Monthly Archives: April 2013

Random Writing Prompt 9: Hela

The website io9.com posts a piece of concept art every Saturday challenging its viewers to write a piece of flash fiction based on that art. Stories must be less than eight hundred words. As of the time of this blog posting, there are something like sixty-five images online. There may be more and I failed to uncover them by searching for the wrong terms, but eh. I think sixty-five’s a plenty big pool to draw from. I’ve assigned each a number, with the newest being 65 and the oldest being 1. I then generated a random number within that range and written a piece of flash fiction inspired by that piece of art. Exciting, no?

This piece is entitled “Hela,” inspired by The Six Million Dollar Cow by Anthony Wolff. I don’t own this image, I claim no rights to this image, and should Anthony Wolff stumble across this post and demand that the image be removed, I will gladly do so. Also, you should go check out his deviantART at: http://jouey-.deviantart.com/.

Anyway, let’s begin! Continue reading

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All Debts Forgiven

One minute late. Damn.

“Do you understand what we’re about now, Franklin?” Mr. Gould said in between draws of his cigar. His face was completely neutral, emotionless and motionless except for the muscles required to inhale and exhale smoke. It was a Cuban, Frank saw. He recognized the brand from when he and his friends had taken a trip to Mexico back in college, had laughed and splurged and drank to excess and smoked expensive cigars while clumsily hitting on beautiful women. “Do you understand just how very serious the situation is?”

“I think he gets it,” Mr. Sack said. He smiled warm and friendly, as if he and Frank were old friends. As if these two men hadn’t just sat down on either side of Frank as he sat at the bar and wondered how his life had come to this. When the bartender asked Mr. Gould what the Hell he was thinking smoking inside, a single glare from the man had etched a look of nervous fear onto the bartender’s face. In the same instant, Mr. Sack asked for a double of the most expensive scotch they had.

Mr. Sack slapped Frank across his back and grinned all the wider. “You get it, right? You’re a smart guy, right Frankie?”

Frank looked at the man uncertainly. “I… I…” He trailed off, and his gaze slipped back down until he was once more considering the pint of beer before him, just as he had been when these two men had first approached him.

Mr. Sack let on a long, exaggerated sigh. “Alright, maybe he doesn’t get it. Maybe he’s not that smart.”

“Shocking.”

“Oh, leave him alone. He’ll catch on. They always do.”

“I walked into the office today, and Sandra didn’t even recognize me,” Frank said into his beer. “’Excuse me, sir. Can I help you?’ she said. ‘Uh, Sandra, it’s me. I work here. I’m your boss,’ I say, and this look of fear crosses her face, like I’m a crazy person.” Frank paused and looked down at himself, ran one hand along the sleeve of his jacket to feel the soft, smooth weave of the wool. “I’m wearing a suit,” he said. “Merino. How can I be crazy?”

“Well, you walked into the office of a company you don’t work at, tried to convince the secretary of the VP of Marketing that you were her boss, and then had to be escorted out by security when you wouldn’t leave,” Mr. Sack said. He was smiling. He was always smiling. “That sounds pretty crazy.”

“To be fair, Franklin, you had to know this day was coming. It was all outlined in the contract, you know.”

Frank turned to Mr. Gould, confusion and fear twisting his face into something sad and pained. His eyes felt wet, his jaw weak, and he struggled not to cry in front of these two strangers. “What contract? What are you talking about? I don’t even know you!”

Mr. Sack sighed. “They never remember the contract.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Mr. Gould said, ignoring his companion. “We know you, Franklin. We know all about you. We know the hospital you were born in, we know the schools you went to, the businesses you worked for.”

“Your first kiss. Your first fuck.”

“We know what you love. We know what you hate. We know what you fear.”

“And we’re taking it. All of it. You signed the contract, Frankie, and you’ve got to make good on your debts.”

Frank looked up from his drink. He looked at one man, then the other. Mr. Sack regarded him with a look of subdued amusement. Mr. Gould seemed to be bored. “Why are you doing this to me?” he asked. “Why are you ruining my life?”

