Flash Fiction Friday – Azure

Rewrites for Blood Promise DONE! I’m kind of in a limbo state now, querying agents while planning how to tackle Neverland all over again.

So in an attempt to get back into the Neverland groove, this week’s short story is inspired by Peter Pan,

This pretty merman artwork: 

And, okay, this:

Is he rocking that blue hair or what! And on a sidenote, SUPER JUNIOR IS BACK WITH THEIR 7TH ALBUM!!!

*leaves to fangirl*

*gross sobbing*

*supersonic screeching*

*incessant self-fanning*

*spazzing*

*more spazzing*

*swooning*

*more swooning*

*faints*

Ahem.

Okay I’m done.

And now, here is this week’s flash fiction.

 

*

 
 

Azure

 

She had seen the boy with blue hair from somewhere.

At first, she thought she was dreaming. Or a hallucination. It had been a straight week of interrupted sleep and groggy eye-rubbing. People saw worse things when they ran on too little sleep.

But the boy seemed real enough. His features were fine, like they were painted the strong planes of his face with clean brush strokes. Bowed lips, arched brows, a narrow slope of the nose.

Definitely her imagination.

She could reach out and run a finger down, since he was just lying there with his eyes closed (asleep?), is azure hair fanning out from beneath his head. But she curled her fingers into her palm and whispered instead, “Are you really asleep?”

“If I were asleep, what would you have done?” His eyelids slid open and he sat up. Every movement he made was deliberate and fluid.

His eyes, clear, wide pools the soft fawn colour of a jay’s wing, revealed nothing of his age. They were boy and man, dreams and laughter, wistful and playful, sad and bright all at once. She found herself staring and took a step back.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Old enough.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means growing up is over-rated. We are all as young as we want to be.”

“So how old are you?” she huffed.

“You seem very preoccupied about age.”

“I just want to know how old is old enough.”

“Old for what?”

“Old enough to stop caring.”

He fell very silent. Ran a hand through his rippling, azure hair. She wanted to do the same, wondered if it smelled of the sea.

“There is a place,” he said at length, “where the caring stops for a while.”

He told her about lands too far away for her to imagine, about feisty girls who fought pirates and wore feathers in their hair. He told her about the men with smiles as bright as the knives they carried and voices as smooth as their coats. He told her about the mermaids with their flashy tails and fairies with their glittery wings. He told her about the castaway ship and the secret cave next to the lagoon.

“But those are just stories,” she said when he was through.

“Some stories are real, though. You lived in them once.”

So she did know him from somewhere. She knew him from the tales she had heard and the ones he told, from the ones he had taken her to. She knew him way back when he was just a boy no older than twelve, standing at her bedroom window. He told her he knew a place they could go where they didn’t have to worry about snipped shadows or growing up.

And back then, she had believed him. Back then, she was wrong. But that was the thing about the blue-haired boy. You wanted so badly to believe him, to believe in him.

She believed him then and she believed him now. She was sure she always would.

He smiled. Because he knew. There were children who never grew up, and those were the only ones he trusted.

 
 
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Fiction Friday – Five Knocks for a Light

Howie was five when he heard the voice in the wall.

He didn’t think much of it at first. A disembodied male voice was nothing compared to that life-sized monster under his bed, the one that was always hungry and came with a funny smell.

It wasn’t until the voice spoke his name one night that Howie paid attention. Before, the voice had just been making odd noises for attention. A gusty sigh, an irritable tsk!, a low ululation that Howie found annoying, particularly when he was watching cartoons in the afternoon.

This time, though, Howie heard his name. Not a question, but a quiet statement out of the blue, as though the speaker was considering it most carefully. The voice came from the space between his bedside table and toy cupboard, where Howie was just able to squeeze into.

A series of raps – two slow, three quick – came at a hollow corner of the wall. “Howie,” the voice said again.

Howie inched towards the corner, pushing an errant toy train carriage out of the way. “It’s not fair that you know my name but I don’t know yours.”

“You can call me H.”

“That’s my name.”

“Now you’re just being pedantic.” Howie didn’t know what pedantic meant, but he didn’t share that information. “You wouldn’t by any chance have a light, would you?” H said. “It’s immensely gruelling to be trapped in here.”

