Hats, Coats, and Swords

Across the muddy stable yard, the young military officer stripped down his uniform to shirt, breeches, and boots.

Bell kept any overindulgent looks to herself, grateful for the shadow cast by her brother’s hat. It wouldn’t be seemly for the Lord’s son to be ogling the man he was about to duel. She rolled her arms, loosening her cold muscles and cursing the extra fabric in the coat’s shoulders.

Around them, the small contingent of soldiers and the house staff watched the preparation in tight silence. The officer’s hands jerked off buckles and straps.  He threw his saber’s sheath to the ground before spinning the blade to bear a foot from her nose.  “Master Aurell, you’ll regret this. The boy’s got a civic duty. The’s coming with us and for the trouble here I’ll make sure he finds his way to the front. ”

Bell didn’t know what this man was talking about, but assumed her brother did. She also assumed her brother did not want these soldiers hauling off her family’s stable boy to the trenches and probable death. But he wasn’t here to trounce the brash, if well-built, officer.

She drew her sword. If the house staff made note of brutal, pommel-less blade the Lord’s son was using, none made comment. Bell would suffer ill-fitting coats and impractical heavy hats, but not the basket-hilted overgrown needles her brother favored.

The duel began with the captain’s charge. Bell met it with a step to the side, blade sliding on blade. She rolled her sword arm’s shoulder as she pivoted back, noting the way the limb rang. The officer was even stronger than he looked.

The man loomed, slashing his saber down. Bell swivelled, stepping back as she slid her sword against his again, pushing the strike’s momentum to the side. She leaned, trying to drive her blade around his. He parried it away, forcing Bell to hop backwards.

“Oh, don’t tell me you’re just going to prance about.” The officer growled, trying to stalk around Bell’s defense. She moved again with smooth sweeping steps, keeping low like a coiled snake. The officer followed, still talking. “If I’d come here to dance, I would’ve found your sister. She’d probably give me a good whirl.”

Bell disliked chatter in a fight, and in general. Taunts and jibes muddied the rush of the steel and it gave your enemy another reason to want you dead. But her brother, if feeling bold, or annoyed, had been known to goad his opponent. Sometimes it worked. Bell dropped her shoulder and flipped her off hand in invitation. “Well then, let’s dance.”

The captain’s lewd grin turned to affront and he hesitated. He wasn’t quite sure what was being proposed. Bell stepped forward, swordpoint leading.

Crime everywhere! This week I stole the line “Well then, let’s dance.” from The Gate in the Wood as part of the Legal Theft Project, they stole my character.  I also stole a hat from More Than 1/2 Mad. 

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Suffering Sentiments

There was a reason writers had coined the term ‘seeing red’. Prone to cold seething, the rigid tremble in Lark’s shoulders was a novel experience. A dissociated voice in Lark’s head hummed at the lived literary convention, crimson did indeed blur the edges of sight when overcome with uncontainable rage.

Lark pushed himself from the ground. He touched his collar, jerking it back to rights. His fingers stopped. Lark looked around.

Rais was gone. So was the school’s veined marble floor and bowed staircases. Wide empty streets of grey stone took their place. The same grey material made up the square buildings. In the center of the street, utterly alone in the strange landscape, Lark looked up into a lightless pitch sky.

The empty air leeched the stoked warmth from his chest, pulling it away until his frayed breathing could calm, steady, and then still entirely.  Lark stood, unbreathing and unblinking in the middle of the grey city.  Without the liquid rush of veins or drum of a pulse to distract him, Lark could feel his eyes sitting heavy in their sockets. He could not remember how he’d come here, but surely it wasn’t so important?

It would be good to sleep, Lark thought. The dead city stretched around him, comfortingly endless and eternal. Lark dropped his head against his chest, hair falling lazily before his face. He almost closed his eyes. Red again.

Lark’s eyes shot open. His shirt was slick and shiny down his front. Red covered him. His fingers, having touched his collar a moment before, were sticky with it.  As he drew a new shuddering breath, fresh blood splattered the grey cobblestones.

Lark’s shoulders shook again. A fire kindled itself behind his breastbone, restarting the thrum of the blood in his veins. His teeth chattered with each breath. The blood down his front, dripping from his throat, burned.

He glared over the city’s flat eternity with a hatred reserved for another. Betrayed, robbed, killed, he didn’t belong here with the restful and dull, not when Rais was congratulating himself on finally outsmarting Lark. He hadn’t of course, Lark had suspected. Rais was always painfully transparent. But Lark had doubted himself, too weak to act. He had possessed few friends, and none who’d understood him as Rais had. Rais had apparently not suffered from the same debilitating sentiment.

