Tag Archives: passion

#NewyearmoreHim

My wife and I posted a LiveStream video of some instrumental worship songs today.

We played an old favorite of ours, Grace Like Rain (Todd Agnew). Then, we played You Are My All in All (Dennis Jernigan), which was the first church worship song I played and sang once I rededicated my life to Christ shortly after coming to Japan as a young servicemember. Wonderful, Merciful Savior (Selah) is a family favorite of my wife and my mother-in-law, and also a beautiful song that focuses on each Person of the Trinity in turn. Finally, we added in Mary Did You Know (Mark Lowry) mixed with Greensleeves a.k.a. What Child is This, as a final touch of Christmas.

You can find it on our Facebook page, FreeWorship Music.

On top of that, while out for a spontaneous walk today, I remembered a song I’d written years ago that captured how I felt about my spirituality of late. I started singing that softly as I meandered around the neighborhood, and realized it could flow right into Set a Fire (Will Reagan). The wifey and I put together some harmonies and a bit of a round in Set a Fire, while she figured out some violin parts to play in my song.


I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions, nor do I look at January 1st as the magic time to start a gym habit or creative pursuit. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth starting at once, not at some socially-accepted date known and ridiculed as a train wreck of ridiculous but futile effort towards failed self-improvements.

But I did end up starting a couple things near the New Year… Probably because I saw articles about them that were written to suggest or encourage “here’s a neat habit for a resolution.”

I’ve been trying out a Bullet Journal – especially useful since I work in a facility where I can’t bring personal electronics into my office. And I’ve been practicing a version of the Miracle Morning, with a more Christian bent than the vague and flexible option I first found. As part of that, I’ve spent more time in the Bible and in prayer, and it’s both a step in the right direction and toward some personal aspects and characteristics I’ve allowed to languish.

Yesterday, my wife and I caught some of the songs and sermons from Passion 2017. Today, we watched one with our kids, then tried to have a discussion about the message and how to apply it. On top of that, we took time for Communion–something we meant to do but missed at Christmas or New Year’s Eve/Day.

The music, the worship, the message, the ritual–all this we did in remembrance of Him. It felt like reconnecting to what matters in some small ways. It felt good, and right.

Even with cracked matzos on a paper plate and grape juice in tiny Dixie cups.

Lyrics:

I Need More

Only You can meet my deepest needs

Only You fulfill my heart’s desire

I’ve pushed away by doing what I please

But now, O Lord, I welcome Your fire
I want more, more of You in my life

Nothing compares to the joy I find in You

I need more, more of You in my life

And I’ll lay it all down to be closer to You

Nothing I desire, nothing satisfies

It’s You that I require, Your love gives me life

I need more, more of You.
Your love, Lord, is sweeter than wine

A day with You much better than a lifetime all my own

The glory of Your presence so sublime

I find in You much greater joy than I have ever known

 

My life cannot go on without You Lord

Your love sustains me and I desire more

Word More!

I’m always grateful for a little motivation from my friends and co-workers. Whether it’s the question, “So when’s book two coming?” or a simple, “I got a copy of your book the other day,” every little bit helps spur me on to put words to paper.

I’ll say I would write these stories anyway, because I do enjoy the process and the accomplishment. But it’s easy to wonder if anyone cares. 

Then I get a text from an old friend:

 

“Guess what I got in the mail?”

He actually asked, “Think I can get the author to sign it for me?”

The answer of course is yes, gladly.

Another friend, whose feedback has been the most thorough and constructive, said to me, “I’m thinking of writing a story in your world.” He asked as though this was the most arrogant of requests.

I saw it differently. By writing a book, I’ve invited readers into a world that only exists in my head. Someone wants to play in that sandbox? That’s amazing. 

And one of my long-time WoW buds is starting writing. I guess he figured if both Dave and his wife could knock out a book, then anyone can. 

Motivation is everywhere… So I have no excuse but to get those words down. It’s a hardship but I think I’ll be okay.

 

Watt a Bargain!

So I joined WattPad and started a project.

I’ll be honest. At first, I was put off by grammar errors and amateur mistakes. Even more, the commenters who gush over the simplest sentences with “I so get u” and “omg this ^^^ right here” and other such text-style feedback.

Then my wife kindly reminded me that everyone’s on a journey to being a better writer, and any mistakes I see now are only because I’ve had quality writer friends supporting and educating me along the way. I’m guilty of some of the same–if not right now, then certainly in the past.

