How Tokai Redwing Got Her Name

Reading through the Flash Fiction posts over on Chuck Wendig’s blog reminded me of another story I wrote about a meeting with a god. It’s somewhat less than 1000 words, and is a lead-in to another of the books I’m gonna write someday. Here ’tis.

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Red-winged Starling (Onychognathus_morio) 8

How Tokai Redwing Got Her Name

Among my people it is believed that the gods and the etirru, the fae, walk among us in the form of men. I know this to be true, for I have met one such, and it is he whose rule I now follow.

This is how it was.

I and a friend, Halimon, were searching the caves above Loukha valley. It was rumored that in older times papyrus scrolls were stored there because the caves were so dry. We had found a cache of ancient scrolls that day, and Halimon was loading them on our horses while I searched one more cave. But it seemed that Halimon had grown greedy, for he betrayed me. He struck me down from behind, and caused a rockfall.

I was fortunate; I was only stunned and already beginning to rise when I heard the rocks falling. I lunged forward and so was only caught by the edge of the fall—but that still buried me from my hips down to my feet, and one of the rocks tumbled and struck my head again.

I do not know how long I lay unconscious, but I think it was no more than an hour; when I woke, all the dust from the fall had settled. I lay mostly prone, my right arm pinned beneath me. I was unable to roll over onto my back, nor could I even turn onto my side to free my arm. So I worked with my left hand, pulling stones and rocks one at a time and shoving them away. It was slow work, and I had no way to know how it was proceeding.

Every once in a while I pulled enough rocks away that more would come down in a cascade, and at last yet one more stone bounded down and struck my face, cutting deep above my eye. It hurt badly, and it bled badly, and I was so angry, and frustrated, and frightened that I cried out, “Is there no-one in this blesséd darkness that can help me free?”

And from the darkness a voice answered me.

Now I had explored this cave, and I knew that there was no entrance but that from which I had come. I thought then it must be one of the earth fae.

The voice said, “What would you?”

“To be freed from these rocks and safe out of this cave,” I said.

“And for this aid, what recompense?” he replied.

“My hand in friendship now, and my promise of aid in your time of need,” I answered. I vow to you, I could not hear him move, and yet I heard him freeze in startlement.

“That is a great gift…” he said in wondering tones. “Done.” And somehow I could see his hand reach out for mine. I reached up my hand, and he took it, and suddenly the rocks were gone, and I was standing, and the entrance to the cave was as clear as if the rockfall had never been.

“Sir,” I said, “Who am I to thank for this rescue?”

“You know who I am,” he said, and stepped a little forward toward the cave entranceso that the light fell on him. I could see him then—a young man in his prime, in dark robes of fine cloth. His hair was glossy black, and his complexion olive like my own. But his dark eyes reflected silver in the dimness, and as he stepped further forward I saw at his temples the locks of hair that were rusty red like the marks on a starling’s wing.

“Emeris!” I gasped, and started back. But his hand tightened on mine, and he would not let me pull away.

“You offered your hand in friendship when you knew me not,” the god said. “Would you deny it now that you do?”

“No, my lord, but—”

“What is your name?” he asked. I told him, though I had a different name, then. He saw the blood on my face, then, and brushed his thumb across the wound. It stopped bleeding, though I still have the scar.

“You are tokai,” he said, the word meaning strong, with the feminine ending that made it a name. When I told my sister the story, she took to calling me that when we were alone. “You are safe now, tokai. Go. The redwings will watch over you.”

And it was so. On the long walk home nothing and no-one came near to me, save for the redwing starlings that flitted across the path in the lowering light.

And when I arrived home I heard that Halimon had been found, gutted like a fish. There was no trace of the papyrus scrolls. It seemed my betrayer had himself been betrayed by his greed.

So it is that I now follow Emeris of the Red Wings, Lord of Shadows. Some call him the god of thieves, but they forget he is also the god of secrets and of hidden lore—and of safety in darkness.

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Check out the other posts for the challenge at: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2017/03/17/flash-fiction-challenge-to-behold-the-divine/#comments

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Sya and The Ladies

Chuck Wendig put out a new flash challenge this week: To Behold the Divine. The challenge: write about gods and goddesses. Any genre, any point of view, under 2k words. Figured now would be a good time to introduce some more characters from my WIP, House of the Black Dog. Seven-year old Sya, Heir to the House, takes two of the Powers to task for their lack of action on behalf of their Champion, my MC Ari Dillon, who Sya has dubbed her “Red Lion.”

Check out the other posts for the challenge at: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2017/03/17/flash-fiction-challenge-to-behold-the-divine/#comments

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SYA 1 Sandhya Mauroskyli - enhanced light

Month 4, day 30 – 150 days on Thanah

the House of the Black Dog; elsewhere

It was the garden in the temenos, the holy ground at the heart of the House where the little temples were for all the gods. It was evening, she thought, still early; the torches weren’t lit yet, though the slanting light coming over the wall had gone a deep, clear gold. The little girl picked her way along the path, kicking the leaves just to hear the skittering sound they made across the stones. She wasn’t supposed to be out alone, never without a guard, but here beyond the Gates of Dreams she knew she was always safe.

And the two Ladies were here, and no one would dare try to harm her while They were present. She was as safe as if her Red Lion was with her.

But at thought of her Red Lion, the little girl’s heart twisted inside her. The White Man had hurt her, this time; really hurt her. Hurt her badly, hurt her soul, not just her body. Abruptly the little girl lifted her head, searching the garden around her for the Ladies.

