Ribbons and Curls

One couldn’t help but notice the academy students when they ventured from their studies. They were lovely girls, every one of them. Sensuously dark or radiantly fair, gracefully slender or tantalizingly plump, soft smiles or haughty stares, each were someone’s epitome of beauty.

While the common women of the city bound their hair back under practical scarves or simply cut it short to keep it from the milk, laundry, or cooking pot the girls of the academy wore their hair long and woven with cornflower academy blue. With shining braids or glossy curls they knew what set themselves apart.

Jasnie had been eight with oily brown fringe falling over her eyes when she entered into the academy. She remembered hiding behind the dirty hair as the instructors promised the world to her parents. And before her mother had left, she’d brushed Jasnie’s bangs aside and kissed her forehead. It was the last time she’d seen her mother.

Ten years had passed since she’d arrived at the academy. Jasnie’s waterfall of brunette waves reached well past her waist now. She and her fellow students spent their afternoons basking in the city’s attention and declining its nighttime delights, all of which were extended to them with earnest invitations. Their evenings were always taken by their studies. Night after night they learned how to turn a smile to a kiss and a kiss into so much more.

No one was surprised when Jasnie was picked first in her year. She attracted the most suitors in the city and had similarly charmed the instructors. Everyone knew Jasnie would graduate and travel to the high courts. There everyone would fall in love with her.

There was just one thing first. The younger students whispered about a trial, the older ones called it a scarring.  Beauty came easily to the academy students. The depended upon their silks, ribbons and paints. A true graduate needed none of these things. No girl left the academy without its goodbye kiss.

Jasnie didn’t cry when they brought out the shears. Her jaw was firm when the first pieces of her hair fell to the floor, suddenly lifeless and ugly. She shed only a few tears as they dusted off her shoulders and ran their fingers through the short curls around her ears.

Unmantled she was ready for court. The noblewomen would hold themselves above her with their own cultivated locks. The men would be crueler. They, being the men, were sure she was there to please them. How could she shorn of her femininity? Jasnie would have nothing to hide behind or wear cornflower blue ribbons in.

Jasnie left the city that night in simple clothes. Beauty didn’t require ribbons, paints or long waterfalls of hair. She would show them that. She forced her head high as the night wind chilled her uncovered shoulders.

Legal Theft: Red

At that point, sense, logic, and sanity abandoned ship. Good riddance. They were not going to help her now. She broke open another barrel and oil slopped over her boots, spreading across the deck.

Her first mate was dead, gutted by the cannonshot that’d ripped open starboard. The second mate had chanced the waves along with sense, logic, sanity and most of the crew. The Scorpion was unmanned, shot to hell, and entirely out of defenses. The masts were upright though, she squinted up at them through the noon sun. That was good.

With a crippled rudder they were stuck staring down a quarter of the royal navy with no where to go but straight at them. The flagship watched, its escort not far off. They were confident and waiting for surrender to fly.

She chuckled to herself, joke was on the prissy bastards. Her ship didn’t have a white flag onboard. The only thing The Scorpion would ever fly was red.

The few men left dropped back to deck from the rigging, their last task done. They stood, watching her unsure as oil seeped into the splintered deck below their boots.

“Get off if you want to die pretty.” She grinned at them with blood stained teeth. She gave them a mock salute with the flint knife. Her rictus smile widened as they took the invitation.

Alone with her ship a more sentimental Captain would have run her fingers over the railing, or taken one last wistful survey before setting a final course. She spat blood in the flagships direction and began sawing at jury rigged ties.

*******

The flagship’s Captain watched The Scorpion sit in the water. It would be his shortly. Once they’d scrubbed the stink of the barbarians away and stripped the ungodly red color from the wood the quick vessel would make a fine addition to their fleet. He ordered his own ship to drop anchor, it would take time to fish the heathens out of the water and his prize wasn’t going anywhere.

