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I don't know if it's been made clear enough, but I'm planning on participating in National Novel Writing Month. During the month of November, I'm going to use you as my accountability crew. Whenever I write something more, I'll post at least a portion of it here for you to comment on. If ever you want me to add something in, just leave a comment for me.

Characters you want included, episodes you think would be interesting to read about...etc. I can't promise I'll use them, but I can promise I'll read them, and if you have a blog, I'll try to at least comment back.

I tried to do NaNoWriMo last year and didn't make it through, but I'm really excited about it this year and don't want to give up on it as quickly as I have before. So please! Please be with me on this one! Tell your friends! Get them in on it too! I want as much feedback as possible to keep me going!

Thanks, my faithful readers. You make my life a better place.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chapter Twenty-Three

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“Rachel is a large woman,” Gus said. He was exponentially more jolly now that they had had a stout lunch and had booked rooms in the inn above the tavern. “I definitely condone large women.”

“I... don’t know what to do with that,” Martha said.

“It’s okay,” Ben said. “I’m pretty sure you’re not alone.”

“So, what is our business here, really?” Tess asked. She had been shyly venturing more and more words into conversations since they entered the town, and as Gus was in a much better mood, the results had overall been positive.

“I was under the impression that I was not a liar,” Guido said. “We are here to replenish our food stores, refresh our bodies, and perhaps explore life outside of Medias, give you all a better idea of what life is going to be like for you from now on.”

“Why did you choose Rachel for us to see first?” Ben asked.

“It’s the closest safe town to the forest,” Guido said. “Taksarus is south of here, almost in the forest a few miles from where we exited, but I didn’t think that your first foray into non-Median life would be best spent trying to avoid death by the grim hand of the thugs in Taksarus.”

Awkward silence hovered around the group after those words.

“Well,” Gus said, “Thanks for thinking of us.”

“So what are we going to do first?” Martha asked. “Replenish, refresh, or self-educate?”

“My vote is replenish,” Gus said seriously. “We can learn about the town as we go around buying things to fill our packs.”

“Are we planning on staying here for very long, Guido?” Ben asked. “If not, I agree with Gus. But if we’ve got some time, I would rather test out those beds upstairs, take a long nap, and maybe a bath.”

“I heartily agree,” Tess said quietly to Ben. “I feel like I have enough dirt on my legs to count for a second layer of skin.”

“We can stay as long as anyone likes,” Guido said. “But I would personally suggest we be moving on. People in the border towns, these settlements nearest the forest, are leary of visitors. The further into the country we go, the safer we’ll be and the longer we’ll be able to stay.”

“Let’s give ourselves three days, then,” Gus said. “Ben, if you want to rest, you can do that. Guido and I will go and restock while the rest of you stay here, and we’ll meet back here for dinner whenever you are ready.”

“I want to go with you,” Martha said, almost pleadingly.

“Weren’t you just complaining about your feet a while ago?” he asked.
She gave him a look that said more than Ben could read.

“It would be useless for you to go alone, Gus,” Guido said. “Among many unwritten rules of non-Median living is that doing anything alone suggests suspicious activity, especially for a man. You add a mysterious talking raven hovering around his head and there is guaranteed to be trouble. Either at least two of you go, or none of us do.”

Martha was pleading with Gus with her eyes. He was trying to say something back, but she was obviously not heeding him. He looked frustrated and conflicted.

“I’ll go,” Tess said. “Ben, you can stay, and I’ll go with Gus and Martha.”

Martha looked relieved, Ben looked confused, and Gus looked less than pleased.

“Martha, stay with me,” Ben protested.

Everyone looked around at him.

“I didn’t realize this group was so politically charged,” Guido said.

“Stay with me, Martha,” Ben repeated. This time it was a demand. Reluctantly she nodded, and they turned together to walk up the stairs.

Gus and Tess looked at each other. Tess looked down at her feet.

“Is there... something I should know?” Guido asked.

“No,” Gus shot. “Let’s get this over with.”

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chapter Twenty-Two

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Gus tilted his head back all the way, looking up to the top of the wall spreading up in front of him. Ben rubbed his palm against its smooth, flat surface, his brow furrowed. Tess leaned her back against it and closed her eyes, smiling to herself. Martha sat down and dropped her pack next to her, sighing and taking her bare feet into her hands to rub them back to life.

“You know, this reminds me of an old children’s story someone back in Medias told me about a while back,” Gus said. “It was about a world where there were four nations; Water, Earth, Fire, and Air. For a long time, the four Nations lived together in harmony. There were ‘benders’ from each nation who were capable of harnessing the elemental energy of the nation they were from and manipulating that element to their will. Each type of ‘bending’ had its own specific style, which helped organize and characterize the energy the benders used. For instance, earth benders mold the hard, unforgiving element of rocks and dirt, so their bending style was representative of the uncompromising nature of their element, and air is a peaceful, negotiating element, so its benders did not use it for offense, but for defense and evasion, as well as the furthering of joy and culture.”