She was only a little girl, but she was also Heir to a House, and she knew her duty to her Household. The Red Lion was hers; her protector, hers to protect. Chosen to save her and her City almost before she was born, it wasn’t right for her to be so hurt and have no one to help her! The little girl marched along the path now, her little feet thumping determinedly on the stones, angry now with an anger well beyond her years.

The Ladies were sitting on the stone benches by the fountain at the center of the temenos, both frowning slightly as they conversed. At their feet lay the Dark Lady’s big dog. It lifted one of its heads, watching her approach, and gave a woof of greeting, tail thumping the stones in happiness before getting up and shaking itself all over. The Dark Lady laid a hand on the dog’s head and gave a soft command, and the dog sat, but its teeth gleamed in a doggy grin and its tail still swept the leaves away beneath the bench.

The gray-eyed Lady, her Lady, looked up at her and smiled. Her long spear lay at her feet, and her great shield leaned against the old olive tree, the serpent-haired woman’s face turned away. Up in the tree, the little brown owl hooted once and ruffled its feathers at her, but the little girl would not be diverted.

“Oh, dear,” the Dark Lady said, and raised a hand to hide her smile.

The little girl marched right up to them, ignoring the soft whuffling of the dog as it leaned forward to sniff her arm. “He hurt her!” she said, sharp and accusing. “She’s doing what you want, why won’t you help her?” The Dark Lady looked down as her dog whined, hearing the little girl’s upset, and her face was sad. She soothed the dog, rubbing its ears with gentle fingers. Her dark eyes were veiled by long lashes and a fall of night-dark hair that tumbled past her shoulders.

The gray-eyed Lady sighed and leaned forward to speak to the girl. “Even such as we have our constraints, child. Though we have set the task, the doing is up to her. It is not our choice, it is our moira, our fate. We may not yet interfere, and we cannot help her unless she asks—and it has been long and long since that one asked for help.”

“But you helped her before!” This time she turned to the Dark Lady, pleading.

The Dark Lady looked at the little girl; her eyes were dark from lid to lid, and little sparks shone in them like stars in the night sky. “She cried out for help, then, though it was not to me she called. Would that she had called on me sooner, both then and now, little one. But until she does, we needs must stay our hands.” Her voice was soft and rich and dark, and sorrow shimmered in its depths.

The little girl looked up at her, into those eyes as dark as a night of stars and sad as an ocean of tears, and bowed her head. “But it isn’t fair,” she said, her voice plaintive.

“No, it isn’t,” the Dark Lady replied. She reached out and drew the little girl close, pulling her up into her lap. “It isn’t fair, but it is what must be.”

The little girl snuggled into her arms, then looked up into her face. “Can I ask for you to help her?”

“Oh, child…” the Dark Lady sighed, “I cannot. But I promise you this; whenever she calls, I will hear her however far she be, and I will give whatever aid I can—though it may not be the help she expects.” She stroked back the little girl’s curls, nearly as dark as her own, and at last the little girl smiled.

“What’s your name, Lady?”

The Dark Lady smiled, and it was as if the stars shone in her eyes. “I have a great many names, little one. But your Red Lion calls me Mother Night.”

“Mother Night,” the little girl whispered, and tucked herself deeper into the Dark Lady’s arms. She sighed, and moments later she was asleep.

The gray-eyed Lady gazed down on the little girl with eyes both fond and sad, and leaned forward a little to brush her cheek with gentle fingers. “What must be, must be,” she said. “Until she admits of all the truths she has hidden from herself, she will not be free for us to reach her.”

The Dark Lady nodded, and when she spoke, her voice ached with remembered pain, frustration, and a deep, abiding anger. “I cannot give the help she needs. I cannot stop what he does. I could only hope to give her the strength to bear it.”

“You did, dear friend,” her companion said, her voice filled with compassion and her gray eyes warm with sympathy. “She is wounded, true; wounded in body and soul, yet she lives, she is whole. And she is growing stronger for it, though she knows it not.” The gray-eyed Lady reached out once more and laid her fingers on the other’s arm, the only comfort she could give. “Be at peace; the time is drawing near.”

* * *

Whiskey

Reading someone’s blog about Flash Fiction, and figured I should post something myself. So here’s something I wrote a while back. What it actually is is the backstory for one of my Role Playing characters, but it made a nice little story in and of itself. It’s a little over the 1000 words, but hey, this is my blog and I’ll do what I want, right? Write.

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whiskey pour - cropped

Once upon a time there was a very unhappy young woman. She was so very unhappy that she left her home and her family, and set off across America. She took on odd jobs as she went; waitressing in greasy diners and dirty bars, stayin’ wherever she could find a bed. And she did what she had to do to survive.

One night she was sittin’ in a little bar in some podunk town in the middle of America, nursin’ a beer, when the door opened and in walked this long drink of water in jeans and boots and leathers. Had on a black t-shirt that fit him just fine, and a long skinny rat-tail of a braid hangin’ all the way down to his ass. When she raised her head and looked up, there he stood in the doorway, lookin’ right back at her. Lookin’ right in her eyes. And he just kinda smiled.

Now he could’ve sat anywhere in that bar, but he come over and sat on the stool right next to her, back up against the rail and his elbows on the bar. He looked over at her and smiled, looked down at the bottle in her hand and said, “Whatcha drinkin’?”

She looked over at him, looked at her beer, looked back, and said, “Whiskey.”

