Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wish I Had An Angel

Sequel to I'm No Angel


“I wish I had an angel,” said Kara mournfully, breaking the silence that had enveloped the rooftop.

Next to her Carus let out a snort. Then he hissed, “Angels don't exist. You should know that by now. The gods the priests are always raving about don't actually exist and there are no miracles.”

Her eyes flicked towards his back and he added in an irritated tone, “I'm not an angel.”

Kara, no longer the skinny girl of thirteen he'd dragged out of a burning building years before, frowned and brushed her auburn hair out of her eyes. She sucked in a breath noisily then let it out in an annoyed huff of air. Carus' eyes darted towards her then, watching the sudden rise and fall of her ample chest with all the pleasure of a male. He didn't make any sort of attempt to hide that he was watching either and her scowl told him that she knew it.

Yet for some reason she continued to hunt him down when he was on the streets. Now that he could not understand but his 'brother' Cal had always told him to never try and understand women.

“Then why do you have wings?” demanded Kara snappishly.

Carus shrugged in response, his gaze already moving away from her to regard the streets below their perch atop the Fighter's Guild.

“Cosmic joke,” he answered airily.

She glared and he added, “How should I know?”

“You should!”

“Why?” asked Carus, not even bothering to look at her.

Kara's frowned deepened as she replied, “Because they're attached to you and you should be at least a little curious as to just why they are?”

“Couldn't care less about the why,” he drawled lazily in response to that. “I know that they're there and I know how to use them. What more than that do I need to know?”

She stared at him for a long moment then huffed angrily, crossing her arms as she pouted her lips. The position of her arms did interesting things to her breasts and he turned to leer until she snapped, “Stop it!”

“Why?” asked Carus, arching an eyebrow. He mostly did what he did to annoy her so much she would leave him alone. “You're a good looking woman with all of the bits in just the right places. And I'm a man...shouldn't I have the right to leer?”

“No,” she spat in response, glaring fiercely. She wrapped her arms around herself, covering the view, and sniffed, “It's embarrassing. And besides, only a man should only leer at his wife.”

He just snorted at that. “There are girls down there who would kill to have a man take notice of them like that. Even if they aren't their husband.”

“Well, I'm not one of them, okay, and I don't want you doing it, Carus. So stop it. Please.”

There was a shrill, terrified sound to her voice and the spattered remnants of his conscience – the very thing that had made him save her in the first place – caused him to nod. “Fine,” Carus grumbled. “Ruin all of my fun why don't you?”

She sniffed again and he scowled at her, annoyed to find a few tears on her cheeks. If he had been anyone else, he might have moved over and wrapped a comforting arm around her. But he was himself and he wasn't a damn nice guy. Hell, he wasn't even remotely close to being one of those.

Unless that stupid, no-account conscience of his got in the way and made him save people.

Sighing, Carus growled, “Oh, dry your tears, lil'bit. We've still got a job to do, y'know, unless you're backing out on me.”

Kara sniffed again then dragged a corner of her sleeve across her nose, wiping the tears from her eyes a moment later. Then she smiled at him because of the nickname – which he insisted was short for 'little bitch' but even if it was, she knew he honestly liked having her around – and murmured, “Okay.”

“Good. There's our target now.”

“Where?” she asked, peering over the crowd. He felt a little bit of pride in his chest as she switched almost instantly to business.

Heh, she might just turn into a decent thief if she kept this up.

“Heading towards the Witch Hall,” he answered. “You see him? Scarlet cloak.”

After a moment Kara nodded and asked, “You want me to play the helpless maiden again?”

Carus turned his head towards her and leered pointedly.

Her expression hardened and he tried to ignore the pain in her eyes as she growled, “The prostitute then.”

“Noble blood like that's got his vices, lil'bit. And the street women are usually the biggest his kind have.”

Kara looked at him for a long moment then nodded before getting to her feet, carefully starting the climb down the vine covered side of the Fighter's Guild. He watched her from above, smirking  once she reached the floor of the alleyway and began to adjust her appearance. All it took really was the plastering of a knowing little smirk on her face, a come-hither shift in her walk, and loosing the ties on her shirt to show off the curves of her breasts. And then she as off and moving and Carus felt his chest tighten a little.

“She's just another woman,” he growled to himself. “Don't get too attached.”

He knew already though that he was too attached.

Squashing the unease of that moment, he rose and opened his wings to give him the needed lift to leap across the alleyway to the next building. Carus continued bounding across roofs and raced across the wide main street of the town over a rope until he caught up with Kara and their mark. From the roof of the library situated next to the Witch Hall, he could see down into the alley she had led him into.

Their plan was the usual: she would convince the noble with a few coy looks and batting of her eyelashes and he would follow when she got the fool to follow her back 'home'. That was when he would strike, slipping his fingers easily into the noble's pockets with a little of a distracting tug, and she would disappear when the noble turned to look.

That was the usual plan anyway.

When he heard Kara's voice exclaim, “No!” and heard the thump of a body hitting a wall, Carus knew something had gone wrong. Looking down into the alley, his sharp eyes speared through the shadows below to see her being held roughly against the wall. And the noble was fumbling roughly at his waist, already breathing hard in a way he knew all too well.

