When it Rains, It Pours

When it rains it pours

As the end of the semester gets closer and closer, it seems the list of things I need to do continues to grow and overshadow the things that I want to write. Papers, presentations, hundreds of pages to read for my classes…you get the picture. And of course, I would just happen to be overwhelmed by a creative streak at the same time.

Over Spring Break, I discovered an anime called Pandora Hearts, a weird and intriguing tale inspired by Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. Unlike the timid Alice from Wonderland, the Alice of Pandora Hearts is a naive, opinionated girl who has no memories of her past, who knows absolutely nothing about what it means to be human, and whose only skill at the beginning is the ability to fight. She reminded me of Lightning, my main character from Prism World.

For a while now, Prism World has been sitting on the back burner waiting for me to reconnect with Lightning again. After all, Prism World is her story. I can’t tell it without hearing her voice. But watching Pandora Hearts was all it took. Over the course of last weekend, I wrote 14,000 words, and having to work on homework when I desperately want to write Prism World this week has been painful at best.

And so, as I gear up for another weekend, hoping against hope that I can find the time to continue writing, here is an excerpt from my most recent work. I know in past posts I said I probably wouldn’t be posting full chapters anymore, but…yeah. This chapter can’t really be broken up, so here goes. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the characters in Prism World, here is a little summary of the ones found in this excerpt:

Lightning: The ex-assassin bred and raised by an oppressive government, Lightning joined forces with the rebels, eventually falling in love with Leif Covent, leader of the revolution

Leif: The young leader of the underground rebel forces, Leif is the one who convinced Lightning to leave the Phantom Legion

Alice: A young rebel fighter and a long-time friend of Leif’s, Alice is opinionated, short tempered, and bossy, yet fiercely loyal

Dr. Kepler: Though technically a rebel, Dr. Kepler spends most of his time as a general practitioner; he took Lightning in after her escape from the Phantom Legion and is very much a father figure to her

Patski: At once an aristocrat and a businessman, Patski is a loyal member of the rebel party, though his egotistical nature puts him at odds with most of the other rebels

Case: A mechanic by trade, Case got stuck with Lightning and the others when a dangerous mission sent them on the run

Scythe: A Phantom like Lightning and, more specifically, Lightning’s older half-brother, Scythe left the Phantom Legion long before Lightning did but is still a contract killer. He doesn’t really care about the rebel cause, but he is oddly loyal to Lightning and, thus, provides the rebels with information regarding the government’s activities

——————————————-

Decrepit House

Chapter 21

“Welcome to your new home!”

We all glanced first at Patski, then at the house, then back to Patski.

“You’re joking, right?” Alice questioned, crossing her arms. “It looks like something Lightning’s tribal ancestors put together.”

“Well, it’s not quite that bad,” Case mused, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “It’s not a hut.”

“You said it was a fixer-upper, Patski, not a faller-downer,” Alice groaned.

“What can I say? We’re fugitives from the law. It’s not like I could buy us a mansion.”

“We already had a mansion.”

“Yes, and we would have been skinned alive if we stayed there. I may be a loveable person, but I’m not that loveable and I prefer to remain in one piece if possible.”

“Loveable is not the term I would use to describe you,” Leif grunted. “But Patski’s right on this point. We’re not in the position to complain.”

“Exactly how many bedrooms did you say this place had?” Dr. Kepler inquired.

“Three.”

“What? One bedroom and two closets?” Alice replied sarcastically.

“I don’t know what you’re all fussing about,” I muttered, setting off up the dirt driveway. “It’s bigger than what I grew up in.”

They all fell silent. What was the word that Leif always liked to use? Touché?

It had all started out when Scythe had come to visit a few weeks back. He hadn’t stayed long, but he had been there long enough to warn me that the government had been training its eye on us, namely myself and Leif. That was followed by Patski’s announcement that it was time to “find a change of scenery”, meaning that even he was in too much trouble to protect us from the government’s growing power.

