The Quieter Son

The adjoining temples of Glory and Dominion were full this morning. The past holy months had been trying ones and the well-attended services beneath fortress-like spires reflected this. Up before the standing crowd that packed the temple’s great floor and poured over the steep steps, a man wearing a ceremonial crown addressed the city’s faithful.

“In these trying times, we must trust there is a plan, trust that Dominion rules, and that Glory will bless us if we stand resolute. Immortal logic will always confuse mortal minds. And sometimes, there is no logic.” The priest swayed, opening his arms so the temples fires glinted off the crown. After the crowd rippled with nods, the priest continued. “A few important things have no reason behind them, yet, somehow, that will never alter their gravity.”

“Only a few?” muttered Cole. He’d come to the service with coworkers from the station, cajoled by them and guilted by his own religious upbringing. After an hour the overblown assurances were beginning to sound like political spin. Dominion and Glory were to be respected, but as an adherent of their quieter son, Law, there were times the grandstanding grated.

Nothing that had happened in the last months had any reason behind them. Deviant religious sects, unholy killings, and pervasive chaos shook the city to its core. Cole knew Law wasn’t pleased, he felt it.

Cole had no difficulty parting the crowd and getting down the steps. The crowd stepped aside for him, happy to take the space left by his wide shoulders. He met the disapproving looks of a priest with a deferential nod.  No disrespect to Dominion and Glory’s gilded clergy, but he, and the city, needed order.

Law, the middle son of the goddess Glory and the god Dominion, kept his temple close to the district square, adjacent to the solid edifice kept by his older brother, Justice. There were no crowds on the white stone steps and Cole entered Law’s temple in silence.

Cole performed the appropriate supplicant motions with rote ease. He didn’t remember learning the motions as a child, but assumed he had in some early forgotten lesson. Protocol complete, Cole looked up at Law’s alter only to close his eyes, waiting for some assurance that he was in the right place, that reason still ruled.

Minutes later, Cole opened his eyes. He looked around the temple, searching for something and found only a few bored priests. There was nothing, here in the temple and searching for law, Cole was left with his own thoughts.

This week we were given the line A few important things have no reason behind them, yet, somehow, that will never alter their gravity. And being the vile thieves we are, have turned it to our own purposes. It’s all part of the Legal Theft Project.  



A Real Drink

She walked out and didn’t look back. The glass door swung behind her with a gentle chime and time returned to the cafe. The Barista, a hoop through her nose, frowned through a customer’s order. Two grad students poured over undergraduate papers with red pens awhirl. Next to Simon’s table, old friends compared new lives, becoming louder with each recounted event.

Simon remained frozen, staring at the glass door as it glided into frame. The young resolute woman on the other side of it walked away. She didn’t glance to the side with lost eyes, or sigh, or tense her jaw against regretful tears. She took the stairs down to the parking lot, her iced coffee in hand and her car keys in the other. The sun glinted off them and the buckles on her purse before she disappeared from his view.

If she’d left the coffee on the table Simon could have grabbed it and ran to catch her. Maybe that small gesture would have reminded her of when they met, in a coffee shop like this one. Maybe she would smile and tuck her hair behind her ear. Maybe she would burst into tears and fall into his arms. Maybe when they ran into each other at a mutual friend’s party a month from now she’d remember the gesture and ask how he’d been, if he was seeing anyone. Simon would say no, and she’d try to hide how pleased that made her.

But she and her coffee were gone and time moved around Simon. The Barista frowned, the grad students sighed, and the old friends conversed. Simon stood and threw his own coffee away. He took out his phone and texted his friends, he needed a real drink.

This is most likely part of the Legal Theft Project, as I have taken More than 1/2 Mad‘s first line and written my own piece with it. 

Too Poor, Too Proud

Ollie wandered past the windows of Arcagen square. As usual, the people behind the glass watched her pass before returning to their rotating mandalas and bundled herbs. Ollie kept walking, both too poor and too proud to do anything about the open unfriendly stares.

The evening air was dense with dust kicked up by horses and wagons. Merchants hollered at each other, all trying to get inside the trade hub before the gate closed for the night. Those condemned by the setting sun were shut out, denied the stiff drinks, hearty meals, and smiling company promised in the square’s taverns.

Unlike everyone trying to get in, Ollie watched the gate and the distant black hills hungrily. If her plans went belly, she didn’t want a contingent of holier-than-thous knowing who to chase. So, she waited, watching the flow of outsiders into her dusty haunt and occasionally flirting with a shiny something in a window.

Opportunity came quickly when a wagon wheel hit a bad spot and cracked, pitching its contents to the side. Knowing she couldn’t contrive anything better, Ollie stepped into the surge of the street as chaos ensued around the fallen wagon. Not ten minutes after, she was out on the wastes with the desert night burning her nose. The hills beckoned. Her fortune lay out there, just beyond the abandoned railroad in the pitch. Ollie promised herself that once she got back, they’d prudently keep their unfriendly stares to her back.

