52 Stories: A Journey

Inspired by this post over on Amanda Patterson’s tumblr, I will be writing 52 short stories this year. Some, like this one, very short, and some longer! If you’re joining me in this endeavor, leave a link in the comments so we can find your stories!

This week’s story takes place sometime before the start of City of the Shroud, a video game I am writing the story for that just went live on Kickstarter!

-M

***

The Journey

He walked, feet pounding on the sun baked road, the cracked stone of the highways. They had not been tended in years, but who would tend them? Not Gayyan, the city that lived only in name and memory. When he passed her walls, arrows had followed his path, but only from habit—the desert raiders who owned Gayyan’s streets now would not fear a lone soldier, arm in a bloody sling, half-gone from the sun and the journey.

He was not sure if he could feel his feet any longer, or if they hurt so much that he did not comprehend it. He knew his feet met the ground only from the jolt that traveled through him. At some time, he’d had a walking stick. He must have dropped it somewhere. No sense going back now. He could walk, and that was enough.

 ***

The dawn that day was beautiful, stars fading from a brilliant night into a riot of red and orange, wind blowing the distant salt-scent of the sea…unless it was blood he smelled. With dawn, came peace. The voices that had troubled him in the night had fallen silent one by one. He was not sure if he had cried out with them. He knew only that his arm was gone, and that if he wanted to survive, he must look at it to see that it was gone, accept that, and drag himself from the battlefield.

He did not look for a very, very long time. What was a man with one arm, after all? Not fit for a sword or a spear, not fit for a laborer. A scribe, perhaps, but only in the back rooms, where no one would see him. His family would have to tend to him.

It was midday when the thirst broke him, and he turned his head to look. The bone had shattered, but the arm remained. He looked at it for a long moment, considering. He should take it off here, himself, but he had little strength left and he needed to find the others, wherever they might be.

He rolled himself onto his good side, and began to crawl.

 ***

He thought of her often: black-haired and green-eyed, her skin a deeper brown than his own, her fingers long and graceful. In her silk, the blue silk she favored above all other gowns, she was a vision. He remembered her passion now, the exultant laugh as she looked down on the city.

“We will own half the world someday,” she told him. “The whole world, perhaps. Our children will make port in any city, and be welcomed.”

She believed it. She believed it even when he marched away.

 ***

They did not want to set the bone, and he argued with them. He promised gold, influence. He promised anything that came to mind. The surgeon was not swayed, her dark eyes flat. Later, he would think that she had seen too much pain, that she was beyond caring because so many had died under her hands. Then, he felt only rage.

It was her assistant who helped him, the man’s pale face unmoving as his fingers set the bones in place.

“I have nothing for the pain. If you want to keep your arm, you must keep still without opium.”

It was an eternity before the man sewed the wound shut.

“Will I keep the arm?”

“Only the gods know that.’”

When he left, a voice spoke from the darkness: “You’re lucky.”

“Lucky.”

“There are few they help anymore. There are no bandages left. Camp fever took the chief surgeon last week.”

He looked over at her. She had the paler skin of Gayyan. “How were you wounded?”

“They took my leg.” She looked back at the ceiling.

She died in the night.

 ***

He was close to the city when he realized his little sister would have had her second birthday by now. He’d been gone long enough for that. Eighteen, and old enough for the army. He wondered if she’d been hidden away; they were already starting to do that when he was drafted, and the City Guard bribed neighbors to inform on who was keeping their children from the army.

He would find the money for a bribe, he decided. The priests might help him hide her, or perhaps the Merchant Queen would take her on one of the ships.

Anything but this.

 ***

“If we don’t leave, we’ll die.”

“Do you honestly believe we’ll make it back to the city?” The man eyed him with weary contempt.

“Yes.”

“Then you’d best start thinking about what will happen when you get there.”

“What does that mean?” He cradled his arm in the sling and let his fingers trail over the bandage on his arm. The wound itched; he thought he remembered that was good.

“They left us here to die for a reason, boy. What will you do, go back and say the war is failing?”

“It is failing.”

“And they’d welcome you for saying that? For coming back with that arm, and telling everyone how it is in the north? You’re more of a fool than I thought. Go if you want.”