Our new residence was even further out in the countryside than the mansion had been, or so it seemed, at least. It was an old house, (there was no telling how old), with peeling paint, missing roof shingles, and a sagging floor. The windows were covered in a hazy film that made them nearly impossible to see through and I wondered if perhaps the whole house frame was leaning just a little bit. It was a small house, too; far smaller than any of the rebel houses that I had seen. There was no washroom; just a small, bug-infested outhouse out back. Lighting was limited to flashlights, lanterns, and candles and there was no running water or electricity to speak of. There wasn’t even a hand-crank telephone. “Primitive” was the word that the rebels used.

As we stepped into the living room, we glanced around at our surroundings. We all seemed to have the same look on our faces. We all seemed to be thinking the same thing.

Oh. My. God. Are we really going to be living here?

There were water stains all over the ceiling and what looked like mold in one corner. The wooden planks that made up the house’s flooring were warped and I had to wonder if we would be no worse off sleeping outside should it decide to rain. And I had thought the slums looked bad. This place made my cell at Alpha 6 look pretty good, I had to admit.

“And you’re certain this place is safe to live in?” Case questioned, patting one wall and watching as it shuddered each time his hand came in contact with it.

“Case! Case!” Alice exclaimed, rushing over and grabbing our driver by the wrist. Then in a softer voice she added, “Don’t do that. You might knock it down.”

“I’ll admit, it’s in a bit worse shape than it was in the picture the original owner showed me.”

“That’s probably because the picture was taken 20 years ago,” Leif replied.

“Or 50,” Alice grunted. “Are you sure we can’t afford something at least safer? I can deal with primitive, but I’d rather not have my house do the government’s job for them.”

“I’ll see what else I can find,” Patski sighed, turning to leave. “But there aren’t a lot of places that are out of the way like this one.”

“Wait! Are you going into town by any chance?” Alice said suddenly.

The rich man turned to look at her.

“Yes. Why?”

The young woman grabbed me by the wrist and half-dragged me toward the door.

“Alright. We’re going with you.”

“Um…your reason being?”

Alice paused in front of him.

“Lightning needs a haircut,” she motioned to the bangs that hung in my eyes and the unruly strands that fell about my shoulders. “She looks like a shaggy pony right now. Also, she needs a new outfit. This one needs to be washed eventually, you know.”

I stiffened slightly.

“It’s alright, Alice,” I protested, trying to pull away. “I still have my assassin’s attire. I don’t need another outfit.”

The decrepit house suddenly didn’t seem so bad.

“Shush,” she interrupted. Her grip was like iron. “You’re going if I have to tie you up and drag you there myself.”

“I’d like to see that,” Patski mused.

Alice gave him a menacing glare.

“Actually, going in to town sounds like a good idea,” Leif said suddenly. “I need to get in contact with some of our people back in Randburg. And anyway, I think I might feel a bit safer in town than out here.”

He looked up at the ceiling uneasily.

I opened my mouth to protest, but before I knew it we were all piled back in the car, crammed together and headed to town. I sat stiffly with my hands in my lap, glaring at Leif out of the corner of my eye. Traitor.

****

“All done. What do you think?”

I blinked back at the image of myself in the mirror. My jet black hair fell in waves to one side of my face and behind my ear on the other side, and it glowed with a silky sheen. I had never seen my hair so long and it certainly had never been styled before. I glanced first at the hairdresser, then at Alice.

“Oh! It looks great!” the other girl exclaimed.

She had gotten her hair styled, too, so that like mine it was short and sweeping.

“I’m glad you like it,” the hairdresser smiled back. “And what about you, miss?”

She looked down at me. I wasn’t going to tell her what I thought. I shrugged my shoulders and stood to my feet. I’d have to deal with it.

I waited as Alice thanked and paid the hairdresser, then followed her out the door.

“Next, dress shopping!”

I nonchalantly began turning in the opposite direction, hoping Alice wouldn’t notice, but a moment later I felt her iron grasp on my wrist and turned to stare into a pair of threatening blue eyes. So much for that.

We had just set off down the sidewalk when Leif turned one corner. He stopped abruptly when he saw us.

“Leif!” Alice beamed, shoving me in front of her. “What do you think of Lightning’s new haircut?”

