Monday, 7 October 2013

Fantasy Map - Kingdom of Helmriche

I haven't updated my blog but I have been busy. Yesterday, I reached the 20,000 word target on my novel, The Stone Men of Raksaka. This is a First Class piece of work I did for my university course that I am now continuing into a trilogy.

While I won't post the story here, I'll leave you with another one of my maps.

For more maps of the Six Kingdoms, and specifically Adruhal, just click here.

Here are some Game of Thrones style House Sigils I also did involving the Province of Kardinia and the Six Kingdoms. 

If you do fancy reading more of The Stone Men of Raksaka write me a message and I'll send you a copy to read, and maybe you can give me some constructive criticisms. 

Until then, I better get back to writing! 

Friday, 13 September 2013

Fantasy Reading List

All the books on this list have been recommended to me by my sister and are currently all on her bookshelves. I haven't read any of these yet and I'm incredibly excited to delve into these new worlds. 

The Blade Itself 

First on the list is Joe Abercrombie's trilogy First Law. Googling it I found Forbes writer Erik Kain says 'it is truly wonderful fantasy, easily some of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.' I have seen the first book around many times, the front cover always catches my eye. 

The blurb reads: 

Springtime in Styria. And that means war.

There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers and priests and older, darker powers play a deadly game to choose who will be king.

War may be hell, but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ, it’s a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular – a shade too popular for her employers' taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die.

Her allies include Styria’s least reliable drunkard, Styria’s most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers and a Barbarian who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that’s all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started...

Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.

This sounds like an interesting book, the war and revenge really intrigue me and fits in with The Stone Men of Raksaka. 

Kushiel's Dart

The next book on the list is another trilogy, well, two trilogies combined into one legacy: Kushiel's Legacy, by Jacqueline Carey. Both my sister and mum have read these books, I remember seeing them lying around the living room and thinking the covers were really racy, I was only tenish.

The description says:

The land of Terre d'Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good...and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission...and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel's Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair...and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.

Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel's Dart-a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.

This sounds like it will have a very strong female lead, and while that doesn't directly apply to my novel it is a character type I like to read.

Assassin's Apprentice 

Third is Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy. My mum loves all Robin Hobb books and says they're so easy to read, and that I'd really like them. Wikipedia says:

The Farseer Trilogy follows the life of FitzChivalry Farseer (Fitz), a trained assassin, in a kingdom called The Six Duchies while his uncle, Prince Verity, attempts to wage war on the Red-Ship Raiders from The OutIslands who are attacking the shores of the kingdom by turning the people of the Six Duchies into Forged ones; still alive, but without any emotion or soul. Meanwhile Prince Regal's jealousy and the indulgence of his own selfish whims threatens to destroy The Six Duchies.

Well, this one has assassins and the Six Duchies, which is similar to my character, Emin being chosen to assassinate the prince and to start a war between the Six Kingdoms. It's funny how you don't even need to read a book to see the links between it and your own work. 

Lion of Senet

Jennifer Fallon has written six trilogies, but my sister has recommended specifically The Second Sons trilogy. Here is a description:

On the world Ranadon there is no night as both suns shine brightly. The intervention of Belagren, High Priestess of the Shadowdancers, and the sacrifice of a child of royal blood, has banished the Age of Shadows from the skies. Belagren's position is unquestioned . . . until circumstances begin to tip political rivalries into a deadlier game altogether. 

A volcanic eruption rocks the seas separating the Kingdom of Dhevyn and the mainland Kingdom of Senet, and a mysterious sailor is shipwrecked on the island of Elcast. Badly wounded, his arrival stirs up old hatreds and unravels old secrets. His presence is enough to even bring Antonov, the powerful Lion of Senet, to the island and fear to the Keep of the Duke of Elcast.

A strong friendship develops between Dirk, second son of the Duke, and Kirshov Latanya, second son of the Lion of Senet. But will they, and their friendship, survive the chain of events set in motion by the ambitions of the ruthless High Priestess of the Shadowdancers and the domineering Lion of Senet?

This sounds a little confusing to me, I don't really know what I just read. Maybe the actually book will make a little more sense. 

The Curse of Chalion 

For once this isn't a trilogy, though it is still part of series of stand alone books, if that makes sense? My sister recommended this book because it was very character driven, with an usual hero. The internet says: 

A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule. It is as assignment Cazaril dreads, for it must ultimately lead him to the place he most fears: the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies who once placed him in chains now occupy lofty positions. But it is more than the traitorous intrigues of villains that threaten Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle here, for a sinister curse hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle. And only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge -- an act that will mark the loyal, damaged servant as a tool of the miraculous ... and trap him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death.

I think one of the problems with fantasies is that there are so many new made up names for characters and places that it does get a little confusing. 