 ***

He could stay here, not return to the city, take a job on one of the outer holdings. They were kind, these farmers—more often than not, when he awoke in the hollow of a clearing or the corner of a barn, he found a loaf of bread and a jug of clean water for him, olives salty and sweating, perhaps a slice of crumbling cheese. He could work for his keep.

These people had enough trouble feeding their own; he kept walking until the city walls appeared from the shimmer above the road. It was only then that he hesitated. They did not know what had happened in the north—and he did not know what had happened here.

They would welcome him.

He started walking again, his arm aching. The others had given them their meager gold to see him home, and he had not used a single coin. The leather pouch was sweaty against his palm.

They would welcome him. They would.

There was no line at the gates, no one coming to Iskendrun to sell or barter. The guards watched him approach, eyes narrowing to see him.

They would welcome him.

He limped up to the doors.

“Citizen?” The word was curt.

“Yes.”

“Name?”

They would welcome him. And he would see a flash of fear in his mother’s eyes when she opened the door. He knew that now. The others were right. He could keep them safe…with his silence.

Or perhaps there was another way. He held out the pouch carefully.

“How about you say I had no name?”

The guard considered him for a moment, and then he stood back, snatching the purse away.

“Welcome to Iskendrun…citizen.”

 

52 Stories: What Has Been Lost

Inspired by this post over on Amanda Patterson’s tumblr, I will be writing 52 short stories this year. Some, like this one, very short, and some longer! If you’re joining me in this endeavor, leave a link in the comments so we can find your stories!

This week’s story takes place sometime before the start of City of the Shroud, a video game I am writing the story for that just went live on Kickstarter!

-M

***

What Has Been Lost

Iskendrun is not what it once was, my darling.

At night, she goes to the windows to look out—not over the balcony that overlooks a quaint little courtyard, or even to the windows that gaze out above the streets paved with white stone and adorned with flowers. She goes silently through the house, brushing her fingers across the hangings as she walks, and she creeps up the back stairs that only the servants use, climbing to the roof itself.

Once, every citizen had gold in their pockets, and they had the proper respect for a lady such as yourself.

She looks out over the city, the sea of crooked roofs that is, her father tells her, a crumbling wreck of what it once was. From the walled gardens with their cypress trees and the tiny lemon grove, she cannot see the city, cannot hear it. Only music is fit for a lady’s ears, and only beauty is fit for her eyes.

So they say.

They make vile threats in the city now. They forget the Temple we built and the market we created.

Often when she goes out into the streets of the Nobles’ Quarter, strolling through the shaded boulevards with her friends, she wants to stop and ask the City Guard what they see. They leave the Nobles’ Quarter every night and descend into the chaos of the docks, the markets, the Refugee District. While she leans over the walls, squinting to make out the metal shanties and the bright-painted banners, they see such things every day. What is it like now? She would give anything to know.

A young lady, she is told, does not ask such questions. A young lady does not wonder about the slums and the merchants.

She dreams of walking in the alleyways of the Refugee District with the smells of roasting meat and curry. In her dreams, she is alone—she cannot even imagine the refugees. On the docks, she imagines pirates with curved swords and jaunty headscarves. Sometimes she hears of Azura, the merchant queen, and she imagines what it would be like to sail up the coast on Azura’s ship, the famed Fateh with its blue prow. She might go to sea one day, of course; her father tells her that they are arranging a marriage for her in Tirwall, with the terms to be concluded when the war is over. But then, she would not go on a merchant ship.

Iskendrun is not what it once was…

She remembers what it once was. She remembers going to the markets and the docks, peeking out from the curtains of he sedan chair to see the traders with their hats and cloaks. Her mother chided her, but with an indulgent smile. She was only a child, with everything before her. She would rule the city someday.

No one wanted to tell her when it all went wrong. It took threats and pleas and three gold coins before she could make her maid tell the truth—about Dahilah perishing in screams and cannonfire, about the troops marching north, about the market stalls standing empty. They made a bargain, lady and servant, and the girl comes to her every night with tales from the marketplace. She won’t venture to the Old Docks, where she says the rebels hide, or the Refugee District with its strange songs and capricious ruler. But she tells the lady everything she knows.

