It's a mash up title!! A title jamboree? A title ratatouille? Je ne sais pas. But in an effort to work on the idea that a moment is a story in itself, I'm getting my flash fiction under the 1000 word limit. It's good practice for someone prone to effusiveness... Check out what everyone else got up to at terribleminds!
I’m not crazy.
She repeated the mantra in her head, over and over until the words blurred together.
She started counting seconds when they slammed the steel door behind her and left her in cold solitude. But counting seconds is only fun for the first million or so. After that, what’s the point?
“I’m not crazy,” she said in a rasping voice that grated on her ears in the silence. No one replied.
Did she expect one?
When she could no longer trust her mind to remember, she traced the words with her finger against the tiled floor. I’m not crazy - in bold block letters, then cursive script, over and over until she had rubbed her fingertip raw.READ ON...
Alright, up to 2000 words on a car chase scene... you'll notice I've come nowhere close to that owing to time. But I wanted to continue on with my cast of characters from last week... Check out the others at terribleminds.
The convertible picked up speed as it barrelled around the corner. The rear wheels fishtailed, careening into the next lane. They got traction and the car shot forward. I clung to Stealth as the motorcycle weaved in and out of the braking traffic.
“Watch out!” An SUV was making a bold attempt to change into our lane. My words were carried away on a rush of air. Stealth braked. The bike skidded as it decelerated too fast. Before it lost balance, she swerved onto the sidewalk and we sped up.
People jumped out of the way. Lucky for us it was late enough that the sidewalks were pretty clear. Stealth turned her head, shouting at me. I shook my head.
She motioned at the yellow convertible. James was nearing the M25. If he got on, we might not stand a chance of catching up unless this bike could speed up. She yelled again. I strained to hear her.
“Can you turn it off?” I nodded. A car was just another piece of tech.
“But I have to touch it!” I didn’t think we’d be able to get that close.
Horns blared. Stealth whipped around and narrowly missed a taxi. She seemed to take my words as a personal challenge.READ ON...
After a bit of a break, I'm back to do a subgenre challenge. 1500 words on a dystopian technothriller (thank you random generator for that one!) Check out the others at terribleminds and see what other challenges get set by Chuck Wendig of terribleminds.
"Go." The word whispered in my ear was more like a guttural grunt than instruction. I charged forward, heading for the glass doors that marked the entrance to the building I had once called home. The others stayed hidden, waiting for my signal everything was clear.
Cameras on top of the low roof swivelled towards my position. I prayed the jacket Hector had designed who keep me camouflaged. The cameras rotated back and forth, tracking the sensation of movement, but unable to pinpoint my location. I reached the door and found the security panel chest-height on the wall.
Glovegrove had one of the best defense systems in the world. My former employers were dedicated to technological advancement, racing against facilities in every country attempting the same. The secrets buried in this underground facility were guarded by a retinal scan, saliva test and biometric screening as you passed through the doors. None of us would have made it. Faking the first two tests only guaranteed a painful death when the biometrics activated an electro-pulse that would melt the cells of anyone who didn't register in the system.
Good thing it didn't matter. I was one of the next wave of super-soldiers, designed and bred here for this type of mission. I hit the panel with the palm of my hand. Sparks leapt out of the console, traveling at breakneck speed through my body...READ ON...
This week is just over 1000 words incorporating a random sentence. I've managed to do the bonus and get two in there! Sadly with my internet down, I haven't had time to edit.>
Check out what everyone else has been up to and what other challenges get set by Chuck Wendig of terribleminds here.
Anna looks at the case in front of her. Inside the thing she's spent two years searching for sparkles under its spotlight. She takes a smaller stone from her pocket and carefully scratches a circle in the glass case.
With a gentle tap, an edge pops out and she removes the only thing standing between her and destiny. She cocks an ear and listens for any sign someone has discovered her. Quiet. In fact, in the stillness, the only sound she hears is her raspy breath. Her wheezing is worse. She does not have much time. She checks her watch. Nearly midnight - right on schedule.
She takes the gem. It sits heavy, cupped in her palm. Now the alarm blares. She ignores it. Anna turns and runs for the elevators. In the case of an emergency such as this, they return to the lobby and go dead. She left the doors to one of the shafts propped open.
She checks her watch again. Midnight. For a moment, she has a twinge of doubt, a question of trust. If she's wrong, if it is a lie... but she pushes the thought away. She has no time for fears.
As she approaches the open doors, she can see the dark emptiness of the shaft ahead of her. She does not slow down. Her gloved hand tightens around the plum-sized sapphire. Her breath hitches. She can feel the slow burn spreading through her lungs as they struggle to provide the air she needs to run this fast.
She jumps. Keeping her senses at least another moment longer, she reaches up and hits the metal bar keeping the doors apart. It sails into the abyss before her and the doors slam shut behind. Darkness.
The lightness in her stomach turns to dread as she falls. All the doubts and fears come back, so that she misses the sound of metal hitting metal. The rush of air is her only warning and she almost misses that as well. At the last second, an instinct clicks in her mind. She tucks and rolls. She lands hard against the roof of the quickly ascending elevator. The air knocked out of her, she lies on her back and looks up at the columns of empty space.
When she can breathe, she taps her ear. "Thanks."
She gets a chuckle in response. "Had you worried for a minute there, didn't I?"
"Not even for a second. How many more floors?"
"Twenty." A pause. She knows what he wants to know. She stays quiet. She can almost make out the top of the shaft. Seconds tick and she counts her heartbeats. 20, 21, 22.... "Did you get it?" She smiles.
"Good girl. Two floors. You'll need to jump for the emergency ladder. If we send this elevator any higher, you might get a charge."
"Thanks." She doesn't mean it. The elevator screeches to a halt. She can hear noise travelling up the shaft from the ground. Security must be wondering why one of their elevators is missing. She switches on the headlamp around her head. A beam of light illuminates the lower rung of the ladder.
"Jump? I'd have to be Kobe to make this dunk." He laughs but doesn't offer any advice. She wonders if this was the plan all along.
She jerks when the cords beside her move.
"They've activated an elevator. Security's on its way up." Damn, she'd hoped they were fool enough to take the stairs.
"It won't take them long to think about the roof."
"That's why the access door is bolted and sealed. Let's see them figure that one out." He pauses. "You don't have much time."
"I know," she snaps. She doesn't need any reminders. "Maybe if I didn't have to be ten feet tall to reach this ladder..."
"I'll see you at the point." A crackle tells her he's turned off the comm.
She knows she can't jump five feet into the air, and her lingering mistrust keeps her from believing the roof door is secure. She tucks the sapphire down the front of her shirt as though she has grown a third perky breast. She rubs her hands together, looking for a point she can brace against.
She jumps for the cables, scrambling up and using her weight to swing. She pulls away from the ladder. Momentum carries her back and she jumps. Her fingers graze the air. She missed. Security won't when she crashes through their elevator roof.
