Finally, I can breath a sigh of relief, after a few long nights and nearly two weeks of revision the final draft is done. I worked damn hard and I wouldn’t be here without my fellow editors and friends, but it feels good. I hope you all enjoy it!
“Sui Essey Wei,” Khaz whooped halfway between a whistle and a scream, the siren’s call of White Fire Slum. The words chirped up and down the causeway as laborers and guards flooded the street at 8 o’clock – a time when shifts changed and beats ended. It was a call to arms, a signal that it was time to drink, gamble, and smoke, all in celebration of another day spent surviving. The crowd of workers swarmed in the direction of the train station. Like a murder of crows hung high above a battlefield, their blood buzzed with the anticipation of the feast. From Flat Top Prison it was only two short stations to Floating City, the Capital’s famous pleasure ward.
Walking next to Khaz, Church couldn’t help but close his eyes and let out a sigh that took the tension from his back and shoulders. “Another day my friend, and I need a drink.”
Khaz’s face brightened with a smile that would have been handsome except for a ragged pink scar on the left side of his mouth. The wound pulled his skin taut and gave him the look of a predator. “Two stops to heaven, to our kingdom in the clouds?”
Church caught the veiled question in Khaz’s tone and smiled. Tonight was going to be different. Church put on a lazy lopsided smile and breathed out, “Why not?”
The Great Nordic Rail was The Imperial Family’s crowning achievement. The train system stretched from the True Metal Mines in the north clear through the Capital Greed and all three west coast harbors, The Sisters Shu, Tain, and Morpak. Any desire that existed in the western world could be found by rail and Khaz had long ago learned to exploit that convenient fact.
The Floating City was the second largest ward in Greed. Through its great gilded gates ran a street paved in cobblestone framed by what seemed like an unending row of bars bathed in drink. There were dozens that stood like soldiers in formation. They were the bottom rung, the first line of defense against the unending tide of the chemically dependent. Beyond their protective outer layer lay the Kumo dens where people bathed in multi-color smoke. Further in lay great viridian pools where the lost or fleeing let shamans steal their nightmares and replace them with better dreams. At the heart of it all, where the cobblestone stopped and the pebble walkway turned to gold, lay the unending courts of pleasure.
Getting lost in the second ward meant a lot of things, and very few of them were good. Church always followed Khaz when it came to choosing where they drank and played. One missed step, one accidental fight, one unintended interaction, and you might lose something, the least of which could be your life. In the Floating City there were always fates worse than death, and they were always one wrong turn away from finding them.
After a brief walk and a few moments of quiet consideration, Khaz pointed to a smaller place called Madam Shi. It was hidden in the shadow of its bigger brother Dragon, so most people probably missed it. The old drawings of nude men and women that decorated the wall had lost any and all of their potential artistic value under the thick translucent glaze of blood, vomit, and various other undefined liquids that now coated it. The tables had long ago been scrubbed of their gloss under spell or blade and the floor was a rusted black, half dirt and half everything else. All in all it was exactly the kind of place Khaz liked and Church could never find it in him to argue or protest. Church’s attention was mostly paid to the bottom of his glass.
Khaz had been his friend for the better part of a decade. They were bunkmates in training for the guard and block brothers on the job. Together they managed over three dozen killers, rapists, and thieves. Not just anyone ended up serving life at the Flat Top. These were Greed’s worst offenders and without teamwork and trust the guards were nothing but prey. Still, in the twelve years they had worked the job the worst thing to come out of it was the blade mark on Khaz’s face; and even that could have been far worse if the Slithe that did it hadn’t been clipped with True Iron.
For a drunkard Khaz had a hell of a sense for when things weren’t right. It was part of why they had survived the beat for as long as they had. Pairs didn’t last twelve years, that was more than rare – it was downright eerie. The Flat was full of orphaned guards for a reason, and yet somehow they had made it.
Church reached up and ran a dirty hand through the stubble on his chin. Out of the corner of his eye a lithe women with burgundy hair made of ink and fire twisted with the movement of his skin. Across the table from him Khaz was yelling for drinks. With every crass demand Chruch felt the weight below his ribs grow and crowd his comfort. Below the table his knees had started to bob with his tapping feet.
“Two shots of Ra and a round of Silver Ale.”
