fiction

For Her Brother's Sake

Dug this up while unpacking some things from my recent move - found a bunch of old notebooks with sketches and story snippets, and figured I'd throw them up here. Especially since I haven't posted in such a long time. 

- Alexis

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Here's a character intro about a girl with a bit of unknown magic. 

Danny was awesome. Annoying as hell sometimes, but always there when it really counted. That’s what big brothers were for, right? Like the time when I was five, and we were climbing trees in the backyard. Dad told us not to but we did anyway – like we gave a damn what “Dad” said, even back then. And when I fell out of the tree and broke my arm, Danny scooped me up and took me in to the ER or wherever, but he teased me about my crying the whole way there. Or when I was fourteen and had my first boyfriend ever – although calling him a real boyfriend now seems like a real joke… honestly, no one can seriously date at fourteen. You’re so confused about too much stuff, like starting high school and being one of the “young adults” of the world, and finally getting privileges from your parents (if you’re lucky), and learning to drive, and figuring out just what the hell it means to actually be mature (and meet other people who are just as “mature” as you are).

Anyway, the point was, when we broke up, Danny listened to my sob story and then promptly told me I was just being an angsty teen and that sooner or later I’d better get a grip on myself and realize that there were better people in the world than scumbags like that who would dump me for some sleaze. Later, I saw my ex with a black eye. I laughed at him and thought about kicking him in the shin, but decided not to (not because I was too mature… because my teacher was standing about four feet away from us and I probably would have ended up with a detention).

Yeah, Danny was awesome. He was the golden child of the family. My parents loved “their Daniel”: he was all A’s in school, played center on the soccer team in high school and got a full ride to college. Strong, handsome, smart, and just great. Girls couldn’t get enough of him, but he never dated anyone, that I know of. He knew they were all just shallow, sleazy girls who wanted a piece of the stardom. Danny was better than that.

He was better than anyone I had ever known… he was the only one who ever acted like they really loved me. I was the “oops” child, and my parents always regretted not having an abortion. Danny was twelve when I was born, so he was always looking out for me. Mom and Dad never cared about what I did – they just didn’t want to hear about all my screw-ups. So when I broke my arm falling out of the tree, Danny said we had been playing at the park and he pushed me too hard and I fell. He knew he’d never get punished, no matter what… and especially not for something as trivial as breaking the oops child’s arm. And when I got into a fight (that I didn’t start) at middle school and the principle sent letters home to the parents, Danny got the mail and stole the letter so they wouldn’t find out and punish me.

He never, ever left me alone with them if he could help it. I even started staying at college with him when he moved away, because we were afraid of what Mom and Dad would do to me if I was always alone in the house with them. Danny told everyone I was his niece that he had adopted because her parents had died. Everyone there loved me… it was weird, but nice. I had a family of college guys, and they were cooler and way better of a family than my “real” parents had ever been.

And when the strange stuff started, Danny refused to look away. He said that no matter what, he was going to stick by me. He wasn’t some crummy shithead like Mom or Dad who would dump me on the street because of some weird-ass vibe I had. He was going to try and help figure out what was going on… no matter how creepy it felt.

I was so glad to know that. The strange vibe, the “feeling” that had been surrounding me had been getting more and more potent, and it was starting to creep out some of the other guys. I remember one of them, Mike, I think his name was, coming by Danny’s room and saying, “Dude, you’ve got some major psycho thing going on here. What are you doing?”

Danny’s answer was that he was just tired and cranky because of some project or other he hadn’t gotten done yet that was due soon. Mike seemed to believe him. But as soon as he left, Danny closed his door and sat down next to me. “Millie,” he said, using his nickname for me (my real name was Amelia), “do you know what’s going on? What’s with this ‘Danger’ aura you’re sending off all the time?”

I had no clue. Apparently, I was surrounded by this feeling, this aura, that I was dangerous, and everyone else was picking up on it. I was nervous – what if I got Danny in trouble? Or if I got kicked out? I’d have to go back and live with Mom and Dad – and I sure as hell didn’t want to do that.

