Monday, June 30, 2014

Witches in the Night



Kitch stopped, listening intently. Overhead, the quarter moon glittered through the heavy cloud cover. The beast stalking her was still.
She dropped to one knee and touched a tree root, holding it, feeling it, until she had bonded with it. She mentally followed its root network, knowing everything that touched it as if it was touching her, as if the roots were part of her own body. 
It wasn't on the ground. She searched the branches of the tree. Nothing. It was as if the beast had never existed. She frowned and reached for another tree's root then froze. Hot air blew across the back of her neck. Without hesitation she rolled forward, coming up in a crouch and whirling around.
The beast was there, hovering three feet in the air, pupil-less eyes staring at her. It lightly stretched a clawed foot downward and then landed on the ground as easily as stepping down from a stair. Its lips curled back revealing yellowed fangs to join the tusks she had already noticed. It flexed its paws and started toward her. She threw a handful of mineral rich dirt at it. The dirt connected with the beast's shoulder and it stopped, stunned, as it wasn't dirt that hit but a small, rough, knife blade.
She scowled when she saw she had missed and then ran, using the distraction wisely. Seeing her moving, the beast charged. She threw a hand behind her and the tree roots rose up, causing the beast to leap over them, until it decided against leaping and settled on running in the air. That's when her tree smacked the beast in the face by its own volition.
Kitch skid to a stop, surprised. The beast roared then screamed, shuddering. Kitch crouched down, scooping up two handfuls of dirt. There would be no missing this time. She waited. The beast was trembling as it came forward. Then it leaped, closing the distance between it and her in the space of a few heartbeats. She threw the knives, hearing three soft tumps of connection and then the beast was on top of her.
Dead.
Its chin was on Kitch's cheek, oozing drool and blood. She cringed and started shoving the enormous creature off her. Suddenly she heard the sound of an arrow being released and it burying its head its target. Don't be shooting me, she thought, urgently. I don't need anyone else trying to kill me.
She squirmed partway out from under the dead beast and heard a quiet grunt of understanding. A moment later, a dark figured man was pulling the creature off of her. She got to her feet and stared at the man.
He wore a long dark coat with numerous, large pockets. All his clothing seemed to be black or some other very dark color. It was hard to tell in the dim light of the moon. His boots were sturdy, meant for hard work, and he had gloves tucked in his belt. A hat sat on his head at a casual angle, casting shadows over his face and nearly shoulder-length dark hair.
He heaved the beast upward and she noted the crossbow bolts buried in its forehead and back and also noted, with some satisfaction, that her two knives were stuck neatly through its heart, right where she’d meant them to go.
“Not sure who killed this,” the man grunted.
“I did,” Kitch said.
“Oh?” he asked, skeptically.
“I was closer,” she said.
“You were under it,” he said agreeably.
“Thank you by the way.”
“Hmm?”
“For almost shooting me,” she said.
He paused. “Didn’t know you were actual,” he said finally.
“You didn't know I was actual? What does that even mean? You didn’t know I was real? How did you manage that?”
“I'm used to apparitions.”
“Naturally,” Kitch said, affably. “Well, I would've assumed that you were an apparition as well.”
Even with his face obscured by shadows she could see him scowl. “I didn't have to save you,” he said.
Kitch leaned forward in complete seriousness. “Are you in the habit of saving apparitions?”
His mouth twisted in a grimace and he tipped his hat.
“I'll be going,” he said, walking past her.
Kitch sighed, faintly disappointed. “What is it?”
He stopped and turned around. “Hmm?”
“What is this?” she asked, nudging the dead thing at her feet. “The thing that decided to stalk me and try to kill me.”
“A borwan.”
“Ah. Yes, I see now. A borwan. What a self-explanatory name,” she said blithely.
“Part boar, part wolf…and part man.”
“Which part?” she asked. The thing looked completely animal, feral and deadly.
The man moved over to the borwan and knelt by it. He pushed his fingers through the fur in its chest, and then, to Kitch's astonishment, into its chest. His hand disappeared and then he pulled it back out, clutching a blood-covered, hard, blue-gray rock.
“This part,” he answered.
“What is that?”
He shook his head. “Not sure. Witch’s witchiness, maybe. Borwan are witches.”
“Hmm. Witchiness.”
“Don’t know the technical name,” he said crossly.
“And so you use witchiness?”
“Clearly.”
“In educated circles it is called witchcraft,” she said sweetly.
He paused, taking in her sentence with all its implications. “Mm. They never told me that.”
Kitch smiled reassuringly. “I’m sure there were a lot of things you weren’t told.”
“I know,” he said darkly.
“What are you going to do with that?” Kitch asked, nodding at the blue stone.
He shrugged, rising to his feet. “We don’t have a use for them. Yet.”
“You keep them?” Kitch asked, surprised.
“We can’t destroy them.”
“Destroying them is the easy part. How do you manage to keep them not be Consumed?”
Easy?” he echoed incredulously. “Have some experience with witches?”
“Who hasn't?”
“Most don’t know how to destroy them.”
“That's only because they don't take the time to find out.”
“Only a witch would know how.”
“Or a WitchHunter. Like you.”
His expression hardened.
“You are, aren’t you?” she pressed.
He hesitated, just a moment. “Yes,” he said quietly.
“And a Hunter. Not a huntsman,” Kitch clarified. She had to be absolutely certain.
Another pause. “Yes.”
Kitch sighed and leaned against a tree. “Naturally.”
He stared at her intently a moment before speaking softly. “Wyfreda.”
“What?” she asked.
“Witch-friend.”
“I…” she trailed off, not sure of what to say. She could hardly deny the claim, but neither could she admit it. That was just as dangerous.
He tipped his hat. “I'll leave you then.”
She watched him leave then shouted after him. “Don't believe that witches can be good?”
He stopped but didn’t turn. “It's not my job to believe either way.”
“That's no answer.”
“It's mine.” And then he vanished into the dark.
Kitch frowned thoughtfully, then glanced at the corpse lying next to her. “Time to move on. This dear friend will be attracting all sorts of things, not to mention what I'll be attracting.”
She swiftly bonded with the tree the creature was lying near and then walked away as the tree roots quietly dragged the body underground.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mercenaries Hiring



