Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Blackmail (excerpt)

Edit: the automatic posting schedule option didn't work so I'm having to post this manually. ;-; I'm very busy at the moment (on holiday in Morocco!) so I likely won't be able to reply to comments/comment on posts yet - hope y'all understand! :D 

Although my bujo schedule tells me I need to post this on the 26th, I thought it would be more fitting that I post this on Halloween (the 31st) instead!

Since I'll be busy by the time this gets posted I decided to set a schedule for this post (I'm actually writing this here on the 22nd).
This may come across as a poetic/confusing excerpt but I chose that for deliberate effect to make it a little more sinister than usual. Enjoy! ^^
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Mysteries and nightmares and fantasies untold… stories of ghosts and stories of lost souls. But who could play the Cloak? asked they.

A chosen victim. Lost in the shadow’s grip. Swallowed by the darkest of fangs.


Silence shattered by a slow melody. A shadow shrouded in oblivion’s sharp essence. A whirlwind of dark vapour reaching out in tendrils, shape shifting into stories of the Dead.

The very presence was cold; colder than the night, colder than the Dark Months… colder than the truth.

Shing! Out came the sword from its sheath.

“There’s no reason to be mad. You couldn’t possibly lay a scratch on me… there is nowhere you could thrust that weak sword.”

An agitated snarl. “What do you want?”

“What do I want? I want something far beyond a secret, far beyond the truth… something that involves an accord.”

“I’m not giving you anything, you trouble-maker! Enemies have no accords.”

“This is different my friend,” whispered the traitor “I am simply inviting you to play with me… If you agree, I will tell you the secrets you most desire… but if you disagree… you will face consequences. Are you with me?”

Who could refuse such an offer? A secret deal with the long-awaited truth revealed… It sounded so simple.

A threatening scowl. “But why choose me? How am I any different from the rest? And who are you?

“I know a lot about you, Amir… and many unrevealed secrets of your deceased relatives… do you wish to join them in their peril… or are you with me?”

The Dead. Those cold, tempting voices. Your brother.

No! Don’t listen to the Rhythms, everyone had said.

Those forgotten promises, scattered like lies. You could sacrifice yourself for another… but then it would become their sacrifice. Better to join… and discover the truth too.

But a sacrifice is still better!

“How can I accept… when I would be dragging everyone with me? You’re a liar, a traitor and you deserve nothing… And why would I join your gang of the Dead? I would be in danger that way… No, you are wrong.”

The persuasion commenced. “You make a fine addition to the Cloak… but I want something more… how should I put it? Ah yes, something more worthy of you… something like… playing with the truth!”

A wrinkle of disgust, covered in doubt. But it came with a heart full of loss and grief.

“I know you have been teaming with the girl… I have observed more than you realise. You desire more than anything to learn about the lost ones! Now it’s time to turn the truth on its head… Once again, are you with me?”

Friday, 13 October 2017

Mother and Daughter (excerpt)

I was meant to post this yesterday according to my new fortnightly post schedule but I was too busy with yesterday's Inktober drawing and couldn't type it all up in time... so here it is! I'll be sure to reply to everyone's comments on both my blogs soon too (I know I keep repeating this ;-;). For this particular except, I chose a theme of three words: "October", "toffee apple" and "wood smoke"

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Whoosh! came the cold south sea breeze, lifting a pile of crumpled leaves, scattering them across the path. Crunch! came my heel as the crackly mess broke against the concrete.

Why is she playing with me? Broken pieces of mysterious clues scattered throughout.

Tap, tap, tap. My polished witch-like shoes marched along the cold, cobbled street and another bitter breeze seeped through my fancy, striped tights. The braids in my dark hair and the smooth, silk dress made me look like I was going to a Halloween disco… but in fact, I was simply taking a stroll down the October market right by the house. To reflect… to reflect on the mind-shattering events of the past week.

My mother was trying to tell me something. But my weakened mind could not glue any clue together and with every step I took, I began to overthink more.

Maybe I’ve forgotten about an important day? Perhaps she means a vital belonging? Or what if I’m in trouble for something?

Endless thoughts circled around my mind, recalling the odd events of yesterday’s disastrous meeting with Nasira and the latest note: the one attached to Kalila’s sacred golden arrow.

He knows.

The dark villain? What good use was that? He had attacked us anyway, note or not that changed nothing!

I soon found myself buying a toffee apple with the few coins I had left in my pocket. I continued to head aimlessly through the crowds of people flocking around the autumn-themed stands all lined up down the long pathway.

Wood smoke drifted from one of the stands opposite, tinged with a scent of salmon. I tasted the sweet, caramelised coating of the toffee apple, my taste buds bursting with flavour. The autumnal, October clouds loomed overhead, occasionally sending a shockwave of freezing air along the wide passage.

All of a sudden, a hand rested softly on my shoulder, scaring the soul out of me. “It is quite a bitter day for someone like you, don’t you think?” said a voice sweetened like honey and all summery, a voice all too familiar.

I was shocked beyond belief at her very presence. “M-mum?”

“You must be cold, my daughter,” she continued, her voice poised and smooth as butter “Why, did you not bring a coat with you? One must be brave to endure the harsh weather of such an unpredictable season!”

“No, I’m fine Mum, but why are you here?” I wondered, my eyes narrowed with concern. My mother hadn’t bothered to visit me in such a long time… so why now all of a sudden?