Danny didn’t get in trouble. I didn’t get kicked out. But I still had to go back to the house, because I couldn’t live at the college anymore. Danny was out late one night, at a party for one of his friends, and there was a party crash by one of the city’s local gangs. There weren’t very many of them, but they had been drinking… and they had guns. Danny took a bullet for the girl who had been having the party. She called an ambulance, but he bled out before they could save him.

The gang got busted and arrested by the cops, but I didn’t care. Danny was dead.

The girl came to see me. She was cute – pretty, even – and had puffy red eyes. She told me what Danny had done, how he had saved her life, and that she was really sorry for me. She offered to do what she could to help me, but there wasn’t anything to be done. She wasn’t going to be able to take care of me. Danny had been a part-time student and a part-time worker so he could earn enough money to take care of me. This girl wouldn’t be able to do that. I could tell just by looking at her. Plus, it wouldn’t be long before my “dangerous” vibe kicked in and scared her off, anyway.

I thanked her and left. Looking back on it now, I wonder if she and Danny were dating, after all… the way she talked about him, she seemed like she really cared about him, and that he was important to her. And I guess she must have been important to him, too, since he took a bullet for her and died for her.

Mom and Dad were pissed. They were shocked, of course, and totally upset and grieving that their son had died, but mostly they were pissed at me. They blamed me for Danny’s death. If I hadn’t been with him, he would still be alive. Why didn’t I use my freakish power and save his life? I was useless, completely useless. What a waste of a child. They couldn’t believe that their genes had made something so grossly pathetic and worthless. I should have died instead. Why hadn’t I died and let Danny live? I couldn’t even have done the only useful thing possible and traded myself for him?

Then they started to come after me with more than just words – and the words hurt bad enough. Mom got the first slap in, right across the face. I was a little surprised that she could hit that hard. I think that’s what caught me off guard for Dad’s turn. He landed a solid punch to my nose, breaking it on impact. It bled everywhere, making them yell and scream even more about how I was ruining the carpet and my clothes, never bothering to appreciate all the things I had before I just ruined them all with my useless, worthless self. As though I purposely kept the blood flowing, just to piss them off.

Of course, as soon as that thought crossed my mind, I decided to get a little revenge. I blew my nose into my hands and wiped the blood all over the front of Mom’s sweater.

Damn, but it felt so good.

The second punch to the stomach felt significantly less good. Dad stood over me where I’d fallen, winded, looking like his eyes were about to pop from rage. Behind him, I heard a drawer rattle. We were in the kitchen. “Here, honey,” I heard Mom say. “Use this, and finish the brat. I can’t stand the look of her anymore. The murdering, worthless bitch.”

She gave Dad one of the long, sharp, carving knives that you only ever see in horror movies. Dad stepped on my foot, pinning me down. He had this crazy smile on his face, like he was about to kill a fly that had landed on the wall.

I couldn’t scream; there was too much blood and I choked, instead. I put my arms up over my face, although it was a useless move because I couldn’t shield all the soft spots at the same time. I don’t know what was going through my head… something to the effect of Oh God, I’m gonna die. I don’t want to die. I’m gonna die. If I die, will I see Danny? At least I’ll be rid of these guys… I don’t want to die!

Dad swung the knife down…

…It shattered just above my face.

To say that it scared the shit out of all of us would be an understatement.

Mom stared. Dad kept driving the broken knife down towards me like some kind of deranged robot, but his fist kept hitting the air and stopping like it had hit a brick wall. I watched, frozen, my heart beating so fast I thought for sure it was going to break my ribs and beat right out of my chest. I do remember my thoughts then.

What. The Hell. Just. Happened.

I recovered from the shock first. I think it was my survival instincts kicking in (or possibly kicking me in the face). I screamed as menacingly as I could, waving my bloody hands in Dad’s face. It had the desired effect: he stepped back quickly, and my foot was free. I rolled to my feet and sprinted out the door. Behind me, I heard my mom screaming for me to get back here, and then for Dad to follow me and finish me off.

