UnSTABle Wounds

Getting stabbed hurts very much, and then if you are lucky, surprisingly very little.  The thin knife hadn’t even chipped a rib, but had slipped the hairsbreadths between his vital abdominal organs, quick in, smooth out.  Despite this,  and the doctors telling him so, Lark did not feel lucky.

Instead, Lark emerged from each painkiller induced haze with distinct unease. This anxiety was only sharpened by the indignity of his scratchy hospital gown and the grating noise emanating from the room’s television. Lark suspected the daytime programming was switched on by vindictive nurses while he slept, retribution for his own unquiet displeasure at being in their charge.

It wasn’t enough that strangers had invaded Lark’s home, attempted to kill Lark’s wife, whom he was fairly attached to, and placed him bedridden at the whim of humorless doughy-faced nurse staff. Lark wished any of that had been the strangest thing to happen this week.  No, it was the conversations after those events, which left him wondering how much he really knew about anything.

As they weaned him off the drugs, the hours between his visitors stretched longer and the malaise pressed more acutely with every solitary minute. In these gaping moments, left with nothing but the long abandoned book in his lap and the pallid green wall across from his bed, Lark began to wonder once again how much of what happened he’d built up around himself, fueled by an admittedly impressive amount of self-importance.

In those long nighttime hours, Lark came to the conclusion that either he or the world was dangerously unstable. Neither was good, but one was decidedly better for him.

Lark sniffed at the empty wall and pressed a palm to his bandaged side. Tomorrow he’d speak to Arianna about finding him a hotel. He’d still be alone with his thoughts, but free from daytime television.

Flash Fiction: Certainly Harmless

Red lantern light and the smell of edelweiss wine. He breathed deep, enjoying the agitation in his chest. The cobblestone remained crimson, stained in the light, and he could taste the putrid sweetness of drink in the air.

Memory is only a distant descendant of occurrence, he suspected time in its irrevocable advance had smoothed out recollections of the mild unpleasantness he’d encountered here. But that was years ago, he was taller now and better dressed.

Most men, however, never changed. And neither did their choice pleasures. A red lantern hung in every window on the narrow street. The street’s patrons, grimy and grinning, loped between the glass ready to empty their purses on the delights within.

Women though, he thought, catching a doxy watching him askance from her doorway. He’d always found them admirably adaptable. When capturing someone’s heart or coin, the right pout and angle of eye were refined tools compared to knife or truncheon.

The mechanics of these minute transformations remained a mystery to him, one that he occasionally mused over in a ludic light. The doxy sniffed, flicking ash from a cheap pipe in his direction. He decided to keep walking. The dismissal was familiar. Perhaps it was the cut of his coat, or the set of his jaw, but something informed these red-lit women he wasn’t interested in the pleasures they offered most men.

A curse at times, so used to being up for sale, they were wary of any not buying.  Not that he blamed them. He adopted a soft smile, not exactly guileless, but certainly harmless. They had their charms, he had his, and it was time to put them to use.

Couldn’t pass up this Wordle Prompt, once again thank you Mindlovesmisery’s Menagerie for supplying. 

Flashfiction: Decisions

“Well that’s disconcerting” Leon told the man staring at him. The man did not say anything back, just looked a little bemused. They were similar. Same pallor, same slim frame and narrow shoulders. But the man’s cravat was impeccably strait and his dark hair was pressed back, not falling into his eyes as Leon’s always was.

The posture, too was different. Confident was the word Leon uncomfortably came to. This was a man people might listen to, or at least respect.

Leon smirked and watched the man do the same, suddenly looking a bit more like him. “Much better.” He commented and the man just looked at him as if wondering what the hell Leon was doing.

“If I knew I would tell you.” Leon promised him and turned away from the mirror.

Consequences

Leon slammed the front door behind him. Merlin yowled in protest from a bookshelf perch. He spared his cat a twitch of a smile on the way into the bathroom, throwing his coat across the coffee table. At least the damn apartment was his…and the cars, the latter gifts from his brother. His parents couldn’t take those away.

