Too Great to Die.

Thank you again Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie for your Wordle prompt. 

The conflict hit its final operatic swell amidst the scars on the sacred ground. Poor men perished, screaming like butchered swine as they poured their last. The beasts did not join them, when they died, they died silently.

The blackguard were her wings, cutting a flight through the death and gore at her sides, with them, her guardians, no beast could fell her. They killed as soundlessly as the beasts died, swords and scaled chitin glowing with an opal’s radiance.

A great dark thing, twisting maws and churning talons rose from one of the scars. She didn’t wait for the axe-like claws to bear her down. With a roar in her throat and light carried in her hands she charged. Her feet shook the ground as her guard soared, sharing her fury. The beast did not relent, strength pulsed within it like one of the great machines, but she was a horror in her own right. The thing feared her as it faded from the world.

Such a splendor, this battle, but a terrible one. Her father’s contingent were only bodies against the temple’s silver floor when she arrived. The other priestesses fared no better. Erai lay across the steps, her eyes wide and dull, vestments tangled around shattered limbs. The blackguard flanked the steps, affording her the moment. She bent at her sister’s corpse.

Erai, the youngest of them, winsome and light of thought and feet. A mind for the ages splayed across broken temple stones, lightless and unthinking. In the lull her nerves finally revolted and she shivered with a sudden fear. This was wrong, they were too great to die.

The tide was coming, flooding the cleaved ground with pitch and rolling masses of blade and teeth. This was her end, she saw it now. The truth ravaged the inside of her ribs, carving a hole. She too, had been great.

She set her shoulders, not ready for her fate, but prepared to give death until it was returned. The blackguard moved, scaled armor shining under the red stars and they took her arms. In shock she did not fight. They were her guardians, and they should not dare to touch her so. And yet they dragged her deep into the broken temple, heedless of her protest.

The crystal of the sanctum stood, intact but empty. All had been awoken. Their ancestor’s wisdom and strength failed in the end, now dead with the others. But their empty caskets remained, nestled in the silver floor, smooth crystal and veined ruby formed to sustain sleep.

The blackguard released her. One stepped forward, unlocking a narrow casket while she watched with narrowed eyes. The chambers, and the preserving sleep they provided, were reserved for only oldest of her kind. She, a child by comparison, was not permitted their gifts. An armored hand rested gently against her back.

She took a step forward and then another. Their cities had fallen first, and now the temples would join them.  She could feel the foundations tremble, metal screaming, even as she stood in their center. Everyone was gone, she remained.

Her guardians held out bare hands, armor withdrawn. She accepted as they led her to the casket. She laid down, the metal soft and cool against her skin. Her blackguard closed the crystal around her. She saw them kneel, faces bare and watching her. It was her last sight before the shards grew over her body and into her veins.

****

“What the hell am I looking at?”

The tech jumped at the baritone behind her. She looked, catching the silver bird at the man’s collar. Outranked. She stood and gave a salute. It wouldn’t satisfy even the most lax drill sergeant, but the Captain was already peering past the screens out the viewing window into the lab floor. “Subject Charlie 446. Sir. Antecedent technology, pre-dating the fall. We’ve been monitoring it.”

“Why, did it move?” He chuckled. The smooth crystal pod remained where it had always been of course, the figure within not visible from the distance.

“High levels of neural activity Sir. They spiked yesterday at 1700.”  He was important enough to make jokes she supposed, but she kept her tone even. She pointed towards one of her screens. “Here. We think the subject is dreaming.”

He finally looked at her. “Dreaming? Of what?”

The tech smiled a little. “There is no way to tell Sir, but she’s dreaming.”

The Colonel shook his head and left. She. The tech turned back to the screens, watching the green lines over the monitors.

Searching: Part 4

The previous chapters can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Ferra sat on the edge of the roof wondering exactly what sort of mess she was in. Normally Ferra did not place much stock in wondering. Much better to do, to act, then sit and waste time thinking.  But all her doing hadn’t got anything done, aside from getting her hungry, moneyless, miles from home and possibly even farther from finding Aren. So she was left wondering if perhaps she’d made a mistake somewhere along the path.

