Prism World: Chapter 3

So I discovered last night that I am, in fact, not a Phantom. As if that was ever in question. After waking up my mom and step-dad by running smack into the bathroom door at 2 o’clock in the morning, I have decided that I might want to turn a light on from now on.

That being said, I’m about halfway through Prism World. I’m currently working on Chapter 15. I’m getting more excited about this book. I do think it’s turning out to be my best yet. I’ve been asked to post more of Prism World here on my blog, so here is Chapter 3. This may be the last full chapter I post, but I hope you enjoy it.

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Chapter 3

Gravel crunched beneath my feet as I stumbled down a dark alley in the slums of a nearby town. The Phantom Legion compound I had grown up in was located just over the hill from this place. I didn’t know if the masters would come look for me or not, but the dizziness I was feeling told me I needed to find a way to patch up my wounds…quick.

I don’t know how long it took for me to get over that damned hill, but the hazy orange glow that hung over the hill crest was still burning bright when at last I managed to reach the city limits. Though I couldn’t read, I did know what the symbol for a medical facility looked like. I had once done a mission in a hospital. I had been about 16 at the time. My target was in because of a failed hit by one of the older Phantoms. I had been let off about a block from the hospital, and so the master in charge at that time had told me what symbol to look for.

Now, it was all I could do to keep from passing out. I was overwhelmed by pain, stiff, sore, exhausted, and god knows how long it had been since I had eaten anything. Add blood loss to that and I was a mess.

Then I saw it. A dingy sign with a red cross hung above a darkened doorway. I limped over toward it and collapsed against the door. With as much effort as I could manage, I pounded against the door. No response. Again I pounded. Still no response. I tried the knob. No good.

Groaning, I stepped back and looked around. There was a window off to the side of the doorway. I could tell it had a single latch at the top, but…

I lifted my gun and fired. Glass shattered everywhere, but there was now a hole big enough to fit my hand through. I reached in and unhooked the latch, then lifted the window and crawled through.

A light flashed on in a stairwell just outside the room I was in. The doctor’s office seemed to also serve as the doctor’s house.

“Be careful, Henry,” I heard a woman’s voice say from the top of the stairs. The plea was faint.

“I will, dear. Just…stay put,” a man’s voice replied. I could see a shadow flickering into view.

Quietly, I fell up against the wall at the edge of the open doorway leading into the foyer, my gun held up against my shoulder. My senses could hardly be considered sharp at this point. I was trying not to faint. But I could still tell that the footsteps were coming closer. Then…

I turned, the barrel of my gun coming to a stop under a man’s chin. I could see sheer terror glittering in his eyes.

“You a doctor?” I questioned. My voice was strained.

“Y-Yes,” the man gasped.

“Bandages,” I demanded, motioning with my gun. “Now.”

The man looked confused, but immediately obeyed my command. He led the way into a room on the opposite side from where I had come in. He motioned for me to sit on a chair set off to the side while he went to turn on the light. I flinched when the overhead came on. It wasn’t as bad as it had been the first time I saw daylight, but it still hurt my eyes. That, though, was the least of my pain, and so I did what I could to ignore it.

Then the doctor turned back to me. A look of horror crossed his face.

“God,” he breathed in shock. “What happened to you?”

“Bandages,” I replied, leaning against the back of the chair. It felt good to sit down.

“You’re going to need more than bandages, miss. You have lacerations all over you.”

“I know,” I huffed.

The doctor leaned down and examined my hand.

“Is that a bullet wound?”

I grunted in reply.

“And these lacerations…that looks like shrapnel in your arms.”

“No doubt,” I responded.

“I need to get this stuff out of you. It could kill you otherwise.”

I watched as the doctor rushed around the room, muttering strange words like “antiseptic” and “sutures”. But I didn’t really care at that point. Now that I was sure he’d help me, I let my pistol clatter to the floor.

The doctor paused when he heard the sound. He eyed me for a minute, then grabbed up his supplies and returned to where I sat. Gently he took me by the hand and began cleaning up the worst of my wounds: a nice little hole right through the middle of my left hand. He was quiet for a very long time as he worked. Every now and again he would pull out some strange device that I would eye suspiciously, but he’d quickly explain what it was and continue working in silence. It wasn’t until he had gotten my arms bandaged up that at last he looked up at me.

“Mr. Covent…he told me about someone like you,” he said. He looked hesitant and nervous, but curious all the same.

“Covent,” I whispered, wincing as the doctor pulled a piece of shrapnel from my shoulder. “That’s…what they called him.”

“They?”

“The masters.”

“The…are you…?” he stood up and looked at me in shock. “A Phantom?”

I lifted my gun from the floor and, pointing it at the doctor, gave him a steely glare.

“Keep working,” I said through clenched teeth.

“That isn’t the best way to get someone to help you,” the doctor replied, crossing his arms.

I blinked back at him. He was obviously scared, but he still spoke to me with confidence.

“I’m not going back,” I whispered, clenching my gun tightly. I could feel a strange tightness welling up in my throat. A stray drop of liquid coursed down my cheek, startling me for a moment. Lifting my bandaged left hand, I caught the drop on the end of my finger and stared at it in confusion.

“You…escaped!” the doctor sounded excited. “Covent wasn’t kidding when he said he had talked down a Phantom! Incredible!”

“Please,” I cried, closing my eyes tightly, trying to stem the flow of tears. “I’m not…I’m not going back!”

I aimed my gun at the doctor with new fervor.

“I won’t let you tell them. Now, either you help me or I shoot you and fix myself.”

“No, no,” the doctor replied quickly. “I promise I won’t tell them. But you know, I usually require payment for my help.”

I stared back at him blankly.

“Payment?”

“Yes. Payment. Money. You know what I mean, don’t you?”

“No.”

I honestly didn’t. I had no concept of economy.

“Okay,” the doctor mused, obviously trying to find a way to make me understand. “Rewards. Were you ever rewarded for doing something your masters liked?”

“Yes.”

“Well, payment…money…it’s like a reward. I do something good, you reward me for it. Understand?”

I looked at him quizzically. “Maybe.”

“I’m helping fix you up. Do you want to help me in return?”

“How?”

“The government you have been working for. It hurts people. People are starving, suffering, but the government kills anyone who stands against them. That’s what you Phantoms do, isn’t it? Kill people the government doesn’t like?”

I nodded.

“Alright, well, you’re trying to get away from them, which means you are now their enemy. And I’m their enemy, too.”

“You?”

“Yes. Me. The Mr. Covent you spared the other day…he’s their enemy, too. We’re trying to make a better country. We’re trying to help people. Do you understand?”

I nodded firmly. Pain. I understood pain. And I understood that the doctor and the one called Mr. Covent were trying to put an end to the people who had kept me locked in a dark room all my life. I didn’t understand everything he was talking about, but I understood that.

“Good,” the doctor smiled. “So, can I make a deal with you?”

“What is it?”

“Join us. Help us fight the people you escaped from. If you do that, you’ll be paying me back tenfold.”

“Fight…” I mused, looking down at my bandaged hand. “Let me rest first. I can’t fight right now.”

“I’m not asking you to,” the doctor smiled. “When you get better, then you can help us. Deal?”

I looked at him long and hard, then nodded. “Deal.”

“Good. Now let’s finish getting you cleaned up. My name is Henry Kepler. And you?”