“That would be because of you, darling… I’m sure you would know what I am talking about,” she replied, clearly hinting the odd notes she had sent me.

“You sent those notes, didn’t you?” I said, knowingly. It had not been hard to put two and two together in the end.

“Yes, I did,” she confessed “But even here, now, I am putting myself in danger just to meet you and tell you this…” With that, she swiftly glanced behind her and stared up ahead in front, far beyond the line of people busily bustling around stalls… almost as if Death himself could appear at any given moment.

Now what could this be about?

“I had my doubts when I went to so many lengths just to pass you the first message at the café,” she murmured softly “I doubted you would understand… Now I’m sure why that is.”

“So what does it all mean?” I cut in, impatient to discover the answer; anxious that time would soon steal my mother’s voice.

“Listen, Fariza dear,” Kalila said briskly “The reason you don’t understand is quite simply because Evil stole your memories from that night… from the mysterious dream you had.”

As she told me this, my mind snapped quickly to that irritating moment one morning when I had called Dad in the room to check for ‘monsters’, when shortly afterwards I had had a strange nightmare but leaving not a single fragrant in my memory… to the point where I had merely tossed the bad thoughts aside like another figment of my imagination. So maybe it was of significance then! “The mysterious dream,” I echoed, deep in thought.

“I saw the vision myself,” Kalila went on “The Time Power boy was in grave danger.”

“Wait… what?” I exclaimed “Whatever do you mean? Evil stole my memories? Amir is in danger? Have I been missing out on these events?”

“Hush!” Kalila whispered, a finger on her lip “Turn to me.”

I did as my mother requested and watched in silence as she gently placed a warm finger on my forehead.

Suddenly, I could sense memories seeping into my mind, all sliding into place one after another. In my mind’s eye I could see Amir himself in a dangerous, dark room facing Evil himself, all on his own.


“Who are you really? What’s the catch? Tell me what you want or I’ll slice you to pieces.”

“Oh, but you wouldn’t, would you?”

“This can’t go on,”

“Oh it can, so long as I’m in control! The Power of Evil is more powerful than any of the others… not even Time proved to be a good match.”


The threatening sword. Evil’s cackling. Amir’s agonising screams.

My heart skipped a beat and my hand instinctively flew to my chest. The nightmare had been more than just the slow chant of my imagination and as I stared into space even more memories of that painful dream came flouncing in like a dagger piercing the heart.

“What happened to him?” I whispered, faintly.

“Your friend would know the answer to that,” Kalila answered simply.

“Which friend?” I asked, confused, a long list of friends popping into my mind.

“The one you met yesterday,” Kalila recalled.

Nasira? She was hardly a friend! I’d say more of an acquaintance… besides, she was far too bossy to even be considered anyone close to me.

“Anyway,” Kalila moved on “It’s quite rare that you had, ah, a dream bond with this Amir… such a thing does not happen very often. I think you two make an exquisite… duo.”

I began to blush as I realized that my mother was clearly hinting on something far beyond just a duo… granted, Amir may be very fine and handsome… perhaps I did fancy him… but no, I was sure a simple crush would not expand any further than that. Besides, what did Amir want with a girl like me of all people? I could barely handle a bow! Although no way would I admit that…

I tossed my toffee apple stick into a nearby bin and gazed at a stand opposite selling sweet-scented chocolate truffles and chocolate and orange bites… it looked like a pick-and-mix with a trick-or-treat Halloween theme and I regretted having used up the last of my spare change.

But there, like when I was little, my mother was already choosing a selection of tasty white chocolate and raspberry truffles, with milk flaked ones and those scrumptious chocolate and orange bites.

“Here, sweetheart,” she smiled sweetly, handing over the bag of goodies.

“Enjoy!” said the elderly lady cheerfully behind the stand.

I was suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of extreme childhood happiness fluttering over me like summer butterflies. Had my mother just bought me chocolates? The Love and Beauty Poweress herself, Kalila?

“Oh, thank you Mum!” I marveled, buzzing inside.

We continued to walk on further down the busy market and I pointed out a vibrant array of soaps, perfumes, incense and spicy fragrances such as apple and cinnamon, commenting that it would be nice if Dad were with us. Or even if Kalila could visit us at the house… just one day, one perfect day.

But I realized my words had drifted on the wind as my mother was no longer behind me. She had vanished like the quickly extinguished short-lived flame. All of a sudden, the mood in the air seemed dark, dull, empty. A deep longingness hung in my heart, like every time I had had that opportunity to meet my own mother, just for that one, brief moment… and then she would disappear.

I looked into the open and at my bag of unfinished treats and decided to head home.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Disguise (excerpt)

I'm back already with another excerpt! (And kind of regretting this strict September schedule I set for myself.) Once again, this is a pretty long excerpt narrated by Nasira, the spy from Raven. Here we learn that she's a passionate video gamer and that from her perspective, Fariza is just very extra. xD

Enjoy! <3
---
 
Game over. The Big Boss was victorious once again. How many times had this already happened again? Oh yes, half a dozen trials already. And it didn’t seem as if I were any close to a victory… But someone had to lose, didn’t they? It seemed quite fitting that person would be me. Did I even have any skill left anyway?

“Dumb game,” I snarled, letting my controller fly across the miniscule room. I kicked the bean bag aside and marched over to the tall window where I had a great view of the ugly, grey street below. My mood reflected that of the fierce, unfriendly clouds above, that were threatening to tumble down rain.

