Short Story: A Bridgetown Christmas

[NOTE: I wrote this over a few days in mid-December 2019 as a way to test out whether I could use the 750 Words site while at the office at the Former Day Job. (Come to find out, I could, which saved my sanity for a while.) I thought it would be fun to feature the Bridgetown gang in a Special Christmas Episode. I also wanted to prove to myself once and for all that yes, I CAN actually write a short story if I put my mind to it. And yes, it is considered canon in the Mendaihu Universe.]

*

It felt so comforting, so freeing to finally go to a Winter Festival without having to worry about her job. Caren couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone to one of these without that hint of tension lurking somewhere in the back of her sensing. She could even walk around Tower Park now without that feeling of sorrow and dread and being reminded of that riot in Kendall Fields. That was all behind her, a good couple of years now. It had taken such a long time, but she’d come to terms with that fateful day and moved on. The pain was still there, hiding so deep in her spirit, but it was no longer an obstacle. Just a reminder.

She walked slowly down the wide promenade with her arm in Anando’s, taking in the lights and the people and the scents of baked goods. The level of positive energy here was intoxicating in a pleasant way, just enough to bring her own spirit some holiday joy. Even though it was early December and a cold snap was going to be coming in late in the evening, there was nothing that could break this mood for anyone.

Anando was bundled up in a heavy coat, knit hat and fingerless gloves, but he emanated such a warmth both physical and spiritual that she didn’t want to let go of him just yet. He seemed to be oblivious of the dropping temperature, focusing more on the people and the sights and everything else. He wanted to stop at each booth they walked by, either to say hello or to try the foods they were selling, but she kept him moving. They were due to meet Poe and Akaina at one of the large seating areas up ahead, and she didn’t want to keep them waiting.

“You’re in a hurry,” he said in amusement, after she’d nudged him on for the fourth time.

“And you aren’t,” she retorted, giving him a playful nudge. “We can visit everyone again after we have dinner with Poe and Kai.”

“I know…” he said, waving at yet another booth attendant. “I just don’t want all my friends to think I’m ignoring them.”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “So you know pretty much every single person on the Western Path of the Winter Festival grounds, is that what you’re saying?” she teased. “Because I’m telling you now I’m not nearly as much of a social person as you are. And I meet a lot of people on the job.”

“Yes, I do,” he said, and gave her a peck on the head. “You’ll just have to deal with it, Karzi.”

She giggled and hugged his arm tighter. She loved it when he used that name with her. “I guess I will,” she said, and pointed at one of the larger stalls further on. “Hey, isn’t that…?”

Anando hummed and made a beeline for it. “Yes, that’s Mancka alright. I’ve rarely seen her since she retired, come to think of it. We should at least stop and say hello, yeah?”

They stepped up to the booth together, the both of them sending a small wave of love and cheer her way. Mancka Udéma had been an extremely important part of keeping the Ninth Season running as smoothly as it did, helping keep the Governor’s council from intruding and possibly making things worse. After Denni’s final ascension and freedom, Mancka had considered her role complete and slid back into the shadows. They’d stayed in touch for a little while but then Mancka had gone off the grid for nearly a year. Caren had never learned why, and chose not to ask.

“Karinna! Anando!” she said, beaming and reaching over the booth boards to give them hugs. “Somfei, somfei, my sehnadha! It’s wonderful to see you again! How are you?” She pulled back, but didn’t let go of either of them right away. She held their arms tightly, full of excitement. “I’m so glad the two of you are still together. How is everyone from the circle?”

Goddess, she really had taken herself out of the loop! “Everyone’s fine,” she said. “They all miss you, emha. We’ve all wondered where you’d gone off to.”

Mancka waved a hand and smiled. “Oh, here and there. Outposts, stuck in the Tower, recuperating at home, up on Trisanda, that sort of thing.”

Anando blinked at her. “When were you on Trisanda? I never sensed you there and I was up there almost constantly for five months after everything was over!”

“Oh, much later than that,” she said. “Almost a year later. I had some business to attend to with Ampryss and Dolan.”

Both Anando and Caren raised their brows at her. “Business…?” she said warily. “Dare I ask?”

Mancka waved her concern away. “Nothing terrible. The Season may have come to a close, but there’s still so much to do to keep this Awakening alive. We just want everything to work, yeah? We’d rather not leave anything to chance.”

Caren nodded solemnly. This had been one hell of a Season of Embodiment, what with her younger sister being the One of All Sacred and Caren herself being a Warrior and Protector of the One. “Denni’s doing fine,” she said quietly. “She’s up in New Boston, her first year in college.”

Mancka’s eyes widened. “Oh, that’s right! I’d forgotten how old she is now! She’s studying under Alec’s brother, isn’t she? Majoring in literature?”