I was silent for a moment as I watched the doctor stitch up a nasty wound near my knee.

“Lightning,” I replied at length. “They called me Lightning.”

———————-

Little tendrils of light danced around the edges of the curtains when I awoke. It had been a couple of hours before Dr. Kepler had been able to extract all the shrapnel and stitch up all the lacerations on my body. He had then helped me up the stairs and into a spare bedroom where I immediately had fallen asleep.

I sat up, stiff and sore but feeling much better than the night before. I was glad the curtains were closed. I was slowly growing accustomed to the light, but I still wasn’t fond of it.

I glanced around at my surroundings. Compared to my room of concrete walls and sparse furniture, this place was lavish. But because of my work, I knew that it was on the poorer side of things. The bed I slept on was softer than my own had been, but hard as far as most beds go. A simple quilt lay crumpled up on my lap. There was a bedside table nearby, a couple of bookshelves, and some stacks of boxes. The walls had faded, decorated paper plastered to them, and there was carpet on the floors.

Just then I caught the sound of voices coming from the stairwell and the sound of two pairs of heavy feet. One voice was Dr. Kepler’s. The other, Mr. Covent’s. I paused stiffly, ready to spring into a hiding spot if need be.

“That bad, huh?” Mr. Covent mused.

They had stopped at the top of the stairs.

“Yes,” Dr. Kepler replied. “It took me hours to take care of all the shrapnel and lacerations. And with all the blood she lost, I can’t believe she managed to stay aware for as long as she did.”

“Well, she’s a Phantom. I expect they are trained to endure great amounts of physical strain.”

“She had me scared for a while,” Dr. Kepler laughed. “It’s hard to think straight with a gun aimed at your head.”

“I imagine she was scared,” Mr. Covent noted. “Think about it. They’re hunting us, and we don’t know the half of what goes on inside. Someone who’s been on the inside for that long…I don’t think they would just let her walk away easily.”

“Judging by the way she looked last night, I would say not,” Dr. Kepler agreed. “But there was something strange about her. She didn’t understand half of what I was saying. Now, maybe that had to do with her blood loss but…well, I just don’t think so. She didn’t even know what money was.”

“The other day, when she was in my house…she’d never seen daylight before either,” Mr. Covent said.

“And she kept calling her superiors ‘masters’,” Dr. Kepler added.

“Yes. I think…well, I could be wrong, but I think the Phantoms are kept against their will. They’re not agents of the government so much as they are pets.”

“Right. Well-trained pets.”

By this point I had edged up to the door. At this last comment, I opened it and stepped out into the dim light of the hallway. It was brighter than the halls in the compound, but still dim in comparison to daylight or to the light down in the doctor’s office.

Dr. Kepler and Mr. Covent gave a start of surprise when I appeared.

“I’m sorry. Did we wake you?” the doctor inquired.

I looked at him long and hard. He was middle-aged, older than Mr. Covent in any case, with salt-and-pepper hair and a neatly-trimmed mustache. I hadn’t taken a good look at him the night before. I had only been focused on getting help then.

“Lightning?” the doctor prodded, looking at me nervously.

“No,” I said. “I was already awake.”

“I see. You really should get back into bed, though. We don’t want those stitches coming out.”

I looked down at my hands and arms. There were little strings in nice, neat rows all over.

“You weren’t kidding,” Mr. Covent commented, looking at me in wonder. “What the hell happened?”

“Explosions,” I said, looking back up at the two men. “I was inside an exploding building.”

“There was a red haze over the horizon last night. I saw it when I was getting ready for bed. Was that where you were?”

“Yes.”

“What caused the explosions?” Dr. Kepler inquired.

“I did.”

The two men stared at me in disbelief.

“You?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“I shot a gas tank,” I replied. “Then…”

My voice trailed away.

“Then what?” Mr. Covent inquired.

“It caught fire,” I said bluntly. “There were other tanks in the same room. They killed whoever I didn’t shoot.”

“How did you manage to get here?”

“I walked.”

“You walked all that way with those injuries?”

“Yes.”

There was a moment of silence, then I turned to look at Dr. Kepler.

“How long until these are healed?” I asked, motioning slightly with my head to the stitches on my arms.

“A week at least,” the doctor replied.

“And my hand?”

Dr. Kepler and Mr. Covent exchanged glances, then the doctor said, “Well…the bullet wound is severe. It did a lot of damage, and I don’t know that you’ll ever have full use of it again.”

I frowned. I never was as good with my right hand, though I could still beat your average gunman using it.

“I see.”

I turned back to the room.

“I will rest a while longer,” I said, glancing over my shoulder. “But if anyone suspicious comes, tell me. If they’re government, I want them dead.”

Then with that I stepped into the bedroom and closed the door behind me. Darkness. Sweet darkness. I wasn’t sure I’d ever grown accustomed to the light. But before getting back into bed, I pulled my little prism out from my shirt and held it up against the light that shone around the edges of the curtain. Instantly little patches of rainbows began dancing around the room. I smiled slightly. Yes…I was now where I wanted to be.

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The Hobbit: A Side Note

The Hobbit

Okay, so I usually don’t do movie reviews, but after going and seeing The Hobbit: Part 1, I had to find somewhere to rant. And, as it is after 12:30 in the morning, all the normal people are asleep, and I’ve already spent the last half hour ranting to my father and brother, who went to see the movie with me, I decided that my blog is the best place to do it.

Might I first say that, generally speaking, The Hobbit was awesome! Now, I might just be saying this because I’m just a little bit biased, and seeing as how I’ve discovered that sensible thoughts rarely come out of my brain this close to 1 o’clock in the morning, one never knows. I loved the Lord of the Rings movies, and I hold a special place in my heart for the actors and sets I’m so familiar with. (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched the trilogy and I own all three extended editions). Furthermore, I am a Tolkien fan.

Growing up in a conservative, small-town, Christian community, I always thought that The Lord of the Rings was evil. It wasn’t until I became friends with my best friend, (I will call her Rayne, as that is her character name in The Star Series), that I learned otherwise. I saw the movies first.

But the book I read first was, in fact, The Hobbit. Being a fan of the movies, as well as the fact that people often told me that my books reminded them of The Lord of the Rings, I decided that I wanted to read some of Tolkien’s work. It just so happened that around that time, one of my professors invited some of us students to go with him and his wife to the symphony. We left early that morning, went out for breakfast, and stopped at a nearby Barnes & Noble while we waited for the auditorium to open. That’s when I found it: The Hobbit: Collector’s Edition. I was awestruck by the sturdy green hardback with a protective case and gold, runic lettering. Needless to say, I bought it. Yes. I’m a bibliophile.

Even with my severe lack of concentration (I joke around and say I have ADD, though I don’t actually know) and my slight issue with dyslexia, I finished the book within a week’s time. I was addicted to it. I wrote music for the songs. I read and reread funny passages. I yelled at Gandalf…a lot. I had, at one point, even memorized, word for word, all the riddles exchanged between Bilbo and Gollum.

I met the announcement of the making of the movie with a mix of excitement and trepidation. That’s how it usually goes when Hollywood turns one of my favorite books into a movie. They always change things. Sometimes, I can handle that. I could handle the change they made to The Count of Monte Cristo. Other times, the change is horrendous. I spent most of the hour or so of The Lightning Thief yelling at the computer screen. (Granted, the movie grew on me. I did actually buy and keep that one). I thought I was gonna go loony when I saw what they did to The Three Musketeers. Don’t even get me started on that one. And The Hobbit?

