Nom’s Secret – Draft 0

November 1 – The Thing About Carosspid Poisoning

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 1, 2014 @3:08pm

The thing about Carosspid’s Poison is that it takes its victim slowly. It devours the body as the body moves – like quicksand. The faster the body metabolizes the poison, the faster the victim dies…like Parisa. The slower the body metabolizes the poison, the slower the victim dies…like Samir.

Parisa, unfortunately, was murdered first. The six year old girl was caught in the poison’s quicksand up to her neck before Nom even knew the child was inflicted with it. The herbalist only had time to manage the small child’s pain. The Lord Protector’’s child was gone before the gods, the Divine, allotted Nom a breath to try and figure out a cure.

She needed staff.

“Samir,” Nom scolded Ethantine’s ruler as she slammed down a book’s split pages in front of him. It took the herbalist three days to match the bite found on Parisa to the dead bug to the insect’s identification. Like a honey bee, the Carosspid’s bite is suicidal. It wouldn’t attack unless it believed it needed to sacrifice itself to protect its mate. Nom pointed to the Carosspid bug’s image with a single, sharp manicured nail. The red hue, Ethantine’s House Colors, caught Samir’s attention more than the herbalist’s tone. “This insect lives in the far desert, far beyond even Lynthia’s borders. Parisa’’s death wasn’t an accident.”

Samir, robed in the same clothes he had on when his child died three days prior, rubbed the flat of his palm over his bald head. What was left of his graying hair was normally shaved short, attended to on a daily basis, but not today. The Lord Protector of Ethantine rubbed his head then dropped it to the table, cradling his forehead with the crook of his arm. He was exhausted. He cried more than he slept; no one knew that except Nom. She’d been the only person he’d let into his wing of the Palace. Nom’s book remained ignored in front of him. He didn’t need to see the image. He recognized the bug. It was a familiar species in Reeseonia, Parisa’s homeland, where the mating pair were idolized for their commitment. Parisa’s death was his fault. Someone knew his secret. He moaned.

Nom sighed silently to herself.

At times, she forgot how cold she came across as when it came down to business. She didn’t think it was a fault. It was a good trait…for her…for an herbalist. It just was not how she wanted to present herself in this moment, to this man. She wasn’t even sure if she loved him or not. She just knew being cold wasn’t right for a man in mourning. Not this man. He just lost his daughter, even if she was adopted in exchange for assured peace. He loved the child like she was his own. He was all she ever knew. What would the Reeseonians say when they found out she was dead?

Nom pulled her hand away from the book. “Samir, I need assistants. This isn’t me telling you that I want them anymore. I’m telling you I need them.”” Because Parisa was a warning, a sick and twisted warning. “I can’t research a cure and tend to a patient’s pain at the same time. I need help.”

“You won’t find them,” Samir argued, raising his head, “or if you do, finding them won’t be easy.”

“I don’t need easy. Nothing in my life has been easy. I just need help.”

“Take it.” The Lord Protector of Ethantine waved her off. She’d seen the signal before. Samir wasn’t tell her to leave; he was telling her to do whatever she needed to accomplish her task. Nom paused, resting her hand on a simple table chair that matched Samir’s, and scanned his harem. She didn’t know what else to call it. She remembered when this room was forbidden. The walls had been gold, an actual gold, with red accents. It had extravagant furnishings that surely engulfed anyone who sat down on them like the sofas that could have catered to more individuals than the room ever witnessed. She knew what they were for. But Samir transformed it after Parisa came home with him. The girl studied here. The room became a dry chamber. No extravagance, no frills. A table and books. To the point, that was the best way to describe it, Nom decided.

Nom looked over the room again. The walls were still gold and red. Parisa’s teddy bears still sat in a circle on the red Ethantinian rug, waiting for her return. The room wasn’t so dry after all. Samir noticed his herbalist’s stare. “Those were her students,” he told Nom, gesturing to the Reeseonian teddy bears. “She’d take her daily lesson then teach her teddy bears.”

Nom shut her eyes slowly, the heaviness of Parisa’s death clutched her chest slowly; shock was starting to melt away. I am an herbalist, Nom reminded herself. I deal with death; it is a part of the job. But this was different. This was a child. This was Samir’s child. I can’’t support him when I am not even prepared for my own personal response.

Grief manifested itself in body language. Samir’s was taking its toll on her. She needed to remove herself from this room and get to work. “I’m going to my room,”” she said, opening her eyes again. Samir’s face looked foreign to her – distant as he watched the motionless stuffed bears and yet happy as an invisible memory played out in front of him. ““I want to start researching a cure. The Reeseonians must have a vaccine or an anti-venom. I’ll find it.”

Nom never shared her fear, that whoever murdered Parisa would come after Samir next. She hoped that fear would remain a secret, that she’d have created the answer, that she’d be ready for next time.

She wasn’t.

A velvety gust of warm wind soared pass Nom on the lanai and slowed just long enough to dance with her lantern’s fire. They flickered as they played together then the wind disappeared, leaving the fire and Nom with their work.

Nom usually loved working outside on the patio, but tonight’s work seemed overly tedious. She loved tending to her plants during the day. She did all her research on her sunbed and took breaks from it to walk to the lanai’s guardrail and look out over Ethantine. She didn’’t know a single inhabitant that wasn’t in love with their city. They were a boisterous bunch that captured life regardless of the hour. Tonight they celebrated “Parisa their princess.”” They chanted her name and sang the songs she loved to share with them. After a single night of silence, the Ethantinians would celebrate the girl until her body was laid to rest.

Only Parisa wasn’t really a princess at all. The Lord Protector of Ethantine was the highest promotion of the second born prince, but their offspring – even if Parisa could be considered such – were not grated a title. Still they men and women of Ethantine chose to adore her as one; the girl would have been thrilled.

Nom stretched on her bamboo sunbed for no other reason but to stimulate her mind. Her body felt restless. The pile of books stacked on the floor next to all of her potted plants would be meaningless – for the most part – until her figured out how to get her mind and body whole again. The image of Parisa’s first stumble – while playing a game of chase with her cat Smudgling – kept flashing in Nom’s mind, interrupting her sad attempt to work.

Nom stared out over Ethantine. I should have known something was wrong right then.

She shook her head.

No, I knew.

Nom felt the same twinge across her shoulders that she felt when Parisa fell. The same twinge. Instinct talking, the only way it knew how. Only I didn’t listen. Like a mother ignoring a child’s last words…

Nom bite down on her cheek, to feel the pain, then felt her body turn cold, emotionless. If she couldn’t research anything in-depth then she would scan her books for knowledge on how to process an anti-venom and mark pages for later. Nothing more specific…she just wanted the comfort in knowing that she could find possible answers, even if everything she found that night was wrong.

When the Divine Lord Chand’s moon passed over her head, marking the final hours of the night, Nom reached to her left, where on a small table rested a book, not much bigger than her hand. It was properly bound but with blank pages.

A red nail caught an edge of the book and slipped it over the ridge of the table, just enough that Nom didn’t have to struggle in the chair to attain it. She then slipped the pen that rested behind her ear through her long blonde curls. The first few pages of her notebook held comments, observations and annotations, reminders to herself about the nature of her gods –– the Divine.

“Each of the Divine has a purpose, even if such purpose is not immediately presented to them.”

Nom flipped the pen around the fingers of her right hand – it made soft clicks as it hit each of her rings – then added a comment to her observation.

“When touched by a Divine, those on Atala will have a purpose presented to them as well,” she considered what her purpose was as she penned the quote her mentor always shared.

Then added, “What is mine?”

She measured the possibilities quickly, noting each thought in her book. Use my gift and heal people, save lives. Save Samir…love Samir? Create the anti-venom for Carosspid bites. Teach assistants…save assistants?

Did assistants need saving?

Nom half dropped, half tossed her pen into the middle seam of her notebook then snapped it shut. Her body’s muscles ached in protest as she forced herself out of the chaise lounge. She tossed the book down onto the cushioning and slapped the palm of her hand down the wrinkled green cloth of her pants that wore and flowed about her legs like a skirt.

She stopped at the lanai’s guardrail and watched Ethantine.

[KEEP LINE FOR SOME OTHER POINT] Nom sat at her desk in the study chamber. Somewhere under the pilings of books was a slab of rich, dark wood.

WORD COUNT: 1724

AUTHOR NOTES FROM DAY 1:

I’m not entirely certain what Point Of View (POV) I want to use in this book – not that that is a surprise to me because I commonly switch POV’s as I start my work. It frees me to play around with the draft in whatever manner I feel like. I find the lack of restriction helpful to get into character heads or to see the scene situations from various character viewpoints. I think it makes a more well-rounded final product.

I considered and am planning on the final product to be in the third person POV, similar to what I just wrote. I do plan on flipping into Nom’s first person POV at some point during NaNo as well as Safreen’s POV (Safreen plays a strong role in Aara, which is in the final edit phase. I’ve come to adore Safreen as a character. She is one of Nom’s future assistants and family members).

Today’s piece was rather fun. I had no idea where I really wanted to start with Nom. Some of her character’s story is glanced at in Aara, but nothing as far as backstory or who Nom really is, which bothered me because (as you will eventually come to find out) Nom’’s character runs an underground railroad for the abused [women]. The heart of that story begins in Lynthia, Ethantine’s sister city, where women are deemed property (although not all are treated like property). Today I wanted to meet a set of characters used in Aara. It’s like I was given a stick figure and I’m now getting to painted on details. Love it!

Samir is Aara’s Uncle. Until today I knew three things about him:

1) He died, was murdered

2) He helped build The Waterfall in Lynthia with Aara’s father

3) He, along with Aara’s Father, figured out a way to bring peace to Lynthia, which includes Ethantine as its sister city.

Parisa has a strong tie to Javed in Aara – I don’t want to spill much more than that, but I loved realizing how to connect the two.

Nom is going to be interesting because I think I’ll have to rewrite portions of this work when all is said and done so that her character remains consistent through all the books. For now, I’m just letting her show up on the page in whatever way she wants. Of note, I honestly don’’t know if Samir and Nom end up in a relationship or had a relationship yet. They haven’t told me.

FUN FACT? Ethantine is named after my boy (Ethan), and Reeseonia is named after my girl (Reese). I hope to have fun and add in a few shout-outs to who they is as a person in each of the cities. Parisa’s cat Smudling is named after our cat Smudge. I originally used family names as place holders when I needed to name something on the fly. Only, I discovered that most of the time I loved the names created so keep them. I am running out of names however.

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November 2 – The Concept of Ethantine

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 2 @10:42p

The concept of Ethantine being an “urban” city seemed ridiculous to Nom or so she decided as her carriage pulled away from her home and over the middle of three bridges that stretched across the River of Parity. There really was nothing urban about the place. The population of Ethantine wasn’t dense. There was no need for a public transport nor was there a wide variety of housing.

Ethantine was just different, and Ethantinian culture was one of its own.

Nom watched the Palace as she left for the Port. Unlike Lynthia and Port el’Reathsen, the home of the Lord Protector of Ethantine was the largest and foremost building of the city. Anyone who arrived or left the city filed through the Palace’s Brynxeen Core walls while their transport was taken around back to the market and commercial area of the city by proper officials. Nom’s gardens surrounded the other three sides of Ethantine while the civilians lived protected in the heart of the city. If an attack would come to Ethantine, the Lord Protector believed he – and not his people – should be the first to defend.

Samir’s philosophy ran deep within the architecture of the city – he focused on practice. The city’s layout and planning needed to support lifestyle and transport. It needed to serve a function. Architecture was a crucial tool, more than art and not just to boaster class value. Samir knew that the men and women of Ethantine were a unique few. They didn’t wander aimlessly. They never wondered about where the day would take them. They always had a plan. Time was not a luxury they could spare. Ethantinians saw days like currency, and they exchanged time for actions, moments, progress. They had goals and desires unlike many within the world of Atala.

Nom had them too. A trip to Port el’Reathsen was not one of them.

[Time of day?]

With the Palace disappearing from view, Nom watched the final feet of well decorated, marble bridge pass then uncrumpled her sister’s letter. She never should have crushed it in the first place…or she never should have opened the words again.

She sighed, lowering her eyes to again read the paper.

“As much as you may want it to, I refuse to begin this letter with any type of sympathetic or familial designation. I do hope that it does find you in better spirits as your last letter sounded sad and desperate. You are my sister, and I love you. But you are an herbalist, first and foremost now. I warned you what the title meant before I ever began my teachings, and you accepted the challenges of the choice.

“As you begin to seek your own students, or “assistants” as you have chosen to call them, you will need to decide how to begin your own teachings. I fear that you are not ready to begin this leg of your journey and beg you to reconsider mentoring until you have answered some very basic, but very serious questions.

“If you chose to defy my plea, which I suppose you will as you always have, I suggest traveling to Port el’Reathsen. They have a university there wherein men and women are already in the midst of studying various components of herbalism. I believe you can find a suitable set to assist you although I am not certain how many would actually leave their studies to return to Ethantine with you, but one never knows. I have arranged for you to meet Fox and his wife Vixey.

“I believe you would be happy to know that our sister is with child. She’d rather be the one to tell you that, I’m sure; but let’’s face it, she is not a scribe nor had she ever been. By lunar calculations, Chand will be bringing her a girl. Perhaps this little one will one day join you and be the assistant you so dearly yearn for.”

Nom crumpled the letter into a ball, smashing the document until she forgot her anger. Her sister could be so painfully forthright, whatever love she said she had came across as phony. Nom was certain her behavior became what it was because of the woman’s decision to remove herself from Loches’ society as a whole.

Nom thought about opening her sister’s letter again, considered rereading the closing paragraph. Then remembered how Zor packed her medicine and left those in need, which alone triggered the fracture of Nom’s confidence in her own mentor. At that point an air of phoniness came with every word Zor spoke. Why bother reading supposed niceties?

How could an herbalist make ill patients walk miles in order to seek out treatment? Nom crumpled the letter again. Zor was wrong. Nom knew the answers to the serious questions. One of which was the fact that she’d never be as pigheaded as her sister. She’d make a point to travel to patients when they needed her to do so. Zor swore that she felt that the distance allowed her to be more rational, less biased. Nom disagreed. The tie of humanity that she had with her patients made her work harder to cure them. Wasn’t there something to trust?

Some things are about survival, some are about transcendence.

The trip to Port el’Reathsen was about survival. The carriage ride there, if they bypassed Lynthia, took thirteen days as long as the weather cooperated. It was not a journey Nom cared to make. It harbored danger, which was why as her carriage finished crossing the Lord Protector’s bridge – the middle bridge – Nom couldn’t prepare for her work in the Port. She had to concentrate on preparing herself for the worst, if it came to that out in the dessert.

Nom crossed over the small arching bridge with polished burgundy railings. The stream of people entering Port el’Reathsen thickened as Nom entered Port el’Reathsen’s docks. Fox and Vixey’s herbalism shop was located in the busiest part of the Port, where items of necessity were in easy access for the sailors and traders as they entered town. A wooden sign affixed above the shop’s entrance creaked on its hinges. The salt of the sea was strong in this area. Nom happily slipped inside, where the aroma of plants and brewing elixirs replaced the sea air.

Inside a small bell over the door jingled as Nom shut the door carefully behind her. An aproned man with turquoise glasses and rainbow bandana worked a mortar and pestle. Sweat dripped down his tanned skin. He didn’t look up as he continued to crush his work.

“You’re late!” he called from the back counter.

Nom blinked, shocked at the greeting. She had expected something a bit … kinder? The man had an air of approachableness or seemed to.

“Excuse me?” Nom asked. Her voice rose defensively. She paused in her pursuit for the back of the store and with a rapid scan of the room distracted herself with a green and gold bound book. She didn’t read the work’s title but picked it up as a means of diverting her attention, of calming herself before meeting Fox. She needed his help. Certainly Zor hadn’t indicated a specific day and time for arrival. She knew how inconsistent travel could be.

Fox peeked up at her over the rim of his glasses. His working hands stopped as he took in Nom’s expression. “Oh child,” he started, dropping the pestle and sitting back on his stool, “It was a joke.”

He snickered to himself and wiped his hands clean on his apron. “Vixey always said I was a better flirt than a comedian.”

“You’re no flirt,” warned an insistent voice that floated through the shop from the store’s hidden back room. “I told you that you scare women!”

“Flirt…scare, same thing.” Fox’s smile widened as he knowingly taunted his wife. He stood from his stool and removed his glasses. Without replacing the book, Nom continued again to where Fox worked.

“My name is Nom. My sister Zor said you would be expecting me. You must be Fox?”

“Only one in the Port as sexy as one.”

Nom’s head flipped to the side in confusion. “What?”

“A fox.–” Fox stopped, unsure how to take the new herbalist’s reaction.

A soiled towel snapped across his chest. Vixey slapped his chest once and playfully pushed him away. “She’s from Ethantine, love. She hasn’t a clue what a fox is. Pay no attention to him. Are you hungry? I figured we could talk over a meal. It sounded as if you have quite to endeavor to fulfill.”

[add?] Nom knew exactly what not to teach, thanks to her sister.

She stopped at the lanai’s guardrail and rested her elbows on the wood. She liked her room. When Samir insisted she room within the Palace / she liked how the balcony opened only three stories above Ethantine. The height was low enough to see the citizens clearly; they looked like people and not insects. Yet, it was high enough that the typical conversation couldn’’t be heard. Nom loved her people, but as an herbalist she needed to distance herself from them. She didn’t want to get too close to anyone she treated. She crossed her arms, folding her fingers under the curves of her elbows. The men and women of Ethantine were a unique few. They didn’’t wander aimlessly. They never wondered about where the day would take them. They always had a plan. Time was not a luxury they could spare. Ethantinians saw days like currency, and they exchanged time for actions, moments, progress. They had goals and desires unlike many within the world of Atala. Part of Nom believed their motivations came because they did not have restrictions. Men and women were equals.

Even the Ethantinian Palace symbolized the kind of government Samir sought He focused on practice, consistent, with the architecture of the city playing a crucial role in that belief. He believed his rule to be open and available as a tool.

Unlike Lynthia, the city surrounded the Palace. The civilians and their homes were one with the Lord Protector. The rich and the poor lived intermixed. The market and other such commercial activities were left to the outer boundaries of the city.

[I needed this moment to work on the layout, the laws of Ethantine. They will probably change.]

Falcon kak

AUTHOR’S NOTE FROM DAY 2

Some days it’s just about getting the words on the page, even if you know they will be rewritten. Today was one of those days. I just needed to get them there. I had a much bigger event to celebrate today – my baby turned 11!!

The hardest part of today was trying to learn (with limited time) Nom’s personality before she came to Lynthia. Who trained her? What was her family like? Her sister Zor original letter was very kind yet something turned out as seen above. I kind of like the idea of Nom’s mentor slighting her. We’ll see if I keep that or not.

Ethantine as a city layout was not visualized until today. A good portion of Day 2 meant figuring out that architecture, which seems simple enough but a lot can be said about the way a city is planned. Ethantine is a bold city. It is a confident city. The Lord Protector is a humble man and one with his people so I originally I thought the Palace would be tucked away. As I worked through the first part of today’s word count I came to realize a bold, confident city would have its palace first in line. So I rethought the structure especially since I want the city to really fit Destovl (Aara’s brother – you’ll meet him soon) as a person.

FUN FACT? I needed a name for the Ethantinian wall material (I do not yet have a full backstory for it but…) Brynx is my sister’s eldest dog. My two pups – Kira and Kako –– are already named in Aara.

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November 3 – It Could have been Bandits

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 3 @10:43p

Bayta’s red hair dragged. It crawled in the sand with her body. Her tongue felt swollen. Her saliva thick. The corners of her eyes cracked and bled. At least those wounds were natural consequences of her failed escape. The mirage confused her, twisted her direction and turned her fate. The curse of the mirage was only a myth in Lo. What was left of sweat and tears drizzled from Bayta’’s body, causing her red tendrils of hair to become sand-encrusted because although she wore her hair barely longer than her shoulders, she no longer had the strength to lift her head from the land.

“It could have been bandits,” Mahdi, the caravan’s guide suggested. He watched the same slim figure as Nom did. A woman, judging by the curves of her waistline, trudged through the last of the desert and fell to her knees where the sand gave way to the more solid rock of Port el’Reathsen. Nom wasn’t sure if it was good thing or a bad thing to have bandits attack. Nom had heard stories of bandit attacks. It was not typical to leave a victim alive. At the same time, it was not typical to walk through the Lynthian desert to Port el’Reathsen. Mahdi interrupted Nom’s thoughts.

“Should we help her?”

He knew it wasn’t his choice to make. It wasn’t even really his place to suggest helping the woman, but he wasn’t a brute. He wasn’’t raised with an understanding in cruelty. If it was his choice – he’d stop to help her. Nom knew this. Mahdi was Samir’s favorite guide. She traveled with him often. They shared a lot of stories with all the distance they traveled together.

What Mahdi didn’t know was that the woman’s step wasn’t a mere stumble…she didn’t simply misstep on the changing landscape. Whoever this was barely lived. Her walk told a story of dehydration. It was a common story of the Lynthian environment. Nom warned Samir about every time he left Ethantine for Lynthia.

Today, Nom’s forehead drew together as she watched the girl more. The carriage continued on its set path. The camels paid no heed to the life form. Overhead, Mitra’s sun sweltered pass the mid-day work point. The cool mist of the Port’’s sea air remained at Nom’s back. She could still smell the sea’s salt. As the hours drew on, and they journeyed closer to Lynthia, that would change.

Lynthia’s desert was unforgiving. Fools crossed it. Fools, royalty…and Nom. The herbalist sighed.

This woman – whoever she was…whatever happened to her – she came from that oppressive beast, the monster of sand and desert. Nom was raised with an understanding in cruelty.

Still, she didn’t think of herself as a cruel

“Go to her,” Nom said with a curt nod then climbed over the back of her seat and up to the carriage’s rooftop. Its wobble was more prominent topside probably from the peripheral visualization of the moving land. Nom crawled to her luggage. She felt safer that way. She had never been athletic. Her heavier frame and fuller chest wasn’t conducive sports, but she never idealized having a body like her sister Dop had.

Nom wiped sweat off her forehead into her hairline with the palms of both hand then laced her hair into a hodge podge bun. Her body never lasted long in the Lynthia heat, and the Port’s breeze felt like it was disappearing quickly. Besides, Nom knew her blonde curls would only get in the way of her work. Her makeup already felt like it was melting off.

The camels complained about the route’s change.

Mahdi always did pick the most obstinate ones, Nom thought as she dragged the largest of her bags closer and slipped off her sandals. The sand would be uncomfortable hot. She wanted a shoe that protected her entire foot instead of dealing with the distraction. The caravan slowed as it sunk into the sand and came to a stop. Nom grabbed her herbalist bag, one of the twenty young green coconuts she had wanted to enjoy at home in Ethantine and crawled back to the ladder.

“Mahdi,” Nom hollered before beginning her descent down the caravan. She tossed the coconut down to her guide the instant he looked up. “We’’ll need the kukri.” They always kept the inwardly curved blade tucked under the driver’s seat.

She hated the thought of using the coconut’s water to rehydrate this woman, but unless they turned back to Port el’Reathsen their stores were depleted enough. If they took on another body then those stores were even more depleted. Nom lifted her skirts and rounded the caravan, already hearing Mahdi shouting, “Where you attacked?”

As she approached, she judged the girl to look barely fifteen. Her confidence swayed suddenly. Her caravan had to have been attacked. She was fifteen. Why else would a child suffer like this?

Who did she lose?

Nom scanned the horizon. The land played games with the human eye, but she’d take a fake image over a surprise attack any day.

Mahdi shouted again, “Girl, were you attacked?”

He knew she’d never answer. If they hadn’t stopped, she mere hours before she died.

The tall, thin man lowered his body to a squat, hunching his shoulders and wrapping his elbows around his knees for support. Nom watched his head cocked to the side in final examination of the woman’s condition before he lifted a hand slowly to the girl’s sand-crusted red hair and carefully brushed it aside.

The girl’s eye were closed. Her body barely breathed. She practically suffocated, her muscles too weak to lift its own weight. “She’s Lorian,”” Mahdi called, looking up to Nom and pointing to the child’s extended ears.

As Nom approached, her mouth turned downward in a thin line. “What is she doing here? The village of Lo is on the other side of the Port’s waters.”

“Walking home? Maybe she was part of a traders group, returning home from Lynthia.”

It was Sunday. The Lynthian Bazaar was always held on Thursday with various market tradesmen invited to a royal dinner on Friday evening. The travel from Lynthia took a day.

“I don’t think she’s been crawling to safety all that time,” Nom said, kneeling down on the sand and tilting her head to the side. The millions of small granules burning her skin, even through her skirt’s cloth, like miniature pokers, but that was nothing compared to the girl’s face.

“The poor thing,” Nom whispered.

The girl had a gaping laceration across the middle of her forehead. Most of the blood that seeped from it had caked dry from the arid temperature. Nom wasn’t sure if the wound had scabbed over or crusted with sand. Her lips were swollen, the bottom lip surprisingly smooth while the upper lip was cracked in seven places. Only one black eye was visible, and it too had more blood caked over the skin.

Nom’s eyes squeezed shut for a moment and pressed her hand to her abdomen. “Let’s get her into the carriage,” she muttered.

Mahdi carefully pieced the girl up, swaddling her thin frame across the shoulders and wrapping her to protect her neck then slipped his other hand under her thighs. The girl groaned but didn’t stir. Nom sucked in a series of deep breaths. She was used to bug bites, broken bones, sunburns…accidents that happened to active individuals. Pregnancies and child birth.

Not beaten children.

“Put her in the caravan,” Nom ordered and ran ahead of Mahdi to open the carriage’s door. Mahdi stepped cautiously into the small room, ducking to get through the small low door frame. He laid the child on the plush Ethantinian rug then tucked a flat pillow under her head. Nom handed him the green coconut.

“Open that, please.”

Mahdi nodded, squeezing pass Nom to again exit into the desert air. Nom made herself comfortable on the floor and loosened the girl’s clothing. She wore the traditional long, rectangular clothing of the Lorian people, adorned about her body in a draped, folded fashion. Nom struggled to untie the belt that secured the entire mass together. Brittle sand caked the knot closed like glue.

“Nom,” Mahdi whispered, popping his head back into the caravan with the now opened coconut.

“Thanks.”

Nom wiggled her fingers underneath the girl’s head and lifted it enough to dribble some coconut water into her mouth.

“Start back to the Port–”

“Ma’am,” Mahdi started in protest.

Nom shook her head. “We have to go back. She needs shade and cool air. This carriage is a death trap, we’ll cook in here if we continue on our way.”

Mahdi avoided eye contact but retreated to his seat without additional protest, leaving Nom to handle the girl on her own.

The child said her first words as Nom searched the carriage’s bathing compartment for a small washcloth.

“It feels like I’m breathing living fire.”

“Hmm,” Nom started, unfolding the square cloth and dipping it into the coconut’s water. She hoped the delayed response was enough to keep the girl quiet while she wiped the water across the girl’s neck and swabbed her head. “It’ll pass,” she assured the girl. “We’re taking you to the Port. When I get you more stabilized I’ll climb to the top of the carriage and get water.””

The girl’s eyes flashed open, large circles of alarm. Her hand shot up, gripping Nom’s wrist. There wasn’t much pressure, but her knuckles were white. Nom frowned and used her free hand to slowly remove the girl’s hand from her skin. “What’s your name?” Nom asked.

The girl either let go or didn’t have the strength to resist. Her eyes blinked multiple times but never fully closed. “Bayta,” she finally said. ““He can’t find me at the Port.”

Nom moved blindly as she struggled to cool the girl’s overheated body. “Who?”

“My husband.”

Nom’s eyes widened, transfixed with a horror and hope that she misheard.

“Are you old enough to have a husband?”

“My mom sold me.”

“So you’re not old enough then.”

“Age doesn’t matter.”

“Excuse me?”

“It didn’t matter how old I was, only that I was a virgin.”

What mother sells her own child’s virginity? How does one put a price on that?

“Why don’t you rest,” Nom said. She felt uncertain in her help. When they stopped she just wanted to make sure the girl got some water, rehydrated, then went on her way. Now……now what? “I’m going to get you some water.”

WORD COUNT: 1754

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

I’m finally starting to feel ready to get to Nom’s real story. As I research, it’s amazing to me the issues that surround domestic violence.

FUN FACT?

Yep – Lorians are named after someone; my sister’s pup LO.

Also, consider looking up the meaning is Mahdi’s name 🙂

# # #

November 4 – Spirit Bells

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 4 @10:18

I’m not feeling a good flow yet. I’m going to try this from Safreen’s point-of-view.

The three, white ceramic Spirit Bells over the herbalism shop’s entryway chimed a series of notes, announcing the presence of a guest. Like Nom, Safreen grew up believing that the sound was a gift of good luck and a reminder that this home was for the loved, the loyal and the befriended…even if one came in as a complete stranger.

Today’s guest was not a stranger.

The Lord of the High Royal Guard calmly ducked under the bells. His left arm trailed behind him still holding open the door while his alert blue eyes inspected the store’s interior. Aara, Lynthia’s Princess, followed behind him. She had a wobbly walk and hugged her stomach. I pushed my studies aside over the clear glass of Nom’s display case and stood slowly. Aara wasn’t due back for an appointment for two weeks. Her last one wasn’t even a week ago.

The Lord of the High Royal Guard did have normal visits, stopping for supplies, common first aid treatments needed for the occasion injury he received when training his soldiers…or training a falcon. Commoner rumor was that The Lord failed miserably at falcon training. Nevertheless, his visits came on Bazaar days. It was Saturday afternoon.

It was the Lynthian Princess’s presence that altered the shop’s usual conception. Her secret was of highest priority. She even refused to tell the Lord of the High Royal Guard about it. I personally didn’t understand the point of hiding a pregnancy, but that wasn’t for me to judge. I was just here to help, but the Princess didn’t look sick–

“Is Nom here?” The Lord asked, breaking my thought. A fierce blush colored my cheeks, my pale skin turning from white to probably looking like it received second degree sunburns in a split second. I had been so devoted to figuring out their needs that I failed to realize the man had been scanning the room for Nom.

I waited for him to finish shutting the shop’s door, just in case a nosy commoner strolled by. Palace servants enjoyed gossip, even if the rumors came in half-truths. Then cleared my throat and stammered out a quick, “yes.”

Unlike other mercantile shops in Lynthia, Nom’s shop did not share its walls. It stood alone, and did so for a reason. The lower portion of the shop did not own windows although half of the rooms upstairs did. It was easier to hide battered women when the world has less chances to peak in on you. But lacking the glow of sunlight, the customer portion of the shop remained forever dim even though the brown stone walls glimmered with a number of lanterns.

I glanced over at Nom’s Guardians, who waited in either side of the stairway that angled upward like an “L.” Nom preferred the men to conceal themselves in the shop’’s dark corners. Their plain dark clothing matched the dark wood fixtures. The Guardians were a paid means of transportation, like one would use a camel or a horse, but they had other purposes too like ensuring the shop remained protected. They enforced the smooth flow of day’s work.

Today’s work, however, was supposed to entail an important meeting on the second floor. Nom’s entire staff knew she was meeting with another abused wife. The Lynthian woman had been checked in as a flu patient with a note that other members of her family may be affected. The coding meant Nom and the family were under quarantine and that no one was to enter the room until further notice. Nom’s work happened under the strictest of privacy guidelines. It was my job to decide when those guidelines needed to be adjusted, and as I said the Lynthia Princess took highest priority.

