The Spectator; The Thief

Jason Arson walked across the rooftops. Most other people in his position may have run, but Jason was a punctual infiltrator. He was already ahead of his own schedule by fifteen minutes, and his schedule was set ahead by twice that much. Running would actually be detrimental, as the longer he stood in his hiding place, the more likely he was to be discovered. The only real downside to walking was that he had to push harder to jump from roof to roof, but Jason had strong legs, so he didn’t mind.

So Jason Arson walked.

He ran down an alley, thrusting his legs from wall to wall. He ran, losing a cubit of height with each step and hitting the ground right before running out of alley. Then, he walked out into the streets, entirely unassuming.

Arson wore a brown trench coat, cut right above the knee. He preferred black, but brown would blend in better with the castle’s insides, as well as its inhabitants. Jason patted himself down, checking items off his mental list.

Short sword? Left side, tied high on the waist. Spike launcher? He felt around. Also on the left side, above the sword. Truncheon? He knew he had that for sure, it kept knocking on his spine as he walked. Wallet? Jason tapped around his seven pockets. Nope, forgot the wallet. Hand pick? Yes! In a pocket! At least he had that.

The last item was his ear-trumpet. The use of the trumpet had made him a laughing-stock, until it had allowed him to hear a vital piece of information that everyone else had missed. They stopped calling him ‘the deaf spy’ after that.

The inside of the castle was extremely crowded, the walls browned with age. Jason quickly got lost. It is an infiltrator’s job to get lost. He quickly made his way to the second floor, and after making two lefts in the wide halls, he looked around for a haven where he could plan his next move. He found the door to a broom closet. According to the map he had been supplied with and subsequently memorized, Jason knew that this closet was only one wall over from the throne room. He looked around. So far, he hadn’t seen anyone on the second floor, and he guessed it was restricted from the public. This was both good and bad. It meant he was less likely to be caught, but it also meant that his presence would immediately draw suspicion. Jason tried the doorknob. Locked. He felt around for his picks, and then remembered that he didn’t have the wallet he kept them in. He was going to have to get creative.

Jason casually launched himself back towards the staircase, sidling around the corner. Before turning it, he stopped. He could hear footsteps, but they were unusually paced, as if the person was stumbling continually. He rifled around his coat for the small ear-trumpet. Thu-thump, thu-thump. The sounds became louder and more distinct through the horn, but they still made no sense to him.

He took a deep breath in, and then turned back from where he came. He tried every single door as he skulked down the hall. All were locked. He ran around the corner once more, and vainly tried the closet again. Nothing. He was farther from the footsteps now, so he took the extra time to feel around the walls for loose stones, maybe a hidden entrance. He again found nothing. He heard his oblivious pursuer getting closer. He didn’t have much time.

Jason tried all the doors in the section of the hall. No. No. No. No. Yes. Wait, yes? He opened the door and saw that it was another staircase, but that this one went up. He closed the door and ran to the top. The door there unlocked as well. “Okay,” he whispered.

Right as he opened the door, Jason heard the knob at the foot of the staircase turn. The odd footsteps had caught up. He rushed through the portal and closed it behind him, carefully turning the latch so that it clicked silently. The steps got even more unusual, as if they couldn’t understand the concept of stairs. Jason shuddered, but continued trying rooms, and continued to be denied entry.

Jason was getting nervous now; he was running out of options. He noticed that the rooms on this floor were labelled. He grabbed the one titled “supply door” and to his relief, it opened. Jason entered and slammed the door as silently as his nerves would allow.

Minutes went by, and the footsteps became audible once more. He listened as they passed and then turned the corner. In an act of poor judgement, Jason opened the closet door and looked around the corner of the hallway to see what kind of creature had been following him.

He saw a short woman. She had tanned skin, and thick sun bleached hair. She was a child! She was skipping down the halls! Jason receded back into his closet He took his face in his hands and pulled downward. He lamented the idea that he had been genuinely fearful of a prancing youth.

Jason sighed and returned to his task. He hadn’t memorized the third floor, so he felt around, hoping he had his map. Its presence in his coat surprised him. He quietly unrolled and read it. The throne room was two storeys tall, which meant that he could probably listen in from this closet, if he dug into the edge of the floor diagonally.

