RESISTANCE Ficlet #5: Curiosity

Resistance CoverThis is a ficlet based on my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.

Rivvie was on a job the first time she saw Shandolin. It would have been impossible to miss her: she was the only red elf on the street. Rivvie was perched on the edge of a rooftop, tracking the nervous movements of her mark. He was some silver elf who was making too much money. The Arbiter told her it was a matter of City stability, and maybe it was. To Rivvie, it was payment for her father’s nurse and a willingness for the law to turn its eyes away from the doings of the Vinkenti Brotherhood. Rivvie knew she was a pawn in a broader political game, but she didn’t care so much about that.

Rivvie tracked her mark down the street. He was an unassuming man, dressed neatly but not conspicuously. From the corner of her eye, Rivvie caught a bright splash of red. The street was all grays: the pale gray stone of the buildings, the slate gray of the Semadran elves’ skin, the washed-out brown-gray of their rough spun clothing. The whole world was cast in a million shades of gray shattered only by the scarlet flash on the edge of Rivvie’s vision. The woman the hair belonged to was tall and sharp-faced. She stood on the landing of a third floor apartment across the way making a racket. She pounded the door. She ate an apple in enormous, vicious crunches. Under one arm she held a stack of crisp newspapers.

The red elf woman had a self-assurance, a boldness, that Rivvie thought was sure to get her killed. It was none of Rivvie’s business, but the woman drew her curiosity anyway. Why was she there in the Tinker’s Borough? Why wouldn’t whoever she was there to see open the door for her? She had such arrogance, the way she looked so comfortable there where she clearly did not belong. Rivvie, for whom stealth was a career and a way of life, found it off-putting and distasteful. She shook her head and looked back to where she’d last seen her mark. But he was gone—all it took was one second of squandered attention, and he was gone. She cursed. Her deadline wasn’t for another week, and her thighs ached from sitting too still for too long. She was hungry. The mark was gone, and there was little for her to do but return home and venture out again tomorrow.

Rivvie slipped down into the street. She stood cloaked in shadows and magic, obscured from sight, and watched the red-haired woman who had cost her the mark. The red-haired woman dawdled there on the landing for some minutes longer until her apple was completely eaten. She laid the stack of newspapers on the landing and dropped the apple core on top of it. Rivvie, curious and still caught in the thrall of her work, tracked the red elf. Rivvie tracked her to a clutch of musicians in Opera Street, to a print shop on the edge of the Inalan Quarter, to a table in a gambling den. The red-haired woman led her all over the City of Mages, up and down the streets, into the Main Square where the vagrants lived, and finally to a rundown bar in the Refugee Quarter.

Rivvie watched the woman enter from the roof across the way. All up and down the city streets and still Rivvie had no sense of what the woman did. How loud she was, yes, she knew that. How many people seemed to owe her favors, she had learned that. But everyone in the City earned their place in the City, even down to the drug addicts. The people in the City were like the cells of her body: minute, discrete units that came together to make an incomprehensibly huge whole. But this red-haired woman was a mystery to her. It was a mystery, Rivvie though, worth solving. Should this woman be up to something, should she be something of note, that information needed to be taken back to the Vinkenti Brotherhood. Rivvie followed the red-haired woman into the bar.

It was a red elvish bar in a red elvish neighborhood, and Rivvie was the only one in it who was not a red elf. It was she who stood out, now, and the red-haired woman who blended in. Rivvie found the woman at a table in the back, an ink-stained table littered with empty glasses. She felt the room grow quiet as she walked over, felt the way the eyes of the patrons glued themselves to her black hair, to her tattoos, to the weaponry she wore. The woman was stretched out on the bench, marking up a sheaf of papers with a pencil worn down to the nub. “Who are you?” Rivvie asked.

The woman smirked. The smirk disappeared when she glanced up. Her eyes widened; she sat bolt upright. “Are you an assassin?” the woman asked.

“Yes,” said Rivvie. “Who are you, and what do you do?”