Mr. Sack laughed softly and shook his head. He brought his drink to his mouth, set it back on the bar. “Oh, Frankie. It was never your life. It’s been ours this whole time.”

“We loaned it to you, Franklin. Your good fortune. Your opportunities. Your experiences. It was never yours, not really.”

“Like that suit you’re wearing.” Mr. Sack rubbed Frank’s shoulder. “Oh, nice fabric. Must have been expensive. Yeah, that’s perfect. Everything you think you have is like this suit. It’s expensive. It fits great. You’ve got to take care of it. Most people will never get to own something like this, to know the experience of it. You did, for a little while at least.”

“You have worn your life well, Franklin. And now’s the time to give it back.”

Frank went pale. His stomach hurt, fear cutting up his insides like a belly full of broken glass. “You’re going to kill me.”

Mr. Gould shook his head. “We aren’t. Although before this is through, you may wish you were dead.”

Franklin spun in his seat, his eyes wild as he spoke to Mr. Sack. “Let me pay you back. I have money. I can pay you whatever’s in the contract. Double. Triple!”

Mr. Sack shook his head. “That’s not how it works, Frankie. We’re not interested in the money. And besides, even if we were, you don’t have money. We have money.”

“There must be something I can do! Please!”

The men were silent. Mr. Gould and Mr. Sack looked at each other, and then back at Frank. “Perhaps,” Mr. Gould began. “Perhaps there is.”

“Your job’s gone, of course. So’s your money and your house. Oh, right. Surprise, Frankie! But maybe we don’t have to take everything from you.”

“Maybe you can secure what little you have left by taking up an employment opportunity with us.”

“I don’t think this is going to work. I don’t think Frankie has the stomach for it.”

“You said you thought he was smart.”

“I do. That’s why I don’t think he’ll do this.”

“Anything! I’ll do anything! What’s the job? What do you need me to do?”

Mr. Gould and Mr. Sack said nothing. A faint smile played at the edges of Mr. Gould’s lips. Mr. Sack chuckled and shrugged his shoulders.

“Get a hotel room, Frankie. We’ll send you some tools and instructions.”

“If your performance is satisfactory, all debts will be forgiven,” Mr. Gould said.

Mr. Sack smiled. “If.” And with that, the two men left. Frank sat alone staring into his beer and wondering what new contract he’d just signed.


The Minotaur, The Labyrinth

I see you running and sweating. I can taste your fear, sharp and acrid on my tongue, burning my nose like ammonia, and I relish it. I can hear you, your every panting, nervous breath, your footsteps echoing off the walls of my home. Do you know that I am coming for you? Do you know what awaits when I will find you? You must. You must. Why else would you run?

Oh, but there is something I know that you don’t. There is no escaping this maze. There are no false walls, no hidden passages, no light of day. There is only an endless labyrinth and a minotaur, and I am the minotaur.

* * *

This is my home, Do you understand that? You think I’d just sit here and do nothing while you come here and take whatever the hell you want? While you take what’s mine? Is that what you think?

I’ve been watching you. I’ve been waiting. I know the paths you take, the things you do. I’ve seen you, walking around like you don’t have a care in the world. Like everyone will just do whatever the hell you want them to do because they’re afraid of you. Well, they are, but I’m not. You’re nothing. You don’t belong here, and maybe you’ve got the others fooled, but not me.

This is what you don’t get. This place is a pit, but it’s my pit. I was born for this place, tossed screaming and naked into the darkness, and I survived. I’ve seen people die in this place. I’ve seen lost souls wither away. I’ve seen the weak go mad. I have killed people.

This is my home, and I will not let you take what is mine. This is my home, and I am going to find you and I am going to kill you, slowly and painfully. I’m going to stand over your bleeding, broken body, and as your last breaths struggle past your pale lips, you will know that you don’t belong, that you never did.

I am the minotaur, you hear me? I’m the goddamn minotaur, and this is my fucking home!