Well, he smiled, kinda lazy like, and then he leaned his head back over the bar and said, “Bartender –let’s have some whiskey f’me an’ the lady.” Bartender came over, set up two shots and poured, and wandered off. The biker sat up a little, reached over and took that beer right out of her hand, and drank down just exactly half. Then he put it back in her hand, picked up the shot and knocked it back, and waited.

She looked him up and down, and kinda nodded, picked up the beer, and drank the rest. Then she took the other shot, tossed it back, and set the glass back down on the bar. And he just kinda smiled.

Door opened again, and in come two more men in braids and jeans and boots and leather. First one looked over and said, “Hey, Matt!”

Matt tipped his head and said, “Hey, Tommy. Hey, Billy Lee.”

Other one grinned and said, “Hey, Matt! Who you got there?”

Matt said, “This my new girl, Whiskey.”

They both nodded their heads and said, “Hey, Whiskey,” and she looked back and said, “Hey, Tommy. Hey, Billy Lee.”

And she rode with them nigh on ten years, and they always treated her like a friend, and they never treated her other than like a lady.

Till one night they were sittin’ in a little bar in some podunk town in the middle of America. Matt and Tommy were playin’ pool, and Tommy’s girl Carly was watchin’, leanin’ against the wall sippin’ a beer. Billy Lee and his girl Francie were sittin’ at a table, and Whiskey was waitin’ at the bar for their drinks.

Down the other end of the bar was a skinny little man, looked like a salesman, wearin’ a shiny suit. He’s sittin’ there all hunched together like he was afraid all them big, bad bikers were gonna jump him, watchin’ ‘em in the mirror behind the bar.

Whiskey was sittin’ there at the bar when the door opened and in walked this dude. Big dude. Hair might’ve been blond, but it was cut shorter’n peach fuzz. Whiskey turned a little, lookin’ at him, all muscle and mean, and knew she was lookin’ at trouble.

There he stood in the doorway, lookin’ round the bar. He saw Matt and Tommy, saw Carly, and Francie, and Billy Lee, and then he looked right at that skinny little man in the shiny suit. Now he could’ve sat anywhere in that bar, but he come over and sat on the stool right next to that skinny little man, so close that he knocked into him, spilled his beer all over the bar. That skinny little man jumped up off his stool, startin’ to holler, got a look at the dude and started to apologize.

Big dude got off his stool, reached out, and grabbed that little man by the collar of his shirt, lifted him right off his feet and pinned him against the wall.

Matt put down his pool cue with a snap, and stood up straight. “Hey, man,” he said, friendly like, “It’s all good. How ‘bout you let me buy you a beer?”

Big dude never moved a muscle holdin’ the skinny guy, just turned his head real, real slow to look at Matt. “Fuck you,” he said, clear and hard and cold.

Matt started walkin’ forward, slow and easy like, and Tommy followed after, bein’ cool. “Yeah, man,” Matt said, “but hey, he didn’t mean nothin’ by it. C’mon, I’ll buy you two beers.”

The big dude just stared at him for a minute, and then he turned his head back around, lookin’ at the skinny guy. He set him down gentle, let go his collar, and smoothed it down like to get the wrinkles out, and patted him on the chest like he was apologizing. It was all real slow, everybody movin’ real slow and gentle, no hurry.

And then everything got real fast.

That big dude, he moved; moved fast, real fast, reachin’ for Matt and Tommy, and wood was breakin’ and Carly screamin’. Billy Lee shoved his chair back so hard it fell over, and Francie ran for the wall. Bartender slid down the bar, grabbin’ for the phone and somethin’ underneath, and the skinny guy was out the door like he’d never been there.

Next thing Whiskey remembered she’s sittin’ on the floor with Matt’s head in her lap, and the big dude lyin’ next to him, dead. She was strokin’ Matt’s hair, tryin’ to keep the blood out of his eyes. He looked up at her and kinda smiled, and he said, “I love you, Whiskey.”

She said, “I love you, Matt,” but he was already gone.

Whiskey never did remember what happened that night. All she remembered was it all happened so fast.

But in my dreams… in my dreams, I feel that pool cue in my hands. I see that big dude standin’ there laughin, crazy. And I wake up when I feel the shock go up my arms as that pool cue breaks his skull.

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Off the Grid and Lost – Danny Ryder

I figure it’s time you meet someone else on Thanah – one of the Gathered, Danny Ryder. He starts out as a bad boy – an ex-con, one with a desperate need to belong to something, a gang, whatever. So long as they’ll have his back, he’ll have theirs. But things don’t work out the way he planned… and he realizes there’s someone he wants to protect.

Month 5, day 26 – 186 days on Thanah

somewhere in the House

Nobody seemed to know where Ryder was lately, not his bad-ass homeboys, nor the Ouroi. He showed up for his work shift every day, looking rougher than usual but doing his job with a dogged focus. Just sort of keeping his head down, like he was thinking hard while doing something else. Shift done, he’d ghost over to the dining hall and eat—and then disappear off the House radar. Since in general no-one was much interested in looking for him, no-one much missed him either. His pack could care less—Roach was still pissed at him over the stupid kid, and the others found it safer to follow Roach’s lead rather than risk crossing him anyway. Still, even Roach wondered every once in a while where Ryder’d got to, in an annoyed, sort of missing-having-a-whipping-boy kind of way.

Where he was, was lost. Something—or someone—had poked him in a place he’d thought long dead, and now he was trying to figure out if this was a good thing or a bad thing. It had been a very long time since he’d thought about anyone but himself, and now he couldn’t seem to think about anyone else but her.

