Saturday, November 30, 2013

Writing update #16

Okay, so I got a scene written while out drinking before midnight. I got my 85k for this year's Nano! I'm so excited lol. Though, the 85k came from another chapter, this is the last chapter of my submission to Nano!


Chapter 24 (Gathering the necessary ingredients)

            John stepped out of the stairwell and into the lobby. Now … where is Hyuga?
            The thick layer of burned potatoes floating in the air made it hard to breath. Three lines of Chefs stood in front of the elevators and stairwells like a human barricade. The front row held feathers, and the back two linked to various types of elemental bells. Beyond the lines of guards — a chaos-strewn tangle of bodies undulated while it traded blow after blow and blast after blast in a stalemate.
            While gritting his teeth, John snarled. Without knowing who any of my men are, I won’t be able to help without also hurting my men … and my chances of getting the drop on Hyuga. He placed a hand on the shoulder of Mariko — the other surviving member of Haru’s scout team — and leaned in close. “Try not to kill our own Chefs.”
            Mariko shivered. “We are going out there?”
            “Not the fighting type, huh?”
            After shaking her head, Mariko sighed. “I’m a stealth specialist with a moderately weak link.”
            “Use your strengths to surprise enemies and practice switching your link quickly.”
            “I’ll do my best, my king.”
            “That’s all I ask.” John squeezed her shoulder.
            Mariko straightened her back.
            John released his grip and urged his makeshift bodyguards forward. How should I search for Hyuga? I thought he’d be more vocal than this.
            A man with a link as strong as John’s slammed his fist into a weaker Chef’s face. The weaker Chef’s head snapped around while her feet lifted off of the ground. Her body tumbled through the air and hit the lines of guards like a bowling ball. Once the lines opened, several Chefs — each wearing a red pin that looked like an old-school, World War two fighter-plane.
            They must be Hyuga’s men. With a poke, John urged his makeshift bodyguards out into the chaos. “Our only goal is to kill Hyuga,” he said just loud enough to be heard by his guards amid the clatter of battle.
            Before pushing through the collapsing lines, his makeshift bodyguards nodded. They all burned and linked to an infused item — six to feathers, one to a red-stringed bell and Mariko to a dog collar.
            Fuck! I forgot to give them a detailed description of Hyuga’s face. While they moved forward, John edged closer to Mariko as to avoid shouting.
            “I —” Mariko’s head jerked back and forth. “No, I think I found him.”
            John growled. “Where?”
            Mariko started. “He … he’s just —”
            “I see that whoever replaced that traitor, Moe, has decided to show up.” Hyuga’s voice boomed from the left side of the lobby. It once again bounded off of the walls as if he were using a megaphone.
            Mariko’s hand froze in mid motion. It looked as if she were about to point in the direction that the voice came from.
            Found you. John grinned.
            “Since I know you can hear me,” Hyuga said, “I’ll give you to the count of three to surrender John into my custody.”
            Like I’d ever surrender myself to him. “I have an idea.” After touching each of his makeshift bodyguards on the shoulder, John stepped outside of the diamond formation.
            John crept across the room without making a sound. Then, he placed his back to a pillar and knelt as low as he could get.
            Once John peeked around the pillar, he had to cover his mouth when the curse came unbidden. Fucking shit!
            Hyuga had five guards standing around him. Each had links almost as powerful as John’s, but the only seemed to have one link apiece. Of the five, one held a dog collar and constantly scanned the area.
            Well … there goes my plan to surprise him as well as the one to use numbers against mind control. John bit into his lower-lip.
            The coppery taste of blood filled his mouth.
            John spat into his hand and rubbed the blood across the pillar.
            “One!” Hyuga had three of his links active — one to a ballpoint pen, one to a crystal vial and one to a white-gray-stringed bell. The element swirled in front of his mouth and extended outwards in a cone-like manner. “Time’s up!”
            So, now he joins the fight? Despite the trickle of blood dripping into his mouth, John swallowed. I — He gagged while the blood rolled down his throat.
            Hyuga looked in John’s direction and pointed.
            With squinted eyes, the Chef attached to a dog collar glanced around the pillar.
            John ducked back behind the pillar. Even if he only has one link, he could be a specialist.
            Someone from Hyuga’s group clicked their tongue.
            Hyuga’s group moved towards John.
            Fuck. John held his breath. Please … please, don’t see me.
            Without checking behind the pillar, Hyuga and his group strode past John. The two in front slid forward in a blur and moved their links to a red-stringed bell — each creating a thin-bladed fire-katana. Before their feather-enhanced strength could flee, they cleaved a pair of Chefs down the middle.
            John licked his lips, and when his tongue passed over the gash, stifled a yelp. Damn … they’re good.
            The fire-katana’s vanished, and the two Chefs returned to their places around Hyuga while their links returned to feathers. As a group, they moved forward.
            Eyeballs — the Chef connected to a dog collar — continued scanning the room. Left and right. Left again then behind. Once again to the right before facing forward. He occasionally checked the floor.
            First thing is first. John clambered to his feet and edged around Hyuga’s group. He ducked, spun and juked his way passed the Chefs entangled in battle with one another. Where are you keeping that pickled brain?
            Hyuga occasionally dissipated an incoming elemental blast, but he refrained from directly engaging John’s men.
            Is he saving his strength for something? John eased closer.
            Hyuga’s center pocket where the pickled brain had been during their last fight bulged. It curved in the same shape like before.
            Hyuga couldn’t be that stupid, could he? He had to have known that John had felt it.
            Or was Hyuga a creature of habit?
            John shook his head. No. He’s too clever to do something like that. With narrowed eyes, he continued to search Hyuga’s pockets.
            The rest of the pockets on the front of Hyuga’s shirt didn’t jut outwards. Most likely, they contained his collection of infused items designed for battle.
            Fuck, I should have checked his back pockets first. While he worked his way behind Hyuga, John kept an eye on Eyeballs.
            Eyeballs glanced all around like a kid with ADHD after scarfing down an entire bag of Sweet Tarts.
            John grinned. Does he never look up? His grin spread.
            Hyuga whirled about and faced John.
            Thump-thump, Thump-thump.
            John’s heart leaped into his throat.
            Hyuga turned back towards the elevators.
            John started to sigh then clenched his jaw shut.
            Eyeballs peered in John’s direction.
            John froze in place. You fool!
            A long moment passed.
            After shaking his head, Eyeballs began his search of the area again.
            No more mistakes. John tiptoed closer to Hyuga’s group.
            The few, cushioned, back pockets of Hyuga’s shirt and pants matched most of the ones in the front. Save for one, nothing bulged in them, and the one that did carried the shape of the comically large prayer-beads that Hyuga had used on John before.
            Trembling, John stumbled backwards. Then it has to be in that front —
            Hyuga’s right hand shot forward, and fire sprang from his fingertips, to melt the skin from a pair of female Chefs.
            Roasted chicken intermixed with the acrid stink of incinerated hair and danced across the room. It overpowered the unnerving — yet refreshing — scent of a hundred burned potatoes.
            John’s stomach lurched, but he stopped himself from vomiting.
            In a pocket under Hyuga’s arm and near his armpit, something almost round bulged out.
            There it is! John stopped breathing through his nose and stared at Eyeballs. A few moments later, he bolted off towards the stairwell.