“If I may ask, can I tell Nom the purpose of your visit?” I looked at Aara, the Princess and still new bride to the King’s newest Consult. Her smile looked forced but genuine. I’d seen smiled like hers before. They came from worried patients.

Unfortunately, it was the Lord of the High Royal Guard who tried to answer. He turned away from the princess, lifted his chin and gave an easy nod both to myself and the Guardians. I ignored his gesture.

“Something’s wrong,” Aara replied from behind the Lord.

“Are you sick?” I asked her, still trying to gauge what that meant.

“I’m bleeding.”

“You’re bleeding?” The Lord barked with a start of surprise.

“You should sit,” I told her, rounding the display case with my stool.

The Lord’s head snapped back toward the Princess that at me. I knew he was reading body language, compiling information and clues. He did it every time he entered the shop. His mouth opened and his right hand raised with a pointed finger that he aimed in my direction before his eyes sharpened and his shoulders squared.

“What information have I been excluded from?” His words came out in a curiously controlled but strangled tone.

“You’re jumping to conclusions, my Lord.” I touched his arm lightly as I set the stool down for the Princess hoping the skin on skin contact would diffuse him.

The Princess sat with a hushed “thank you.”

I knew the interaction with The Lord would be a gamble as my words could just as easily sound offensive, but I had a patient to protect regardless of the sacrifices I needed to make to accomplish that task.

“No, I don’t think I have.”

Lynthia’s highest ranking soldier pulled away, stepping back with his hands on his hips, leaving me to stand uncomfortably between the two.

“There’s going to be an addition to the royal family.”

Aara’s soft voice always sounded humble when I heard it, but I had been watching the Lord of the High Royal Guard whose face glazed over with a pained shock. He stared at the Princess, saying nothing to such important news.

“I meant to tell you when we left.”

He blinked then, as fast as his face dropped with emotion, he recomposed himself. He shut his gaped mouth and became the soldier expected of him.

“I’ve been taking you to see Nom because you’re pregnant?” The short snort of dismissive laughter that came with his question gave away his emotional state.

“I needed someone I could trust.”

“Someone you could trust?” He body jerked back, leaning away from the offense. His voice sputtered louder. “You trust me enough to bring you here, but you don’’t trust me enough to tell me why…until now?”

“It’s been over four months.”

“Why couldn’t your husband take you here?”

“Because he doesn’t know!”

As fast as it started the argument stopped.

“Um, let’s get you settled into a room upstairs,” I suggested, grabbing the Princess supportively around her elbow. I wasn’’t sure how exactly to response, but instinct told me to get them separated. I nodded to Nom’s Guardians then turned for the dark wooden stairs that matched of all of the fixtures in Nom’s shop. My eyes dropped long enough to watch my foot plant on the first step, and I noticed that I forgot to remove my apron. We were supposed to take the apron when we weren’t directly working with herbs and elixirs. As I ascended to Nom’s second story, I untied the item with my free hand.

I didn’t see it, but I heard the slapping of skin on clothing…I imagined of The Lord of the High Royal Guard’s hands expelling to the fullest in frustration then falling to his sides.

“Your husband really doesn’t know about the pregnancy?” I asked, the words coming out barely a whisper, all sense of using proper titling forgotten.

“No.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, my lady…how come?”

The Princess smiled, the radiant warmth that came with bearing a child returning to her skin. “I wanted to wait until the first trimester was over. My mother always made the commented that it was a safer practice.”

I hummed in understanding. She held an old traditional belief, common of royal families who at one time were at higher risks of miscarriages due to genetics. It was not my place to judge, only help.

I escorted her pass the third room on the right, where I heard Nom talking to [name]. The Princess paid the voices no heed. I chose the last available room on the left and opened the door, gesturing for the Princess to proceed before me. Like the lower floor, this particular room was windowless, but illuminated by lanterns. We never let the rooms be without light unless there were our own. We never knew when a surprise patient would show up.

“I’m going to tell him tonight, when I get back,” The Princess said as she settled down on the bed.

“Your people will be pleased with the announcement,” I shared as I pulled out blankets from the room’s small closet and handed them to Nom’’s next patient. “In case you get cold. If you don’t mind excusing me, I’m going to get Nom. Would you like the Lord to remain downstairs?”

The princess’s hands sandwiched the bedding. It felt odd to hand over blankets to the woman then asked if she wanted another man to join her in the room or not. She must have felt the same way because her fingers instantly began twisting the material. “I don’’t want him in the room–”

“I’ll see that he’s comfortable.”

I gave the girl a quick nod then excused myself.

Down the hall, I paused at Nom’s door and knuckled three knocks. The exchange inside ceased immediately. “Yes, Safreen.”

“You have a patient.”

I heard my mentor excuse herself politely then heard wood scraped against wood as Nom pushed her chair away from the small conference table. Her step always sounded heavy but with purpose. The door cracked, just enough to catch the glimmer of Nom’s eyebrow ring. “Aara,”” I told her.

The door shut.

An empty water basin rested on a square table along the far wall. “When did the bleeding start?”

“I’m not entirely sure. I

The only time Nom’s bells didn’t ring was that same evening…when Prince Destovl slammed through the door so violently that the set flew across the shop and shattered.

“Nom!” The gravelly deepness of his voice normally commanded attention, but it was the harsh crack in his words that pleaded desperately for help that took it.

WORD COUNT: 1753

These Draft 0’s are so hard to post. This crap is normally a secret file on my computer. It’s like the “Gramma Panties”” in the sexy underwear drawer – comfortable but not for the general public.

I decided to work with a POV change. Again, Safreen is one of Nom’s assistants. At this point in the story she is still new-ish to the trade. Nom’s usual routine is to select a series of young girls in a “try-out” fashion wherein only two are selected for ongoing training. Nom has already decided to keep Safreen as an assistant; the decision had been made a year prior. I was looking for someone close to Nom that could offer my a new viewpoint of a comfortable scene. I knew from Aara’s story that Javed took her to see Nom for pregnancy well-visit, check-ups. I know the whole story…from Aara’s POV. However, a lot is happening in the shop that I didn’t know and some details I can’t share.

The POV change allowed me to see research I need to do to fill holes in my comfort zone before tomorrow’s work.

FUN FACT? I love writing Destovl /happy sigh

# # #

November 5 – Whenever Something Doesn’t Go Right

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 5 @10:55p

Whenever something doesn’t go right, there’s usually a reason for it. Like…it’s a clue or an indicator to slow down and consider alternative options. I know now that whenever that happens, there’s something for me to reveal, a secret to find.

I found Daksh.

And Jaith.

The hidden Lynthian oasis wasn’t really a find but more of a gift. And actually, the oasis isn’t really hidden as much as it is cloaked, shrouded like a shifty mirage over the mid-day desert.

Nothing went right until I found the connection between the three.

I trudged through the Lynthian sand with Bayta tailing behind. Her petite Lorian frame struggling, her short legs sinking into the sand while her light-weight body being blown over by the desert winds, all at the same time. Flanking our right and left were two hired Guardians, escorts to see us into and out of Lynthia. Without both of them, we risked being lashed. Women were not allowed to walk Lynthian land without proper male accompaniment. The law came with good intentions, but for some it was just annoying.

I lifted a hand to my eyes, shielding a portion of Mitra’s sun. The day was earlier, not overly stifling yet. The falcons flew overhead, seeking food. One or two might have been training, but I believed that mostly occurred before the evening meal…if I remembered correctly.

I lifted my skirt and dug my foot into the sand to begin the climb over the next sandy bank. I received the short end of the stick regarding height, but Bayta’s genes were non-existent. Five foot tall, at best? Her slim fingers had disappeared in her eloquently folded Lorian skirt ten minutes ago as she tried to hold the material up and out of the sand. She looked like she was walking up flat stairs. At least she was alive.

The yellow dunes stretched to infinity. I had journeyed over the fine granules that still somehow severed millions of microscope scratches into one’s skin countless times in Samir’s caravan, but this time was different.

Until today, the desert sand really did stretch on to infinity. Nothing survived from Lynthia to Port el’Reathsen except Carosspids and scorpions.

I glanced over my shoulder at Bayta.

And Bayta.

A fifteen year old girl who survived having her virginity sold into a strange man – twenty years her elder. She survived the same man’s brutal attack when her body physically couldn’t handle granting him the pleasure he fantastically expected. She survived the Carosspids and scorpions as she slithered in the same with them, bleeding and puking until her body collapsed from dehydration.

She survived…just saying those two words felt like it should be enough, but then she saved me too. Her trauma revealed to me my purpose, which was why we were trudging through this forsaken desert.

I felt bad for taking her out into the desert again, but this time we left with a foreseeable goal. An oasis – we could see that end point as we walked. And, if Daksh kept his promise, a new life for this young girl.

“We’re almost there,” I hollered to Bayta over my shoulder. I could see the utopia as I crested the sixth dune. Date palms and a lush green carpet, complete with shrub land, fringed a crescent lagoon. The new landscape was a stark contrast to the rust sand, but if this exchange went well it would become our formal exchange and meeting area. Daksh assured me that the oasis wouldn’t be found by Lynthian royalty or commoner.

As we arrived onto the lagoon’s level, I sucked in a cooler, crisper air unmarked with traces of salt.

“A fresh water lagoon,” I remarked to no one in particular though I was sure we’d all happily drink from it. Daksh stood patiently under a palm, his receding hairline burning a bit about the curves. He leaned against the tree’s trunk with his left leg crossed at the ankle of his right and his arms crossed across his chest. I didn’t hear his comment to a second man who laid on the grass soaking up Mitra’’s sunlight with his eyes closed, but Daksh took away a hearty laugh from it while the second man’s smile took over his face. When they finished enjoying the moment, Daksh looked up, welcoming smile addressing his face. His uncrossed his legs and gave the second man a slight kick before meeting me.

“Nom, have you met me son, Jaith?” Daksh said, outstretching his hand for mine. He gave the top of my hand a quick kiss and a soft brushing before letting go and fanning his arm out, gesturing to his son.

A single brow lifted, “Your son,” I challenged, my voice dropping as I eyed up the young man who mysteriously didn’t look any older or and younger than Daksh. ““You must wear your age well.”

Daksh chuckled, not interested in replying and outstretched his hand for Bayta’s. The young girl stood, her eyes wider than the afternoon tea saucers I shared with Daksh earlier in the day. I flipped a curious eye between the two, but when Bayta’s terrified expression didn’’t change I gently pressed Daksh’s arm down before awkwardness took over. “She’s the reason I asked you to come here,”” I said, stepping forward.

Jaith did the same, and the first meeting of our close-knit group came to order.

“Nom,” Jaith started, offering his hand for a masculine shake.

“Jaith,” I said as the man slipped his palm against mine. He didn’t grasp my hand tightly, as I had expected, nor did he immediately pull away. Instead he rested his hand there and tilted his head as if listening to music only he heard. The corner of my lip curled up, amused. When satisfied, Jaith straighten his head and released his grip, but his expressed soured into a disappointed look.

When he was finished he stepped to Bayta, uncaring of her knee-jerk response, and offered his hand. Unlike Daksh, he refused to concede to her needs. “I’d prefer it if you accept my hand instead of me taking yours. Trust runs both ways.””

My heart fluttered a panicked beat in my chest. But Bayta lifted her hand for him. And like me, he didn’t grasp her hand tightly and he didn’t immediately pull away. When he finished, his expression remained just as sour as before. As he returned, he forced a quick smile at me before addressing his father, “Are you sure this is the one?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Why do you always have to question me?”

Jaith’s lips turned down into a frown, but the overall situation didn’t seem to affect him. “I thought that was a son’s job.”

Daksh ignored his son’s taunt. “You want us to take her somewhere?”

My eyes narrowed. I suddenly just wanted to return home, my new Lynthian home, the one Daksh established for me. “How did you know that?”

“He’s a good guesser,” Jaith said from behind his father.

“Hush child,” Daksh said, his brows lowering. “I know more about this meeting than you think. It was meant to happen since time began; we just didn’’t know it. It’s a gift, like the gift of the waterfall, like the gift of your home. It’s why I knew I needed to bring Jaith. He’ll make the transport and return here when the work is done.”

“How am I supposed to trust him?”

Daksh smile. “I assumed you’d join this run regardless of who took Bayta.”

He was right. I had expected to go. I refused to let anyone else harm this child.

Daksh changed the subject, “I also believe your new home is acceptable?”

An empty water basin rested on a square table along the far wall. Nom ignored it, requesting two personal sized basins instead. She sat on her squat stool at the foot of the bed and gently tapped the Princess’s calves, gesturing for her to sit up.

“When did the bleeding start?”

“This morning.”

“There’s just a bit of trauma to the cervix,” Nom told the Princess as she washed her hands in her personal water basin. Her tone sounded happy, but she wore a serious expression. No, not serious, professional. My mentor believed in separating work from personal interactions especially given her role in Lynthia. I was still trying to attain the quality.

“I would advise avoiding intercourse until our next visit. I will check you again at that time. Until then, rest up in your bed for the next couple of days. Over all, you are just fine.”

Nom smiled at her patient reassuringly.

I glanced over at the Princess and offered her my hand in case she wanted it to help her sit up. She was thinner than the last pregnant woman we assisted, and I wasn’t sure how problematic her growing belly was for her yet. I noted how being pregnant really brought out a unique beauty to the Lynthian Princess especially when she wasn’t worried about the baby’s health. She looked flawless even though her face carried scars from rough-housing with her brothers. More importantly, she looked happy. [describe?] Pregnancies were my favorite part of herbalism for that reason.

“Can I tell Zef about the baby before I retire to my bed chamber?” The Princess asked as she sat up in bed. When she felt stable she let go of my hand and protectively cradled her small bump. Its swollen nature showed if one paid attention to it. I was surprised her husband hadn’’t noticed it the prior evening when he bedded her. Nom snapped, her indication that she wanted the towel I held for her. The snapping initially annoyed me until I gathered up the courage to confront her about it, which was when she explained that – while annoying – it was the move she used to protect her assistants. She knew the sound and visual made the patient subconsciously associate the it with superior and inferior roles, which meant any accusations fell on Nom’s doing and not her assistants. She wanted this so that if she was ever actually caught transporting abused women out of Lynthia that she alone

Nom wrapped the cloth over her hand, wringing her hands dry.

WORD COUNT: 1709

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Can I please get a day where I’m not surrounded by the chaos of doctor appointments and meetings? K…thanks.

LOL – I’m exhausted. All I can say is that this is going to get a re-write come editing process time.

I like this first portion.

# # #

November 6 – Jaith’s Crew

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 6 @8:28p

Jaith’s crew:

Bankim – suspenders and red-brown pants

Kalle – not fond of Toivo but remains civil as his nature, well dressed

Toivo – commonly clueless

Trigger – curly mop of hair

“You’re not pleased to have me, are you?”

Jaith shifted a hand, shielding his eyes from the sun. He liked the warmth of the sand and the way it hit various pressure points on his back. These next few moments would be his last free moments until the job was completed. His eyes blinked a few times, adjusting to the sun’s glare. Most on Atala claimed the sun to belong to Mitra, but they misunderstood the work of Earthen Lords.

It took a moment for Jaith’s eyes to readjust, but when they did he found the girl Bayta sitting in the sand with her feet tucked under her, her hands politely cupped on her skirted lap and her back straighter than a tree truck. If she didn’t relax this would be a long trip.

Jaith opened his mouth and picked a date loose from a tooth with his tongue while he studied her.

Atalans never bothered him, not even the Lorian variety, although he wasn’t really fond of their elongated ear tips and the more well to do class tended to have cocky mannerisms. But he’d been told that his Lorian impression was dead on, which helped with completing jobs. So maybe he had a bit of natural cockiness himself.

“You’re not my property Little One. It’s not about being pleased to have you or not; it’s about getting this job done.”

“Ah, forgive me,” the girl cooed softly, more to herself than to Jaith, “I misunderstood. I’m a job.”

Jaith rolled his eyes then covered them again with his hand. Her image remained in his mind though. That expression of hers that didn’t waiver. That red hair that she wore tucked behind her ears that only highlights the high slant of her narrow eyes. She wore a lipstick in a shade that matched her hair color, which captured the eye – his at least – and drew it to her lips. The payment for her virginity must have been massive. It wasn’t fair to trade away such an innocent beauty, not matter what kind of benefit came with the cost. Jaith pictured her expression before her life was sold. It was very different from what he saw now. If the job went well, maybe he could restore her. Maybe he’d actually see her happy again instead of just this imaginary thought.

He opened his eyes again.

Her expression hadn’t wavered its emotionless state. She probably lost her passion for life the night her mother sold her. Jaith adjusted his head and studied his father. The man didn’t look much older than he did even though their age difference was understandable only on Earth, but they had nearly identical nose structure. Jaith also knew that they both had similar lips that pursed together when they talked and reminded many over a bird’s beak. He loved that description. Today, however he spoke to Nom with an uncommonly sterile face. He hoped to see his dad’s easy going nature one more time before he left Lynthia with Bayta. They’d just repaired their strained relationship. Jaith really wanted his dad to join him on the trip, but he knew his dad needed to leave Atala. He also knew that the man might not get return.

Jaith’s tongue knocked the remaining date free. It didn’t matter really. He had his crew. They’d always been more like family. Jaith chewed the speck of food and focused again on Bayta. Jaith couldn’t wait to introduce Bayta to the woman he met in Kakoria. The Lorian and Kakorian skin tones were similar although their personalities were polar opposites. Jaith was certain the two would be a good match.

“Look, I know what it’s like to lose emotion kid. I know what it’s like to be sold out–”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Jaith groaned into his hand and sat up.

“You do,” he insisted, his nose crinkling at the concept of some kid fearing the opportunity to have a decent conversation with him. “But, here’’s the thing I want you to understand and remember, like plug it into the back of your mind.”

The girl gave him a funny look. His words probably made no sense to her. He didn’t really care. She’d figure it out if she really wanted to.

“I got a second chance…but only when the time was right, only when I was ready for it. Sometimes important information, if presented too early, becomes meaningless. I spent years angry. I didn’t understand why my dad offered me up to the Divine Lords for Judgment when I was little. I didn’t get why he just allowed them to take me away and put me here.”

Jaith paused, fanning his arm out toward the endless sand.

“Well, not here exactly, but you get the point.”

“Not really,” Bayta said, her body language calming. Her back rolled just a bit, and her face had smoothed with her amusement.

“Whatever, the point is that I learned later that my dad had no idea that his best friend would rip me away from the family. My Day of Judgment was an expected celebration. He had no power over the choice or control to stop them from taking me.”

Bayta scoffed. “You talk like you’re a god.”

“Maybe I am,” Jaith said, flashing a superior grin. “Maybe I’m your personal Divine Lord, here and at your service to spare you the misery of your old life and whisk you away to the utopia that is your new one.”

At first, Bayta didn’t speak. She squinted and gave him a hard smile. “Maybe, but Lorian myths of Divine Lords described them as mutated Atalans; you know, with excessive arms, multiple heads, golden skin that shimmered like the moon on water.””

Jaith gave a half shrug and ran his hand through his curly brown hair then glanced over at his dad.

“The author of those Lorian myths must have been drunk on soma.”

The girl snickered.

“Jaith’s crew is in town, boarded at a bar,” Daksh said, observing his son out the corner of his eye. The day’s heat carried on, and Daksh gave into sitting under the shade of a date palm. He knew Nom would make good use of the fruits as well as the plant life within the lagoon’s waters. He also knew she’d take on a multitude of assistants what would follow in her footsteps and do the same.

The Atalan boy had the laid back charisma of his Earthen family. His personality and characteristics encompassed the ideal forger. He never had to get the imitation perfectly if he knew how to best deceive those that needed misdirection, enchant those who needed charming and help those who needed saving. If anyone could run this underground railroad of Nom’s……it would be him. He had the ability to put the victim at ease with him and his men so that her travels became a serene trip of resurrection. If his caravan was stopped he knew how to manage whoever might approach him – male or female. Daksh was proud of his boy. He didn’t need his Foresight to know that Jaith would inspire Atala and leave a positive message for its people when it was his time to return to Earth.

Which means, Daksh also knew Jaith died in the lagoon’s waters. Creating this lagoon meant Daksh sealed his son’s fate.

“How many?” Nom asked, pulling Daksh’s attention again. She sat comfortably on one of the Lagoon’s large rocks. He was proud of his creation, as horrific as it was. The oasis would suit Nom and her needs well.

“Five,” Daksh answered, knowing his words would do nothing more than irritate Nom. At least he was ready for her reaction. “Jaith, Bankim, Kalle, Toivo and Trigger.””

“All men?” The tone of her voice fluctuated in agitation. It was the reason he came to this meeting with Jaith.

Daksh gave an easy nod. Nom shook her head and dropped her eyes to the stone she sat on, but Daksh relaxed, wrapping his arms around his drawn up legs. Foresight had told him that the first meeting would be the roughest. “They’re good people, Nom.””

“But they are all men. This child was beaten and raped. I thought we discussed this.”

The herbalist sounded heartbroken, as if her grand plans suddenly unraveled. Daksh knew her tone was nothing more than frustration and fear of failing at the implementing her plan. He also knew that at some point every enterprise had a setback and those setbacks were no big deal.

“Nom, nothing can be done to unrape her. I don’t say that to be offensive, but I cannot fix what happened to her nor can I stereotype my sex as a whole into a label of villainous bastards. Jaith has a way of putting people at ease. If anything, this is exactly what this girl needs.””

Nom ignored him, although Daksh knew full well that she heard his words.

“You should have a woman on the crew,” she sputtered on, rubbing her pierced eyebrow as if to ward off a headache.

Her words didn’t sink his spirit. Little rattled him which made rational conversation his forte. He never let emotion overtake him.

“Nom, there’s no time to find another member. A team like this cannot just pick someone up off the street. Crew members have to prove their loyal and build a bond of trust. That takes time.”

“Then I’ll go”

“Nom–”

“No, I didn’t prepare her for series of womanless stops. This will be a good lesson for me, and next time I’ll have be properly prepared for the job. I can’’t see how my presence would harm the job, and I’ll see the process in action. I’ll be better able to explain it. This will be good for both sides. You said that adding a woman to the crew means building up a loyal and trust. I am that woman so I better start.”

“Fair enough. They leave before dawn.”

WORD COUNT: 1703

# # #

November 7 – Ensi and Liana

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 7 @11:10pm

Nom dipped a small cloth into a nearby water basin and wiped blood from Ensi’s dark eyebrow. Next to the basin waited a bit of yarrow wrapped in a cheesecloth towel. The yarrow would help Ensi’s bruises and inflammation, but she needed to stop the blood from dripping into the woman’’s eye first.

For now, Nom didn’t need help. So Jaith sat on the bedroom’s nightstand…on her nightstand. He lived life so flippantly it drove Nom crazy, but he always brought a delightful air to the space. He released a beneficial emotional energy that Nom needed, especially right now.

What Nom found curious about him was the way he handled his money.

He reminded her of the Ethantinians. Money was meaningless to him – not that he had any because he never kept any. He gave it away to people he met in need. He always seemed to have exactly what he wanted, always content.

What money he had left from his last job he just offered to this woman…as long as she ran from her husband.

“I can’t leave,” she moaned through tears on the bed. “I don’’t want our marriage to end. I just wanted the violence to stop.”

Jaith shuffled his weight on the nightstand. It drove him nuts when abused women wouldn’t leave their abusers. He knew it was a common occurrence, and he knew that his opinion didn’t matter. His circumstances and their circumstances were always very different. When he first started helping these women he didn’t understand why they just didn’t run from the violence, but now he knew that it was more dangerous to run than it was to stay. Today was a prime example.

Ensi was packing to leave with what little money she had squirreled away when her husband came home from the Bazaar earlier than expected. Luckily she sent her daughter Liana into their yard to play while she worked. Otherwise, who knows what kind of state that little girl would have ended up in. The man Mirrikh clutched Ensi’s neck and had just thrown her out of their home’’s front door when Jaith and Trigger walked by. The woman stumbled from the propulsion, tripping over her own feet three times then slamming her face hard against the ground. Trigger was the first to stop and help the woman up. He gently fingered her bleeding face, never saw Mirrikh coming at him.

Jaith sighed to himself and watched Nom work her cloth in that stained water. She carefully dabbed the split eyebrow a final time the moved to adjusting the yarrow over the wound.

Jaith worried that Trigger’s unconscious state would be the last Jaith would know him in. He was also pretty sure that Ensi’s nose was permanently disfigured, maybe even her hand too. Both broke when she hit the ground. He did not want to be around when Nom went to work on fixing those. His body quivered.

Liana needed to be his focus. She was the one his entire crew protected with their lives. It would be ridiculous to say that she hadn’t suffered emotional trauma. He’d figure out how to help her later.

Ensi still babbled about how her husband still loved and protected her and about how even if she wanted to leave she no longer had any money.

“I’m offering to help you and your daughter, Ensi. I’ll see to retrieving any personal item you can’t leave behind, your documentations. I will pay for your travel, and my crew will protect you. Once we’ve seen you to safety, we’ll arrange permanent living quarters and establish you in the community. I’m not saying you have to go, I’m just say the offer is out there.”

“Can you just take Liana?” Ensi croaked, coughing up blood.

Jaith’s right cheek cringed.

He knew that leaving a violent partner was a very dangerous time. A woman was more likely to die at that time period than at any other time in the relationship, but how dangerous would it be for the child if the mother stayed with her partner?

Jaith hesitated to continue this particular train of thought. So stopped, lifted his chin up to eye the ceiling and sucked in a deep calming breathe. He wanted to slit Ensi’s husband’s throat for what he did. He wanted to do it personally, to feel the warm sticky blood cover his fingers until they lost grip.

For some, the decision to leave was like suicide. For Ensi, the decision to not leave but have Jaith’s crew save her daughter was suicide. Jaith knew her husband would kill her when he found out. Ensi’s choice was a twisted loyalty, but he refused to share his opinion with her. His opinion didn’t matter. His job was to rescue her daughter. His challenge was to prepare a plot that was cunning enough to convince the man that his daughter died…or disappeared…or something.

Jaith wasn’t that far yet.

Ensi coughed again.

A young giggle echoed across the hall. Jaith’s eyes dropped to the door then to Ensi. Her lips curled into a mother’s smile. He guessed that in that second the battered woman felt no pain; her daughter’s laughter granted her a serene moment. Then her face drew together, and the agony of her pain took over. Jaith hated Nom’s face. She feared Ensi’s injuries. They were worse than they seemed.

The woman’s daughter Liana rested in a room across the hall. Last Jaith saw, she was playing cards with Bankim. There was something about his friend’s rolled sleeves and suspenders that drew her to Ban. Liana clung to him like a tall teddy bear. A tall teddy bear that wore funny clothes.

Bankim pretended to hate children.

Jaith accepted his lie, which oddly strengthened their bond of trust with each other.

What worried Jaith was the fact that Liana didn’t seem concerned about her mother. Jaith met a man once who studied body language. He described a reactive behavior similar to Liana’s and explained that for some it was a coping mechanism. The man was no Port el’’Reathsen professor, but his explanation suited Jaith.

How did this coping mechanism work? She acted like her mother was just ill with a headache. Coping mechanism or not, Jaith knew that this girl spent her entire life aware and affected by her parents’ relationship. It was traumatic. Soldiers suffered from traumatic experiences after one run on a battlefield. The girl’s brain structure or chemistry must have been altered.

Jaith lifted himself from the small dresser and paced the windowless room. He thought about Ensi and Nom and Trigger again. If he was right, if that look Nom just gave him really did express a concern that Ensi wouldn’t make it, then why was Nom tending to her when she didn’t tend to Trigger? Trigger’s brain bled, and Nom specifically to him that she feared his bled too fast. She feared that the pressure of that blood on his brain would take his life.

Jaith ran a hand down the side of his face.

Trigger remained unconscious in the last room down the hall. Nom called it a coma. Trigger’s protective nature was just too strong. It wasn’t even like Trigger had lost control of the situation. He just helped a woman up to her feet. Mirrikh blindsided him.

“One blasted punch,” Jaith grumbled to himself as he paced near a portion of a far wall. Nom examined Ensi’s wrist. She had folded the covered into a pile so that the woman couldn’’t see over them from where she laid. He couldn’t stay.

“I’ll get your assistant,” he said and stepped out of the room.

Kalle waited for him in the hall with his arms crossed over his chest. His brown and red highlighted hair looked as well-groomed as it did at breakfast. He still wore his three-piece suit, but that had evidence of some wear. Kalle pushed away from the wall, standing straight and greeted Jaith.

“Still in that blood-stained suit, huh?”

“No one else has changed.”

“Except for Toivo,” Jaith noted.

“Toivo doesn’t count.”

“Toivo never counts. Where is he anyway?”

Kalle shrugged.

“Have you been with Trigger?”

“Yes, you know that it’s just a matter of time, right?”

Jaith nodded. He never felt so solemn.

“He’ll pull through, just maybe not here, but he’ll be okay.”

Both men knew what would happen to Trigger – he’d struggle in Earth’s water then, when he recovered, he’d be taken to his Judgment. His life didn’t end, just changed. Jaith also knew that Trigger’s good deeds outweighed his mistakes. If the entire crew died today, Trigger was the only crew member likely to pass Judgment.

“Daksh will be there. He’d take care of him.”

Kalle nodded and turned, his body facing the direction of Trigger’s room. Jaith accepted the cue and joined him to pay Trigger a visit. Kalle had a medical background from beyond the Port. He came from a rich family that cared a little too much about image. For a second, as Kalle twisted the door handle to Trigger’s room, Jaith wondered if his friend wished it was Toivo instead of Trigger struggling with death.

Jaith sniffed at himself.

Kalle wasn’t like that.

One of Nom’s assistants sat at Trigger’s bedside. She scribbled notes onto a sheet of paper, probably noting recently checked vitals.

“Nom would like you to join her with Ensi. I think she is planning to bandage her hand, or whatever you do to broken bones,” Jaith said, waiting at the bedroom door for the assistant to depart. Kalle walked around the foot of the single person bed and assessed the patient himself.

Jaith paused before shutting the door, taking a selfish moment to admire the woman’s backend.

“That’s rude,” Kalle warned, not looking up from his work, but visibly relaxed when he heard the door click shut.

Jaith snorted. “Trigger wouldn’t mind. In fact, he’d probably join in. You know, if he could.”

“You’re sick.”

Jaith shrugged despite himself and settled onto the assistant’s stool. He propped his elbow on the bed, rested his cheek on his fist and waited for Kalle to finish his work.

“Well, my friend,” Kalle started, holding Trigger’s wrist and counting his pulse. “You’re not coming back from this.”

“We’re going to be instable without him.”

“We’ll figure it out.”

If we don’t, think he’ll open a bar on Earth so we can all hang out together after we’ve died?”

Kalle glared at Jaith, meeting his face with a look of disgust. “You really are sick, Jaith.”

“Maybe but think about it. How marehkeh would that be?”

Kalle cracked a smile. “Yeah, I guess it would be.”

