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Stormcastle: And Other Fun Games With Cards And Dice

Jeromy Henry
Hold The Anchovies

Harris Tobias
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Harris Tobias
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Michele Dutcher

Fourth Wall


James Turnbull

Vivian drew her knife as the ninja assassins closed in. They might have her cornered, she decided, but she refused to go down. She was better than any of them, she knew, and even with the battle being four on one she had no fear.

“You have dishonored the shogun!” Their leader yelled his accusation, aiming it like a thrown shuriken. “For that, you will die!”

“I'd like to see you...” Vivian stopped, sighing heavily. She reached up and pulled her black wig free, before looking at the director. “Ninja assassins? Seriously? We're opening with ninja assassins?”

The director adjusted in his chair, a look of confusion crossing his face. He didn't understand what the problem was. Then again, he never did.

“What? It's a solid opening!” The director raised his hands, palms out, as if making a movie screen. “You're the bad-ass former ninja, turned against your clan! They're here to seek vengeance upon you! It creates tension! It's an awesome hook to pull the reader in!”

“It's cliched and dumb, is what it is.” Vivian shook her head, putting the knife back in the sheath on her belt. “You're writing a story about every 'bad ass' cliché in the book!” She made finger quotes around the word bad ass, just to emphasize her point.

“Hey, don't blame me. I'm just here as a scapegoat,” The director shook his head emphatically. “Ok, look. You don't want ninja assassins. What do you want?”

The assassins looked up at that, the leader's brow furrowing behind his mask.

“...Should we head out?” He pointed a thumb towards the door. “And get out of these costumes? They're really hot...”

“Yeah, fine. We'll call you if we need you again.” The director waved his hand dismissively, and the assassins disappeared in a puff of smoke.

“I dunno,” replied Vivian with a sigh. “How about an original plot, maybe? Or at least one that doesn't involve all the damn cliches? First, let's get rid of these damn clothes.” Vivian tossed the wig away, and it and her skin tight leather jumpsuit disappeared in another puff of smoke. “Then, this scenery? A dank, dirty alleyway in a bad part of town?”

“What's wrong with dirty alleyways in bad parts of town?!” The director's face fell. “I like dirty alleyways in bad parts of town! All sorts of action can happen in...”

“Yeah, that's the problem!” Vivian threw her hands up in exasperation. “Why start on an action scene? I know it's a good hook, but it's an easy hook! Thousand of low-rent fanfic authors do the same damn thing. Why not pull them in with characterization and drama?”

The director rubbed his chin for a moment, his five o'clock shadow running roughly on the skin of his fingers. Many directors, he knew, would simply yell at their characters until they did what they were told. He was not most directors.

“Alright, I'm willing to listen. Tell me what you're thinking.” He sat back in his chair, resting gently against the fabric.

“Ok, so if we're going with this whole 'ninja' thing, which I maintain is completely stupid, how about we start with the betrayal?” Vivian moved about the set, brushing her hand against the hard brick walls. As she did so, they began to fade and waft into plumes of smoke. “Alleyway is gone. Shogun's room is a lot better for that.” She looked up to the rafters. “Let's get those walls down, people!”

On her command, four walls dropped from the sky. They were screen door style walls, the type one would expect to find in a shogun's palace. The floor became white mats, and scenery appeared as Vivian pointed. She first demanded tasteful yet elegant candle holders, which lit as she touched the wicks, and then called for drooping red silk from the ceiling. Lastly, she pointed to the middle of the room, and a short table appeared.

“There, we have a shogun's room. We can start from here, and show the readers the assassination.” Vivian nodded, placing her hands on her hips as she took one last look at the set.

“I don't like it,” the director said with a shake of his head. “You're killing your lord. We need to make the reader identify with that. How about...” he pointed to the candle holders, and they disappeared in a puff of smoke. In their place appeared more elaborate candle holders, carved in the shape of mighty dragons. He then pointed to the wall, and a large mural of samurai fighting mythical beasts appeared. “There. That should do, right?”

“...Yeah, I'm good with that.” Vivian nodded, before looking down at her nude form. “Costume. I should...”

“Sexy it up, I'm right there with you.” The director snapped his fingers, and a low cut, high-slitted geisha robe appeared on Vivian. “I like it. Tighten the belt, hike your cleavage up more.”

“I will do no such thing. This is a story, not a movie. If the reader can't imagine my cleavage on their own, they should be reading porn instead of this.” She tugged on the robe, pulling the cut up and rubbing the slits lower. “There.”

“But people like sexy!” The director argued, his hands waving in the air as he tried to convince her of his point. “Sexy sells! You want this story to just sit around unused on the writer's hard drive?!”