            After hanging up her smartphone, Haru plugged a USB stick into her computer and tilted the screen up. Why couldn’t Moe just switch to laptops like I asked her to?
            On the other side of the reception room, Yuuna combed through the file cabinet. She randomly cursed and tossed a file across the room.
            Discarded papers covered the carpeted floor. The heavy scent of burned potatoes still filled the building, though a hint of blood now floated atop the countless strands of power.
            Haru’s lips curled into a snarl. They had better not hurt John. She opened the document’s file and copied the registry of Chefs onto the USB stick. She also added the contact information for each of the affiliated Chefs as well as the current mission data. “I’m sorry that we weren’t better organized.”
            Yuuna grunted before tossing another stack of files across the room. “Not a problem if — found it!”
            “You did?” Haru looked up from the computer. “Perfect.”
            Once Yuuna pulled the four large files from the file-cabinet, she strolled across the room. “At least I think I did.”
            The top file read, ‘Insurance policies.’
            From top to bottom, the others read, ‘Finances,’ ‘Bank accounts’ and ‘Architectural building plans.’
            Haru flipped open the files and scanned the first few pages of each. “Yep, these are the ones we need.” She picked up her Louis Vuitton limited addition bag with the branding flowers and shoved the files into them.
            “What else do we need to get?” Yuuna glanced at the computer screen.
            “Once this file finishes copying, we can —”
            An explosion opened the door, and a burly man stepped into the reception room. His link was as thick as John’s.
            Not now! I just needed a little bit longer to get all of this and get out. Haru burned. “We have to stall him until the files finish copying.”
            Yuuna smiled at the man and hesitated before burning.
            The man nodded as if he knew that Haru and Yuuna were no match for him.
            Yuuna swallowed. “Why don’t we just crush him?”
            Haru started. I thought she was the scouting type. “If it’s possible, then yes. If not, we have to make sure he doesn’t damage the computer or USB stick.”
            “Fine.” Yuuna glanced between Haru and the man. “I’ll attack from the left, you come from the right.”
            Sounds good enough … . “We have to be careful.”
            “I know.”
            The hulking man laughed. “What are the two of you chattering about?” His high-pitched voice squeaked like a mouse. “Are you ready to surrender already?”
            “As if.” Haru linked to a feather.
            Yuuna did the same. “Besides … John isn’t here.”
            Haru narrowed her eyes. Why did she use his name?
            “We’re not important enough to bother with.” Yuuna moved forward. “Just leave.”
            The man cracked his neck. “It’s unfortunate that John isn’t here, but I’m not actually after him.”
            Haru arched an eyebrow. “But isn’t that the only reason your master came here.”
            “Not the only reason.” The man chuckled. “Besides, Hyuga already knows where he is.”
            “What?” Haru blinked, tears formed in her eyes. My love … . “Then —”
            “He will be in Hyuga’s custody soon.” The man wrapped his link around a feather and charged forward. “And once I have that database, he will reward me with a place in his council!”
            Haru sniffled.
            Yuuna crashed into the man, and they crashed into the floor. They rolled across the carpet towards the door.
            The paper under them rustled.
            Their mouths worked, probably insulting one another.
            The files are finished copying. Haru looked to the pair and then back at the computer. “Hold on for just a little bit longer, Yuuna!”
            Yuuna grunted.
            The man rolled atop her and pinned her to the ground. “I don’t think she’s going to make it, little lady!”
            Haru moved her link to a light-blue-stringed bell and threw a wave of ice across the room.
            The man flipped off of Yuuna and flattened his body beside hers.
            The ice zipped over their heads.
            Haru dashed behind her desk and ejected the USB stick. She jerked it out of the computer. I hope it’s not damaged. She tossed the USB stick into her bag and made ice-spikes rain from the ceiling.
            The burly man scrambled across the floor and towards the file-cabinet.
            Focusing, Haru turned the spikes of ice into a thick mist. Please, don’t be hurt. She flipped her link back to the feather and sprinted to Yuuna. “Let’s go.”
            Yuuna took Haru’s outstretched hand.
            Haru dragged Yuuna to her feet and out the door.
            Three Chefs stood in front of the elevator. Each wore a red, fighter-plane pin on their collars.
            Fuck. After glancing to the left, Haru squeezed Yuuna’s hand tight. “This way!” She bolted to the right. If I can make it to that latter … .


