Hidden in History

Like birds flushed to the sky by a hunting horn, whispers swelled as Raven entered Luna’s most prestigious University by the main walk. The muffled discontent followed her sharp footsteps up through its halls.

While some students watched her go with hungry reverence, she preferred those who met her eyes with firm jaws, whose hands slid to hide the spines of the books they carried. Violent books on violent empires, collected essays on breaking gilt cages. They objected to her presence in their halls. Raven did not remind them who’d designed the sweeping staircases, towers, and stained glass displays centuries ago, who eagerly funded their thesis fieldwork on dissent, revolution, and the undersides of history. Instead, Raven maintained the imperious tilt to her chin as she climbed the staircase up to her office. Nothing squashed rebellion more swiftly than official sanction.

Raven was pleased to see no broken glass when she entered her office. It’d been a week since anyone had managed to lob a brick through her window, impressive in itself considering her office was located on the top-most floor of the library.

As much as Raven appreciated student engagement with the current political discourse, the rain from the ruined window had destroyed several borrowed and irreplaceable ancient texts, then open on her desk. Raven had found the pulpy mess a day too late. Their original owner, the University’s true founder and Raven’s master, had responded with predictable fury. Raven winced at the memory as it pulsed anew in her mind.

Rolled within the raging mental onslaught came his demand, do something about the brewing disrespect at the University. Raven was to find the culprits and stamp out any insurrection before more priceless knowledge was lost. Someone was spreading dissent in Luna.

Raven sighed and went to her personal bookshelf, kept in the corner and locked away from the University’s library books and her master’s borrowed texts. This collection was hers. Most were violent books on violent empires, collected essays on breaking gilt cages. She was proud of them, written under different names she’d tried on over the centuries, hoping one replace the one stolen. But among those bold and popular texts, were soft first editions of hidden histories. Understudied and in Raven’s delicate spidery hand, they spoke of bearing tyranny, surviving servitude, and keeping hopelessness at bay with small resistances.

I am obsessed with the song Death of Communication by Company of Thieves, so I challenged myself and Raw Rambles to write something to it. Check out what she did here. 

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The Romantic Art of Restraint

Something was burning. At four in the morning, Lark was near to admitting it was time to join Alec in bed when he wrinkled his narrow nose. The blackened smell grew in the air, chasing away scents of paper, ink, and oxidized wine.

Lark tossed the report he’d been blearily reading for too long, didn’t bother buttoning his coat over his chest, and left his study with bare feet. He took the stairs surefooted and quiet. The foyer was dark, but a thick crack of light shown from under the kitchen door and stretched down the main hallway. Lark followed the light and smell to the clumsy clank and bustle moving behind the door.

Inside the kitchen, smoke wafted from the stove to fill the air and baked-on black covered piled pans and pots. A tall someone bent over a bowl, picking eggshells out of egg. Lark recognized the young villager whose name he’d never bothered to learn.

“What is happening?” Lark enunciated at the young man as very little in the kitchen seemed to be under anyone’s control.

“I’m trying to surprise Nora.” The stove interrupted them as it coughed a belch of smoke.

“By blighting her kitchen? Good job, she will be surprised.” Lark leaned back as the young man fanned at the spoiled air with his hands.

“No, with breakfast. She brings me breakfast all the time. I wanted to–” The youth trailed off as Lark eyed the ball of char that could have once been, if one used their imagination, a fruit pastry.

“Does she now, got it,” Lark said tightly, inviting as little acrid air into his mouth as possible. “Now that I know who to blame for all this, I am going to bed.”  Lark left the kitchen quickly before stupidity became catching.

It was only a matter of time until the rest of the house roused at the smell or the villager killed them all slowly with smoke inhalation. Lark was not inclined to scrub charred dishes nor council a lovesick boy on the romantic art of restraint.  He climbed the stairs, abandoning both the responsibility and his coat in favor of bed and Alec’s slumbering company.

I am a late thief again. The stolen first line comes from More Than 1/2 Mad and the Legal Theft Project.  

Join the Dead

Cris watched with gloom as her planet swirled around her in an ever agitated mass of lightning and volcanoes. The storm drowned out the audible screams, sobbing, and thrum of the gibbering mad, but Cris could feel them. A sickly flash of electricity lit up above her and Cris tore off the headset before she joined the fallen.