Jason Arson took the hand-pick out of his pocket and started at the mortar by his feet. Within twenty minutes he had removed many of the smaller stones from behind the outer brickwork. He worked his way around a wooden support beam, and then broke through into another room. He stopped digging, pulled the debris inward, and then peered inside. It was the target, the throne room. He could see the King’s wife milling about and talking to someone who he recognised. His mind began to wander into memories. He cleared his head. The King arrived. Jason lay face down on the ground, pressed himself against the wall, and readied his ear-trumpet.

 

Another of Jason Arson.

This is an edited re-release of the story fragment that was recently removed from the site. I figured that the story that was contained on the page might be worth keeping posted. Also, my editing game is getting up there. Pretty happy about it.

Daniel Triumph.

You can follow me:
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P.S., Happy Friday!

Can You make a Living as a Writer?

In a long continuance of poverty, and long habits of dissipation, it cannot be expected that any character should be exactly uniform. There is a degree of want by which the freedom of agency is almost destroyed; and long association with fortuitous companions will at last relax the strictness of truth, and abate the fervour of sincerity.

Samuel Johnson (on William Collins)

There was a long period of time when I categorized creative writing as a job, like any other. As I grew up though, it became more and more obvious that this simply was not the case.  They don’t work steady hours, they often work from home, or at the very least not out of an office. They often take years, or fractions of years, to put out content.

Really, you could have a lot of fun with this line. Writers often don’t get published. They’re often rejected many times first if they actually are published. It’s a flooded market, because everyone thinks it’s easy to write a novel. Even if you do manage to push out 50 000 words or more, it’s not easy to make them any good. And even if they are good, good isn’t good enough, especially for a publisher. Especially for the market. Especially for history. What was I getting at?

Right. So you put out a book. Does it even sell well? Maybe you put out another? I read that it took one writer eight novels to start making a livable income.

The more I learned about it, the less likely it seemed that someone anyone was about to list “writer” as their occupation. It’s just so unlikely.

The Split

It wasn’t until nearly a year ago that I realized that there’s a split in books. It’s going to seem really obvious when I say it, but I’m really good at not noticing obvious things so I’ll lay it out for you.

Number 3 on Amazon on release!

I had been listening to Gary Vaynerchuk for a long time. Eventually I had gotten his entire message down, and he was starting to get repetitive. (Gary, for those of you who don’t know, is marketing entrepreneur who sells the “work hard” message, and talks about how it’s way easier to “make it” now that the internet exists.) I got his first book, Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion on audible, and I listened to it at work. It’s a pretty compelling title, right? The book essentially encapsulates on how to execute on the idea of what is now known as “influencer marketing.” You make a blog, or a youtube channel, or something. Then you become an expert on a topic. Then you just put out content as frequently as you can and build an audience. Apparently it works, because he’s released an updated book on the same thing complete with success stories.

Back to the split. I decided, hey, I can do that. Thus, this blog was started. It wasn’t too long later that I started to realize what I was doing wasn’t the same kind of thing as other influencer blogs were. I’m not talking about anything. I don’t have a specialty. I don’t really have a “brand.” I’m not influencing anyone on anything, not really. I just write stories. Unless I build an audience, nobody’s going to advertise on that, and advertising revenue is kind of the whole thing. It’s hard enough to build a financially successful blog, but building a financially successful fiction blog is essentially unheard of.

To be honest, I don’t know much about fiction blogs. I don’t think you can monetize them in the same way as informational blogs (no affiliate ability, products you can create are limited), so I can’t be of much help. I’m sorry!

— An email reply to my question of how to monetise.

And that’s the split.

Non-fiction is a lot easier to sell than fiction, and as far as I can tell, this extends out of blogs and into books. It’s a lot easier to get a non-fiction book published and have it actually make money. People seek information and solutions to problems a lot more than they seek stories. Those who read for pleasure are a minority; even if you give it away for free, as I and a few other bloggers do.

Let’s keep going.

