I'm proud of those rejection slips. They are proof that I was brave enough to put myself out there. They are proof that I took the first toddling steps towards reaching my goals as a writer, at the young age of 16.
No matter whether you are considering traditional publishing or self-publishing, it is important to remember that you are going to face rejection. Not everyone is going to like your writing style. Not everyone is going like your content or your subject matter.
However, someone out there is going to like your work. It pays to network, to be persistent, and most of all, keep writing.
“You don’t have to kill to anybody to get the coins to get out of here, Kyra,” Stryker told me. He disagreed with the way that I am earning the money. “Go rob the Treasury. It’s safer.”
Safety gets you nowhere. Safety is a convenience to cowards. If I were to have backed out of this mission, the Boss would have eliminated me. The very fact that I told Stryker about the job is grounds for eradication; however, I know that Stryker won’t betray me. I’d like to think that it’s out of friendship, but he knows that if he tells anyone else, I’ll kill him. That is, if the Boss doesn’t get to him first.
“What difference does it make to you?” I had argued. “I’ve been here too long. The stench doesn’t bother me anymore.”
I wouldn’t have stayed if I hadn’t been arrested by the city guard for thieving when I first got here. I picked the wrong pocket and landed myself in jail for a few nights. I didn’t know that the idiot was the head of Council. He looked like everyone else in this place: stupid, clumsy, and filthy rich. When they finally let me go, they took what little of value I had and turned me to the streets again. I had nowhere to go, no coins, and nothing but the clothes on my back to keep me warm. Stryker found me and took me in.
I’ve learned much from Stryker. He rescued me from the streets and introduced me to the Boss. He also taught me about the corrupt legal system, and I take my revenge by corrupting it further in the Boss’s employ. It brings me much satisfaction to see those who would carry out their polluted version of the law wallowing in their own ignorance.
“Just don’t go off and do something stupid,” Stryker advised me. “They hire all sorts of fancy guards for those coots, and you aren’t a seasoned professional.”
Stryker knows what he is talking about. Sometimes he is one of those “fancy guards” for visiting rich folk. The Boss has his hands in everything that is going on around here.
“Exactly why they won’t suspect me,” I had replied confidently.
What bothered me about the conversation was the look on his face when I left. He was looking confused and nervous. Usually when we argue, he tells me how stupid I am and lets things go at that. He tried to talk me out of it this time. He’s never done that before.
I can’t afford to dwell on it right now, because I’m on my way to the Square. There’s a big hullabaloo going on today, and the Boss wants me to kill off a few foreign dignitaries. He didn’t tell me why, and I didn’t ask. As long as I get paid, I figure that the motives are none of my business. The mission is the pay load, you see. Succeed, and all of my problems are over. I can finally leave this place and continue on my search for bigger, better things.
I can hear the parade music up ahead, and I smell the crowd. The streets before me will be filled with the usual crowd of arrogant on lookers; nothing but a mass of hot, stinking imbeciles who have nothing better to do with their time. There will be street rats here and there, as well, dressed in rags and picking the pockets of the preoccupied spectators. Normally, I would be joining them, but today, I have more grandiose intentions.
Today, I wear the disguise of a street entertainer instead of the rags of a street rat. No one would suspect the innocent young clown busy entertaining the children to have only moments ago shot down a well guarded foreigner. And they shouldn’t. I don’t look like an assassin in my bright purple stockings and embroidered yellow tunic. I look like an innocent bystander. I look like every other fool here trying to make a living.
I am approaching the outskirts of the crowd now. The stench is worse, and the noise is deafening. My targets are further down the street, making their way slowly to the place I have chosen to do my corrupt service. I wade into the throngs of onlookers and pick a few pockets, anyway. Everyone is so close together that they don’t even notice, and it’s an added bonus to my payoff.
I reach the front of the crowd after much pushing, shoving, and pocket picking. The former are necessary, the latter is going to get me arrested if I’m not careful. It won’t do to get caught and end up in jail before I can even carry out my mission. I will pass the time with a little entertaining, then. It will keep me out of trouble.
I pull out five heavily weighted balls and begin to juggle them. If there is one thing that I’ve learned from my travels, it is that people thrive on entertainment, and if you know how to entertain, you will be better off for it. I suppose I shouldn’t be using my chosen weapons as the focus of my act, but it’s either this or start dancing around like an idiot, which the crowds seem to like for some reason. I can’t afford to call that much attention to myself.
