How’s fall/spring treating ya?
Around these parts, we’ve seen gray skies and rain rain rain – which is a good thing. California hasn’t seen enough moisture in a while so a bit of wet is much welcomed. Muddy trails means I’m more likely to be inside so here I am finally getting around to writing a post.
It’s the time of year we all start reflecting on the past year and wondering where all the hours went. I haven’t a clue on that one, but I’m rather pleased to note that I sold, for actual hard cash (okay, it wasn’t much, but it was something), two stories this past year. I guess that means next year, I have to double that number and aim to sell four short stories.
Though I’ve written and started far more than four short stories this past year, of those, I think two of them are good. The first of which I self-published on this blog (Wyvernfight for those of you who may have missed it) and a science fiction tale about a homesick man on the moon trying to get back home. It’s called Earthrise. A funny thing about this last story is that it is in audio production. A new story audio production team needed a guinea pig to work on and they accepted my story for that (questionable?) honor. I’m not sure what will come of it, but whatever it is, you’ll be the first to see (hear) it. From what I can gather, the product will be festooned with awesomeness (or, at the very least, coolness).
I tried and failed at this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge. I hadn’t really been trying, so I guess that’s more of a failing on my commitment efforts rather than my writing efforts, but I was still disappointed with myself. However, after re-reading what I did manage to get down, it has inspired me to finish the story. It’s a long one. With multiple viewpoints, but it is also a fun story with a lot of action-adventure, magic, skyrails, civil war, wizard terrorists, and pirates. There’s even a fair amount of romance. I’m afraid it might turn into an epic. I’ve included the beginning of the story below. Let me know what you think – good and bad. Don’t hold back and allow me to write 100,000 words of this story before telling me it wasn’t worth the time!
Not much else going on around here. I have tried my best to keep tabs on you all. It never ceases to amaze me how much great writing is going on out there. Keep it up.
My parents were fond of repeating the old Kuitati saying: Never vow revenge – it’s bad for business, never back out of a deal at the last-minute, and never say never.
As I watched their blood seep into the hardwood floor beneath my feet, I did not know I would do all three within the hour. My heart pounded, a low sound roared in my ears, and I fell to my knees. I slipped on the blood, and landed hard on my elbow.
Behind me, someone came into the bedroom and gasped. I spun on my side, slick with blood, my short blade at the ready, but it was only Alfrik. With mouth agape, our long-time house servant took in his beloved employers – their throats slit open like the gaping red mouth of a sea-gurk – and screamed.
I shushed him with a swipe of my blade, then hissed, “The killer may still be here.”
His eyes grew wide then darted about the room. Our coastal home was not as well-appointed or as large as our main house in the capital, but there were still plenty of places for the killer to hide. I got up, eyeing the large wardrobe near the open wide, glass doors that led to the gardens. A midnight breeze set the thin drapes to dancing. The bed occupied the center of the room; its covers reached the floor, ample room for an assassin. Or perhaps behind my mother’s desk?
I remember when the Prime Director of Ji gifted the piece for her part in securing one of the most celebrated trade agreements in Kuitati and Nesian history. She had thought to do the same with the aloof Elwans, but instead–.
I could not think of it. The idea of my parents being killed – murdered! – under my watch slithered and coiled in my mind like a desert ferk ready to sinks its poisonous fangs deep into my heart. Already it felt numb.
Regardless, I checked all the places an assassin might hide and found nothing.
“Desew,” Alfrik addressed me by my childhood nickname. “We must sound the alarm and call for a Kui’t Perfect. There still may be time.”
Near the end of their life, the lightning lamps flickered, casting shadows across Alfrik’s face, for a moment obscuring the expression and the kui’t-markings on his face.
Enough time to bring them back from the dead? I thought.
I could not imagine living with the reanimated corpses of my parents traipsing through our homes. But I know he only thought of the deal. Without my parents, it would be void.