Great Writers

Studying English Literature at University, I noticed something surprising. A lot of the fiction writers that I studied also had some other job. I can’t really remember many off the top of my head, but I compiled this cool chart. As my definition of “great” I chose people in the canon, and the canon I used was the first one I could find online. You think there’d be a more official list than Wikipedia, but this isn’t really an academic paper, so you’ll have to excuse my use of the free encyclopedia. (Actually, if anyone has a good link to an English or Western canon list, please tell me.)

Writer Artistry Other Occupation
Jonathan Swift Poetry, Prose Priest, Essayist
Samuel Taylor Coleridge Poetry Philosopher
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) Prose Entrepreneur, lecturer, publisher
Edgar Allen Poe Prose Critic*
William Shakespeare Poetry, Plays Actor*, editor
Charles Dickens Prose
William Wordsworth Poetry
Fyodor Dostoyevsky Prose Military engineer, journalist
Arthur Conan Doyle** Prose Physician, Fancy Moustache
John Milton Prose Polemicist, civil servant
Emily Dickinson Poetry Lived with her parents
Ernest Hemingway Prose Revolving door of rich wives
John Donne Poetry Priest, lawyer
William Blake Poetry, Painting Printmaker
Miguel de Cervantes Prose, Poetry Soldier, accountant
Geoffrey Chaucer Poetry Bureaucrat, diplomat
Virginia Woolf Prose Publisher, critic, essayist

Image result for canterbury tales*May not count
** Not in a canon

The man who managed to make it into the canon with an unfinished book was the first person who tipped me off. For whatever reason, I remember Geoffrey Chaucer being introduced in class as a banker. but this was two years ago, so, looking at my chart, it seems that I mixed that up. Chaucer was a bureaucrat and diplomat, and he “audited and kept books on the export taxes, which were one of the Crown’s main sources of revenue” (Greenblat 189). I guess he did do something with money.

So, once you realize that people, even the people you learn about in academia, are working as well as writing, you start to think. At least I did. I started to notice more of them here and there. Although, I didn’t much pay much attention to it. Not until this year, when I was researching Poe.

Edgar Allen Poe managed to scrape his gothic self into two separate courses of mine this year. And, looking into him a bit, I learned that “Poe was the first American writer, as Alexander Pope had been the first in England, to support himself entirely by his writing” (Mayers 138). This quote is kind of cool, because it shows that in two separate countries, making a living writing was unusual… for centuries.

Continuing with Poe, however, it seems that even after he “made it,” he continued to struggle financially.

A young author, struggling with Despair itself in the shape of a ghastly poverty, which has no alleviation — no sympathy from an every-day world, that cannot understand his necessities, and that would pretend not to understand them if it comprehended them ever so well — this young author is politely requested to compose an article, for which he will “be handsomely paid.” Enraptured, he neglects perhaps for a month the sole employment which affords him the chance of a livelihood, and having starved through the month (he and his family) completes at length the month of starvation and the article, and despatches the latter (with a broad hint about the former) to the pursy “editor” and bottle-nosed “proprietor” who has condescended to honor him (the poor devil) with his patronage. A month (starving still), and no reply. … At the expiration of six additional months, personal application is made at the “editor’s” and “proprietor’s” office. Call again. The poor devil goes out, and does not fail to call again. Still call again; — and call again is the word for three or four months more. His patience exhausted, the article is demanded. No — he can’t have it (the truth is, it was too good to be given up so easily) — “it is in print,” and “contributions of this character are never paid for (it is a role we have) under six months after publication. Call in six months after the issue of your affair, and your money is ready for you — for we are business men, ourselves — prompt” (Poe).

Poe struggled because editors avoided paying him, and because of a lack of international copyright law. Publishers and magazines could literally just steal works from other countries like Britain, instead of paying the American for his stories. As far as I know, neither of these issues exist anymore. At least, I hope not.

Related image
Cricton got an MD from Harvard before switching to writing.

A lot of the great writers had jobs… in fact, if my quote has any weight to it, all writers born before the eighteenth century in England, and the nineteenth in the United States had jobs. For me that means a couple of things. The first is that writing “on the side” is normal. The second is that, even (especially?) if you happen to be extremely artistic, writing anywhere except on the side mightn’t ever factor in.

