Saying Goodbye to the Death Test

The great thing about blogging is that it becomes, more or less, a historical document for the blogger.  If you keep at your craft, if you’re writing every day, talking about things that may feel important to you, then you can head back whenever the mood strikes and see how you were feeling, say, two years ago on a certain date.  Rereading your entry may trigger a memory of that time, be it good or bad, or you may just scratch your head and think, “What the hell was a yammering about?”

Or, as in the case of the past week, I can see the progress of something I’m writing, know when I began and when I finished.  Usually I’ll talk about a novel I’m working on or publishing–that last hasn’t happened in a while, I need to get cracking on that–but this week, starting last Monday, I’ve discussed a scene I’m working on for Act Two of my current novel–

I should say, “Was working on,” for last night I finished the sucker.  Another thousand words in the bucket, and i finally brought to an end the longest single scene I’ve written for my story.  I’ve had a few scenes creep over five thousand words, and the scene I wrote for my Flight School ran just over ten thousand words, but that one was broken into three individual segments, and the largest single scene in that group was fifty-eight hundred words.

No, I wanted to get this one down as a single, individual scene, and by the time I placed the last word on the last sentence, I was inching close to seven thousand, four hundred words, which meant I was scooting out of short story territory and getting ready to cross the border into Novelette Land.

'Tis but a little thing to write self-contained novelettes inside your novel.  Everyone should do it.

‘Tis but a little thing to write self-contained novelettes inside your novel. Everyone should do it.

Sunday through Friday, I cranked out the scene.  I know this because I’ve blogged about “The Death Test”–or as I labeled the scene, The Walking Tests–because . . . well, not sure.  I think I loved the progressing of what was happening with the scene, and it’s also sort of indicative of the kind of insanity that can pop up at my school in terms of a “lesson” or “test”.  Go ahead and levitate all the feathers you want–after a month in my joint you’ll be given a big stick and told to bash some zombies in the head.

"You think it's fun letting you smack me around with that bokken?  I mean, 'Snarl, arrg'."

“You think I enjoy you smacking me around with that bokken? I mean, ‘Snarl’.  Am I getting paid for this?”

What happened after the kids lost their lunch?  Why . . .

 

(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

Annie didn’t want to see the students behind her. After all they’d done, after the battle Kerry and she had just fought, losing her breakfast in front of everyone took away her pride in their accomplishment. We successfully completed our test, and this is what everyone will remember . . .

“Hey.”

She felt a forehead gently rest upon hers, and an arm lightly wrapped around her shoulder. Annie looked up without raising her head and found Kerry’s gore-smeared face there, his lovely green eyes looking back at her through blood-flecked glasses. “We make a pretty good couple, don’t you think, Sweetie?”

Annie raised her head while keeping it pressed to Kerry’s. “We do, my love—we do.” She turned them so she could place her arm around his back, and in doing so they ended up, arm-around-body, head-to-head, facing their fellow level mates.

She scanned the faces turned towards them. Annie saw so many emotions: disgust and revulsion she understood given the tableau they set upon the mat. Some looks of awe, some of hate—she understood those as well: a few of their level mates would find what they did incredible, and a few would detest them for passing.

There were a few students, however, staring back them with unabashed fear, and Annie completely understood that emotion. These are Normal kids who are still getting the hang of magic—and Kerry and I used our magic in a way they’ve only seen in movies.

And it’s left them unsettled.

Kerry must have seen the same looks and felt the same unease. “I think we scared some of them.”

Annie turned her head just enough to make eye contact. “Good.”

 

As Helena will tell Annie much later, getting a reputation as someone not to trifle with usually keeps you out of trouble.  Blasting zombie homunculi with magic is usually one of those things that’ll keep the other kids from teasing you, because homunculi, human, who gives a shit, you both go down easy like lemonade on a hot summer day.

And nothing say love like hugging your sweetie in front of thirty other kids while you’re both covered in gore.  Did you ever do that, Glenn, huh?  No.  Move on . . .

But how did things get to this point?  What sort of sick, crazy instructor does this sort of stuff?  Well . . .

 

Professor Chai stepped forward. “I agree. Let me clean your glasses, Kerry.” He handed them over without question, and she began working a spell upon them will speaking to the children. “You both did wonderfully. And I was pleased to see you take my advice about playing to your strengths—”

Annie wanted to know more. “What were they, Professor?”

“For one, you—” She nodded towards Annie. “As a Legacy you have an intimate knowledge of magic, and what it can do. You may not know all the spells, or how they work, but you’re aware of the many concepts that bind them together—and you used that to help you both when it was needed.

“And Kerry: you’re learning how to build upon Annie’s knowledge, and you used that to both you’re advantages as well. Plus—” She handed the glasses back to Kerry. “Knowing your opponents and their weaknesses certainly helped your efforts to disable them.”

Now Kerry’s curiosity was peaking. “Professor . . . did you know I knew about those things? Did someone tell you something?”

Professor Chai seemed bemused by the question. “If you’re asking, ‘Did I deliberately modify today’s test to help you due to the advice of a certain seer?’, the answer is no. If, however, the question is, ‘Did I deliberately modify the test based upon something I overheard during last Friday’s Midnight Madness, and thought it could make up for a your lack of coven mates?’, the answer is perhaps.” She laced her fingers together and set her hands before her. “How’s that?”

Kerry was trying hard to remember what she may have overheard, and nearly pushed the thought aside when . . . “Oh. You heard that?”

Annie turned in her chair towards Kerry. “What did she hear?”

Kerry slowly turn in his chair towards Annie. “Last Friday, Emma stopped by and was asking if I had any ideas for costumes for Halloween. I told her I had a couple, and one of the ones I mentioned was from the comic—”

“I don’t remember her stopping by.”