Kili

Once again, generally speaking, it was good. I could tell there were changes. No doubt. But most of the changes were subtle enough, (and it’s been long enough since I read the book), that I didn’t mind them. The characters are fantastic. As I expected, I like Bilbo way better than Frodo. (Though Frodo in the books is better than Frodo in the movies). The dwarves are fantastic, I love Kili about ten times more than I already did, and they did quite well with the songs. And honestly, I don’t miss the singing elves. That was a part I wasn’t sad to see go, even if some of the jibes in the book would have been funny to hear on screen.

That being said, there were a few parts that elicited everything from a raised eyebrow to a jaw drop of disbelief. I’ll go with the least bothersome change first: the beginning.

I know what they meant to do with the beginning scene. Bringing back Frodo and the old Bilbo helps to tie in the movies people are familiar with with a new story that they most likely haven’t read. It’s a typical ploy in the film industry. They did that with Narnia: The Dawn Treader. My personal opinion of this? Two things: no and…please, no. The bringing back of characters that don’t belong in a story is just irritating to me. But the worst part of this in The Hobbit was that it went on for too long. They needed back story. I get that. But the deal with Frodo…not so much.

But, like I said, that was the least of my issues with the movie. The whole bringing characters back ploy, however, bothered me even more when they brought in Galadriel and Saruman. Please note, Saruman really wasn’t actually bad at that point, and I don’t recall him ever showing up in the book. And yet here, he not only shows up out of the blue to chide Gandalf, but he already talks as though he’s made a deal with Sauron. Then there’s Galadriel. Another character that I don’t recall being in the books, though the movie made me doubt as to whether I remember much of anything at all. I never was fond of Galadriel. That blank stare that she gives everybody always creeped me out. And the whole mind-reading thing…I know she has the power to talk to others in their minds (which may be one reason why I find her so creepy), but I think this was just a little bit overkill. Elrond is cool. He’s in the book. And I like him. So he can stay.

Speaking of creepy…enter the Witch King of Angmar (I believe that’s who they were talking about when they referred to the necromancer)…who happens to not be in Angmar for some funky reason…and who happens to appear and attack Radagast who then tells Gandalf who magically forgets all about a necromancer and a Morgul blade by the time Bilbo goes loony because of the ring. You must realize that the main part of The Lord of the Rings occurs somewhere around 100 years (maybe less) after The Hobbit. You would think that the appearance of a Morgul blade and the necromancer would have made Gandalf suspicious long before Bilbo ever went loopy. And furthermore, he would have been studying about all of this from that point on and wouldn’t have waited till Frodo turned 50ish. It just doesn’t make sense. Maybe he has Alzheimer’s. I don’t know.

Radagast

But I must say that the one part that made my jaw drop in disbelief because of the ridiculous cheesiness of it all was the part with Radagast. In the books, Radagast is always a little on the special side. I get that. But in this movie, he was downright loopy. Saruman wasn’t kidding. It definitely had to be the mushrooms. Makes me want to agree with my cousin A. Maybe mushrooms really are bad for you. I will forever think of a jittery, bird-poop-running-down-his-face freak show every time I look at a mushroom now. And the whole sled being pulled by giant mutant bunnies? There was only one thing running through my mind during that part. What. The. Hell? I like Peter Jackson. Don’t get me wrong. But…um…what do they put in their beer over there? Kinda scary. Not gonna lie.

Alright, now that I’ve done my ranting, I should probably wrap this up. If anyone is even still reading by this point. For what it was worth, I still liked the movie and I will definitely go see the other ones when they come out. I think there’s two more…I don’t remember…and it’s after 1:30 now so I probably won’t remember. Good night…morning…whatever you want to call it. I’m off to get some sleep and dream about funny hobbits and hot dwarves. (That doesn’t sound too awkward, does it?) Oh yeah, and God forbid I dream about giant mutant rabbits. I may not sleep so well if that happens.

Flower of Miran

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while now, you might remember that I was in a narrative writing class at one point. I posted one of my stories, “The Angels’ Secret”, but somehow I failed to post what I consider to be the best of the stories I wrote for that class. I came up with the idea for “Flower of Miran” when I was going through one of my picture files on my computer. I have the habit of saving random pictures onto my computer because I think they’re cool, whether or not they serve a purpose. The primary image that I used is the one below.

Inspiration for Navon

————

Flower of Miran

A cool, gentle breeze shifted over the hillcrest as a lone figure on horseback wound its way down a lonely dirt path. The moonlight streamed over the mountain peaks in the distance, glowing against the white snow patches and glinting off the surface of the stream that wound its way to the valley floor beyond. The path on which the lone figure travelled curled down into the valley, crossing over a bridge that spanned the stream before winding up again, toward a stone tower perched upon a far hill.

The whisper of the cool breeze stirred the tall field grass that crowded up against the edge of the dirt road, joining in chorus with the chirp of crickets, the croak of frogs, the gurgling of the stream and the rhythmic clip, clop, clip, clop of the rider’s mount. The horse snorted, tossing its head only enough to move its forelock out of its eyes, its deep black coat glistening under the moon’s watchful gaze.

The rider, who wore a heavy, hooded cloak, almost entirely blended in with his mount, seeming to be no more than an extension of the jet black creature that trotted along the desolate path.

It wasn’t long before the tower was looming above the pair. Quietly the rider dismounted, tucking a large object securely under his arm before turning toward the weather-beaten, wooden door that led into the tower’s dark interior.

“Navon? Is that you?”

The cloaked figure paused as a young girl appeared at the bottom of the tower staircase, a lit candle in one hand. She had stopped at the last steps, glancing out into the dark room, half crouched, half pressed against the wall. Her long, light brown hair fell in gentle waves over her shoulder, her ivory skin and bright blue eyes glittering like gemstones against her creamy-white nightgown.

“It’s okay, Zara,” the figure replied, pushing off the hood of his cloak with his free hand. “It’s just me.”

He was a young man, this cloaked figure who was now only barely visible in the candlelight. He didn’t appear to be more than 16. His hair was jet black and reached down to his shoulder blades. His eyes glinted pale gold in the dim half-light. Though his cloak covered most of his attire, the uneven hem of a strange robe could still be seen at the front, a blue sash and a brown leather belt encompassing his middle and heavy leather sandals adorning his feet. A strange red symbol was tattooed on his forehead, framed by his bangs on either side.

“Navon,” Zara smiled, relaxing visibly. “I’m glad. When you didn’t come for supper, I became worried.”

“Mmm,” Navon nodded, holding the object in his hand out toward her. “I was in town, and I found this.”

“Another book? Navon, you have too many books already,” the girl protested, following the young man over to a table on which a lantern sat.

Her comrade didn’t respond until he had lit the lantern, raising it to reveal a room full of bookshelves, tables, and stacks upon stacks of books.

“One can never have too many books, Zara,” he replied, proceeding to a pile of books in the far corner and laying the new one on top. “Books mean knowledge, and knowledge is power. And power, Zara…” he leaned over toward her, “power is what we don’t have on our side.”

At that he turned toward the outer door.

“I’m going to put Loyan in the stable. You should go to bed. You have nothing to worry about now that I am here.”

“Navon,” Zara protested, “are things really getting that bad?”

The young man paused in the open doorway, staring out into the dark night. A moment later he had reached for the door handle.