He didn’t really know why yet, hadn’t figured it out, but ever since he’d talked to the redhead in the back hall she’d been sort of there in the back of his mind. How she’d given him his space, coming on him like that. How she’d listened, really listened, to what he’d said; had seemed to believe him. How she’d caught on so quick that he had to cover himself, caught the ball and didn’t fumble. There was something to her that stuck in his mind like a sandbur and wouldn’t let go.

There was something going on with her, too, something big, something that when he thought about it set his teeth on edge like biting into a piece of tinfoil. She didn’t dress or act like a skank or a ho, but there was still the rumor in the House that she had some guy outside, real rough trade. But it didn’t fit with what he saw of her, and he couldn’t figure how anyone else could believe that. So something was going down, and she was deep in the middle of it.

Jimmy Spitz, a young kid he’d met in the House that was also from Brooklyn, he worked in the gym and he said she was in there like three-four hours every day, working out like a crazy person with some guy Arvanis and that security guy, Sinclair. Said they were teaching her all sorts of stuff he’d never seen before—not just karate stuff but wrestling and boxing and like that.

He’d learned she went out every two weeks with the Keeper, Kanti, but then Kanti came back alone every time and the redhead came back hours later all beat to shit and looking like she’d been run over flat by a garbage truck. Now maybe the word was true and she had some rough trade going—but those hours in the gym said something else to Ryder. That kind of drive said obsession to him, that there was something so big in her mind that was worth taking that kind of punishment.

He remembered back to that day in the dining hall when she’d laid the smackdown on him. She’d been beat all to shit like they said, and looked like she’d been through six kinds of hell. She’d hit him like a piledriver, looking crazy, freakin’ like she was on drugs. Now he was thinking it was something else—something worse, something sick. He knew a girl who’d been gang-raped, back home. She’d had that same look in her eyes, got the same freak on if somebody touched her when she didn’t see it coming. He’d heard she’d walked off a subway platform in front of an inbound.

The redhead, though—she was taking it the other way, fighting it, trying to make herself stronger, strong enough to take whoever was doing—whatever—to her.

The only thing he couldn’t figure out was why. There had to be a reason why someone would go out on purpose to take that kind of shit, and keep going back.

Maybe if he could figure out why, he could get her out of his skull and get back to his damn life.

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Month 3, Day 32 – 112 days on Thanah ~ House Kel Arain, the atrium

I figured it was time to post another snippet from my magnum opus, House of the Black Dog. Can you tell that, even though Ari Dillon is my protagonist, Deimo Agisiou is my favorite character?

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The Master was agitated, that was evident. Deimo could hear him prowling back and forth in the atrium; a wonder in itself, when as a rule he could appear from anywhere and no-one hear him coming. Prowling, and muttering—never a good sign. Deimo would be on his guard now every moment until well after his Master was in for the night; one never knew what might set him off when he was like this, it could so easily turn ugly…

“Deimo!” His Master’s voice crackled with vexation, and Deimo moved quickly to respond, presenting himself in the atrium. It didn’t look good; Khamasur’s hair was in disarray, as though he had thrust his fingers through it and tugged every which way, and his robe hung askew.

“Master?”

“What is she doing?” Even his Master’s voice was off; a rasping growl where normally it was smooth, effortlessly controlled, showing nothing save what he chose to put there. “I don’t know what she’s doing!”

“Who, Master?” Deimo asked, quietly cautious—though he had a fair idea who.

Khamasur spun on him, half into a fighter’s crouch, and Deimo was hard put not to flinch at the sudden savagery. “That—that—woman, that laika, that—red-headed witch!” Khamasur spat, fighting to get the words out, enraged because they wouldn’t come. “That—Ari! Ari Dillon!” Khamasur visibly relaxed, having finally trapped the elusive words, and some of Deimo’s tension eased back as well. Sometimes, when his Master fought with words like that, his anger went to rage and beyond; this time it seemed he’d fought and won, and was content. Deimo relaxed more as Khamasur looked at him, and he saw his Master’s eyes were clearing again, the irises rimmed with smoky gray and the pupils normal. “Why are you here?”

Deimo bowed, careful and precise. “You called for me, Master.”

Khamasur stared at him for a long moment, eyes glittering; his body remembering rage while his mind had already forgotten it. “I called you.” He still breathed harshly, nostrils and lips tight and face gone to sharp planes and angles. Abruptly he turned and flung away across the atrium, shrugging his robes straight as he went. At the desk he snatched up his wine cup, took the pitcher and splashed some inside, and then took it down in one long swallow, his motions still sharp with agitation. He filled the cup again and set the pitcher down with a hard thump and froze for an instant, then picked it up and set it down again with precisely moderated care. “What is she doing?” he asked again, his words sharp-edged as glass. He turned in place as he spoke, eyes narrowed and fixed on Deimo’s, making it a demand for his response.

Deimo chose his words with care. “Master, you know I haven’t the breadth of knowledge you do. I couldn’t speculate, and I wouldn’t dare advise you.” He shook his head, watching his Master’s eyes. “I can only speak from my own experience.”

Khamasur gestured with his wine cup, the motion controlled and smooth. “Go on.”

“You will have taken steps to verify what the woman has told you.” Deimo’s tone made it clear it was not a question, and Khamasur’s cold expression confirmed it. Again he gestured for Deimo to continue. The Armsman gave a half shrug, and went on diffidently. “If what the woman told you is confirmed, but the results are still not what you expect, then there must be something missing, something we don’t know, that is affecting the outcome.”