            While the two women in front of him turned into ash, Hyuga released the red-stringed bell to conserve his potatoes. Why hasn’t the new leader or John showed themselves yet? He lowered his right hand back to his side.
            His New Officers clashed against the organizations’ Chefs, and the roar of elements cracked off of the walls. Claps of feather-enhanced fists meeting flesh echoed across the floor.
            Hyuga grunted when the doors to the lobby opened, and a large force of Chefs crashed into his men’s backs. “From behind!”
            The New Officers in the center of the lobby turned to face the new group of traitors.
            I must be prepared to touch gold or another ballpoint pen, but … . Hyuga used his two remaining links to grab onto a blue-stringed bell and a purple-stringed one. “Jump!”
            The New Officers obeyed.
            Hyuga released a wave of electrified water across the lobby.
            A few traitors dropped, but the waves were dispersed before they could do too much damage.
            How can such skilled Chefs throw away their country and their freedom so easily? Hyuga growled and raised both hands in the air. “All traitors deserve to die!”
            “Master?” Erin — one of his five guards — asked in a raspy voice. “I think you should be careful.”
            “Don’t worry so much, Erin.” Hyuga threw a blast of water and a bolt of lightning before moving his links to a red-stringed bell and a light-blue one. “With my five Imperial Commanders watching my back, even if the Chef who can hide from Meriku appears —” He slung a fireball with a spike of ice as a core. He moved his links to a brown-stringed bell and a gray one. “— I’m sure that the lot of you can handle him.”
            Erin nodded.
            Despite three of four blasts being dispersed, Hyuga continued to swap elements and rain down destruction upon the traitors. “Meriku will just have to focus on his hearing more often.”
            Meriku saluted. “Yes, Master.”
            I really wish they would have stuck to calling me Captain-Commander. Hyuga swapped to a pair of red-stringed bells and destroyed two large waves of fire from the left and right. “Just make sure no one who doesn’t have the pin even gets close to me.”
            All five Imperial Commanders saluted before crouching into an offensive stance Hyuga had designed for Chefs back in the war.
            After taking a deep breath, Hyuga ceased his onslaught and watched for incoming elements to counter. That should give my New Officers enough of an advantage for now. He pulled out a piece of potato bread and shoved it into his mouth. He only chewed once before swallowing each mouthful. The real issue is, why haven’t any of the men I sent upstairs returned with John’s —
            A woman ran from the stairwell and slid to a stop in front of a snarling Erin. She peeked around him and met Hyuga’s gaze. “I’m sorry to report this, Master, but none of our men sent upstairs have seen any sign of him.”
            “Where the fuck are they hiding him?” Hyuga screamed. “I don’t know who this new leader is, but when I find them, I’m going to —”
            A shadowed figure fell right beside Hyuga. A massive purple claw flew down from its left hand.
            Hyuga lifted his right arm to block, moving a second link to the ballpoint pen. Not going to make it!
            The lightning claw bit into his flesh while the form shimmered, slowly becoming visible.
            Something snagged at Hyuga’s shirt before he could leap backwards.
            The Imperial Guards spun and gasped.
            Once his arm had healed, Hyuga blinked. “John? Is that you?”

Friday, November 29, 2013

Passed out photo stories #13

Taka? What is he doing? With his Louis Vuitton bag and his son in a Power Rangers' mask, he clearly realized that he's a lightweight. ... And that his zipper is a more complicated device that he had realized.

His wife convinced him to bring the boy along for the Belgian Beer Festival, and it was good to have someone there to make sure he didn't do anything stupid. Taka was known for doing stupid things after drinking a few beers.



Bang! Bang! Boom!

The taiko drums pounded, and the festive dancers preformed on stage. Taka's son grew wide-eyed and began to bounce. They had gone to a festival before, but not one of this size. He tugged on Taka's hand when they passed a booth that sold character masks.

After sighing, Taka pulled out his wallet and spent 1,500 yen on the plastic piece of junk, but the smile on his son's face made it worth it.

Next up, they grabbed some yakitori, sausage and drinks—beer for Taka and ramune for his son. They took a seat in front of the stage, laughed, ate and continued to drink in the summer heat.

Feeling buzzed, Taka stood up and motioned for his son to come with him to the bathroom. The line was long, but unlike the girl's bathroom, it moved quickly. They stepped in together and that was when Taka found his zipper stuck.

How did this happen?

He tugged and tugged, but the zipper didn't budge. Was he pulling it down wrong?