Gardens of the Moon

My sister has this to say about Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series,'Very long, very complicated, and very epic. For people that have finished Game of Thrones this is the best series to read, but if you stop reading them you will forget what happened and have to start over again.' And I've just seen there are ten books in this series, so I'm going to be very busy! I do recognise these covers and I admit, they do look epic. They also remind me the covers of The Percy Jackson series, I think it's the little helmet motif.

Anyway, Good Read's blurb says this about the first book, Gardens of the Moon:

Bled dry by warfare, the vast Malazan empire simmers with discontent. Sergeant Whiskeyjack's Bridgeburners and surviving sorceress Tattersail wanted to mourn the dead of Pale. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities, holds out, Empress Lasseen’s ambition knows no bounds, and the gods intend to intervene.

I think I'll start this series last as it will obviously take me the longest. 

Overall, I am looking forward to reading all these books. Giving myself a reading list also makes me feel more productive than I really am. The one I am most excited for from these blurbs is the Assassin's Apprentice. I feel that all these books will help me with writing my novel and be a great source of inspiration

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Fantasy Inspiration

As I'm currently writing my own fantasy novel it made me think of all the fantasies I have read and how they may have influenced my writing. If you haven't read any of these books, I recommend you do because they are all brilliantly written and a joy to read.

I suppose the fantasy that it it going to be on nearly everybody's reading list is the one and only Harry Potter series. So, with no surprise it's on mine. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was one of the first books I remember reading and being enthralled by. I zipped through the first three books then had to wait impatiently for the next four. Once they were out I had to then wait for my sister to read them first - luckily she was a super speedy reader. What I love most about Harry Potter is the depth of the characters and how each one develops throughout the series. No matter how many times I have read them, or seen them, there is still so much to talk about. Snape is a particular favourite. Pottermore is also great as it allows you to read the back-story of the secondary characters that you just love, like Lupin and McGonagall.

Although I have only just read the books this year I was in love with Lord of the Rings from the moment I stepped out of the cinema after The Fellowship of the Ring way back in 2001. This is one case where the films don't ruin the books; Peter Jackson is a directing genius. I love the journey that takes place throughout the trilogy, and this has probably inspired my interest in designing maps and intricate landscapes for all my fantasy pieces. I adore the world Tolkien created and how well it transferred into film. The writing task I had to do in year 7, Escape from Kraznir, was a total rip-off of LOTR but I enjoyed it immensely. I like how all the fantastical creatures are included, yet feel very realistic and not cheesy, like cave trolls and Shelob the giant spider.

A massive change from LOTR now. Ella Enchanted was one of my favourite young adult fantasy books, loosely inspired by the fairytale Cinderella. It was like a modern day retelling of a fairytale and as an eleven year old this blew my mind. I didn't know we could retell stories, amazing! Unfortunately, the film missed the point entirely and was comedic disaster, though I do like Anne Hathaway.

I guess in a way my love of fantasy really stemmed from fairy tales. Disney was a big part of my childhood, and princesses and talking animals are some of the conventions of the fantasy world. In my younger years I did prefer more fluffy fantasies, like Goose Girl and Enna Burning by Shannon Hale. Though they did still include political intrigue it was more about a young girls adventure, with a little romance, and no brutal killings, or at least not as much as Game of Thrones...

A Song of Ice and Fire series is brilliant. They may look dauntingly big but they are incredibly easy to read and they're so interesting you never want to put them down. They're not as fantastical as LOTR, there aren't elves or goblins, but they do have dragons, which are awesome! It is more about kingdoms, politics, betrayal and treachery. All very adult stuff, that does sound complicated but it's simple once you start reading, though remains complicated when you try to explain it to someone who's never read it, or watched it. My fantasy novel is a lot like GOT in the fact that I want it to be serious and a little bit gory, and leaves you on the edge of your seat. Most of my other fantasy pieces have been more childish with a strong focus on romance, so this is quite the change.

And after adding these images, I've realised that most of the fantasies I like have been made into movies/tv shows. This is great as one of my dreams is to have one of my novels made into a film. I have a lot more reading to do around the fantasy genre, and I'm really excited about it (My sister has recommended dozens of books, so I'm going to be a very busy reader). However, I'm not excited about having to hold the massive books open while trying to read in bed. That is why Kindles are so great. 

Saturday, 7 September 2013

To Do List: BLOG MORE!

Wow. A seriously long time since I last posted and I don't even have an excuse. This summer has flown by in a blur of nothingness (though I got to go on holiday, which was lovely). It's been a strange one. And I'm not even going back to some sort of education this September which is even weirder.

I feel terrible because I haven't done any writing, blog or otherwise, since July. I haven't entered any competitions since May either. But I have written a To Do List, and those are the top things on it.
I guess I've been bogged down with this 'being an adult' business. The stress of finding a job, especially one involving writing, is humongous, mainly because there aren't any. However, I'm coming to accept it as I will hopefully being moving to Bristol next year while my boyfriend does a Masters in Law, and there will be plenty more jobs in Bristol than in the dead-end town of Ivybridge.