Ra was liqueur cut with magic. Small iridescent flakes of pure violet pain. There wasn’t a faster way to get fucked that existed in the second ward and it had the added benefit of being cheap. Church suspected more than once that it had something to do with the Towers’ stake in the Floating City, but than again he wasn’t one to play politics or sides. He just liked to drink, and Madame Shi’s workers were more than happy to oblige.
Church took a deep breath and shot the Ra without a flinch. His fingers buzzed as the glass shivered under the flow of moving power. With a single gulp his gut unspun and his doubt scurried like rats faced with light. Church knew what was happening but he was powerless to stop it.
“Hey Khaz, you remember the Baron?”
Khaz’s face was still wincing from the Ra but smiled anyway before saying, “Do I remember him? I still have teeth marks across my ankles, Ge. That legless fuck.” His smile and wince screwed his face into a mess of movement lines and scar tissue.
Church coughed half from the burning Ra and half from stifled laughter. His navy blue collar was starting to crowd him as the alcohol began to catch fire in his belly. “Even without legs that fucker could move. He scampered on hands and knees half as fast as I could run. And he had power in his jaw enough to take a piece of bone.”
Khaz was always the first one in and the last one out when clearing cells. He was arrogant and at times overbearing, but his duty was his life and he had taken care of Church like a brother.
“Ah, the bite wasn’t his problem, Ge, it was his dirty fucking teeth. Every time I took one to the ankle it got infected. I was terrified I was going to lose a foot every time that fucker got me.”
Church was bent at the waist laughing. He could clearly remember the concerned disgust written across Khaz’s face every time that they had been forced to visit the Baron. And every time he said he wasn’t going to get bit, only to roar in anger mere minutes after as the Baron’s yellowed teeth bit down.
These were the memories that drove Church’s passion for the job. As his laugh quieted down and looked to his friend across the table he couldn’t help but feel a pang of panic in his gut. After tonight he wasn’t sure he would ever feel this way again. His life was changing so fast and everything he had grown used to was shifting. Before he knew what he was saying he asked: “You ever feel like there’s something wrong with the way we livin’? All the drink and drugs and close calls on the job. Always looking over our shoulder, feeling the whisper of death at our back… We’ve been damn lucky Khaz, the Baron was nothing compared to some and yet we still are here, we were damn lucky.”
Khaz had shifted in his seat, the weight of his short, muscled form caused the weary wood to crack in protest against his sudden movement. “What are you talking about, Ge?”
“I mean, aren’t you tired Khaz?”
“Where is this coming from, Ge? The shift is over, we don’t have work until re-enrollment. Of course I am tired. That’s why we drink and do what we are doing, shoot shit across the table. So we get a chance to heal before we hit the beat again.”
“It’s just that things are changing for me. Enrollment always used to be a time for blowing off steam but this time it feels different. I feel like I need to recover Ge. The beat has started to wear me down layer by layer and now it’s in my bones.”
“You think I am any different Church?” It felt like Khaz’s grey eyes were burning into him. “I am tired too, Ge. Twelve years of it will do that. But we are lucky, just look at any of the orphaned guard and tell me something different. We aren’t like them, we know what we are doing. They burn out and fall away, we keep on grinding. That’s why we are going to end up Block Leaders and they are going to end up dead or broken. That’s not us, Ge, never us.”
“I always thought the same. I took pride in our work and whatever we did after I saw as hard earned. But after the Rattle Lung came and took Lowe…” Church’s voice shuddered on his wife’s name. He felt like he needed to get his next words in order, or else they might fall out broken and jumbled. “When Lowe passed things changed for me. For my entire life I needed this job to survive. The city being what it is, the state of peace and calm. That had me restless; the beat is what kept me going and the prize promotion at the end of it was all the fuel I needed to keep moving. But now I have to take care of the kids. See that they eat and have someone. I can’t risk my head without thinking anymore. People depend on me. Truth be told Khaz, I am quitting the beat, I am not re-enrolling in a month. Been saving up for a while now and I am thinking about buying into an apprenticeship at the Smith. I put in all the paperwork last month.”
At the end of his words Church saw the wind go out of Khaz. He had put the final stone on his back and the weight of it all was too much.