A few minutes of trying later, Taka cursed and just unbuckled his pants, dropping them to the floor. He no longer cared what everyone thought, though the laugh that slipped through his son's lips irked him.

I hope you enjoyed reading,

Next: Yaka and Daiki

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Writing tools #3

So, today, I want to talk about my writing process.

I almost always open with the magic system or something related to the magic system.

I like to write a sample scene with two random characters using the magic system to fight each other. This generally gives me a hint of who my characters will turn out to be, but at this point, they still have no faces.

From there I define the magic system, give it rules and costs. I work on redefining the magic system and turning it.

I do another sample fight scene with the magic system, using the faceless characters and have them have a dialogue during the fight.

This gives me an idea of who the characters are and what they want as well as how the magic system affects their lives.

I then write out the characters' basic information, kind of like a character sheet. Try and write a few paragraphs of dialogue between the main characters.

Then, I rework the magic system.

I name each chapter after a major event, so my next step is basically to name all the chapters in what I think needs to happen. Basically, just start by going chapter 1 jerked into trouble, chapter 2 unable to confess, and so forth. When I get to the point I think should be the end of the book, I review the chapters and go over them one more time.

After that, I use the One Page Synopsis to write a synopsis of the story and get a good idea of what is happening with the story and all the major points.

Then, I rework the chapter outline and write about a paragraph for each scene to take place within that chapter. This also makes me rework the synopsis, character sheets and magic system one more time.

After that, I just start, adding notes about scenes or things I need to research or things I need to add in previous chapters or things I need to foreshadow as I go.

Between the first and second draft, I make sure to fill in all the details within the earlier chapters and make sure I do some research and what not. I rework the magic system to make sure it fits and the synopsis, as well. I try to add a bit more history to the world before jumping into the second draft.

The second draft is to mostly make sure everything matches and the voices come together in my head.

Before starting the third draft, I post the first 3 or 4 chapters on CC or give them to other readers as well as the synopsis and whatever chapter I think is a major turning point.

Based off of the reviews and corrections, I go through the third draft. During this draft, I take notes about character voice and make a list of the words that the character will use as well as the words they won't use. I make a list for dialogue, description and body language. I also try to make a list of verbs that that character uses based on his previous life before the story began.

I work on something else after that draft is finished. Maybe two projects. I put at least a month or two between that draft and the fourth one.

For the fourth draft, I review all my notes and go through the synopsis and what not. Then I post it all for some readers to review, changing things that need to be changed as they go.

Once the readers have finished, I'll go over my notes and do one final draft. (I'd probably have to do more drafts if I ever get an agent lol)

Mind that one draft is from start, to finish plus the first 5ish chapters again.

I hope this helps, though, everyone writes differently.


Next: Intentional false start

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Goo stories #31

            I bit into my lip. As if in slow motion, the energy wrapped around my body.
            Maru's claw bit into Mom's beautiful skin.
            A barking sound echoed from behind Maru.
            My back itched.
            I bounded forward. "Mom!"
            When blood began to roll down Mom's neck, her eyes rolled into the back of her head. Her knees wobbled.
            The door exploded, and a wave of energy ripped Maru's claw into shreds. Maru jumped atop the desk. He hissed.
            I switched toys and caught mom in an energy claw of my own.
            Cody sprang into the room. He panted.
            "What happened, Uncle Cody?"
            "Ren ... ." Cody liked his nose.
            I shook my head and took hold of the bouncy ball once more. "Please, heal Mom."
            Cody nodded. "Okay, but I'm pretty much spent after that."
            "That's fine." After locking eyes with Maru, I hissed. "I want to settle the score with Maru by myself anyway."
            Maru bared his teeth. "Do you honest think you can handle me? By yourself?" He began to laugh.
            As long as I can prevent you from using that massive toy in your bag ... . "Of course I can!" I bounced off of the ground, hit the ceiling and leaped towards Maru.

Next: Part 32

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Writing update #15

Alright, Nano is coming to a close, so there will only be one more of these Nano updates, and that will be after I turn it in.

I'm working on a few new writing resource blog posts as well as a few new passed out photo stories. I also have a few new drinking stories that I have thought about. On top of all that, I'm thinking about adding a new section to the blog called, My opinion on ... . Which is where I basically will pick a topic and rant for a few paragraphs about it. It probably won't make much sense, but it should be fun to read.

I'll be opening the critique section again once I've finished the first draft. Basically, send me the chapter you want me to critique, and about a day before I post it on my website, I'll send you my critique via Dosx or save as whatever format you would like it in.

So, with recent edits and making it to the last scene of chapter 23, I'm around 80k for my NaNo WriMo novel. 5 more chapters after this one, and I'm getting excited about the end. From the looks of it though, since I don't want to lose sleep, I probably won't finish the whole novel until December 2nd or 3rd. I have a lot of work to do after that with the second draft and prep for Alpha-readers.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5 (The crime scene)

