Category: original content

(WP) Daisy in the Sky with Diamonds

(WP) Daisy in the Sky with Diamonds

               Her dream had always been to fly. To climb higher than the clouds, to shatter the Earth’s atmosphere. To go where no one had dared before, past even the stars.

               What answers awaited her up there?

               Daisy was so absorbed in her own thoughts, her eyes on the sky, that she crashed into someone on the sidewalk and end up falling, her butt meeting the rough concrete painfully.

               She lay down on the sidewalk, breathing hard through the pain.

               Why, oh why, couldn’t she just watch where she was going?

               “Oh! I’m so sorry!”

               A deep male voice sounded through the fog of her pain. She’d definitely have a bruise in the morning from this collision.

               “I didn’t see you there! Are you all right?”

               When the fog cleared, she blinked up at the unfortunate person who had run into her. With her head in the clouds, she hadn’t at all been paying attention to where she was walking. Daisy felt a pink flush beginning to climb, from her chest to her neck.

               “I’m fine!” She said, starting to stand up. Before she realized what was happening, there was a warm hand wrapped around her forearm, helping her to stand up straight.

               “It was my fault,” She added, laughing shyly. “I didn’t see where I was going. I’m so sorry.”

               Now that she was standing, she could see his face.

               He was so handsome that it should have been made a crime. Or he should’ve come with a warning label. He had skin that was kissed by the sun; the tan lines around his eyes and on his shoulders told Daisy he spent a lot of time outdoors. His face was covered in freckles, and his eyes were a brown so dark they reminded Daisy of black coffee.

               “How rude of me,” She said, feeling her blush grow from her neck to her cheeks. “I bumped into you and I didn’t even introduce myself!”

               She held out a hand, smiling. “I’m Daisy. Daisy DeLuca.”

               Her new companion smiled, and she decided she liked the way his eyes crinkled at the corners when he did so.

               “I’m Seth. I’m happy to meet you! Although I wish it had been on better circumstances.” He laughed, putting a hand behind his neck and rubbing it in a self-conscious manner.

               “It’s wonderful to meet you, Seth. Would you please allow me to buy you a coffee? It’s the least I can do after crashing into you like that.”

               “I’d like that, Daisy. And you can tell me what you see in the sky that looks so interesting.”

               **

               “And that’s how your mother and I met,” Seth said at the dinner table one night, telling the story to their two children, Lily and Rose.

               Seth had insisted on naming their girls after flowers, in tribute to their mother.

               Daisy smiled at her husband, blushing warmly as she remembered their first meeting. Of all ways to meet the love of your life!

               She had received so much in her life. First Seth, and then the sky.

               She couldn’t ask the universe for anything more.

               **  

Regular

(WP) Death’s Last Dance

               One minute, the room is full of laughing, talking people, and my partner and I are dancing through the crowd, parting the huge ocean of people. It’s almost overwhelming, all of my senses firing. I can smell his cologne, and he smiles down at me.

               “You look lovely tonight, Lyra,” He purrs into my ear, and I shiver, holding onto him tighter as we float through the crowd. “I cannot wait to make our announcement. Everyone will be so excited!”

               Then, within the next moment, everything is gone. The music cuts off abruptly, and the room is empty. The floor is pure, white marble, and my dress, a confection of blue silk, is suddenly red, as wine or as blood.

               The darkness is so complete I can see almost nothing, but from above, two spotlights appear. The white light shines down on me, blinding me after the darkness.

               On the other side of the room, a shrouded figure stands under the other spotlight, silent, watching me. And when its glowing eyes find mine, I know what’s happening.

               “It’s my time, isn’t it?”

               “Yes, it is.” The voice is impossible to identify, heavy and full of so many timbres that I can’t figure out whether it’s male or female, young or old.

               “May I finish my dance? Please? If this is the last time that I am to have on Earth, I just… I want to say goodbye. Please.”

               Perhaps it is selfish, asking Death for one last dance, but I can’t help it.