“With a minor in art, believe it or not. Given the last few years, she felt the need to study something close to her heart instead of what everyone expects. I’m proud of her, taking that chance.”

“I’m glad,” she said. “Tell her I said hello when you have the chance. I miss her terribly. We had some really interesting conversations back then.”

“I will,” Caren said with a wide smile, and started nudging Anando down the wide path again. “Alec and Akaina are here, by the way, I’ll send them your way after we have dinner with them?”

“Certainly! Pashyo, it’s good to see you again, Caren. Look me up when you have the time.”

They waved their goodbyes and continued their walk towards the dining area. She checked her watch; it was nearing seven, which meant that Poe and Kai were most likely already at a table, waiting for them to arrive. She pulled at Anando’s arm again and double-timed it.

*

She felt Poe’s spirit well before she saw him or Kai, and that helped her find them easily. He held himself as quiet and closed as possible most of the time, but he’d left that one connection between them wide open. She did the same for him; they trusted each other that complicitly. She gave him a wave as soon as his eyes lifted towards hers. Kai, who had been facing the other way, had perked up quickly and turned around, beaming at her.

“Hey!” she said, getting up and rushing towards them, giving them both a big squeeze. Caren could feel the baby bump in Kai’s belly pressing up against her. She shivered with joy every time she thought of these two friends of hers starting a family; this was a blessing for both of them. Kai gave both of them kisses on the cheeks and brought them back to the table.

“So good to see you two!” she said, dropping back down in her seat. Her spirit was in such an excited state that she could hardly sit still, and shifted between them. “Ashan and I have been so busy at the northern outposts lately, I miss everyone!” She reached over and touched Poe’s hand, squeezing it tightly. “Especially this one here,” she said, smiling at him.

“Oh, you’re not missing much with him,” Caren laughed. “He’s been his usual dour self.”

Poe snorted at her. “Okay, I’ll give you that,” he said. “The Season might be over, but the level of casework we have to do hasn’t changed at all.”

“True words,” Caren said, and turned back to Kai. “So, girl… tell me about your brother. He’s doing okay? I haven’t seen him in nearly eight months. No one has. He’s been… scarce.”

Kai pursed her lips slightly, then let it go. “He’s… he’s doing okay, if that’s what you mean,” she said quietly. “He’s got a lot on his mind lately, eichi. He won’t say much, but I have some ideas why he’s been acting the way he has. Not here, though. After dinner. If you aren’t busy, you can come to our place and we can talk about it.”

Caren knew better than to press further. Besides, this was Winter Festival, and they were all here to see each other and be happy and sense the joyous spirits around them. She let it go for now.

*

Poe’s apartment had not changed much at all over the years, other than that it no longer had that stink of cigarette smoke. He’d quit for good at the end of the Season, and had not touched one since. It was also tidier, thanks to the major cleaning party they’d had soon after everything was over. He’d made good on his promise and kept the place clean and tidy. Kai had moved in after a few months, and they’d gotten married soon after that. Caren and Anando were in no rush to go down the same road just yet. Seeing a domesticated Alec Poe still threw her for a loop, though. She’d known him for so long that such changes still surprised her.

Poe leaned through the kitchen door and smiled at them. “Coffee all around?”

“Please,” Caren said, pulling the small blanket around her shoulders. Though the heat in his apartment was going full blast, she was still shivering from being outside for so long. “If you’re spiking them, I won’t say no.”

“Spiked it is,” he smirked, and ducked back into the kitchen.

Kai sidled up next to her, providing additional warmth. “So, eichi… tell me what’s been going on in the city. Ashan and I have been unplugged for the last half year. Anything we should know about?”

Caren knew a pointed question when she heard one and smiled. “Nothing out of the ordinary, if that’s what you mean,” she said. “It’s been business as usual. The occasional request for security during mass rituals, a few small arguments to settle, things like that. It keeps us busy enough. The Elders have been poking at Alec and I about joining one of their collectives in Swope Heights or across the river, but we keep saying no.”

Kai studied her for a moment before answering. “Personal?”

Caren shrugged in response. “You could say that. It’s not that we don’t trust them, it’s just that…” She glanced at the kitchen doorway, knowing full well that Alec was listening in. She exhaled again and continued. “It doesn’t sing to either of us.”

Kai touched her shoulder and nodded. “I understand. Sometimes we follow our own path instead of a collective one. Alec has told me before about the Elders, especially the collective down near Webster Park. They’re Reverend Miriam’s old group, if I recall.”

Miriam! Caren hadn’t heard that name in quite a long time. He’d fallen off the face of the planet soon after the Season had ended, and everyone had assumed that he’d travelled to Trisanda and stayed up there. No one blamed him, after everything he’d gone through over the last two Embodiments. He deserved the rest.

“They’re…” she started, then stumbled to a stop. How could she put this delicately…? “Well. Remember Amna at the warehouse near the end of the Season? When everything started going wrong?”