WORD COUNT: 1784

# # #

November 8 – It was good life

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 8 @11:10pm

November 8v2, start over –

Jaith’s crew gurgled with a laughter never heard before, each man talking over the other as they shared their favorite memories of Trigger in the larger of the two rooms they rented at Recess Keep. A name which Jaith deemed appropriate since it kept the men in at night. Why travel on the roads or through sand when one could drink themselves into a pickled stupor, stumble up a flight of stairs and hibernate the night away? It was a good life. One Trigger could appreciate.

Jaith wasn’t sure how Liana slept in the smaller room, but he had checked on her twice now. The only thing he found was her smiling in her sleep. Maybe it was just because she didn’t have to worry about being beaten when she didn’’t expect it.

Kalle snorted, his voice cracking as it gave out and fell hoarse in his latest fit of laughter. He was as drunk as a Lynthian prince after the Bazaar. Without body fat, he didn’t hold alcohol as well as the other members of the crew. He normally never drank. Toivo normally tormented him when he did, but tonight they were on the same team. Tonight they sprawled out on the room’’s floor with bottles of Trigger’s favorite wines and drank to him while on the other side of that floor the bar below roared with their own celebrations.

“For now,” Jaith said, breaking into the round of laughter from Toivo’s story. He raised his drink, kept in an inverted cone that was attached to a finely carved lion, into the center of the group. The others raised their drinks too, each with a different carved figure. “Let us toast the evening and honor the man who knew everything about the drink. We knock back this one for Trigger.”

“For Trigger!” The entirely of the crew hollered, toasting their friend.

Kalle engulfed his entire mug then fell rearwards, flat onto his back. He shut his eyes, waved his arm through the air and opened his mouth to say something that never came out.

“Think if Trigger does get his bar on Earth that he’ll host card games?” Toivo whimmed as he shuffled a deck expertly between his fingers.

“Mmm,” Bankim hummed, scraping the point of his dagger across the wooden floor with his left arm that slung around his left leg. His right arm propping up his weight. “Won’’t have a choice when we get there.”

Toivo’s drunken face fell. “Wait, we’re not going there soon are we?”

Jaith smiled. “Maybe not until tomorrow.”

“Oh, good. Cause I promised a sweet hunny that’s I’d help keep her bed warm.”

“Not that bearded one I hope,” Bankim teased, a cringe overtaking his face.

“She had a beard?”

Toivo paused, mid-sip, and reconsidered his promise – promises meant little to him. Finally he shrugged and finished his drink. “I guess I don’t much mind body hair. These Lynthian nights are rather chilly.”

Jaith shook his head slowly then whispered to Ban, “You do realize he’s going to leave here and look for a bearded woman right?”

Bankim quirked an eyebrow as a mischievous look taking over his face. “Yep.”

Jaith downed the last of his wine then slid his lion cup into the center of the room. The gold painted wood clinked hollowly against the glass wine bottle. “Tomorrow we need to figure out how to get Liana out of here. Nom is going to the King tomorrow to notify him of Ensi’s passing.””

“Do you think they’ll arrest Mirrikh?”

“I don’t know the Lynthian laws. Some say the King is lenient to the men. Others say he’s just. Either way, Ensi’s husband knows we’re involved. He knows that Liana was at Nom’s with us. We can’t let anyone connect us to her.”

Ban tossed his dagger aside and scratched his shadow of a beard with the flat of his hand.

November 8v1 –

Toive hooted into the air with some sort of whooping.

“What was that?” asked Kalle, who tended to ignore Toivo as a whole. His gaze swept the room and his body tilted dangerously backward. “A mating call?””

“Yeah for that one,” Toivo snorted as he lifted his finger to point to a burly man at the back corner of Recess Keep. “That one right there.””

“Tov,” Bankim said as he leaned his weight on his friend, “that one might be a bit too manly for you.”

Toivo pushed Bankim away and squinted. “Not that one! The one under the table.”

The crew’s excitement quieted as they reexamined the bar. Sure enough, a woman squat under the table. Her lump of money waiting for her next to her drink. Jaith turned away from the exchange and cradled his drink while Toivo continued to grunts to himself as he watched.

“Might have to order a cold water for him,” Bankim suggested, sitting down on the stool next to Jaith.

Jaith smiled half-heartedly. “After this job we’ll take some time off. Some of us apparently need to tend to our urges.”

Bankim held his drink up, examining the design of the mug. Jaith twirled on his stool and examined the Keep. The bar was suffocating warm. Steam – probably from sweat – clouded the windows hiding the bar’s happenings from the outside world. Jaith liked this bar. It hired only bartenders, no woman serving drinks or children slugging alcohol during the late hours of the night – no one to happen by, hear your gossip and spread rumors. No one pried into your business. Most of the tables were filled with Bazaar merchants who rented rooms. Jaith eyes the set of men wearing red robes. They huddled together, their bald heads pressed together, over who knows what, but whatever it was glimmered when the light hit it right.

“So,” Bankim started then paused to guzzle the last of his drink, “you seem quite taken by this Liana.”

“And you haven’t?”

“Oh no, I have. She’s a good kid. I get that I’ve gone too big brother on her, but I have no intention of allowing her near that father of hers. I can’’t, especially now that her mom passed. She doesn’t deserve it, but I get this feeling that your reasons are very different from mine.”

“I have to protect her.”

“She’s the one you’ve been looking for?”

“Without the book, I’m not sure.”

Bankim rapped his knuckles on the bar’s sticky wooden top, catching the attention of the bartender. With a simple motion, he rolled his wrist and pointed to his cup. The bartender nodded, setting aside the mug he was cleaning to fetch more alcohol.

“Then why is she so important if you don’t even know.”

“Do you know what Atman is?” Jaith asked, twirling back around on his stool and resting his arms on the bar top.

“Am I supposed to?”

“No, but you need to now. The Divine Lords of Earth predicted it’d come in our time. Actually, my dad predicted it, but his Foresight predicted Atman to be given to a god, not a mortal.”

Bankim’s face opened, his brows lifting. He didn’t turn his head though, just stared at the wall ahead of him. “Is it power?””

“The gods will try to use it like that.”

“I need to keep her on Atala, which is problematic because I can’t have her on jobs with us, but I don’t want to leave her with anyone.””

Jaith’s crew gurgled with a laughter never heard before, each man talking over the other as they shared their favorite memories of Trigger. Ban chuckled himself hoarse in what the Lynthians called a keep. Jaith deemed the title appropriate since it kept the men in at night. Why travel on the roads or through sand when one could drink themselves into a pickled stupor, stumble up a flight of stairs and hibernate the night away? It was a good life. One Trigger could appreciated.

One Jaith hoped he’d build on Earth.

“For now,” Jaith said, breaking into the round of laughter from Toivo’s story. He raised his drink, kept in an inverted cone that was attached to a finely carved lion, into the center of the group. “Let us toast the evening and honor the man who knew everything about the drink. We knock back this one for Trigger.”

“To Trigger!” The entirely of the crew hollered, toasting their friend. Toive hooted into the air with some sort of whooping.

“What was that?” asked Kalle, who tended to ignore Toivo as a whole. His gaze swept the room and his body tilted dangerously backward. “A mating call?””

“Yeah for that one,” Toivo snorted as he lifted his finger to point to a burly man at the back corner of Recess Keep. “That one right there.””

“Tov,” Bankim said as he leaned his weight on his friend, “that one might be a bit too manly for you.”

Toivo pushed Bankim away and squinted. “Not that one! The one under the table.”

The crew’s excitement quieted as they reexamined the bar. Sure enough, a woman squat under the table. Her lump of money waiting for her next to her drink. Jaith turned away from the exchange and cradled his drink while Toivo continued to grunts to himself as he watched.

“Might have to order a cold water for him,” Bankim suggested, sitting down on the stool next to Jaith.

Jaith smiled half-heartedly. “After this job we’ll take some time off. Some of us apparently need to tend to our urges.”

Bankim held his drink up, examining the design of the mug. Jaith twirled on his stool and examined the Keep. The bar was suffocating warm. Steam – probably from sweat – clouded the windows hiding the bar’s happenings from the outside world. Jaith liked this bar. It hired only bartenders, no woman serving drinks or children slugging alcohol during the late hours of the night – no one to happen by, hear your gossip and spread rumors. No one pried into your business. Most of the tables were filled with Bazaar merchants who rented rooms. Jaith eyes the set of men wearing red robes. They huddled together, their bald heads pressed together, over who knows what, but whatever it was glimmered when the light hit it right.

“So,” Bankim started then paused to guzzle the last of his drink, “you seem quite taken by this Liana.”

“And you haven’t?”

“Oh no, I have. She’s a good kid. I get that I’ve gone too big brother on her, but I have no intention of allowing her near that father of hers. I can’’t, especially now that her mom passed. She doesn’t deserve it, but I get this feeling that your reasons are very different from mine.”

“I have to protect her.”

“She’s the one you’ve been looking for?”

“Without the book, I’m not sure.”

Bankim rapped his knuckles on the bar’s sticky wooden top, catching the attention of the bartender. With a simple motion, he rolled his wrist and pointed to his cup. The bartender nodded, setting aside the mug he was cleaning to fetch more alcohol.

“Then why is she so important if you don’t even know.”

“Do you know what Atman is?” Jaith asked, twirling back around on his stool and resting his arms on the bar top.

“Am I supposed to?”

“No, but you need to now. The Divine Lords of Earth predicted it’d come in our time. Actually, my dad predicted it, but his Foresight predicted Atman to be given to a god, not a mortal.”

Bankim’s face opened, his brows lifting. He didn’t turn his head though, just stared at the wall ahead of him. “Is it power?””

“The gods will try to use it like that.”

“I need to keep her on Atala, which is problematic because I can’t have her on jobs with us, but I don’t want to leave her with anyone.””

WORD COUNT: 1990

# # #

November 9 – Milani

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 10 @12:32am

Milani pressed the clothing pin’s wooden ends together, releasing its clasp. She slipped the pin’s two inches over wet cloth and secured the first side of her son’s shirt. She shook his shirt twice then she smoothed the damp cloth over the drying line with her hand, clipping the second pin in place when the material looked unwrinkled.

Clothing set out in the afternoons during the fall winds dried ideally.

Milani’s home rested in the heartland of the Thrum plateau, a high altitude sanctuary that separated her people from those at the mountain’s base. The two people separated five years ago when difference in governing the city state splintered the peace.

Thrum summers were dry and hot while the winters were a harsh cold with bitter winds that brought heavy amounts of snow. Trees and timber were plentiful though. As long as the village families planned for the winter properly, enough wood could be gathered to keep the family warm. Her boy Amin worked gathering wood now. If the boys focused, they’d have enough firewood to last the winter by the end of the week. The final months would pass fast. The wood gathering needed to be done so that other needs could be seen to. The crops needed harvesting before the next freeze, and the gutters that carried rain water away from the house needed to be cleaned and prepared as well.

Sheep grazed near the homestead. Their lives were central to the Thurm way of life especially their milk and wool – their meat on a rare occasion, but sheep were too expensive to eat on a regular basis.

It was Hafeez’s job to care for them.

“Momma!”

“Yes Hafeez.”

Milani turned in the direction of the homestead’s courtyard expecting to find her boy performing some sort of new trick with his favorite sheep that he was excited to share with her, but Hafeez had disappeared from the courtyard.

She dropped her elder son Aamin’s shirt, second guessing herself, second guessing the way she heard her younger son’s tone. Maybe the boy wasn’t excited; maybe he shouted her name for help.

Blood pounded in her throat. The [name] army always climbed the mountain side this time of year and attacked Milani’s village for food, crops they failed to raise for themselves even though they were an advance city-state. They cared more about taking things that wasn’t theirs, taking things they didn’t work for. They killed without warning or care, paying no mind to age.

It wasn’t always like that.

Milani’s eyes darted manically, scanning the homestead’s land. When she found nothing, she searched in the direction of the cliffside. “Please call again……please call again,” she begged the Divine.

“Momma!”

His voice sounded buoyant.

Milani whirled around, turned mountainside. Her mind relaxed. [Name] never attacked from the rear. They didn’t roam the hillside long enough or well enough to discover the secret paths. Milani pressed her palm to her chest. Emerging from the dense forest that protected the backside of her homestead was a man with long black hair. While the majority of the hair was pulled back into a smooth, organized braid, wisps of hairs waved, knocked loose from the wind and tortured from his journey. He’d complain for a week about it.

Milani would savor every minute of it.

Running toward Milani from her husband’s left side, came their young son Hafeez. His five year old legs carried him at full speed, and his cheeks puffed to their fullest baby potential. “Momma, momma! Daddy’s home!”

She loved his voice.

As he ran, she exchanged watching him for another quick glance at her husband. His walked told a story of earned miles, his legs moving more like they hiked than walked. He still had his sunglasses covering his eyes, but his boyish smile was all she needed. Milani’s eyes lit with the inner glow that always freed itself when Chand returned home. She ached to run to him, but she always waited.

At the moment she needed to change her attention back to her boy, who still raced right at her. His fine black hair flew in every direction which made it easier for her to see his twinkling brown eyes.

She bent down and held of her hands expecting to pick him up as he collided into her. Only he veered off at the last second, skipping her completely. His infectious giggles squealed, lagging behind, too slow to keep up. His arms shot out, flailing up and down like in the winter when he made snow angels on the ground. Little trouble maker did that one purpose.

Milani stood, rolling her eyes, and turned back to her approaching husband seeing for the first time the young girl at his side. Judging by her height and figure, Milani estimated her to be nearing his teens. She looked as if she’d seen easier days. The Thrum backwoods could be a rough journey if one’s body was not prepared for it.

Milani noticed that the girl’s hair was a lighter brown than theirs, too light for her to be a local area child but too dark to be a child from the nearby Loches. She hesitated, running her fingers through a chunk of hair, combing out the tangles.

Chand lifted his sunglasses, exposing his perfect shade of brown eyes. Milani’s body warmed like a fever and without thought she took two steps and embraced him, forgetting about the mysterious child. Chand gently kissed the side of Milani’s head. She knew he waited with a well-practiced patience for her to release him, but she just wanted to hold him a minute longer before she pressed her lips against his.

Aamin’s voice finally arrived, perfectly timed, as Milani pulled away from Chand. “Dad!”

She stepped aside and allowed him to replace her for a father and son hug that quickly turned to rough-housing. The young girl stepped back, her legs wobbling like a baby sheep’s. Her arms gathered in front of her with both of her hands taking her bag’s handles, holding them in front of her protectively.

“Do you like stew?” Milani asked the girl.

Her eyes shifted slowly away from Chand and Aamin’s exchange and up to Milani. She nodded, but a smile never cracked the solemn expression on her face. Milani smiled for her.

“Would you mind helping me finish fixing it?”

The girl’s expression and mannerisms remained consistent.

“Come on.”

Milani considered offering her hand but figured the exchange wouldn’t go as she wanted. Surprisingly the girl followed her.

“So what’s your name?”

Milani didn’t really expect an answer and didn’t get one. They walked in silence, which didn’t feel awkward for Milani as she found many of the village children tended to do the same, hers included. They passed the laundry. She had only hung a set of Hafeez’s pajamas and that shirt. She still had an entire basket to clip up. The work would have to wait.

Milani stepped on the long slab of stone that rested in front of the house. She stomped her feet twice to knock off and caught dirt or grass then held the homestead’s door open for the child who mimicked her and stomped on the stone as she did. When she was done she looked up at Milani. The girl’s watery blue eyes curiously and cautiously met Milani’s.

“My name’s Liana,” she said softly.

Milani smiled. “I’m Milani.”

The girl dropped her head and stepped inside. Milani took a final glance back at her family. Chand and Aamin looked to be catching up on stories only “men of the house” shared, a titling Milani enjoyed because it gave them a special time to bond in their own particular way. Chand chuckled at something, his face lighting up, before he lifted his head and caught Milani staring at him. They shared the unspoken moment then Chand returned to Aamin. Hafeez squealed in the sheep’s corral, his face too close to a newborn’s. Milani normally would have scolded the boy, but the two had a bond, a trust for one another that forced Milani to worry less.

Before she shut the door, she caught Aamin’s eye and pointed to the laundry. The excitement in his face dropped. Chand noticed his son’s mood change and worked to cheer him up again.

Inside, Liana already poked around in the stew. She mixed the food with a comfort level Milani wasn’t used to with a set of boys. A cucumber rested on the kitchen’s countertop next to a pair of apples. Milani walked over to the fruits, paused to studying Liana’’s stirring which really was meant to assure the young girl that her work was performed acceptably, before she turned for the apples. The first apple was turned over once in Milani’s hand to check for imperfections then chopped into thicker chunks to be added to the stew in the final minutes.

Aamin scooped ladles of stew into everyone’s bowl while Chand rearranged the table’s chairs. He picked up his normal table chair and held it for Liana to sit on. When she was settled, he pushed her in. Hafeez kicked his legs back and forth in his own chair unwilling to help with family chores. Chand had yet to explain a thing about Liana yet, but the girl helped with fixing dinner like it was second nature to her.

“Tell us a little bit about yourself Liana,” Milani pressed, hoping for a spark of conversation. Her boys needed little to take over a discussion then somehow morph it into explaining their latest conquests.

“Um,” she started, her voice nearly inaudible. She waited for everyone with her hands folding in her lap, her eyes not meeting anyone else’s but staring at her plate on the table. Most children were all too eager to share. The troubled children were always the ones that found talking difficult. They usually were the ones who needed to conversation the most. Milani waited, allowing Liana to gather her thoughts until waiting for the girl’s answer looked to stress the child out more than necessary.

Milani changed the subject, trying again. “Maybe you could start by telling me who taught you how to cook. You seemed very comfortable in the kitchen, working the stew.”

The girl’s face lit up, flashing a happiness, but only for a second before it fell again and her answer came out depressingly monotone. “My mom.”

WORD COUNT: 1739

# # #

November 10 – Buttlicker

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 10@7:27pm

“Hafeez,” Chand said, addressing his younger boy. Hafeez proudly shared his extensive bug collection with Liana, who surprisingly seemed interested in it. “Why don’’t you take Liana outside and introduce her to your sheep. Not that I’m against this informational exchange, but maybe save it for after dinner when it’s too dark to go outside.””

“Ooo!” The little boy’s eyes sparked, and he scampered from belly up to his hands and knees. His reaction looked like his father’’s simple suggestion was the best gift ever received.

“Yeah,” Hafeez said excitedly to Liana, “you can meet Buttlicker!”

Chand quirked an eyebrow in surprise. His mouth opened as if to say something – to say “you allowed him to name our sheep Buttlicker – then thought better of the choice. His eyes narrowed in an amused squint, and he glanced over at his wife from his table chair.

Milani worked to cover up a smirk. She had watched the interaction from over her shoulder as she finished washing the afternoon meal’s dishes in the stone sink. Chand made a mental note to check the drain that connected the sink to the outside before he left again.

Milani’s eyebrows lifted as she reminded her husband of his foolishness. “You told him that he could name the sheep.”

“You did,” Aamin added from his reading chair just to be a pain his father’s side. “I remember.”

“I didn’t think he’d name it Buttlicker,” he insisted, then snapped his fingers at his older boy. “And you, Aamin, either help me out or keep your mouth shut. I’m the one who teaches you how to hunt.”

“Mom feeds me,” Aamin shot back with a snicker.

Milani fell against the sink, trying to keep her laughter in by covering her mouth with her elbow. Her wet hands dripped soapy water everywhere.

“You’re growing to be quite an avasi,” Chand teased with a warm voice.

“I’m trying Dad. I’m trying…learning from the best you know. Mom’’s a good teacher.”

Through the entire exchange Aamin didn’t once peek over the edge of his book. He read or appeared to as he went along.

“It doesn’t matter,” Milani interrupted, in control of herself again. “Hafeez specifically asked you, ‘anything? And what did you say?”

Chand’s mouth opened then shut as he thought back to last week. His lips peeled back into a grin that easily read his mistake. “I did tell him ‘anything,’’ didn’t I?”

Milani hummed her response. It was her version of “I told you so.”

“The name really is fitting though,” she added. “The little lamb really does follow him around and try to lick his butt.””

“Whatever.” Chand chuckled, lifting his left hand and rubbing the corners of his eyelids with his thumb and middle two fingers. “Liana would you like to meet Buttlicker?””

The little girl giggled into her hand, unsuccessfully trying to keep her enjoyment of the ridiculous exchange hidden. She nodded.

“Go,” Chand ordered his boy, nodding in the direction of the homestead’s door. Then stood and stretched. His muscles ached from the long journey up the mountainside. He really wanted to just slip in his bed with his wife and rest. Life in Thurm didn’t work that way. “I’ll help Aamin pick up all the firewood he dropped.””

The older boy groaned in his chair, dropping his book into his lap with an annoyed snap. Chand triumphantly smiled.

“You’re in trouble now, kid.”

He winked at his son who rolled his eyes in return.

Milani wiped her hands dry on her dishtowel, folded it into thirds and slipped it over a silver rod to dry as much as possible before dinner started the entire process all over.

“Aamin, don’t whine. I’m going out too. The laundry is sitting out there. If you want, we can trade.”

The boy jumped to his feet with a quick “nope” and immediately turned for the door.

Milani shrugged at Chand. “The last time we traded he ended up restacking the wood. Apparently, I didn’t do it right.”

Chand beamed fondly at his wife and held out his hand for hers. He knew she was a tricky one, and he was pretty sure she mastered the skill from teaching all of the settlements’ kids. “Come here,” he said softly, taking her hand and pulling her against him. She ran her fingers through his hair with light feathery touches. He closed his eyes and accepted them selfishly. Then kissed her softly.

Outside in the courtyard, Milani returned to her laundry and watched on while Chand clapped Aamin on the shoulder – probably to congratulate the boy on a job well done – then pointed to the wood stack. Her husband’s finger trailed an invisibly road in the air that ended with Chand pointing to Aamin’s axe.

Aamin affirmed that he understood the instructions – whatever they were – with a nod before walking over to the wood. He picked up a couple of the stack’s larger pieces and joined his father who then continued on with a new set of instructions explaining something to Aamin by spreading his arms out wide at his sides then shortening them. Chand looked like he was pretending to measure something between his palms. Whatever the teaching was about apparently didn’t please Aamin. He picked up his axe with an over exaggerated sigh and began to unbark his first log.

Chand watched on with his hands on his hips.

Milani opened a clothing pin and clipped one of her scarves to the clothing line followed by a pair of Aamin’s sashes. In the courtyard, Hafeez teased Buttlicker with a leftover apple chuck. Milani shook her head. What did that lamb see in Hafeez to put up with such nonsense?

“Hafeez!” Milani warned, calling over the laundry line as she clipped up one a sleeved tunic. The little boy jumped with a start, twirling his head around in this mother’s direction. Buttlicker seized the opportunity and took his prize right out of Hafeez’s hand.

“Do not tease that lamb young man!”

Next to Hafeez, Liana giggled and congratulated the baby sheep by rubbing the little lamb’s head.

Footsteps rustled stone and dead leaves.

“Jaith asked me to bring her here,” Chand said, wrapping his arms over the laundry line and tucking the rope under his armpits. His weight lowered the rope for Milani and allowed her to hang the wash without needing to lift her arms so high. Her shoulders already burned from the work. Normally she would have thanked her husband…if he hadn’t brought up Jaith’s name.

“The thief…”

The words came out in a half-spoken, half-questioning clipped tone.

“That’s who you went to see? Please tell me you are not working with him again?”

“He’s not a thief.”

“Fine, he’s con. I see no difference between the two.”

“I’m not asking you to, but you’re not being fair.”

“I think I’m being plenty fair after what he did.”

“Some skills he’s had to master over the years just to get by.”

“I don’t like him Chand.”

“Fine. You don’t have to, but he’s asked me to keep this little girl safe.”

Milani paused mid-clip. She met her husband’s eye then flitted a peek at the girl who appeared at ease with the animals. Milani leaned over the rope and whispered, “Who does she belong to Chand? Who’s is going to come after this family…our family?”

“If we’re lucky? No one. She belonged to a dead mother and an abusive father that killed not only her mother, but Trigger too.”

Milani pulled away, Trigger’s mop of curls blinked in her mind. Her arms dropped to her sides, clean clothing hanging from her hand over the land. “Trigger?”

The man liked his alcohol, but he wasn’t a drunk. Milani wouldn’t even classify him as a drinker, more like an enthusiast. He knew how to calm people, protect people.

“What happened?” Milani whispered.

Chand didn’t hear her. At their back, Aamin tossed his unbarked wood into a pile. The pieces banged together with a solid dull sound. Closer to the house, giggles intermingled with baas and mehs.

“If we’re as unlucky as they come Milani both classes of the Divine Lords will come after us. Liana is the first girl Jaith’s found with Atman. He knows there will be four.””

A shiver coursed through Milani’s body. The first soul. The Divine waited for Atman’s arrival. Jaith’s father Daksh Foresaw it coming. ““I thought Daksh said the first soul would belong to one of the Divine?”

“He did. I don’t know what he meant; maybe it was a trick. Perhaps he told the Earthen Lords that as a decoy, a preoccupation so that Daksh and Jaith could search Atala.”

Milani blinked, her facial subconsciously performing its own sort of shrug. If they were unlucky Earthen gods and goddess would meet on this mountainside. The warrior class and the priest class would end the world on their homestead. “The world as we know it will no longer exist,” Milani said aloud, repeated Daksh’s words.

Chand knew what she referred to. She was wrong though. Indra told Chand exactly what girl would end the world as everyone knew it if he failed to protect her. Liana was not that girl, but that didn’t mean her life both on Atala and on Earth was not pivotal to the fight. “Our destiny was shaped long before our bodies existed. We create our destiny; we do not pick it.”

Milani studied her husband. “So…what, she lives with us?” Milani asked, her mind turning over possible ways to rearrange the homestead to accommodate another person.

“What do you think?”

“I think if she has Atman that it is our duty to protect her, and I think we’ll need to build her a bed.”

“Yeah, Aamin won’t be thrilled about that, but we’ll get it done.”

Milani paused examining the homestead, all timber reinforced with unbaked mud brick. Theirs was one of the few built on field stones with an upper story. The problem was that to get to that portion of the house, one needed to climb the ladder in the courtyard. The roof was flat and made with brushwood and mud brick supported by timber beams. They could use the upper course to house Liana, but Milani hated the thought of the girl being alone.

“And she’ll need an instrument, proper books and school supplies.”

Chand sucked in a deep breath. This necessity was slightly more problematic. He’d need to return to Lynthia and attend their Bazaar for a proper one. “Agreed, but perhaps Aamin will allow her to borrow his drums for the time being.””

“We will make this work, I’m just not sure where to put her.”

“The boys could room together.”

Milani’s face drop with an exasperated expression. Chand’s suggestion would not go over well with the boys.

“It might go better than you think,” Chand smiled, his boyish grin winning the argument.

[cut]

Do you really think her father will stalk her?”

Chand shrugged. “He has nothing left in Lynthia. I’m not sure if Kartan is going to punish him or not. Jaith was going to take her west, but the only suitable home he could find belong to all men. This girl needs a female role model. It might take a while, but maybe she’’ll trust again since her playmates are – of all people – my boys.”

Milani snorted. “That’s say a lot.”

“We do a lot of hard work here. She’ll keep busy. I think it’ll be good for her – too tired to think when bedtime rolls around.”

WORD COUNT: 1928

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

I had so much fun with this one 🙂

Especially writing about naughty children that were not my own HEHE

# # #

November 11 – It Never Rains in Lynthia

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 11@7:05pm

It never rained in Lynthia. Wind and sand storms were another story, but it never rained especially not in the spring. Birds of the First Blush sang before the morning sun rose, and the air smelled fresh from the breeze. Nom knew it was dangerous to leave her room’s window open. Her home was only two stories, but she loved the mixture of song and air that greeted her on those mornings. Unfortunately, neither roused Nom early that morning. The weeping did.

Nom blinked once slowly, opening and shutting her eyes but not seeing anything. She was awake enough to decide the noise came from the roads. It seemed distant. Nom rolled over onto her stomach and tucked her arms under her pillows, settling back in for more sleep. The weeping came again. More awake than before, Nom wrinkled her nose up and stuffed her face into her pillow. The noise seemed so much closer.

She flipped to her back. Her eyes open and staring at the ceiling. She didn’t want to get up, but the weeping wasn’t going to stop. It came and went like the wind took the sound then brought it back. Nom sat up, sighed heavily and acknowledged the morning.

Her walk to the window was a stiff, rigid shuffle. Her blonde bangs felt like they stood on end. Outside her window Chista paced looking like a drowned rat with black makeup splattered around her eyes. She walked the length of the Lynthian road outside of Nom’s shop, turned into the alley, wept and then walked back. She must have spent the night repeating the process.

If a Palace Guard caught her alone, she’d be lashed.

Nom twirled away from the window, grabbed her robe and hurried out of her room. She pounded on the doors of her assistants and Guardians, hoping one would awaken in case she got caught going out to pull Chista in.

Wind whipped up Nom’s robe as she left her shop. The breeze felt colder than she expected. Her body shivered, and she wrapped her robe tighter around her body.

“Chista,” she whispered. The girl’s back faced Nom as she followed the set path toward the alley. “Chista!”

Nom jogged to catch up, grabbed the girl’s wrist and pulled her away from the roads. The girl jumped at Nom’s touch. “You’’re freezing,” Nom hissed with worry. “How long have you been out here?”

Chista walked dazed and automated. Nom worried about her core body temperature but felt comfortable enough knowing the girl had been walking. The movement helped keep her body warm, warmer.

Inside, a groggy assistant walked down the stairs rubbing her eyes. Whoever came down those stairs next would be making coffee. Nom snapped. The sound alerted the girl that work was needed. She immediately perked up. “Get me a blanket.”

She nodded, turned and ran back up the stairs.

Nom pulled over one of the display case’s stools and gently pressed on Chista’s shoulders signaling her to sit on it. The material was soaking wet. She needed to get that off and the girl’s head dry. Nom circled the stool. “Lift your arms up. This needs to come off. It’s too wet.”

Chista didn’t move. She looked like she was falling catatonic. Nom’s stepped forward and grabbed the shirt’s hem. If she couldn’’t just pull it off, she’d cut it.

“What should I do with the blanket,” Nom’s assistant asked from the stairwell.

“Put it down and help me pull this shirt off. Then we’ll wrap her in it.”

Together the two herbalists managed to get the clothing off. Chista barely blinked. Nom wrapped the blanket around her body then instructed her assistant to hold it there. “Don’t massage or rub her,” Nom warned.

“What happened Chista?

Honor killing of mother

Head in toilet/water

Honor – sent to streets because she wanted to go to Port for university

“This place is menopausal,” Toivo complained as the crew stepped outside of Recess Keep into the Lynthian night. The temperature had plummeted from over one hundred to maybe four. Daytime was like hot flashes.

“It’s an ice box out here. I needed a coat and some long underwear to boot.” Toivo clung to himself for body heat. “If I was a guy, I’d go shopping.”

“You are a guy, dummy,” Kalle groaned.

“I meant if I was that kind of guy,” Toivo insisted. “Don’t you wear long underwear?”

“No,” Kalle said. “Of all people, why would you assume that I wear long underwear?”

“Any normal folk would reckoning by the amount of clothing you cover your body with.”

Kalle turned on his heel, walking backward down the sandy Lynthian street. His eyes narrowed from irritation. “Tov, this is a suit. I’m not layering for warmth. I know the concept is still foreign to you, but this,” he said, pulling the lapels of his suit jacket out, “is what a suit looks like.”