“Good night…Zara.”

The clack of the closing door was the final reply.

********

The bright morning sunlight streamed through the window in the library room of the tower in which Navon and Zara lived. It settled in a cheery golden patch on Navon’s face. Slowly, the young man lifted his head from the book on which it had been resting.

“You fell asleep at the desk again,” came Zara’s soft voice.

Navon sat up and turned to the young woman standing next to him. She was clad in a beige summer dress, her long, wavy, light brown hair pulled back into a simple ponytail.

“I took the privilege of opening the window for you,” the girl continued, putting her hands behind her back and smiling sweetly. “I thought the sun would be a much nicer way to wake up.”

“Ugh,” Navon grunted, letting his head fall back to the desk, his forehead coming to rest on the pages of the book he had been reading. “Zara, bright light is the worst thing to wake up to.”

“Oh…I’m sorry. I just thought…”

The young man glanced up, one eye open, to look at his companion. She appeared genuinely perplexed and embarrassed now, her cheeks a vivid pink. She had fisted one slender hand and put it to her lips in deep thought, her eyebrows furrowed with concern.

“Ah, don’t worry about it, princess,” Navon sighed, pushing his chair back and standing to his feet. “Thanks for the thought.”

“Navon!” Zara gasped as he lifted the book from the table under the window. “I…I apologize. I won’t do it again. I promise. I’ll…I’ll…”

“Zara,” the young man interrupted, closing his book and looking over at her. “Stop apologizing. Go outside. Pick some flowers. Stop worrying about me.”

The girl still look flustered, but she obeyed without another word, hurrying out the door to the field beyond.

Idly, Navon rearranged stacks of books and scrolls, pausing when at last he could see Zara through the open window. Zara-to-Mirsaj: eira, princess, daughter of the king of Miran. Had it really been three months since he first rescued her from the hands of the high priest and the sacrificial death she had been meant for? She was a good six years older than Navon himself, though she was as small and fragile as a child. Why now? Why her? What purpose could sacrificing a princess possibly serve. Navon had never had much regard for religion, but that had more to do with the priests than it had to do with their god, Kosak. Nonetheless, the young man had never taken Kosak as the stereotypical, blood-thirsty god. Not that he knew much about it, but still…human sacrifice?

“Navon!”

The young man jumped when Zara leaned through the window toward him. He hadn’t even noticed her presence.

“Come outside,” the girl said. “Sunshine is good for you, too. Better than dirty old books.”

“Nah,” Navon shrugged, picking up an armload of heavy volumes. “I’m going to clean up my study area, then I’ll make us some breakfast.”

The princess wrinkled her nose.

“Do you really have to cook? Can’t we eat something that you don’t make?”

“Well, I’m sorry my cooking doesn’t suit your royal palate. It’s better than starving.”

“Don’t they have books about that? About cooking?”

“No. And why would anyone waste their money on something like that if they did? Go…play with your flowers and stuff. I’ll call you when breakfast is ready.”

*************

“Won’t you come outside with me, Navon?” Zara begged as she helped the young man clear the table at which they had been eating. “I want to go up to that garden we found the other day.”

“I suppose,” Navon sighed. “We’ll just leave the dishes for later. It will give you something to do when I go into town again tomorrow.”

“Thank you!” the girl beamed excitedly, giving the young man a quick peck on the cheek before rushing up the stairs. “I’m going to get my shawl! I’ll be right back.”

“Princesses,” the young man grunted, wiping his cheek with his sleeve and turning toward his bookshelves. “Oh, well. I’ll just bring a book along.”

He crossed the small room to the shelf on which his newest book sat. Pulling it into his hands, he stared down at the gilded text on the leather cover. “Conjectures on the Nature of Kosak, god of Miran by Jayne Leigh.” Obviously written by an outsider, but still…it was information. Though Kosak was the god of Miran, Navon was sure there wasn’t a single Mirs who actually knew what that god was like.

The sound of quick footsteps caught the young man’s ears and he turned to see Zara hurrying toward him.

“I’m ready!”

“So I see,” Navon replied, tucking his book under one arm. “Alright. Let’s go.”

***********

The mountain air was cool and crisp as Navon and Zara hiked along a narrow trail at the summit of a large, grassy hill. Navon would have much preferred to ride his horse, but Zara would not go near the creature, so there was nothing he could do but walk. The landscape spread out in a surreal spiral, the tall grey mountain peaks veiled in a ceiling of clouds, the roots of the mountain reaching out in the direction of the sea as the range itself curled south. The valleys that nestled between the roots of the mountains glowed like emerald gems in the soft midmorning sunlight.

The pair came to a stop at the hilltop, looking down at a meadow below. Hardly a single whisp of green could be seen in the midst of a rainbow of color. Large, multicolor blooms reached skyward, their appearance so vivid they might as well have been glowing. They seemed to be variations of regular wildflowers. Only, the blooms of this feral garden were about seven times larger than the ones that grew elsewhere.

“What do you think, Navon?” Zara questioned as they stepped into the sea of color. She held up a bloom that was five-petalled, pale pink with magenta spots toward the center, and with multiple, pink-tipped stamen shooting out from all sides. It had a strange, round, pinkish bulb in the center and was roughly six inches in diameter.

“Huh?” Navon replied, raising an eyebrow at the princess.

“What do you think? Isn’t it pretty?”

“It’s pink.”

“Exactly!”

The young man sighed, then proceeded over to a large boulder set off to the side of the field. Here he sat down with his book, only half concentrating on the words on the page. Every now and again he would look up to make sure that Zara was still there or to secretly admire the flowers around him. Of course, he couldn’t let Zara know that he was looking at the flowers. That wasn’t a manly endeavor.

The place really was beautiful, though Navon knew that a darker history pervaded the landscape. He had inquired about this place at the village when he had last passed that way. The villagers had told him the legend behind this meadow, a story filled with magic, destruction, and bloodlust. That story…could it even be true? And even then, dare he tell Zara?

“What are you thinking about?” came an inquiring voice.

Navon jumped slightly when he realized that Zara was standing beside him.

“Nothing,” the young man replied, burying his nose back in his book.

The girl cocked her head to one side, her eyebrows knit in curious concern.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. It’s nothing.”

There was a moment of awkward silence as Zara stood there, hands behind her back, leaning over Navon’s shoulder while the young man focused intently on the page in front of him, hoping that the princess would get bored and go elsewhere.

“Navon?” the girl said at length.

“Huh?”

“Can I…show you something?”

Instantly the young man looked up from his book. This must be serious. Zara never asked permission for such things, nor did she vocalize such a desire with such timidity.

“Sure,” he replied, closing his book and standing to his feet. “What is it?”

The girl rocked back and forth on her feet before setting off at a brisk trot toward a rocky outcropping on the far side of the meadow. Navon followed behind, curious and slightly concerned. They came to a stop in front of a pool of water. Navon shivered when he saw it.

The outcropping consisted of chipped obsidian that glittered in the bright sunlight. It encircled the pool of water before which the pair now stood. A gnarled tree grew nearby, its twisting roots plunged deep into the water, which was rusty red in tint. A human skull sat motionless on the far side of the pool, its sightless eyes eerily staring at them, a gaunt guardian of the mysterious basin. Clusters of enormous red irises hugged the water’s edge, their heavy blooms bowing toward the shadowed surface.