Kai took a slow breath and put a hand on her belly. “When the chaos set in, you mean,” she said quietly.

Caren nodded. “It feels like that. I don’t necessarily sense anything wrong about to happen, but…”

Poe came out with a tray of steaming mugs and placed it on the table, and glanced at her. “…but they’re being uncharacteristically pushy about it,” he said, and sat down next to Kai. “You and I talked about this about a month or so ago. Remember when I told you about Elder Thomas?”

“Oh, that’s right,” she said, waving a finger at him. “I’d told Ashan about it afterwards and he said not to worry too much about it.”

“I’m not worried,” Caren said, and turned to Anando. “I’m just concerned. I doubt they’re in full crusade mode. A bit zealous, perhaps.”

“That’s what concerns me,” Anando said. “As a non-Elder, they’re really trying to pull us lower level adepts in.”

“And I do not want Denni involved,” she said, turning to the others. “If only because I know she’ll want to do something about it.”

Kai sat back and thought about it for a bit, slowly sipping her tea. “I’ll tell you what Ashan is worried about,” she said. “It’s the extremes. Not the extremists, mind you… just the fact that we have Elders trying to raise their numbers, the occasional recently-awakened that takes it all just a little too seriously… and those who are using it all for their own ends.”

Caren hummed. “Everyone with eyes opened but no one looking anywhere,” she said.

Poe smirked at her. “I’m usually the one who quotes Kelley James. But yeah, that’s it exactly.”

She turned to Anando again. “Is that what you’ve been sensing?”

“Yes, I think so,” he said. “It’s hard to tell, especially when there’s still so much noise out there. It’s like on the surface level they’re fesh crahné, but deeper within they’re fesh piann.”

“And still not enough sehn-dayenné out there to steer them in the right direction,” Kai said. “That’s part of why Ashan and I have been spending so much time in the outposts. It’s the best place to start teaching.”

Poe hummed and leaned back. “You know…”

Kai huffed at him and put down her mug. “Alix, we talked about this.”

“I know we did,” he said, his voice calm and quiet. So unlike him. “But seriously… if it comes to it, I’m willing to take that step. If it’s necessary.”

Caren raised an eyebrow; clearly this was something Poe had chosen not to share with her, even as her ARU partner. She didn’t fault him, though. “What step is this?”

“Become a sehn-dayenné myself, of course,” he said with a smile. “Maybe not as psychotic as Elder Crittiqila of course. More like, I don’t know… our girl Denni.”

“That’s blasphemy, you know,” Caren said with a quick grin. “But I see where you’re coming from. After all, you are the Dahné Mendaihu, last I checked.”

Kai sighed in resignation. “That’s what worries me,” she said. “It’s a full time job and it’ll put a strain on all of us.”

Caren continued sipping at her coffee. Why could she not get warm? Even with Anando by her side, she couldn’t shake this chill from her body. It wasn’t just because of the weather, either. She’d been feeling it all day long, and the more she thought about it, the more it felt like an inner chill than an outer one. She was in proximity of multiple kiralla in this room, but that wasn’t it either.

Perhaps her own spirit was trying to tell her, warn her, about something within.

“That’s not all Ashan’s been up to,” Kai said, leaning back into the soft cushions of the couch. “Between the teaching and everything else, he’s been running himself ragged. I’m worried about him, but he won’t listen to reason.” She let out a frustrated sigh and sipped at her tea again. “He’s my eicho and I love him dearly, but he’s been so distant to everyone this year, especially me. Either he’s going through a personal change of spirit…”

“…or he’s holding something from us out of safety,” Poe finished. “Last time I talked to him about a month ago, he’d closed himself off damn tight. Amiable in his own way, sure, but you can sense a damn thick barrier between himself and everyone else.”

“I’m worried about him,” Kai said quietly. “He’s never been like this before.”

Caren hummed in response, wanting to say more, but held her tongue. Ashan had always maintained a level of cold distance from most everyone other than his sister. And he had been dealt a painfully heavy blow near the end of their Season, when he’d nearly lost her forever.

Perhaps that was why she felt cold today. Without thinking, she’d laid her left hand over her right, rubbing her thumb against the skin. She’d gone through her own heavy battle at the end there as well, nearly getting torn to ribbons by one of the final battles between Denni and Saisshalé. She rarely used her touch-sensing abilities since then, finding it just that bit…alien.

Perhaps Ashan was feeling the same thing. The sensation of something so integral, so heavily entwined within his soul, suddenly vanishing. Even if that something was returned whole, it wasn’t the same ever again.

“Karzi…?” Anando whispered in her ear. “You’re okay?”

Caren shifted out of her thoughts and gave him a quick smile. “Fine,” she said. “Just thinking.”