Howie didn’t know what immensely or gruelling meant, but he did have a light. He totted over to the store cupboard where all emergency kit was kept and reached for the torchlight, then hurried back to his room before his mother could notice he was up past his bedtime.

“Why do you need a light?”

“Have you never been trapped in a wall before?”

“No.”

“Well, lucky you,” H begrudged. “It’s the pits in here. I’m dying for a smoke.”

“Mommy says smoking is bad.”

“You sound young. Are you young?”

“I’m turning five in a week.”

“That’s young. Where’s my light?”

Howie shone the torchlight at the wall.

H gave a shout, letting out a few angry-sounding words Howie once heard his father say. “Put that out! Are you trying to blind me?” Howie switched off the torchlight. “I didn’t mean a torchlight, I meant – never mind. Just don’t do that again.”

“Are you a monster?” Howie stole a glance at the pair of gleaming eyes watching him from behind. “The monster under my bed is afraid of lights, too.”

“I beg your pardon. I may not have won pageants, but I certainly am not monstrous.”

“A ghost, then?”

“That’s insulting, too. Do I sound dead to you?”

Howie was beginning to get very annoyed with H. “Then what are you?” he yelled, before remembering to keep his voice down. His mother slept very lightly these days – sometimes not at all – and he didn’t want to get in trouble for staying up past his bedtime.

“I’m the same as that thing under your bed.”

Howie took another peek at the monster. It was still watching him silently, almost possessively. He turned back to the wall and whispered to H, “He’s very troublesome, but he makes good company when I hide there.”

“Why -“

“Shh!” Howie hissed, his ears pricked. Footsteps. Coming down the hall.

H made an indignant noise, but obliged to stay silent.

Howie scrambled into bed, ducking under the covers. The door creaked open. It had been a while since the door hinges around the house were oiled.

Howie kept his breathing evenly spaced, hoping that he would still find H where he was after his mother left. He needn’t have worried, though. H’s constant moaning filled the room. Howie feared his mother might chase H out of the walls – he had only just made a new friend – but she only pulled the door shut and headed to her room.

After his mother left, Howie kicked off the covers and leaned over his bed.

“How come I’m the only who can hear you?” he said. “Daddy thought I was lying about the monster, and Mommy looks at me sadly all the time now. She thinks I’ve gone crazy.”

“The monster lives inside you, Howie. That’s why you can see it.”

“And you? Do you live inside me too?”

H didn’t reply. Howie figured he had no answer for that.

After that first encounter, Howie would hear from H three more times. Each time, H showed up whenever his father visited. Each time, he sat with Howie and told him stories of all the old tenants until the fighting outside died down. On nights when H wasn’t around, Howie would crawl under the bed with the monster. Even its silent presence was comforting.

There were monsters that turned into companions, and horrors that turned into confidantes. There were people who wanted more of you – grow up, Howie! speak up, Howie! for God’s sake, stop crying! – and those were the monsters who stole your voice and ate up your dreams.

Eventually, his father stopped visiting and his mother sold the house. Howie and his mother moved to a smaller apartment next to a busy street.

Some nights, out of nostalgia or foolish hope, Howie would peek under his bed and knock on the walls, hoping for a sign of the monster or H. By then, he had known to look in the mirror for the real monsters. But he kept a light in his pocket anyway, to welcome the horrors home.

Fiction Friday – Moon Trance

I was going for a creepy fairy-tale vibe with this week’s short story.

 

It started out with these 3 sentences: “In the year without a full moon, Sheila’s skin turned blue. It came without warning, and it didn’t even hurt. She turned blue as a bunch of hydrangeas at the stroke of midnight, and that was when the wolves came sniffing.”

 

And then it became THIS.

 

I’ve created a monster.

 

It was supposed to be a brief, dark, whimsical magical realism short story. Flash fiction! But then it morphed into a dark, dramatic fantasy story more than 1,000 words long.

 

I don’t think I’ll be satisfied until I have taken this story down the road where I originally meant for it to go. Perhaps a similar opening for next week’s story, only this time I won’t let the story run astray like a wild horse?

 

 

But for now, here’s this week’s short story.

 

*

 

Moon Trance

 

In the year without a full moon, Sheila’s skin turned blue. It came without warning, and it didn’t even hurt. She turned blue as a bunch of periwinkle at the stroke of midnight, and that was when the wolves came sniffing.

