Portentous Star

The sun simmered red as it slunk towards the jagged horizon. Tristan opened the morning room window to the sickly gold air and leaned outside. Distant fires turned the treeline to a nebulous grey silhouette and the sun was the worst of it, a hazy swollen orb defying the prospect of rain. He frowned at the ominous star.

Behind him, three books lay open on the settee. All had failed to distract Tristan from the pinched tension between his temples. It was the smoke and ash. Even their monstrous house, impenetrable to ancient armies, civil upheaval, and seemingly time itself, could not keep it out.

An uncannily dry summer had baked the trees brown; now somewhere they burned unseen, belching black smoke into the country air like the worst factories of London. Beneath his annoyance at the ash-laden ache and ugly scenery, Tristan knew that if his neighbors estate could burn, so could his.

At the window, an itch grew in the corners of his eyes. With a fanciful but deeply ground logic, Tristan was hesitant to ignore the red portent hanging over his lands. Fate usually prepared the worst for those who willfully snubbed such signs.

“Tristan.” His name came patiently, but as if it’d been repeated. Tristan turned. Arianne had come into the morning room and stood with her hands clasped in front of her skirts. A fine sheen of sweat made her cheeks shine. All else about his sister was perfectly in place.

Tristan was down to his shirtsleeves. Decorum could only survive so long in this heat. He smiled at her, “I am quite distracted apparently. Sorry.”

Arianne moved to the window and pinched her face against the thick, burnt, air. She hustled him back and snapped the window closed. With the glass between, the haze seemed even thicker, the sun bigger. Arianne went to gather the books he’d carelessly left gaping. “The doctors already been called on account of Sally. We cannot have you falling ill.”

Tristan nodded. She was right. With the fires so close, and the sky imposing down on them, he was probably expected to do… something. He went back to the window, looking out over the alien landscape that he was supposed to be lording over. “Doesn’t it look peculiar? All the strange haze and smoke– like something from Revelation.”

“Do not say such things,” Arianne said without real reproach. From another, it would be crass, from her brother it was fancy. As it always was.

Tristan’s smile acted as apology. He did not say anymore, but as he followed her from the room, his eyes slid distant across the glass of the windows and the simmering crimson sun outside them.

This post is part of the Legal Theft Project (also the Mindlovemisery Menagerie prompt here that I run). Some thieves have stolen my first line to write their own. See if any show up below: 

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The way things are won…

A gentle clink of poisoned glasses, purring of low voices, the jangle of rope, harness, and coin. These are the sounds of Naleem. His one time home still stirred in the dark hours of the morning. Lark had taken the city through guile, artful plot, and patience, the way all things are won in Naleem.

His rooms were crowded now. Friends and associates, new and old, leaned over the maps there, discussing what was to be done with the rest of the continent. When he wasn’t there, or tangling up bedsheets with Dras, Lark smiled across dinner tables and ballrooms at men and women who would prefer him as an ineffectual bloated corpse.

Those well-wishers ensured Lark had someone watching the space between his shoulder blades at all times. This kept him effectual, attractively slim, and most importantly, breathing. It was also driving him a little mad. Lark did not hold this against his fellow merchant princes, nor his bodyguards, this was Naleem after all. The measures simply made finding solitude an endeavor. An endeavor Lark began with a sleeping aid slipped into Dras’ wine over their evening meal.

With the sunrise hours off, Lark left his villa alone for the first time in months. He took a path through the kitchens, avoiding maid and cook, and climbed the back wall like a rebellious child.

By his logic, this was his city and he was entitled time to get reacquainted. Not that others would agree; Lark bet on being back before anyone noticed and could imagine his name slid angrily between their teeth should he fail. Quite like when he’d been a rebellious child, though hopefully more successful in his gambles.

In the first quarter hour of precious solitude, Lark ruined his boots in the muck of an alley, dissuaded two thieves through liberal application of glare and stiletto, and laughed at a bold doxy who thought she’d have anything to offer him. He was grinning by the end of it.

Tomorrow he would dine on stuffed pheasant, sip champagne, and flatter the princes who wished him dead. That was Naleem. But so was this, Lark thought, striding through the narrow maze designed to entrap and ambush and watching flicks of shadow dart above him over the roofs. Assassins making their last visitations of the night. Mud and machinations, carnage and coin, silk and sabotage. He loved it all.

For this music challenge I made Raw Rambles write something to or inspired by Ludovico Einaudi’s Divenire, and I did the same above. 

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. 

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. 

Battle Envy

Blair kept her eyes flat towards the ground as she walked, lest anyone catch them and try to draw words from her. She had nothing to say. The interior of the country club was already throbbing with conversation, all flattering laughter, board room boasting, and low anecdotes about the Hamptons. It didn’t need more useless noise.

A tray was offered to her, she took a glass without pausing or lifting her gaze. It was easier than stopping to waive the server on. Each room seemed louder, maybe drunker, than the next with rustled trays and the soft clink of glasses next to teeth.