The fool was that sort.

That knowledge crept like fire through Carus' mind and then Kara tried to scream, her cry muffled by one large hand and a snarl. But the terror in even that half-silence cry reached his ears and called out to something deep within him that demanded he respond.

Before he knew it then, he was spreading his wings and fell into the alley. Wings spread as wide as he could to capture as much air, feathers angled to direct his fall, Carus pulled his legs up and a snarl twisted his features unknowingly. He came down hard on the noble's shoulders, bare feet and toes digging in to his fine clothes, and as his arm came in contact with the surface of a wall, he shoved the man away. The noble hit the other side of the alley with an undignified thump then immediately tried to stumble back upright, fumbling over his open trousers.

Carus didn't allow him that movement.

He hit the ground next to Kara then spun instantly, meeting the noble as he came up. One leg swung around in a swift, brutal kick to the side of the knee that crunched bone and cartilage. The noble collapsed, screaming in pain, and he swept downward with an open-palmed strike towards the man's face. Cartilage snapped under the force of his blow and the screaming instantly took on a watery sound as blood spattered them both. Another kick to the side of his head made the noble lose consciousness and Carus bent over him, rummaging through his clothes with the swift efficiency of his occupation.

When he came up with a heavy pouch of coin and the expensive ruby medallion he took from the noble's neck, Carus turned at a shout from the street and grabbed Kara's arm. Dragging her with him down the alleyway, he ducked into an alcove as the first guard stepped in, pressing his back against the wall and spreading his wings around them. The darkness of the alcove and the black of his feathers would hide them well enough if the guards chose to search the alley.

Kara shuddered in his arms where she had collapsed against his chest and he had to admit he was impressed that she managed to keep quiet.

When the guard began to yell out for healers, he folded his wings and stuffed coin and medallion into a pouch on his belt. Then he grabbed Kara's face, forcing her to look up at him, and hissed, “Cry, girl.”

She stared at him, tears filling her eyes, and he knew that the first sob was right behind her lips. But, to his surprise, she gathered some inner strength and shook her head, refusing. Carus frowned then nodded, drawing her shaking body back against his chest with one hand cupping the back of her neck.

Even he wasn't heartless enough to push away a girl who'd nearly been raped.

“...I have...”

“What?” he asked, not having heard the rest of her sudden mumbling.

Kara looked up at that, a smile decorating her tear-streaked face. “I do have an angel,” she whispered. “Even if you're not a very good one.”

Carus blinked then snorted, pushing her away from him then since she seemed fine now. “Whatever you say, lil'bit.”

“Thank you, Carus.”

Some part of him preened at the thanks but he just growled and stalked away, knowing she would follow him. And another part knew that what had just happened had suddenly changed everything because in that moment he had leapt to her rescue, the thought of someone hurting his woman and that they needed to pay in blood for that transgression had flickered through his mind.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Art of Moving a House

Her house was moving.

Anne watched it go from the back of her parents wagon, entranced by the magic of the moment. It didn't seem like it should be possible for a house to move with only the aid of men and logs but it was. They were doing just that right before her eyes.

It was a little sad too watching it go. The land had been theirs since before she had been born, when her father and grandmother had moved down from New York. Their family had come over when an Gorta Mór had crippled Ireland and her father had been fifteen, thrust across the ocean with his little sister. Her aunt had died on the passage but her father had - obviously - survived and went on to wait until his mother was sent over.

His father, her grandfather, and the rest of their family had died before they could make the passage across the North Atlantic. So it had been her father alone, seventeen by the time they had reached Mississippi, who had secured the land, built the house, and taken care of their family at the time.

Now Anne was seven years old and watching the house that had been built on that land over a decade-and-a-half before move like a bug scuttling away. Turning around, she looked over at her mother seated at the front of the wagon with the reins for their horse held loosely in one hand.


Her mother blinked, dragging her attention away from the dark-haired Irishman who was putting his all into moving their home. She smiled at their daughter and asked, "What is it, Anne?"

Anne smiled and stood up, climbing over the belongings in the wagon to the front where she threw her arms around her mother's waist. Warm arms enfolded her and as a kiss pressed onto the top of her head, she asked, "What's going to happen to Granma? She's going to be all alone when we leave."

Her mother let out a sigh and brushed back her hair, causing Anne to tilt her head back to look up at her. "Now," said her mother kindly, "your Granma will be just fine. You remember how she used to yell at Mr. Samuels dog."

"Y'mean old soith!" barked Anne, freeing one arm from her mother's waist to shake a finger at an invisible dog. "Y'leave my granchil' alone!"

"Now don't you use that word," hissed her mother, though she was smiling slightly as she said it. "So, you see? Your Granma will take care of herself fine. She'd want us to look after ourselves before her now, wouldn't she?"

Anne nodded solemnly then looked over her shoulder. Her eyes widened as she realized she could only see the top of their house and cried, "Mama, the house is getting away!"

With a bright burst of laughter, her mother hugged her tightly then, saying, "Well, we can't have that, can we?" Swinging her up next to her on the wooden seat, she picked up the reins and snapped them sharply across the horse's back. "C'mon now, Jack! We've got a house to catch!"

