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First, the kitty, because I know that Kelly likes them (and is owned by one).

Second, the reasons why I bought Three Days to Dead:

  1. I heard about it on Kelly’s Blog and decided to support a fellow writer,
  2. Wanted to expand my U/F scope beyond The Dresden Files.
  3. It had an interesting premise

Third, the review.

First and foremost, it is an fast and furious ride which is over before you can even blink. From the moment you say GO! it doesn’t stop, it even barely slows down. The characters are engaging, in fact, the author manages to create a well balanced female lead that is tough yet vulnerable without being either bitchy or whiny.  You feel for Evangeline Stone from the get go and those feelings are enhanced by what she has gone through. Not only that, the romantic subplot meshes seamlessly with the main story instead of hobbling it.

And special mention goes to the tact and skill in handling a particular scene. In the hands of another author it would have either a) averted all together, or b) given way to much information. Instead we get just enough to imagine the horrors alluded too without needing to vomit afterward.

The downside(s)?

The end was a bit too quick for me, I almost missed it and it was too neatly wrapped up, which smelled of deux machina and so did the coincidences (which are lamp shaded in the books several times). Also, the background seems a bit generic, the variations on archetypes were interesting (specially the goblins) but not enough to make them stand out from the norm. But no worries, no major info dumping occurs either, so the action flows without any major interruptions.

One last thing, which is a critique of the book, but not of its content.

The cover.

You can read my full argument against cliche covers (with bullet points) if you fallow the link above, but suffice it to say that had I know specifically looked for it, I would probably would never had bought this book just by looking at the cover. It’s interesting on its own, but fails to stand out among the rests of the offerings in the shelf. I know that as a first time author, Ms, Meding doesn’t have a lot of control over such things, but this book deserves better.

Overall, it is a good solid piece of Urban Fantasy, well crafted and above all else, entertaining. Well worth the money. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

There are three paths to rule creation (and by rule I mean the rules, planks and other staples that support the internal logic of any work of speculative fiction):

  1. Strict Construction: The writers has a rule for everything and for everything a rule.
  2. Fudge it/Fuzzy Logic: The writer sets the rules as the situation demands it.
  3. Thou Shall Not: The writer concentrates on the outer edges of the rules, that is, on those things that CAN NOT BE DONE within the setting/universe.

The first option is one that many a Tolkien/RPG fan takes as the de facto way of building a backdrop for their upcoming epic fantasy story. Worked well for Tolkien, but many a would be writer ends up catching world building addiction/disease and never reach he first page of the first draft.

Others, after spending many hours pouring over every detail of the rules that govern their universe then feel the overwhelming urge to write paragraph after paragraph describing said rules with slavish devotion. Exposition without action is telling not showing. Then you have the writer that gets stuck somewhere on late Act 2 and finds that the reason they are stuck is because either a) the rules don’t cover this particular situation or b) according to the same rules, well, the plot is screwed.

End result: the Ass Pull. Yes, it is as ugly and for the reader, as painful as it sounds.

Strict Construction is a style of world building you work your way into after many a trial and error, unless you are Brandon Sanderson, or Tolkien, or a game designer. What about discovery writers? Discovery writers (like me) don’t have the time, patience (or skill) to engineer everything before hand (no outlines).

So we tend to fix rules after the fact, hence the term Fudge It/Fuzzy Logic. Rules pop up as needed. Great for the writer on the go, but can be murder on consistency. The rule you set in stone in page 14 can bite you in the butt on page 214. Can lead to anything from Fridge Logic to You Fail Logic Forever, especially when you’re trying to apply the Rule of Cool and instead the reader thinks you’re pulling everything from between your butt cheeks (see previous scatological link above).

Solution: Write everything down!

A rule is a rule, is A RULE!

Unless the rule is that vampires sparkle in sunlight.

I know where you live. Don’t make me come to your home and slap you in public.

Ahem.

Where was I?

Last but not least: Thou Shall Not or there are no rules but these rules, conveniently packaged in a stone tablet and numbered 1-10.  This method means that everything goes, and I do mean everything EXCEPT anything in the list.  Gives the writer a wide latitude but can turn some people off plus can end up with a Deus Ex Machina (a A$$ Pull on steroids with frosting on top). No limits means very little in the way of internal logic. Fortunately the same solution that applies to #2 applies here as well.

Of course, you can make a story around breaking said rules, or having the characters work their way around them. Now that could make for some interesting reading. If done right, of course.

Just remember: NO SPARKLING! Thank you!