No one is paying me any mind in the first place. They are excitedly watching the approaching fanfare and buzzing amongst themselves like agitated stinger flies. I highly doubt that anyone will notice when my five balls become four as one of them sails through the air and explodes upon contact with its target: a strutting, self-important dignitary. There will be no evidence of the instrument of death left to decide my identity afterwards, and I dare say that not much of the foreigner will remain, either.
The dignitaries approach and no one notices as I turn and toss a small globe out into the street. The explosion can barely be heard above the roaring crowd, but I know that I have hit my mark as the cheers and yells turn to screams. The other four balls are put away and I am melting into the crowd again before anyone realizes what has really happened. The procession will push on, despite the assassination, and so will I.
One down, two to go.
I arrive ahead of the spectacle and begin my juggling act once more. This time, a group gathers around me. They are amazed, for I am now using twelve of the deadly little orbs, and a juggler of my dexterity is rare. They, too, will not notice as I casually fling a ball out of the circle and pull another from my pocket at the same time. The trick is complex, but I have been practicing. Even if I miss, no one will suspect me.
The procession arrives, and I pull my gambit. So what if I miss the one I was actually aiming for, because I have eradicated the final dignitary on my list as a result of the slip. Now the infamous guards are onto something, however, because they are moving in on the crowd and picking off innocent but suspicious looking bystanders. That’s my cue to hightail it out of here. If I can dispose of the final target in the process, it will be better for me in the long run, but the guards are much too close to risk it. I push on ahead instead, away from the guards, away from the convoy, on to my final location.
It goes badly. Someone sees me throw my sphere of destruction and watches as it lands. I’ve completed the mission, but I have to get away before the people around me realize that the bloke across the street is pointing at me. I move sideways, behind a large man and shove my way through the horde. If only I weren’t dressed so brightly, it would make it easier to remain inconspicuous. I shed the yellow tunic only after considering the consequences of running half naked through the throng. I am, after all, a woman. I will do what I must to survive, however, and the tunic goes. I pull the cloak off of another spectator to cover myself and am gone before he realizes that it is missing.
As I reach an alley, panting from the effort of fighting the crowd, I stop and take stock. No one appears to be following me, which is good, but I have lost my pick pocketing profits with the tunic. Oh well. I guess it’s some other street rat’s lucky day.
The passageway winds through a bad part of this town, but I can handle it. I’ve been in worse places with little else than a knife to defend myself. I continue on with appropriate caution, still expecting to hear the shouts of angry guards behind me. There is nothing but silence and my footsteps echoing on the cobbled alleyway as the sound of the crowd fades.
I don’t like this. Something isn’t right about it. Even an alley isn’t entirely devoid of life. A rat here, a cat there, something should be moving about and minding its own business, but there is nothing here. No doors are open and the windows above are disturbing, vacant eyes looking down on me.
I hear the footsteps that I thought were the echoes of my own too late. Before I can turn to defend myself, a sickening thud invades my ears. I lose myself to blackness, realizing that it was the sound of my head connecting with a very heavy weapon.
It is dark and cold here. I can hear water running somewhere, and voices. There is something familiar about one of them, but I can’t place it. The pain in my head is like a spike driving deep into my brain. It takes precedence above my immediate surroundings. Wherever I am, it can’t be the Boss’s hideout. I wouldn’t be on the floor, and I wouldn’t be… chained? I’m chained to the wall! This definitely isn’t the Boss’s hideout, and I’m obviously in trouble.
Okay, so I deserve it. I should have checked my back more often than I did. I shouldn’t have pulled that stunt with the idiot across the street watching me. I shouldn’t have even accepted the mission in the first place. But I’m not the type to give up so easily, and so I’ll stay here and find out just where it is that I am. Then, maybe, I can escape, get paid, and get out of this hole in the middle of nowhere and get on with my life.
I hear the sound of footsteps outside the heavy door to this cell. My first chance to ask questions, and I won’t give it up easily. The door is swinging open on creaking hinges. So much for that escape route. They could hear me for miles if I tried it; if only I can figure a way out of these chains.
There is a shadow in the door way. The shape looks familiar, just like that voice that I heard earlier. Maybe it’s one of the Boss’s men, come to negotiate for me and take me back. The figure steps inside and shuts the door.
“Stryker?” I can’t believe this. Why is he here? Isn’t this a jail cell?
“Kyra, I told you not to take the mission. Why did you even tell me about it? As soon as you told me, I had to tell the Boss. I came to tell you that I’m sorry,” Stryker says. He doesn’t sound remorseful.
