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! :) 
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"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.
---
*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

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Dark Mysteries (excerpt)

Here we go, a new excerpt! I made a few miscalculations last time and so there are actually six or seven more excerpts to post after this. (I myself only have two or three left to write.)

Special thanks to my readers/viewers for supporting me, it means so much! <3

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Did you forget?

A flock of sparrows swished by and up over the roof. The sun poked out through a gap in the grey, grimy clouds, followed by a quick cold breeze that swayed my long, dark hair aside and battled with the flaps on my black leather jacket. Perhaps a t-shirt under a motorcycle jacket wasn’t enough to confront this bitter October weather, but that didn’t matter so long as I was only out on my balcony for a quick breath of fresh air.

Besides, the cold wasn’t my concern for now. My mind was still wrapped around the message scribbled on the mysterious note from yesterday’s visit to the café… Why was it still nagging me? Hadn’t Shams’s speculation been enough to drag my concentration from it?

Why is it so sinister?

I sighed and leaned on the railing, gazing helplessly at the golden-gravel driveway and the perfectly trimmed circular hedges at the centre in the view in front of me.

It was true that the driveway was a royalty-perfection (a delightful view from my bedroom) and I lived in such a deluxe mansion, but no matter the luxuries and comforts I was offered, I could still not ever seem to face off that monstrous evil once and for all and that bothered me more than anything. Hence, I couldn’t risk going out like a typical girl of my age, which meant I was failing to lead a normal lifestyle.

The sharp-cold air began to prickle my nose and run chills along my arms. I took one last, quick glance at the freshly-cleaned limousine and proceeded back into my bedroom, locking the double doors behind me.

Who would write such a note, anyway?

I decided to take a stroll around the hair salon on the other side of the house, thinking that perhaps that would be enough to calm the raging waterfall in my head. The truth, however, was that it was the activity I’d set out to do when I had nothing better to do.

My father’s hair salon always appeared to look like a pretty, exquisite parlour with a regularly polished chequered floor and beautiful rose walls with twinkling chandeliers lined along the ceiling. Countless dressing tables with shiny mirrors and bright LEDs criss-crossed their way down the vast room, each busy with a customer and a hairdresser. It was always the sweet vanilla aroma that drifted my mind away to a dream-like wonderland… but this time it didn’t.

It was as if there was a switch in my brain that had been triggered to nag me about something; not just the mysterious note, but something else… and I couldn’t figure out what.

“Why hello, Fari… you okay there, sweetie?” It was Harriet, one of the friendly hairdressers who talked to me the most. She was busy curling intricate ringlets into the blonde hair of a client with the help of another colleague I didn’t know too well.

“I’m okay, you?” unintentionally it came out in a murmur and I wondered if my current mood was the best to carry into a relaxed and refreshed hair salon.

We talked for a while and I awkwardly brought up the subject about the anonymous note. Harriet laughed and encouraged me not to worry about it… which obviously didn’t help a ton. I wanted to ignore it, didn’t I? But somehow it felt important and now a new feeling disturbed me: anxiety.

What if I’m missing something? What if this is deeper than I realise?

“Don’t let a minor thing like that upset you, honey,” she said, lifting a twisted lock of the young woman’s hair to blow-dry it “I’d just treat it like a bad dream.”

My eyes widened for a second. Bad dream. I could almost feel a clicking sensation in my head, so close but so far away.

“Ah, you know, I think I should head back, I have things to do,” I lied.

I raced out the door of the salon, the bell ringing behind me, and sprinted down the pathway back to the house.

Bad dream. That was something, wasn’t it?

I was soon in my bedroom, sitting on a pink-patterned bean bag with a pile of pens and a sketchbook, CBBC playing on the flat-screen TV in front of me. The sun was casting a ray of light onto a page where I had just doodled a little figure… it looked like a miniature version of the Dark Villain and I hadn’t even been meaning to draw it.

Why does everything seem to be leading to the Dark Villain?

I frowned. I paced my room, furiously trying to connect the plugs to their sockets.