And let’s face it. Feedback is feedback. If a character, quip, or interaction resonates with a reader, I am happy, whether they tell me, “Poignant and touching; Splendid work” or “oh wow sooooo many feels.” Any connection with a reader is a good thing, and the teen fangirl who says “omg” today is the young adult who clicks “buy” on Amazon tomorrow.

The short stories I’ll be posting in “Pieces” aren’t all new. Many appear somewhere on this blog. But I figure WattPad is another avenue to gain a following, and a fun way of doing so. My “Echoes” story (mentioned in a few previous blogs) will be posted entirely to WattPad.

Plus, my wife’s comment reminded me of the point of all this. WattPad is full of unique content and interesting takes on existing material. It’s a bunch of people who are expressing their passion for good characters and stories. Is that what I find valuable? Is that what excites me? Or is it grammatically correct, properly formatted, everything-just-so writing?

No, the point is to have fun and share the experience with others.

So I went ahead and drew an amateur cover for my project, incorporating scenes of most of the various stories into sections of different puzzles. No, it’s not professional quality. No, it’s not what will garner attention.

But I loved the process of expressing myself through a different medium, and I’m having fun with my own amateur mistake.

Here’s the cover to Pieces:

The cover to my short story compilation on WattPad
The cover to my short story compilation on WattPad

I hope you’ll visit me on WattPad, especially if you have an account and post your own work.

Always Learning

I walked out of my brief doctor’s visit and headed through the lobby to my car. The hospital has a valet service, but I need to walk. After all, I’m going through post-surgery physical therapy, so I don’t use it.

The valet is a young man, maybe in his early 20s. He’s got a sketchpad and pen out, and he has a burly superhero-type man flexing next to a typical comic book female figure (the sort that would make Barbie feel unattractive).

Many visitors don’t take advantage of the valet service. Even when they do, the young man jogs out to retrieve the car, so he ends up with a lot of down time. And he’s using that to hone his skills, to build up his craft as an artist.

That’s worthy of respect. I made sure to catch him and pay him a compliment.

My daughter surprised us last night as she was getting ready for bed. She grabbed her violin and practiced for about five or ten minutes, playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for her brother to help him go to sleep. It didn’t work, but both Mom and I were pleased with her willingness to take a few minutes to practice. She wants to learn, and she shows that dedication in moments like these.

I think of the civilian in my technical school’s chow hall almost 20 years ago. When the customers were intermittent, he always got out a drawing pad and started working on some project, taking advantage of every spare moment, every opportunity.

That’s why I have a notepad or my iPad pretty much everywhere I go. Sitting for 10 minutes with ice on my ankle after physical therapy, I can write the majority of my next A-Z post. Waiting for the doctor, I can jot down a few ideas. When someone in public says something unbelievable, I take a quick note to save it for a future character.

There’s a need for scheduled practice time, just as with any pursuit. But I think one difference between having a hobby and having a passion is that desire to fill every available moment with effort to hone the craft.

Just something I noticed as I walked out the hospital door this morning. What’s your favorite way to take advantage of opportunities throughout the day or week? Maybe it’s a suggestion I, or another reader, will find useful. Let me know in a comment.

Have a blessed Good Friday.

Elements of Critique: Intensity

Yesterday’s post on critiquing hooks talked about looking for a device that creates reader interest and pressing questions at the beginning and end of a piece.

Today, I’m considering what to look for in the middle. Hooks might get me started, but something has to keep me going. There has to be some level of intensity in the piece.

Elmore Leonard put it this way: “Try to leave out the parts readers skip.”

When critiquing a fiction piece or personal account, I’ll look for the conflict between characters and their circumstances. (I could have used that as my ‘c’ post, but constructive criticism is so essential to get right, it trumped conflict for that position.)

A character may struggle with internal conflict due to mutually exclusive values. “I know what I should do… but I know what I want to do to that conniving, rotten scoundrel…”

Interpersonal conflict should be present especially in dialogue. Otherwise, why pit those two characters against each other in a scene? If Bob and Jim are chatting and agreeing about everything, who wants to read that? They should have differing viewpoints on the subject in question, leading to a verbal clash, which keeps intensity high. If they don’t disagree, I suggest using different characters who do.

There’s also environmental conflict, where some circumstance or outside force is creating trouble for the characters in a piece. Maybe that’s an army invading their nation; maybe it’s an impending natural disaster. Something needs to create a constant pressure in order to sustain that intensity. If the reader is breathing easy for a batch of characters, then something should change fast to put them back into peril.