“Betrayer,” I whisper in reply. “I trusted you. How could you do this?”
“Because you were stupid, Kyra,” he is angry. His voice is quavering like it does when he gets frustrated, growing deeper and sharper with each syllable. “I’ve told you not to trust anyone here. I tried to make you see reason, but you took the Boss’s bait, and now you are going to die for it.”
. “You treacherous fink!” I am not defeated yet. “I never trusted you, Stryker! You conveniently showed up when I needed a helping hand, but I lied about the mission, and you’re the one who is going to die.”
“What are you talking about, Kyra? You are a fool and everyone here knows it. The Boss had you framed. He can’t afford to pay you off, so he’ll kill you instead. You can’t be trusted. You are expendable. It’s really that simple,” Stryker takes a step back. “I take my orders from the Boss, not you,”
“Wrong, my dear,” I reply in my sweetest tone. “I told you the plans to see if you could be trusted – it’s quite obvious that you can’t be. As soon as you report back to the Boss, he’s going to get rid of you; then, I get out of this cell, get a hot meal in my stomach, and I’m leaving this place for good – with payment for my mission. Unfortunately, you won’t be around to see it.”
I watch now as the doubt grows. I hope that I’m right about what is going on, because if I slip once on the wrong words, my web of deception will unravel, and then I won’t be around to see anything. Gods, I hate this place! I should have never come here to begin with.
“You’re mad, Kyra. The Boss doesn’t work that way,” Stryker is no longer angry. Is that fear that I hear in his voice?
“How would you know?” I ask. “Are you one of his hit men? The Boss is a snake and you’ve only been doing business with his tail end. I do business with his fangs.”
This much I know is true. Stryker is not a hit man and has never been involved in any of the Boss’s more violent crimes. He isn’t capable of telling who has been feeding him the lies.
“You didn’t lie about the mission, Kyra. You did it, as planned, the exact way that you said you were going to. I watched,” he is matter-of-fact now, and his doubt is ebbing.
“I know that,” I reply steadily. Easy does it. I can see that I’m confusing him. “You could have kept your mouth shut, but instead, you trusted the Boss. The lie was your own doing. You told me never to trust anyone. You should have heeded your own advice.”
That did it. I’m as good as sprung now. He’ll get me out of here to cover his own tail, either way. Yes, there is nothing like the survival instinct kicking in.
“I…” he looks defeated. “Okay, Kyra, you win. What do you want me to do? What can I do?”
“Get me out of here so that I don’t have to wait around for one of the Boss’s idiots to come get me, and then get as far away as possible. I’ll tell the Boss I got rid of you, and you’re free to go. You never liked it here anyway,” I coax. I hope he believes me. After all of this talk about not trusting people, he might just run and leave me here to die. So, I add, “you can trust me on this one Stryker. I never meant to play a part in your murder. You’re the closest thing that I’ve had to a friend in a long time.”
The sincerity is hard to fake, but perhaps I do so well because I am, in a manner, telling the truth. In any case, he seems to believe me. He leaves, and a moment later returns with a key ring and unlocks my chains.
“I’ll leave the cell door open. There isn’t anyone else about, they’ve all gone upstairs,” he is steady, but I know that inside he is petrified. “I’m leaving now, and I won’t be around if the Boss sends anyone after me. They won’t find me.”
I say nothing, but watch as he pauses in the doorway.
“Kyra?” he speaks, finally, his voice shaking.
“What, Stryker?” I’m going to play this out to the end, no matter what it takes.
“For what it’s worth, you’re the closest thing that I’ve had to a friend in a long time, too.”
I nod, and he is gone. There is no time to celebrate my good fortune, or to ponder his farewell. I have to get out of here, and I’m doing so right now.
A week on the open road has left me full of the wanderlust that I had forgotten lay dormant within me. I got out of that hole in the middle of nowhere as fast as I could. I left without the coins that I thought I needed so desperately to get anywhere, and I’m doing fine without them. It’s a shame that I didn’t realize that coins weren’t necessary to travel, or I would have gotten out of there as soon as they released me from that crummy jail.
Oh well. I’ve learned my lesson in that department. And maybe I’ve learned a few things in the people department, too. Stryker was wrong. He could have always trusted me – even when I had to deceive him to save my own neck. If I meet up with him, maybe I’ll tell him so. Then again, maybe I’ll think twice on it.