However, I have looked into volunteering at my local library, and have a sort of informal interview/chat on Friday the 13th (unlucky for some). If I get this position it will give me opportunities to meet some authors, even if they are just local, and have a good nosey at some interesting books. I'm a very organised person so I think I'll be great at shelving books, I always organise mismatched shelves wherever I go anyway.

One of my goals on my To Do List is to reach 10,000 words of my novel project, the continuation of The Stone Men of Raksaka. I'm on around 4,000 words and have drawn plenty of maps, but I really need to knuckle down. I have a selection of fantasy books to read to get me in the zone (my sister is a fantasy nut and half her room is filled with massive tomes). Plus, reading all these long fantasy series will add to my target of reading 100 books this year.

So I may not have any more assignments to do, but I will keep you updated on the personal writing, the job searching, and the potential competitions.

Now leave me alone so I can write! 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Stone Men of Raksaka

This is my third piece of writing to receive a First - 79% in fact, and supposedly 80% is publishable. I had a good feeling about this piece before handing it in and I thoroughly enjoyed writing it too. It is almost an intervention or retelling of a piece I did for Fiction for Children, Royalteen. It's a more adult, less superficial version at least. I was reading Game of Thrones at the time and you may see some similarities between the two. So if you loved that, you'll love this.
It's only the first 2,500 words, but I am planning on finishing it as a novel and hopefully getting it published. I said I would write it this week but instead I've been watching Disney movies. It's an addiction.
Sci-Fi and Fantasy was my favourite module of this year and in hindsight I really wish I had done a fantasy for my dissertation. But what's done is done.

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as did writing it.

The Stone Men of Raksaka
He piled sand upon his knee and watched as it skittered down his leg, catching in his dark hairs. Between his dry fingertips he crumbled more, creating a gritty mound. Sighing, Emin leaned back on his elbows, the sand tumbled back to earth. It was warm on his skin; the sun had yet to bake it to blistering heats. Staring far across the desert he was sure he could see the grasslands of Helmriche, but it was more likely to be a mirage.
He’d foolishly tried to walk there when he was younger. At sundown, he had snuck from the hut and started out across the Desert Lands. Even at night the desert could be a dangerous place. Dirt dogs tracked his every step and he had not been sparing with his water. He’d still been able to see the huts of Raksaka when he finally decided he had to turn back. He’d slunk back in as quiet as a whisper, but his baba had heard.
                ‘You want to go walking? Let’s see how far you can walk after this.’
                Emin ran a finger across one of the shiny white scars that laced his legs. He hadn’t walked for a week after the whipping; every time he’d tried the wounds would reopen.
He rolled over in the sand, savouring the peace. When the sun rose between the Eastern Lerrnayin Mountains, Raksaka would awaken. The women would be the first, tending to the skinny goats and the dry crops. Then the children would come from the mud huts, begging their maminka’s for food they didn’t have. The children would have to be satisfied with wheat and water.
The men would rarely leave their mud homes, preferring the coolness inside. His baba cursed the gods if he was ever called from his hut - even if it was a summons from the High Leader.
The Savasci had to be at the training yard an hour after sunup. Emin was expected to be there.
When he heard the bustling maminka’s and their squalling children Emin knew it was time to get ready. He looked back into the distance, over the Desert Lands, to Helmriche. It would always be a mirage.
The Savasci hut was dry and dusty. The hot air and the stench of sweat suffocated Emin. His mouth felt like it was full of sand and he could only think of water and fresh air. He stood straight like the other boys, all wearing rough leather tunics, with notched swords at their hips; swords taken from the corpses of raiders. Emin was not the tallest, but he was the oldest at six-and-ten. He’d been in the Savasci for three years and knew what Chief Devrim was saying by heart.
                ‘They steal from us. Every day they steal a little more. First it was land, then our riches, crops, and animals. In the night they kill our men and rape our women. Everything they have is rightfully ours. We shall take it back.’
                It was the same each day. The Easterners of the Six Kingdoms were deceitful, thieving bastards that deserved to rot in the pits of Felaket for robbing the Raksaka’s of their land and birthright.
                Emin joined the boys as they raised their swords to the air. Some of the novices had to hold their sword with two hands to hold it steady. The Chief spoke in his booming voice.
                ‘Out of the sand come men of stone. These men are brave and strong. These men shall not be defeated. These men are the Savasci of Raksaka!’

