Read an Excerpt
By Mario E. Martinez
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Mario E. Martinez
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKaze slept tangled and thrown across his bedroll. His feet stuck out of the short blankets. His choppy shoulder length hair stood on end and Suki's smell still clung to him from the night before. His bedroll, too small for him, had been a hand me down, much like everything else in the economically stagnant sword school. His sharp nose peeked out of the blanket and the dust filled cloth draped over his angled face like a thief's mask. Even in his sleep, his brow squinted as though scanning the horizons for some unknown threat. His shoulders, though lean, stuck out of the edges of his bedroll and grazed the wooden floor. Kaze tightened the blanket around him and rolled off the thin mattress to face-plant on the hard floor.
He slept on.
The dawn light filtered through his windows, their bars making lines of shadow across the former storage room. Kaze asked for quarters with a window facing east and took it for his room gladly; he loved the sight of the steam columns rising from glowing capital city, Ukamifodem. Its steel spires, able to be seen for miles, rose into the air behind the rolling hills. From Kaze's window, the spires looked as thin as spider webs across the colored sky. He didn't mind that he couldn't experience a free range of motion in the room, the glorious sights of Vivoura, largest continent in the known world, was enough to compensate the discomfort. The warmth of the light caused him to stir, bringing his hand up to his sleep crusted eyes. He slouched up and let out a great yawn, stretching his arms above his head. Late nights, he thought. Late nights.
After he rose and arranged his bedroll as he did every morning for a decade, he grabbed his hanging clothes off the wire that stretched across the ceiling. Moving with silent foot falls to the window, Kaze mentally greeted the city in the distance. A thin layer of stubborn snow glistened in the rising sun and a few birds flew out of the tree in front of the old building. He followed their flight with his eyes, tracing the imaginary trails they left behind. Tiny wings beat over the village and Kaze stared intently at his home.
The tiled roofs of houses lining the outer ring of the city were covered in a powdery white and lazy trails of smoke drifted out of the thin smokestacks peeking out of the snow. The cobblestone streets that wound in between the homes all converged in the center of town. A large stone fountain, donated by traveling artists, stood tall as the center piece of the village. Some hobbled into their shops, sliding metal bolts out of door jambs to creak the old portals open for the new day of commerce. The clatter of steam-trucks arriving for provisions and trade rumbled most awake. Kaze turned to his curved practice sword, which rested at the corner of the room, near his coiled up bedding. He lifted it with ease, remembering its weight the first time he carried it.
* * *
Master Toushirou Yamazaki loved to walk through the streets of Akledok. The size. The people. The soul suited the swordsman. In total, the town boasted little more than three-hundred residents inside its low-stone walls, and most of them were supported by traveling caravans on their way to Ukamifodem, thirty miles down the main road the Capital's agents paved long before the wars that riddled the continent. The tall, glittering buildings sparkled behind a veil of steam: the byproduct of the Capital's machines, whatever they may be used for. Columns of white rose from the city, ever visible in Akledok, like the distant cooking fire of some lone woodsman.
Master Yamazaki, well into his forties with a clean shaven head and long graying goatee, stood out in his dark blue robes amongst the throngs of travelers, mostly merchants shouting out their prices and inventory. His frame was slim and his shoulders were only inches below the largest villager, which was not much of a feat. Most men living off the harsh Vivourian hills tended to grow shorter than those in the cities. Toushirou had heard it was due to stimulants placed in the food and drink, but he held little stock in the rumors of uneducated farmers.
He passed the crowds without taking notice of the hurrying travelers. Occasionally, he waved at a local: Bresson the blacksmith, Oza the mechanic, and Olar the local sheriff all gave him a warm smile and an enthusiastic wave. He briefly thought of the sword on his hip, knowing it separated him from the people buzzing with activity around him. The sword had been part of the Yamazaki Clan when they were thousands strong. It had even led the clan to victory centuries ago during the Civil Wars on the distant shores of the coast. But, that battle had been centuries ago, a mere footnote in a history book lost in humanity's library of collective memory.
Now, a dozen scattered members around the continent made up the remaining Yamazaki Clan. Even these clansmen were useless to Yamazaki. None of them had a taste for the arts martial. Only his niece, Suki, practiced the ancient art. They kept the clan alive. What of the future, he thought to himself often. Toushirou lived, at one point, for the sword and only for it, but a life of blood and war grew old quickly. A life serving the blade, no matter how skilled one might be, ended in death. No matter how long he bested opponent after opponent, eventually one would be his last. There was no future in the sword, only an end. He thought of Suki again and knew her generation was the only future the world had.
