Flash Fiction: No Soul

No soul noted the rider who passed under Westerland’s towngate at dawn.  The watchman did not rise from his post to mark his ledger, the crows did not take flight as hooves rang beneath the dark iron of the gate.  Even the shepherds, with their vantage from the bordering hills, did not pause their vigil over the flocks to watch the rider enter their town.

His arrival would remain unnoticed for a time. The unnamed stranger with his walking cane bothered no one, and emerged from his rooms at the inn only to walk the streets in evening contemplation. He was wealthy, with a thick coat perfectly suited to the region’s fickle weather, but of quiet demeanor, which the locals appreciated and returned.

Fate required two events coinciding to bring the strange gentlemen to the notice of Westerland. The first was the transformation of the townhome on the corner of Adelaide Road. A month after the stranger started his evening rounds, all manner of workmen began entering and exiting the house, bringing with them the paints, woods, and textiles of their trades. This alone would not have been noteworthy, London’s season was soon to end and its participants often sought out the peace of a country abode.

The second event, was the season’s conclusion itself. With the influx of ladies, young men, and the various rich into the affluent yet hidden gem that was Westerland county, the town lost its talent for discretion. With the gossips in the dress shops and the young cads on street corners, it wasn’t long at all before the name Issac Harlow was on everyone’s tongue.

Legal Theft: Awakener

“Uncuff me.”

Sergeant Walker frowned at the young woman across his interrogation table. She raised her hands, displaying wrists lashed together by jagged links of iron and silver. “You’ll regret it if you don’t.” She said and looked at him, utterly serious.

“That’s not how this works.” Walker sat down across from her. She was very young; the limited file they’d developed guessed eighteen or nineteen. While her age might explain some of the misplaced confidence, he guessed most of the ego came from the spontaneous godlike powers she’d been granted.

Walker had never spoken to a crown mage before, but like everyone, he knew the individuals who warred in the lower city didn’t possess any respect for the city’s law. “If we’d caught one of your subjects, negotiation for release might have been an option.  As it is, you should cooperate and answer the questions. No more threats.”

The girl dropped her wrists to the metal table with a thunk. A curtain of shiny black hair slipped in front of her face as she starred at him.  “I am not threatening you.” She said earnestly and flipped her hair back with a twitch of her head.  “Look, this is probably a really big day for you, and I am super sorry, but this isn’t going to turn out the way you think it is.”

“You’re that powerful?” He raised a brow. The manacles on her wrists were military grade, they’d quell an evoker. Even the temporary holding station they were in had impressive, if mundane, defenses that would make a crown mage pause. Walker felt bad for her, a girl so obviously out of her depth. No one ever chose a mage’s crown, they chose you, and the teenager seemed to have let the surge of importance go to her head.

“No.” She exhaled angrily through her nose.  “But I have people, people you didn’t catch, who may overreact when they see a broadcast of being pulled into a police van. So it’s best to, you know, just let me go.”

“Who are these people? Do they have names?”

He received a heavy scowl in response.

“I can’t help you unless you help me.” He said evenly.

She leaned across the metal table. “I am trying to help you.” Once again she offered him her bound wrists. “Take these off, turn off your automatic guns, and tell your people to let me go.”

Walker leaned in too. “Or what? This place can hold off an evoker’s storm or a necromancer’s army. I’m sorry, young lady, that you’re caught up in the crowns’ conflict, but that’s not going to happen. Now, who exactly is coming for you?”

It looked for a moment, if she’d been able, like the girl might reach out and pat him on the shoulder pityingly. When she didn’t answer, he leaned back again. He’d bring someone who wouldn’t mind harsher methods of questioning if he needed to. Walker opened his mouth to tell her so but stopped as the room shook, shivers of dust falling over them.

A second shake, this one larger than the first, rattled the two way mirror. They both stood as the table between them buckled. Far off, Walker heard the crash and wrench of metal and stone. Then the sounds of gunfire.

Disbelieving, he looked at the young woman, who had turned her attention towards the door. She caught him looking at her. “I was really trying to help you out.” She said apologetically and tucked her hair behind her ear. The lights flickered and went out.

Walker reached for his gun, but his hand touched jagged metal instead. He yelped as living links of silver and iron curled around his wrist. Snake like, the mage cuffs tightened with impossible strength and jerked him towards the table. The links dove into the metal surface like a sea serpent, lashing him tight to the table as the metals melded.