“Something she’s not telling me…” Khamasur’s voice was dark with suspicion, and his eyes began to pale. He stalked slowly across the atrium, pacing, and Deimo could see he was working his way up again to a real rage, a rage that could spell trouble for the House now, or for Ari Dillon later. He had to head it off.

“It’s possible…” he murmured, his tone thoughtful, and Khamasur rounded on him.

What’s possible?”

“It may not necessarily be a deliberate omission, Master. It may be something she doesn’t know herself.” Deimo raised his head and met Khamasur’s eyes, face impassive. ‘Gods bless, steer him away from her, make him think it through!’ He could no more stop Khamasur in his wrath than a karoukha, but sometimes a diversion… “If she only has limited access to his business affairs, then there will be aspects that are not available to her—and thus not to you.” Once again, the half shrug. “Perhaps the question should not be, ‘What is she doing,’ but ‘What is he?‘ ”

Khamasur stopped pacing, arrested, his agile mind racing. Deimo waited; passive, calm. Abruptly, Khamasur swept into motion, going back to his desk and seating himself. “You may be right,” he said, and Deimo drew a cautious breath. Khamasur’s words were cool and precise once more, his movements smooth and controlled. “A different perspective is always valuable. I may have been looking at it too closely; I shall have to look at all the Black Dog’s actions, not only those she’s told me of.” His voice went pensive as he bent his head and scribbled notes on his slate. “See if something suggests itself…” He flicked his fingers, not looking up, and Deimo bowed and left the atrium.

* * *

Deimo felt a shiver deep inside as he took up his post in the side hall. His Master was back on balance, calm and thinking again, but for how long? Such respites were chancy at best. And who knew where he would take the suggestion Deimo had offered?

It came back to the woman, Ari Dillon. The offer he’d made her a day ago—that was a shock. What had he intended? An alliance, a liaison, even a marriage? How could he think she would accept such a thing, after what had gone before?

If his Master thought it was a way to control her, he had no idea what he was doing. The woman was stronger than Khamasur knew; the fact that she kept coming back should have told him that. To deliberately choose to come back to his hands, to the abuse and the degradation he put her through, all to protect a child not even of her House? That spoke a strength of will and purpose the equal of his own—something he might possibly recognize in another, but never understand.

Deimo shook his head, thinking. He had to admire the woman’s strength—her will, her character, and yes, physically as well. His Master was wrong about her, though. The scars he’d seen on her body were not from fights; no fight put such regular scars on someone’s arms. They were not defensive scars, either; those were deliberately inflicted. Someone had held her arms, and cut, and cut, and cut. Nor had she flinched or pulled away—the scars were not ragged or tailed off; they were drawcuts, equally deep and evenly spaced. The other scars, as well. Bite marks, burns… all deliberate. No, those were not from fights, they were torture. Someone had held her, done those things to her, where she could not fight back.

Once again, Deimo shook his head, lips pressed thin. Almost he asked what kind of person could do such a thing—but he already knew the answer. Knew it, because he lived with it every day of his life…

The last scar he recognized as well; a surgical scar on her abdomen, straight and deliberate, bracketed on either side with small scars from sutures. That was where she had been neutered. He wondered if that had come before or after the others, but he wagered it was after. What had she been through? Another wager—that whatever it was, it was that which had given her the strength to endure all this.

To what end, though?

The question his Master had posed was key—what was she doing? Not for the first time, Deimo considered this. It was more than just to protect the girl, Shanyse; of that he was certain. But what other goal motivated her, he hadn’t a clue. There was something about her, though. Something that crawled under the skin and gripped hard, something that made him want to—what? To help? To protect her? To fight for her? He had too much to protect already, and even if he dared, what could he do?

She’d gotten under the Master’s skin in a big way as well; he couldn’t let her go. Whatever scheme he was pursuing now, he wouldn’t turn her loose when it was over, that was not in the stars. He would make use of her until he had what he wanted, and when her usefulness was at an end he would break her, body, mind, and soul, until she was no use to anyone, not even herself.

He had seen it before. Watched it happen just as helplessly then as now, and he felt something inside him die just a little more each time he brought her back.

The stylus in his hand snapped with the sound of dry bones breaking, and he stared down at the pieces with hopeless eyes.

* * *

The Tunnel

Here’s another one of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenges. Choose a picture from Flickr’s Interestingness, and write a thousand words. This is the one that caught me. I’ll try to get the picture to post, but if it doesn’t, here’s the link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/122145383@N02/17922889682/ dark perspective – street art B&W – EXPL. 21/05/2015 by Paolo

The Tunnel

Din’t matter the sun was hid behind a smear of shit-brown smog, it was still brighter on the street than in the Tunnel, and Cass stopped just inside the doors to let her eyes come right. She never been in the Tunnel before, din’t have no way to know was there stuff to trip on like in the alleys Outside, so she waited till she could see before steppin out. She din’t know no one been in the Tunnels before, and far as she knew no one ever come out, either. So wasn’t no one to tell what was it like, what they did there, what they wanted. Why they wanted street folk. Why they wanted any one at all. Just—you get your Summons, you pack your stuff, and you show.

It was cooler in the Tunnels than Outside, and Cass shivered. ‘How they get it like that, so chill?’ she thought. Her hair lifted with the faint stir of cool air and her hand come up quick and pushed it down, scared, her eyes back and forth lookin if anyone saw. Wasn’t no one there, though. Just her by the Tunnel doors and way-way down some Mac walkin away gone.

