Sick Strange Darkness

She’d always resided behind his eyes. In the darkness floating above his bed, the space between his waking thoughts and the blurred abyss of sleep. Since his twelfth birthday, when his father had passed the binding to him, she’d found him in his dreams.

Now watching his own son turn fitfully beneath the bed covers, plagued perhaps by her warm sepia eyes, he turns away. “Come home.” Her voice hums deep inside his skull.

He’d thought to be free of her. He’d even thought himself clever. If the cursed cuff, that evil twist of metal, was her call, her beacon, surely it’s departure would free them? He’d pushed it over across that velvet table himself when the cards had spoken. Won by another in a poker game, he was done with the thing, with her.

That night she came to him as she’d never before. With hair like webs and skin that burned at its touch, he drowned that night in his sheets. Three days later he was able to wrest himself from the warm depths of her arms. He woke up to a brilliant morning in a hospital bed. The doctors did not understand, but his father, now old and white-eyed, did and would not speak to him.

He leaves his own son’s room and walks the hallways to keep her at bay. One by one they’ve succumbed to her. Half his house sleep. He no longer bears her alone, she spreads like the inky silk of her hair into everything.

He comes to his bedroom door. It is locked, barred from within so the bed cannot tempt him. It does. He is tired, every blink is a small fight to stay away from her warm black depths. “Come home.” She whispers, her breath against his cheek.

His sheets would be cool, unused and soft. She would be so very warm. He leans against the door as if he could fall through the wood and into the hazy depths of her realm.  “Come home,” says the voice inside his head. He closes his eyes.

Raw Rambles picked this amazing cover by PHOX for us to write to for the Music Challenge this week. See what she wrote with their rendition of “I Miss You” in mind here. 

Born of Habit

The lamps left burning in the hallway filled the wide corridors with a dull dusky glow. Below the gleaming third floor balustrades the rest of the landings were dark.

This house was an old and distinguished edifice. It cracked and shifted with her passing, as if the great thing noted her presence and made efforts to acknowledge it. At this hour the staff was fast asleep downstairs, and even the earliest rising kitchen boy would not be up for a long while.

With a quiet born of long habit, Selina stepped to the first bedroom door and curled her fingers around the handle. Within the room, a tall boy of twelve slept soundly on the bed. Selina moved around a pair of discarded riding boots, her skirts whispering against the rug, to adjust the coverlet  and pluck the slim novella from his fingers. Her youngest son didn’t stir when she closed the windows with a snap. Finally she drew the curtains closed, cutting off the silver illumination from the sky. Selina suspected he’d been reading by moonlight again, and she left the room smiling at the thought.

At the next bedroom the door protested, opening only far enough for her to snake her arm through and remove the jam that had been placed there. Selina shook her head with a sigh, at fourteen her second son had become a cunning, if reclusive, scholar. He did not like interruptions, especially during late night studies. The room was still bright with lantern light, the bed made and covered with neat little stacks of books. Her son was asleep on the coverlet, half curled around a volume. Selina sighed again and went about collecting the other research materials, taking some care to keep their order. Once the bed was clear she settled a blanket over her son’s shoulders and turned out the lights.

Selina paused at the third door. The carved cherry wood was familiar under her fingers, this had been Selina’s room as a girl. Now her eldest and only daughter slept within. The impulse to open the door came and went, Selina drew her hand away from the knob. A mother would naturally look after her sons until they were married, until others could be relied upon to protect them in her stead. But a daughter, especially an heir, had to be trusted to manage herself.

The hallway stretched before her, almost smokey in the low lamps. Selina breathed in the chill that had crept into her house, content that her children slept and that she could retire with an easy mind. She almost did, but there was another room to check.

It wasn’t every night, but Selina found herself at the end of the hall often enough. There was no need to quiet her footsteps, no one slept under the smooth blankets and no possessions littered the floor. She knew where to look though, to see the hints of the room’s old use. A herd of carved horses set on a shelf, their manes and coats different grains and colors. Leaned into the corner, a small wooden sword fit for a child’s hand waited. A small collection of pale stones and shells, plunder from some trip to the seaside long ago, lay about the surfaces of the desk and drawers.