Kerry tilted his head to one side. “She came over when you were in the bathroom—”

Annie’s eyes narrowed just enough to make Kerry a bit nervous. “Oh. I see.”

 

A girl came over to see you, Kerry, while your soul mate was in the bathroom, and you suddenly remember that happening a week later.  You’re lucky you mentioned this after she saved your butt from being eaten by the fake undead.  Don’t worry:  Annie usually doesn’t continue thinking about things like that for long–

Usually.

With everything over, it remains for Geek Boy to put the coda on results of their test:

 

“Thank you, Professor.” Annie pushed her messy hair back from her face as Thebe took hold of her right wrist.

Kerry stood and sheepishly grinned. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

Annie’s radiant smile shone through the drying gore. “Yes, you will.” She vanished with a pop as the nurse teleported them both to the hospital.

Professor Chai tapped Kerry on the shoulder. “You can go shower. You clothes should be here by the time you’re finished.”

“Okay, Professor.” He watched the diminutive instructor saunter on to the mat and begin clearing it of the mess Annie and he made. He glanced over at the remaining students in the room, some of whom were still looking in his direction. He turned back to the spot where Annie had stood less than a minute before—

If only I could tell someone outside school that my girlfriend and I survived a mini zombie apocalypse. He shook his head and grinned. And it was kind of fun . . .

 

It’s a hell of a lot better than a video game, that’s for sure.

The next scene awaits, and I’m certain that Thirty Days Hath September is gonna be shorter than The Walking Tests.  Though, who knows?  The Martian Chronicles was actually a collection of short stories with a similar theme that were bound together and turned into a short novel.

If it worked for Bradbury, maybe it’ll work for this act as well.

Into the Death Test

The night before I complained about how I didn’t seem to have enough time to write and get things done, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  That was the night before, ’cause last night was what I’d call an Enterprise night, because the final word count was 1,701 words, and that’s a registry number that I’ve known all my life.  (True fact:  the Enterprise‘s registration number came from the exact time the planetary cruiser C57-D dropped out of warp and into the Altair system in the movie Forbidden Planet:  seventeen-oh-one hundred hours.)

I was cranking away because I was having fun.  I also had to take a break about 9 PM because my fingers were getting tired.  But still–good time, people.

Now, what were you saying, Annie?  About . . .

 

(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

Air.

It was the first day of Spells class, and Annie remembered the object inside the case—a simply action requiring they move it from one end to the other. She did it first, Kerry second. It was easy. And they’d done more of the same since then: moving objects around, side-to-side, and she levitated her spindle because Kerry asked.

The basics of moving small objects was easy for some of the students now—her for certain. Annie figured she could move just about any object—

Like air.

Air was a substance that had pressure, that occupied space. It could be heated and cooled. It could be compressed and—

Moved.

She now watched the homunculus advance on her slowly, not with fear but with growing curiosity. Air is an object, and you can use it in a spell, just like Air Hammer. You can used it against another thing or person. She stared at Kerry, weakening against the homunculus trying to bite him. If I can gather enough air . . .

She dropped the bokken and sprinted towards Kerry.

 

That’s called thinking on her feet–her slightly covered in blood and brains feet, but still . . .

So you get your air and then what?

 

Annie stopped a couple of meters from his head, where he couldn’t see her. She knew she had one, maybe two chances to pull this off, and if it didn’t work—well, it wouldn’t matter, the test would be over in a matter of seconds. She steadied herself, her eyes half-closed, not thinking of the homunculi a few meters from them, or the one trying to get Kerry—there was only the mass of invisible air coming together in front of her, piling up and growing thicker, compressing into a dense mass centimeters from her body. She imagined it, visualized it, and she positioned her right hand directly behind the ball of air she’d crafted. Annie reached for the energy needed to power this Art, waiting for the tremor in her shoulders whenever it came. There . . . All she needed now was her willpower, and the need to reshape the reality around her—

Annie opened her eyes and pushed the ball away from her, hard. The uniform of the homunculus ripped as if in a strong breeze as it fell away from Kerry.

 

Magic in this world is all about Visualization, Energy, and Willpower–VEW as Wednesday once said.  It’s a matter of having a good imagination and seeing the effects once you power it up.  But that willpower:  you need it to Craft your Art, to reshape reality.  If you can’t believe you can do it, then you won’t.

And then, sometimes, you gotta convince someone else they need to do it, too:

 

She rushed in and grabbed him by the arm. “Come on.” She helped him scramble to his feet, as he was having difficultly getting up. Annie guided him away while he was still in a half crouch, as the two homunculi were only a meter away by this time. After three stepped he was upright and keeping up with her as they ran to within a meter of the red line. Only once there did she step in front of him and hold his head in her hands. “Are you all right?”

Kerry fought for air, wheezing with each breath. “Yeah, I’m . . .” He exhaled hard, nodding. “I’m good, I’m good.”

Annie didn’t have time for Kerry to recuperate completely from his battle: there was too much to say, and not a lot of time. She only hoped he was cognizant enough to understand her idea. “Kerry, I need you to listen to me.”

He nodded again, but his head was bowed and he was looking at the floor. “I hear . . .”

“Kerry, listen to me.” He raised his head and looked directly at her. “Air. It can be used.”

His breath had slowed and there was attentiveness in his eyes. “Is that how you got that thing off me?”

“Yes. I crafted a ball of air and compressed it, then threw it at the homunculi.” Her eyes brightened as she saw how Kerry understood almost immediately. “We can use this to fight.”

 

This test, as I put it together, was all about team work.  First it was all about getting together and bashing zombie skulls, but then you find yourself in a position where you learn something new and you figure out how to use it to your advantage.  And when when you brainstorm in the middle of your test:

 

She nodded once. “There’s a spell: Air Hammer. It uses air as a weapon, forcing your opponent off balance or even hurting them.” She gave him a slight grin. “We can do the same thing. We can use it to fight these things.”

