The Artanian #29

Nagaregawa had a place in the city, a sprawling complex right on one of the canals inside the Palace Ring with a steady stream of merchants and samurai confidants and young women whose time he had purchased. He would not be returning to his Palace Ring estate that night due to the early hour the Shogun had chosen to leave and instead had secured a secluded little building all to himself in a rather quiet part of the Tenka Palace. This particular building stood in the midst of an overgrown garden, perhaps the only unkempt garden in the entire city. The area seemed to suck up all the light, and as I crept through it I felt as though it should be shrouded in mist as well. It would have made it a little easier to slip closer to the house in the mud on my belly, but apparently I was pretty good at this and the extra cover was not needed.

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The Gardener #5

Schulman Beach ran right up to a long, wide walkway finished with colorful paving stones laid out like the sun and its rays. It ran the length of the beach, some two kilometers perhaps, ending in plazas with paths that lead either into the town across the coastal highway or up into the mountains. Slate gray cliffs soared up from the ocean on either end of the beach, and at the north end there were several granite shelves from which PMers could leap into the ocean, a feature that owed its existence to Port Matthew’s unnatural geology.

Haley set herself up on the plaza at the north end of the beach. She had her easel and paints, and a cooler with water and snacks to keep from succumbing to the summer warmth. With the sun high in the sky many locals were already out on the waves, or making their way there from the little town across the tree-lined boulevard. She angled herself towards the cliffs where several teens were already up on the shelves, shouting with glee and feigned terror as they hurled themselves through the air. One boy with his arms flailing as he plunged got himself stuck in Haley’s imagination and she sketched out the scene quickly in pencil. Another glance and a girl followed the boy, one hand over her nose with the other arm trailing behind her. Haley smiled as she set her pencil down and opened her paints and set to work.

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The Long Winter #5

Leah did not argue with Henley when he swooped her away from Maddie. She let him put his hand on the small of her back and guide her back inside. She even let him provide her with a strong-smelling drink she did not sip and introduce her to another dapper-looking young man whose name she did not bother remembering. The two began talking about their plans for the school year and what they were going to do for a break from the weather in the middle of winter, and she used the opportunity to turn invisible and slide away from them.

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The Gardener #4

It was a family-owned place, Bob had told her. The restaurant was on a secluded road a little way up the river from downtown Mt. Plains, an area she was certain Conrad Steen did not know even existed. Trees grew tall and close over the road, giving shade and privacy to the offices and ryokan along it. The sushi restaurant itself was marked by a simple sign with “Kato” written in tradition Japanese calligraphy before the otherwise unadorned building. They walked past a rock garden to get in, and she was impressed with the luxurious interior when she took her shoes off and stepped up onto the lacquered floor.

“Hello Mr. Curtis. Shall I show you to your usual table?”

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The Artanian #28

I had not imagined Shingen to be a particularly nervous man, but he was sweating as we sat before the Shogun that evening.

“I must protest, your place is here, the center of government in Shinsai, not the mountain passes of Fushina.”

“I made my decision,” the Shogun said, reclining once again while the tattoo artist continued work on his leg. “If this thing you’re doing is important enough that you’re going to go yourself AND you’re taking these foreign dogs along I’m deeming it important enough that I should go, too.”

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The Long Winter #4

“…so you see, I was originally going to study Japanese and get myself on the path to being a diplomat. My dad said that they choose diplomats based on their usefulness to the politicians in charge of appointing them and that the more useful they are the better their placement, so I thought how much better a place to be placed than Japan? But Japan’s not really that much of an economic power anymore, I mean, their economy is still huge and they’re still extremely important to us here, but nowhere near as important as Canada or China or even Russia, I thought about learning Russian, like, majoring in Russian, too, but you know, they don’t use the alphabet, they use something completely different just like Japan! Since I can’t read it I decided that maybe it wasn’t the best way for me to move forward, but my dad, you know, he’s so rich and powerful, we own a whole bunch of construction companies all over the state and he was a big contributor to the governor, well, the last governor, and to Senator Garies, that’s how I’m here at his party, or at least, his son’s party. Have you met his son? Braden Garies is such a cool guy, we hang out all the time, and since I’m a lesbian we love to go to the bars and the clubs and the beaches together and hit on all the hot girls! I’ll bet that’s why you’re here, too, to be my lucky arm candy! Just wait till I show you off to him, he’s going to be so jealous! He probably doesn’t even know I’m here, we should go find him and say hello.”

“No, that’s okay—“

“But first we need drinks! Let’s go get drinks, you look thirsty.”

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The Long Winter #3

Madison Carter usually pulled her blonde hair up into a pony tail. She liked it that way, it kept her face hair-free, something she noticed her new friend Penny had trouble with. The half-Asian girl’s hair was short, cut right up above the bottoms of her earlobes, and it was always falling into her face, or blowing across her eyes. She constantly battled it, shoving it behind her ears and pushing her fingers through it, and she always reminded Maddie that keeping her hair long enough to have a pony tail was a great idea.

That night, however, she was going to a fancy party at a big, fancy house, and her boyfriend had already copped a snotty attitude about it. So she wore it down. It ran in big waves down to her shoulders where it curled slightly, and it bounced when she moved like the loose hem of her dress. It was probably the fanciest thing she owned, and paired with the thin gold chains she wore around her neck and wrists, she felt she looked every bit the rich girl her classmates would expect her to be. It helped, of course, that her new friends Penny and Leah were positively frumpy in comparison. How did two exotic girls like them come across as frumpy? And yet, they were. Penny looked like her mother still dressed her in a very conservative skirt and sweater (the half-Asian girl had a closet full of pretty sundresses and she still chose that!), while Leah succeeded in matching her in her own oversized skirt and blouse.

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The Artanian #27

Boats arrived for us midmorning the next day to transfer us to the palace, at once to treat us more like foreign dignitaries as well as keep a better eye on us. We bid our host farewell on the steps of his inn and then we were floating through the canals. I took charge of our luggage, taking advantage of my comparatively drab clothes to fade into the background as a servant of some sort. I doubted the Shogun would even remember who I was. At any rate, they kept us all together in our new accomodations in an out-of-the-way little house and we were given a brief tour showing which sections were open to us within the palace grounds.

After lunch, we sat once again in the Main Hall with the Shogun and his wife, wisps of incense floating through the open hall on the autumn breeze. The air was damp and chilling and the low clouds promised rain although none fell yet. The Shogun reclined on a long chair with no legs while a sweaty man with discolored hands added more ink to the Shogun’s exposed thigh. Kairi sat beside and slightly behind him with her legs folded primly beneath her, but of course she displayed her colorful body to everyone present. Her eyes were fixed on Antonia and her golden hair while the Shogun scowled at Hatabe.

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The Gardener #3

Haley felt Sumiko-Sensei lean over her shoulder. Her long, black hair, loose in the morning before the gym classes forced her to tie it up, fell onto Haley’s shoulder and she heard her friend gasp.

“Wow, that’s a pretty place, where is that? It’s definitely not Port Matthew.”

“No, it’s a place called the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia.”

“Dalmatian? Like the dog?”

“I guess so, I haven’t read much about it, I was busy looking at the pictures.”

“Sure is pretty.”

“I’m thinking to go this summer.”

“This summer? Wow, have you already saved up that much money for a fancy European vacation after only a year?”

“I was able to save some this winter…” Haley trailed off and closed the window on her computer. She whirled around and turned serious eyes up at her friend. “I have something truly important to talk to you about.”

“Truly important? Right now? I’m not sure we have the time.”

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