               For once in my life, everything was starting to go right. But I’ve known this was coming, I knew it wasn’t last.

               Why, then, does it hurt so terribly?

               I guess even for the most prepared soul, no one is ever really ready to die.

               My new companion watches me, hands folded across the handle of a long, wicked scythe. The blade gleams brightly under the spotlight, a purple so dark it looks almost black. There is a pregnant pause, and for a moment, I fear that my request will be denied.

               “Know that I don’t grant requests like this often,” It says, so quiet I have to strain my ears to hear it, “but as you have done so well in preparing for my arrival, you may.”

               **

               Just as suddenly as everything stopped, it all starts again. I’m still in Patrick’s arms, held tightly against his body as we waltz.

               All the noise filters back in, and I wince, resisting the urge to cover my ears.

               Patrick’s lips are moving, but everything else is so loud I can’t hear him.

               “I need to tell you something!” I say in his ear, and he pulls back, staring at me, eyebrows knitted in concern.

               “What is it, darling? You look so frightened.”

               “I have to go, Patrick. I have to leave. I’m sorry. Goodbye.”

               I lean forward and kiss his lips, briefly, trying to memorize the taste of him: wine and salt and something uniquely his.

               When I pull away, it all disappears again, and the figure appears in front of me, holding out a hand to guide me home.

               And I take it.

               **

(WP) Mysterious as the Dark Side of the Moon

(WP) Mysterious as the Dark Side of the Moon

               This year, it had been she who’d been selected to journey over to the dark side of the earth.

               Everyone knew that it wasn’t habituated to humans; only the legends had told of what lurked in the darkness on the other side.

               All her life, she’d been bathed in light, safe and happy and content. For the most part. There was a part of her that yearned to explore it, to unlock its mysteries.

Even the old books in the Library’s archive did little to shed light on what had been there before.

There had been rumors, of course. A plague or virus that killed off the human population and mutated the plant and animal life. Human hubris that had ruined all, turned the fertile land to sand. Tales of crops withering and dying, and then the people became crumpled, lifeless husks themselves. No one really knew for sure.

The night before she was supposed to set out, she was allowed a brief repast with her friends and family, on the chance that she didn’t make it back. In her tiny apartment, her family and friends crowded over a meal fit more for a queen than an explorer, even an intergalactic one.

But everyone in town had asked for special privileges for her. The table groaned under the weight of all the food: tureens of hot soup, a whole haunch of real beef, garnished with herbs and spices and horseradish sauce, thick, dark bread with melted butter, even some Earth alcohol that had been discovered in someone’s old cellar. It was a bounty that Ruby felt she didn’t deserve, even if she did die in uncharted territory.

At least her family, her parents and sisters, enjoyed it. And she knew that she should have been enjoying it as well, but she was too worried about the journey ahead to really savor her last night on the part of the planet she knew intimately.

Even though this had been her dream for years, she found that she was still scared; it permeated even through her excitement.

What awaited her, out in the great unknown?

When Ruby lay down to sleep that night, it had taken almost until the early hours of the morning for her anxious mind to quiet.

**

Barely managing to wake up on time, Ruby checked her supplies again: plenty of food that would keep regardless of temperature or atmosphere, water, clothing, and most importantly, her tech: Flashlights and computers and breathing devices, knives that would make killing, if necessary, easier. Mementos of her family and friends, and if distraction was needed, a few old books that were so well-loved that pages were threatening to fall out like yellowed autumn leaves.

In a strange rule, no one related to the explorer could so much as say goodbye: preparation for the mission ahead, she supposed.

When she walked out of the house, she found an old man waiting for her, standing in the grass, eyes on something far away.

“I’ve come to see you off,” He said, his voice whispering like the wind.

“But the Council doesn’t allow that,”

“They made an exception, in my case. For I’ve been in your shoes, missy. I was an explorer, too, one of the only ones to make it back.”

