Enter the Firing Line

This has been a crazy week, and yesterday was probably as cray-cray as any day I’ve seen–but I mean that in the best of ways.  It started out with a crying jag at seven-thirty, and ended with a swollen face that needed considerable icing–

I believe, "Stingin' like a mofo" is the technical term for how I felt.

I believe, “Stingin’ like a mofo” is the technical term for how I felt at the time.

But I got my brows shaped as well, and because of holidays and travel in the upcoming weeks, I don’t go back for more electrolysis until near the end of July, so I can give my face a rest from the last nine session of having a small probe pushed into your face followed by having a hair pulled out–something I actually watched for about three minutes last night.

On the way to and from my session I thought about the scene I’m working on now.  It goes to a place that was only mentioned in passing in the first book, but now we’re finally getting a look at the Firing Line.

Right there in the upper left-hand corner.  There's no reason why it's placed away from everything else--why do you ask?

Right there in the upper left-hand corner. There’s no reason why it’s placed away from everything else–why do you ask?

As mentioned in the scene Annie and Kerry where their to show Wednesday they could toss fireballs with the best of the D & D wizards, and if you don’t think a majority of students didn’t feel a bit of a chill watching those two light up those Beltane bonfires, you’re not thinking this out.  Mom and Dad Malibey should watch those personal questions in the future . . .

It plays out in the scene that Annie has requested Kerry’s presence here on a Thursday afternoon, which, you’ll eventually discover, is free time for them.  If you have free time, might as well fill it up, right?

 

(All excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Two: B For Bewitching, copyright 2015 by Cassidy Frazee)

The interior was as sparse and unadorned as the exterior. The entryway was a large viewing gallery situated behind physical glass enhanced with enchantments. Beyond that was nothing but open space sixty-five meters long and sixteen wide, insulated against every destructive magic known. They passed through the viewing gallery and headed into the main structure. They weren’t alone: Professor Chai was there standing next to the covered work table and two large, color coded cabinets. Annie wasn’t surprised: she expected to find the self defense and weapons instructor waiting for them. “Hello, Professor.”

“Hello, Annie.” Professor Chai tilted her head slightly to the right. “Hello, Kerry.”

“Hello, Professor.” His attention shifted to the cabinets next to the small instructor. “What are those for?”

 

Glad you asked, Kerry–

 

“Training.” She looked at Annie as she spoke. “Here you go, just as Helena requested: training torsos and homunculi.”

Annie gave the professor a quick nod. “May I see the torsos?”

“Certainly.” Professor Chai pulled back the covers revealing the two training torsos, which weren’t actual torsos as they were human-looking bodies minus limbs. They looked a great deal like the one she’s practiced on at home—though that one never had the slight discoloration in the center of the chest see saw now. “Beating Heart option?”

“Yes, just like on some of the homunculi you practiced on last year.” The Beating Heart option allowed students to see how close they were to “killing” their homunculus: a strong pulsing red meant they were in full health, but as their health deteriorated the pulse would grow weaker. “These, like the ones in the cabinets, are modified so the color becomes lighter as they lose blood. That will give you an idea of how well you’re doing with your spells.”

“Good.” Annie moved towards the nearest cabinet, which was dark blue. “Why the different colors?”

“Different homunculi. The ones in the blue cabinet are Roamers; they’ll wander about aimlessly and won’t take action against you. The ones in the red are Trackers, and you know all about those—”

Kerry moved closer to the red cabinets. “These are the Walkers, aren’t they?”

“Yes: the zombies Annie and you dispatched so readily last year.”

 

Boy, do Annie and Kerry remember those zombies:  the test that set them apart from the rest of their levelmates, put them on a different path than everyone else, and left more than a few students retching in the aftermath of the bloody mess they left behind.

But what’s happening here?

You’ll have to wait and see what else I have to say . . .

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 . . .