Monthly Archives: March 2013

Guest blogger: Augusta Li on Point of View

IceEmbers_postcard_front_DSP (2)Hi everybody! Gus here. A big hug and a huge thank you to Jamie for letting me stop by!

For today’s post on my tour to support my latest release, Ice and Embers, I’m going to attempt to tackle what can be tough and prickly subject: point of view.

A lot of readers and reviewers consider “head-hopping”—switching from one character’s point of view to another—an error and an amateurish mistake. In some cases this is true; in my other role as an editor I see it often and suggest authors change it—when it isn’t used consistently or with good reason. That is to say, when it’s actually an oversight and not used intentionally by the author to convey something.

The third person omniscient point of view is a method of storytelling in which the author dips into the heads of all the characters and knows their thoughts and can look through their eyes. One of the most famous examples of this type of fiction is Anna Karenina. Terry Pratchett also uses it frequently, and it is a legitimate, if difficult to pull off, point of view. Of course the author has to be very careful to let readers know which character’s head they are in, and it can become confusing unless the narrator is very clear.

Third person limited point of view sticks to looking through the eyes of a single character, and it’s the style of storytelling I usually prefer. When I wrote Ash and Echoes, the book before Ice and Embers, I realized early on that my characters were so vastly different that each of them needed his own voice. I decided against the third person omniscient point of view because the characters had such disparate thought processes and world views. Instead, I chose the third person limited, though I opted to alternate between the characters, just not in the same scene. I chose to stay with a single character within a scene and switch to another when the scene changed.

I took some heat from some reviewers for this decision, as they felt it was “head-hopping” and assumed I just didn’t know any better. Even so, I chose to stick with this approach for the second book in the series. Why?

I believe everything a person, or a character, experiences colors how he sees the world. People are, to an extent, the sum of their pasts. This can affect everything from what a character thinks or feels in a given situation down to the details he notices. An excellent example of how peoples’ perceptions can dictate how they view events is Akira Kurosawa’s stellar 1950 film Rashoman, in which several characters recount their experiences regarding the murder of a samurai. Because of their different backgrounds, each of these people tells a vastly different story. The film poses the question of what is truth, and whether truth is different for each person based upon his or her perceptions. After all, a notorious criminal will see things differently than the wife of a murdered samurai.

I’d like to make it clear that I’m not comparing myself to Kurosawa! But his insight into the human psyche is valuable to anyone hoping to depict the human condition. Who we are, what we believe, what we’ve experience, and what we value affects how we perceive the world. This is why I needed to give readers the opportunity to look through the eyes of each of my characters. Their backgrounds are varied, and it colors not only what they think and feel but how they see the world and the events around them. Yarrow, my mage, grew up as the third son of a noble family and was largely ignored and dismissed. This taught him to rely on himself and his own opinions over those of others, and it made him a little defensive. Duncan trained for the knighthood from a young age and holds close to the sense of honor he learned there. Sasha was raised almost from birth by a cult of assassins, and they taught him to suppress and mistrust emotion. In some ways, he’s the polar opposite of Duncan. I wanted my readers to have a chance to experience the world through each of the character’s very different minds and perceptions.

Sasha doesn’t see the world as Duncan sees it. A prime example of this occurs when Duncan is meeting with his vassals in his hall. He sits in an alcove surrounded by three tall windows which afford a wonderful view of the sea. Duncan and most others see the beauty in the architecture and the surroundings, while Sasha sees a strategic weakness: those windows are a prime opportunity for an archer and hard to protect against. Because of how he has been brought up, Sasha looks for potential threats everywhere and formulates plans to defend himself and his friends. It isn’t easy for him to abandon this mindset and start to appreciate the pleasures the world can offer.

It’s been said you can’t know someone until you walk a mile in his shoes. I want my readers to know my characters by walking in their shoes and seeing through their eyes, and that’s why I chose to alternate between their points of view. Authors, how do you differentiate characters from one another? And readers, what point of view brings you closest to the characters? First person? Third limited to a single character? Omniscient? What do you prefer and why?

Don’t forget my Dreamspinner Press titles are all 25% off from March 15th to the 22nd in celebration of this release. You can see what I have on sale here:

And stop by my blog and sign up to win a copy of Ice and Embers and a cell phone charm or bracelet!