“Keep knocking them around, maybe lean to get a few shots at the head.” He stared of into space for a couple of seconds. “Or . . .”

Annie recognized this look—He has an idea; something to do with magic. He’s gotten this a lot of late. “Yes?”

He continued checking the homunculi as he spoke. “Could you craft this spell to work with a foci?”

She knew how Professor Douglas felt about foci, or at least how she felt about wands. But she’d said once that foci have their place, and they aren’t always a bad thing. And I’m certain Kerry isn’t talking about wands . . . “Yes, you could. Why?”

“Instead of creating balls of air to throw around—” He raised the jō and ran his hand along the pole near one end. “What if you put them here? Then you have . . .” He chopped downward with the jō. “Leverage.”

Annie smiled as she understood Kerry’s line of thought. “That localizes the effect, makes for a better weapon.” She looked over her shoulder at the bokken lying two meters away. “A cutting weapon.”

“It might just be.” Kerry checked on the homunculi, then quickly looked to his right. “Look, we could just step over the red line and be done with this, or . . .” He nodded towards the bokken. “Or we can give you idea a try.” His face broken into an enormous grin. “Personally, I’m all for trying you idea.”

“It’s your idea as well.” Annie scooted over and retrieved the bokken. “I’d like to try it, too.”

Kerry raised his jō. “Go on; I got your back.”

 

You got your ideas, you know how to craft your Art, there are zombies still shambling about on the field–time to get to work–

 

Bokken in hand, Annie slowly advanced on the homunculus, now only three meters away. She knew, as when she saved Kerry, that she’d have but one chance, maybe two, to craft this spell, but she was more confident this time that her Art was correct, that the spell would come off flawlessly.

She visualized air wrapping around the tip of the bokken, forming an invisible blade, one turned thin and sharp on the side facing away from her. She saw it in her mind becoming firm, a dangerous addition to her wooden sword.

A meter and a half away she stopped. Annie allowed the homunculus two step more, then she raised the bokken over her head and slashed into its skull with a strong blow.

It wasn’t the hardest Annie could hit, but with the magic used it wasn’t necessary. The homunculus’ skull split cleanly down the middle, with fake blood and brains spraying out along the lines of the cut and catching her in the hand, arm, and chest. She flinched but remained on her feet, while the homunculus crashed to the mat in a bloody heap.

Annie didn’t hear the gasps, groans, and yelps from the students on the sidelines: the only thing important to her was the now-still creature at her feet. She turned to Kerry, grinning broadly. “Do you know what to do?”

He held the jō ready. “Oh, I think so.”

She nodded towards the approaching homunculus on his left. “Your turn.”

 

–To some really bloody-ass work.  And now they’re having fun:  “Hey, I killed this one, let me see you do one!”

He doesn’t disappoint:

 

Kerry closed his eyes for a few seconds, getting the visuals in his head before heading towards his target. He knew the form he sought: with the jō there was little doubt what sort of magic he’d craft around the long pole. He took his time covering the four meters between him and the homuncuWalkers, then drew the jō back like he was carrying a bat.

“Okay, you . . .” He began his swing, but released his right hand and continued the follow through with his left. His swing was low and upward, and he caught the homunculus in the left shoulder. A large chunk of flesh and uniform flew up an away; Kerry drew back for another swing, and this time his attack was high and level, catching the homunculus just below the jaw line and severing the head three-quarters of the way from the neck with blood shooting outward in a flat arc, catching Kerry as it went down. He turned to Annie with a semi-bloody grin. “I’ll get this last one.”

 

Two down, two to go, and now Little Miss Dark Witch wants to get her kicks in another way:

 

Annie nodded and advanced on the fourth homunculus, only a few meters from her. She let the bokken slip from her hand because she wanted to do something different this time. She understood what she could do with a weapon, but she wanted to see what she could do with a different kind of magic . . .

She began crafting her air bubble, but this time she pulled in a little of the dark energy that was often used to fuel more potent sorcery. This was something Annie had worked with before in small quantities, and it didn’t shock her to feel the different surge of power that came with these spells.

She powered it into her bubble of air and held it before her good hand. She stopped just short of two meters from the homunculus, then willed everything into a tight, compressed sphere and pushed it into her target—

The spell powered through the torso, tearing away the shirt and part of the jacket and boring into the body. The head and shoulders pitched forward towards her as the body came apart with a loud squishing sounds and fell in pieces to the mat. Nearly all of Annie’s upper body and head was covered in blood and goo . . .

And directly across from her stood Kerry, looking much the same, having caught the aftermath of her attack as it tore through the homunculus. Seeing him holding the jō straight out as it was, Annie realized he must have raised it for protection, and whatever effect he’d used on his last attack tore off the head of her homunculus.

They’d both ripped it apart.

Kerry looked down at the gore covering his shirt, then tried to wipe it off his glasses. He looked at Annie with a strange, unfocused stare, then dropped his weapon, turned away, and vomited.

Oh, Kerry— Given everything she’d experience—the smell, the blood, the gore of the last minute—and now this, Annie couldn’t prevent her stomach from protesting. She lowered her head and vomited what remained of her breakfast as well.

 

Kids these days:  how you gonna survive the Zombie Apocalypse if you can’t keep your breakfast down?  Don’t you know that’s always the start of a good day?

"This is not fun.  On TV everyone drinks and has sex when they aren't running for their lives."

“This is not fun. On TV everyone drinks and has sex when they aren’t running for their lives from the undead.”

Now, tonight, all I need to do is put the finishing touches on the scene, and she’s in bed.  Which means when I finish this scene it’ll probably be the longest one in the story that’s all one, continuous scene, without little breaks in the action here and there.  It’ll also be pretty much around seven thousand words.

Would you like a short story with your novel?

Would you like a short story with your novel?