Someday, the lady promises herself, she will rule Iskendrun as she was meant to. She has no intentions of going north to her unknown bridegroom. She will bring gold to Iskendrun once more, and the citizens will love her, and she will be able to walk the streets of her city without even a guard. The citizens will see that the rebels are nothing more than troublemakers, and she will hang them for their lies and the city will be free. It is a harsh punishment, but then, their crimes are grave—they tell slanderous lies, and everyone must know that she is strong as well as kind. In time, they will see that she is just and fair and generous, and all will be as it once was.

Someday.

***

Want to know more about Iskendrun? Read more about your character, the Traveler, in this sneak peek, and then head on over to Kickstarter to back the game – there’s an exclusive short story campaign running during the month of February!

-M

Faction Leader Profile: Navid

Navid Quote

First, an update: over $5,000 in 24 hours! Thank you! Let’s keep the momentum up!

We couldn’t do this without your support, and you’ve helped make our first 24 hours a fantastic success. So let’s keep it going! Try to see if you can get one more person to back today – just one. Every individual backer matters, and we need YOUR help to make the goal.

Please post about the campaign and share with friends. You can follow THIS LINK to post to Twitter, and THIS LINK to post on Facebook! Every single backer is invaluable, and we are so glad to have you on board. The first 48-72 hours are crucial for Kickstarter, so it’s imperative that we keep the ball rolling!

Now, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the first of our Faction Leader Introduction Series! Let’s kick things off with Navid, leader of the Iskendrun priesthood!

-M

***

Navid

“Go forth, child, and fight for those who need you. Remember, by your deeds shall you be remembered on this earth, and not by your path to them. If you seek to aid the poor, the sick, and the weak, you must be prepared to take more than what is offered.”

Wise, trustworthy, and respected by all in Iskendrun, Navid leads the priests in a life of service to the city’s poor. Mindful of the source of the city’s wealth, Navid has never overtly criticized the nobility…though he is creative when it comes to his methods for securing donations.

As the city teeters on the brink of collapse, Navid looks only inward, to the pressures of poverty on the citizens, and to the exhortations of the gods that he secure the city’s prosperity however he can. Blaming the merchants for the peninsula’s collapse, Navid eyes their well-armed ships and builds a force of his own. Which begs the question…just how far would he go to end Azura’s reign in the peninsula?

——————

Finally, a big shout out to Children of the Zodiark! They were kind enough to tell their backers about City of the Shroud, and they have a pretty sweet looking game to boot. If you haven’t checked out their tactical JRPG + CCG/craftable dice hybrid, you absolutely should!

zodiark

Novum Flash Fiction

I debated whether or not to show this story to the world. Sandoval became a figure far beyond my expectations, in the way characters often do, and as an almost mythical character, his voice had no place in Crucible itself – he existed best through others’ eyes.

When I stumbled across my concept notebook, however, this piece hit me afresh. This is Sandoval’s story.

******

“It was a mercy.” The words sounded very far away. “You could have killed far more.”

“That doesn’t make this a mercy!” His voice was tight with grief. “What, because we spared the children—so that tonight, their parents won’t come home to them? The earth is soaked with blood, how is this a mercy?”

“You think because lives were lost, this is monstrous?”

“You think that because it could have been worse, this was mercy?”

“Anyone else would have taken out the city!”

“That doesn’t make this—“

“Benito.” Alex put his hands on Sandoval’s shoulders. “They started it, they rebelled, and you crushed their army without killing civilians. Whether you want it or not, you’re going to be a hero.” He stooped to look into Sandoval’s eyes. “I think you are. I do—”

“No,” Sandoval said, but his friend did not stop.

“—Yes. And when you get back to Delphi, you’re going to have to take your damned medal and make a speech and shake hands. Yes, you are. This is going to be one for the history books.”

The tentative smile died when Sandoval hefted his pistol. He thought he was going to choke. He could see the parade in his mind’s eye, and the strong handshakes of the commanders past their prime, reduced to snatching glory from another man’s brutality. They’d praise him. Alex was right, and right now the only thing he could think now was to put a bullet in his brain—as if, knowing he’d done that while looking at the battlefield, they might see, somehow, a piece of the horror. As if they might ever see this differently.