Her right hand hits metal. The gloves react to the alkaloid and her hand clenches shut around the lowest rung. She swings there, feeling the draft of an elevator on an express route to the floor below her. Her shoulder aches, but she knows she won't fall. The glove won't release unless she pulls up. She gets her left hand up and hauls herself up the rungs until she can use her feet.
She reaches the top and the trapdoor as the elevator below her stops. She pushes up and the heavy door swings open. A blast of cold air hits her from the end of the narrow pipe. She scrambles forward on all foors. A hard shove with her shoulder knocks off the grate at the end of the intake and she is outside beneath the dark blue sky and the glittering lights of skyscrapers.
The package is sitting neatly at her feet. It takes a few minutes to unwrap and assemble, longer than she planned as her fingers tremble. It's enough time for her to hear pounding as someone tries the roof's access door. It stays locked.
Slipping into the bar of the parasail, she turns to face the building's edge for one more leap of faith. She soars through the air like a bird, but the feeling is short-lived. A turn takes her to the roof of a building obscured from security. She drops out of the parasail and lets it continue unmanned.
He's standing there when she rolls to her feet.
"Well?" She reaches into her shirt and pulls out the stone, triumphant. "You could have kept going. It might have taken me a while to catch up to you."
"Did you really think I would?" She asks. He brings up the gun. She drops her hands to her sides, letting the stone fall to the ground.
"You should have." The shooter says goodbye to his love without another word.
She flinches. The shot echoes into the night sky.
He falls to the ground, a bullet through his heart. Why would she have kept going? A glittering gem is not enough. She wanted his life.
This week's challenge has its own page owing to length! We finish our four weeks of collaborative writing by tackling the ending of someone's short story...
In addition to the challenge below, I wanted to take forward another great story I read. I've followed up with part 2 of the crime noir story started by James at Convolation. His section is in yellow and my addition is in white.
Check out what everyone else has been up to and what other challenges get set by Chuck Wendig of terribleminds here.
The club’s bouncer – an awkward dump truck of a man – barely spares me a glance as the door whispers shut behind me. Shame. It’ll take him a few minutes to realize his friend guarding the outside door is missing. Oh well. As long as some bum doesn’t go rummaging around the dumpster in the alley next door I should have plenty of time. Besides, tomorrow is Monday and that means the garbage men will be around to pick up the trash.
My eyes narrow as they strain to adjust to the poorly lit room. The foggy haze of cheap cigars hangs in the air like yesterday’s forgotten laundry. I can tell this is a place where trouble comes to hide out when the heat gets too high.
Scattered about the room philanderers from all walks of life sit with drinks in their hands, while girls in skimpy outfits barely old enough to be out of high school flirt their way up the food chain. The scene reminds me of a saying I heard once about too little butter spread over too much bread. Pick pockets every last one of them. No sense in making a scene. Let the vultures have their fill.
I find a seat at the bar and drop a crisp twenty-dollar bill on the counter. I order a single malt scotch neat, in a tumbler. “Keep the change, Mack.” Easy come easy go, the way I see it. Not like I’ll have much use for money where I’m heading.
The sound of high heels hitting the hardwood floor alerts me to her presence. She’s wearing black-powdered stockings that lead up to her dynamite hips, and she’s packing enough to leave a hole in the side of a mountain. Her yellow dress stands out like a vibrant sunflower amidst a field of washed out dandelions.
She’s a real class act.
As she leans up against the bar next to me, a subtle hint of jasmine flirts with my nostrils.
Jasmine. I knew a Jasmine once, but that was ages ago. Back before the war. Back before the sharks took everything I cared about and pigeon-holed me in this destitute town…
“The usual Jimmy. Hold the ice,” her words cut through my daydream like a dealer cuts a deck of cards.
The bartender disappears behind the counter for a moment and returns with a bottle of what looks like Johnnie Walker Blue Label. “I’ll put it on your tab,” he remarks as the spicy amber liquid pools into the glass.
She nods. “Leave the bottle. I’ll be taking a taxi home tonight.”
Now that’s my kind of lady.
“Must be tax season,” she stares straight ahead at the bar avoiding eye contact.
It’s mid June, but I feel like playing along. “Looking to file an extension?”
“No,” she looks me up and down as if seeing me for the first time. “But you look like a man who’s here to collect a debt.”
She has good instincts. I get the feeling there’s more to her than a pretty face and some fancy clothes. There’s something dark hiding just below the surface. Something she tries to keep hidden from the world.
“I’m actually a movie producer. Silent films mostly. But today…today is my birthday,” it’s as good a lie as any I’ve told.
“Funny, you strike me as the silent type. Well…happy birthday,” she tops off my glass with a smirk. “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
We clink our glasses together like two awkward school kids sharing their first kiss, “Here’s to inspiration.”
“HA!” she almost drops her glass. “Good luck finding inspiration in this joint. Dreams tend to die in this place,” she frowns.
She seems cynical. As if someone handed her a box labeled chocolate chip cookies and instead she found it full of oatmeal raisin. Man, I hate raisins. It’s a shame really, with lips like those she could talk her way out of a murder conviction after being caught with a bloody knife in her hand.
“Oh I dunno…” I casually scan the room. “Inspiration can be found anywhere. For example, there’s a man in the back corner wearing a Valentino suit.” The table he was sitting at had better lighting than the most.
“Is there?” she feigns. “I hadn’t noticed.”
I can tell she’s lying, but she started this game of cat and mouse and now I’m determined to finish it.
She holds my gaze for a moment longer, before glancing towards the table I indicated. “You have an eye for expensive suits?” a quizzical looked crossed her brow.
She’s trying to get a read on me. The game is almost over.
“Part of my job at the IRS,” I joked. “The way I see it, a man wearing a tailored two-thousand dollar suit doesn’t hang out in place like this without a reason. I’d like to know more about that reason.”
I know exactly who the man is. Tommy “Two Guns” is a low-level enforcer for the notorious crime lord Donovan Rossetti, everyone in this town knows that. Rossetti’s a war profiteer – made his millions selling weapons to both sides. Now that the peace treaty’s been signed, he’s gone and taken himself a nice little slice of the proverbial American pie.
“I don’t know much about him,” she tries to play innocent but I’m not falling for any of it. She knows something, and I need to know how involved she is. I’d hate to see her get hurt.
I give her a cold stare, the kind I reserve for miscreants and thugs. It’s not the proper way to treat a lady, but hell, we’re past that now and there’s no turning back.
She seems a bit shaken. “Look Mister,” she leans in close and drops to a whisper. “All I can tell you is that the last guy that came around asking questions disappeared a few weeks ago. No one knows where he is, you understand? If you’re here looking for trouble then you’ve come to the right place.”
I have a feeling I know what happened to him. He was my partner, and he got himself in deep with the cartel. “Thanks for the warning,” I tip the glass to my lips and finish off my drink. There’s no sense in wasting good liquor. “I can handle myself.”