Turning the corner of the crowded marketplace, Toushirou walked into a stampede of children. Cheap mechanical limbs with rusted air-pumps wheezing the mechanized tendons to work crutched their way down the street, yet even with the screeching sound of machines well passed their oiled primes, the child-owners seemed not to care at all. They threw their metallic parts up in play and cared little of what the world thought of them. The ones with no replacements ran past him in blurs and shrill screams of jubilation. He nimbly side-stepped the pre-pubescent gang, but felt a set of fingers spider into his cloak and close around his billfold.
In an instant, Yamazaki grabbed the offending wrist, stopping the boy in his tracks. The dark haired youth stared up with eyes wide in disbelief. He wriggled his hand out of Yamazaki's grip and tried to run, but his feet only kicked the air wildly. Yamazaki held him by the collar like a wolf would a cub. The boy's feet, dusty and brown from grime, kicked wildly in the air. "Let go of me, old man!" the boy yelled and tried to grab Yamazaki's hand in hopes of prying open his fingers. Yamazaki just shook the fight out of him. "You asked for it," the boy yelled through a mischievous grin, his legs shooting out behind him, striking Yamazaki's awaiting hand with a thud.
Yamazaki struck the boy across the back of the head with a loud slap. "Boy, speak to your elders with more respect and admiration." Slap. "Where are your manners, boy? You try to steal from me, then insult me. I suppose I'll have to be the one to teach you respect."
"To hell with you, old man. I—"
"Yamazaki. Toushirou Yamazaki."
"That supposed to mean something?" the boy scoffed. He spun in his clothes to face him, still dangling by the collar, prone and helpless. His dark blue eyes looked black in the shadow of the boy's scowl. "Teach me respect, will you? Ha! You only get respect with that sword. If I had one of those, you wouldn't spit orders at me like I was trash."
"Never said you were, boy."
"Stop calling me boy! Kaze, you old bastard. Remember it because if I had one of those, I'd kill you!" he shouted and his blackened human fingers reached for Yamazaki's sword. With a flick of the master's wrist, the boy was flying across the street, scaring some merchants but making the locals laugh; pick-pockets were common during the busy season and the unfortunate ones caught always provided some much needed entertainment to the seldom excited villagers. The boy landed face first on the dusty road. He got to his feet; he wiped the dirt from his face with balled fists. "You old son of a—"
"Kill me? Prove it, boy."
"Kaze!" the boy roared, his knuckles turning white through the soot and dirt cloud settling around him.
Yamazaki smiled, "Yeah, whatever." He laughed into the air; Kaze's face twisted and reddened. "Do you see that building," his finger pointed to the stout wooden building on the highest hill west of the village. "If someone wanted to kill me, I'd be there. But, I don't know why I'm telling you this—"
"You're scared, aren't you, pops?"
"Of? I just know you won't show up. It's the same with all people. 'If I had this, if I had that.' If you want it so bad, go get it. Kaze, I won't hide from you. If it's my life you want, go take it."
Kaze stood there, shaking. "Old man, enjoy your last day alive." He ran off into the milling crowds: carts, both motorized and ox driven, blocked Yamazaki's vision, giving the boy a clean escape. Yamazaki walked away from the street corner, laughing to himself. "You'll see, old man, you just wait," he imagined the boy growling in the shadows of some hovel, plotting some childish attempt at murder.
* * *
Kaze slid the wooden door open. Nothing but sunlight stirred in the empty training hall. The large empty room, held up by stout wooden beams and thick planks, echoed his every step. The windows lined the wall just below the ceiling and gave the room ample light for his morning exercises. Sliding the door closed behind him, Kaze moved to the center of the hall. He stood straight and inhaled deeply, holding it. Enjoying it. As he exhaled, his arms and legs spread wider, his wooden sword still held firmly at his hip. He inched his right hand to the sword's handle. The wooden blade cut vertically through the air, trailed by the dull whoosh of air particles. He flew into a series of vertical slashes, each moving him closer to Master Yamazaki's vacant seat. Wooden plaques hung above it, each etched with a name. Master Toushirou Yamazaki. Suki Kurohata. Kaze.
Seeing her name, he wondered when Suki would awaken. The late night meetings they'd made a habit, more like addiction in Kaze's case, were beginning to show on their faces, which could no longer hide the coy smiles they exchanged during their meals. Sooner or later, Master Yamazaki would find out and Kaze's arms tightened at the thought of Toushirou Yamazaki swinging his sword while he explained the relationship.