Then my eyes fell on the to-do list pinned neatly on my noticeboard. New winter boots was the top item and I suddenly had a flash of memory to the fact that I had been meaning to purchase them all week. I smiled. A good excuse to get Shams.

Shortly, we were soon hurtling downtown, the view outside blurring as Shams sliced his way through the highstreets. I had already barked at him twice – he had gone past a traffic light that had just turned red the second he’d crossed and later very nearly swiped a cyclist off a bike towards a nearby pond. A typical day in the life of Shams.

“Those… young brats,” Shams muttered, gritting his teeth “They couldn’t even bother to look both ways! They could have killed themselves!”

“Or, you were driving like a crazy lunatic and almost flattened them.” I said, my eyes narrowed with distaste. Opinionated chauffeur.

I breathed a sigh of relief as we entered the jam of traffic ahead and Shams was forced to proceed more carefully.

“You’ll bodyguard me in the shop, won’t you? That dumb monster could be there…” I demanded of him, desperately. He didn’t seem convinced. “I’ll give you a coffee after!” I pleaded.

At that, he spoke. “Hm… very well. That is, if you don’t spend hours in there, knowing you. Else, I’ll leave immediately and buy my own coffee thanks.” I could tell he was secretly interested in the deal, however, by the way his dark mood lightened after my invitation.

I hummed and glanced out of the side window briefly before facing the front view and was then alarmed after processing what I had just seen. “Wait, what?” I said aloud, flashing my sight back to my window.

As Shams whizzed by, I repeatedly caught glimpses of several mobs of dark figures that appeared to look like my restless enemy, the Dark Villain, all divided into the busy crowds. I gasped and tried to focus; it was virtually impossible with the kinds of speeds Shams was maintaining.*

“Shams… Shams!”

“Eh, what now?” he grumbled, clearly irritated by the acts of a nearby driver.

My head whirled with disbelief. “Am I hallucinating or are those crowds filled with plenty of Dark Villains?”

“You’re hallucinating,” Shams answered simply, all his focus attentive to the street in front of him.

I let that sink in… maybe he’s right! But then I realized he couldn’t be right, to some extent. He had seen the Dark Villain himself and even attacked the morbid man.

“Just look please! I’m not kidding!” I whispered, eyes narrowed.

“I’m busy,” Shams retorted, unhelpfully “And we’re here now, so you’d better be quick about those shoes if you want me to bodyguard you.”

He parked the limousine and escorted me towards the shopping centre. My only hope was if he could unleash that sword of his assuming my enemy were to make an appearance.

As we approached the shopping centre, my eyes darted around the colourful crowds surrounding us, my vision focused on tracking the slightest signs of the enemy. Every step was another second of trauma and I began to wonder if I even needed these boots so much that I was, to some extent, risking my life.

We were soon examining a rack of various warm winter boots, my attention switching from different lengths and shades of brown to additions of fashionable belts and soft, fluffy wool lining.

Shams became impatient the second I tried on the third pair of boots. But they weren’t good enough; I switched to a fourth pair of expensive laced up ones. He rolled his eyes and pulled out his phone, leaning against a table of neatly piled shoe boxes.

Every time I entered a clothing store, I would be completely switched off from the world, my focus only on the items in front of me; that was perhaps my weakness. The Dark Villain could quite simply infiltrate the shopping centre and I would not know.

I was still there half an hour later, having opened dozens of different shoe boxes in my size and my head was spinning with all of the various choices open to me. Shams was bored stiff. Maybe I should hurry, I mused. He might try to leave any minute now.

I finally settled on a pair of long, leather, laced up boots and an extra pair of short, expensive ranch ones as they were simply too irresistible not to purchase. Shams appeared to be busy texting someone. His phone buzzed. He observed the message and began typing. It must be Dad…

Buzz! Shams examined his screen again. I was about to tell him about my purchase when his eyes widened and he began staring at the message, as if processing what he had just read.

“A-ah we need to head home now!” Shams said, all of a sudden.

“But what about the coffee?” I asked. How could he forget the coffee?