Emin fought in the yard against Direnc. He was only small, aged two-and-ten, making him one of the youngest of the Savasci, and barely a challenge. Emin had been training with Direnc since the last turn of the moon, but his swordplay still lacked the Savasci passion. His long dark hair was tied back with a piece of knotted grass, a frown of concentration screwed up his face. Emin blocked the boy’s attacks easily with a flick of his sword. They were unlikely to ever claim back the East with only a handful of children. Especially as the men of Raksaka lay in the shade, sweat beading on their wrinkled faces, being served by their sandwives. They don’t deserve the Eastern lands anymore, Emin thought bitterly. With a sudden burst of anger Emin swung his sword hard at Direnc, who made a clumsy block, tripped over his feet, and landed heavily in the sand. Training with Direnc reminded him of his first suns with the Savasci. He had been worried about joining; he never wanted to kill anyone. He had thought that it might earn him Baba’s respect. Yet he’d been part of the group for three years and done nothing more than train with battered swords, and his baba still treated him with contempt. He was beginning to wonder where the honour in being Savasci lay.
                Sheathing his sword, Emin then gave a hand to Direnc. ‘You fought like a true stone man,’ Emin told him.
                ‘I felt more like a mud man,’ the boy replied, dusting off his tunic. ‘You are a true stone man, Emin. I heard Chief Devrim say so to Cetin.’ Direnc grinned.
                Emin pursed his lips; anything said to his baba was not a good thing.
                ‘Go train with Tarik,’ Emin ordered the boy. ‘I must speak to Chief Devrim.’
                Direnc chewed his lip, his eyes wide. ‘Did I say something wrong?’
Emin smiled. ‘A Savasci should never doubt.’
Direnc nodded eagerly. ‘Never doubt. Never fear. Never flee,’ he recited.
He ran to Tarik’s side calling out over his shoulder, ‘I’ll beat Tarik, and then you, Emin!’
Emin couldn’t find the Chief that afternoon. He searched the Savasci huts, the yard, and down by the Kushca tree. When he asked Devrim’s sandwife about his whereabouts she shrugged and shook her head. Emin knew that it was too hopeful; why would Devrim share his business with a sandwife? Maybe the Chief was taking the watch. Many had heard the Dirt dogs howling at night, and torches had been spotted in the darkness.
As the sun dipped below the peaks of the Western Lerrnayin Mountains, Emin trudged back to the hut he shared with his baba. With any luck he would be asleep. The fat man was snoring loudly on his bed of straw, flies buzzing around his head. Every so often he would raise an arm and try to swat them away. Emin removed the sword from his hip, but was too tired to take off his leather tunic. With a yawn he collapsed onto his own straw bed. He briefly wondered why the Chief would talk to Baba before his eyes shut and darkness enveloped him.

