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 iii)

(NOTE: CW, there’s some not-quite-death-related stuff that goes on in the last part of this chapter. I wanted to show that in order for Eika to truly break herself away from the life that is no longer hers, she must disconnect completely from it. Not everyone can face such a finality, and this was the only way she knew how to face it successfully. She knew there was something beyond, she only had to take that life-altering first step.)

*

Day seventeen was when she’d decided to purge it all out of her system. She’d woken up that morning after a very sound night’s sleep, coming back to reality just before the sun was about to rise. Outside her bedroom window the sky was a mottled blue-gray and her world was silent, with not even a trace of wind. The town was completely still, frighteningly so, and the lack of sound only served to remind her that she was completely alone, miles away from anyone else.

It was time for her old life to die.

She didn’t bother to change out of her bedclothes, only putting on a pair of light flat shoes. She left the house, not bothering to lock or even close the door, and started walking. She wasn’t sure where, but she didn’t care. She had to go somewhere. She had to keep moving. The only sound was the quiet tapping of her soles against the asphalt, and it sounded…intrusive. After a few more steps she stopped and took them off, throwing them to the side of the road. Her footsteps now silent, she heard nothing else. Nothing but her own breathing.

She quickly lost herself in this town, aimlessly walking further away from that house that hadn’t even been hers. She let herself be led this way and that, until she ended up in the center of town, stopping to rest on one of the benches on the common. Her joints ached some, but not nearly as much as she’d expected. She was hungry but had no compulsion to stop at the grocer’s she’d been utilizing these last few weeks. There was a produce store across the street from the park, however, so after a few more minutes of rest she got up and headed over. She settled on a small packet of crisp bread snacks as she walked through the small store, washed them down with a bottle of water, and grabbed an apple on the way out.

The brunch did her good, as she felt more awake and focused, but she still felt aimless…she was a blank slate now.

The only thing to do was to keep moving.

Become the person she knew she was. Become the spirit she knew she held within.

She walked further and further away from the house and the town, still in complete silence. Her feet ached and she felt the urge to return to the house more than a few times, but she refused to go back, at least not until she purged this last obstacle that plagued her spirit.

It was nearing sunset when she found herself on a back road leading up a wooded hill. She’d seen this small mountain from the house, well off in the distance behind the rest of the neighborhood, and she realized she’d in fact reached her goal – to be as far away from that village as she could get. The village that wasn’t hers. The village she’d been forced to conform to.

It was here that she truly started feeling the clarity…a hint of brightness within her spirit, starting deep within her heart, hiding well away in the background. This hill was where she needed to be right now, somewhere above the village, looking out over it. Not to become one with it, but to become its Watcher. To watch and observe what went on within, but utterly separated from it.

She understood her true goal now.

With a renewed energy and resolve, she kept walking up the hill, following the crooked lane all the way up to the top.

The sun had just hit the horizon when she reached the summit, a promontory of low grass and a few stray boulders. She perched atop one of them and decided to watch the sun set.

It felt so much colder up here, colder than she’d expected. She held herself tight as a breeze finally blew its way across the valley and up towards her. The town was more like a small city, all short buildings of three or four floors and houses littered on the outskirts. She must have walked at least eight or nine miles, nearly all of it barefoot and in complete silence. But up here she could hear everything…the rustling of the grass as it bent in the wind, the chirping of birds, the hum of electricity, faraway and unseen but perfectly heard.

She shuddered and felt something shift within –

Oh Goddess here we go –

Something shifted within and she could not make it stop. It felt like the breach of a dam, finally giving way and crumbling to pieces, and her very soul, which had been held back for so long, had started spilling over like a deluge. She felt the stab of pain just below the nape of her neck, both searing hot and deathly cold. It came at her, drove through her as if someone had driven a blade into her neck, just so that it kept her alive and on the edge of death at the same time –

Goddess please what is happening –

And all through this she focused on the sinking of the sun, falling below the horizon at the opposite end of the valley, in utter silence. This world, her world, was ending, here and now, and she was powerless to save it. She would never see it again. The sun would dip below the horizon and she’d be enveloped in darkness, here in this nowhere, with no one to connect to or sense. She was alone and she was dying.