 

The day her skin turned blue, Sheila woke with a twitch in her right eye, and got out of bed with a buzzing in her veins. She could hardly think, much less watch where she was going, and it was with an unsteady sort of stumble-walk that she made her way to the kitchen where he mother was making breakfast.

 

It had been a year of mist – girls went everywhere with wispy tendrils braided in their hair, and boys chased each other through the clouds. People walked extra slowly, and there were a lot more reports of car accidents that year.

 

So Sheila credited the twitching in her eye to the mist, rather than the general feeling of wrongness. It was the last Friday of December, and it they hadn’t had a full moon in a year. All they had was mist, mist, and more mist, and frankly Sheila had had quite enough of it.

 

At night, the moon-watchers took their usual places in the field two blocks away from her house and waited. There was a strange sort of lilting music threaded in the air, and the lilacs on the windowsill were in bloom. Sheila watched from the two-bedroom apartment she shared with her mother, wondering at the silver dust that eddied through the night.

 

At exactly midnight, the skeins of mist parted to let in a sliver of light. And then, a fraction more. A quarter. Half. A whole. One full moon, bloated and luminous like a faery fruit hanging in the sky. Sheila stared, her mouth open. Blinked. It felt like the first taste of rain after a drought, though she had no idea why. A full moon had no impact on her.

 

It did, however, affect those gathered in the field below. The crowd – not more than fifty of them – erupted in triumphant hoots and cheers and appreciative whistles, as though the full moon was both a victory and a masterpiece.

 

Sheila wondered if she should wake her mother. She was just about to slide off the windowsill when she noticed the tinge of blue creeping into her skin.

 

It started from her fingertips, then crept all the way up her hands, and before Sheila could rush to a mirror she had turned completely blue. But it was, strangely, rather pretty. Luminescent and undeniable, it lit up a corner of her room. Sheila stood admiring the curious hue as the moon-watchers continued in their rejoicing. It reached up to her hairline, like a sea washed up against a red sand beach.

 

The lilting music, like the twitching in her eye, had stopped. Apart from the celebration downstairs, everything had fallen still at last, as though a restless wind had soared off in search of drier lands.

 

Sheila drifted in a wondrous fog towards her mother’s room. She couldn’t have slept through the commotion downstairs, she thought.

 

But there she was, curled tight under the covers, her crimson hair rich and wildly in bloom around her oval, peaceful face. Sheila hadn’t seen her mother like this in a long while, not since the mist breezed in and the moon remained a thin scar in the sky.

 

Sheila bent over and tapped her mother’s shoulder. “Mom?”

 

Veronica cracked open an eyelid. “What, baby?”

 

“I’m blue.” As her mother roused, Sheila straightened and stretched out her hands fully.

 

Veronica sprung from her bed. She stared at her daughter, replete in her periwinkle glory, before leaping into action. Grabbed a swath of blankets. Wrapped Sheila in them. Got dressed. Reached for the velvet drawstring purse in her underwear drawer. Threw a sweater at Sheila. It made Sheila dizzy watching her mother move.

 

“We need to go,” Veronica said.

 

“Where are we going?” Sheila asked, when what she really wanted to know what why they were going.

 

Then she heard it again, the moon’s song (Sheila was convinced that was where it came from). It was a gentle flute-like melody, plunging low and sweet, and reaching high and pure. It was now making itself heard, trilling and dipping in a complicated tune. Her mother didn’t seem to notice, so busy was she trying to shuffle Sheila out through the fire escape.

 

They stepped out into the cool, thin night, away from the revellers and their cameras. They kept close to the shadows, and ducked behind cars parked haphazardly as people got out to admire the moon.

 

But people weren’t the ones they needed to hide from. The flute music snaked its way through her body – Sheila shivered, felt its caress like the gentle trail of a fingertip.

 

“Move, baby,” her mother murmured, her grip tight around her.

 

But I am moving, Sheila thought. More than moving, she was dancing. Her limbs were water and wings and colour and light, flowing to the song that only she could hear.

 

But when she looked down, her legs were firmly in place. Next to them was a discarded pamphlet for moon-gazing the Astronomy Society had given out. The Year of Mist and Crescent Moons, it announced.

