Excerpt:The shadow slowly turned its attention to Alex. He stood tall, not showing the fear that was ravaging his body.
“Alex, be careful,” warned his mom.
“It’s okay.” Alex stood firm.
The dark figure let out an ear-piercing screech, and Alex buried his head in his jacket. Again, it changed its focus and twisted toward the back seat of the car—Wilby. It held the statue down toward the earth, and the car started to rock back and forth.
“Wilby!” his mom screamed as she struggled to break free.
Alex’s heart pounded; the death freeze of the dark spirit was coming, and it was very close.
“Ma, that thing is summoning the beast!” Alex’s voice dripped with fear.
“Alex, I don’t know what to do. I can’t move. Is Wilby still sleeping?”
“Good.” She wiped her upper lip with her sleeve. “What if he wakes up?”
The vibration in his front pocket distracted him. Alex slipped out his phone; his gram’s picture lit up like a beacon.
“Gram, we’re in trouble,” Alex whispered.
“I know. Listen carefully, Bonzetta. Tell your mother we are going to use the prayer of light. I will do what I need from here.”
“What do I do?” Alex’s palms dripped with sweat from anxiety, and he nearly dropped the phone.
“Just repeat what we say, okay?”
He didn’t want to shout their plan, so he texted it to his mom. “Ma, look at your phone.”
She slipped it out of her purse and read the message. Then,nodding in agreement, she waited.
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
Tuesday, November 21, 2023
While I was writing my novel, both of my children were still at home. Both were involved in extracurricular activities which my husband and I had to get them to. My husband traveled with his job and sometimes, other teammates or our part-time nanny/babysitter would help fill in. The nanny/babysitter cooked for the kids the days she was at our house. This is not an unusual situation for many parents and authors.
In my situation, there was an additional wrinkle: by the time I actually started writing Homecoming Chaos, I was suffering from chronic kidney failure. I didn’t have a full-time job to balance. However, because of my health, I could only contribute minimal amounts to the household. I was tired, and I remember staying in bed and writing while the kids were in school. If there was a chore or event that I was going to have to help with, I had to ration my energy so I could get that one thing done that day. My kids—especially my older son—were incredibly helpful during this time. My son helped manage his little sister on the days that we didn’t have a babysitter. For me, having children didn’t affect my writing that much, but my health and energy levels did. It was also upsetting that I didn’t get to spend as much time with my kids as I would have liked.
Nowadays—post-kidney transplant—I only have one child at home, so our situation is more like the typical family. My daughter still has extracurricular activities to take part in and she doesn’t drive; we take her wherever she needs to go. My husband still travels for his job, but we don’t use the babysitter as much as we did in the past. I take her to most of her activities. While my daughter is at school, I write during the day. I also take my computer or tablet with me when I take my daughter to her extracurricular functions so I can write while I wait. After she gets home from school, I spend some time with her (when she lets me; she is a teenager now!), then go back to writing. I used to prep meals to put in the freezer before I got sick; I am adopting that strategy again, so dinner is easier to manage.
In our family, juggling writing and kids had an additional component—my health.
The sound of the flight attendant on the loudspeaker startled Jamison Jones Scott out of her light sleep. Despite having traveled frequently in her lifetime, she still couldn’t sleep comfortably on a plane. The seat location— first-class or economy—didn’t make a difference. The plane was nearing its destination, so the passengers needed to finish filling out their declaration cards. Jamie was returning to Atlanta to stay at her parents’ home with only the clothes on her back, a computer bag, the few items of clothing in her duffel, and a stethoscope. She had nothing to declare.
Her seatmate appeared to be sleeping through the announcements. Jamie was jealous. The four-year-old in front of her turned around and started babbling excitedly in French. She must have noticed that Jamie was finally awake. With her head still fuzzy from her nap, Jamie couldn’t completely follow the child’s rapid words, but the gist was that she wanted something from Jamie. Something about a playdate? Jamie smiled at the girl and hoped the girl’s mother would intervene. No such luck; she was asleep as well. The child eyeballed Jamie expectantly. Jamie realized she and the seatmate had started this situation by playing with the dark-haired child while they were over the ocean. Now, when she didn’t agree to the latest request, the little girl scrunched up her face to cry.