The big chestnut horse snorted then started to move and Anne clapped her hands together as her mother swung the wagon around. Leaning against her side, she couldn't help but feel the magic of the moment again as she watched the slowly trundling along house come looming up close again as they chased after it.

Climbing the Tower

It was so stupid to climb the tower.

Halfway up the ladder with the ground so far away and only morning dew-slick metal between her and it wasn't the best place to have that epiphany either.

Why am I doing this again? thought Leigh even as she reached for another rung above her.

It wasn't for a dare.

It was just...


...she just wanted to reach the top. To see the world stretch out beneath her by the light of the full moon, to feel like she could reach out and touch the tops of the nearby trees.

She wanted to just reach it and feel that just once.

Absently Leigh wondered if her sisters and brother were still asleep back at their aunt and uncle's house, all curled up in the same big bed that she had crawled out of an hour before. The warmth and all too familiar sense of family that she had left to walk barefoot out into the cold to this tower.

Just so she could climb it and feel just this once.

It was crazy. She was crazy.

But she wasn't about to let that stop her.

She was going to reach the top of this tower come Hell or high water.

Leigh smiled and looked above her, seeing that she was closer now. Then she focused on her climbing again, ever so careful to make sure her hands and bare feet were secure before she moved on to the next rung of the ladder, determined to make it to the top. And then, ever so suddenly, she was there.

Pulling herself up, she laid across the top platform of the tower for a long time, shivering in a mix of terror, joy, and anticipation. When her frantic breathing finally evened out, she carefully pushed herself to her knees and looked around.

The velvet dark sky pin-pricked with pinwheels of bright stars loomed above Leigh and she felt like she could stretch out her arm, touch out of those brilliant lights, and drag it down to earth. Her mouth stretched into a grin at the sensation, even though she knew she couldn't pull down a star, and she shakily stood up with the curved top of the ladder as a crutch so she could look around better.

On one side the trees were taller than her tower but on the other... In that direction everything went downhill and she could see the trees going on for what felt like miles, making little humps and vales as they went that were only just visible by moonlight. They were swaying too with the wind, filling the air with a rustling noise, and she imagined that they were dancing. Dancing just for her.

Leigh didn't know how long she stood there, watching the trees dance and listening to the crickets and nightbirds ponder about the girl up on the tower. When she did finally come back to herself, the pinwheels in the velvet darkness above her were starting to disappear, replaced by the yellow-gray light of dawn. She had been up on the tower for most of the night yet she felt more alive than ever.

It was crazy.

And now she had to go back to earth.

She sighed heavily and took one last look around before she knelt, slowly lowering herself onto the ladder. Going downward with the same care she had gone up with, Leigh made it safely to the ground and paused with one hand still on the dew-slick metal. Tilting her head back, she looked up at the top of the tower and closed her eyes, cementing that feeling of being able to do anything that had come to her up there inside. She wanted to keep it and never lose that feeling, not when she turned fourteen in a year nor in twenty or more.

The crowing of a rooster broke her out of her reverie and Leigh cursed before breaking away from the ladder. She took off in a sprint towards her aunt and uncle's, bare feet pounding across the ground and heart hammering in her chest because she knew both usually got up with the crack of dawn to tend their small farm.

Yet, somehow, she managed to make it back into the house before they woke.

With a smile still on her face and the feeling of possibility warming her, Leigh wriggled back into bed between her brother and older sisters. As she settled down, she felt her brother Robert shift and went stiff as he whispered, "You went to climb the tower, didn't you?"

Turning her head, she stared at him in shock, not knowing how he knew she'd gone since she had made sure they were all still asleep. Then she caught a look in his eyes and knew.

He had climbed the tower too.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I'm No Angel

“So, you're...”

Not an angel,” grumbled Carus, knowing from experience where she was going. Having wings doesn't make you an angel, he added silently to himself.



The girl, barely over thirteen years if he judged correctly and all long skinny limbs, pouted at his harsh tone and crossed her arms over her flat chest. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes then sighed, wondering just what the in all the hells he was doing. All he had meant to do was sneak into the building, take what he could sell, and then get back out without anyone being the wiser until morning.

That had been the plan, at least, until he had caught two others in the building- and obvious amateur thieves due to the fact that the had been using torches. Albeit he had an advantage over his fellows since he could see in low light but still.

Using a torch in a building built of wood was not only stupid but was just asking to be spotted by the guards.

In the end the idiot pair had apparently thought he had been a guard and that was why they had bolted, dropping their torch and setting fire to the entire building in the process. He had turned in the opposite direction, heading for the roof of the building with what little loot he had gotten, and that had been when he had found her. What shreds of his conscience were left had insisted on saving the sleeping girl he had managed to stumble over in his hurry because burning to death in a fire was one fate he didn't wish upon anyone.

Carus leaping from one of the windows with her in his arms and being forced to reveal his most hidden feature to reach the nearest roof had led them to their current conversation.

So what are you then?” she asked in a snippy tone, breaking through his thoughts.