* * *

they left me here all alone. i don’t like being alone and i dont like this place. its all sand and fog and glass like a bad dream. not the kind with monsters that want to hurt you there arent any monsters here but like one of the ones where you cant do anything. you cant move or breathe or think. you cant get out. you cant wake up.

there’s no one to talk to and nothing to do. there are animals sometimes, but not good ones. snakes and lizards and bugs that wont listen to me and wont play with me not like a puppy or a kitty would. i still want a puppy one thats soft and fuzzy and that likes to be petted and that wants to be my friend. sometimes there are people that come out of the fog but they wont play with me either. they dont want to be my friend either no matter how nice i ask. sometimes i get angry and mean but i dont do it on purpose. i cant help it. then i get sad and then i think that ill always be alone. nobody wanted me. if somebody had wanted me i wouldnt be here all alone.

did you want me? where did you go? mommy why?

* * *

This place, this space is mine. At this point, I can’t say if it was always here, or if I carved it out of the stone, a sculptor revealing the elephant hidden in a block of marble. But it is mine. It has always been mine. There is no question about that.

I can be alone here. I can create here. I can dream and imagine and left to my own devices, I can create works of staggering beauty that I can do with as I please. Create what I please. Share what I please. Destroy what I please.

To be a poet is to be a creator. Poetry. Poiesis. Making. But there’s poetry in destruction too, isn’t there? I believe so. I act as if I believe so. But at night, as I lie and consider these things, I am not so certain. My thoughts twist and fold upon themselves until I am lost, alone and forgotten in the dark.

A person could go mad in this labryinth, wandering its halls and finding no answers.

* * *

I have meditated on the house. Each part of the house repeats many times. There is not one cistern, courtyard, fountain, manger; there are infinite mangers, fountains, courtyards, cisterns. I am the minotaur, and my house is the size of the world.

Better put, it is the world.


By the Unblinking Eye, Pt. 9

Most of the people of Greystone scattered and ran. Some of them, the hungry and desperate looking, the brash and the angry, looked at me like I was a free meal. Twenty sovereigns was a lot of money, even in Greystone. This is all wrong, I thought. All wrong. I was going to lead these people against Osman and the Unblinking Eye. There would be an uprising. The people would take up their picks and their shovels as weapons, and they would turn them on the Unblinking Eye. Instead, here they were, taking up those tools and turning them against me.

I didn’t hesitate. A man charged at me and I threw a dagger end over end, the tip embedding itself in his chest. He fell to the ground with a scream, but two more took his place. I bashed them aside, paying no heed to where they fell. A few more came, and I dealt with them in the same way.

“Look!” Osman shouted out. “This man’s a fraud. He didn’t come here to help you. He doesn’t care about you. He’s killing you!”

I wanted to shout curses at Osman, to rush towards him, climb to the rooftops, and throw him broken and battered into the streets, but I didn’t dare take my eyes off of the gathered crowd. All it would take was a moment of distraction for me to find myself mobbed and unable to fight back. I had to watch Osman as well, for there was little doubt in my mind that if the opportunity presented itself, he’d bury a crossbow bolt in my back and be done with it.

“Keep at it! He can’t fight forever!” Osman shouted down. He was right. I couldn’t. I could fight longer than any human in Greystone, I was certain, but their numbers were limitless and it wouldn’t be long before my reflexes began slowing down. There was only one thing to do. I dropped back into a defensive stance and bellowed, spittle flying from my mouth, lips pulled back from my fangs, a short blade clenched in each hand. The humans in front of me paused, their eyes going wide with terror.

And then I ran.

I barreled through the crowd, pushing past confused and frightened humans. Some of them swung at me clumsily, and those I had to swat at with my weapons, but for the most part, no one did anything to stop me. Behind me, I could hear Osman screaming, “Catch him! Gods damn you, catch him!” Once I was free of the crowd, there’d be no stopping me. The humans who had fled wouldn’t know what was going on, and they wouldn’t be brave enough to face a hulking, green-skinned, fanged monster on their own.