 

While I was researching for this, I found a an entire Wikipedia (again) page on physicians who write. I’m not sure why this is a thing, but it’s common enough to have its own page. Mental Floss also did an article on it. So, why not go be a doctor like your parents (may have) wanted you to? Make a six figure income and write in your fancy home during your off hours. Ahah.

Novels are a Business

There isn’t enough money to go around… sort of.

Image result for pareto distributionAccording to Price’s law, half of all scientific contributions are made by the square root of the total number of scientific contributors: thus, if there are 100 scientists within a given discipline, just 10 of them will account for 50 percent of all publications. The Price’s law describes unequal distribution of productivity in most domains of creativity (Gorny, emphasis mine).

The bigger you are, the more people recognise you. The more people recognise you, the more people buy your books. The more people buy your books, the bigger you get. The more people want to publish you. The more stores shelf your book. It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s present in the novelling, and almost any other market.

Most of us aren’t recognised at the top, in fact most writers probably aren’t making anything. There’s probably a large amount that are just writing for fun. Those that are making a living wage are what I like to call the exceptions.

The Exceptions

Image result for agatha christie

Writers like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and Agatha Christie are the exceptions. Especially Christie. If you want a good example of an exception to the rule, look no further than the woman competing in sales numbers with William Shakespeare!

Outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare, Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. She is best known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, as well as the world’s longest-running play – The Mousetrap.

— http://www.agathachristie.com

From what I can tell, which isn’t much, it seems to me that there are two ways to actually make money writing. The first is to write a lot of things that are interesting to read. They don’t have to be particularly good, in fact being literary slows you down. Get rid of all that and just write a ton. That’s clearly what Christie did. One of the things that stabbed out of the page at me while reading Harry Potter was the unimpressive and sometimes just plain bad prose. Apparently King isn’t much better. But really, writing in this fashion clearly works if you have the content to make up for it.

There’s another group that manages to get by with fairly simple writing, the occasional grammar error, and lots of releases. It’s the indie publishers. Self publishinh directly to ebooks and cranking out two or three novels a year, these people are on a mission, and it’s paying off. Royalties are lower, if not non-existent if you indie publish, and because it’s digital you don’t even have to pay for printed books. But, the breakneck speed at which you have to release to make a living seems to cut into their quality. I’m not sure.

Conclusion

This is actually sort of an awful article, it spells out how almost exactly how unlikely it is that anyone will make a living writing. It’s the last thing I wanted to hear, that’s why it took a strong three years for me to come around and face it. But, I kind of cheated when I did.

The first thing I pointed out here, in different words, was that it’s unusual to make money doing art. I feel like that’s so obvious that it’s almost in the realm of common sense. Writing somehow falls to the side of that though, possibly because when people think “art” they don’t immediately think “novel.”

Anyway, my first point was that even a lot of the great writers from the canon also did other things, and that’s where I “cheated.” It’s unlikely that you or I will make a living writing. It’s unlikely that anyone will make a living writing. Especially if you want to take the time to put out something of literary quality. So the cheat is that… that’s normal. You don’t have to worry about it, or stress about how you’re going to do it.

I mean, feel free to try, just be careful that you don’t fall into the dead prose of mass fiction… or do, whatever works. As for me, I’m going to try what Margret Atwood did. (Although, I’m not a huge fan of Atwood, she definitely both made it, and is good enough that I read her work in university.) That is, get a “real job” and hope for the best after that. I think it beats being a starving artist working a minimum wage job anyway. And being educated certainly doesn’t hurt writing quality.

Further Reading

I found this article, I thought it was pretty cool. It’s a very strong resource for learning how to make money in art, although it’s geared a little more towards visual arts. The #1 Reason Artists Fail At Making a Living Selling Art (And What You Can Do About It)

I did a post a while back on theme. That might interest you.

Works Cited

Gorny, Eugene. “Price’s law.” Dictionary of Creativity: Terms, Concepts, Theories & Findings in Creativity Research / Compiled and edited by Eugene Gorny. Netslova.ru, 2007. http://creativity.netslova.ru/Price~s_law.html

Greenblatt, editor. The Norton anthology of English literature. Ninth ed., vol. 1 2, W.W. Norton, 2013.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: his life and legacy. Cooper Square Press, 2000.