Finally, there might be thematic conflict where the characters and events serve to compare and contrast two ideas or positions. “Justice versus mercy” might be such an example, and for that I’ll point to Les Miserables. Societal ideals or even competing societies might clash to create that intense conflict the reader needs to keep interested.

Truthfully, in a long-length work, all of these can coexist. In a shorter piece, perhaps only one or two, done well, will fit.

The key with intense conflict is ensuring stakes are high. The character’s internal decision must have a profound impact on her life. The arguments between characters should have consequences beyond just a potential loss of friendship. The outside forces creating environmental conflict must matter. There must be a true threat to life as these characters know it.

That’s what I look for in a fiction piece.

In non-fiction writing, it’s more difficult to maintain intensity. Melodrama should be avoided, so everything can’t be the end of the world. “If I didn’t overcome my fear of public speaking, the bomb would explode, destroying the United Nations headquarters and plunging the world into war!”

No, not so much.

In order to consider the intensity of a non-fiction piece, I look for the above conflicts where applicable. Some writing might include true stories where those conflicts can shine and maintain interest.

But more often, I look for the “So what?” to the subject. What is the reader going to get out of this? Does this piece convince me as a hypothetical reader that it has something to say to me, something I need to hear?

If it’s a personal account of overcoming adversity, was the obstacle challenging enough that I can relate my struggles to the writer’s? If it’s an article about health or lifestyle, am I compelled by what the writer says on the subject? Would I even consider changing my ways?

Conflict comes into play here too, but it’s not quite like anything previously mentioned. The conflict for non-fiction is between a writer’s passion and a reader’s apathy. The writing has to make whatever points are necessary to persuade someone to care. It’s like a dialogue in a way, where the writer may have to assume and counter some of the arguments the disinterested reader might make.

No writing is going to be all things to all people, of course. Hoping so would be foolish.

But the biggest facet to intensity in writing is that the piece must mean a lot to the writer, so their passion shines through. Without that, to paraphrase Leonard, we might as well leave out the whole thing.

We’re a third of the way through the A to Z challenge. Thanks for joining me on what started for me as a spontaneous journey. Once I considered how passionate I am about critique group, it became easy to write the series – further proof of the point I’m trying to make in this post.

I’ve hit on several potential problems thus far. So the next two posts will take a turn toward the positive, starting with consideration of the journey we’re all on as writers.

Frozen: Love Worth Dying For

Yesterday I posted (link) this blog about the hidden message some religious people see in Disney’s blockbuster movie Frozen. When we see culture changing all around us, it can be scary. And when we’re scared, we start looking for what we fear, and see it around every corner. Like I said yesterday, I don’t think “homophobia” is the right word. We don’t fear homosexuals. We fear change.

At the end, I promised to share my take on the positive message of the movie. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet (and why haven’t you?) then you can expect some spoilers ahead.

Quick recap if you haven’t seen it:

The gist of the story is that Princess Elsa was born with a magic ability to manipulate ice. As a child she uses this to bring joy to her little sister, Princess Anna. (pronounced ‘Ah-na,’ mind you. My kids correct me all the time.)

Elsa accidentally injures Anna, and everyone decides it would be best to hide these powers away until Elsa can control them. So she grows up repeating a mantra of “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show.” Her powers grow stronger, and her fears rise accordingly. To protect others, she keeps everyone away, including young Anna, who doesn’t understand why “we used to be best buddies, and now we’re not.”

At Queen Elsa’s coronation, her powers are revealed and she flees. When everything goes wrong, the whole kingdom falls under a bitter winter, buried in snow and ice. Villains attempt to kill Elsa to end the crisis. And Elsa once again injures Anna by accident, putting a shard of ice into Anna’s heart that will eventually freeze her solid.

Only an act of true love can thaw the ice and save Anna, so she chases after the man she loves, hoping a kiss from him will save the day.

This leads to a climax, where Anna is stumbling through a storm to reach Kristof (her beau) and Elsa is being stalked by the villain who stands ready to kill her. Suddenly Anna sees Elsa in danger, and jumps in the way of the villain’s blade, freezing solid in the process. Everyone is sad, until Anna’s heart thaws out. “An act of true love will thaw the frozen heart,” they recall.