He stared at me for several moments and I glanced away, my cheeks feeling unnaturally warm.

“You look beautiful, Lightning,” he said at length.

My cheeks grew even warmer.

“Thanks.”

For a moment Alice glanced between the two of us in confusion, but then I heard her draw in an excited breath as her eyes widened.

“Excuse me,” she said, leaning over my shoulder, “is there something the two of you aren’t telling me?”

“No,” I replied quickly.

Now even my ears were feeling warm, and I could see that Leif’s cheeks were just a bit redder than usual, too.

“Lightning.”

Her voice was threatening.

Immediately I set off at a brisk pace.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Alice demanded as I took off.

“The dress shop,” I replied. Suddenly dress shopping sounded like a good thing.

For a moment there was silence behind me. Maybe my plan had worked after all. It seemed like a good way to distract her.

“Well that’s a surprise,” I heard Alice say. “Alright. You come, too, Leif! You still haven’t answered my question.”

I groaned inwardly. I should have learned a long time ago. When Alice wanted to know something, she never gave up.

****

It was a couple hours later before the three of us finally managed to get out of the dress shop. Though Alice professed to be looking for just the right dress to buy for me, it was obvious that she was more interested in prying relationship details out of me and Leif. She didn’t get much, however, as both Leif and I suddenly became masters of distraction in the dress shop, to the point that even Alice finally got bored and picked out a dress with blue floral print.

“You two are so boring,” the redhead sighed as we left the dress shop.

Already the sun was sinking lower in the sky, and the streets of the small town were primarily deserted. It would be dark soon. I wondered where Patski was and if we really were going to have to spend the night in that decrepit old house we had been to earlier in the day.

“What do you want us to say?” Leif replied.

Wrong question. Alice grabbed us by the shoulders and pushed the two of us together.

“That the two of you are madly in love, of course!” she exclaimed. “Don’t think I can’t tell. You’re terrible at hiding it.”

Both Leif and I visibly blushed.

“It’s a little more complicated than that, Alice,” Leif replied, glancing over at me.

“It’s not a big deal,” I added, pushing past Alice and plopping down in a chair at a table set outside of a tiny café. “It’s not like I understand this love business anyway.”

“But that’s just it!” the young woman beamed. “It’s twice as romantic because Leif gets to teach you what love means!”

“Alice, give us a break,” Leif sighed, plopping in a chair next to me.

“What, am I embarrassing you?” the redhead grinned, taking a seat on the opposite side of me.

“Maybe just a little,” Leif replied.

“Maybe just a lot,” Alice grinned back. “You guys look so funny when you blush.”

For a moment Leif and I glanced nervously in other directions, then my eyes brightened when I noticed Case step out of a shop across the road from us. Perfect timing! Time for another distraction.

“Case!” I called out, raising my hand to catch his attention.

Our driver paused, glanced around, then set off toward us when he spotted us sitting at the café.

“Any word from Patski yet?” Leif inquired.

“Not yet,” Case replied, removing his glasses and proceeding to clean them.

“I wonder where Dr. Kepler went off to,” Alice mused, glancing around in search of the doctor.

“Dr. Kepler has returned to Randburg on some business,” Leif replied. “He told me that before calling a cab after we all split up.”

I glanced down at my hands which were resting on the glass surface of the table we sat at. I felt a bit disappointed that Dr. Kepler had left. It felt odd to be separated from him and Mary for so long.

I had just turned to ask Leif a question when the sound of movement caught my ear, and I looked up toward the roof of the nearby building in time to see a blur of black come into view. Alice nearly flew out of her seat and in a moment her gun was in her hand.

“Scythe!”

I grabbed Alice by the wrist as my brother landed on the ground a couple feet away, polearm in hand.

“Hold on, Alice!” I exclaimed. “Don’t shoot!”

“Lightning, that’s Scythe!” Alice exclaimed back, struggling against my grip. A look of sheer rage had lit up her eyes. “He killed Amos! I’ll shoot him if it’s the last thing I do!”

“Shoot him in the foot then,” I replied. “Just don’t kill him. I need him alive.”

I glared at Scythe.