With a shrug, he answered, “I don't know and I don't really care either.”

But,” the girl started again and Carus raised a hand, eyes narrowed angrily. He had been cheated of his expected loot for the night by those two idiots and he was displeased at himself. There were supposed to be no attachments in what he did, not when he or another of the real thieves he ran with could be picked up by guards at any time. That was what Ventin had taught him since he had come into the man's hands at seven years and he had lived by that code ever since.

Look, kid,” he growled out, even though he wasn't her elder by much, “just get out of here and go home. You know what home is, right?”

I'm not stupid!” she snapped in response, eyes flashing with a sudden fierce spirit. Then she pointed at the building that was starting to creak and groan as the flames consumed it and hissed, “And you just burnt my home down.”

Carus opened his mouth to protest that he wasn't that stupid but shrugged it off. Why in the hells did he care what she thought of him? Instead he asked, “You lived about a butcher's shop?”

The girl wrinkled her nose at his tone and corrected, “No, I lived above the butcher's shop. And where do you live that's so special?”

He smiled grimly at that and replied jokingly, “If I told you, I'd have to kill you,” though there was no indication in his tone that he was joking. After all, he had made it a habit to never give away exactly what he was feeling because it would give an advantage to one of his fellow thieves.

And if there was one thing Carus hated, it was someone to have one up on him.

She sniffed at that, a sound as equally imperious as any woman of noble birth could match. “That's so cliché. You sound like some villain from a kid's book.”

Don't care,” said Carus, not even bothering to point out that she was a kid. He rose from where he had been crouched on the rooftop as the building finally gave in to the forces wanting to pull it down, straightening the half-cloak that hung around his shoulders. As he noticed her gaze on him again, he deliberately dropped his hand to the hilt of one of the daggers at his belt and gave her his best glower. “Find somewhere else to stay.”

Bending over, he picked up the bag that held what little loot he'd been able to get and stalked to the edge of the roof. But he paused, almost involuntarily, when she called out, “So I guess that means you're not my guardian angel?”

There was a bitter, disappointed tone in her young voice that Carus recognized all too well but he couldn't bring himself to care. He had spent every waking moment he could remember disappointed and bitter so it didn't surprise him that anyone else felt the same. So, stepping onto the edge of the roof, he looked over his shoulder at her and gave her a bitter smile.

Sorry, kid,” said Carus as muscles along his back shifted, spreading his dark-feathered wings wide. “But, like I said, I'm no angel.”

With that he launched himself off of the roof without a thought to how she'd get down, pushing her aside for thoughts of the drab room he called home and figuring out how much gold his little bit of loot would earn him.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lesson Four Comes Before Lesson One (Sometimes)

Old world rock music roared through the hangar, cranked up even louder than it usually was due to the alarm that was blaring. Shouting voices and the sound of huge machines rumbling to life filled in the gaps in the music between the heavy thump of drums, the wail of a guitar, and the wild screaming words of the singer. Cavan Redirk bolted through the panic with his helmet under his arm, tugging the thin vest he wore closed over his bare chest and shorts a little self-consciously. He ducked under a gesturing mechanic's arm then bobbed and weaved his way between the legs of the metal titans that were already moving out of the hangar or still standing in wait for their pilots.

Nearing the back of the hangar, he found not only the towering bulk of his own Mech but also the source of the music. Tilting his head back, Cavan frowned upwards at the humanoid-shaped titan and the two mechanics that crawled over its black painted skin like ants.

"Hey!" he shouted upwards, getting the attention of the pair. As two sets of eyes looked down at him, he snapped, "Get down, I've got to go!"

The mechanic perched high in the cockpit said something that couldn't be heard over the music. With a grimace, he then disappeared inside and the volume lowered before he popped back into view.

"You gotta talk to Lyri about that, Cav," he called down, pointing at the scowling woman who was clinging to the side of the Mech. Cavan turned his head towards where she was perched, suspended by straps clipped to hooks in the armor above her, and frowned pointedly.

He should have known better though.

Illyri Varik had been assigned as his main mechanic six years ago when he had joined up with the Black Dogs Company. He had been sixteen and stupid back then, thinking he was the best pilot who had ever been in a Mech cockpit, and he had not fully appreciated being saddled with a thirteen year-old girl despite the fact that she had been raised amongst the Dogs since birth and was a certified genius with just about any tech.

To say they didn't have a good working relationship was putting it lightly.

Cavan knew what was coming the instant he looked up at her. Illyri's eyes were hidden behind the fringe of her blue-dyed hair but he knew from experience that they were glaring at him with a fury that could strip paint. She looked at him for a moment before she stood up, almost completely horizontal from the floor, and gestured at him with the heavy wrench she held in her left hand.

"You," she intoned imperiously, "are not going anywhere. This leg is still twitching funny when she walks and it might foul up entirely if you get her to a run. The right arm is still missing armor that needs replacing as well a replacement elbow joint because of its freeze ups. And your coolant system is working so wonkily that if you go out now you'd be forced to use one of the old vests from storage to keep the heat from making your blood boil and, trust me, you don't want to have to do that." Illyri paused then finished, "So stuff it and go play cards or something."