The kingdom is saved, the sisters bond, everyone’s happy except the villains, and credits roll.

A lot of people note that this movie is not the typical Disney “Prince Charming saves the Princess” story. No princes save the day here. Even Kristof, Anna’s love interest, is not a pivotal hero but more her faithful companion and support. In other words, the whole movie seems to say to young girls, “You don’t need a man to complete you.” I think that’s a wholesome message in a culture that loves to emphasize the need for romantic and sexual relationships.

Elsa has powers and puts them to use for good. Anna has the power of determination and love, and she overcomes adversity in pursuit of her goals. Both characters are depicted as strong, resourceful women who face their difficulties and imperfections with fierce devotion and integrity. That’s also a great message for our young women (and men).

There’s also the “Let It Go” theme of not hiding away our creativity or passion. Someone (see yesterday’s blog post) might think it’s “the homosexual agenda” encouraging people to come out of the closet, and I suppose that’s a valid application. But it’s only one of many. I have writer friends who have hidden away their work, afraid of critique or even being open enough to share it with another. I know artists who draw amazing things you’d never see because they’ll never show you. Musicians and vocalists with skills to blow me away often hide their talents in the ground. Young people sometimes conceal their hobbies, interests, and exceptional abilities, because their passion is something their peers might deride. Frozen is a film that says “We need you to let that go and let everyone see it, because we need your talents in the world.”

And that’s not even the main thrust of the movie. Let’s look for a moment at the conflict at the climax.

The first thing I see is sacrificial love. Anna leaps in front of the villain’s sword, an action that will almost certainly result in great injury if not death. Anna does this without hesitation. The only thing that protects her is that she freezes solid at that very moment, something she couldn’t anticipate.

Second, Anna’s actions reveal selfless love. At this point, Anna and Olaf are convinced she needs a kiss from Kristof, the guy that truly loves her, to cure the freezing condition Elsa’s ice shard caused. Anna is mere steps away from Kristof when she sees Elsa in danger. Anna gives up her kiss to come to her sister’s defense.

Third, this is arguably an expression of undeserved love. Elsa is an icy witch to Anna throughout the majority of the movie, and Anna doesn’t know why. Their bond is broken. The sisterly love seems one-sided. On top of that, Elsa’s the one who accidentally shot Anna in the heart. Anna has every reason to be distant, but instead hurls herself into the path of the sword.

Olaf, unlikely Christ figure.
Olaf, unlikely Christ figure.

Oddly enough, it’s Olaf the Snowman who speaks this theme aloud. When Anna is shivering in the castle, Olaf starts the fire in the fireplace to warm Anna and keep her alive, even though it means he might melt. Anna sees this and panics for her friend, who responds, “Some people are worth melting for.”

That’s my take on Frozen. It’s a message of sacrificial, selfless love to the undeserving. Reminds me of a story about Someone else I hold dear.

Tomorrow, I have some thoughts about the supposed need for a romantic relationship in a story, and why the non-troversy about Elsa is so frustrating to me.

Grinding Gears

This morning I forced myself out of bed to honor a commitment.

My swollen Frankenstein foot is healing. I’m attending physical therapy sessions to strengthen it. But my whole body needs exercise. My speed has to improve, and my waistline must shrink so I can pass a fitness test.

Time to move.

The first hundred feet powerwalking feel like running a motor with no oil. Like trying to get my tires out of mud or gravel, and they’re spinning with no traction.

It’s like my old 10-speed after a long winter. I’d pull it out of the garage once the snow melted, and spray WD-40 over the chain and gears. But it still took a few minutes of pedaling to shake everything loose. Grinding metal. Sudden jolts as the chain stuck and snapped loose. Frequent rattling. Then finally, it became reliable.

Even then, when I shifted speeds, the chain would sometimes slip off. I’d have to stop, put it back together, get the chain back on track, and start up again.

Effort is the oil in the engine of greatness.

The Chinese understand this. Their word for “to add oil; lubricate” ( 加油 / jia you, pronouced “jah yo”) has the figurative meaning of increasing effort, pushing harder, stepping on the gas.

With this foot, I’m never going to be a marathon runner. I’ll probably never sprint very fast. I won’t be an awesome basketball player.

But I will regain and surpass the speed I once could achieve on this foot. And I will be able to shoot hoops with my daughter again. And who knows, maybe even I’ll go back to running a fitness test instead of merely walking.