“Captain?” The question came from his first mate a moment before the call sounded from the crow’s nest. The Scorpion‘s red sails unfurled, catching the strong wind. The splintered ship jumped forward, charging towards them like a javelin.

The Captain balked and stammered an order for evasive action. The barbarians had gone mad. His first mate screamed at the crew but the anchor was down and their sails were tight.

Steel flashed in the noon sun. The flagship’s Captain squinted towards the charging ship as his own men abandoned the ship. A single red coated figure aboard the enemy ship held up a knife and drew it against the wheel. The sparks caught. The Scorpion went up in flame.

The two ships collided with a scream of iron and wood, The Scorpion’s bowsprit impaled the larger ship, wrenching its deck apart and splintering the masts. The flagship’s Captain, pinned beneath tangled burning sails looked up to see red.

Plundered this line from the pirate over at More than 1/2 Mad. See what the rest of the thieves did with the line over at the Legal Theft Project

Flash fiction: Grey

I dreamed of you last night. Not sure what brought it on. It could have been my day, which was normal. I met you on a normal day. Do you remember it? I was in the cafe on Elm street and arguing with the staff there. You probably remember why. They’d put up my paintings too close to the window. The sun bleached the canvases. My cityscapes turned pale, the buildings painstakingly captured faded into echos of what they’d meant to me. The portraits were ghosts.

I thought no one would buy them. You were there, watching as the person behind the counter shrugged at my loss. I left after that, furious at them and at you for watching me.

A day later I went back to get my paintings, even ruined they were still mine. But they were gone. Someone, you I later learned, had bought them. Every single sun-ruined painting had been paid for and taken by some stranger.

I demanded a phone number.

We met and I asked you why you’d purchased ruined art. You said you found them wane, beautiful, and drained. I didn’t understand then. You asked me for a drink and I accepted. It was the first of many.

The dream of you came and went, leaving the feeling of your touch. When I woke I laid in bed, staring up at the ceiling. How many days did I spend in bed, incapable of leaving your side?

Our time together is hard to recall. I remember my work and the lack of it. Nothing I made possessed color. The people I drew looked from the page with hollow eyes and my cities were perpetually caught in fog. You loved the pale numb things and I couldn’t deny you. They filled my studio like mirrors of you and I.

I’ve kept the grey canvases, they help me remember you. They warn me away.

Legal Theft: Robbers

She could see that he was angry at her in the set of his jaw and the way he gripped the wheel. Nicole didn’t care. She pumped her legs and raced across the dark parking lot, the duffle bag thumping across her back.

Kent had been in a sour mood for the last week as they’d prepared for their big league debut. He shouldn’t have been, Nicole thought. There were no alarms going off and aside from a slight delay at the vault, they’d done it. No more dealing in petty laundering and dealing, this was the end of that. Still Kent had told her they’d never pull off a big scale robbery.

The look he gave her when she slid into the SUV’s seat was downright murderous. Nicole gaped at him as the engine idled.  “Go!” She slammed a hand on the dashboard. He didn’t move.

“What the hell? Drive Kent!” She gestured to the roadway. For the moment it was completely free of cops or any sort of pursuit.

Kent’s knuckles were bloodless against the wheel, hands stationary as the car purred ready under them. Nicole turned to shove him but froze. Pressed to the back of her partner’s skull was sleek nondescript handgun. The person holding it blended into the dark of the backseat, hooded and still.

“This was such a  stupid idea.” His jaw barely moved but his voice shook. “Give her the bag.”

Nicole stared at the silent figure holding the gun. “Nicole.” Kent pleaded, now he just sounded scared.

She slung the bag over the headrests. The woman with the gun shouldered the strap with her free hand and opened the SUV door. The nose of the gun never wavered from its target.

With fluid grace the gunwoman descended from the SUV, switching the gun to point at Nicole as she walked backwards. The gunwoman raised her hand, signalling. A moment later a dark sedan pulled from around the building, sliding up to them without headlights.

