October 31

Fictober, Prompt 31 – “Take me with you.”

Original fiction, dark fantasy.

Warnings: none.

Night had fallen, though the last lingering echoes of sunset still lightened the western horizon, a break in the trees showing thin clouds streaked bloody red along their undersides. The road led that way, shadowed by mostly bare branches. Wind whispered through the boughs, rustling the remaining leaves as October came to a quiet close.

There was a figure on the road ahead.

I hesitated, unsure both of my own decision and of what he might say, but in the end it didn’t matter.

I hurried forward, and gradually allowed my steps to become more audible on the packed earth of the road. Startling him would not make him more likely to agree.

“Wait,” I called, when I was close enough, keeping my voice low but not trying to make it sound human, as I had before. There was nothing to hide any more. “Wait, please!”

He paused at this, as he had not paused at my footsteps. I wondered if his hand was on his dagger under his cloak. I would not fault him if it was.

He turned only slightly, just enough to look at me over his shoulder, whatever he could see in the deepening dark.

We stared silently at each other for a long moment, my words suddenly sticking in my throat. This was the- the most astoundingly forward thing I had ever done, which seemed strange, given what I was, but was nevertheless true.

“Well?” he asked, patience running out, his tone wary but not angry.

My courage (a strange thing to suddenly need) rose slightly. The past weeks had been a mess, but he had not left until it was settled, and if he was not truly angry now…

“Please,” I said, finding my voice, “take me with you.”

He jerked in startlement, eyes going wide. “What?

“Please,” I repeated, finding that all my former arrogance had flowed away, sometime in the preceding days. I hadn’t realized it then, but could tell the difference now. “Please, take me with you.”

As he continued to gape at me speechlessly, I realized that I could not have astonished him more if I had tried. He had expected any request other than this one. I felt myself curl in a little, suddenly sure this had been a mistake. If it was so unexpected—

Just as I was about to step back, he turned fully, the astonishment on his face shifting into something else, something lighter, something like

“You—” he hesitated himself, just briefly, then continued, “You would want that?”

I nodded, not daring to move otherwise.

“But isn’t this your- your territory, or something? Don’t you have to be here?”

“It is,” I confirmed, “or it was. We— It is better, usually, to be settled somewhere, to have an anchor, but…”

But this was no longer a place I wished to be settled, I did not say. He seemed to understand anyway.

“But it is not a necessity, and sometimes it is good not to be so tethered to a place,” I continued, voice low again. “Sometimes our anchor can be— Can be a person, if they so agree.”

Confusion and the last of his hesitation fell away from his face, leaving him open and smiling as he had been for most of his time here.

“I didn’t think you would want to leave,” he confessed, and then nodded firmly. “Yes. If you’re wanting to come, then please, come with me.”

Relief, another sensation I had learned only recently, flooded me.

“I will,” I told him, and reached out.

He reached back, linking his hand with me, and then we continued west along the road together. The night deepened around us, no more lingering light of sunset. The hymns of the October wind took on a darker, eerier tone, and the forest on either side was neither empty nor silent.

But together, we would fear no road, and no future.

Happy Halloween! The “hymns of the October wind” line is lovingly borrowed from the song All Hallows by Aviators, which is a great Halloween song.

That’s it for Fictober for this year, and many thanks to @fictober-event for running it!

October 30

Fictober, Prompt 30 – “Don’t ruin this.”

Original fiction, fantasy/fairy tale. Part three of three of my weird take on Cinderella. Part One (Day 28) and Part Two (Day 29).

Warnings: none.

Mother and Lorena were immediately obsessed with the notion that one of us might catch the Prince’s eye, especially when the ball was being held for the purpose of finding him a wife.

I feigned as much enthusiasm as I could.

Ellie and I did not speak about it.

She wanted to come, and the phrasing of the invitation would certainly allow for it. I might have been able to put in a word with Mother (there had been some whispers, during our usual social rounds, wondering what had happened to the household’s third daughter), but I did not.

I told myself it was because we had already agreed that I shouldn’t champion Ellie’s cause to Mother, just in case.

My motives were not so straightforward as that, but Ellie did not actually ask.