Women’s screams woke him. Fire flickered shadows around the hut – a hundred demons of Felaket. Emin leapt to his feet, sword in hand. His baba snorted and rolled onto his back.
                ‘What’s going on,’ he slurred.
                Emin didn’t answer.
Never doubt, he thought to calm his racing heart.
He flung back the grass curtain that covered the doorway. Outside huts were on fire; people were running and screaming, flinging sand on the flames. In the chaos men in chainmail ransacked huts and grabbed women and young girls.
Never fear.
On his left, Emin saw a child crying for his maminka, watching as she was dragged away by a tall man, his armour glowing red in the firelight.
Never flee.
                Emin charged the man, but he was too quick. He shoved the woman away and unsheathed his own weapon. Their swords rang together in a clash of steel. Emin sidestepped a swift blow, then another. The man was taller and heavier, with much more protection than Emin. But that didn’t stop him. He took a deep breath and swung his sword low. His blade caught the attacker in the knee, in a gap in his armour. The man’s leg buckled, but he wasn’t seriously hurt. Emin wasted no time. He brought down the hilt of his sword on the back of his head. The man fell face down into the sand. The woman squeezed Emin’s hand before running to her child. They disappeared into the night.
                Emin had no rope to restrain the raider; he only hoped he would stay unconscious. He gave him another smack with his sword just in case. Hurrying to one of the burning huts, the heat leapt at Emin’s face, tears stung his eyes. Grabbing handfuls of sand he helped the others to put out the flames.
The fire was almost smothered when more screams filled the air. Emin grabbed his sword and ran. Down near the Kushca tree an intruder was fighting two Savasci at once. The boys’ old dull blades were no match for his longsword, but they battled on, parrying and blocking. Lying by the enemy’s feet was a small crumpled body. Long black hair covered the face of the child. Emin’s blood boiled. For the first time in his life he finally understood what the Chief had been saying. These Easterners did rob them of everything - even their children’s lives. With blood coursing through his veins, Emin lowered his sword and stormed the attacker, taking him by surprise. It was in those precious moments that Emin managed to plunge his sword into the man’s side. It tore through leather, skin, muscle alike, getting caught on the bones of his ribcage. He let out a gasp of scarlet spittle. The two young Savasci stared at Emin, their faces pale; one’s leg was drenched in dark gore from a gaping wound on his thigh. Emin’s heart pounded in his chest. His lungs burned with every breath. Adrenaline pumped through him. He kicked the fallen man before turning to the small body. Pushing the hair aside his heart stopped.
Little Direnc.
Emin dropped to his knees and cradled the boy’s head in his lap.
‘You are a true stone man.’
Devrim, Baba, and the High Leader, Hakan, stood in front of him. He’d never met the High Leader before. He was one of the darker skinned men of the clan, with oiled black hair that hung around his shoulders. His face was beardless, uncommon in the Raksaka. Thick dark brows lowered over his narrowed eyes. A massive cudgel looked weightless in his strong hands. He rearranged his fingers round the leather grip causing the muscles in his arms to flex.
Devrim was talking animatedly while Hakan stared at Emin, his face hard. Baba had his huge arms crossed, scowling darkly, bearing his yellowing teeth.
                ‘I told Cetin four suns ago that Emin was one of the best Savasci and what happened at the raid only proves that,’ Devrim insisted.
                Hakan’s eyes roved over Emin, who tried not to squirm under his intense gaze. Was he one of the best Savasci? He hadn’t intended to kill that man, but he’d been so angry. The dead man plagued his dreams. Direnc haunted his nightmares.
                ‘Pah!’ Baba interrupted. ‘This boy is a runt. Not worth wasting your time on.’
                Emin had expected that, but Devrim seethed.
                ‘This runt killed an Eastern raider and allowed us to capture another, while you sat on your craven arse, hiding with the women.’ Devrim spat at Baba’s bare feet.
                Baba lunged at him, his clenched fist slamming into Devrim’s jaw. Hakan watched them fight, his lips pressed into a thin line.
                ‘Enough!’ He slammed his cudgel down on Baba’s back. The man buckled with an agonised cry. Emin knew it would take more than that to bring down his baba for good, though. Devrim shielded away from Hakan’s cruel cudgel. His lip was broken, and his left eye swollen shut. Blood dribbled down his chin. Hakan heaved the fallen man to his feet. Baba’s nose was bent and one of his teeth was missing. The High Leader leaned in close to Baba’s face.
                ‘Your boy is of the Savasci, a stone man,’ he said in a deathly quiet voice that Emin strained to hear, ‘and he is more of a man than you will ever be.’ He threw Baba back to the mud-packed floor.
Emin looked up at Hakan careful not to show his fear.
‘Emin, son of Cetin, because of your deeds three suns ago, on the night of the raid we have an Eastern solider as hostage. With some persuading he told us news of the Six Kingdoms.’ He pulled out a leather pouch from his jerkin and emptied the contents onto ground. ‘Six fingers for six kingdoms.’ His smile was wicked, and Emin saw his baba pale at the sight of the bloody digits. ‘The greedy king of Adruhal has arranged a marriage between his daughter and the prince of Minadril.’
Emin nodded, unsure why the betrothals of far off kingdoms were so important. His baba sat up and spat a glob of blood onto the dismembered fingers.
‘Who those thieving bastard-kings sell their whore-daughters to is no concern of ours. We should be sending our strongest swords to the boarders, to avenge our dead and take back our women.’
Hakan’s jaw clenched. ‘Devrim, take Cetin back to his hut. Make sure he stays there this time.’
Devrim yanked Baba off the ground, wary of the man’s fists. To Emin’s surprise, his baba let himself be dragged away. A dry zephyr fluttered through the grass curtain that hung across the doorway. Emin was aware that he was now alone with Hakan – and his cudgel. He stood straight, shoulders back, even though his hands trembled.
‘Cetin was always rash, as I’m sure you know.’ His eyes flickered over the scars on Emin’s legs. ‘But he was a strong Savasci in his youth. He grew too attached to his sandwife though, some woman he stole from Helmriche,’ he said in musing.
Emin eyes went wide; his lazy baba had been a Savasci and his mamika had been from Helmriche? He’d always been told she was a weakling woman from the Feros tribe.
Hakan noticed Emin’s confusion. ‘A tale for another day perhaps,’ he said, though his dark eyes glittered. ‘Emin, I have a task for you, one only fit for a true man of stone.’
Emin had a feeling he wasn’t going to like what the High Leader was about to say. Killing one man shouldn’t make him a stone man, yet he was the eldest Savasci and the best with a sword, rusty and notched as it was. But he never liked fighting, or ever truly believed in the Savasci way.
Hakan’s wicked smile was back. ‘I want you to go to Minadril. Infiltrate the castle. Become part of the royal guard. Befriend this little prince. Go with him to Adruhal to meet his bride-to-be. Then kill him.’
Emin finally spoke. ‘Kill him?’
‘Slit his throat from ear to ear,’ Hakan agreed. ‘Or kill the princess. Whichever one you kill, the blame will fall on the other. Minadril and Adruhal will be at arms soon enough. The other kingdoms will be quick to join sides. The Six Kingdoms will be in chaos.’
Emin’s heart pounded in his chest. They wanted him to kill a boy? He couldn’t do it. He would not. Savasci meant brave warrior not sneaking murderer, he thought. Hakan sensed his reluctance.
‘Never doubt, never fear, never flee, Emin. You will kill the Minadril prince, if not you’ll be left to Cetin’s mercy. I’m sure he would hate to have a son as gutless as he is. Or maybe, I’ll kill you myself.’ He hefted his cudgel onto his shoulder. ‘What will it be?’

