breathing stopped, his pupils dialated. Ethan didn’t bother checking for a pulse. He had seen this to many times. Toru Ichijo was dead.

Gifu Prefecture, Japan, March 23, 8:09hrs

Ethan waved to the truck driver as he drove off.  A one lane road split of from the mountain highway. Below him laid a sleepy village nestle between the imposing peaks of Kiso mountains. Known as the Japanese Alps, villages like this one are a popular tourist attraction for those who want to ski in the winter or escape the city heat in the summer. The cherry trees blossoms filled the air, a clear sign of spring. As Ethan walked down the branching streets of Hitoshirezu village people bowed and waved hello. Anywhere else in the country his height and facial features would  mark him as a gaijin, but not among these people. They remembered the quite, respectful grandson of the shrine’s priest.  Ethan noticed how little the village had changed since he spent his summers here. Most of the homes where of wood with stone lined thatched roofs.  Few modern buildings existed here, except for the local hotel and bathhouse.

He stopped briefly at that place and made a few inquiries. The manager pointed to a nearby home at the edge of a placid lagoon.  Adjusting his jacked and rucksack Ethan tried to knock on the front door but at the moment his knuckles where about to touch the wood, it opened and a young woman leaped into his arms.

“Oniichan!” screamed the girl. She had long raven locks with a single pink and white stripe running the length of her hair. A small cat with wide eyes and floppy ears stood on it’s hind legs and peered out the door.

“Mariko! How many times have I told you not to call me that!”

She pouted and stuck her tongue out. “Always the downer.” She grabbed his rucksack and tried to carry it, but merely managed to drag it a few feet over the polished wooden floor. Ethan shook his head. He thought about helping her, but that would simply anger her and he was too tired to get into a fight. Abandoning the bag Mariko dashed to the kitchen. “Do you want anything? Breakfast?”

“Sure, why not” said Ethan as he left his shoes on the mat beside the front door and hung his bomber jacket on a rack.  The house has of modern design. Two stories and painted in earthen colors. Large glass doors lead to the patio and exposed a stunning view of the lagoon. Water trickled down the side of the mountain, feeding it. The cat followed him around, his eyes in perpetual surprise. Ethan scratched it behind the ears, which cause it to stand on it’s back legs reaching for more petting.

“Oh Linda, stop that! Now she will not leave you alone” said Mariko.

“I don’t mind. What happened to the other cat?”

“He died shortly after we moved.”

“How come you’re not at the Inn?”

“I sold it. It was to much for me with Mom and Dad gone.”

Ethan remembered how Mariko came to be a member of the family. His grandfather took her in when a fire destroyed most of the inn taking her parents with it. The insurance money covered the damage but no amount of money would bring the Yamashiro’s back from the grave.

“The house looks nice” Ethan said as she served breakfast. “By the way, where is he?”

She pointed toward the a path that lead up the mountain side “Where else?”

“Of course.” As he ate Mariko bombarded him with questions about his travels. Ethan demurred as much as possible between mouthfuls. “I’ll go and see him.”

“Right now?”

“Yes.”

“But…but, you must be tired. I’ll prepare a room for you. You should rest, he will come back down for lunch.”

He was tired from all the traveling. But he wasn’t done yet. Something compelled him to keep going. “I’ll be fine. Thank you for breakfast.”

Mariko eyes narrowed but she said nothing. He walked along the path that lead to the shrine. A steep staircase, the one he dubbed the million and one stairs to hell back when he lived here meandered all the way to the hilltop. He took his time. Wooden boards lined both sides of the stairs. On them the faded remnants of prayers twisted in the wind. The stairs ended on a wide patio. Nestled among the trees was the Shrine of the Mountain Wind. The mid morning sun filtered through the branches casting the building in undulating waves of light and darkness. A young boy swept the floor in front of the main entrance. He stopped suddenly when Ethan approached.

“The shrine is closed” he said. He tried to inject as much authority as he could muster into his words but his voice betrayed him as it shifted wildly in pitch.

“I know, I came to see Priest Toru”.

“He is busy at the moment.”

“Busy sleeping I suspect. OJIISAN!”bellowed Ethan.  The word startled the boy. The man before him did not look Japanese, not exactly, yet his accent was local. He knew that his master had other disciples in the past, but none that called him grandfather. “OJIISAN!”

“I’m coming dammit, I’m coming!” the front door slid open revealing a man in his sixties, yet fit.  He adjusted his kimono as he spoke “Who the hell–”

“Hello grandfather.”

Grandfather and grandson looked at each other and both saw something in each other eyes that only men with similar experiences could comprehend. Toru Ichijo walked toward his grandson and gently patted him in the arm “Welcome back Ethan.”