 

“They will find us, Sheila,” her mother said, close to tears.

 

“Who will find us?”

 

“The wolves, baby. The wolves. We need to run.”

 

“But why?”

 

“Because I stole the moon,” her mother whispered. “I stole it for you.”

 

For an entire year, Sheila had held the moon inside her. All year she had felt it, swollen and heavy like a ripening fruit in her. All year the mist had tried to warn her, trailing her everywhere she went. And all year, she had ignored it, grumpy at her discomfort.

 

And now the moon was claiming her, whispering its secrets and stories in her ear.

 

Sheila stood listening, catching sight of her reflection in a store window. A blue creature wrapped in blankets stared back, a beacon for the wolves. She could hear them now, lamenting the absence of the full moon, lamenting over their missing queen.

 

Sheila took to her feet. She need only leave the music behind, and she would be safe. The blankets got in the way, so she shook free of them and let them fly off behind her. Her mother hissed her name, but Sheila only heard the music, the music, only the moon’s peculiar music.

 

When at last the only thing that filled her ears was her ragged breaths, Sheila slowed to a stop. Her legs gave way, and she stayed on the ground, wheezing, waiting, listening. She was far, far away from the midnight crowd now, in an empty street strewn with more Astronomy Society pamphlets.

 

Sheila picked herself up, turned and regarded her reflection in a darkened store front. Her eyes glowed, silver and pale like twin moons themselves. She was getting rather used to the sight of her blue skin, particularly under the moonlight.

 

Maybe she was the moon. Maybe she had been waiting all this while to break free, to go home. Maybe she was the queen, stolen and hidden inside that wretched witch’s offspring. The one with hair the colour of blood.

 

Vikaela – the Blue Sister, newly crowned Queen of the Midnight Realm, Second Daughter of the Moon but second to the throne no longer ever since she removed her sister – smiled at her reflection. She rather liked the red-haired girl with the wandering, wondering mind whom she now lived with. Her body was lithe, and her mind mouldable. Oh, the things she could do with this child!

 

With a flick of her hand, the Blue Sister dispelled the dogged mist that wormed its ways through the streets. A stray cat sauntered up to her, rubbed its paw against her leg. She picked it up, saw her eyes in its unblinking gaze, like moonlight on a shard of glass. It purred.

 

In a way, Vikaela had that runaway witch to thank for bringing her into this world. This vast, new world, drunk and potent, ready for the taking. Ready for a new queen.

 

 

*

 

 

Flash Fiction Friday – Dream Kingdom

I don’t know if this should be considered flash fiction, since it’s longer than 1,000 words. Maybe it should be “what the hell am I writing” fiction, except it’s not an official genre yet.

Anyway, done with this. Back to Blood Promise. Have a good weekend! :0)

 

*

 

 

Dream Kingdom

 

No one else saw the palace in the reflection. Which didn’t surprise me as much as it should have.  I was used to being privy to the secrets of the world – I paid attention to it, and in return it let me see its hidden beauty, listen to its favourite songs, and dream its magical dreams.

When I first told Josie about the palace I saw on that rainy day, I hadn’t even expected her to believe me. But she only said, “Show me,” with that dire look in her eyes that meant I had better not let her down.

I did, though. I didn’t mean to, but I did. Even when I pointed hard at the image in the water – it’s just right there, can’t you see it? – and even when she scrunched up her face and glared at it like it was offending her by not appearing, all she saw was a smooth blank puddle and on it, the light scattered by a recent storm.

She didn’t see the glimmer and gloss of the high glass windows as the sun slid across the sky, the iridescent lights the palace walls gave off, the weird clouds of mist that danced around the palace and entangled themselves with the spires, or the great birds that roosted atop the clock tower, which housed not a clock but a constantly shifting map of the stars. I knew they shifted because I had observed them long enough, days and weeks and months of staring at reflective surface – a mirror, a puddle of water, a window.

Josie always said I was good at building castles in the sky.

But this was no daydream. If only I could convince Josie so! But people find it hard to believe the things they can’t see. And they find it hard to accept the things they don’t believe in.

 

*

 

When I finally managed to enter the palace, it was only in a dream. By then, it was obvious this palace wanted to stay hidden, so I was almost unsurprised to see it in my dream.