**

The Carseat in the River: Part Five

The Carseat in the River: Part Five

               As soon as I was cleared for the case, the captain called for a squad meeting. Everyone except the desk jockeys, the rookies, were asked to sit in.

               When we were all seated, the chief stood at the front of the room, hands folded in front of him, lips turned down and eyes grave.

               “Now, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t think I need to tell you just how urgent this situation is.”

               Silence met this declaration, and Luna, sitting next to me, grabbed my hand and squeezed, as if to remind herself that I was still there beside her.

               “Now, we have little to go on. Any forensic evidence was washed away when the carseat in question was thrown into the river. And we don’t want to alert the public yet; rumors are already spreading.” He frowned, running a hand thoughtfully through his goatee.

               “I’m going to divide you into groups to tackle different aspects of the case. Luna and Ella, I want you to do another search of the crime scene, see if anything was missed by the first team. Take one of the forensic techs with you.” I nodded, happy to be given something to do.

               “Mensch and Emerson, you two are to canvass the neighborhood around the marsh. See if anyone saw anything suspicious on the days before the carseat was found.”

               Emerson, sitting in the back, nodded silently. I was glad that the captain had paired those two together. Avery Emerson didn’t screw around; she took her job seriously and was one of the best detectives I’d met anywhere. She would keep Kit in line.

               “All of you on desk duty, I want you to comb through all recent missing persons reports, Amber alerts, anything that looks like it might be related to our case. No detail is too small. We need to start piecing things together, and quickly. There’s someone who might be living in this very town who did something horrible. Unforgivable. The sooner we catch this bastard, the better.”

               His voice was calm, but his neck and face swiftly grew red, a vein beginning to throb in his temple. The captain didn’t often lose his temper, but things like this got to him. Hell, he had a wife and two kids at home, a son and a daughter, and he adored all three. So clearly, I wasn’t the only one rattled by this.

               “All right, everyone, dismissed,” He said, and went to Kit and Avery, telling them where to start looking. He was calming down, I thought, but then I saw his clenched fists.

               One of my favorite things about my boss was that he cared. He didn’t just sit at his desk, barking orders. He was always in the thick of everything, always involved. It made him a damn good cop.

               “Come on, Ells, let’s head over in my car,” Luna said, smiling at me. I could see the relief all over her face, and I knew that she’d been just as afraid as I had been, that I’d be boxed out and excluded.

               A forensic tech named Gabby walked over, smiling shyly. “Can I tag along?” She asked. It didn’t matter that the Captain had ordered someone from her department to come along; the girl was so quiet and timid that she was half-afraid of her own shadow.

“Of course, you can, Gabby,” Luna said, and I smiled at her, trying to be friendly. Like Kit, she was brand-new, fresh out of college and eager to get into the field. Though she was practically a ghost, she was a good kid who wanted to help people.

               Pretty good reason to get into this line of work, in my opinion.

               Luna insisted on stopping for coffee on the way over. Even though she’d had the day off, she’d insisted on coming into work, telling the Captain that all hands were needed on deck, all-nighter or not.

               “I’m exhausted,” She moaned as we pulled up to the window. “Of course, an urgent case had to pick up as soon as I pulled an all-nighter.”

               Luna bought coffee for all three of us: two iced coffees with extra espresso shots for all of us, and hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream and sprinkles for Gabby.

               “Thanks!” Gabby chirped at Luna, grinning as she took it from me. She took a sip and her eyes lit up; evidently, she had a sweet tooth.

               **

               We drove out to the marshes, where a large section had been taped off with yellow police tape.

               Despite the croaking of frogs, the quiet rush of the river, the birds calling and the insects singing, a pit of dread opened up in my stomach. It was all too easy for my imagination to fill in the gaps, and I shuddered, trying to appear normal. I’d been included in this by the skin of my teeth, and if it got back to the Captain that I was losing it before we’d even begun, I’d be back on desk duty quicker than you could say ‘Miranda rights’.