“Good to see you again grandpa.”

Ichijo turned to the youth holding the broom. “What are you staring at boy, keep at it. You still have to clear the garden before lunch.”

The boy bowed “Yes sir” and continued to sweep the patio.

“Come in Ethan, come in. Its been a long while” the older man guided the younger inside. After taking their shoes off the walked behind the main altar, past the inner garden and into one of the backrooms.

“It has. How things going with the shrine?”

“Oh same old same old. We still get our goverment grant, you know from the historical society and summers are busy of course but right now its a matter of keeping the place in one piece.”

“And you got yourself a new assistant.”

“Yes, he is Homaru’s youngest. Hard working, but has a problem following instructions.”

“If I remember well grandfather, your ‘instructions’ where not very helpful.”

The priest looked up with a faint smile “You rascal! Nothing wrong with my instructions, nothing at all. Of course young men who prefer to while away the time in front of the television playing video games never have time for proper work. But enough about old times, sit down. Would you like something to drink?”

“Beer?”

“That’s the American in you talking” gripped Ichijo.

Ethan sat crossed legged on the floor mat “Oh like you hate it so much. I remember dad bribing you with a case or two from base.”

Ichijo rummaged through a mini fridge in the back of the room “Thank Anheiser-Busch for the fact that you’re here today, boy! No beer, no marriage I told your father. The beer never stopped flowing, until-”

Ethan words filled the awkward void “I’m sure that you got a new supplier.”

“Oh yes, a friend of your fathers stationed in Okinawa”. Grandfather handed the grandson a cold bottle of beer. “Here you go. So what brings you to this lonely corner of the Japan. I would have thought that you would be already in Iowa, or where ever the Army sent you to.” He asked the question not as a beloved family member but as his former teacher, his sensei. A question that demanded an answer.

“I resigned my commission ojiisan. I’m retired now.”

Without looking up Ichijo took another swig from his bottle “I see. I expected that you would be promoted after winning that medal.”

“The offers came, but I had enough of the Army.”

“War is a harsh and cruel mistress. What we must do to protect the flesh tends to scar the soul.”

Ethan was about to ask what did his grandfather knew about war, but he kept his mouth shut when their eyes met again. “I believe the Americans call it the Thousand Yard Stare, do they not?” his grandfather said.

“We do.”

“Get up” Ichijo said gently.

They moved to the back of the temple, to a second shrine. Upon the altar laid a sword in its scabbard. Ichijo took the sword and handed it to Ethan “You are ready.”

Ten years ago Ethan had entered this room and dared touch the same object. When his grandfather saw what he was doing, he merely took it from him and said “You are NOT ready”. He spoke then with the same monotone as he spoke today.

Ethan could not believe what his grandfather was doing “But the sword belongs to the shrine, I can’t take it.”

“The shrine was built to honor the spirits of air and storm that inhabit these mountains. Seven hundred years ago those spirits helped the first of the Toru clan in crafting this blade. Ever since” Ichijo removed a curtain behind the altar “every generation of the our family has wielded the blade. Now it is your turn.”

“I can’t” gasped Ethan. He looked up at the mural on the wall. Fantastic scenes of battle made up the mural. Different men and women battling all kinds of monsters, but always wielding the same sword.

“Whether you wield Tasumaki or not, that is entirely up to you. But it belongs to you.”

Ethan shifted his feet, putting his right foot forward, leaning on it while his left leg slid backwards. His left thumb pushed on circular pommel. He heard the sound of thunder in the distance and smell dampness in the air. Without thinking he said “Its going to rain” and pushed back the sword inside the scabbard.

Toru Ichijo nodded sagely “Indeed it will.”

Lower East Side, Manhattan Island, New York City, U.S. Present Day, 14:55hrs.

A man walked down a narrow alleyway away from the street, deeper into maze of buildings. Concrete gave way to brick and even to rock. Above and behind him the sounds of a living metropolis faded. The opening bars of a song filtered down with the afternoon sunlight.

There’s somethin’ wrong with the world today
I don’t know what it is
Something’s wrong with our eyes

The gentleman in question wore a perfectly tailored grey suit with a blue tie and spitshine polished shoes. His face did not betray his ethnicity or place of origin. His features where cut straight from the bone, nothing, not even a hair on his well coiffed hair was out of place. Deeper he went into the artifical canyon. A dog rumaging through the trash looked up and ran as if it was kicked. The man paid him no mind. He ignored the pungent smell of refuse and the pools of stangnant water. Nothing seemed able to touch him.