And now for the video of the day:

Years ago I thought up an epic saga, two thousand years in the future with vast star ship armadas, legions of mechanized soldiers and double dealing noble houses. I spent many an hour writing the back story, going so far as creating a “Encyclopedia Galactica”.

So where is this great story of mine?

In a drawer somewhere?

Perhaps a lost computer file?

I wish.

It remains all in my head. I wrote a paragraph at most only to annihilate it with the dreaded backspace button.  Yes, I fell victim to the bane of oh so many would be speculative fiction writers, world building disease.

Although, truth be told, it is not really a disease, per say, but an addiction. What really happens is that writer’s get addicted to the act of world (or universe) creation.  There is always something new to create; a race(s), country, time line, key characters, monsters, magic items, technology, etc.

I have three ways of breaking the cycle of addiction to this God-like power:

  1. Forget about world building and just write the story. The story’s universe will be come to life as you write.
  2. Mine what you already have.
  3. Look for work where world building skills are useful.

That is what I did for my second novel. True, I did cheat by placing it in a near-future setting and borrowing heavily from history (both real and mythological). Yet I had to create organizations, magic, demons and the like.

So I did a bit of world building, but only so much. I’m not a outline writer, instead what I do is I scribble a few notes to set my “universe” boundaries. I ask myself a few questions about the scope (planetary, star system, galaxy), technology (giant robots, magitech, steampunk) and characters. These form the outer edges of the canvas I will work with, as well as the basic palette of colors. As I write the story I take notes of the stuff that comes up, expand where needed (research, research and when in doubt research some more). That way I kept writing and ended up with a complete work that included a fair amount of back story.

The second strategy is to mine what you already have. As Howard Tayler suggest in the latest episode of Writing Excuses podcast, write a story about the people already in your outline.  Somebody had to create the fabulous Sword of Unbending Truth, defend the Pass of No Return or assault Garesh VI, right? You don’t have to write a whole novel around them, but a short story would do. It also shifts the focus from telling (world building) to showing (writing a story). At the very least you are creating a living framework for your universe, one that will hone your skills as a writer and may even be publishable in their own right. Not all 600 page books are made up of one story,  many are omnibuses/anthologies.

This brings me to my third point; you might not be a writer…of novels. Your talent may well lie in creating fertile fields for others to explore. You might still write in your universe, but that doesn’t mean your the only one that has to. You can share your idea with your writer’s group or get a job with a gaming company (paper/pencil or computer). They are always looking for the next “campaign setting” to serve as the basis for an existing or new franchise.

Just look at the many books already published in pre-existing franchises. Most of them are based on RPGs, comic books or other preexisting works. George Lucas created Star Wars, but dozens of writers have worked on the Expanded Universe. Same thing with D&D (all versions), World of Warcraft, Star Trek, and so on.  Just look at the Dragonlance series of books.

Whatever approach you decide to take the key is to be productive. World building is necessary, but it should not stop you from doing actual writing. At some point you have to stop telling me about the genealogy of the great kings of Adtmadar and start showing me who they are and why should I care about them. That means more than a dissertation or a time line. It means characters, dialogue, plot and action.

It’s the difference between a house and a home.

A house it’s a structure. Nothing more, nothing less.

A home is place that people live in.  A place that has meaning and consequences.

Time to turn your house into a home.

To finish the first draft of SuD. The final battle approaches and with it all my hopes and fears that this monster born out of a simple NaNo will retain some coherence after I’m done with it. I already know that it has a few plot holes that must be fixed, which I will get to them when I transcribe said first draft from legal pad to the computer screen.  I’ll try and do that while at the same time doing a one shot method revision of my first WIP and marshaling my strengths to tackle my first movie script (I ain’t nothing if not ambitious!)

So where are you in the endless cycle of writing, editing and revision?

While you come up with an answer here is a bit of Afro-Samurai for you, in keeping with this WIP themes of cool swords, kick ass action and mucho bloodletting.

Enjoy!

Another RPG inspired piece for Teaser Tuesday. This is part of my current character’s background.

The Dwarfs held their positions among the ruble of the north wall. Around them, nervous militia men waited for the impending onslaught. The sound of orcish drums filtered through the morning mist. Then they heard the wild mutterings of the clerics of Iuz, summoning their dread lord’s power. The orcs marched forward at the beat of the drums, their footfalls matching the hollow beats. Closer and closer they came. In spite of the morning chill, the defenders of Algernon Tower felt their clothes dampen with sweat. Three days of continuous combat had reduced their numbers by a third. Only one thing could save them now.

Sir Aymond heard the drums in the distance. The mist would dissipate soon, but with luck he would catch the enemy unawares. His brother, Baynard, rode to his side “Do you think this is going to work?”