But it only makes sense that this is a long scene, because today and tomorrow are, for Annie and Kerry, the most important twenty-four hours of their lives . . .

Enter the Death Test

The problem with being able to write for a few hours every night–and about thirty minutes in the morning–is that you have these long, detailed scenes you want to get out right away, but you can’t because you’re only able to produce about twelve hundred words a day, or there about, in about two, three hours time.  There’s distractions, things to look up, people to chat with . . .

Sort of like the scene I’m working on now:  I want to get it through it so much, but I can’t because–well, it’s a big scene.  How big?  Right now I’m at forty-four hundred and fifty words, and I know I probably need another two thousand or so to cap this spring.  There you go:  you wanna show your kids fighting fake zombies, you toss a short story right at the beginning of your chapter.

And believe me, they’re up to their ankles in trouble.  Well, maybe a little higher than their ankles . . .

 

(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

Kerry sidestepped to his left, hooting at the homunculus. “Yo. Hey, geek.” The homunculus turned towards him, grunting as it shambled in his direction. “That’s it, keep looking at me—you’re doing it right . . .” When it was less than three meters away he glanced to his right, nodded, then darted around and a little behind, then struck the creature behind the right knee with his bokken as hard as possible, trying to force it off-balance.

He struck it a second time as Annie ran in and planted her jō square in its chest and pushed it further off-balance with her momentum and strength. It staggered once then fell onto its back with a thud and a snarl, it’s arms lashing out at it tried to roll over and regain its feet.

Annie nodded at Kerry and raised her jō; Kerry did the same with his bokken as he counted down. “Three, two, one—now.” They stuck the skull almost simultaneously, but the worst they did was tear away a large amount of the flesh from the side of the head and face. They both moaned and raised their weapons for another strike. This time there was a loud crack as the skull was broken, but the homunculus continued to move.

Annie’s face was covered in a cold sweat. She looked at Kerry and nodded. “Again.” He nodded before they tried one more time to take out their opponent. This time their weapons broke through: the skull shattered with a sickening crunch and whatever was inside to take the place of brains, blood, and other fluids jetted in every direction.

 

And that’s gonna leave a mark–and probably a bit of oohing and aahing from the kids watching on the sidelines.  Plus, you gotta give your instructor extra credit for making your quality kills as realistic as possible.  I mean, either that, or she’s just twisted as shit and figures you were going to need something to help you sleep tonight–oh, wait:  it’s Friday.  That means it’s the Midnight Madness tonight, the school wide pajama party.  Have fun talking about your zombie kills until midnight, kids!

"And then, I totally smashed that Walker's face right in, and my feet got splattered with gore!  It was like the best time ever!"

“And then, I totally smashed that Walker’s face right in, and my feet got splattered with gore! It was like the best time ever!”

However, the next run doesn’t go off as well:

 

She was, but she didn’t know if he was. He’s winded; he’s still not used to this sort of exertion. “Are you?”

He nodded as he straightened. “Let’s jack these losers and show them who’s boss of this mat.” Kerry grinned at Annie’s eye roll. “Too much?”

“I’d rather we reduce the odds more in our favor.” She readied her jō, a slight grin on her face. “Same as before?”

“Yep.”

“Go, then.”

Kerry broke left while Annie readied herself for the sprint and plant. He quickly reached the homunculus and waved his bokken around to get its attention. Once it was advancing on him, he did as before: when for the knees as Annie sprinted in and knock it over. Kerry whacked it in the back of the knee as Annie shoved her jō in its chest—

Thing didn’t go as planned this time, however.

As Annie’s attack hit home, the homunculus twisted towards Kerry, reaching for him and striking her jō with its left arm. The pole was knocked away, hard, and the force of the strike shoved her to her left. She felt herself going down, and threw out her left arm to help break her fall—

An enormous pain shot up her arm the moment she touched the mat.

 

And that’s never a good thing, either.

Fortunately she has a partner who’s there to help–

 

She felt arms around her shoulders lifting her to her feet. The moment she was up Kerry and she sprinted towards the yellow line, though she was careful to hold her left wrist close to her. She turned and saw the homuncului milling about near the center of the mat—and her jō lying between two of them.

Kerry faced her, looking into her eyes. “Are you okay?”

Annie shook her head. “I think I sprained my wrist.” She slowly moved her fingers once more. “It doesn’t feel broken, but I can’t use it.”

“But you can still use your right hand?”

“Yes.” She gave Kerry a sorrowful look. “But my jō—I can’t use it with just one hand, and besides . . .” She quickly looked to her right. “It’s out there.”

Kerry glanced to his left, then back to Annie. “Okay, then—Plan B.” He placed his bokken in her right hand. “You can use this one handed—”

She immediately knew what he was planning. “No.”

“Back in a ‘sec.” Kerry darted towards the jō, cutting around the homunculus they’d attacked, then directly in front of another, grabbing the weapon on the run. He prepared to cut to his left—

His right leg slipped out from under him.

Kerry was down on one knee for only a few seconds, but that was enough for a third homunculus to close on him. He was almost to his feet when the creature was on him, pressing itself against his out-thrust jō. Kerry tried pushing it away, but didn’t have the leverage or strength necessary to make this work.

He went backwards with the homunculus falling atop him.

 

Unfortunately he’s about to reduce the team’s fighting ability by fifty percent.  Annie figures she’ll help out, but at this point they’re in the death spiral, and she knows it . . .

 

“Hey.” She jogged up a few meters towards the homunculus they’d failed to attack and began waiving her arms as Kerry had earlier. “Over here.” Annie drew it away from Kerry, but now came the problem: what to do? They worked together as a team, but there was no way she believed for even a moment she would be able to club this thing in the head hard enough to break open its skull and stop it. Which meant there wasn’t much time left before them: she end up bitten and “killed”, and the same would happen to Kerry, who was right now gasping for—

Air.