The sun was going down on her third day in Westport, the sky aflame over the ocean. Ferra set her sword over her knees and began cleaning it with the edge of her tunic. The shining metal didn’t need the attention, but the familiar chore made her feel better. She would have to trade the blade soon, hopefully to someone who actually knew the whereabouts of her wayward cousin. Thus far Westport’s citizens had taken her money and the little else she’d bartered in exchange her empty leads and lies. The cruelty of this place stung, as would giving up her sword.

There was no sound or sign that she was being observed. Only a prickle of instinct, like cold over skin, gave her warning. Ferra twisted to look, confident with her sword so close. There was a boy. Wiry and possibly growing into tall, he looked at her from under a hood, half crouched behind the peak of the roof. He didn’t have a weapon in hand, but he moved like that could change quickly.

Ferra didn’t move. He wasn’t going to attack her, flee perhaps but not fight. “Hello.” She said. This was odd, you weren’t supposed to climb on roofs even if you were as good at it as Ferra was.

The boy waited several seconds before answering, still mostly hidden by the crest of the rooftop. “Hi.”

“Is this your roof?”

“Not exactly.” He moved, pulling himself over the lip of the roof’s crest to perch there. ‘Not exactly’ meant it wasn’t his and she could continue sitting. Ferra twisted more to get a better look, setting the sword at her side.  He tensed at the movement. “How do you run with that thing?” He asked.

“I haven’t been running. Mostly sitting.” She paused for a beat, peering at him in the low light. “Is that why you are up here, running?”

He nodded and the cowl fell back revealing messy brown hair. “Its easier to run here then down there, you can get almost anywhere faster and…” She saw the flash of teeth. “No one ever looks up.”

That was true. There was a reason she’d chosen such a vantage away from the press of people. Ferra stood and slid her sword into its sheath. The boy watched the motion with darting eyes. “Are you leaving?” He asked. Ferra though the question sounded a little sad.

“Should I?” Whether this was his roof or not, she didn’t want to get in the way of whatever business he had up here. He was already nicer than any of the people she’d met since leaving the troupe.

“You don’t have to. I could show you the ways over the roofs.” The boy moved closer down the slope of the roof. “Its fun.”

It would solve one issue with the overcrowded city, the boy was the only person she’d seen on the thatch, rotted beams and tiles of the lower district rooftops. And it did sound fun. Like something she’d do back home with Aren. Ferra felt a pang of homesickness. “I don’t have anything to trade.”

The boy shrugged. “Don’t need anything for it.”

Ferra nodded. “You see a lot of stuff up here right?”

The boy gave an affirmative.Dashing over the rooftops sounded far better than anything had in the last week, but she was here for a reason. “I am looking for someone. Have you seen a boy with hair like mine? He’s older, sixteen and talks a lot.”

The boy considered shifting his weight. “When was he in the city?”

“Three weeks ago, maybe four.” She leaned forward a little bit. “He’s missing. I need to find him.”

The boy nodded, “There’s something I remember. I don’t know if he’s your friend, but about a month ago there was a-ah fight. There are a lot of fights dockside, but there was a teenager with hair like yours. And he wouldn’t stop talking, then yelling and throwing stuff. I remember because that was when the pirates had docked here. It was them pirates he was fighting, they knocked him out and carried him onto their ship.”

Ferra felt her chest tighten and the world spun. “Oh.” She closed her eyes for a moment and breathed through her nose. It kept you calm before a fight, when you were scared. It helped a little now. “He was alive?” She asked.

The boy nodded. “They wouldn’t take a dead body on the ship. Doesn’t make sense. Are you-umm you okay?” He’d taken a hesitant step towards her.

“No. I dont feel well.” She sat down hard, her legs oddly weak. Ferra hoped it was the hunger or the exhaustion. She felt like curling up into a ball and hiding. She could go home and get help.  But in that time a host of things could happen to Aren, especially among pirates.

The air shifted and a waterskin was half offered, half pressed into her hands. “Drink some. I know the ships name, if that’ll help.” She didn’t know why he sounded concerned, he didn’t know her or Aren.