            Inside the securities firm where the incident took place, Keisuke held the warrant out. “Read the damn thing before you try to turn me away!”
            The three yakuza-looking men glanced at the paper and shrugged.
            Keisuke shook the warrant and peered over his shoulder.
            With a thousand-yard stare, Ami glared at the far wall. She had been lethargic since her adrenaline had given out and Haru’s threat had sunk in. Despite Keisuke telling Ami several times that it wouldn’t happen, she still fell to the depression.
            I guess I have to do this by myself. Keisuke inhaled the pine-lemon scent that hung in the air and stepped forward. She is usually much better at this tactic … . “Listen here, friends … .”
            The three men looked at each other, and the shortest among them stepped forward. He snarled and tilted his head sideways, looking up into Keisuke’s eyes. “We don’t care what kind of warrant you have; you can’t go into the vault.”
            Keisuke poked the little man in the chest. “We’re going in there one way or another.” That sounded terrible.
            After grinding his left foot against the red carpet, the small man’s eyes shot back towards his friends. “You have no right to threaten —”
            With both hands, Keisuke shoved the little man to the ground. He stopped himself from grimacing but not by much. That felt kind of good. “It’s not a threat … .” I can now see why Ami is always bullying people. Before growling, he bared his teeth and stepped forward. “It’s a promise, friend.”
            The two other men moved up beside Keisuke.
            Keisuke reached into his stomach with his mind. He grabbed ahold of the potatoes and prepared his stomach-oven.
            The air felt thicker. Harder to breathe.
            His heart thumped.
            A long moment of silence passed.
            Thump, thump!
            The biggest of the three men lifted his hands.
            A rumbling sound came from behind Keisuke.
            He spun just in time, to see Ami shuffle across the room and come face to face with the big clerk.
            Ami’s nostrils flared, and she bared her teeth, yet her eyes still held the same, distant expression. “Excuse me … why have we not been allowed access to the vault yet?”
            A shiver zipped from Keisuke’s neck to his heels. Scary … .
            “I have somewhere else to be and need to get this done.”
            By the time that the two standing men nodded, sweat glistened across their brows. “You,” the two said as one, “may … enter, but … we have to tell our bosses.”
            “I do not care.” Ami pushed past the men, walking towards the vault.
            She’s good. Keisuke tried not to grin before rushing off to catch up to Ami.


            While John lay in his solitary bed, he counted the dots on the ceiling for the tenth time. Is this my punishment?
            “No,” Darkness said, “your mother deserved what she got.”
            John choked when the words hit him. In a sudden jerk of motion, he rolled from the bed and crashed into the floor.
            A fire burned in his nose, and his eyes watered. By the time a warm, sticky liquid flowed onto his upper-lip, air no longer flowed in through his nostrils. Salty and metallic flavors mixed in his mouth, and he wanted to gag but refrained by the narrowest of margins. He deserved worse than this, didn’t he?
            “You are not at fault here!” Darkness’s voice bounded from one side of John’s brain to the other like a cowbell on a string. “Your mother was just as evil as Hyuga and more to blame for leaving you on your own than Ami, Keisuke and Taisei.”
            John wanted to writhe about on the ground but remained motionless instead. Stop blaming my friends. How could they even know I had magical powers?
            “I don’t know, but they did and are just as much to blame as your mother.”
            Stop saying that!
            “Then admit it’s true.”
            It’s not true! Ami … Keisuke and Taisei are innocent. … And my mother … I’m sure she had a good reason for doing what she did. The excuse rang hollow in John’s thoughts, but he tried to stand by them. What else could he do?
            Your life would be much more peaceful if you would just stop blaming yourself for things that aren’t your fault.”
            But —
            “No buts!”
            John pushed himself up and wiped the blood from his nose. You’re right … . He climbed back into the bed and wrapped the thin covers around his body. His chest heaved. It’s just … .
            “Just that you want to trust someone? That you want to have that one person in your life who only thinks about you and goes out of their way, to be there for you?”
            Yeah … .
            The cell grew colder. The walls appeared to be made of ice.
            John shivered and curled up into a ball. After my mother … died, I thought that Zack would be that reliable friend.
            “But Zack moved to Japan before you could, and you never really spoke to him after moving over yourself.”
            John nodded. Then there was Taisei … .
            “And he betrayed you in the courtroom, piling the evidence against you.”
            Tears flowed off of John’s cheeks and onto the white pillow. Soon after meeting Taisei, a chance encounter on a train introduced me to Ami and Keisuke … .
            “Chance?” Darkness laughed. “Chance my ass. They set you up! They clearly followed you. Then waited to pounce on you like a wounded Zebra.”
            No they didn’t.
            “They betrayed you by leaving you out there on a cliff to discover who you were on your own. In the end, they are clearly to blame for you being in here. Though —
            No they aren’t!
            “I’m telling you … they knew you were a Chef. They know about Hyuga Darkness released a low, rumbling growl followed by the sound of teeth grinding.
            And of course … the most recent failure in my life was Hyuga.
            “You found someone to take you away from this life, to be the rock that only thinks about you and your talents … then … .
            John swallowed. Then he betrayed me. I have no one in my life to rely on. No one —
            “You are forgetting one person.”
            After blinking, John narrowed his eyes and straightened out in the bed. For some reason, the thought of having someone in his life, comforted him. Who?
            “The gorgeous Haru.”
            John’s heart skipped a beat. Everything went still. Then, his pulse began to race, and a heat rushed into his face. Soon the fire running through his veins moved down between his legs. He became erect.
            “My thoughts exactly.”
            But —
            “She helped you end another shitty relationship before it could get too far along.”
            John’s breath caught. He licked his lips. I guess you’re right, but … she still raped me … .
            “Better than trying to kill you or leave you to rot in jail.”
            I guess — John relived the memories of that night.
            Haru had slipped something into his beer — or so he suspected due to how quickly he became blacked-out drunk that night — and dragged him into a nearby Love Hotel called The Misty River. There, she took advantage of his inability to think straight and fight back, taking several pictures as evidence of John cheating.
            Unfortunately, it was the most passionate night John had ever experienced, so it stuck in his mind through the paralyzing drunk haze. He felt a connection with Haru, and it was more than just being inside her. Afterwards, he could only think about her. Even when sleeping with Sara — his girlfriend at the time — he imagined Haru, despite trying not to.
            The next time they had met — sober — she showed him the pictures, though he didn’t need to see them as the memory was vivid in his mind. She told him that she didn’t believe that Sara was a good match for him, and if he didn’t break up with her, she would show Sara the pictures. She tried to say something else, but another woman — Keisuke’s girlfriend, Moe — rushed over to Haru and pulled her away before she could speak.
            John had been thinking about breaking up with Sara anyway, but this felt a bit forced. In the end, he broke up with Sara but had avoided contacting Haru after the deed was done. Then … Hyuga … .
            A growling voice snapped John out of his memories.
            After sighing, John rubbed at his temples. — you’re right. Haru did only seem to have my best interest in mind.
            Darkness made a smacking noise. “In retrospect, I think —”
            Clapping echoed from the other side of the room.
            John started, spinning to see Hyuga. His breath caught.


