Writing notes dump

Been aloof/busy. Hoping to get a lot more writing done during holiday break. Anyway, here’s some things:

They sat around the campfire, listening to the trickling water of the stream nearby. Seamus had a bag of candy open and was dancing around to keep his elephant from snatching it up. Sadie was cooking some greens they found, poking them listlessly with a stick. They were shriveled, cooked down way more than she hoped. And they smelled bitter. One of her teeth was sore and loose. She could taste blood from the root. Sadie squeezed her arm and took a deep breath. She could feel the panic setting in, but she had to keep it under control. Seamus might not think she’s a criminal, but he’d probably think better of traveling with her if he knew about her mental problems.

Got to stay active. Just have to keep doing something.

“I’m getting some water real quick,” she said and grabbed a pouch to take to the stream. She scooped it up, cool and fresh, then marched over to Seamus.

“Candy.”

“Huh?”

“Give me a candy.”

She plucked it from his fingers and dropped it in the pouch, shaking it around.

“Why’d you do that?”

“The greens are bitter. I’m making them sweeter.”

Seamus stuck out his tongue and gagged. “Sounds awful.”

“Well, I’m doing it. Shut up.”

By the time she was finished, the vegetables were mushy and overcooked. The sugar didn’t cancel out the bitterness. It just tasted like bitter greens and candy mixed together.

“I think it tastes fine,” Sadie lied. “Stop being a baby.”

Seamus gave his portion to Alabaster.

Sadie swigged the rest of the sugar water to get the taste out of her mouth. It was a bad idea. Her toothache throbbed.

“Remember when we were little, Kira, and we didn’t give a snort about nothing?”

“I remember a month ago when you were like that.”

“Why do you think he left? Puppy love?”

“I don’t know… maybe.”

“Ugh! But she’s the one…! Why do little boys always go for the bad girls?”

“Search me. Is that why you’re so popular, Dizzie?”

“Myeah… probably.”

Dizzie stared down at the waving grass, at the gentle slope down to the next ledge. They used to roll down hills like this one back in Marca. Back when they were both Seamus’s age.

“Race you.” She slapped her hand down and shot down the hill. Kira, with her lanky legs, started to overtake her. Dizzie pumped her legs like she was running on even ground and lost her feet from under her. She went rolling past the next ledge and down the next slope. This part of the hill was steeper and rocky. She banged elbows and knees while trying to stop her momentum. Eventually, she hit bedrock. Beautiful, wispy clouds spun above her.

“Are you okay?” Kira called down.

Dizzie cackled and winced. “What the hell was I thinking?”

“You weren’t!” she said, then a little more concerned, “Is anything broken?”

“No. Just my pride. And my skin. And my head. Lots of bruises.”

“That was stupid.”

“Yeah… I just really wanted to go faster than you.”

Kira half-galloped down the hill and helped Dizzie up.

“Maybe your brother felt the same way.”

“He had to go fast?”

“He had to go faster than everyone else. Faster than Marca.”

Dizzie was about to say he stupid that was, but she stopped herself. She knew exactly how that felt. All her life, she’d been going to school, preparing for a job she’d be stuck with until she died. Life in Marca moved slow. Painfully so.

“Let’s get you washed up, speedy.”

“Can’t it wait?” Dizzie asked. “We know the set.”

“Dizzie! You booked us last minute. At least have the professionalism to practice during the one hour we have to prep.”

“Just give me five minutes to talk with him and then we’ll prep.”

“This isn’t a negotiation, Dizzie.”

“Everything’s a negotiation.”

Dizzie hummed a love song as she approached the stage. She could see the crowd funneling down the hall, finding places to sit and wait, to eat and smoke. Kira was playing the fourth song on their set list called “Belly Feel.”

“Good one to practice.”

“I’m playing them in order. Five minutes, huh?”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t waste time apologizing. Just join me from the top.”

Dizzie nodded. The first minute of the song was just obscene moaning and grunting followed by squeaking and foot stomping. It turned the heads of the stage crew.

Kira wanted to try a song with lyrics next, but they were already being called to the stage by a bearded man in a coat.

“People are arriving early so we’re starting early.”

“Shit!” Kira muttered.

“Hey,” Dizzie smirked, patting her shoulder. “We got this, Kir-la.”

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Chapter 5 (draft 1)

“Dizzie. Kira. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” the masked man said, shaking their hands in turn. He wore a white mask that appeared neither male nor female. As he bowed his head, the masks’ blank stare appeared to smile.

“What’s with your voice?” Dizzie asked.

“A medical condition.”

“Like what?”

Kira nudged Dizzie.

“My face and throat were scarred when I was young.”

“That sucks,” Dizzie said, sucking on her lip ring absently. “Can we see the stage?”

“Are you going to prepare? The concert doesn’t begin for over an hour.”