He blinked, jaw working furiously as he searched for words, then looked up at the cockpit. His other mechanic was Lyri's assistant and protege: a genius like her at sixteen years but who jumped at every loud noise. "Marik!" he barked and the teenager yelped, cautiously poking his head out from where he had disappeared inside again.


"What's your opinion?"

Marik Aerani grimaced and looked down at Illyri, who kept her gaze on Cavan without ever seeming to notice the focus of her protege. Then the teenager squeaked out, "I agree with her," before he vanished back into the cockpit with a heavy thump. A moment later the music cranked up to the volume of before, making the pilot sigh heavily.

"So," said Lyri loudly a moment later, "you gonna get the hell out of here or do you actually want to learn some shit today?"

Cavan frowned up at her then blinked in surprise as he realized what she had just offered it. It was almost the beginning of a truce. He could shove her off and be the same idiot of sixteen he'd been when they had met - or he could grow up, act his twenty-two years, and be an adult to her just like he was to his fellow pilots.

With a sudden smile, he sat down his helmet on top of a nearby crate then looked up at her again.

"What do you want me to do?"

Her mouth opened in an 'O' of surprise that told him she'd expected to be greeted with the same idiot she'd dealt with for six years. Then Lyri regained her composure and said, "There's another harness down there and straps so put that on. Then grab the welding mask on the cart below me and the blowtorch, we're going to need it."

Nodding, Cavan found the items she was talking about and slowly began making his way up the leg of his Mech to where she stood on its thigh. She took the mask and blowtorch from him then pointed out hooks above them to latch the straps on the harness on. Following her instructions he ended up hanging next to her from the side of his Mech, managing a careful crouch by wedging one combat boot between two peices of armor.

Lyri handed him the welding mask back and said, "Alright then, hotshot, here's lesson four of taking care of this baby."

"Shouldn't we start at lesson one?" asked Cavan.

"I don't do things in order," she answered with a wry smile that he noticed lit up her gray eyes. "So, snap that mask down and I'm going to teach you how to patch armor. If you don't know how to fix a hole in your Mech's side when I'm not around, you're not going to have one for long."

Cavan grinned before he dropped the mask over his face and watched as she pulled a pair of goggles hidden in her hair down over her eyes. He paid careful attention to her as she explained how to work the blowtorch and make sure the patch sealed up all the way. And when she let him finish working on the hole in his Mech's thigh on his own, he felt a sense of pride in his chest that he'd never had before.

Was this what she felt like when she worked?

Hell, he hadn't felt this good since he had downed his first enemy Mech. And that feeling hadn't lasted long after he realized there had been another pilot, another human being, in there when its reactor core had exploded from a breach.

"So," said Cavan as the finished and he pushed the mask up to look sideways at her, "was this some kind of test?"

Lyri grinned at him then shoved her goggles up onto her forehead, sending her dyed hair in all directions. "You could say that, hotshot," she answered.

"Did I pass?"

"I'll give you a 'C' for a first attempt." She jerked her head towards the door that led to the Dogs barracks and added, "Better effort than some of those other jerks."

Cavan smiled and asked, "So I can improve?"

Lyri laughed at that before replying, "We'll see, hotshot. First we're gonna go back to lesson one."

"Okay, what's lesson one?"

"Learning how to work your computer more than just knowing how to read loadouts. Marik!"

"Yeah, boss?" came the querelous cry from above them.

"Shut down the system and go take a break," called up Lyri. "You need to study those manuals I gave you anyway."

"Okay. Shutting down."

The music turned off, followed a moment later by the clicking of the reactor cooling off, and Cavan heard Marik climing down the other side of his Mech. Lyri then grinned at him and started upward, unhooking the straps on her harness as she passed them.

"C'mon, hotshot, I'm going to teach you a thing or two," she called down to him.

Cavan blinked then started up after her, juggling blowtorch and mask as he tried not to stare at her ass.

"And stop ogling my ass!"

"Yes, ma'am," he answered hastily as he continued climbing, grateful she hadn't just dropped her wrench on his head. Then, as he settled into the cockpit next to her, listening as she began to instruct him in the things he should know about his Mech, he realized that this could very well be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)

The sound of a motorbike roaring to life outside of the bar covered the noise of the switchblade being loosed and the angry growl of its wielder. Devin grinned across the pool table at the man, ignoring the worried the look of his sister from across the bar, and said, "Hey, mate, it was just a game."

"I'm not your mate, nancy boy," growled the man, who looked like one of the trolls right out of an old illustrated version of The Hobbit that Devin'd had as a kid. Well, except for the fact that he didn't have so many boils or yellow-green skin. So he dubbed him 'Troll' since he hadn't been given anything but a heavy grunt when he had come into the game.

He and his pal, who could be dubbed 'Ghost' with how wraith-thin he was, had been cheating his mate Paul so he had felt obliged to step in. Was it his fault that he and Paul had jolly well wiped the floor with them?

Apparently Troll and Ghost thought so.

Devin smiled and laid his hand on the edge of the table, fingers curling around his pool cue where it rested against the edge. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Paul's hand slowly reaching into his pocket for something then he focused on the pair across from them again. This could get messy.