I burst into the open streets of Greystone, and quickly formed a plan. Find a blacksmith, grab a suit of mail and a better weapon than these pathetic daggers. If I was lucky, there’d be a bowyer nearby and I could arm myself there as well. Steal a horse or a mule, if I could. Some beast that would help me put distance between myself and Greystone. And then I’d head north, into the woods, and I’d bide my time. I’d gather allies. I’d gather resources. I’d plan. And when I was finally ready, I would come back and have my revenge. When the Unblinking Eye were defeated, when they were fleeing back to wherever the hell they had come from, I would stand there laughing, my hand tight around Osman’s throat, choking the life from him. Not for Maman, not for the people of Greystone. No. I would do it for myself and myself alone, all because he had beaten me. I didn’t even get a shot at a fair fight, but he had still beaten me, and I couldn’t allow that.

I grabbed armor and weapons. I threw them into a sack. My mind wandered. Osman controlled the people of Greystone better than I ever could, like his own squad of irregulars. If I were going to beat him, I needed an army. Loyal. Obedient. Unquestioning.

I leapt astride a horse, kneed it into the ribs and sped into the woods. I thought back to the wizard in his tower, and an idea came to me. A cold grin spread across my face.

I knew just how to find such an army.

And so concludes Tusk’s tale for now. Be here on Tuesday for flash fiction!


By the Unblinking Eye, Pt. 8

I stood frozen, paralyzed beyond even terror. What would they do? I was injured, weakened. I couldn’t hold back a mob. And even if I wasn’t attacked, I’d been revealed as a monster before a crowd of the people I’d been trying to lead and persuade. Whoever hadn’t been around to witness the fight between me and Gog would surely hear of what had happened before the day was over. Likely before the hour, even. What would they think when they learned that their would-be leader wasn’t even human, was a green-skinned monster?

A man surged forward, tall but thin with stringy hair and a glassy look to his eyes. I recognized him from one of the taverns I’d been at earlier. He’d been drunk when I’d arrived there, and he’d responded passionately to everything that was shouted in his presence. I thought that passion like that would be a valuable trait in trying to turn Greystone against Osman. Now I saw that that same passion was about to club me between the eyes.

The man walked unsteadily up to me, his face twisted up in unfocused anger. He stared me in the eyes, and I held his gaze. I wouldn’t strike first. The crowd was still hesitating, and if I made the first move, they’d surely leap screaming into action. The man took a deep breath. He looked down and spat. And then he threw his arms around me.

“This is my brother!” he slurred. “This is my brother! This man stood up to thugs and criminals and… and… “ He turned and kicked at Gog’s corpse, slipped and lost his balance, quickly recovered. Laughter went through the crowd. “To hell with you, you greedy bastard! Food for the worms, that’s all you are now!” He grabbed my hand raised it up to the sky. “Coalheart has shown us the way! Our city! Our aurum! Our people!” At that, a cheer went through the crowd.

And then a bolt went through the man’s neck.

The crowd continued to cheer, most of them unaware of what had happened. The man’s eyes went wide. A wet gurgle escaped his mouth as blood bubbled out of the wound in his neck. I stared in surprise. The man stared at me helplessly, and then his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed.

The people at the front of the crowd screamed. They pulled back, crashing into each other, getting in each other’s way. Panicked animals on the verge of a stampede. I moved for cover, throwing my arms up to protect my head and neck even as I tried to imagine how the dead man had fallen, the way he twisted and turned, so I could figure out where the arrow had come from.

Behind and above me. The rooftops. I turned and looked even as I ran and I saw him there, tall and lean and perched on a roof like some great bird of prey. Osman.

There was a crossbow in his hands, but no glint of metal at the tip. He hadn’t reloaded since firing that first bolt. Why? I tried to imagine what expression I would find on his face if I could see it.

I settled on a smirk.