Suddenly, I could hear my phone playing its upbeat ringtone from the messy desk by my crammed bed in the corner. Now, who would be calling at lunch? I wondered.

“Nasira here, who’s calling?”

“Good day, it’s Fariza…”

Fariza?

“Why, good morning, so what is it you want?”

I began to wonder if that sounded a little sarcastic.

“I, um, you know, I was thinking about our last call where you asked me if everything was… alright…”

Had she re-considered then?

“Oh, something wrong?”

“Well no, not exactly, but there’s this weird note I wanted to ask you about… maybe you know something!”

“A note?”

“Yes, a note, it’s an anonymous one apparently… the sender has asked me if I have forgotten something, but I don’t know what.”

What could that mean?

“I don’t understand… an anonymous person gave you a note asking if you had forgotten something?”

The words ‘are you okay’ seemed to have taken on a completely different meaning.

“Yes, it simply says ‘did you forget?’ and came with my napkin at a café.”

At this, I snorted. It sounded like Fariza was pulling my leg. “Fariza, listen, I don’t have time for games like this… don’t you think it was just someone playing a prank on you or simply the cashier at the till-…”

“No,” she answered firmly. There was a hint of innocence in her voice that confirmed this mystery was something far beyond my suggestion and perhaps something she didn’t like to discuss on a phone line.

“Tell you what, how about we meet up?” I suggested quickly. I wasn’t actually keen on meeting up with the little pest Shams had described, however. Besides, Mum would have lunch ready soon and she didn’t like eating on her own… especially not when I was on half term break.

“What a great idea!” she blurted “How about you come over? I’m sure my dad won’t mine, he always has guests over, and I can arrange his chauffeur to pick you up… that is, if your mum agrees.”

His chauffeur. I tried to imagine Shams agreeing to pick me up and pretending he had never met me before.

“No, no, nothing fancy!” I tried to say politely, putting on my best chuckle “Why not a quick walk along the beach? I haven’t had a proper walk in a while, I think it would do my muscles well too.”

That was partly untrue, in fact. Mum had sent me on several odd errands to the shops and back in the past week and it had even driven away the chalky colour on my cheeks.

I marched down the hallway towards the kitchen which was filled with the delicious smell of an Egyptian dish my mother was cooking for the both of us; something I regretted abandoning.

Mum! I’m quickly going down to the pier to meet a school friend, she’s in Brighton for the day,” I called out with a rushed tone.

“But habibti!” she exclaimed “I will have lunch served in a moment… why, is it Selina?”

“No, it’s someone else, another one of our friends,” I lied.

“Very well, I’ll have to keep your lunch warm… you will be quick won’t you? The pier is quite a long walk from here! You aren’t up to anything are you?”

“No, mum… I won’t be long!” I promised.

Hastily, I fiddled with my shoe laces, grabbed a rain coat and rushed out of the front door with my phone stuffed in the pocket. Indeed, Mum was right; the pier was quite a walk and I’d have to run to make it on time to see Fariza. What could this note be she was talking about anyway?

Fariza was already waiting by the pier by the time I arrived. She was standing by Shams in an expensive-looking black dress embroidered with gold thread patterns and tall, leather laced-up boots. Her thick, dark hair was pulled into a complicated, elegant bun equipped with long, golden hairpins and to add icing to the cake, she appeared to be licking a large, double-scoop raspberry and vanilla ice cream in a big, melted chocolate waffle cone. Why the fuss?

As soon as I was in sight, she dismissed the chauffeur and slung her arm through mine. Just looking at her chic glamour compared to my cheap hoodie with the faded jeans and tatty trainers made me feel much like the garbage dump round the back of the posh Italian diner in town. Quite frankly, her presence made me feel unnecessarily intimidated. Did she really have to present her rich lifestyle as a trophy in front of me?

“Do you fancy an ice cream?” she asked abruptly “We could walk down to the parlour if you like? They have such a great range of ice creams!”

“Oh… no thanks, I just had lunch,” I replied quickly. Quite truthfully, however, I felt I could kill for Mum’s scrumptious meal back at home… which was going cold for sure as we spoke. “So about this note you wanted to discuss?” I added, more to the point.

Fariza glanced at the crowd mobbing us eager to enter the pier. “…Yes,” she answered simply.

We continued down the sidewalk overlooking the cloudy sea, Fariza fingering her limited-edition Chanel handbag, as if aware of the roaming pick-pockets or perhaps even Dark Lord himself, I couldn’t tell. She moved on to re-explain that the note had somehow randomly appeared on a café outing with Shams. This time, I listened intently as she fantasised over everything from start to finish, sprinkling in a couple of her own thoughts and opinions for flavour.

She began to whisper. “It seems like it could be something dark villain-related… uh, I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard about that morbid man haven’t you?”

“He calls himself Dark Lord,” I corrected.

“Yes, well, whatever,” she continued “Him. I’m pretty sure he’s set me up or something, don’t you?”

“Well,” I answered, thoughtfully, lining up behind her as we passed a crowd of transfer students “Surely there’s something you know?”

“I’ve thought about it for hours!” she sighed, clearly exasperated “And nothing comes to mind. I even asked the chauffeur, he’s from the Light Power by the way, but the ignorant fool doesn’t want to have anything to do with it!”

Just as Shams had told me: they didn’t get along.