“Well,” Poe said, breaking the silence. “I won’t push him. He’ll come to us if he needs to. I trust him.”

Kai took hold of his hand and squeezed it. “Thank you,” she said quietly.

“Right,” he continued, and pushed himself up. Everyone in the room felt a small but significant wave of love and affection emanating from him. “It’s Winter Festival, it’s the first significant amount of time we’ve all had off, so I think we should celebrate! What do you think, Kai?”

She laughed at him, sending a wave of love his way in return. “Who am I to stop you, Alix? You’ve been so twitchy about this for the last two weeks!”

Caren eyed the both of them. “Okay, what are you two up to?”

Poe gave her a ridiculously wide grin and held up his fingers. “Wait right there,” he said, and dashed off into the other room.

“Kai…?” she said. “What’s going on?”

But she just shrugged. “He’s from a big family, you know how he is.”

“He didn’t… Poe!” Caren called out. “You better not have presents in there! You told me you wouldn’t!”

“I lied,” he called back.

“We didn’t get either of you anything!” she said, feeling embarrassed. “I thought we agreed. He’s done enough for me, I don’t expect anything else.”

“That’s what makes it so fun,” Poe said, coming back out with two small black boxes. She handed one to her, and the other to Anando. He was equally surprised and took it from him, wondering what was inside.”

“Alec…” she said.

“You two deserve this,” he said, sitting back down next to Kai, taking her hand. “We don’t want anything in return.”

She eyed him, first with contempt, then with a grudging acceptance, then with frustrated affection. He was always doing this, going so far out of his way to make everyone happy. She could only hope he’d finally learned to include himself in that equation. She and Anando glanced at each other, then at the boxes.

Inside, there were two beautiful gold rings, one in each box. Both with inlaid stone set in the shape of the Shalei sigil, two intersecting circles. With a trembling hand, she pulled it out of its box and looked closely at it. On the inside, she saw it: allei aiya, cho-shadhisi inscribed on the inside of the band.

She turned and looked at Anando.

He had the biggest grin on his face. “Allei aiya, Karinna Shalei. Please be with me throughout all the universes,” he said, tears forming in the corners of his eyes.

“Oh…” she said.

“Took you long enough,” she heard behind her.

“Oh…!” she trembled, up and on her feet.

Denni stood there in the doorway, having just Lightwalked into Poe’s front room without a sound.

Caren darted around the couch and ran into her sister’s arms and held her tightly. “Ai…!” she cried. “What are you doing here? You weren’t supposed to come back for another week! I’ve missed you!”

Denni giggled and held her close. “I wouldn’t miss my sister getting engaged for the worlds, you know,” she said.

She gasped a third time, realizing the ring was still in her hands.

This had been planned far, far in advance, and she’d had no idea…!

“Ai…” she sobbed. “You’re going to kill me here!” She burst out into laughter she felt throughout her entire spirit, and made her way back to Anando. He was still sitting on the couch, the other ring in his hand. Waiting for her to respond. She walked over to him, lifted him to his feet, and pulled him into a warm embrace.

“Allei aiya, cho-shadhisi,” she whispered in his ear. “I will be with you throughout the universes.”

She heard cheers and whoops all around them, felt a ridiculous wave of joy and love emanating from everyone in the room, but at this moment she only paid attention to one person, the one currently in her arms.

“I love you, Anando,” she said.

MU4: Chapter One (part i)

Dubai, which stands in nicely for long shots of Bridgetown.

NOTE: The original rough draft of the as-yet-untitled fourth book in the Mendaihu Universe was started in the spring of 2015, written longhand right about the same time I was readying A Division of Souls for self-publishing. The original version of this chapter (then as chapter four) was started 10 April of that year and went through multiple versions over the next seven years. Since then it’s moved to the beginning of the novel where it serves to set up the MU seventy years after the events that take place in The Balance of Light.

What it sets up is this: when Denni/Denysia gave the world the gift of spiritual awareness and a connection to Trisanda, and her intentions were to set humanity on a course of higher maturity and a connection to a larger universe. But in the world of spirituality and religion…things don’t always go to plan.

*

Eikianassia Oktanis stirred from slumber and stared at the ceiling in a dazed attempt to remember where the hells she was. It was too quiet, the air too clean and cool, and the shadows didn’t look like those from her own bedroom. She let it come to her slowly…the faded blue shapes of light against the ceiling on the far end of the room…the lack of any traffic noise…the lack of any art or shelves adorning the left wall…one nondescript alarm pod, no vidmats tacked to the wall, no communications devices on the desk. A humbling, deafening silence.

“Wilderlands,” she said in a defeated whisper, all too aware that her words had just come from the only human voice for miles.

The Trial of the Blessed One.