Quietly Zara crouched in front of the water staring at her rippling reflection. She let her chin come to rest on her knees and hugged her legs, her eyes locked on the reflection. Navon could feel his whole body quivering. Something didn’t feel right about this place. His sharp golden eyes now wide and alert, he shook himself from his trance and glanced around at his surroundings. Images and sounds wholly foreign to him seemed to now race through his mind. Shrill screams and splashing blood danced through his mind’s eye. The story. Surely…it couldn’t possibly be true!

He glanced up at the mountain and across the meadow. A movement caught his eye. It was a figure, dressed in a blood-red cloak. And it was coming their way.

“What do you think, Navon?”

The young man spun back to Zara, who was now kneeling by the water. It was almost as though she had been hypnotized. Her eyes were staring and sightless.

“What do you think it is?” she continued, reaching out toward the water.

“No, Zara!” Navon exclaimed, grabbing the girl by the wrist and flinging her back toward himself. “We have to run. Do you understand me? We have to run!”

A look of sheer terror crossed the girl’s face and she looked back and forth in search of the foe from which they were fleeing. Her eyes landed on the solemn red figure coming toward them. Immediately her knees buckled and she pitched forward. Navon grabbed her by the arms and hauled her back to her feet.

“Don’t do this to me, Zara!” the young man warned, pulling her by the wrist. “Come on!”

The pair sped off toward the hill crest, the sound of their footfall echoing in their ears like a heartbeat. The enormous blooms of the meadow flowers whipped left and right, crushed under their racing feet. They did not pause until they had reached the top of the hill.

For a brief moment, Navon glanced back as his feet touched the hillcrest. The red figure had entirely disappeared. Had Navon been seeing things? He dared not stay to wonder. Giving Zara’s wrist another tug, the pair set off again, their hearts racing wildly, their minds filled with questions.

************

“Who was that?” Zara panted as Navon slammed the tower door behind them.

The young man shoved the bolt into its socket and collapsed against the door.

“I don’t know,” he replied, forcing himself to stand again and crossing the room. He let his book fall to the study table before sinking into the chair and letting his face fall into his hands.

“He didn’t chase us,” the girl said. “Why were we running?”

“I don’t know,” Navon admitted. “Something just…didn’t feel right.”

“Do you think someone is after us?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is it the priest?”

“I don’t know!”

Navon looked up at the princess with a frustrated frown. Immediately Zara’s face paled.

“I’m sorry,” the girl whispered, backing off.

“No…don’t be,” Navon sighed. “Just…just don’t ask any more questions, okay? Wait until I have answers, at least.”

“Okay,” Zara nodded. She paused a moment before continuing, “I’ll…make some supper.”

Her comrade raised an eyebrow at her.

“Can you cook?”

The girl stiffened for a moment, then replied slowly and emphatically, “Yes, I can.”

Navon eyed her warily for a moment, then shrugged and turned toward his book.

“Okay,” he said, “just don’t hurt yourself.”

He watched her go, then laid his head on his study table. Why had that red-cloaked man frightened him so much? And why had all those sounds and images come to his mind. He had always had an active imagination, but that…that was something entirely different. What was even more frightening was the look on Zara’s face when she had knelt by the pool. It had been as though she were a mere reflection of the skull at the water’s edge. He had to know more about that place…about the story behind it.

“The Luloudi,” he whispered aloud. “Could it be that she is…?”

“Navon!”

The young man sprang from his chair at the frightened outcry. Quickly he rushed into the side room attached to the tower, the place where all the cooking was done. There he found Zara, standing near the counter. She was holding her hand, blood dripping between her fingers.

“Good lord, Zara!” Navon gasped, ushering the girl to a seat next to the fireplace. “I told you not to hurt yourself!”

“The knife slipped,” Zara whimpered back.

A large pot of boiling water had been set over the fire, and quickly Navon pulled it toward him, dipping a clean cloth in the water and wincing only slightly at the heat. He waited for but a moment before gently taking Zara’s hand and pressing the cloth over her bleeding wound.

“Hold that there,” he told her. “I’ll need to clean my hands and find some bandages.”

At that the young man turned and went in search of an extra cloth. He was just about to pick one up when he realized that his hands were slightly tingly. Stunned, Navon glanced down at his hands, which had just moments before been covered in blood. They weren’t covered now, though. Instead, he could feel the muscles in his hands growing stronger.

“No…” he breathed. “So she is…”

He shook himself out of his trance and hurried up the stairs toward his room, which was located on the second floor of the tower. There he kept a chest of medical supplies. A moment later he had returned to the cooking area.

There sat Zara, still holding her bleeding hand. For a girl who utterly panicked at the thought of riding a horse, she sure was quiet now, staring deeply into the fire, ignoring the pain that Navon was sure she must have felt.

“Here, let me see your wound,” he said, sitting on a crate beside the girl and holding up the bandages.

Without protest, Zara held out her hand, removing the bloody cloth in her opposite hand. Carefully, Navon dipped the cloth back into the water pot, which was still quite warm, and gently brushed the cloth over Zara’s hand. Once he had removed the majority of the blood, he wrapped her hand in bandages and sat back, staring at her in wonder.

“Navon, is everything alright?” Zara inquired, noticing the young man’s stare.

“I…” Navon began to reply. He could not finish his sentence, however, before a look of terror crossed Zara’s face.

The girl let out a piercing scream and Navon spun in time to see a blur of red come charging toward him. Instinctively, the young man ducked, launching a fist at his attacker. The being bounded back and came to a stop in the doorway. It was at this point that Navon could finally get a good look at the intruder. His heart caught in his throat when he realized that it was none other than the red-cloaked figure from the meadow.

He was a tall fellow, with ivory skin, long, golden hair, and sharp blue eyes. His features were sharp, his frame light and lank. He was clad in a strange, robe-like garb of crimson and gold, with the hooded cloak to accent it. A long, two-edged sword was clasped in the stranger’s left hand, an ornate scabbard attached to his belt on his right.

“Who are you?” Navon demanded.

“Abraxas,” the stranger replied, his voice deep and rumbling.

“What do you want? Why are you here?”

The intruder smiled menacingly. Without responding, he bounded toward Navon, sword glinting in the sunlight that filtered through a window nearby. Quickly Navon sidestepped the attack but could not do so a second time before Abraxas had turned on him, falling on the young scholar with fury.

“Navon!” Zara wailed, bounding to her feet.

With no other options left, Navon did the only thing he could think of: he grabbed the sword blade with both hands. For a moment, it was as if time stood still. Everything…everyone seemed frozen. A moment later, Abraxas stepped away, eyeing Navon closely. The young man was staring at his hands, at the places where the sword blade had touched. There were no cuts; there was no sign of blood. Only huge, red welt marks.

“You devil,” the attacker growled, bracing himself for another attack. “You’ve already used her.”

Navon looked up at the intruder with shock.

“I…what?”

“You…”

Abraxas clenched his teeth and was about to attack when, all at once, Zara darted in the way, her eyes wide in fear.

“I…I don’t know what’s going on,” she whimpered. “But please don’t hurt him. He’s the only one I have to protect me.”

Now it was the intruder’s turn to look shocked.

“Protect you?”

“Yes,” the girl nodded. “The priests of Kosak, in my home country of Miran…they wanted to sacrifice me. But Navon saved me. The priests are still looking for me, so please don’t take Navon away. Besides…he’s my friend.”

