After-show

Raven descended the theater stairs quickly before the director, the owner, or the churning crowd would leave their seats. Their rumbles of applause were minutes away. Her fingers clutched the sides of her skirt tightly as she hurried down the steps and glided onto the lobby’s marble. Raven had only those minutes to avoid the earnest but aggressive invitations to aftershow festivities.

Now poised with escape at hand, only a few awestruck ushers to report her sudden and ungracious exit, Raven paused. From behind the closed theater doors, the mage Prospero begged the audience’s forgiveness. Through their pardon, the mage could leave the island and the stage, and they could leave their seats. He held them hostage.

Raven exhaled a low breath to keep from grinding her teeth. Her jaw was already sore from the last two hours of expert acting and breathtaking delivery . The actor playing Prospero was talented, she could still hear every poignant syllable from behind the doors. Quality was not the issue. The theatre was supposed to be her escape, but even here Raven was held by the machinations of a pompous mage. She left the theater with tight, electric steps.

The warm evening had given way to the city’s normal coastal chill. Raven took a happier breath and started down the promenade. Now free of the theater’s slightly over-shared air, she could think better on the play and its cast. It was Ariel that she returned to, Prospero’s assistant, conspirator, and confidant. The way the chaotic spirit had bowed, bargained, and with careful words mitigated Prospero’s cruel streak, only to be given a half-freedom favoring trade winds…. it left her itching for not just more, but something better for those that had suffered under the mage and his familial obsessions.

And that was to say nothing of Caliban.

The theater was not very far from the coast and her tower. Raven let the thoughts vibrate as she walked. Agitated, but not unhappy, Raven took the pitted steps down to the beach. She was too spiteful to work, and too awake to sleep. Tomorrow she’d send a complimentary letter to the dramatist, it’d been a truly affecting show.

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Battle Envy

Blair kept her eyes flat towards the ground as she walked, lest anyone catch them and try to draw words from her. She had nothing to say. The interior of the country club was already throbbing with conversation, all flattering laughter, board room boasting, and low anecdotes about the Hamptons. It didn’t need more useless noise.

A tray was offered to her, she took a glass without pausing or lifting her gaze. It was easier than stopping to waive the server on. Each room seemed louder, maybe drunker, than the next with rustled trays and the soft clink of glasses next to teeth.

Now in the open of the dining hall, she couldn’t avoid attention entirely.  Whispers clung to her, half-heard, half-summoned from memory, as she brushed by shoulders.

Blair is so quiet, even dull, maybe stupid. How sad. Not for the guy who lands her and that money. She isn’t even trying to pretend anymore, is she?

Blair is off. Yellow heels? You’d think her parents would have thrown some taste into that test tube.

Blair is just unsettling, that’s all. It’s her eyes, nothing there. Well, what do you expect?

Outside, people still congregated on the gold-veined marble patio, but their voices didn’t join together so discordantly. Blair rubbed her skin of her arms like she’d walked through a spiderweb, the feeling of little legs and threads ghosting over her skin.

“How kind of you, though I prefer red.” The words slid into her ear as someone plucked the wine glass from her hand.  Blair jabbed her eyes to the side. Orion sipped the unwanted wine and looked past her down towards the valley’s gridded lights.

They exchanged no more words, as she had nothing to say, and Orion only spoke when he was guaranteed a reaction. But Blair followed him back around the side of the hillside patio where their peers smoked twists of weed and passed around pills. A few drifted frowns sideways at Blair’s presence, but Orion’s snide volume was, as always, distracting.

Blair found all the decadent rebellion a little amusing. Everyone drank, snorted, and wrecked their family fortunes away as if it mattered, as if those fortunes weren’t endless. As if any of their parents cared, as long as they stayed around the patio corner. Except Orion, he wore dilated pupils and loud slurred speech openly like a gun in hand. Blair figured that was why he was accepted and she was whispered at, everyone was just a bit in awe of the careless war he waged.

Blair shook her head flatly at every pill and joint offered until they stopped offering. No one knew exactly how such things affected her, anything more than wine was a gamble. Besides, she’d forfeited the shallow revolts and exhausting battles long ago.

