October 17

Fictober, Prompt 17 – “I’m with you, you know that.”

Original fiction, vaguely Japanese-inspired fantasy.

Warnings: nothing graphic, but: past deliberate burning of a home, implied death.


I stood beside a rocky outcrop, looking down at the vast plain below. The rock did nothing to shelter me from the hot wind that blasted up from the bare rock and sand below, whipping my tattered clothes around me. Once vivid with blues and greens and golds, the robes were mostly gray now, frayed at the hems, and patched too many times. But I had so little left, after the fire, and I was loath to give them up, even now.

Even if I’d been willing to part with them, I wouldn’t have been able to afford much better.

The short sword at my left hip was the only thing I really had left of my family’s legacy at this point, and the only reason that I had any real recollection of what our crest was supposed to be.

Soft footfalls behind me, and then the strange, soft whoosh that was the only sound accompanying Yū’s shifting. Slightly louder steps, sandaled feet on rock as he came to stand behind me, looking out easily over my head at the army assembled below, their fires beginning to glow brighter as the sun dropped toward the horizon in a spill of blood-red light.

I waited, but the yōkai said nothing…which was its own answer. It hadn’t really been in question anyway: my enemy was below, surrounded by an army, and if any planned to stand against him before it was too late, they were not yet in evidence.

It was just me, then, me and a plan for vengeance that was as insane as it was just.

Well.

Me and Yū.

As if reading my thoughts (a talent he had never confirmed or denied), he said, “I’m with you, you know that.”

My eyes closed, trying to hold back tears at the surge of gratitude his words brought.

I still didn’t really know what I had done to attract the yōkai’s interest and support. He had found me weeping in the remnants of my burnt-out home, years ago, and stayed with me ever since. I’d done everything I could to be a good companion, of course, especially in the early years when he had kept strictly to animal forms. They had never been quite normal animal forms, and of course the fact that had shifted between them had told me of his true nature from the beginning.

I had never asked outright, and the only thing he had ever said himself on the subject was that he had existed on or near my family’s ancestral lands for a very long time. That, and his easy acceptance of my quest to see justice done against the man who had destroyed us (and so many others), were probably all the answer I would ever get…or need.

Having him at my back now was more than I could ever possibly repay him for, never mind everything else he had done for me since that terrible day. My near-worshipful thanks seemed to be all he truly wanted in return, no matter how I pressed.

“We are stronger together,” he said, and I felt the warmth of his power rise at my back. I let my own power, hard-won but at least not gained at the cost of anything I could not afford, circulate and rise to my skin in answer.

“We are stronger than you know,” Yū whispered, stepping closer, so that we were nearly touching.

I smiled, and opened my eyes. “I believe you.”

“I know. That is why.”

I nodded acceptance, of his support and of whatever would come next. Looking below, I saw that the fires were bright and numerous across the plain. The army would be settling in for the night – with no rival power to challenge them, they would have set only a standard watch.

“Come,” Yū told me, “let us show them what we can do.”

One last breath.

“Yes.”


yōkai – the closest English word is “specter,” but in Japanese this covers a whole class of supernatural entities/spirits which I feel is not reflected well in the word specter. They can often shapeshift, and range across a spectrum in terms of their potential benevolence or malevolence toward humans. The Wiki article about them seems decent.

October 16

Fictober, Prompt 16 – “Not this again.”

Original fiction, fantasy-ish.

Warnings: none.


There was a knock on the door.

I stopped, set down my spoon, and buried my face in my hands.

Maybe, I thought wistfully, maybe if I don’t move they’ll think no one is home and go away.

The knocking came again, more urgently. Giving up, I wiped my hands on my apron, made sure that I had all my protective sigil bands on at wrists, ankles and neck, and headed for the door. If these people were going to turn up unannounced at all hours, then they would just have to deal with the fact that I wasn’t dressed for company.

“Not this again,” I said, hauling the door open, “whatever it is you think I can do, I can’t, and no amount of money or wheedling is going to change—”

I cut off abruptly as I saw the two young men on my doorstep. Both dark-haired, the one on the right was staring at me with wide dark eyes and a dismayed, nearly despairing expression. He was supporting his companion, who was unconscious or close to it, head rolled forward so that I couldn’t get a good look at his face.

“You’re- You’re not the artificer?” the first man whispered. “I heard…”

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October 13

Fictober, Prompt 13 – “The things you make me do…”

Original fiction.

Warnings: violence, brief, unsuccessful attempt at sexual assault, vaguely implied civil unrest.