We’re seeing things in a different way
And God knows it ain’t His
It sure ain’t no surprise….

The last bars of the song faded into oblivion. The silent figure reached his destination at the end of the alley. A thin building, wedge between larger tenements rose before him. The sign above the front door read:

Infinity


The dilapidated door yielded to the stranger’s first knock. Stacks of books created a narrow passage way straight to the back of the store. On both sides bookcases filled to capacity lined the walls. Looking up, the stranger saw a walk way that lead to a second floor and more bookcases. To his left a steep staircase lead to a basement with even more books. To his right a dusty glass counter with an mechanical cash register and a bell. His hand hovered over the bell, but before he rang it a voice cried out.

“Please come in. I am in here.”

The stranger moved forward, past dark purple curtains and into the backroom. Sitting on the floor was an woman, as ancient as time itself.  Small, frail and cloaked in crimson shawl. Her milky white eyes looked straight ahead. The man shifted his weight to his right foot. To the casual observer it would appear as a arrogant pose but an expert would see how the man had positioned himself into combat stance with minimum effort. He reached into his coat jacket, retrieved a piece of paper and tossed it to the old woman.

Her voice creaked as she spoke “Now you know I can’t see, let alone read, my boy.”

“No need to read it since you wrote it twenty-five years ago.” The tone of his voice remained steady, almost bored.

“Ah yes, you must be Javier’s brother. How is he?”

“Dead and buried. But you knew that already.”

“Know–” her mouth quivered “no, I didn’t know, but I guessed.”

“So much for being a Seer. Twenty-five years to the day. You told him to come back here and ask you a question.”

“Yes, I did, of course I did. But since he is not here then you will ask me the question, no?”

“Is it back?”

“The blade will soon find a new wielder. The last of his clan will seek redemption and find a cause.”

Seconds passed with nothing said. The stranger’s eyes scanned the scene before him as he waited. Curtains, mats and pillows, but no books. After a long minute he said “Is that all?”

“Yes. That is all I see.  One tends to see the images in the tapestry only when one is caught in the web created by the strands of fate.”

The stranger tossed a small envelope in front of the Seer. “You’re money.”

“Thank you. But you have a question of you’re own, don’t you?”

“How do I deal with the Swordsman?” he asked.

“The simplest way is always the best” she replied.

“Nothing is ever simple in our world.”

“Of course not, and there lies you’re dilemma. You will not defy your nature and that will lead you to define his.”

The stranger opened his mouth and shut it. No need to ask her what she meant, he would only get another cryptic answer. “Thank you for your time.” She nodded as he left. A black limo waited on the other side of the alleyway, rear passenger door open. The stranger boarded and closed the door. The driver sped up into traffic.

“So Julian, what did she tell you” asked the man sitting beside him.

“Nothing we didn’t suspect already.”

“A wasted effort then.”

“Not necessarily, we have confirmation. It is time to act accordingly.”

Pouring himself a glass of bourbon the other continued “Julian, this matter cost us dearly the last time. Remember what happened to poor Javier.”

“Johan, you know full well that we can not ignore this. The Syndicate may believe that this matter is close but we know better.”

“Your call brother. I will support you in whatever you decide. But be careful. A mistake could be the end of all us.”

“I know.” Pressing a button on the door handle Julian spoke “Driver, drop up me at my apartment.”

A voice came through the intercom “Yes Mr. Payton.”

Johan bid his brother farewell “You know I hate that name.”

“We use what we can to survive Johan. You know that.”

Julian walked into the lobby of the co-op. Everyone greeted him with a smile, from the doorman to the elevator operator. The elevator opened directly to the penthouse’s foyer. “Have a nice day Mr. Payton” said the elevator attendant.

With a flash of pearl white teeth Julian said “You too Godfrey.”

The apartment was spacious and spare. The walls were painted in light shades of white, gray and blue. The few pieces of furniture shared a metallic, post-modern look. Julian took off his jacket and shoes, placing them in the right place on a hallway closet. From the bottom of the closet he took out a two small boxes. One of plastic gloves the other had red plastic bags, with a strange triangular shape on the outside. He moved to the main bedroom. Before opening the door he dropped the boxes next to it. He then opened the door. On the bed laid a naked woman in her early twenties. Whatever features Nature had not gifted her with had been shaped to perfection by a surgeon’s knife.

“Julian you’re home.” Julian smiled. She detected danger, like the dog in the alleyway. But it was too late. “Julian was wrong? What’s going on? Wait what are you….No…No, please don’t…NOOOO–” Her screams where cut off by the closing door and suppressed by the soundproofing material in the walls and ceiling. Her sweet screams of terror where for him and him alone.