She spares me one last glance – a sad, sorrowful grimace – and struts off into the protective darkness of one of the back rooms. I remember that look too well. I saw it in the eyes of my wife before she died in my arms. It’s a look of regret. For all the choices I should have made but didn’t.
My darling, I can’t change the past, but I will change the future. I stand up from the bar and slip on my favorite driving gloves. The supple leather feels good against my skin, plus they keep my hands from getting grimy. After all, a man’s hands are his livelihood. I turn and head straight for Tommy and his overpriced suit; it’s time to go to work….....
Tommy doesn’t pay me any attention until I stand in front of him. “Hey, buddy, move it.” He jerks his thumb. I look behind me. The dame belting her heart out is no angel but the dress she’s in shows off a body most men would run to hell for. I stay put.
“You tryin’ to be funny, wise guy? I told you to move it.”I pull out the chair, swing it around and sit down, leaning my arms on the back. I doubt he planned to invite me to join him. “I’ve been lookin’ for you.”
“Yeah? Well you found me. Now scram.” He ignores me, staring over my head. I tap his knee with the pistol I keep down the back of my pants. Some guys keep it in the front, but I could tell you a tale about one unlucky gent who had his gun go off. I like to keep it where it won’t do much harm.
The gun gets his attention.
“You and me need to go somewhere for a chat, Tommy.” He bristles when I say his name. Up close he’s got an ugly mug and I can count the number of times someone’s broken his nose. He picks up his glass, downs it in one.
“Is that so?” He raises the glass in the air and within moments one of the girls is bringing him fresh ice. “Nothing for my friend here.” He grins at me like it’s some big insult and I see the two missing teeth. The girl looks at me, ready to ask, but he shoves her so hard she almost falls over. I jump up to help steady her. She smells like she’s got on too much of her mama’s perfume and this close I can see she’s just a girl heading for a lifetime of trouble. “I said nothing for him.” She nods and runs off.
“Yeah, I don’t need anything but my charm.” I sit back down. I was wondering why he didn’t spend his nights at one of Rossetti’s clubs. Now I get it. “No reason to treat the lady badly, Tommy.”
He snorts. “What lady?”
“You wanna know what I think?” I continue before he has a chance to refuse. “I think you’re a fish. A little fish playing with all the sharks and you like to come in here, rough up the girls, and act like you’re a shark as well. You’re not a shark, Tommy. Hell, you ain’t even the fish a shark feeds on.”
He jumps up, the glasses on the table clinking like he’s about to make a wedding toast. His drink spills over the table and onto that fancy suit, but Tommy isn’t paying attention.
“You wanna talk, let’s talk.” He points to a corridor.
“After you,” he glares. I wave the pistol and he leads the way. The hallway is dark, the kind of place where men who’ve met the girl of their dreams in here take her to see how far promises of love can get him. It’s something I might have tried once upon a time, but now there’s only one kind of rendezvous on my mind.
Tommy shoves open the fire door like it’s done him wrong. The cool night air hits me as I step out. I catch the door before it shuts. I’m hoping to leave the way I came in. And if I run into Jasmine on my way out, I might be tempted to invite her for a dance in a quiet corner.
Maybe that drink went to my head, or maybe I'm still dreaming about her legs, but I don’t see the hit coming.
Tommy suckerpunches me before I can open my mouth. My head is ringing. He comes around for a second hit, but this time I’m ready. I dodge under and come up. My gloved fist catches him in the kidneys. He makes a grunt and comes at me again. I don’t like to brag, but my kidney punch is something boxers wish they knew.
I catch him twice more in the gut but it’s like hitting the bag at my gym. No effect. My next hit catches him in the jaw. He staggers back but still doesn’t go down. Tommy is like a bull. He attacks blind, swinging and wailing. Most of his hits don’t land.The ones that do are gonna leave me black and blue for a while.
After a few minutes of back and forth, he’s panting hard. Somewhere in there, I caught his nose and blood stains his suit and shirt. I step back a few feet from him.
“Are we done?” I ask, clenching both fists. My knuckles hurt but there won’t be a mark on them.
“What do you want anyway?” He asks between gulps of air.
“You met up with a friend of mine a few weeks back. He was looking for information on his daughter.”
“So?” Having time to recover is making him cocky so I step forward and grab his shirt in my hands.
“So, no one’s seen him since.” Tommy chuckles, a sound that’s more like a bear laughing than a man.
“Maybe he took a nice holiday with one of the girls.” I nod, keeping my grip on his shirt. I turn away like maybe I’m giving his idea some thought, then swing around, cracking him in the jaw. He pitches back but I’ve still got his shirt.
“Wanna try again?” He spits a tooth onto the pavement.
“I don’t have to tell you anything.” I nod. He’s got a point.
“Lucky you, I cleared my schedule.” I crack my knuckles. I don’t hear the door open behind me, but I recognise the click as cold steel is pressed against the back of my ear.
“Don’t move,” she says. The scent of jasmine wafts into the air. She’s good; I fell for her act hook, line and sinker. I turn around slowly. She shakes her head, a smile dancing on her lips. “I told you this place was trouble.”
This week is the third 1000 words of the awesome story Time Warp. Check it out!
Check out what everyone else has been up to and what other challenges get set by Chuck Wendig of terribleminds here.
This week is the second 1000 words of the awesome story started by Henry at Fistful of Wits.I really loved the tone of voice and I'm all about a kickass female protagonist who has an emotional burning desire driving her forward. READ IT HERE!
Check out what everyone else has been up to and what other challenges get set by Chuck Wendig of terribleminds here.
Sometimes you have to get up close and personal to get the job done.
“Tell me where it is!” Miranda kicked the groaning man once more for emphasis. She looked down at her boots after to make sure she hadn’t scuffed the tip. They were one of her mother’s last gifts to her. She’d hate to waste it on this worm.
He was shaking his head, leaning against the brick wall. Miranda crouched down so they were almost at eye level. “Tell me. Do you think what happened to Charles Webbling was an accident? I will ruin you if you don’t give me what I want.”
She didn’t bother to tell him she planned to ruin his life anyway. Jacob Alexander had been an easy man to find, flaunting his wealth at any casino that would let him start a line of credit. She hadn’t seen one refuse him yet; maybe because he was terrible at gambling. He owed over half a million between five places already and had been well on his way to increasing that number when she’d found him.
“I, I don’t know anything.” He wheezed. She figured he’d had a few ribs cracked when the bouncers of the casino got an anonymous tip he was counting cards. They’d deposited him almost at her feet in the alley outside.
“Jacob, you know, I want to believe you. I really do, but this,” Miranda turned her phone around so he could see his online bank account balance. “This makes me think you're getting paid to lie.”
“I can’t tell you anything.”
“You don’t even have to. I already know. I know your money comes from untraceable sources. I know over two million dollars appeared hours after your last meeting with Charles. And I know you left that meeting with something I need.”
“They’ll kill me.” She rolled her eyes.