And here’s the blurb and an excerpt from Ice and Embers:

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Despite their disparate natures, Yarrow, Duncan, and Sasha united against overwhelming odds to save Prince Garith’s life. Now Garith is king and the three friends may be facing their undoing.

Distraught over Yarrow’s departure to find the cure to his magical affliction, Duncan struggles with his new role as Bairn of Windwake, a realm left bankrupt by his predecessor. Many of Duncan’s vassals conspire against him, and Sasha’s unorthodox solutions to Duncan’s problem have earned them the contempt of Garith’s nobles.

When word reaches Duncan and Sasha that Yarrow is in danger, they want nothing more than to rush to his aid. But Duncan’s absence could tip Windwake into the hands of his enemies. In addition, a near-mythic order of assassins wants Sasha dead. Without Yarrow, Duncan and Sasha can’t take the fight to the assassins. They are stuck, entangled in a political world they don’t understand. But finding Yarrow may cause more problems, and with his court divided, King Garith must strike a balance between supporting his friends and assuaging the nobles who want Duncan punished—and Sasha executed.


IceEmbers_postcard_front_DSP (2)THE bairn of Windwake cast off his golden ceremonial cloak emblazoned with the crag eagle livery and let it fall heavily to the stone floor of his chambers. Duncan collapsed into an upholstered chair by the inglenook and rubbed his forehead. The fire had long ago diminished to embers, leaving the expansive suite dark and chill on this early spring night. Ruling Windwake had turned out nothing like he’d imagined, and the stresses of yet another day of listening to the demands of squabbling nobles wore on him. When Duncan had been granted his lands and title, he’d anticipated protecting and providing for his people, much as he’d done when he’d been a knight. The reality clashed hard against his expectations. He’d rather face an entire field of soldiers than those nattering, duplicitous aristocrats any day. At least men with swords were honest about wanting to destroy him, and he knew how to counter them.

Duncan had no sooner let his eyes fall shut and his head rest against the padded velvet of the chair when he heard a sound, even softer than the flutter of a night bird’s wings, on the balcony opposite his hearth. He tensed, his exhaustion replaced by alertness. Many of his vassals couldn’t be trusted; he found them avaricious, their only loyalty to their own treasuries. Some of them still owed fealty to Taran Edercrest, the traitor whose mantle Duncan had assumed after the man’s death in a failed attempt to overthrow Selindria’s true king. Duncan knew at least a few of the backstabbing nobles might stoop to murder if they could profit from it. He crept as quietly as he could to the weapons stand and picked up his greatsword. He held it in both hands as he approached the balcony, ready to defend himself.

With the sole of his boot, Duncan nudged the wooden double doors, and they swung open with a rasp and a groan. The red-tinged crescent moon provided little light as he glanced from one end of the parapet to the other. Nothing moved except a few leaves tumbling across the stone in the light breeze. Duncan blinked hard as sweat dripped into his eyes. He knew he’d heard something, but now he wondered if the combination of his weariness and the ever-present threat of treachery toyed with his mind. He’d never been a paranoid man, but as he stood looking out from the western side of Windust Castle, over the deep, round Barrier Bay, sheltered on three sides by high cliffs, he heard nothing but the gentle lap of the waves against the strong, gray ironstone that made up so much of Windwake. On a clear day, Duncan could see almost to the southern shore of Lockhaven from this balcony, but the gloom of the night and the chill mist rising from the water restricted his vision to the dozens of ships huddled close to the shore, bobbing gently on the calm tide.

“You should be more careful.”

Duncan started and turned toward the low, velvety voice. He scanned the shadows but couldn’t locate the speaker. Then, at the opposite end of the terrace, a sliver of shade separated from the wall, and a lithe silhouette tiptoed along the thin, stone railing before leaping down in front of Duncan without even disturbing the leaves. His boots met the stone silently, and the leather armor he wore didn’t even creak or rustle.

Duncan blew out an extended breath and lowered his weapon. “Goddesses, Sasha. Why must you sneak around like that? I could have cut you in two before I recognized you.”

Sasha answered with a sensuous laugh devoid of any genuine amusement. “I don’t think you could have.”