Toivo snorted like a bull at Kalle, who rolled his eyes turned again with a little shake of his head.

The group walked rounded a block corner. Toivo quickened his step to catch up to Bankim. He eyed the suspenders and the loose waistline of his brown pants. When he was close enough he pulled the pants away from Bankim’s skin. “You’’ve got em, don’cha?”

“Oh my Brahman, get your own long underwear!” Bankim shouted, whirling around and punching Toivo in the face. Toivo’s eyes curled together, meeting at his nose, and the man stumbled backward a couple steps but caught himself.

A Palace Guard noticed the fight and shouted.

“We need a quiet corner,” Jaith said, his voice insistent, as he watched the Guard fall into a jog. “He’s heading in our direction.”

Jaith grabbed Toivo under the armpit and led the run. “This place would not be conducive to return to,” he shouted as he noticed a dark corner, the only one with an outlet. “Split up. Meet back at Recess Keep by morning.”

The only time Nom’s bells didn’t ring was when Destovl slammed through the door so violently that the set flew across the shop and shattered.

“Nom!” The gravelly deepness of his voice normally commanded attention, but it was the harsh crack in his words that pleaded desperately for help that took it.

Nom’s stomped out of her backroom, apron still wrapped around her waist. She wiped her hands on it but didn’t take it off.

“Child, calm down,” she scolded him. The boy was high maintenance. If he wasn’t killing someone, he was dying. After years of his antics, Nom knew how to handle him. ““You make no sense when you’re all worked up.”

Destovl feet came to a halt. While he gulped for breath, his shoulders slumped over and his left hand grabbed a nearby shelf of elixirs to steady himself with. Whatever he was here for was serious. Blood covered his hand. That’s when Nom noticed the other stains. She stepped up to him, pulled at his shirt then quick checked his hand. The skin remained unbroken.

“Whose?”

“Aara’s”

Nom’s heart fluttered into a panic hearing the princess’s name.

Destovl’s normally stoic manner cracked, his chest changed from heaving in breath from the exerted run to heaving as he tried to control an emotional breakdown. Nom looked up, finding his face contorting. She saw his tears welling. She’s never tell anyone his secret.

“He beat her.”

Nom’s mouth opened. She screamed for her assistants. All of them. Then whirled on her heel. Two girls were still in the backroom – probably attending a late night elixir lesson. They ran through the door. First to arrive meant first to get orders. Nom snapped commands. Anger encasing the room’s peaceful air. “Get my bag immediately. Wake all the others. I need everyone here. I need everyone sharp!”

Then Nom twirled again, facing Destovl.

“Say it!” she screamed at him. “You have to hire me!”

“I know we wanted to stay at a different keep, but this place is odd…even for Toivo’s taste,” Bankim complained, pointing at the zebra carpet and varying tables sizes – some very tall, some normal, some bar-like and this funky living room arrangement it the middle of the small room – with his bottle. Jaith, Bankim, Toivo and Kalle sat around a miniscule coffee table in the three poofy sofa chairs that were clustered around it.

“Apparently there’s a fireplace, but the area is too crowded to actually know it’s there,” Jaith said.

Toivo burped. “I wouldn’t want to use it, might start something on fire.”

“It’s a fireplace, Tov,” Jaith reminded him. “That’’s the point.”

Kalle ignored the stupidity and pointed out another keep feature. “The windows are the best. I’m not sure exactly what design they are going for; perhaps it is supposed to be flames, but it looks like a bunch of sperm tails attacking a female egg.””

Toivo looked at the windows, tilting his head. He studied the features with an intoxicated supervision then added, “Just with all the sperm heads cut off.”

Jaith had his jacket off, leaving just his t-shirt. Even with the jacket off he felt warm, sleepy, which didn’t help complete the purpose of why the group came to the keep. The setting sun hit at just the right angle too. It was so bright that Chand had his sunglasses back on.

The sun would eventually wane. The chill would return, and the jacket would go back on.

The view inside the Keep was kind of lame. It was built a hop, skip and a jump away from Lynthia’s busy main road, but inside the travelers were locals – mostly younger men who groped the female servants. The smell of the place was rather sickening too. It had a fake sweet scent like the smell of a child’s scent-infused doll’s head or something. It most certainly did not appeal to the stomach. Not this male stomach at least, which was fine. I had no urge to ingest food. The beer was enough. Something was off in its recipe –– though I can’t pinpoint what.

Maybe we should escape this joint,” [] suggested, finally noticing that old-style music playing. Maybe it was the music crooning old lullabies that made [] sleepy.

Plus the place has a number of intruding workers – a set of domesticated flies zipping around, occasionally attacking for attention, and a teenage boy a bit too interested in wiping down the window ledge – all of it including around me.

“Don’t plan on coming back,” said Jaith.

Toivo groaned. “I’m gonna miss the sperm tails.”

WORD COUNT: 1762

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Decided to break today’s work up into smaller, separate sections. So, I have little blips of later stories I can add to later in the month, complete and rewrite later or toss 🙂

# # #

November 12 – For the Record

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 12@10:43pm

Nom hated seeing Chista unresponsive. She knew it could be shock from whatever caused her mind to slip and produce the horrific wailing episode. She also knew it could be because of her low body temperature.

Nom chanted directions to herself in her head.

Keep her alive. Keep her from getting colder. Transport her to a bed.

Then snapped her fingers sharp and suddenly in front of Chista’s face. The girl jumped, blinking and for a moment her vision focused on Nom. Her pupils dilating as hoped.

“Ok, let’s get this wet shirt off of her. I want that blanket on immediately.”

As Nom and her assistant worked to remove Chista’s clothing a second assistant entered the shop’s backroom. Nom noticed the lighting of the lanterns from the corner of her eye. The morning fire would begin soon so that coffee could be prepared as requested. Nom decided she wanted to serve Chista a proper tea.

Behind her, she heard a set of heavier footsteps. Her male Guardians were awake. She needed their strength. Nom wrapped the blanket around Chista’s body then instructed her assistant to hold it there. She studied her assistant to make sure her student did as instructed, not that she doubted the assistant’s ability. “Don’t massage or rub her,” she warned as she slipped her fingers over Chista’s wrist and checked her pulse. It was slow as was the girl’s chest movement.

Then…Nom momentarily did nothing.

She knew what she needed to do.

Standing around wasn’t it.

Maybe she needed her own moment, her second to pause and mentally catch up to the actions of the pre-dawn morning. She blinked, watching her assistant, and Chista, but thinking about her breathing. When she felt comfortable she turned around and met the eye of the male Guardian.

“I need her upstairs. She needs to get horizontal on one of the beds. But don’t forget to do it all gently.”

The male Guardian nodded. This wasn’t the first episode of hypothermia in Nom’s shop. Her Guardians had experienced what many in Lynthia laughed about when told it was a medical emergency. For her assistants, it was a new experience. The male Guardian stepped forward, replacing Nom’’s position in from of Chista. He helped the verbally unresponsive girl to her feet.

Before the set split up, Nom turned to her assistant. “Once you are upstairs, get her head insulated too.”

Confident that Chista was in good hands, Nom walked to her backroom and pushed aside the small swinging dividers. Lanterns were lit, which meant Nom saw the sad status of her backroom. Remnants from the previous night’s teachings had been left all over the countertops – Nom’’s orders. That choice was regretful now. Nom rolled her eyes at herself then grabbed a jar of powered green tea leaves and her boiling pot. She started preparing tea while her assistant prepared coffee. “For the record,” Nom started as she placed the pot on the fire. “Warm tea isn’t really effective in warming a hypothermic patient, but it sure does boost their morale.”

Upstairs, the male Guardian stood near the door, watching Chista and Nom’s assistant carefully. The Guardians usually did seem to actively engaged, but he knew that this assistant needed the support.

Chista lay in bed, wrapped in blankets like a cocooned bug. Her head had been insulated as requested. Color already looked to be returning to the girl’s cheeks, but her eyes were closed. Nom didn’t like that.

With prepared tea in hand, Nom walked over the bed and sat down. She quickly glanced at Chista but then turned to her assistant.

“Go get some coffee,” Nom said then lifted her head to her Guardian. “Both of you.”

Nom spoke to Chista, wanted her awake, as the pair left. “Chista, I have tea I want you to drink.”

The girl’s eyes fluttered open.

“What happened Chista?

Nom knew some things were difficult to talk about. Her work trained her to trust her instinct skills in situations like this. Her instincts screamed at her right now. Nom was prepared for the girl’s answer.

“Where’s your mother?”

Chista’s face lurched, recalling horrific memories. Whatever color had returned to the girl’s cheeks was again gone.

“My father beheaded her.”

Nom’s stomach curled, waves of coffee mixed with upset acid. Chista’s father was one of the few successful Bazaar merchants. He was a humble man but strong in his principles. It was part of the reason he’d done so well.

The herbalist opened her mouth, shut it then opened it again, “Why?”

“She wanted a divorce.”

Divorce…women weren’t allow to seek a divorce in Lynthia. They weren’t even allowed to “want” it. “That sounds very Port el’Reathsenish.

“She traveled there with father when he picked up his last supply shipment,” Chista admitted, taking a small sip of her tea. “She acted immoral there.””

“So this was an honor killing.”

“She was warned. He warned her for years.”

Nom sucked in a deep breath. Her ancestry tended to shame and denounce immoral choices, but the rules in Lynthia were different. Cheating was not acceptable. Its punishment was as severe as murder’s. The Lynthian people believed in the family unit. When the laws were followed as their written nature intended they really meant to preserve that belief. Children were not rushed into unwanted marriages – even the princess who receives an arranged marriage has a say in who it is arranged with. The Guardian law isn’t meant to make travel within the Lynthian streets difficult, it was meant for loved ones to spend time with one another.

Murder tore families apart.

Cheating tore families apart.

One always included the other, regardless of which one happened first.

“Do you believe what your father did was right?” Nom asked, trying to get a feel for why the girl had spent the morning wailing, why her hair and shirt was drenched.

“I don’t celebrate his choice. It’s obligation I wish he didn’t have.”” Her eyes met Nom’s. They swelled with tears. “And I refused him. I told him I would help then I refused him.”

Nom’s heart raced. She knew that often times honor killing plans included other family members.

“What did he do to you?”

“He screamed that he ‘refused to raise a Port whore’ and shoved my head into the day’s bathwater, but he changed his mind and apologized. He said his emotions tricked him, said he saw my mother’s face again when he grabbed me.”

Nom felt a spasm of irritation ripple across her shoulder blades. “Take another drink of tea.”

She was pretty sure she knew how the rest of the morning would go. Chista would dry and her body temperature would stabilize. She’d finish her tea…then she’d want to go home. Nom couldn’t and wouldn’t stop her from making the choice. It was the hardest part of training in herbalism outside of Lynthia. Her job was to make patients better. That was it. Once she met Jaith that changed. Her job description grew, but she never provided underground services to someone how didn’t request them.

Doing so was dangerous.

Jaith dragged Toivo down the dark corner’s alley. It had an outlet, but Jaith had no intention of using it. He hoped the Palace Guard believed differently. Kalle and Bankim willingly made excessive noise to try and lure the Guard off Jaith and Toivo’s trail. The Guard ignored their diversion, but it was enough of a distraction to allow Jaith to tuck himself – and Toivo – away into the dark. Jaith pressed Toivo into the ninety degree corner – both mathematically and temperature-wise. Toivo grunted as he hit but remained otherwise quiet. The Guard ran by without a second thought, his sights set on the shadow that crossed the outlet’s lit up exit.

Jaith released a slow, silent breath.

“Of all the alleys in Lynthia, you bisho-ur avasi choose this one.”

Jaith’s head shot in the direction of the breathy, aggressive feminine voice.

It was too dark to make out a single feature, Jaith only discerned movement of a blob deeper in color than the night.

“Excuse me?”

“This is my alley.”

Her tone…

Jaith wasn’t a fearful man but hearing such an uncompromising, belligerent tone from a Lynthian female was staggeringly…horrifying. He admitted – only to himself –– that he was taken aback.

“I didn’t realize Lynthian females owned a Brahman thing,” he snapped, curious of her reaction.

She said nothing.

Her body’s blob of darkness didn’t move.

Jaith couldn’t even hear her breath.

Toivo stirred and groaned his opinion. “Since when did you become so mean?”

“Mean?” Jaith huffed. He knew his own crew member had no intention of backstabbing him, but sometimes that’s what alcohol did. ““That wasn’t mean it was just Lynthian truth.”

“No,” the woman said, “that was just mean.”

Jaith heaved a sigh. She was a Lynthian, one who knew that her status in the city was nothing more than property. “Well, you’ll just have to deal with me being mean a bit longer…”

He wondered what she thought…because he certainly didn’t intend on just leaving her in the alley alone.

“Because I want to know why such an important piece of Lynthian property is sitting alone in an alley.”

The woman snarled. Jaith never expect to seriously identify such a noise – especially from a female throat – but that was a snarl.

Toivo pushed him and Jaith stumbled forward, falling into the girl. She was gorgeous. Jaith was certain she was a couple years pass schooling age. In Port el’Reathsen she’d be preparing for university. Her eyes were dark like his own, but unlike his skin hers was flawless. She had the typical Lynthian brown hair, worn long. She even had a necklace adoring her neck. A gift from a male – it was the only way a Lynthian woman could wear jewelry. It also meant she came from money. Jaith bite his cheek. If he remembered correctly, it was also a sign that a man sought to marry her.

Jaith couldn’t tell what else she wore because she had been curled up in a blanket, but he immediately made out the pillow behind her back. “Are you sleeping here?”

“For the last three days.”

“And you haven’t been caught?”

WORD COUNT: 1707

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

Today was the first day I needed to force myself to sit down and write.

It wasn’t:

“OMG, I’m so busy. I really need to fit in some writing.

It was:

“OMG, I’m so budy, but I really do not want to write anything.”

BUT…it only made sense to get to work regardless of what my final word count would have been. It’s very hard to make up missed words during NaNo. I had to do it more than once last year because I was down for the count sick. Surprisingly, tonight’’s word count flowed and was complete in no time flat. I even had time to relax in front of the TV for a bit to unwind 🙂

# # #

November 13 – That was Just Mean

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 13@10:51pm

[Reworking this scene]

Toivo pushed Jaith, and he stumbled forward, falling onto the girl. She was gorgeous. Jaith was certain she was within a handful of years younger than him. In Port el’Reathsen she’d be preparing for university. Like his eyes, hers were dark brown. Life hurt the soul behind the glint Jaith saw. Many others may not have still seen it, but he knew she sought an adventure this city could never offer her.

Whatever flaws her skin might have had remained invisible to Jaith. Her typical Lynthian brown hair was folded into a loose braid. He wasn’t sure if the braid had been once secure but unraveled as the day went on or if she meant for her hair to look as it did. Either way, she wore it long like many of the local women, but its length didn’’t hide the necklace adoring her neck. Jaith’s heart sank a little. He bit his cheek, hoping that hide his reaction because he completely forgot what he was going to say to her.

Instead he stared at the necklace that hung in the middle of her chest, just above her breasts. Jaith knew the jewelry was a gift from a male – it was the only way a Lynthian woman could wear such an ornate gift. The necklace had been crafted from expensive gold and a gemstone he couldn’t place, but he knew it meant she came from money. The problem was, if he remembered correctly, it was also a sign that a man sought to marry her.

“Sorry,” he mumbled under his breath as he picked himself up off of her.

His hands slipped on scratchy fabric.

Wool.

The girl had been curled up in a blanket. Jaith immediately made out the grimed up pillow behind her back.

“Are you sleeping here?”

“Where I sleep is of no matter to you,” her tone still snapped aggressively but a little less so than before. Jaith rocked backward over his heels and sat on the ground next to her. The night was chilly, but Toivo was passed out and drooling. The two of them had survived colder nights, and more than likely Bankim and Kalle would make a round looking for them soon.

“You’re right. It isn’t.” Jaith slapped the dirt from his palms then wrapped his arms around his knees. “I think I’m going to make my bed here. Hate to impose and all, but I think my buddy might be out for the night.”

Jaith paused, feeling out her reaction – most of the time he could read another’s emotion by their body language. This girl had quite a cold shell though. Those without Atman never realized they revealed so many secrets, and as cold as she was this girl’’s emotional, energetic heart was unfolding. Her vibrations were unbalanced but alive. “You must have spent too many years of your life struggling to please someone.” Jaith said aloud. The flippant sentence dribbled from his mouth and could have been a mistake.

The girl watched him suspiciously. Jaith started to consciously put himself into a positive, uplifting inner state. She’d never see his work, but she’d feel it. With time they began to radiate the same emotions, and the girl finally spoke.

“My father.”

Jaith hummed, his tone seeking her to repeat herself, as he closed his eyes and tipped his head back to the moon. He soaked in moonlight like a Lynthian might soak in a mild sun. He appreciated the night. Nights allowed him freedom.

“You wanted to know who I’ve spent most of my life trying to please? That’s my answer…my father.”

“But not anymore?”

“Not for the last three days.”

Jaith’s eyes popped open, his chin dipping. “You’ve been out here for three nights? Alone?”

“Depends,” she said, raising a smart brow.

“On what?”

“On whether you count tonight or not.”

Jaith glanced over at Toivo. Together they made proper Guardians. She was safe tonight.

“You’ll have to forgive me. I’m just a little taken aback that you haven’t been caught.”

She was Lynthian female. Any female would have to worry about being raped if they slept alone in a dark alley. And if anyone saw her necklace? They’d beat her and steal it. But that wasn’t the riskiest elements. Lynthian females weren’’t allowed to travel the streets without proper Guardians. If a Guard or Soldier caught her, she’d be arrested and lashed.

“I’ve had to trade favors to a couple of Guards,” she said, sounding like the trade was just part of the job.

Jaith curled his legs under him, his body already filthy from the fall. Toivo snored in his sleep, especially when he was flat on his back. The man had rolled over, and his body sprawled out, taking up a good majority of the alley’s width. He probably drooled out whatever alcohol and pain he’d put his body through. Together the three were legal – two males escorting an unrelated female. Each male was to protect the girl from the other male. Jaith glanced around the vacant alley with a blank stare. His eyes searched for shadowy movement while his ears tuned out the usual insect life in order to identify Lynthian Guards or Soldiers. He hoped to hear Bankim or Kalle.

Finally he turned back to the girl.

“But you’re wearing a gold necklace–”

Jaith’s words immediately made the girl uncomfortable. She drew her knees up to her chest in a single cautious movement. The position would have done little to protect her if Jaith actually wanted to take her possession.

“You can’t have my necklace.”

“I don’t want it,” Jaith assured her as he gently pushed her knees down. Her tension lessened slightly, but she kept her knees close. ““I just meant that you’re not sleeping in this alley because you’re poor.”

“Such a male statement. Let me ask you this, have you ever met a rich cow?” The girl asked Jaith, her voice dripping insinuation.

Jaith blinked, part of him held back a laugh, but the amusement definitely sounded in his answer as his voice’s pitch rose in confusion with each word. “Ah, no. Should I have?”

“Not in Lynthia, you’ll never meet rich property in Lynthia. Money doesn’t solve my problems. It means nothing when you’’re valued less than the family pet. I’m like a dog that was kicked out for wetting inside the house. This necklace is nothing more than the collar my owner forgot to take off.”

Jaith cleared his throat. He wanted to say something reassuring, but he wasn’t even sure what words could appropriately follow a woman comparing herself to a peeing dog. But, at the same time, her crude, blunt nature really attracted him.

He scratched the back of his neck. “I’m not sure how to reply to that,” he finally admitted.

“You don’t have to.”

They sat in silence. Suddenly Jaith hoped that Bankim and Kalle did forget about him. How could he end a conversation with someone like that? It wasn’t his nature. He didn’t even know…

Jaith pushed himself up on one knee. He leaned over and fingered the girl’s necklace. He knew the action would make her intensely uncomfortable. She recoiled quicker than he expected, slapped his face with one hand and pushed away the wrist of his other hand.

“What in naraka are you doing?” she snarled.

Jaith rubbed his stinging face but genuinely laughed. He was entirely too impressed by her response. “I just wanted to see what name was inscribed on your dog collar…so I knew what to call you.”

He heard her startled gasp in the crisp air. It sounded comfortably, stand-offish. Jaith’s couldn’t stop his smiled from widening as he watched her frozen jaw hang. He lifted his brows, his emotions reprogramming her distress until finally she cracked. Her cheeks flushed with life, and the glint he noticed in her pained eyes before transformed for a time.

He shrugged.

“If I had a collar, mine would say Jaith, but I guess I’m more like a rich cow than a house-wetting dog.”

The girl giggled, and Jaith decided that if the only thing he accomplished with this girl was getting her to giggle he’d deem the night well spent.

“Naji,” she offered, flipping a single finger through her necklace and lifting it from her chest as if reading an invisible tag. “My collar would have the name Naji on it.””

“That’s pretty. I actually knew someone named Naji. She was a great leader, very confident and very good at focusing on the big picture.” Jaith smiled and let his words sink in. They were all lies. He never met anyone named Naji under tonight, but she would become a great leader. His words were merely vibrations her body needed for balance. He surprised himself when he realized that he wanted to be there when it all clicked for her. Suddenly, he wished like mad that she’d tell him who gave her that necklace. ““So tell me, Naji, why did your dad kick you out?”

Naji hand fell to her breast, her lips pressed together and what little happiness Jaith saw disappeared. He wanted to get it back. He ruined it for her, but he felt he needed to know what made such a pretty, confident girl accept such a brutal outcome to her life.

“I had a choice really,” Naji said with a shrug, dropping her eyes. Her hair fell with the movement and hid her face. “He told me that if I was so determined to attend university that I needed to leave his house and make it there on my own.”

“That’s not really a choice.”

“I could have stayed, but if I did I understood that doing so meant I accepted his warning.”

Jaith flinched, his nose curling up with his lip in disgust. “What kind of warning?”

“That if I dishonored him again I’d forfeit my life.”

“So is this,” he said pointing to the area encompassing them, “does this mean he disowned you?”

“Everything about me…even my dog collar. Of course, I suppose that only means that if the guy I’m arranged to marry to feels like I dishonored him or his family then he could come after me, kill me. My death would be on his hands then, not my dad’s.”

In the distance, Jaith heard the approach of familiar footsteps. Bankim and Kalle.

“Come with me,” he said, standing and offering Naji his hand. “There’s someone I want you to meet. I think you’ll like her. And, no offense, I’m tired. I’d much rather prefer a warm bed to this cobblestone.””

“Jaith,” Bankim called. He sounded not more than a block away. Naji looked out into the alley, recognizing Jaith’s name. Then she peeked over at Toivo.

“Is that someone to help you with your friend?”

Jaith shrugged again, a mischievous half-smile turning up his cheek. “One will help him. The other will complain about him. I’ll carry your things.”

WORD COUNT: 1832

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I took a free webinar today regarding the writing tool – Scrivener. I’ve heard about it before, but why change a process that’’s working for something you’ve heard good and bad reviews on.

Yeah…totally awesome looking program, going to check it out after NaNo.

# # #

November 14 – Randon Flight

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 15@10:21

Waterstick bugs darted in random flight around and about Jaith and Naji’s heads. As far as insects could be considered, they were so humanistic. They loved to play and tease – get close, hover, dart off then come back and do it all over again.

“That one was a brilliant green,” Naji mused, lying with her arms flung out at the sides, her legs splayed out and her bare feet up. Jaith smiled, opening his eyes, barely, to look at her Waterstick…because she found it interesting enough to mention.

“Do you think when you’ve completed university that you’ll want to stay in the Port?” Jaith asked, closing his eyes again. He hoped she did. He hoped for children. He loved helping Nom transport abused women into safer environments, but he loved Naji more. He wanted to settle down with her, have a real house, and eat real meals.

He’s keep his job though. Naji was one of those women he saved. He couldn’t imagine her being upset with it. Their bond remains strong – grew stronger really –– with the prolonged absences now. He also believed that Naji would be proud to be the family bread winner. He’d provide everything they needed…then returned to giving his money away. Well, maybe not all of it when they did actually have children so they had something for the future. Jaith never cared for money or possessions, but maybe his children would be different.

He didn’t need much, just Naji.

“Probably,” Naji said, twitching her feet back and forth.

“We could buy a home there.” Jaith turned his head toward her, tossing his arm over his face to sun his eyes from the sun. “We could start looking now.””

A nervous giggle escaped Naji’s throat. “We’re not even married.”

Jaith rolled to his side then to his stomach so that the distance between them shrunk considerably. He lifted her outstretched resting arm and crawled in close, placing his cheek on her chest. It wasn’t the most comfortable positions, but he didn’t care. He heard her heart beating.

“We could be.”

Jaith lifted his head, leaned all the way in and met Naji’s lips for a simple kiss. A token they shared time and again when Naji visited.

She groaned, as she always did when he brought it up.

It was her last semester, and he had already looked for the perfect necklace. He just couldn’t get her to remove the last one. The one given to her by the man she still worried would come to kill her for dishonoring him. She claimed it made her focus in the Port, reminded her of when she walked out of her father’s home to sleep on the streets and met Jaith. He respected that. He’d wait until her studies were complete, until the day she could support herself without help in a city that accepted her for her mind and skills. Then he’d buy the necklace and propose.

He still hated seeing that other one on her neck.

This time, her groan ended with a little giggle. Jaith kissed her again then she pushed him away, sitting up.

“We should.”

Jaith’s face flushed, his sleepy eyes awakening and he instantly sat up. “Are you serious?”

If only he had that necklace…right now.

Naji beamed fondly and set his blood on fire. He grabbed her by her wrists and pulled him closer to him. She shifted her feet under her and wrapped her legs around Jaith’s waist so that sat facing each other. “I didn’t want to get into trouble during school. Family got me into trouble in the first place. I knew that when I was ready to start a family again that I wanted to do it right. Jaith stared up at her. She lifted her arms behind her back and unclasped the hook of her necklace.

It was the first time he ever saw her neck bare. That alone was more seductive than what she did next.

With a simple flick, she tossed her old necklace aside. “Just so you know, I don’t need a necklace to acknowledge that I’m yours.””

“I know, but it’s a Lynthian traditional I’d like the chance to give to you to prove an unsaid and overlooked facet of the dog collar necklace we always joked about. Never did we mention how dogs are unconditionally loyal. They give unconditional love. And while some have owners that kick their possessions, some have owners that see and treat them as equals.”

“Well, aren’t you Mister Philosophical.”

Jaith shrugged then pulled her down to the ground with him, against his chest. She clung to him, her face buried in his chest. At first he did nothing other than hold her then as his mind slowed from planning his proposal, he began stroking his fingers through her hair until she fell to sleep on him. His chest eventually became wet from her drool. He didn’t care. He actually waited for it, expected it. It was how he knew that she sleep peacefully, even out here at the Lagoon – six dunes away from Lynthia, from everything she feared. It was one of the ways he knew that she was the one for him.

Naji cupped her hands and took a long drink of the lagoon’s fresh water. Her makeup was smeared from sleeping. From the corner of her eye, she caught Jaith examined her like one would examine a priceless painting. She knew that to him she was, she just didn’t understand why. She was damaged property even though she tried to convince herself otherwise.

“You should drink that slowly,” Jaith warned her. She never paid his warnings any heed. He was always so overprotective, but that’s what she loved about him. This time she considered listening after she woke up feeling sick. Her stomach swirled threats of vomiting nausea, and her head pounded. She knew the headache could be from dehydration.

Naji ran her hand over her brow and cheeks. Her skin felt so hot and dry.

“Maybe I should get Nom.”

Jaith’s sat along the water’s edge, his toes dug into the sand. The ebb and flow of the water climbed his shins up to his knees before dropping back.

Naji grumbled into the water she sipped – she really didn’t like to admit needing help – then she took another scoop of water into her hands and splashed it over his face to wash away the sweat that stung the corners of her eyes. She was pretty sure that her nose had burned under the Lynthian sun. It prickled. The Port babied her skin. She wasn’t used to Lynthia’s harsher weather anymore.

“I’m fine,” she insisted.

She rested back on the sand and stared at the lush vegetation that surrounded the crescent shaped lagoon and hid her. It was a private getaway where she spent too many hours with Jaith. They ate dates and played in the water like children. Well, sort of like children. She lavished herself in the pleasure; she earned it after studying so hard in university…she earned it for being away from him for so long.

Jaith shifted a date around on his fingertips, examining it for signs of damage. Naji ate one. It didn’t sit well in her stomach. The palms surrounding them carried a bountiful more. She could eat more later if she felt the need. At the moment, she considered swimming. The coolness of the water might lower her body temperature. The sun overhead had hit its high point. Naji undid the ties of her shirt, which instantly caught Jaith’s attention. She trembled as she worked. After three years she had yet to share her body with him. When all four times were done, she slipped her shirt off and stood. He watched her from below.

“What are you doing?” Jaith asked, his voice peaked with excited interest.

“I thought I’d take a swim. Maybe the cool water will make me feel better.”

“You took your entire shirt off,” he added, shifting more than usual in the sand.

“I know,” she said, fixing a stand of hair that wasn’t loose or in need of fixing. “I’m going to take my skirt off too.”

Jaith stood as Naji took her first step into the lagoon. She heard him curse as the water deepened, suddenly too ill-equipped to unfastening his own pants. By the sound of the thwhapping, she was pretty sure she heard his feet kicking off wet sand. By the time he was undressed, Naji had started to swim to the middle portion of the lagoon. The water felt too warm.

Jaith called excitedly, “Wait, I’ll go with you.”

Naji twirled in the water. Jaith still stood by the water’s edge. She flushed, embarrassed to see him in all of his indecency. She kicked her leg hard under the water, but her jaw still dropped under. It was like her legs weren’t working right. She spit the unanticipated water out.

For whatever reason what she started suddenly horrified her – as much as she thought she wanted to press her naked body against his, she now had second doubts.

It was her Lynthian upbringing.

Jaith was a good swimmer though and caught up to her before she had time to share her feelings – or really even understand what they were. Their arms and legs flickered under the water, keeping them afloat. Jaith wrapped a single arm around Naji. He’d done it before, but when they were clothed. This was suddenly different as she felt her bare breast and nipple press against his body.

She trembled, partially from the excitement and partially from whatever was wrong with her.

Then her body seized up, and her body sunk under the water.

On his first dive, he saw Naji. Her body strangely rigid, sinking in the water like an oversized boulder was tied to her ankles. She fell into the seaweed. Jaith chased after her until his breath ran out and he had to surface again or risk drowning with her.

On his second dive, Naji was nowhere to be found. Jaith saw a hole shimmering with a brightness he couldn’t explain but was drawn to. He dove there but had to resurface again.

On his final dive, Jaith saw Naji again and was determined to not let her from his sight. He kicked and reached her, wrapping his arms around her body.

But he couldn’t get back.

“It’s fresh water,” Jaith told Naji the first time Naji came to visit him in Lynthia from the Port. Her first curriculum break. She had three weeks.

I want you to go to bed naked. Then I’ll slide into bed.” /evil grin

WORD COUNT: 1784

# # #

November 15 – Half Done – so…Let’s Kill Jaith

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 15@10:24

“Naji,” Jaith screamed, his voice raw with terror. Jaith couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the fact that the only woman he loved just submerged in the lagoon’’s water. Instead of allowing himself a large inhale and exhale before a final held breath, he sucked in a breath and plunged into the water after her without any real plan. His feet were over his head in an instant as his hand pushed away the water and propelled him forward, down into the lagoon’s depths.