Eika had been brought out here by her mother and father, after she had been thrown out of her twelfth and last spirit circle. This was her last chance at becoming a devout member of the Blessed Ones, and if she failed this trial as well, she would be excommunicated and ostracized by everyone she’d ever known and forced to fend for herself in the Bridgetown Sprawl. Taking this trial had not been a mutual decision, and she felt that all too keenly. Her family’s chapter had forced it upon her parents, who had then forced it upon her without bothering to think about how it might affect her already weakening self-confidence. She grumbled and stirred again, fighting the growing irritation now that she remembered where she was and why she was there. If she let this negative energy get the best of her, she would be up for the rest of the night and she’d be cranky the next morning. And that would be misconstrued as an imbalance or an act of reckless rebellion. And her parents, and the Blessed Ones, wouldn’t have that.

She rolled over in frustration, most of it aimed at herself. Why had she chosen to act up that day, anyway? It was all ritual, to be sure. There was nothing wrong, not a thing that could have harmed her in any way, and the Goddess of All That Is would be watching over her throughout.

But somehow, it felt wrong. Not distressingly, harmfully wrong. More like…? She huffed again, stopping this train of thought once more. She couldn’t think about this, not now. She needed to sleep, damn it all!

This was just like before…

“Eika?” she’d heard from behind her bedroom door, two days ago, followed by the rattle of the handle. “Eika, are you all right?” Another rattle. “Eika, why is the door locked?”

Her mother had sensed her frustration and, as usual, had completely misread the reason behind it.

“Hmm…” she’d mumbled in a pathetic attempt at sounding half awake. “M’okay,” she’d said. “Just an odd dream is all.”

She’d sensed her mother’s presence behind that door for what felt like at list five minutes before she’d turned and headed back to her own bedroom. She’d waited a few minutes more, at least until she’d heard the distant sound of a door closing.

Eika had let out a slow breath and glanced at the clock on her side table. It was nearing three in the morning, much too late for her to be awake, and much too early for her to decide to stay up.

They don’t understand, she’d thought. How hard was it for them to realize she needed privacy every now and again? Was it really that hard for them to understand? She certainly understood more of the Blessed Ones than they did of her, that was for sure.

…this was exactly like two days ago. Except now, there was no one else here in this house. There was no one in this neighborhood, this town. She was alone.

Completely, desperately alone.

She turned onto her left side, hear arm resting next to her head on the pillow. She flexed her fingers for a few moments, watching their blurry shapes in the semi-darkness. There, on the soft flesh just between her thumb and forefinger and stretching just short of her ring finger, she could feel the stretching of skin where she’d received the scar of the first spirit circle ejection.

Devoted Eichi Maysa had done that, the Goddess curse her.

Eika hadn’t warranted such an injury, at least not in her eyes. She’d merely been a little too reckless with her lightwork ability, still learning and practicing but not quite yet a master at it. A stray spark of energy had slipped out after a nearly perfect healing, which had caused the willing practice participant to twitch and yelp as if Eika had stabbed her with a dagger to her chest. The absolutely livid Devoted Maysa had responded to the innocent mistake by forcibly pulling her away from the healed, pulling her arm backwards and dragging her to the front of the class – she had just enough time to see that otherwise she’d done a perfect job, and her partner had started to respond that they were not in fact harmed at all, only startled – and held Eika’s hand up to the other devout.

Devoted Maysa’s eyes burned into her as if she’d forcibly and gleefully ripped the girl’s soul from her body.

This is the imbalance you must purge!” she screeched, spittle hitting her face, and before she could respond or react, Devoted Maysa had taken a glowing index finger and jabbed it into Eika’s palm, shooting a small but intensely strong tear of Light through her hand. Such was her expertise that only skin and a few strands of muscle had been injured, but it was enough to make her shriek in agony, in front of everyone.

She’d immediately been branded a failure.

Eika had quit that spirit circle within the hour and, after stopping at a medical center in Branden Hill to have the tear properly healed, she returned home.

She was not in the least bit surprised that, between her leaving the shrine and getting home, Devoted Maysa had already contacted her parents and had painted the absolute worst picture anyone could have made. She didn’t even bother to argue because she knew her parents wouldn’t have believed her. They wouldn’t have accepted failure, even accidental.

“Whatever she said, she lies,” she’d said, more out of exhaustion than defiance.

“Despite the Light within?” her mother had ventured.

“Especially despite that,” she said, and walked dejectedly into her bedroom, locking the door, and not leaving it for a day and a half.

*

Eika must have dozed off at some point. When she next opened her eyes, the sun was shining through the windows on the far wall. Her eyes were dry and stinging and she rubbed at them, forcing herself awake. A small digital clock next to the bed read a little after nine. She yawned and stretched, rolling onto her back, surprised by her laziness. Blessed Ones were usually early risers who worked on little sleep, and she had slept an extra five hours at least. It was needed, though…she hadn’t felt this relaxed, this rejuvenated in quite some time.