               “Are you okay?” Luna asked me, putting her hand on my back. Much to my own surprise, I flinched away from her, spooked.

               “Ella?”

               Gabby was sitting in the backseat, looking between us, eyebrows drew together, but she said nothing.

               “I-I’m fine,” I stuttered, putting my coffee in the cupholder and unclicking my seatbelt. I couldn’t crack up now, not after I’d worked so hard to be included. I had no choice but to keep calm.

               Frowning, as if she knew what I wasn’t telling her, she unbuckled and put her coffee down, climbing out of the car. Gabby scrambled after us, grabbing her bag of tools.

               I set off toward the taped-off area, making sure to put on a pair of gloves before I got close. Things were already fucked up enough without any foreign DNA involved.

               It turns out, though, that there was a clue waiting for us. Something that had been felt behind.

               “Guys,” Gabby said, moving close to the bank. “Check this out. I think the first team missed it,” She added, and her face was pale green, as if she were about to be sick.

               In her gloved hands, she held up a ribbon, bright purple, stained brown with looked like blood.

**

(WP) Little Orphan Monsters

(WP) Little Orphan Monsters

               When she’d spent years studying the dark arts, particularly necromancy, she’d made grand plans. World domination. Being worshipped as a dark goddess, with the power to raise the dead at her command.

               But it turned out that the universe had a wicked sense of humor, because she was able to raise the dead, all right.

               But the god she’d summoned had sensed her nurturing abilities, left over from when she’d been human, centuries ago. He’d given her the responsibility of raising young vampires, ghouls, ghosts and goblins. He’d been more than generous; a building had been procured for them, and no one wanted for anything.

               Except for her. This wasn’t what she’d pictured when she had finally acquired her powers, after years of planning and practice.

               Even the thought made her feel ungrateful, and her mouth twisted as if she’d bitten into a sour lemon.

               What did it mean, if you were a woman and you didn’t wish to dedicate your life to caretaking, to raising the next generation of monsters?

               It seemed, in all society, that you were nothing if you bucked against its expectations. No matter if you belonged in the world of humans or monsters.

               The unfairness of it all was enough to make her scream.

               But for now, she had an orphanage to run; she could complain to the man in a far-off dimension later. She got the coffee-pot going. Even as old as she was, she couldn’t go without caffeine. If she were still mortal, it would be a problem worthy of intervention.

               Already, the children were awake. Most of them slept during the day, being nocturnal creatures, but there was an odd bunch of kids that preferred to frolic in the daytime, and so, Rouge was constantly on the clock.

               Of course, there were some people that had been recruited by her master in order to help her with her workload, but it didn’t help that numbers were climbing every day.

               It wasn’t that this servant was ungrateful, blind to all her master had done for her.

               She was just overwhelmed.

               “Miss Rouge, ma’am!” A voice cried, flying into the kitchen as she waited for her coffee to brew. “Matteo hit me!” The child was literally flying; he hovered above her slightly, beating his little bat wings, crimson eyes narrowed with dislike.

               A little goblin followed in his wake, stomping into the kitchen. He was so tiny that he barely reached Rouge’s waist.

               “I did not! All I wanted was a turn with the little toy car and he’s had it forever!” Matteo whined, the words coming thick from behind his sharp, serrated teeth. “Why can’t I have a turn?”

               “Boys, boys,” Rouge murmured, instinctively going into mothering mode.

               “Why don’t you guys find something that you can do together? You could read a book. Or watch a movie, or play a game… You could play hide and seek.”

               Both of the boys were appeased by a game of hide and seek and a snack: a cup of blood for Heath and some jerky, and a fresh human heart for Matteo.

               A mother’s work was never done.

               **

The Carseat in the River: Part Four

The Carseat in the River: Part Four

               “Please sit,” The chief said formally, which immediately put me on edge.

               Starting out that way was never a good sign.