“And this, citizens of Greystone,” Osman bellowed, “is what happens when you let an outsider come and tell you how to live your lives! This is what happens when you forget your place! This is what happens when stop believing for even one second that the Unblinking Eye controls this city and everyone in it!” He laughed, a cold harsh laugh with no humor in it. “Tell me, Greystone! What do you think will happen if you don’t turn on this outsider and tear him to pieces? Tell me, what do you think his life is worth? I know. Oh, I know.”

There was a pause. I watched Osman closely, trying to make out his features. There was a flash of white on his face, and I realized he was grinning.

“Twenty sovereigns to the man who teaches this filthy bastard what we do to troublemakers in my city!”


By the Unblinking Eye, Pt. 7

So, as regular readers may have noticed my updates have been horribly inconsistent lately. That’s completely unacceptable to be me, and I think it’s time that I reassess my schedule in light of changing work and personal obligations. My current plan is to finish up Tusk’s story (probably next week) and update the rest of the month with flash fiction. May will bring with it a new, more frequent schedule with shorter updates. That’s the plan, anyway. Now, then. Please enjoy the next installment of By the Unblinking Eye!

I half-expected to wake up the next morning with another dagger run through my pillow, or perhaps something even more threatening and aggressive, but there was nothing in my room. No burning effigy, no hastily written death threat, nothing. I was disappointed. I was almost a little bit frightened because of it, to be truthful.

Maybe that was the point.

I laid in bed for a while, trying to think about all of the things I would have to do that day but instead only able to focus on the soft Maison Lupa bed I was in. It was a simple thing, a soft bed. A luxury for kings and queens, lords and ladies, required only by those who had grown too weak to survive if they were ever forced to spend a night in an open field, or atop a simple straw mattress.

But I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a better night’s sleep than most I’d ever had.

I’d never woken up in a place like the Maison Lupa before, and I wasn’t used to it. Instead of the sounds of the wilderness, of animals calling out to each other and making their little animal noises as they went about their little animal lives, there was humans laughing and making their own little animal noises. The air smelled of the perfume Silas had been talking about, and while it was still obnoxious and distracting, I found myself getting a bit more used to it as time wore on. This would be a comfortable life. Less interesting perhaps than roaming from town to town eating and drinking in the taverns and fighting in the streets, less challenging than sleeping under the stars and hunting the creatures of the forests for food. But comfortable. Maybe a life where you could spend your nights in a soft bed in a warm house would be okay. For a little while.

I stood up and stretched. My room at the Maison Lupa had no windows, no wardrobes, no doors of any kind except for the heavy wooden one that blocked off the world outside my room with its single iron bolt. I walked over to it, opened it just a crack, and grabbed my clothes from the neat little bundle they’d been left in. As one of the conditions of my staying in the Maison Lupa, Maman had demanded that I let her girls wash my clothes. “If you’re going to be staying here,” she said, “you’re going to do it on my terms. And I can’t have you walking around in dirty, unwashed clothes. You smell. You’ll scare away the people who actually pay to stay here, no?”

I brought the clothes to my nose and sniffed at them. They smelled faintly of the flowers and perfume that the girls here covered themselves in. Not enough to make me think that the clothes had been washed with the same soaps, but enough to make me think that the smell of the Maison Lupa would be inescapable for weeks after I left.

I put on my robe and my mask, a leather belt and harness I’d asked Maman to get for me along with an assortment of daggers and blades. Greystone wasn’t safe for me anymore, if it had ever been, and I wasn’t going to walk around with nothing to defend myself but my fists. I hadn’t needed anything more yet, but it was better to be armed. And if my plan worked, I’d need them soon enough.

I stepped out into the hallway and walked past the men and the women lounging about in the building. I don’t know what they thought of me, but I supposed that it didn’t matter. All sorts of strange people probably came through the Maison Lupa. Doubtless they’d seen stranger folks than me come through the building. Or perhaps they hadn’t, but they simply had the good sense not to stare or comment.