“So they were basically pushovers?” Martha stated more than asked.

“Peacemakers. Please,” Gus clarified. “Anyway, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. They were a strong, ambitious nation made stronger by the presence of a comet that added to their bending abilities. By the time their war for conquest began, no one in any of the other nations was prepared to stand strong enough against them. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished.”

“What do you mean, he vanished?” Martha asked.

“Well, everyone thought he had left them, gone into hiding to save his own skin, too scared to pick a fight with the most powerful nation in the history of the world. But a hundred years after his mysterious disappearance, two children from the southern water tribe, a small, broken community, mostly destroyed by raids from the Fire Nation earlier in the war, discovered the new Avatar. He had died as a Fire bender and been reincarnated into the form of a young Air bender boy named Aang."

“Reincarnated?” Martha asked. “You mean he came back to life?”

“Yeah,” Gus said. “The Avatar is a soul that passes through one human body and into another after the first one dies. And there is a cycle, so the new avatar is always from a different nation than the last. Water, Earth, Fire, and then Air.”

“How does this wall remind you of that story, Gus?” Martha asked.

“Well, as it was described to me, in the Earth Kingdom, it was natural that they should build enormous walls with no gates, using only powerful Earth benders to open holes in the walls. When I saw this wall, I immediately imagined that kind of gate opening to allow us entry.”

“You’re actually not that far off,” Guido said. “That is almost how these gates work; the towns don’t want those laying them under siege to know where they are, as they are the weakest part of the city’s defenses, but they need a way to let regular traveler’s in. Once you’ve been around these parts long enough, you get to memorize where all the entrances are. I happen to know that we’re on the correct side of the wall for this particular town. What I don’t know is where exactly along the wall it is.”

Ben looked down the expanse of the wall to his right. It had to be at least one or two miles across. “How do we find out?” he asked wearily.

“How about you fly up there and check it out, Guido,” Martha said. “You know, give those old wings some exercise, after all that abysmal sitting around you had to do all day. How uncomfortable that must have been for you.”

“I’m sorry to displease you,” Guido said, obviously not sorry at all, “but I’m afraid that security is so tight in Rachel that even a lone Raven can’t fly over the wall without fearing for his life.”

“So how do we find the gate, Guido?” Gus asked, his tone more serious now. “We’ve walked all morning; I’d like to find a place to sit down, maybe eat non-dried fruit, perhaps even sleep in a bed...”

“We’ll simply have to walk this side, asking for entrance until it is given to us.”

Ben gave a short sarcastic laugh. “Who exactly is going to hear us asking from all the way down here?”

“I swear to you, the gate will open, wherever it is,” Guido said. His tone was getting increasingly annoyed as they got increasingly subversive. “So, if you would please,” he said, speaking pointedly to Martha, “we need to start moving with haste.”

Martha leaned further back into her reclined position. “Just five more minutes,” she said. “My feet are so swollen, it’s like wearing bags of rocks around my ankles.”

“The path is smooth here,” Gus said, putting his hand out for her to take. “You can probably walk barefoot so you don’t have to worry about putting your shoes back on.”

She made a face at him, but put her hand in his and allowed him to help her up. They all started walking along the wall. They had gone a whole three feet before Guido croaked, telling them all to stop.

“Ben,” he said, “if you would be so kind as to please knock against that wall.”

Ben looked confused as he turned and banged a fist against the wall. Nothing happened. They waited a few moments, and then Guido flew on, prompting them all to follow. Every five feet or so, Guido would signal to Ben to rap his knuckles against the wall, and he would hang back as the rest of the group walked on, waiting and watching for something.

After Ben had knocked for the tenth time and Guido had waited fruitlessly for some unknown event, Gus laughed. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “Does anybody else wonder what kind of high-tech security system involves walking along a wall and knocking? Does anybody else feel a bit... Podunk about this whole ordeal?”

“I swear to you,” Guido said obstinately, the taste of stubbornness in his tone, “this wall will open; it takes merely patience and persistence to do so. You asked me to guide you, and I promised not to lead you astray. Stop being so frustrating.”

Gus looked a bit nonplussed by this reaction, but said nothing, and they continued on. It was silent except for the occasional raven croak and single knock on the smooth wall face. Ben felt a repeating rhythm in the slow parade they were marching, and he was beginning to lose himself in that rhythm when his knock returned a hollow sound, and Guido croaked loudly in triumph.

“Aha!” he declared. “You see? I told you there would come a response. And to think you doubted me.”