“Can’t be too prepared,” Kira said. “I’d like to see where we’re putting our feet for the next half hour. Check the acoustics. That sort of thing.”

“You’re very task-oriented, Kira. My people tell me you’ve just mastered the mandolin. Congratulations. I’m sorry if you had to cancel any celebrations for this.”

Kira shook her head. “Nah, it’s fine. Playing an invitation-only concert like this is a lot better than having dinner with my parents. They’re not much for me having fun.”

Dizzie rolled her eyes. It seemed like she had to hear how amazing Kira was fifty times a day. “This venue is all open air, though. I don’t think the ‘invitation only’ thing is going to stick.”

“I’m counting on it.” Shadows crept in around the eyes of Aquino’s mask. The slight smile carved into the corners of the mouth looked sinister. “The world needs people who don’t follow the rules, don’t you think? The same with this concert.”

“So you’re just letting whoever march in.”

“Is that a problem?”

Dizzie shrugged. “It’s your production.” She ran up to the stage and hopped up and down on the boards. The men on security tried to pull her back down but Aquino stopped them.

“She’s tonight’s singer. If she wants to jump, let her jump.”

Dizzie stuck her tongue out at the men and continued to stretch and pace around. “Pretty sturdy.”

“Good.” Kira climbed up to join her. She sat at the center and began tuning her mandolin. Dizzie danced in circles and hummed in different keys.

“Beautiful,” Aquino croaked.

“What was that?” Dizzie asked.

“You’re beautiful.”

Dizzie frowned at him. “Who are you, anyway?”

“Just a fan.”

“No, really.”

“It’s safer you don’t know who I am.”

Dizzie cracked a rye grin. “What if I want to join up with the resistance? Would I get to know then?”

“No. But I’d be happy to… talk further after the concert is done.”

Kira furrowed her eyebrows. She made a small growling noise in her throat but held back any dissenting words.

“How about we go over the set, Diz?”

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Chapter 4 (draft 1-3)

Madam Hapnes smiled and tilted her head toward Kira. “Pass.”

Kira took her seat, still sitting up straight as always.

“Don’t expect me to call you a master musician,” Dizzie growled.

To her surprise, Kira didn’t make any kind of retort or anything. She smiled and muttered, “I know you won’t, Dizzie. Thank you.”

Did she hear her right? What did she do for Kira to thank her? Dizzie decided to cool the snark while the rest of the senior year failed their exams one by one.

“How did I do?” Kira as they walked through the University gardens.

“What do you mean, how did you do? You passed.”

“Real talk, Diz.” She adjusted her mandolin strap. “I want to know what you thought.”

“What does it matter?”

“It matters. Now spit it out.”

Dizzie sighed and rolled her head. “You were playing for musicians. Technically, you hit every note. It was complex and daring. But nobody gives a shit about that except musicians. If you’re going to play something with purpose, you need to improvise. You need to feel it and pound it out.”

“I thought that’s what I was doing.”

“You were treating that mandolin like a tool. Treat it like an enemy, a lover, or whatever. But if you’re just worried about playing flawlessly, you’re missing the point.”

“What point?”

“Kira, you want to play like Jumoke, right?”

“More than anything. He’s my hero.”

“That’s wrong. You should be wanting to surpass Jumoke. You should be wanted to pound him into the dust.”

Kira scratched her head. “I guess you’re right.”

“I’m always right.”

“Why don’t you pay attention in class? You could be amazing. It’s like Hapnes said…”

“Hapnes can bite me. We’ve got our own path to being amazing.” Dizzie pulled out a parchment from her pocket.

“What’s this?”

“My gift to you for becoming a master.”

She looked it over. “Is this real?”

“Yep. Got it from one of his goons. We’ve been invited to play an impromptu concert tonight for Aquino.”

“He’s a radical, though.”

Dizzie snatched the invitation back. “Ah ah! Counterculturalist, Kira. Watch your language.”

“My parents are going to be pissed.”

“You just achieved mastery of the mandolin. How can they be anything but happy?”

“Do we even have a set prepared?”

“We’ll just do the usual. Maybe we can open with that ditty you played for music class.”

Kira raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t worry so much, babe. This’ll get us exposure right up the stinkhole.”

“When it comes to you, Diz, I can’t be anything but worried.”

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Flashback revised

The one time Seamus ran away from home was when he was seven and mad at his mother for some reason he couldn’t remember anymore. He had only gotten to the edge of the palace district before turning back. Past the gardens, at the end of the orange groves, he stopped at a small white object on the ground. It was the head of a rabbit. He froze, held his breath, and looked around. Whatever or whoever was responsible could still be out there. But aside Seamus shifting his weight, causing the dry leaves to slowly crunch beneath his foot, the grove was silent.

