The City Was Still There

She felt for the lock in the dark. Arms pressed upwards, she traced the seam of the lid hoping for a catch. The holes they’d drilled spun dim cylinders of light that did not illuminate much of her little cell. Her fingers trembled when they hit a curve of smooth metal. A fail-safe for those in her predicament.

It took several tries to gain purchase, but she jerked the little handle down and pressed up, arms shaking. Her elbows hit the lid, then her shoulders as she strained against it. She fought, forcing herself against the lid as her legs slid out on the smooth floor.

Something finally gave and a bright crack showed between the lid and the base. Her eyes twitched at the spark of light. A cold air fresh from the waves washed over the bridge of her nose. Flurries of movement filled the sliver of the outside as someone barked alarm. She drank in the sight before the lid slammed down on top of her.

The force of it sent her tailbone to the rough plastic floor, legs twisted under her. Cut off, in the dark, she breathed in short jerks. Outside, her captors piled more things atop her cell and snapped at each other. She shuddered with each dull thud.

She’d seen the blocky coast, so distant it was only a wavering line over wide grey waves. But it was there. Beyond the plastic coffin they locked her in, and the bobbing ship’s railing, the city was still there. She closed her eyes to keep the sight of it alive.

Rough weeks make for rough bits of fiction. I offered up the line She felt for the lock in the dark. to my fellow thieves at the Legal Theft Project. We shall see who takes it.

….One Thief: Sometimes You Need Backup

….Two Thief: Homecoming Surprise

 

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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. 

Rabbit Heart

With no enemy scouts detected in months, the Raintail base should have been sleepy hinterland outpost. They held the line only against the surrounding forest. Implacable black trunks and snow-heavy branches stared back at those set to watch from the thick gunmetal walls.

Bell volunteered for the graveyard watch. She still wasn’t sleeping and had grown tired of the pinched worried expression around the mess tables and the evening fires. The assignment would explain the dark circles and restless exhaustion better than she could. Curt saw right through it and still gave her the shadowed looks, but her brother’s concern was unavoidable. At least now she could spend her sleepless hours doing something, even if it was staring at the dark trees knowing too much of what was out there.

She shook her head for at least the fifth time as this night’s partner, Jaxson, offered her yet another cigarette. Bell liked the smell, it reminded her of field camps, cheap whiskey around fires, and leave. But tobacco slowed the lungs and twitched the fingers. Scouts like Bell traded in unrufflable speed.

Their watch stretched into early hours. The new moon offered no shadows, nothing to jump at when the wind rumple the treeline. They were surrounded by black. Jaxson snored, his back to the parapet, head draped over his chest.

Bell stretched, fiddled with the broken loop of her holster, tested if she could catch peanuts with her mouth (she could) and walked en pointe, filling time while keeping the inky wild in sight. While balancing one of Jaxson’s cigarettes on an index finger, movement in the black caught her eye.

At first, the trees were just trees, and the late winter ground the usual patchwork of snow and rock. But Bell recognized the impossible antlers separate from the trees and rise in silhouette. Muscle moved beneath the roan coat as it picked a way fluidly down the ridge towards her and the wall. The stag-thing approached the gate with an easy canter. Predatory grace rippled across its back and down a plumed tail. A rabbit’s heart drummed in Bell’s chest as she grabbed her rifle and moved to the parapet.

Now barely beneath Bell, as the chimera was massive beyond known species, the thing lifted its lupine nose into the air and sniffed. It pawed the ground like a warhorse, claws digging deep furrows into the mud. There was something less than comforting knowing the only thing between her and a thirteen thousand pound animal was a mechanical door. Bell stared at it, the night air hurting her too-open eyes.

How many people would die if it decided to test its weight against the walls? How many other people would get court-martialed for bringing it here? The moment stretched, just her, the chimera, and impending prison cells. Bell decided what to do when Jaxson shifted and stirred in his sleep.

She landed toes, then heels in the snowy mud next to the wall with a soft exhale. No one but the chimera noticed. It whirled and huffed deep in its throat, pointed ears forward and reflective eyes vibrating on Bell’s crouched form.

Bell didn’t run, she’d feel claws in her back, its fangs around her neck. She didn’t bring up her gun, even at this range, ammunition wouldn’t pierce the things coat. She met its eyes while her heart’s beat made it impossible to swallow, and she took a step. The thing lowered its head, eyes glittering and locked on her. Bell took another even silent step towards the ridge. Slowly it followed, shoulders pitching back and forth as it stalked her, intent.

Bell did not let her gaze slip. She did not let her footsteps stutter or scrape on the harsh rock and ice. She did not think about what she would do when she got to the dark treeline. Bell led it away from the wall, away from Raintail, back up the slope until they disappeared into the black trunks.

A thief, but a tired one. This week’s willing supplier of lines is CC. Check out her original HERE and what the rest of my band did with the line at the Legal Theft Project.

Flash Fiction: The Hocus

Usually, Momo didn’t have to press her way through a crowd. Carrying a gleaming, sometimes bloody, machete typically cleared a quick path. No elbowing necessary. But the rolling sea of unwashed bodies around Momo did not shy from the metal covering her face, or the wrapped blade on her back.