            Ami shuffled through the vault, though her mind was somewhere else. Despite the gold surrounding her, nothing registered in her mind. I … .
            The fight with Moe still boiled her blood. If she would not help John, then Ami would. Moe’s whole argument was stupid. Just because the cards were stacked against him, did not mean that they should not try.
            Rage flushed Ami’s face and threatened to snap her out of this gloomy, emotional hangover.
            Within the anger, Haru’s words echoed inside of Ami’s head. The night when John was surprisingly so drunk he could not even form coherent sentences —the night of the rape — replayed in her thoughts.
            Haru had been talking to John from the start, practically force feeding him drinks. One moment, John is dancing on top of the table with his shirt off —
            More heat rushed into Ami’s face when the image became vivid in her mind. She reached down between her legs, stopping herself just before her fingers scored contact.
            — the next moment, in the blink of an eye, both Haru and John were gone. It was only later, when he had asked for Ami’s advice that she realized what had gone down.
            Ami screamed in frustration, voice bounding across stacks of gold bars. Why?
            The echo held her mind in the present.
            After gritting her teeth, Ami burned, and with her link, grabbed onto the dog collar around her neck. Why did she get to fuck him — Her senses expanded.
            The tiniest of specs on the far wall exploded with details, magnified tenfold. Sounds became crisper. Scents more vivid. Her skin tingled as details and impurities in her clothing stood out against her skin. Even the sour gunk in her mouth burst with a variety of unforeseen flavors. Her mind adjusted and processed the greater volume of information as if these were her normal senses.
            — while I am not even able to kiss him? Ami forced herself to focus, limiting her enhanced senses to sight and sound only.
            The limitation expanded those two senses even further. Despite the enhanced senses, regular light did not act to blind her and normal sounds did not scream to deafen her. It was actually a trait of the item that she did not understand yet was grateful for.
            Ami ground her teeth and scanned the room. “I will not lose him to that rapist bitch!”
            Keisuke laughed from behind a stack of gold. “I would hope not.”
            “What are you doing over there?” Ami stomped on the way, to find Keisuke. “Are you even —”
            Keisuke crawled around on the dirty, off-white tiled floor. “Huh?” He looked up, meeting Ami’s gaze with glowing, green eyes. His link also touched a dog collar, but he had wrapped it around his arm. “What were you about to say?”
            “Oh really?”
            “Shut up.”
            Keisuke grinned like the fool he was. “I can hear every inflection in your voice.”
            Ami groaned.
            After standing, Keisuke dusted his pants off. “Good to have you back … Ami.”
            “Have you found anything?”
            “Traces of clothing, a feather and used-gold dust.”
            Ami bit into her lower-lip. “Well, now we are certain how they got in here.”
            “From Moe’s —”
            Through bared teeth, Ami growled.
            “— reports,” Keisuke said, “Hyuga is a gold specialist.”
            “So … this is your proof that Hyuga was here?”
            “Part of it. Though, I want to get my hands on all the security tapes to make sure.”
            “I thought Taisei said that he could not share that evidence with us?”
            He can’t —”
            Ami chuckled. “But our warrant should allow us to get it directly from the source.”
            “A lead is a lead, but I think we should scan over this place one more time.” She winked. “Just in case your shitty eyes missed something.”
            Keisuke rolled his eyes. “That’s rich coming from the Long-Eyed … Ami.”
            I’m going to kill him if he keeps using the nicknames everyone called me back in school. Before her temper could take hold, Ami took a deep breath. “Just shut up and search.”
            With a smile splitting his stupid face, Keisuke nodded.
            Ami combed through the stack that gold had been taken from. Bar after bar got tossed aside. The clinging clatter and mess piled up behind her, but no more clues.
            Keisuke pushed at the wall where John had been found. He clearly expected something to pop out of it.
            What a fuck-tard. Ami spun to inspect another stack of gold and her foot caught on the mess she had created.
            Air rushed past her face.
            She squealed, switching her link to the ballpoint pen in her pocket just before colliding with a stack of gold bars — head first.
            The clang exploded throughout the vault, and Keisuke turned to stare at Ami who writhed on the ground.
            Ami moved to switch her link back when something reflected in the light, in front of her. “No … .” Before fear caused her to stop burning, she extended her hand and grabbed the small, crystal vial. Her teeth began to chatter.