Poe, Edgar A. “Some Secrets of the Magazine Prison-House,” Broadway Journal, February 15, 1845 (accessed at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/poe/etext/smprison.htm)

Wikipedia. “Western canon.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Feb. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_canon.

Daniel Triumph.

Please check out my most recent work of fiction, Mariça.

Table of Contents: Mariça

Mariça is a short story series about a young woman, old enough to hunt, who would much rather spend her time exploring the mountains in the north. This brings a bit of trouble to her village, since she isn’t bringing home much food, but it also brings a lot of trouble to her when she gets caught by the residents of the mountain, and subsequently captured.

It’s the first time I’ve written on paper, and then translated it into typed text, so it should be a touch cleaner than previous stories. Despite this, I would still consider it a first draft for the most part. It’s less than 6 000 words long which puts it under the “short fiction” or “long short story” label depending on who you ask.

To table of contents

Mariça (Final)

<<First<Prev

Jolanin had explained very basically to Mariça that she had been captured because she had entered too deep into Shriken territory. Then she’d left Mariça in order to take the dead body to the council. Since then, Mariça had spent her time sitting in the room and trying to figure in her mind what was going on.

Memories had begun to come to her. Everything that had happened to Marisa before the incident with Death began to leak into her own brief experiences. Mariça remembered what it had felt like to be Marisa, right up until then end. What a sinister memory for Death to leave. She realized that the body Jolanin had taken away was her own, and she got confused again. When Jolanin finally returned, Mariça had mostly figured out her situation, except for the time around when she was captured.

Jolanin said, “The body has been planted, and we have also seen your friend searching near it. There is someone monitoring the situation to make sure that she finds the body and gives up her search.”

“Okay. What about me?”

“No one knows about your existence, and it would be best for you if it remained that way. I will escort you out in secret, but it will be after your friend finds the body and the scout leaves.”

“But won’t that mean Yaska will think I’m dead?”

“This is the only way to keep the Shriken from knowing about you. It will be unfortunate for her, but in a very literal sense you are dead.”

Mariça shook her head.

Yaska sat near the Shriken’s mountain, eating. She had searched for two days and had found nothing besides Marisa’s bent sword. She stood and returned to her task. It wasn’t long after that she found a set of tracks in the sand. She was immediately suspicious. The tracks would have blown away overnight, so she knew that they were recent. Yaska checked her feet against them and confirmed that the tracks were not her own. She then followed them.

She was led into another cave, and in it she found the body of Marisa. Yaska was gripped by dread. She put her hand in her hair. Her breathing became shallow. A tear ran from her eye.

But then she took a breath. She would postpone her emotion until the burial. Right now it was more important to take Marisa, and the story, back to the village. She knelt down by the corpse. She thought it was strange that the body was so cold. It seemed like it had been dead for more than one day. Were the tracks hers, or someone else’s? She lifted the body. The blood from the wound was dry, but none of it had pooled on the ground.

Yaska’s scepticism heightened. She lifted the body and tested its feet against the footprints outside. She hosted the body over her shoulder. She would have to return later.

Mariça followed Jolanin through the Shriken temple. She was wearing a cloak to hide her face in case they were seen. They moved through the stone halls that cut cleanly through the mountains. They seemed empty for the most part. Jolanin said that they were passing through a residential area, and that everyone had been gone since morning.

“If we do see someone, act as though you belong. Keep your eyes down. We do not need questions about them.”

Mariça nodded and they continued for a few more minutes, until they did encounter another Shriken. It was a man holding a box. He stopped when he saw them.

“Oh! Jolanin, I was, ah, just getting something from home. Why are you here?”

Mariça, keeping her had down, looked at the man’s feet. She couldn’t see anything else.

Jolanin replied, “I am showing someone where to go.”

Before the man could ask anything else, Jolanin continued walking. Mariça kept her head down, and followed her feet. Eventually Jolanin stopped, and Mariça looked up. There was an inconspicuous looking wall at the end of the hall. The only thing unusual about it was how regular it was in contrast with the planed surfaces of the halls to this point.

Jolanin said, “We are at the exit.”

“Thanks, for all you’ve done for me.”

Jolanin smiled, “You are welcome. Remember though, that had there not been interference, I would have had to execute you.”