“Not. A. Movie!” Vivian stated firmly. “Cast time. We'll need the shogun.” She looked into the distance, calling out in a loud voice. “Yo! Shogun time!”

The shogun was an older man, his face hardened by years of entrenched warfare. His clan had seen many hardships, but also many victories. He was ruthless in war, which brought him great fortune. His jaw remained firm, his nose up, and any who caught his gaze knew they were staring into ice cold eyes.

“...Seriously?” Vivian looked over the shogun, shaking her head.

“What?!” The director seemed to not understand the problem. “We wanted a shogun that could be easily hated! I'm thinking a stern, ruthless old guy works fine!”

“It's just so...cliche!” She shook her head. “No. Try again.”

The shogun was a younger man, thrust into power by the death of his father. He was a cruel leader, made all the more cruel by the words of his advisors. They spoke of treachery, and thus any perceived disloyalty was met with swift and painful...

“Not gonna work either,” Vivian said immediately. “If he's the cruel, paranoid type, then how is he letting me get to him to assassinate him?”

“Would you let me finish!?” The director snorted, adjusting himself in his chair. “Geez, try to set a scene here...”

...death. Being young had its disadvantages, however. He had not the experience to know who to trust, and when, relying instead on the words of his advisors. He also had the desires of youth, and so it took no trouble for Vivian to convince him to take tea with her one night.

“There. Better?” The director looked at Vivian with annoyance.

“I suppose,” she responded, a sigh heavy in her voice. “I still think the whole ninja clan thing is over done all to hell, but whatever. We'll need a tea set, and I'll get into place.”

Vivian moved to the shogun's side as the shogun knelt upon the ground in front of the table. An elaborate tea set, made of ivory and laced with gold, appeared on the table itself. Vivian picked up the pot, and waited for the director.

“And...ACTION!” The director pointed to emphasize his words.

Vivian poured the tea, watching the brown liquid swirl about the alabaster cup. The steam wafted into the air, bringing a pleasant scent to the nose. With grace and poise, she stepped around the table, and proceeded to pour some for herself. She placed the pot down onto the silver tray, and then sat on her knees across from her lord. As was proper, she said nothing.

The young shogun looked at the cup, watching the steam. He, too, said nothing for a time. Vivian worried about the thoughts that might be going through his head. Did he have suspicions? He couldn't, she'd covered all her tracks. The herb she used was undetectable once boiled, and the scent of the tea would surely cover anything had any smell remained. She...

“Wait. Are we sure we want to start off letting the reader know you're plotting an assassination here?” The director looked down at the script, which hadn't been there a few minutes ago. “And I don't think this scene is in the script.”

“We don't have a script, you made that up.” Vivian replied tersely. “We were setting a scene, and then you had to go and interrupt. Will you please just let me finish here?”

“I still say we should have gone with the ninja assassins battle...” the director muttered under his breath as he sat back in his seat.

...She remained quiet, and still. She could give away nothing, even if she wanted to. Her clan had trained her too well.

“It surprised me when you asked if I would take tea,” the shogun said finally.

“My lord is a handsome man,” she replied easily. “It would please any of his servants to serve him tea.” Her voice remained steady, and her flattery was well practiced. The shogun didn't seem to even question.

“That is wise. It's good for a servant to please their master.” The shogun ignored his tea, instead letting his eyes linger over Vivian's ample curves. “Tell me, are you fully devoted to my pleasure?”

“Of course, my lord,” Vivian responded without hesitation. She would not break character, though she wished the shogun would drink his tea instead of leer.

“Of course you are. That is because you're wise. You see where the power lies in this war, and seek to align yourself properly.” The shogun's eyes never wavered from Vivan's body. “It helps that you are very beautiful. It's a shame your clothes do not flatter you.”

Vivian kept her eyes lowered, adopting a properly demure posture. While she was certainly flattered by the praise, she...

“I'm what!?” Vivian looked up at the director, her face creasing in anger.

“He's rich and powerful! You've caught his eyes!” The director explained as if this made perfect sense. “Why wouldn't you be flattered?!”

“Because I'm trying to poison him! I swear to God, it's either stupid action or porn with you, isn't it?” Vivian snorted, getting back into her place. “I'm not flattered. Got it?”

“Fine, fine,” the director sat back, crossing his arms over his chest in a mild pout.

...The shogun's words meant nothing to her, of course, but she had to maintain character. She only wished he would hurry up and drink his tea. Her mind raced for a way to bring it up without sounding like she was trying to make him drink. A man of his kind would take umbrage to such a thing.