"C'mon, chaps," he said in an easy voice, "there's no need to get violent."

"We had a deal with him," snarled Ghost, his accent betraying him as American as he thrust his chin at Paul. He was holding his arms in a funny way, Devin noticed, elbows bent and far from his body with his hands hovering near his hips. Classic Western gunslinger pose, he realized a moment later. "And now you're both trying to screw us?"

"Can't bugger us over that easy," growled the Troll. His mouth stretched in a cruel smile that looked too big for even his overlarge face and Devin cast a glance towards Paul first then at his sister. She gave him a nod then vanished with a flip of her dark hair, disappearing into the crowd an instant later. "We want the money he promised us."

Rolling his eyes, Devin turned his head to look at Paul and grumbled, "You just had to have a flutter."

Paul shrugged in a way that said 'What can I say?' then opened his mouth. "I can't resist a bet."

"Why am I your mate again?" wondered Devin.

"'Cause I'm a jolly wanker?"

"That's not it."

"Shut up!" shouted Troll as he brought up the switchblade and Devin whipped up the the pool cue without warning, his joking demeanor fading in seconds into a hard-eyed look that would have fit more on a soldier than his still slightly boyish features. He spun it around and thrust it across the table, the wood sliding easily through his hands until he caught it at the tip. The heavy end of the cue hit Troll hard in the nose with the snapping sound of cartilage and blood showered him as well as the pool table.

Troll roared in pain and Ghost snarled, coming around the table with his arms still held in that funny fashion. Devin swung the pool cue around so the same end hit him in the side of the head and Ghost went stumbling away from the blow.

"Leg it!" shouted Paul and they both took off through the crowd in the same direction Devin's sister had gone. As they pounded through the back of the bar, Paul pulled a pair of brass knuckles out of his pocket and slipped them on, before grinning at him. "So, can I have the big one?"

"You're bleeding mad," said Devin matter-of-factly before he kicked open the back door and they entered the alley.

"Oh let him have it before he throws a wobbly," remarked his sister as she hefted a sack in one hand and a book in the other. She grinned at Paul then asked, "So they're coming?"

"Should be raging right behind us," Paul answered with a goofy grin, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "Your ole' brother here gave the brute a bloody nose."

Sarah rolled her eyes at that then hopped up onto a trash bin, crossing her stocking-clad coltish legs and opened the book over her knee. Holding out the sack to Devin, she said, "Salt for you." When he curled his lip, she added, "The last time we had to deal with one of these in a back alley, you told me to leave the shotgun in the trunk after we nearly got arrested."

He rolled his eyes at that but took the sack, opening it up and reaching inside as he heard the sounds of crashing and angry snarling from the back corridor of the bar. Glancing over at Paul, Devin asked, "Ready?"

"As ever!" came the chirpy reply and he sighed before the door slammed open hard enough to snap off its hinges. Troll barreled out first, looking larger than he had in the bar and his skin considerably more like those trolls from the picture book, and he dove for Devin with a feral grin, eyes gleaming red. Paul, however, slid into his path with a wild smile and threw a left hook that caught him in the jaw. There was a cartoonish pause in the moment then Troll got tossed like a rag doll across the alley and Paul went bounding after him like a cat playing with a mouse.

Ghost entered the alley as Troll got blown off of his feet and stopped in shock before he turned back to Devin with a snarl, his face turned even more skeletal than it had been inside. His hands tensed in the air then he yelped as Sarah sang out something in Latin and Devin tossed the contents of the sack at him, covering him with a rain of salt. Instantly Ghost screamed in agony and his appearance guttered, briefly appearing as an Old West style cowboy complete with a pair of pistols on his hips.

"Ego incidere vestri bindings ut is terra," Sarah began reading, causing Ghost to scream again - this time in anger. "Everto totus ties vos had hic."

"NO!" shouted Ghost as he twisted, the grains of salt covering him starting to spark with ethereal light. "You can't do this!"

"Sorry, old chap," said Devin as he fished for the packet of fags in his pocket and lit one. As he tossed the used match away and blew out a cloud of smoke, he finished, "but we just did."

"Quod transporto vos in ut vestri sileo," finished Sarah as she closed the book and bowed her head. The silver cross hanging around her throat glowed and Ghost shrieked one last time before he disappeared in a burst of light that made Devin lift his hand to shield his eyes. When he lowered it, the alley directly in front of them was empty.

"Good job, sis," he said, turning to punch her lightly on the knee. "Score another soul sent to where it's supposed to be."

She hummed in response then narrowed her kohl outlined eyes down the alley before asking, "Shouldn't you go help Paul?"

Devin rolled his eyes at that and grumbled, "Well he's bloody going to bitch later but if you insist, little sister."

"I'd like my boyfriend alive, you dim arsehole."

"Oh fine then. Hold my fag...and don't smoke it! It's bad for you."

Sarah took it with a glare, holding it delicately between two fingers and giving him a look that said clearly she would rather die than pick up his nasty habit. Grinning wryly at her, Devin shrugged off his shirt and tossed it at her before he toed off his sneakers and took off down the alley, his form shifting with a thought. Wild hunting energy he usually kept tamed filled him and he tugged it down under a swift leash before he leapt, landing on Troll's broad back that was now too large for his shirt and a sickly yellow-green color.