The door’s hinges tore as if made from foil. The crown mage stepped back as the door fell with another crash, outside light flooding the interrogation room. From his awkward vantage point, Walker could see two men in the doorway, one tall, the other stocky. A mess of rubble and ruined station was visible behind them, sunlight streaming in through the obliterated roof.

“How…?” Walker stammered. Even if the defenses had failed, the mage cuffs, inanimate once more around his own wrists, should have held the crown mage. The tall man at the door moved into the room, two curved swords bare in his hands.

“Sorry about the station, I did try and warn you.” The young woman said. She smiled a little. “I’m an awakener.”

The stocky one, arms crossed and waiting in the ruined frame of the door looked at her. “We need to come up with a better name for it.” He commented.

The tall one spared one look at Walker, still secured helplessly to the table. “Later, we need to go.” He said. The crown mage sighed and the two fell into step, one guarding her front while the other followed them out.

Deplorable rogues! My first line was stolen by a nefarious band of thieves, see what they’ve done with their spoils at the Legal Theft Project and check back each week for a new heist. 

Flash Fiction: Spires and Slumber

Another Wordle prompt spawned this bit of flashfiction. Check out Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie‘s site to see more wonderful prompts.

The house does not loom, it sleeps, nestled in copses of beech and yew.  Its walls are high and dark, adorned with the fashions of centuries past. Westmoreland County forgets the house when it is permitted to do so. The house’s inhabitants, soft spoken figures in the coats always too heavy for the season, are given the same courtesy and overlooked when invitations are sent forth.

Ichorous water soddens the vast grounds, remnants of some ancient river that now contents itself to exhale brume across the roads and meadows. Paths that lead to and from the old place, though numerous, are treacherous for carriage, horse, and man alike.

The soft pastels of dawn fail to dampen the house’s nebulous menace. As the day creeps forward the sun serves only to contrast the stalwart shadows cast by the atavistic spires and grand windows. Through the bright hours a breath is held. It waits, still, behind the bony gates and beneath the east bog. It slumbers until inching nightfall falls upon its door, and it wakes.

Legal Theft: Something else….

They gleefully threw him, head first and screaming, into the heart of the volcano.

And then he died.  A brief moment before death his skin popped into flame and his cry was eaten by the heat, but then he was dead.  Skin, muscle, fat, and bones were consumed by the molten rock in mere seconds.

He was still screaming though, or he thought he was. Until he realized he wasn’t, so he stopped. There wasn’t any reason to scream, he didn’t hurt. Still, his body had just been tossed into a volcano, so he tested another scream. Nothing.  It is quite difficult to scream without a mouth, or tongue, or vocal cords, or lungs, which he should have suspected.  And while he’d possessed all those things once, and had made extensive use of them moments ago, they were gone.

If he’d still owned a pair of the afor mentioned lungs, he might have at this point started hyperventilating.  Where he looked down, there was churning fire and rock, when he looked up there was sky. Up and down being relative, as at the moment, he didn’t seem to exist. He had no presence with which to judge a current position to another.

That, in of itself, would have been enough to start losing oxygen over. As it was, the panic suffused him, and nothing else happened. Without a throat to tighten or a stomach to flip the fear occurred and then faded without anything to hook itself into.

Small mercies, he would decide later, though now he was too busy coming to terms with the fact that he was dead and probably something else as well.

He was dead, he decided, remembering the brief seconds before his body melted away. But he wasn’t gone. He felt the blistering zephyrs and could shift his sight. The sensations were removed, like they were being described to him from a particularly engrossing book, but they were present.

Dead people were supposed to go, disappear off to some after-realm or oblivion. Whatever this was, he thought, it was a sorry excuse for a heaven or hell. And it definitely wasn’t nothing.

While undoubtedly an impressive example of nature’s terrible majesty, the hunk of rock around him had just killed him. The proximity was more than a bit depressing. He willed himself away, and with a mild amount of surprise, he began to slowly rise.

That was until molten fingers dug into him. The golden arm yanked him down. With one more silent not-scream, he disappeared beneath the lava.

I have the librarian over at The Gate In The Wood to thank for this surprisingly difficult starting line. Check out what the rest of the thieves did with the line over at The Legal Theft Project. 