“Fuck! Why are you asking? Why’s a fucking assassin asking about me?” A strange mix of fear and pride crossed the woman’s face. “It is because of the Arrow?”

Rivvie frowned. “There is no glory in getting yourself assassinated.”

“There’s glory in getting noticed,” said the woman.

“You’re a fool.”

The woman leaned forward. “So…are you here to take me out or what?”

Rivvie sighed. “What is your name?”

“Shandolin,” she said. She leaned back, supine and relaxed again. She looked at Rivvie with the thoughtless ease that spoke of safety, of that damned self-assurance. “Hey, you political at all? Could use a blue perspective in my paper. Pan-elvish solidarity means pan-elvish, you know? Haven’t been able to crack you all, though. Can you write?”

Rivvie found it infuriating. She left the bar. She hoped very much that she would not run into Shandolin again.

RESISTANCE Excerpt #5: Heat in the Blood

Resistance CoverThis is an excerpt from my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.

Doe felt around in the darkness until she found the cold metal rungs of the ladder. She dragged herself up until her head banged against a stone ceiling. Rivvie told her to open it, and Doe soon found herself crawling out of an old well in the blue neighborhood. Rivvie peered off into the darkness, first one way, then another. “We’re safe now,” she said.

Doe dropped the remaining half-dozen files she’d managed to keep hold of on the run out of Sanctuary. She slammed into Rivvie and pulled her close; Doe’s mouth found hers, and Doe kissed her with a hunger, with a passion. One arm wound around Rivvie’s waist. With her free hand, Doe caressed Rivvie’s cheek, her throat. Rivvie returned the kiss in equal measure.

The small of Doe’s back tightened; her skin tingled in anticipation. Rivvie’s hand slipped beneath Doe’s shirt and scratched lightly at her back. With one great movement, Doe lifted Rivvie and placed her on the edge of the false well. Rivvie’s legs locked around Doe’s hips. Doe nipped at Rivvie’s neck and shoulder and reveled in the small pain-pleasure noises Rivvie let out.

She saved me, Doe kept thinking. Like an ass I ran into Sanctuary and she was there and she saved me and I love her—

And all at once, it came to Doe that Rivvie had spirited them out of Sanctuary and not through the front door.

Doe pulled back so fast that Rivvie very nearly toppled backward into the well. It was only Rivvie’s assassin-quick reflexes that prevented a nasty fall.

“Ah! What the hell?” Rivvie said.

“You could’ve got him out,” Doe said very quietly. “All those months, all those months I spent worried sick, running myself ragged. All those months, and the peacemakers doing who knows what to him. And you could’ve got him like that,” Doe said, snapping her fingers.

RESISTANCE Ficlet #4: A Home in Exile

Resistance CoverThis is a ficlet based on my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.

The day Moshel Atoosa’Avvah arrived in the City of Mages as an exile was the strangest day of his life. The years he’d spent in that Rabathan prison cell were marked by silence, by solitude. The ra’zehm who found him guilty of treason promised him he’d be forgotten in that cell, and for endless days the promise kept. It was a strange day when he was shuffled from his cell into the cabin of a train bound for Tarquintia. It was a strange day when they tied him to the saddle of a camel bound for the City. But his arrival to the City took his breath away.

Somehow, news of his arrival had leaked. Moshel came to the Eastern Gate of the City surrounded by a phalanx of tahrqin guards. He came with his hands bound and his voice rusty with disuse. He came through the gate curled in on himself, wincing and shrinking because in those years in prison he’d fallen out of habit with his gift and now he was overwhelmed with the sheer force of other peoples’ minds.