Khaz looked at him with a pair of quiet vacant eyes and said, “What about me, I depend on you. We are partners on the beat, I’ll die without you. There ain’t no one to replace you Church and once i’m orphaned I’ll be nothing but branded shit. They might try and pair me with some young up-and-coming guard, but it’s our teamwork that has got us where we are. Your know-how and my brute force. A pair is for life, Ge, it won’t be the same without you. The Flat Top isn’t a place where you learn on the job. You have it from the onset or it runs over you. Without you I am as good as dead.”
“Come with me then Khaz, let’s stop all of this and work towards something real. Even after the promotion we will always be in danger. There are no safe positions on the beat, some just get paid better for the risk.”
“You know I can’t quit. It’s not in me to choose. This is what I was born to do.”
“There’s always a choice, Khaz. You can be a different man.”
Khaz didn’t move or speak. He sat immobile between two realities, one in which his future was almost certainly death or disability, and one in which he betrayed himself and everything he had worked for.
During their conversation the tremor had gone from Church’s wrist into his legs and he almost stumbled as he stood. Things never took a turn for the better when Khaz was pushed into a corner. It was time to go, “Think about what I said, Khaz. If you decide anything, you know where to find me.”
Khaz didn’t answer. He too had found something interesting in the bottom of his glass and refused to look up after him. His straight back and heavy set shoulders now slouched inward on him and his face lost a bit of its trademark savagery to deep tired lines between his brow and eyes. In that moment he could have been one of the prisoners they had spent their lives guarding, resigned to his fate but too stubborn and defiant to ever change.
Church let out a sigh that stole something. A piece of him, of his past, and of his friend, came out with his quiet submission. And he didn’t know if he would ever be able to retrieve it. After looking back one last time at his friend and the empty seat next to him church drug his resistant eyes across dirty walls of Madam Shi towards the door. Today was going to be different, today he lost a friend.
Revising things is always a confusing and awkward process. Sometimes the corrections are straightforward like spelling errors or bits of muddled grammar and other times things get pretty heavy and involved. This little guy was a mixture of the two.
Most of the line edits from Seal and Carr suggested small things like tense mix ups, spell checks, and awkward words or phrasing. I fixed all of those before doing anything else. That helps me work through all the red and break things down into bite-sized chunks.
After the simple stuff I moved on to some of the more involved issues suggested in my first draft. Things like Seal’s comments about my being too vague at the end of some of my paragraphs, and Carr telling me that some of my dialogue was cliche. These issues take a bit more time and effort because they don’t really involve fixing what’s there so much as excavating something new. To fix these things I had to go back to the creative drawing board and reassess what information I wanted to include in the story and how I wanted to say it. For instance, with Carr’s cliche dialogue note. I knew enough about Khaz to know that I wanted all that cliche stuff to be a part of his character. I saw his character as being super simple to the point of being straightforward and honest about his motivations and feelings. That cliche stuff was what he was feeling it’s just that how I was saying it was all wrong. I was being too straightforward and simple in its presentation and because of that it came off tacky. As for Seal’s issues, I had to flesh things out better and clarify what Church was feeling and how his story arc was going to end. Like I stated in my last submission, I didn’t really know where the story was going when I started it so this was my chance to go back and give it some more thought.
For all of my other issues I lumped them into one big overarching box titled “word count.” Basically I was trying too hard to stay within a thousand words and because of that my characters struggled. Khaz was much too shallow and the world needed to speak a bit more before it felt complete enough to work. I knew this because Carr was saying things like “I don’t get his motivation,” “I don’t understand this character’s decision,” and “this is too sudden,” all hallmark examples of needing to stretch things out or change them fundamentally. To fix this I needed to go back and do some world building. I had to figure out the answers to Carr and Seal’s questions and to do that I needed to think about my characters and their world. Sadly this step is really hard for me to walk you through because it varies so widely from person to person.
Everyone has a different kind of creative method and the trick for working through these problems is to keep your ego in check. If the readers are having trouble with something it is not their fault. It is the writer’s duty to clarify and explain. Remember this when looking through comments and figuring what you need to go back and expound upon or change. Err on the side of caution. By doing this I added another thousand or so words to the narrative and I think it really helped. I let the story grow until those kinds of questions naturally disappeared or were answered and it showed in my final comments. Carr actually call my story “spicy.” I can only hope that you agree.