 

Air?  Air?  What the hell does she mean by that?

Well, I know what it means, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out what happens next.  Assuming I haven’t gone crazy because I’m finally understanding just how big this chapter has become.

Write a novel, they said.  It'll be fun, they said.  Won't drive you psychotic in the least, they said.

Write a novel, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. Won’t drive you psychotic in the least, they said.

Setting Up the Death Test

Even though I managed to get my lab work out of the way, get dinner, and end up back at the home by four, the exertion of the afternoon–and lack of sleep from the early morning–conspired to make me yawn and look at the screen dumbly.  It was a real, “What am I suppose to do here?” moment, and it took a couple of hours of gathering strength to get to writing before ten PM and Fargo came on.

I hit the deadline with time to spare.

So where did we leave the kids off?  Right here, ready to be thrown to the zombies:

And now comes the part of the story where I throw the kids at unstoppable death machines--

And now comes the part of the story where I throw the kids at unstoppable death machines–

 

(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

Kerry felt his stomach drop as Annie and he stepped away from the rest of the students and onto the mat. Before heading off to look at the weapons, he turned to Professor Chai. “Professor?”

“Yes, Kerry?”

“Do Annie and I—” He looked at Annie, then back. “Are we really going to do this alone?”

The professor took one step towards them both. “Is there anyone else from your coven level that you can call upon for assistance?”

Annie and Kerry turned to each other and shook their heads. “No, Professor.”

“Then it’ll only be you two performing the test for your coven.” Professor Chai stepped closer to them. “Remember to play to your strengths. You both have them: don’t forget to use them.” She pointed to the far end of the room. “Go pick out your weapons.”

 

Thank, Teach!  Way to give a challenge.

But let’s not forget what Ramona said there at the end–before “Arm yourselves.”  She was giving sage advice, and Mr. Geek knew how to play to his strength with a little secret:

 

They walked back to the weapons table. All the Åsgårdsreia students had returned to the sidelines, so the area behind the red line was empty. He’d already decided upon the bokken, but didn’t pick it up right away, Instead he eased up next to Annie, who was looking over the poles. He leaned his head close to hers. “I know what these things are.”

Annie had caught his exclamation when the homunculi first exited the cabinets, and figured his comment had something to do with a story he’d read or seen. “You do?”

“Yeah. They come from a comic—”

Annie slowly half-turned her head. “These things are from a comic?”

“Okay—graphic novel.” He adjusted his glasses, pushing them up his nose. “It’s a bit more adult.”

She raise an eyebrow. I’m learning something new about him every day; I don’t ever recall him mentioning this. “How is it you managed to read these—adult novels?”

“I have an account on Amazon linked to one of my parent’s credit cards.” He looked over the weapons. “As long as I don’t get crazy with the charges every month, I can buy books and other . . . things.”

“And you’re parents know you’re buying these?”

“No. Which is probably a good thing.” He turned to Annie, grinning. “But it’s a good thing I have read this stuff, because I know how to take them out. Right?”

“Yes, we’re so fortunate . . .” Annie slowly rolled her eyes before selecting a jō. “How do we stop these homunculi then?”

 

He’s bought things and read stuff.  Sounds like someone I know.  And Annie–who seems to know just about everything concerning Kerry, didn’t know this.  You  can bet she’ll start checking into his reading habits more closely now.

He tells Annie about skull crushing (possible with wooden weapons), and decapitation (highly unlikely with wooden weapons), but still:  “Pass your test by crushing the skulls of the undead, kids!”  Well, a month in school and you gotta blow off that steam somehow . . .

As they’re preparing to meet their doom–I mean, start their test–Kerry lays out the last of their possible ways to stop their opponents:

 

They slowly walked towards the middle of the mat, giving Kerry time to finish his last thought. “The professor said we also take them out if we prevent them from taking action against us. That means there are things we can do that won’t involve crushing their skulls—”

Annie like this idea better. “Such as?”

“If we break off their lower jaws they can’t bite us.”

She curled up the right side of her mouth. “That’s not much better than crushing their skulls.”

“The other way would be to do so much damage to their torsos they can’t move.” He shook his head from side to side. “I don’t think we can do that with these. But I do have an idea . . .” As they took their place near the center of the mat Kerry quick explained his plan of attack.

Though Annie wasn’t thrilled with his idea, it at least appeared plausible. “Then we’ll try it first thing.”

“Yeah—so if it don’t work, we can fall back on our nonexistent Plan B.”

They were almost to the center of the mat when Kerry moved to Annie’s left. He smiled back at her puzzled look. “Leftie and rightie. This way we aren’t hitting each other when we swing.”

She nodded. “Good idea.” And I might have thought of it if I weren’t so nervous . . .

Once Annie and Kerry were in their place on the mat Professor Chai returned to the place where she’d stood during the Åsgårdsreia test. “Are you ready?”

Annie reached over, took Kerry’s right hand, and gave it a squeeze. “We’re ready, Professor.”

There were a couple of chuckles from the other students at the show of affection—and Lisa needed to make her comment known to everyone in the room. “Awww, that’s so cute.”

As soon as Annie released his hand Kerry slide it behind Annie’s back and shot a reverse V-sign in Lisa’s direction. He figured Lisa wouldn’t get it, but hearing a couple of guffaws come from within the crowd, a few people did. “We’re ready, Professor.”

“Very well, then—” She waved her hands. “The test begins now.”

 

Kerry flipping off people in class?  Say it ain’t so.

Where as the test before was working on one-and-a-have to one odd, Professor Chai sends out five homunculi, giving Annie a Kerry a two-and-a-half to one disadvantage.  Not cool, Professor.  Unless . . .

And where we end is watching them steel themselves for their own undead assault:

 

“Yeah.” He nodded towards the yellow line. “They’re almost here . . .” They prepared themselves for whatever it was that had affect the Åsgårdsreia students.