Because I will wake up on cold mornings, spray some “oil” on that ankle, suck it up, and start walking. I will get on the bike, strap my feet in, and turn up the resistance. And when it gets easy, I’ll add another level or two.

What matters isn’t where you’re at now. Where you were before doesn’t matter either. What matters is where you’re headed, and what you’re willing to do to get there.

Writing–really, any creative effort–is similar. I used to say writing was a hobby. But I’ve put in effort and study to improve my craft. I keep doing so. I call myself a writer, because writing is what I do, what I will continue to do.

In fact, I call myself author, because I’ve written numerous short stories and devotionals. I’ve put over a hundred thousand words into a manuscript and I have composed over 150 songs. Maybe soon I will self-publish. With some hope, maybe I will one day have work printed in a publication or published by a professional company.

All I know is that today I will sit down at the keyboard and turn words into sentences, phrases into paragraphs, passages into chapters. Then I’ll edit and revise until it’s the strongest work I can produce today.

And I won’t be content with that, so I’ll make myself do better tomorrow.

I’m not saying I’m great. I’m saying I’m not satisfied.

What commitment to yourself are you going to honor today?

When the Iron is Hot

No, I did NOT stay up ’til 4 AM after a short catnap in order to finish a chapter of my current project. Haha, who would do such a thing?

I’ve read numerous articles (as I’m sure any aspiring writer also has) discussing discipline and honing one’s craft. We can’t simply wait for inspiration, then write. We have to carve out time and force out effort, knowing that even if the result sucks, at least it was a result that helps us get better in the long run.

Quantity of effort ensures opportunity for quality effort.

“Strike when the iron is hot,” so goes the saying. And it’s taken to mean we should take advantage of those brief bursts of creativity and inspiration. When an idea springs to mind, run with it. If a scene plays out in your head, start writing or typing, and put that image down on record.

But that understanding of the idiom is flawed. The iron only gets hot when the smith gives careful attention to the fire, ensuring the proper temperature to work the metal. The iron gets hot because of effort, not luck. Thus, opportunities can be created, not merely stumbled upon.

I’m curious. If you write or express yourself creatively (which you probably do in some fashion if you’re reading WordPress), what is your experience with the balance of Muscle and Muse, the interplay between forcing out effort and flowing with creative energy?

I do the former to find the latter. What’s your take?

Flickering Flames

For the first sermon of 2014, our pastor preached about two words that captured his personal desire and his aim for the church this year:

“READY” and “BURNING.”

As he offered time for response, I considered my spirituality. Why don’t I feel like I am “burning” for God? With my role on our worship ministry, past experience as a lead worshiper, and a blog name like “SonWorshiper” you’d think maybe I’d be all God, all the time.

But that’s not how my days play out.

All too often, I keep God in the “church” box. I block off calendar events based on what area of responsibility they fall under – work, church, personal, family. Frequently it seems I adapt my actions the same way.

I’m at church, so it’s time to be smiley, helpful, and religious.
I’m at work, so it’s time to focus on results, effectiveness, and the mission.
I’m in public with my kids, so it’s time to be the nice Dad.
I’m at home, so it’s ME time, stop interrupting my video games!

I thought about the intermittent spiritual fire I experience — naturally I was thinking about that because it was church and you spend church time thinking about churchy things you don’t have to think about throughout the week. I came up with a picture of my problem.

The pastor’s chosen verse mentions servants who keep lamps burning, ready and waiting for their master. Fire is necessary, to stay burning.

And today, fire is so easy to come by. Flick a lighter and I’ve got it. Turn a switch on the gas stove and the burner comes to life. I’ve got lighter fluid and matches, or a long-barreled lighter, so I’m ready to barbecue.

Fire is available whenever I want, so the thought of it going out doesn’t bother me.

As a Christian in America, spirituality is everywhere. Need a pick-me-up? Put in a Christian CD, or download a song off iTunes. Or listen to one of the many Christian radio stations.

Get devotions from anywhere online. Have them e-mailed to you. Or get a spiritual tweet. In fact, follow a bunch of your religious favorites, and your Twitter feed will be full of nuggets of wisdom to digest whenever you need a spiritual snack.

If you want more to think about, read a blog or ten. Watch the Christian channels on Cable. Check out some YouTube videos of worship songs or sermons. Download a cool app with a Scripture reading plan or flash cards for memorization. Or if you feel old-school, pick up a Bible and a highlighter.

It’s all around us, so it’s easy to take for granted.