It was all anyone could talk about. Every mansion, every tavern, every market was the same, ‘The Shadow Blade’ this and ‘The Shadow Blade’ that, and what would the Shadow Blade do next?

I was doubly glad that I’d been able to arrive quietly, without telling anyone about my encounter with the person calling themselves the Shadow Blade. Not that I could be sure…but the mere fact that I was alive and unharmed made a strong argument in favor of the claim.

“Oh, but you just came in from Astaba,” Madam Staralon unfortunately remembered as I was halfway through putting up her hair for a garden party later that afternoon. “Did you run into any trouble on the way? They say the Emperor’s men aren’t letting anyone out at all, but that’s obviously not the case if you’re here.”

“I did,” I admitted, keeping my eyes on the strand of hair I was carefully heating into a curl and choosing my words with equal care. “There has been some trouble in Astaba. I got here and am fine. I was glad to find work right away.”

“And in such a good salon, too!” Madam Staralon agreed. “But with your skill, it’s not surprising. Did Lady Torfel stop by? I recommended you to her.”

“She did,” I said, grateful for a change in topic, “and thank you very much for the recommendation.”

“But you say there is unrest in Astaba?” asked one of the other ladies perched nearby. “Have you heard anything of this Shadow Blade?”

“There is unrest.” I sighed internally, having hoped the other topic would stick. It was pointless to deny the unrest, even if the full extent of it wasn’t known here yet. Things were worst at the heart of the Empire, but that only encouraged other kinds of trouble in the outer lands. “I’ve heard of the Shadow Blade, but couldn’t say that I know much about them.”

That was a borderline untruth, but not quite over the line.

“One hears so many wild things, of course,” Madam Staralon put in, “but he does sound like quite the dashing hero!”

“If even half his exploits are true, I’d positively swoon over him!” agreed a third woman, seated at the next chair over. “They say he’s the most handsome man you’ll ever meet…if you can get a look under his mask!”

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October 6

Fictober, Prompt 6 – “Didn’t we already have this conversation?”

Original fiction.

Warnings: nothing much, a very vague, passing allusion to past abuse of a side character.


I swept into the front hall as the footman opened the door, his timing as impeccable as always. I gave him a slight, grateful nod. The chill of autumn followed me in, leaves swirling as several more people followed me in. I would have preferred to leave them outside, but my temper had not quite tipped over into outright rudeness.

Yet.

“Your Grace,” my butler bowed, stepping forward to take my cloak and gloves as other servants materialized to help my guests, uninvited though they might be.

“Thank you, Julian,” I told him, catching his eye. He would see the tension and annoyance in my own furrowed brow, but the lack of true fear would let him know that all was well enough for now. The slightest hint of tension eased from his still perfectly upright posture, and he bowed.

“If you and your guests will follow me, Your Grace, I took the liberty of having hot drinks prepared.”

“I have always envied your household staff, Duchess,” one of the hangers-on simpered as we settled into the parlor.

“Too kind,” I murmured, sipping my tea, into which Julian had kindly slipped just a little something extra. Extraordinary man. It had already occurred to him, as it should have occurred to me before now, that with the hour already so late, they would all undoubtedly have to stay the night, which meant that I would have to host them again in the morning, my least favorite time of day.

My manor was not large as such things went, and my lands were deliberately isolated. This worked well for discouraging guests in the general sort of way, but worked against me once they were already here.

At least I could probably get them all packed off to bed relatively soon, and retire to my own rooms.

“Daria,” Aled murmured, coming over to sit in the chair closest to me with his own cup, his voice lowered. “Can I please ask you to reconsider?”

“Didn’t we already have this conversation?” I asked, voice low but crisp with renewed annoyance. “I will not.”

“But the other lords…and the Temple—” He stopped as rage flashed over my face. I had myself under control a breath later, but I should not have let it happen.

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October 2

Fictober, Prompt 2 – “You have no proof.”

Original fiction.

Warnings: magical battle of sorts, non-graphic description of someone being dead.


The man clutched the scroll to his chest and looked at me as if I had just insulted all of his ancestors.

“Of course I won’t hand it over to you! It is mine, and acquired only at great trouble and cost!”

“And you didn’t stop to think about why that might be the case?” I asked him, keeping my voice even and my face calm. He had no idea what he was holding, and it was going to cause trouble for more than just him if I couldn’t stop him from using it.

“Obviously, because it confers a great boon to the user,” he huffed, as if this was obvious.