Now in the open of the dining hall, she couldn’t avoid attention entirely.  Whispers clung to her, half-heard, half-summoned from memory, as she brushed by shoulders.

Blair is so quiet, even dull, maybe stupid. How sad. Not for the guy who lands her and that money. She isn’t even trying to pretend anymore, is she?

Blair is off. Yellow heels? You’d think her parents would have thrown some taste into that test tube.

Blair is just unsettling, that’s all. It’s her eyes, nothing there. Well, what do you expect?

Outside, people still congregated on the gold-veined marble patio, but their voices didn’t join together so discordantly. Blair rubbed her skin of her arms like she’d walked through a spiderweb, the feeling of little legs and threads ghosting over her skin.

“How kind of you, though I prefer red.” The words slid into her ear as someone plucked the wine glass from her hand.  Blair jabbed her eyes to the side. Orion sipped the unwanted wine and looked past her down towards the valley’s gridded lights.

They exchanged no more words, as she had nothing to say, and Orion only spoke when he was guaranteed a reaction. But Blair followed him back around the side of the hillside patio where their peers smoked twists of weed and passed around pills. A few drifted frowns sideways at Blair’s presence, but Orion’s snide volume was, as always, distracting.

Blair found all the decadent rebellion a little amusing. Everyone drank, snorted, and wrecked their family fortunes away as if it mattered, as if those fortunes weren’t endless. As if any of their parents cared, as long as they stayed around the patio corner. Except Orion, he wore dilated pupils and loud slurred speech openly like a gun in hand. Blair figured that was why he was accepted and she was whispered at, everyone was just a bit in awe of the careless war he waged.

Blair shook her head flatly at every pill and joint offered until they stopped offering. No one knew exactly how such things affected her, anything more than wine was a gamble. Besides, she’d forfeited the shallow revolts and exhausting battles long ago.

Another Music Challenge, this time inspired by Skating Polly’s Little Girl Blue and the Battle Envy.  Raw Rambles picked the song this week, so check out her blog. 

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. 

The Girl with Thin Fingernails

Dawn cracked ripe and ready for a downpour. Zak eased the front door closed with silent practice. He didn’t mind running in the rain, but it turned the roads to mires and the hillsides to slosh. Better to get his daily circuit in before the skies opened up over the isle.

His route took him from mother’s front door, through the village he’d spent all of his sixteen years racing through, and up along the island cliffs and their winding, overgrown heights. Zak stopped on the main overlook to let his chest swell at the sight of his concave world. Cradled on all sides by jagged obsidian peaks, the wetly green interior and mist-hazy lake still slumbered.

Except… a single light nestled at the back of the manor house. In the dark of the valley, a small lantern gleamed like a dandelion fluff in the wet air. Someone was up early, Zak thought as he stretched.

The distant little light continued to hook his eye between the trees and sharp glassy boulders as he ran. And as he found the valley again with its rolling hills and easy sodden paths, his feet slowed and paused. The village and his morning chores waited on his left, and to his right, a much smaller trail would bring him to the manor house and the dawn-lit lantern.

Zak shook his dribbling hair and started down the smaller trail. He’d not been near the manor house in years, not since cajoled and convinced by other children, he’d stuck close to steal a hanging chime off a window sill. Sick with guilt and fearing the stories of the manor’s occupants, he’d crept back alone to replace the little chime.

Now, with a longer stride and wider shoulders, Zak moved around the exterior of the peculiar house. He slid his eyes along the the strangely peaked roofs and the mismatched doors adorned with fearsome carvings. Around the corner, a clear dirt back yard housed a chicken coop and a single step set below that pale lantern. Bathed in the splash of light, a very young woman sat on the step and stared blankly into the yard. Tears ran freely down her cheeks.

Zak exhaled his held breath, disturbing the cold quiet of the yard and she snapped her head to him. Her sheet of black hair swung around her face so that strands of it stuck to her tear-sodden cheeks. They blinked at each other before Zak thought to ask if she was alright.

She shook her head, eyes lost somewhere far away from him. Zak guessed that’s where her gaze had been when he’d interrupted her, in thoughts worlds apart from the house and their glass-cradled isle. Her thin, uneven nails caught on her finely woven robe as her fingers worried the fabric. It looked like she’d been shredding them.

“Can I make it better?” He spoke the thought aloud as it occurred to him.

He expected to be scoffed at. Zak was well-accustomed to rolled eyes and huffed dismissals whenever he dared speak his mind in the village. But the girl stilled, drawn back to the isle, the kitchen yard, and the stranger offering help he couldn’t possibly understand. Then slowly, she pressed her lips together in a feeble smile and wiped her hair back from her face. “Maybe. Share some breakfast?” She asked in a small rusty voice.

Zak nodded and waited for her to stand. He followed her over the step and into the manor house.

Another Music Challenge. This week I challenged Raw Rambles to write something to or inspired by The Decemberists’ Make You Better and I did the same. I’ll link her’s here when it goes up.