“Perhaps not,” Duncan conceded, his happiness at his lover’s return trumping his slight annoyance. Besides, he knew Sasha spoke not out of arrogance but simply stated the truth. Sasha had been trained by a cult of assassins so legendary and feared most doubted they even existed. The Order of the Crimson Scythe held mythical status throughout Selindria and Gaeltheon, and Duncan had witnessed Sasha’s lethal skill on more than one occasion. If he’d been inclined, Sasha could have cut Duncan’s throat while Duncan stood watching the boats like a dull-witted child.

Sasha’s training was also responsible for what Duncan saw when he stepped closer to his partner: a face that, while exotically beautiful, betrayed no hint of emotion. Shrewd, black eyes offered no clue of the intentions behind them. Though they hadn’t seen each other in weeks, Duncan looked into the cold face of a killer, not the warm smile of a lover. He tried, unsuccessfully, to staunch the hurt by reminding himself Sasha had been taught almost since birth not to feel love or attachment, let alone show evidence of what he’d been told was weakness.

Duncan reached up and stroked the soft, black hair that fell to Sasha’s slender shoulders. Sasha batted his long, thick lashes and smiled mischievously. He had the most amazing, full, dark lips Duncan had ever seen, and the sight of them curling up and parting slightly sent a tremor of desire down Duncan’s spine. He hoped Sasha showed sincere pleasure at his touch, as much pleasure as he experienced feeling the smooth skin of Sasha’s cheek again after what seemed like forever. Sasha had no reason to perform with Duncan, but Duncan knew old habits held on tenaciously sometimes, like a cough that lingered after the fever had passed.

“I missed you,” he said, pressing a kiss to Sasha’s forehead. “But you could try using the front gate like a normal man. Or are you trying to impress me?”

Sasha curled his body against Duncan and brushed their bellies together. He rubbed his face against Duncan’s whiskers and whispered close to his ear. “Did it work?”

Duncan glanced over the railing at the sheer, four-story drop to the sharp rocks surrounding the fortress. A wide gravel road wound out around those cliffs from the docks to the gate at the southern wall, on the opposite side of the fortress. Aside from that entrance, Windust was virtually impenetrable. “I suppose it did. Did your—” Duncan still felt uncomfortable discussing Sasha’s work. “Were you successful?”

Sasha snorted as if insulted and crossed his arms over his slim chest. His devastating smile widened. “Pym Goodsal and his associates will cause no more trouble for your friend Garith.”

“His Majesty will be pleased,” Duncan said, taking Sasha’s gloved hand, careful of the thin blades hidden at his wrists and the razor-like spikes over his knuckles, and leading him inside.

Sasha shrugged. “So long as he produces the agreed-upon gold.”

Duncan almost asked what Sasha would do if Garith, High King of Selindria and Gaeltheon, the largest and most powerful kingdom in the known world, withheld the payment. He thought better of it, though, and went instead to add logs to the fire and stir up the coals. By now, Duncan knew Sasha regarded a prince and a beggar alike only as men who bled and died for his Cast-Down god.

Sasha removed his gloves, loosening the buckles and then tugging them off one finger at a time, while Duncan poked at the ashes in the hearth. Sasha unbuckled the belts over his hips that held daggers and pouches likely full of poisons, and then he unfastened the strap crossing his chest, along with the weapons it held, and let it drop onto a wooden bench. Sasha effortlessly disarmed himself in absolute silence. Duncan admired Sasha’s grace and fluidity of movement from the corner of his eye as he tended the fire. The room soon glowed warm and bright as the flames flickered and grew. Orange light reflected off the snug, deep-red leather wrapping Sasha’s slender limbs and made shadows dance across his face. The fire couldn’t melt the icy mask the assassin wore, but Duncan knew what might. He replaced the iron poker and crossed the room to Sasha, who stood only a few feet from the balcony door, as if waiting to be invited inside, seemingly unsure of his welcome.

Duncan curled his big hands around Sasha’s waist, almost encircling it. He drew Sasha’s chest against his, rubbed his palm up Sasha’s back to his neck, and guided Sasha’s head to his shoulder. Burying his face in the top of Sasha’s hair, he inhaled the spicy fragrance that almost masked the scents of leather, steel, and blood. “Sasha, this is your home as much as mine. I wouldn’t have any of it if it hadn’t been for you. You don’t have to enter it in secret.”

