fic: Blood money

by Mhairi Simpson on May 6, 2016

Technically I had to stop falling at some point, I thought. The end would come, Karis would tire of me, Xnan would find me, a mark would turn out to be a little smarter than I thought. Or I might just trip over my own feet and drown in the canal. Anything was possible. None of the above had happened so far but there was a first time for everything.

From my current position, face down in a sewer, the end of my fall seemed imminent. The goons who’d come closer than most Xnan sent after me were being very thorough in their search of the house above. It was only a matter of time before they found the loose board behind the pipes.

As far as the sewer itself went, I’d been in worse. The upper classes liked to throw a lot of water out with their waste. It kept the drains from smelling. It also kept other things from accumulating which meant I was breathing mostly air. All things considered, I could stay down here for quite a while if I had to.

Above me, the thugs’ muttering grew fainter, then cut off against the sound of a closing door. I was just congratulating myself on a neat escape when a series of loud bangs announced boards being nailed over an aperture.

Dammit.

So much for my plan to crawl back out the way I came in, once they were clear.

I sighed and started the long crawl to the canal, three hundred yards away. There were worse things. It was hard work but it had to be done and so I did it, one elbow in front of the other, hips rolling from side to side. Sathr Corinian’s manor was the last before the water which meant a long, solitary journey in the darkness.

Hence my surprise when I smashed my face into a brick wall after just a few minutes. In truth, this would have been a surprise at any time, but was doubly unexpected so close to the house. Once the stars had cleared and I’d aired a good many curses, I felt around, trying to work out my surroundings.

It appeared the line of the sewer had been diverted to the left. I thought back to when I’d entered the house. There’d been no sign then of another building between it and the water. Pure grass and trees all the way. Which meant this construction, whatever it was, was purely subterranean. Not that it mattered. The important thing was that there were no branches, no other ways to go. I had little choice but to follow the new route and soon saw light glimmering ahead.

This was bad news. This was very bad news. No one bothered putting lights anywhere they weren’t planning on spending time and I had little interest in explaining my presence. Unfortunately, my options were limited to going forward or back. I hadn’t spent this long running from Xnan to head straight into his arms now so I kept going.

As it turned out, the lights weren’t lamps, but more like amorphous clouds of fireflies, coalescing, breaking apart and reforming. They would drop down to briefly alight on one item of organic refuse after another but soon break away again and circle once more, like a falcon on the hunt. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it. Not being enamoured of insects, I held back, considering how fast I could get past them.

I never got the chance to find out, though, as from one moment to the next, the cloud was on me, tiny motes of light settling on every inch of bare skin, nail and hair. I flailed, swatting desperately until I rose too high and rapped my head against the ceiling. The impact took all the fight out of me and when I was myself again, I no longer cared about the curious lights all over me. I felt no pain, which was strange considering how hard I’d hit my head. There was also a pronounced sensation of no longer being alone. I looked at my sparkling companions and felt them looking back at me.

“How do I get out of here?” I murmured, not, in all honesty, expecting an answer. The glittering cloud, however, turned and flowed away from me. For an insane moment I thought I had offended it but then I saw, in the light, an opening on the right.

A hole smashed in the wall led to a room of boxes and bags and baskets, all filled to overflowing with gold and silver, coins and trinkets, gemstones both rough and cut, and ancient artifacts from a dozen civilisations I’d only heard of.

After standing agape for several minutes, I stared at the cloud. “How do I get out of here?” I asked. The room was bare of any entrance other than the one I’d come through. Sathr Corinian had taken great pains to ensure this room was never found. It was strange, though. You’d think he’d want to access it again at some point.

The lights settled over the heaped treasure and disappeared. Just as I was assimilating the fact that it was apparently possible for things to get both better and worse at the same time, a spear lifted away from the wall. I lifted my hands in surrender but the blade only turned and launched itself at the wall, embedding its iron point deep in the mortar. Another followed suit, assaulting the same place, then another, and another. Mortar cracked and pinged off the walls, followed by chunks of brick. Little by little, bare earth was revealed but the attack did not abate. Earth cascaded into the room, replaced by coins and gems which crawled up the wall and into the rapidly developing tunnel. I eventually plucked up my courage and followed, elbow over elbow over gold and silver.

The sky was pale in the east as I breathed clean air again and surveyed my haul. The riches, hidden for who knew how long below, were arrayed about me, enough to ransom an empire. Certainly enough to buy my freedom from both Xnan and Karis.

