Fifth Week Fiction: Setting the Scene


With all the focus on villainy this month, you’d think my Fifth Week Fiction would follow suit. But, uh, to be honest…I don’t have any great antagonist material. It’s something I, too, need to work on.

Instead, I’ve been given the request to present a scene focused on building the setting and making it feel real to the reader. I’m not sure how well I do with all of that, either, but I’m willing to share what I’ve practiced.

In our previous Fifth Week Fictions we got to know Tainock and Jazz (oh, whoops, gave away her name). In this snippet, I’m switching gears and looking at characters from another series in the works. Enjoy these darling little kiddos and all their mental illness quirks.

(I’m sorry, I have no picture this time. You’ll just have to use your imaaaaaginatiiiiiooooon…)

Past the harbor and into the town proper, covered by its grand trees: Xavier was gawking up to try to find their tops. The trees towered higher than Frenlang’s walls, higher than its clock. They shielded Manara like umbrellas, with branches fanning and interlocking. Their leaves almost completely obstructed moonlight, so paper lanterns guided the way—strung in rows between Manara’s buildings and splashing the streets in paint-like pink, orange, and purple.

The roads branched much like the trees did: abruptly and tangled. When several forks in the road had confused Jaitoph’s already feeble sense of direction, Rahrei and Lau stopped before a squat building with oblong windows boiling out candle glow. Rahrei reached into the pockets of her bag and retrieved the folded check. She tapped her nose twice with the paper.

“I won’t take long,” she said.

When the bank’s double doors had closed behind her, Lau reached into her bag and retrieved the book he’d stuffed in there earlier. He turned to a page marked by a ribbon and began to read under the lamplight.

Xavier hadn’t stopped staring at the trees, his head tilted at the most extreme angle to study them. “En’t none of ‘em fallen?” he gawped.

Lau looked up from his book. “Not in my lifetime,” he replied.

Xavier snapped his head forward. “You very old?”

“Thirty-two,” Lau said.

Xavier pondered the age a moment. “Guess ’at’s long enough.” When he saw the book in Lau’s hand, the trees no longer seemed to interest him. “You like those?” he asked.

Lau’s reply was bemused. “You mean books? Well, this one’s a little dry and self-absorbed. History can be touch and go.”

“History? En’t that for learnin’? We used to trade stories on the street an’ try to tell the toppest one. I heard some books’re made that way, too.”

“Yes, there are also those kinds of books,” Lau answered. He replaced his bookmark and tucked the book back in Rahrei’s bag. Then, reaching over to rub his horse’s neck, he said, in a sudden change,

“Are you making a friend?”

His eyes were on Wren; she had, due to an itching curiosity, crept out from behind Jaitoph to watch the horse. Lau gently tugged the reigns to bring the animal’s head down, but he made no other move. Wren shrank back at first, but the longer she studied the horse, the more she edged forward.

Jaitoph was surprised at her bravery. Maybe she liked the horse the same as she liked birds or the crippled goat on the road to Frenlang. The horse was colored pale as her, dappled in gray. It watched her approach with black eyes. Wren stretched out a hand and let her fingers wait just centimeters from the horse’s nose. The horse nudged her arm. Wren started back and clutched her hand to her chest.

“She’s inquisitive about you,” Lau said. “Her name is Pear, after her preferred treat.”

Wren reached again for the horse’s face and this time made contact. Tentatively she stroked the velvet muzzle. Pear answered with a satisfied huff.

“What…what happened to her leg?” Wren asked, staring anywhere but at Lau.

“Just a stumble. She’s old, and her muscles aren’t so strong anymore.”

“Did she break it?”

“No, it’s a sprain. Nothing serious,” Lau said. He nodded toward Jaitoph. “How did your friend break his arm?”

Jaitoph reflexively cradled his splint.

“I-in the ship wreck,” Wren replied, still caressing the horse’s lowered head.

“I see,” the man said. “He looks pretty tough. Does he look after you?”

Wren glanced at Jaitoph and seemed to realize she wasn’t as close by her friend as she’d thought. When she turned back toward Lau, her answer was a bashful shrug.

“That’s all right,” Lau said. “Not everything has to be my business. Jaitoph…is it?”

Jaitoph startled at hearing his name and momentarily forgot his surly attitude.

“Ah. Not to surprise you. Rahrei let me know your names at the dock. But you aren’t the one whose ribs were injured, I think.”

“That was me!” Xavier offered, for once relieving Jaitoph for cutting in. “Xavier. That’s my name. I got bit by the Murkie. Did Rahrei say it was me?”