               “Was there something you wanted to discuss, sir?” I asked, after I had sat down in the hard-wooden chair, opposite his desk. As if I didn’t know what this was about already. But he didn’t know that, nor did he need to.

               “I’m sure you’ve seen the news over the weekend. About what was recovered from the river.”

               I nodded, my throat so tight I didn’t trust myself to speak.

               His eyes, so dark that they reminded me of coffee, bored into my face, as if searching for something I was not willing to yield.

               “I’m sorry to tell you this, Officer LeVaux, but I don’t want you anywhere near this case.”

               Even though I knew it was coming, I still flinched.

               I knew that it wasn’t anything personal, that my boss was trying to protect me. But God damn if it didn’t hurt like a bitch.

               “Why?” I asked anyway, and I was proud of the fact that my voice did not quake. “You know that I’m a good cop. That I can handle this.”

               “I can agree with you on the first point.” He replied, not unkindly, smiling sadly. “But I don’t know about the second. You get too emotional.”

               I was getting really tired of hearing that. Just because I was a woman didn’t mean that I couldn’t control myself. Ever since the Academy, I’d been hearing a variation of that same speech, and it pissed me off. But I couldn’t afford to lose my temper, not when I was already on thin ice.

               “With all due respect, Chief, I disagree. I think that my empathy is what makes me a great cop.” I said calmly, taking deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

               “You absolutely are a great cop,” He said, and though it was a compliment, it came off as patronizing, an empty platitude. “But I don’t think you should be risking your mental health. We’ve got plenty of manpower.”

               “Are you putting me on desk duty?” I asked, struggling to remember my breathing exercises.

               This wasn’t fair, and I didn’t care about where it was coming from. This was my job on the line, and before I’d even been given a chance, I’d been sidelined.

               “Not necessarily,” The chief said finally, sitting back in his chair and giving me a once over. “I just want to make sure that you’re not in over your head.”

               Why, all of a sudden, was everyone treating me like I was a rookie? Like I was delicate and made of glass? I hated being treated differently just because I was a girl.

               But it seemed that the cards were not in my favor where this case was concerned.

“I’m not fresh out of the Academy anymore,” I protested quietly, doing my best not to sound like a petulant child.

The chief reached into the fridge he kept behind his desk and pulled out a bottle of water, setting it in front of me.

“I promise you I know that,” He replied. “I just want to make sure that you’ll be all right. If I put you on this case, with Luna, can you promise me that you’re going to keep calm? That you’re not going to read into this?”

I opened the bottle of water, mostly to buy myself some time before I answered. I took a big gulp, wincing when the cold liquid hit my throat.

“Yes, of course, Chief. I promise. Professional as possible. Got it.”

“If I catch even a whiff of impropriety from you, you’re off the case and chained to your desk for the remainder of the investigation. Have I made myself clear?”

“Crystal. Thank you, Chief. I’ll make you proud.”

I’d been granted clearance for a lie. And under any other circumstance, I would’ve felt guilty.

But I was already in too deep. It was too late to turn back now.

**

The Carseat in the River: Part Three

Part Three

               The weekend ended shortly, though I couldn’t tell you what happened in it. A shadow hovered over my shoulder the entire time.

               By the time that Monday arrived, I hadn’t quite been able to shake it. But I was determined to walk into work with my head held high and my coffee close at hand.

               Being away from Doc disquieted me, now more than ever.

               Someone who was capable of great harm was among us, hidden.

               It scared the hell out of me, and I wasn’t even a civilian.

               I parked and headed inside, head bowed against the wind. The rain still hadn’t let up, and it hadn’t helped my state of mind.

               At the door, I noticed several of my coworkers already at work. Luna wasn’t there; she was probably at home, sleeping off her long night.

               I walked to my desk and sat down, shrugging my jacket off and hanging it on the back of my chair.

The room was abuzz with low chatter, and as much as I wanted to join in, I had work to do.

I was a little behind, and for a while, it was just my work and my coffee; it was pretty easy to block out.

