October 21

Fictober, Prompt 21 – “What did I say?”

Original fiction, dark fantasy/horror. A follow-up to this piece (Day 9).

Warnings: murder (off-screen), blood sacrifice, eldritch horrors, violent death.


I walked carefully through the ruins of the basilica, lifting my robes with one hem to keep them from the dirt and soot and rubble strewn across the floor. Fire raged elsewhere in the building, and the roof was long burnt away or caved in. Smoke obscured the overhead view, but I knew the night was overcast beyond the conflagration.

The flames had swept quickly through this part of the building, mostly stone as it was, so it was a bit more intact.

The Pact-Makers did not understand the concept of mercy.

I did not much understand it myself, anymore, time having show me too much of its results.

Sound ahead alerted me, and I quickened my step as much as possible. If I had found the one I sought at last, so much the better.

I had.

“The Voice” as his followers had worshipfully styled him for so long, was on his knees, scrabbling in the soot behind what was left of his throne, a crumbling wood and scorched metal seat. As I approached, quiet, he pulled out a large pack and nearly tore it open, desperate to look inside.

Whatever he saw relieved him, for he fastened it closed again, and then rose, pulling it on.

I thought he would bolt when he saw me, and a brief twitch of his middle-aged but charismatic features told me he wanted to. He fought the urge, however, and turned to face me, stepping out from behind the burnt throne.

“Have your demons had enough, sorceress?” he taunted. “Are you reduced to fighting your own battles now?”

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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 15

Fictober, Prompt 15 – “I like that in you.”

Original fiction, sci-fantasy/technomagic. Continuation: part one (Day 1), part two (Day 5), and part three (Day 7).

Warnings: none for this part.


I frowned at the spell on the screen in front of me, erased part of it, and rewrote it on the integration pad in front of me, the new sigils appearing on the screen. That…might work.

Laying my hand flat on the pad, I sent a pulse of energy into it to trigger the spell, then held my breath.

Nothing…nothing…

And then the screen lit up in a blaze of data.

“Yes!” I yelled, jumping out of my chair. “Finally!”

The layers and layers of monitoring spells on this planet had been nearly mind-numbing to wade through, but they had gone down to a certain point beneath the planet’s surface and then there had just been nothing. Vivi had given up two days ago, going to work on something else instead for awhile, but I had been sure there were actually more spells deeper down, and that I just needed to write the correct kind of connector spell to get them hooked into the station’s systems again.

And I had been right.

Data streamed in, too much to take in all at once, but one of the flagging spells I had set up previously started to pull pieces out for me. The composition shifted around a little bit but didn’t significantly change: silicates, iron oxides, that continuing series of weird calcium deposits, some carbon-heavy layers. None of it especially surprising in a planetary crust, but something about how it was arranged still pinged wrongly in the back of my mind.

Abruptly, the data stream stopped.

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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 11

Fictober, Prompt 11 – “I swear, it’s not always like this.”

Original fiction.

Warnings: none.


“Wait,” he said, stopping before I could hurry us through the next door. “Was that a real dinosaur?”

“No,” I said quickly, “No, it was not. This way.”

It was certainly a dinosaur, of course, but given its origins, one could technically debate the term “real.”

Understandably, Toshiaki did not find this especially convincing, but he let me push him along to the next room and get the door closed. The little protoceratops was pretty well settled these days, and not aggressive, but best not to chance it.

And Kanchana wasn’t overly fond of it anyway.

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October 9

Fictober, Prompt 9 – “There’s no right side to this.”

Original fiction.

Warnings: threatened violence, non-graphic discussion of blood magic.


A steady stream of pleading and whimpers fell from the man’s lips as the guards threw him at my feet.

“Silence!” I snapped, and quiet descended, at least momentarily.

This was one of the men responsible for the theft. As if it was not enough that they had stolen from me in the first place, they continued to skulk around, as if waiting for more.

I paced for long minutes while my guards waited patiently, and my prisoner continued to cower. At last, I thought I could be calm enough to keep him alive. Pausing before the fire, I turned and strode back, allowing my staff to tap commandingly against the floor, the hems of my robes swirling dramatically around my feet. Since it seemed that intimidation might get me the answers I sought, then so be it.

“You have stolen from me,” I said, coming to stand before him. He flinched, deliberately bowing lower toward the floor and I sneered. “Sit up and pretend you are in possession of a spine, at least for the next five minutes.”

“What- What will happen at the end of five minutes?” He whispered, making some effort to straighten in spite of the manacles binding his wrists at his back.

“That remains to be seen.” He flinched again, and did not keep his shoulders from curling in. “Speak. Tell me why a thief dares to return to my lands.”

“I did not—”

“You wear the same colors and crest as those that did,” I cut him off. “Speak truthfully or I will not need the remainder of the five minutes to make my decision.”

“We were commanded so by the Voice!” His words now almost tripped over each other in their haste to leave his mouth. “Blood magic is forbidden, and he commanded that no such spells—”

“If it is forbidden,” I cut him off again, voice low and quiet, “then why do I find that your precious Voice also commands his men to use it? Why do I find that my spell has been taken from me to be used?”

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October 8

Fictober, Prompt 8 – “This is it, isn’t it?”

Original fiction.

Warnings: threatened murder/blood sacrifice, implied violent death (nothing graphic).


It was difficult to explain how I knew.

We were about a third of the way into the next field, walking in on the side that had been harvested already, the corn still standing tall to the left, dry with both the lack of rain and summer’s passing, rustling in the breeze. I stopped dead between one step and the next.

It was startling, to just know suddenly, like he said I would.

“Ah,” he said, sounding pleased.

I thought of the gun trained at my back – the only reason I had come this far at all – and swallowed. “This is it, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Much closer than I had hoped.” Acres of fields stretched out behind us, and then stretched on for acres and acres yet ahead, burnished in the last streaks of dying daylight from the west. To the east, a silvery glow behind the distant tree line threatened the moon’s rising.

Doubt and despair overwhelmed me. I had known, just like he said. Did that mean— Was his plan the right one after all? Should I- Should I let him sacrifice me?

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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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