As I walked towards the Maison Lupa’s front door, I saw Mar and Silas talking with some stranger I didn’t recognize, a boy with fair skin and dark hair on the verge of becoming a man. He seemed to be about Mar’s age. Perhaps a little bit older. Mar was laughing at his every word, smiling like a fool, running her fingers through her hair. For the stranger’s part, he was smiling and nodding as well, although not nearly as much as Mar. Silas, meanwhile, barely said a word. He just stood there, watching the conversation with a sour look on his face. As I approached, Mar saw me and walked over smiling.

“Good morning, Mr. Coalheart! Maman told me to offer you breakfast. But if you accept, she asks that you take it in your room.” Mar frowned, looked away and blushed. “She’s afraid your presence will… unsettle… the others.”

I stared at her for a moment as I tried to decide whether to be flattered or insulted. “Thank you,” I finally said. “But I have people to see. I’ll eat breakfast elsewhere.”

* * *

I went to three taverns and a whorehouse, rousing the men and promising the women their safety. I made grand speeches, doing my best to talk to the crowd the way that I imagined Enrico would. The people of Greystone cheered. They shouted in anger. The ones who had been less than lucky in the mines and the fields listened to my every word, but in every building I walked into, there were those who shouted insults at me, who told me that I was a nobody, an outsider, but they didn’t bother me.

The ones who bothered me were the ones who sat in the back of the taverns, watching from the shadows in silence. I wouldn’t let my eyes linger on them, but I studied them, tried to memorize the differences in their faces from the people around them. That’s always hard to do with humans, but it was important that I tried.

I wanted to guess at who was going to try and stick a dagger in my back.

I walked the streets of Greystone, standing tall and proud and strong for all to see. I turned a corner and found a group of four men waiting for me, tall and muscular and armed with clubs. Their leader sneered at me, a stupid animal grin behind his broken nose and his gap-toothed grin. “Hello, freak.”

I snorted. “Gog. What a pleasure to see you. I don’t think I knew your name the last time I beat you to a bloody pulp.”

Gog sneered all the wider. “I underestimated you last time, freak. Ain’t going to make that mistake again.”

I opened my mouth to insult the man when he let out an animal roar and charged at me. His men surged forward, not attacking me but standing at the ready. To intervene if I got the upper hand? To seal my fate if Gog did? I couldn’t say.

Gog raised the club in his hand up high. Obvious. I dodged toward his empty hand, figuring I’d be able to strike him across the back as he barreled past me, just like last time.

He slashed me across the chest with a dagger hidden in his free hand.

I snarled in pain and reached my hand down to my chest. It came back covered in dark blood. The wound stung more than it hurt. He’d left a long sharp cut that wept blood, but it hadn’t been deep enough to incapacitate me.

I turned around, rage twisting my face. Gog faced me, bouncing on his feet like a kid in his first fight. The sneer seemed a permanent part of his face now, and his eyes shone like two dark jewels of malice. He twirled a small, dark blade in his hand. My eyes focused on it. The darkness dripped off. The blade was wet with my blood.

“I’m going to kill you,” I said. My voice was cold and level. The heartlessness behind it surprised even me, and I saw fear flicker across Gog’s face. Only for a second, but it was there. And then his sneer returned and one of his men clubbed me across the back of my head.

I dropped to my knees, the world swimming before me. My eyes wouldn’t focus. I couldn’t think. I was trapped in a prison of blurry images and distorted sounds and pain.

Another blow to my shoulder knocked me to one side. A third finished the job, leaving me flat on my back and groaning in pain. I was dimly aware that that first blow likely would have killed a human. At any other time, I would have taken pride in that. But all my strength and my toughness meant now was that one of these other blows would kill me instead.

This would be a bad death. Caught by surprise by an enemy that could do no more than get his friends to help him club a foe to death. I thought back to my last fight in the wizard’s tower. I’d found myself helpless on the ground when I was fighting the adventurers, but at least Perceval and Maya and the others whose names I could not remember had had magic on their side.

I was going to be killed by a band of street thugs. What a terrible death.