Cass looked around now, the light in the Tunnel enough, finally. The floor was clean. Not clean, like nothin to trip on, but clean, like shiny water. Throwin back light in ripples like you could see yourself in the store windows. ‘How they get it like that?’ she thought again, her head shakin just a little in wonderin it. She turned and looked behind her, on the floor, scared to see the street dirt where she stepped in. Wasn’t nothin there, though, and she frowned. ‘How it does like that?’ her thoughts ran into the walls of her head, scarin her more. ‘Street got dirt always, how they got no dirt in here?’ Behind that thought were the ones she was too scared to think: why they let the street people in when they keep the dirt out? Why they let her in? What they want her for?

She shivered again, the movement making her bag shift against her hip, and she flinched at the touch. Then she caught her breath and shook her head. ‘Don’t get answers standin,’ she thought. She stood her up tall, squint her eyes tight. ‘They want me, they get me,’ she thought hard and grim. ‘Get me like Cortez think he get in my pants and he get a s’prize. They want me, I say what they get, not them, no. I say.’ She hitched the bag higher up on her shoulder and stepped out.

Her shoes made a kind of shush-shush sound on the shiny floor, sometimes a scritch or a squeak where the plastic soles caught different. She saw movement in the side of her eyes where the light showed her back in the shiny walls, walkin. She turned her head a little each side lookin, makin sure just her was there, not somethin else tryin to sneak around her somehow, but it was her, just her, and her shoulders eased a little. She look ahead, and the Tunnel was empty; that Mac was walkin there gone somewheres when she din’t see.

The Tunnel was brighter down there than by the doors she come in by, and she saw there were doors there, too. Doors just like the other ones, glass doors with the bar for your hands so you din’t get dirt on them. Cass slowed down a little, lookin, lookin hard, lookin to see what was on the other side of those glass doors, but all she could see was light. Way bright, way bright, shine in the doors onto the clean, clean floors, shinin hard enough to show on the walls and up on the roof of the Tunnel, and Cass wondered if that was the Sun up there like they said in the stories. Like they said the Sun shinin bright as day, and she wondered was the sky really blue like they said. Because the sky wasn’t blue now, hadn’t been since the world broke and they just let things go so pollution was okay any more. Could the sky be blue in the Tunnels with the Sun shining down, when it was all brown like shit in the Outside? She din’t know—but now she hurried again, because she wanted to know if it could. She wanted to know, wanted to be on the other side of those glass doors no matter what was gonna be, because if that was Sun then she wanted to be in it, wanted to feel it clean on her skin and warm on her face, not like she had to hide it from the bad rays in the Outside.

She remembered the stories her Ma told her when she was a little, that when she was little you could go Outside and play and the Sun din’t burn you and give you cancer. When the sky was blue like her Ma’s eyes, and now Cass was runnin, runnin to get to the doors, wantin to see her Ma’s eyes just once more even was it up in the sky… She reached the doors and pushed the bar hard and the door swung open, and there was sound like she never hear before and light like she never see before and there were people and space, enough space to run and never touch a wall, and she just stopped dead standin, breathin too hard like cryin. The light come down from way high above, and the sound was water fallin down in a glittery white rush to a pool in the middle of somethin green like never was. The people come from all around the space in ones and twos, with pale faces and clean hands reachin. “Welcome to Enclave Tower Six,” the first one said. “I’m Maintenance Captain Farrell. You’ll be working with me. Welcome home!”

The White Madness

This is in answer to  flash challenge from a really cool guy, Chuck Wendig. You should go see his blog at terribleminds.com. I do warn you, though, he is definitely NSFW. And so is this challenge. It’s in response to a new app called Clean Reader. I won’t go into it here – check out Chuck’s blog entry titled “Fuck You, Clean Reader: Authorial Consent Matters.” The link is just below. ‘Nuff said.

The challenge is this, and I quote: “So, given all the hullaballoo with Clean Reader (“read books, not profanity”) this week, I thought a flash fiction challenge in pure defiance had some meaning. Thus: I want you to be inspired by that debacle. I want you to write filthily. Or write about filth. Sex, profanity, perversion. Fiction or meta-fiction. Any genre.”

My entry is a cut from my current WIP (Work In Progress). It’s current time, but set on another world. Sometime soon I’ll fill you all in on that. Just now, though, here’s the excerpt. It’s about people who’ve broken the rules, and those who have to deal with the aftermath. It runs somewhat over the 2000 words Chuck asked for, but hey, breaking rules, yeh? Only one cuss word. Said innocently, too. It’s the rest that hurts…

# # #

It was one of the times Deimo most feared; what he called the white madness, when his Master’s eyes were pale as ice and there was nothing human inside. A time when there was nothing Deimo could do to prevent or protect, but only stand and listen, sick and shaking and grieving inside but ultimately and utterly—helpless.

Sometimes, if he was there and could recognize the signs soon enough, he could head off the rage. Could dull its edge by offering his own body for the beating, let his Master spend the madness in the ring by putting up a real fight. Save a life by hazarding his own, where he at least had a chance to survive by his own skills.

But other times…

It had happened before. He had tried, gods knew, he had tried to save the girl, to put himself in between her and his Master, to no avail. She was already dying, and it was weeks before all his own injuries healed.

The worst of it was that his Master remembered what happened. Oh, not what he had done to the girl, no. But that Deimo had tried to prevent him—that, he remembered. The next day Khamasur had called him to the atrium and struck him down with one savage blow that left him dazed and bleeding on the floor, and stood over him with glittering eyes. And told him what would happen to his family if ever again Deimo stood between him and his intent.