Another Music Challenge, this time inspired by Skating Polly’s Little Girl Blue and the Battle Envy.  Raw Rambles picked the song this week, so check out her blog. 

Hostages and Horns

“Sara, language!” Rosa snapped at her daughter. At nineteen, Sara was home from college and Rosa had just precious weeks to curb a year of bad habits. Both mother and daughter were snug in sweatpants, half-watching the television from the living room couch.

Sara looked up from her sticker covered laptop.  “Suck isn’t a—” Sara gave up the battle half-way through. “Fine, mamá.”

“In this house it is.” Rosa nostril’s flared with the last word and settled back into the cushions with pursed lips. On the screen the local news flashed human interest stories. Rosa flapped a hand towards the television screen where the reporter was interviewing a performance artist. It would have been boring, except the artist had a scaled tail swishing from beneath her mini skirt. “Could you imagine?” Rosa asked, eyes flashing.

Sara looked up and blandly watched the reporter move through an art fair, stopping occasionally to interview an artist or a fair-goer. More than a few of them had tails, or pointed ears, or dark swirling pits where their eyes should be. Rosa wasn’t done. “Looking like that, disgusting, no wonder so many of them off themselves, I would.”

“Jesus, mom.” Sara breathed.

Rosa rounded on her like Sara had just spouted a tail herself. “What did I just say. Your brother never gave us this much trouble, you know.” Rosa kept talking over Sara’s defensive bristling, “I am beginning to think college isn’t good for you.  Your father didn’t like you leaving home, living there, maybe I should have listened to him.”

“No, mamá. Lo siento, lo siento.” She said very quickly, deflating. Sara set her focus on the laptop in front of her. She had another week and half here before school would call her back to the manicured concrete of the campus. The disgusting shared bathrooms, grabby frat guys, and holier than thou faculty waited for her. Sara was counting the days.

Rosa didn’t change the channel, but continued watching coverage of the art fair, eyes narrowing to slits as the reporter rounded the displays and tents. Sara focused all attention on her laptop screen and considered proposing a movie. At least until her mother made a strangled sound.

Sara looked up. On the television screen a young man with warm brown skin and dark hair spoke purposefully into the microphone. Behind him an array of nature and cityscape photographs showed his craft. But from his head, just back from the curve of his forehead, two lazy corkscrewed horns twined upwards. Sara’s brother smiled at the camera as his horns glinted in the sun.

The two women stared at the television.

Sara blinked first “…….well tits.”

CC gave me a rather…interesting line to steal. See the original here. Its all part of the Legal Theft Project. 

A Slight Delay

The tangled branches hid the sky, speckling them with shadow as they rode. Chao watched them from the trees as he gripped his short sword, the handle’s wrap ragged and sweat stained beneath his fingers. Foreign and rich, these shade-dappled travelers, perfect pickings along the forested road.

Still, his little band of bandits crept carefully through the trees, following the strangers’ solid plodding horses. The beasts alone would pay for the bandit’s winter tucked away somewhere warm. To say nothing of the travelers fine, if plain, coats and boots. Three of them, a lanky crane-like man and two young women, one with snow-colored hair, the other with gold waves. Spies maybe, to be so far off the main road, Chao thought. But spies had coin same as everyone else, and no one to miss them if they vanished in the middle of the Shunan woods.

He pointed a hand as the travelers rounded a wide bend, they’d catch them on the other side. Flicks of nods surrounded him in the shadowy green. His men knew what to do, they’d done this before.

Five armed and hungry bandits stepped out onto the dappled path, surrounding the three. The young woman with gold hair sucked in a panicked breath and clutched her reigns. The other two did nothing but stop their horses. Chao leveled his grimy sword up at the man, making his intent clear.

The man’s stiff gaze bored into Chao. At the back of the little party, the snow-haired woman flicked her gaze along each of the bandits, counting.  Finding something not to her liking, she sighed and looked plaintively at her companion and received a quick shake of golden waves in answer.