In the middle of the bar fight, the only woman present sat unruffled at the bar, one elbow on the counter, her head on her hand, watching the wild proceedings with a look of annoyed amusement. A man flew across the room and crashed next to her against the bar. With a deep sigh, she shoved the man’s head, pushing him off the counter and to the floor. Nearby, a shaggy haired blond struggled against a severely scarred man with a chair.
“Come on, Alice!” the shaggy haired man called out as the scarred one pushed him back against the counter. “This is fun.”
The woman looked at him dryly. “It’s a bar fight.”
“It’s much more interesting than that,” he protested.
“Just once, just once, Colin, I would like to go to a bar and not end up in a fight. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.”
Colin grinned. “It is not always my fault.”
“I think it’s always your fault.”
“Yeah, well, wanna give me a hand here?”
Alice shot her fist out and slugged the scarred man in the jaw. He staggered and Colin shoved the man back before smashing the chair down on him. Colin straightened up, brushing his hair back.
“There. Almost done then.” He turned his head toward Alice expectantly, waiting for her approval.
She smiled, then swung her leg up over her head and slammed it into his face. Colin fell against the bar, again, his hand going to his face.
“I swear, Alice,” he growled, “one of these days—“
“You’re going to end up dead,” she finished. “That was for starting a fight.”
“I said we needed people.”
She scanned the chaos in the room. “And not a one of these will pass. Honestly, Colin, why do you bother?”
“Wishful thinking?”
“Stupid thinking.”
“Thank you. Your opinion has been noted and ignored.”
“Just finish up.”
“You’re not going to help?”
“I don’t see why. I didn’t start it. And you need the exercise.”
“What are you implying?” he demanded.
Alice smiled. “Exactly what you think.”
Colin made a face and Alice just waved at him.
“Off you go now. Go beat some strangers up.”
“Fine,” he said, cracking his knuckles. “But the next time you want help in a fight you started, you’re not getting it.”
“Noted and ignored.”
Colin snorted, then dove back into the tussle. Alice heaved a sigh, resting both elbows behind her on the counter.
“Could I get a drink here?” she asked.
A fight crashed into the counter and a cluster of glasses, sending one skittering down toward her, amber liquid sloshing foam every which way. Alice snagged it and raised the glass toward the fighters.
“And thank you.”  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Concealed Among Us