Leon had always been a failure in their eyes; their disownment just cemented he’d never be anything else to them. That stung, more than anything else. The money…the money was an unpleasant side effect but he would survive without it. He’d have to. His parents were not the sort to change their minds, even if Leon asked it of them, which he wouldn’t. They wanted him gone, he’d go.

He kicked off his shoes and set the tap running for a bath. They thought to scare him into good behavior with a few arcane words and an unknown ritual. Whatever they’d done to curb his talent hadn’t worked. For all their warnings about consequences and discretion his gift still moved in his veins. He could feel it, always at his fingertips like zephyr over wet skin.  They couldn’t steal that from him either. It was a comfort that at least one of his birthrights remained.

When the large tub was full Leon’s shirt joined his shoes on the gold flecked tile. His belt was halfway off when something caught his eye. There was a spot, dark against his the skin of his back. He frowned and twisted, trying to catch his image in the now foggy mirrors.

Leon twisted his arm, reaching his hand towards the middle of his spine. Raised skin met his fingertips and Leon’s brow creased. It was no larger than a penny, a small circle of delicate raised lines and curves. This probably wasn’t good.

He dropped his arms and moved to the mirror, drawing a large circle on the fogged surface with a fingertip. With a few quick flicks he added the rune for clarity and then another for collection. From there it was as easy and thoughtless as breathing.

With any easy flow of power he focused on the circle, letting the invigorating energy in his veins move through it. The vapor in the air settled, condensing and settling around the room. His clothes would be soaked but at least he could see. Once his reflection smirked back at him unobscured he released the spell.

Prickling arched up his spine, his skin pulled tight and painful as something twisted against it from within. He gasped as his back crawled and stung. Then as quickly as it had come, the feeling abated and Leon was left panting, hands gripping the sides of the sink.

He whipped around, twisting again to see his back and the strange mark. His stomach dropped a little. It was bigger. The dark lines twisted into a new whorl, a graceful curve and twist that moved slightly away towards his left side.

The prickling pull was gone but the mark remained. Leon ran his fingertips over his spine again, a side effect? Nothing had gone wrong though, the spell had worked. The air was clear. Almost hesitantly Leon reached into his veins; he could feel it there, bright and moving with the familiar manic rush that was his talent.

He drew a tendril of it, the rush coming to the surface for just a moment as he formed a dark silver coin held between his fingers. It was an old trick, the first illusion he’d played with, and it came to him without any effort. Leon kept his gaze on the strange mark and let the cantrip fade into glittering motes.

Like before, the pull of skin and a prickle like electricity made him twitch. Leon could see an intricate line of dark red, smaller than the coin he’d held in his hand a moment ago, arch from the mark and wriggle to find its place in the design.

His stomach turned.

****

In two days’ time Leon’s mark had traveled considerably. There was no logic to its spread. One spell recorded itself in vicious sharp lines that tucked themselves into his jean’s waistband.  Another sent lazy swirls of bold lines up around his shoulder and down his bicep.

Each attempt to erase the growing mark just added to the mess that now stretched itself over Leon’s torso, the edges peaking around his ribs and from under the collar of his shirt. He’d tried every ritual he knew, and a few he’d made up out of sheer desperation. The failures were bold amidst the rest of the strange tattoo.

“Consequences they said.” He muttered. If he spent much longer doing this he’d run out of skin. Already summer apparel was an issue as the curls of raised lines ran up his lower neck and curled around his upper arm.

With a final swipe of the chalk Leon completed the runes and set the focus. He placed shaking hands down on the hardwood floor and tried to ignore to pounding pain in his temples. Drawing power was still second nature, even with exhaustion setting in. He felt liguid ice wash across his skin as the cleansing spell moved over him. It set him shivering, teeth clenched against the cold. The last of the chill faded and Leon held his breath.

The almost electric bite twitched across chest. Leon didn’t have to check, the pull of skin into the raised lines was enough. Leon drew a shuddering breath and collapsed across the circle, waiting for the mark to stop. “Dammit.” He cursed, eyes closed as he attempted to summon some anger towards his parents.