“Nothing?” I insisted “Nothing at all? And you expect me to know something? Well, I’d say this conversation is going a bit dead-end… I’d better talk to you about something else. You know Amir?”

All of a sudden, there seemed to be a tension in the air, something dark and mysterious. Even the crowds around us seemed to loosen and fade.

“Y-yes, Amir! From the clan, I’ve heard about him,” she hesitated, clearly not keen on talking about him.

I pondered this, thinking about what Shams had told me and that if I hadn’t discovered about their interactions, neither of them would have discussed it. “You’ve met him, haven’t you?”

“What?” she answered, in that innocent tone of hers “Well, yes, briefly I suppose… but how did you know?”

“I know a lot more than you would comprehend,” I confessed “A lot that I can’t discuss with you right now… Anyway, it’s best you kept away from him. As the last person from the power of Time, he’s a significant danger to everyone around him and a lot more threatening than you would understand.”

At this, she seemed desperate to hide the pouty princess face Shams had described. But then she decided to agree… or seemed to agree for that matter. “There was an incident…” she admitted and re-told me the similar story Shams had already informed me about, but from her own perspective. I could sense the butter and icing in her voice that made the encounter with Dark Lord all but a simple accident; as if she were innocent prey that had unintentionally found itself in a hunter’s evil trap.

The crowds wrapped around us soon retreated and we found ourselves marching in duet under the grey smog of clouds encircling the city like a pent-up serpent. Now, Fariza had moved on enthusiastically to tell me all about where exactly she lived, her father’s business and the posh private school for rich students that she attended; during this endless uninteresting conversation, I did my very best to listen politely as my mother had taught me, while truly considering how cold my favourite dish back home would be now… how long had it been?

“-There’s also this nasty, snobby girl in my class called Rachel and she’s always picking on-…”

Thwack!

My eyes widened, fixed with terror. I grasped at my hidden weapon. “Get down!” I barked at Fariza as I rapidly studied the arrow that had pierced the ground an inch in front of her feet. She was pale with shock but quickly ducked behind a trash can.

“Hold on,” I frowned, plucking the golden arrow from the ground. It appeared to have a knotted string with a note attached. Yes. Another note.

He knows.

“False alarm… I think,” I said and she rose hesitantly from her place behind the litter to come by my side.

“What’s that?” Fariza panted, out of breath.

“It came with the arrow,” I explained, eyes narrowed “I don’t understand…”

I glanced hesitantly at our now sinister surroundings, at the deserted area of the sidewalk we were in and at the ominous looming clouds above our heads. It’s got to be a trap, I thought.

Fariza studied the arrow and gasped. “Th-that’s my mother’s! It’s one of great Kalila’s arrows!”

Suddenly, I could hear distinct click-clack rhythms and knew only too well. I felt frozen in place.

“Oh no…” I murmured. Fariza’s nails began to dig sharply into my arm as she, too, realised the truth.

“Give me those,” I snapped, grabbing the evidence and scanning again our immediate surroundings.

He could be anywhere. They said Dark Lord could appear and disappear within the fraction of a second.

“I-it’s him!” Fariza whimpered as the mysterious rhythms continued to tick like the song of a grandfather clock.

Sure enough, just like the cuckoo at every hour, there was a cold whoosh and we turned to face the danger and darkness behind.

It was Dark Lord in the flesh. My heart thumped in my chest, begging to soar free. There was the distinct jingle-jangle of the sinister, silver chains at his waist and the dark shadows whirled and evaporated around him as if deep in the graveyard. I backed away, Fariza clinging tightly to my arm like a cub next to its mother, about to confront the predator.

“You’re back then,” I tried to say bravely.

But Dark Lord didn’t answer, just towered over me in his pitch-black cloak and shadowy, obscured mask, beneath its dark hood. Fariza had ducked behind the bus stop shelter, obviously tapping away on her phone to call for help.

I gritted my teeth and stared angrily at the monster before us, with the same look on my face I had whilst playing the Boss in that addictive video game. “What do you want now?” I snarled.

He continued to face me, however, paused from motion. I began to wonder if he had frozen dead but then I glimpsed at the eerie, dangling chains looped around his wrist. My eyes frozen in place, I grasped for my dagger. I could have sworn those chains had been tied to his waist instead just a second ago! Was this an illusion?

I wanted to attack, but knew I couldn’t. Dark Lord was like a snake; if you didn’t move, he would halt, but if you shifted a millimetre, the jaws would snap you alive. I continued to stare at him; he continued to stare back at me. We were in deadlock.

Just then, a whizz of an arrow sliced through the air and stung the ground in front of my enemy. At the sight of it, Dark Lord recoiled, the smoky-black shadows following him, but he kept his guard. Then, another golden arrow hit, this time a bit closer. Before the notorious assassin could react himself, there came a high-pitched siren of car horn blares, getting louder as the jet-black limousine pulled up by the hotel opposite. The driver rolled down the window and there, was Shams, with his on trend sunglasses and sleek, dark hair with a full paper coffee cup. Quite frankly, he looked like he was starring the latest promotion for Dior, something very unfit for a serious situation. “Get in!” he commanded and Fariza raced across the road without a word.

Just as I was about to follow, a chain licked around my ankle and I was pulled to the ground. A shiver shot through my corpse, shaking away any hopes of escaping.