The first homunculus crossed the yellow line and broke through the barrier—

A wave of putrid air rolled over the two Cernunnos coven mates.

Annie and Kerry recoiled from the stench. It was more that bad: it was the accumulation of a thousand fetid swamps broiling under summer humidity; ten thousand rotting vegetable patches cooking in the daylight; a million pig farms simmering in the noonday sun. Both children gagged and retched, fighting to control their churning stomachs in the wake of the horrific foulness.

Annie held her free hand close to her face. “That’s horrid. What’s causing that?”

“That’s—” Kerry gulped air trying to keep his breakfast down. “It’s rotting flesh.”

“What?”

He half-turned to Annie. “They’re Walkers; they’re homuncuWalkers; they’re zombies—whatever, they’re dead. They’re ambulatory corpses that are still decomposing. Slowly, but . . .” He turned away as he nearly gagged. “They never talked about this in the comic.”

She didn’t want to discuss it, least it make her more nauseous. “Have to breath through our mouths, then.”

He nodded. “All ready there, Sweetie.”

All five homunculi were pasted the yellow line and advancing up on them. Annie pointed to the one in front and on their left. “That one?”

Kerry nodded. “Yeah.”

“You ready?” She raised her pole with both hands.

He slowly exhaled. “Yeah. Let’s do this.”

 

Not only do you send out creepy walkers, but you gotta make them that real?  What’s next?  Former class mates?  Which they probably are, because it sounds like the instructor is a bit twisted.

This is where I wish I knew how to draw, because I can see how these scenes set up, and I’d love some pictures to throw into the story–pictures that didn’t consist of stick figures.  That’s one day, though:  maybe I can con my daughter into doing a few for me one day.

Thirty-three hundred words into the scene, and the good part is yet to come.

Can’t wait for tonight.

Åsgårdsreia Down, Cernunnos to Go

Well, now:  yesterday wasn’t a bad day, but beyond getting a little shopping done and having a good lunch–couldn’t eat much for dinner since I’m fasting for blood work today–there wasn’t a lot going on.  I was in sort of a strange, negated funk about doing something, but ended up doing little of anything.

But I did end up writing.

But of course I did.  And you knew that.

But of course I did. And you knew that.

I left my Åsgårdsreia students ready to meet the oncoming horde of homunculi emerging from the cabinets.  This wasn’t taken very well:

 

(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

The homunculi shambled out of the cabinets, all the size of the students facing them and dressed in tattered and dirty school uniforms. Their skin was discolored and blemished; some of the homunculi showed open sores and, in a few cases, showed extensive damage to their heads, faces, and hands.

They were the literal representation of a class of zombie Salem students preparing to attack their living counterparts.

Nine of the homunculi were out of the cabinets and advancing when the first reached the yellow line. The shield there dropped, allowing the Åsgårdsreia students to attack. Four of the students began to move forward—

Then the Åsgårdsreia students stopped and groaned. Most of them raised their hands to their faces: all of them had looks of disgust. Several of the students grumbled in their own languages, including Anna Laskar, who nearly fell to her knees while screaming in German—“Der gestank ist entsetzlich. Lassen sie mich: ich will nicht hier sein.”—and trying to hold herself upright with her fighting pole. Half the students turned pale; a couple gagged several times.

 

Well, that’s never a good sign.

But there’s eight of them, so things should have went well, right?

 

They fought through whatever was bothering them and moved on the twelve homunculi advancing upon the coven team. Lisa Glissandi and three other people ran up to the homunculi in the front; Lisa wound up her jō, ready to swing, and struck Dariga Dulatuli in the face. She screamed as she dropped her jō, clutching her face as she turned and sprinted towards the red line, blood running over her mouth and over her chin.

This didn’t deture Lisa, who hit the homunculi on the shoulder twice. When her third strike did nothing to halt its advance, she drew her jō over her head—and struck Balgaire Ibanez’s head. The boy staggered to his left, falling into Anna and Shauntia Okoro, before steadying himself.

 

I’d watch where you’re swinging that thing, Lisa–you could hurt someone.  And you aren’t the only one your coven mates need worry about:

 

Daudi didn’t see the homunculi shamble up from behind and sink its teeth into her neck.

The girl’s scream was high pitched and flooded with pain as blood fountained from the source of the bite. The blood arced from the wound and sprayed Dongsun in the side of the head, making him flinch. Daudi’s eyes rolled back in her head and she fell backward, making a loud thud when she hit the mat.

 

It’s always a good Self Defense class when you instructor turns killer zombies loose on the kids, isn’t it?

Needless to say, save for three students who “died” by being bitten, the rest of out Brave Åsgårdsreia Shield, um, maidens and dudes, ran for the red line.  Brave zombie killers they were not.

 

That was enough for Professor Chai. She waved her hands and the enchanted side shields vanished. “Well . . .” Her gaze bored through the panting and huffing Åsgårdsreia students at the other end of the mat. “That didn’t turn out very well, did it?” The professor waved her hands again and the unconscious students began to move, shaking off the enchantment they’d fallen under when they were bitten. They slowly regained their feet and joined the rest of their coven mates.

She turned to the rest of the students, some of whom still appeared shocked by what they’d seen. “The mat is in need of a cleaning—” She turned and waved at the homunculi, who turned and shambled back to the cabinets. “All will take a ten minutes break—except for the next team. They need to prepare.” She turned to Annie and Kerry. “Cernunnos: you’re next.”

 

Sorry, kids:  I didn’t mean to leave you hanging like that.  I’m sure everything will turn out just fine–

"I have a bad feeling about this, Annie."  "And a bad hat, too."  "Yeah--I took it off a kid eating pudding . . ."

“I have a bad feeling about this, Annie.”  “And a bad hat, too.”  “Yeah–I took it off a kid I found eating pudding . . .”