“Honestly, are you incapable of visiting like a normal person?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” the other Phantom shrugged. “I just came to tell you happy birthday, sister.”

A dead silence fell over the group as we all stared at Scythe. I released Alice’s hand and sat back down in my seat.

“Never mind. Shoot him.”

Now Alice didn’t seem sure she wanted to.

“Lightning?” she inquired. “What’s going on?”

“Scythe has been feeding us information for several weeks now,” Leif answered for me. “Apparently, he’s Lightning’s half-brother.”

“He’s your what?!” Alice exclaimed.

“My half-brother,” I answered. “Apparently he left the Phantom Legion before I did, but he works as a contract killer.”

“It turns out that the person who hired me to assassinate your friend, Amos, was secretly a member of the government,” Scythe added, pulling up a seat between me and Alice. “I had no idea how many of my contracts were government-related until after Lightning tried to kill me because of my involvement in your friend’s death.”

“Your involvement, your involvement,” Alice fumed. “You weren’t just involved, you killed him! And you knocked me out in the process!”

Scythe stared at her for a moment, then his eyes brightened.

“Right!” he grinned. “You were the pretty girl who tried to shoot me when I came into the room. I remember you!”

“You creep! What kind of pick-up line is that? I’ll shoot that twisted smile right off your face!”

Alice pressed the barrel of her gun to Scythe’s forehead, but he only glanced up at it before his smile broadened.

“Alice, please,” Leif sighed. “Much as I hate to admit it, Scythe has been a useful source of information. Don’t kill him yet.”

“Please tell me you came for a real purpose,” I said, turning to look at my brother.

He grinned and sat back in his seat.

“Well, aside from coming to wish you happy birthday-”

“I will shoot you myself if you say that again,” I interrupted.

He ignored me and continued, “I came to give you a warning. Most of the government forces seem to be heading this way, but I have some sources that say perhaps there are some who have travelled to Randburg to look for one specific person. I can’t say for sure, but I think it might be your doctor friend.”

“Not likely,” I shrugged. “Dr. Kepler has stayed out of all the major fighting and he’s done pretty well at staying under the govs’ radar. And anyway, since he isn’t an active member of the rebel forces they should have no reason to go after him.”

“You can say that,” Scythe shrugged. “But the fact of the matter is that anyone associated with you is at risk for being attacked. You’ve become a big name, Lightning. The government hounds hate you, and I wouldn’t put it past them to do something to hurt you rather than your cause.”

“Who told you they have come to that conclusion?”

“No one,” my brother replied, standing to his feet and stretching. “It’s just a thought I had.”

“The last thing we want is to know what goes through your mind,” Alice grunted, arms crossed.

Scythe turned to look at her, then he grinned and, leaning close to the young woman’s face, said, “Are you sure? I promise you, it would be all kinds of fun, love.”

Smack!

The other Phantom backed up as Alice socked him in the mouth. His lip was bleeding but he was also laughing. Leif, Alice, Case and I all exchanged wondering looks.

“Ah,” Scythe chuckled, “you’ve got a strong arm, love.”

I grabbed Alice by the wrist before she could shoot him.

“I’ll keep in touch,” he said, giving us a slight wave before swinging up onto the roof from which he had come.

I nodded.

“Oh, and one more thing,” Scythe added, glancing back down at me. “They say Blade’s bands have been removed. Be careful.”

Then with that he disappeared over the rooftop.

“He makes me so mad,” Alice fumed, settling back down in her seat.

“He is bothersome,” I admitted. “But he’s been useful enough.”

“So was he being serious?” Leif asked, looking over at me. “About it being your birthday, I mean.”

“Yes,” I replied, standing to my feet and crossing my arms.

“Why did it make you so angry?”

“Birthdays are bad things for Phantoms,” I replied, staring out at the setting sun. “The masters were always harder on us on our birthdays. Scythe wasn’t being kind when he said those words. He was mocking them.”

“That’s too bad,” Leif frowned. “Birthdays should be reasons to celebrate.”

I glanced back at him. He looked concerned, so I smiled.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” I shrugged. “Coming from you, those words would mean something different anyway. I just don’t want to hear them from Scythe.”

