Category Archives: Short Fiction
Vanre felt consciousness creep into her body like an unwelcome guest. She resisted the lure to open her eyes, or stretch her muscles, focusing instead on the warm, soft quilts piled above and below her… but to no avail. The very act of trying to find a way to stay asleep sent her mind racing through options, which inevitably meant she was awake now. Keeping her eyes closed was an act of rebellion rather than a viable tactic.
A soft scraping above her did cause her eyes to flutter open of their own volition, and her brain was immediately fully alert. Dim light leaked in through the shuttered window, casting dusky shadows across the wooden beams of her bedroom ceiling. The poor visibility was not, however, nearly enough to conceal the enormous arachnid clinging to the wooden boards above her.
Its body was more than a yard long, from it’s eight glossy black eyes and furred mandibles to the rainbow-striped abdomen. It’s eight legs spanned nearly the whole room, the longest set of fore-mid arms just inches from touching the ceiling’s corners ten feet apart. Most of the body was thickly furred, with only the orblike eyes, sharp fangs, and the leg’s numerous small claws at the tips and joints not covered in the bright pelt.
As Vanre’s eyes opened, the huge spider tilted, so it’s inhuman face lowered suddenly to be right over her head.
“Floor too cold again, Senneh?” Vanre asked with concern.
The spider’s shorter aft-mid legs dropped from the ceiling and waved meaningfully, the many clawtips forming precise, complex shapes.
Can you see me? The hand-sigils were fast and smooth, better than most webfolk Senneh’s age managed.
Vanre smiled. “I can hardly miss you, darling. You take up the whole ceiling. Just because my eyes can only look at one thing at a time doesn’t mean I’m blind to obvious things.”
I am never sure. There was none of the little wiggling clawtips that would suggest Senneh was joking. The floor was much too cold. Even with the old weavings you convinced the steward to give me, my joints ached. Water is becoming solid outside. Why do your kind live here? I liked our previous school much more.
Vanre sat up in bed, reaching up to rub Senneh’s face, enjoying how thick and soft the webfolk’s fur was.
“It’s a major port, nine months out of the year. And this is about as far south as the uriphants are willing to come. They don’t understand why we are willing to live places where water ever isn’t solid. Finding one place for all five civilized peoples to come together isn’t easy. Eleanear is about as good as it gets. And the Empire only allows one school for advanced magic.”
But it is COLD. Senneh used one of her fore-mid legs to repeat the last sigil, to give her complaint more emphasis.
Vanre stood, feeling the very chill air on her skin. She dared a very minor spell to freshen her skin, then began pulling on her uniform, hung neatly on a rack next to her bed.
“It is cold, sweetling. I’m sorry. If you want, you can just sleep in here until summer. We can even burn some charcoal in the brazier at night.”
You do not mind?
Vanre smiled. “Not at all. I don’t use the ceiling for anything.”
Vanre’s eyes drifted to her tiny desk, in the room’s corner, where an open book was covered in her own handwriting. The tight runs were interspersed with illustrations of webs, spinnerets, and weaving patterns.
Vanre’s smile grew. “Not yet, anyway.”
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The Plains are the safest. Not safe, mind you, but not as bad as when you move too far in any other direction.
They can’t cross running water, so the Mississippi is the barrier from the East. I’ve heard the Panama Canal is as safe as you can go South, but I don’t know anyone who has gone any further than Laredo. Something about the air. Baja California is supposedly still okay, but god help them for being so far West.
There’s no set barrier between the Plains and the West Coast. The Rockies do most of the work of keeping us safe, but stay clear of the passes. Everyone knows what happened at Logan Pass, and I saw how bad things get close to Marias Pass myself. I-15 is like a line of death, and they move north-south along it much, much too easily. I-90 isn’t as bad, but it’s not good either. I don’t go farther North than Nebraska, anymore. I’m told U.S. 20 is worse, but I never saw anything on it.
I wish I could say they only come out at night, but that’s not true. They see better at night than we do, or at least most of ’em do, so night’s more dangerous. But they can move and hunt in the day, too. The leaner pickings get, the more they hunt in the light. But that doesn’t mean you should feel safe if there are people around. Some groups just haven’t been hit yet. Others make… arrangements. Arrangements that don’t go well for strangers to their area.