Selina swept her eyes over the empty room once more before stepping back and shutting the door. One by one, Selina extinguished the lamps as she moved down the hallway towards her own bed.

Legal Theft: Summer Bloom

The darkness spread from the palace like a living thing, and even the most careless of the fae paused to take note and hide. As the shadows darkened around her the Arch Duchess of the Grey Grove, Grand Marquess of the Hinterlands, High Countess of the Dusk Forest, the Sister of the Dark King pursed her lips. Already nervous servants cringed, quickly hanging their heads and wringing twig-like fingers.

First her brother declined a gracious invitation to hunt. That was an annoyance in of itself. By her measure, it’d been decades since they’d saddled their narrow hoofed steeds to stalk the wilds and run down panicked mortals and monsters. And now, as the fury rolled from the blackhewn spires, he scared her quarry away.

Sharply cut skirts swirled around her bare feet as she left her expedition and wolfhounds. Rarely was the King’s ire felt so tangibly that it hung in the air. The last time she’d felt this rolling darkness they’d overtaken the Broken City before the next moonrise, conquering those who’d dared defy her brother.

The courtyard was empty, but glittering eyes in hidden corners noted her movements and averted themselves. Disgust turned her mouth, her brother employed more fear than fealty. Personally, she could never stomach such cowardice in subjects, but such contentions between the siblings were common.

The King was not in the training yards or his empty hall lit with shining balls of shadow. No one walked in the gardens or surveyed the forest from the walls. Only one place remained.

Unlike the mice who cowered in the cracks of the palace, she didn’t fear her brother’s storms. Neither of them cringed from strife. It was in their make.  Even so, she paused before the arch of the war room. Her brother’s temper may not worry her, but his weakness for impulse and obsession did.

The bent boughs shifted at her whim, allowing her entrance into the chamber. It too was empty, but freshly. Maps and documents were half unrolled across the massive table. A shattered wine goblet and its contents spread over the floor.  She stepped close to examine the maps. She frowned, recognizing the summer lands that held their bright inane cousins.

With deceptively delicate fingers she plucked a piece of parchment at random, glancing over the lineage of the seelie royalty. She froze. A hidden petal, now revealed beneath the page, showed up bright against aged maps and histories.

The velvet thing was unbruised and vibrant as the noonday sun. She dropped the page and picked up the petal. The rose it’d come from could never have grown in their lands, nor in the dull mortal worlds. Such things did not find their way into the dark lands unaided. The petal was a summer bloom.

The sight of it wormed its way through her calm. The color was truly beautiful, the specific crimson of first blood. She let it weigh heavily in her mind and eye for a moment before palming the soft thing away and leaving the chamber.

My roguish nature compelled me. I stole this first line from the reemerged The Gate in the Wood. See her blog and the rest of the thieves at the Legal Theft Project.

Legal Theft: Ripe

There were stories about her kind, stories old as islands and only slightly younger than the names of the stars. No one remembered the stories now. When her kind faded from memory, the stories remained for a time. But those who knew the tales of the sharp eyed ones fell to the passing years. Soon the peoples of the world stopped whispering the warnings of a bygone time to their children.

Those children grew into the throngs that surrounded her now. Masses of them, filtering in and out of the grand structures they called their own, no conception of the far grander world that cradled them.

Such ignorance, it made for a world lacking in deference, but startlingly ripe with innocence.

Ripe. It was a good word. There were still stories about her kind, someday they would be told again. Her lips curled into a slow smile, like something stretching from a long sleep.

This is a small crime, but a crime nonetheless. I am a thief and I’ve stolen from Apprentice, Never Master as part of the Legal Theft Project. 

Lessons

Her bedroom door opened a moment after the single knock, announcing her mother. Everyone else in her family waited for invitation, but not Selina. The Blackwood matriarch let you know she was coming and that was enough. Selina swept in, hips swaying her skirts across the floor. Her mother plucked the brush from her hand  and took her place behind Lillian as they both looked into the vanity’s mirror. They shared delicate heart shaped faces, narrow shoulders and quick thin fingers.