Mariça frowned, “would you have?”

For a moment Jolanin paused, reflecting. She said, “I might have tried your method of faking your death. And, if it had failed, I may well have chosen to fight our way out. Although, I am unsure as to where that would have left us.”

Mariça laughed.

“Well,” Jolanin continued, “we might meet again if you—” she stopped herself.

“If I what? See you when you’re outside the mountain?”

Jolanin nodded, “perhaps I will see you outside the mountains. You might watch the skies for me, I suppose.”

Jolanin grabbed at a couple of jagged edges in the wall and pulled it upwards, revealing the outside.

“Your friend is in that direction,” she pointed, “you may want to find her before she leaves or becomes too distressed.”

“Thanks,” Mariça gave her gratitude and then left, following the edge of the mountain where Jolanin had pointed.

It wasn’t long before Mariça saw someone, a burly female figure with a person over one shoulder, walking away from the mountain. Mariça stopped, seeing her own body in person. It was uncanny. She realized that she wasn’t sure how to approach her old friend, Marisa’s friend. What would happen when she saw her?

As Mariça pondered this, Yaska’s attentive eyes fixed on her and adjusted. She stopped walking and stared. Unsure what Yaska would do, Mariça raised her arm in greeting. She guessed that Yaska would also approach, but she might also assault her, or even just ignore her. It was hard to tell what someone would to when faced with a living impossibility. She decided to approach in a leisurely pace. In response, Yaska carefully laid the corpse on the sand. She seemed to study it before looking again in Mariça’s direction. Then, she unclasped the sword from her back and approached slowly.

Mariça was unarmed. She didn’t want to die again, and she wasn’t sure what she would do if things went poorly. She decided to believe in her friend… or was it Marisa’s memories that believed?

Slowly the two women met. They looked at each other. Yaska said nothing, and they stood there for a long time. Mariça began to think that she might leave. Was she waiting? Did she want to take a reactive stance? Mariça wasn’t sure. She decided to speak first.

“Yaska.”

Yaska waited for more. When she saw that there wasn’t going to be any more, she said, “How do you know my name?”

“I, ah…”

“She,” Yaska pointed, “knew my name. How do you?”

“I, I took— I mean, I have most of her memories.”

“Fine.” That seemed to be enough for her in that respect. She then asked, “Who are you?”

“I’m Mariça.”

Yaska frowned, “Marisa?”

“No, Mariça.”

“Mariça.”

“Yes.”

Yaska paused. She considered Mariça, and she considered Marisa. “You are slightly different in name, and in face. And your hair is lighter.”

“Right.”

“Fine,” She said, “well, come. The village has been worried about—” she paused, “worried about most of you, if I am to be specific.”

Yaska picked up Marisa’s corpse and she and Mariça headed back to the village. As they walked, they spoke to each other. Mariça did her best to recount to Yaska what had happened. It was a good conversation for both of them, but they each got the unusual feeling that something had changed.

When the two had returned to the village, they agreed to be honest about the strange situation, and Marisa was buried. Mariça’s mother hard remained silent and stone faced during the burial. Afterwards, she got to know Mariça well enough to recognise her, and accepted her as a responsibility. Things started this way, and as the days passed, they got better. The village returned to normal, except for one thing.

Mariça threw her sword, and it stuck in the back leg of the dinosaur. Now that it was slowed, she chased the creature down and took her sword out, cutting into the beast’s neck.

What next? She thought back to Marisa’s experiences, and then she tore the sword out and cut again until the head disconnected. She took the leather bag she had brought and put it around the stump to save the blood.

It was shortly after midday when she returned to the village. Yaska came a little after.

“You are a lot better at hunting,” she said.

Mariça nodded, “From what I can remember, I was always this good just… distracted.”

“Well,” Yaska said, “I can help Jan open these. You have time to go out exploring, if you wish.”

“Yeah, I guess I do, but… maybe some other time.”

“Do you not have the desire to?”

Mariça shrugged, “I can remember the feeling of wanting to, but I haven’t felt it since we returned.”

She looked at Yaska with her inverted eyes.

“I wonder how much has changed.”

 

Part 1 > Part 2 > Part 3 > Part 4 > Final

Daniel Triumph.