Moving towards the center of the room, Kaze thought of last night. Burying his lips into Suki's and hoping to squash the moan that threatened to wake her uncle sleeping down the hall. Last night, they'd lain together for hours, whispering to one another and simply enjoying the other's warm naked form pressed against theirs. He'd watch the rise and fall of her pert breasts as she spoke mournfully about her mother and father. He meant no disrespect by only half-listening, but he had heard this story over and over again.
He'd look into her brown eyes and run his hand down past her small nose, past her full lips, to settle on the base of her neck in hopes of distracting her whenever she brought them up, but never to any avail. He'd long ago decided that his best course of action was to be somewhat attentive. She stopped her story short, as she did most nights, remembering that Kaze never even met his own parents. She may now be drifting along with an uncle as a father, but at least it was the solid tie of blood. Kaze stayed under the roof of a stranger, at least that is how it began. But, with the Yamazaki's, Kaze mentioned time and time again, he felt right at home. He pulled her closer to him, kissed her on the forehead, and stood to collect his clothes. He took the hand she raised in protest and kissed it.
He shrugged his shoulders and all thoughts dripped out of his ears, leaving him moving to a distant war-drum in his soul. He spun, his wooden blade cutting horizontally in front of him. The blade hadn't completed its maneuver before its tip shot out to the side, stabbing at a phantom throat. He whipped the blade high above his head, keeping its curve above him like the fin of a great fish. The blade crashed down, its edge stopping a mere inch from the floor. He held his position: the sword steady in front of his almost kneeling figure. He changed the position on his wooden sword, whipping it diagonally; hip to shoulder. The thud of wood-on-wood echoed through the empty hall and shook Kaze from his trance.
"Are you ready, Kaze?" Master Yamazaki asked; his own sword unmoved by the impact.
* * *
Yamazaki sat on his front porch enjoying a steaming cup of tea. The sounds of the starry night brought a content smile to his face. Good tea, he thought as the warm brew trickled down his throat; he reminded himself that he must thank Suki. For Yamazaki, Suki, like the world around him, grew and remolded almost constantly, only adding to his love and confusion of it. He watched her grow over the years in his care, after her family's exile.
She never inquired about her parents, as was her father's final plea. When Yamazaki heard her whimpering at night, he wished he could take her to them. But, no one knew where they fled to, or even if they survived the journey. The Borderlands. Zelthier. Costa del Sur? They could have been anywhere. Yamazaki missed his sister, Yuriko, dearly.
The day the Capital's agents came into the town was one most in the village were too young to remember or too old to forget. They'd sent half a dozen men, some wearing official badges of their station on their lapels; others let their automatic pistols do the talking. Rumors had circulated that a certain spell-weaver of the Kurohata family, Yuriko's family, sold off familial spells to agents of the Zeltherian government. None of the agents remembered the Capital's stripping of the Kurohata family title a century before, which forced their hands. They'd pawned off all the heirlooms that fetched a price, sold all but the most holy of lands, and nearly sent Yuriko into prostitution to pay the mounting debts. All that was left was the knowledge passed down from generation to generation of Kurohatas. His sister pleaded with them, told them they had to feed themselves somehow, but mercy was not a trait favored in the high metal walls of the Capital.
Inwardly, Toushirou smiled in relief when he heard exile and not death was the punishment they faced. He'd adopted Suki on his sister's wishes and the little girl served as a constant reminder that a strong sword arm never truly had the final say in any matter.
Over the rustling of the leaves, he heard clumsy foot falls. He rose, placing his tea on the small dish next to the still steaming pot. He looked past the gate and into the dark recesses beyond. "Boy, there's no point trying to sneak up on me."
Kaze held his breath in the bushes. I didn't even snap a twig, he thought. He inched his foot forward, feeling the dirt and roots shift with his toes.
"Boy! I could smell you ages ago. You're fooling no one in that bush. You should bathe more," Yamazaki chuckled. "Then, maybe, you could sneak up on a deaf person."
"Cram it, old man!" Kaze yelled, jumping out of the bush into the center of the dirt path; rustling blades of green snaked around him like the tide. His finger pointed squarely at the sword-master. "I'm here to take back my honor. Did you really think you could humiliate me and live to talk about it?"
"Why would I talk about it? I don't even think I mentioned it, really." The swordsman's hand stroked his goatee as his eyes drifted away from the enraged boy.
Kaze strode forward, his shoulders pulled back and chest puffed out. The boy's jaw straining to square-off almost made Yamazaki laugh and break the ridiculous tension. He reached over to the two practice swords leaning on a nearby pillar. He took one in his right hand and one in the left.
"We ain't playing, old man. Give me some steel. I want the real thing."
"As far as arming my would-be killer—"
Excerpted from TWIN BURIALS by Mario E. Martinez Copyright © 2011 by Mario E. Martinez. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.