We did not kiss anymore, but still sat next to each other on the few nights I could manage to sneak down to the kitchen.

I told myself it was enough.

“Stepmother,” Ellie’s voice came hesitantly from behind us just as the carriage was pulling around. “Could- Could I come to the ball as well?”

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October 29

Fictober, Prompt 29 – “Why are we whispering?”

Original fiction, fantasy/fairy tale. Part two of three: link to Part One (Day 28).

Warnings: none, other than the usual implications of abuse in any take on Cinderella.

Our presentations at court did not go well.

Mother had insisted on the traditional peach-colored dresses for both of us, which looked all right on Lorena but terrible on me. I had not argued. Once there, Lorena could not stifle a case of nervous hiccups, and I stumbled in my curtsy to Their Majesties.

For once, I felt glad to be just one of many young women present. I did not say this – Mother would scold me for it.

“If only the Prince had been there!” Lorena wailed during the carriage ride home. “I’m sure I could have caught his eye.”

“There will be time for that later,” Mother said, but looked as though she agreed. “It is enough for now that you are both presented, and can properly accept invitations. It expands our social opportunities.”

I did not sigh, or wince. Fortunately, Lorena continued to chatter (as grating as her voice often was), so I could safely look at the window, watching the landscape pass.

It was a relief when we reached the manor, and more so as evening set in. I did not allow myself to think about why.

I had slept the past three nights, to make sure I wasn’t too tired at court, but tonight I took my books (and one extra) and crept downstairs to the kitchen once Mother and Lorena were asleep.

“How did it go?” Ellie asked once I had settled myself at the table and she had exclaimed over the new book I slid over to her.

I hesitated, then shook my head. “Badly. I stumbled. And I look terrible in peach.”

(I looked terrible in most things, really. More and more I looked in my mirror and was forced to acknowledge to myself that I was not pretty. Not hideous, certainly, but not pretty, no matter what Mother claimed.)

Ellie grimaced sympathetically. It made me feel a little better somehow. “It’s so many layers, isn’t it?”

I nodded. Then, feeling daring and guilty all at once, I said, “Lorena got hiccups.”

Ellie’s face did something strange, as if she thought she should grimace in sympathy again but actually wanted to laugh. It looked funny.

She was still prettier than I was. She was pretty.

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October 28

Fictober, Prompt 28 – “I don’t have to explain myself.”

Original fiction, fantasy/fairy tale. Part one of a probable three.

Warnings: none.

A voice from the door startled me: “What are you doing?”

I turned and regarded Ellie with as haughty a look as I could summon at half past midnight. “I don’t have to explain myself,” I told her, “especially not to you.”

It probably would have been more effective if my voice had been less stiff, if my shivering were less obvious. I had supposed that the extra layer and a warm shawl would be enough, but without a fire, the dining hall was cold at this time of night.

Ellie raised one eyebrow ever so slightly, then bobbed something that could be considered a curtsy and left, closing the door behind her.

I pulled my single candle closer, holding my hands near it for a moment to warm them. I knew that Mother insisted it was important for us to understand Mathematics, so that we could keep the accounts in our own households whenever we married, but numbers did not come easily to me.

With our days full of lessons and social outings, there was no extra time during reasonable hours for me to try and learn what came so much more easily to Lorena. I would not fall behind her in this, or in anything. I would not be a disappointment to mother.

Allowing myself to feel nothing except determination, I bent over my books again, determined to get this right.

When Ellie interrupted me again, two nights later, she at least had the decency to knock lightly first.

Of course, I had slipped into a half doze, worn out from our usual long days combined with shorter nights, so I startled anyway.

“What?” I snapped when she peered around the door, covering my frustration with anger.

She didn’t quite flinch back, but it seemed like a close thing. Then she straightened, and said, “It’s warmer in the kitchen.”

“What?” This time it came out bewildered. I blinked at her, my exhausted mind not following.

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October 27

Fictober, Prompt 27 – “You could have died!”

Original fiction, horror.

Warnings: vampire, implied violent death(s), nothing graphic.

“There you are!” She scowled over at where I stood hesitantly in the doorway. “Where have you been? I’ve told you not to be out so late, and without even trying to let me know where you were.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, the words strange in my mouth. The sting of the usual scolding felt muted, at least a little bit.