The memories rushed back the edges of the city revealed themselves. A narrow path wound from the grey buildings to the hills beyond. There was a way out.

With rigidly calm fingers, Lark adjusted his collar again. This time his hand came away clean.

The first line of this fiction piece was legitimately pilfered as part of the legal theft project. Check out the original here, which incidentally gives Rais’ side of this story. 

Flash Fiction: Fairs Fair

The library beckoned. Just visible beyond the cracked chamber door, past the bedroom, a separate room of oak, lined floor to ceiling with thick book spines. Aiden could smell the savory leather and woody pages from his place in the hallway. He closed his eyes, half on his toes, and steeled himself. There was ill-advised and then there was insanity. Sneaking a look at the headmaster’s collection was a definitive step into madness.

The door yawned a little wider. Aiden whined deep in his throat, he’d been doing so well. His fingers had kept themselves to their own pockets and he attended lessons most days.  He’d even made a friend who used words like unethical and imprudent. Things were going decently for Aiden at the strange school nestled into the side of New Orleans.

Another inch, and then another, the door slowly creaked itself open like dancer revealing skin.  Aiden could see more now, the hint of a desk in the warm glow of good reading light.  His feet decided for him, ball to heel, silent in his worn shoes. Aiden moved slowly into the larger room.

He ignored the larger bedchamber for the attached library. The pale light pooled in the doorway and Aiden could see it was more of a study than he’d supposed, complete with a desk and chairs. Except for a solidly carved cabinet, books completely took up the walls. Aiden’s fingers twitched at his sides.

The desk was set with its own enticements. A delicate silver orb with etched lines in geometric patterns, a small pyramid the color of dull charcoal. The air hummed on a frequency that drained the blood from his face. It fluttered in his chest, dumping electric adrenaline into his veins.

Aiden stepped fully into the library. As if set out for him, a single book was laid open on the desk’s surface.  He moved around the desk, already reading as he turned. The words themselves were fascinating but set within the text were drawn concentric circles pierced with lines and arrows. Scrawled next to them were handwritten notes in a script he did not recognize.

“You should take it.” A voice said. Aiden jumped, stumbling backward into the shelves. He looked up, Lark smiled at him from the doorway. Aiden almost apologized to the other student, then remembered where he was. This wasn’t Lark’s library.

“Why?” Aiden asked, now half-poised as if to bolt. If he got out it would only be Lark’s word against him. There were worse odds. The headmaster didn’t seem to like Lark.

“Because you want to read it. I won’t tell.” Lark said.

“I don’t trust you,” Aiden said.

“No reason to.” Lark agreed and stepped into the library as if it was his own. “But what have I to gain by admitting I was in the forbidden library too? There is no harm in reading, learning. That is why we’re here. And you won’t ever get another chance at that.” Lark flicked his eyes down at the book.

“Is it dangerous?” Aiden asked. He straightened and took a step towards the desk. Lark had a point.

“What isn’t? Still, the reward is often in the risk. Don’t you think?” The older boy’s smile was conspiratorial.

Aiden nodded slowly, knowing he was being told what he wanted to hear. But the headmaster had been clear, Aiden wasn’t to attempt anything this advanced. This was his only chance. Aiden reached down and closed the text before taking it in his hands. The leather was strangely warm.

“The door was open.” Aiden reasoned.

“Yes, it was,” Lark said. He stepped aside so Aiden could leave the room with the book embraced to his chest. Outside the softly lit library, the bedroom and the hallway seemed overly dark.  Aiden paused when Lark spoke again, stopping him. “Fair’s fair though, don’t tell anyone I was here either, hmm?”

“Yah. Fairs fair.” Aiden said. He didn’t stay to see if Lark remained in the library, but Aiden heard the door snap shut as he left.

Tickets and Trouble

They never left the back door open, but it was always unlocked. Simon strode towards it, cringing a little when his boots sounded too loud and the noise echoed off the wide alleyways flanking the theatre. The stagehands, hunched over their cigarettes near the door, looked up when he approached. They lobbed a few crude propositions his way and giggled when he buttoned his coat higher.

Simon breathed a small sigh of relief when the handle opened. He stepped inside and snapped the door closed just as quickly. The cold quiet of the outside cut off, replaced by the hum, patter, and roar of the theatre’s workings.