Walkin’ With the Homunculi

Summertime is happening outside, but in my story it’s the last day of September, and the start of my kid’s “strange day” has arrived.  Though it took some time to get writing on this sucker, let me tell you.  There was much chatting happening, and as I always am when I’m getting ready to start a new scene; the fingers want to start typing, but the mind is like, “Now just hold up there, girl.”

But I get over it:  I always do.  Just like yesterday.

We start off in the Self Defense for Beginners class, early Friday morning, which is where you want to find yourself at the end of a long week of school, ready to learn your forms in the hopes you’ll one day deal out some pain.  Except this time, the students have a real test . . .

 

(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

“Today we participate in our first exercise.” Professor Chai stood in the middle of a large, blue mat, with a row of cabinets at one end of the room and a table full of what looked like wooden sticks along the wall at the other end. “None of your are no where near even slightly proficient in your skills, but sometimes proficiency isn’t what is needed—numbers are.

“Our exercise today is not about how well you can use on of the various weapons you’ll be allowed—it’s about how well you work together as a group. It is about how well you combine your meager skills to defeat a common enemy.” She felt the student’s mummers run through the Manor. It’s only natural they’re nervous: they don’t realize what is coming.

 

Of course they don’t, you crafty woman, because no one is talking.  Particularly the writer.

And just to turn the test up to eleven, there are weapons.  Not like really dangerous weapons, but, you know–weapons are weapons.

 

“Along the far wall—” Professor Chai pointed at the tables near one end of the mat and walked towards them as she spoke. “—are the weapons you can use. All are weapons we have covered so far in class and worked with to a limited extent during the last two weeks.” As she picked up each one, she gave a quick remedial. “Bokken, used in kendo and aikido. Most of you have seen people use swords; this does not mean you know how to use one properly. Remember that this weapon can do a great deal of damage to you or someone else if used incorrectly.”

She picked up a long pole. “Bō: one meter eighty, made of hard wood. Though they are available, the length will likely preclude its use, given the majority of you stand about one meter five.” The next pole was shorter. “Jō: one meter twenty-five, made of the same material as the bō. Most who will choose a long pole weapon will pick this, as it is more manageable for your height, though you must handle this with care.”

The professor moved on to a similar but even shorter pole. “Hanbō. Only ninety centimeters long, also made of hard wood. Easier to manipulate that the jō, and can cause considerable damage if used correctly.” She reached the last set of weapons, picking up two poles, one in each hand, that were shorter and thinner than the hanbō. “Yantok. Only seventy-five centimeters, designed to be used paired, like this, in eskrima.” She used them against an imaginary opponent, moving at normal speed instead of the hyper-quick speeds she’d shown the class before. “You may try to use both together, but if you aren’t careful, you may do more damage to yourself than to others.”

 

So, kids with wooden weapons–what are they gonna do?

 

She calmly move closer to the students, some who were visibly nervous now. “Your opponents are homunculi, artificial people who consist of flesh, internal organs, and fluids—which means they act like you, move like you, and bleed the same as you. The homunculi will be your size; this is so they won’t have too great an advantage over you.

“I won’t deceive you: the homunculi are difficult to stop, but if you work together as a cohesive team, it’s entirely possible to pass this exercise. That is the whole idea of this test: to see how well you work with others in a self-defense situation.”

The professor stood silently before the students, allowing them to absorber all that she said. Every first meeting that her A Levels had with homunculi always resulted in anxiety among the students, because this was the first time they were going up again a moving opponent that appeared human. And this year she’d thrown in an additional challenge—

There was no need to give them time to grow more anxious. “To make it easier to determine teams, they will consist of members from a single coven. All members of Blodeuwedd will form one team, Mórrígan another, an so on.” She clapped her hands. “As they are first in the English alphabet, our first team is the members of Åsgårdsreia.” She pointed to the weapons at the far end of the room. “Select your weapons and gather on the mat. You have five minutes.”

 

There you have it:  put a bunch of kids on a mat with weapons and turn human-looking creatures loose, and prepare for carnage–not all of it on the side of the homunculi.  I even know who’s in each coven because when I did all that work last year figuring out who all the New Witches on the Block were, I knew the time would come when I’d need those names, and know the tower where they’d been sent–

Always know your marks before you send them running into the sharp end of a stick.

Always know your marks before you send them running into the sharp end of a stick.

With all the exposition out of the way, all that’s left is writing about the carnage–I mean, the test, the fun, fun test.  And it’s going to be fun writing, because these homunculi . . . lets just say Professor Chai loves to give her new kids a bit of a twisted challenge:

 

With all eight Åsgårdsreia students finally milling about the center of the Professor Chai walked off the mat and stood next to the row of cabinets. There was a shimmering on both sides of the mat as the protective enchantments were activated. The professor didn’t waste time reiterating previous statements. “Prepare yourself, for your test begins now.” She waved her hand and three of the five cabinet doors opened—

A few seconds later two homunculi stumbled through the doors and onto the mat, and that was all the time Kerry needed to recognize their opponents. Oh, holy jeez—they’re Walkers.

"'Sup, kids.  Who's ready for their test?"

“‘Sup, kids. Who’s ready for their test?”

The Birthday Girl

I didn’t think it was going to happen, because yesterday was such a lazy day and nothing seemed to wanna move.  But at some point–probably after The Longest Day finished and my mini-tacos were consumed, but before I got into a long conversation with another woman over guys that have been hitting on me on Facebook of late.  But I got my writing done–a lot of writing done.  Like two thousand words on the nose writing done.

Right there:  2000 words.  And a First Draft label all over the place as well.

Right there: 2000 words. And a First Draft label all over the place as well.

As you may have guessed from the post title, the scene concerned one of the kid’s birthday.  Since Professor Semplen gave his birthday greeting as “Chestit rozhden den”, it’s probably a safe bet that it wasn’t Kerry’s birthday.  Not to mention the title of this post has “girl” in it, so that pretty much narrows down the character in question.