“I have to find him.”It was the only thing she could say. Unless she could grow wings or sprout gills chasing a ship into the ocean was impossible. But going back would waste to much time, and what if they still wouldn’t listen? Ferra sipped the water. It helped, the shock fading and replaced by the heavy feeling she would be gone from home much longer than she thought, at least as long as it took for the ship to come back.

She looked up the strange helpful boy remembering her manners. “Thank you, you’ve been much nicer than everyone else.”

“Not many people come up here.” He shrugged again and dug something out of his pocket, tearing the small bread loaf in two. He handed her a piece. “And I don’t really get to talk–” His eyes widened as Ferra proceeded to devour and then nearly choke on the bread. “You really are hungry.”

Ferra felt this was an obvious statement but was busy trying to breath and eat at the same time.

“We can go get more.” He straitened to look at the setting sun, rocking back on his heels. “The baker’s isn’t far, just over a few streets.”

Ferra made sure she’d gotten the last of any crumbs and stood. “I don’t have any money.”

“Thats okay. Come on.” He turned and began picking his way over the beams set over the alleyways.

Ferra frowned but followed. One normally required coin to get food. “Are you a thief then?”

“No,” Was the quick answer a beat later he sighed, “I steal stuff though, so I guess maybe. When you’re hungry enough to inhale food, you steal. Otherwise you won’t be able to steal and soon you’ll be dead.” there was a flatness to his voice as if he’d seen it happen.

That wasn’t an option. Ferra needed to be alive and strong when the ship came back. She had considered stealing when the hunger pains had begun, but she’d never done it before. In her understanding theft was like any other skill, it took practice to be any good. “I don’t want to lose a hand. I need both.”

His grin was quick, “Only the slow ones lose a hand, and you don’t look slow.”

For the first time she smiled. “I’m not.”

Thank you to The Gate in the Wood for their help with this scene. 

 

Services Rendered

       This is a wordle prompt from the wonderful Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. 

The shoe set against his windpipe turned his cheeks a magnificent shade of plum. “Answer me.” She leaned in, putting more of her delicate weight on the man’s throat before letting up.

He choked on the sudden air before rasping out a belligerent “whore”.

Delia rolled her eyes. “Yes yes. I’m a whore, but you’re a man about to experience death by velvet pump. Someone approached you looking for a way into the city. Who were they?”

More swearing as his face returned to a normal if not healthy shade, there was too much wine in him for that. Not to mention the lovely cocktail she’d added to it to keep him compliant. Delia administered her foot again. “Your ships were used to bring in illicit goods, Lord Perna, which then vanished out of your stores. Who approached you?”

He choked for a bit before Delia let him breath. “Hell does a whore care who I do business with?”

Delia sighed and bent down, her cherry silk skirts pooling next to his head. “The thing about whores, Lord Perna, is that we are paid to do things, services rendered. I have no interest in who you do business with, but the very important man who hired me does.” She tapped his forehead and stood.  “However, if you find being interrogated by a whore debasing, I welcome you to think of me as a mercenary, or if you refuse to cooperate, an assassin.”

Delia withdrew a long pin from her hair and let her meaning sink in. “Now, who approached you?”

—-

The prince waived away Delia’s curtsy as soon as it began. “Was Lord Perna receptive?”

“Eventually.” Despite the summoning curl of his finger she didn’t move over the gilded wood tile. “Three men approached Lord Perna on the solstice, giving the names Jack, Jerrod and Jens.”

He groaned and brought a finger to his temple. “Fake.”

“Smugglers do not give real names your highness. To be expected.” Delia clasped her fingers behind her back watching her employer. Getting involved in any merchant prince’s affairs was not something Delia made a point of. In the aftermath of a chess game there were rarely many pawns left on the board. “Lord Perna made note of their clean shoes and rough speech. One time hires, who were told a great deal about Lord Perna himself. The men knew exactly where to find him, the tailor he preferred, his favorite wine, his favorite hound’s name…. they were a charming bunch.”

The prince’s jaw tightened as his temple twitched. Delia began wondering which window had the softest bushes beneath them. It wouldn’t be the first time some inbred aristocrat lost their temper at bad news and took it out on the nearest peon.

“Their master either did their research, or knew him personally.” She paused. “In my opinion.”