Come back,” hissed a creepy voice and I realised the evil beast had spoken. As I was being dragged toward the villain, I realised with alarm that his voice… sounded eerily familiar… only I couldn’t fixate from where. Especially not now, not when I was about to die.

Several more arrows rained from the sky, fixed on blank areas with pure precision. Dark Lord seemed to realise who this was and only tugged harder against my movements. My dagger failed to slice through the rock-hard chains. I pulled with all my might, sweat trickling along with prickly goose bumps raised on my skin.

Nasira!” Fariza yelled from the window, panic-stricken.

Oh it’s dark. It’s so dark.

No. Those rhythms! I can’t listen to them!

Give up now… it’s so late. It’s so cold.

My heart ached. Part of me wanted to give in; but the other part remembered. Give up… Just as I had done in those video games when… when it was too late…

His force is so strong… Give up now…

Give up now? No. It’s time to resist.

In sudden rage, I grabbed my dagger and lunged it at the cold beast. There was just enough momentum in it to dig into Dark Lord’s leg and he dropped the long chain from our tug-of-war, stumbling backwards. As if the space around us wasn’t already shadowed over, more dark steam rolled and uncurled around Dark Lord as if on a theatrical set.

I seized this moment to fiddle with the chain looped around my ankle and with one last tug, the dangerous craftwork came loose. My dagger flew back into my palm. Free at last! I sprinted across the street without checking for cars and dived into the back of the limo, breathlessly bursting out my address to Shams as if I were calling the emergency services.

It was slightly embarrassing. I almost slipped by referring to my ally with his name. Fariza couldn’t be bothered to introduce me to the chauffeur, however, and didn’t utter a word to him either.

I glanced out of the shaded window to the sidewalk as it blurred by and wondered if the Poweress Kalila would still be taking on Dark Lord herself. No, I considered. There would be no point. I knew that, because we had a secret rule that no one should harm Dark Lord’s victim – for starters, we had no idea who it was. That had occurred to me when I threw my dagger at him, but surreptitiously I knew that it couldn’t be anyone close to me, could it? I valued my life more than that and would never succumb to defeat. Besides, the victim could only be someone weak and worthless.

I watched timidly as Shams arrived at the apartment block where I lived. I began to wonder what my mother would say.

“Here?” he asked, although he knew very well it was where I lived.

“Yes, thanks very much and have a good day!” I said to Fariza as she tapped away busily on her phone. I slid out of the vehicle, wincing as I hit the harsh bruises on my legs, muscles screaming.

I watched disappointedly as the limousine rolled on down the street, a cold breeze following, and turned to press the doorbell to our flat.

“You’re late!” my mother mused, oblivious to my injuries. “You’ll have to re-heat your lunch… how did it go anyway?”

My thoughts weren’t on the Kushari dish Mum had prepared though; instead, I was filled with regret…

Kalila had warned us as Dark Lord had heard every little rumour of our foolish conversation, from the mysterious note to where Fariza lived; this sort of information would be valuable to the enemy. I resented Fariza for chatting on about her address and the school gossip and even myself for mentioning Amir, our other target.

After my late lunch, I slunk back to the PlayStation for more of the annoying yet addictive video game. Somehow, I could escape Dark Lord but not overcome the villain of the game. Perhaps the real horrors in life were nowhere near the villains in video games… or maybe the skills of real-life warriors were very unlike those of professional gamers. Whatever the case, I was uncannily grateful to the Big Boss for stoking up my rage towards the real enemy.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Movie Review - The Last Samurai

Recently over the summer holidays I bought a couple of DVDs to watch and one of them was The Last Samurai, which I'd discovered after searching for live-action movies along the themes of martial arts and East Asian culture like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It was absolutely amazing and I really enjoyed it! I had no idea I would write a movie review for it but afterwards I felt compelled to so.
 
 
Movie title: The Last Samurai
Rate: 5 stars

Summary:
The Last Samurai tells the moving story of the expertly-trained and experienced Captain Nathan Algren, a former military officer from the US. He is told he would be best suited to training an incompetent Japanese army, preparing to fight for the government, in order to suppress the traditional Samurai ways and welcome more Westernisation.

Their first battle turns into a disaster, further proving that the amateur army is no match against the skilful, strategic samurais, who appear out of the blue like ghosts from the dark to attack. Throughout the catastrophic combat, Algren proves himself more worthy than his men when single-handedly taking out the samurais attempting to assassinate him; he is surprisingly saved by the leader of the samurais, the stoic and daring Katsumoto himself.

Algren is captured and taken away by the samurais to live among them, at Katsumoto’s request. He slowly builds up sympathy and deep loyalty to them and their customs, learning to fight alongside these warriors.

Soon, Algren is set free and realises that the once-amateur army is now a well-prepared and equipped one, much unlike the one he tried to train before. Furthermore, he is troubled between his conflicting loyalty for two opposing sides: the army or the samurais.

 
My review:
This movie was a powerful and dramatic, action-packed ride with stunning visuals, excellent fighting montages and an emotional storyline. It gives an engaging insight into the samurais and the exquisite aesthetic of Japan, simultaneously performing an interesting task of favouring the traditional heritage of Japanese culture, rather than the inflicting side of Westernisation.

At the beginning, I wasn’t too keen on Algren’s bad-tempered personality, his character being deeply troubled and affected by trauma, but he later became greatly likeable as he lived among the Samurais; learning to forgive himself for his past self’s wrong deeds and finding peace in their land.