My oldest son is on a Man vs. Wild kick, and he has even built himself a survival kit. This calls to mind my own survival training for the Air Force.

When you’re out in the cold, with limited supplies, suddenly fire matters. It’s your life.

It takes time to build. It takes effort and vigilance to maintain. You don’t let it die, or you die.

Why do I think my spiritual fire is less important?

What do you think? How does one stay burning for God? Or is that even necessary?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment.

Shuuka

This is a piece I wrote to introduce a villain for my Worldmender project. I aimed for a present tense “in the bad guy’s head” style that is different from my usual efforts, and of course this is about a villain so it’s a bit dark. I’d love to know what you think!

shuuka

“Don’t care ’bout the letter from Hagron,” Dagger Bandit mutters and draws twin blades.

He probably thinks I can’t hear him. He turns toward me, all thin and hunched over, ready to pounce on smaller prey. He’s breathing hard. I see it in the chill air. I hear his heart pounding.

“Letter from a noble or not,” Dagger Bandit continues, “Shuuka’s getting on my nerves.”

That’s what these robbers call me. They don’t know my name. They only know their boss sent me. I don’t know their names either. I don’t need to. Tools should be called by their function.

Maybe they think I’m not listening. Maybe they know I am. I keep playing my bonerattle to the Rhythm as I watch the firelight dance across the sands and the boulders.

shhuuu-Ka shhuuu-Ka shhuu-Ka shh…

It’s cold tonight. I see wisps in the wind when the bandits breathe. I can’t feel the cold, and the fire doesn’t warm me. I can’t feel anything.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

I feel the Hunger. My body needs fuel, so I take a bite of dried meat. It tastes like sand in my mouth. I can see the spices, but I can’t taste them. I can’t taste anything anymore.

The Rhythm is the only thing that keeps me calm until I can satisfy the Hunger.

Dagger Bandit hesitates in his approach and glares at me. The stocky bearded man next to him speaks up. “You saw what he did to Namir yesterday. Fought him one-handed, one blade against Namir’s two.”

I call this big one Meat-shield. He seems to be the smartest of the bunch.

He looks up at Dagger Bandit now. “You think you can take him, have a go. I won’t miss the noise.”

“Never seen Namir lose a duel,” Dagger Bandit admits and sits down.

“Lost his bleedin’ hand is what he lost.”

Meat-shield has a point. Plus he’s in charge.

I would have liked very much to take more from Sword-dancer, the one they call Namir. He sits in the shadows, nursing his bandaged stump. The Hunger clamors within me always, and Namir might have satisfied it. For a time. But I don’t want them to know about me yet. I kept my glove on during the fight, kept the Darkness hidden.

I chose to be patient then. To listen to the Rhythm a while longer. But I think today’s the day.

shhuu-Ka shhuu-Ka shh…

Footsteps rush toward us. My fingers rest on the pommel of my blade. Our scout bursts into the hidden campsite. “They’re coming,” he pants. His chest thuds in my ears like a horserace. My right hand twitches. I want to consume him. The Hunger roils within, and I suppress it with a shudder.

I focus on the rattle again.

“His letter,” Farsight blurts between gasps, pointing at me. “It’s true. The caravan, nearby, three guards, four others.”

Meat-shield hands Farsight a waterskin. Only a few drops in it. Enough for another day here in the Waste. Then Meat-shield hisses “Get ready,” as he kicks out the fire.

I stop the rattle and head for the dunes around the camp. It’s time. Away from the firelight, I remove my right glove. Shadows swirl and flow like oil in the shape of a hand. I’m not sure I really have an arm under there anymore. Only the Darkness remains.

I don’t mind the loss. The power is worth it.

Meat-shield is smart. Good position. The rocks and dunes hide the camp in darkness. Anyone would have to be on top of the nearest hill to see the firelight. But the robbers take no chances. Prey in the Waste is skittish and dangerous. Predators must be crafty.

Meat-shield sends archers to the tops of the stones where they can get a clear view of the merchant route. His best bowman has a monocle that Meat-shield got from Lord Hagron.  It makes night like day in the wearer’s eye. I can think of many uses for such a device.

Trueshot looses a flaming arrow to mark the caravan. I hear it sink into the wood of a wagon with a thok. Now everyone can see it. The travelers cry out. The four robbers on foot rush the prey while Trueshot and the others take aim at the guards.

I take aim at Trueshot. I creep forward, unnoticed, black hand extended.