“I apologize, my lord. I seek only to please you. Shall I change for you while you drink your tea?” She suppressed her revulsion at being naked before the man, hoping she wouldn't need to do so. He was a vulgar, crass, horrible, repulsive man, and she thought of nothing but disgust and anguish, as well as revulsion and...

“Passive aggressive much?” Vivian shot a venomous look at the director.

“Like interrupting me much?” The director responded, before rolling his eyes. “Fine, fine. I'll throttle back.”

...She found the man disgusting, and didn't wish to strip for him. It seemed as though she would have to, however, as she saw the shogun's ice cold brown eyes light up at the prospect.

“I think that would be appropriate. Stand, and remove your robe.” His hand reached around his cup, though he didn't lift it from the table.

Vivian suppressed another shudder as she rose slowly to her feet. She kept her head down, maintaining her submissive demeanor as her hand went for the belt of her robe. With a slow, nearly ritual motion she began to pry loose the knot. Her fingers brushed along the soft linen as she untied it, and the fabric of the robe slide across her bare skin as...

“You're going to let me strip, aren't you?” Vivian threw her hands up in exasperation, looking at the director with a glare that could have frozen a basilisk in place.

“I told you, sexy sells!” The director responded, sounding equally annoyed. “And as you so adamantly explained, this isn't a movie. We have to be very descriptive for our readers if we're going to sexy it up.”

“We don't need to sexy it up!” Vivian nearly yelled, managing just barely to summon the willpower required to keep her tone softer. “The story is supposed to be able to sell on its own merits! Or it would, if you didn't keep trying to write some stupid, clichéd ninja assassin story!”

The director sighed, rubbing his eyes firmly. Why did characters always have to argue with him? His job was supposed to be simple. Set the scene, put the characters in place, and let them go at it. So why was it never simple? He sighed again, licked his lips to stall a few moments more, and then looked up.

“We'll compromise. Let's go with the stripping, I'll keep it short and not make it a complete strip tease. Deal?” He allowed hope to be heard in his voice.

“You were going to make me do a strip tease?!” Vivian didn't manage to keep the yell from her voice this time. The director never should have let himself sound hopeful.

“Know what? Director. Strip the damn robe.” He pointed back at the scene, completely ignoring Vivian's hate filled glare as she got back into position.

...She pulled loose the belt, allowing the fabric of the robe to slide loose from around her skin. She felt goose pimples prickle as the warm air of the room hit bare flesh, and this time she allowed herself to shiver. She was acutely aware of the shogun's eyes taking in her form, and it made her feel...

“Don't. Even. Think it,” Vivian growled between clenched teeth.

...Absolutely nothing but disgust, and certainly not arousal in any form.

“Very nice,” the shogun said appreciatively. He picked up his tea cup, bringing it to his lips with an easy grace. He drank deeply, and then set his cup aside with an uncaring motion. Vivian found herself disgusted even further. That cup alone would keep a peasant family fed for a year, yet the shogun showed no more concern for it than he would a rock from his garden.

“I am glad I please you, my lord.” She continued the act, reaching up to her shoulders. She grabbed the hem of her robe, and then slid her robe back over her bare form. “Your last moments of life should be pleasing.”

“What?!” The shogun looked at Vivian with rage, but the poison was fast acting. It gripped his innards, causing him to shake and convulse. Foam began to sputter from his mouth, causing him to gurgle in a sick parody of words.

Vivian tied the belt around her robe, and moved to the door. She gave one last look at the dying shogun, before leaving the room. The guards posted at the door looked at her curiously as she stepped through the door, but simply smirked knowingly when she gave an embarrassed look and ran off quickly.

“There,” the director said as the scene ended. “Are you happy? We started with the damn assassination, with no lead up, no explanation, no nothing.”

“Yeah, because the assassin fight was really going to give the reader a lot of background.” Vivian snorted as she readjusted the robe.

“It's going to have to now, because we're doing it next. Get rid of the robe, we're going skin tight leather again.” The director snapped his fingers, and Vivian's outfit changed back to the leather jumpsuit. Vivian shook her head.

“No. Not only no, but hell no. Skin tight leather is dumb. It hinders movement, and I'm a ninja,” she spit the word from her mouth as one might spit out a particularly nasty piece of food. “I'm wearing standard ninja clothes.”

She snapped her own fingers, and the skin tight leather was gone. In its place was the standard loose, black clothes associated with ninjas. “There. That's better.”

“Like hell that's better. You're fighting ninja assassins, and the audience is going to want the leather.” The director snapped his fingers, and Vivian was once again dressed in the jump suit. The director looked over her carefully. “Hmm. Actually, you may be right...”

“Thank you!” Vivian said, relief in her voice.