Nicole and Kent could only gape as the woman ducked backwards into the waiting car, their spoils still slung over her shoulder. They didn’t move. The gun was still pointed at them, and it remained so until the black sedan tore onto the open road leaving them alone in the parking lot.

“Oh my.” Nicole said, hands now shaking violently.

“Now that is how you pull off a robbery.” Kent said in stunned appreciation. A moment later alarms blared from the building.

Another heist for the Legal Theft Project. This week the line came from Bekah’s piece “Ride Home”  Check out the rest of thieves here

Bone Chips

This is in response to a wordle prompt of the talented Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie

She had an hour until dinner. In thirty minutes one of her siblings would call down to the basement to remind her. This was because Thana needed the full half-hour to secure her work and make sure she wasn’t covered in anything that would sicken her family.

Thana lowered the saw and dusted away bone chips, The fabricated socket would suffice. This particular project of hers wasn’t made for speed or mobility and few rough joints would not hamper its ability to guard their home. Besides, if you wanted more than four appendages and were not willing to work with chitin, you had to make your own.

Satisfied with her progress Thana handed the saw to her shadowy assistant. With a grunt she shoved the pseudo-shoulder joint into the new socket, muscling it into the proper position. She then threaded a surgical needle, dipped it in a well of thick black plasma, and began sewing the cold flesh of the arm and torso together with long thick stitches. As the silver needle dove and resurfaced the sinew stretched and muscle fibers grew.

When Thana finished she cut the thread and tested the give of the skin, feeling if her fingers could breach the new flesh with any ease. Pleased with the strength she set about preparing the next step. The first time she’d carved her mother’s symbol into dead flesh her hands had shaken with fear and inexperience. Now, centuries later, her ceremonial dagger cut through the corpse’s skin with sure strokes. Viscous blood welled from the wound and the scent of cocoa and chili powder emanated from the revenant.

The first thing the manufactured creature did was look at her with grey-filmed eyes. Its mouth moved sluggishly trying to remember how to speak. It couldn’t anymore of course. The speech centers of the brain were long gone, even if the creature had possessed the dexterity to move its tongue and jaw in tandem.

“Glorious.” She said to herself and smiled.

“Someone on tiptoes, at the top of the stairs.” The words were a rough whisper at her ear. Thana sent her servant a hard look at the unnecessary message and the small creature of shadow and ashes cringed back. Undead shades were sneaky, observant and terribly stupid. But they could speak and by nature kept out of the way, all qualities of a decent lab assistant.

The communication box buzzed. “Thana, dinner in thirty.” Her sister’s voice chimed through the speaker. The revenant on the table groaned loudly and started to pull at the restraints. Her shade assistant leaned back but Thana simply wadded up a bundle of gauze and poked it into the revenant’s mouth. The thing still struggled but it’s growls were muffled efficiently by the gag.

“Watch it. If it gets too rowdy come get me.” Thana stripped off her gore stained lab coat and rechecked the restraints. If she’d achieved what she thought she had, this was the strongest of them yet. Her family’s defenses were well on their way to their old glory.

Thana tossed the coat across the chair and decided a shower would be in order. Her family was often squeamish and Thana was fairly sure there were bone chips in her hair.

Legal Theft: Men Like Him

Last week I stole a line from Apprentice, Never Master and wrote the beginnings of this story here. This week she and her band of thieves paid me back and purloined the first line of this piece. Check out what they did for the line at the Legal Theft Project

Blue suit jacket open and tie undone, he smiled at her. “Marie, you look irresistible as always.” He held out his arms in invitation, watching her reaction.

Instinct saved her. She smiled, all nerves at first and then with purpose. Marie stepped close enough to take his hands. “Silas.” She murmured and brushed her lips across his clean shaven cheek. It gave her a moment to think. He was one of those that disliked her height.  It explained the modest heeled shoes in the closet but little else.