The dim overly warm corridors, formed with looped rope and false walls, presented a problem. He was quite lost before a patronly man carrying what looked to be a bushel of silk scarves stopped him. Praying the dark hid his face well enough, he stammered out a name. The man pointed him towards the actresses’ room, down one makeshift passage, without as much as a blink. Simon hurried away, unnerved by the man’s indifference.

Verity Kast’s dressing room door was ajar and Simon angled himself so he would not be seen, before knocking on the frame. Her voice, he recognized it from on stage and off, called from within, “come in.”

Simon toed open the door so it swung in. He leaned sideways past the frame but did not take a step inside.  “I certainly will not.”

A rustle of dressing gown and shuffle of bare feet was followed by the appearance of the actress at her door. When Verity recognized him, she rested herself against the frame. “Well, this is a pleasure. I did not expect you so soon. Tonight is only the dress rehearsal.”

Simon dug into the pocket of his coat. He withdrew a folded envelope, marked with a broken wax seal of a rose shade. “A single ticket, to opening night, personally addressed and gifted to me. Are you trying to get me in trouble?”

“Simon–”

“Mr. Ivanov.” He corrected.

Verity’s plum-stained lips quirked as she fought a smile. “Mr. Ivanov. How can I get you in trouble, if you haven’t done anything wrong?”

“I haven’t, nor do I intend to.” He said flatly and held out the envelope. This close he could see the brush of freckles over her nose, dark against her deep olive skin. “Which is why you should take this back.”

Verity held Simon’s gaze with hers for a long moment before she complied. Her fingers brushed his as she took the folded paper. “You know, if your sisters had found it, you could have explained me away, simply a poor besotted actress with sights above her station. You wouldn’t be in trouble.”

“And set them on your trail?” Simon adjusted his gloves.

“You admit some regard for me then?” Verity asked. She played with the envelope, running her oval-cut nails under the paper’s crease.

“They are protective, and … dogged when crossed. You have a good career, I don’t understand why you would put that at risk.” Simon looked away from her, back the way he’d come. It wouldn’t do for him to get lost again.

“Of course you don’t.” Verity straightened with a sigh. “Straight back that way, then two lefts once you pass costuming. That’ll get you into the alley. Next time I’ll send tickets to your sisters, do you think they’ll bring you along?”

Simon paused, “I can ask.”

“Do.” Verity slipped her hand around the doorknob, leaning on it as she teased him “now go, before I get a reputation for having young men in my dressing room.”

“You mean you don’t already?” Already half turned away, he raised an eyebrow at her.

“Not in polite circles. I’m more careful than you think.” Verity said, her slow grin more crooked than it been before. “Goodnight Simon.”

Verity shut the door before Simon could correct the uncalled-for familiarity. He stood staring at the closed dressing room before he shook his head at himself and turned to find his way out.

Nature Hates You

“You have something furry on your back.” Simon held up his hands in a calming gesture, trying to get his older brother to hold still. The expression on Simon’s face, however, compromised the effort and Ethan proceeded to not hold still.

Rotten branches and leaves crunched under their hiking boots.

“Furry?” Ethan twisted, trying to see what furry thing had hitched a ride and glare at Simon simultaneously. “What is it? Get it off.”

“Umm–” Simon hovered as his brother pivoted, trying to keep his footing in the forest’s thick undergrowth. “Stop flailing. It has a lot of teeth.”

That actually got Ethan to pause. “Teeth?”

“Yes– so don’t piss it off.” Simon bent slowly and picked up a heavy stick, keeping narrow eyes on the thing clinging to Ethan’s back.

“A stick?” Ethan said through a clenched jaw. “I thought you said not to piss it off. Remember the teeth?”

“I can see multiple rows. You told me to get it off. Have a better idea?” Simon hefted the stick pointedly.

“Go get Liam.” Ethan flicked his eyes to his armed brother, unwilling to move his neck and stuck frozen between steps.  “That’s my idea.”

Simon huffed. “I can handle …whatever it is.”

Simon took a step forward, eyeing whatever was on his brother’s back with enough challenge to make Ethan uncomfortable. Ethan snapped a finger up in front of his brother’s nose. At the sudden motion, claws dug into the back of his shirt. Ethan suppressed a shudder, “Simon, for the love of all that is holy, Go. Get. Liam.”