However, my favourite character was most definitely Katsumoto, a great leader who is faithful to his people; positioning himself stoically as a strong predator not prey, always skilled in having a strategy for each and every moment. He is admirable for his bravery and collected, nonchalant temperament, having an eye for Algren’s potential despite participating with their rival.

Not to mention, I couldn’t possibly write this review without mentioning Taka: a tenacious and passionate widow who didn’t engage with brute force, but was formidable in the sense that she persisted through hardship and adversity after losing her husband in a duel with Algren – who later apologises using the Japanese words he learned during his stay, but she forgives him in an honourable manner, mentioning truthfully that they have both performed their duties.

The film is very intriguing overall, the way it portrays the rebellion from the sentimental Samurais’ perspective, following their daily lives through the path of Algren and his descriptive journal; their existence lasting like that of the fleeting flowers on a cherry blossom tree.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Espionage (excerpt)


I'll save my usual introduction text until the end so I don't spoil anything. xD I'll definitely get to everyone else's posts soon! :) 
---

"I’ve been dragged all over town by that little brat like a doll all week long and it’s been doing my head in I’ll have you know… it had better be worth it,”

“All that matters is that you’re doing the job; we need more information,”

“Hm… but it isn’t really going anywhere apart from into problems is it?”

“And she hasn’t noticed anything, has she, you say?”

“Not that I know of,”
"Heh, that girl knows nothing,”

In the corner of my eye, I could glimpse the sun dipping in the blue, cluttered-with-clouds sky from the balcony windows where we were, several storeys high, and it made me realise that I would have to be heading off home pretty soon. Better make this quick.


“Shams, you haven’t leaked any confidential information to her have you?” I asked, glancing at the scribbled details in my notebook.

“Not even the slightest,” he assured “She’s still naïve; she wouldn’t know anything.”

I sighed, slouching in my position on the couch. “Good… but none of this really leads us anywhere does it? Raven hasn’t discovered any valuable information these past few weeks. All we know is that things are becoming rather tense and critical.”

Shams continued to pace the room, deep in thought. Clueless, he succumbed to defeat and dropped onto the couch next to me to finish his espresso.

I strided over to the large balcony windows, hands behind my back. I felt myself at a dead end. Without any information, this whole plot was worthless.

Shams glanced at me from his position on the couch, his mind empty of strategies. “Any ideas?”

I frowned, taking another glimpse at the clock. It had already gone five o’clock?

“Shams, I’d better go; my mum will have dinner ready and she doesn’t know I’m here.”

“Very well… Call if you need me,” he concluded, tossing his empty coffee cup into the paper basket.

But Mum never had dinner prepared this early. And I wasn’t one for aimless plans.

Home was just over a mile away from the office blocks… I wasn’t headed there however. How about we pay Amir another visit?

It wasn’t until half-past when I finally reached the posh street where Amir’s fancy mansion was situated and it already felt dark and bitterly cold.

Right on cue, I heard a ring in my pocket. It was Mum. “Yes?” I answered.

“Nasira, where have you been dear? I didn’t think a short shopping trip would take so long… is everything okay?” Mum rambled. She always tried to hide the fact that she was often a little overprotective of me… although not particularly well.

“Yes I’m fine, I just ran into a friend so I’m a bit delayed… be back soon!” I was crafty at bending the truth to my will.

I slid the phone away in the back pocket and proceeded to wander towards the front gate. It wasn’t a very tall gate. In fact, it was about the same height as me: quite tall but short enough to allow me to be up and over it in a matter of a second.

The white, marble mansion stood at an intimidating height of three floors. I often wondered why it was this humongous. The property had once housed Amir’s older brother and parents… but no longer. It was now reduced to just Amir living with his guardian and two maids, doing their best to protect him from the danger that tore down his family… yes, that danger. A pity.

As I scurried round the side of the house towards the back, I desperately had an urge to find a way to cut off the light supply around the base… was it really necessary to showcase the mansion like this? I could be caught. And I knew very well that there would be dire circumstances. Couldn’t consider any of that now…

I reached the portico round the back and began scaling it. I’d done this so many times before I knew every nook and cranny better than the back of my palm. The pole was high. I slipped a couple of times and my heart was in my mouth as I landed on the paved backyard with a loud clang on one of the large floor tiles. I waited silently. All this money and they can’t even fix this fault?

Thankfully, no one had heard and I successfully scrambled up to the balcony overlooking the grand garden.

I felt like an underprivileged person every time I visited; I always did. Where my brother, mother and I had lived together in a cramped flat our whole lives, Amir was living in a great mansion all to himself.

Pushing my resent aside, I slid into the shadows, peeking through the wide windows inside. I double-checked. Nothing. I couldn’t risk being seen. My anxiety nagged at me mercilessly, pleading me to leave this danger alone. But I’d gotten so far… why go back now?

My eye-sight fixated onto an item on the windowsill. It was the pink that lured me... Not that I liked pink, but I knew it wasn’t a feature on Amir’s colour palette. It was a card. And as I glimpsed at the text inside, I realised it was from Fariza. Our target. There, in big, curly handwriting was her name signed off at the end. My head whirled as I tried to interpret what that meant.