Gus raised one eyebrow. “I’m still doubting you, Excitable Evan,” he said. “So there’s a hollow behind that wall. That’s not a response; that’s a resonance.”

Before Guido could respond, there came a loud “kachunk” from inside the giant wall, followed immediately by several identical “kachunks,” each sound seeming to come from higher on the wall. Then a hole opened up at the base of the wall as large bricks appeared and curled themselves inside what appeared to be a hollow portion of the wall. The hole stayed dark, suggesting that the other side was not yet open, but the top scaled higher and higher until it reached halfway to the top.

Out of the dark, enclosed portion of missing wall came a low, booming, female voice. “What is your business in the town of Rachel?” it asked.

“Weary from travel, we seek asylum and the restoration of our rations. We will be on our way again soon, if that is what the citizens wish,” Guido said.

There came a drawn-out moment of silence before the voice spoke again. “You sound honorable. You may enter our walls; do not overstay your welcome.”

_______

I claim no ownership of "Avatar: The Last Airbender." Just a whole lot of fandom. I would have taken it out here, as it was mostly for word count and only minimally to describe the appearance of the wall, but it was too tightly entwined in the actual narration to be easily extricated. Los siento. I did take out all the wikipedia articles I used to boost word count, though. You can thank me later.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chapter Twenty-One

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Tamara massaged her temples, breathing deeply, concentrating on the rhythm of the rise and fall of her chest.

“Why are they giving me so much trouble?” she asked herself, trying not to focus on the negative energy she could feel herself exuding. “Where can I improve my own actions to make the whole situation better?”

She felt like she was in a self-help program.

The main problem had come when the boy randomly turned up in the kitchen during Mond’s mathematics lesson one room over. Tamara had been demonstrating a few simple derivative equations when she heard the pantry door open and close. She handed the chalk and slate to Mond and told her to continue working on the example problems while she went to investigate the origin of the noise.

What she found in the kitchen nearly made her vomit. The boy, wearing nothing but the drool-encrusted blanket he’d been sleeping with for the past three weeks wrapped precariously around him, was sticking his head into the pantry, covering his face with confectioner’s sugar and rubbing unpeeled banana mush all over his body. When he heard her come in, he looked up and grinned stupidly, his dark yellow and disgusting, his eyes red and swollen. He laughed a low and slow laugh, and began slapping his arms, making the pasty substance fly off him in little chunks.

Tamara had nearly kicked him right there, wishing she had the stomach to just kill the boy and be done with it. And the visual of his soiled face and revolting garb would have been enough to push her over the edge in that moment, but then Mond walked into the room.

“Boy? Is that you? I can hear you. What are you doing?” she asked. She ran to him and put out her hand, wiping the tips of her fingers against his coated chest. “What happened to you?” she gasped. “Why... what is that smell?”

Tamara had successfully kept them from seeing each other for the past two weeks, and as such, she had stopped really caring about the boy’s hygiene or appearance, as it had all been a fa├žade for Mond’s sake anyway.

Mond turned like lightning to look up at Tamara. Her startling milky eyes didn’t meet Tamara’s but the fury and hatred clearly visible on her face frightened Tamara. She envisioned the past few months of mother-daughter bonding attempts slipping away, as if down a bottomless pipe.

“Fix it,” Mond ordered. “Make him better.”

“It looks like he hasn’t been taking his medicine correctly, Mond,” Tamara said. “I didn’t realize—”

“You’re lying,” Mond said, her voice high, with a texture like gravel tossed on cement. “You’ve kept him from me so I wouldn’t see, and those medicines are making him like this. Fix it. Now.”

Tamara, speechless, and feeling practically breathless as well, caught off her guard by the ferocity of Mond’s words and the harsh expression on her face, stood stupidly slouching and still.

“Fix it!” Mond yelled. Her voice was unnaturally loud, even for an adult male four or five times her size, and Tamara thought he saw a flash of red glint across her eyes.

Tamara grabbed the boy’s arms, coating the palms of her hands in crusty banana paste. She began pulling him towards the stairs, planning on throwing him into a hot bath and soaking his blanket in a tub for a day or so, and he fought her every step. He mumbled and growled incoherently; Tamara felt like she was pulling teeth from the mouth of a loud and confused buffalo. Mond followed them both up the stairs and tended to the boy as Tamara struggled to set up the water. Tamara tried to protest, tried to hide the boy’s nakedness from Mond, even though she had sightless eyes, but Mond gave her a look that had a hint of death and suffering, and Tamara instinctually fled from it.

The cleaning of both blanket and boy took several hours, and when he was finally back into a bed with clean linens and Tamara and Mond were ready to return to the math lesson, Mond was beyond her ability to pay attention. She spent the rest of the light of day asking Tamara questions about the medications the boy was taking and why Tamara insisted he take them.