“I’ll do worse.” Miranda hit a button on her phone and the bank balance started dropping. Jacob made a strangled squawking sound. Men like him were always the same; they valued money more than the idea of their lives. “Clock is ticking. Sooner or later it’s going to hit zero. I don’t think the casinos will be happy when they realise you can’t pay your debts.”
“I don’t know where it is anymore. That’s what happens. No one can hang on to it for long, and with Charles with the feds and everyone worried he’ll make a deal, we had to change things around.”
“Keep talking.” Miranda stood up, making it look casual even though her thighs were burning from crouching so long. She leaned against the opposite wall, arms folded over her chest.
“One of my associates has it.”
“Which one?” She tapped a button and slid the phone across the pavement so he could watch the numbers drop faster.
“I don’t know!” Miranda let her face do the talking. “I left it in a security deposit box, someone else goes and picks it up.”
So it was small enough to fit in a box. That was the one detail Miranda had left out. Neither she nor her mother’s former employers knew what it was. Her step-father had blabbed about what wasn't in his office before a lawyer stepped in and shut down the conversation. No one had to worry about Charles making a deal. When ASPIRE learned he’d talked, even by mistake, they’d make sure he never talked again.
“What’s on it?” She needed to know what she was looking for. One of the other two must have it. If it proved their link to ASPIRE, it was exactly what her benefactors needed to shut them down.
“I, I don’t know.” He was sweating, the body odour managing to mix with the other trash in the alley. His black hair clung to his forehead.
“You’re a fucking awful gambler.” She sneered. “Seriously, do you stutter every time you lie? How have you gotten away with anything?”
She was doubting he was as involved with ASPIRE as the firm believed. No way a company covertly engineering an army would trust anything to a guy who stumbled through a basic lie. Someone else might have felt bad for the guy, but she just saw another cretin who had been an accomplice to her mother’s death. He deserved what was coming.
“It’s a flash memory drive,” he closed his eyes, his hands clenched at his sides. She waited, arms still crossed, while he struggled with whatever internal debate he faced. His eyes flew open. “I want protection!” Miranda shrugged. She pointed at her phone. The numbers had fallen into the low six digits.
“Tick tock, asshole.”
“It wasn’t mine. But we were doing deals and we all had to share, we had to share the risk. It has details, of a program and, and names. Names of the people involved.”
Bulls-eye. It was just what her benefactors needed to shut down the eugenics program. She wondered if ASPIRE knew the partners had it on a drive. Not the best move for a company trying to keep its secrets.
“Thanks, Jacob. You’ve been a big help.” Miranda gave him a wide smile that didn’t last and bent to pick up her phone. She checked the back for scratches and tapped the screen. His bank balance hit zero. A message popped up. They’d located one of the other two and were sending a car for her. Time to go to work.
“What about me?” He winced when he moved. Definitely a few cracked ribs.
“Someone’s going to come looking for you. Casinos hate it when their big spender turns out to have no cash. But don’t worry, they can’t get their money if you’re dead. Think of it as the best sort of protection.”
Miranda laughed as she walked away, slipping in earbuds to drown out his furious insults. Two down, two to go. "1, 2, Miranda's coming for you," she hummed.
This week is the first 1000 words of a story... Next week I'll be picking up another story where it left off, and leaving the rest of mine for someone else to do as their challenge. I've been lucky enough to have two people take on the next 1000 words! One by the Writing Wombat and the other by Mallory.
Droplets of sweat ran down my back and the thin camisole clung to my skin. The heat was unbearable, even wearing next to nothing. A few more days at this temperature and I could turn the whole place into a sauna and charge an entry fee. It was a long weekend, which meant I had to wait another two days for someone to come out and fix the air conditioning unit my roommate had broken.
It wasn’t helping my writing, and I was already stuck trying to answer a paradox. It came up each time I began a new book - what comes first: the victim or the killer? Does the victim wander into a situation or uncover a secret in someone’s life, or is it the killer who’s the most important? Does the killer imagine some paranoid fear that impacts how they interact with everyone else in their life? It didn’t really matter, because I didn’t have either at this point.
The iPhone on the coffee table started to blare out Mailie’s favourite song. I waited for her to come out of her room and get it. It rang again, and again, and again… before I hurled myself out of the chair and picked up.
“Hello?” I sounded brusque. I hadn’t meant to be, but “Sexy and I Know It” is one of the world’s most annoying songs and I was a little irritated that Mailie hadn’t managed to get off her ass and answer her phone. She’d been home since I got in last night, and had locked herself in her room, probably after some loud and explosive argument with her boyfriend, Pete.
I realised no one had answered my greeting. “Um, hello?” Silence. “Hello? Hello?”
“Mailie,” a man whispered. Creepy, but I could handle these moments. I was a mystery writer, after all, even if my fans tended to be teenage girls with Chanel purses. I started to reply, but he cut me off. “You little bitch, you think you can get away with this?”
I said nothing. I had hands-on experience of what happens when you correct an angry and bitter man who has something to say.
“Well, fuck you. You might think I won’t find it, but I will, and when I do, you’d better watch your back. No one’s gonna be able to keep you safe, you got that? Bring me the file, and maybe I won’t slit your fucking throat. How does that sound, eh? Tonight is still on. Show up.” He hung up. I stared at the phone clenched in my hand. He didn’t need to add the ‘or else’.
I looked at the closed door on the opposite wall. I didn’t want to be the one to tell Mailie about the threats. She would cry. I was sure of it. She cried when I told her she needed to empty out the dryer lint so my clothes could be dustbunny-free. A death threat was much, much worse.
“Mailie!” She didn’t answer, but I knew she had heard me. That’s the great thing about newer apartments in Cali; the paper-thin walls meant you could yell back and forth without leaving your seat. “Mailie, can you come here for a sec?” Nothing. I rolled my eyes and let out a sigh that reverberated in my throat. Lazy little bitch.
I hobbled across the room, my left leg asleep and starting to tingle as the blood circulated again. I rapped on her door. No reply. I knocked louder. Finally, I pushed open the door and let it swing wide, not sure what I’d find.
The room was empty, the window open and the curtains billowing into the room, helped along by the spring breeze. I walked around the small room, my stomach knotting into a ball. The phone call had me on edge. I pulled up the blanket to check under the bed and double-check the stranger hadn’t already made good on his threats.
There weren’t many other places to hide. She must have crept out sometime after four a.m, which was when I had finally collapsed in my bed. I hoped she was coming back, because if the man on the phone came looking for her, I was going to find myself between a missing roommate and an angry, bitter man – not a good place to be. I wasn’t just worried about Mailie; something told me that if he had to come here to get her, I could get caught in the crossfire. The headlines would have a field day - ‘Murder Mystery This Writer Won’t Solve”.
Seized with a panic that she had left me to deal with her problems, I started to pull open drawers to make sure her clothing was still here. It was, but as I rifled through her clothes, I found something much worse.