It was that very moment that I heard muffled sounds inside. The door clicked. I hesitated. Light began to filter into the dark room as I dive-bombed off the portico onto the hard tiles below just in time. It was a rough landing and my leg screamed in agony but there wasn’t time to take care of that. I slipped behind the pole of the portico just as the scarlet, velvety curtains slid shut, locking away any extra evidence I had just discovered.

I dashed round to the front gate, proud as a gull who had just caught the best yield of fish for lunch. Raven was victorious this time. I had at last found us some valuable information no one could be disappointed with… how could I not have pieced it together before?

The street lamps were glowing like fireflies in the dark. I followed them down to the end of the street, occasionally taking quick glimpses back at the property in which I had just stalked. It would be a long walk home and I was sure my mother would be curious by now, bumping into a friend or not…

Meanwhile, I reached the long street that would take me directly to the road where our flat was situated. The streets were bustling with hordes of dolled up people wishing to have a night out at the Italian diner on my side of the road. Others appeared to be purchasing their supper from the neon red and flashy yellow take-away restaurants. I felt like a shadow passing through a bright commotion, much like how a ghost would feel in an open city.

As I was just passing the grand entrance to the posh Italian restaurant, I heard odd faint sounds. It seemed to be emerging from the passageway round the back. I paused as the undecipherable chorus commenced more noticeably this time, causing me to retrace my footsteps. I listened.  

No, that was no ordinary sound. It sounded like… a rhythm, a lullaby… it was creaking, as if the notes were being created by a wound up music box, the kind a small child would have. Now who would have turned that on?

I narrowed my eyes, advancing down the narrow passageway towards the garbage bins round the back, my right hand beginning to wrap around the dagger strapped at my waist.

I had been instructed to strictly not interfere with regulars. But regulars didn’t play sinister pranks like this… did they?

The lullaby continued to play, rising in amplitude as I crept further. Halfway down the cramped pathway, my boot carelessly crunched into a plastic bottle. I recoiled, my stomach flipped and I drew in a sharp inhale of breath, my heart hammering in my chest. I considered bolting away to the safety of the public just behind me. But my curiosity urged me on.

I reached the end of the passage. There, behind the wall on my left, would be where the music box was. Right on cue, the music ceased. Clearly, the key would have to be wound round again. I glanced behind me and turned my gaze back… should I…?

Just as I was about to pull out my dagger and peer behind the wall, a sharp blow was sent to my head, knocking me forwards onto my knees next to the mysterious music box.

A shiver electrocuted my spine and I whipped my head round to face the horrors behind me.

Boo,” said a silhouetted figure from behind. The shadows evaporated and revealed the one person on the very planet I did not need to see right now.

My head spun like a rocking boat battling against the strong currents of the ocean. I was toast.

“You and I have some talking to do,” Amaya revealed in an ironic flat tone that almost sent my soul away.

“Why’s that?” I asked foolishly.

“You didn’t meet our deal,” she hissed angrily through clenched teeth “You know very well why!”

Perhaps she simply enjoyed playing cat and mouse… But I could make that cat and cat for her. Besides, it didn’t matter what I did; I was already dead. “A deal you say?” I said provokingly “I think you’ve dishonoured your father countless times in the past… I doubt you’d know what a deal really is…”

Amaya’s nostrils flared and she began to clench her fists. She knew quite well it was the truth; she knew she wasn’t at all the perfect apprentice her father desired her to be.

“That’s none of your business, do not change the subject!” she snapped, her eyes narrowing as vicious as a feline about to catch its prey.

Despite my courage, I could feel it gradually melting away with Amaya’s intimidating stare fixed on me, her eagle-like eyes practically piercing through mine.

I decided to engage with my rival by pushing myself towards a higher status through my speech. “Your dad uses you like a pawn, don’t you realise? Asides from reporting the gossip straight back to him, how else will you benefit from it anyway?” I pointed out.

She gritted her teeth, unsheathed her dagger and threw me back against the wall, leaving me in a gasping fit with the sharp, shiny blade at my throat. This is it, I thought, this is my end.

“If you don’t give me the information I requested, I will kill you, understand?” she threatened, her hot, nasty breath on my cheek.

“How do you know I even have the information?” I choked, feebly, my eye on the dagger. “We agreed I’d report back to you when I had the information, not before.”

She sneered. “I followed you to that house you just visited. And I know you’ve discovered something.”

“Discovered what?” I said, squinting. I was beginning to feel a little irritated with her trusty dagger pressed against my flesh. A small nudge from behind and she would cut me.

“You know what I mean,” Amara barked, clearly annoyed.

“Alright,” I confessed, forcing a hint of succumbing in my voice. “Release your weapon and I’ll tell you.”

She hesitated, but smirked and let me loose. “Tell me, then.”

“Look, I haven’t discovered anything you need to know about since we last met, I swear.” I confessed, surreptitiously wishing this wouldn’t trigger her stormy ferocity.

If anything, this drew out her anger, smooth as a card sliding out of its pack. Amaya discarded her dagger and threw her fist at my face. I ducked just in time to see it hit the hard, brick wall behind me, where my head had just been. “Liar!” she growled and unleashed her dagger at the same time as I did.

There were a few moments of utter violence, kicking and thrashing and sparring with each other’s daggers. Amaya was deadly and merciless, keen on trapping me back into a position from which I would not be able to escape.

As if playing a game of chess, she successfully cornered me by the large wheelie bins which were surrounded by a mound of rubble and rubbish. Checkmate. How foolish I had been to not think this out strategically! Karima would be ashamed if I recounted this to her… assuming I lived.