But when lunch time rolled around, that was a different story.

**

I went to the fridge in the break room and pulled out my food, leftovers from the night before.

I’d intended to go back to my desk and eat there, maybe call Doc. But I was intercepted near the door by a colleague.

“Hey, Ella! You hear anything about the new case? The whole town’s talking about it!”

There was only one person who could refer to something horrific with such relish.

The junior police officer, fresh out of trade school, as green as could be: Kit Mensch.

“I haven’t heard much, no,” I fibbed, shrugging my shoulders and sitting down at the table. There was little to no chance of me returning to my desk, so I might as well suck it up. I opened my container and began to eat, thoughts swirling in a frenzy in my head.

It was as if the universe were determined to nudge me toward this mystery, not away from it. The irony wasn’t lost on me.

“It’s awful, of course,” Kit replied, though his smile could’ve fooled me. Any opportunity to learn more on the force and he jumped feet first, without looking. “I hope they can find whoever is responsible. If…” He trailed off. It didn’t take a genius to hear what he wasn’t saying.

If the poor kid is dead.

I smiled wryly, taking another bite of food to avoid answering. If Kit knew better, he wouldn’t say such things. The Captain often took meals in his office, the better to pore over files. But nothing of that sort could be said within his earshot.

For my part, I was glad that he hadn’t chosen to join us that day. I was still steamed over being booted off the case, before it had even begun. It wasn’t fair. He’d had no right to do that.

He didn’t even know how I was already invested in it, a mean little voice in my head pointed out. Maybe he thought that I couldn’t handle it. The thought made me nearly crush my fork in my grip.

I caught myself just in time. Here I was, judging the rookie for being unprofessional, and I was about to let anger rule my head. I knew better than that. Or at least I should have.

Talk about being off balance.

“What do you think happened?” Kit asked, giving me a nudge. Underneath his usual smile and bravado, he was worried. He was unusually pale, and he drummed his fingers against the table, restless. He looked about as sick as I felt.

“Can I plead the fifth on that one, pending more information?” I asked in turn, and he smiled for real this time, nodding.

I finished my food, unable to manage more than a few bites.

“I’ll see you later, Mensch,” I said, putting the container back in my bag in the fridge.

I made a beeline for my desk again, eager for more work and some distraction.

But once again, it was not to be.

The Captain’s door opened, and he walked out, standing on the threshold to his office.

“Officer LeVaux? Can I see you in my office for a moment?”

The chief was a tall, thin man with a dark, curly goatee and olive skin covered in tattoos, though he often wore long sleeves to hide them. He’d been my boss for over three years now, and we’d never stopped butting heads. He said that I was a cop with sharp instincts, but much too reckless. It could get me, and my brothers and sisters, killed.

But I didn’t care about his approval or anyone else’s. I had to do my job and I wasn’t able to ignore my hunches, regardless of proof.

It was an unorthodox method, but so far it had worked for me. And what was the point of fixing something that wasn’t broken to begin with?

“Yes, sir.”

**

(WP) The Dark Goddess and the Prophecy

(WP) The Dark Goddess and the Prophecy

               Everyone knew the old story. It had been told since the founding of the kingdom and the countries surrounding them. The prophecy had predicted that there would be six heroes that would face the old, dark god. They would all be chosen from different walks of life. All with different strengths and weaknesses, but united, they would overcome the god’s tyranny and free the people from under its thumb.

               Well, as it turns out, the prophecy was only correct about some things.

               First of all, it was not a god, but a goddess. One of unimaginable darkness and rage, twisted by all of the negative emotion she’d repressed when she was a human, several centuries ago.

               The whole of humanity cowered under her cruel rule, but there were some who had willingly helped her rise to power: assassins, criminals, those dissatisfied with the law and the people who had ruled before.

               Second, only five heroes showed up.  No one knew what had happened to the sixth member of the group. There were rumors, of course. They’d died, been assassinated, or worse, even become one of the goddess’s spies.