Someone spotted him. A cry went out. Moshel felt hundreds of eyes fix upon him, felt them see in him a spark, a hope, a promise he had never made. The Eastern Gate was a crush of bodies: a crush of silver skin, of Semadran faces, of his people, and all of them singing. The phalanx of guards ushered him quickly through the clerks at the entrance; one of them shoved amnesty papers in his pocket. Moshel pulled them out again and dropped them on the dusty street. They tightened in formation around him and pushed him into the City. The Semadrans followed. They picked up stragglers on their way; the crowd turned into a spontaneous parade. Moshel wanted to yell to the parade to stop, to disperse, to go anywhere else. He wanted to scream at them that he’d never wanted to be a symbol of anything, much less rebellion, that he was a broken man. He’d assumed he would slip into obscurity. He’d thought it a gift of the exile. But he felt them; he felt the joy and the resolution in the crowd when they looked at him. He held his tongue.

The clerks at the Eastern Gate had asked where he would be residing, and Moshel had answered the Semadran schoolhouse. It would be like schoolhouses in elvish ghettos all over the Qin Empire: a sanctuary, a respite, a place for those with no place anywhere else. And so the guards escorted him to the schoolhouse. And so the makeshift parade followed them there.

They stepped into a cramped square. In the center stood a stately building, made of wood which contrasted with the stone of the surrounding buildings. It could be nothing but a schoolhouse: the spire, the stained glass that told stories of his people’s history, the unmistakable ticking of clockwork mechanisms. “You’re here, traitor,” said the lead guard.

“Please escort me to the door,” said Moshel. “I fear a riot.”

The guards conferred. With obvious bad temper, the phalanx pushed through the crowd and up to the great, wide doors of the schoolhouse. The crowd around them sang in Semadran a song Moshel had never heard. A song about him. Moshel stepped up to the door and pressed the doorbell. The doors swung open; the caretaker, a small and curiously young woman stared up at Moshel. “Who comes to the schoolhouse?” she asked in Semadran.

“My name is Moshel Atoosa’Avvah. I have no papers.”

“We vouch! We vouch!” cried the crowd behind him.

“What do you seek at the schoolhouse?” asked the caretaker.

“Shelter,” said Moshel. “I seek shelter.”

“And you shall have it.” The phalanx of tahrqin guards withdrew. The caretaker ushered Moshel inside and pulled the doors shut behind him. The song of him grew stronger outside, but the wooden walls of the schoolhouse shielded him from it. Children’s faces appeared on the landings above, on the stairwells. The caretaker waved for them to return to their studies, and they obeyed.

Moshel took in the light, the beautiful light filtered through the stained glass. He ran his hand along the polished wooden walls. He smelled black tea and familiar herbs. For the first time since his arrest, Moshel felt alive again. He felt like a person again. For the first time since his arrest, Moshel wept.

RESISTANCE Excerpt #4: The Schoolhouse

Resistance CoverThis is an excerpt from my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.

Shandolin stepped inside the Semadran schoolhouse. The lobby was cavernous. She could see all the way up to the spire seven floors above her. Staircases wound around the lobby up and up and up. Strategically placed windows flooded the lobby with natural light. Doe suspected it would have been equally well-lit at night, too. Ensconced on the walls were dozens of small clockwork lanterns.

Moshel leaned against the railing of one of the twin staircases flanking the room. His face, as usual, was carefully expressionless, but Doe could see in the tension of his body that he was not pleased to see her.

“Come with me,” he said.

Shandolin followed without a word. He led her down, into the bowels of the schoolhouse, into the dark and wet of the water wheel room. The water wheels were made of white stone, and they moved with a whisper. They were ghostly, the flashing white of the stone sometimes visible and sometimes hidden behind a translucent wall of rushing water. The room was as wide as the building itself. The strange configuration of space, broken as it was by the wheels and dark but for the flashes of naked stone, made the place eerie.

Moshel didn’t help matters. He had been in front of her, leading her, but while her attention was distracted by the water wheels, Moshel had moved to her side.

“Shandolin,” he said, and his voice echoed around the chamber.

Doe jumped. She landed against the wall, which was slick from the ambient water in the room, and clutched at her chest.

“You scared the shit out of me.”

“How dare you threaten the caretaker?” Moshel asked, but it wasn’t really a question. There was an iciness in his voice he’d never used with her before.