“It will, brother. Of course if you have a better idea, now would be the time.”

The sound of a distant horn interrupted them “Too late for that.”

Aymond wheeled his mount around. “Men of the Shield Lands, Knights in good standing, servants of Good. Our land is in peril, it’s need dire. One more time we ride for lord and country and the survival of all free people! CHARGE!”

The Dwarfs poured a relentless stream of bolts into the approaching mass, but while some fell, others took their place. The militia horn blew once more. Even the steady fire of three ranks of elite crossbowmen would not be enough to halt the enemy. At the center of the horde, a dark cleric of Iuz danced wildly, holding a burning bowl of offal while he screamed obscene chants to the Lords of the Abyss.

“Graz’zt, unholy father, gives us your strength. Gives us power to smite your Zion’s enemies. For the glory of the Abyss—“ The thunder of charging hooves drowned the cleric’s insane rant as Aymond’s cavalry smashed into the enemies flank. Momentum and determination drove them forward, their spears piercing mail and flesh as they went. Lances gave way to swords as the knights slashed their way to the hear of the orcish mass.

In mid trance, the foul priest did not hear nor see his minions scatter or the black stallion charging toward him. With one downward stroke, Aymond’s sword decapitated the priest. A fountain of blood showered his acolytes who fled at the site of their master’s death. Dwarfs and men poured from Algernon Tower to finish the fight, leaving none alive.

Aymond shouted to his men “The Day is Ours!”

“HUZZAH! HUZZAH!” they shouted back, all except Baynard.

He approached his brother and whispered as he pointed behind them “But not without loss.” A score of knights had fallen amidst the charge and as Aymond raised his visor he could see that at least one orc had scored a vicious hit on his left calf.

“Order the men to regroup. Tell the garrison to move out as soon as possible. We must move south at once.”

“Yes M’Lord.”

At nightfall the group camped for the night. Few tents went up, except for the Commander’s tent. Inside, Aymond worked feverishly to finish the last bits of paperwork before he put his plan into action. Inside the tent others waited for their commander’s instructions.

Aymond first missive concerned the fighting around Algernon’s tower:

Day 1

Encountered enemy supply trains northeast of the tower. Destroyed seven wagons and scattered the human guards. Took no prisoners. Orcish troops made a frontal attack on the tower. Repelled with the help of dwarven crossbowmen and sorcerer’s help inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy.  Orcs carried their dead from the field. The reason for this unusual behavior became clear later that night. Undead attacked the battlements, including several shadows. Brother Cristoff of the Order of the Platinum Bolt (Heironeous) assisted in the defense.  Losses few, but we lost our war wizard.

Day 2

Enemy resumed their assault with siege weapons. Managed to breach the North wall of the outer bailey. Led  knights in an assault against the siege engines and destroyed several of them. Second assault repulsed as well. Friendly losses where heavy. A score of knights fell and so did fifty of the militia. Again, the enemy resumed nightly assault with undead using war drums to keep us awake.

Day 3

Enemy continued their assault. Led charge against main body of the enemy scattering them and killing the commander. Could not hold the Tower indefinitely. Valuables have been removed and forces evacuated. Fear that this is just the tip of the spear. The east is wide open to attack. Larger bands of humanoids lead by followers of the Old One raid an pillage at will. If nothing is done, forces will capture Admuntfort and lay siege to Critwall. Forces must be shifted or be trapped in a pocket. The enemy asks and gives no quarter.

Time is off the essence.

Your Loyal Servant

Sir Aymond Marhaus, First Lance of the Order

Aymond sealed the letter with his signet ring and gave it to his fastest rider. As he left he got up to talk to the assemble leadership. He cleared the table, which had a map of the Shield Lands engraved on the tabletop. The table was supposed to be magical, but Aymond did not have the time or the inclination to divine its mysteries.

“Gentlemen, our situation is dire. The enemy  commands the field and we do not have the forces at hand to stop them. I fear that even the combined might of all the Knighthood would do nothing but yield to this evil tide. However, the enemy does have one vital flaw, lack of cavalry. My men will ride north and harass the enemy as much as we can, buying you sometime to complete your tasks. Baynard—“

“Yes brother?”

Handing him a sealed letter and a small leader bound book Aymond said “Take this to Chateau Marhaus. Evacuate the family and get them to Critwall, from there sail to Greyhawk and safety. We have a modest home there, one that I hope to use as part of a future business venture, but alas.”

“Leave you here! But you need us! We need to regroup and defend our lands against the humanoid scum! We must fight!”