A blast of wind barreled into the door and sent it flying into the opposite wall. The man at the dinner table looked up with a start and jumped to his feet, grabbing his bracelet of colored wooden beads.
“Dana, go,” he said to his wife sitting at the table.
She was already on her feet, pulling a beaded necklace from her neck. There was a brief blur and then a hyena stood beside the man.
“Dana,” the man said, softly.
The hyena raised her hackles and the man reluctantly retreated, picking up his young son and running for the backdoor. He glanced back as a tiger with blue-black fur padded softly into the room. The hyena snarled and lunged for the tiger. The man hesitated only a moment.
“Run, Tori,” he said, putting his son down. “Run and don’t look back.”
The black-haired boy stared at his father with round eyes. “Don’t go,” he begged.
“I have to. Now run!”
The man pushed his son towards the backdoor, then turned, casting off his bracelet and running towards the fight. He stretched out his hands towards the snarling, biting animals, and gestured. The carpet came to life, grabbing at paws, wrenching the combatants apart, and curling around their feet, binding them tightly to the ground.
The hyena collapsed, blood spreading across the white carpet, rushing from her side and a dozen other gashes. The tiger didn’t seem to notice the deep fang marks in its shoulder and throat. It gave a little sigh and blurred, a blonde-haired man appearing in its place. He shrugged off the carpet’s clutches and flicked his fingers at the father who was jerked toward him. The blonde man smiled and made a fist.
The father gasped and fell to the ground, his lungs caved in. Another gesture and he died, a faint grey mist rising off of his body. The blonde man breathed it in, his wounds fading away as he did. He looked at the hyena and found a boy standing in the way.
“Move boy,” he said. “I don’t care about you.”
“Go away!” the boy shouted defiantly, but he was shaking with fear.
“I will,” the man answered, stepping over the body of the boy’s father. “But not until I have what I came for.”
“Leave Mama alone!”
“Move aside, child.”
“No!”
The blonde man stopped directly in front of the boy then lifted him up with one hand. The hyena whined and struggled to stand, but she had no strength.
“I admire your audacity, boy,” the man said. “And luckily for you, have no current inclination to kill you. It isn’t worth my time. However.”
He raised his free hand and it blurred into a tiger’s paw. One claw extended and then suddenly and adroitly slashed across the child’s eyeball. The boy screamed as blood ran out of his eye and he was flung aside. The blonde man looked expressionlessly at the trembling hyena.
“Die woman.”
He strode out the same doorway he came in, her grey mist trailing after him, the screaming child left alone.

Hatori jerked awake, instinctively reaching for his gun, his toes curled around his beaded anklet. A second later, he realized the room was empty of threats and he relaxed. He breathed deeply for a moment, then flicked off his anklet. The soft whispers at the back of his mind came into sharp relief as a clear voice that was almost his own.
“Dreams again,” it said.
“Not dreams,” Hatori answered softly. “Memories.”
“But why now?” the voice asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Shuze,” the voice replied. “It must be Shuze.”
“This case has nothing to do with the Concealed.”
“I know better. Think. What did they find on the body?”
Hatori exhaled slowly, suddenly remembering. It had been an insignificant detail that even he had overlooked. It had been so long since he had been with his own kind.
“A bracelet made of wooden beads on a black string.”
“Red, white, orange, blue, brown, cream,” the voice said.
Hatori fetched his anklet out from under the covers. Six wooden beads on a black knotted string. He could have killed himself for his oversight.
“Someone’s killing Concealed again.”
“Stormraider.”
“It can’t be,” Hatori said, blinking just his left eye. “I killed him.”
The voice was silent for a moment, then said, “Did we?”
Hatori was afraid to answer.

[a small snippet of a project I've not worked on in a long time and am delighted to have found again.]

Friday, June 27, 2014

Man (part 2 of 2)