She reeled out three small threads of spirit energy, looking for her parents and her younger brother, or anyone at all that might be nearby. This was normal for a Blessed One; they liked to keep constant tabs on each other.

But she sensed no one, just as she’d feared. She avoided the fear by thinking about her family and what they might be doing right now: were they visiting one of the outpost chapels today? Would they be chanting and protesting outside one of the countless cathedrals and Elder compounds in the Sprawl? Would they be making their way across Swope Heights in their monthly neighborhood sweep of gathering new followers? The Blessed Ones made it a point to be a highly visible presence wherever they were. Would her parents have woken her up to join? Did they still want her to be a part of the flock? Or had they given up on her? She winced, finding herself sliding back in that gloom again. Surely, they wouldn’t have abandoned her…? Not when they’d been keeping such close tabs on her over the past year and a half?

How many spirit circles had she quit or been forced out of? She’d not bothered to count, but she knew it had been at least a dozen. She’d tried…Goddess knew she’d tried to fit into one of the circles and make her family proud, but every single time she had broken away. None had been as painful and traumatic as Devoted Eichi Maysa and that first circle…but many of them had been just as psychologically and spiritually taxing, each and every one. They asked so much of her. So much that she could not always provide. She could bring herself to heightened levels of Light energy just like every other acolyte, but it was never enough, or its signature too obscure, or its leaders too demanding.

She was awakened, but she was lost.

Eika washed, dressed, and entered the main living area of the house. The den was wide and spacious, yet inviting and comfortable. She kneeled across the back of the couch that sat in front of a wide bank of windows, and watched the day unfold outside. Not a cloud in the sky, and the trees at the far end of the rear yard remained still. It felt too still, which always made her nervous. The less energy there was around her, the more she felt the need to expend her own to make up for it. The Wilderlands had to be the worst place for her to be if they were to expect her to learn how to control her random bursts of Light.

But it was the perfect place for a Trial of a Blessed One. If the acolyte was successful and ascended to a true Blessed One, then there was nothing to worry about. But if they were not successful…

Well – Eika decided not to think about that for now.

She reeled out a few more threads, thicker and stronger this time, and tried to find her family again. They had to be nearby, somewhere in the area. They couldn’t have gone far. Families of those on Trial would be put up at a compound nearby. But when she still could not sense them, she started to worry. And her reach was pretty damn far, much farther than most acolytes her age. She could sense clear across town without breaking a sweat, not that she ever dared to do so in the jumble of the Bridgetown Sprawl. But when she did exactly that here in this deserted town, she reeled it all back and shut it tight within herself. She stood up and started pacing the house, looking for any sign of them. Any notes, letters, memory puddles…surely they’d have told her where they’d gone and when they’d return?

She found nothing. A few scant memory patches, sights of them having walked through the house at some point, but that was it. They’d just…left.

She was tempted to reel her spirit sensing out further, more than she’d ever done before, but knew that would have caused more trouble than anything else. Instead she threw on her jacket and began walking into the outpost town center. Perhaps she would find them there.

*

The town center, the entire village, was deserted. She was completely alone.

She’d gone to the center green and thrown out a cursory sensing thread of the area, just a passive sweep just to find anyone at all, whether they were Mendaihu, Shenaihu or cho-nyhndah, but had come up with nothing. Even an unenlightened would have come to her attention, but she sensed no one. And she was unusually strong when it came to spiritsensing; that had been another irritation of some of the Devoted Eichi and she’d always held back to avoid their anger and punishment.

Could her sensing ability be that off kilter? She didn’t want to ramp it up, not just yet.

But after two hours of walking through the outpost town center, she saw and sensed no one.

They’d arrived late last night, and she’d been half asleep, so she hadn’t bothered or expected to look for anyone, figuring they were all in their homes, or at least in some cabin on the outskirts of town, at a safe monitoring distance and away from her prodding senses. Now that she was fully and completely awake, however, the emptiness and abandonment felt more complete and heartrending.

Her parents had left her here. Alone.

“Pashyo,” she said, her voice without any echo.

Her Trial of the Blessed One had started.

Curiously, past the throbbing pain of abandonment, past the simmering resentment and the directionless anger rippling somewhere in the background, she felt determination. She felt the searing pain of her family giving up on her and abandoning her in this weirdly vacant town in the middle of nowhere…she felt a keen, almost kiralla-level wave of naked anger, her spirit so forcibly pulled out of a society of similar souls against her will…

…and yet, Goddess bless it, she felt a clear and immensely strong will, a refusal to give up despite it all.

Goddess bless it, she would persevere.

She would prove them wrong.

