Monday, September 11, 2006

The Unstable Self

About a week ago, I picked up a book entitled "The 3 A.M. Epiphany," a collection of writing exercises focused on playing with technique and style rather than the usual product-focused "Write a story about ..." one tends to see. I've been doing one daily since. (Today's is #8; I'm running late and haven't finished it yet.)

Just to share, this is entry #4, The Unstable Self, in which the exercise is five hundred words where the narrator switches first and third persons. I think this is one exercise that actually says "a story" and I just have a fragment, but ah well. I took one of the book's suggestions, to use italics to differentiate the switch, and decided to switch POVs when the character was communicating with a racial hive-mind:

Sirane communed with the shadows of the canyon, her body braced without tension as she waited for her quarry. The hilt of the long knife lay cool and ready in her palm. She shuddered to herself, knowing there was no other choice: windgiver Leya Srinath had to die, or the blood of her kin would run and never stop until the last drop had been swallowed by the thirsty earth.

I opened my mind to the braided thoughts of my family. “We’re frightened.”
“We have trained ourselves better than any army in the world. We will not fail as long as our hearts are true and sure.”

True and sure, I thought: that was the problem. It was not that I doubted this was necessary, but I had joined the Blade to keep a watch on my body-sister and protect the borders, and never expected to strike a sentient being.

Dust calligraphy rolled down the canyon, dying down after a moment to reveal the small mounted procession. Two guards bare to the waist, their bronze skin flayed by the sun; an elderly cloudreader, her rheumy eyes as white as her hair; and a tall, coal-haired woman with tresses unbound that Sirane recognized as the windgiver. The only female clan leader in three generations, Leya had refused to garb herself as a woman of the clans, but there was no mistaking her for anything else.

Sirane felt a twitter of guilt. Leya had inspired many changes in the clan system and planned more that would have benefited everyone – but there was no time for progress in the face of extinction. She half-stepped onto the ledge above.

“We may fail,” I said to my family, a plea to stave off their wrath.

The reply was warm, understanding, but implacable. “We will not fail. Be strong.”

I did not know how many minds were with me then. It did not matter. I tapped into the wisdom of my forebears and let it flow through my arms, inform my stance, mix and mingle with the training I had received. Their voices whispered in my veins.

One of the guards reined in his sun-white and held out a hand for attention. Sirane edged back and took a running start. She vaulted off the rock and landed with a hard thud on the back of the horse. It reared, tramping in the dust. She grabbed the startled guard’s hand for balance and used the other to slam the blade between his ribs. It was cold, seamless, guided by memories not her own: she dumped the body over and slid forward to catch the reins before anyone could react.

The other guard bellowed and wheeled to confront her. “Mindless cull!”

“How little they understand,” one of my family commented in my head. “Do we see now?”

“We never had doubts,” I bit back as I met the charge. Our blades slammed together. I ducked his second sweep and took him out with the next blow.

“Are we sure?”

Leya had not been idle: holding onto the bridle of the cloudreader’s horse, she thundered away. Sirane kicked her horse after the woman and caught up at a gallop. Her heart jumped into her throat, but she had learned this, too, perhaps better than fighting: how to hamstring an animal.

The mare toppled, and the windgiver was thrown to the ground. Sirane leapt off the side of her borrowed horse and advanced, heart pounding. The blade quivered as she tapped it under the woman’s chin.

Leya’s head came up, her eyes clear and bright. “Don’t listen to them,” she said. “Shut them out.”

Shut them out? My mind whirled with the enormity of it. Sooner tell a person to stop hearing sound, to stop craving water. I started to retreat to the comfort of the braid, then hesitated.

“We have a job to finish, Sirane.”

We. We when it was I, after all, taking the risk, my presence alone out here in the canyon …

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