“Yeah, your butt is way too dull for this to work.” The director looked off into space. “Bring the butt buffer! I wanna see my reflection in her ass!”

“I will personally gut any person who shows up on this set with a buffing machine.” Vivian stated this plainly but firmly, causing the person who'd just arrived with a buffing machine to quickly disappear again.

“Ninja. Suit.” Vivian's words left no room for question. She snapped her fingers again, and once more she was in the standard ninja gi.

“Fine, whatever,” the director sighed, unwilling to argue the point any more. “Alright, ninja assassins! In place! Set, get rid of this shogun palace. I want the back alleys again!”

The alleyway had the faint feeling of wetness from recent rainfalls, asphalt giving off the faint sheen of a watery coat. The smell of stale urine and less savory scents hit the nose powerfully, and Vivian wished she could have been anywhere else when the assassins found her. At least somewhere with less over-full dumpsters.

“Wait a second,” Vivian looked back at the director.

“What now?!” The director failed to keep the sharpness from his voice.

“Don't snap at me, I'm trying to make this story halfway decent. Why, exactly, was I in a dynasty era shogun's palace, only now I'm in a modern era dirty back alley?” She placed her hands on her hips, giving the director a look that said she expected a good answer. The director rubbed his temples for a moment, before looking back at her.

“Because shut up, that's why. Action!”

Vivian had tried running, hoping that the figures that chased her would lose interest. She knew better, but hope springs eternal. She turned a corner quickly, feeling the four presences close in more than seeing them. They were ninja, they would not be seen until they descended for the kill. Vivian's breath came heavy from the running, and her thighs burned. She longed to stop, to rest, but she couldn't. If she stopped, they would catch her, and her death would be swift.

Her prayers were answered, though not as she might have wished. She came to a dead end, running up against a brick wall that cut off the path. She pressed her hands against the rough brick frantically, hoping futilely to find some way over the barrier. It was no use, as the wall was easily five times her height.

The sound of heavy landing alerted her to the assassins' presence. She turned, just in time to dodge the oncoming blade of her first attacker. She continued to move, feeling the air move from the nearness of the second attacker's blade. She would have to end this quickly.

She reached deep within her, calling upon the powers that were her clan's birthright. She felt the ninja magic well up within her soul, and the world around her seemed to slow. She leaped out of the way of the next oncoming attack, launching herself over her attacker's heads in a wide arc. She landed against the wall, pressing off of it and flipping through the air before landing behind the group.

The four assassins turned as one, pulling shurikens from their belts. She saw the sharpened metal fly through the air, and began to move. Her arms flailed as she watched the throwing stars spin in slow motion past and over her, and...

“You're copying the god damned Matrix!” Vivian yelled. She straightened out, knocking the throwing stars out of the air. They clattered on the ground with a metal tinkling sound. “What the hell?!”

“What do you mean, what the hell?!” The director stood up from his chair, moving onto the set.

“I'm trying to write an original story, and you're copying the god damned Matrix! Do you not have one original thought in your damn head?!” Vivian's hands flailed in the air as she yelled, punctuating her words with anger.

“I'm trying to write a story that someone will actually buy, and you're busy fighting me every damn step of the way!” The director flailed right back, frustration from the whole project finally bubbling to the surface.

“If you can't write a story that sells without ripping whole sale from twenty year old movies, you're not much of a director!” Vivian placed her fists on her hips, straightening her back. Her eyes glared at the director, willing him to counter her words. He was willing to oblige.

“If you can't write a story without realizing that people like sex and violence, you're not much of a main character!” He didn't place his hands on his hips, instead choosing to flip her the bird. Vivian's jaw dropped, and her eyes went wide. She stopped just short of slapping the man, instead choosing to turn her back to him and walk off scene.

“The hell do you think you're going?!” The director yelled at her.

“Anywhere but this stupid story! You want to write a cliched, idiotic rip off of the Matrix, get yourself a new main character! Call me back when you've got something steampunk!” She didn't so much as stop walking as she yelled back.

“You can't leave! You're on contract!” The director yelled at Vivian's back. Her only response was to raise her middle finger to him before she disappeared into the distance. The director scowled, and then mimed picking up a phone receiver. As he did so, a phone appeared, suspended in thin air. He put the receiver to his ear, and then dialed a number.

“...Hello, Protagonists-R-Us? Yeah, I need a female lead. ...Yes, she absolutely needs to be good with softcore...”

Read more stories by this author

2012-06-09 11:34:18
ccubed98 - fun, irreverant, and ends with a wonderful twist!

2012-03-03 08:41:48
Funny stuff. Loved the back and forth between the director and the girl!

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