He had expected blood somewhere, but there were only brains leaking out of where the neck should have begun. Either an animal had eaten the rabbit efficiently or someone had brought the head here. Some trapper, perhaps? Seamus’s excited brain entertained the thought that some crazy person was out and about. He was afraid to turn his back on the rabbit head. If he told an adult and the head was gone or if they couldn’t find it, they would think he was a liar. But if he stayed silent and something bad happened again, that would be his fault.

He ran back home. Mom was busy with coordinating museum restoration. Dad was at an important meeting with the Council. So he told Dizzie. She thought it was cool and said it was probably the ghost girl who walks around the palace district. Her beloved was a Noble and was beheaded during the war. So, she drowned herself in a nearby river. Her ghost walked around at night, beheading every living thing it could find.

Seamus couldn’t remember what he did for the rest of the day. He just kept thinking about the rabbit’s head. How its mouth hung open in a silent scream. How it died wide-eyed in fear. And he felt stupid for sharing such a thing with Dizzie, who couldn’t even take death seriously.

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Chapter 4 (draft 1-2)

Dizzie slumped down in her seat, taking up as much of it as possible. Beside her, Kira was straight-backed, scowling at Dizzie.

“What?” Dizzie croaked, sensing her friend’s displeasure.

“You should listen to Madam Hapnes. You chose this life path. If you don’t take it seriously, you’re going to fail.”

Dizzie snorted. “She wants me to follow her life path. I’m fine on my own.”

“That’s not—”

Madam Hapnes cleared her throat. “Am I interrupting your conversation, Dizzie?”

“You are now.”

Kira punched Dizzie in the shoulder.

Madam Hapnes nodded quiet approval.

“Since you seem to enjoy interrupting my class as well, First Mandolin Ashakiran, why don’t you come up here and present your music for examination.”

Kira took her mandolin up to the stage and briefly tuned her strings.

“I’m ready.”

“Then begin.”

Kira started off with a simple, silent melody, like the distant tinkling of a musician on the road. The students stopped their chattering. They had to strain their ears to listen. Then she slapped the back of her mandolin three times. Her fingers danced along the strings and the sound of joyful, celebratory music reverberated inside the music hall. Using the mandolin as both a stringed instrument and a drum, she floated from chord to chord, key to key and back again. At times, she held on to a note, bent it until it sounded like it was whistling and crying. Then, just as suddenly as she began, the lively music ended and went back to a wistful, contemplative melody. She ended with three quiet pats on her mandolin.

When the last small echo had vanished from the room, the students rose to their feet shouting and whistling and applauding. Kira lowered her head and bowed. Dizzie hated it, her humility. Kira had played the best music of her career but Dizzie knew all she was doing was sitting up there tallying all the mistakes in her head. It was infuriating for someone like Dizzie who never looked back.

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Chapter 4 (draft 1)

Dizzie raced down the hall, slowing down only to ruffle up Seamus’s already-messy hair. He swatted and hissed like a harassed cat. Dizzie hopped out of the way.

“Is that what you’re going to be after Passage? A custodian?” She walked around the dirty floor, clucking her tongue. “It’s too bad that death maze is going to eat you alive.”

“It’s not a death maze.”

“Tell that to the kids who got lost in there a few years back.”

“Shut up, Dizzie! That’s not true. Why are you always such a liar?”

Dizzie shrugged. “It’s just fun to mess with you. If you didn’t react, I wouldn’t bother.”

“You’re saying it’s my fault?”

She frowned thoughtfully. “Yeah. Pretty much.”

Dizzie grabbed a pear and a heel of bread from the kitchen before leaving. The bread was a bit stale, but she couldn’t have an empty stomach on an exam day.

The University was less than a mile away from the palace district, but Dizzie could see the main tower from the front door. It was the centerpiece of the city of Marca and where the architects and scribes went to study. Dizzie’s classes were in a smaller domed building next to the philosophers’ gardens. It was where the orators, poets, and musicians went. Dizzie was a singer. And a damn good one.

She eyed the sundial in the gardens as she passed. Seven in the morning.

“Right on time.”

As Dizzie swung open the heavy yew door to a circle of several hundred students. The discordant sounds of instruments tuning and singers warming up wafted over her ears. The students taking the exam today were all in the front row. Kira was there, dutifully tuning her mandolin. She frowned and tossed her head to an empty seat next to her.

Rather than joining her, Dizzie winked at Kira and leapt on to the main stage. Her teacher, Madam Hapnes. There were two Madam Hapnes in the University, but this one was much more rigid and imposing than the frail mathematics instructor. So, of course, Dizzie called her “Madam Happiness” instead.

“Contralto Catalano, would you mind taking your seat?”

She cracked her neck. “I’m ready, Madam Happiness. Just give the word.”

“You’ve just arrived. Have you even warmed up your voice?”

“What? Am I going to strain my vocal chords or something?”