His monocle slips into my open palm as he dies. I lay his body down atop the stone and turn to the next archer. The night makes it easy. The rush of adrenaline, the thrill of the kill–that makes my victims delicious. The Hunger feeds on life, but strong emotions and passions are the sweetest. I can taste those. I can feel them as they are consumed.

Meat-shield and his allies are busy fighting guards or chasing the unarmed. They don’t notice that the arrows stop flying. Three of the guards are wounded. One fights on. It’s easy to sneak up on the bandits.

Sword-dancer dies first. I catch him rifling through the goods in a wagon, out of the view of the others. Greed–lust for the prize–it’s not delicious, but it will do.

He expires with a quiet sigh, the noise lost in the din of the fray.

The lone guard shouts as he cuts down Mace. I’m not surprised. Mace isn’t a fighter. He’s Meat-shield’s cousin, or brother-in-law, or some other relationship with obligation. Doesn’t matter. With that steaming wound in his belly, he’ll be dead soon.

One of the other bandits is down. Arrow in the back. Maybe Trueshot or another archer had some score to settle. I don’t care. And now Meat-shield is fighting the guard that killed Mace.

I sense two more heartbeats, one pursuing the other. Dagger Bandit finished off a couple of the passengers and is chasing the last one. A woman’s scream pierces the night. I can feel Dagger Bandit’s lust building. The Hunger longs for him, and I shiver. He’ll be tasty.

But first, Meat-shield is fresh, and this final guard is weary. Not a fair fight.

I stretch my right hand toward Meat-shield. No one can see it in the dark, but I know tendrils of black are forming around him, slowing him, hindering him. I hear him rage against invisible bonds, swinging wild punches as he tries to break free.

The guard sees his opportunity and thrusts a sword into Meat-shield’s ribs. Meat-shield roars and draws a knife as he grabs the guard by the throat. I turn away, releasing the bonds. I hear choking and gurgling behind me, weak cries, labored breathing in the dark. They’ll both be dead soon.

Dagger Bandit’s heart is thudding in my mind. It’s all I can think of. Maybe it’s all the Darkness can think of. I’m not really sure how this all works.

All I know is I want him.

He has the woman cornered. I sense her fear. It’s a powerful emotion too, but it’s the only one the Darkness doesn’t like. She doesn’t interest me, not with Dagger Bandit near.

I hear his voice telling lies, his tone meant to soothe. I can’t make out the words. The pounding of his heart is so loud in my head. My shadow hand can barely retain its form. It yearns to stretch out and take him. I resist.

The woman cowers. Dagger Bandit steps forward, knife shaking with delight. He slowly reaches for her, and giggles as he grabs her shoulder. She writhes and screams, but she can’t get away. He raises the knife.

Now.

Shadows wrap around him, wracking his body into awkward positions. I think bones snap but I don’t care. His eyes are wide, reflecting firelight. His mouth is filled with darkness. His intense emotions are captured and consumed in an instant.

The lifeless body crumples to the ground. A wave of pleasure washes over me, the reward from the Darkness for such a perfect feast.

The woman sees me, knows that somehow I’ve saved her. She doesn’t question how, just bows and babbles profuse thanks. I am not interested.

…until the Darkness senses her overwhelming relief. Her fear is gone. I step into the light.

“I swear to you,” she continues, “I will tell my father of how you saved me and he will reward you with greater riches than what we carry here. I cannot thank you enough.”

“No, dear,” I frown. “You can’t.”

I stretch my hand once more and close my eyes, awash in satisfaction as she dies.

A minute later, the night is quiet. I start collecting provisions. I’m not sure where I’ll go. Before I came here, Hagron spoke of war in the city of Sulkath, and invading armies from Kandurien.

War always brings out strong passions. It sounds like the right place to be.

Meat-shield mumbles something behind me, dying on the ground, tangled with the body of the guard. “Hagron… that letter was fake… he didn’t send you…”

“No, the letter was real. But Hagron didn’t send me. I took it after I fed on him.”

He looks confused, so I explain. “You worked for Hagron. I killed him. So you serve me now.”

Meat-shield coughs up blood.

“Rest now,” I say as I turn. I can’t help a grin. “I have been well served.”

I take out my bonerattle as I walk away from the ruined caravan. The Darkness is sated.

shhhuuu-KA shhhuuu-KA shhh…

I can hear the Rhythm clearer than before. For now.