The prince’s dark eyes finally flicked to hers. As much as she could make assumptions of the webs woven here, he was a creature of them. “Which I value.” He said finally and Delia breathed an internal sigh of relief. “Payment will be transferred to any account you’d like in a few days.”

“Your highness is very gracious, but as before, payment it required upon services rendered. So now.” The sooner she was done with this the better, and it was worth demanding the gold upfront.

He blinked at the boldness but nodded. “The man outside will arrange it.”

Delia gave another curtsy and left, velvet pumps clicking against the tile.

Flash Fiction: A Darkness in You.

“Leave boy, pack up like the rest of em and go. You’ve got a darkness in you, and we don’t want it here.” Her words were clipped. I glared across the dirt yard at Mrs. Kegley and her perfect little white house, what did she know about darkness? Or whatever else I had in me.

“I want to see her, talk. That’s all.”

Inside the house there was a crash and someone started yelling. I knew the voice, Mr. Kegley. Another crash and another holler carried out to us on the dry wind. The old woman winced even as I took a step forward.  “Family matters.” She said, focusing on me not the sounds coming from behind her. “It’s none of your concern. You aren’t good for her; this all is only going make you sorry.”

That cut it. I didn’t say anything back, just left. My boots kicked up angry little storm clouds along the dirt road. Mrs. Kegley, for all her high words and school, wasn’t smart enough to see what was brewing in her own home.  I could leave Flora alone, but she was never gonna leave me be. That girl had her hooks tight in my chest.

My tent and horse waited for me, lonesome now that my camp stood alone. The traders, my family of sorts, had left shaking their heads at the foolishness. I’d begged Flora to come along then, and she’d refused. Business she said, ends to tie and hatchets to bury.

I got that, because I got her. It was them who were wrong. I wouldn’t wait in this snobby little town for foolishness, but for Flora I would. I’d wait forever.

Being the considerate sort, Flora didn’t make me. She came that night under the bright June moon. She wore her brother’s clothes, hair sheered short but she was as lovely as ever. Flora didn’t waste time in any lover’s embrace; we needed to run she said.

I didn’t argue, just set about pulling up camp while she peered into the dark down the road. I helped her onto my horse, our modest possessions packed and waiting for our new life together. Flora whispered in my ear, thin arms wrapped around me. I spurred the horse away from the dirt path. She was right, no need to tempt ill fortune, just keep going.

I did look back though. On the horizon, set on the path we quickly left behind, a small house burned. Flames reached far above its roof, illuminating it against the night. I saw it crack, its white walls falling into fire.

Mrs. Kegley had been wrong, same as the rest of them; it wasn’t me who had a darkness in them.

Flora’s delicate hand turned my cheek, returning my eyes to the way ahead. I didn’t look back again.

Snippets and Siblings: 4

The champagne had been popped, the gifts and congratulations given.  Sorrel’s brother was now officially one of the most powerful people in the city.  Evan had always been one of them, now he just possessed the office and the mayoral payroll to go with.

Sorrel hung back finally able to loosen his tie and shrug off his suit jacket, they’d bothered him the entire exhausting night. The party was blessedly winding down, those brave enough to stay in his elder siblings’ company did so while the rest wandered out giving respectful thanks and farewells.

He left with the cowardly, confident Evan’s gift would find its way to him.

Hours later Sorrel lounged against a twisted tree trunk and watched the stars as they reflected in the oceans expanse. The windblown cliffside provided the perfect vantage point far from the blurring glow of the city.

Headlights interrupted the scene, fading the stars. Sorrel blinked at the brightness and stood.

Evan shut the driver’s door and picked his way towards the edge as the headlights went off and their night vision took over. Sorrel stepped forward reminding himself not to flinch under his brother’s expectant look. “Sorry for the obtuse instructions, it’s not really a gift I could wrap.”

“I got that impression.” Evan commented dryly and looked out over the view. “You have my attention.”

“Remember the western cliffs back home?” Sorrel asked, following his brother’s gaze back out over the waves. “I miss them and being able to stretch, to actually move right. Figured you might too, especially being around everyone all the time.”

Evan kept silent for a moment. “The cliffs back home lie in our territory.”

Sorrel grinned. “I know. As of tonight these lie in yours.” He reasoned and took one step towards the edge. “Come on.  I remember you used to be fast.”