‘I’ll do it, High Leader. I’ll start a war. For the Stone men of Raksaka.’

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Hardwired - A Creative Vision of the Future

I recently received my final two grades of the year, and they're my best yet! When I pulled them out of the envelope and saw 74% and 78% a huge grin broke out across my face. Two Firsts! My mission for my final year of uni has been achieved - to get at least one First.
The amazing feeling still hasn't worn off yet, and it has really inspired me to write more. So next week, when my social life is a little less hectic, I am going to do some serious writing. Maybe I'll get a good chunk of a novel done. Here's hoping at least.

One of the pieces is a short story, untitled at the time of hand-in but I've now entitled it Hardwired. I was so nervous about this piece as the lecturer was incredibly picky about everything. I edited it over and over, then had my friends and sister read over it many times too. This assignment was for the Creative Visions module - looking at life in fifty years time. I was going to write the first chapter of Tainted Blood, but the lecturer tore it apart, so I ditched that idea. I figured in a slightly more down to Earth, more compact short story she would have less to question and complain about. My last Creative Visions piece Logged On got 64% with feedback saying the ending could have more of a twist, so I took their advice.

Anyway, less talk, more reading...

Life Beyond 2050
He stumbled through the door, the hallway lights turned on automatically.
‘Lights down,’ he slurred, shielding his bloodshot eyes from the glare.
They dimmed and he lowered his hand, leaning against the wall for support.
‘Jensen?’ Sylvee stood at the end of the hall. She looked like a ghost, shrouded in a long white dressing gown, her pale hair curled over her shoulders. There was no smile to greet him, no hugs, no kisses. Wobbling slightly in the spinning room, Jensen stood up straight.
‘Where've you been?’ Her voice was controlled.
‘Out,’ he said, trying to meet her cool stare.
‘Out where?’ Her tone never changing.
‘Just out,’ he growled as he pushed past her to their bedroom. She didn’t flinch; she only stood there, watching. Jensen wanted to apologise. He always did, yet the words never seemed to come.
The full beam of the lights in the bedroom burned his eyes and he ordered them off. The darkness was better; he could avoid Sylvee in the dark.
He fumbled with the zip of his overalls. He’d gone straight to Alfie’s from the wind farm, and they smelt of beer and illegal cigarettes. Tugging off his dirty clothing he called for the laundry chute. A hatch opened in the wall and he dumped his clothes down the tube. He had crawled under the starched covers when Sylvee came in. Neither of them spoke as she shed her gown and climbed into bed next to him. She lay on her back staring up at the ceiling, whilst he curled up on his side facing away from her.
Even in the darkness the room was still spinning and Jensen breathed deeply to calm his churning stomach. He was regretting spending so many credits on what tasted like heavily watered-down piss. A sudden turn in his gut made him desperate for the bathroom, but he could tell from Sylvee's breathing she was still awake. Rubbing his stomach, he urged it to settle. He couldn’t hold it any longer. Saliva flooded his mouth and his throat convulsed. Pushing back the covers he stumbled to the bathroom. Vomit choked him, and he couldn't order the lights on. Kneeling on the cool tiles, he threw up in the dark, hoping he aimed right. Soon his stomach was empty.
‘Flush,’ he ordered as he got to his feet. He took his time brushing his teeth and gargled multiple times. When he entered the bedroom again he could see Sylvee's eyes were still open wide, reflecting the dim light of the solar lamppost that seeped through the curtains.
Jensen sighed. ‘Go to sleep. Please.’
For a moment she didn’t move and he thought to repeat himself. Then she rolled on her side and closed her eyes. Jensen practically fell into bed, suddenly exhausted. Once again he promised himself he wouldn’t go out again. And once again he would think of her and the urge would be too strong.
When Jensen awoke the next morning, Sylvee’s side of the bed was empty. The curtains were open and warm sunlight spilled into the room. Grumbling, Jensen pulled his pillow over his face. He knew he’d have to get up eventually but the thought of his wife sitting in stony silence at the kitchen table made him want to tear his hair out.  With a yawn Jensen rolled out of bed to his feet. The wall next to his bed flashed brightly.
‘Eleven forty-two am. Sunday the eighth of April 2063. Dagenham weather: sunny spells with highs of twenty-four degrees. The main headlines today are-’ Jensen cut off the chirpy infovoice with a hasty swipe. Sylvee would know he was awake now.
He padded into the bathroom, making sure to lock the door behind him. Rummaging through the medicine cabinet, ignoring the Paroxetine, he grabbed a brightly coloured box. Hangover Ex! The New Morning After Pill was written across the front in bold letters. There was only one capsule left in the packet. Jensen swallowed it with a glass of water. Instantly his queasy stomach was gone and the sunlight no longer pierced his eyes. He still didn’t feel any better about facing Sylvee.
Once he’d showered and dressed he slouched into the kitchen. Sylvee sat at the table, her back straight and stiff. Her hands rested on the table, a full cup of tea sat in front of her. A film of milk covered the surface. She looked directly ahead, her gaze flickered slightly when he sat down next to her.
                ‘About last night,’ he started.
                ‘You’re a grown man; you’re free to do what you want.’
                It was not the answer he was expecting. He wanted anger, shouting, fighting.
                ‘No, I shouldn’t be free to do what I want. That’s not right.’ He slammed his fist down on the table.  She blinked at him.
                ‘If that’s what you say,’ she agreed with the smallest of nods.
                Suddenly, all the fight left him and his headache came back despite the pill. ‘It is what I say.’ Jensen stood up quickly and went over to the countertop. ‘Coffee, black.’ His voice seemed too loud in the silence of the room. There was a whirring in the walls and a cup of steaming coffee was revealed behind a hatch. This is more warmth than I’ll get from her, he thought as he cradled the cup in his hands. Jensen watched her as he drank. Whatever she was feeling, if she could even feel, she hid it well; her face was expressionless. 
                ‘Go, do something with yourself,’ he found himself saying.
She looked at him then. ‘Like what?’
‘I don’t know. Fluff the pillows. Read a book. Take a walk. Do whatever, just stop sitting there.’
She nodded, got up from her chair, and left the room. Jensen hadn’t meant to sound so rude; he just couldn’t control his temper around her anymore. He put his half empty coffee cup carefully on the counter, resisting the urge to smash it against the wall. His thoughts turned back to her. Her gentle eyes and loving lips. Tonight he’d be with her again. He could never keep his promises.