“They help him with his headaches,” Tamara kept saying. “They were hurting him so badly, and I remember when his mother had a similar issue, so I asked a doctor and he told me that these pills would help.”

“Why was he so messy, then? What about them makes him be so... dirty?”

“That has nothing to do with his medicine, Mond,” Tamara said. Not that the girl had calmed down, she seemed more amenable to believing what Tamara had to say. “That’s just how he is. He’s not like you and me. He’s more like a... like an animal or a monster.”

Mond looked crushed when Tamara said this. Her face slowly fell until every emotion but concern and despair had left it. Her eyes, though nondescript in and of themselves, were much more expressive than any other eyes Tamara had seen. Sometimes Tamara saw feelings deep within them that she could not understand.

“A... monster?” Mond asked. “What does that mean? How can he be anything different than I am?”

“You’re a smart girl, Mond,” Tamara said. “Think about the differences between him and you. He doesn’t take these classes with you because he’s not as intelligent. He gets sick more easily than you do and is not as talented or as good looking as you are.”

“I don’t think he’s bad looking,” Mond said. “That’s not any way to judge someone objectively.”

“You can’t see him, Mond. You can’t know what he looks like. He’s hideous, like a dog or a horse, not a human like you and I.”

None of this was true, but Tamara knew she was dancing on a taught string now, and the only way she could safely herd Mond back to her side of the field was to make the boy an untouchable, therefore taking the merit out of everything he said or did.

“I haven’t seen him with my eyes,” Mond said thoughtfully, “but I think I know what he looks like. It’s like I’ve felt his presence so often that I’ve assigned a visual component...”

She continued to talk, to theorize about her relationship with the boy and what it was based on, what her blindness subtracted from or added to it and what his abstractness, as she called it, subtracted from or added to it.

But Tamara stopped paying attention. She was caught up in the fear that bubbled under the surface as Mond described the boy. They had grown closer than she had seen or guessed. How much did Mond know about him, and how much did he know about her? How much had they interacted; was it to the point where nothing she said to Mond was safe from his ears? If they were passing secrets back and forth, Tamara could never be sure of her bond with Mond, because she would never be able to know if the boy was coming between them. She would have to do a lot of deconstructive work to get Mond to pull loyalty away from him.

Tamara hadn’t imagined there would be so much politics in raising children. Mond was only six-years-old. How was it possible she was already so complex?

“It’s not enough to say I haven’t seen him, you see,” she was saying when Tamara tuned back in. “I haven’t seen him like you have, perhaps, but I know he is not a ‘monster,’ as you say he is.”

“Have you considered the possibility that he is a master of deception?” Tamara suggested, choosing her words closely. “That he can imitate a creature deserving of your sympathy so thoroughly as to fool you into caring about him in the way that you do?”

Mond seemed to chew on this for a moment before speaking again. “If that is the case, how have you managed to remain undeceived?”

The question took Tamara by surprise. It wasn’t as though she hid her dislike for the boy — to do so would have been nearly impossible, not to mention very taxing on her emotions — but she had hoped that Mond would connect it with necessity, with the monster she had been portraying him as.

“I... it’s hard sometimes,” Tamara lied. “I find myself overly empathetic, too, on some days. But then I remember that he killed his mother, my sister, and I strike those feelings from my heart.”

How many times had she driven that point home? How many times had she called him a murderer? It made her feel like some sort of activist every time she said it, and the feeling never got old.

“How did your sister die?” Mond asked for the first time.

Again, Tamara found herself having to sift through her thoughts to find the correct ones to say out loud. “It was a slow... a slow, painful process,” she said. “Over the months that she was pregnant with the boy, he sapped her first of all her energy, youth, and life, until, in the third month, she was bedridden entirely, and then he attacked her brain, draining her personality and intellect until she was an empty shell, broken, a shattered image of the woman she had once been.”

“How do you know that it was his fault?” Mond asked. “Maybe your sister was unfit to carry a baby. Do you have any conclusive proof that another baby would have behaved differently?”

Tamara felt as though she had been slapped in the face. In the long time since her sister’s death, no one had ever come close to insulting her memory, and aside from the boy’s mere existence, nothing had dredged up the pain from those nine long months. Mond, just then, had done worse damage in one short sentence than anyone else had done in four years.

“My sister was not ‘unfit’ for anything,” Tamara said, keeping her calm. “The doctors couldn’t understand it, I couldn’t understand it, and she couldn’t understand it. There was nothing wrong with my sister that would cause her body to do that to itself naturally.”

Mond looked thoughtful. “Maybe you’re deceived by some force, Tamara, just as you suggest I am deceived by the boy. Maybe your sister deceived you.”

______________

Again, more stuff I'm going to have to fix later, like my changed tense in the middle there. Also, unpublished here was Tamara's recitation of a Sociology textbook.