"Oi!" he heard Paul yell angrily from underneath Troll's crouched bulk but Devin ignored it. He leaned down and swept his claws across the brute's throat in one swift motion accompanied by a snarl of satisfaction that he couldn't quell. Paul's angry voice spewing curses in about three different languages swiftly changed to one of disgust a moment later as pale green blood spilled over him from Troll's throat. With a grin, Devin jumped down from Troll's back, giving his slowly going limp body just enough of a shove with his feet to let it fall to the side.

As he landed and helped a glaring Paul up, Sarah came up to them with his shirt and shoes in the hand not holding his almost burned out fag. Devin took them with a grin as he let the change fade away, brushing stray traces of fur that always lingered off of his chest. As he tugged his shirt over his head, his sister moaned, "You just had to kill the troll while he was under it, didn't you?"

"Well, he should have killed it bloody quicker," noted Devin as he pulled on his shoes and brushed the spent end off of the fag. Taking a long drag of it, he blew the smoke out over their heads and added, "Though I am sorry, Paul."

Paul glared at him at that, vainly trying to brush pale troll's blood off of his shirt, then sighed and shoved his enchanted brass knuckles in his pocket. "You're lucky I like you, arsehole," he growled, pointing a finger, "else I'd turn you into a puppy."

"Still be a wolf," answered Devin with a smile that somehow made his teeth look like fangs. He then frowned and grumbled, "Bugger."

"What?" asked Sarah as Paul hissed, "Don't you say you regret the fight. Saturday night's perfectly alright for fighting."

Devin shook his head at that and looked mournfully back at the bar as they moved to leave the alley, heading for home.

"I never got my beer that I came here for in the first place," he answered sadly, making his sister and best friend laugh.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I Will Not Bow

"I will not bow to the likes of you, shukar!"

Alendan lifted his head at the shout from eavesdropping on the whispers of the two merchants behind him who were discussing some sort of backroom deal. He had been planning on listening to all of their plans since they were plotting a trade of a good sum of the realm's coin for a case full of bottles of a powerful healing potion - illegal to sell in the realm what with the laws against the magic that enhanced it. Stealing both separately from each of them would have ended with a comfortable amount of coin in his pockets and enough potion to help those suffering in squalor in the tunnels under the city.

That shout distracted him though, drawing his attention away with its all too foreign flavoring that they got so little of in the realm with the King's hatred of foreigners. Anywhere else in the realm he might not have noticed it but he was in the King's very own audience hall. In the middle of the capital city of Karnath within the forbidding bulk of the Black Keep whose walls bristled with too many severed heads of the realm's 'enemies,' such a voice was all too easy to hear.

Pushing his way slowly through the mass of people between him and the open area before the King's throne, Alendan's eyes widened at the spectacle once he slipped into an empty space on the edge. There were three figures upon the stones before the throne, two standing and one kneeling. The two standing were tall, broad in the shoulders and chest, and heavy in bearing like their King with the brutish features and red hair that seemed to dominate the people of the central provinces. They were even a good arm-length taller than himself and he was from as far south as one could go in the realm, from the coast where the people grew tall with limbs that seemed too long for their bodies, sun-dark skin, pale hair, and sharp features.

It was not really them that caught his attention though. Their absurd heights had merely distracted him from the real subject of his focus.

Kneeling on the stones before the hulking pair with a heavy iron collar clamped around her throat linked to two thick chains that they each held one of, was a Beastling. She was of the feline type of their race that occupied the lands farthest from the eastern borders of the realm beyond the canine and reptile sort that fought for control over the area between the two regions. And, so far as he knew of her race, she was a superb example of her people, who had been described as incredibly noble and intelligent but fierce by his grandfather from a once-upon-a-time meeting with a group of them.

Despite the collar weighing upon her throat and the sorry state of clothes that had obviously once been regally made, she held herself with the bearing of a queen. Back straight, shoulders back, chin high, she stared at the King with jewel blue eyes that gleamed with fierce intelligence and disgust out of her distinctly feline but still slightly humanoid features. Her mouth, though encased in a considerably feline muzzle, was twisted into a recognizable sneer that showed off a hint of impressive fangs with whiskers twitching beneath a dark nose in irritation.

"You will bow," growled the King as he leaned forward, "or you will die like the house pet you so resemble."

Pointed ears laid back against a mane of russet colored hair streaked with ebony stripes matching the fur that covered her skin at those words and Alendan's thief-trained eyes could see the slight change in her posture. She went from indignant queen to insulted warrior in an instant with the slightest squaring of her shoulders and the quick snap-flick of her tail against the stones of the floor. There was a tremor along her lip - the subtle beginning of a snarl - but it swiftly disappeared an instant later, the motion stillborn.

"I am the daughter of the Pride-Lords of Azdulath," she declared in a strong voice that rang with the power of command, "and I bow to no man. You and your ilk cannot break me, not even with the threat of death."