The phone rang and Jensen hurried to answer it before Sylvee could.
‘I got it,’ he called out.
Looking at the screen he recognised the number straight away. He debated whether he should answer it or not then swiped his finger across the screen.
‘Hey, Jen,’ Matty’s cheerful face appeared on the monitor. ‘What night is it? It’s bowling night!’
Jensen could not share his enthusiasm. He picked up the handheld receiver. ‘I told you not to call me. What if Sylvee picked up?’ he hissed, looking over his should to check she wasn’t close.
‘I wouldn’t have told her anything,’ said Matty, his cheeriness gone. ‘I got you.’
‘I know you do. It’s just been a rough morning.’ Jensen massaged his temples.
‘Guess that means no bowling.’
‘Sorry, I can’t. I just keep thinking about her.’
‘Look, Jen, this is going to come out eventually, you can’t keep her a secret forever. You know I’m fine with it, but the others, well, they’re not as understanding about this sort of thing.’
‘You’d think people would be more open-minded these days,’ Jensen said grudgingly. Everything Matty said was true, but he didn’t want to think about it. Not now.
‘Well they’re not. Jensen, I don’t want you to get hurt again. I was there for you last time but I can’t keep doing it. You have to tell Sylvee the truth or get rid of her.’
‘I know. I love her so much though; I can’t just stop seeing her. It’s too painful.’
‘Life is painful. Let me know if you change your mind about bowling.’ There was a beep as Matty hung up.
Jensen placed the receiver back on the wall, ignoring the advert for a new upgraded phone that scrolled across the screen. Matty was right, he needed to tell Sylvee the truth and live with the consequences. He was being selfish and it wasn’t fair to anybody.