Standing above them again, I stared so hard at the shock on their faces, wishing with every ounce of my fiber to bring them back. But that wasn’t my kui’t.
“Call fa’ Ksav,” I said. “And send Junut to me. Then… wake the Elwans.”
“Speak,” I said, my voice too harsh.
“Perhaps we should wait for fa’ Ksav before we involve them–”
“It was one of them,” I hissed.
Alfrik’s eyes narrowed. “Did you see the killer?” he asked.
I nodded. “I was on my rounds, and I heard noises. I thought maybe a devu had gotten into the house through a window left open. As I neared, it became apparent that was not the case. I came into their room to find an Elwan standing above them.”
Alfrik was an astute man and especially chosen for his kui’t, a talent for appropriateness. As premier Kuitati traders, my parents chose servants that would aid them with their trade goals. Alfrik was accustomed to putting two and two together, and knew that the accused must witness my formal petition of grievance against them for it to be valid. He offered a small bow and left as silently as he had come.
Fa’ Ksav was not available, but another Perfect came in her place, his face littered with at least twenty different kui’t markings. They were such a jumble, I could not discern their individual natures. But their size told me this Perfect could literally move mountains.
He went to my parent’s side, careful to avoid the blood, and hovered a hand over them. With his eyes on me, he said, “It’s not too late.”
“No,” I said, my voice cracking.
He stared at me until I shifted on my feet, then he rose.
To Alfrik, he asked, “She is without kui’t?” He waved his hand in my general direction as if I was a piece of furniture.
“Yes, sir, but she has mind and mouth as good as our own. And is now the head of this household.”
Leave it to Alfrik to cut through all social graces when needed. I gave him a strained smile in thanks.
“Without kui’t, yes,” I said, “but I was born with enough wit to make up for it. If that’s enough about me, can we get to finding the murderer?”
The Perfect nodded, then said, “I am Hedfra Buhijo, Chief Inspector. I’ll be handling this case.”
“We would have preferred fa’ Ksav,” I said.
“I mean, I, myself would.” I pinched my brow and sheathed my short sword. Blood was on my hands and drenched my coat tails. It was the last I would have of my parents, I realized. I was alone now and must act on my own accord. My heart ached.
“And you are?” the Perfect asked.
I started at his voice, then answered, “Desanewens fa’ Seduk.” I sighed, and continued, “This is why I would prefer fa’ Ksav. She knows our family.”
He held up a hand for silence and cocked his head to one side as if listening to something. Alfrik and I stood as still as statues, and tried to sense whatever it was the inspector had caught wind of, but we heard nothing but the light rasp of the curtains against the floorboards.
“The Elwans come,” the Perfect said.
“Alfrik,” I commanded, “hold them off. Take them to the East Room and tell them I’ll attend to them as soon as I can. And where is Junut? Nevermind, tell him to hold watch on the Elwans.”
A slight bow and then he was gone. Perfect Buhijo paced about the room with a glowing orb of light bobbing before him, chasing back the dark creeping up against the fluttering lightning lamps. I should have asked Alfrik to send a servant to replenish the oil.
The inspector spent some time about the open garden doors before coming back to me.
“What did you see?” he asked.
“I came in to see a man standing above them, a bloody knife in his hand.”
“A man or an Elwan? Are you changing your story or are you not sure what you saw?”
I scowled at him. “Of course, I’m sure,” I said, but I wasn’t.
Had he been Elwan? He must have. That ashen gray skin could be no other race and he moved like the wind. Only an Elwan could do that. Or a Kuitati with the right kui’t and some face paint. Just now, what made me say the killer was a man and not Elwan? When I had sent Alfrik for the Perfect, I had been sure he had been an Elwan. No longer could I say that.
“There was no forced entry,” the Perfect said. “Had your parents the habit of leaving the doors unlocked?”
“We have no reason to lock our doors.”
“You’re very rich.”
“Everyone in this neighbor is and we have walls, a moat, many servants, and a well-trained security detail. And my mother’s kui’t was premonition, she would have–”
I swallowed. Why had she not foreseen this?