The bandits shifted and swayed. Now close, they noted the bulk of a pistol beneath the man’s overcoat, the tops of several fine daggers tucked into the woman’s boot, the worried energy of the golden-haired woman, which was directed not at them, but at her flat-eyed companions. In the speckled sunlight, high up on their tall horses, the impassive travelers waited for the bandits to commit to their mistake or move aside.

Chao, smarter than most gave him credit for, held up his hands and took a step back, choosing the latter. Slowly, the rest of their little band did the same and the strangers clucked their tongues, starting up their mounts again. Soon the slow clop of their horses faded into the soft sunny noises of the woods.

Not one of the bandits chided Chao as they slipped back into the trees to cool their shaken nerves, they’d each seen the consideration in those creatures eyes. Alive or dead, spared or slaughtered, the bandits had been only a slight delay for those dappled travelers.

This week, I leave the thieving to others. My first line may have been stolen as part of the Legal Theft project. Check back in to see if the bait caught any thieves.  

One thief…

 

 

The Girl with Thin Fingernails

Dawn cracked ripe and ready for a downpour. Zak eased the front door closed with silent practice. He didn’t mind running in the rain, but it turned the roads to mires and the hillsides to slosh. Better to get his daily circuit in before the skies opened up over the isle.

His route took him from mother’s front door, through the village he’d spent all of his sixteen years racing through, and up along the island cliffs and their winding, overgrown heights. Zak stopped on the main overlook to let his chest swell at the sight of his concave world. Cradled on all sides by jagged obsidian peaks, the wetly green interior and mist-hazy lake still slumbered.

Except… a single light nestled at the back of the manor house. In the dark of the valley, a small lantern gleamed like a dandelion fluff in the wet air. Someone was up early, Zak thought as he stretched.

The distant little light continued to hook his eye between the trees and sharp glassy boulders as he ran. And as he found the valley again with its rolling hills and easy sodden paths, his feet slowed and paused. The village and his morning chores waited on his left, and to his right, a much smaller trail would bring him to the manor house and the dawn-lit lantern.

Zak shook his dribbling hair and started down the smaller trail. He’d not been near the manor house in years, not since cajoled and convinced by other children, he’d stuck close to steal a hanging chime off a window sill. Sick with guilt and fearing the stories of the manor’s occupants, he’d crept back alone to replace the little chime.

Now, with a longer stride and wider shoulders, Zak moved around the exterior of the peculiar house. He slid his eyes along the the strangely peaked roofs and the mismatched doors adorned with fearsome carvings. Around the corner, a clear dirt back yard housed a chicken coop and a single step set below that pale lantern. Bathed in the splash of light, a very young woman sat on the step and stared blankly into the yard. Tears ran freely down her cheeks.

Zak exhaled his held breath, disturbing the cold quiet of the yard and she snapped her head to him. Her sheet of black hair swung around her face so that strands of it stuck to her tear-sodden cheeks. They blinked at each other before Zak thought to ask if she was alright.

She shook her head, eyes lost somewhere far away from him. Zak guessed that’s where her gaze had been when he’d interrupted her, in thoughts worlds apart from the house and their glass-cradled isle. Her thin, uneven nails caught on her finely woven robe as her fingers worried the fabric. It looked like she’d been shredding them.

“Can I make it better?” He spoke the thought aloud as it occurred to him.

He expected to be scoffed at. Zak was well-accustomed to rolled eyes and huffed dismissals whenever he dared speak his mind in the village. But the girl stilled, drawn back to the isle, the kitchen yard, and the stranger offering help he couldn’t possibly understand. Then slowly, she pressed her lips together in a feeble smile and wiped her hair back from her face. “Maybe. Share some breakfast?” She asked in a small rusty voice.

Zak nodded and waited for her to stand. He followed her over the step and into the manor house.

Another Music Challenge. This week I challenged Raw Rambles to write something to or inspired by The Decemberists’ Make You Better and I did the same. I’ll link her’s here when it goes up.  