Sergeant Walpole and Leftenant Wilkins nodded, but Duarte, long time family friend (three generations past and counting) knew better “And where lad, do ye think we will hold them? The tower was the last fortification before the walls of Admuntfort. There is nothing but their greed to slow them down, and nothing will stop them.”

“Indeed my old friend. And that is why you have to take this.” Aymond handed him a ram’s horn. “This is Algernon’s horn, take your stalwarts and march to the coast post haste. Take the horn to a safe place away from these abominations. It must not fall in their hands.”

“Aye, that we can do.”

“Sergeant, you and your men will accompany Baynard south to Critwall. From there you will take this.” He handed him a large pouch and a letter “Do not open it, what is inside is not meant for your eyes. Your men will stay in Critwall with Baynard while you go to the College of Wizards in the city of Greyhawk. Ask for Aspertas of Kent, he will know what to do with it. As for you Leftenant, prepare the men, we ride north as soon as we are able.”

“Understood.”

All left except Baynard “Brother this is madness. Divide our forces now, in the face of the enemy? There must be another way.”

“What forces you speak off? Fifty militia men, about the same number of dwarvern bowmen and our riders. The infantry will slow us down and if we are caught in the open we will perish.”

“We will take as many of the bastards with us as we can!”

“And then, who will protect our families. Death will come for all us soon enough. I’ll keep the priest with us. We will surely come in handy. Besides unlike you he has more courage than sense. At least I think he does” he said with a sad smile.

“Send another if word if what you need them to have. I will stay with you” Baynard pleaded.

Aymond stood tall looking at down as his brother who was a half head shorter than him “Baynard, what is the calling of a warrior?”

“To Fight so Others don’t Have to, and to Die so Others may Live.”

“Then if that is the case, others need of our service, one more time. Rachel and the boys need their uncle now more than ever. At least make sure that they board a reliable ship South. If battle you want, I am sure the enemy will be breathing down your neck soon enough.”

“May St. Cuthbert protect you” said Bynard as he hugged his brother goodbye.

“May Pelor’s blessing shine upon you brother”.

Aymond opened the tent flat and yelled to his charges “We Ride!”

Battle would be joined one last time.

Read More »

Were in:

The first villain (MC) meet(s) is the weakest, and the last is the strongest. In theory, as the heroes get strong enough to defeat their current enemy, a new enemy will emerge that forces them to reach another skill level.

A very common trope found at the heart of most comic books, action based TV series, RPGs and games (with a level system).  Serves as a plot extender of sorts. If you met the final Boss in the first chapter then it would be a short story not a novel.

From the villain point of you sending his strongest henchman to finish off the hero (if he even knows that he exists) might not be the logical first choice. First off if a disposable minion can do the job, why not send them, especially if they have a good track record. Also it would be easy to follow the trail back from the henchman back to the Big Boss, especially if the henchman is captured and made to talk.

For the writer the Algorithm of Evil helps in several ways:

  • Keeps the Big Boss hidden until it is time to reveal him
  • Allows the hero to grow through experience without the villain suffering from villain decay
  • Keeps the fights interesting. After all if the hero gets to strong compared to his rivals then they offer no challenge to him and the tension slacks to nothing.
  • Allows for a bit of detective work on the part of the heroes/MC(s). They have to go through the low(er) level mooks just to figure out who the Big Boss is.

When done right it proves the old adage that there is “always someone stronger”. Of course you may end up with something like Bleach or Dragon Ball type anime were an endless parade of more insanely powerful enemies come along to fight the already insanely godlike heroes (also common in certain high powered superhero comics like Superman).

I found myself doing the exact same thing in SuD but hopefully I avoided the pitfalls by:

  • Teaming up the MC with other heroes. Thus while the hero does get stronger, he certainly can’t fight all the bad guys by himself.
  • Brain over brawn: Both heroes and villains use more than raw muscle to survive. In fact the villains prefer not to get their hands dirty unless they can help it and the hero will certainly use other means to achieve his goals if they are at hand. Even within a fight sequence, the hero tends to use tactics and strength in equal measure.
  • Even mooks can hurt you. Just because you can dispatch a horde of X type of opponents doesn’t mean that they are still not a risk. If they score a hit or two, the hero will get hurt.

Well, I hope that I can navigate the waters of this trope safely and end up with a fun story at the end.

H/T to Marian for introducing me to the TV Tropes Wiki which served as an inspiration for this post.

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!

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.”

Yes, what was once just another WIP has become my NaNo project. Expect updates and press releases as well as much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Enjoy!