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Legal Theft: Canaries

Due to travel, here is a late Legal Theft to fill in for my normal Tuesday post. Thievery is often a result of laziness after all. The original line was stolen from Bek over at her blog. Check out her stuff there and the rest of the thieves here.

No one had to tell her that everything was about to change. No one had to tell her anything. It wasn’t their responsibility, and so Desiree went about her days as if the world was not about to crumble.

The sleek cars came first, and inside them sleek men in suits, to take her classmates away. Valedictorians, fledgling socialites, and degenerate heirs were whisked from the campus. After they’d been disappeared, their things were packed with an efficiency only small armies of staff could muster.

Desiree and the other scholarship students observed first with bemusement as the school emptied of affluence. They enjoyed the vacant halls, devoid of withering, yet always pitying, looks they received along with their charity of an education. Even the teachers, the best money could hire, slipped away with the aid of impressive salaries. The unease settled next, what foresight had their riches afforded them?

The housemaids, the groundskeepers, and the kitchen ladies watched the canaries drop one by one to the mine floor. These things never boded well, they said shaking their heads. They, now alone with the young dregs of the student body, had no summer homes or alpine lodges in far off countries. This was their only home, their only retreat.

Desiree watched the first explosion from the campus green.

Work Hours

This is in response to Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie‘s wordle prompt, which can be viewed here. 

The Stygian lived up to its name. Though, Jacob doubted, not in the way its owners intended. The building’s front advertised its name with technicolor neon, casting the sidewalk in red and orange. The owners had probably hoped this would bask a line of eager young dancers in flame colored light, a hint of infernal fun to come. But there was no line, and it was already a quarter to midnight.

Security work was easy and mostly involved standing around being big. That wasn’t a problem for him, he was a big guy. Jacob usually liked his job, but that was before he’d started at The Stygian. It only took a few hours for the loud silence under the thumping music to grate.

The few guests slouching at tables like puppets with their strings cut were not giving anyone trouble. Jacob decided to go patrol the bar. It wasn’t allowed, but the neither was his phone he’d been on all night.

Britney hid a smile as Jacob scowled away the patron who’d been unsuccessfully attempting to chat her up. “Hey, is it as slow all the way over there as it is here?” She asked. Chelsea, one of the other bartenders slipped past her and snapped Britney’s bikini top. Britney shrieked and caught the straps deftly. Jacob politely looked away while she secured the ties.

“Yah.” He looked towards Chelsea who was taking shots. “That happen a lot?”

“She was getting me back for earlier. We have to do something to keep ourselves entertained, and it’s tempting in these things.” Blonde bangs flipped in front of her eyes as she looked down pointedly at the bikini and schoolgirl mini skirt all the bartenders wore.

Jacob hoped his expression was sympathetic and made sure not to stare. “The hell theme is pretty stupid.” The bartenders were supposed to represent lust and there were other even less than subtle themes thrown haphazardly around the club.

Britney nodded. “Especially as it’s called The Stygian.” She pulled out two glasses and Jacob winced. Britney couldn’t make a whiskey sour to save her life. The owners hadn’t sought skill when they’d hired bartenders. This resulted in a lot of good looking, but inept, girls trying to push razorwine.

She was already pouring though. It was rare for Jacob to like the people he worked with. He was willing to knock back an acrid drink or two to keep a friend. “Why?”

“Huh?” She asked and pushed the glass over to him.

“Why is it weird to call it The Stygian?” He looked over the cold, almost empty club. “Hours of this kinda feel like hell.” He picked up the drink and took the smallest gulp his ego would allow. He felt the liquid all the way down.

“Well.” Britney sipped her own drink and frowned at it, as if she hadn’t expected it to taste the way it did. “Stygian refers to the river Styx, which led and bordered hades in old mythologies. But hades is an underworld, but not necessarily a hell. So the devil horns and fire motif don’t make sense. So …you’re right, its stupid.”

Jacob was interested enough that he could almost ignore the taste the drink left in his throat and torsion suddenly in his stomach. Britney was a horrible bartender. “Oh. That’s pretty cool.” He wheezed a little.

She grinned and downed the rest of her drink. “Yah.”

“How do you know all that?” Jacob asked.

“I read a shit ton of mythology as a kid.” Britney said. “Still do. It’s pretty neat, I could tell you more about it if you wanna hang out after this.” She looked at him from beneath thick black eyelashes. “If you’re not busy.”