When Marie leaned back to look him in the eyes she was ready with a wide-eyed expression. “What’s going on?” She asked quietly, as if the men waiting in the hallway were not Silas’ own guards.

“I will explain. But first–” He brought a hand up to brush a piece of hair behind her ear, gaze sweeping her features. “–do you like the rooms?”

There was only one answer he would accept and she gave it. “They are lovely, but I don’t understand their purpose. Silas, those men nearly dragged me from the Richmere Gala. Everyone saw it.” He would assume she’d been embarrassed by the spectacle. Marie didn’t care, she wanted to survive the night and felt he ought to be reminded that her abduction had witnesses.

“Those socialites and dandies will have more to talk of tomorrow than you.” He stepped away, hand closing around hers. “Come, its unpleasant business and I’ve had far too much of it lately. After a drink you’ll feel better.” He turned out of the bedroom and led her to the bar.

Marie followed. “What is happening tomorrow?”

“Tonight.” He corrected.

Something must have slipped in her expression. A ripple of displeasure straightened his spine and hardened his eyes. “I hoped you’d be happier to see me.” The thick brandy sloshed over the glass as Silas poured.

“I am. But they took my phone and my things and shoved me into an unmarked car. No one explained anything. Can you imagine what was going through my head before you walked through that door?” Marie looked away as she couldn’t quite summon the tears she wanted.

The floor to ceiling windows reflected the two of them back. She could barely see the glow of the city in the distance. Silas set the glass aside and stepped to her, placing his hands on her hips. She didn’t wrinkle her nose as his fingers soaked pungent brandy into the fabric of her gown. He pulled her close. Marie kept her chin tucked, eyes downcast.

“I didn’t mean to scare you.” Silas murmured, his thumb now gently tracing the angle of her hipbone. His hands suddenly made her skin writhe.  “The city is about to experience a dramatic change in management. You have connections amidst the aristocracy.” At the word connections his hand dug into her side possessively. “If you had told one of them something or perhaps warned an old flame, I wouldn’t have been able to save you.”

“This was for my protection.” Her own words felt hollow in her ears.

Silas smiled. “I made friends with the right sort of people a long time ago, we are completely safe tonight. All my business went overseas years before this, so everything is arranged for us. After I help them settle things at least. This is all for the best, no more passing yourself around to the highest bidder.” He lifted her chin with a thumb.

As she looked into his eyes Marie couldn’t summon even the illusion of the gratitude he wanted. “What about my friends?” She asked, panic tightly reined in her voice.

Silas stepped away and checked his watch. “Dead by now.” His expression challenged her to do or say something stupid. “The new management was clear, it had to be done. I was allowed to spare you.”

Marie stared at him, feeling the ice spread across her skin and sink into her chest. Silas continued, gesturing at her with the glass. “I’ll give you a moment to grieve, but you are here with me now. Remember that.” Silas swallowed a large mouthful of brandy and turned to the window.

It took a moment to decide what to do next. She forced herself to breathe and slipped her hand into his, leaning her body against shoulder. “Thank you.” Marie murmured.

He turned and drew her into a kiss.

*****

An hour later she rose from the bed silently, untangling herself from the no longer tucked sheets. Marie bent, sorting through the clothes left on the floor until she found the right pocket.

Marie took Silas’ phone out onto the balcony of the common area and dialed a number. The call went straight to voicemail. The second number she tried was the same, as did the third and the fourth. The fifth number she tried was disconnected. Her breathing hitched and tears made it difficult to see the screen.

She was running out of people to call and chances to prove that Silas was wrong. If he wasn’t, if he was telling the truth, faking the gratitude he required would no longer be an option. Marie was good, but she wouldn’t be able to stomach Silas’ hands on her if he was responsible for the things he claimed. She stepped back inside. The dark made the suite look cold, even more unlivable than it had before.