It was hard to look at the palace directly at first. Not only was it too big for the scope of my vision, every inch of the palace was covered in precious stones – dazzling diamonds, lush emeralds and sapphires and rubies fat and red as crystallised blood – that broke the sunlight into iridescent shards.

There were the giant birds going about their slow, lazy circles in the air. Guards, I soon realised. They were not ordinary birds: their wings could span as wide as building heights and shrink to an arm’s length, and in their eyes was a canniness that was more human than bird, more thinker than soldier.

The palace was rich not because of the jewels and stones its walls were encrusted with, or the gilded marble floors that gave off its own music when you tread across the high-vaulted halls. It was rich with the scent of some exotic bloom I had never before encountered, the mellifluous voices that broke into song the moment I pushed open the doors to the hall, and the splash of pastel-coloured lights everywhere.

The palace was alive, and it had a mind of its own. It had ideas on where to take you, sliding around freely as though in mid-air, so that you tumbled down hallways and bustled through doors. Deeper and deeper you went into its heart.

And then what? More birds?

As it turned out, it was a queen.

There in the heart of the labyrinth she sat, on a burnished dais. Her crown was spiked with crystals against the scarlet and ebony headpiece that fanned out behind her head. Her robe, a crimson river that flowed from her shoulder down the steps, was matted with dust. She looked like a mannequin in a store – an exquisite display in a glass case – but there was something strangely, keenly, alive about her, as though she was silently observing you the way the palace was.

I kept waiting for her to open her eyes or acknowledge me, but no amount of throat clearing or greeting could rouse her. It was like she was trapped, waiting, in that dormant state.

“She won’t wake,” came a voice, no louder than a whisper in my ear, making me cry out in surprise. My voice bounced off the high walls.

In spite of myself, I said, “Not ever?”

“Not until the sea children cease their petty games and release us from this spell. Whoever heard of a palace cast adrift from its kingdom?”

I had no idea where this was leading to, or where it even started, but I tried to offer the best suggestion I could think of. “So talk to them. Can the sea children be made to see reason?”

“You won’t be able find them even with reason on your side. They’ve disappeared. They’ve all disappeared. And now the queen is in limbo, as is the fate of all her people.”

“I don’t understand.” By now, I was half yearning to leave this dream.

But the palace was not letting me out of its thrall until it had made its point. “You have to find the sea children. Save us, save our queen.”

“But I don’t know how to.”

The desperation in the air came in waves. First as a shrieking wind that ripped through the hall, then as a tectonic disturbance.

As I cried my apologies, the ground juddered beneath my feet. My arms flailed for balance, but I only tumbled to the ground, then rolled across it and slammed against the wall as the palace continued to rock in fury.

“Find the sea children,” it implored. “Save us.”

The light outside had dimmed to a sickly shade of yellow, and a frosty draft swirled around the hall. Gone were the music, the kaleidoscope of colours, and the warm sunlight streaming in through the windows. I saw this cold marble and glass palace for what it truly was: encrusted in jewels but bereft and barren.

“Find the sea children. Save our queen.”

 

*

 

When I opened my eyes again, there was only Josie’s face hovering above mine. Her breath, shallow and hot, fanned my face.

“Melly!” she cried, gripping me by the shoulders. She gave me a violent shake that jolted me wide awake.

“We have to find the sea children,” was all I said as I struggled to catch my breath. “We have to save the queen!”

Josie’s grip went slack. “How did you know about the sea children?”

 

*

 

(To be continued??)

Flash Fiction Friday – Infernal

I realise nothing may ever come out of these free-writing pieces, and a lot of them don’t make sense or have much of a plot, but whatever. I’m just having fun!

Short stories are brilliant in that they don’t require as much commitment as novels, so there’s little stress in “getting it right”. You can give free reign to your imagination. It’s freeing, writing with so little expectation and pressure; it lets you rediscover your love for writing fiction. At least, it does for me.

And now, thanks to this song,

I just had to get this story out.

*

Infernal

 

 

 

The fire-breather had three lives in total. One for discovery, one for degradation, and one for redemption – and only after he had undergone the last stage could he find peace among the ashes of his people.