Revising, rewriting, reworking…

Some days it seems I’m never going to finish Theadia. I still think it could be better, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Mind you, I know well enough never to fall prey to overworking it; I’ve always kept a keen eye on when my projects are veering towards that edge and knowing when to reel it back. It’s better than it previously was…but it’s still not at the level I’d like it to be at.

Part of it is that I know there are segments that are still missing. Situations and subplots that need to be beefed up so that our protagonists’ actions make more sense. Small patches of vague world building that need to be clarified to make the story more real. Things that could be improved upon. This is the level I’m at now…going through what I have so far and filling in all those blanks.

Part of it is also that I need it to have more emotion. I’m trying not to talk myself into thinking that I’m merely comparing it to the Bridgetown Trilogy (which had quite a lot of it), only that I know the story could be livelier. Making the characters more personal. Giving them lives that the reader could empathize with. It doesn’t need to be high drama, it just needs to have more of that active spirit that pulls the reader along.

My writer brain occasionally reminds me of the possible idea of doing a complete rewrite to make it more vibrant creatively and emotionally, just like the Trilogy, and though that is of course tempting, I’m not sure if that’s something this story needs. Then again…my creative instincts tell me that this is precisely what Theadia needs right now, and I’ve since relearned that following my creative instincts have rarely steered me wrong when it comes to projects I believe in. And if I choose to follow through, then I will need to dedicate as much time to it as I possibly can.

[That, of course, brings up my long-standing creative foe, Distraction. If I’m going to do a total rewrite, I’m going to need to manage my time a hell of a lot better than I have. But that’s another post entirely.]

I can see this with the last several projects I’ve been working on: MU4, Diwa & Kaffi, Queen Ophelia and Theadia. They’re all stories that I want to tell, and stories I believe in…but my instincts are telling me they’re not quite told to my satisfaction just yet. I can do better. I can write them better. I can give them more of my spirit to make them work the way they should.

Will this mean several more years of not releasing anything? I don’t think so…I’m hoping I’ll have something out later this year, though I’m not sure which one it will be. Maybe it’ll be something utterly different. Maybe it won’t be any of them. Who knows…?

Still. Whatever I do next, I’m going to need to start working on it, and very soon.

Making It Work

Image courtesey of Digimon

Okay, I’ll be honest — I’m at a crossroads. Over the last few weeks I’d been contemplating whether or not I should let one or both of the blogs go on an indefinite hiatus, or to go in the opposite direction: to Make It Work. And right now I’m leaning towards the latter, because writing has been a lifelong endeavor. I mean, the last time I went on blogging hiatus was because I needed the mental and emotional vacation, especially after I’d left the Former Day Job. Now? Now it just feels like I’m just avoiding it for no reason.

One of the reasons this came to mind is because of my recent revision/rewrite work on Theadia, and the fact that working on it has felt so similar to working on the Bridgetown Trilogy back in my Belfry days. When the resonance to a project is this strong, I’m not going to dismiss it. Every day I look forward to working on it for a few hours! And I don’t think I’ve felt that in quite some time, probably not since those days, when I would come home from the Day Job and head downstairs every evening, eager to get writing.

It didn’t occur to me how much I’d missed that. That drive and excitement. Don’t get me wrong, I loved writing my last few novels both released and unreleased. But in hindsight I think some of those might have been written more out of necessity than enjoyment. I loved writing them and I’m proud of them, but they didn’t excite me quite like working on the trilogy did. Mind you, I forced myself not to think of it that way at the time because I knew that they were different projects. Theadia feels different. It could be that it’s a much larger epic-sized project (like the trilogy) and those are the ones I love writing the most. It could also just simply be about it being the right time for it. I’m not going to question it, though. I’m just going to enjoy it.

Back to blogging: what I believe I’ve been missing is that same drive. I enjoy posting, and god knows I can talk your ears off about music and writing when given the chance. So why have I been avoiding it off and on over the last couple of years? I’m pretty sure it’s the same as above: I’ve been writing about things I’m not as enthused about as I used to be. [Or alternately, that I’ve talked about things I do obsess over for so long that I’ve been repeating myself and getting frustrated by that. There is a very strong chance that could be the other culprit.]

So how make my blogging work for me again? Well, one of the obvious things is to post about new subjects that I’ve avoided in the past, either for personal reasons or because I’d been too distracted by other subjects. Let’s do an ongoing theme about my obsession with music in the 90s. Let’s post some microfiction I’ve piled up over the years. It’s about that resonance with the subject I want to talk about and share. And it’s also about being fine with writing things that aren’t always of high importance. Have fun with it. Enjoy it. Look forward to writing it, especially when it’s about things that resonate with me.

I’m having an e-book sale all month long!

YOU WANT FREE BOOKS? I GOT FREE BOOKS!

For the entirety of July, I’m offering all of my ebooks FREE on Smashwords!!