            John pushed himself out of bed and licked his lips. “What are you doing here?”
            Hyuga scanned the cell. “Coming to ask you for your answer.”
            “My answer?” John narrowed his eyes.
            The cold bed rail pressed into the back of John’s legs.
            After shivering, John stepped forward.
            Darkness howled. Kill! Kill him! Kill him now!”
            John shook his head.
            While pursing his lips, Hyuga arched an eyebrow. “So, you’d rather rot?”
            Once the implication replayed in John’s mind, he blinked. “Sorry, I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
            “Ah, I see.” Hyuga crossed the room in the blink of an eye and reached out, grabbing onto John’s head. “A bit of head trauma and other injuries clouding your memory.” His eyes glowed red just before the scent of burned potatoes filled the cell. “Don’t move.” His link reached into his pocket and touched something that John couldn’t see.
            Prayer beads. For some reason, John could see them now.
            Flashes of hot and cold ripped through John’s body. His muscles convulsed. Something popped, snapped and hissed.
            John yelped. Invisible needles of agony pierced every inch of his body.
            A jolt of energy moved from Hyuga’s touch to the tips of John’s toes.
            Gritting his teeth, John convulsed. His mind began to clear. What is he doing?
            Darkness made a grinding noise. “He is giving us the opportunity to rip out his heart and feed it to him.”
            I —
            “Kill him!”
            A compulsion to strike Hyuga down washed over John.
            “Finish him!”
            John began to move his reinvigorated muscles and froze. While ignoring Darkness, he inhaled through his nose. “Did you … just heal me?”
            Hyuga grinned. “Of course. I can’t have you running around like a spoiled pack of meat.”
            “I don’t get it.”
            “Sorry.” Hyuga shrugged. “Older reference I guess.”
            Just how old are you? Once John remembered what was said the last time they had spoken, he glanced between the lumpy prison-bed and Hyuga. Anything is better than this … right?
            “No! No, no no!” Darkness sounded as if it were thrashing about against some unseen bonds. “We have a way to escape! We don’t need him!”
            And if they don’t feed us potatoes before the trial or sentencing?
            Darkness scoffed. “You have a point. … And … I guess this will keep us close enough to kill him.”
            John swallowed. I’m not killing anyone.
            Hyuga arched an eyebrow.
            After a long moment, John nodded. “I have thought about my future. I will —”
            Darkness screamed.
            “— join you and create a better world.” John licked his lips. “I will no longer hesitate.”
            Hyuga’s smile spread until it reached his eyes. “Good.” He held out a hand. “Shall we go? I have a lot to teach you.”
            John took a deep breath and took Hyuga’s hand. Together, they walked through the wall and out jail.


            With an open mouth, Ami gaped at the crystal vial that she held in her hand. This would be impossible unless John trusted Hyuga … .
            The clank of more gold announced Keisuke’s clumsy stumble to reach Ami. Despite his clear lack of effort earlier, he appeared to be out of breath. His chest heaved, and he rested his hands on his knees.
            “Stop playing around.” Ami curled her toes. John couldn’t actually be working with Hyuga, could he? The color drained from her face, and a sickness twisted her stomach in knots.
            “I’m not.” Straining, Keisuke stood up straight.
            While coming through the memories of her time with John in the prison, Ami ignored Keisuke. She once again found herself getting hot. Recalling how his skin felt and any exposed flesh she saw, she scanned his body.
            Ami shook herself from her memories.
            “What has you so terrified?” Keisuke placed a hand on Ami’s shoulder.
            Yelping, Ami started and batted Keisuke’s hand away.
            Keisuke glared at her. “Are you okay?”
            “I do not remember seeing any cuts, scrapes or puncture wounds on John’s body when I visited him, but I did not have such a good look.”
            After grinning, Keisuke slid in close to Ami and nudged her in the side. “Are you asking me what his body l—”
            Ami held up the crystal vial so that Keisuke could see it clearly. “Do you remember seeing any cuts, scrapes or puncture wounds anywhere on John’s body?”
            Keisuke shook his head and his eyes stopped glowing. “Is that what I think it is?”
            “Does it look like anything else, moron?”
            “Now that I think about it, John did have bandages around his fists, but I think thought it was from punching the wall —” Keisuke pointed to the section of the wall that he had been dry humping. “— over there. It was washed, but blood is hard to completely wash away.”
            “Show me.”
            Keisuke’s face flushed. “Where do you get off bossing me around?”
            Ami put her hands on her hips. “Because I am stronger than you?” The withdrawals must have just kicked in.
            With his fists clenched tight, Keisuke stepped forward. “Do you really believe so?” He flicked one of elemental bells at his waist. Altogether, there were twenty.
            “I know so. Even with your toys, I would crush you.”
            “You wish … .”
            “What to try me?”
            Keisuke opened his mouth as if to accept the challenge.
            Someone coughed.
            Ami turned to the vault’s entrance and pocketed the crystal vial.
            A pair of large, yakuza men stepped into the vault. They wore the standard, shiny white suits with black inlays. Both had shaved their heads bald, but one had a scar running from his forehead to his chin.
            A silence washed over the room, and the air between them seemed to draw taut like a rubber-band.
            Ami took a step forward, feeling her rage and frustration overwhelm her.