“Well, what are you standing there for? Come in!” She turned away, and I took a careful step over the threshold. “There’s work to be done. Did you think you’d get out of it if you slunk off somewhere? With your sister out of the house now, there’s more work for fewer hands, so you’d better put those notions right out of your head.”

“I’m sorry,” I said again. The words came more naturally now, but still not quite right. “I’m sorry, I— I encountered a vampire.”

“You what?” she shrieked, spinning to stare at me, horrified. “What on earth possessed you to wander into the territory of those creatures? You could have died!”

I closed my eyes, swallowed against the terrible thirst, felt the strange, unpleasant shifting of my teeth.

I opened my eyes again, and looked right at her.

“I did.”

Then, I stopped fighting the thirst.

October 26

Fictober, Prompt 26 – “I’m sure this has never worked, ever.”

Original fiction, sci-fantasy/technomagic. Continuation: part one (Day 1), part two (Day 5), part three (Day 7), part four (Day 15), and part five (Day 22). This the sixth and final part of this story.

Warnings: monster/eldritch horror, technically suicidal ideation (characters prepared to sacrifice themselves).

Vivi and I stared at the console screen, torn between horror at what Lin’s original plan for the world-eater had been and the first kernels of hope that we might still have a chance after all.

Lin seemed to have believed that a newly hatched world-eater could be ledif you could control its nearest source of food, namely, the planetary shell that it had hatched out of.

“So, she was going to guide the remnants of the planet, via magic, to get it near enough to the Phean system worlds that it would naturally devour them next, thus enacting her revenge for…something,” Vivi summarized, voice flat.

The further writings we had found deep in Lin’s encrypted files had finally shed light on her goals, though even here she did not seem to list the specific wrongs for which she had wanted revenge.

Regardless of what they were, I could not imagine any crime for which the destruction of an entire planet would be the appropriate punishment.

We had put a stop to that much of her plan, at least. But that would only mean that some other random worlds would be devoured instead, unless we could find a way to use this to our advantage and somehow do what no one (to our or Lin’s knowledge) had ever done before: destroy a world-eater.

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October 25

Fictober, Prompt 25 – “Do you know what time it is?”

Original fiction, fantasy.

Warnings: implied but unspecified looming disaster.

The door creaked open behind me.

“Do you know what time it is?” she asked softly.

Groggily, I lifted my head from my arms, blinking in the guttering candlelight. “’m awake.”

She laughed, and I felt her hands settle on my shoulders. “That’s not what I asked.”

“Late,” I mumbled then head falling back to my arms. I had to get this spell right, or we would be in trouble—

“There’s time yet,” she reassured me, understanding my answer. “Come, get some sleep.”

I sighed, silently agreeing, but didn’t raise my head just yet. Obviously I wasn’t going to accomplish anything more without at least a few hours’ rest, but the delay rankled. We did have a little time, but…

Lifting my head again, I peered through the window as best I could.

Outside, ash was still falling.

Through the thick, clouded glass, you could almost mistake it for snow.

We had a little time, but not much.

Still, I rose with her gentle hands to guide me, and blew out what was left of the candle. The delay would be worth it if rest would actually let me accomplish something again. I followed her out into the main room and joined her in our bed. The fire was banked and low, but her warmth lingered under the covers, and she pulled me close gladly.

Fortunately, getting up had not woken me enough to set my brain racing, and I felt myself drifting off properly almost as soon as I settled against her shoulder, and even the last, niggling little thought was not enough to keep me awake.

Outside, the ash was falling.

October 24

Fictober, Prompt 24 – “Is this supposed to impress me?”

Original fiction, fantasy.

Warnings: none.

Uzela turned her great, scaled head this way and that, surveying the vault. She paced forward through the wealth we had amassed so far, her steps more careful than I would have supposed possible for a creature of her size. I paced alongside her, not liking to go far.

Not that there was anything I could do now if this went awry. I knew the risk I was taking.

“Is this supposed to impress me?” she rumbled after a few more minutes. “The halls of your ancestors—”

“Best to leave the halls of my ancestors out of this conversation, don’t you think?” I interrupted, my own eyes narrowing.