I stepped away from the drawer. The silk scarf had come unbound and blood coated the knife it held inside. I knew not to touch it. You didn’t hide a knife that had gotten bloody in legitimate use. I should have stopped. I didn’t. Tucked away in the drawers was more cash than I’d ever seen Mailie with, wrapped with an elastic band, and an envelope. I pulled it out, assuming it was the file and a ring dropped onto the floor and under the bed.
“Shit.” I crawled under to find it. I had to touch it to get it back. It was an engagement band judging by the size of the diamond. And I didn’t want to know where it had been, judging by the sticky blood that coated it.
The front door slammed. I slid under the bed and waited. It took only a moment for me to realise it was Mailie from her habit of sliding her feet when she walked. I didn’t know her anymore; what would she do if she found me in her room with everything except a body?
This week is a 2000 word subgenre mashup. I went with a different style from my norm to play with pop culture. Watch this space to see what we wrangle out of the transmogification device... Find out the options and see what other challenges get set by Chuck Wendig of terribleminds here.
You could have heard a silent fart as the nominations were announced. No one dared to breathe. The biggest worry, of course, for anyone in the room who was mortal, was that Strife would get put up for eviction. He hadn’t taken the last one well, and several of the arguments between houseguests had come to blows.
“Ditee.” The Goddess of Love huffed and crossed her arms. Not even a cute nickname was helping Aphrodite win favours with her mortal housemates. And the public was not going to be happy with the way she had every mortal man infatuated with her. “Katy.” The pop idol rolled her eyes but Aphrodite preened at her rival's nomination. A stillness fell. It was time for the final name. Everyone knew Aphrodite and Katy were favourites. It almost ensured they wouldn't be the ones going home. So it all came down to the third nomination. The Big Network voice was electronic, but you could still sense someone was laughing at the other end. “Strife.”
He howled in rage. A chair lifted itself up in the air and flew through the large kitchen mirror. After a moment of stunned silence, the other houseguests turned their attention to consoling the two women. No one wanted to see them leave. Aphrodite gave Katy a smug look. The producers had guaranteed her final five in exchange for appearance. She doubted they were getting rid of Strife. She knew the head of the network and he liked nothing more than someone who would cause problems. So that would mean Aphrodite could say goodbye to the pop star. For the Goddess of Love, she often heard she had a terrible problem with jealousy.
Strife stormed into the bedroom, objects crashing down off the counters as he walked by. The gods in the house shared glances as they tried to decide which of them should go after him. The unspoken rule among them was they were here to prove there was no reason to fear them. Mortals had changed greatly since the time of the gods. Many of the major deities had withered away with the arrival of the era of man. The ones who had crept away and survived hadn’t come back expecting to find so many mortals mingling around. And they were all so self-involved and terrified of anything different.
After decades of unease, the gods had signed up with a PR agency. They weren’t looking to get involved in politics - “Do you think they know what democracy means?” Hermes had whispered to his sister as they watched a presidential debate - but they didn’t want to wind up with the same fate as Zeus and his kin.
And so, a selection of the gods had applied to the Big Celebrity Network. It boasted low-level stars until news leaked of the new cast members. Aphrodite caught the attention of quite a few people and they had ended up with an all-star cast of celebrities. Rumours had it as the highest rated season ever.
Strife had not been one of the gods who was due to apply. His appearance two weeks before had caused quite a bit of irritation for the other gods. Hermes shook his head. He had enjoyed the resurgence of technology and didn’t see a reason to put himself in the firing line. Everyone loved his company’s newly released smartphone and synchronised eyewear. He wasn’t expecting to go anywhere. Not to mention, Strife annoyed him.
Dionysus was busy setting up celebratory drinks for those who had escaped the chopping block. “Useless,” Aphrodite muttered. It didn’t help that people now credited wine more than love as the initiating spark of their relationships. “Fine, I’ll go.”
She slunk into the next room, graciously pretending not to be aware of the eyes watching her walk away. She spared a moment to wink at the camera. Then had a sudden attack of worry that it was this femme fatale attitude that had gotten her up on the block. She gnawed on her fingernails, a nervous habit she’d picked up in Ancient Greek that no manicure could undo.
“Strife, are you alright?” She gave him a smile, trying to remember she was on camera. It was annoying having a distant cousin not much older than her son in the house. On the advice of a brand consultant, she was trying to reach a younger audience while in the house (one that hadn't hit drinking age). Coming across as the kindly aunt did her no favours.
“No! No of course not! Who voted for me?! I’ll kill them!” He was enraged.
“He won’t,” she mouthed to a camera, then wondered why she was defending him. The sooner he got kicked off the better. “You need to calm down.”
“Three times they’ve put me up! Which of those mortals is voting for me? Don’t they know who I am?”
Aphrodite shrugged her shoulders. “You’re not thinking about your image, darling. Or ours. What’s it going to look like if you keep this up? Mortals going around thinking we might show up and screw with their lives at any moment. It’s not becoming.”
“You? You’re warning me about interfering?” He looked her up and down. “The goddess of love? All you do is screw with people!”
Ditee crossed her arms over her chest and screwed up her face. Strife was too annoyed to realise that if she was willing to look ugly, she must be pretty mad. She was dressed in her usual “trendy” attire - low-cut top, tight jeans and sky-high booties. In fact, to the average viewer, there was no real difference between the Goddess of Love and any of the B-list stars on this season’s show.
“We are just like everybody else on the planet. We are not using our powers whenever we desire.” Strife arched an eyebrow and mimicked her tone.
“We are not using our powers except when it looks like the footballer might be more interested in the glamour model than a goddess.”
“Shut up!” Ditee slapped his arm, pulling his head closer. Perhaps forgetting her mike could pick up whispers, she continued. “I don’t want anyone to know that.”
He didn’t point out it was too obvious to miss. “Well, Auntie,” he stressed the word. Her frown worsened. “Maybe it’s time people knew what we were capable of. Maybe it’s time we stopped tiptoeing around like they held any kind of power.”
“We have a treaty.” He rolled his eyes.
“A treaty signed back in the 70s. Wow, who knew you were so old.” It had the reaction he’d hoped for.
“You stop right now! How dare you!”
“How dare he what?” Emma, the house’s resident glamour model, leaned against the doorway.
“None of your business.”
“Oh right, well, I need to get to my suitcase. Don’t mind me.” She sashayed through the middle of their conversation. Ditee fumed. “Hope you get to stick around sexy.” She gave an over-exaggerated wink. Strife preened.
“Oh please,” Ditee huffed.
“Anyway,” Emma carried on as if she hadn’t heard, “I doubt you’re going anywhere. Viewers usually want to see young people carry on. Makes things more interesting.”
“What are you implying?” Aphrodite spun around.
“That you’re old.” Emma smiled. “And we know that no matter how low your top is.”
“WHAT?” Aphrodite screamed. Hermes ran in but was too late to stop the fight that was about to happen. He glared at Strife who shrugged. For the first time, he was as innocent as the other bystanders, just a lot more delighted.
Eris spun around in her chair in the viewing suite. She cackled with laughter and froze the final image for tomorrow's show on a closeup of Strife’s victorious face.