On his first dive, he saw Naji. At first, she was intensely clear. Her body strangely rigid, sinking in the water like an oversized boulder was tied to her ankles. It was like she couldn’t move her legs as she struggled to swim.

Jaith found himself thinking about how vividly detailed her face was to him in that water considering all the factors that should have made recognition difficult – air bubbles and turbulence from the fight survival, the debris and the loss of lighting sources. Jaith chased after her as she fell into the seaweed. With two strong kicks, his fingertips brushed her skin. He knew the seaweed’’s debris would become quickly overwhelming if he didn’t make complete contact, but he refused to abandon Naji. He kicked again, his body surging with an energy he didn’t understand, and clutched his hand around her wrist.

His chest burned, begging for air, and his body starting to heave instinctual. He needed air, but he had the woman he loved. He pulled her to him, dragging himself deeper into the water, and tried to kick them to the surface.

They didn’t move.

It was like some sort of nightmare. Jaith yearned for nothing more than forward momentum; he did everything he could do get it…but failed.

The panic in Naji’s eyes deadened as she accepted her fate. Her lips turned up in her last smile before she mouthed “It’s okay. I love you.”” to Jaith and pulled his hands away.

Without the extra weight, Jaith separated from her, clawing the seawater and nothing else as he tried to grab her again. Then she was gone, and Jaith’s breath ran out. He hated to surface again, but it was that or risk drowning with her. She was still alive. He could try again.

He tilted upward and began what felt like the slowest climb to the surface. When he hit the open air, he exhaled hard. The fresh taste of the lagoon air never felt so good and so bitter at the same time. His body felt heavy from his loss and from the natural consequences of diving like that. He had a debt to repay his body. It wanted oxygen, but Jaith snubbed his responsibility.

He dove again. This time his concentration and surrounding awareness improved. Two schools of fish watched him scuffle and labor through their peaceful home. They scattered and reformed every time a part of his body got too close. His muscles sang with a new energy. He controlled his breathing better this time and was able to stay submerged longer, but on his second dive, Naji was nowhere to be found. Instead Jaith found himself entranced by a hole shimmering with a brightness he couldn’’t explain but was drawn to. He dove there, ignoring his body’s natural response the extreme sensation of confronting his need to hold his breath. In the end, his mind won, and Jaith resurfaced.

On his final dive, the shimmering hole vanished, and Jaith saw Naji again. Her body now hung in the water limp, her eyes as tightly shut as anyone could unconsciously force them. She looked like she had been scared. Jaith was determined to not let her from his sight. As he passed through the kelp it caressed his legs like Naji’s hands did whenever she glided her fingers down his skin. His kicks slowed as he experienced her hands on him again. Then the memory broke, and Jaith felt a resistance in the water. A resistance that forced him away from her. Jaith kept himself mindful of his actions as he kicked with purpose and reached her, wrapping his arms around her body.

Her limbs floated, draping his skin and then undoing its deceptive touch. Just feeling her dying body against his pushed him into the initial urge to breath. His diaphragm constricted, a powerful disconcerting reminder of his predicament. Jaith endured the misery of the experience by envisioning himself back on the sand with Naji. They’d be alright. He kicked hard but went nowhere. Together their weight was too much for him. His body had nothing left.

His body panicked, and his legs lashed in the water, wishing he had a rock or anything solid to push away from to help him get back to the surface. The excessive movements devoured the last of his energy reserves. Still, the instinct to not breathe in the lagoon’s water was stronger than the agony in Jaith’s lungs.

Darkness encroached around the rims of Jaith’s eyes like a moonless night was enclosing in on him. Jaith had never felt more awkward in his life. His body seemed excited and terrified all in the same moment.

He couldn’t help to think to him, “I’m dying. This is how I’m going to die. This is what it feels like…is what Naji felt like.”

Jaith wouldn’t get back.

Daksh knew the lagoon would take his son, just like this, before he ever made the lagoon. This was Jaith’s father’s gamble, and it was Jaith’s gamble. He had been warned.

They had been to the lagoon so many other times.

Eventually, he swallowed an involuntary breath that in turn caused him to cough and ingest more water. Jaith felt like crying in his panic; this wasn’t how the day was to end. Naji had just taken her necklace off. They were supposed to have an entire life together. He pressed her body as close to his as he could, burying his face into her skin even as his throat spasmed, trying to seal off the water’s path to his lungs. It was then that his fear and pain left.

“That’s all there is,” Bankim announced, tossing Naji’s necklace on a square table no wider across than Bankim’s outstretched arms. Toivo sat in one of the table’s wooden chairs with his hands folded in his lap, his shoulders hunched forward and his head bowed. Kalle sat in a matching wooden chair to Bankim’’s left with his arms crossed over his chest. The back of the chair pushed against the wall of Nom’s upstairs bedroom. Kalle and Toivo never sat together like this.

“There has to be more,” Kalle insisted.

Bankim’s jaw never clenched. He wasn’t one of those guys. His eyes never rolled.

He stared. He sucked in a half breath and stared. It didn’t matter at what. In this moment he stared at Kalle and his crossed arms. Kalle never crossed his arms. And Kalle was a doctor.

Bankim bobbed his head left and right as he thought.

Or would have been a doctor – and a good one – if he hadn’t broken the law.

Now he was just Kalle…with medical knowledge. Who healed people. He didn’t investigate. No one sent Kalle out to the lagoon to search for evidence or death bodies.

No, that was Bankim’s job.

Bankim stopped staring and lifted a single brow as he always did. “Well there’s not,” he told Kalle, his tone sounding cocky and annoyed, and unapologetic. ““Be my guest if you want to go back and check the water.”

He knew Kalle never would.

Toivo might.

If Toivo wasn’t rocking himself to avoid accepting his emotions.

Jaith remembered feeling his skin grow cold again Naji’s. He remembered finding the shimmering hole again. He remembered Naji’s body removed from his when he woke up, as if rising for a nightmare, only to find himself still submerged underwater. He blinked confused, but with lungs still filled with enough air to make it to the unmarred surface. With a solid stroke, his body lurched upward toward the sun, the single beam that reached like a helping hand for him to grab onto. As he made his was out of the water, he scanned it for Naji. He only found fish.

Jaith cracked the water’s surface and unnecessarily hyperventilated. His eyes slammed shut protectively. The sun seemed so much brighter than what he remembered. How long had he been in the dark of the water? His pupils felt so sensitive.

As his mind cleared and settled, Jaith slowed his breath, and he realized he felt so dizzy that he worried he might pass out in the water before truly capturing this second chance.

Before he reopened his eyes, Jaith blew water clear from his nose and sucked in a final calming breath. He wasn’t at the lagoon; that vegetation was gone. He smelled…different air, unlike anything in Loches, Port el’Reathsen, Lynthia, Ethantine, Thurm. Unlike anywhere else on Atala. His eyes scanned his surroundings. Not far in front of him, maybe twenty feet, was a long stretch of beach, flawless white beach.

Well, flawless except for that…what was that?

Jaith kicked again, beginning to swim. His stroke was stronger than he expected. It was like his body was renewed. Like he had gotten a do-over. As he neared the beach line, Jaith recognized a form of a naked female body. His jaw shivered in the water. His arms pushed the naraka he floated in behind him.

And Jaith stumbled with his first footsteps on the Earthen sand.

The fine grains of sand accepted his fall and didn’t scratch the surface of his water-logged, pruned skin like Lynthia’s would have. He didn’t bother standing again, Jaith knew he’d just fall. His muscles were not ready for this new environment, but Jaith’s heart summoned the energy he needed to drag his pathetic body to Naji. Her skin looked pink. And he swore her chest rose.

He crawled, suffering through the pain of exhaustion with each rotation of his hip, with each second his knee hit sand and rolled for the process to repeat itself on the other side of his body. When he got the chance to tell this story to his friends they’d laugh at him for being overly dramatic. What little distance between the two lovers seemed keep them infinitely apart.

Jaith half-pulled Naji’s body against his when he finally reached her. She was warm. She breathed.

And Jaith let himself cry.

He didn’t feel safe lying his head on her body so he laid with his body pressed against hers, his legs curled around hers and fell to sleep.

WORD COUNT: 1782

# # #

November 16 – Skill Set

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 16@11:16pm

No one sent Kalle out to the lagoon to search for evidence or dead bodies.

That was Bankim’s job. He wasn’t even sure how he acquired such work since he wasn’t the smartest of the group or the most detail orientated. He……just got things done.

Bankim stopped staring.

“Well there’s not,” he told Kalle, his tone sounding cocky and annoyed and unapologetic. “Be my guest if you want to go back and check the water.”

He knew Kalle never would. Kalle contrasted Bankim entirely. Proper. Well-dressed.

Save for tonight.

Kalle served wore-for-wear after hearing about Jaith’s disappearance, even worse now – twenty-four hours later – that word from Jaith never came, giving the crew good reason to believe that Jaith was dead. As was Naji.

Now, Toivo might have looked…if Toivo wasn’t rocking himself in an attempt to avoid accepting his emotions. It wasn’t a good sign that all three of his favorite weapons rested under his chair, but at least they were close by.

Toivo ranked one step lower than Bankim on the brilliance scale for the group. That one step was a large jump. Toivo was all hulking muscle, and while he may have always jumped into action before his brain warned him not to, the man had emotions – probably more than anyone in the group.

Jaith’s loss shattered him. He’d be the last to recoup.

Everyone had their skill set and, to be honest, Jaith’s intelligence level was an assumed position. More importantly, Jaith had the charisma and leadership ability to con anyone he came across…even the group. Kalle’s IQ level was never in question, but he failed when it came to breaking a sweat. Bankim figured Kalle’s hatred of Toivo stemmed from that weakness. Where Kalle failed, Toivo thrived.

Bankim’s eyes lower to the tabletop where Naji’s necklace laid in a heap. Its clasp remained open so she took the piece of jewelry off. Or maybe Jaith took it off. Either way, nothing aggressive. The gold, as soft as the metal was, wasn’’t bent. The gemstone wasn’t scratched. What had those two been doing?

Bankim pushed away from the tabletop, his arms dropped by his sides. He didn’t want to pace. He wasn’t a pacer. He didn’t want to sit. He just needed help, and he wasn’’t sure what to do next or where to go. Without all its players, what did a team do other than forfeit?

Bankim’s left hand lifted for his right sleeve and undid the button. He took his time rolling the deep maroon sleeves. He needed the diversion. Without Jaith, someone needed to lead the group. It shouldn’t be him, but who else was there? That thought alone was more distressing than the thought of Jaith’s death.

The room’s door creaked then slammed open.

Bankim turned to the noise, his hand falling to his weapon. He noticed Kalle’s over-dramatic startling, and Toivo’s lack of any reaction.

Nom stood in the doorway, her voice exaggerated in its annoyance, entered the bedroom. She had dressed up for the night. Her apron probably retired downstairs, and her dull work-wear exchanged for a vibrant turquoise top and lime green skirts. She even had refreshed her makeup, a lot of make-up, bright make-up.

“Please tell me that this crew is not crumbling apart just because Jaith is missing.”

More notably, she tossed around her hands as she spoke tonight. The wine bottle in her right hand was already open, but the glasses in her left hand seemed unused.

“Jaith is dead,” Bankim corrected.

Nom pointed at him, narrowing her eyes and nearly dropping her glassware, and spoke in a clipped tone, “Have you found a body?”

Bankim opened his mouth.

“No,” she snapped before he could answer. “You haven’t.””

She finished walking into the room and kicked the door shut behind her with her heel. After stomping to the table in a huff, she gingerly set each wineglass on the table as if the whole thing was about to shatter.

“Jaith wouldn’t have this,” she scolded as she poured drinks, “and the three of you know it.”

Kalle leaned forward over the table, meeting Nom’s eyes with a never-before-seen intensity. Bankim watched from behind the herbalist. “Stop acting like this is a mere episode of hiccups. We’re a walking plague!” he shouted, banging a fingertip against the table and throwing out his hands. “We’re done, half of us gone, down three members. Without Jaith and Trigger and Naji, we do not have the numbers to continue running this underground railroad [will need different term] of yours.”

“We’ll work with what we have or we’ll find new members,” she said nonchalantly as if the other crew members quit.

Toivo rocked faster in his chair.

Kalle shook his head. “We don’t have the contacts anymore.”

“We’ll make new ones.”

“Nom!” Kalle shouted, exasperated.

“Stop,” Bankim snapped, grinding out the words between clenched teeth. His voice sounded serious and strong, a tone not to be argued with.

A tone that wasn’t his.

“Look…whether we recover the underground work or not, this is not a proper time to discuss it. The only thing I have to go on right now is an undamaged necklace. Even if Jaith and Naji are dead, we need time to collect ourselves and grieve. We cannot just go back to work like nothing changed. Everything’s changed!”

Bankim didn’t realize his hands had balled up into white fists.

Kalle did. He still leaned over the table toward Nom, but his face looked satisfied in Bankim’s points, as if Ban said everything he wanted to but couldn’t.

Toivo looked up when Bankim mentioned their friends’ deaths. He had dark shadows around what where normally alert but beady eyes. Tonight they were just bloodshot.

Bankim went on.

“We don’t have a single individual that needs out of Lynthia right now. So drink…or don’t drink. I don’t care. Just…don’t be discussing work.”

“And what if something does come up,” Nom whispered, her head bowed, her blonde curls covering her face. She needed to grieve too, whether she admitted it or not. She lost Jaith and her life’s work.

Bankim response was as cold as Jaith and Naji’s death.

“Then we’ll deal with it.”

With nothing left to say – and the urge to get the naraka out of that room – Bankim turned for the door. He wanted to be alone. As he turned the door’s handle, Nom poured wine for the three at the table, but he paused before crossing over into the hall. He didn’t expect anyone to be ushered out of Lynthia any time soon, and he meant it when he said that they’d deal with it if such a problem occurred. The three toasted and gulped expensive wine like it was some sort of cheap beer. They’d drink the night away. It’d be for the best.

Bankim shut the door behind himself and leaned on the door’s frame.

He stared again, for how long he wasn’t sure.

The crew wasn’t ashes. Each had a life, things they wanted to do with that life. Who was Bankim to make those choices for them? Choices and reevaluations needed to be made – as a group, without Nom’s influence.

“You don’t have to be so alone.”

Bankim’s stare broke in the most beautiful manner ever as Sita’s sun-kissed hand touched his arm and lingered there. On the skin, where he barely rolled the sleeve up, not the shirt.

“Whether or not someone has company isn’t always a luxury,” Bankim huffed, pulling his arm away, and retreated down the hall for his room. He hoped Sita didn’’t watch him go. He didn’t need her pity.

Then again, he thought as he slammed his door shut, he kind of wished she did.

Nom’s staircase always squeaked on the eighth step down. Bankim stared at it debating whether or not to step in the middle and make the noise. His entire crew and Nom were passed out in the same room with the small square table. Morning would be a brilliant mess.

Only one person was up at this hour. Her room door hung open, the light off.

Bankim stepped on the creak. She’d know that he purposely avoided it if he chose otherwise. He didn’t care if she knew he was coming.

Sita worked behind Nom’s display case straightening the Dingo Leaf packets, smiling to herself as she waited for Bankim to finish his walk down the stairs. She wasn’t sure why he waited to step on the eighth step. They both knew it squeaked, anyone living in the house did, but she listened to his weight creaking the floorboards since the moment he got up from his bed.

When the Dingo Leaf was straightened to her satisfaction, she decided to readjust the Baduka Berries even though they didn’t need it.

Finally, the stair floor board squeaked.

She shifted her hands back to the Dingo Leaf and pretended to straighten them again until Bankim stood across from her.

“What are you doing down here?” she asked, standing up and wiping her hands on her apron even though they weren’t dirty. The lanterns in the backroom were still lit and provided the room’s only lightening which made the various wooden figurine shadows rather creepy.

“Taking your advice.

Sita felt her cheeks tingle so brushed her fingertips over them and curled a few strands of loose hair behind her ear.

“Apparently,” Bankim said, his voice dropping into a sarcastic tease. “I spend a lot of time alone.”

“It’s not really that you spend time alone. It just feels like you keep to yourself so much that you forget that you’re human.””

Bankim’s face flinched, his brows lifting in amusement, but then he didn’t say anything. Just watched her.

Sita keep his eye until the lack of conversation finally shifted and became awkward. She lifted her own brows, mimicking the man standing across the display case from her then looked over to the staircase, suddenly wishing for someone to walk down it.

Bankim ignored her discomfort and sat down on the stool.

“So, what’s your story,” he asked her, his suspenders loosening from his chest. His question fell heavy on Sita’s heart. After years of working with Nom and abused woman, Sita never considered that he found attraction to those women.

“Oh,” Sita started then paused after hearing how obviously hurt her voice sounded. He wasn’t the first man like that, she reminded herself. Lynthia was full of odd thinking men. She forced a smile. “I’m just a girl,” she said with a shrug. “Sorry.””

“Sorry for what?”

“For not having a story.”

“You don’t have to live a traumatic life to have a story.”

Her head tilted, finding herself enveloped in a new confusion. He was the first man to say that.

WORD COUNT: 1797

AUTHOR NOTE:

Tonight’s Walking Dead creeped into my writing – did you find it?

# # #

November 17 – Sita

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 17@11:02p

“You sure you don’t want to come with us?” Tara asked, sounding like last call at a bar.

Sita normally would have gone with her siblings to the Bazaar. After their interactions last night Sita hoped she could get Bankim to escort her there instead, even if legally they needed to bring another male Guardian with. She planned her excuse when trying to fall to sleep. She needed of buying her sister a present.

She really did need to buy her sister a birthday present.

Bankim just wasn’t an early riser.

“Shh,” Sita hushed her sister, patting the air with her hands as if the signal could actually keep Tara’s voice from booming. ““I promise you that I’m sure I don’t want to go.”

Sita’s brother pulled baked bread from the oven, a towel stuffed into his pants like an apron. The boy looked ridiculous, but he knew how to cook. Raj flipped the bread from the pan and sliced his work before it had properly cooled. The sweet chunks of perfection steamed sugary vapors.

“Sorry,” her sister whispered, covering her mouth as if she actually felt bad for talking so loud. Raj offered her the first plate of food.

“Come on, Sita. If you expected her to be quiet then you should have prepared her breakfast.”

“Whatever. Raj. At least I knew to not ever sneak out with her.”

Tara snorted and stuffed a chunk of sweetened bread in her mouth. “That’s true,” Tara mumbled through her food as she cocked a brow that matched the half shrug of her shoulder. She never much cared what people thought of her. “For the record, it stinks that you’re not coming with us. I wanted to show you what birthday present I wanted.”

Sita worked in a separate area of the kitchen where herbalism preparation took place. She woke early to prepare an extract of the purple needle seed into a cold-pressed blue-death weed tea. She knew her work would help Nom, Kalle and Toivo better endure their hangovers. The three were still passed out, but when they woke up Sita expected them to be miserable. If she managed to get them all feeling better and get her chores done, then she could get her sister’’s present with Bankim, if he agreed to take her.

“You already told me what to buy you,” Sita told her sister, did she completely forget the family dinner?

“She just wants us out of here before her new man wakes up,” Raj teased, slamming his shoulder against Tara’s. His deep voice remained low and contrasted Tara’’s. Yet, his whisper carried, but it seemed more soothing, like a lullaby.

“Stop it,” Sita hissed, her cheeks warming. “We talked once.”

“Oh, I forgot about him.” Tara face drew into large, devilish smile. “Easy to do when I can’t see him.”

“He’s sleeping.” Sita plucked twelve needles from the blooming purple flower. She snapped each one separately in half and crushed them in her mortal and pestle. Behind her the kettle water and hops whistled and awaited to be fused.

Sita walked to the shop’s front room. Lanterns glowed a warm orange, but Sita knew the sun lit the world just pass Nom’s dark wood door. No one ever entered the store during the Bazaar; it was too far out of the mainstream. Most just picked up needed at one of the stands or waited. She sighed quietly to herself and pulled an unornamented tray out from under the display case. Tea was done and remained on the fire warming. Sita figured she’d slip into that first bedroom and see if anyone stirred, if not she’d leave the tea warming and work on her chores.

As Sita’s hand pressed the backroom’s hinged door open, the spirit bells rang.

She turned, dropping the empty tray to her side, and expected to greet a customer.

Instead she found herself pleasantly surprised to see the group’s old friend.

She smiled as she walked back to the display case and placed the tray down on its glass top.

“Chand, I didn’t know you were in town.”

He often stayed in Nom’s shop when he was in Lynthia.

“Morning Sita,” Chand smiled, pushing his sunglasses up onto his head. The stark tan lines told Sita he’d been traveling in the sun for a while. ““I got in late last night, figured I’d take a room at Recess Keep instead of disturbing the homestead.”

Sita smiled, putting her hand on her hip. “The guys will be happy to see you. They’ve had a rough few days.”

“I heard.”

“There’s some sweet bread in the back if you want some,” Sita said, pointing over her shoulder. “And I was about the pour blue-death weed tea if anyone upstairs was awake.”

“Maybe later. I need to talk to Ban. He’s not part of the hung-over crowd, is he?”

“No, he’s upstairs in his room, last one of the right.”

“Maybe I’ll be lucky, and he’ll be dressed this time,” Chand said flippantly and turned for the stairs.

Sita stared after him, dumbfounded by the comment. After four steps, Chand followed the stairways curve, and Sita broke her trance. She picked up the tray, unsure what she really thought of Chand’s remark but found herself fantasizing about the possibility of it being true.

Bankim’s quads felt two times heavier than they ever did before. Each step exhausted him. It was like he carried a crew member upstairs on his back. He should just go to bed. He’d never bother exerting this much energy for Kalle or Toivo, but for whatever reason Sita was a different story. Maybe it was because while nothing gelled right in the house with the crew everything with Sita did.

She always left her bedroom door open. Tonight was no exception .Bankim didn’t know of too many women who felt safe like that. He rapped on her door’s frame and curled around to casually rest against it.

“Want me to bring you some dinner? Nom said you weren’t feeling well.”

Sita didn’t move. Bankim worried she was asleep, but he couldn’t tell in the dark. Her room was one without windows. What he couldn’t see was her opening her eyes and rolling to her back slowly. She glanced over her shoulder to the door. She knew Bankim stood there, she recognized his voice even though it sounded airy. His shoulder resting against it as if he needed the support. His body was more shadow that color. He looked eerie like that, like foreshadowed death.

“No, I’ll come down.”

“Chand bought [] at the Bazaar,” Bankim added, probably thinking it would entice her.

She froze and considered changing her mind.

“Don’t force yourself,” Bankim said, worried she might be sick again.

Instead she sat up slowly, her covers dropping from her around her chest to her lap.

“When Chand spoke to you this morning, did he say anything about Naji?”

She waited in her bed, her legs straight, stripped a tie from her wrist and twisted her hair into a bun on top of her head. Bankim shifted on his feet then lifted himself off the doorframe. He stepped into Sita’s room, unsure if it was allowed or not, and sat next to her on her bed. She smelled like sugar and roses probably from making the cookies he found on the kitchen counter.

Was it fair for him to tell her about Earth? Did she know about it at all yet?

Bankim cleared his throat, deciding that it wasn’t fair to lie to her. She was Naji’s friend from their youngest of years. He did need to adjust the trust, however, to protect everyone.

The fast that he couldn’t just be honest with her was also why he needed to stop caring about her and keep to himself. Loving someone meant you didn’t lie to them.

“He found evidence–”

“Bodies?”

“Yes.”

Sort of, Bankim left those details out. He didn’t know how to explain that Chand found their dead bodies on an entirely different planet.

FAILED FIRST ATTEMPTS

1) “Come with us,” Tara begged Sita.

Sita rarely returned home anymore. Her old friends didn’t quite understand her new life nor did they know about Bankim or anyone else on that crew. Her sister was a different story. She stopped by weekly. Normally, Sita traveled the Bazaar with her and their three brothers. Tara did know about Bankim just as Sita knew about [Name].

[Name] got [Name] to join us today. You have to come with.” Tara’s voice lengthened, droning into a whine, “I need your support here!””

Maybe not sister?

Normally, Sita would never decline going to the Bazaar with her siblings, but she just saw them at dinner the other night and was expected back for Tara’s birthday celebration tomorrow. It was her last year of study with Nom before she could attend Port el’Reathsen’’s university. The best day of Sita’s life occurred when Nom invited her to room at her shop. “I’m going to prepare a series of [name] elixirs. I can only imagine what wine Dad’s going to purchase for your party.”

Sita did plan on making the elixirs, but she needed Nom’s help. What Sita really hoped to do was get Bankim to escort her to the Bazaar, even if they did have to ask Kalle or Toivo to go with. She planned her excuse with Tara at dinner – she needed of buying her sister a present.

She really did need to buy her sister a birthday present, and she really did prefer the idea of going with someone other than her siblings to do it.

Bankim just wasn’t an early riser.

“I do like my rice cookies,” Tara reminded her sister. Sita gave her the gift every year regardless if she bought her something else or not.

“Yeah, yeah,” Sita calling, waving her sister away. The shop’s spirit bell jingle often annoyed Sita, but they certainly made her happy today as her sister departed. She sighed a calming breath. Sita had the entire shop to herself save for Bankim and Toivo

Sita stood behind Nom’s display case again. She had just pulled out one of the organizers to clean.

WORD COUNT: 1706

# # #

November 18 – Nom’s Shop

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 18@10:47

I need to take note and “see” Nom’s shop.

Nom has bells that jingle whenever someone enters her shop. They’re called Spirit Bells. They’re chime wishes those entering good fortune while for Nom and her assistants the chime means someone needs help.

The store has dark corners for Nom’s Guardians to “hide” in.

Old-fashioned shop to the Lynthian eye with dark wooden fixtures – statutes and carvings.

There’s a staircase – 16 steps to the second floor. It curves like an “L.” Once upstairs, it is seven steps to the first room (in Aara’s time it is an exam room). At one earlier point it is Sita’s bedroom.

Also during Aara’s time, two rooms were patient rooms. One room housed both of Nom’s assistants. Another single room housed her Guardians. And the large room at the end of the hall was her own. I’ll need to review all of this after Nano. I have a new house concept to work through wherein the earlier years Nom and Jaith’s crew will live in a second portion (almost duplex like) that while attached to this main portion is still separated by the greenhouse/garden area.

There’s a bookshelf with herbalist items for purchase, but I’m not clear yet what those items might be. I’m thinking more like mortars and pestles for patrons to take home. There’’s also a display case which housed mainly dried herbs, but she also kept commonly used elixirs in there for purchase. There is a set of simple stools for patrons to sit on near the display case. There is a tray stored on a small shelf underneath the backside of the case.

I think it might be nice for one wall to be a long series of drawers, stacking eight height, each drawer a foot tall, each holding needed herbs, all categorized and intricately organized. Maybe in the kitchen there will be a similar idea but with flour cloth sacks affixed to the wall.

Nom’s shop was different from other Lynthian shops. To save money, Lynthian shop owners shared walls. Nom’s place was a stand alone building. A good portion of the building did not have windows. Daksh purchased this building for Nom and chose these features purposely.

The walls were made of brown stone, which kept the finish looking fresh, clean in the dust and sand of Lynthia. The store’s front room lacked sunlight and was dim despite the number of glowing lanterns.

There is a backroom. A small hinged door separates the two rooms. This is Nom’s kitchen. It is separated into halves – one for food preparation, one for herbalism use.

So I’m thinking that Nom’s house should

Nom had the only consistently flat patio in Lynthia. Many others became victims of sand and storm, but Daksh enclosed Nom’s patio, hidden from Lynthia from every side but up. And the sky was two stories in that direction. She needed it flat to properly grow her plants. Daksh also made sure to protect her plants from the elements by affixing canopies to the building walls to shield the plants like little umbrellas from the harsh sun.

Each on Nom’s systems consisted of piping, a tank, a pump and a manifold. The pump sits inside the tank to push nutrients up to the plants and each growing tube has a drainpipe that leads back to the tank. The manifold sits on top of the pipes and sends pressurized water into the tubes.

Nom rolled up her sleeves. She had a young baduka berry plant to add to her growing tubes. She placed the planted seedling down on one side of her little work counter. She placed her bucket of lukewarm water down on the other side. Then carefully removed the healthiest seedling from its original home and removed as much soil as she could before submerging the root ball in the bucket of water. She gently separated the roots and removed the soil clinging there. Soil was dangerous to her growing tubes. If she missed any, it was possible for the soil to clog holes in her nutrient tubes.

Once the roots were clean, she pulled as many as she could through the bottom of her prepared planting cup and arranged the clay pebbles to hold the plant in place.

She walked over to the growing tubes and found an empty spot in her trellis to place the cup. With her free hand she rummaged through her apron’s pocket and pulled out the single string she had all ready there and tied the plant to the trellis.

When she was done with her new addition she took a moment to inspect all of her plants for signs of pest or disease.

Sita barreled through the kitchen’s side door into the garden for some old fashioned, yummy spearmint. Nom kept five of the plants in single planters, all of which were kept separate from her growing tubes. Apparently, it was an invasive plant that she had a bad experience with. She didn’t even want to keep the species but couldn’t deny that they had medicinal purposes. Sita only knew that someone showed Nom how to best control them. Sita also knew the plant was fantastic for strengthening a weak stomach, which her sister had.

She stepped up onto the small platform that housed Nom’s small worktable. There she washed and transferred new seedlings for the trellis. Across from that was another small worktable that kept the metal bins of spearmint. Sita bounced to that far side, passing over Bankim who was working under the Lynthian sun. She plucked a leaf and tossed it in her mouth to eat then got to work gathering a series more, always taking one and leaving ten.

“Well, aren’t you just all glittery and polished today.”

Sita jumped, startled by the voice that boomed as it echoed off the brownstone walls, even though she immediately recognized that it belonged to Bankim. Her one hand flew to her chest, her fingertip covering the front of her thin throat while the other gripped the table for support as her body recovered from the surprise.

“Whoa,” Bankim laughed.

“Sorry, I didn’t think anyone was out here.”

Or I wouldn’t have pranced to Nom’s mint and shoved a leaf down my throat like a savage, Sita thought to herself.

“I was just tending to Nom’s growing tubes.”

Bankim stretched his back and used the back of his arm to wipe away sweat from his forehead. He had sweat stains in the armpits of his long-sleeved red shirt. He wore his usual high-cut boots and brown pants but exchanged his suspenders for a belt. Sita hated the suspenders, but, at the same time, hated to see him without them. It was a ridiculous problem.

“What about you?”

“Hmm?” Sita asked, suddenly realizing she was staring at his chest. She shook her head and forced herself to pull her eyes away from his body. “Oh, I’’m gathering some spearmint.”

“Making tea?”

“Spearmint water,” she correct and blushed, unsure why she cared that he knew the difference. Bankim slapped his hand together once and brushed away his work on his pants then walked closer to Sita. Her heart fluttered as it usually did whenever he get near. She hated how fluttershy she got around him. She was never like that when they first met, before they ever talked.

“It’s a present for my sister,” Sita babbled on. “It takes a bit to distill the spearmint into the water, but I don’t mind helping her out.”

“Is she sick?” Bankim asked as he stepped up onto the platform with Sita and examined the plants. He picked a leaf, split it in half and smelled its aroma.