Lined eyes looked down at her. A set of hands gently adjusted the needle and tubes entering the groove of her arm. Another gingerly took the headset before she could break the intricate Psy equipment. “What did you see?” A voice asked.

Cris’ head lolled. Crimson echoes churned when she let her eyes unfocus. The white room, the acidic smell of disinfectant, and murmur of the research team kept the pulse at bay, but barely. The storm waited for her. “It’s grown. More people are there, trapped. I could hear them, so many of them.”

“Those who succumbed to the mental disruption.” A researcher clarified. Cris nodded, but they both knew those people were gone. The storm’s fire and chaos call beat in all their heads, begging to be listened to.

They got her up and out of the white room. Cris kicked the vision into the corners of her mind, to the spaces behind her eyelids, as she showered and put on civilian clothes. Her training allowed her to hold on to her sanity, to the mundane world she was supposed to live in.

Cris left the compound. She went grocery shopping, stood in lines, and huffed at red lights. She turned on music when she entered her empty apartment, not willing to tempt the storm with silence.

She watched the street from her bedroom window.  When the storm fell on those outside the white rooms and halls, on the people driving to work and picking up their children from daycare, regular people at dog parks and laundromats, those praying, laughing, eating dinner, something very different happened.  Cris could pretend the end wasn’t coming, once they saw it, they could not. It would sand them all down.

Cris closed the blinds.

CC threw a curve ball at me and the rest of the thieves this week with the first line. Check out her original here and tune in each week for the Legal Theft Project. 

A Flat Radience

Neveah watched the girl unpack, one hip against the doorpost. Anyone could sling a leather pouch ’round their neck and say the Invisibles spoke to them. Wasn’t a good idea to lie of course, but people did it all the time.

“So, sweetpea, how long you here?” Neveah put her mouth back into a firm line. If this girl was running something, better she know it wasn’t going far. Below them, the music from the bar thrummed the floorboards.

“Its Laney,” the girl said. “How long here or the city?”

Neveah breathed out a snort, it was not Laney. That name belonged to girls who slung their boyfriend’s speed outside the high school.  This girl, whatever her name was, never hunched or simpered her small shoulders, didn’t smile or look through her lashes.

“Both, unless you got somewhere else to stay.” Neveah watched where the girl put the contents of her polyester backpack.  There hadn’t been much in it and the room barely looked filled with them both standing in it. That suited Neveah fine. If the Invisibles were interested in this one, the bar and its upstairs lodgings were going to get crowded anyway.

“I don’t. And I don’t know how long I’m staying.” The girl fixed a honed look on her new landlady. Set in deep-hued skin, the girl’s eyes shone with the flat radiance of looming storm clouds. “He hasn’t told me anything yet.”

“Well, you make sure to pass on what I’m doing here, for you.” Neveah gulped a little air. The words felt too bold under the girl’s odd stare, but they needed saying. She managed a few rooms over a failing bar, not a halfway house.

The girl, who went by Laney, nodded her sharp chin. Neveah sniffed, thinking that even someone so tangled with trouble should muster a yes’m. But Neveah felt no desire to ensnare herself in kind, and left the girl alone in her new room and wanting manners.

Another week, another Music Challenge. This time Raw Rambles charged me with writing something to or inspired by Dr. John’s I Walk On Guilded Splinters. Check out her post here.  

The City Was Still There

She felt for the lock in the dark. Arms pressed upwards, she traced the seam of the lid hoping for a catch. The holes they’d drilled spun dim cylinders of light that did not illuminate much of her little cell. Her fingers trembled when they hit a curve of smooth metal. A fail-safe for those in her predicament.

It took several tries to gain purchase, but she jerked the little handle down and pressed up, arms shaking. Her elbows hit the lid, then her shoulders as she strained against it. She fought, forcing herself against the lid as her legs slid out on the smooth floor.

Something finally gave and a bright crack showed between the lid and the base. Her eyes twitched at the spark of light. A cold air fresh from the waves washed over the bridge of her nose. Flurries of movement filled the sliver of the outside as someone barked alarm. She drank in the sight before the lid slammed down on top of her.