Sasha laughed icily, but his lips and nose felt warm as he nuzzled against Duncan’s neck. The tickle of his breath against Duncan’s dampening skin when he spoke made Duncan shudder. “So, you’d parade me before your nobles and officials? Claim me as part of your household, as your friend?”

Holding Sasha’s cheeks in both hands, Duncan tilted his face upward and made Sasha meet his eyes. He searched for some trace of emotion in those glittering, black orbs but saw only his own conflicted face reflected back at him in distorted miniature. “I would. Why do you make it sound so absurd? I’ll tell them anything you like, anything that will make you happy. Sasha, you know I love you.”

“I know.” The assassin tried to look away as he furrowed his brow and turned down his lips, but Duncan held him, not letting him hide what he felt.

A fake smile replaced Sasha’s concerned expression. “You’d lose your bairny if anyone discovered the nature of our association,” he said with false cheer. “I understand better than most the need for secrecy. It’s of little consequence how I enter the castle, anyway. I’m used to standing in the shadows.”

Duncan hated it when his partner walled himself off, but he didn’t know how to breach barriers that had been in place so long. Battering them down would not do, he’d learned. If he pushed too hard, Sasha would instinctively close him out, so he slid his hands down Sasha’s lithe arms, clasped his hands, and led him to the massive bed canopied in gold and black velvet. They sat facing each other on the edge. Sasha pulled his heel to his crotch.

“Are you hungry?” Duncan asked, stroking up and down Sasha’s thigh, savoring the feel of taut muscles beneath buttery leather. “Shall I have something sent up from the kitchens? My servants, at least, still respect my wishes.”

Sasha edged closer and draped his hand over Duncan’s knee. “Thank you, my friend. But not just now. Is there nothing on your mind besides food?”

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Filed under Bloghop, gay, Guest Blogger, Point of View, Romance, Writing

Guest blogging on Guys Like Romance, Too!

MurderousRequieum_FBThumbJoin me on the Guys Like Romance, Too! blog this week, as I talk about the connection between music and alchemy and the human soul in the Renaissance, in my blog post entitled Music, Magick and Murder!

I’ll be sending the final galley proofs back to my editor tonight, after which it will be out of my hands until publication.  The novel will be released on April 8th!

In other news, I just signed a contract for Billy’s Bones!  That makes my sixth full-length novel!  The tentative release date for that will be sometime in late July or early August!

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Filed under gay, Guest Blogger, Murderous Requiem, Mystery, occult, Occult/Paranormal, Psychological Drama, Romance, Writing

Guest Blogger: Grace Duncan on World Building, Geography & Climate

It is no secret by now that I love research. For anyone who’s kept up with my blog posts (especially the last one about research) or read my bio, they are, undoubtedly, aware of just how much I do.  Some of it isn’t necessary, but that’s okay. I love it and I feel it makes a world much fuller and more realistic if you include all the right details.

One big portion of that is the world-building.  Most of us have a general idea when and where our story will take place, but refining that into something that can become real, that the reader can feel and smell and hear takes a lot more thought – and the aforementioned research.

I had a firm picture in my head of what the world was that Teman came from and where he lived. I knew it was a desert, I knew he roamed (he was a gypsy, after all).  I knew what the city they were in during the opening chapter looked like in my head. I just had to get that on paper.

ACRThe pictures I found were amazing! It’s very easy for me to get lost in the first place on the internet and when I found so much that was exactly what was in my head, it took a supreme effort to remember I had a lot to do.   I discovered that the second series of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed games had a lot, visually, of what I thought my world should look like.  Set at a later time than my story (Assassin’s Creed: Revelations happens during the Renaissance) but the desert cities didn’t change all that much in that time, so I knew I’d found what my city looked like.

I have boatloads of details in my head that never made it into the book which is, I think, one of the downfalls of world-building.  I have so much I want to tell about! So much I want to put in! But I know that I wouldn’t necessarily want to read pages and pages of description like some of my favorite authors are guilty of (*coughTolkiencough*).  So even though I know that there is a large, busy marketplace that runs from the river dock through a number of the tight, winding streets, it didn’t make it in there.  Even though I can see the tiny alleys, hear the fishwife calling her wares or smell the roasting lamb, it stays in my head.  And though I know that Behekem contains everything from the shady parts of town (with the taverns Teman undoubtedly patronized before being caught) to the upper class districts (where the nobility keeps residences while they are there), it’s something I just have to make notes on and hope someday I get the chance to put it in a blog post like this.