The thought had me looking more closely at the spears, lined up before me. Most were obviously ceremonial but more than one showed signs of combat.

Why buy what I could take?

The spear which had initiated my escape from the room below vanished and reappeared in my hand. I’d been thinking small, I realised. Why ransom an empire when I could build one instead?

A hundred thousand tiny clinking voices cheered in my head. They had waited a long time for this.

I would fall no more.

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fic: Roses and camelias

by Mhairi Simpson on May 5, 2016

The camelias are blooming, petals unfurling to birth tiny fairies, glitterdust sparkling off their hair and nails as they take their first breaths, stretching the ichor into their veins. They soon grow, caring for their bloom, painting it the deepest pink or softest cream, smoothing the petals, directing passing bees to the well of nectar at the centre of every flower.

In return, the bees carry the tiny sparklers to visit their brethren in other blooms. The very adventurous even travel to other plants, although this is sometimes ill-advised. Many’s the little one who thought it would be fun to visit the roses and found themselves impaled on a thorn for their impudence. Far better to spend a night with a peony and stagger into one’s flower the following morning, exhausted and elated, to sip from the well of life at the centre of one’s home before taking up one’s duties once more.

The blooms of those who travel too far afield or meet with misadventure die swiftly, curling up and drying out. A fellow sparkler will dim its light to remove the withered home and the whole bush will watch it fall to the ground. Another soon blooms in its place, though, welcomed by those already in residence with wispy cries of welcome and the clapping of leaves. The flower folk have short memories.

Except for the roses. The roses never forget. The memories of every victim are held in the thorns, a library of the garden’s knowledge which only the roses can read. It’s not just the young and foolish who visit them, you see. Their regal beauty draws in young and old of every species, pressing carelessly into the blossoms and leaves and thorns. The ancient and dying may live forever, after a fashion. All that’s needed is blood.

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fic: Good Intentions

May 3, 2016

day #4 Fire snaps and sparkles, lighting my way to Hell. A well-travelled path this, paved with I need the money and just this once, I swear. The stones beneath my feet are deeply graven, but the lines only resolve into letters I can read as they connect with the soles of my hand-tooled boots. They […]

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fic: Say Please

May 2, 2016

Old Werrig’s orchard produced the fattest, juiciest fruit around, they told Jack, the new boy, walking past on their way to school. Plums the size of your fist, apples so tart and golden they were used as currency in the market. Time was, three of Johan Werrig’s Fairy Queen apples bought you a roast dinner at the […]

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fic: And When The Battle Ends

May 1, 2016

day #2 of a story a day… Quill peered through the trees. Flashes of crimson and metal announced the knights’ position as clearly as if they’d nailed signs to every branch. Only a hundred paces or so from the road. Not the most cleverly hidden ambush he’d ever seen. But he was tired, so tired, […]

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flash fiction: Nightlight

April 30, 2016

New challenge: write and post a story every day. This is day #1… There’s a tiny hole in the wall near my bed, just above the wainscot. It’s been there for as long as I can remember. Etta tuts over it every morning when she helps me dress and David comes in periodically with his bucket […]

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A glance over my shoulder

April 13, 2016

It occurred to me today that my current back issues are identical to those that laid me up back in January 2011. Back then I didn’t have a TENS machine (although one of my friends tried valiantly to get me to try it – stubbornness has its drawbacks), nor did I have any money to […]

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The merit in ‘also ran’

April 10, 2016

Still laid up in bed and no, it isn’t fun, but I bought myself a present, Liz Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC (believe it or not, the hardcover is currently cheaper than the paperback, and only 38p more expensive than the ebook). Thanks to the eternal glory of Amazon Prime it arrived this afternoon. A hot cuppa, […]

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You’re badass. No, really, you are.

April 8, 2016

Can a disabled Hunter be badass? Well, of course she can. She’s a Hunter, for crying out loud. Just because her built-in blades barely work, doesn’t mean the rest of her is compromised. I just started writing the first book in a quartet set in the same world as The Scent of Freedom. The main […]

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Some lines have to be crossed

April 7, 2016

(this post talks about bodily functions. you have been warned) I’ve been suffering with back pain lately. We’re pretty sure it traces back to stacking a lot of firewood in the greenhouse a couple of weeks ago. Whatever the cause, the back pain started out as uncomfortable and requiring fairly consistent application of ibuprofen and […]

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