Jensen sat opposite Sylvee and watched her as she played with her food. His lupine steak was tasteless and every mouthful was an effort to chew. He thought about what Matty had said. He did need to end it, but he had to know he was doing the right thing.
‘Do you remember, a couple of years ago, when we had just started dating? I was trying to be cool and threw that bottle at the recycling bin but it completely missed. You picked it up, and as you walked over to me you said “Your awful aim will cost you hundreds of credits in litter fines one day.” Then you popped it over your shoulder and got it in the bin straight away.’
                ‘I don’t recall that. Was it important?’ Sylvee said as she pushed her peas around, the fork scraping on the plate.
                I fell in love with you that day. ‘No, nothing special, just a memory.’
                Silence hung between them. Jensen looked down at the remainder of his meal and grimaced. He got up suddenly and threw it into the compost chute. All food waste in the apartment complex went down chute to the compost heap, which was then spread on the surrounding gardens and parks. Sylvee had once lost an ill-fitting bracelet down there. She’d said it was a precious heirloom of her Grandma’s, so they’d spent the day digging through rotting vegetables. They’d shared a shower after too. But she probably didn’t remember that either.
                At the sound of the fork scraping on the plate again Jensen turned around. ‘Would you just eat the damned food.’
                Jensen watched her take the first bite but soon left, his head pounding.
He had wanted to go out that night, to drink and be with her again, even if it was for just a few hours. But he had work tomorrow and he already had two warnings for being late. Another would see him fired.
He had tried to sleep. In his dream an army of Sylvee’s chased him down a narrow corridor. The more he ran the slower he went. The corridor was endless. Each one of them screamed, ‘It’s your fault I’m like this!’ One eventually caught him. Her thin fingers bit into his flesh. He wanted to scream but no sound came out. ‘It’s all your fault!’ she shrieked as she tore off his face.
He woke up in a cold sweat, breathing harshly. He tried to remember the dream but it was already fading. No longer tired, he lay next to his wife, yet all he could think about was her. How she had felt lying next to him in bed. His arms wrapped around her, her soft body warm beneath his chest, feeling her heart beat in time with his.  The cold woman beside him was no more than a stranger.
When his alarm went off he leapt out of bed.
Beep. Beep. Beep. ‘Seven am. Monday the ninth-’ Jensen swiped a hand across the alarm screen shutting up the infovoice before it could wake his wife. He pulled on fresh grey overalls and headed out the door, careful not to make a sound.
The Dagenham wind farm was already bustling when Jensen arrived. The turbines needed plenty of maintenance checks if they were to supply the South East with enough energy. There were still plenty of people opposed to the idea of wind farms too; Jensen couldn’t believe how narrow-minded society could be.
                ‘Hey Jensen,’ Randal said as he scanned the schedule. ‘You’re on E-13 today.’
                ‘E-13? That’s on the other side of the estate.’
                ‘Yeah and we’re out of solar carts I’m afraid. Looks like you’re walking.’ Randal smiled crookedly.
                Jensen knew he shouldn’t be surprised; that was his luck. The hammering in his temples grew, and no amount of drugs would help. He needed the booze, and her. He grabbed his tools from Randal before setting off between the forests of turbines.
It was over an hour before he finally reached E-13. His head had pounded with every step. The turbine was over a hundred and twenty metres tall if you included the rotor. When he first started work there Jensen had nightmares that the entire wind farm had fallen over in a domino effect and crushed him, the rotors slicing his friends and family to pieces. A shudder washed over him as he looked at the slowly rotating blades. Just get this work done. Then you can drink and be with her, he thought as he unscrewed the work hatch. But Sylvee will still be there. His hand tightened around the screwdriver. His conversation with Matty ran through his head. He needed this to be over with. He put the screwdriver away and glanced at the other tools in the box, one especially caught his eye. He would end it tonight.
Unsurprisingly, Sylvee was sat at the kitchen table when Jensen got home from the farm. He had considered going straight to Alfie’s but he knew he had to deal with his wife first.
                Her blonde hair was perfectly curled as usual, her pale skin unblemished and smooth. The top she was wearing had been one of his favourites, low-cut and clingy, but now he felt nothing. Cold, blue eyes flickered over him as he walked behind her and ordered his coffee, but otherwise she didn’t move. She would have been perfect, he thought, but she just wasn’t her. As his coffee was being made, Jensen fingered the object in his pocket with a shaking hand.
                ‘Work was fine, thanks for asking,’ he said, hoping she didn’t hear the waver in his voice.
                ‘That’s good.’
                The coffee was done but Jensen didn’t pick it up. Instead he drew the tool from his overall’s pocket. Staring at the back of her head, the hammer suddenly felt too heavy in his hand and he was afraid he would drop it.
                ‘How was your day?’ he asked. If she would just say something, anything, that could change his mind.
                ‘It was fine, thank you for asking,’ she said, not even turning around.
                Jensen closed his eyes, shook his head. The hammer slipped in his sweaty palms. He raised his arm up. He thought back to all the days they had spent together, before this. They were carefree, they were happy, they were in love. But it could never be the same again.
                ‘Can you even say it?’ he whispered, a tiny bud of hope still growing inside him.
                ‘Say what?’
                ‘That you love me!’ he said in a sudden burst of passion.
                ‘I can say it, if that’s what you would like.’
                It’s not what I want, it’s what I need. ‘Say it.’
                ‘I love you-’
                He brought the hammer down heavily on the back of her skull. Jensen felt it collapse beneath the weight of the tool. Satisfaction sped through his body as he swung it down again, this time harder. Pieces of skull, circuits and wires scattered over the kitchen floor. Again and again he brought down the hammer until the back of her head was an electrical mess. The body slumped forward, all the stiffness gone. Jensen took a deep breath, the hammer slipped from his grasp with a loud thunk as it hit the linoleum. The sight of a synthetic flesh with blonde hair attatched made Jensen retch. Tears chocked him. The pain in his head almost blinded him. Slowly, he lifted the head off the table. Its eyes had reverted back to factory settings. Grey with no pupils. He let it drop. He wanted a drink, but even that wouldn’t bring her back now.

                ‘I’m sorry Sylvee. I should have let you go instead of clinging on. Now I’ve lost you twice.’