“Nous atterrissons bientôt. Elle ne peut pas aller avec vous,” Jamie’s seatmate answered, eyes still closed. “Mais vous pourriez être en mesure de visiter. Je suis sûr qu’elle tu aimerait garder les enfants.” He grinned.
Jamie gasped while the young girl clapped. This guy had just volunteered her as a babysitter!
“Je suis désolé, mais il se trompe. Je ne serai pas disponible,” Jamie stated. “Je parie qu’il a une surprise, pour toi.” The child looked at Jamie’s seatmate for her present and clapped again. This reply made him open his eyes.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est? Qu’est-ce que c’est?” the child asked. Startled, her pregnant mother woke up and turned around in her seat sheepishly.
I’m sorry, she mouthed. She made her eager daughter turn around in her seat and asked her to leave the other passengers alone. The girl was disappointed, but her mother handed her a shortbread, which made her forget the people behind her.
Her seatmate smiled, opened his eyes, and said, “I could have given her the stuffed bear I bought. I have a daughter the same age.” He stretched gingerly. “I can’t wait to get home. I’ve been traveling for too long. What about you? Looking forward to getting home?”
Jamie thought about her return to Atlanta. She hadn’t been home in a while, so she wasn’t sure how she felt.
Revel in the chaos.
Revel in the chaos.
Revel in the chaos.
Jamie tried to live by this motto for most of her life because her life seemed to invite chaos. She learned to expect—and sometimes encourage—complications. As the plane taxied to a halt, she repeated her motto to herself. This phrase, tattooed on her right hip, particularly applied now.
The international terminal of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport had changed since she was last there. Her brother, Jonathan, would pick her up at the baggage claim—alone, she hoped, and not sporting a clingy girlfriend. Time to re-acclimate and re-establish family bonds. Dealing with an unknown woman in her face when she wanted to spend time quietly with her brother wasn’t at the top of her to-do list.
As she waited in line to get through passport control, she thought about how she got to this point—back in Atlanta after several years abroad. She had spent two of those years working with the non-profit organization Doctors Overseas. Jamie worked in several locations, including the Central African Republic. She had her reasons for joining the charitable organization; not all were altruistic, and she kept those to herself during her entrance interview. The horrors she witnessed overseas helped her put her personal chaos into perspective. She realized her issues were nothing compared to what people endured in other parts of the world. This realization allowed her to embrace her job and enjoy what she was doing, despite the frequent threats of bodily harm. To help maintain her sanity while overseas, she traveled a lot and spent six months in Italy working with a designer friend.
The agent summoning her snapped her out of her reverie. Handing over her passport, she said, “Nothing to declare. Coming back home for my mother’s birthday and Christmas.”
At the check-in counter, the inspector carefully examined her and her passport photo. Jamison understood the scrutiny. At the time of that picture, she had been at the height of her glamor phase with a history of modeling and a resulting, above-average concern about how she looked. In medical school, she often showed up at rounds with perfectly coiffed hair and more than a swipe of mascara and lip gloss.
But in Africa, those concerns fell away. Right now, Jamie was makeup-free, and a baseball cap covered her hair. She was still beautiful, but now it was a girl-next-door beauty. Jamie had high cheekbones, almond-shaped dark brown eyes, a straight nose, a square jawline, and her golden-brown skin was still smooth. She wasn’t stomping down runways anymore, as in her past life, because she had shifted her priorities.
Her mother would hate it.
“Welcome to Atlanta,” the inspector said as she stamped her passport. “Have a pleasant stay.”
Monday, November 20, 2023
Potion Master Playlist –
Monsters by Ruelle (The man lurking in the dark.)
Eyes on Fire by Blue Foundation (Erick and Riley’s theme.)
War of Hearts by Ruelle (Finn and Erick’s theme.)
Nature Boy Acoustic by Aurora (Riley and Finn’s theme.)
Devil’s Dance Floor (The Drunken Sailor’s theme.)