Predit leaned against his desk again, studying the Scotsman in his dirty, torn clothing, matted, wild hair hanging raggedly around his face, but his devil eyes were steady. The clear blue right one and half silver left stared back at Predit with calm intensity, but Predit could almost feel the desperation behind them. Did the man really feel remorse? But the brutality in his attack…something that bestial, that furious could only be done for a reason, and only by a madman. A sudden vision of Logan’s arrival flooded Predit’s mind.
It had been raining all week and Predit had just trudged through the slop that was the main street to the jail. He’d been fighting to fit the key in the lock when he turned around. Even now, he couldn’t remember what had made him turn. Maybe he had heard something, maybe he just sensed it. But there, crawling, dragging himself through the mud was a man.
Predit ran to the man, helping him to his feet. He was bleeding, a gunshot to his side, coughing up blood and mud.
“Easy, man. Come on. We’ll get you fixed up. Come on, inside,” Predit said, ducking under one of the man’s arms.
They started shuffling toward the jailhouse, when a scream came from the alley. Both men looked sharply toward the sound. Before Predit could even start to go through his options, the man had pulled away from him, staggering quickly toward the scream. Predit stared for a moment in shock, then ran, squelching through the mud after the stranger. The man beat Predit into the alley, coming across Mina Talbot fighting to get away from her drunken husband. Mr. Talbot struck her hard, sending her crashing to the ground.
“Hold it, Talbot!” Predit shouted.
The words had hardly left his mouth when the stranger slammed his fist into Talbot’s face, knocking the drunk backwards. Talbot roared curses at the man, then tried to move past him toward Mina, but the stranger planted himself firmly between them.
“Hit her again an’ see what you get,” the man said in a low voice punctuated with a Scottish brogue.
“S’me wife. I’ll do just what I want and ask you t’ stay out of it, thanks,” Talbot snarled back. He was easily twice the size of the narrow stranger and while drunk enough to be unsteady, he didn’t have lead rolling around his lungs.
“’Course. Unless she’s your widow.”
“What is this? You ain’t threatening me, are you? Huh? You threatening me, Scotch?”
“Easy there, Mr. Talbot,” Predit said, cautiously stepping closer. “No need for more blows here. Why don’t you and the wife go back inside and we’ll end this nice and polite?”
The stranger coughed roughly, spraying the ground with blood, but kept his eyes on Talbot. “No,” he rasped.
“Funny. I think I agree wit’ you on that,” Talbot said. “Let’s settle this’ll now, eh? Man t’ man.”
For a moment, Predit feared the stranger would take Talbot up on his offer, but then the Scotsman turned his head away. “I’m not killin’ anyone today.”
“Ha!” Talbot exclaimed, spit flying across the air to land on the stranger. “Kill me, eh? Think you could kill me? Oh, ain’t you something. Kill me? Kill me? Ha! Give it a shot, then. Come on. Just try t’ knock me down. I’ll knock your head clear off your skinny-rat shoulders, I will. You watch.”
“Alright, Talbot, we get the point,” Predit said. “Why don’t you go back home and sober up?”
“Don’t tell me what t’ do, Constable.”
“Now wait a minute—”
Talbot shoved Predit backwards with an awkward, heavy hand and turned to the stranger. “Come on, you old Scotty! I dare you. Yeah. You ain’t got nothing.’ You’re all air. Ha. Come on, Mina. Up. Get home. Now, woman! Now!”
Mina Talbot slowly picked herself up from the mud, cautiously slipping around the stranger. Talbot snatched her arm, yanking her forward.
“Talbot! There’s no call for that sort of behavior!” Predit exclaimed.
“Don’t you tell me how t’ treat me own wife!” Talbot said, then slapped the back of his hand across her face to prove his point.
The next moment Talbot was flat on the ground, unconscious, the stranger standing over him, fist still in the air, blue and silver eyes gleaming in the rain.
Do you believe in curses? Logan’s question came back to Predit. He put his pipe in his mouth only to discover it had gone out again. He tried to light it, but his fingers were shaking and he only burned his fingertips. Cursing under his breath, he thumped the pipe onto the desk, then glanced up to find Logan still waiting, still watching.
“Alright,” Predit said after a breath. “Tell me then.”
Logan blinked, straightening slightly.
“I said, tell me, so tell me,” Predit said sharply, crossing his arms and glancing at the broken cuckoo on the wall.
“Jus’ surprised, is all. You took your time wit’ your decision,” Logan said.
“I was thinking.”
“Yes.”
Predit glanced angrily at him. “Well, go on, already, MacNarrator. Tell me.”
Logan took a step back from the cell door, then sat down. “You’ve prob’ly heard stories, a well-read man like you. The legend’s not new, by any means, though the legend knows nothin’ ‘bout the truth o’ it. If you go by the legend, you’d think it’s something like snake venom, or, mebbe a sickness, somethin’ that waxes and wanes like the tides.”