“You know, all this winning is going to go to straight to his head.”
Ares leaned over her shoulder, his tie tickling her ear. “He couldn’t be more annoying if he tried. What do you think, Josie?” Eris straightened her glasses and resumed her role as a simple PA.
“It’ll bring in audiences and there’s more than cleavage to hold their interest this week. You can tell your execs their advertising numbers are going to shoot through the roof. He’s proving to be a polarising character.” Ares smirked. She didn't expect him to share credit for the idea of featuring the gods on his show. Never mind that she had been the one to suggest it. He straightened the edge of his lustrous dark suit.
“He’s the best wildcard we’ve had. Still no idea how he got on the show, but he does know how to cause conflict.” Ares rubbed his hands together in glee.
“The other gods don’t look happy.”
“That’s because they’re dull.” He adopted a cocky pose. “For years we’ve just been sitting back and playing nice. It’s getting boring. I need a war to really get my blood flowing.”
“We’ve had wars.”
“Oh sure, there are skirmishes nowadays. And the cold war,” he shivered dramatically, “the anticipation of that was thrilling. But look what happened in the end: nothing. And I missed the first real good world wars.” He sighed. “Retreating to the moon seemed like a good idea, but what was the point. We missed all the fun. Now people are everywhere but they’re not doing anything.”
“There are a lot of places that might disagree with your thoughts on conflict.”
“Good, there should be. I want worldwide calls for us to exile ourselves back to the moon. I want to be challenged. And then I want these so-called gods to wake up and remember we’re meant to sit above mortals, not at the table with them.” He rubbed his hands together and walked away. “Call me if anything else good happens tonight. And Josie,” he winked. "Don't stay too late."
Her smile lasted only as long as it took for him to walk away. "Ass," she muttered. No wonder his old assistant had been so happy to accept Eris's offer of a paid vacation. She flipped back to the live monitors.
Strife was in a screaming match with one of the footballers. She muted them and bent in close to the screen. “Well done, brother.” Things were about to get fun.
The Goddess of Chaos and Disorder leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms behind her head. The others always forgot about her and sliding under the radar meant she was free to do as she pleased. She had been so bored on the moon, listening to them all whine and fret over fading away like the other gods. But this benevolent truce between man and god was proving even more mundane. Ares was easy to manipulate in that sense. Unfortunately for him, she didn’t plan for the gods to win.
This week's 1000 word challenge had to contain one element from each of three lists based on a random number draw. My three: a murder/a vampire/a forbidden tryst. I know - it just writes itself doesn't it? I also aimed for minimal dialogue after the last two weeks. Find out the options and see what other challenges get set by Chuck Wendig of terribleminds here.
I slunk through the shadows, the bejewelled sheath knocking a steady beat against my thigh. A full moon, I thought, as it broke through the heavy clouds. Light flooded the garden. The topiary plants cast strange and monstrous forms amid the play of light and dark. I waited until the clouds swallowed the moon once more. The formal landscape vanished. It took only moments for my eyes to readjust.
I moved faster. I could hear their whispers in the still of the evening. Her voice lilted and danced across the night air. It beckoned me forward like an irresistible and overwhelming perfume. The man answered her. His voice cut through my chest like a blade. I didn’t recognise it. I had expected I would. I assumed the person to capture my young bride’s attention was someone who saw her every day. It seemed I was wrong. Rage welled in my stomach, bubbling and searing at my innards. How dare she? The knowledge that she could find a stranger so desirable burned away the love I had for her.
“Bitch.” She would pay for her betrayal.
Her laugh sounded again but it was no longer the sweet promise but the cruel and sharpened lure. I heard their laughs turn to heavy breathing. I could imagine him running his finger along her cheek, taking her chin in his hand and kissing her. My pain spiralled into madness.
I gave up on stealth. I ran, pursuing their presence as the gardens gave way to a stretch of open land ending at the beach. There they were - locked in an embrace, her face buried in his chest. He saw me first. He shouted and she looked up. She screamed, startled and alarmed. I could see her eyes widen; I could see her fear as she recognised me.
The man with her thrust her behind him, placing himself as a shield. What a fool, I thought, to think her the only target. I sneered. The silver dagger slid from my side. I held it high above my head, and lunged.
He parried. His forearms went up to catch the blow of the hilt as it came down. The force knocked him off balance. She ran. I let her go. The estate was surrounded by water; I would find her no matter where she hid.
He dove for my legs. I dodged it, adrenalin fuelling my movements. I spun and stomped on his back. He hit the dirt. He rolled to a stand and charged. I was faster. I sidestepped. I drove the dagger between his shoulder blades. He gasped and fell forward. I did not wait to see his death.
I chased her. In the horizon, the sea and sky blended into one. Flashes of light through clouds illuminated a shadow clambering over the boulders that made up the beach. It was uneven footing. She slipped. I had spent a lifetime climbing these rocks. Within minutes, we were face to face.
She inched herself upright, wincing as she put pressure on her turned ankle. The rocks continued behind her, vanishing into the sea. She waited. The only sound between us was the surf as it swirled and crashed over stone.
“I could still forgive you,” I lied. A part of me couldn't let go of the beautiful brunette by the sea but I knew only one way to put this betrayal behind me.
“I cannot be with you, not now, not knowing all that you’ve done.” The surf whipped my hair around my face. The sea salt gave the air a brackish odour.
“Do you think my past excuses your present?”
“He reminded me of my innocence, of what I could still be.”
“Then I’m afraid you’ve lost that chance.”
“Is he dead?” She made a choking, sobbing gasp.
“What did you think you were risking bringing him to my home?” She moaned. My heart turned to stone.
“Is his life your only remorse? Then let me reward you for your deceit.” I slid the stained blade out of its sheath. She shuddered and stepped backward, onto the rocks. I advanced; she had nowhere to go. The clouds cleared and the moonlight glinted off her tear-stained cheeks. I felt a pang of loss for her beauty. But it needed doing.
I lifted the blade above my head. She closed her eyes as if she had accepted her fate. I smiled. Hunting always brought me pleasure. She ran into the surf.
“Emma!” I followed but it was too late. A few metres out, the rocky ledge fell away. For a moment we were suspended in time. Emblazoned in my memory would be the image of her in white, her hair caught in the wind, the moon like a spotlight above her. Then she dropped away, into the sea. She was gone.
I fell to my knees and howled. Not just for the loss of my bride, but that she had stolen the final moment of the hunt from me.
The walk to the manor was arduous. The moon peeked out at me from behind clouds, the topiary shadows appearing and disappearing before me. They mocked the creature I had become as they emphasised my lonely walk back into the manor.
I came across her lover, huddled on the grass. Staring at his body filled me with hate. I raised my knife and brought it down, prepared to desecrate his corpse until the pain in me was gone. I was about to strike when he rolled.
He was alive. It took me by surprise. I was exposed. A stake hidden at his side plunged into my chest. I looked down and clutched the wooden spike.