The force of it sent her tailbone to the rough plastic floor, legs twisted under her. Cut off, in the dark, she breathed in short jerks. Outside, her captors piled more things atop her cell and snapped at each other. She shuddered with each dull thud.

She’d seen the blocky coast, so distant it was only a wavering line over wide grey waves. But it was there. Beyond the plastic coffin they locked her in, and the bobbing ship’s railing, the city was still there. She closed her eyes to keep the sight of it alive.

Rough weeks make for rough bits of fiction. I offered up the line She felt for the lock in the dark. to my fellow thieves at the Legal Theft Project. We shall see who takes it.

….One Thief: Sometimes You Need Backup

….Two Thief: Homecoming Surprise

 

Do You Think of Me?

A man stands before a window, looking out over a sprawling city that rises in mounds and arches. Most of the window’s panes are stained with color, but the center panel is open letting air into the study. Distantly, at arched city gates, an army returns flying white pennants. The hued light from the window throws jewel-tones over the man’s brown skin. 

Lark frowns, negotiating what he knows of the lower mountain folk with his memories of warlords and his own agents’ reports, and then nods.

The man leaves the window to return to his desk. It is not cluttered, but not immaculate either. This is a place for work after all, and there is no shortage of it. Running such a vast empire’s intelligence surely takes a toll. The man looks down at the documents, the endless oceans, islands, and lands his siblings will sweep with their armies, schools, and bureaucracies. He drums his fingers on the edge of the map.

“No, that’s not right.” Lark chides himself with a murmur. Still. This man is still and very deliberate, not prone to impatient twitches of fingers or quick movements. Every step, flick of grey-flecked eye, and sigh derives itself from thought.

The man does not drum his fingers. He sets them down smoothly on the continent, on the coast, on the port where his opponent last muddled a constructed and thoughtful plan. His opponent is not as thoughtful as himself, but quick, and unsaddled with armies, schools, and bureaucracies. The man breaths out in frustration, but it is a soft exhalation, tempered by patience. 

Lark has learned to be patient, unattractive as the trait is. These contests of spycraft, spanning centuries, continents, and long-forgotten lives, they were all battles in a larger war. And yet, this man and himself, they only met in stolen missives, interrogated agents, and the occasional assassination attempt. Lark still has the scar.

From the window, the sounds of the army’s triumphant return carry in on the wind. The man shuts his eyes, knowing the blaring horns are merely an opiate for a war-weary people. The conquests are stalled, support dwindles, and far off, in some hidden place, a man plots against him.

Lark smiles, closed-lipped to himself, as conceit ruins the exercise. Still, he rises from his chair and leans over a map, and wonders if the man is doing the same.

A thief and a cheat! I changed the line I stole from The Gate in the Wood just a bit to write this Legal Theft. Check out the original here. 

That Casual Ache

Aidan grew into his second decade amidst whispers of foreign tongues, fire, and bloody gold. The southern reaches had fallen before his birth, the distant lands overtaken by equally distant threats.  And there the threat remained, travelling only in the inked words of newsprint. The Trin Empire slept off its meal, a mere handspan on a map below Aidan’s home.

Or so the doomspeakers cried as they brandished smudged newspapers at sullen market crowds.  As shoppers hauled sacks of corn meal, wrestled chickens, and bundled sweet potatoes to their backs, the doomspeakers sneered predictions at anyone who came close, or at the sky if no audience presented itself.

Distracted by the tidings and their own mundane errands, few market-goers noticed Aidan’s hand in their pockets or a stall’s missing strand of berries. As he passed, Aidan dipped his head to doomspeakers with gratitude they did not understand. Their moth-eaten robes and hoarse voices were a part of his easy morning routine as much as the sugarcane sweets and market hawkers.

And they might be right, Aidan mused occasionally. The world was a broken bone by all accounts, full of sweeping cities, coiled armies, and stone-faced immortals. Aidan just didn’t see the point in worrying about it. Empire or no empire, the world’s casual ache wasn’t going away.

So he simply requested to the air that the empire didn’t fall down on them for a while longer and eyed a sweet bread cart, his mind overtaken by more imminent matters.

Raw Rambles laughs at me every time I use a Music Challenge to indulge my melodramatic music tastes. This week I challenged her to write something to or inspired by Panic! At the Disco’s Northern Downpour.