“It was stolen,” I said, losing a little bit of my temper, “out of one of the most secure magical facilities in all the known lands. I know that you know this, because that is why the thieves you hired to steal it charged you so much, and why you had so much trouble finding anyone to even attempt the theft in the first place. Has it not occurred to you that it was under such heavy guard because it doesn’t do what it claims to do, rather than because it does?”

A brief – very brief – flicker of doubt crossed his face, but then it settled into a scowl again.

“You have no proof,” he spat at me, “no proof at all of those rumors! Have you ever even seen it yourself?”

I had not, of course, looked at the scroll myself. Its rolled-up exterior was all anyone I knew had ever seen.

“No one,” I said slowly and meaningfully, “who has ever looked at that scroll is around to tell us what exactly happened to them.”

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October 22

Fictober, Prompt 22 – “We could have a chance.”

Warnings: pursuit, implied creepy things. Urban fantasy.


Our footsteps pounded down the alley, echoing too loudly from the old brick walls. There was no way we could avoid pursuit, but my heart sped even faster than the exertion at the thought of the noise giving us away. We had gained a small lead, at least.

Cass skidded to a halt ahead of me as we neared the end of the alley. The buildings gave way here to the street and then the river and dam beyond. I stopped also, and we panted for a moment, staring at the open space ahead.

That was not safe either.

This was a small town, though, not a city with plenty of tall buildings and potential hiding places in between.

Behind us, the sounds of pursuit echoed suddenly loud down the narrow way.

Cass’s head jerked around, eyes wide with terror. I didn’t look, my eyes stuck on the river.

The river. The bridge.

“We could have a chance,” I said quickly, hearing Cass draw in a ragged breath. I would have to take a chance of my own, but I could accept that. “We have to get to the bridge.”

Crossing the open space would leave us vulnerable, but as I began to let my other senses stretch, I thought that most of the pursuit was behind us, fast approaching.

Cass nodded, and I said, “Go!”

We both took off again, breath just barely under control from our last sprint. Human shouts and footsteps mingled with other, less identifiable noises behind us, but they hadn’t been expecting us to make a break for it.

The bridge, I thought, willing us both to have enough energy. The bridge.

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October 20

Fictober, Prompt 20 – “You could talk about it, you know?”

Warnings: none. Fantasy.


I traced the last rune and watched as the energy poured down into the mixture bubbling on the stove. It looked good so far, the color was shifting from brown to orange the way it was supposed to, and I’d double-checked all the ingredients three times, so it should—

Something in the magic twisted, and whole pot flared briefly orange, and then faded into a distinctly unappetizing gray.

I cursed at length, spinning away from the stove and trying not to stomp along the floorboards like a petulant child.

“Still having trouble?” a voice asked from the doorway, and I glanced over to find Nkiru standing there before turning my head sharply away. I thought she had gone out; I didn’t want her to see me like this.

I didn’t want her to know that anything was wrong at all, but it had been impossible to hide for long with the two of us sharing the house right now.

Nkiru sighed and came over to wrap a dark-skinned arm around my shoulders, squeezing a little. I kept my head turned and tried to accept the comfort for what it was. She was open with physical affection and while I was discovering that that could be nice, I was…not used to it. Not after living on my own for so long.

“You could talk about it, you know?” she said softly, voice warm and understanding.

I squeezed my eyes shut tight against the sudden threat of tears. Kindness made this harder, somehow, but I couldn’t bring myself to shrug her off and turn away.

I shook my head. I didn’t think I could stand to talk about it. Not with my latest failure still simmering on the stove, smell becoming fouler with each passing moment.

She squeezed gently once more and then let me go when I turned away to move the pot off the heat, replacing it with the kettle. No sense in having gotten the stove going for nothing, and tea sounded appealing. At least all my non-magical cooking still went smoothly, which was just as well, because Nkiru wasn’t very good at it.

“Maybe it is a curse,” she said.

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October 19

Fictober, Prompt 19 – “Yes, I admit it, you were right.”, Original Fiction

Warnings: none. Fantasy, follow-up with Day 3′s raven friend.


On the fifth magical blast, the last of the Constructed soldiers finally fell apart and dissolved into black dust.

Lowering my hand, I panted, gulping in enough air to get my breath under control. I couldn’t risk speaking an incantation incorrectly, but I had to be sure there weren’t any more of them in the area.

When I was sure I could speak steadily, I enacted a magic-seeing spell and then turned slowly in a circle, watching for the cloudy glow that would mark the presence of an active spell or magical being (including Constructs of any kind) for at least a mile around.

It was a relief to come back to my original position having seen nothing.