I…oh Goddess, I can feel it.

She felt the knife sink ever deeper between her shoulder blades, entering her spine, a shard of pain shooting up to her brain and all the way down to her feet. She let out such a screeching howl that it terrified her. She screamed and screamed, pitching forward and landing face first into the grass, a fresh gash of pain shooting up to her brain. Oh Goddess, what was happening to her?

All at once, her voice gave out. She could only breathe heavily, taking in the musty soil and the frigid air. It tasted like…?

The sun had dropped, and the sky was fading from read to gray to deep blue and now to black. She could not see more than a few yards ahead and there was little to no sound other than the wind and her own breath.

Just her, and the wind. Nothing else.

She was truly alone. Completely abandoned.

Her throat ragged from her cries, she choked on her tears, her voice a raspy moan, as she pulled herself into a low crouch.  The pain in her spine was so excruciating she wanted to die, and yet her spirit was refusing to surrender. She could only bear this for so much longer. The silence enveloping her felt so much more ominous and frightening than any other sounds she’d ever heard, and she could sense nothing and no one.

Abandoned.

And finally, mercifully, her spirit broke apart.

Oh Goddess –

Her moans gave way to a deep growl, a sound so low and primal, a voice she had never heard. This was her own soul calling out in sorrow, the Trisandi spirit within calling out to the heavens, pleading for relief.  She slid forward again, her hands reaching far, far out, grasping at the grass stalks and the ground underneath in an attempt to keep anchored to the earth. Her legs pushed out from underneath her, digging into the ground, she dipped her head low, releasing the pain…bleeding it out, the icy power of it all bleeding out through her mouth, her nostrils, her eyes, her ears. Oh Goddess she was dying –

And then she felt. She felt. The earth gathered in her fists, pushed between her toes, and then she understood…she felt Gharra now. Felt the world beneath her.

And she let out such a horrifying primal howl from the depths of her soul that she felt the world tremble in response.

And in the next moment, all pain melted away. She felt miraculously free of the anguish. She was free. Her spirit was finally, completely free of the ties that had bound it.

And she heard it, just then.

An almost silent swish of a giant tail, low and cutting through the grass. But never touching the ground.

I am kiralla, she said, her voice thundering into the ether.

MU4: Chapter One (part ii)

Dubai once again, sitting in for Bridgetown.

NOTE: This chapter was indeed a thrill to write — creating an extended solo scene where the conflict is not between people or even the self, but between Eika and everyone’s expectations of her. But she won’t be alone for too much longer…stay tuned!

*

Eika found the letter from her parents on the third day of her enforced solace, and she swore it hadn’t been there two days earlier. She’d found the envelope and the letter within sitting on the dining table, with just her first name and nothing else. It hadn’t been there that morning, but it had been there when she’d come back from her walk. She’d been so bored waiting something to happen or someone to contact her that she’d gone to investigate the neighborhood. An hour later it was sitting there, dead center. And she had not sensed anyone’s presence. They must have stepped through Light to drop it off, but she would have at least sensed the change, as she hadn’t gone all that far, maybe a few blocks at most. It must have been a Devoted Eichi…they seemed to love torturing her like this.

The letter explained exactly what she’d feared – she’d failed in the eyes of the Council of the Blessed Ones. She’d failed so many of the spirit circles. She’d failed her parents. They’d exhausted every avenue trying to awaken her as a Blessed One, to no avail. They’d been forced to make the decision for her, to take the route no spirit should ever have to go through. She was to awaken completely on her own, with no assistance, away from outside distraction and influence, and away from possible injuries to herself or someone else. If she were to succeed here, she would be accepted as a Blessed One.

If she were to fail…?

Her parents were too cowardly to mention that possibility in their letter.

Extreme measures to say the least, but it did not surprise her at all.

They’d left her in this empty town, this outpost nowhere, to figure herself out. She was apparently sufficient in whatever she needed – electricity was working, the few storefronts in the center of town were consistently restocked when she was not around, and water was always plentiful. This was a highly spiritual testing ground, and she’d just been dropped into it without preamble.