“Geez. Fine. It’s not my fault nature hates you.” Simon backed off a step. He didn’t drop the stick as he trudged off into the dark spaces between the trees to find their friend and a solution to their furry stowaway.

A thief is rarely good company to keep, but people keep me nonetheless. This week I (may) have stolen the first line of this piece from Apprentice, Never Master. Check out the company she keeps at the Legal Theft Project

Flash Fiction: A Dry Brand

She almost didn’t answer the call.  The singsong chime cut through the other audio playing from the speakers, interrupting both her game and the show playing in the background. While she found the small application easily enough, with its window vibrating eagerly on her screen, Sara hovered her mouse over the red hang up button.

It wasn’t that she disliked Bell. They were friends of the odd rare sort Bell allowed herself. Sara enjoyed Bell’s stark and off-putting honesty, often simply for the novelty of it.  But the other girl never called to say hi or propose anything normal, and Sara had a CS final project to procrastinate about and little time for Bell’s dry brand of shenanigans.

She pressed the green button instead.”Hey, Bell.”

“Hello,” Bell’s voice, without video, sounded buffeted from the computer speakers. Sara suspected Bell was hovering her chin too close to her phone. “I need a rifle.”

Sara rolled her eyes. Alone in her dorm room, no one saw. “Of course you do. Do I get to know what for?” There was a pause on the other end of the call.

“To shoot someone with,” Bell said.

Sara pursed her lips and exhaled through her nose. That had been a stupid question, not because it was inherently vapid to want know what someone was doing with high-power sniper rifle you illegally procured for them, but because Sara had expected a sensible and un-literal answer from Bell. “Sure. Send me what you want, I’ll see what I can do.”

Lock Hearts

Since childhood, Tristan could discern when he was dreaming. Despite an absent mind and an undisciplined imagination, he’d always been able to acutely determine reality from its watercolor echoes, even while walking a particularly convincing dreamscape.

For Tristan, the two states were hard to confuse. The waking world was ruled by sense and sensation. An apple that felt, looked, and tasted like an apple, was an apple. But in a dream, only belief mattered. An apple was only an apple if you believed it to be one. If you believed it to be a house, it was for the dream’s purposes, a house. Even if it still tasted like a piece of fruit.

It was with this knowledge that Tristan opened his eyes in bed and knew, despite the oldest trick a mind could play on a gullible dreamer, that he was still dreaming. His room was his room, his bed his bed, but in the weighty silence, Tristan knew someone was about to break in.

The lock clicked in a different way when it was opened with a key.  A solid thunk, metal on metal the way its maker intended.  This click was a scrape and a wrench, a knife’s blade deep in the lock.

Caught in the dream’s tide, Tristan’s pulse quickened, beating hard against his throat. The door opened and cloaked figures poured around him with a buffeting sound like the beating of many wings. Faces shadowed by pulled cowls, their dark-swathed hands fastened to his shoulders, his arms, his back. They dragged him from his bed.

Tristan’s shout died in a sudden vastness. The figures were gone, melted and consumed by the changing scene. Tristan looked up and felt his breath stolen by a temple’s looming walls, its arched ceilings, and spiraling peaks. Around him, where pews or benches should be, rows of altars jutted from the floor. Atop them, people sprawled unmoving and unbreathing.

Some he knew, his twin sister’s waves of chestnut hair fell over the stone top of her final resting place. Her husband, a row down, had finally been struck silent in death. Tristan’s best friend was laid out on another, a curved sword held at her breast in warrior’s repose.

Most were strangers. He wandered through them, noting a cop’s badge around a man’s neck, a travelers pack laid at another’s side, a hunting hound curled as dead as its master atop her feet.

Though Tristan knew he was dreaming, it did nothing to warm the ice in his veins. The people on the altars had little in common with each other, except the very apparent cause of their death. Each had been sliced from throat to bottom rib, their open chests gaping upwards into the vast air of the temple.

He did not have to look to know, because knowing is enough in a dream to make it so, that each was missing their heart. Tristan stumbled away, feeling the edges of the scene blur as he panicked and faltered. He felt the wrench of the knife in his bedroom lock, used like a key, he felt the wrench of a knife deep in his chest, and someone, somewhere trying to open something.

Tristan awoke screaming in a strange bed at the Lion Rock Medical Hospital. Machines blinked at him, the sterile yet sickly smell of plastic filled his nose, and the scratch of starched sheets annoyed his skin. The sensations, unaffected by his residual terror, remained. Tristan fell back against his pillow but did not close his eyes.