 

Lately, though, he was seriously reconsidering that option. Redemption was far too complicated a route. Up in flames seemed like a glorious way to go. No aftermath, no room for regret. Many a fire-breather had failed to make it to the final phase, being run out of their minds by their sins. He had heard tales where they set themselves on fire in an effort to purge themselves, only to remain in cinders for all eternity, scattered by loose breezes that whispered their names –

 

No, he thought as he caught his torches before they clattered to the ground, their blistering breaths roaring close to his ears. He would not end up like his predecessors; he was stronger than that.

 

Your strength comes not from what you hold in your hands, but what you hold in your heart, the old emperor had told him. He was still trying to fathom his words.

 

All he understood now was the malaise in his mind, and the steel cage that was his body wrought tight with age and helplessness and regret. Fire was the only remedy, the only gratification, his only friend.

 

When he spotted the gypsy, watching him with a quiet intent, his first thought was that she might be his redemption. Her eyes seemed to promise that.

 

There in the bustling courtyard, she should have gone unnoticed, lost in the milling crowd that had gathered to watch his performance. But there was no missing her. She moved with a feline grace that was at once otherworldly and inhuman. With her face shadowed by her veil, he couldn’t discern her age. Her eyes were eternal, like jewels in the night sky. They conveyed a message he was unable to read. He had never felt so wrong-footed by a single glance before.

 

His older self might have approached her instantly, unapologetically. But now he only observed from where he stood, trying to retain his grip on his torches. The world spun on its errant heels around them, and it was far too long before his performance came to an end.

 

Instead of waiting for the audience – particularly the women – to lavish their gifts and adoration on him, he pulled out from the crowd and slipped into the evening fog after the gypsy.

 

In the cobbled labyrinth of narrow, winding alleys, the walls leaned close with their overheard secrets.

 

She was waiting for him. It occurred to him that she could be one of Them. The Old Ones, with inextinguishable souls and calcified hearts. The ones who were untouched by anything, even fire. Weren’t they rumoured to have eyes like hers?

 

It suddenly seemed like a foolish thing to do, following her here.

 

Her first word to him, though uttered low, struck him hard. “Khushka.”

 

Kushka. It took him a while to recognise the cadence of his name, the clatter and slither of the consonants. It had belonged to a tongue lost during the old war.

 

“How do you know my name?” he said. The question came out in a growl.

 

“I know a lot more about you that I shouldn’t have to, even though I am only a messenger.”

 

Just an errand girl. The fire-breather felt his muscles unclench, although not entirely. Her eyes told a different story that he was equally willing to believe.

 

He sent her a look askance. “Which begs the question of whose messenger you are.”

 

“The emperor’s.”

 

“That is no emperor,” he spat. “That is a war-monger. A despot. His father remains the most worthy ruler of the realm.”

 

“Whatever he is, the fact remains that you are our last hope. The world has run out of fires to kindle and magic to plunder.”

 

“And the world is better for it. How presumptuous of us to go around taking that which doesn’t belong to us.”

 

“Your skill, your weapon” – her gaze flitted to his extinguished torches – “can save us all. Every day you spend entertaining crowds with cheap tricks on your matchsticks, the forgotten kings remain buried under the ash city.”

 

His extinguished torches hung limply by his sides, and not for the first time he felt incredibly exposed under her long, measured gaze.

 

It wasn’t long before he felt his insides freeze over. Winter blew swiftly into his heart, threatening to destroy him from within with a fire completely opposite of what he knew.

 

She was one of the Old Ones. He should have known. Those eyes were fire and ice, flame and frost. They contained an ice storm more savage than any fire he would ever wield. To think the emperor managed to find an ally in these isolated mountain dwellers who never used to concern themselves with taking sides in their war.

 

His lips were numb – was this what frostbite felt like? – but he choked out, “Why are you helping them? What’s in it for you?”

 

She answered his question with another chilly stab in his gut. “Not everything is about personal gain.”

 

In the midst of the brutal snowstorm she had inflicted on him, her unspoken words hailed like a call of the wind. You will save this world because you know it’s the only way you can live with yourself.

 

In his wildest dreams and deepest desires, he had hoped for redemption. Never had he expected it would come in the form of setting the world ablaze.

 

Flash Fiction Friday – Renegade

Flash fiction isn’t meant to be written in more than one sitting. It totally throws your momentum off, and what you end up with is a derailed story without focus.