Now it was happening again. Deimo had been out of the House, gone to the Citadel to meet with the Security Chiefs of the other Houses for a conference. When he returned, the watch commander told him that the Master was in such a rage as he had never seen, and when Deimo went to the atrium he found the man who had stood guard in his place sick and shaking and cowering in the hall.

What he found in the atrium was pure horror.

Deimo had the halls cleared from the atrium to the Master’s chambers, and threatened dire consequence if anyone so much as stepped into the short hall before he gave permission. He ordered the guard away from the Master’s suite, so no-one would see him covered in blood. Then he took charge of Khamasur, walking slowly with him all the long way through the House as he staggered like a drunkard from the exhaustion of his fit.

In Khamasur’s chambers Deimo stripped off his Master’s bloody clothes, drew a bath and bathed him, and put him to bed. He cleaned up the room and disposed of the bloody robes, then went back down to the atrium.

What Khamasur had done to the girl was brutal. Her body looked as though it had been savaged by animals: beaten and broken, the flesh torn and bloody. He stripped off what remained of her clothes and washed the blood from her body, then wrapped her in a sheet. Then he cleaned the atrium, washing down the tiles and columns until they were once again pristine white.

When he was done he took the body out of the House, carrying the dead girl in his arms and laying her gently across the seat of the car. He drove through the deserted streets down to the Agora and laid her in the shadows on the path nearest the House of Apollo Akestor, where she was sure to be found by the guards of the City Watch. Then he drove back to his House, sick and sad and weary.

But the worst was still to come.

The last time a madness like this had come on him, Khamasur had slept through the night and far into the next day. This time he woke again, not long after Deimo had left the House on his sad errand. Khamasur’s appetites had woken with him, and, finding no guard at his door, he commed his Governor, Panourgo. The Governor sent his runner, Oso, for wine and a tray of meats and cheeses, while he himself went to the women’s dorm. He woke the hall, chose a woman, and brought her to Khamasur, ignoring her protests and her weeping.

When Deimo returned the Watch commander met him at the door, telling him what the door guard had heard when he took over at shift change.

Deimo ran.

He found the door guard waiting in the hall, as far away from the Master’s door as he could get and still stand his post. Deimo took his report, then sent the guard away, telling the man that he himself would look in on the Master and stand guard until the next shift change.

And then he went inside.

It was a scene of carnage. Blood was everywhere: on the floor, on the walls and pillars, on the hangings. Khamasur lay naked in the middle of the room in a welter of gore, and Deimo went to him first. For all the blood on his body, only a small amount of it was his; cuts and abrasions on his hands from the blows he had given, and a long shallow cut on his arm that looked as if it came from a knife.

Deimo heard a soft sound, and looking up he saw the runner boy, Oso, on the balcony, cowering hard against the balustrade. He was shivering in shock, staring with his gaze fixed on Khamasur.

Deimo rose and came forward, then stepped between the boy and his Master to block his view, crouching down a few feet away. The boy was spattered with blood; on his clothes, on his face, and in his pale hair. “Oso,” Deimo said softly. “Oso.” He reached out his hand and the boy cringed, but his eyes lost the fixed stare and tracked to Deimo. “Oso, are you alright? Are you hurt?” Deimo kept his voice soft, soothing. The boy shook his head.

He looked back at the boy, and gestured back to the horrific scene. “Did you see what happened here?” Oso nodded. Very gently Deimo asked him, “Can you tell me?” The boy nodded again, and Deimo shifted, settled down on one knee.

“Master called Panourgo,” the boy said, his voice faint but clear. “Master wanted a girl, wanted wine, and meat, and cheese. Panourgo sent me to fetch wine, and meat, and cheese for Master, told me to bring it here. I brought it here.”

Deimo nodded encouragement, reassuring the boy that he understood. It would take time to get the full story, he knew; the boy had to tell it in his own way, and with the life he had to live and the horror of what he had seen tonight… It would take time.

“Master took the wine, Master didn’t want the meat and cheese. He wanted the girl. Wanted her to drink wine with him. The girl was afraid of Master. She didn’t want wine. She wanted to go, go back to her room, go back to bed. Master hit the girl, hit her. The girl fell down, and Master fucked the girl, hard, hard.” Deimo winced at how casually the boy said it, knowing it was the only word he knew for the act. For what had so often been done to him. Gods, the life he led in this House… “She cried. She cried, and she screamed, and Master hit her.

“Master wanted more wine. He got up and put more wine in his cup and drank it. The girl got up, too. She wanted cheese and meat. She went to the plate with the cheese and meat, and she took the knife to cut the cheese and meat. But then she ran, she ran to Master and cut him with the knife. Master threw away the cup with the wine. He took the knife from the girl and hit her with the knife. Hit her. Hit her. Hit her…” The boy’s voice trailed off, and he looked again at Khamasur on the floor. “There was blood when he hit her. When he hit her with the knife. She screamed when he hit her with the knife, and then she didn’t scream any more. She fell down. Master kept hitting her with the knife.” The boy stopped, and just crouched there, shivering.

Deimo looked around the room, looking for the body that was the source of all the blood, but saw nothing, no-one. He looked back at the boy. “Oso,” he asked, gesturing around them again. “Where is she?”

The boy shifted his gaze back to Deimo, staring at him with stricken eyes. Slowly, very slowly, the boy turned his head to look over his shoulder—through the balusters at his back, out to the sea.