You can follow me:
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P.S.

This took a lot longer than I wanted it to, but here it is.

Mariça

Part Four. (<Part One)

“There was an external issue, thus the council felt itself forced to this decision. You are to be killed.”

Marisa rubbed her eyes, “what?”

The women looked at each other until Marisa’s mind registered what had been said.

“No! I have to… I have to return to my village! I only left to hunt, I shouldn’t be here. Just let me leave.” She groped for anything, “I, I escaped, didn’t I? Yeah, just let me go, and tell them all that I escaped.”

Jolanin was disheartened, “it is a good idea,  but it cannot be done.”

“Why! Why do they suddenly want to kill me? Before I at least had the option of being a pet.”

“I will explain. It appears that there is a young, but grey haired, Plainkind woman looking for you. As you know,  we have reasons not to have others searching the mountain. The conclusion the Shriken has taken to is that planting your dead body will give her reason to end her search. I am to execute you.”

Marisa knew that the woman must be Yaska, but she wasn’t comforted by it.

“What if… what if you and I, we pretend I’m dead. Then you can plant me, and Yaska will find me not dead, but alive!”

Jolanin was going to object, that it would be impossible to pass a living body as a dead one to a Shriken, but before she could say anything, a third voice spoke.

“You really think that would work?”

Jolanin’s eyes shot about the room. Marisa thought she recognized the voice.

Death stepped into the room from between a shadow and the lamplight. She bared her teeth in a grin, her face was almost sickly in colour.

“How did you get in here?” Jolanin asked.

“You know how. What, don’t you Shriken have some knowledge of things like this?”

Jolanin’s eyes narrowed, “so, then, you are the Servant of Death. You do not look as I was led to believe.”

“What, did you think I’d be dead too? Quite an ineffective state to have to work in, don’t you think?” She grinned again.

Marisa’s mind raced through her situation. Had Death come to kill her? No, Death isn’t generally the cause of death, just the beneficiary. Was she here because of the execution then? Why would she bother? Was it because of the dream? Was she really even there?

The questions swirled in her mind until she blurted out, “do you know if I’m going to die?”

Death stopped berating the Shriken and turned to Marisa, frowning. “I already told you that I don’t know. Are both of you going to be this foolish the entire time I’m here?”

“If you don’t know whether I’m going to die why show up in the first place? Why are you even here?”

Death sighed, “could you at least show some reverence? I am an immortal Servant after all. Or at least fear? I happen to be a somewhat arbitrary killer you know.” She eyed the room, then continued, “as one you know, I’ve been paying attention to this situation. I find it interesting. I’m here to propose a trade.”

Marisa stared at her, “a trade? What could I, here, possibly have to trade you?”

“Just you, who is to be executed regardless, being a part of the trade is enough for me. Things don’t tend to go to well if I tell them too much ahead of time anyway.”

“Unacceptable,” Jolanin said, “on the Plainkind’s behalf, I must insist that your terms make for horrid negotiation.”

“Well, that’s not for you to decide anyway. Unless you want to take matters into your own hands and kill the girl now,” she bared her teeth, “at least, Marisa, let me tell you your end of the trade.”

“Fine. So far it seems you’re the person who least wants to kill me.”

“That is not true!” Jolanin said, “I just think it is best to understand first what—”

Death interrupted her, “Yeah, well, here’s your half anyway. In return for your part Marisa, you, well most of you, will be able to return to your village. And you, Shriken… Jolanin, will have your body for the council. Hell, I’ll even take the memories out.”

Marisa looked at Death in amazement. Jolanin looked with scepticism.

Death smiled, “I’ll leave you alone for a minute to decide.”

Before waiting for a reply, the Servant of Death covered herself in the shadow and was gone.

Marisa shuddered.

Jolanin said, “I do not thin it wise to make a trade with Death.”

“It’s too good to be true,” Marisa said, “but the only other option is to die, so…”

“I am certain there is some sort of trick behind Death’s paradoxical offers. But, to choose her offer over your execution is logical. Not that I would do it.”

“What would you do?”

“I would fight my way either to freedom or to death.”

Marisa was silent.