Evan’s mouth twitched. That was all Sorrel needed.  He ran to the cliffs edge and with a leap threw himself into the air. A moment later giant wings blotted out the stars.

A great rush and crash of air sent dirt and leaves swirling over the cliffside as a much larger set of wings followed the first out over the water.

Snippets and Siblings: 3

Lenore yawned and walked into the front yard to check her brother’s window again. The glass glowed yellow through the wooden blinds. Still up then. She worried her lip, retreating back into the warm interior before the rain could really soak her t-shirt and pajama pants.

She wandered into the kitchen, finishing the half done dishes before something occurred to her. Creeping up the stairs was easy, her father and sister slept heavy and Fen could work himself so fully into a brood the outside world faded.

Lenore waited in the dark hallway before cracking open the door, peaking in at the lit bedroom. As suspected her brother was awake, writing and so thoroughly engrossed at his desk he didn’t turn from his work. Lenore sighed internally, she’d be keying cars and ruining reputations if she’d been cheated on and broken up with, not writing poetry.

But to each their own. Her eyes fell on the floor. His coat drained a puddle onto the floorboards, the boots were even worse, so covered in mud and crushed leaves she barely recognized them. So maybe not just poetry. His stuff would be a soggy moldy mess by tomorrow left like that, making any additional hiking therapy impossible.

Lenore opened the door a little more, not wanting to disturb whatever he was writing. Slowly she bent low and crept forward to pull the coat into the hallway, watching Fen the entire time. It left a trail of muddy water over the floor, couldn’t be helped. The left boot came next, the leather grimy under her fingers and then the right. She breathed out, extraction successful. She smiled at Fen, still none the wiser, and shut the door without a click.

Cleaning and drying the wilderness out of his clothes would take some time if they were to be ready by tomorrow morning. Lenore set a pot of coffee to brew and tucked headphones into her ears, picking something upbeat to listen to.

Snippets and Siblings: 2

“And you are a…”

“Student. I double in political science and business.” She said. “But I have an internship at Ravencorp in the summers.” Lane added very quickly. She hated this, having to prove herself to these severe people in suits.

The first looked curiously at her while his partner picked around the apartment. “Paid?”

“Generously.” She crossed her arms before reminding herself getting defensive was childish. His partner picked up one of her brother’s sketch books and Lane stiffened. “Please don’t do that.” The woman raised a brow at her in challenge and Lane fought the impulse to lash out. “They are Michael’s. His things.” She explained instead.

“A double major, and a paid internship. That’s very impressive for someone your age.” The man pulled her attention back. Even with the heels she’d worn for the occasion he and his partner towered over Lane’s petite frame.

“I’m nineteen.”

“And your brother is fifteen. You understand the purpose of this visit, I assume? It’s been explained to you?” The man looked around the immaculate apartment as his partner opened the door to the bedrooms.

Of course she understood, and she hadn’t needed it explained. The state was trying to take her younger brother away again, after all they’d been through, after all he’d been through. They were still trying to uproot him and stick him a stranger’s care. “It has.”

“Good.” The man answered again. “You realize it’s highly unlikely you’ll be granted guardianship even if you pass today’s inspection, Michael has voiced his wish to remain here but he is still a minor. Ultimately it is the courts responsibility to find Michael a home, his placement history makes things complicated.”

Lane didn’t like being told what she did or did not realize. “It was the court who saddled him with that history in the first place.” She glared up at him as his mouth tightened. Neither said much more before they left with their own curt nods. Once the door was closed Lane crossed her arms and breathed through her nose, fighting back tears.

It didn’t matter what the courts decided, she told herself. The two of them would run if they had to, the state had split them once and Lane hadn’t been there to protect Michael from what happened next. She wouldn’t let the law inflict that pain again.

She gathered herself and began picking up the mess the social workers had left. Her brother’s sketchbooks were open where that awful woman had thumbed through them. Even his practice sketches felt dynamic, the lines graceful and vibrant.  He wasn’t just talented, he had a gift. She smiled as she closed the notebooks and set them in their places.

The world was an ugly place, it did its best to corrupt and rip apart the good it found. Michael was proof it did not always succeed.