Notorious by Adelitas Way (Here comes the bad guy.)
Breath of Life by Florence + The Machine (Riley’s path.)
Cinema Skrillex Remix by Benny Benassi, Gary Go, and Skrillex (Intoxicating story.)
Electric (feat. Khalid) by Alina Baraz and Khalid (I can’t fight this anymore.)
The Other Side by Ruelle (Climax of the book.)Bridges by Aisha Badru (End of book one and lead-in to book two.)
Excerpt from Potion Master :
The blue liquid is shimmering like its magic is trying to get out. One of my better cocktail recipes, I would say. The Siren, I call it, in honor of Evie. Even though she is not one of those long-extinct creatures, her voice bewitches her crowd all the same. Her tales captivate the audience with their rhythm and poesy.
“Hey! Will you give me my drink or not?” the patron shouts over the buzz of the crowded room.
Keeping hold of the glass, I swiftly glide it over the wooden bar toward him. “I don’t know, Carl. Maybe a little more respect and a smile now and then could do miracles for your shitty personality and help you get what you want.” I look the bastard straight in the eye, drink the shot myself, and take the money he had put on the bar top to pay for it. The liquid goes down like the charm that it is, giving me a boost of strength and energy in its wake.
Carl seizes my gloved forearm, “Listen, girl, I know that you’re new here, but when I ask—”
His touch is gone in an instant. A big, burly man hauls Carl by the collar of his shirt toward the pub’s door. Albert’s gray-brown ponytail sways in time with Carl’s feet off the ground as he carries Carl out the door. If I didn’t hate being manhandled by drunk pieces of shit so much, I would be laughing at the sight.
Albert grunts as he throws Carl on his ass out in the street. “Take the rest of the night to cool off,” Albert says, his voice deceptively calm. “The next time you touch one of my employees, you will lose your hand. Is that understood?”
Carl has the good sense to shut his mouth and skitter off. The patrons all shout in triumph and merrily raise their glasses to Albert. When he turns from the door, Albert’s green eyes find me. His face is all red under his thick beard. I nod my head once to show him that I am okay and can handle myself. It’s not my first rodeo, after all.
I don’t have much time to dwell on what happened, though. The Drunken Sailor is packed tonight. Every sticky table and disparate chair is in use. A small crowd has already gathered before the stage in the corner where my best friend will perform tonight, sipping their drinks. The decor is no different than any other Irish pub in Québec City. The only noticeable distinction really is the customers themselves—the vast majority of them have magical abilities or ties to the magical world.
My long black hair annoys me tonight, so I quickly tie it up in a messy bun before filling another pint of my first batch of beer to give to Albert as he passes behind me in the bar area. Then I go back to the steady flow of orders coming in. I am very proud of my first brew. It’s a white ale with faint notes of lavender and rosemary. The balanced taste of the herbs makes for a bittersweet lightness that, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t taste like perfume.
Being potion master and lead brewer are both my pride and my passion in life. It also allows me to work anywhere, in any magical establishment I want, since there are a lot of people that seem to either want to get drunk or out of a hangover—or another predicament—at some point. My healing balms and potions are particularly good if I do say so myself.
Healing is my specialty, after all, and I was well taught. Diane. A sharp pang of grief makes my eyes water at the reminder of my mentor’s passing. They say that home is where the heart is. Well, it feels like my home vanished with her last breath. Throughout the years, she’d always been there for me—be it to kick me in the butt for acting stupid or to help me regain my footing after yet another failed attempt at making something of my life. Her passing is too fresh for me to be able to recall the good memories of her with fondness or a smile. I am still at the anger stage, where every fiber of my being wants to cry hysterically and punch a wall about it, hating death, hating myself for not being able to heal her. I wipe furiously at my eyes and wrestle my mind into a better headspace.
I was lucky to get this job. The Drunken Sailor is one of the best breweries in the province, and its owner is allowing me carte blanche to do with the product creation as I please. All the equipment is state of the art despite the pub’s building being more than a century old—and looking it.