Lillian winced as her mother went to work on the black curls. Unlike most girls she did not set her hair loose to sleep and pin it up in the mornings. If she left her hair to its own devices she’d awake with a brier brush of tangles atop her head. Thus the entire waist length mess had to be tamed into braids each night and then brushed again in the morning.

“Where’s Nora?” She named the maid who usually attacked the nightly chore.

Selina gathered the dark hair in one hand and pulling a brush through it with the other. “I wished to speak with you, so Nora has the night to do as she pleases.”

Lillian froze for a moment. “This is about Monday.”

Selina nodded. She was silent, waiting for her daughter to set the tone of the conversation. It was always easier to react. Lillian knew the tactic. Playing black instead of white in chess.

“Its not fair. You let Ryan run with the dogs off into the woods and do whatever she wants. It was one day of lessons I missed. I have so many more than them!” Lillian’s temper coiled and snapped before she realized it had been there.

Selina’s even brush strokes never wavered. “And what did you do with your day of freedom?”

“A troupe was in town. I watched them perform.” Lillian crossed her arms.

Her mother’s gaze hardened and Lillian obediently relaxed her shoulders and set hands in lap instead. “You will need to break yourself of that habit Lillian. Is that why you skipped lessons, to see this troupe?”

Lillian worked to school her expression into the easy control of her mother’s. “No. But I should be allowed to skip lessons if Ryan and Richard can.”

The barest of smiles curved Selina’s lips. “Ah. You were evening a score. Righting an injustice.” Lillian narrowed her eyes, feeling as if she was being mocked. Her mother continued. “If you chafe at your responsibilities now I worry for the upcoming years. You are almost thirteen.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Lillian said quickly. It just hadn’t been fair, seeing her brother and sister run off into their own passions while she was stuck learning the endless genealogies and familial customs of their class.

Selina put down the brush and began to twist the curls into loose plaits. “Your responsibilities come with your position. You cannot possess one without the other.”

“Because I’m eldest.”

Her mother’s quick fingers paused. Selina bent down so their faces were next to one another’s. “It is because you are my eldest. Oh contentious daughter of mine, and you are set to lead this family when the time comes.” Her lips brushed the top of Lillian’s temple with a kiss. Selina straitened and resumed braiding. “I will only be harder on you in years to come, as my mother was to me. I hated her for it some days.”

“I don’t hate you.” Lillian jerked her chin up a little wide eyed.

“Of course not.” Her hand rested on Lillian’s shoulder for a moment. “But you already struggle against me and the efforts preparing you for the power you’ll inherit. There are times to gamble that power. I certainly did. But you should do so with the knowledge of all you pose to lose.”

Lillian looked curiously at her mother as Selina secured the long braid. “You did? When?”

“Those are stories for another time. My point, your adventure was a senseless gesture against your own family. Your brother and sister pursue their own ends, as you should chase yours. Your birthright is yours if you can accept the responsibilities that accompany it. That is your choice, I won’t force you.”

Lillian nodded slowly. She did not doubt her role as heir. She never had.

“Then now is the time to learn. Save these defiant displays for your enemies, not your family. We are here to help you.”  Selina stepped back and Lillian stood from the cushion. It was already dark, the delicate lanterns casting a warm glow over the two of them.

“What enemies?” Lillian asked dryly. It seemed a pertinent question if she was supposed to be saving her energy for some future conflict.

Selina smiled and lead her daughter to the bed. “The ones you’ll make. Anyone who’s accomplished anything worthwhile has more than a few, and I have faith you will have many.” That got Selina an odd look but Lillian climbed into bed. “Tomorrow you’ll make up the dancing lessons you missed. With interest.”

“I hate dancing.” Lillian sighed.

“That is because you are not good at it. Hence, lessons.” Selina bent to kiss her daughter on the forehead, ignoring the glare she received at the last comment. She left after extinguishing the glass lanterns, skirts sweeping the ground.