Her anger rose to a boil in the space of a second. “How dare I? How dare you,” she said, shoving him back with both hands with all the force she could muster. “How dare you hide away like your friends and fellows don’t need you. How dare you make that woman turn me away instead of having the balls to do it yourself.”

Moshel was quiet for a second. “I should have turned you away myself, that’s true.”

RESISTANCE Ficlet #3: The Upstart

Resistance CoverThis is a ficlet based on my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.

The high desert sun beat down viciously on Salla’s skin. He’d spent practically his whole life in the City of Mages and still he’d never adjusted to the fierce, bald brightness of the desert sun. He wiped the sweat from his face and hissed in pain. He’d managed to get a sunburn in the meager half hour it took to go buy fruit from the sellers down the street. He took it in stride: as head of the Vinkenti Brotherhood, leader of the City’s drug growers and assassins, it would be easy to think he ran the City. It was good that the bright sun and dry air kept him humble and made him remember he was, still and always, just one man among many.

He slipped into his house—a one-room structure little more than a shack in the City’s garden district where he and the other blue elves flocked. His house had no garden. The paint was peeling. There were holes in the roof, which would have been of some concern if it rained more than once or twice a year. He set the bag of fruit down on his table and ladled water into his single stoneware cup from a cistern in the corner. He sat on the floor and halved a pomegranate. He had just begun to eat when Shava burst through the door with young Velo in tow. Salla sighed. The Brotherhood was a family and he, as its leader, was everyone’s father. Everyone’s peacemaker. Everyone’s shoulder to cry on. The one who always had to say no. The one who gave out so many loans he had no chair of his own to sit on. And if he was their father, and they his sons, no son was wilder or more troublesome than young Velo.

“Salla!” said Shava. He thrust Velo into the middle of the room. “This stupid kid, he—”

“Leave us, Shava,” said Salla.

“Salla—”

“Please, leave us, Shava,” Salla said again.

Shava bit back his words. He gave Salla a small, deferential bow and left the house. Salla took a long look at Velo: a very young man, hardly yet a man at all. A good-looking man, a preening and vain type. He oozed the careless confidence of a young and brilliant assassin. Velo grinned when the door closed behind Shava. “You know, the other brothers speak often of your humility, Salla,” said Velo.

Salla gestured to the floor. “Sit. Have some pomegranate.”

“I’ll stand,” said Velo. “I’d rather not get dirt on my clothes.”

Salla looked up. “Just the bloodstains, then?”

Velo gestured to his shirt with a flourish. “A pop of color. It’s but an accent. Truly, though, to bring me here for chastisement, it’s absurd. Surely you see that; for the leader of the Brotherhood to live like you do is something I cannot understand. I ran to escape this kind of sad little life.”

Salla regarded Velo, young, brash Velo. “Word is you murdered the head of the peacekeepers.”

Velo smirked. He flicked a bit of lint off his sleeve and onto Salla’s floor. “I assassinated him, yes.”

“Assassinated?”

“Yes.”

“Ordered by whom?”

“By me. I asked myself to assassinate the head peacekeeper,” said Velo, “and I generously agreed to do so. So, now he’s dead. He was hassling us. I told everyone we should take him out and no one made a move against us. He put three of us in prison, and you just let him do it.” Velo shrugged with a furious nonchalance. “You should be thanking me. He won’t hassle us again.”

Salla sighed. Velo had been nothing but problems for him since the second he stepped foot in the City. “Now you’ve murdered four men instead of one,” he said quietly.

“What?”

“The men of ours he put in Sanctuary will not live through the night. They were hostages. In killing the head peacekeeper you’ve killed them, too.” Velo blanched. Pretty, headstrong Velo froze. The wry smile slipped from his face. Velo made for the door, but Salla was still very quick, even after all these years. He caught Velo’s ankle. The boy fell heavily to the ground, into the packed dirt of Salla’s floor. “You’re a danger to the Brotherhood, Velo,” Salla said as he tied Velo’s wrists together. “The peacekeepers will catch you and hold you in prison. It’s best for us to keep you out of sight. It’s best for them to have someone to blame for the carnage you caused. I do hope your stay with the peacekeepers teaches you patience.”