Perfect work arrangements, awesome new apartment, my best friend nearby—it’s all I need, really. This time, I will plant roots. This time, I won’t bolt at the very first mild inconvenience—I can’t. I have no one left to catch me from a fall. I am here to stay, and I mean it.
At the table by the door, four casters are playing at levitating objects in the air while arm wrestling. The first to either lose the strength contest or lose their concentration and drop their object pays for the next round of alcohol. A stupid game if you ask me, but still fun to watch and good for the tip.
Evie pokes her head out from the kitchen door with a mouthful of I don’t even want to know what. “Hey, Ry! I’m on in a couple of minutes,” she says while finishing chewing. “Do you need anything before I get up there?” She motions toward the stage with her head. The movement makes her silver dress sparkle in the dim light, contrasting nicely with the soft coffee of her skin. She recently buzzed her hair close to her head, which accentuates the graceful curve of her neck.
Her hazel eyes drift to the liquid I am currently mixing. She looks fascinated and with good reason. As soon as I sprinkle my last ingredient into the potion—dried hibiscus flowers—red fire seems to emanate from it, although it’s not hot to the touch. Passion is a difficult thing to capture, and it’s always mesmerizing when it’s encapsulated successfully. It’s easily the most expensive thing we sell here. Only one swig is needed to fuel your inspirations and fantasies, allowing you to create at will. Although it cannot put ideas into your head, it will allow you to birth your ideas into the world. Well, until it wears off, that is. I pour the liquid into a small vial and hand it over to the young woman who ordered it.
“I’m fine,” I tell Evie over my shoulder. “I don’t need you mothering me.” I wink at my best friend and turn back to the clientele at the bar. I hear her huff and puff before letting the kitchen door swing behind her. Not a minute later, she swaggers onto the stage, her generous hips swaying as she walks. The usual auditory chaos of the pub falls to whispers.
We’ve always been complete opposites, Evie and I. Where my best friend shines bright on stage, I prefer the darkness at the back of the room. She is all heat and sensuality, while I am all frost and contrast. My moonlight skin, she calls it. Which is a nice way of saying that I am ghostly pale.
As soon as Evie opens her mouth to sing, the crowd starts to sway in time with the rhythm of her voice. The ones closest to the stage are completely enthralled by her story of epic love. They smile and huddle closer together, not aware that they are moving. The casters abandon their game to stare in fascination. As far away as I am, I only feel a small wave of fullness and happiness, but it’s still very nice. I have not experienced the brush of love for a very long time.
I pour the next beer directly onto my gloved hand, which then splashes onto my black tank top and jeans. I curse and shake my head slightly. I must have been more affected by her singing than I thought. Taking off my gloves and wiping them on a dish towel, I smile to myself. I have not been exposed to her kind of powers for some time now. I’ve lost part of the endurance I had built for it.
When I finally succeed at mostly drying my clothes, I throw the rag in the sink and lift my head to take the next order, but most of the patrons have now moved from the bar to the tables closer to the stage, listening quietly.
Most, but not all.
Friday, November 17, 2023
The sound of the waves crashing down below, the impending fog rolling in, the wind sending curses past my cheeks, streaked with salt water—all of it seemed to have been put into slow motion as I stood there, full of rage and powerless against this demon as she held my daughter’s life in her tainted, dead hands. Eight words were all I was afforded in the two seconds that followed. “You were the one who let me in.”
And then it all happened at once. There was a "uttering of feathers, the sensation of a stick being forced into my hand, and the sound of my own screams as my daughter’s body fell; but then I just as quickly lunged forward, standing on air and pointing my bit of willow down at her body just before it was about to make contact with the jagged rocks below.
Maddie, now in possession of her own body, stared up at me with wide eyes and a gaping mouth as I floated over her like the witch I once was. And before she could utter a single word, before I could make out the laughter that seemed to be drifting back into the fog, I used my wand to lift her back up to the cliff and set her down before landing back on solid earth myself.
Thursday, November 16, 2023
In the Kitchen with Jana Klánová - Recipe for Fried Rice #InTheKitchen #FriedRice #RecipeforFiredRice
“Hi, I am Jana Klánová and welcome to my kitchen.”