Case in point: the short story I tried writing as a result of this prompt

And this book (which I’m currently rereading to jog my memory before reading the final installment):

[Speaking of the final installment in the series, IT’S OUT! DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS IS OUT!!! If you haven’t read the first book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, yet, GET STARTED. Seriously. It is epic fantasy at its best. You will not regret it. Oh, Laini. Why are you so awesome.]

 

*

 

Renegade

 

She had folded up her wings for good, tucked them away into the groove of her spine. She still felt the solid, packed weight resting between her shoulder blades, a reminder of the life she had turned her back on.

For years – how many moon spans had it been? – all she had known were the close quarters of the hut she had built on her own along the sea-ravaged coast. This part of the kingdom was far flung and forsaken enough that no one would think to look for her here. And that was exactly how she preferred it.

The first sign of things starting to change was the collection of shells, teeth, bones and claws she found on the barrier island a little ways away from her hut. For some reason, on this spit of land, someone was building an altar. And that could only mean one thing: the renegades were back. It was a custom unique to her people, pooling the relics of life together before drawing on their blood magic.

It struck her as strange, how they were so close to where she hid but hadn’t yet found her. The renegade army never left any stone unturned or home intact.

Still, the sight of the collection, more familiar than she would have liked, triggered a flood of memories that she tried valiantly to outrun. She now wore her human feet with considerable ease, but running in the sand still took some getting used to, and she charged home in an awkward stagger-sprint. But it was impossible to be free of the memories, the bloodshed, her past.

It wasn’t until she had left the barrier island and was safely (although that remained to be seen) back in her home that she realised she should have destroyed the altar and its potent assortment of beast and human remains. Remote as this place might be, the possibility of the altar chanced upon by the wrong people was enough to draw her back out to the island.

But as it were, she stayed in the comforting shadows of her hut, praying to the sky goddess for protection even though it had been long since she believed in Yussa.

When night fell, she kept her eyes peeled for shadows in the sky and her ears pricked for the rustle of wings. Her own rampant heart drummed a jarring rhythm. She had been their leader once – there was no reason to fear them. But the memory of the final call she had heard from her subordinates – turncoat – hissed and scorched like an offending spark.

I was right. I was right to walk away. I have nothing to fear.

But her dread was poison in her veins.

When the visitors – or perhaps intruders might be the better term – appeared, it wasn’t in the flurry of wings or the shriek of raptors. Instead, it was the scratch of talons on wood – the equivalent of a civil knock, she thought wryly, so she had no choice but to answer it or risk having her door clawed to shreds. The frantic scrabbling died as she approached.

They stood before her, a brood of calamitous souls, ravaged and sustained by the long drawn out war. In all manner of beast and creature, furred, clawed and horned, her ex comrades appeared like a motley assortment. But their intent gazes belonged to one and the same person –

The same person who cut through the armoured throng with purposeful solemnity. His hulking figure threw a shadow over those in his immediate vicinity; it blotted out the moon entirely from her view.

Despite being – used to be, she corrected silently – second in rank to him, his presence never failed to make her shrink to a fraction of her size. She remembered the way he would snap his canine jaw too close for comfort whenever she questioned his orders.

“It’s been a while, General.” There it was – that growl, that pair of flashing crimson eyes that haunted her dreams. He scanned the scant inner of her house. “This is a pitiable refuge you’ve pieced together for yourself.”

She held her ground. “No less pitiable than the life I used to lead.”

His eyes flicked back to her. “Your services are required.”

“Whatever you need from me, the answer is no. I turned my back on that life a long time ago.”

“I think you misunderstand me.” He took a step closer, so that he filled up doorway completely. “This is not a request.”

In his eyes she saw the desolation of their city, ruined by the terrible magic of the sea children. Ruined by her desertion, her betrayal. She should never have aided the escape of the prisoners. It was by the mercy of the Hound that she hadn’t been sentenced for her crime.

Mercy of the Hound. Now that was a notion she had never thought possible, she thought wryly.

The Hound continued, his obnoxious snout bearing down on her, “The Drowned City lives, and every second I waste here is another second our enemy gains advantage over us.”

The Drowned City was a myth. Everyone knew that.

And yet … Hadn’t they believed that eighteen years ago, before the sea children’s rebellion caught them all by surprise?