In My Blue World
Meet the Lidwells! A Rock ‘n Roll Family Memoir
All three books in the Bridgetown Trilogy!

Click here to get them: https://bit.ly/2tqdWKU 

FREE E-BOOKS!

Hey there!
Did you get an e-reader as a present this morning?
Want some free e-books to add to your library? 
Come on over to Smashwords, my books are FREE until the end of the year!

This includes my latest, Meet the Lidwells! https://bit.ly/2H3s8wh

This also includes the entire Bridgetown Trilogy!

A Division of Souls — https://bit.ly/1U2UVpc 
The Persistence of Memories — https://bit.ly/1MqYxyb 
The Balance of Light — https://bit.ly/2KjJnzn

All FREE, no DRM, and in multiple formats!

Meet the Lidwells! A Rock n’ Roll Family Memoir
The Bridgetown Trilogy

BOOK SALE TIME, WOOHOO!

It’s time for another insane Smashwords sale!  This time, I have…

HOT DANG, IT’S FREE E-BOOKS!!

btown trilogy halfpage ad front b2

From 7/1 to 7/31, all three e-books in the Bridgetown Trilogy will be ABSOLUTELY FREE!!  If you haven’t gotten these yet, you have the entire month to snag them!  I’m still quite proud of them, and I’d like to keep sharing them with you.

Book 1, A Division of Souls:

Book 2, The Persistence of Memories:

Book 3, The Balance of Light:

 

And if that’s not enough…

I’ve also decided that for the great month-long Smashwords sale I’m going to put Meet the Lidwells! up for 50% off.  My latest release can be yours for only $1.50, kids!  Can’t beat that with a drumstick!

Meet the Lidwells Cover F Outside 2

Meet the Lidwells!:  A Rock n’ Roll Family Memoir

 

This is for THE ENTIRE MONTH OF JULY, and only at Smashwords.  My ebooks are always available in multiple formats:  mobi, epub, pdf, and a lot of other formats, whatever works for your e-reader!

And don’t forget:  If you liked the books, please post a review on Good Reads!  And thank you for reading!

HEY LOOK IT’S A BOOKSALE!

btown trilogy halfpage ad front b2

STARTING TOMORROW!

For all of July, all three books in the Bridgetown Trilogy will be on sale!

Book 1, A Division of Souls is, as always, FREE to download!

Books 2 and 3, The Persistence of Memories and The Balance of Light, will be 50% off!  This means that you can get ALL THREE BOOKS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE.

It’s MADNESS, I tell you!

So starting tomorrow, head on over to this here page at Smashwords, scroll down to the bottom, and have at it!

lokimadness

A Division of Souls Ending, Director’s Cut

As promised, here’s what I call the “Director’s Cut” of the ending of A Division of Souls.  This one’s been in my head for at least two years.  And yes, this was written to fit Failure’s “Daylight”, as expected.

I actually thought about writing a prose version of this ending for the book, but it would have just been extraneous.  It’s a completely visual segment anyway.  So, using my dusty and woefully underused BA degree in film, I decided to instead write this in screenplay form.

Hope you enjoy!

[SPOILERS AHEAD, OBVIOUSLY.]

Continue reading “A Division of Souls Ending, Director’s Cut”

Extra: All in one place (sort of)

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Sorry it’s a little out of focus, but there you go:  twenty-plus years’ worth of work, all in one place.  Pretty sure I’m missing a few things here and there due to misfiling, but what you see there is the beginning and the end — and the future — of the Mendaihu Universe.

Of note:

–That pile of folders in the top left corner is all pre-TPE work, including a print out of True Faith and all its notes, character notes, and so on.
–That tattered green notebook is the one I used for writing The Phoenix Effect.  The second notebook with the latter half is underneath it, as well as outtakes, notes, and other things.
–Top row, third over, under the ‘more outtakes’ folders:  the three binders holding the print-out of the trilogy, circa 2005.
–Top row, far right: the sketch book that contains my map of Bridgetown.  Underneath it is a very large binder carrying all the work from the Infamous War Novel (whose only relation to all of this is that I’d originally written Vigil as a sci-fi IWN rewrite).
–Bottom row, far left: extraneous notes from the Belfry years, as well as various pocket calendars marking my daily word counts.
–Next to it, the 3″ disks where I backed up my work during the Belfry years, including outtakes, notes, outlines, and other related things.
–Bottom row, middle: two attempts at sequels to The Phoenix Effect, circa 1999-2000, before I decided to start over with A Division of Souls
Bottom row, yellow notebook:  A VERY rough draft of the possible next story in the Mendaihu Universe, set once more in Bridgetown, but 70 years later.
–And finally, the end result:  galley copies of Books 1 and 2!

In comparison, I’d show you the stuff I have for Meet the Lidwells!, but it would be a picture consisting of a printout of the original rough draft and a pile of index cards. 😉