She wanted to be angry at her family, and for a little while she was. They’d taken extreme measures to push her towards some indefinite, undefined goal. To be Awakened. No explanation or context as to how, or why. It was a goal expected of her, not to be questioned. That was how her family, how her family’s belief system worked, and she’d failed all other attempts to follow in step.

She wanted to be angry, but instead, she only felt relief, of all things. A heavy burden that had been weighing her down her entire life had been lifted, one she hadn’t even realized was there until it had disappeared completely. No Devoted Eichi drilling their spite and disgust at her failings. No spirit circles avoiding her as an abomination. No family viewing her with disappointment and shame. She was a complete failure, and yet she had never felt freer! Perhaps her family had understood this, and in their own messed up way, dropping her here was the only way they could release her onto her own road.

She remembered a few things from her training that she could most likely utilize here, but strangely the first thought that came to mind was the parable of Nehalé Usarai, the man that Awakened the One of All Sacred. That was one of the first stories her teachers taught the young initiates, and it was the first one that stuck with her all this time.

Nehalé Usarai was considered a brilliant tactician, who had not only brought the Ninth Embodiment of the One into this Gharné world but had known how to ensure her safety and keep the extremist Shenaihu and the overzealous Mendaihu from poisoning the Word of the One. He too had been left alone in an outpost town like this when he was a young boy, to train himself of the Ways of the One in his own style. Never mind the fact that the real story, the one that the Blessed Ones always omitted, was that he wasn’t alone in this trial but had been brought here with several other young acolytes and awakened souls, and they’d all worked together to create a peaceful commune.

She laughed out loud when the thought struck her: Dare I question the Blessed Ones? Dare I compare myself to the revered edha Usarai? But he was Gharné, just like her, just like anyone else here on this planet. If he could find his own spirituality in these parts, why couldn’t she?

*

Easier said than done, of course.

On Day Four, she chose to practice her Lightwalking. That had been her weakest ability, as she found that she could not always keep a steady focus on her destination. The first time she’d tried it here, she’d gotten the destination completely wrong and ended up somewhere on the outskirts of town, and it had taken her three hours not only to get her bearings but find the house she’d been staying in. Later that day she tried again and made it to her planned landing point near the library green down the road…but had misjudged the altitude and fell ten feet to the ground, twisting her ankle in the process. She cried out, more in frustration than pain, but she was too damned stubborn to give up just yet. She hobbled back to the house and thought about what she was doing wrong.

The walk did her good because it forced her to clear her head. She was obviously still holding a grudge against her family, regardless of their intentions, and despite her stubborn will to prove them wrong. Perhaps that was it…did she really need to prove anything to begin with? Who was she trying to impress, anyway?

“No one but yourself,” she said aloud. She’d decided to speak aloud whenever it was warranted – to give voice to her thoughts meant vindication, even if just to herself, even if her thoughts proved to be wrong. If she spoke aloud, it made her thoughts and actions real.

And yet…she had to concede, she was lonely.

Had her parents even thought of that? Had anyone?

She needed no one for the moment, and she was fine with that; she didn’t need the constant distraction of others during her Trial. She was not desperate for human interaction, just the occasional reminder that she was not completely alone in this world. Only three days in and she was fine, but she needed more stimulation than the local birds and the occasional flight or shuttle passing over. And she wasn’t about to waste her time poking around on a vidmat. Not that they’d left any here.

Just…someone to talk to. To learn from. To work with. To connect with.

Annoyed with herself, she pushed those thoughts away and set about making tomorrow’s plans. Twisted ankle or no, she was going to get this self-training done one way or another. She had a lot of ground she wanted to cover during the time she had here.

By day six, she’d managed not to kill herself when practicing her Lightwalking, though she still hadn’t quite gotten the knack of adjusting for changes in geography. Thankfully it was impossible to step out of the Light and into something solid – the soul’s connection to the planet ensured that would not happen – but she still reappeared too high and hadn’t quite figured out how to adjust for it.

