At last! There is nothing more liberating than the knowledge that finals are over. At least for a semester, anyway. With things slowing down and with finals out of the way, I’ve got a little more time on my hands to do what I actually enjoy. Namely, write like no tomorrow. As promised, I am posting a flashback segment from Remnant Moon, the sequel to Prism World, which is narrated by Lightning’s half brother, Scythe. But before that, let me do a little explaining.
When I was working on Prism World, I was incredibly surprised by the development of the character Scythe. He was originally supposed to be just a Phantom, but his unique (and, granted, problematic) personality intrigued me. This was part of the reason why Remnant Moon morphed into a book instead of simply remaining a short story. In order to get to know my character and solve the mystery behind his unique yet twisted personality, I began writing a character sketch, which is essentially a brief description of his life from birth to death and everything in between. This grew into a series of in-depth flashbacks. Now, I am even considering putting the flashbacks in the story itself. It’s interesting how stories tend to take on a life of their own.
The segment I am posting below is the first of Scythe’s flashbacks where he meets possibly the most noticeable influence in his life up until he meets Elaine: Milly, a 31-year-old prostitute who rescues Scythe shortly after he escapes from the Phantom Legion. The flashbacks that will appear in the book cover key moments in Scythe’s life with Milly and provide a glimpse into the reasons behind why he is the person he is in the beginning of Remnant Moon. These flashbacks, which are actual memories that cross Scythe’s mind from time to time during the story, will (at least, I intend for them to) have a noticeable affect on him as he struggles to move beyond his past and develop over the course of the story.
In any case, writing these flashbacks have definitely helped me get to know my character a great deal more than I did when I wrote Prism World, so here is the first one. Hope you enjoy!
The brink of death. I hadn’t felt such horrible pain since my last birthday. But there I was, my back pressed against the cold, harsh brick of the building behind me.
I tilted my face upward toward the rain that cascaded from the brooding sky above, allowing the chill drops to cool my burning face. Even in my feverish state I could still smell the putrid odor of sewage and filth that lingered in the slums. I had spent so many years secretly calculating how to escape the Phantom Legion, but in my ignorance I had never thought to calculate that life outside might be just as bad.
I had hoped to be free of that life…had hoped to find a place where I could live without fear and pain. It had been two weeks since I had slipped out from under the Masters’ cruel grasps. Two weeks. I had killed so many in those two weeks. They wanted me back, but I wouldn’t let them take me. I had scavenged from the dumpsters, had drunk water from whatever source had water clear enough to see through, had fought and run until my muscles ached. And now look at me. I could feel death looming over me, and I welcomed its coming. In the 17 years I had been alive, I couldn’t have wished for it more.
The light tap of feet caught my ears, echoing amidst the patter of the rain and the growling of thunder overhead. My vision was spinning, my body ached, and my head burned, but weakly I curled my fingers around the rod of the scythe lying on the ground beside me.
But my limbs had grown weak over the hours…or was it days?…I had spent leaning against that wall. I didn’t even have enough strength to lift the weapon I had carried for 5 years. My body screamed for relief.
Kill me! Just kill me already, damn it!
The footsteps paused in front of me. A dark shadow cut a swath in the pale grey sky, but I couldn’t focus enough to tell who or what it was. I was so exhausted, and the fever made my eyes heavy and sore. Forget it. I was through. If this was an agent of the Masters, so be it. I didn’t have anything left to fight with. I closed my eyes, waiting for what might happen next. I don’t remember falling asleep.
The hum of something mechanical caught my ears long before I managed to lift my heavy eyelids. I could feel wet droplets dribbling down my skin, which was entirely bare beneath a mass of quilts and blankets. I felt as though I were lying in a tub of water.
I moved to sit up, but my vision spun as a black curtain washed over me, and I collapsed back onto the bed with a groan. I heard movement in a nearby corner, and when I opened my eyes again I was staring up at an unfamiliar woman.
She was fair faced, with a pair of deep brown eyes and soft blond hair that fell in waves over her shoulders. I hadn’t seen many women in my lifetime, and I blinked at her in blank surprise.
“Awake, I see,” she said, resting a soft, pale hand on my forehead. I tensed at the touch, but she removed her hand almost as quickly as she had placed it there.
“Looks like your fever broke, too. You might actually live to see another day.”
There was a playful tone in her voice, a sound I couldn’t remember ever hearing before.
I opened my mouth to speak, but it took a moment to find my voice, and when I did it came out hoarse and shrill. I cleared my throat and tried again.
“Who are you?” I asked, sitting up slowly.
My body trembled with weakness, and I would have collapsed again if the woman hadn’t reached out and steadied me.
“I could ask you the same question,” she replied, smiling as she propped pillows behind me. She settled down on the bed beside me, placing her palms flat on the mattress and leaning forward, her deep brown eyes staring into my sharp blue ones.
“It’s not every day I get to rescue a handsome young man.”
I tensed when she got close and furrowed my brow.
“It doesn’t matter who I am,” I replied defensively, looking away from her searching gaze.
“Then it doesn’t matter who I am, either.”