I am terribly late, but I wrote to Mindlovesmisery’s Menagerie’s Wordle Prompt. 


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.


The Court of Thorns

He looked up at the sunless sky and the decision made itself. If he must join the court, Lara could not.

In the ashy gloom of morning, people shifted, slowly removing themselves from the arms of the night’s diversions. Most would retreat to private places amidst the dark boughs in search of true sleep. Head resting against a stocky shoulder, he did not rise, even when the borrowed man moved and deprived him a pillow. Instead, he remained staring into the perpetual gloam while his thoughts wore away at his satisfaction.

He found thorns beneath his plain solution, and he turned it about searching for more. If Lara was not to come to court with him, where should she go? Lara was his changeling, gifted to him as a child, raised as servant and sister. Reprisal came to those who threw away gifts. Still, the courts were treacherous by nature, as were his kind. The intrigues grew twisted like the spines of its namesake. He belonged there, perhaps the captive mortals less so?

It was an odd thought. It arrived as the silent companion from last night found his clothes and shuffled back to whomever the young man was sworn. He breathed out and resumed the glazed staring match with the sky. This was different.

Opinionated and aspiring, Lara might have made a good courtier if she’d been his true kin. Instead, he’d found himself with a terrible changeling. The courts would amuse themselves, Lara would fume and suffer until her disobedience ceased entertaining. Then—he frowned, yes there was that decision again.

He sighed and stretched to his feet, arching his back. The sky grew slowly into a twilight hue as he walked home.

A thief, a scoundrel, a rogue, and it is not just my character. This week’s first line was stolen from More than 1/2 Mad for the Legal Theft Project.


Come Fight

Their laughed fluttered when Bell entered the large solar and choked off when she noticed them. All dipped their heads or turned their eyes, caught, except the delicate Ivanov. The smaller girl met Bell’s eyes.

Outside a training yard, Bell still recognized Ivanov’s brazen look for what it was. An invitation, a taunt. Come fight me.  

Bell shifted her gaze away. Armored in lavender damask, Ivanov and her well-sharpened tongue had bested better than Bell. If the solar were a tourney ring, Bell would not last a round. She suppressed the urge to place her back to the wall.

Chatter swelled again in the solar, rising around Bell but sparing her this time. Politics, people, and plans filled the space between Bell and her opponent. Bell breathed out, staring at the floor. Most in the solar were content to let her edge silently to the door as the conversation turned to the war and its burgeoning industry.

Most. Ivanov’s eyes drove into her spine as Bell escaped out the solar door into the hallway. She fled the house for the courtyard, leaving polite but confused servants in her wake.

Bell knew Ivanov would take the point. The loss stung, losses always did and she’d foolishly walked into this killing ground. If Bell was going to win, she’d need a different battlefield.


Under the Perpetual Sun

They’d not slept for days. The near-perpetual sun made it difficult. Even the nights were bright, stars filled the dark sky so thoroughly barely any midnight showed between them. Moreover, the empty spots left around their cooking fire did not help their sleep-deprived nerves.

Hector had fallen on their third day through the borderlands, the transition from the green earth into the fey wilds had been hard for all, but Hector’s eyes had rolled in terror when he’d passed beneath the eldritch pines and they’d heard soft singing on the wind. Hector walked with his hands pressed to his ears. On the third morning, the expedition awoke to the sound of a gunshot. Hector’s gun smoked in his limp hand.

They buried him as best they could, though the creeping vines and roots did not like the imposition of iron shovels and quickly reclaimed ceded territory.

Paul vanished on the fourth night, he turned to his bedroll early in search of sleep only to be gone from it when the rest checked not even an hour later. There was no body to bury, the only thing left of him was a small iris bloom made of bright sapphire. Despite its lovely shape, no one touched it. They left the thing tucked in his bedroll and continued on.

John died shortly after of some creeping moss got into a cut on his hand as they’d buried Hector. His passing was an ugly thing. No one would touch the furry green mound he’d become, so they left him to the forest.

Two weeks into the expedition, with no ken of progress beyond the passage of the endless trees, the deep baying of hounds overtook the silent company. The men left quavered at the sound, and cried out in fear when the hunt broke from the trees.

Their horses’ coats shown red and gold and their riders’ teeth flashed in the noon sun. At the hunts head, a woman who was not a woman grinned down at the foolish company.  Her skin was burnt ochre, her hair the molten yellow of an evening sun. She reigned no hounds and faced the cowering men on foot. In her hands she held a thorned chain, wickedly comprised of verdant vine and gleaming metal. She unwound the weapon, swinging a deadly arc, and her onyx hued eyes gleamed.

Death by sparkling pointy flora was not exactly the way things were expected to go. But here it was, come for them under the perpetual sun. The expedition to the summer court officially failed that day, exterminated on the border between the fey wilds and the summer cliffs, and it would be many years before anyone was foolish enough to replicate the disaster.

Had a bad day, so I wrote something murderous. Thank you to CC for the challenge. Technically this is part of the Legal Theft Project.