Madam Hapnes sighed. “Very well. Silence in the room!”

The screeching and whistling died down.

Dizzie cleared her throat and started out with as high a note as she could muster. Then, she squashed it down, then stretched it out, bellowing a wavering note that sounded something like a swarm of buzzing flies.

Madam Hapnes waved her hand for silence. Dizzie grinned.

“What was that?”

“I call it ‘antimusic.’”

“Not only do you dye your hair and pierce your face like a farm animal, you’ve also decided you want to sound like one.”

The students laughed. Kira put her face in her palm.

“Music doesn’t have to be beautiful, Madam.”

“Why would someone want to listen to ugly music?”

“Because it reflects their lives. And it’s different. It breaks the rules, Madam. It’s important that we break rules and forge ahead.”

“If you think you can break the rules without mastering them first, you’ve got another thing coming, Contralto Catalano. Take a seat.”

“Do I pass?”

“What do you think?”

Dizzie bowed to the students. “Thank you all. I have worked beside you as a peer but now I will stand above you as a master.”

“No, Dizzie. The answer is no. Take a seat. Have an actual song ready next month.” She addressed the room. “I hope you take this as a lesson, especially you new students. Talent is nothing without practiced skill. I will not accept any music outside of the accepted canon. Everything you do in life will be based first on the tenets you learn in this class. If you don’t want to learn them, fine. You’re free to do so. But you’ll never complete your life path that way.

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Chapter 3 (draft 1)

“Alabaster?”

For how big his feet were, the elephant never made much too much noise. That was all fine and well if Seamus was trying to sleep; but if he was trying to find track him down in an enormous two-story museum, that was very bad.

“Alabaster?” Seamus whispered. “Alabaster, I know you can hear me you big, dumb butt. You’ve got ears the size of wheel barrows.”

Seamus cupped his hand around his ears. He heard the slight scrapping of elephant feet on marble down by his parents’ bedroom.

Seamus ran down the hall in bare feet, leaving a trail of dirt behind him. He’d have to clean it all before Mom and Dad got up.

He saw the elephant hiding behind a corner and leapt at him. “Gotcha!”

Alabaster snorted with joy then raised his snout.

“Don’t!”

And he trumpeted. Seamus buried his face in the elephant side. Almost immediately, the door to his parents’ bedroom opened. His mother was carrying a lantern.”

“Seamus, what is going on here?”

“Alabaster was running around.”

“Chemall save me. The sun isn’t even up yet.”

Seamus’s father came out after her, stretching and yawning. “Give it time, dear.”

He kissed her on the cheek. She swatted him away.

“We wouldn’t have this problem if you’d just put that thing in the zoo or sold it to a collecter.”

Seamus pulled himself onto the elephant, holding the old book in the crook of his arm. “No, Mom. I’ve got him. See?”

Alabaster leaned against the wall, almost crushing Seamus’s leg to scratch an itch.

“Hey.” Seamus’s mother walked up and pushed Alabaster away from the wall. “Not in these halls, you.”

Alabaster tossed his trunk.

Seamus’s father grabbed Seamus’s foot.

“Seamus,” he said. “What were you doing outside?”

“Outside?” said his mother. “Past curfew?”

Seamus looked at the floor. “I’ll clean it up.”

His father tapped the book he was holding close to his chest. “You will. But first tell us what happened. Did you take that from the library?”

“Yes.”

His mother walked around the elephant and held out her hands. Seamus reluctantly gave it to her.

“I’ve never seen this ratty book in our collection. Where did you get this so late at night?”

He swallowed, trying to gather enough spit to talk. “Outside. I met the ghost.”

“Ghost?”

“The one Dizzie’s always used to scare me about. The girl who died during the Union War.”

“Does this ghost have a name?”

“No,” he lied. “She just had this book.”

“Venyel Nosek… how did you get this?”

“She… she gave it to me.”

“Venyel Nosek was executed before the Union Wars. These were almost all burned when the Nobles were destroying our culture. Even now, there’s

His father, scratching Alabaster’s side, turned his head. “Gave or borrowed? Which is it, Seamus?”

“Borrowed. She said she’d be back to pick it up.”

His mother and father exchanged a look of confusion. “Well, it’s yours then. But Seamus…” she grabbed his shoulders. “Can I borrow it while you’re cleaning up your mess?”

Seamus frowned at the dirty footprints on the floor. “Okay.”

“Thank you!” She kissed him on the forehead and went back to her room with the lantern, leaving the three of them in the dark.

His father patted Alabaster on the head. “Don’t worry. I’ll take Alabaster back to your room and bring you back some light to work by. Come on, you noisy cow. Waking us all up like that…”

“I can take him.”

“No you can’t. You’ll drag your dirty feet all over the place.”

“Oh. Right.” It was still too early to be thinking.

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