“Pregnant.”

Brahman, no. No, no.

How could she left that come out of her mouth?

Sita’s eyes widened then pressed together as tightly as her lips did.

“I didn’t say that,” she whispered in mortification.

The wood under Bankim’s boot creaked. He stepped closer to her. Tara was already in trouble; she hadn’t even told their dad yet because she didn’t know how to break the news to him, and here was Sita spilling secrets. Now a stranger knew before their father ever did. Sita hated herself.

“You did,” Bankim said, his warm hand holding her shoulder tenderly, his breath warm on her neck. She opened her eyes, her lashing fluttering but his face nowhere to be seen in front of her. “But I reckon that I never heard it, too busy sharing how I grew up on a farm.”

He pulled away from her. She shut her eyes one more time slowly, thanking the protective Divine that Jaith taught her about, and found herself indebted to the man she was in love with. At least she kept that secret.

“You grew up on a farm,” she stammered out.

“Yep, very far away from this desert,” he declared, twirling around on his boot heel once he reached the middle of Nom’s patio He steered the conversation to something more comfortable for them to share. Sita relaxed and smiled at him as he threw his arms to the sides as if announcing the patio to be his second home. “I helped care for it until my mom died. Then my dad sold it, sold my cow, my belongings, everything we own.”

“That’s awful!”

“Maybe, got me here, didn’t it?” Bankim said with a shrugged and mischievous grin. “We’d of never have met ifin he didn’t make a right mess of things. You should thank him really.”

“I’ll have you do it for me. Might give him ideas if I just swung by for such a random nicety.”

Bankim scratched his chin. “Ideas aren’t bad things.”

Sita’s face flushed.

“Why do you do that?” she asked, speaking without thought.

Bankim paled. “Excuse me?”

“You saying little things like that, and you act like you care, but I know you’ll act like I don’t exist tonight.

WORD COUNT: 1657

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I think I need my own spearmint water after this vomited word count, but at times this is just what I need – to spew whatever is in my brain out.

Did you catch the My Little Pony reference?

❤ MLPFIM

# # #

November 19 – Lachlan and Tara’s Baby

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 19@11:14pm

Nom and Lachlan (500 words)

Lachlan stepped through the side door that led from the kitchen to Nom’s garden of growing tubes. He no longer wore his dirty commoner shirt. Costume or not, he hated that thing. He preferred the leather vest he wore now. It felt more natural, more like home. Chand – his aunt’’s friend who never aged – bought him the best. They didn’t want him fit into some hand-me-down. Destovl said that Javed’ wouldn’t have given him an ill-fitting armor piece, but Lachlan didn’t trial to become a Lynthian Soldier. Destovl scooted him into a Palace Guard position. Lachlan was overqualified, which meant he needed to be careful. Zef would see to Lachlan’’s demise if he considered him a threat. The last thing Destovl said to him was a warning. Leave the weapon at home when his duty at the Palace started. Lachlan was a master in many weapons, but he didn’t mind dirtying his hands. They were the first weapon he truly trained in.

“It’s done,” he said to Nom, announcing his presence. His aunt worked on the far side of the garden with her choice fruits. Her tomatoes looked brilliantly red.

Between his salary as a Palace Guard and Nom’s stipend his family would live well in this new land. Lachlan stepped off the wooded platform walking a bit cockier than he should have been. He’d have to work on humbling it. He needed to present an air of confidence that didn’’t overstep into Lynthian Soldier arrogance. If he slipped up, a lot of people could get into trouble including Prince Destovl.

Of course, part of his training back in Loches involved not screwing up and how to avoid interrogation if he did.

Nom stopped fussing with her tomatoes as Lachlan stepped into place next to her. She tucked a curl behind her ear and looked up at him. Her hair was as blonde as his was. His entire family looked like an oddity in Lynthia as it mixed with their dark brown hues. At least Lachlan wasn’t as short as his aunt. She stood barely to his shoulder where his new blue leather strap rested.

The first thing his aunt saw was where the leather had improperly twisted when they promoted him into the position. She instantly reached for it and adjusted the small coil.

“Congrats,” she told him as she finished with a slap to the backside of his bicep.

“You sound like you doubted me!” he joked, rubbing his arm.

“If I doubted you would I be preparing a celebratory dinner?”

“I didn’t know you were.”

“Indeed. I already talked to your wife. I’ll be making your favorite, herdsman tart.”

Lachlan’s mouth watered just hearing the name. He’d celebrate by eating more then his fair share of the meal. Tomorrow he’d need to worry about building a layer of trust between himself, the Palace Guards and the Lynthian Soldiers. He wasn’t worried. Nom’s plan would fall into place. Destovl and Chand would help, but they’d never get knowledge like Lachlan could if this plan went well.

Nom’s underground work to save the woman of Lynthia would continue.

Tara’s Baby (500 words)

Big events in our life define who we are.

Tara’s death defined Sita.

Losing Tara hurt. It was agony…a pain she couldn’t even describe to Bankim as he held her against him in her bed. She couldn’t describe it, but she felt it.

It was like…

It was too much.

Like a knife cutting across her flesh, cutting her flesh out from her body.

Losing her sister really hurt.

Bankim’s arm felt thick and heavy around her torso. It felt protective and like everything she ever wanted – just not like this. Sita stared at her room’s far wall, thankful she didn’t have windows to see the moon or the night’s stars, grateful everything was shadowy dark. For whatever reason, Sita didn’t cry when she looked at the black. She just stared. The only light that came into her room slipped under her closed door. A door she never closed until recently. When she actually noticed it, the tears came.

“How am I supposed to continue after such a failure?” She asked Bankim, seriously hoping he had a philosophical answer to help her. I should have recognized the signs. I’m an herbalist. I should have been prepared. She never should have died right in front of me. “I held her, and I lost her.”

How does anyone continue?

“I had the same question after Jaith’s death,” he confessed, “I never wanted to tell you that, tell anyone that, but I think that maybe you don’t continue, maybe you begin a different path.”

He twisted the arm he had his head on and drew strands of Sita’s hair through his fingers. He barely touched her, and she imagined it was awkward to do. It felt nice though.

“Some life changes happen in an instant,” Bankim started, squeezing Sita reassuringly.

“Yeah, you blink, and your sister dies in front of you.”

She wished she didn’t sound so sour for him, but she couldn’t help herself…not then…not yet.

He understood and continued to speak as if he’d never stopped.

“Other changes take time to cultivate and allow it to grow. In the end, you’ll always be different now that your sister died, but you need to figure out what your new normal is.”

Sita closed her eyes, wrapped her hand over Bankim’s and pulled it up to her neck to rest her cheek on. He stopped playing with her hair. She didn’t care. She wanted to sleep. Tomorrow, she could start over. Tomorrow, Mitra’s sun would allow her a fresh outlook. Tonight, she wasn’t ready to figure out her “new normal.”

Bankim kissed the back of her head.

Sita reminded herself that he lost Jaith. Jaith’s death and Tara’s death weren’t exactly the same but, for some things, that was close enough. As much as he tried to keep the crew together, Bankim was fraying. The crew was falling apart. Knowing that wasn’t very encouraging.

“What do you suppose will happen to your niece?”

She didn’t know. Plans might have already been made without her since Nom was at her family home helping her mother care for her newborn niece. She knew that Kalle went out to find a nursing mother to help feed the child. She’d love him for that forever. It probably wasn’’t a comfortable job. He had four names to inquire with, all people Nom suggested. At least he could go without needing anyone to escort him.

Sita shrugged at him, just enough so Bankim knew that she couldn’t answer him without choking up. She just wanted to hold the baby – it was the thought that weighed heaviest on Sita’s mind – but Nom was right in sending her home, Sita needed to pull herself back together.

Part of her was grateful for the order. Sita didn’t feel like she was capable of touching the sister’s flesh and blood right yet, she didn’t know that though until she laid in bed with Bankim. Sita didn’t want the baby picking up on her emotional state. She was determined to join them tomorrow, determined to hold the baby for the first time.

“What if we took her in,” Bankim asked Sita, his voice sounding sleepy.

Sita answered him without evening first considering his suggestion. “You have the crew.”

He didn’t. He was moving on. He needed to secure homes or work for Toivo and Kalle, but he was moving on. He wanted a home quieter than Chand’s in the hills but still within a city. Sita didn’t know that he’d found it.

She could embrace her sister’s memory there.

Ghost Hole

“I’m scared.” Sita fingers tightened around Bankim’s hand. ““But I’m super excited. I just want my niece, but reality’s setting in.”

Reality really wasn’t setting in. Everything was still surreal to Sita until she saw the handsome design of her family home. Its round roof shaded on the side she approached from, the tall entry tower with its stucco ornamental over raw brick gave the impression of luxury without the added expense. Everything her family had, that her father gave to them came from decisions of compromise.

Sita walked through the entry into the transitional space. Here the house redirected them from the Lynthian streets and orientated them to the true natural of the living space. The home’s thick massive walls kept the heat of Mitra’s sun out, and the wind chaser chased the coolness of the night around as if it was lost in a confusing maze.

Sita released Bankim’s hand in the transitional hall and called out to her mother.

“We’re in the garden,” she returned.

Birth is a brutal miracle. It’s brutal to watch but it’s amazing.

Life is powerful, more powerful than death.

I didn’t think it was possible to love something so much in an instant.

Zingle (500 words)

How fast can you change the world? In twenty-four hours, Zingle has changed a single act of kindness into a snowball of giving that continues to grow. As the season of marketing, sales and spending heats up, Zingle is preparing to give back to families in the communities of Oak Creek, Racine and Kenosha.

Why?

At a time when people are hoping for the miracle of Christmas, Zingle is pulling it off.

WORD COUNT: 1566

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November 20 – Birth is a Brutal Miracle

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 21@11:21

KEWL TIME!

Milani pinched the speck of Earthen glass between her thumb and forefinger, turning the piece so that it caught the light in its iridescent patina. What was once broken trash cultivated itself into newfound beauty. It reminded Milani that while everyone praised the sun god, she loved the moon god.

Chand had the glass mounted onto a central disk which then had gold vermeil wire encircling it.

“Like the planets encircle each other, the moons and the suns,” he told her.

She opened the necklace’s clasp and put the jewelry back around her neck, gently touching where the excavated beauty of Chand’s home planet graced her skin, near her heart.

She missed her husband.

“Mom!”

Aamin’s shouted carried undertones of terror that she heard from her son only one other time – when the sheep were attacked and killed.

“Mom!”

His voice cracked.

Milani’s head shot up. Aamin darted from the around the back of their homestead, near the cliffside.

Liana and Hafeez were no longer with him. Milani pressed one hand against her thigh and the other against the ground as she scrambled to her feet as quickly as she could. She didn’t even get out “where’s your brother.”

“Liana’s leg is caught in a trap!”

“What?”

“What”…it was a word of reactionary disbelief. Milani knew exactly what Aamin said. She even watched him run to the homestead shed for tools, C clamps. He’d been with Chand before when they had to release another villager. She loved her boy. He memorized survival tactics and procedure without any effort.

Then it was like lightning hit her heart. The organ went from peacefully beating to thumping so hard Milani felt it in her throat. “Where’s Hafeez?”

“Village…I told him to get more help.”

“Liana’s alone?”

“She’s not going anywhere,” he shouted, sounding irritated.

Milani slowed her run a beat – who taught her boys to be such smart asses – then ran into the house for clean water and towels.

Milani and Aamin merged as she ran out of the house with her hands full.

“What kind of trap?” she asked her boy so she could be mentally prepared when she got to Liana.

“H’tushan.”

Almost as bad as a bear trap.

Then, as if things couldn’t get worse, Milani felt the first drop of rain hit her bare forehead. As the rain picked up, the soil and the path became muddy, each step slippery. Milani hoped a villager brought blankets. She was dumb to not have.

They ran through a series of trees in the forest then down a small embankment.

“Careful,” Aamin warned his mother as he pointed to a rock the size of a sheep’s head. “Don’t step on that for footing. It’s not stable.”

Milani said nothing, just avoided the stone. Her feet accepted the ground at an angle, with each step it slipped down the hill. Mud swooshed between her sandal and bare foot. All around them the rain hit the forest’s leaves. It popped and crackled, but protected them to an extent. When they were down the hill Aamin’s swerved left. In the distance Milani saw familiar faces. Both groups ran in the same direction. Milani tried to calculate where they’d converge.

Then she saw Liana, lifeless on the ground. Her body twisted and contorted in unnatural angles.

And coming up the wrong side – behind Liana’s crumpled body – was a H’tushan. A Hunter, that kind that wore soft clothing colored with mixes of brown and green to blend into the forest. The kind that ate whatever landed in its trap because in a world of survival…food was food.

The H’tushan Hunter slipped the bow and arrow from its back, expertly placed the arrow on the arrow rest and opened her stance to draw.

Milani screamed, her pace picking up and kicked mud behind her as she broke into a run. Every other step slipped and she had to catch herself. The Hunter ignored the screams, as she was trained to do. Milani screamed again, holding both hands out in from of her in a universal sign of stop and peace. She had no weapon. She came with water and towels that now existed somewhere in the forest. Villagers shouted, mostly men. Warnings. Threats. The women sounded like they cried.

The H’tushan took aim at the small unconscious but not dead child. She’d never feel her death. The arrow would pierce her brain. The H’tushan would behead her. They never cared to eat that part. There’d be nothing left to even bury.

And Atman would fall extinct, failing to thrive before it even got the chance.

Milani wished Chand was with her to help. She thought of him, of her boys and of the little girl she vowed to protect then barreled her shoulder into the Hunter. Milani became the enemy. She knew she’d have to fight for her life now. Hunters never surrendered. They never accepted defeat.

As Milani hit her, the Hunter grunted in pain, all of the air in her lungs expelled free with one swift blow. At her back, she heard her little Hafeez panicking. Aamin’s footsteps slowed to a stop with a short set of quick beat, four steps per side then he was at Liana’s side to work her leg free. Aamin shouted orders at Hafeez to keep him focused, safe and calm. Milani took her advantage and kneed the hunter’s body twice before attempting to wrap her arm around the woman’s neck. The Hunter hooked a punch into Milani’’s kidney.

It was like time stopped.

But only for Milani.

Her body burned in pain and should have doubled over.

That’s a body shot, she thought remembered a conversation she’d had with Chand months back. That’s a body shot, and it really hurts.

Then time started again, and the Hunter’s punched landed crookedly on Milani’s face. The pain was there, she felt it all before it somehow all became background material to the more important issue of figuring out her positioning in the world.

Milani found herself on her hands and knees like a kicked dog. She coughed as her body attempted to find more oxygen from anywhere in order to remain awake. Blood spilled from her face and pooled on the ground between her hands. She blinked in slow motion and watched the pool grow as two drips fell like drool.

The world spinned around her, everything disorientating.

Then a boot connected with her face in the same spot as the unbalanced punch hit. Milani felt the cold ground against her oozing cheek and bare neck. Every breath and the ability to keep her eyes open was a fight in itself. She finally heard the voices of village men, but they were muffled in her ears. She felt the action around her from the vibrations on the ground below her. She heard the woman crying as Aamin opened the trap and freed Liana, heard the instructions between the women about what to care for first.

Finally, Milani felt her Earthen glass necklace around her middle finger and ring finger. The gold chain was twisted around the top knuckle of those fingers, broken and torn off from her neck.

If she could have, Milani would have cried at the jewelry’s destruction.

But she didn’t have the chance.

A heavy boot stepped on the middle of her back, pressing Milani’s spine. A dirt encrusted hand slide across Milani’s forehead and pulled it backward. When that hand slipped, it switched to pulling Milani’s bangs so that it could expose as much of her throat as possible. The position choked off Milani’s airway, and she grunted for air until a cut blade slit across her thinly skinned throat burning the flesh open and bubbling up blood that finished off the job.

The ring covered Sita’s middle knuckle. It looked like a vivid blooming petal flower but was actually an intricate set of beads linked to form the design over an elastic so soft the ring felt like an extension of herself. The merchant assisting Sita wore ten, one for each of her knuckles. Her hands looked like gardens.

Sita loved the plain red one, but she knew Tara would enjoy the flower with the mixed blue and green leaves. She only had enough to buy her sister one. Bankim waited patiently next to her and offered to make the purchase for her since Lynthian women were not allowed to buy jewelry. Raj or their father would have to have to formally gift Tara the present for Sita, but thankfully neither man cared the Sita bought the gift nor did they mind helping the gift transfer from one owner to the next.

Sita sat on the boat studying her flower ring. The ring she bought her sister for her birthday not even a year ago. At her feet, wrapped and swaddled in two thick blankets rested Tara’s baby. She napped after a fussing morning. When the sun hit the day’s high mark, the boat would leave, traveling over the pond for Loches, and her new life with Bankim.

WORD COUNT: 1515

AUTHOR’S NOTE: So as I decided to research traps (including bear trap) and snares I came across a video of a guy (in a radio studio I believe) who recorded himself punching a bear trap.

Who does that?!

Regardless of the answer – thank you crazy guy for allowing me to see first hand how insane you are and how gross it was. I was going to write that portion of scene tonight (11/21) but have decided to take the day off and enjoy my LION KING DAY (seeing it on Broadway – can’’t wait).

On a different note, some of the objects described were purchasable in a catalog I received in the mail. They were beautiful. One never knows what might come about or happen upon that strikes a writer’s fancy (make sure you write about it!)

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November 22 – Puppeteering

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 22@9:45p

I’m not sure where I might place this but while watching the Lion King I thought the puppeteering of the flying birds would make a fun kid’s toy somewhere in Atala.

Also, what if she stole the baby/wasn’t granted permission to leave with Tira?

Sita passed over the final bridge that connected the political hub of Port el’Reathsen to the harbor. The Port area had aged since her first visit at age five. Her family vacationed while her father sold his first toy. It was the beginning of his toy making business that expanded beyond the reaches of this simple crescent harbor. Sita and Bankim walked the same path her father always took when he came to Port el’Reathsen and would travel to Loches on the same boat he traveled on. Over the years, the boat’s captain, Judge, became good friends with the family. Sita’s father paid him to take the new family to Loches. Nom paid the fare for her niece to return to Lynthia.

The salt of the water permeated the harbor air, mixed with it came fish and rot as they got near the boat slips.

Children still played with his kite birds, whipping the falcons around by twisting the bamboo rods each held, the line rig on each at varying lengths. He wanted to leave a mark on the world, to enhance the lives of children…and he did.

Most importantly, her own life.

She carried her sister’s baby, swaddled in two blankets – a thinner one and a thicker one that could be removed when the day warmed up. Tira slept as Sita walked her to her new life. The family chose the baby’s name together since they didn’t know what Tara picked, or even if she had picked out a name. They wanted to honor the child’s mother while at the same time giving the baby its own fate. Tira – a name of an angel – seemed appropriate.

To her left was the last herbalism shop Sita would see until she reached Loches with Bankim. The new family had stopped the previous night to stock their own kit as well as purchase requested herbs and elixirs for Sita to deliver to Safreen when they reached Loches. Sita’s round trip ticket would be filled by Lachlan’s sister.

Loches was a small island known for its weapon masters. Its natural defensive wall of water gave the land affluence. Sita understood from Nom that its town square – translated from ancient Lochen tongue to Lynthian – was named Diamond. It was a small, quiet town with a large and lively heart.

Sita and Bankim entered Loches thought they would enter Loches at its lowest bridgeable point in the River Lore. [] anchored his boat early and prepared a crewmate to row them to shore on a secondary boat. After light flickered them warning from what looked to be a moss covered wall with a steepled lookout tower.

“This is it; you have to row in.”

Bankim’s pacing started when he heard the first metal on metal clanked of the anchor’s movement. “Why can’t you bring us in closer?”

“Sloth is going to find out when he gets to shore with you. Whatever happened, the river is impassable.”

“We have a baby.”

“Tough luck, mate. At least, you’re not swimming.” [] nodded toward the row boat. “I suggest not waiting until morning; it’s expected to rain and the night’s chill will only be getting worse.”

Bankim sighed, shoving his hands on his hips and looking out over the Lochen waters that flowed with a rough chop. Sita bit her lip, hugging Tira close to her chest, and stepped up to Bankim.

“Let’s just go. The sooner we get into town, the sooner we get warm.”

Bankim turned back to []. “What about our return trip?”

“I told you I’d wait for three days, didn’t I?”

“I’m not worry about how long you’ll wait, how will we get to you?”

“Sloth has been ordered to remain on land. You can return or that other girl can return, I don’t care. Sloth will bring you in and the trip will complete back at Port el’Reathsen as planned.”

“And if you can get into River Lore?”

“Then we’ll get in.”

Judge’s crew carried Sita and Bankim’s luggage up from under deck and loaded with rowboat without expectation the two would leave.

Sloth rowed until the water shallowed out and tugging the boat to shore made better sense.

Bankim stirred and hopped out of the boat to help Sloth. Goosebumps marked his arms where his sleeves didn’t cover the skin. Both men’s teeth started shuttering half way to shore. Tira wailed stopped as the men broke the water.

The wood ground against the sand of the beach. Sita offered Bankim the baby so that she could climb out of the boat as she worried that her legs would be unsteady.

“We’ll need to head there,” Sloth said, pointing to an archway cut directly under the hill’s tower. Its entry looked a handless black door from where they stood, but without it entrance into the city – other than to climb – looked impossible. Even getting to that meant a climb. Sita would have to be careful with the baby.

Sloth separated off in the city center to momentarily check on…

Bankim walked Sita through the Downhill Forest until the reached a modest round house with a cone-shaped thatched roof that covered all walls of the home save for the entry door. A strange hidden lake peeked through the trees at the home’s backside, and a glorious tended garden grew to its south side. Sita was unsure what the home’s composite to be, but it had definitely been whitewashed to withstand the rain known to the area. The home looked unlike anything found in Lynthia, and she was certain that alone was the reason she instantly fell in love with it. And her step quickened.

Sloth dropped the handles of the creaky cart of luggage. He sat down next to a wheel and allowed the family to continue on without him.

As they drew close, Bankim gently pulled at Sita’s bicep, his grip never closing. She walked through his touch before realizing he stopped. She did the same, her eyes lingering on her new home a moment longer before looking back at him.

“It’s not what you’re used to,” he said. When Sita first met Bankim she saw nothing but confidence. Then Jaith died, and his confidence faltered. Since that moment she’d been able to tell when he let his guard down, even when he tried to hide it. This was one of those times.

“I don’t want everything that I’m used to,” she told him, shifting the baby’s weight in her arms. “I just walked away from my family with a newborn baby into a different land. I don’t expect anything from here on out to be something that I’’m used to. I know everything from here on out will be a battle until I make it comfortable, until I make it my own.”

Bankim’s mouth opened, his face looking bewildered…then he laughed. “And here I thought you were a spoiled brat.”

“I am…how many people do you know just look at a house like this then claim it as their own? I’m plenty greedy and selfish.””

“Fair enough,” Bankim said, his face dropping down to look at the ground, and stepped forward again. Sita turned, excited to see the inside of the house.

It was quite dark inside the round house with most of the light coming from the doorway. A fireplace had been built in the center of the house. Sita assumed that would provide the home with light during the evening hours. She’d definitely miss Lynthian lanterns.

“I’ve never cooked over an open fire,” she admitted to Bankim.

He shrugged as he looked around the house. “I have.”

At one corner of the house waited four baskets of varying sizes. The largest one being the most decorative.

“We’ll have to make beds,” Bankim said, sounding disappointed, “and I’ll have to train you so you know how to protect yourself.”

Sita glanced back at the door. There was no lock. It was little more than a slab of leather. It is weren’t for their remote location, they’d have to worry about thieves. Sloth peeked in, carrying the first of their luggage items. ““There’s a guy in town that I know who could probably help you out with the beds. He’d probably even has a crib you can buy for tonight.”

Bankim walked over to the door and took the packs Sloth carried. “Great, mind if we stop when we get dinner fixings?”

Sloth nodded, turned to get more of their things.

“I hope you save whatever money Judge sent you with and spend the night with us instead.”

Sita noticed a wattle wall that seemed to portion off part of the house. “What’s this?”

Bankim looked up from unpacking the first of their things. “Animal pen.”

“Animals?”

“Yes.”

“In the house?”

“Yes. This isn’t Lynthia. There are some serious wild animals out here. That’s why there’s a fence and ditch.”

Bankim placed his new property’s land layout and the house design on the table, slipped the work around to face Toivo and Kalle, and slide it over to them.

“Where is this?” Kalle asked, picking up the paper first.

“Loches.”

Toivo sat back ignoring the paper and slammed the heel of his boot on the top of Bankim’s empty seat then crossed his hands over his chest. His face soured noticeably under his close-shaved goatee. “But you’re bringing some baby kid with yous?”

Kalle snorted to himself, mumbling “baby kid” under his breath. “She’s not a goat.”

“Look, I’m done with this conning and kidnapping, helpful or no. I’ve asked Sita to join with me and start a new life. I’’m inviting you guy to join us, ifin you’d like, but by no means figure you have to. We’re just a crew. This is an out if you want it.”

“I can’t go to Port el’Reathsen,” Kalle reminded Bankim, not closed off to his idea.

“There’s other ways.”

“They’re dangerous.”

Kalle knew about the “other ways.” He knew about a lot of other ways since the officials in the Port deemed him a murderer.”

Toivo dropped his boots back to the floor then twisted his back away from Kalle as if deciding maybe it wasn’t safe. “What did you do in the Port wherein the all angry at you and stuff?”

“I killed my sister,” Kalle said matter-of-factly, not looking up from Bankim’s work.

“Liar,” Toivo huffed, uncrossing his arms.”

Kalle lowered the paper slowly, watching Toivo stand and stomp around the room. He wasn’t surprised by Toivo’s reaction. It was common for anyone coming from a lower social class to misunderstand the simplicity of killing a human. They always thought the only usual devices to accomplish such work were fists and weapons. Kalle never felt the need to justify himself to people like Toivo. His twin was terminally ill. He knew about to help Kalla die with dignity. It was his sister’s last request.

The Port didn’t see it the same way they did. Neither did their parents.

“We’ll get you in Kalle if you want to join us,” Bankim said, understanding on his face. “You won’t have to worry about running anymore.”

WORD COUNT: 1903

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Look at all this crap I wrote before I got to any real character interaction (if you can call it that). Meh…not a good writing day, but I think some of this can be salvaged later. I shouldn’t complain, I spent most of the day sick in bed with a migraine, and (for whatever reason) I ended up with visuals that I wanted to note so that I didn’t forget them. Maybe it also has to do with how unlayered a visual is vs. working in character interaction and depth.

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November 23 – Shared Property

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 23@11:37p

I need to change up the setting of Bankim and Sita’s home in Loches. I wanted to include a very traumatic scene for Sita, but I do not want the action to be carried out by Bankim. So, I decided there needs to be a shared homestead where three families own a shared piece of property.

Sita held Bankim’s hand for the first time as a couple on their return home from dinner. They ate at a restaurant offering the best of local fare within the heart of the city – the town square everyone called Diamond. It was their first night alone since coming to Loches. Sita finally felt secure enough to leave Tira with their neighbor Aisling. The older woman was fond of the baby.

“Are you comfortable with the fact that I’ve told everyone Tira is our baby?” Sita asked, rocking their hands back and forth through the air. She felt the freedom she always searched for in Lynthia. She felt the way she believed many teenagers felt in the Port.

“It’s better they think that,” Bankim said after a pause. “I don’’t need them asking questions. They’re a simple folk. We’re a simple folk. Ain’t no one coming looking for us that way.””

“I like it that way too.”

Bankim turned his head, looking over at Sita. He walked the path of a fairy tale…all because this woman touched his arm and told him that he didn’t need to be alone.

He believed her.

As they approached their nook, Bankim pulled Sita back. The fireflies danced throughout the garden. He’d capture a few, just for tonight, to use like a nightlight so he could watch his new family sleep.

“There’s more tonight than last night,” Bankim said with a nod.

“They know who grows the best flowers.”

Sita giggled.

It’d be the last time he heard it.

[NAME] and [NAME]’s homestead was pitch black. The couple normally went to sleep early and rose with the sun. They had no children and liked their very scheduled lifestyle.

As expected Aisling and Calbhach’s homestead was aglow.

“Is that Sadie?”

A small shadow with characteristic pigtails knelt between the fruits and vegetables. She stood then knelt. She walked away and returned.

“What is she doing?”

“Let’s find out.”

The two hasted their step, snapping branches and crunching leaves without a second thought. The noise caught Sadie’s interest. Her entire body twirled to the sound, stood and ran for them. She yelled, her voice raw.

Her words faded in and out.

“What is she saying?” Sita asked, her face dropping and instinctual panic kicking in.

Bankim released Sita’s hand. Sadie ran too fast and hard to ever stop herself. He grabbed her as she plowed into him and picked her up. Her legs wrapped around him, not on purpose, but because of the inertia she built up.

“You have to save them!”

Curling screams ripped the peace of the night air.

Aisling and Calb’s door flew open.

“Calb! Don’t!” Sita heard her neighbor’s plea clearly. A thunk followed. A cry – unmistakably Tira’s – screeched into the night. A scream unlike anything Sita ever heard before.

Sita’s scream matched it. “Tira!”

“Daddy’s sick again,” Sadie said to Bankim as she thrashed in his arms. She wanted down so Bankim was free to fix everything that was going wrong.

Bankim took Sadie by the armpits and put her down. “What do you mean sick?”

“He’s seeing things.”

“What kinds of things?”

“He’s calling the baby a bastard. He says he smells its evil.”

Bankim pressed on Sadie’s shoulder, pushing her to the ground, wanting her to sit. “Stay here.”

Sita was nearly at the homestead. Her hair and skirts flapped behind her as she ran until a body pummeled from inside through the door, and Aisling fell head over her heels onto the stone stepping porch. Bankim heard bones cracking from his distance, but the woman never stopped moving. She rolled and pulled herself up onto her hands and knees, her right hand reaching into her home vainly. Sita hair flew into her face as her body stuttered to an immediate standstill. Bankim never saw Sita freeze the way she did.

Aisling screamed, her right hand still in the air and her body fell back onto her heels. She looked like she begged for her life.

She pled for a life.

“Please Calb…please! She’s not a doll!”

Bankim recognized Tira’s cry from the walkway up to the protective ditch. It came across with undertones of pain. Bankim kicked the gate open as Aisling and Calb continued fighting, arguing with his arms raised above his head as he walked out from the home. Tira’s wails came from the small dark silhouette held between his hands.

“You allowed sin into our homestead!” Calb hollered at him wife, his back bending over. His uncontrolled temper shook. “This cleansing is your fault!””

 

Before Bankim could reach him, Calb lowered his arms, slamming the small possession he held down against the ground.

Tira’s cries stopped.

Sita’s heart felt too big for her chest. Its beat slowed, wobbled like the organ failed.

“My baby!”

She ran, faltering with every step. The world around her lost and gone. “My baby! He killed my baby!”

Her shrieks broke their third neighbor’s slumber. Bankim ran across Sita and tackled Calb, knocking him to the ground, and wrapped his hands around the man’s neck. He slammed the man’s head against the ground decisively. He slammed it a second time then punched him. Aisling moaned, begging him to stop the same way Sita’s whimpered for Tira’s life.

Sita feared walking any closer, fearing seeing her dead niece, feared seeing the possibility that the baby still lived after the trauma she’d been through. Sita feared knowing the answer.