            Keisuke gathers himself and pushes the thoughtless burst of emotion that acted as a side-effect of cutting the stomach-oven off. What are the yakuza doing here?
            Ami marched forward, stomping thunder with every step. Scars and Baby-face both crossed their arms, glaring at her. The tension was thick enough to make dinner out of. That along with the odd, grave-flower-scented perfume that the yakuza men wore, drew bile into the back of Keisuke’s mouth.
            Brushing his tongue across his teeth to stop himself from vomiting, Keisuke reached out and grabbed Ami by the wrist. He leaned in close. “What do you think you’re doing?”
            After turning, Ami glared murder at Keisuke. “Clearing out the rabble.”
            “The last thing we need is a fight interrupting our investigation.”
            “As far as I can tell, we are done in here.”
            She’s right. “You should still —”
            Scars coughed. “Are you two lovebirds done making out.” The gravelly tones in his voice made his words smash together like a pair of rocks.
            Vomit swished around in Keisuke’s mouth, and he released Ami’s hand as if she had the plague. After swallowing, he waved his hands and shook his head. “No, no, no. That would never happen.”
            Ami growled. “The two of you are hampering an official investigation.” She spat a wad of snot in their direction. “I suggest you two get out of here before this turns ugly … like that misshapen scar.”
            Scars’s muscles tightened, and he bared his teeth. “What was that, bitch?”
            “You heard me, you ugly piece of shit.”
            After rolling his neck, Scars pounded his left fist against his right palm. “I’m —”
            Baby-face tapped scars on the shoulder. “Stay focused.” His voice was high-pitched and childlike. “Remember … We are here to find Mr H.”
            Keisuke clapped his hands. “Well .., this is a wonderful development.”
            Scars and Baby-face glanced at each other. “What?” they asked as one with their vastly different voices creating an awkward melody.
            “It’s just that we are also looking for Mr H.” Keisuke grinned. “What I mean is that Hyuga belongs to us.”
            Baby-face shook his head. “Our boss disagrees.”
            “And which boss would that be?”
            Scars shushed Baby-face. While glaring at Ami, he growled. “Let’s just throw them out with the trash.”
            Keisuke shook his head. I guess I can question them after Ami is done … .
            Once Baby-face nodded, the two charged forward.
            After sighing, Keisuke slipped around a pile of gold and kicked Baby-face in the knee. I should probably help.
            Baby-face stumbled forward and crashed into a thin stack of gold, toppling it onto the floor. He pushed himself up, surrounded by chunks of gold.
            Of the sixty stacks of neatly arranged, forest-like piles of gold, four lay splattered across the floor. The one at Baby-face’s feet. The one Ami had dug through earlier. The one that Hyuga had stolen from. And the one that Ami had just thrown Scars into. There was a clear path between Keisuke and Baby-face. On top of that, the stomach-high mounds made hiding a near impossibility.
            While cracking his knuckles, Baby-face snarled. “You are going to pay for that.”
            “Why?” Keisuke pursed his lips. “You can’t honestly think that I’d let you double team … her … did you?” Honestly though, I probably should have.
            Baby-face barreled forward, cocking his fist back.
            Keisuke ducked under the massive fist.
            The wind felt sharp when it bristled against his neck.
            Glad I didn’t get hit by that. After turning to the side, Keisuke uppercutted Baby-face in the elbow.
            Baby-face screamed as his elbow snapped, and his right arm went limp.
            That really worked. A smile found its way onto Keisuke’s face just before a large fist did.
            Turning his hips, Baby-face put all his weight behind his left-handed strike.
            Keisuke flew backwards and crashed into a pile of gold.
            Spikes of agony dug into his back and knocked the wind out of him.
            While his heart thumped, Keisuke gasped for air. His muscles quivered.
            By the time his ass hit the ground, blood rolled down from his nose and into his mouth.
            Keisuke spat the vile, metallic-tasting liquid out while trying to gather himself. This hurts way too much.
            Baby-face shuffled over to Keisuke and lifted his foot. “It’s time to put you out of your misery.”
            Despite the pain, Keisuke flattened out.
            Stray bars of gold poked into his back, but he ignored them.
            Keisuke kicked Baby-face in the knee.
            A pressure slammed into his foot.
            Snap! Snap! Snap!
            When three of his toes bent the wrong way, Keisuke screamed. What the fuck?
            Baby-face laughed. “You will not fool me with the same trick twice in —”
            Baby-face fell forward, and his overbearing weight crashed into Keisuke.
            Not the attack Keisuke had expected but effective nonetheless. The gold bars in his back sandwiched him like a hole-punch. He squealed.
            Long moments passed.
            Keisuke’s head swam, and his eyes moved to roll into the back of his head. Next time … Ami’s on her own … .
            A spiraling blackness crept up from the sides of his vision.
            Then, for some reason, the pressure slackened.
            Keisuke laughed when he saw Ami pulling Baby-face off of him. Well isn’t that a bitch … . Saved by a long-eyed gorilla with a bar of gold.
            Ami pulled Keisuke to his feet. “How stupid are you?”
            “Fuck you too, Ami.” Keisuke opened his mouth to say more when the pounding of boots to stone drew his attention to the vault’s entrance.
            A large contingent of yakuza men charged inside.
            “I’m not in the right shape to play nice.” Keisuke wiped the blood from his nose and hobbled forward. Then … he burned.

Next: BURNING Chapter 24