Someone bumped hard into her shoulder, Momo snarled beneath her mask and lashed out. The offender left a grimy blood stain across her pauldron but continued their gape-mouthed stumble forward, wheezing and transfixed on the distant stage. Momo blinked. She was unused to this kind of invisibility.

No one recoiled or winced or refused to look at the twisted metal obscuring her features, she was just another person to shove as everyone pressed themselves forward against the makeshift stage. Any fear was gone, replaced with a blind and growing fervor for whatever was about to appear on the cobbled-together stage.

A group of hooded people finally broke from the crowd. The bottoms of their pale robes were heavy with mud as they climbed the stage. From their ranks, a short woman emerged. The crowd surged with a collective inhale, breathing out mutters of Always.

White cloth draped off the shelf of her breasts and clung to the wide arches of her hips. This woman, called Always if the chanting of the crowd could be trusted, raised her hands to the sky. She kept her eyes locked across the swelling crowd at her feet though, gazing down at the crowd like a mother at her precocious children. Some of the masses reached grimy hands towards the pristine hem ruffling her brown toes. They were kicked back by the woman’s hooded handmaidens.

“We have a guest tonight.” At Always’ words, silence bound the crowd. The white drapped woman breathed in the hush, a smile unrolling in her curved lips. “From Haven. From the wolves.”

Always lowered an arm to point through the crowd, drawing a line between herself and Momo. The crowd parted from that line, spreading space between them. Always smiled. Momo’s eyes darted behind her mask, searching for a break in the crowd that didn’t lead to the stage.

“Welcome Momo. ” Always’ leaned forward and swept a look over the crowd, weighing their shifting unease and its potential. Her eyes locked back to the sockets on Momo’s mask. “Grab her.”

Legal Theft: The Scars of Winter Woods

She woke up deliciously warm. Sabel’s skin radiated like flame, burning the cloth over her limbs as she smoldered beneath. Last stage of freezing, she thought thickly, a malfunction of the brain. The rush of blood vessels when the body was too confused to save itself. Delicious, disorienting warmth.

The fear cleared her head, adrenaline tearing its way through the haze of dying brain cells. Though her skin burned, she did not rip away the cloth covering her. That would be death alone in these woods.

She opened her eyes. The dark interior of the barracks was still, her unit breathed evenly in sleep on the cots across from her. No snow, no naked pale wood, no endless sky framed by bare branches. She was not dying.

Sabel sat up, breathing in gasps. She kicked the musty regulation blankets down to her knees. Her skin still felt warm enough to cook her insides.

Frost had crystallized at the edges of the barrack windows. The memory of it at her lips, in her nose, waited. If Sabel closed her eyes she was back in the woods, black fingers pulling herself through the snow.

She pushed the rest of the bed coverings off and stood. Sabel looked down and wiggled her toes. The digits were healthy and whole, she could feel the cold from the floor seeping into them. Modern medicine was a marvelous thing. They’d fixed so much of her.

Not enough though. At night she returned to those dead woods. Like her burning skin, Sabel thought, a malfunction of the brain. She found her boots and left the barracks.

I am a thief. More than 1/2 Mad wrote the original, and I stole the first line for myself as part of the Legal Theft Project. 

White Walls

Her makeshift room only had two real walls, which she didn’t mind, as two presented problems enough. She leaned back on the simple twin bed and stared upwards at the glaringly bare space.

A screen of dark wood and sectioned paper divided her corner from the rest of the living room. The bed’s blue comforter, while rarely used, was a good color. Even her laptop, humming comfortingly on a pillow, possessed a border of tiny rhinestones around the logo. But the walls…

They were empty and she had nothing to fill them with.

FlashFiction: Spies, Scouts, and Miracles

The scout stumbled through their perimeter two minutes into the night’s second watch. They nearly shot her, guns knocked and ready, before someone recognized the blue crest clutched in her fingers. They demanded rank and name. Teeth-chattering and trembling in the cold, she glared at them and collapsed in the snow.

Brass was skeptical. Her uniform was that of their army, nearly ruined beyond recognition, but those could be stolen. No identification papers or orders were found with a cursory search of her unconscious body. Against some judgement she was brought to the medical bay.

They had to cut the mess of fabric off her back to find the wound. The medics peeled back the frozen layer of mud and blood off to find a deep rend, the length of a hand, set deep the side of her spine. No weapon they’d ever seen would be responsible for the ragged wound. Malnourished, frostbitten, and anemic, it was a miracle she’d managed to get through the winter woods.

The scout breathed steadily as they eased her dead weight into the rejuv-tank. The woman was lucky she’d stumbled into this camp. Most of the outposts didn’t have such a well stocked medical facility. It would be days before the woman would be able to make a report, but the tank’s cell plasma was already regenerating her blackened nose into new bronze flesh.

The doctors shook their heads and shooed the leadership’s aides from their hallowed facilities. Her fingerprints and genetic identifiers could be gathered and passed over, but for now they were going to do their jobs and bring their new patient back to life. They’d leave the brass to questions of spies, scouts, and suspicious miracles.