“The homestead’s on fire!” [NAME]’s voice screamed from her doorway. Her husband ran for Bankim, who had just pulled his knife from his belt. Calb no longer resisted. Bankim didn’t care. He grabbed Calb by the top of his head opened his neck and slit it deep and wide seconds before [NAME] attacked him from the back. Bankim grunted from the hit. He rolled with the man but recovered his bearings quick enough to turn and punch him once across the face, leaving the older gentleman bleeding and in shock.

Behind him, the thatched roof of the homestead blazed. A child’s screams could be heard inside. Sadie’s sister. Bankim huffed air, trying to catch his breath as Sita scooped up her sister’s baby’s body and cradled it in her arms. The best night of his life had been destroyed in a split second. His life destroyed.

He looked across the yard, Sadie waited where Bankim told her to. Everyone’s life was destroyed on this night. Sadie was the only one not completely affected by the horrors of the night yet. The only one cognizant of the danger everyone was still in. Aisling suffered broken bones. Bankim made her a widow. If she moved from the homestead’’s welcoming rock, it would have to be done with help. She’d take months to heal. Sita rocked on her knees, her face buried in Tira’s body. When Tara died the girl fractured, just as Bankim fractured when Jaith died. If it hadn’’t been for Tira, she’d have scattered completely. Bankim wasn’t sure how she’d ever survive this.

Sadie screamed for her sister.

“Sarah!”

Bankim had forgotten about the screams from inside the home. The roof wasn’t meant to take on heat like this. If Sarah stayed in there, she’d be crushed when the rood gave way and caved in.

Bankim looked down at the blood covering his hands – he was a demon – but he wasn’t the one how set the homestead on fire. Calb did.

Bankim looked at Sadie once more, faithful Sadie who never moved. He looked at Sita then Aisling.

“You need to move from here,” he told her then rushed into the burning home for Sarah.

The heat inside was unbearable. Smoke filled the room but circled around the ceiling as it did when they cooked. The longer the fire burned the lower the smoke fell. Bankim heard Sarah’s cries. He could tell that she struggled for air. It didn’t take long for him to start coughing and fall to his knees. When he found her, she was curled into a ball along a side of the homestead. Flames dripped down from the roof around her. Bankim grabbed her by her arm and pulled her to him, smothering where flame caught her hair as he moved her. He wrapped himself around her and slapped out spots of fire on his shirt.

“You have to crawl forward,” he shouted, as well as he could, and pushed her forward with his body as he pawed through the thick smoke. His chest burned and he felt his eyelashes disintegrating. The wood above them creaked and a portion of the thatch fell into the homestead. It landed across the room from them. “Go fast!”

The largest creaking came as they passed a roof post. Cinders fell from above and landed on Sarah. She screamed in pain as her hair caught on fire. Bankim wrapped himself around her and used his weight to push her to the dirt floor. He covered her face with his right arm and beat the fire away with his left. She’d need medical attention if they—-

A loud groan warned Bankim of his impending death, and the roof post toppled down onto them. The pole’s weight forced Bankim down on Sarah. The heavy wood crushed his lower spine. His legs no longer existed. Sarah shrieked. Bankim tried lifting himself.

“I’m stuck,” he told her between her panicked cries for her mom. “You have to go.”

It was like she didn’t hear him.

“You have to pull yourself out of here!”

He screamed at her before a small clean hand took a hold of Sarah’s soot covered hand. Sadie locked eyes with Bankim and pulled her sister out from under him.

“I’m sorry,” she said as her sister scampered to freedom.

“I’m sorry too,” he told her as she turned and left him behind.

So much for his fairy tale.

Sita sat in her empty homestead and finished her letter to her family.

Her gods would punish her for her choices but not before she punished herself.

She had been fortunate to find the Cadaver Bugs in the wood pile Aisling family brought to rebuild her home. Sita’s elixir wasn’t hard to make. She suffer for three days with a fever and nightmarish hallucinations before her body gave out.

She’d meet Judgment and be sent to a lesser world to prove herself worthy of making better choices. If she was lucky, she wouldn’t see her sister. She was ready to accept her fate, the shame she felt on Atala prepared her for what lay ahead.

WORD COUNT: 1817

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November 24 – Myth of the Stork

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 24@10:24p

Jaith slept on Earth’s beach, as he like to do when waiting for those returning to Earth for Judgment. Every single one made enough racket to wake him. He wasn’t worried about missing anyone. None of the Divine ever came looking anyway.

Today was different.

Jaith rubbed his eyes and the skin around them. His neck felt stiff from sleeping on an unnoticed lump of sand, and he groaned a little as he sat up.

In the air above him flew a pristine white bird with its neck outstretched and his legs dangling. It seemed to soar on the warm air currents as its board wings flapped only on occasion. It carried a bundle within its red beak.

The huge bird landed with a confident grace then walked slowly and steadily toward Jaith. With both bird and man on their feet the stork stood at Jaith’s beltline. It carried a baby but not a newborn. The little girl appeared to be approaching her first birthday. It was ready to climb out of its cloth carrying sling. She cooed, forming mimicked speech and performing basic communication skills to catch Jaith’s attention.

The stork carefully placed the baby on the stand and dropped the cloth from its beck before shaking its long slender neck and puffing out its white feathers. Jaith watched its profound beauty thinking about how Atalans had the myth of the stork wrong. They loved to believe the majestic bird brought families the gift of new life when, in fact, it carried a dead baby to its afterlife and Judgment.

“Doesn’t seem fair really,” he said to the bird, unsure if Earthen storks understood language or not. “The Divine don’t force a human this young to swim in to shore for Judgment. It cannot speak to defend itself there. Yet, they allowed someone so small, who had barely begun to live, the ability to die.”

Jaith shook his head. “I’ll never understand it.”

The stork liked its beak into the air shaking it up and down as if to agree when really it just wanted a fish to eat.

“Going to have to fetch it yourself, my friend,” Jaith said to it as he picked up the crawling baby. “I have an unexpected journey to make.””

As Jaith walked away the stork bill-chattered. The water remained calm until Jaith rounded its far bend. The first sign of lashing burst through the water as was the typical response for newcomers. The bald head indicated a middle-aged male. Jaith didn’t know him but hoped his Judgment Ceremony proceeded on a fair and just path.

As Jaith stepped from sandy soil into the shrub vegetation, another round of newcomer water lashing began. Jaith always turned back to the water to see if he recognized the newcomer. He didn’t know when each of his old friends would return to Earth, but it was his job to gather them all before the one named Gabe arrived.

The newcomer emerged with his back to Jaith showing only his short cut, sandy brown hair. The man’s shirt was dark, but that didn’t mean anything since all dark clothing looked black when wet. What caught Jaith’s attention was the set of suspenders hanging over the man’s shoulders.

“Ban!”

Jaith knew his friend didn’t hear him. No one thought to listen for help. They all are just trying to stay alive…funny idea for being dead. Jaith remembered his emergence from the water. He knew what to expect and even he heard anything but roaring water and his heart beating in his ears.

The bald man had gained his bearing and swam for the shore. No matter what point the newcomer picked the course took them all to the shore line where they collapsed from exhaustion, usually for three days. Jaith let him go, watched him crawl out of the water and crumple into a sleeping ball.

Bankim would be a different story.

He chose to swim a course to the shore that would bring him to an end point closer to Jaith. Jaith took his time returning to the beach. The swim normally took ten minutes once the newcomer picked their path. The baby in Jaith’s arms fussed. There was a reason Jaith left the babies to his brother. Vex had a knack for the things.

Like the bald man, Bankim crawled out of the water and crumpled on the beach. He dropped onto his stomach where he coughed multiple times in a row, working something out of his lungs. Unlike the bald man, Bankim didn’t allow his body to sleep. His left hand dragged in the sand from his side until it aligned in height with his shoulder. From there, Bankim pushed himself up and rolled over onto his side. Another coughing fit began.

He landed onto his back and stared up at the sky, his chest spasming now and then.

Jaith sat down next to his friend and placed the baby on the sand between them.

“Were you ready?” Jaith asked him, wrapping his arms around his bent knees.

The baby cooed, rocked on her knees then crawled toward Bankim with a petite and very clear “Dada” coming from her lips. Jaith raised a brow.

“Is this one yours?” His voice rose with the question, uncertain how he felt about his friend’s reproduction.

Bankim whipped the flat of his palm over his mouth, brushing sand off his lips.

“Sort of.” He smiled when he answered, a break of relief painting his face. “How many other are there?” His question came with a newfound energy. Jaith’s friend sat up and scooped the baby onto his lap. The child fingered his mouth, and Bankim played with it.

Jaith said nothing.

Bankim talked to the baby, cooed when it did, pretended to bite her fingers.

“A bald man,” Jaith finally answered, his annoyance level high.

“That’s it?”

“Who else are you expecting?”

Bankim’s nose crunched up. “That’s it.”

For a while, Ban ignored Jaith, concentrating his attention on the baby.

“What the naraka, Ban. I die and what happens to you?”

“A lot…you missed a lot.”

Bankim picked up the baby and adjusted her to face Jaith.

“I don’t want to see it.”

“This is Tira. She’s Sita’s niece and that bald man killed her. He lifted her above his head then threw her body hard against concrete.””

“Life is a struggle.”

“Some consider it a gift.”

“So is sitting here with me, and we’re wasting it on boring conversation. Let’s go.”

Jaith climbed his feet and slapped off sand. Bankim joined him, lifting himself up with one hand while holding Tira. Bankim knew that leaving Calb behind meant the man would amble his way into the heart of Earth. A Divine Lord would pick him up and prepare him for his Judgment. Bankim couldn’t imagine the Divine allowing him to stay on Earth. He’’s be sent to Vitala where there is no sunlight and the darkness is dissipated by shining metals. The same place Bankim was sure his Judgment would send him. Until then, he’d enjoy the moments he had with Tira.

“Should we make our way to Trigger’s?”

Bankim had nearly forgotten about his friend until his mind wandered to the Judgment Ceremonies. Bankim couldn’t imagine the Divine sending Trigger away. The man was too kind hearted for his own good.

“No, although I’m sure he’ll be excited to see you. We need to see my brother.”

“Vex?”

“Yeah, and it’s a long walk.”

Safreen glided by the Guardian known as Kalle, placed her signature tea on the table and took a seat next to Lachlan. Without qualm, Safreen eyed Kalle. He was definitely a handful of years older than Lachlan. His brown hair had red hues, but one could only tell when the light reflected just so. He tried to hide the color by dying the hair black to blend in with the Lynthians. He didn’t think dye his eyebrows. Safreen watched him carefully. She didn’t trust him.

He liked to dress well…too well for his stature, which told Safreen that he merely played the part of Guardian because he had to.

But why was that?

Lachlan sat at the kitchen table in the chair closest to Safreen. He took his pasta meal with a fork. He liked forks. All Lochens did. They made good weapons, but so did the new dagger hanging about his waist.

Staring at Nom blankly as she explained her vision was the herbalist’s second Guardian Toivo. He was the one everyone told Safreen to watch. They were fools. The man had seedy tendencies, but he was a mama’s boy. Safreen could tell by the way he brushed his teeth and covered his mouth when he burped, even if he never excused himself.

Safreen’s aunt slowly walked the perimeter of her secondary house. The one she used for storage until recently. “I think we should prepare this half of the home for twelve students.”

They’d have to do the construction on their own. Supply gathering would be just as difficult even if the wood could be taken from the lagoon’s palm trees.

“I’ll take in a large set to train, as if picking the best of the best to train as assistants. I’m done with the in for a time, out for university students. I need a solid set I can trust. Safreen will make a great cover. She already has wildcrafting and herbalism knowledge. I’ll look in earnest for another while housing a mother and daughter to move out of Lynthia.”

“It’s not going to work,” Safreen chimed in from the table. Her voice soft and sing-song like.

“You sure are depressing for someone who sounds all angelic ‘n stuff,” Toivo grumbled from the table across from her.

Safreen rolled her eyes. “You should separate the students. Women are nosy. You should split the unnecessary girls into this room with me, and you should keep the ones you’re trying to protect in the other half of the house by you.””

“Patients could go into both sides,” Kalle added from where he stood at the door.

Nom slipped her hands over the curves of her waist, eyes looking at the ceiling as she considered the idea. Her chin shifted just slightly to the left, and she nodded. “Good point.”

WORD COUNT: 1718

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November 25 (Happy BDay to Me!) – Blue Tongue

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 25 @9:30pm

“I dare you to eat one,” Destovl challenged Kartan.

Kartan, however, ignored him and continued playing marbles with Javed near the wood pile.

“You eat one,” Javed said offhandedly to Destovl, eyeing up his shot. Overhead, a training falcon kak-kak-kak’d. The boys had an hour before their mothers called them in to wash for dinner. Everyone looked forward to the night’s feast. Uncle Samir and his herbalist, Nom, were in town with little Parisa to celebrate Aara’s birthday. The youngest royal child loved to indulge in her sweets. Destovl did too, but he wouldn’’t get yelled at tonight for eating them all.

“I already ate one,” Destovl told Javed proudly, sticking out his tongue to reveal his blue tongue.

Javed sat back on his heels and looked over at Destovl with his eyes squinting against Mitra’s sunlight, but he was really narrowing his eyes at Kartan’s brother. “Why on Atala did you do that?”

“Zand dared me to,” Destovl said as if everyone knew should have known about his accomplished feat.

“They make you sick.”

“Do I look sick?”

Javed raised his brow, smirking as if to say “do you really want me to answer that?”

“No…that answer is no.”

Javed leaned over the marble circle again and continued his play. Kartan sat in his good elegant textiles imported from Port el’Reathsen with creative images of hunters, animals and trees on it while Javed wore an undecorated cotton cloth that was just as soft as Kartan’s but not as flashy. Like Destovl, a belt adorned his waist, but he carried a dagger with his. Destovl still preferred his hands.

The boy paced around the marble circle, trying to harvest both his brother’s attention and Javed. Marble playing was too slow of a game for Destovl. He walked back over to the wood pile and watched for the bugs to come out of their hiding places again.

“What did you buy Aara?” Destovl asked Kartan as he waited. His gift waited in his bed chamber. He wrapped the gift as nicely as his mother’s hand would have. He even attempted one of her bows. That didn’t go as well, but he was sure no one else would have one.

“A scarf,” Kartan announced as if it was the only proper present to buy a princess.

Destovl’s face mashed up in disgust. His back straightened immediately and rotated back in Kartan’s directions and spoke with the mixed emotions of sarcasm, disapproval and annoyance. “A scarf? That’s a bisho’ur present.”

Kartan sneered at his younger brother. “What do you know? A House scarf is a perfect present for any girl.”

The younger boy shrugged. “If you say so.”

“What did you buy her?”

“A sword.”

Destovl’s words came across proudly. It had been a long planned present. The siblings always practiced the weapon at the Waterfall. She always used one of his old swords. Now she could have her own.

Kartan doubled over, laughter spilling from his throat like vomit. Destovl’s cheeks flushed hot scarlet anger, and the skin between his nose and lip sweated. “She’s going to like it,” he said defensively. “More than some scarf.”

Kartan rolled his eyes then glanced at his best friend, who had just finished taking his shot. “Did you get anything for Aara?”

Neither boy expected Javed to have gotten their sister a present, but he did hang out with them so much that he might as well be considered part of the family. So it seemed rude to, at least, not ask.

“I made her cookies,” he told them, not looking up from the marble game. He didn’t think much of his present. It was a small gesture. He loved cooking with his mother.

“Really?” Kartan asked in a whisper, knowing how much Aara would appreciate the gift. The cookies beat any scarf or weapon on any given day.

Destovl puffed his chest up to the sky and released a loud cackle. When he bent back over, he slapped his knee and looked up with his buck teeth in full view. “You win.”

Kartan forced a smile, although deep down he felt very jealous. “Yes, you’ll win.”

“She can get cookies from your kitchen. It’s no big deal. It’s not expensive like sword or glamorous like a scarf.” Javed shrugged, not understanding why his friends were reacting to his token gift like they were. “It’s just cookies.”

Three presents waited in front of Aara at the dinner table. She sat on the platform of the King’s Table overlooking the Palace guests. Her father and mother sat in the center. As High Prince, Kartan sat next to her father while Destovl sat next to her mother. She sat at the end of the table near Destovl. One day the table positions would be adjusted to new ranks, but Aara liked the set up as it was.

She was far enough away from Father that he forgot to grant her allowance to open her gifts, but she wasn’t far enough away to just take it upon herself and open them without expecting to be grounded.

On the Hall of Celebration’s floor, another impressive table hosted honored guests of Lynthia. Samir, Aara’s uncle, sat at its center. As Lord Protector of Ethantine, he normally would have sat at the King’s Table with the family, but he insisted on a floor table to share with his herbalist, Nom, and Aara’s cousin, Parisa. He then requested for Javed and his mother join them.

Aara didn’t know what Father and Uncle Samir saw in Javed, but she knew that they had a fondness for him and often included him and his mother in events.

They ate the main meal and chatted with a relaxed impression. Other commoners and merchants ate at different tables. Most appeared stiff and uncomfortable, which was understandable since they didn’t know their dinner mates. Javed and Parisa appeared to conversation with a natural ease, an effortless conversation like the ones she had with her brothers.

Next to her, Destovl stunk. His entire body dripped sweat like it did whenever he ran around playing with his friends. He sat hunched over his food with a closed fist holding up his head. He didn’t touch his food. Her upper lip curled up as she stole a sideways glance at him. His eyes rolls around in his head.

She turned her head and studied her mother and father – neither noticed her brother’s misery. She glanced around the Hall of Celebration – no one noticed.

Aara quietly scooted her chair closer to her brother then dropped her elbows on the table until her chin touched the tablecloth. When she felt the material, she rolled her neck and rested her cheek on her hand. Then called over to him in a half whisper.

“Destovl?”

He didn’t answer.

She spoke louder.

“Destovl? Are you okay?”

She waited longer this time for him to say something. When he didn’t she sat up, facing him directly. His mouth fell open and thick drool slimed out of it. His fist slipped away from his head, which banged loudly against the table.

“Destovl?” Aara screamed, watching her favorite brother slither off his chair to the floor. “Destovl?”

She heard shouts around her. Aara’s scrambled on her hands and knees over to her brother while her mother pulled him onto her lap. Her mother’s chair had flown backward as she reacted to her son’s sick state. The toppled chair obstructed her father’s ability to help.

The particular step of Uncle Samir’s boots came up from behind her. He looped his forearms under her armpits and clasped his hands together around her chest to pull her away from her brother. Aara resisted him, kicking and screaming. The platform that the King’s Table rested on shook and vibrated. Her presents toppled off the table and hit the Hall’s floor, shattering the glass platter Javed presented his gift on. His cookies were ruined. As Uncle Samir pulled Aara away from Destovl, Nom stepped in, grabbing the boy and speaking to Aara’s mother calming. The herbalist pried open Destovl’s eyes then pried open his mouth – where she found his blue tongue.

On the Hall of Celebration’s floor, Kartan, Javed and Parisa huddled together.

Nom shouted for ice water and ripped a napkin off the table. She used the pair to wipe away Destovl’s sweat, too cool him. Aara decided, standing alone and watching.

Samir didn’t wait for his brother’s authority. He turned and ordered the Palace Guards to clear the Hall. Servants rushed about, crawling out like an invasive pest, to box uneaten meal portions. Others rushed from the kitchen with packaged desserts each guest would have eaten if the meal hadn’t been interrupted.

Nom ran another course of ice water over Destovl’s body.

Samir eyed the children, uncertain what to do with them as the Hall cleared. He finally grabbed table chairs and pushed them to the side of the room then redirected Kartan, Javed, and Parisa to sit on them. He came for Aara last.

“Destovl can’t die on my birthday,” she sobbed as she stared, not even aware she’d been crying.

Samir stepping in front of her and knelt down to grab her complete attention. His face looked kind and caring, but, more importantly, it looked calm and confident. His eyes didn’t reflect a concern of possible death. He held his niece by the shoulders and smiled at her.

“Nom’s not going to let him die. She’s the best herbalist around. She just looks scary because when there’s an emergency she moves fast and she shouts loud,” Aara’s uncle stopped talking a moment, allowing the young girl to glance over his shoulder at Nom. He knew exactly how Nom worked, what she needed, and when to worry. Nom saw the boy’’s blue tongue, and she didn’t hesitate, which meant she knew how to fix this. “She’s demanding, but she’’s going to make him better.”

“Get him to his bed chamber,” she snapped, order Lynthia’s King to work. “I have to wildcraft the herbs that he needs. I need Samir to escort me and order his solo presence due to the nature of the situation.”

The Lynthian King nodded.

“I need you to take your son and keep him cool. I’ll have his fever and the curse of the Cadaver Bug broken by morning.”

Bayta creeped through Ethantine’s palace. Servants whispered about her and hushed each other whenever the girl or Nom walked by.

WORD COUNT:1746

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November 26 – Kupe’a Oraki and Zef’s Demise

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 26@10:45pm

Kalle and Toivo returned from Kupe’a Oraki exhausted. They sailed with the Roaring Fortes across the Far Sea on their Voyaging Canoe. The design of the canoe was specialized to handle the challenges the local winds and waters faired to Kupe’a Oraki. The distance between its long, narrow, double hulls generated stability. Each hull had an available sail. Compared to other boats the men sailed on the Roaring Fortes’s Voyaging Canoe could be quite fast while, when needed, capable of being paddled and sailed through rougher waters.

Without Bankim, they were the last members of Jaith’s crew. They hated each other and said little as the completed the transport of two abused women – a mother and her daughter. The women’s migration was very planned and very deliberate. Once set in motion, it was a four month process to complete. The man they escaped from thought the two had died in Lynthia. Kalle and Toivo smuggled the woman out of the city at varying times.

As the men returned home, the two women began new lives as a welcomed part of a new settlement on the northern island. The northern island’s people were still very tribal and primitive, but they were peaceful hunters, gatherers and growers. With Nom’s herbalism training the women were welcomed for their medical expertise.

Kalle had traveled from the tribe’s rolling farmlands up the island’s mountainous spine, which they followed to the sea. They slept some as the sailed the Far Sea then took to foot again on the mainland. They wanted to make it to Cureland before nightfall and spend a day relaxing with the natural hot springs there before regrouping their stabled horses.

Cureland was a clandestine hub of refuge and relaxation for any brave traveler that could withstand its peculiar smell of rotten eggs. Sunken mountains protected the majority of its side, although the nautical traveler could navigate in from those routes. At its main opening the terrain was wild and rugged. The land shifted, grinding into itself. Since the landscape outside of Cureland was gentle and sandy, many chose to follow its coastline. They missed out.

Toivo sat naked in a bubbling mud pool. He entertained a pair of women but paid particular attention to one, who sat on his lap while he braided her hair in a fashion Kalle rarely saw on anyone. Kalle preferred facial he received from the cloud of steam wafting from the natural hot spring.

The night’s traditional feast cooked in soil ovens while the local children gathered an older woman for the nightly Call of Welcome. She sang one word, three notes long. The local children responded like an echo then two left the group to gather any guest children. When the Call of Welcome finished the dinner line would form. Women and children would receive their meals first. The nightly Call ended when the last individual in line was kissed on the forehead by the older woman.

The formal procedure was too intimate for Kalle. He tended to pack food for his stay in Cureland.

With the night’s Call of Welcoming came an exorbitantly well-dressed boy. The child’s formal wear caught Kalle’s eye, reminding him of his youthful years in Port el’’Reathsen. Never was he allowed to wear clothing of comfort. A young girl had been picked to leave the group and gather the visitor children; she immediately eyed this boy. He liked the attention.

His father…did not.

[I’ll need to make Zef’s age older. Also he’s Lord Protector of Ethantine, give him signature clothing]

The man stood closer to the back of the assembly and looked older than Kalle’s own father. His head was bald and his face was puffy, in contrast of his boy who had sharp, angular features. Kalle watched the boy again, the poor smitten boy. The girl pawed at his clothing, and he smiled coyly. The longer it went on, the more irritated his father appeared.

When the line started to form, the old man walked to his son. His every step thrusted forward, long and strong, and landed with the purpose of punishing the lad…or in the very least correcting his discomforting behavior.

Like Kalle, the family didn’t seem in making friends with the locals, who were uncommonly chatty. Kalle knew from experience that avoiding them actually took work and was never done without a reason.

Cureland morning always came too quickly. Kalle always overslept.

And Toivo was always missing.

Fed and packed, Kalle decided to see to the horses.

Ahriman ran his hand back and forth over the smooth portion of his bald head. He eyed his son who sat across from him without emotion or passion coursing through his veins. Ahriman wanted him emotionless, but he needed to spark a passion in the boy…or he’d be worthless.

Ahriman pinched the bridge of his button nose, its roundness reminding him that the boy wasn’t a child anymore. His sharp, angular features made his a very handsome young adult. One he’d use as a pawn to take control of Lynthia. His broad shoulders and chiseled jaw line controlled women with a certainty…he just needed Zef to control a certain one.

The Lynthian princess.

A heavy fist slammed against the carriage’s door. The sound of wood rattling on its hinges twice was a message signaling to Ahriman notice that they were close.

“You have a very important job today,” he reminded his son.

“I don’t really want to do this,” Zef said, staring at the carriage wall and not daring to look over at his father. This wasn’’t his first murder. His lack of enthusiasm annoyed Ahriman.

“Nonsense,” Ahriman shouted, pounding his hand on his bench so hard one would never have guessed he sat on a thick pillow for comfort. “This is what power is! You have to make sacrifices for control.”

Zef locked his jaw. Ahriman knew his son wanted to argue more, but thought better of it. Why did he have to be like this? He lifted his heavy frame from the bench and pounced on his son, his hand roping around the boy’s neck and squeezing. His face snarled hot against Zef’s skin. Ahriman felt his son’s skin crawl under breath and spit. “If you cannot handle yourself the way a Lord’s son is expected, I’ll find someone who will. A funeral for one of your rank is cheap…if I’d even take the time to bother with your pathetic nature.”

Ahriman shook his son’s neck once hard and slammed his head against the back of the carriage wall. His lip knotted with his nose like an alpha dog’s. Zef’s face blotched red patches. His eyes rimmed red. Bisho’ur child had no idea what it meant to attain power. What one had to do to keep it.

The carriage slowed. Ahriman stood and whipped the door open.

A moonless, starless night greeted him. Lynthian sand started to thicken on the land below, and the Lynthian Royal Carriage prepared a fire to make dinner and keep the predators away.

Flames weren’t enough to deter Ahriman nor was Ahriman naïve enough to start his own fire when the evening’s black veil cloaked his presence so perfectly.

They waited, unmoving and silent as the King and Queen went about their evening routine. When the campfire’s flickers lowered from not being tended to, Ahriman’s men distributed their weapons. Most preferred a set of one-handed maces. One man preferred the close ranged daggers. One preferred the heavy hitting bash of a heavy two-handed mace. Ahriman had no trouble piercing a long sword through the chest of a sleeping King and Queen, especially the pair who promoted him to the position of Lord Protector of Ethantine.

He turned and handed his son his old sword. Zef looked at the blade then slowly raised his eyes to his father without lifting his chin or moving a muscle. “I don’t want your sword.”

“Take it.”

“I don’t want it,” he shouted louder.

Ahriman snarled, stepping up to his son again and forcing the weapon into his hand. “Shut your mouth, boy. Whether you push this blade through skin or not you have blood on your hands. Now, order the attack.”

Zef glared at his father, his face a spitting image of Ahriman’s older brother’s back in the day.

“No,” the boy snarled.

Ahriman’s free hand whisked to his belt to unsnap his dagger, pulled it and stabbed his son.

Zef wailed in pain, his hands raising protectively to his wound.

Ahriman pulled the dagger away and eyed his men. They didn’t move.

“You heard the boy…attack!”

Kalle and Toivo’s reactions illustrated the extremes. Kalle – who had witnessed death before – stared silently as an unknown force attacked Lynthia’’s Royal Carriage. Two men slept on the carriage’s topside with the luggage. Kalle heard the sound of skulls striking the rugged ground. The horses whinnied. On the ground, Kalle heard bones being crushed by the attackers’ blunt weapons. He heard Toivo screaming…dimly aware that he was screaming at Kalle, insisting they do something.

All those men.

The King.

The Queen.

“There’s a boy!” Toivo hollered.

Kalle knew that many people reacted the way Toivo did, with an explosion of emotion. He also knew that many dissociated like he had, but he wasn’t trying to self-protect himself. For whatever reason, images of his sister’s death returned to his mind like he was dreaming while wide awake.

Both reactions were dangerous – react or freeze.

Both reactions could get them killed.

Then the Queen screamed. She was a good woman, as kind as Kalle sister was with an artistic hand just like she had. And a wail of pain that sounded just like his sister’s too.

“Yeehaw,” Kalle clicked, kicking his horse’s shanks. The horse galloped toward the Royal Carriage. Toivo responded and followed.

Profound, irrational guilt is an extremely common reaction after a traumatic event, Kalle reminded himself just as he had after helping his sister die. He’d told himself that a dozen times over the years, as various situation invoked flashbacks to that day.

The two men pulled out their weapons, rushing by and slicing body parts of three of the attackers.

Zef stood at the carriage, his hand on his stab wound. His own father stabbed him, while not deep or endangering…Zef bled. He kept pulling his hand away expecting for the warm sticky blood to not be there, as if he had dreamed what was happening. Every time the blood was still there. After the fourth time of looking at his hand, Zef ripped his clothing and secured a strip of it against to the wound. His father and his father’s men swung weapons, attacking each other for the prize kills. Zef staggered slowing toward them although he wasn’t sure why. He wasn’t going to stop them.

But the closer he got to the gruesome acts, the more vivid the details of the slaughtering, the more quickly the perverted ideas came into his head.

His father promised him a wife if he killed the Lynthian King and Queen.

What other choice did he have?

The way things look and the ways things are are very different –Zef’s dad

WORD COUNT: 1868

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m excited to say that my daughter, Reese, played a role in working out tonight (and probably tomorrow night’s) word count. I needed to kill off Kalle and Toivo and asked both kids on a car trip how they thought it should be done. Reese wanted them killed together in a car accident. Well Atala doesn’t have any cars – carriages are the closest thing. I loved the idea of the two dying together since they have such a hatred for one another. So this is the start of that scene.

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November 27 (Happy Thanksgiving!) – Do You Wanna Die?

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 27@11:57pm

[I’ll have to weave the two scenes into a single piece later on]

The land’s rugged wild nature died as it neared Lynthia. The part Kalle and Toivo trudged through was swamp water mixed with leafless, low-lying, twisted branches. The two men trotted around the swampy lake before the last of night blanketed the land and made travel dangerous.

They’d been following a carriage for the last two hours. Toivo swore it was Lynthian. Why the Lynthian royalty would come out this far made no sense to Kalle. That carriage readied itself to stop for the night, but in the distance Toivo noticed a second carriage came to a halt on a small hill. The wood must have been painted dark because

“Do you wanna die?” Kalle asked Toivo from his horse. “We’d be outnumbered.””

Toivo, sitting on his horse by Kalle’s side, glanced over at the man he hated then back to the Lynthia Royal Carriage. No one knew his roots rested in Lynthia. No one knew his mother worked within the Palace there. For all he knew, his mother could be part of the caravan.