Abraxas glanced from the girl, to the young man, then back to the girl.

“I was told,” he said at length, “that there was word of a Luloudi girl living in Miran whose life was in danger. I was not told that she would have a Mirs guard as well.”

“A Luloudi?” Zara questioned.

Navon turned to the stranger in astonishment.

“How did you come by this information?”

“Inside sources,” Abraxas replied, coldly eyeing Navon. “There are very few of us left. I had to find her. It was her attraction to the garden that proved to me her identity.”

“My identity?” Zara inquired. “What are you two talking about?”

“Zara…” Navon said, taking in a deep breath, “I think it’s time you know…you are a descendant of the Luloudi.”

“Yes,” Abraxas nodded. “The Luloudi…my people…your people. We are beings with great power. Our blood feeds living things…changes their composition…makes them bigger, stronger, more invincible. Look,” he grabbed Navon by the wrist and shoved the young man’s hand toward Zara. “Your blood must have come into contact with his hands at some point, for my sword did not even break his skin when he caught it by the blade.”

“Was that a minute ago…when I cut myself?” Zara questioned, staring wide-eyed at Navon’s hands, which were still welted.

“That’s right,” Navon replied, yanking his hand away from Abraxas and giving the intruder a steely glare.

“So then…that was why they wanted to sacrifice me? For my blood?”

Navon and Abraxas exchanged looks, then Abraxas replied, “Under normal circumstances, they would have simply kidnapped you and kept you for your blood. They would be able to use it longer that way, which is what the Mirs did to our ancestors in the old days. But sacrifice…it would have to be a large operation to require that much Luloudi blood at one time.”

“Which leaves you to wonder what they’re planning,” Navon sighed.

Zara’s face paled.

“Is that what you meant, Navon?” the girl questioned. “Is that why you keep searching for books, saying that they will give you power. Is it because the priests are still after us?”

“In large numbers,” Navon nodded. “They’ve been looking for you. Earlier, I was not sure why. Now that I know, however…I’m afraid we may be in even greater danger than I supposed.”

“Which is why you will need more people to help guard,” Abraxas responded. “There are very few of us Luloudi who remain alive. We must stay together. It is the only way we can stay safe.”

“That didn’t seem to help your ancestors,” Navon frowned. “They made a nice garden, but I’d rather not plant flowers that way.”

Abraxas shot a cold glare in the young man’s direction.

“Don’t you dare insult our ancestors,” he growled.

“I’m not,” Navon replied, turning his back to Abraxas and coming to stand next to Zara. Gently he put a hand on the girl’s shoulder, then continued,

“That was merely a metaphor. The priests called Zara the ‘Flower of Miran.’ I didn’t know what they meant back then. I understand now.”

Here he turned back to the intruder, his golden eyes hard and determined.

“But know this,” he said, “I will do everything in my power to protect Zara. I’m not after her blood. My father was a soldier and he swore allegiance to Miran. I am the son of a soldier, a soldier in my own right, and I, too, have sworn allegiance. But not to Miran. That country has betrayed the ideals that I have long upheld. Instead, I have sworn my allegiance to a different royalty: to Zara, to the Flower of Miran. And not even her own kinsmen can stop me from holding to my word.”

Prism World: Chapter 2

With NaNoWriMo over for the year, I’ve finally gotten the courage to post Chapter 2 of my newest project, Prism World.

Surprisingly, this book has been the most fun to write. It was a project that started purely out of boredom. And so I decided I’d play a little game. I went to Grooveshark and typed in a random word: prism. I’ve always been fascinated by prisms and I was curious to see what kind of songs would come up. After sifting through several songs, many of which I was not impressed by, I came across a song called “Prism” by Trail.

It is this song that inspired my story and, more specifically, the following chapter. It was Chapter 2 that I originally envisioned when beginning to write. Using “Prism” as my inspiration and allowing the main character, Lightning, to take full control of the story, I wrote the following chapter. Bear in mind, however, that this chapter would probably be considered rated R. That being said, I hope you enjoy. I have only shared this chapter with one person up until now.

(If you are unfamiliar with this project, feel free to read Chapter 1.)

—————————–

Chapter 2

Sweet darkness engulfed me as I opened my eyes and sat up. My masters had found me after my escape from my target’s house. They had blindfolded me, as they had always done, and had put me in a car. I had almost immediately fallen asleep. Between exhaustion, confusion, and, I suspected, trauma from so much exposure to light, my body had almost instantly shut down. When I woke, I was back in my cell, back in the darkness, where my only companions were the shadowed objects scattered about the room.

The slight tapping of footfall caught my ear. Instantly I was on my feet. I ducked behind a chair in the corner of the room, crouching low and eyeing the faint outline of the door that led to my cell. It was what every Phantom was taught. It was how they kept our skills sharp. We had to always be alert for visitors. If we were easy to spot, we’d be punished.

The door swung back on squeaky hinges and two figures entered the room. One was a master, and I knew his face. The other, however, was a stranger to me. I stayed hidden in the shadows.

“It would seem she heard us,” the master laughed quietly, stepping aside so the stranger could go further into the room.

“Good,” the stranger replied. His voice was deep and gravelly. I could smell a mixture of cigar smoke and cologne radiating off of him. It was toxic, but I dared not move for fear of being heard. I was not allowed to come out until the master called me.

But he didn’t call me. Instead, the stranger kept speaking.

“I was concerned about her abilities after the incident at the Covent household.”

“It wasn’t entirely her fault,” the master said. “Apparently, Mr. Covent was at the hospital with his grandmother all night. Lightning followed all the procedures. She did what she was supposed to do. The Fate’s failure compromised her.”

“Yes,” the stranger breathed slowly. “That has already been…dealt with. What I wish to know is what kept her so long? She didn’t leave the house until after Mr. Covent returned home. And yet, he’s still alive.”

“That, we are unsure of,” the master replied. “We always train our Phantoms to finish the job whether or not it would mean getting themselves killed in the process. She should not have retreated even if he fought back. At the moment, our only guess is that getting caught in the light caused her to lose focus.”

“Hmm,” the stranger grunted. “I suppose there are…disadvantages to training them only for the night.”

“This isn’t a common occurrence, though, sir. I have worked here for well on 30 years, and never before has one of our Phantoms gotten caught in the daylight.”

“These aren’t normal times, Mr. Perei. The rebels are forcing us to make moves we’ve never had to make before. I have already spoken to your superiors about this…incident. You will be breeding new Phantoms accustomed to minor levels of light, and you will be selecting a few current Phantoms who will be trained to react properly when in the light. That way, we should not have this issue again.”

“But sir, what should we do about Lightning?”

There was a pause. Every muscle in my body was tense. Was I going to punished for not killing my target. But why should I? He did not seem to be much of a threat to me.

“I have already discussed that with your superiors,” the stranger spoke at last.

I could see his feet turn towards the door.

“Her skills seem to be sharp, and she comes from a long line of superior Phantoms. But I fear she has been too badly compromised by this incident. I have suggested retiring her to the breeding program. Her recent exposure to light means she will probably adjust quickly to the new parameters I have set up for the Phantom Legion.”

“Yes, sir.”