Bitch. I hated her then, and I still hate her now. Makes my power get all hot inside just thinking about her. Of course, back then, I had no idea what was going on. I reacted out of instinct. Protect myself, or die. Now I know how to use my power. I still give off that dangerous vibe, but there’s nothing I can do about that. Frankly, I don’t care. If people don’t like me, then they won’t get close enough to me to be able to hurt me, either. And since I seem dangerous, I’m not too likely to get jumped, either. And even if I did, I know how to take care of myself now.

The reason that the knife shattered was because I had thrown up a shield, using the air around me and hardening it until nothing could get through to me. If someone attacked me now, I could use another one of those shields, or I could make the air take on any shape I wanted… a rope to tie them up, a knife to attack them, or anything else that could come to mind. I bet it would be really freaky to get tied up by an invisible rope… or to get cut up by an invisible knife.

I want to try it, just to see. But I’m not a monster. I am not Mom and Dad. I’m not about to go out of my way to attack someone just because I can, and I sure as hell am not going to start a fight just to have an excuse to beat someone up.

I was raised better than that. Thanks to Danny, I am a decent person… even though something about my power screams to the world that I’m dangerous. Well, I guess I am dangerous, but only if you go after someone I care about. Which would only be me, at this point, since Danny’s already gone.

Thanks, Danny, for raising me to be better than scum like Mom or Dad, for showing me that I’m worth something. Thanks for teaching me how to survive in this shitty world. Thanks for helping me understand that there’s more to people than first impressions and first feelings. Thanks for telling me that I was loved. You saved me from a lot of shit, Danny, taking me away from Mom and Dad. But you saved me from even worse by loving me even though I was different. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you… but I will do my best to live a life you’d be proud of, so that when I see you again, I can tell you, and you won’t be disappointed.

God, I miss you, Danny.

Review: Daughter of the Blood

Daughter of the Blood is the first book in a series by Anne Bishop. I'd known about it for a while but only just got around to reading it - and I was hooked by page 12.

This is not a book for those who are averse to sexual content in their reading. While there aren't explicit sex scenes per se, sexual domination is a large part of how the political power structure survives, so there's a lot of writing about it. Daughter of the Blood is a dark fantasy in every aspect of the phrase.

The characters are fantastic. With the political and magical intrigue permeating this book, it was sometimes difficult to tell who was on whose side, and that worked well. Daemon Sadi is one of the main characters, and you will spend a while trying to figure out what's going on in his head, even though we're given his POV. Bishop did a great job with him. Jaenelle was equally impressive and with her we don't get the benefit of seeing through her eyes. In fact, there are some chunks of the story where we don't see her at all, but she is never forgotten; her natural-born Blood powers (magic) keep anyone of lower power (everyone) focused on her, without her even knowing.

A full explanation of the hierarchy and political structure would take ages and really, you should just read the books to get a true feel of how things work, but here's a basic explanation:

The world is divided into three Realms, each of which is ruled by powerful members of the Blood (those born with magic). When someone is born into the Blood, they are born into a certain ranking of Jewel which determines their overall power and strength - the darker the color of the Jewel, the stronger the power. As a matriarchal society, Blood females outrank Blood males, with the top rank being Queen. The males serve the females (which is where the sexual politics comes into play), and are driven by a natural instinct to protect and serve powerful Blood females. Enter the current Queen, Dorothea, who has kept her status by eliminating any potential Blood female who could threaten her power. When she hears of a child who was born into the black (the most powerful/darkest Jewel), Dorthea sets in motion a plot to destroy her, using the very Blood males who want nothing more than to protect this witch-child.

This is Bishop's first book, and quite frankly, that's amazing. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series. If you like dark fantasy done well, then this is for you.

 

-Alexis

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A Shadow in the Darkness

Some call it the Monastery: the city center, the last guard of life against all the evil that has corrupted the world. I don’t know why it was named the Monastery – it’s certainly more than a religious place, and the inhabitants are far from saints. But in the end, I don’t much care. I didn’t come here for its name. I came here for its knowledge.