This is an actual phrase I use to start online meetings and workshops when I’m working from home. Even though my day job couldn’t be further from cooking, it has become a sort of a running joke that I have been working in kitchen for 3 years now.
Jokes aside, I do most of the cooking in our house. I am from Prague, the belly button of Europe, so one might assume that I should shine the best in European dishes, right? Well… not quite.
The fact of the matter is that since I am married to a Singaporean, I became quite confident in preparation of Asian dishes. Singapore is a melting pot of cultures, and Singaporean palettes are tuned for Chinese, Indonesian, Malay, Indian, Philippine, Thai, Japanese flavors. Thus, I am perfecting my craft by observation of the faces my husband is pulling when I bring something new to the table.
Last year, my mother-in-law paid a visit to us here in Prague and my husband was proudly telling her: “Mom, you have to try Jana’s fried rice, it is the best.”
And here’s what passed my mother-in-law test.
The philosophy of fried rice
This meal is a lifesaver. Imagine you haven’t done your groceries for a week, the fridge is empty, all the cool food and ingredients are gone and you got hungry 10 minutes ago. It is not meant to be fancy; it is supposed to be quick and comforting like a hug from an old friend.
Meal prep for 4 portions:
You will need these:
4 cups of jasmine rice
2-3 spring onions
2-3 cloves of garlic (or 2 teaspoons of jarlic)
Fresh chili peppers
300g of frozen wok mix (it is an assortment of the most basic Asian vegies – peppers, bamboo shoots, mungo shoots, wood-ear fungi, carrot, etc…)
100g of frozen peas
20ml of oil
20ml of light soy sauce
Optional: protein (prawn, chicken, anything goes)
Optional 2: MSG
Let’s start cooking.
1) Cook your rice. The best fried rice comes from something called “overnight rice” or “leftover rice”. I can’t explain how or why this works, I think the leftover rice is drier than freshly cooked one by a bit and can soak up more flavors.
2) Chop your garlic, chili and spring onion. The frying on wok can get quite hectic.
3) Crank up the heat under the wok. Go for the highest or second highest setting of your stove.
4) Add 20ml of oil. Then wait till hot.
5) Crack the eggs in. Let them sizzle for a while and give them a bit of stir, just to break the egg yolks. Fold this sunny-side up and omelet hybrid on the pan and just push it to the side a bit to make some space.
6) Add the garlic and chili peppers. Fry till the fragrance hits you in the nose. Shouldn’t take more than a minute.
7) Add frozen wok mix and peas. Now, it’ll thaw and it really depends on how much water they pack in. So, I just eyeball it and when it looks like most of the water evaporated I proceed with the next steps.
8) Optional: Add your protein. Unless it is frozen parboiled shrimp or prawn, I suggest you prepare your meat before the step 3, take it out of the wok and keep it waiting ready on a plate before you get here.
9) Optional 2: Add a pinch of MSG. MSG is, to put it plainly, a salt on crack. It adds punchiness. In musical terms I would compare it to bass. You can’t really hear it unless you take it out. If you have it, add it like you would add salt.
10) Add rice. All in. If it is the leftover jasmine rice, it will come as a lump. A blob. A unit of rice. And that’s good.
11) Splash the light soy sauce around the wok sides. A nice circular motion around the piping hot wok. You can add more soy sauce as you like it.
12) Break the rice blob and mix with everything inside the pan as you go. This is the moment when the contents of the pan will finally start to resemble the fried rice that you came for. Break down the rice, break down the egg mass, if it hasn’t broken down yet. But try to be efficient with your moves. If you are too hard and stir too much, the chances are you the texture might take damage. So, keep it classy, keep it lazy - as you break down each lump of rice and introduce it to the ingredients in the pan, you can move on.
13) Add a half of the chopped spring onion. You’re almost there. This is the last minute of the cooking process. The spring onion releases a bit of its flavor and gives a bit of fresh punch to the meal.