He slid neatly into the sliver of space her hesitation spared. “Welcome back, General,” he said, even though she hadn’t agreed to return to them. But with his teeth bared in a savage grin, she knew she had no choice in the matter. “We have work to do.”

*

I think it’s terrible. But we can’t all have good writing days every day. At least this helps me figure out what I want to do – and can do – with my Shiny New Novel.

Yes, it’s fantasy.

Yes, it has something to do with wings.

Yes, I’m still working out the kinks.

No, I will not let it suck again.

Happy long weekend! :0)

Short Story – The Road Back

She had been here before countless times, but never had the town square looked so foreign to her. Something in this labyrinth of dusty corridors and stone archways seemed to have shifted in aspect; even the paint peeling in flakes overhead and pools of water gathering in the rough uneven ground served to throw her off.

In the narrow back alley, she had to simultaneously sidestep a puddle and duck beneath an archway on several counts. The only light came from the crescent moon that sliced the sky above, and the pearly unearthly glow of his silhouette. She kept a tight watch on that glow, afraid to lose sight of him.

He moved swiftly ahead of her, a strapping figure cutting through the fog, and she struggled to keep up. Occasionally, he would glance back to see if he had lost her, then reassured by the sight of her, advance along, never once breaking stride.

Not since her thirteenth birthday had she ventured out alone at this time of the night. Yet, even in the darkness, this place felt as familiar as her backyard. Not for the first time, she wondered what had made her decide to follow him here when she knew close to nothing about him. Her father would have an embolism if he found out.

She heard a low murmur, and realised he was muttering to himself as his eyes swept across the doors they passed. It only occurred to her that the doors were marked with what appeared like claw marks, three blatant slashes raked into the worn wood. She had never travelled through these back alleys, but she was certain the embellishments hadn’t been part of the doors. What did the shopkeepers suppose of their doors being damaged this way – assuming, of course, that someone else had done the scratching?

He was saying something in a more audible tone now.

“Yesterday was a story, today is a statement, and tomorrow is just a rumour. Everything else is buried.” He spun around to direct his moonlit eyes on her. “Do you know the answer to that?”

Caught off guard by the urgency in his gaze, she could only blink and stammer, “I – I don’t….”

“It’s a riddle,” he explained, resuming his stride. “A clue.”

“Clue to what?” Her voice jerked as she started jogging to keep up with him.

“To the place we’re looking for. To the one who can bring you back.”

“Back where?” she pressed, but he was too fixated on searching for the right door. She decided to focus on the riddle instead as she tried to trail behind him as closely as possible. Her footsteps slowed as the answer dawned on her. “There’s a fortune-teller next to a newsstand just around the corner,” she called. “And next to that is a bookstore!”

He whirled around and peered at her curiously, his brows pulling together to make out her meaning.

“A rumour, a statement, a story. Where can you find those things? A fortune-teller’s, a newsstand and a bookstore,” she explained.

“And the rest is buried?”

“There’s a basement in the bookstore. The other two are boarded up. Maybe –”

“Lead the way,” he said.

*

The frayed old bookstore stood at the end of the street like a survivor, flanked by a pottery shop and the newsstand. It seemed more morose than comforting in the dark; she had spent countless afternoons in Between the Pages and never had she seen it this way.

They stood in the face of the crumbling edifice, separate in their respective reveries. A part of her meant to tear down the lane where they came from, back to where she was safe in her ignorance of this secret life she never knew belonged to her. But another part, one that wrestled for dominance in her, forced her to stay where she was, insisting that she would get the answers she sought – finally.

Next to her, he glanced about furtively, eager to duck out of the light. The streetlights burnished his pewter eyes and she found herself unable to look away from the feral glow in his flitting gaze.

Before either of them could calculate their next move, Roy emerged from the depths of the bookstore. The door rasped behind him as he peered at her through his left eye, the one that wasn’t clouded with cataract, then took another glance at the stranger by her side. He must have found an answer of some sort in their faces, because a shadow slipped over his face.

“Roy, this is…” She considered how to introduce him, but Roy only stared up at her companion, his face lined with a mix of emotions she struggled to identify.

At length he said to the tall, silver-eyed stranger, as if he had known him forever, “You brought her back.”