There have been rumors flying through the land for years: rumors of death, of murder and torture and a shadowy killer who lurks behind every story. I know fear, and how quickly it can grow from even the tiniest seed, but even my skeptic mind is not satisfied. I desire answers; I desire the truth. Since the deaths have been real, the killer must also be real. And since all the rumors seem to point back to the Monastery, this is where I have come.

 

The tavern is busy tonight. I suspect it usually is, and by many of the same people. There are no loudmouth drunks here – the warriors and scholars who call this town home would never allow it. The atmosphere is pleasant. I am welcomed, even though I am a stranger. Of course, they can tell I am no threat to them, either. I show them my papers (to prove I am the scholar I claim to be) and they gladly accept both my company and my coin.

I chat with them, trying to learn what I seek without a direct question, but either they do not pick up on my hints or else they carefully avoid them. I suspect it is the latter – these people seem acutely aware of their surroundings.

So then, I must be blunt. Draining the last of my ale, I place my mug back on the table and ask the question I had been hoping to avoid, but desperately yearning to have answered…

Are these murders the work of the Shadowknives?

The noise dies instantly. All eyes are on me. They hold a mix of fear and anger.

“What have you done? Have you no sense? You’ll call the devil down upon us!” shouts one man furiously. “If you have a deathwish, so be it, but don’t bring us down with you!”

More rapidly join in. “That demon is responsible for more than just murder.” “If you knew the power of the Shadowknives, you would not ask such a question.”

“But no one has even seen him?” I press, ignoring their anger. “How can we know that this is all the work of just one person?”

“He is not human!” a woman retorts. “No one can do such foul deeds, who still has a beating heart in his chest.”

Theft. Haunting. Mutilation. Torture. Slaughter. Murder. The heinous list is longer than I knew. It seems there is no one not harmed by this assassin’s actions.

The Shadowknives. I have searched and searched for a description, a glance, even a guess of this man, but no one who has seen him has lived long enough to speak of him. Nameless and faceless, the Shadowknives was so called because he seems to slip out of and into the shadows before you can realize there is a knife between your ribs.

It is entirely likely that this Shadowknives is not, in fact, human. This town is plagued by such an array of vile creatures and evil beings that the High Demon itself might even call it home. Demons, restless spirits, zombies, wraiths, skeletal undead, vampires, werewolves, sorcerers, and countless other creatures have come here, drawn by the rupture of demonic power: the Dark Magick.

 

 

-Alexis

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The Death of Me

Just what happened to make Kallizar the way she is? Why does she live so far from anywhere, in a country threatening to destroy her homeland? And what is the darkness that flickers behind her eyes?

An excerpt from Fire in the Blood:

 

“You’re up early.” Aeva laughed as Riat jumped slightly at her words. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”

Riat settled back down into one of the comfy chairs in the lounge of the Fortress. “That’s all right. I’m still a little jumpy, I guess, even though I’ve been here for two months.”

Aeva smiled and flopped down into a chair facing him. “And how are you liking it?” she asked. “Better than what you had expected?”

“It’s… incredible,” Riat said. “I didn’t know if she was serious about any of it, but…”

“Kallizar is quite unique,” Aeva agreed. “We were lucky.”

 Riat chewed his lip. “Aeva, if I ask you something, can I have your word that you won’t tell the Sorcerer?”

“Only if you call her Kallizar,” Aeva winked at him. “She’s the boss, but she’s also your friend.”

Riat smiled. Aeva liked this – he looked even nicer when he smiled. “All right then. If you promise not to tell Kallizar.”

“Ask away.”

“It’s kind of why I’m up early,” Riat began, not knowing how to phrase his question correctly.

Aeva’s smile faded. “You want to know why she was screaming this morning.”