The stores of food and other wares miraculously replenished themselves not only at the small store down the block, but in her own refrigerator as well. She figured someone was restocking while she was away and chose not to question it or scan for their whereabouts. The temptation to reel out a thread of sensing energy was high – Goddess, it was high! – but she held back. Reaching out right now was a sign of weakness, that she’d given up already, and she didn’t want that.

She’d also expanded her regimen to include the more mundane but equally necessary things in training…she took care of what she ate and drank, what exercises she did, how long she practiced. She’d long known one of her worst habits was her lack of organization, so she chose to face that head on. She worked out a schedule and focused on everything she needed to do to adjust her focus.

By day ten she already saw the changes. She’d been meditating twice a day. She’d been going out for runs around the neighborhood, going slightly further with every circuit. She became exhausted less often, she had lost the excess weight from unhealthy eating, and to her own surprise, she found herself focusing on more details of her day-to-day life.

She changed her appearance as well, choosing to wear more form-fitting clothes to help her move more fluidly (this was, in her mind, a brilliant bit of clarity…she now understood why the Elders’ uniforms were also form-fitting, and it did in fact help her during ritual practices). She’d chosen to cut her long hair after finding that binding it back during practice only served as another distraction. It was now quite short, well above the nape of her neck, just shy of a buzz cut.

She felt more centered than she’d ever been in her life, and she was immensely proud of that fact. She continued to speak aloud, letting herself burst into song or work out a problem by talking through it. She felt oddly comforted by all of this. She could do this.

She would awaken as a Blessed One on her own.

Day fourteen was tough.

She promised herself she’d get through it, even if it ended up setting her back. She’d been in this funk ever since she found the second letter from her parents. She had no idea how it had gotten there, or if they’d left it days ago and she’d only just found it. She had a feeling it had been delivered, just like the phantom food and parcel deliveries, with someone stepping in and out of Light without her noticing and leaving no memory puddles in their wake.

The letter, at first glance, had been expected. A concerned but distanced connection, wishing her good health, hoping her training was improving. A brief mention of other extended family members forwarding positive thoughts and prayers…but otherwise it was mostly her mother’s hand and words. Words that felt shallow and forced. Words she’d said to her many times before, meaning well but ultimately meaning little at all, holding no true empathy.

But upon reading again, the reality of her isolation truly started to sink in. She’d put on a brave front all this time, refusing to feel the pain. Refusing to give up. Refusing to give in and let the Devoted Eichi win. Her mother’s letter, though well meant, had only served to bring that pain back to the forefront.

They’d already given up on her, days ago.

“Goddess…!” she blurted, crumpling the letter into a ball and throwing it across the room. Even talking aloud felt shallow and stupid now, just an immature action to trick herself into thinking all wasn’t as bad as she thought. She let the tears come this time, even knowing how stupid and pathetic she felt. She finally let herself accept the fact that she’d put on a brave front to please everyone else, to the detriment of her own spirit’s pleasure. She’d set out to prove…what? Nothing. She’d proven nothing to them, because they’d refused to listen at all. They were only biding their time until she gave up and they came to pick her up, spiritually broken.

Somehow, this clarity felt so much worse.

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.

“Welcome to Bridgetown…”

Surprisingly enough, I never actually used that phrase anywhere in the Mendaihu Universe books until just the other day when I had to have one character welcome another as they landed at the B-Town Nullport. It didn’t even occur to me until just then that I never used it previously! [For those playing along, it comes from a very early version of an MU-themed website back before I knew to how to actually create one…that was to be the first thing you see on the landing page.]

So what’s going on in the Mendaihu Universe, anyway? Yes, I am still working on the fourth book. After numerous false starts, trunked outtakes and varying versions, I think I’ve finally managed to get it under control. There are a few reasons for this: one, my recent visits to the 750Words.com archives are paying off in that I’ve found a few outtakes that work perfectly in this iteration. Another being that my ‘repeated reread’ process of revision/reconnection helped me further nail down the main plot as well as what drives each of the main characters. I’m not getting nearly as much word count on it all — yet — but I’m getting there, because I’ve become a lot more comfortable working on the project.