“Get away from him! Get away! He’s mine!” Gog appeared above me, grinning down like some kind of dark and sadistic god. “This was all I’ve been thinking of for days, you know that? Just you and me and my little friend here.” He held up the dagger, twirled it in his hand. I stared at him for a moment, forcing my eyes to focus on his ugly, broken face.

“You couldn’t beat me without an army at your back,” I mumbled. I said it soft. Just loud enough for Gog to hear.

The sneer disappeared from Gog’s face. It became a frown. His eyes narrowed, his lips drew back a snarl, and he dropped to one knee on my chest, grabbed the front of my robe with his free hand. “What was that? What was that?”

I mumbled, barely able to breathe with Gog’s weight crushing me.

He moved his face inches away from my own. “What? Speak up! I can’t hear you!”

“I said, ‘You dropped this,’”and jammed a dagger into his side. His eyes went wide. A pitiful croaking noise escaped his throat. I pulled the blade free and stabbed him again and again, unable to see more than a blur. I stopped only when I realized Gog had gone limp.

I pushed Gog off of me, his body hitting the street like so much dead weight. I couldn’t imagine why his men hadn’t jumped to help him, why I was still standing. Why I was still alive, even. I hobbled to my feet, every movement sending pain coursing through my body. No one did anything. I squinted, searching the gathered crowd for Gog’s men. If they attacked me, they’d probably kill me, and if I were going to die, I wanted to die facing my enemies.

At last I found them, burly men armed with clubs and with confused, terrified looks on their faces. I stared at them. No one moved. I took a deep breath. “This is what happens to the people of Greystone who betray their city!” I kicked at Gog’s corpse, stepped too forcefully, threw myself off balance, had to regain my footing. “This is what happens! Do you see?” I held up the dagger. “Slain by his own blade! Slain by the tools of his own cowardice!” I threw the blade down. The world was becoming sharper. I could see that a crowd had gathered. I could see that they all had similar looks on their faces. Fear and disgust on men, women, and children alike. I ignored them, though. Instead, I just focused on Gog’s men, glared at them, and spat on the ground.

I paused. I looked down, seeing the thirsty soil of Greystone soak up my spit. I brought a bandage-wrapped hand up to my face, and my calloused fingertips felt my own tough, green flesh.

 


By the Unblinking Eye, Pt. 6

Was I lazy on Tuesday and didn’t post? Did I actually quit my blog but decide to come back? Was this all an elaborately conceived April Fools prank where the actual prank was doing something obviously fake and then appearing to follow through on it?

I’ll never tell.

I burst into the Maison Lupa, seething with barely controlled rage. Osman thought that I was some coward who could be bullied into leaving Greystone? He thought if one of his men snuck into my room and left a message for me, I would see how fragile and dangerous my existence was? He was wrong. All he had shown me was that he was an arrogant wretch with no regard for his enemies.

Sir Perceval had fought me one on one. Maya had sent her men to fight me, and when she saw them being defeated, she had resorted to magic to beat me. And Osman thought a single blade was enough to scare me away.

That alone was reason enough for me to do what I had to do next.

I stepped past the frightened girls, the startled men. I pushed my way to the elaborately furnished bedroom that served as Maman’s office. “I’ll help,” I said. “I’ll crush him. I’ll toss his bloody, mangled carcass out of Greystone myself.”

Maman set down the quill she was writing with and closed the book she had open. She looked up at me and smiled, the mischievous delight on her face making her look far younger than the wrinkles at her mouth and her eyes said she was. “What do you need?”

* * *

I stood in front of the Scuttling Crab tavern, a small and crudely constructed wooden building on the outskirts of Greystone. It’s customers were all miners who were late to the business, Maman had said. Angry and bitter men whose lives were nothing but frustrated dreams and crushing disappointment.

I kicked open the door with a single motion. Every head in the bar turned towards me at the sound of splintering wood, the heavy thud of the door hitting the ground. Their eyes shined with anger. There was no fear, there. No confusion. Just a simple animal rage at having their drinking disrupted.