               The first of the heroes, a young man named Nikolai, arrived at the abandoned palace, where the goddess and her cohorts were rumored to be hiding out. He was astride a handsome stallion, and he himself was adorned with furs. There were weapons hidden everywhere on his person, and he frowned. He couldn’t help wondering, if, indeed, he should wait for the others: the people said to help him in this monumental task.

               But he already had so little time. Perhaps it would be better to wait until the sun set, to hide in the lush, green foliage that surrounded the old palace.

               It was so different from his homeland, frigid and cold, where snowflakes and ice decorated everything like a pale, glimmering veil.

               Sick of thinking instead of acting, he directed his horse to the thick, leafy trees, and there they hid, waiting until the next hero in the group showed up.

               Never mind that they all didn’t know each other, they were said to save the world.

               **

But the newcomer had doubts that could not be silenced.

                 Eris knew that she came from nothing. Her family had been poor all their lives, and what chance they’d had of glory and comforted had gone up in smoke, thanks to their mother’s leaving to serve The Dark Goddess.

               It didn’t matter that she’d sent extravagant gifts, bolts of silk from which to make gowns, heavy gold and silver coins, jewelry studded with real precious stones instead of the false ones that were pasted on in the village, or that she’d done it for their family’s safety.

               That meant nothing to their proud, bitter father. He’d been so certain when Eris’s mark had shown up, inked across her back in glittering runes. He’d even asked their neighbors to donate things she needed so she could get to the palace. But even with all this planning, she’d been late.

               There was a mean, ugly little voice that spoke in the back of her mind.

               If even your own family did not want you, did not think you were capable of anything, what makes you think you will be able to unseat the Dark Goddess?

               But she, and all the others mentioned in the vision, had little choice in the matter.

               Destiny and fate seemed to have their own plans.

               **

(WP) Galaxy’s Most Wanted

(WP) Galaxy’s Most Wanted

               She was
the most wanted fugitive across the galaxies, and she felt a sort of
bittersweet thrill run through her.

               It
seemed like merely yesterday that she had been cowering in her uncle’s inn,
forced to serve her aunt and cousins as if she were not family herself. But she
had gained the courage to leave that life of drudgery and servitude behind her.
Oh, if her wicked, awful family could see her now. They’d cower before her,
begging for mercy.

               Lucky
for them, she was not the type to hold grudges.

               And
anyway, where was the fun in life without a little risk?

               She
slunk through the city, edging toward the tavern, smirking to herself when she
saw her own image smiling merrily back at her, middle finger raised high at the
viewer in naked defiance.

                For a single moment, she was tempted to throw
caution to the winds entirely and throw her hood away from her face, revealing
her identity.

               But
even for Freya Starsinger, that was tempting fate a little too much.

               Waiting
until the reckless urge passed, she kept close to the edges of the streets,
letting the crowd carry her toward the inn.

               When
she could finally see the sign, depicting a flag with skull and crossbones on
it, she broke away from the crowd and slipped inside.

               Thankfully,
the bar was so crowded that no one so much as looked up when she walked in,
still cloaked.

               Finding
a spot at the back of the room, she sat down, the air heavy with cooking smoke
and the stench of unwashed bodies. Freya did not stay in one place for long;
even if she weren’t wanted by the corrupt government chasing her, she could not
stand being confined. It reminded her, too much, of her past.

               She had
escaped, but the scars had not yet healed.

               Her feet
and her ship could carry her as far as she liked, but she could not leave behind
her pain, or her memories.

               The
thought made her more than a little bitter.

               In
order to avoid detection, she’d cut her hair and filed her canine teeth to
points, but her armor and swords weren’t nearly as easy to conceal.

               She was
jolted from her melancholy thoughts by a serving girl appearing at her elbow.

               “Would
you care for something to eat or drink? Our inn boasts the best wine this side
of the cosmos,” She said, smiling winningly.