I flinched at her response. I wanted to know who she was and where she had taken me. I wanted to know if she worked for the Masters. I wanted to know if she would make me go back to that place. If she tried, I would kill her, but…
I glanced around the room, blinking. I had only just realized that not only was I completely naked but my scythe was nowhere to be seen, and I could feel a rising sense of panic wash over my body.
The woman must have noticed the frantic, searching look in my eyes, because she giggled and reached underneath the bed, awkwardly pulling my scythe out and, standing up straight like a sentry, with the pole end of the weapon resting on the floor, asked playfully, “Looking for this?”
Instinctively I reached for my old companion, but the woman pulled away, just barely out of my reach.
I scowled at her.
“Tell me who you are or come and get it. Just remember what you don’t have.”
She gestured up and down my bare chest with her index finger.
My frown deepened.
“If you are the one who took my clothes, you’ve already seen me as I am,” I replied flatly.
“Yes,” she said wistfully, slightly biting her lower lip. “Indeed, I have.”
There was a momentary pause as she looked at me, then she continued, “So? Are you going to come and take it?”
Perhaps if I ignore her long enough, she’ll give it back.
I looked away from her, studying the far wall in front of me. The wall paper was yellowed and peeling, and even without looking around the room I could see water stains on the ceiling. The place smelled old and musty, and I could just make out the scent of sewage which I assumed was wafting though the crack under the nearby door. There were only two doors attached to the room. One obviously led outside, if the pale grey light filtering through the crack beneath the door was any indication; the second door stood open and led into a small, darkened bathroom.
“Well?” the woman prodded again.
She sounded oddly hopeful I’d take her up on the challenge.
“I can’t even sit up on my own,” I huffed, closing my eyes and refusing to turn back toward her. “Why would I try to stand?”
For a moment there was silence, then I heard a soft thud and glanced up to see the polearm leaning against the wall next to the headboard.
“Well, I tried,” the woman shrugged with a half grin. “You seem to be attached to the thing, so I won’t keep if from you.”
I glanced at the scythe, its razor-sharp blade glittering in the dim lights of the apartment. I had never thought of it as an attachment. More of a security, rather. There was nothing sentimental about it.
I looked back up at the woman who had moved over into a small kitchen area on the far side of the room and was now chopping something on a cutting board.
“So who are you?” I asked again.
“I’m not telling,” the woman replied in a sing-song voice, wagging a finger at me.
I drew in a deep breath. Well, she didn’t seem to be one of the Masters, and she didn’t seem to be fazed by my weapon which still rested placidly against the wall. Did I dare trust her?
“Scythe,” I grunted after several minutes passed. “I’m called Scythe.”
“A Phantom, right?” the woman asked, not looking up from her work.
I could feel the hair on the back of my neck bristle.
“How did you know?”
“Things I’ve heard,” the woman shrugged. “Your name, your weapon, your clothes, your skin tone…those bands on your wrists,” she glanced up and looked pointedly at my hands which rested in my lap before continuing her chopping. “It all seemed to add up.”
Immediately I reached for my scythe, tense and fearful. It was true that my looks were enough to alert anyone to my identity. The woman herself was pale, but my skin? The blue tendrils of my veins spiderwebbed beneath my pale white skin. It was the result of a lifetime…generations of lifetimes…of being sealed away in the dark, never to see daylight.
The woman paused when she heard me reach for my weapon, and she set her knife down on the counter when she spotted me, one hand braced against the countertop, the other on her hip.
“Really, now? I gave you your weapon and rescued you from the streets. Do I honestly look like a threat to you?”
“I can’t go back.” I shuddered at the thought. “I’ll kill myself before I go back.”
The woman tsked at me before coming back to join me on the bed.
“And why would I hand over such a great prize?” she asked, placing a hand on mine and gently prying my fingers off my weapon. “Trust me. I have no intention of telling the government about you. I’m not exactly good friends with the law myself.”
“What do you mean?” I asked as the woman threaded her fingers between mine.
I glanced at her hand in confusion, wondering what it was she was doing and shivering at the contact with another human being, a phenomenon I was highly unfamiliar with.
“Well, let’s just say I have a line of work that isn’t too highly praised,” the woman smiled, leaning closer.
She smelled nice, and I was fascinated by the look in her eyes.
“Mmm,” she grinned, her rosy lips parting to reveal an orderly row of white teeth. “I specialize in making men happy.”
I stared back at her blankly.
Her smile broadened.
“I tell you what,” she said, bracing her free hand on the other side of my legs, her left hand still intertwined with mine. “How about I teach you how to make a woman happy? You keep me happy, and I’ll keep you housed and fed. How does that sound?”
I shrugged. If it meant having a means of staying off the streets and out of sight, it sounded like a good deal to me.
“Sure…I guess,” I replied. “You still haven’t told me your name, though.”
“Perfect,” she purred, smiling broadly.
She lifted her hand from the bed and traced her thumb over my short-cropped, jet black hair. Again I shivered at her touch. It unnerved me, but I liked it at the same time, so I sat stock-still as I watched her.
“Scythe,” she cooed, her voice distant and dreamy. “I’m Milly. Welcome to your new home.”