“She did,” Lau said. He might have been smirking, except his scar made it look more like a wince. “It’s…unusual for anyone to survive a Murkie attack.”

“Well, I did ‘cause…” Xavier’s boast diminished as he looked at Wren. He ended with, “I’m just that good.”

“Mhm, really,” the man said. “Someone as puissant as you shouldn’t have even worried about the trees falling.”

While Xavier mumbled and mangled the word “puissant,” Lau continued, “So we have Jaitoph, Xavier…” He peered down. “And Pear’s friend.”

Wren blushed madly and stared hard at the horse. Then, to Jaitoph’s great surprise, she squeaked out, “Wren.”

Lau nodded and spoke solemnly: “Be sure to remember her name, Pear; she’s trusted you with it.”

Pear tossed her mane and kept her face right where Wren could reach.

(Kinda dropped you into the middle there, didn’t I?)

Fifth Week Fiction: Dynamic Introductions


As you may have noticed, we’ve got another fifth Friday this month. Which means…it’s time for our second installment of “Fifth Week Fiction”!

Since we’re spending the summer studying dynamic introductions, I thought I’d show some of my own practice in the art. I typically feel confident with character development, but I seem to lack the skill for punchy scenes.

So here’s me having a little fun while (hopefully) practicing what I preach. For this exercise, I present these two characters:

Tainock & Jazz
Art courtesy of Carla Ceballos. Behold the anime intensity.

The boy you already met in my previous Fifth Week Fiction. Here he is meeting the girl:

“Important Person,” a voice monotoned nearby.

Tainock looked up from his book. There was no one on the walkway near enough to speak with him, but Amadeus had also lifted his head and perked his ears like he’d heard something.

Tainock warily lowered his eyes back to the book. He read an intro concerning the establishment of tachs, the law force instigated by Guardian Bemdin when –

“Important Person, if I could please have a word with you.”

Tainock heard Amadeus rumble. There was still no one around.

“Ye-es?” he mumbled.

The short tree next to him shivered, and Tainock caught a glint of shiny green between the waxy leaves. He heard a branch snap, and whatever was in the tree tumbled into the bushes underneath. Amadeus leaped up and snarled, which began to draw the attention of people nearby.

Tainock put a hand on Amadeus’s neck, hoping to subdue him before too many started staring. He peered into the brush and watched, amazed, as a metallic reptile wriggled on its back, swinging stubby claw feet to right itself. As soon as it had rolled over and turned to face Tainock it continued as though nothing had happened:

“Important Person, I wish to make you aware of a pressing matter – ”

“You’re an iguana,” Tainock interrupted.

“Correct. That is my build. Now, if you give me a moment – ”

“But you’re mechanical,” Tainock said.

“Please, Important Person, focus on the matter at hand. I must caution you on the interaction you will have with a cohort of mine.”

“Matter at hand?” Tainock said. “Cohort?”

Passers-by were definitely gawking now, none being close enough to see the little robot iguana.

“You will meet her shortly. She has a question to ask that is of great importance to her. But I want to clarify matters on two points. One: her question has no validity whatsoever. Two: she has poor social skills.”

“Poor social skills,” Tainock repeated. “What, do you mean she’s shy?”

“Shy?” said the iguana. “I wish that was her problem.”

Tainock heard something like metal striking metal up above, but didn’t have a chance to look up before torrential water gushed over him, knocking him onto the walkway. Water flooded everywhere, even pushing Amadeus back.

Tainock was aware of a cut on his cheek and the sting in his palms and wrists when he’d tried to break his fall. The passers-by who had been gawking he now heard shrieking as they fled the disaster.

Over where he’d been sitting the water had slowed to a spray as emergency shut-off valves began to kick in. And in the mess of flood-flattened and uprooted plants there crouched a girl – dark-skinned with darker freckles, orange hair shaved close on one side and braided down to her waist on the other. She steadied herself by clutching the bench with an odd, bright metal hand.

She grinned at Tainock.

“You have to be the Guardian, with that star pinned to your chest. But I didn’t expect you to look so much like a Dawnian.”

The robotic iguana sidled up onto the girl’s shoulder and studied Tainock from that perch.

“I apologize, Important Person,” he said. “The warning never comes soon enough.”

Tainock, stunned speechless, had the sense to command a hackled Amadeus down and check to see if anyone else would be in harm’s way should this girl be volatile. A hundred lessons on crisis mitigation scrambled through his head.