The trick this time out is that I’m not rewriting the original trilogy story but I am writing about events that are influenced or caused by it. Sure, I have a few literary parallels going on, but it’s not about spiritual evolution…at least not in the awakening sense. This one’s inspired by what happens after those defining events. How believers of a Chosen One choose to interpret their words and deeds, years on from the original defining events. Different interpretations will evolve, different levels of belief. Who’s doing it right? Who’s just borrowing all the best parts for their own version? Does it matter?

It’s taking a lot longer for me to process all of this, I admit. I had over a decade to process the original trilogy before I released the final version. Now, it’s only been six years since I dropped A Division of Souls and half-heartedly played with some longhand outtakes. Right now I’m at the same level as the 2001 iteration of ADoS: a lot of planning, a lot of borrowing from old versions, and doing my best to make it all work. Will I have it ready to go by next year? No idea. Chances are better that I’ll have Project A released (and/or Diwa & Kaffi, depending on how that pans out) by next year first.

Still, I’m having a lot of fun writing in this universe again, and that’s always a good thing.

Updates and whatnot

First on the docket: FREE BOOKS!

Yes, it’s that time of year again, and all five of my ebooks are available for free until the first of January over at Smashwords! Here are the links:

In My Blue World
Meet the Lidwells! A Rock n’ Roll Family Memoir
The Mendaihu Universe Book 1: A Division of Souls
The Mendaihu Universe Book 2: The Persistence of Memories
The Mendaihu Universe Book 3: The Balance of Light

All five books are available in multiple formats, so you can read on any PC, laptop, or ereader! Because I like looking out for y’all.

*

Second of all: chances are I might not have too much to ramble on about in the next few weeks as I’m most likely going to just keep busy offline with my other projects as well as celebrating the holidays, so if you don’t see any posts in the next few Monday/Friday go-rounds, that’s the reason. It’s not that I’m busy, it’s that I’m enjoying not being busy!

*

I’m happy to say that late last night I came up with an idea that could significantly improve the opening of MU4, which I’ve been struggling with the last few weeks. As usual, it revolves around my penchant for starting the story at the wrong time! Of course, I’d already logged off, and had even turned off the bedside light to go to sleep when it came to me, but thankfully I was able to remember it this morning, so that will be part of today’s work. Yay for breaking through a block!

*

I’m still plowing through my music bios and it looks like I’m down to maybe 15 unread books at this point, which blows my mind. I never thought I’d be that caught up! Speaking of reading, I’ve done a factory reset of my e-reader (somehow the keyboard had stopped working) which wiped a number of apps that I’d had on there that I probably didn’t need and never used, but on the plus side, I’ve filled it up with a number of cheap or free e-books that I plan on hitting next year. My average books-per-year has hovered around 70 or so and I’d like to up that. (Why so low? Primarily because over the last few years I’ve been spending a considerable amount of reading-in-bed time doing project revision, and that can take up to a few weeks at a time. I currently do not have any projects at that level at this point.) I can zip through a good-sized book in a few days so for next year’s GoodReads challenge I think I’ll set it at 100 and see how far I get.

*

Speaking of reading, what was my favorite books I read this year? Good question. I’ll need to refer to my GoodReads list and get back to you on that. That could be a good post in itself!

*

…and that’s all I have for now. Hope everyone has a lovely Christmas holiday!

Still Here

Source: BeaStars

It’s been what, nearly three months since I’ve posted here? I posted a fly-by over at Walk in Silence not that long ago, but other than that I’ve been keeping quiet. Continuing with the job search, keeping occupied with light projects and reading, and running errands. Staying safe.

I could say I’ve been busy planning my next project, or I could say I’ve been doing research, but I’ll be honest, I haven’t been been doing much of anything creative at all. That was kind of by design, however. I desperately needed the break.

It was probably long overdue, come to think of it. I’d been angry and exhausted for months. The successful writing processes and habits I’d set up years ago were no longer working, and the more I tried to push to make them work again, the more frustrated I became. It had ceased to be enjoyable. It was a combination of a lot of things: Day Job frustration, lack of time, lack of new ideas, lack of interest, and too much repetition.