“Never mind the coffee, have you found what you want or what?” he said briskly, tucking the phone away.

“Yes…”

“Let’s go,” he ushered me towards the till.

Ah, Dad must want him back then, I thought. I tried to hide an amused smile as I recognized that I wouldn’t have to buy him coffee.

After hurrying me by the till, Shams led the way back to the limousine, expecting me to follow. I just managed to scrunch the cash back into my purse before he began rushing me towards the exit of the shopping centre.

I barely had a second to click my seatbelt before we began vrooming away downtown and began to wonder if it would have been more pleasant to go on a wild rollercoaster ride.

Well he’s in a rush.

But my attention soon drifted away to the thought that the Dark Villain had not taken his opportunity to confront us on our shopping trip. Not to mention, he had missed another grand chance at the café.

Is he really that wary of Shams now?

Building after building whirled by in a haphazard haze as the limo raced through town, shaking me around mercilessly as if I were a ragdoll spinning in a high-functioning washing machine. Shams was silent.

“Shams, what’s the matter with you, slow down!” I flinched as he slammed the brakes just in front of the red traffic lights.

Undoubtedly, that was the sort of question I could ask any day to Shams and he wouldn’t listen… only now it was far worse since I hadn’t completed my part of the deal and the chauffeur seemed to be troubled by something.

We arrived home in no time. Hurriedly, I snatched the shoe bag by my side and headed towards the front door as Shams slammed his own door shut and locked the vehicle. He rushed after me.

Just as I had thought, Shams marched straight towards my father’s office. I, on the other hand, turned to the stairs to go straight to my bedroom where I could pack my new boots away.

It was there that the note on my desk disturbed me once again. I desperately wanted to tear up that note. But at the same time, something in me told me it was somehow significant. I sighed. I couldn’t keep it forever, could I? It was distressing!

I dumped the shoes down and took a closer look at the now crumpled slip of paper. The scribbled handwriting wasn’t an obvious match to that of a style of someone I knew. The mystery behind it continued to nag me, but with every second I thought about it, I could not be spared a single clue. It was the equivalent of travelling on the edges of a maze without making any progress towards the core. I found myself staring out of my bedroom window at the flock of sparrows in the cold outside.

All of a sudden, my phone began blaring out its ringtone. I scooped it up and skimmed the name tag.

It was Nasira. Nasira of the Moonlight Clan. What on Earth was she calling me now for? I raised a brow and pressed the green button, holding the phone to my ear.

“Yes hello?”

“Nasira here, is that you Fariza?”

“Uh, yes?”

“Great, I don’t have plenty of time right now but I’ve been told that… you are having certain problems am I right?”

“I beg your pardon?” My eyes narrowed. Could she possibly mean the Dark Villain? But if so, who had told her?

She paused a beat, but then answered, “Are you okay then? Nothing too serious or out of hand?”

Clearly she meant the Dark Villain although she didn’t like to say it. I pondered on that… if I did ask for her help then I would essentially be dragging her into the net with me. Hence that could cause all sorts of undesirable issues.

I took another glance at the anonymous note before replying. No. She didn’t deserve this kind of trouble. Better to keep it secret.

“Oh, I’m fine, things are going well thanks, what about you?”

It took her a few seconds to reply as if she were doubtful about what I had said. “Right… well I’m always here if you need me, don’t hesitate to give me a call if anything’s out of order…”

“Of course,”

We hung up and I immediately reflected back on my choices. Without her, I was in this on my own. But thinking on it deeply, it was inadvertently a good sacrifice in order not to drag her into the same mess, or so I told myself. Besides, I still hadn’t gotten over her audacity at saying I couldn’t handle a bow correctly the last time we met. Really! What a nerve.

Whatever the case, I knew I had to sort myself out; if I could not decipher the meaning behind the mysterious message, I still had to discover more about the Dark Villain unless I did turn a blind eye on all of these clues and risk being captured.

One big question still remained, however… why did the Dark Villain want me of all people anyway?

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* who thought the "Dark Villain" was about to appear on a black motorcycle there?