 

Shades and Gunman

He almost smiled when he heard the click of the pistol. Almost, being right offset the impending bullet wound only so much. Reid raised his hands to his ears in surrender and turned around slowly. “It was that damn blue blood wasn’t it?” He asked the man with the pistol.

The gunman’s arm was steady but he was wearing too much black, cutting a hard silhouette against the cluttered darkness of the living room. Still Reid was impressed, he’d gotten into their flat without Reid noticing. At least until that click. “They just pay me.” The man twitched a shrug. “But yeah.”

“I won’t insult you with a counter offer then.” Reid hoped the man would look disappointed but the gunman just rolled his lips back in an ugly smile. Of course that bastard’s family was paying well. “You’re enjoying this.”

“Not everyday you get to kill a shade,” The gunman said. He took a step forward and Reid knew he should shrink back, cower a little, humor the man capable of putting a bullet in him.

But Reid didn’t bend that way. Instead, he frowned at the gun encroaching into his personal space and flicked a thin smile up at the amateur.  “Not everyday, no.”

A stocky shape moved in the dark behind the gunman. Like a blade of spring grass sliding up from winter soil, an arc of silver sword erupted from the gunman’s chest. The gunman blinked in surprise at the metal protruding from his front, so did Reid, but with less surprise. The sword was yanked back with a whispery wet grunt and the failed assassin folded on the fake hardwood.

Two brothers looked down at the body. Vin drew his chin up first with a narrow look. Reid gave an apologetic grimace and drew his hand flat from his mouth and down, signing thanks. Vin nodded, both knew that something like this would happen eventually. The two brothers went about rolling the body into the rug in silence.

A victimless crime? We shall see, I took this first line from The Gate in the Wood as part of the Legal Theft Project. 

Flash Fiction: The Watch

Time ground on. It chipped down on the country of Eristae, its memory, its anger. As the years flowed through them, people forgot their anger at the imperial ships and new rules. They grew familiar with the tithes and the soldiers on street corners. Their daughters married those street corner soldiers, and their grandchildren left for foreign schools. The next generation returned to the ancient dukedoms and quiet fiefs with hard accents, soft hands, and voracious intentions. They abandoned the country groves and seaside villages of their birth to build up cities in the image of imperial metropolises.

And a century after the first imperial fleet landed on their southern banks, with a foreign official in every office, dean’s seat, and city council, the peoples flocked into the streets to celebrate their newfound dependence. Parades and floats coursed through the main cities, streaming banners that snapped in-time to the peoples’ cheers. The empire unfolded its arms and took ancient Eristae into its progressive embrace.

Cole tried to keep to himself that night. While the city of Kallais streamed around him, broiling with dance, drink, and music, he glowered his way into a corner of the most unpopular tavern he could find.

It worked for a time, well into Cole’s fourth ale. But the streets eventually poured their way in to the dirty little bar. Cole shouldered open the tavern door before he broke the nose of a loud patriot. Though he shoved a few shoulders in the process, Cole got into the night air without starting a brawl.

The streets were strewn with the aftermath of the celebrations, but the air was clean and growing quieter by the hour. Cole left the stuffy taverns to the new imperial citizens and used the sound of waves to guide him. He walked, using the winding streets and narrow staircases running the city to burn the alcohol from his veins. Beneath the foot of the bay wall, Cole looked up. The thick stone walls curled around the city protectively, solid and wide enough for three armored men to walk abreast.

Cole climbed a stair and flashed an ancient badge. The old design and crest should have had him stopped and questioned, had the watchman been sober enough to protest. But the outdated token got Cole to the top of the wall, where he set elbows against stone and watched the city settle. As the dark deepened in the sky and then eventually began to glow in the east, the last of the imperial chants and cheers died entirely. The city could have been his again, as it had been before, stretching out at the end of a long graveyard shift.

Flags would come and go, as would the people who sat behind desks and on thrones, but Cole knew he would always come here, to watch over his city, his country.

Terribly late, this thief ran off with More than 1/2 Mad‘s line to serve the Legal Theft Project. This is the result of that heist, prompt, and challenge.