“Aww, that’s so sweet,” Alice beamed. “ ‘Coming from you, those words would mean something different’. How romantic.”

Leif and I exchanged glances as Case looked between us and Alice in confusion. Then I smiled and shook my head. Alice was Alice. What more could I say?

But even as I smiled, something about Scythe’s words seemed to gnaw at the back of my mind. How much danger were we really in? And was it possible that the danger we faced was not because of the revolution…but because of me? I didn’t want to admit it then, but there may have been more truth to my brother’s words than I could have ever realized.

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Where They Come From

jousting

I’ve had a lot of people ask me, “Where do your stories come from?”

My answer would have to be, “Everywhere.”

One thing I’ve noticed about authors, including myself, is that a large portion of inspiration comes from the people, places, and experiences we’ve encountered over the years, and what we are unable to experience in real life we supplement with reading and research. But whatever the case, rarely does a person have inspiration that is entirely foreign to what they know. To some degree, at least, what we write is merely mimicking a huge variety of things we have already seen, heard, experienced, read, etc. Sometimes we do this intentionally. Sometimes, however, the memories have been so deeply ingrained in our minds that we don’t even realize that was where the inspiration came from.

Research plays a large role in my life as an author. My house is littered with encyclopedias and dictionaries of everything from traditional baby names to weaponry to astronomy. I have an encyclopedia of knights, one for lost civilizations, one for horse breeds, one for mythology, and heaven knows how many others. I’ve got collections of fairy and folk tales and a dictionary of Irish Gaelic. Anything to gain new ideas.

knight

As a writer of fantasy, particularly medieval fantasy, one of the things I like to do to gain inspiration is visit renaissance fairs such as the one I had the privilege of going to this past weekend. I must admit, renaissance fairs tend to have a stigma on them and for good reason. They attract a lot of…special…characters. But in my own personal opinion, the good still outweighs the bad. There is something to be said about a good renaissance fair. In this era of high-tech gadgets, mass-production, and 24/7 on-the-go frenzy, the art of handmade goods, traditional music, and real human interaction has kind of fallen by the wayside. At the fair, however, people with an avid interest in the past come together to spend their hours interacting with potential customers, pretending to be medieval people just for the fun of it, and hand-making a large portion of their own goods. And most importantly, from an author’s perspective, they bring the imagined to life.

angkor wat tree over doorway

There are other places I go to gather inspiration, too. When it comes to world-building, a good thing to do is to scour the “globe” for inspiration. In other words, I learn about the real world to build my fantasy one. Sometimes I go to National Geographic for inspiration, as the articles they produce often come with a fair amount of pictures. And of course, pictures are what I use for almost all of my inspiration. A picture taken at Angkor Wat, such as the one above, might serve as great inspiration for a scene in a fantasy novel.

Thankfully, though, the world isn’t limited to what I see in the National Geographic Magazine, and where that source falls short for my inspiration, I turn to other creative venues such as DeviantArt and Worth1000.com. Both sites are geared toward creative people, containing everything from extraordinary, hand-painted scenes to surreal, digitally-altered images. When I feel like I need to “see” something, these sites are often where I go.

shannon casull

But then, of course, there is also another thing that has had a major impact on my writing: anime. I was first introduced to Japanese animation when I was in 5th or 6th grade, and I’ve been watching it ever since. My fascination with anime has resulted in several things, not the least of which the fact that I imagine everything in anime form. I imagine The Star Trilogy as an anime. I imagine Prism World as an anime. When I close my eyes, I literally cannot envision my stories in any other form. Thus, I write in an anime-geared fashion. The intense detail I put into my stories, the dialogue between characters, the terms and phrases I prefer using, even the types of swords my medieval-based characters use are influenced by the Japanese elements in anime.

Sometimes it’s childhood memories. Sometimes it’s experiences I have sought out for my own improvement. Sometimes it’s research, or inspiration from other people, or even pop-culture. Whatever the case, though, one thing is certain: Good writers rely as much on the world around them as they do on their own minds for inspiration. The more you embrace the real world, the more real your own world can become.