“I have you now,” she cackled in her vampire-ish voice, sending cold chills vibrating through my body. I was as helpless as a fish caught in a net… should I lie? Lying never gets you anywhere, Karima had always told me.

I was good as dead. Amaya didn’t take prisoners. For a moment, I hoped I was only dreaming a nightmare that had somehow knitted together an impossible reality. I pressed myself against the wall as if that would shelter me any further.

“You’d best be regretting your decisions now,” Amaya said, her firm grip on me, ready to strike her kill.

No! I squeezed my eyes shut.

As if in a dream, a deep voice exploded by the eerie music box. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he said and my eyes fluttered open.* Amaya loosened her grip on me for a second and found herself violently thrown amongst the trash littered on the ground at my feet.

Huh?!” Amaya cried out, the tip of a sword suddenly at her throat. Shams scorned, staring pitilessly at his prey now squirming like a rat in the claws of its predator. “Shame to abandon my coffee but I had business to attend to.”

I rearranged my dagger into a more comfortable grip in my palm. “Nice one, Shams,” I snickered. “Perhaps Amaya would like to be stripped of her abilities?”

But that only seemed to trigger an undesirable response. In the matter of a second, Amaya rolled in the dirt away from the point of Shams’s blade and disintegrated into a cloud of black smoke, choking the both of us like coughing gas. Reacting far too late, my dagger pierced the ground where Amaya’s body had once been before she performed her magic trick.

“Coward,” Shams grunted “I had her there. The little pawn has nothing but her daddy’s super powers to escape.”

Shams was right. When Amaya had turned fifteen her father, the Death and Darkness Power himself, had given her a powerful ruby amulet that granted her the power to perform dark magic. Unless the ruby was smashed, she could appear and disappear according to her will. I had stupidly forgotten.

“I have a lot to tell you,” I sighed, exhausted from all the events that had just occurred. My muscles drooped and ached as if I had just solo climbed a mountain.

Shams raised his brow. “I knew for sure you wouldn’t head home. I followed you to that rich kid’s house and all the way back… you don’t ever give in, do you?”

I shrugged. “Just doing my job. Looks like I’m being tagged along by ducklings.”

“Well, I’ll have you know I have a coffee in the car going cold… And I’m certain your mother won’t be impressed by your latest antics madam,” Shams said in a very matter-of-fact manner as if nothing unusual had just happened. “I suppose you’d like a lift?” he added.

I gave a lopsided smile. “Yeah, that would be great thanks… oh, and thanks for the life saver.”

“Don’t mention it,” he murmured, kicking the strange music box aside “We’d better go then.”  

Shams allowed me to sit in the front of his Mercedes. Strapping on my seatbelt, I glanced at his chilly beverage reluctantly. “I don’t suppose you’d like me to replace that for you?” I asked, dumping the rucksack containing the milk my mother had requested on the floor of the vehicle. I flinched as I nudged one of the sharp bruises on my leg.

“Not a problem,” he said between a sip and revving the engine “I drink iced coffee sometimes.” He sure was a coffee-aholic… if that was even a thing.

“Shams, I wanted to tell you something I discovered about that girl, Fariza,” I said, changing subjects, as the car advanced slowly through the busy evening streets.

“What’s that?” he demanded with a slight hint of curiosity.

“I found out that she’s in contact with Amir, the other guy we’re tracking,” I said, expecting a surprised response from my acquaintance.

“Oh, the rich kid? She visited him recently… it didn’t go too well.” Shams replied, clearly irritated by the thought.

“She did? What happened?” I questioned.

“Mr. Dark Lord himself appeared,” Shams muttered. “She jumped out of so-called Amir’s bedroom window… oh, and there was this other chauffeur, dumb guy.”

“And?”

“He’s Amir’s chauffeur apparently. Asked me why I’d parked the limousine outside. They have a large drive, but no, they need all the space on the road too! Right on time Daddy’s princess jumped into the back seat and gave orders to go home.”

“Hm, she is pretty spoiled. But what about this chauffeur?”

“Eh, I would have taught the punk to mind his own business but the spoiled brat in the back was driving me mad.”

“No, I mean, do you know him?”

“Ah, I believe I’ve encountered him at the clan in the past… He’s a snob and thinks he’s so posh with his always-ironed uniform and perfect tie… I think he’s a descendent of Fire, weird guy though if you ask me.”

I could tell, however, that Shams was simply resentful of this chauffeur as they shared the same occupation and hence were on the same level. Instead of pondering on that, I began to worry about what my mother would consider in terms of my lateness and how I could possibly hide the truth. On the plus side though, with the information I had uncovered, I perceived that I could further track down Dark Lord and his origins, guiding myself to a better reputation as an agent of Raven.
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*How cliché <8)

This was one of the most exciting excerpts to write and I'm hoping others feel the same about it! I admit it's a tad long (6 pages according to Word) but I felt I needed to give Nasira some justice after neglecting her for so long. I doubt anyone will remember who she is with only the small appearances I gave her in the past but I noticed she had potential as a character and decided to develop her more. Also, Amaya appears a lot in my book series (the one with Selina as the protagonist) and at one point Selina herself falls for Amaya's powers (with the ruby amulet). Please note that Amaya is not to be confused with Fariza's friend, Amara (who I've been meaning to rename). Thanks for reading! <3