Summer Ascendant

A sea of faces lit up upon his appearance at the door. Golden in the light from the chandeliers, smooth, and flashing white teeth, they broke into a single swell of wordless greeting. Max didn’t recognize a single one of them.

He showed his own teeth back, smiling, happy. They were here for him, that was enough. The day of his birth commenced, celebrations over several days, summer ascendant. Max stepped into the throng. He drank down the well-wishes, the envy, like champagne in fine crystal.

Painted women laughed into the curve of his side, coiffed men threw arms around his shoulders. Many times he was drawn out onto the dance floor. They celebrated the night Max, by virtue of being born all those twenty-six years ago, had given them. Max was content with that. He basked in the warmth of their once-removed appreciation.

And then a single glass among many that night raised his way. Max watched his father, conservatively tucked amidst a group of similarly somberly dressed men, toast him. His own champagne soured in his stomach. Unbidden thoughts crashed past the adorers’ rabble, had Max laughed too loud, drank too much, smiled too little, forgotten an unforgettable name.

Max pulled at his collar and looked for distraction. But the bright gold of the party reflected his thoughts back, had he acted the fool? Who’d seen him? What would his father do tomorrow about it?  He abandoned his glass on a passing tray and hurried from the center of the sunny crowd.

The dancers shifted to the floor as the opening notes floated from the band. A girl, rust hair in tendrils framing her face, cast him a heavy-lidded look through the golden light as he left. Max pretended not to see the invitation to his invitation and followed a prickle of cold air that might lead him outside. This time he was sitting out. The chill promised a dark sky untainted by sweat, perfume, and judgement.

I have stolen, as I am want to do, a line from a dear friend. I took This time he was sitting out. from a Librarian as part of the Legal Theft project. 

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A Difficult Regimen

“You have got to be kidding me,” Risa muttered and dipped her forehead into her palm. The blunder in the training yard turned the mock battle into a real squabble. From the fence, she watched as Cole bellowed about conduct and shoved a sopping Lark. Behind them, Aron picked himself up from the mud with lightening arcing between his fingers and a murderous look. Brianna blocked Aron’s path, pointing at the storm-shattered gatehouse with a furious gesture.

Risa opened her mouth and closed it, foreseeing the lack of effect. Her makeshift soldiers were focused on the brewing rehash of old quarrels, not her instruction. Risa sighed as she remembered the metered clang of steel and the even crack of magic. These people were a far way off from that. Centuries old with wells of magical talent, they couldn’t manage a simple coordinated defense.

“Its almost funny,” Bloom said softly as she approached with the balanced steps of a soldier. The other woman joined Risa watching the failed practice turn to an argument. Now Lark and Aron were face to face, cruel smile against scornful smirk. Cole and Brianna hovered uneasily, shoulders and jaws set.

The corner of Risa’s lip tugged her mouth into an unwilling smile. It was funny.  Immortals, swathed in centuries of legend and masked pasts, bickering in a mud soaked training yard over who had missed their step. Risa snorted a laugh.

The sound carried. The four in the training yard turned from their argument with dumbfounded reproach. Risa covered her mouth with her hands. Next to her, Bloom unsuccessfully hid snickering. When no one could summon words, Risa collected herself.

“Tomorrow, we try this again. You all need a lot of work,” she said and turned back towards the house. She was pleased when Bloom followed at her shoulder, leaving the rest stalled by their instructors sudden break in professional disapproval. The two soldiers, Risa and Bloom, exchanged a look, then another laugh.

 A thief, a heist, a plot. This was part of the Legal Theft Project where I steal first lines and write my own things with them. This is where I got it from. 

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…

 

 

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. 

A Host Privilege

His soldiers leaned in with interest as he passed through the small camp. Some teetered, stumbling a step before they found balance on unfamiliar legs. Xantos grumbled, watching their heads loll. Acclimating to vessels of bone, meat, and viscous organs was one thing, swiftly mastering a host took age and practice. But the soldiers’ bloated bellies, reddened eyes, and thick movements told Xantos that they were acclimating to mortal drink, powders, and food with more haste.

It was hard to be too upset. Their little conquest was successful. The small contingent of human soldiers had drowned under Xantos’ wave, their bodies either destroyed or taken. But calling this mess a camp stretched the term. The only tents and campfires were those leftover from its previous occupants. His kin had torn apart the supplies, eager to taste, feel, and consume in ways their base forms did not. The hem of his cloak brushed the singed ground as he surveyed the task ahead of him, say what would about humans, but at least they knew how to dig a latrine. .