BlueMosqueBut Neyem’s capital city of Behekam was only a small part of the world. I quickly realized that the main city (and its palace, which I loosely base off of the Blue Mosque in Turkey) was by far, not the only setting I’d be using and set out to draw a very rudimentary map.  Thankfully, Jamie rescued me and took my (really basic) map and turned it into something quite beautiful (See above).  So as I started to put together my outline, I saw desert trips, other cities and even an oasis to include.

So back to the drawing board I went to decide on the other countries.  My world is small, I will readily admit that.  But I decided that Neyem, its neighbors and the politics surrounding it all didn’t necessarily need to be huge.  So I made my own choices and gathered Europe and Asia and brought them much closer.


To the northwest is Saol.  Think Medieval England the names are Celtic, the vegetation very European and the country, in general… quite vague.  I needed contrast to Neyem and the Asian-based neighbor Tiantang, but knew that I wasn’t going to need remarkably more than that.  So I settled on the country, the capital (Calafort) and a rather… entertaining gentleman who serves as its ambassador.  I do hope you enjoy reading Lord Atherol as much as I enjoyed writing him.

ForbiddenPalaceTo the southwest, then, is Tiantang.  Obviously Asian, it is unashamedly patterned after China.  The Empress Tian lives in a palace that is, in essence, the Forbidden City and I spent great gobs of time looking through pictures of it and China in general (though weeding though the pictures of the Great Wall was annoying).  So when I finally pulled myself out of the Internet and started writing about Bathasar, Teman and their company approaching the city, I am sure I spent too much time describing it.  A big part of it was inspired by this picture:


Duankou, Tiantang’s capital city is an odd mix of the three countries in my world: Tiantang (of course), Neyem and Saol.  It is a prominent port city with a spot on my world’s version of the Silk Road – the overland trade routes.  No wonder it’s a conglomeration of the world.  It is set up in districts – one for Saol, one for Neyem and the biggest (of course) is for Tiantang, all characterized by their architecture and marketplaces.

The world of Choices is relatively small, but I hope it still feels full and diverse with enough details to pull the reader in and give them the opportunity to feel and hear it.  I certainly enjoyed making it and put even more of it into the next book, Deception.  What do you like to see in the worlds you read and write about? What makes it real for you?

Do be sure to leave a comment so that I can award a bag of goodies to someone!

Thank you so much, Jamie, for hosting me! It’s a real honor and pleasure.

ChoicesLGBorn and raised a gypsy in the late eleventh century, Teman values freedom over everything. He and his best friend, Jasim, are thieves for hire—until one night they’re caught and their precious freedom is revoked. Given the choice between the dungeons or palace pleasure slavery, they become slaves, but Teman vows to escape someday. 

Bathasar doesn’t want the throne. He supports his brother instead, which suits their sadistic father, Mukesh. When Teman, the handsome slave Bathasar has secretly been watching, saves his life, Bathasar requests a slave for the first time. Before long, Bathasar and Teman fall in love. But all is not well. One day Mukesh brutalizes Teman before the court, angering the empress of a neighboring nation. To appease her, he then offers her Jasim as a gift, and Teman decides to stay with Bathasar for now—despite the abuse he may suffer. 

The peace doesn’t last. Mukesh plans to invade Jasim’s new country, and Bathasar must find a way to stop the destruction. But if he succeeds, he’ll ascend to the throne and have the power to grant Teman his liberty. Then Teman will surely leave him. What other choice could a gypsy make?


Filed under Fantasy, gay, Guest Blogger, World Building, Writing

An excerpt from “Shinosuke”

I’ve been working on the final novel in my YA fantasy trilogy over the past couple months, along with editing Murderous Requiem for it’s scheduled release of April 8th, but over the past week or so I’ve been bitten by the Japanese culture bug again.  I’m not sure why, but every year since I was about 17, I have a short attack of Japanese culture.  I get obsessed with Japanese movies and dig out my Japanese language books and CDs and start eating Japanese food.