14) Turn off the stove! We are finished! Finally. You may –
15) Dish out. Use the rest of the chopped spring onion as a garnish. If you have some good old chili sauce, maybe a bit of the crunchy Lao Gan Ma or the authentic Sambal Oelek, well then add a teaspoon or two. Personally, I don’t do it, because I think the rice is spicy enough already, but my husband likes it really hot.
And… that’s really it.
I make this dish when I want to cheer up the husband or… when I have literally nothing to work with. In any way, it is an impressively delicious meal for how little effort it takes and for that reason it’s been a permanent fixture in my cooking arsenal. I hope you’ll enjoy it too!
It was finally over. The last day of Academy began with a rather underwhelming and bleak summer morning.
After spending four long years at the Military Academy of the capital city Concordam, cadets were anxiously shivering with expectations for the Commander’s arrival; it was his decision that would sort them into specialized military branches and launch them into their new lives and careers.
While Eugenie sluggishly approached the classroom through a dim academy hallway, she couldn’t help but overhear the excited chatter of her classmates.
“Oh, I hope I go to the Navy! I submitted my preference form a day after the deadline.
Do you think they’ll still accept it?”
“I applied for covert ops!” exclaimed an annoying voice of an annoying classmate.
“You just proved that you’re too dumb for that,” someone reacted, and a burst of clamorous laughter followed.
Eugenie rested her back against the wall outside the classroom door. Waiting quietly all by herself for the chime to announce the beginning of the end. When it finally rang, she slung her bag, packed in accordance with the protocol for immediate transfer, over her shoulder and then headed into the classroom. It was easy to notice that the second she entered, the joyous murmur of the class notably faded.
Eugenie was odd.
She used to strike everyone’s attention by being decisively the tallest girl in the class with a wordless greeting of an unimpressed stare– eyes cold and grey like a stone. Her chestnut hair, slovenly laid to her shoulders, naturally rebellious fresh face and slender stature were still making people turn around, but it had been a long time since boys had dropped the attempts to impress her, and girls gave up on involving her in recess chat. Eugenie did not seem bothered. By nothing and no one. She could return compliments, but that idea never crossed her mind.
Days passed by without her saying a full sentence. Her whole image and emotionless behaviour that she had displayed steered her classmates to the conclusion that she was an incorrigible, arrogant bitch.
She waddled to her desk at the back of the room and collapsed unglamorously into the seat. Before classmates managed to revive the flow of the chat that Eugenie disrupted, the Commander of the Academy walked in. In a blink of an eye, the class stood in a rigid salute, greeting. Commander Vance Ewin, who had constantly smelled like an ashtray, was a remarkably vital man in his early seventies. Or unusually worn out in his mid-fifties. No one knew for sure. His age was the first military secret cadets came across.
“At ease, sit down,” he answered and casually slid his hands into pockets of his heavily decorated olive-green uniform.
“The time has come for cadets to follow their own paths to carry out the will of the motherland. As we all did. In the past years, while ya’ll have been training on the grounds of our Academy, your performances and physical and mental strengths were up for some evaluations.
Last month you were ordered to submit your preference forms! If there is a match between your skills and the General’s demand, your wish is likely to be granted. If the demand can’t accommodate you and your preference, don’t think we’ll send you home. You’ll be sorted into a branch that will utilize your existing skillset the best… Well, I bet ya’ll know the drill by now pretty well, so let’s move on to what everybody is waiting for.
I’m now going to hand out envelopes. Each envelope has a number inside. A respective military branch officer will come later, call a number, and if they call yours, you’ll follow, no questions asked. Until then, you’ll be quiet like a mouse. Instructions couldn’t be clearer.”
He didn’t wait for any response and barked the name of the first cadet in the alphabet:
Trissy Aikman was briskly on her feet and paced to the Commander confidently. There was no need to hesitate; they all had been through something similar before. She saluted. The Commander then shook her hand formally and passed the envelope to her. After that, she skittered to her desk to find her result. She raised four fingers in the direction of her besties, sitting across the aisle, to indicate which group she landed in.
Ingo Broft repeated the same protocol precisely.