“Burn in hell,” he growled.
Fire engulfed me. Funny, the pain was gone. The world went black.
This challenge is inspired by FROZEN meets THE GODFATHER with a 2000 word limit.
It features characters from my YA steampunk trilogy, the Forged in Steam saga.
Illya held the dagger behind her back, its curved handle cool in her hand. The private bedchamber was dark, illuminated faintly by the dying fire in the corner. Her heart pounded against her chest bone. It had been years since she first needed the blade. She was no longer a girl. She would not hesitate this time.
The heavy iron doors groaned as they swung inwards. Adya strode in, spine straight and shoulders thrown back like a true queen.
“Sister. I am glad you came.” Illya stayed in the shadows of the opposite wall. A cold draft swept in through the open window and tickled the nape of her neck. It carried away the acrid smell of the burning embers and her sweat. “You missed a council meeting, Illya. You know how important it is that we present ourselves as one sovereign.”
“But there cannot be two sovereigns, can there sister?”
“Must we have this conversation again, my sweet? We are two queens but one sovereign. Only our advisors know we share the throne, and even they cannot tell who is who underneath these masks.” To prove her point, Adya pulled off the blank-faced mask the sisters wore outside of their private quarters. Underneath they shared their mother's heart-shaped face and their grandmother’s brilliant violet eyes.
It was true, Illya thought, that with masks, velvet gloves and powdered skin they could be reflections of one another. She stood taller than her older sister in bare feet, and had the dark brown hair of their mother. But tucked under the mask, no one could tell one sister was fairer than the other.
“Where are you sister? How can you stand such cold?” Adya headed for the warmth of the fire. Illya slunk towards her sister. She kept her hands pinned between the wall's wood panels and her back. The woven brass strands of the spherical cage and linked chain that dangled over her left forearm dug into her hip. She ignored the discomfort.
“Do you remember when we were little, Adya? And we would play hide and seek?”
“Yes, you were always the best at it. I could never find you.” Adya used to get close. But Illya had never been one to volunteer her secrets.
“The palace is full of hiding places. I hid for hours, but then, who would notice I was gone? Even tonight you held court without me.”
“Illya, you make little sense. We share our court. But the matter of the Old Quarter is urgent. You were meant to attend.” Adya laughed as if she was indulging a small child. Illya gripped the blade tighter.
"You go behind my back to undermine me."
"Never. We have ruled together without incident for years. Why do you think there is a problem now?" Adya searched the room's corners with her eyes as she spoke.
"No. It is just like when we were children. You are the favourite and I am the forgotten sibling." It had not always been true; once she had been their father’s beautiful reminder of his wife. But her sister’s calm head had won his admiration and Illya had lost her coveted place after their mother’s accident.
"Illya, our people have one ruler. There is no favourite."
"There is always a favourite. I knew if Father made a will he would leave the sovereignty to you. You who would rule as he wanted and keep our kingdom together. Who else?"
"And one could argue the same for you, the girl who possessed his darling wife's temperament." Adya’s voice had a sharper tone to it. Anger boiled beneath Illya's skin. Mother’s temperament had been overwhelming in her final years. There was no compliment in the comparison.
"No, you were always the strongest and most just of us four. He would pick you." She let out a long breath. "He was going to pick you."
"You are ridiculous in your fantasies."
"I knew he would be killed, Adya. I could see it in their faces - the plotting, the dark whispers. I went to him. I told him of my fears."
"Father's death was an accident."
"And he laughed at me." Illya ignored the warning in her sister's voice. "He said what you say: that I was my mother’s child. He patted my head and told me I had nothing to worry about. That I would be looked after.”
“You see? Father loved you.”
“He thought I was weak!" She felt her frustration grow and fought for control. "He would have left me nothing but your pity. So he died. And I let it happen." Hot tears flooded her cheeks and she closed her eyes against the shame. "I let him die for the chance to rule."
"Illya, listen to yourself. Do you know what you say?"
"But then it became clear they wanted our brother on the throne. Who else would let the lords manipulate the sovereignty? I had been a fool to believe otherwise. So I hid before they had the chance to kill me too. I would have slipped away but you found me. You wanted me to join you. It was a second chance. You believed we could rule together, and I believed you."
"I meant it. And it's come true. We've done more to restore the city following the Revival than either of our brothers would have managed. We have brought the kingdom together again, even as it was our family who ripped it apart. I need you to make me a better ruler. We need one another. It’s our bond as sisters that has strengthened our rule." Illya smiled but she did not believe the words anymore.
"Our bond wouldn't be enough if they were always plotting a coup. So I made sure we would have the lords’ support. I guaranteed there could be no one but us in power." Illya stepped out of the shadows, keeping her hands behind her.
“What are you talking about?"
“Our darling older brother, Adya, he was never going to let it go. He wanted to fight for what he felt was his birthright. And as long as he could, there would be whispers of dissent from those who did not believe a woman could rule. We would have faced endless challenges until we had no fight left.”
“Illya, no.” Adya sank into a chaise in front of the fireplace as if she knew what her little sister would say next.
“He had to die. Both of them had to die.” Adya's look was one of horror mixed with disgust. It did not matter. Illya had never expected a confession to unburden her heart.
“Stop," Adya begged. "You're admitting to treason."“I have to tell you. You have to know." Illya could not stop her confession halfway through. She wanted her sister to know every gruesome act she had done. "We needed to be strong. We needed to show them we could rule; that their backstabbing and plotting would not go unpunished.”
“Then you have doomed us both! We rule together. We share decisions. We share responsibility. The law will demand both our heads as justice.”
“We do not share this!” Illya shrieked. Adya didn’t understand. She couldn’t see how much Illya had sacrificed for their position. “I did it to protect you! To protect our power! And you would have us punished for it?!”
"You've admitted to treason, Illya. You must face justice. I will help you." Adya's eyes darted left and right.
"You'd betray me even after all I've done for you? For the kingdom?" Illya stepped into the firelight, the knife at her side. Adya fought the urge to recoil as the metal glinted in the light. In her sister’s eyes she could see the madness that haunted their mother.
“Sister, please, we can talk about this.” Adya stood, her hands outwards in a sign of peace.
“What would you do in my place, Adya? How can I unburden myself?” Her voice cracked. Her hand shook but she did not release the dagger.
“You must tell them the truth. We will tell our advisors, and then we can send you somewhere to rest. Somewhere away from this. This isn’t your fault. You aren’t to blame for what is in your blood. To the people, there is only one sovereign so we can keep the details of what you did away from them. We can maintain our peace.”
“Yes,” Illya slid the smooth, flat edge of the blade along her arm. Shivers ran down her back. “You always could make sense of everything." The decade of strife had taught her sister how best to protect herself. "There is only one problem.” The fire crackled in the silence which followed.
“We share the same blood.” Illya's voice went cold. “I will not be locked away like Mother.” She saw her sister’s eyes dart to the door, where she had no doubt left her guard stationed when she entered.