It was during one of these “attacks” that I began an adaptation of a Japanese story written in the 17th century by Ihara Saikaku called “The Tragic Love of Two Enemies,” about a samurai in love with a young man who doesn’t know that the samurai killed his father.  It’s been difficult going, because of all the research I’ve had to do to keep the feudal setting believable and I’m probably only half done with it.  But I dug it out and dusted it off yesterday and was very pleased with what I’ve written so far.

Here’s one of the scenes I like.  Shinosuke is the young man (18-years-old in my story, though he was younger in the original) and the samurai is Senpachi.  At this point in the story, the attraction between the two characters is clear to both of them, but Senpachi has been resisting it.  They’ve decided to take a break from sword-fighting practice to relax in the shade of a cherry tree.

Senpachi stretched out on the petal-strewn grass, alongside Shinosuke.  This brought them physically closer than he’d allowed them to be, since that first evening in the ofuro.  But the moment seemed to warrant it. 

“Let me tell you a story.  When I was about your age, there was a man—Sato Haruki.  He was…older, and very experienced on the battlefield.  He’d fought at Seikigahara.  We were both assigned to the same unit, under the command of your father.  Haruki took me under his wing.  He taught me how to fight and the way of bushi….”  Senpachi hesitated a moment, concerned that what he was about to say might encourage the youth in his attentions.  But he would not dishonor Haruki’s memory by hiding their relationship, as if it were something he was ashamed of.  “He also taught me how to love.”

The word hung in the air between them, Shinosuke saying nothing, but his expression indicating that he understood.  Senpachi cleared his throat and continued.  “Haruki also taught me how to face death.”

“What do you mean?  Did he die?”


“On the battlefield?”

“On a hunting trip.  There were six of us, all on horseback.  Something spooked Haruki’s horse, as we crossed through a field.  Before he could get the animal back under control, he fell off.  We all thought it was funny, at first, and we laughed.”  The samurai smiled faintly at the memory, though there was little joy in it.  “Haruki had landed badly, and we soon realized that his back was broken.  He couldn’t move, and he felt nothing when I squeezed his hands and legs.  Though he could still speak and even joke about us having to strap his sword to his forehead for his next battle, we all knew—he knew—that he would be dead soon.  I don’t know how long he might have held on, but Haruki saw no point in dragging out his death.  He asked me to kill him.”

Shinosuke drew in his breath involuntarily, and his eyes expressed a small amount of the horror Senpachi had felt at that time.  Senpachi was only fifteen.  He’d never killed a man.  And now the first man he killed was going to be the man he loved.  All these years later, the pain the memory brought back to him was still agonizing. 

“Our friends led the horses away from us,” Senpachi said, when he trusted himself to speak, “so we could be alone together, in Haruki-kun‘s last moments. Then I drew his wakizashi and leaned down to kiss him.  While our lips were still touching, I pierced his heart with his own blade.”

He realized that his hands had clenched themselves into fists so hard that his nails were cutting into his palms, so he forced himself to relax them.  Haruki-kun….  He still longed to beg his lover for forgiveness, though he knew Haruki hadn’t blamed him—had, in fact, wanted him to do it.  It had been necessary.  And it was, after all, merely the first in a long, long line of painful regrets.

Shinosuke spoke quietly.  “It must have been terrible.”

For a moment, Senpachi couldn’t answer.  Then at last, he said, “It was.  I couldn’t eat or sleep for several days, and I wept until…I had no more tears to weep.”

“I could never have done it.”

A gentle breeze shook some cherry blossom petals down upon Shinosoke, and some stuck in his ink-black hair.  It was a soft, beautiful image that contrasted sharply with the story of pain and death Senpachi was relating to him.  Without thinking, the samurai reached up and plucked some the petals out of Shinosuke’s hair.  “I wouldn’t have thought I could, either.  Not until that moment.  But being a samurai means putting your duty ahead of your own needs.  Haruki deserved an honorable death, and it was my duty to give it to him.  Had I failed, he would have died, anyway.  But his death would have been slow and painful and undignified.”

As if they had a will of their own, Senpachi’s fingers floated along the youth’s hair, barely touching, until they came down to touch skin, gently following the line of Shinosuke’s cheek.  The youth closed his eyes, making no attempt to pull away.  But as soon as Senpachi realized what he was doing, he jerked his hand back.

His voice was gruff when he spoke.  “We should get back to practice.”

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