“This is my bar now,” I said. “This is my bar, and if any of you don’t like that, then get the hell out.”

I stood in the doorway in silence, my eyes scanning the room as I waited for the first sign of one of them trying to attack me. I didn’t have to wait long. One of them, a burly man with a beard and skin darkened by dirt and grime, stood up from his seat and charged at me unsteadily. He was too drunk to be a threat. I stepped around him, grabbed him by his back, and slammed him against the wall by the doorway. I threw him at the ground and paid him no more mind.

“Who else? Who else wants to fight?”

No one did. I grunted in approval, then bent over to drag my attacker up from the ground. I put both hands on the front of his shirt and pulled him into the air. He was a big one, and it wasn’t easy to hold him there, but I had to. I needed the men here to see how strong and tough I was if this was going to work.

“What about you? Got anything else in you?”

He sputtered and shook his head.

“You want to leave?”

He shook his head again.

“You understand that this is my bar?” He nodded. I turned to the others, some of them watching disinterestedly, some of them sizing me up, and some of them staring in terror. “You all understand that?”

No one said anything. A few of them nodded, but most just sat there in silence.

Behind my mask, I grinned. “That’s a yes, then. Good.”

I set the man I was holding down upon a stool, spun him to face the bartender, and clapped him across the back. “Barkeep! A drink for my friend here! In fact, a drink for all of my friends here!” I reached into my pocket and dumped a handful of sovereigns on the table. They gasped. They stared. I laughed out loud, trying to sound jovial and friendly. “I understand you, boys. I’ve felt your pain and your frustration, because it’s been my own!” I reached for a mug of ale, held it up in the air. “This city is full of greedy, evil fools who try and take advantage of us. Men who have come to make themselves wealthy on the backs of the hardworking. They’ll try to do what I just did, but they aren’t proving any points; they just want what you have! Well, I say don’t let them take it! I say stand up to them! I say us boys have to have each other’s backs! When they come for us, we’ve got to stand up as one and fight back! We’ve got to stand together, boys! Don’t let anyone take your bar from you! Don’t let anyone take your freedom from you! Don’t ever spend another day scrabbling in the dirt for someone else!”

I slammed my mug against the counter, and as I did so, a cheer went up through the crowd. It washed over me. The looks of righteous anger, the people looking to me, filled me with energy. It was like being in front of the crowds at Glimmerton. It was like standing over the defeated body of Sir Perceval back in Quail’s Leap. I felt like I could do anything, like I could defeat any foe and conquer any challenge. I knew it, and the people around me knew it, and it was all just a matter of time before I proved myself the strongest feller in Greystone, too.

Of course, Osman had an army at his back. An army of a handful of warriors like him and many more thugs and laborers he’d cowed into following him, but an army of irregulars is still an army. And what did I have? I had a coin purse full of sovereigns from Maman, and a map of every tavern and inn in Greystone that had slipped beneath the notice of the Unblinking Eye.

* * *

The sun had set by the time I was done going to the taverns and inn and rousing the men there. By night, Greystone was like a burnt-out, misshapen forest. The hastily constructed buildings cast strange shadows, some of them tall and long and the others short and squat. Lights burned in some windows, and the sounds of laughter and shouting echoed through the alleys of the city. And yet, the city seemed somehow still and quiet. Unnatural. Like a mugger holding his breath so that his victim wouldn’t hear him coming.

I was being watched. I could feel it.

I walked without purpose or direction, following the twists and turns of the city, looking for someplace to duck into and disappear. I couldn’t go to the Maison Lupa or Maman and her girls would be put in danger, and I needed them to fund my plan.

Suddenlythe night sky opened up before me. I frowned. I’d wandered into an open square. If I was attacked, there’d be no place to retreat to.

I cast a glance over my shoulder. The path behind me was empty, without even beggars in the streets. There was nothing there, and maybe there never had been, but the night seemed to be alive with hateful watching eyes.


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