The two men exited the room, but I did not move until I heard the door click behind them. Retirement? I still had two more years left to go. Was my failure so severe that I had to be thrown out? And what was this talk of breeding? I knew nothing about the concept. I had never known either of my parents. In fact, I didn’t even understand the term. All Phantom children were taken at birth and raised by masters who gave them only the bare necessities and who punished them if they cried too often. Phantom children never knew love and were trained to live without emotion.

But I suppose that there are just some things you can’t really suppress. Even if you treat a person like an animal, there are small things hidden deep inside that you can never get rid of. I had never really been able to feel much before, but the thought of that young man…I compared that experience to all that I had ever known and something about it just bothered me. I could feel something welling up inside of me, a feeling of defiance. I didn’t know what it meant to breed, but if the masters wanted to do that to me, they’d have to fight me first.

I reached inside my shirt and pulled out the little crystal prism my target had given me. It was still attached to its chain and I dangled it above my head. But of course, there was no light, and so nothing happened. It merely dangled back and forth, helpless to do anything else. That stone had potential…great potential. But, like me, it was stuck in a dark room, dangling on a chain, a prisoner to the one who held it.

Lowering my hand, I clutched the prism tightly. I could feel my (tendons?) tightening beneath the clasps on my wrists as my hands formed into fists. Fight. It was what I had been trained to do, but what if…what if there was something beyond fighting? What if there was such a thing as a reason to fight? I would never know if I had to stay here. I had to get out. But how?

I tucked the prism back inside my shirt and collapsed back onto my bed. I would have to figure out a plan. I had a new target, a new goal. And my plans almost never failed.

———————————————-

“You can come out, Lightning.”

I was crouched under a desk to the side of the room when the familiar voice caught my ear. It was Mr. Perei, the master from before. I had been sleeping soundly when I heard the doorknob turn, but even the deepest of sleep would be broken by my training.

I cautiously slipped out from under the desk.

“I am here, master,” I replied, coming to stand before him.

I stiffened, however, when I saw a stranger step past the door frame and into the dim half-light. The halls were always a little bit brighter than the rooms. I figured it was because the masters were not trained to live in the dark.

I eyed the newcomer with suspicion. It was a young man, with jet black hair and ebony eyes much like my own. His skin was ivory white just like mine, his body muscular but light and lithe at the same time. Immediately, I knew what he was. He was a Phantom, just like me.

“Lightning, I have brought you a companion. His name is Blade.”

Blade? All Phantoms remained nameless until they had made at least 10 kills, and their names were always in association with some aspect to themselves or their skills. Mine was Lightning because I had always been known for quick, clean kills using a gun, the sound of which was akin to thunder. If this Phantom’s name was Blade, he must do his kills with a dagger or a sword, and if he could be successful using such primitive weapons, he must be very skilled indeed.

“Why?” I asked.

I could see the master tense. I wasn’t supposed to ask that question. As a child, I would have been slapped for asking.

Blade shifted slightly. He, too, seemed to be surprised by my question.

“Lightning,” the master’s voice was strained and threatening. “What were you taught about that word?”

I ignored his response.

“I don’t want a companion,” I said, backing away. I didn’t trust the master’s motives. I had made a decision. I was going to follow my last target’s advice. I was going to see if there really was a world beyond my concrete prison. And that started with questioning the masters.

“I didn’t give you a choice, now did I?”

The master motioned for Blade to step inside. He immediately obeyed.

A moment later, the door was shut and locked. Now it was me standing defiant in the center of the room and Blade standing placidly before me.

“They said you had been compromised,” Blade mused, nonchalantly circling toward me.

I watched his body language. To him, I was no more than another target. But what had he been told to do to me? Did this have something to do with the breeding the stranger from before had mentioned? Why did the sound of the word bother me so?

“Compromised,” I repeated, beginning to circle away from him. “Yes, that is what they say.”

“Were you?”

“Why do you ask? Do you doubt the masters?”

“You seem to.”

“So?”

He paused, looking me up and down.

“You know why I’m here, don’t you?” he questioned at length.

“No,” I responded curtly.

He moved toward me. I backed away until I felt the cold essence of the wall press against my back. I shivered as Blade placed his hand against my jaw. I was still conflicted. Half of me told me to not resist, to obey the masters, to do whatever Blade told me to do. The other half of me trembled in rage, in indignation. That half wanted to fight back, to secure freedom, to see what I had been missing all my life. But that half was still weak. I waited nervously as Blade ran one hand down my left arm, pressing his other hand against my waist.

“I’m here so we can protect the government,” Blade said, breathing into my ear. “We are too old to protect the government, so we must create new Phantoms to do the job for us.”

“Why protect the government?” I asked, trying to slip away as one of Blade’s hands began to make its way up under my tight black shirt.

His grip was strong, firm. He pressed his body up against mine. There would be no easy escape now.

“Where do you get these questions?” he inquired as his broad hand slid up my back.

“Don’t you ever wonder?” I responded, turning my face away when he tried to press his lips to mine. “Don’t you ever wonder if they’re wrong?”

“Wrong? I don’t know what you mean.”

“Right and wrong. Have you never heard those words?”

Blade stood back slightly, looking at me quizzically.

“No,” he said. “What do they mean?”

I paused. I wasn’t really sure myself. How was I supposed to explain it to him?

“I’m not sure,” I replied at length. “I don’t know how to explain it. But it’s like…like the difference between light and darkness…only, it refers to how our actions affect other people. One makes people happier, and the other doesn’t.”

He looked at me with confusion. Then his eyes widened.

“You spoke to Mr. Covent, didn’t you?”

Now it was my turn to look at him quizzically.

“What?”

“Your last target, the one you failed to kill. The masters told me about him. They say he is a liar who is trying to destroy the government. He is our enemy, Lightning. You cannot believe what he told you.”

“But what if the masters are the liars?” I questioned.

I could feel the intense anger rising up inside me.

“What do you mean?” Blade inquired.

“How do we know?” I continued. “They don’t let us know anything else. They keep us locked in these rooms. They tell us what to do. They tell us who should live and who should die. They blindfold us. They hurt us if we don’t do what they want. But my target…he could have killed me. He could see in the light. I couldn’t. He had a gun, and he had his gun trained on me before I could aim at him. But he didn’t. He didn’t hurt me. Who is our enemy, but the one who threatens us?”

“You’ve been brainwashed,” Blade replied angrily, grabbing me by the arm and pushing me onto my bed. “He didn’t hurt you because he wanted you on his side.”

I moved to sit up but I couldn’t before Blade pinned my arms to the bed.

“What are you doing?” I questioned. I could hear the same sound in my voice that I had heard in that of the one called Mr. Covent and the one called Emma.

“My duty,” Blade said, pressing his body against mine. “I am to use you to create new Phantoms. You can’t fight me.”

“Can’t,” I breathed as I felt him begin to pull at the top of my pants. “I…” I could feel strength, adrenaline, anger welling up inside me. A growl escaped my throat. “I hate that word.”

Reflexes kicked in as I sank my teeth deep into Blade’s lip. I could taste the metallic hint of blood as the other Phantom yelped, shifting his weight just enough that I could shove myself out from under him. I bounded across the room, perching atop the desk, defensive and ready to fight.

Blade turned on me angrily. I had no weapon with which to fight, but then again, neither did he. I waited until he was just within reach of me before I rolled off to the side, my feet hardly touching the floor before bounding away again. He was Blade. His skill was in using a blade. I was Lightning. My skill was in my speed.