More troubling were the unused bodies that had expired before they could be put to proper use as hosts. Instead of being disposed of, burned or buried, whatever the humans’ particular custom was here, they’d been put to other… perhaps more creative, but alarming uses.

Xantos saw a few going into cookpots, he turned those over barking orders. The hosts would get sick eating their own. Other corpses had been dragged closer to the fires and were being laid upon, used for pillows and chairs. It was already starting to smell of rot, and Xantos snapped his fingers towards the pits where the dead humans could be placed. Their new hosts would get sick around the dead.  These were rules the young had to learn, not just to maintain their new bodies, but to keep them.

Humans for all their blindness to the roiling black beneath their feet, were fairly perceptive when it came to the small social niceties and trivialities they exchanged. Discovery in such early stages would be disastrous.

Xantos stopped at a particular ring of soldiers. All looked up at his trimmed and straight backed countenance, their new eyes not yet knowing how to show the quavering deference they would normally give an elder. One of the blinking soldiers drew Xantos’ glare. Red human blood covered his shirtfront from several knives stuck in his chest and black oozed at the wound, sucking at the knife blades.

“Explain this to me.” Xantos pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Figured I might need them later, so I left them in,” the soldier said with a thick tongue and a shrug. He looked almost fondly down at the knives protruding from his new body.

Xantos closed his eyes and let himself broil internally. When Xantos opened his eyes, he leaned down and ripped the first knife free with an angry slurping sound. The second caused the soldier to gasp, black dripping tentacles flailing from the chest while his eyes rolled back into his head white and sightless.

Xantos stepped back, drew his sword and cut the head from the body with a lazy swing. The body crumpled forward as the head bounced away, leaving black shuddering splotches as it rolled. Black jelly poured from the neck wound, rising up in futile little tentacles that waved at the air in pain. The puddle of demon screamed, exposed and grasping at Xantos boots.

“There is going to be a discussion on the proper storage practices for knives; mainly that leaving them in people is not a good plan. A host is a privilege, one that can be taken away. Understood?” He addressed the remaining soldiers. Shied and stumbled back in horror, they had enough control to nod.

The dead demon at his feet was already dissolving into black dust, mingling with the dirt and drifting into the air. Xantos cleaned his sword, sheathed it, and walked away to continue the camp inspection.

A thief, but also a cheat this week. I stole CC‘s first line and changed it slightly to make my own story as part of the Legal Theft Project. 

A Promising Project

Noticing the covetous glint in her eye, Roshan closed the book. The dull slap of paper  broke the silence of the library and a few students looked over annoyed at his table and the young woman looming over it. Etta’s gaze raked the book’s cover before she sat next to him. Roshan bit down his groan.

“Blueprints. Did you find something then?” Etta watched him, jaw jutted forward and head cocked to the side like a fisher bird considering ripples.

“Maybe.” Roshan said, moving one shoulder in a shrug. He did not unhook his fingers from around the book. Roshan didn’t think she’d gotten a look at the map, but he wasn’t going to give her another. Etta was notorious for sniffing out promising projects that didn’t belong to her. “I don’t know yet.”

“Those old planning documents can be really hard to decipher.” Etta pouted her lip in false sympathy. “Between the translation, and the notation. Unless you’ve taken classes…?”

Roshan held his breath inside his chest. Etta knew he hadn’t. Those classes were reserved for the daughters of the elite families, the future architects, chroniclers, and civil servants of the city. Expensive preparatory classes were not wasted on sons. Roshan was an oddity,  a man that had clawed his way into college to everyone’s discomfort. Including, Roshan was learning, his own.

“No,” Roshan said what they both knew. His fingers were beginning to cramp, but Roshan didn’t let go of the book’s cover. “I don’t even know if I’ve found anything yet. Maybe I can let you know, when I need help.” Roshan forced a plaintive, almost unsure tremor into his voice and hated himself for it.

Annoyance twitched at the corner of Etta’s nostril. It would brutish for a woman of Etta’s class to press him now, and cruel to refuse. “Of course. If you need the help.” She pushed herself up with straight arms. “Good luck Roshan.”

“Thank you Etta.” Roshan returned her false sentiment with one of his own. She sniffed and walked away, crimson skirts swishing agitated against the library’s floor. The librarian at the desk glared at him once Etta was gone. Roshan shrugged only somewhat apologetically. He’d learned quickly his presence alone was enough to cause disruption, and he wasn’t going anywhere.

A scoundrel and a rogue, but not a thief this week. For this round of Legal Theft I supplied a line Noticing the covetous glint in her eye, Roshan closed the book. Lets see who takes off with it…..