“There was no reason to lock those doors,” I insisted.
“Your father’s kui’t?”
“The bargain, of course.”
The Perfect grunted. “I always thought it was your mother.”
“She is their public face. She is–was good at putting people at ease. Plus she was fluent in five Nesian dialects and spoke southern Elwan flawlessly.”
“But this deal is with the northern faction,” he said.
“Yes, but we are wasting time. The killer is–”
“Gone, fa’ Sudek. Or perhaps the killer has not left this room.”
He gave me a look that made my skin crawl. “What do you mean,” I commanded.
“I have many kui’t, fa’ Sudek, one of which is reading the fading impressions of the recent past. Those doors had been opened from the inside. Someone stood there looking back at your fallen parents before leaving. If I’m correct, each of the eight rooms of this house back the gardens, including yours?”
“Yes, and including the Elwans’,” I answer, my blood boiling at the Perfect’s implied accusation.
He held up a finger for obedience. “But the person who stood at the door was not Elwan.”
My chest felt tight and my breath came short. Had someone on our staff done this?
“The northern Elwans have no reason to see your parents’ dead, least of all when they are staying in their home and trying to strike a bargain. But you have the most to gain by their deaths.”
Blood roared anew in my ears. My sword was in my hand and I took a step towards the Perfect before I could stop myself.
“They were all I had,” I said, my voice thick with emotion. “I would never harm them.”
Something shifted in his eyes and he said, “I know.” He gave me an apologetic smile, then said in a soft voice, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Tears obscured my vision. I wiped at them and pointed my sword at the Perfect. “You will find the killer.”
“I will. And in the meantime, you will forget about him and concentrate on the deal.”
I nearly snorted. We Kuitati were so predictable. All we were ever concerned with was ‘the deal’, any deal. Nothing could ever supersede it.
“Never,” I said. “Never will I forget that man. And you are wrong. I know what I saw and he was Elwan.”
The look he gave me even made me feel sorry for myself but I persisted, even though the killer’s features were already fading from my mind.
Was that the killer’s kui’t? The ability to not be remembered or was my mind failing me? But if he was Elwan, then he could have no kui’t.
Alfrik burst into the room and said, “They are getting restless and it doesn’t help that the other Perfects keep questioning them.”
“Other Perfects?” I asked.
Perfect Buhijo made a sound of dismissal. “I’ve seen all I need here. Let us put their fears to rest.”
“Alfrik, do not move them,” I said, indicating my parents’ bodies. “I want to be the one.”
He gave me a pained look but sunk his head in acquiesce when he saw the firm set of my lips. “I’ll get cleaning supplies and replenish the lamps.”
I nodded, then led the Perfect to the East Room. My footsteps rang out loud and clear in the quiet home, but I did not feel their clarity. The ground seemed to falter beneath my feet, but I set my shoulders and schooled my face to a stern facade. The deal must go on.
But why should it? One of their members murdered my parents while I stood nearby. Even if the killer had not been sent by them, I was sure he had been one of their members.
Two days ago, they had arrived by sea. Their leader had claimed to be some relative of the Elwan king, though none wore the royal colors or sigil. It had all seemed rather dubious to me, but my parents had been working on this deal for months.
The Elwans promised their new sailing technology. No longer would our fleet be beholden to the Kui’t Perfect Guild’s politics and personnel problems. Getting a wind-kui’t person was costly and fraught with problems; they’re talent may not be strong enough to get the fleet across the long trade route or they could refuse half-way through and demand more money. Many a trip was cut short when a young wind-kui’t crewmember, out in the world for the first time, found a mate and refused to go further. Anyone with enough kui’t to move a fleet of ships knew their worth and they had very little incentive to maintain good relations with their captain or employer.