Riat looked down. “It’s none of my business. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”

“No, it’s all right.” Aeva rubbed her face with her hands. “Truth is, I don’t know, and Kallizar isn’t exactly falling over herself to explain anything.”

Riat didn’t miss the undertone in Aeva’s voice.

Aeva sighed. “I wish I knew more,” she confessed, caught by Riat’s gaze, “because I only know a little bit about magic, and nothing about Kallizar. What I think I know I’ve just had to guess, and that just makes me want to ask Kallizar even more questions. And we know how well that works.”

“I get more response from asking her horse,” Riat agreed. “And all he does is snort at me.”

That made Aeva chuckle a little. “Anyway… I know the basics – Kallizar has magic, obviously, so how old she is is anyone’s guess. Most of the people in Montega thought she was around one hundred when she came over from Fyan, and it’s been nearly that long since she was back there.”

Riat shook his head. “That’s intense. She looks around thirty, maybe.”

“Something about magic lets Sorcerers recover from sickness and injury faster and slows down their aging, but other than that, I don’t understand it either.” Aeva tapped a finger on her knee. “Actually, asking Kallizar about that might be fine. That’s not a personal thing.”

“And she’s really from Fyan, then. I wondered, since she’s got a bit of an accent in Vaerish.”

“So far as I know, yes. And she didn’t leave under happy circumstances, or she wouldn’t have stayed in Montega.”

That was an understatement. Montega was the outcasts’ town, the last sanctuary for people on the run from something before being forced out on their own or fleeing the country altogether. That Kallizar had left Fyan for the country on the verge of war with them meant something very bad had happened, and the fact that she had stayed in a place like Montega meant something even worse. Riat couldn’t suppress the shiver that crept down his spine. “Are you sure it’s safe? I mean, safe for us?”

“No one’s keeping you here. Anytime you want to leave, you know where the door is.”

Aeva’s vehement reply caught Riat off-guard. “No, that’s not what I meant,” he said hastily. “I mean, something happened to Kallizar. Something bad. Wouldn’t it be safer for us – and for her – if we knew? Whatever it was, she came to Varaetí to escape it. That’s a big deal.”

Aeva took several deep breaths. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap. It’s just that Kallizar’s the first friend I’ve ever had, and she genuinely cares about me.”

Riat understood.

“But I think you’re right. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, since you’ve only been here a little while, but there are times when I wonder if she ever really escaped anything.” The black flames burned in Aeva’s mind and she shivered.

“The thought had crossed my mind.” Riat’s thoughts went to the screams that had woken him. He didn’t even know what feelings must have been at play to make such heart-wrenching sounds.

“Then I suppose I had better tell you, before you find out half of the story on your own and don’t stay around for the rest.”

Aeva jumped so badly she actually slid onto the floor. Riat managed to get his feet under him, but just barely. Both of them turned to see Kallizar leaning against the far door way, her face impassive.

“How long have you been there?” Aeva sputtered, getting herself back together.

“Long enough. Your explanation of magic was a bit underwhelming, but more or less accurate, by the way.” A smile lit Kallizar’s features.

Aeva gulped. “Um, wow, you’ve been there for… a while.”

Kallizar pushed away from the wall and crossed her arms lightly. “You two trusted me at points in your lives when trust should have been an impossibility. I owe you the same courtesy. After that, if you want to leave, you know where the door is.” She winked at Aeva, whose face flushed. “Now come on. I’ll explain as we walk – some of this is going to take showing for you to believe.”

 

I was the Honored Sorcerer of Fyan, a member of the High Court and advisor to my friend Fawlen, King of Fyan. His family was the only family I had ever really known.

At the Fyanish palace lived emissaries from the powerful nation of Lubek and its long-time ally, Patal. No Sorcerers had been born on Lubeki or Patalian soil in centuries, so they demanded that as a token of continued peace, the Honored Sorcerer be sent to live in Lubek. When they realized Fawlen would not willingly trade me away, they resorted to darker means to drive me from the High Court. In the end, they arranged for the murders of the queen and the young prince with me at the center of the chaos.