Marie set the phone down on the kitchen counter. She’d have to return it before he woke, violence came easily to men like him.

Her eyes were drawn again to the knife block. It sat, dull and waiting in glow of the kitchen appliances. Violence had never come naturally to her, but neither had a cage. Marie shook the thoughts out of her head for the time being and picked up the phone again.

Iron, Silver, and Drowned Men

This is in response to a wordle prompt of the talented Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie

The tide dumped its unwanted spoils over the crags and gullies of the coast. Wave-smoothed rocks and rough cliff slopes accumulated a spread of broken ships and broken men as the tide withdrew. He could see bobbing bits of flotsam still waiting in the water. The wreck was fresh with the smell of storm still fading in the air.

He picked his way across the rocks inspecting the debris, ship and human alike. A few sailors lay in the tide pools, eyes staring up at the sky which had so recently opened up and betrayed them. He leaned over one, inspecting the fresh corpse. Unshaven and very dead, the man wasn’t much to look at. But he didn’t need to be pretty, just drowned.

Graceful as a bow, he bent and dipped his fingers into the corpse’s coat pocket. A moment later he winced and snatched his finger back as his skin blackened and burned. The iron knife slipped from the waterlogged cloth and into the tide pool, sinking out of his sight.

“Fool, what are you doing in dead men’s pockets?”

He smoothed the rictus of pain from his mouth and turned. The siren’s chin was set in her folded arms as she rested half on the rock, half in the tide. A glint of fine scales highlighted her vicious cheekbones. “I wondered if you had something to do with this. Eaten your fill?” He asked, hiding his injured fingers within his sleeve.

Carnivorous teeth flashed a smile at the pithy words. The gesture was friendly directed at him, her smile held a different end for most. “Not yet. Why are you are so far from court sapling? There are no mortals to lure into the moors here.”

“No mortals, you made short work of that.” He agreed and nudged the soaked corpse with his boot. “Sapling?”

“It’s what I imagine you’d taste like.” She teased with another flash of teeth and pushed from the rock, disappearing under the churning water. He took her place sitting on the rocks edge, leaning over to watch the deceptive pools and eddies. She emerged, thick ropes of green black hair swirling around her shoulders. “That and you’re skinny.” She added.

His mouth twitched. “Slender.” He corrected. A crab scuttled close, curious to see if he was made of dead flesh. He shooed the scavenger away. “I have a problem.” He admitted.

“Oh?” She prompted.

“Sailors are over fond of iron.” He held up his fingers, still black and smarting from their contact with the iron knife. The beach reeked of the damned metal, he could smell it under the death and brine.

“And you need a sailor?” She prompted, finding a new perch to lean against, webbed fingers playing with a small sea anemone.

He was boring himself, telling the truth and being honest about it. But she was right, he was far from court. The prince would notice his absence eventually, best not to have to tell the truth twice. “No, I need a drowned man and the contents of his pockets.”

“A knife dear to a drowned man, to keep you from his fate.” She said the well-known words rote. “Doesn’t always work. Some people invite misfortune, charms and gifts can’t change that.”

”Noted and forgotten.” He said with a mean little smile.

She rolled her eyes and disappeared under the water again. Time passed and the sun dipped below the water. He was beginning to think he should have asked a bit nicer, perhaps promised the siren something upfront, when she finally returned. She held up an elegantly curved knife above the water. Its hilt was common leather, now ruined in the saltwater, but the hilt gleamed silver in the dying light. “Clutched to the man’s chest as he died, obviously held very dear. What has that mortal done to you?”

He plucked the knife from her fingers, not pausing to examine it before tucking it into his coat. “Placed me in your debt, how many times is it now?”

She held up long fingers, mouthing the word twice. A moment later she was gone again into the swirling eddies with a splash. He paused, watching the stars appear in the sky over the ocean. Then he stood and went about finding a way off the iron soaked beach.