Yes, Annie turned twelve, and it was an important moment.  Her last year as a tweener, sure, but this occasion involved something she didn’t expect:  a present from the last person she expected to see one from.  Kerry tried not to act like a goof, and since they had a lot of time before Astronomy class, he walked her up to the north shore of Lake Lovecraft, the place where they’d rested after flying around the school grounds the second Saturday they were there.

And what gift did he give her?

 

(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

There wasn’t a need to feign surprise: the last thing Annie expected was a present from Kerry. “How did—?” She took the package from his hands and held it close to her body. “When did you find time to buy this?”

“I had help.” Kerry had gone from looking at the ground to looking at Annie when he spoke. “I asked Professor Sladen and Nurse Coraline for advice, and then if they could pick it up for me.”

“That was nice of them.” She examined the package, which was slightly larger than a paperback book. “This is unexpected.”

“I felt it was needed.” He nodded in her direction. “Go ahead: open it.”

“I will.” She unwrapped the gift it slowly, careful not to tear the paper, which she then handed to Kerry and asked him to fold it into a small square. The package was a brown, unmarked box that felt far too light resting in her hand. She popped open one end, found brown packing paper, and pulled it out. There was something smaller inside: Annie tipped the box to one side—

A red jewelry box slid into her hand.

“Kerry . . .” There weren’t a lot of moment where Annie found she couldn’t express her feelings, but now was one of those moments. “It’s—”

Kerry cleared his throat. “I hope you like—”

Shush, you.” She locked eyes and Kerry instantly grew quiet. Annie stared at the red box in here hand for maybe five seconds, then opened it slowly.

A silver heart-shape locket lay in the middle of a red velvet pillow.

 

Awwww.  In some countries giving a gift like that is pretty much the same as getting married, dude.  Particularly after you had Sladen and Nurse Coraline engrave something on the back.  Something that Annie saw.  Something that touched her deeply:

 

“You—” Annie’s gaze met Kerry’s. “Do you mean this?”

A red haze returned to Kerry’s cheeks. “You mean about the love part?”

“Yes, silly.”

“Well, I mean . . .” He place the wrapping paper and brown box back in his backpack before answering. “As much as I’ve learned about loving you this last month . . .” He rolled his shoulders as he looked at scenery around the lake shore. “Yeah, I mean it. I mean—” He sighed slowly, the red in his cheeks growing brighter. “You needed to see that and keep it close to you all the time.”

Annie clutched the locket in here right hand, then opened the clasp before turning her back to Kerry while holding the ends of the chain above her shoulders. “Would you fasten this, please?”

Kerry fastened the clasp while Annie held her hair up. Once in place she smoothed her hair, then faced Kerry. She pressed the locket to her chest. “I love this. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” He managed a slight smile, though his cheeks remained bright red. “I know it’s not a lot—”

Shush, you.” Her right index finger shot up like she was going to press it against Kerry’s lips. “Don’t ruin the moment, my love.” Once again Kerry grew silent, saying nothing more least he raise Annie’s ire.

 

Yeah, be quiet, Kerry.  You’re gonna get the evil eye if you keep that up–and given that Annie is your Dark Witch, she probably can do something evil if  she puts her mind to it.  Not that she’d do it to you.  Ever.  You’re lucky there.

Because Annie is so happy–after all, this is the first time she’s gotten a present from someone other than a close family member–things . . . develop.  Tender things.  Kissing things.  And just like in The Princess Bride, they must be read:

 

Annie felt the difference in their embrace. Since the first Midnight Madness and the kiss under the comforter, there had been pecks and brushes, tiny kissing on the cheek, but nothing like the first night when she admitted her love. She allowed Kerry to feel his affection for her, to grow used to her presence—perhaps to remember something they’d shared in a dream. Kerry had not taken an initiative to advance their romance beyond the hand holding and cuddling—

This wasn’t the same. Her soul mate’s kiss came back to her with the same passion she gave him. Her right hand moved from his chest to his shoulder, slid over it, held him from behind. Annie pressed her lips against his, their kiss fueled by the emotions flowing between them. Their lips parted, then kissed, parted once more, kissed, parted . . .

Annie noticed the light pressure along her waist, then around her lower back, then sliding up to the middle. She was relaxed in Kerry’s embrace, leaning back into his arm. He’s holding me; he’s pulling me closer. She tightened her hand against his shoulder, drawing him into her. He’s not pulling away; he’s not hesitating. He’s not afraid to kiss me like this . . .

She finally stopped the kiss but didn’t pull break the embrace. She met his gaze nose-to-nose. “You didn’t run.”

Kerry’s eyes were having difficulty focusing. “I what?”

“You didn’t run. You didn’t stop. You didn’t tell me you didn’t know how to react.” She cocked her head left to right, examining him in the gathering gloom. “You weren’t the way you were—”

He placed a finger upon her lips. “Shush you.” He kissed her on the nose. “Don’t ruin the moment, Sweetie.”

Annie hugged him tight. “You’re right. I don’t want to spoil this moment.” She twisted them them from side-to-side. “I’m only taking this off when I sleep and shower. The rest of the time I’ll wear it for everyone to see.”

 

Whole lotta shushing going on, you know?

This was an important scene for me, because things are happening here, stuff is opening up, and changing are occurring.  Chapter Fourteen starts out disgustingly fun–you’ll see–and then moves into something that’s going to change things for the kids in ways they didn’t expect.  That starts today, getting into the first scene which I do hope is not only geeky, but disgusting as well.  Because sometimes you gotta roll that way, and my Self Defense and Weapons Instructor doesn’t keep boggarts in her wardrobes . . .

Lots of "To Dos" on my To Do List.

Lots of “To Dos” on my To Do List.