I let the spell collapse, and staggered off the road just enough to be out of sight before putting my back to a tree and slumping to the ground, all the strength going out of me now that the danger had passed. It would take food and rest before I would be able to manage that kind of magical battle again.

The soft displacement of air by feathered wings was sufficient warning, and I did not open my eyes as my companion dropped out of the trees and landed on my shoulder. The raven croaked in an inquiring way, nibbling at my sweat-soaked hair.

“I’m fine,” I told her, summoning the energy to reach a hand up and gently stroke her chest feathers. She switched her gentle nibbling to my finger, then croaked again.

“Yes, I admit it, you were right,” I said, laughing a little. “That was definitely the best place to set an ambush for them.”

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October 17

Fictober, Prompt 17 – “There’s just something about them.”

Warnings: none. Urban fantasy.

It turned out that this was a continuation of Prompt 13, which I was not expecting. I really like this world though!


With that specific group of United Wizards Legion members thoroughly removed, thanks to the help of my new…friend from elsewhere, the next few days were calmer than I had anticipated. There were more of them out there in the world, but this loss would be a blow to their group, and this had been the most immediate threat.

We were lying low at my small house in Oak Hill outside the city, which mostly consisted of trying all the different foods we could find take-out for, and me buying new subscriptions to both the electronic and magical entertainment services so that we had something to fill our time other than the internet. The former was more than I anticipated, and the latter was probably a bad idea, since it wasn’t going to give my friend the most realistic view of things. Still, he seemed almost as interested in how the technology and magic worked (sometimes separately, sometimes together) as in the content of the shows and movies we watched.

On the second day, I made the mistake of saying, “Um, is there something I can call you? A name, or title, or anything?”

He blinked those human-but-not eyes at me, then smiled. (Like his laughter, it made my spine crawl, but…not in a bad way? Or maybe I was just getting used to the feeling.) “My native tongue is not one that humans find easy.”

I almost said, “Try me,” but managed to hold my tongue. For now. I was pretty good with languages.

“But,” he went on, looking thoughtful, “I would be happy to pick a human moniker, if that would suit.”

“Sure,” I agreed, and then promptly made my second mistake by introducing him to a few baby name sites on the internet.

“Are you sure that I cannot use Enguerrand?” he said after I had fervently vetoed his first half-dozen choices. “It has such a nice resonance to it.”

“What does that even mean? Never mind,” I shook my head when he opened his mouth to explain. “You’re trying to blend in a bit, right? If I’m going to call you by this name in public, then it can’t be too unusual.”

“I suppose you are right,” he sighed, and eventually settled on Alexander, to my relief. I was never going to be able to think of him as an “Alex” or otherwise shorten the name, but at least it wouldn’t sound weird.

Grocery shopping on day four was an experience.

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October 8

Fictober, Prompt 8 – “Can’t you stay?”

Warnings: none. Fantasy, with a snake friend.


I felt my tracking spell die as I climbed out of the culvert and scrambled up the dirt embankment that rose just outside the city limits. Cursing, I hauled myself up faster, and darted across the road and through the trees on the other side.

Coming to a halt at the edge of the huge field that suddenly stretched out before me, I quickly pulled the tuft of fur out of the pouch at my belt and crouched down to perform the spell again. It should still work, I had only nabbed the fur a short time ago.

The spell flared to life…and then promptly died again.

I stared at the fur, and then out at the field. Distance shouldn’t have been an issue, not at this range, and even if there were a lot of rats here, it should still have worked.

But, the tracking spells were not perfect, and a large number of rats might be enough to confuse it, especially if there were any that might be related to the one I had tracked.

I stared out at the field again in deepening dismay. How was I to find a single rat in this huge field without my tracking spell? I couldn’t just let it go. More people were falling ill by the day, and my searching had led me to that rat, specifically. I had to get my hands on it, or the illness was going to spread, and that inevitably meant that a lot of people were going to die.

I started running through the list of possible spells that I could use, wondering if there was any way I could modify the tracking spell sufficiently to get it to work—

Something moved, slithering, out of the corner of my eye, and I jerked my gaze down.

Along the edge of the grass came a snake, a large one, patterned light with regular dark patches down the length of its body, shading from nearly black to light brown.

Slowly, I crouched down.

The snake froze, clearly looking at me. It flicked its tongue once, but otherwise remained still.

“Ah, hello,” I told it in a soft voice, carefully reaching out one hand, letting magic spark low at my fingertips. “Would you be willing to help me, perhaps?”

The tongue flicked again, out-up-down-in, but the snake did not move.

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