Other than following through with the post-production of Diwa & Kaffi, I decided to stop everything temporarily. The daily words, new novel projects, the blogs, even the daily personal journal. It was time to deal with Real Life stuff: leaving the Day Job of fourteen years, searching for new employment, staying healthy and avoiding COVID-19, and flushing out some old personal demons that were still kicking around. One month off has turned into multiple months, but this decision remains a positive one. Most of the heavy stress and frustration I was feeling earlier this year is almost completely gone.

I’m returning to some of these creative habits and processes again, but I’m purposely not tying them down into daily/weekly habits. I’ve taken the focus away from completion and competition and refocused on the creativity itself, where it’s supposed to be.

So. Am I working on anything right now? As a matter of fact, I am! Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing yet another reread of the Bridgetown Trilogy, for the sole reason that I’m revisiting that world for Book 4 in the Mendaihu Universe! [There may also be a secondary reason, in which Our Intrepid Author decides that maybe the trilogy needs a new re-edit and may work on this as a long-game side project.] I’m also working on an idea to gather the flash fiction I’ve written for the College Campus/D&K universe into a self-published collection. The waystation idea I’d come up with at the beginning of the year is still gestating at this point, so I’ll most likely get to that one if and when I have the time and inclination.

Will I return to blogging? Yes! Although I’m not sure how and when. Before I left the Day Job, I’d found a workable process in which I used 750 Words to write up rough drafts for these blog entries, so I may utilize that or something similar to it when I decide to fully return. I’ve wanted to revamp both blogs for a while now, and I’d like to focus a bit on that first before anything else.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep reading and writing!

Sort of Fly-By: Working On Stuff

Source: Makoto Shinkai’s ‘5 Centimetres Per Second’

OH HAI THERE. I’ve been busy most of November, getting used to the new schedule and Day Job situation. I mean, I’d rather not get used to it, if you know what I mean, but I’ve managed to find workarounds for various things I need and want to do. I chose to take most of November off to recalibrate myself and my situation, see what I can work with, and make it happen.

And make it happen I did! I have managed to set aside time to work on Daily Words! This is going to be pretty much the same as when I was writing In My Blue World and Diwa & Kaffi in tandem — whenever there’s a slow moment during the day, or when I’m on my breaks, I’ll do a lightning round of a few hundred words. As long as I’m working on something, that’s all that matters.

And I’m glad to say that I’ve made some real progress this past week, much to my complete surprise! Right now I’m working on a few Mendaihu Universe ideas — one that’s sort of a fun diversion of a short story, and the other is a Possible Book Four thing. It’s still all in the planning stages, but I’m willing to see where it takes me.

As for the blogs, they’ll probably be a bit erratic over the next few weeks until the end of the year, but I’m hoping I might be able to post at least one entry for each blog a week, time permitting. Like I said, I’m still recalibrating, so it may take a while for me to get back on track.

Thanks for waiting, hope to see you here soon again!

Do Writers Read Their Own Books?

It’s an honest question. Do we read our own books after they’re out there in the wild? After spending all those hours slaving away at it, pulling it apart and putting it back together, wondering if anyone else out there is ever going to read it…do we want to pick it up again after we call it complete?

We most definitely do, for various reasons. I can’t say if other writers read their own books for the fun of it, but I would not be surprised if some of us do. After all, a good portion of us write these things because these are the kinds of stories we like to read.

Over this past weekend, inspired by finishing off my cleaning and sorting of the Mendaihu Universe papers, I uploaded an epub copy of A Division of Souls to my Nook and started reading it during our relaxing weekend down in Monterey. I haven’t picked up that particular book since I self-published it back in 2015.

I’ve distanced myself from the Bridgetown Trilogy since then, by choice. The major reason being that I had a few unrelated stories I wanted to write and release first. I also wanted that distance so I could look at it with a fresh viewpoint, that way I could reconnect with certain parts of it for the potential Book Four.