“Dean!” Eugenie got minor heart failure when she heard her name. She stood up so rapidly that her chair tumbled on the floor with an ear-splitting clatter. Her face flushed red from embarrassment. Eugenie staggered as if she instinctively wanted to put it upright again, but she froze in motion. Fixing mess was not part of the envelope protocol. She overstepped the disaster on the floor and headed towards the Commander. The Commander rolled his eyes and nodded, albeit begrudgingly.
“Commander! An amazon is attempting to destroy the Academy properties!” Broft, now a successful navy candidate from Panumbreno, caused a boom of boisterous laughter.
“Broft! You think I can’t hear that damn racket? Well, I did, but did you hear my order to shut the hell up and wait? Maybe you want to run laps till your hearing gets better?” Commander Ewin growled back at him.
“No sir,” the classmate peeped, humbled.
Eugenie made it to the Commander and saluted with apologetic eyes, but the Commander’s capacity seemed to be completely spent by the correctness of the envelope ritual while simultaneously emitting his don’t-fuck-with-me vibes in Broft’s general direction. After Eugenie returned to her desk, she got her chair upright and hid her face away from the judging looks of her fellow classmates.
The Commander took only minutes to serve all the envelopes he had at hand.
“Respective officers will be in here shortly. Make us proud. Make yourselves count,” were the last words of advice they heard from the Commander before he left the religiously quiet classroom.
Eugenie opened the packet slightly. But she saw nothing. She pulled the paper out to see the other side. Empty. She flipped the page frantically and then inspected the inside of the envelope, utterly dumbfounded.
Eugenie was given a blank paper.
Every time a group of classmates left, her stomach clenched tighter and tighter. It did not take long for the classroom to get deserted. The thick aura of frustration, condensing slowly around Eugenie, became the only other entity to keep her company.
The blank paper’s gotta mean something. The Commander gave the order to shut up and sit. That means I can’t just leave yet, Eugenie assessed.
She did not know how to execute the white paper protocol, but she was as sure as sun that no cadet in the Academy of Concordam was meant to take any action against orders.
I’m getting kicked out of the Army, she concluded, breaking out into a cold sweat.
The dreary tension was making every tick of the clock drag like years. Eugenie was in quiet panic mode, mentally preparing for the possible outcomes of expulsion from the Army. The regime was not leaving many options to anyone, but Eugenie did not fear the prospects that unsuccessful cadets and students were haunted by.
It was the terrifying uncertainty of what would happen next that was curdling her blood.
On top of that, she was not even permitted to leave; an officer had to allow that first.
The Academy had emptied. Eugenie did not hear a single squeak in the hallway for a long while. Suddenly, the silence was shattered by an ear-splitting tire screech from outside. Her desk by the window allowed a little peek into the Academy’s backyard; Eugenie leaned in to quench her curiosity, fuelled by the boredom. She witnessed how an executive limo had parked in the middle of the backyard with almost dastardly disrespect to any kind of order. A distinct shape of an officer emerged from the driver seat and scooted across in an agitated rush.
Oh no, Eugenie thought. Nope. It’s not him. It’s NEVER him. He never visits the Academy. I wish that maybe someday, SOMEDAY, I’d get to meet General Everian. He’s a rockstar just by the rank, an Imperial... and his looks on top of that! She had been lost on a train of her gushing fangirl fantasies until steps in the hallway grew louder and disturbed Eugenie from her convenient daydreaming.
Gingerly, she glanced through the open door in the direction of the incoming noise and in that second, her heart stopped beating.
A man in his late twenties, of a tall, athletic stature, with a decorated army hat pressed against black hair, brushed into a fringe, was rushing through the corridor like a merciless tempest. Even if this was Eugenie’s first time to see a general in person, she could clearly recognize the sign of the Imperial family; a coral-red sash was peeking through his loosely unbuttoned, anthracite officer trench coat. And yes, he was carrying a long-hilted sword clipped to his belt.
There was no doubt left. General Alistar Everian was coming at her. A reflex immediately kicked Eugenie into a frenzied attention stance.