“Mixing your metaphors, aren’t you?”
“Oh no,” Logan said with a faint smile. “No. The truth o’ my problem lies in a curse. I don’ suppose you might believe in spirits, too, do you?”
“Nobody believes in spirits anymore.”
“Oh good. You do.”
“I just said I didn’t, blast it all!”
The faint smile returned before Logan continued. “Well, I’ll jus’ say it then. I’m cursed. And by a vengeful spirit to boot. Lucky me, eh?”
Predit raised a blonde eyebrow. “Are you giving me an explanation or a ghost story?”
“Somethin’ of both, I imagine.”
“Madman,” Predit muttered, but despite himself, Logan had his complete attention.
“When I was a younger man, jus’ twenty-two, I went travelin’ ‘cross Scotland. My only goal was to see as much o’ the country as I could. One day I stumbled upon a strange place. A narrow pathway ‘tween two short cliffs cuttin’ through the forest. It led out into an open area sunk deep into the ground. Colored sheets o’ cloth were strung ‘cross the whole place, like curtains and in the center, a sort o’ well. And me, right smart lad I was, I disturbed the well water, disturbed the ghost. As I turned to leave, I heard a growl that chilled my blood. Then a great beast came toward me through the curtains, silver eyes starin’ into me, like it was seein’ into my soul.”
“What sort of beast?” Predit asked in a hushed voice.
“A monster. Thin and gaunt, every rib showin’ through its coarse black fur, limbs narrow twigs. But it was tall, all raised on its hind legs, long fangs slathered in saliva, silver eyes gleamin’ like the devil’s own.”
The hair on Predit’s arms lifted. Devil eyes. He looked at Logan again, at his half silver eye. Silver. Not white, not pale, not cloudy, but silver as a spoon. And just before Predit had struck him with that bench, both eyes had been silver, gleaming silver. As much as he wanted to, he wasn’t sure he could convince himself it had been the lighting. The jail felt very small then, the bars between the men very flimsy. Predit slipped his hand in his waistcoat pocket, curling his fingers around his silver pocket watch.
“And then?” he said.
“It lunged, leapin’ ten feet, ten feet in an instant. I remember the wide-spread jaws, the moon eyes and a grey, translucent, human face rushin’ ahead o’ it. After that…I don’ know. I woke later to find a black-haired man lyin’ dead on the ground near me, dead from no cause I could figure. And me…I wasn’ the same.”
“You became the beast,” Predit said.
Logan blinked and looked up in surprise. “Yes. It’s the spirit that does it. When it’s angered, it takes over. I can’ stop it, can’ control it. I jus’ try to satisfy it other ways, keep it as tame as I can. I drink because it keeps it dormant, sluggish. But sometimes, it’s no’ enough. Sometimes I slip up for jus’ a moment, jus’ a second, and it’s there. Takin’ over.”
Predit ran a hand over his face, letting the information permeate properly. He shuffled through the details, laying them out next to his own experiences, seeing how they matched up. The result was frightening.
“One flaw in your story, MacBeastie. You looked plenty human when you attacked those people and when you attacked Giles Gibbs.”
Logan nodded. “Makes me look like a liar, I know, but be glad. It’s got to build itself up to take over that completely. I work very hard to keep it from doin’ so. Ev’ry slip brings it closer, but what used to take a month, now takes nearly five. And usually…usually I can keep myself from killin.’” Logan bowed his head, eyes closed, then covered his face with both hands. “Though not always. Sometimes…sometimes I’m jus’ a monster.”
Predit could only stare. Liar, liar, liar, liar, the rational part of his brain told him. And yet that same side kept coming back to everything he knew, how it all lined up, all fit. Impossible. It wasn’t possible. Fairy tales and ghost stories don’t exist, have no place in real life. Says the man who won’t walk through a cemetery at night, and throws salt over his shoulder if he spills it, he reminded himself bitterly. A strange sound escaped from Logan and after a moment Predit recognized what it was.
Logan Murdoch was crying.
Predit looked down at his hands. Now who’s the liar, Jonas Predit? He sighed softly, looking up at the ceiling again. Outside the gibbous moon made the snow dust sparkle like stars.
“You didn’t, you know,” Predit said finally.
Logan paused, collecting himself before uncovering his face and murmuring, “What?”
“Giles Gibbs. He’s not dead.”
The Scotsman’s head flew up. “But…”
Predit shrugged and stood up. “Guess you didn’t hit him hard enough.” He walked over to the coatrack, unhanging his coat and pulling it on.
“I didn’…”
Predit glanced back at Logan Murdoch as he wrapped his scarf around his neck. “I’m fetching a bite of supper. Hungry for anything in particular?”
Logan stood up slowly. “I didn’ kill him?”
“Didn’t I already say that? Well, I’ll just bring anything back, shall I?”
Then Predit opened the door and stepped out into moonlit night. He pulled the door shut, glanced at the moon, then crossed himself and walked off toward the pub.