Jacob finished the drink right there. “I’m not busy after this.”

“Cool.” She said.

Legal Theft: Witches and Windows

Knocking on the door gave her the same sensation as hitting the ground after being thrown from a horse. It wasn’t often that a door knocked you in return. But then most doors didn’t belong to Carlotta Guillory.

Rachelle gritted her teeth and raised her knuckles again. This time it wasn’t like getting thrown from a horse, it was like being kicked by one. The impact had her flat on her behind, attempting to breathe through the sudden block in her belly.

It took Rachelle a long time staring between her knees before she could set her hand against the porch boards and get back up. The door was still closed, no sounds from within. The old wood looked like any other door, nothing special in the old thick oak or green paint peeling at the corners. Rachelle shifted her feet, fingers going from fist to loose over and over again. “Miss Guillory?” She said loud, but took care not to shout.

The cloyingly warm breeze pressed her skirt against her legs and swayed the long willow branches down the overgrown front path. Far beyond the willows Rachelle’s rusted sedan waited in the mud. She could leave, no one would ever know she’d been here.

Rachelle’s jaw tightened and she stepped up to the door again. Her knuckles were almost to the painted wood again when she winced, unsure if she wanted another trip to the floorboards. The wind livened again, setting the yellow lace of the window’s curtains flowing in an out. The window was open, Rachelle realized, wide open.

She looked back down the path, she was alone with the willows and wind. Closed door, open window, Rachelle recalled an anecdote mentioning something like that. First she bent, looking inside. The foyer was dingy white tiles, grey in the dim light. Other than a few sunken armchairs, the interior was taken up by water rumpled stacks of magazines, lazily spinning fans, and potted plants with verdant overly plump leaves.

“Miss Guillory!” Rachelle was close to desperate, but she still kept her voice as firmly polite as she could. Nothing but the sound of wind and the fans spinning answered her. Rachelle didn’t straighten. The window was open, the door was not. It was an idiotic thought, and also a temptingly logical one. No one seemed to be home anyway.

Rachelle straitened. If she was smart, she wouldn’t be here in the first place yelling for a witch. If she was smart she’d take the gift as it’d been intended and return to the loving family waiting for her. She’d never considered herself smart. But she also wasn’t rude, and had been raised proper enough not to break into people’s homes, even if those people were old hags who put curses on babies.

She grimaced and walked over to the door again. This was going to hurt. She rapped her knuckles against the door again.

The floorboards rushed to greet her. She barely felt the crack as she hit the ground. Rachelle sucked in air, gaping like a caught fish. Behind her, someone clucked their tongue.

Rachelle wheezed as she twisted to the sound. Carlotta Guillory was standing off the side of the porch shaking her head. The old woman’s frizzy storm of grey hair was squashed under a wide brimmed hat and her knees were stained with mud.

The witch gestured with a hand, still holding a bucket of dirty weeds. The wings of fat under her arms shook with the motion. “Rachelle Soule, your ass hurt enough yet?”

Rachelle, once again, managed to push herself to her feet. “Miss Guillory, sorry ma’am, I was just trying to be polite.”

Carlotta Guillory shook her head. “Polite, if a little dumb. But then your family doesn’t make em’ smart.” The old woman stepped up onto the high porch without difficulty. The wood groaned under her weight. For a woman her size she moved with grace. Rachelle was reminded of a tiger, beautiful and deadly with swinging flesh and fur. “What do you want girl?”

Her words faltered for a moment too long. The witch snorted. “You already got your gift. I don’t give seconds, this isn’t your dinner table.” Carlotta dropped the bucket of weeds on the porch and began stripping off her gloves.

Rachelle forced her eyes up from Carlotta’s rubber gardening shoes. “I don’t want my gift. It isn’t a gift.” Rachelle tightened her jaw. “It’s a curse, and you knew it when my mama asked for it, and you gave it to me anyway.”

Carlotta Guillory raised an eyebrow. “Now, that wasn’t so polite Miss. Soule. But we can talk. Come in.” The witch turned the doorknob on the front door and walked in. Rachelle follow her through the door.

Being the thief I am, I stole this first line from More than 1/2 Mad. See what the rest of the thieves did with the line over at the Legal Theft Project