The handsome machine of authority charged into the empty classroom but quickly lost his momentum in front of the blackboard. Perhaps, he came to a shocking realization that it would be easier for him to navigate without his hat. The annoying visor of his General headpiece kept invading his line of sight constantly. He took it off, furrowed his thick eyebrows and pierced Eugenie with a fiercely stern gaze. Even across the classroom, Eugenie was snared by his frosty blue eyes.
“It is alright, Cadet. At ease,” he uttered coldly. A displeased grimace on the General’s face curved his lips and revealed his perfect, glistening teeth.
Eugenie felt like all her blood had decided to go on a strike, despite her heart’s insane efforts. She tumbled down to the seat like a pine tree defeated by a hurricane. General Everian paced to her, and with a swift move, he snatched a chair belonging to another desk and descended on it, right in front of Eugenie, with grace that would make a swan jealous. Eugenie panted for a breath and leaned away in a desperate attempt to increase the distance between them.
“Cadet, none of this is in my job description, and I have no time for this. Are you even at least aware of what could possibly bring me here?” He was not smiling. Nor graceful. His voice was so neutral that Eugenie could not tell if he was trying to comfort or intimidate her. She shook her head and turned her eyes down in a negative response. The General softly exhaled, and from his exasperated hand gesture, it was clear he was searching for words.
“Alright. Let me tell you the story from my end. On one fine evening, I am sitting in my Commanding centre, minding my own business. Nothing too important. As a Cordam General, I am only responsible for supplying military personnel into seven provinces.” Even though he was ranting, Eugenie could not help herself; all she could think of was how glorious General looked when he was doing that.
“That’s the core responsibility of Cordam. We produce soldiers, officers, clerks, lawyers, doctors, teachers and all this—” he waved his hand impatiently, “—to maintain public order in the Unity lands.” Eugenie nodded vigorously. The word he was missing was infrastructure, but she did not find the courage to suggest it.
“Then this fat piece of – Commander-- waltzes in my Commanding centre and tells me: look, Alistar, I have one excellent cadet with a unique psychological profile, and I don’t know how to sort her after she graduates, which is roughly in 14 hours. Now you see, cadet, I got played like a banjo by that stinker because you can already deduce, he got me to visit the hellhole he runs to check on your sorting process,” he fired off his version so casually as if they were drinking buds. Eugenie pulled another weak apologetic face. When General noticed her reaction, his murderous drive faltered. He looked around erratically as if he was supposed to search for some hidden clue.
“Looking at you, I assume that you’re already guessing the cause of my presence. Can I see your envelope, please?” By the end of the sentence, he posed his hand in a demanding gesture to Eugenie. Even though he sounded calmer, saying no was not an option. Eugenie was shaking when she passed the envelope to the General. He pinched it with two fingers and inspected it against the light without any due. He scoffed at his findings.
“Cadet Dean, why did you not fill out your preference form? You would get sorted by your choice, I can guarantee that,” there was a negligible hint of curiosity in his tone.
“I didn’t like any of the options, sir,” she replied bluntly. Immediately, she regretted not thinking her answer through.
“And what would be to your liking then?” he fired back at her. This time she was ready with an answer. She had spent years waiting for someone to ask her this question.
“I’d like to be Emperor’s personal guard, sir!” Eugenie spouted proudly.
Although General Everian was a seasoned professional in his trade, he lost his face in front of her again. This time, he was genuinely baffled.
“Do you know how ridiculous that sounds? Imagine as if I, when sitting here ten years ago, said: I wanna be a General, but there is no box to tick in your form, so piss off.”
Eugenie just kept her eyes low; no military officer was ever in the mood for delusions of grandeur.
“No wonder you couldn’t find a match in the preference form. Are you even aware that the Emperor has no dedicated military personnel?”
“Yes, I know, sir. That is why I submitted an incomplete preference form. No matter what I’ll get sorted into, it will be a disappointing result.” The General could no longer maintain his ironclad composure, and his face got tainted with an amused grin.
“Why the Emperor? Why not… me, for example?” he acted frisky.
“Ignore that question, Cadet,” he waved it away the second he noticed that Eugenie was violently blushing.