But with the new Elwan engineered machine, the Sudek Trading Company would never be at the Guild’s whims. That had been my mother’s dream, true independence from the Guild. No waiting in line for the haughty Perfects, and no back door bribes to secure someone for the season. With its own wind courtesy of the Elwan machine, STC could grow its business tenfold in one year.
But was that worth my parents’ lives?
When we entered the East Room, the Elwans turned as one to face us. They had been talking to two Kuitatis, powerful Perfects by the number of markings on their faces. But not as many as Perfect Buhijo. Seeing them along with my own forces stationed along the room’s perimeter, I released a breath I did not know I was holding.
In truth, the Elwan frightened me. With their gray skin, enormous height – the killer! He hadn’t been as tall. At least that’s what I initially thought but as I neared the Elwan convoy, they loomed above me as the killer had loomed above my parents’ prone bodies, their blood gushing from their wounds.
Had the killer been so tall? Why could I not remember? It was only a few minutes ago.
Their leader, Lord Zeukan, bowed before me, an Elwan custom I returned, but only for their sake.
“Our deepest condolences for your loss, Trader fa’ Sudek,” he said to the floor.
I was Trader in their eyes now? No one would begrudge me that title, but those who know me would laugh. My brother was the trader, not I.
“Are all your men accounted for?” I asked. My voice was hard and louder than I had expected. I needed to remain calm, else they’ll dismiss my accusations, crediting them to a grieving daughter.
But wasn’t that true?
I shoved the thought away and gripped the pommel of my sword.
Lord Zuekan rose and looked down his nose at me. “All our servants have stayed behind on our ship, as requested by your father, leaving us at the whim of your household and vulnerable to attack.”
“It was by my request your servants, nay, your assassins, were left behind.”
“Assassins? Why on Tah would I have an assassin?” Lord Zuekan said.
“It was one of your men. I know it,” I insisted.
Lord Zuekan squinted at me. No doubt searching my face for any kui’t markings. “You make no sense. You have no kui’t to ascertain whether that is true — which it isn’t.”
“Without kui’t does not mean without sense,” I countered.
“Fa’ Sudek,” the leader said, his tone and demeanor like a father talking to an errant child, “accusing me or one of my staff of assassinating our hosts during these important negotiations sounds like no sense to me.”
I stared at him. Did he honestly think that would be it? I’d simply take his word?
“Allow me to clarify the situation,” Perfect Bujiho interjected before I could respond. He came to stand before the Elwans, his long robes swishing about him like a summer storm. “The killer is neither Elwan or Kuitati.” He paused, then added, “Rather, he is both.”
The Elwan leader scowled while a few in his entourage gasped or swore under their breaths.
“Well, that puts us in the clear,” the Elwan leader said. “We do not suffer half-breeds.”
I scowled back at him. “A half-breed proves nothing,” I said.
Before Lord Zuekan could respond, the inspector said, “But he never entered the room.”
“What?” both I and the Lord Zuekan said at the same time.
“I think his kui’t is misdirection,” I added. “I cannot– I am no longer sure–”
“This assassin has kui’t?” the leader interjected, his hands up in exasperation. “Are you sure we are safe?”
“Was he marked?” Perfect Buhijo asked.
I started to shake my head no, but I could no longer be sure. His face was a blank in my mind when I had been sure I had memorized every feature. I was trained to do so. The only way that learned skill could fail me was kui’t.
“Doesn’t matter,” Perfect Buhijo said. “Whether he has kui’t or not we’ll figure out in due course. What I need to know is how he got in there. Within the past day, he had not entered that room.”
“Do you mean he wasn’t in there?” Lord Zuekan asked.
“He was there, of course, but he had entered the room prior to the last day or so.”
“You are saying he laid in wait for over a day?” I asked.
The Perfect nodded. “Maybe longer. His impressions in the room have depth, but there are very few of them.”
“Two days,” I said. “He has been hiding within that room for two days since he arrived with the Elwan convoy.”
If my kui’t had been fire-born, Lord Zuekan would have burned in his boots under my stare.
To be continued…or not?