“Be wary that, more likely than not, something terribly unusual is bound to be done to you should you take Death’s offer.” Jolanin unsheathed the sword she had brought for the execution, just in case.

At this point, Death returned.

“So,” she said, “have you decided?”

Marisa said, “yes. I will take your offer.”

“Wonderful! I haven’t gotten a chance to do this in a while.”

She approached Marisa and stuck her finger, as if she were a ghost, through Marisa’s chest, then removed it. Adrenaline rushed to Marisa’s heart, and with each pump seethed into her blood. Her anxiety levels, as a result, spiked.

“Ah! No! What’s happening?” Marisa shouted.

The Servant looked at her with dead eyes, but said nothing. Marisa’s eyes widened, then her body began to shimmer. The girl’s image was becoming distorted, as if through a desert haze. She dropped to her knees and her outline doubled, and then, as if crawling from the girl’s back, a second person split apart from her.

Marisa turned to face the second being, and looked into a face nearly identical to her own. Except for the black eyes and the fact that, while Marisa’s wore an expression of irrational anxiety, the double wore one filled with irrational rage. It emerged entirely from Marisa, kneeling behind her, and then it took the girl in a stranglehold.

“What is the meaning of this?” Jolanin said.

“Well, I’m actually not entirely sure why this keeps happening when I induce this. I have a few guesses myself…”

Jolanin stopped listening to her and went to Marisa, whose girl’s face had turned red, and tentatively thrust her sword towards the double.

The double let go of Marisa, her arm shooting towards the weapon. Taking advantage of Jolanin’s surprise, she wrenched the weapon away and swung it downward, impaling Marisa with it. Jolanin took her sword back and kicked the duplicate, launching her into the wall. She then rushed to Marisa and rolled her over.

For Marisa, the world had become slow. Her mind turned. She thought of what would have happened if she hadn’t come the cave. She thought further back to her times hunting, and living in the village, and other things.

“Jolanin, thanks for trying…” she said.

Jolanin watched her. The execution sword had fulfilled its task perfectly, and had destroyed hole through her chest. She swiftly died of the wound.

“And then I thought, perhaps everyone is angry when they’re born. Infants tend to be awfully loud. I asked the Servant of Birth about it, and he said that probably wasn’t it.”

“Have you not empathy?” Jolanin asked.

Death shrugged. She was indifferent. “Would you believe me if I said I see this all the time?”

Jolanin looked to the Marisa that was alive. She had calmed down.

She asked Death, “What is this person? Why did she kill Marisa?”

“Well, I’ve kind of been telling you this whole time, but I call it a double. She’s mostly the same as the original, but there are some differences. My best guess as to why the double immediately wants kill the original is that the double is mostly a creation of mine. So their first instinct would be related to me, Servant of Death.”

Jolanin looked at the girl. It was true that there were differences, at least physically. Here eyes were, in a sense, inverted. The whites were black, and the irises white.

“The little differences I’ve seen, other than the eyes, were personality, interests, things like that. They also take a name that’s similar to the original, but slightly modified. Look, what are you called?”

The double looked up from ground, “Mariça.”

“Now,” she turned back to Jolanin, “watch this. What can you tell me about the Shriken life cycle?”

Mariça’s expression faltered, “Uh, I guess they have children? Who grow up to… have more, and so on?”

“She doesn’t remember?” Jolanin said.

“Eh, more like she never knew,” Death said, “as promised.” She looked again to Mariça and said, “It’ll be nice to see what comes of you.”

Then, she returned to the shadow, and covered herself in the lamplight, disappearing.

Mariça and Jolanin were left to stare at each other. Jolanin looked at the body of Marisa, and then at Mariça.

“Well, I guess both our problems have been solved. And what has happened was as I had said, terribly unusual. All that is left is to take this to the council, and find a way to get you out.”

“Okay, but,” Mariça said, “where am I?”

Part 1 > Part 2 > Part 3 > Part 4

Daniel Triumph.

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P.S.

This one was a struggle to put out, namely because my sleep got warped and I had a lot of readings to do. (And yes, those two are related.) Otherwise, this would have just been a really long conclusion. But, I think I have enough space to where I can have a decent conclusion with a decent arc. So, to part 5.