My king ordered me hanged at dawn.  

I escaped the prison, found my one remaining friend in the palace – Cade, my servant – and booked us passage on a merchant ship headed for Varaetí. Montega hid us until I built my Fortress in the woods, banished from my home and hidden from the world.

 

“We thought we were safe here – no one from Fyan would set foot on Vaerish soil without a declaration of war, and no one in Varaetí knew that I existed.”

The three of them were outside now, walking through the largest of Kallizar’s gardens. Aeva belatedly realized they were headed towards the off-limits corner. Her pulse quickened – she told herself it was out of excitement, but she didn’t entirely believe herself.  

“I’m guessing there’s more to the story, then.” Riat’s words sounded matter-of-fact, but no one was fooled.

“Unfortunately, I failed to take the Lubeki and Patalian emissaries into account; they were still in Fyan and King Fawlen was looking for any means possible to get revenge on me. They offered him the perfect solution: send a young Sorcerer to Varaetí to force me out of hiding, and when I showed my face, have all the Fyanish merchant houses’ ships ready to bring me back to face judgment. I’m sure the emissaries expected the merchants to fail, but it would give their own allies a chance to grab me.”

Kallizar opened the iron gate and motioned for the two to follow. Dozens of vibrantly colored flowers grew here, none of them familiar to Aeva’s eyes. Fyanish lilies, Kallizar had told her. Aeva resisted the urge to pick one.

Kallizar wasn’t finished. “What they didn’t count on was the young Sorcerer. They assumed he would be eager to help capture the fiend who had murdered his country’s royalty. He was eager to find me, but not for Fyan or anyone else: what he wanted was my knowledge, my spells, and my life. I barely knew he was here before he poisoned me and ransacked my study.”

Both Riat and Aeva stared at her. “That’s horrible. How did you survive?”

Kallizar stepped around one more corner and gestured to the left.

“Kallizar,” said Aeva, her voice suddenly much too calm to be genuine, “what is that?”

“That would be a gravestone.”

“I can see that. Why does it have your name on it?”

The Sorcerer leaned against the black marble. “My choices were flee or die. I didn’t flee far enough, because they still caught me. That poison, Tan’jeht, was created specifically for use against Sorcerers, destroying the magic in our blood. I didn’t have a chance. I was murdered almost a century ago.”

Riat couldn’t breathe properly. His eyes were glued to the stone, Kallizar’s name staring back at him. “But… resurrection is impossible. Even for Prophets.”

“That is true. But there are other things magic can do.” Kallizar’s voice was soft. “I was terrified when I reached Varaetí – afraid that every morning, I would wake up with a knife over my throat. I used a spell to anchor my soul to my body, to protect myself from death long enough to get help.” She looked away. “I had no idea what the effects would actually do to me.”

“What the effects… what happened to you?” Aeva slumped to the ground in a kind of shock, her voice barely audible.

“Aeva, you’ve seen proof enough in my eyes. There’s something there that shouldn’t be,” Kallizar replied gently. “What you’re seeing is the touch of the After. It got a taste of my soul and it won’t be happy until it gets the rest of me.”

Riat took in slow, deliberate breaths to try to calm his nerves. He wasn’t successful. “So… you’re dead.”

“Was.”

“You were dead. But now you’re not, because you had a spell powerful enough to bring you back?”

Kallizar answered him plainly. “I had a spell to keep my soul from crossing to the After. When I died, that spell triggered and prevented me from seeing the After for more than a minute or two. Because I anchored that spell to my physical body, it didn’t break when I died – the After has no hold on this world.”

Riat didn’t even understand half of that, but he tried to accept it anyway. “What happened to the boy?”

“I’m sure the emissaries were… displeased to discover that the boy had killed me. And they never took failure lightly.”

Riat had one more question. “Then, this morning, the screaming…”

“Do not ask me about the After, Riat.” The calmness in Kallizar’s voice was gone, replaced by a fragile sort of fear. “It is not something for the living to know.”

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-Alexis

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