There was a gasp from the crowd and Alendan's eyes flew to the King, who looked like he was about to go into an apoplectic rage from how close the coloration of his face was to matching his hair. He lunged forward then, looking almost about to leap from his throne, and spittle flew from his lips as he snarled, "You can have the death you seem to so desire then! Guards! Take this...foreign filth...from my presence and kill her as you see fit. And place her head on the eastern wall when you are finished."

Now a snarl did curl her ebony-streaked lips and his stomach cramped, twisting itself into knots at the thought of her death. His grandfather's words rang through his skull as the two brutes moved to haul her to her feet and then, before he was quite aware of what he was doing, Alendan was striding forward.

"My Lord!"

The attention of the entire audience hall was on him in seconds but it did not make him falter; he could not afford such a thing, not with the double-life he led here in Karnath. Ignoring them, he moved to stand merely an arms-length from the female Beastling, who was watching him with an interested gaze, and bowed deeply. He glanced up to see the King twitch his hand in a 'move along' gesture and straightened, smoothing down the front of his tunic before he spoke again.

"My Lord, I beg you to revoke your ruling and place this Beastling into my hands. I assure you that I can have her bowing at your feet in a mere seven-day and her foreign sentiments trained from her mind in three times that."

Alendan watched the King's eyebrow twitch in obvious irritation before he growled out, "And why should I revoke my ruling to allow this beast to broken, Sir..."

"Alaric Vraistrin, my Lord," he answered with another bow, supplying the name he went by in his guise of merchant and some-time slave trader. "Any man who has bought a slave of mine will attest that they are the most loyal and obedient of any others on the market." Which was true but that was because they were willing students from beneath the city whom he taught how to act and hide their true selves before they became his eyes and ears amongst the rich upper caste. "And imagine, My Lord, how it would look to have a Beastling such as she at your beck-and-call, eating from the palm of your very hand before the Lords of the West and the Northern King?"

In that instant there was a flicker of change about his face and Alendan knew that he had the King with that idea. Glancing out of the corner of his eye at the Beastling, he found her still watching him, her blue eyes narrowed and suspicious. Her ears, however, were no longer laid flat against her mane and her tail was still so he took her attention as a good sign.

The King lifted a hand and his gaze snapped away from her to the man on the throne. "Very well," rumbled the ruler of the realm. "But I expect to see these..results...of yours in a seven-day, Sir Vraistrin. Elsewise your head will be under the axe next to hers."

"Of course, my Lord," intoned Alendan with a sweeping bow. He then turned and took a step closer to the Beastling, inclining his head slightly to her and tilting it to the side to expose his throat. Anyone watching would simply think he was studying her but he knew by the widening of her eyes that she recognized her people's gesture of respect. The two brutes glared at him but he was not cowed and extended a hand calmly for both of the chains they held.

As they reluctantly turned them over, she tensed but stilled when he reached down and held out his hand. Jewel blue eyes studied it for a moment then she whispered, "You know my people," her eyes watching his face as she waited for his answer.

"My grandfather met them briefly," he answered just as quietly. Alendan then added, "Save your breath, my Lady, we are not out of the woods yet." She nodded at that, looking a little surprised at what he called her, then lifted her arm to grip his hand with her own paw-like one. With a smile, he gracefully drew her up from the floor, turned his head to nod deeply to the now scowling King, and then beat a hasty retreat from the audience hall with the Beastling's paw-hand clutched in his left hand and the end of the chains to her collar in his right.

Once they were out of the hall and in the side streets that he steered them into, she sniffed and said with a sneering curl of her striped lip, "I will not bow to you either. And you are a fool if you think you can break me."

Alendan chuckled at that and smiled. "I know better, my Lady. Our King here is hateful of all things foreign so he knows nothing of your kind and thinks that he can break you with mere words like he can do much of the realm."

"He is a fool," she intoned with a regal sniff that made her whiskers twitch wildly. As he nodded in agreement, she flicked an ear back twice then asked, "So what do you intend to do with me if not what your shukar King wishes?"

"The same thing I have always done with the wishes of fools," answered Alendan with a feral sort of smile. "Twist them around and utterly destroy them. With your help, of course."

The Beastling stared at him for a moment, her nose twitching, then she made a rich, deep rumbling noise in her throat that he took to be the equivalent of a chuckle. Her thick, furred fingers tightened against his, pads rasping against his skin, and she purred, "If it will destroy your fool King, then I will agree to it. You may call me Sharin; it is the least of my names I will trust you with."

"I'm Alendan," he said, tilting his head in the same gesture from earlier, exposing his throat partially. "And I hope in time you can come to trust me with more than that, Sharin. Believe me, I only want to help you get out of this twisted realm."

Sharin's lips quirked into a smile at that. "We shall see what truth you speak, Alendan."

"So we shall," agreed Alendan as he began to lead her in the direction of his home, wondering if he had gone mad. This was likely the craziest thing he had ever done in his twenty-and-six seasons and it felt like, this time, he was really on a path leading to nowhere. Just like his father had always told him his wild schemes to change the realm always were.

By the gods though, even if he really was lost, he wasn't about to give in now.