Uzela turned just enough to pin me with a golden, slit-pupiled eye. “I have little first-hand knowledge,” she said. “The hoards of others are often known to us, at least in general scope.” I wasn’t sure if I could believe that or not, but took a deep breath and let the anger over past thefts pass.

I was trying to prevent that very thing happening to us, after all.

Returning to her original question, I said, “Whether you are impressed or not is irrelevant. All I want to know is: will you do the job?”

She looked away from me again, and was quiet for long moments.

“If I were to say no, what would you do?” The golden eye turned to me again, just barely.

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October 23

Fictober, Prompt 23 – “This time, do what I say.”

Original fiction, fantasy/horror.

Warnings: monsters/gross monster corpses (no great detail).

I slashed out, separating the head of the last shuffling monster from its body. It collapsed to the ground with an unpleasant squelch. I turned a quick, full circle to make sure that it really was the last one, then flicked as much ichor off my blade as possible before sheathing it.

The suddenness of the attack had startled me, even though I should have known better. I closed my eyes, getting my instincts under control, though undoubtedly my companions would have gotten a look at my eyes and face by now.

The suspicious part of my mind wondered if the one had been trying to provoke an attack deliberately, in the hopes that I would reveal myself. I didn’t think he was that much of an idiot, or that desperate, but I couldn’t be completely sure, not having known any of these people long.

Still, they had hired me to do a job and paid fairly for it, so I would see it done.

But I’d keep my guard up while I did it.

Under control, I stalked back over to where the whole group had, fortunately, listened to my last instruction to take cover.

“Out,” I said brusquely, jerking a thumb. Terrified, stumbling, they made their way out from under the rock overhang, gaping at me and shying away from the monster remains scattered around us. The corpses would collapse fully into ichor, but not for a couple of hours yet.

“Is it now clear to all of you,” and here I turned narrowed eyes on the man who had attracted the monsters’ attention in the first place, “that I am not exaggerating the dangers here?”

They were all silent, wide-eyed…but they all nodded.

“You’re not…” one of the women started, her voice barely a whisper.

“Human? No, not as such,” I said crisply. “That has not changed the fact that you hired me to be your guide, that I intend to do my job, and that I am your only hope of making it through alive. Are we clear on these points as well?”

Nods again, all around.

“Fine,” I said. “If you do, in fact, want to make it to your destination in one piece, then this time, do what I say.”

With that, I turned and set off again, picking my way carefully through the corpses, moving slowly enough that they could match my path, if they paid attention. Once we were out on the clear path again (such as it was), I turned one last time for a headcount.

Everyone was still with me.

I hadn’t yet lost anyone getting through the Barrens, and I didn’t intend to start now.

October 22

Fictober, Prompt 22 – “No promises.”

Original fiction, sci-fantasy/technomagic. Continuation: part one (Day 1), part two (Day 5), part three (Day 7), and part four (Day 15). One more part to come after this one.

Warnings: implied monster/eldritch horror, air strike (but no people hurt).

World-eaters were supposed to be a myth.

We sent out what data we had anyway, in what we hoped was a secure beam to the nearest relay point. It would take a day or so at best to reach sector law enforcement and the trade fleet association. They would probably laugh themselves sick over it, but Vivi had agreed with me that we had to try.

While I was doing that, Vivi returned to an earlier task that we hadn’t yet succeeded at: cracking the encryption on Lin’s hidden files. It was a devilish combination of coding and magic that I was pretty sure was beyond me. “No promises,” she had muttered when she started, but Vivi was better at tricky, mixed hacking jobs – her mind worked through such problems from a different angle than mine did.

The regular seismic rumbles from…below…were getting stronger, and more frequent. Whatever we or anyone else were going to try, we had to do it soon.

I dug further into the unencrypted files, and found enough obliquely phrased information to round out what little about the world-eater myths I could remember.

World-eaters were alive, although the implication had always been that they did not fit into any of the standard categories of life that we used: animal, plant, fungus, or various microbial lifeforms. They were something else, and as such were not subject to the same restraints of life as we knew it.

They moved through space on their own, the legends said, and they ate—

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