Kalle stood in his stirrups, shifting his weight uneasily in his saddle. Toivo worried about Kalle’s question; it was what stopped him from answering. No one trained Kalle to fight, not really. His question was his answer. He was prepared to die.

“Make up your mind,” the man huffed. “Decide.”

“I can’t sit here and just allow this.”

Toivo leaned back in his saddle, popped his packs and withdrew his favorite pair of swords. His daggers and smaller weapons were attached to his belt. “You sure you want to do this?”

“You said there were women and children.”

“There’s an older teen. There’s definitely women.”

“Tell me how to stop them.”

“I’ll go in on foot. Stay on your horse, distract them.”

Kalle heeled his horse rushing toward the Royal Carriage as the attacking party ran down from a hill. The last man in the party carried lumps of plastic and rope. The man yelled the stereotypical

”yeehaw” of a Kupa’o Raki. Toivo shook his head – they never should have spent so much time there – and ordered his horse forward.

The pair galloped at full speed to catch up to Kalle then, as they got close to the attack, Toivo flipped his leg over his saddle and rolled from his horse, his swords tucked at his sides. He rolled to safety, finishing a move that he practiced as a stable boy whenever his stable master allowed him out with animals. He knew he wasn’t bright enough to become a Lynthian Solider and refused to bow to the ranks of Palace Guard.

Toivo ran for the backside of the Royal Carriage, his movement hidden from the oncoming attack as his horse run away from the scene to safety. He flopped to his belly and eyed the indistinguishable, ghost-like blobs. He couldn’t focus in one area for long or his eyes would play tricks. Whoever was in charge stood on the hill. He ordered an attack on three front. Toivo noted the man advancing to his right would be positioned to strike first. Toivo pulled himself out from under the carriage and waited in a squat for him.

Kalle hooted some delirious call as he galloped by on his horse. The man attacked with a two-handed mace, a heavy weapon even for quick feet. He looked around for the source of the call. It was enough for Toivo’s first strike. He lifted his dagger from his belt, twirled it once in his hand then with a swift and definite motion stabbed a man in the neck, looping around the man’’s back before he managed to lift his weapon or cover his neck. Toivo wasn’t interested enough to see the man’s split second reaction. Instead he weaved, needing to focus on his next attack.

He knew he should have screamed, should have made noise to warn the Lynthians, but it was like he didn’t have time to get the desire to come to fruition. He needed to concentration on not getting himself killed.

Kalle galloped by again, this time closer to the camp. His horse whinnied as it whirred pass the camp fire. Flecks of the ignited ash billowed up. Toivo used them and screamed as he attacked the next man, ducking below his raised mace to kick the man’s feet out from under him. The attacker fell to the ground. Toivo grabbed his sword and plunged it into the man’’s body.

The attack had been coordinated, whomever did it knew exactly who belonged in the party. They struck the four Lynthian Soldiers first so as to preserve the easiest of kills for last.

Take out those trained to fight, remove the greatest enemy first.

One of the Ghosts jumped over the helpless attendants, ignoring the usual target – opening the Carriage for the Royals and their money – and instead climbed to the top of the Royal Carriage where a hidden Lynthian Soldier slept. His cry translated to impeding death.

Toivo ran to the closest Lynthian Soldier who struggled with a different Ghost. Unfortunately, Toivo didn’t see the Lynthian Soldier lose his balance as the Ghost stepped backward. As the Soldier fell the Ghost wailed his hammer through the night air. Invisible to Toivo until it struck him in the face. He heard the Ghost curse when his weapon impacted, surprised. He whipped the same arm backward again, slamming his elbow into the Lynthian Guard’s neck, hitting his carotid.

Toivo dug his heels into the dirt, pedaling away from the struggle. He was disorientated and tried to breathe through pain that was no longer familiar to him, but he knew that Lynthian Soldier was seconds away from dying and as soon as he was…the Ghost would kill Toivo next.

As hard as it was, Toivo got to him feet. Unbalanced, he toppled forward but caught himself. Kalle rushed by again, throwing items from his saddlebags. It was the last time he’d freely rush by. As Kalle finished his pass, Toivo looked up and saw one Ghost hand another part of their rope while two more struck at the Royal Carriage’s locked door. Toivo could hear the Queen screaming inside.

Behind him, the driver’s body hit the ground. Toivo heard the sound of his skull cracking. The last Lynthian Soldier fought off his attacker on the opposite side of the carriage. He thrashed violently. He was the last trained muscle. The approaching Ghosts closed in on the servants, most of whom were awake and clinging to each other in terror. On the hill, the first of the two undistinguishable shadows stepped, each stride looming with undeniable alarm.

As Toivo ran at a Ghost, lunging to stop him from stabbing a young maid, Kalle galloped by again. The Ghost that waited for him on top of the Royal Carriage raised his rope. The line pulled tight across Kalle’s chest and ripped him off his horse. The animal ran. It would join Toivo’s.

Kalle hit the ground hard and didn’t move.

“Get up,” Toivo growled under his breath, then rolled from his stomach to his back and shoved his dagger into an attacker’s temple.

Deep voiced shouts came from the Royal Carriage where two attackers fell backward, kicked away by the Lynthian King, who drew his sword but wouldn’t move from the carriage’s door. He’d die protecting his wife like that.

The man from the hill swaggered to the middle of the scene. Blood dripped from the top of the caravan. Fire barely provided light anymore.

Kalle still didn’t move.

But that boy…the young man who stood this entire time on the hill finally began his approached while the man from the hill waited for the Lynthian King’s capture.

“Get the Queen,” the man from the hill order, nonchalantly waving a Ghost to do his bidding.

“Ahriman?” the King asked, his voice sounding hurt and surprised at the same time.

Toivo recognized the name. The Lynthian King promoted him to Lord Protector of Ethantine a few years back, after his brother died. This Ahriman stabbed him in the back.

The last Lynthian Soldier still fought, killing Ahriman’s Ghost. Toivo fought as well, trying to save as many servants as he could. He barely felt his sliced skin, but he knew they were there. He knew he didn’t have much left to give. He needed Kalle to stir.

Or he needed Kalle to look dead long enough to save the man from this.

The Queen helplessly squirmed against the clutches of one of Ahriman’s men. She didn’t understand that that he locked her arms behind her. He pushed her head down to her chest as they left the interior of the carriage, and when his boot met solid ground he forced her to kneel there.

The man stood behind her, his knife drawn and ready.

Near Kalle’s lifeless body, the men worked wrapping bodies into the tarps and binding them.

Decaying leaves pressed to the mud like stickers.

The boy finally entered the campsite but didn’t stop walking until he reached the Queen. Without a word, he dropped to his knees and stared her in the face. He held his own knife at his side. Toivo could only assume that the boy was Ahriman’s son, Zef.

He did nothing.

The Lynthian Soldier across the way got a lucky shot, ripping away that flesh and muscle that held the Ghost’s wrist together. The man’s hand flopped, and he screamed as the Lynthian Soldier pushed him away, pummeled a knee into his chest then took the end of his sword and with the blade against the Ghost’s neck pressed.

His face wore war paint of blood and soot, but turned for Ahriman to attack. Toivo jumped at the same time he did, hoping for a duality to confused the Lord Protector of Ethantine.

WORD COUNT: 1650

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Inspired by the song/video Possum Kingdom The TOADIES Possum Kingdom

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November 28 – Making Yaryth’s Night

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 29@11:54pm

Hitting the end of NaNoWriMo and hitting a wall as far as what I want to write. I could go back and review my work, but I don’t believe in doing reviewing anything in the process. I’d review and edit after NaNoWriMo is done…so, what to write today?

Yaryth never made her bed, but Safreen sat on it brushing her roommate’s hair. They had just finished washing up from spending the day in the Bazaar with Safreen’s brother and nephew, which made for an interesting set of Guardians. Yaryth normally used Nom’’s pair of Guardians whenever she needed to attend the Bazaar, but a new merchant arrived for the town’s weekly event with various hair accessories otherwise unavailable in Lynthia. Lachlan offered to escort the girls with his son who wanted to buy a bird kite with the money he earned wildcrafting for his Aunt Nom.

The girls decided it would be fun to take turns styling each other’s hair. What Yaryth didn’t know was that Safreen planned the activity so that she could share a secret with her roommate. First she needed to work out the tangle in Yaryth’’s hair.

“Why do we have to do this before we leave for the night?” Yaryth whined as she held a batch of her hair in a fist close to her head. Safreen knew she did it to help lessen the pain.

“You know,” Safreen started before answering her friend’s question, “if you would just brush your hair every day you wouldn’t get knots, and, really, you should do this after every bath.” Safreen’s fingers weaved through Yaryth’’s long chestnut hair and carefully pulled the knot open. Her work released an almondy scent into the air. The same smell of Yaryth’s perfume, or what Safreen always thought was perfume. “Do you wash your entire body with a bar of soap?”

“Don’t you?”

“Um, no? We sell hair product.”

Yaryth shrugged.

Safreen pictured Yaryth as a youth looking and acting similar to what her people called a “tom boy.” The girl cared little for fashion or beauty. Outside of their room, three of Nom’s assistants ran down the hallway in an uproar, giggling about one of the other girl’s cute brothers. The immature noise normally would have annoyed Safreen, but in a week Nom would announce who stayed and who didn’t make the cut. Her aunt already told her who her fellow assistant was.

Safreen finished untangling the hair and picked up the brush. After a series of swipes, Yaryth’s hair was finally knot free. Safreen leaned over on the bed, flipped aside an askew pillow and pulled the new box of gemstones close.

“In Loches, it is considered bad luck to leave the house during the night with your hair unbound.”

“I thought you said that you had something to show me in the house?”

“Well, I do…sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“It starts in the house.”

Yaryth’s eyes boggled. Safreen could tell by how the girl’s neck twitched. “Safreen, I’m not walking on Lynthian streets without a proper Guardian.”

Safreen smiled to herself. Lachlan warned her about Lynthian laws before she even packed her bags to move to the city. She was well versed on what she could and could not do. Her knowledge was extremely important because Safreen had no interest in getting lashings for disobeying a statute nor did she find an interest in getting her brother in trouble. Her successes and failures reflected on him directly, more so than herself. More importantly, she could not undermine or compromise Nom’’s work saving abused women.

“You know I follow Lynthian law. Where we’re going, we don’t need a Guardian.”

Safreen slipped Yaryth’s dark hair through the hole of her first gem, pulling hair piece to the top of her head. As a Lynthian, Yaryth didn’t believe in the hair’s magical symbolism. Her people believed in a single god – their sun god. Unfortunately, Safreen believed that a story of Mitra came from a distant land and became jumbled in the process, twisting the story’s truths.

Really, it didn’t matter, because Lynthians were not religious people.

Her people were very different. Lochens preferred to explore their supernatural connections. Nom had her Spirit Bells. Lachlan had his [ADD]. Safreen had many indicators she liked to review. Tonight, she considered indications of Yaryth’s connection by studying her hair. Safreen mulled over Yaryth’s dark hair and her terrestrial connection. Lochens as a whole believed themselves to be bonded closely to their gods because of their genetically blessed golden hair whereas Yaryth’s hair deemed her too connected to the land to be ready to separate from it.

“So where then?” Yaryth asked, rubbing the section of hair that had the knot as Safreen worked on lacing the colored glass. When she finished setting the first gem in place, she twisted a vibrant blue ribbon through the same lock of hair and braided it into the strand then continued the process until Yaryth’s entire head was sporadically jeweled and braided in three different places.

Safreen’s manicured red nails clicked which sounded like the rhythmic beat Yaryth’s moaning.

“There,” Safreen told her friend as she secured the flexible gold clap that held up the loose loops of all three braids.

Yaryth lifted her right arm and fingered her hair. Her face brightened then fell. “I should redo you’re hair.”

Safreen stood, stretching her legs, then walked over to her vanity where she picked up her hand mirror. She held it up to the side and turned her head, appreciating the work. Yaryth had weave a single plait from the crown to her nape where instead of crossing each strand over the middle piece, she weaved it under. At Safreen’s nape, Yaryth twisted the braid around itself and pinned it into a bun. Black gemstones sparkled in Safreen’s ice blonde hair at various point along this braid.

“No way,” Safreen said with a smile as she offered Yaryth her mirror. “This is gorgeous. Why don’t you do this to your hair?”

Yaryth rolled her eyes at Safreen but accepted the mirror. “Please, that’s too much work to bother with every single morning.” She lifted the mirror, angling it to see her hair. ““I’m glad you convinced me to buy these gemstones. This is really pretty.”

Yaryth stood and walked over to replace Safreen’s mirror.

The girls waited until the last of their fellow herbalism assistants shut and locked their bedroom door then exited into the hallway, walking down the hall and out into the courtyard. Safreen immediately rounded to the right and opened the small half door there. She crouched down and stagger-walked through. Yaryth followed a little less gracefully.

Safreen shut the small door, took Yaryth’s hand and led her through the black. She needed to feel the walls herself. She ran her fingertips along the cool stone at a particular angle until they hit a wooden handrail. The path was easier to follow in the daylight, but Safreen worried about bringing a lantern. She assumed Nom knew about the secret door and tunnel, but she wasn’’t sure whether or not Nom wanted her to know. Safreen was pretty sure the path was used for transport abused women from the homestead out of Lynthia.

Safreen stopped walking, turned her hand and whispered to her friend, “You have to take the handrail, we have steps.”

The girls walked down carefully, but as they neared the last step the darkness gave way illuminating a possible labyrinth of tunnel ways. The temperature was warmer here than upstairs, but only because of the evening hours. During the day, the area probably felt relaxingly cool.

“What is this place,” Yaryth whispered.

“I’m not sure. I was hoping you knew. I’m guessing somewhere down here is Lynthia’s dungeon?”

Yaryth snorted then corrected her friend. “It’s just a prison.”

Then she looked around, stepping down the left hallway. The walls were all limestone. They dripped and smelled like rotten cheese. Lizards of some sort squealed and slithered across the floor as Safreen and Yaryth invaded their home.

“Did you follow any of the tunnels?”

Safreen shook her head. “Did you want to?”

“Yeah, why not?” She fingered a blue marking on the wall then preceded down the tunnel way toward another one. “This is the fourth one.””

“A map?”

“Maybe.”

Yaryth led the search as Safreen kept an eye out behind them. The tunnel darkened as they went along but never entirely.

“Look!” Safreen shouted, eying a small bag lumped against a wall. She hurried toward it, opened it and riffled through its contents. “It’’s travel items. Fresh clothing, cleaning products, some herbs, money.”

The path didn’t have a stairwell to lift them back onto level ground. The walkway just angled up until the girls found a portion of ceiling that was made from wood and had a metal handle to it. The wood was young and fresh, and the clasp didn’t show a hint of rust.

Safreen flipped the uncomplicated lock and opened it into the night with an ease that came with well oiled hinges.

Their eyes needed to adjust to the brightness of the moon’s light, but the moon itself was not readily available to wish upon. Unlike the Lynthians who cherished their sun, Lochens often bonded with the moon and the Divine Lord of the moon.

“What do you see?” Yaryth shouted from behind Safreen.

“Palm trees.”

Safreen’s roommate pushed her, forcing her aside. “Stop your lying.”

“No, really, palm trees. We’re surrounded by them.”

Yaryth’s mouth babbled irritated cursings at Safreen until her head fully emerged through the doorway, and she got to look around. “What on Atala?”

Safreen studied Yaryth’s expression change, considered what her thoughts might have been, and she probably was more amazed to see greenery than anything else. “Have you ever been to Port el’Reathsen?” Safreen asked her.

When she spoke, Yaryth’s voice sounded breathless, “No.”

Safreen swallowed hard, hating the thought of being the one who showed the girl this wonderland and being the one who had to tell her they couldn’t come back. She wasn’t sure what the area really was for or who prepared the tunnel, but Nom couldn’’t be tied to it. Safreen stepped out and circled, scanning the land. She identified the water as the Lagoon Kalle and Toivo had often talked about.

“Look,” Yaryth said, tugging on Safreen’s sleeve and pointing out into the distance. “That’s the Palace!”

Safreen turned, looking down Yaryth’s arm. “This is part of the Underground,” she whispered, more to herself than for Yaryth. ““We can’t expose that tunnel. If something ever happens to Nom, or if our lives are in danger, then we use it. Otherwise, we can’t come back.”

Yaryth bit her lip and nodded. “It’s beautiful though. I may never get the chance to come back. I don’t have the same herbalism knack as you to be a shoo-in as one of Nom’’s two assistants, but even if I only see this place once, I’m going to sleep with a smile on my face. I’ve never been outside the Palace walls. This is the biggest adventure I’’ve ever gone on in my life. So, that,” she said lifting her arm to point again, her face beaming. “That view makes my night.”

WORD COUNT: 1879

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Whew! I crashed last night when I completed this work!

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November 29 – Have You Ever

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 29@11:58pm

Part One:

“I don’t know if I can,” Chand argued with a blush he so rarely felt. The people of Thrim gathered around the last campfire of the year. Unlike many that traveled through the Port, Thrim people celebrated a circular year instead of a linear year. The never celebrated the start of day, the start of a year, the start of a growing season. They celebrated its close.

Chand felt a tug on his pant leg from little Hafeez who sat cross legged at his feet next to Liana.

His son’s eyes seemed so big on this night. “Please?”

Chand preferred to keep a low-key, but it wasn’t lie Chand never told his people a story. They were his family on Atala. The problem was that all of his stories included Milani, and Chand wasn’t ready to share her memories aloud yet.

Chand studied the little girl next to his son. His wife traded her life for hers. This was Liana’s first night out of the homestead since her attack. Her casted leg stretched straight in front of her. She held her body up with her arms propped behind her. Chand’s eldest boy, Aamin, knew to bring more than enough pillows so that if the girl wanted to lie down, she could. Her face would scar, and her leg may or may not work when it healed; but Milani’s sacrifice allowed the girl to be alive.

“Have you ever walked the footsteps of a wandering man?” Chand asked, looking down at his son. The boy shook his head as Chand hoped he’d do. ““Do you even know if you can?”

Hafeez beamed, explaining how he knew.

Chand was no longer certain of his answer. Without Milani, he wasn’t sure how he’d travel to and from every corner of Atala. He found Atman in Liana, but she wasn’t the girl in Indra’s picture. Their ages didn’t match, but nonetheless she was important. How could he accomplish both feats now? Now, after years of freely wandering Indra summons him to duty.

Chand caught himself staring at his son, knowing the boy waited for his father to go on as Chand thought. He turned from Hafeez to Liana, the little girl now wearing Milani’s pearl necklace. Hafeez felt it to be a fair transition, and Chand felt no need to argue.

“Have you ever run with a lion?” he asked the girl. Her body sat up straight, her spirits lifting with her body, and she giggled.

“No,” she answered as if considering any other option to be ridiculous.

Chand smiled, looked out over the crowd of villagers into the forest, and rocked his head from side to side as if weighing her answer with his head. He looked down at her again, bent over a bit and whispered his confession. “Me neither.”

He looked out to the crowd again for his next question, specifically for his son Aamin. Chand noticed the boy with a village girl. Aamin had spent two weeks trying to court her, but the girl didn’t seem interested. She lived in a fantasy world, wished for a spotless prince to pluck her from the mountainside and take her into the safety of a city. Neither Chand nor Aamin blamed her. She was still young and the last to arrive from [NAME]. Whether she settled or not…whether she fell in love with Aamin or not…what she’d never know was that what she wanted was in front of her. Chand didn’t want to tell his boys of their blood line until they matured and discovered themselves.

Chand caught the girl’s attention as he watched his son. So, she received the next question instead.

“Have you ever needed someone to hold, but the dirt upon your skin was just too bold?”

But he didn’t wait for her to answer.

“Have you ever felt thirst so deep? The kind that comes when you walk in the desert and the thought of dirty water seems so sweet? That was a path I had chosen. It’s not for everyone, but for some it must be taken. Every step that engulfed my foot and stole my energy told me about Atala, what this plant could be. That journey challenged me to consider options outside of my comfort zone, outside what I knew. It made to be trust in myself and in my decisions at risky times. It made me accept those very decisions – even if they were the wrong ones – and make them into the right ones. That path humbled me. As strong as I thought I was, as smart as I thought I was…nature will always slap you in the face to remind you that there is always more to learn.”

Chand happened to notice one of the village’s recent widows. She’d been a newlywed. This would be her first winter season alone. Chand asked her the next question.

“Have you ever sat on a sand dune?”

He waited for her answer, not dropping eye contact. At first, she blinked back at him intent to just listen to his story. Then, when he didn’t go on, she looked from side to side where those of Thrim watched her until finally she took a deep breath, met Chand’s eye again and told him, ““No.”

“Let me tell you what I learned when I did. If you’d been on that same sand dune, your story would be entirely different, but this story is me. I learned that life is never stagnant. You have to change with it or be buried in the sand. The longer I sat there, the more I noticed the change of the sands around me. It wasn’t a fast change. The sand’s transformation occurred slowly – buried me slowly – until instead of seeing miles and miles of walking choices, I saw large sand walls.

“But when I stood again, I didn’t feel any urgency to measure, I stopped worrying about my way out or how much time it would take or how deadly my situation was. Instead I felt a pride, a tingling to just live because I wasn’t alone in that desert. Insect and animals survived there. They just didn’t sit on sand dunes and cry. They learned how, and I learned that I never saw them because they preferred to stir under the moon instead of the sun.”

He paused, reflecting on his own words – what they meant then and what they meant now – before he asked, “Have you ever been the shadow of someone as important as the sun?””

Chand looked up at the night sky. His moon encompassed them; it influenced the night. His question was for no one but himself. Atalans couldn’t live without Mitra’s tasks. They had ever right to idolize him. They knew little about his brother though. Chand preferred to keep moving because he constantly tried to remove himself from his older brother’s shadow.

But he couldn’t do that anymore.

He needed to figure out how to make shadows important.

As Chand continued, one of the villagers pulled out his guitar, plucking its strings slowly giving Chand’s words a harmony and the warmth that they needed. The man’s skin was tanned, his cheeks red from too much time working under the sun. He wore animal skin for clothing and a full mustache and beard. If anyone looked closely at him, they’d notice he hadn’t lived long enough or hard enough to earn a single wrinkle yet. As he continued, the notes he played picked up, plucking faster melody and harmony melding into one until his humming became words.

And he sang, his voice flowing like a fish in a stream of notes. It echoed around the circle of men and women. He started singing single lines describing his own story, ending each one with “this is me” until an older woman became inspired and share her own song. The addition of her voice made the man smile. Creation was solitary feat but collaboration. It was the reason the villagers of Thrim would survive.

WORD COUNT: 1338

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November 30 (LAST DAY) – Trigger 🙂

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 29@2:54pm

Trigger’s Bar

Jaith and Bankim walked into Trigger’s bar dirt and exhausted. Their friend tended to patrons behind the counter, but the two men passed him by like he was a complete stranger. They chose a table against the outside wall, three seats from the door and with a window. Bankim checked out the window to see if anyone followed them while Jaith watched the door and scanned the bar.

“How do you know they’re here,” Bankim asked Jaith. His question was serious in its nature, but he pulled off the look of ““making small talk.”

“We all have our gifts,” Jaith said, his head turning away from the table as Trigger approached. It would be the last time they’d have to pretend to be unacquainted.

“Evening gentlemen,” Trigger said, his lips puckering and producing his usual lisp. “What can I get you?”

Jaith nodded his greeting. “Whatever is on tap.”

Trigger smiled, making his chubby cheeks fatter. Jaith made up the saying back in the days before they became a crew. He always let Trigger pick the drink order. It was the man’s passion, and he was good at it.

“Oh, our bathroom?” Trigger sounded surprised and spoke louder than before as he turned to address Bankim even the Ban never opened his mouth. They men knew the exchanged to be coming at some point. “It’s in the back.”

It meant Kalle and Toivo had arrived.

Bankim nodded to Trigger, scooted out from the table and stood.

“Thanks,” he said turning for the back. He made sure to memorize the naturalness of his actions. He might have to pretend to do this again. This round he really didn’t know where the bathroom or the back was.

There was only enough room pass the bar’s entryway for two additional tables. The majority of the bar space was behind Bankim, but to his right was a long hallway that he chose to follow. The space between the hallway’s walls was barely enough for Bankim’’s wide shoulders. There was definitely a crow’s nest which meant somewhere in the building was a set of stairs. Bankim held back a smirk. Trigger managed to build the bar of his dreams. Bankim worried who he was indebted to.

Bankim passed the first closed door to his left but tried the handle of the next door on his right.

Locked.

“Keep going,” Jaith said, coming up from behind him. He shoved pass Bankim and went through the door located in the middle of the hall. Bankim followed, colliding with Jaith…in an actual bathroom.

“Are you joking?” Bankim grumbled, his words clipped short. His face was entirely too close to Jaith’s.

Jaith laughed and wrapped his hand around Bankim’s chin, pushing his face away.

“Relax,” he said, wrapping his other hand around Bankim’s fist as his friend tried to punch him, then assured him, “You’ll like this.”

Jaith slipped his hand into a disguised crack in the wall’s wood and pulled open a secret side door, exposing a large size but otherwise empty room that had nothing in it but a two cushioned soft, card table and a series of folding chairs.

“Elegant,” Bankim grunted.

“It will be,” Jaith said, slipping the secret door closed again. Kalle stood from his spot at the card table, walked to the wall that held the extra folding chairs and grabbed two.

Toivo leapt to his feet from the couch with a crackled but hearty chuckle. “So we did make it to the heaven portion of this afterlife.” He walked over to Jaith and wrapped his arms around his friend in a less than manly hug, but that was Toivo.

“To be accurate,” he said, as he returned the greeting, “you’ve been smuggled in.”

Toivo released Jaith and slapped his shoulder. “I don’t care how I got here after all them mens Kalle and I killed.”

Jaith’s brows raised and his face opened in surprise as he walked to Kalle to greet him. Kalle offered his hand, as Jaith expected, for a strong and welcomed handshake. “The Professor did a lot of killing?”

“The Professor was clothes-lined off his horse, but we tried to save Lynthia’s King and Queen.”

“I missed you too,” Bankim said as he pried Toivo away from his body and patted his friend’s shoulder. “Who attacked them?”

Kalle paused between opening the two chairs and shrugged. “Toivo seemed to know.”

“The Lord Protector of Ethantine.”

Jaith flinched. “Are you sure?”

Toivo nodded.

“The King promoted that bastard into his position and done got stabbed in the back!”

He slammed his fist into his palm.

Jaith understood why he was angry, but there was nothing to be done about an Atalan problem. “We need to focus on our work here.”

“What work?” Kalle asked, retaking his chair.

Jaith walked away from the group to the far wall, the one with the hidden door he and Bankim slipped through. “Well, the first phase,” he said as he ran his hand down its length. “is yours Bankim.”

Bankim was the builder. He had the ability to create things with his hands from nothing.

“I want to split up this large room. I’m envisioning a hidden front room that looks like a small version of what Trigger has out there. I want a smaller bar in the back of the room and a select amount of tables in the front so that it looks like a room for a private party.””

Bankim’s lips widened and flipped down for a split second with an ease that came from the understanding of how to get work done. “Easy enough.”

“But then I want a second secret room in the back.”

Kalle snickered from across the room. “A secret room attached to a secret room? Only you Jaith.”

“Who’s fronting the money for this adventure?”

“My sister.”

“Since when have you had a sister?”

“I’ve always had a sister. She just lived here on Earth.”

“Are we going to meet her?” Toivo asked, his voice slipping into a common seediness whenever the opposite sex was mentioned.

“Soon, but first I need to introduce myself,” Jaith said, walking back to the table. He gave up on explaining his vision. “Sit down, we have a lot of work to do.””

Jaith sat down near Kalle allowing room for Toivo to sit across from him. Bankim took the last remaining seat.

“When I pulled together this crew,” Jaith started, his hands resting flat on the table as he leaned over it. “It wasn’t really to accomplish anything on Atala, although I am proud of what we did accomplish. I need a crew there that I could train, that worked well together and that had an inseparable loyalty to conquer the real work in this life.”

Jaith looked up to see Bankim rubbing his face.

“Can I count on you?” Jaith asked, pausing to check in with his friend. He needed Bankim. He needed all of them, but his father had the gift of Foresight. Jaith knew that he needed Bankim.

“Yes,” Bankim answered into his hands then exposed his face. “Explain our new job.”

“There’s [three] parts. We all emerge from the same water gate way, he must keep a patrol there. Chand is trying to help us, but he can’t field all of those who pass. There’’s a guy named Gabe who will be passing that we need to keep here on Earth. He can’t make it to the Judgment Circle. You don’t know this yet, but soldiers never fare well there. We need him on Earth because if my father’’s Foresight is correct he will be the first to arrive with Atman. We have to protect him from both the Warrior class and the Priest class.”

“Wait,” Kalle started, his voice trailing off, signaling Jaith to explain more. “Atman…?”

“He has a soul.”

“A soul?”

Toivo sudden found interest in the conversation and sat forward in his chair. “What do you mean by a soul?”

“He’ll have the ability to manipulate, to carry over knowledge between lives including information about Earth, and his connective bond between another with Atman is stronger than the bonds we create. There’s more, but that’s the basic idea.”

“There’s more?” Bankim asked, catching Jaith’s hint.

“Yes, Liana will arrive and be our second. Daksh foretold the arrival of a single important female, but we’re not sure who yet. She’ll have Atman, and her presence will begin a war between the classes.”

“So why is this our problem?” Kalle chimed in, his face an unconvinced lined mess.

“This isn’t our problem,” Jaith started, sucking in a deep breath in preparation of the pivotal reason he gathered his friends from the moments they met on Atala to now. “It’s my problem. I have Atman. I was born on Earth to the Divine, but I failed Judgment and was sent to Atala. My father taught me a prayer to chant as I was reborn, and from that I carried over knowledge about Earth to my new body. My gift was hidden, but Gabe’s will not be. And when the Divine discover that such a treasure was granted to a commoner instead of to one of their classes, they will either seek extermination or control.”

WORD COUNT: 1541

AUTHOR’S NOTE: As I thought about what to write today, I also thought about how I wanted to end NaNoWriMo – what kind of scene did I want, what would it look like?

And I realized that I needed to conclude this year’s project with the men who surprised me. I started the month expecting to write all about Nom’s secret – saving abused women from Lynthia. That morphed, as stories and characters often do – in a very different story. I discovered that Nom was helped along on her project by Daksh (Jaith’s father) as well as Jaith and his crew. However, I also knew that every single one of Jaith’’s crew members died. I knew that they met again on Earth for a different story (Shakti’s story, which is intermingled with Aara’s story and now Nom’s).

So after killing off a lot of characters, I wanted the men who started it all to meet again. I was so excited just thinking about it that I wanted to get it down on paper. Here’s the start of it.

NaNoWriMo again surprised me this year. I found myself holding onto Nom’s story and instead allowing her work to be seen as more of a legacy than a single piece of work. I feel like I wrote a series of other short stories that revolve around her goal instead.

And I look forward to taking time off from these characters, allowing them to percolate and then review who they are in the upcoming future.


Copyright ©2010-2014 by Kristine A. Strauss, Amara SuraShakta. All rights reserved.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Text, graphics, and HTML code are protected by US and International Copyright Laws, and may not be copied, reprinted, published, translated, hosted, or otherwise distributed by any means without explicit permission.

 

 

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