They’d wanted him to feel the weight of his choices, to be discerning and prudent. And when he hadn’t, when he’d thrown it in their faces gloating and petulant, they’d forced the matter.  He was too tired and the harsh reality was setting in. This thing wasn’t going away and it just might be his fault.

Leon pushed himself to his elbows and then to his feet, sending a stack of thick tomes tumbling. He ignored the many circles he’d etched into the floor boards and the long dead candles pooling over the wood. A short shuffle got him to the couch and he was unconscious before he hit the leather.

The Mistake

Leon Whitehaven, sometimes called Lee by people who were mostly his friends, could not shake the notion he’d made a mistake. It slithered through the back of his mind leaving a trail over all other matters.

Annoyed he set the goblet down a little too hard and the dark liquid sloshed over the intricate chalk pattern he’d painstakingly outlined. It wasn’t the ritual, that execution was flawless. Each small ribbon of parchment placed along the right line with small goblets of wine placed around the chalk circles. Everything had gone to plan, imbuing a small amulet with the spell and the slightly musky aroma that came with it. The ball tonight would be a fair bit easier to navigate with the charm he’d enacted. The elusive mistake didn’t lie with his newly rediscovered art.

Leon pulled on his coat, hiding the charmed amulet under the stiff cloth. Normally the restrictive, tailored cuts that were in current fashion hampered the dancing one would normally participate in throughout these functions. It was a frustration for the men hoping to sweep ladies off their feet, both on the dance floor and otherwise. Luckily following the trends, at least for a time, would give Leon just another excuse to merely observe the festivities and to muse over the infuriating overlooked mistake.

The carriage ride bore no inspiration and Lee arrived at Lord Beller’s estate as frustrated as he had left his own. Lee slipped off from stream of courtiers entering the through the great hall. The invitation was heavy in his coat pocket but he had need to stay unnoticed for just a bit longer into the night, being fashionably late was just as important as being able to report who wasn’t . He had given up trying to ferret out whatever was niggling the back of his mind, if came back to bite him, he would discover it soon enough.

The side entrances were guarded, armed men charged with keeping the uninvited from the gilded festivities. Lee didn’t bother saying anything to them, he looked like he belonged here and the low-born men let him pass with nothing more than a look between themselves. However, the charm around his neck allowed him to catch the rather uncomplimentary slur they’d whispered once he passed.

Lee allowed the small smile his success garnered to remain as he moved through the halls and into the actual party. Out on the dance floor women twirled while the men stepped to lead them, both parties attempting to breathe in their restrictive wardrobes.

Lee was only able to watch them for a moment before the most unpleasant sensation happened upon him. It was an itch, starting in the middle of shoulder blades. It ran, making him shiver, from there to the nape of his neck and into his dark hair. Someone was watching him.

Lee turned slowly and caught the woman’s eyes. Danae of Aquitaine. The Emir’s –well he still didn’t know what she was to the foreigner. That fact alone bothered him. But she watched him for a moment more, tightness in her jaw and a scowl somewhere behind her light smile. Then she turned away, off to some other pursuit and Lee lost her slender frame amidst the guests.

It was then that Leon Whitehaven realized where he’d made a mistake.

Leon knew everyone superficially, their white lies and their petty squabbles. Lee went to the events, sat through lectures, gossip exchanges and melodramatic rants. He was everyone’s acquaintance, good company and generally looked to for the occasional snide comment but little else. The court liked him because he wasn’t important.

The young lord had made a career out of being entertaining, interesting, knowledgeable, charming and most importantly, above everything else, harmless.

Danae of Aquitaine had looked at him with a shadow of concern over her expression. He had worried someone, become important, and perhaps even threatened her or the Emir. Somewhere within his visits to their estate, his lessons with the vizier or the wit he’d exchanged with Danae, he’d slipped.

Leon was able to maintain his bored smile despite the weight settling like an anchor in his stomach.