Gods bless…” Deimo breathed. Very slowly he stood, trying not to frighten the boy any further. He moved away and went to the railing a few feet from the boy, looked over and down. There on the rocks, hundreds of feet below, he could see the body. Broken and still, white robes swirling on the incoming tide.

The boy spoke again; still quiet, still matter-of-fact. “Master got up, and he looked at her. He looked at her a long time. Then he hit her with his foot, and he looked at her again. Then he bent down, and he picked up the girl, and he carried her here where we watch the sun. He held her up, made her be standing here. And then he made her fly. She flew. She had white wings, and she flew down, down, down to the sea.” There was something strange in his voice when he said it, almost a yearning.

Deimo stared down at the girl’s body, and his heart ached in his chest. There was no way to get down there, no way to reach her. But the tide would take her, and the sea would give her peace.

He turned to the boy. “Oso, will you do something for me? For me, and for the Master?” The boy nodded. “Go into the bathing room and draw a bath. You can wash yourself, too. Here,” he said. He took off the dark gray tunic of his uniform, then took off the soft linen one he wore underneath. “If you give me your tunic when you take it off, I will have it cleaned and give it back to you. You can wear this one to go home.” He shrugged. “It’s big, but it’s clean.” He started to reach out to hand it to Oso, but the boy cringed back, so he folded it instead and set it aside where the boy could get it. Then he backed away.

He left the suite of rooms and went down the hall; found the cleaning supplies and brought them back with him. The boy was gone and so was the tunic, but he could hear water running in the bathing room. He settled down to cleaning the room, but when the boy came back out Deimo went and picked Khamasur up in his arms. He carried his Master into the bathing room and washed him clean once more, dried him off, and put him to bed again.

When he came back out, the boy was gone.

Deimo pulled out his com and called Altheo, the House Physician, and told him to come up to Khamasur’s rooms—and told him to bring a galánas device. There was a moment of silence, and then the Physician said one word. “Bad?” he asked.

“The worst.” Deimo’s voice was tight and hard, the words almost choking him.

“I’ll be there.”

Deimo put the com away and kept washing.

# # #

He was still cleaning when Altheo arrived. He let the Physician in and stood aside, and Altheo stopped dead in the hall, staring around him. “What happened here?” he asked, appalled.

“Khamasur,” Deimo answered, curt and succinct. “Two women are dead. One down in the atrium, one here.” He didn’t look at Altheo when he said it; couldn’t look him in the eyes. “I took the one down to the Agora. Just like last time.” His words were bitter. “At least she’ll get a decent burial.” He knelt down, went back to scrubbing the floor.

“And the other?” Altheo’s voice was faint. Deimo gestured to the balcony.

Altheo went to the rail, looked over. “Great Kheiron’s bow…” When he turned back, his face was sick. “And Khamasur?”

Deimo gestured to the bedroom. “Sleeping it off.”

“Is he hurt?”

“Abrasions on his hands, and a scratch from a knife.” He looked up at the Physician, his face gone suddenly bitter. “If you could put him out for—” He cut himself off sharply, but both of them knew the word he hadn’t said. Forever… “For the night. Until tomorrow. Until night.”

Altheo nodded. “Give us all some time to breathe.” He headed off to the bedroom.

Deimo looked up again. “Altheo—” The Physician looked back at him. “Oso was here, the whole time. He saw it all.”

“Oh, gods…” Altheo stood there for a moment, then shook his head and continued on. He came out a few minutes later, putting the galánas device back in its case. He watched Deimo for a few moments. “Deimo, are you—?”

“Fine.” The word was more a grunt than anything.

“Deimo.”

I said I’m fine.” It hung there between them for a long moment. “I’m sorry, Altheo. But what do you want me to say? That I’m appalled? I am. That I’m angry? I am. That I’m hurting, that I’m devastated about both those girls, that I wish we could just…” He cut off his words, sat back on his heels and looked up at the other man. “I’m all those things and a hundred more, and what good does it do to say them?” He took a breath that was half a sob and threw down the rag he’d been using. “What good does any of it do? We’re here. We can’t leave, we have too many ties and too many responsibilities, and just like that poor boy Oso we’ll be here until we’re broken or we die, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Nothing, until we die, or he dies, or the world ends.” He looked away, picked up the rag, and started scrubbing again.

“This has to stop.”

“Let me know when you find a way,” Deimo said bitterly. “Until then there’s no use talking.”

“This has to stop. You can’t keep doing this.”

Deimo surged to his feet, and the Physician backed away hurriedly. “Then who, Altheo?” His words were savage, bitten off with an anger that had no recourse. “Should I have told Oso to do it? He would have, you know. He does what he’s told, it’s the only way he can be safe. It’s the only part of his life he can control. And we’re just like him, you know that, don’t you? It’s the only way we can survive here, keeping our heads down and doing what we’re told. The only way we can be safe. Except we can’t. Because there’s that…” He swung his arm, indicating the room around them, the bedroom beyond, and the balcony where a young girl’s life ended and he didn’t even know who she was. He wouldn’t know, until someone in the House reported her missing, and then what did he tell her family? His face shivered; too many emotions to show clearly, and then it went to stone. Cold. Hard. Expressionless. “Go back to your rooms, Altheo. You’ve done what you came to do. I have to finish.”

Altheo nodded, acknowledging what Deimo had said, and what he couldn’t say. He looked around again, then walked away. But he laid a hand on Deimo’s shoulder as he passed, silent commiseration. And then Deimo was alone.

# # #