I’m already picking up things I’d like to change with it, of course. Perhaps a bit more editing. A few formatting issues that might have gotten missed. Quicken the pacing a bit more, especially in those first few chapters. But other than that, I’m surprised at how solid it all is despite that. Spending so many years on a single project can sometimes become a desperate fall into a rabbit hole, but I can see I managed to avoid that. It’s very heavy immersion, I’ll grant that. This was my Epic Urban Fantasy project and written that way on purpose. Just like Meet the Lidwells! and In My Blue World were written fast and compact on purpose. Just like Diwa and Kaffi was written in a deliberately even and relaxed pace.

And I’ve reread those books as well! I read MtL for the fun of it because it was such an enjoyable and quick project. I reread IMBW because I wanted to make sure I did a good job on it, a few months after I released it. And I’ve been rereading D&K over and over again lately for revision purposes. A common piece of advice that many authors (and agents and publishers) give is that you’ve got to be able to reread your own work countless times and not get sick of it, and I totally get that.

I’m not planning on doing a New and Improved Edition of the Bridgetown Trilogy because of this current reread. At least not yet, anyway. (I might eventually do one to fix the few very minor issues that I catch, but that’s not going to happen right away. Right now, all I want to do is reread the trilogy and see how it sits with me, and what I can glean from it for later books in the Universe.

Still, it is kind of fun to read these things and get that occasional feeling of pleasant surprise and pride: I wrote this? Daaang! Heh.

Cleaning Up Spare Oom and Revisiting the Mendaihu Universe

Continuing the Great KonMari Tidy-Up of Spare Oom…

As of Thursday, one major chapter in my ongoing Spare Oom Cleanup Project has finally come to a close with the final sorting and filing of my writing! Everything’s in binders (or in some case, boxes) now and and in its own specific place.

Early, finished and trunked projects are over on the bottom shelf of the (Formerly) Forgotten Bookshelf, with journals and poetry notebooks on the top shelf with easy access from Fancy New Chair. All my artwork, maps and Murph doodles are finally in one place. Numerous dead pens have been given a proper sendoff along with disintegrating manila folders and Crap I Really Don’t Need to Save.

And of course I saved the best for last, and it took me a few days to go through it: The Mendaihu Universe Library! Heh. This is every scrap of paper, every story idea I scribbled down during a day job, every character reference, every outtake (longhand and typed), every chapter printout with revision notes, and One Clean Full Printout of every related project, from its humble 1993 beginnings all the way to the 2015 prep for self-publication. And let me tell you, there’s a lot less of it than there used to be! Many clean printouts have been sent to the shredder over the years, and I’ve finally managed to get them down to one single box full of them.

I really enjoyed going through all those folders and documents and getting them into chronological order. For a project that lasted 22 years (!!), it was quite interesting to see how it evolved from one version to the next. It started off as a science fictional re-imagining of my Infamous War Novel (which in 1993 was already nine years old!) but quickly took on a life of its own with all kinds of detours, rewrites and re-imaginings along the way.

I even managed to get some clarity on how it evolved from 1997-8 with The Phoenix Effect to 2001 with the start of A Division of Souls. I knew I’d tried submitting TPE, attempted to rewrite it, and also write a sequel to it, but I couldn’t quite remember the path all that clearly. Come to find out, a lot of it lines up with my day jobs shifting — leaving HMV in September 2000, starting second shift at Yankee Candle, and moving to first shift in April 2001. That last date pretty much coincides with the time I’d decided to nuke TPE and start from scratch with ADoS.

But the best part is that I was able to recalibrate my thoughts on the Mendaihu Universe and future plans for a Book Four. There will be a Book Four, no doubt about it…I’ve been planning to write one for ages, I just had to finish off all the other projects first.

And now I finally have the time and the inspiration for it!

Granted, I still need to finish off the final revision for Diwa and Kaffi and get that one submitted; that of course comes first. But this also means I can start playing around with story ideas, character development, and more. (And yes, there will be more Songs from the Eden Cycle mix tapes. Volume 5 was created last October, with more on the way.)

Yeah, I should know better than to announce my next project, as inevitably it crashes and burns, I ragequit it a few times, and put it on the back burner for a few more years. I’m not promising anything…so let’s just say that I’m willing to push this one pretty hard to keep it active this time out.