What had Uncle taught him? Find the reason before taking action (not that they’d ever applied it in their own interactions). The iguana had said the girl had a question. Maybe in answering it he’d get a chance to hold her in custody –

“You’re quiet,” the girl said. “You think I’m strange. I know. But I hear it’s hard to get your attention, so I had to be drastic.”

Tainock ventured, “The…uh…robot on your shoulder said you had a question.” Oh, yes, THAT sounded authoritative. He tried again: “I’ll give you permission to ask, but then you must come with me for the damage you’ve caused here.”

The girl let free a catastrophic laugh.

“No, that’s not the way it works. If you answer my question, you have to come with me.”

Tainock fumbled. “I…what?” he said. This discussion wasn’t going like the lessons said it should.

“Where’s my family?” the girl asked.

“Family?” Tainock could hear how stupid he sounded. “That’s it? That’s your question?”

“Yes. Where’s my family?” the girl repeated, like suddenly Tainock would understand.

“Wh – Look, I don’t even know who you are.” Tainock’s eyes went from her face to her metal arm. Both arms were metal, he realized. And her feet and legs. “I can’t be expected to tell you where your family is.”

The girl tilted her head, as though resigned. “Huh. Yeah, I was told you wouldn’t let me know. But that’s not going to work on me!”

And then she sprang and threw Tainock to the ground.

A Brief Bit of Prose


What, oh what to do with an extra week in the month? Well, I WAS going to post about a trip I’d planned to take to Bruneau Sand Dunes last weekend, but Idaho weather saw fit to rain us out. And I wasn’t all that interested in exploring Bruneau “Mud” Dunes.

Then I figured – Hey, a fifth week doesn’t come around all that often. I should do something completely different! So now, I present to you: “Fifth Week Fiction” (I totally just made up that title, like, right this second), during which I’ll share a short snippet from some of my personal story writing.

I’ll post material from my original fiction and maybe even occasionally a bit of fan fiction. (Hey, writing practice is writing practice, right?) And if it turns out my writing bores you…well…I guess you can be thankful there’s only 4 fifth Fridays this year.

(But I really hope my writing doesn’t bore you. That kind of defeats the point.)

And now, without further ado – an excerpt from an original story, taken wildly out of context:

Tainock saw the bright neon tape first, the dead body second.

It appeared to be another homeless person. A man, Tainock thought. He was wearing a garbage bag, but it had been torn down the back, and the man’s buttocks stuck straight up due to his prone position.

“Couldn’t you…cover him up?” Tainock asked, troubled by the scene.

“Master Guardian,” The tach who answered was either being respectful, or he’d perfected the flat response when asked a stupid question. “We would, except his wound is on his back. You can look for yourself.”

He retracted the tape and ushered Tainock through. Other hobos lingered as close as possible to the crime scene, craning to catch a glimpse of their dead compatriot. They didn’t even have the modesty to look away when Tainock caught them rubber-necking.

Tainock circled around the dead body. He saw only the profile of the man’s face, smushed against the pavement. Other than the grotesque expression, it had typical – if haggard – features. No signs of physical trauma. As the tach had said, the killing blows had been dealt to the man’s back.

There were deep, bloody gashes across the shoulder blades and down around the abdomen. They were oddly jagged, like something blunter than a knife had torn them open. They also seemed to form a strange sort of pattern. Tainock walked to the back of the corpse and read the cuts.

Read them?

They said “Al-Fāȧn”: Dawn script. “He doesn’t know.” Tainock thought sleep deprivation had finally started to take its toll. Writing in a man’s back? He tilted his head; maybe a different angle would show he’d only imagined the word.

“Al-Fāȧn”, the gashes said, clear as Tainock had ever studied the language.

“He doesn’t know” what?


Tainock met back with the tachs at the edge of the crime scene.

“Sir” one of them greeted.

“The wounds on that hobo are a word. I mean, they spell something in – in…Dawnian.”

Tainock immediately regretted sharing the information. Now the crime might be considered a racial murder, and with things being what they were between Dawn and Dusk…

“Master Guardian, with the girl roaming free, I think it’s our priority to find and hold her for interrogation,” said one of the tachs. “She’s likely behind the killing.”

Tainock couldn’t picture her as a murderer. At least, not a calculated one who cut obscure phrases into someone’s skin.

“We’ll continue searching,” Tainock said. “But, uh, if you find her, don’t do anything until I get to talk to her.”

The tachs looked at him like he’d said to give her more human backs to scrawl on. “Of course, you’ll be contacted right away,” said one.

There was the “stupidity tolerance” voice again. Tainock assumed it’d be a constant for the rest of this career.

(Thank you all for indulging me.) 🙂