Around the room we went. I could sense his temper mounting. He grabbed the chair near the desk and threw it at me. I dodged out of the way, the chair splintering to pieces behind me. Blade bounded after me. I jumped to the side. His reflexes were sharp, but mine were sharper.

All of a sudden I heard the door handle turn and saw the door begin to open. Now was my chance, if I had any. I made a break for the door, but Blade bounded in front of me. Mr. Perei appeared in the half-light behind him.

“Blade, what the hell-”

“I will win,” Blade growled. “I will fulfill my duty, even if you don’t want to.”

“No,” I replied sharply. I reached for a piece of the broken chair. “No, not by me, you won’t.”

As quick as I could, I launched myself forward. Blade reached out to stop me, but I ducked below his arm, driving one end of the wooden beam into his gut. He doubled over in pain and I slipped past him.

“Lightning, what-” Mr. Perei began, but I didn’t give him time to talk, either.

I jammed my elbow into a nerve near his neck, knocking him out in an instant. My feet echoed like rapid gunfire in my ears as I pelted down the hall. I didn’t know where I was going. I wasn’t sure if I was headed into the arms of my captors or out toward freedom. But I kept running all the same.

I darted down corridors, trying to draw on sound and impressions I had gotten while blindfolded. Then there! I saw a door up ahead, and it wasn’t like all the other doors in the hallway. I grabbed the handle and threw it open. Just then an alarm began blaring through the building. I wasn’t sure if it had been Blade or Mr. Perei, but one of them must have told someone I had gone rogue.

The room I had entered was the one where new wrist clamps were fitted. I had them. Blade had them. Every Phantom I had ever seen had them. What were they for?

I spotted a set of keys hanging on a hook on the wall. Could they be…? I bounded toward them. I snatched the keys off the walls and began trying each one on the bands clamped around my wrists. My whole body was trembling with adrenaline. It was more intense than even when I was waiting to kill a target.

Then there! The wristband on my left hand snapped and fell off. I could hear voices yelling at each other down the hall. No time left. I couldn’t run with the keys because they would make too much noise. I’d just have to find a way to get the second band off later…if there ever was a later.

I bolted out the door and turned to the right. Half a dozen guards came to a stop, guns aimed and ready to fire. Then something happened. I got a feeling. It was an instinct really, not something I had been trained to do. I lifted my left hand. It felt so light without the clasp. And then it happened. There was a flash of white-purple light and an explosive boom!

I stood stunned for a moment, staring down at the guards lying dead upon the floor. What the…?

I heard more shouts coming from other halls. I didn’t know what I had done, but now there were plenty of pistols at my disposal. I grabbed a gun that was lying next to one of the dead guards and bolted back the way they had come. Some more guards came into view. Bang, bang, bang!My finger hit the trigger three times in the space of a second and the guards fell dead.

I was breathing heavily by this point. I was conditioned to wait until the right moment to strike. If I had to run at all, it was supposed to be little more than a sprint. I had never had to run for this long before.

I bolted through a door nearby and stumbled out into a garage of some sort. I could hardly blink before I could hear multiple bullets flying by my head. Leaping for cover, I flicked the pistol trigger again. One, two, three, four shots. I heard a thunk and a hiss. Peeking around the corner of a stack of crates, I could see quivering air spewing from a tank on the far side of the room. Maybe…

I placed my gun in my right hand and reached my left hand out toward the tank. Could I do again what I had done before? The sound of a gunshot echoed in my ears as a searing pain shot through my hand. I yelped, but before I could pull my hand back to myself, I saw the white-purple flash that I had seen before. Then came the explosion. Then came fire.

The walls began to crumble around me as a series of explosions began to rattle the building. I clutched my bleeding hand tightly to my chest. Glass and wood splinters flew by with each explosion as I raced for a door at the opposite end of the garage, and I could feel the little pieces tearing at my skin, either flying past or embedding deep inside.

I dropped my gun to open the door. Already rivers of dark crimson were flowing down my left arm. But the handle was tight, not easily opened with only one hand and most certainly not by someone like myself, trembling with fear and excitement. Another explosion from behind threw me against the door. Tendrils of smoke sank down my lungs. It burned. Ignoring the pain in my left hand, I gripped the door handle with both hands. At first, they slipped on the blood that gushed from my hand. Then there! The door pulled open. I grabbed my gun and raced out into the open night air, coughing and gasping.

A huge explosion caused the ground beneath me to shake, knocking me several feet forward and flat on my face as pieces of glass and shrapnel shot out in all directions. Moist earth stung my open wounds as I struggled to my feet. Half climbing, half clawing, I made my way up the steep earthen walls that surrounded the compound. When at last I came to the top, I collapsed on the ground again. It was a moment before I could breathe again.

At last, however, I struggled into a sitting position, still holding my bleeding hand close to my chest. I watched as tall flames rose skyward. Half the compound was on fire. They wouldn’t be looking for me for some time. The blaze was nearly blinding to me. It lit up the night sky.

Light… I reached into my shirt and pulled the little prism from its hiding place, dangling it in front of my face with one trembling hand. It was streaked in blood, but it still glittered slightly in the light of the compound fire. Then, all of a sudden, the strangest thing began to happen.

“Heh,” it came out as little more than a grunt at first. Then, “Heh…heh, heh…ha, ha, ha, ha!”

I was laughing. I threw back my head and began to laugh hysterically. It felt good. I was in immense pain. I had blood pouring down nearly every inch of my bruised and battered body. But I was alive. And, more importantly…I was free.

Hearing Voices

Well, I ended this year’s NaNoWriMo with a few more words than last year, but that 50,000 word goal has still alluded me. I could blame it on school work. I could blame it on holiday and family distractions. But the truth is, that’s not what landed me at 13,000 words instead of 50,000.

As I may have mentioned previously (I can’t actually remember and am currently too lazy to go back and look), Prism World was an experimental project from the get-go. I am dealing with things in this book that are entirely new to me, ranging from the era around which I am doing my world-building to the fact that I didn’t even put together a tentative outline until chapter 5. But the thing that makes Prism World more difficult than any other story I’ve written before is the voice. For once, I am listening not to an omniscient narrative voice in my head but, rather, I am listening to the voice of the main character, Lightning, herself.

Told in first person, the key to writing this story is to keep Lighting’s quick, sharp speech in mind at all times. From her short, often fragmented sentence structure to her grunts or, often, complete silence and frequent interior dialogue, there’s a lot that I have to check when writing the story. So you can imagine how hard it was to do that while trying to write 50,000 words.

While visiting my family over Thanksgiving, I got into a discussion with my mom about the art of story building. One thing that I brought up was something that she was baffled by: my characters come to life, and it is often that they write the story despite my own intentions. It happened a few times in the Star Series. It is the driving force in Prism World. There is something special about hearing the character’s voice in my mind. I close my eyes and soak it all in. And in that moment, the story comes alive for me. That’s the voice that I am trying to put onto paper. I want Lightning’s story to be just as real to my readers as it is to me. What better way to do that than to let the character write the story?

And so I have come to the end of another NaNoWriMo nowhere close to succeeding. Maybe there will be a next year. We’ll see how that goes. I expect senior year in college will be busy in and of itself. For those who managed those 50,000 words, congrats! I may not have managed the 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo, but that doesn’t mean the project is over. Currently standing at 26,000 words, I’m roughly a third of the way through the book. I’ll keep posting my progress as I go. Wish me luck and have a wonderful evening!