RESISTANCE Excerpt #3: A Gamble

Resistance CoverThis is an excerpt from my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.

“The Brotherhood is a family,” said Velo. “Blood ties make up some of it, but more than that we are a family of our own design, of our own choosing. Family to us means something, Shandolin. We live and die for family. Family is who we say it is, and there are times we take in those with a strong sense of loyalty and nowhere else to go. There are times one of us builds a family of her own and we are faced with whether the family of our family is family to us all. There are—”

“And what do you decide?” Shandolin asked.

Rivna’s face whipped over, but Shandolin stared hard at Velo. Velo, for his part, seemed at a temporary loss for words. He stared back at Shandolin, eyebrows raised, his hand floating in the air mid-gesture. The look on his face spoke volumes: this scrawny bitch comes in here and interrupts me in my own home?

But Doe had already done it, and there nothing for her to do now but show him her strength. Velo blinked. He lowered his hand.

“The decision,” he said with a slight frostiness in his voice, “does seem to change depending on the behavior of the person in question.”

Damn Lolo’s advice; I’m going for the jugular. They should appreciate that, this lot of assassins, Doe thought. She leaned forward and fixed Velo with a cold glare. She felt the contempt pour off her in waves.

“Fine, bide your time here. Do what you will. Seems to me your mind’s made up and there’s naught I can say to change it.” Doe locked eyes with Velo. “Let me ask you this, though, when the City turns sour, will you run? Run from it, like you ran from the southern forests? And if you run, where do you think you’re going to go? You’d have to tramp back through the forests to get to the seas, if you wanted to turn pirate. The Empire won’t have you. The lands to the south won’t have you. You all, you’re like me, this is your last stop, this is the very last livable place left. And they’re trying to take it from me, and if they do, they’ll turn around and take it from you, too. Then where’s your family, Velo?”

RESISTANCE Ficlet #2: An Interrogation

Resistance CoverThis is a ficlet based on my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.

She came into the Natives’ squat house like she owned the place. She threw open doors and slammed them shut, let out a booming cackle of laughter, and shouted for its inhabitants by familiar nicknames. Ezra had lived there a whole week and a half, a whole ten days spent quietly tucking himself out of sight in corners, watching and learning how the house worked. He thought he’d gotten his bearings. He thought he understood how the gang worked, how the house worked, who was who and what was what. And in came this tall, lanky red elvish girl, freckled and vibrant and thin but well-fed. In she came knocking around the kitchen and talking a mile a minute in a loud sharp voice to the gang.

She frightened Ezra. Most things frightened Ezra Crick; he hated it, his skittishness. He hated the way he slunk into shadows and startled so easy. He hated it, but it had saved his life more than once, so he trusted it. This loud, bright, boisterous girl frightened Ezra, so he made to slink off. He waited until she had her attention focused on the kitchen cupboards and then he skirted past the open doorway. She looked up just at the wrong moment. They locked eyes; Ezra blanched. She pointed to his freshly pierced ear. “You’re new, eh?”

Ezra stood very still, caught in her gaze like a fawn in a hunter’s trap. He knew he should say something—anything—but he couldn’t. His voice wouldn’t come. It felt like he was facing down a crowd of people. She was too much for just one person. She was more person, Ezra thought, than most people are.

She smiled, but it was a cocky, mocking smile. She held out an ink-stained hand. “We haven’t met. You’re a beauty. Got a memorable face, you, so I’d recall if I’d met you. I’m Shandolin.”

Ezra blushed. He opened his mouth and closed it again. In a halted, jerky motion, he took her hand and shook it. He tried to pull it back, but she held his hand tight. In a deft movement, she had him by the wrist. She glanced at the palm of his hand and looked over at him. “A musician,” she said. It wasn’t a question.