Mercy. Oh, god, he was going to be sick. The gun was shaking in his hand, slick with sweat.

Forty years later, he would still sleep with the same pistol on his nightstand, and in the mornings he would hold it and consider—and know that the moment was past. He’d lost his chance.

*******

-M

What Lies Ahead

shadows reach second teaser

Hello, Gentle Readers!

The weather continues to yo-yo between a crisp autumn and a few last, raucous bursts of summer. I have been so focused on Shadow’s Reach and the SciFi piece that I have wished for a few more cold, fall-ish days so that I could snuggle up beside the fire – but I suppose I should savor the warmth while it’s here! Winter is coming, and all that.

  • As you can see above, the Shadow’s Reach cover is coming right along! I hope to be able to show it off soon, and not only because I am impatient by nature – the proofs are wonderful.
  • I have been dabbling in the worlds of Unbound and Kickstarter. That is all about that for now. (Although I encourage you to check out the projects that are currently listed. There are some pretty incredible ones out there! On Kickstarter, Acadia, in particular, looks quite excellent…although more than fully-funded already.)
  • I have started reading Wool, at long last. I’m captivated; I wish the story would linger a little sometimes, but I really am enjoying it. I can’t stand Bernard, though.
  • Speaking of Wool, any authors in the audience may be interested by the recent pieces about Hugh Howey and Michael Wallace.
  • The SciFi project is coming along, and I am so excited to share this new world with you! Stay tuned for updates!

-M

 

Update-like Items

moira writes

Dear Readers,

The internet is a pretty cool place to be this week, with all sorts of delightful things going on!

  • Zezhou is hard at work on the cover for Shadow’s Reach, and I am looking forward to doing a cover reveal! Mailing list subscribers will get the first peek, so if you haven’t signed up yet, I encourage you to do so! You can enter your email over on the sidebar!
  • The giveaway books will be winging their way off shortly – congratulations again to everyone who won, and I’d like to say yet another thank you for making Shadowborn #1!
  • The Light & Shadow short stories are in beta, some in the first round, some in the second. Thank you to Gayle, Erin, Claire, Lannie, and Carol for volunteering to be beta readers! (If would like to be considered for beta reading in the future, feel free to contact me!)
  • If you’re looking for book recommendations for your fall reading, I recommend checking out any of the options listed my my Where to Discover Books blog post. If you’re looking for personalized recommendations, and you have a bent towards YA, I heartily recommend Papercuts Blog. Rachel has an interview, a review, or a giveaway going on every day – I don’t know how she does it!
  • There’s an intriguing project going on over at this blog. Audiomachine, a trailer music group, has partnered with the author to provide a serialized story. The first post is here, and that’s not even all of the coolness! There’s also a flash fiction contest going on. Want to try your hand at a 150-word short story? Give it a go!
  • My writing projects right now include the short stories, the Mahalia sequel and prequel, a SciFi novella, an epic SciFi trilogy, and laying the groundwork for a cowriting piece about Joan of Arc! I am deeply, deeply excited about all of them, and am planning to consume large amounts of coffee to get them out to you in a reasonable amount of time.

How is your week going, readers?

-M

 

Short Stories & Sneak Peeks

Gentle Readers,

A very pleasant weekend to you! It is raining outside, but Spring is unmistakable – green and pink and yellow all about. Curled up with my writing and a steaming mug of coffee, I feel very cozy, indeed!

First, and very exciting: there is now a sneak peek of Origins available on the site! You can head over and check it out here, and feel free to speculate and comment away! I am sending Origins to the beta readers chapter by chapter, and another should make its way off to them today!

Next, exciting as well: I am dipping my toes back into the world of Miriel and Catwin, and the stories that are emerging are enlightening, vibrantly alive, and occasionally disturbing. It is a struggle to pick just whose stories to tell, and how to tell them, and I find myself sifting through isolated little vignettes I wrote for Catwin’s friends and foes…

Speaking of Light & Shadow, the first book blogger review went up over at Little Ebook Reviews on Friday, and you can find it here. Huzzah!

Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave a comment!

-M