“I’m afraid no one will help you, dear sister. I tested it earlier. Those doors are so thick, no one will hear a scream. And I left word that I would be out of the palace so no one will know you came in here to speak to me.” For the first time since she’d entered the chamber, fear showed on Adya’s face.
“Put down the knife. Let us talk about things in a civilised manner.”
“There is nothing to discuss. You are just as afraid as Henry was when he realised I was not the naive child you both took me for.”
“Oh, Illya, what did you do?"
“Locating his body should have shown Lord Conway that there was no one to support but me.”
“Then why do you threaten me?”
“You’re weak, Adya! And still he turns to you as his accomplice instead of me! I am tired of being overlooked!” Her voice grew husky and deep. She brandished the blade. “I have done what needed doing. You should not be allowed to rule if you cannot endure the taste of bile in your mouth."
“There is always another way to violence. Did Father teach you nothing?"
"Enough of him!" Illya swung the chain in her left hand and the small brass cage attached to its end clanged against the wall. Adya flinched but did not cry out.
"If you appear alone to our advisors, they will suspect foul play.”
“I will not be alone. You will sit in your mask beside me, quiet for once, while my voice is heard.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you felt this way.” Adya retreated, inching along the chaise, trying not to look for the doorway in the panel along the far wall. She didn’t recognise the woman in front of her, but it was not the best friend she had growing up.
“No, you enjoy being the elder and the one the advisors see as in charge. Where is our equal rule, sister?” She hissed the word.
“We work together.”
“No! It is your voice that gets heard! Your idea which no one ever counters! Well, now you will sit in agreement with me. And I will be the one who is champion to our people.” She held up the chain and swung the wrought-iron ball.“And this will see to it that you appear alive enough to acquiesce.”
“You’ve gone mad.” Adya turned and ran. Her slippered feet padded against the carpet. She reached the panel and tugged on the latch. The hidden passageway stayed locked.
Illya grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to the ground. "You have to die, Adya. It's the only way the sovereignty can have peace." Madness gave her violet eyes a vibrant tinge. She lifted the knife high above her head and brought it down. Hot blood sprayed her face and chest. Illya caught her reflection in the window pane. They were not identical anymore. She drew back the dagger and plunged it down again. This was the price of power.
The first flash fiction challenge of 2015 from terribleminds. It's 1000 words based on a randomly generated D&D character... (or two) fun!
Thunderous crashing echoed through the forest. Their would-be captors were awake - and angry. Cyrus spied the prismic tops of the buildings through the trees and felt a flood of relief. They were almost there. He barrelled under a tree branch, dragging his resistant companion behind them. Thorns scraped the nape of his neck, catching bits of his short hair.
He didn’t see the trap.
He was airborne and falling, tumbling into empty space. He grabbed for a low branch, but clutched air, his fingers just grazing the leaves. He'd forgotten about the wooden shackles encircling his wrists and the cord connected to Sphene's restraints. The ground collapsed.
The cord pulled taut, yanking him backwards. He slammed into the edge of an open pit baited with spikes, scrambling in the loose dirt to find his footing. Dirt filled his nose and mouth, the wet and musty smell the first reminder of home.
He scrambled on his hands and knees until the earth felt solid. His stomach was still twisting and turning. “Thanks.” Cyrus looked up at his rescuer. Sphene was iridescent, her looming silhouette framed by daylight.
"For what? If you had fallen in, you might have taken me with you." She wiggled her bound hands at him. “We need to keep moving." She didn't wait for his agreement. The wind rustled through the leaves above them. Compared to the grit and cacophony he was used to underground, the forest felt like a safe haven. The wall of trees grew denser and blocked any more bellows of the furious creatures behind them.
"It didn't look designed to kill."
"They rarely are." Sphene let out an annoyed sigh as twigs snapped under Cyrus’s feet. At least she didn't tell him to be quiet again. Compared to her silent steps, he was crashing through the forest. She had the grace of an elf, while he'd never had use for his elvish talents. Underground it didn't matter who heard you; there was only one path out.
"How do you know that?" He found himself paying closer attention to following her steps. "Why was I in front if you know so much about them?" She shrugged. "I understand why they wanted me. But you? You have the same self-centred attitude as those elves from Iolite.” Sphene spun around, closing the small gap between them and jabbing his chest with her finger.
"I am nothing like them." She hissed. "And I never will be."
"Okay," he held his hands up. "Okay. I know how you feel. I don't seem to fit in anywhere either." Her look of superiority was back.
"We are not the same. You would still be trapped without my sorcery. And if it wasn't for these unbreakable irons, I would have left you to face judgement."
"Seems a bit lofty to have a sense of justice when you're just as guilty of something."
"They're not interested in justice for me." He didn't comment but he noticed she hadn't denied she was guilty of something. "There are those in the city who see me as leverage to convince my father he should disclose the location of the Iolite nobility." They walked side by side. The trees were more sparse now, the branches far enough apart that the gentle pink glow from the sun star could permeate the forest air. "But it won't work."
"Surely your father wouldn't let you die." Her eyebrow arched. He dropped the matter.
"Maybe we can help each other? I don’t mind helping you rescue your father.”
"I'm not here to help my father. Let him help himself."
"Then why let yourself be caught?" Her eyes widened. "Hey, there's a brain behind this perfect form. And it was far too easy for you to free us. I think you could have avoided capture in the first instance."
"I will admit - these -" she lifted her cuffed hands for emphasis, "were unexpected. I have to collect something of mine." She narrowed her gaze. "It holds no value to anyone but myself. Once I have it, I can leave this city behind." She didn't look any happier at that prospect.
"Well, I hope you have a plan to get these things off. I don’t want to spend much time in the city."
"There’s nothing to fear; visitors are common in the city. With some polish and a change of clothes, you could pass for elvish nobility and no one will know they intended to imprison you."
“No. I have to go back.”
“Why?” She spun her head so fast to look at him that strands of her long silver hair tickled his nose.
Cyrus cleared his throat. "That's my business."
"I thought we were bonding." She gave him the smile she had given their captors last night over the fire - moments before she engineered their escape.
"I made a promise." He relented. She laughed; the first honest emotion he'd seen from her since they met.
"People make promises all the time."
“I keep mine."
"Few people do."
They hit the edge of the forest and he looked out over the meadow that stretched to the grand city. It cascaded above them, reflecting the light and shimmering in the day like a jewel. Its peaks rivalled that of the Hallowed Hills in the west. It was everything he'd imagined. Wild honeysuckle cast a sweet smell through the air and he took a deep breath. The poets might be right.
Sphene had considered his words. “Perhaps we could work together.” She pointed at the wall and sentinel posts. “How do you suggest we get past them like this?” She lifted her arm, the plaited cord swinging between their cuffs.
“Easy,” he winked. “I’ve had that figured out since I got caught. You’d better be careful; if I keep proving so useful, you might start to like me.” He was rewarded with a beautiful smile. He'd have to be careful; he was starting to like her.