“What?” Ezra croaked. He tried again to get his hand back, but she had a firm grip. His hand flopped and twisted like a dying fish.

“You got callouses like a fiddler I know.” She finally, mercifully let go of his hand. “I hope you’re good. This city is glutted with musicians. You won’t bring much back to the house unless you’re real good.” She waited for him to respond. Her black eyes bored into him, willing him to answer. One of the other gang members caught sight of her and called her name. She smiled and glanced over her shoulder. And Ezra took the opportunity to slink off.

RESISTANCE Excerpt #2: Ezra Crick

Resistance CoverThis is an excerpt from my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.

Ezra came over and stood next to her. He was as tall as she, as thin as she, and at least ten times prettier. He had a delicate face, delicate hands, delicate everything. He was a broken thing—the beating Po saved him from left him with a mangled ear and a pronounced limp—which only seemed to add to the delicacy. He had pale gray human eyes that shone like polished coins and hair a rich, saturated brown like stained wood.

They’d never spoken much, though he’d hung around Kel nearly as long as she had. Ezra wrote for her paper now and again, but even then all he did was skulk into the Cardinal’s Nest, hand her a manuscript he’d dictated to Kel, and then leave again without a word. Doe suspected Ezra himself was illiterate.

He was nervous, the kind that spooked easy, a wounded little bird. But he came over and stood next to her.

“You done Kel a lot of good,” he said. His voice was soft. Delicate. The fragility of him made Doe want to protect him and shatter him at the same time. “He ain’t never been happier since he starting writing for you. Po’s just protective.”

“I cause a lot of trouble,” she said.

Ezra smiled. He looked like a painting when he smiled, a rare beauty frozen in time. “Name me a man who don’t cause trouble for his friends,” Ezra said, “and I’ll name you a man who ain’t got friends.”

RESISTANCE Ficlet #1: An Arrow Let Loose

Resistance CoverThis is a ficlet based on my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.

The inaugural issue of The Elvish Arrow was set to go to press the next morning. Shandolin should have been elated, but instead she was frantic, mired in the details. She’d taken over the back three tables of the Cardinal’s Nest, her favorite place to work. Madan, the barkeep and her keeper, let her sleep in the closet and let her commandeer as many tables and candles and bottles of ale as it took to get the radical newspaper up off the ground.

It had taken months of prodding, of talking big and begging to get folks to write for her. It had taken weeks of harsh criticism and soothed egos to edit all that writing. It took all her wits to haggle the printer down to a decent price. It had taken pulling strings and calling in favors to get the local gangs to agree to help her distribute the paper. All of it was paid for with Madan. He let her work it off in his bar, but he fronted all the cash. “It’s important,” he said. “This is important. Make your voice heard, Doe. Shout it all out so loud they can’t help but listen. That’s being a soldier, too. That’s part of the fight, too.”

Shandolin sat there reading and re-reading all of that work until her eyes watered and her vision went blurry. She made edits and painstakingly recopied the articles. By midnight she had a wicked crick in her neck from sitting hunched over so long, and her hands and forearms were black with ink. She heard Madan approach—a distinctive thump-scrape thump-scrape due to his wooden left leg. She heard the clatter of stoneware against the wooden table top. “Eat, Doe.”

“Not hungry.”

“Girl, all you are is hungry,” Madan said. He sat beside her. The smell of bread and cheese flooded her nose and suddenly he was right: suddenly she was nothing but a ravenous hunger.

She descended on the food with a fury; all her single-mindedness transferred from the nascent newspaper to the plate. Suddenly, she looked up at Madan, at his battered, scarred soldier’s face. “What if no one reads it, Madan?” she asked. “What if I spent all this time and you spent all this money on it and no one even reads it?”

Madan tore his own hunk of bread in half and dropped a bit on her plate. He smiled. “Even if no one reads it, it’ll have been said. That’s something. Truly, that’s something. But I think people will read it.”

“Really? You think they will?”

“I do,” said Madan. “So you’d better not starve to death before you put together the next issue, eh?”