               She was
very pretty, and a few years older than Freya herself. She had long, strawberry
blonde hair that was piled up into a bun at the top of her head. Freckles
dotted her face like fiery red stars, all around her nose, mouth, forehead, and
cheeks. Her eyes were the bright blue of a clear Earth sky.

               “Yes,
please,” Freya said, making her voice deeper than her usual alto. “A bowl of
stew, some bread, and some of that famous wine of yours.” She set down a few
fat gold coins and slid them toward the other girl.

               She
blushed pink and took the money, thanking Freya before taking her order to the
kitchen.

               Freya
would have to set out, again, after a night of short rest.

               As
tempting as it was to let her guard down, she couldn’t afford it.

               There
were eyes everywhere, and there would be worse things waiting for her than her
aunt and uncle’s house if she were caught.

               **

(WP) Blood Like Poppies

(WP) Blood Like Poppies

               The
Queen has summoned her executioner to her chambers for a ‘private audience and
repast’.

               The
page kneels before the woman, so petrified that the parchment, sealed with
bright green wax, trembles in hand.

               “Thank
you,” She murmurs, slipping him a couple of coins for his trouble.

               The
missive is short and to the point, “Meet me for dinner in my private chambers.
You and I have something to discuss.”

               Something
tells Poppy Bloodletter that this is not exactly a social call.

               Perhaps
her luck has finally run out, and her queen has discovered one of her many
secrets.

               She
goes to her room and changes her clothes. When she comes out, she is dressed in
black, as if she is attending a mourning ceremony. Gloves, shot through with silver,
adorn her hands, to mask her fear.

               There
were many different kinds of armor, she has learned, and she will be a fool not
to protect herself in what little ways she could.

               The
queen is not a patient woman, and there is no use in delaying the inevitable.

               **

               Poppy
is announced by the queen’s page, and after several long heartbeats, she is
allowed inside. She is escorted through the sitting room and brought to the
queen herself, and there she is, pouring tea herself.

               Poppy
realizes that there is not a servant to be seen, and she can feel her heartbeat
all through her flesh, but especially in her throat. She doesn’t dare speak;
she just waited, the minutes stretching out like taffy.

               “Do you
remember, my dear, when you first came to my castle, when your father demanded
you be trained in the arts of killing and assassination?” The Queen looks up at
her, beckons her to sit at the small table, across from her.

               The
Queen was dressed in a gown of forest green, with emeralds dotting the bodice.
Along the hem, there is a ring of garnets. To Poppy, she looks like spring
embodied, given human form. With her dark skin, dusted with subtle glitter, and
black curls, the color is a stunning contrast. Her eyes, though, are the red of
the poppies that gave the executioner her name. She is beautiful, terrifying,
and arresting. More like a goddess than a monarch.

               “How could
I forget?” Poppy murmurs in reply, smiling in spite of herself. “It was the day
that my life changed forever. You told my father that I would be taking up his
trade, once he retired.”

               “That
is also the day that you swore fealty to me, my children, my house and kingdom,”
Queen Kali whispers, and a cruel, sharp smile graces her full, lovely lips.

               “I
feel, my darling Poppy, that you have lost sight of your duty. Are you unhappy
here? Is there anything you need that I have not provided?”

               As she
speaks, her voice grows dangerously lower, more like a growl than a purr.

               As if
to give Poppy more time to answer, Queen Kali quickly uncovers the food she has
ordered for them both: a tureen of spiced lentil stew, a roasted haunch of
beef, crusted with mushrooms and spices and served with a rich wine sauce,
thick, dark bread slathered with butter and still warm, and for dessert, meringue
lemon tarts.

               She’s
really pulling out the big guns, Poppy realizes.

               “No,
not at all, Your Majesty. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”

               “Then
why, my dear Poppy, have you spent all of these years lying to me? Betraying myself and the Crown? I know
what you’ve done, and consider this your last meal. You will die for your
crimes against the Kingdom, Poppy Bloodletter.”

               **