Shooting them in the head is great, but not strictly necessary and requires you to be sure what part is the head. If you have the ammo, center-mass is still the safest bet, but it takes a lot of lead. Clubs seems useless, and machetes are too likely to chip and bend. Spears are okay, but you need some kind of cross-brace, or they just pull themselves down it until they get to you.
Axes are good. Shovels work in a pinch, if sharpened.
Don’t listen to anything broadcast. Don’t eat anything you can’t identify, even if it comes from a can. Don’t try to read anything in a language you don’t recognize. If you think you can hear the stars, get inside. If someone near you says they can hear the stars?
Axes are good.
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My father never liked her. Grantha says it’s because she didn’t visit often when father was young. The wars kept her away. They were worse, where she was. And everyone agrees she is why it didn’t get so bad here. But she wasn’t around when Grampa died, and father never forgave her. “What is the point,” he’s said “of an eternal ally if they are eternally not here?”
It’s not a fair thing to say… but father isn’t the first to say it. The Grans and gran-Grans all love her, but I’ve seen the records. She’s saved us many times, or at least helps us save ourselves, but she’s also missed some terrible times. She helped the ‘steaders settle the vale when we first came here. No one is sure why. All the records say if we ask her, just just looks sad and says she owes us. A debt that will take a hundred generations to be repaid.
It’s only been 12.
The ‘steaders never bothered to write why she brought them here, or if they did we lost that book. I suspect we’d have lost most of our books from then, if she hadn’t brought copies of some every century or so. The Hearthstead Laws, most often. Especially when the Honey-Nots took over when she was gone so long most of us didn’t believe in her, or at least thought she was dead, and the Hunnots burned all the old Laws. My family were Avowers back then. We never stopped believing.
But she didn’t save us from the Honey-Nots. We had to do that ourselves. And she showed up just after the Battle of the Motte, within hours of it, with everything we needed to restore the way things were. Like she had been waiting. Like she could have helped, if she’d wanted to. But when people asked why she’d stayed away, why she didn’t help us against the Hunnots, the records claim she just said “They were Valefolk, too.”
Even though she stayed for almost a decade that time, she wasn’t very popular with that generation. At least, not overall. The Maoilriains have always been loyal, of course, Every generation of them, since the first. And Maehr Maoilriain left with her after her long stay, and came back much later as a real rune-whisperer. I met Maehr once, on his 200th birthday, just before he died. His eyes were still bright. But then, the Maoilriains have always lived longer than the rest of us.
An eternal ally. The Ageless, some records call her. Silverlocke, in others. The Harrower, but only in the oldest songs, and Leithe Leithaene in the oldest reference I can find, but never after that.
Grantha calls her Constance, which I think is funny. So does Grantha. And, according to Grantha, so does Constance.
When any valefolk reach their 15th year, we line up and wait to see if she comes, to ask for our part of the bargain. One years service from any she asks on that day, and a lifetime of service of all she asks once in ten generations. She’s only asked for that year three times, and the last time was Maehr. Of course, he was gone for decades.
People forget about the lifetime of service, asked of all those who stand the line for one in every ten generations. She’d only invoked it once, and it was a long time ago.
Ten generations ago.
I know. I checked the records.
So, tomorrow, I and six others stand the line. Cuthair is convinced she’ll come, but he’s another crazy Maoilriain. No one takes him seriously, because he looks about 11. But 15 scars run his left hand, like all of us. Suski thinks she’s dead. Suski likes thinking about death. And I swear, vultures and jackals like Suski. I guess I’d like Suski too, if I needed death to eat.
Father swears if she does show up, he’s going to break the accord. He could, any alder could on line-day, but none ever have. I can’t imagine father will either.
I only met Constance once, when I was very small. She rested her right thumb on my head, and smiled. It’s my earliest memory. That smile visits me in my dreams.
And lately, it’s been visiting a lot more often.
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“You are the Chosen Seventeen.”
“Say what now?”
“Chosen. The Chosen Seventeen. I mean, one of them, obviously. You’re not all 17.”
“I… I mean. I thought there was a Chosen One?”
“Oh, there is! She’s great. Met her at a seminar a couple of years ago. But, yeah, no. You’re not THAT Chosen. I mean, only one person is the Chosen ONE, right?”
“O… Okay. So… after the Chosen One, we go to the Chosen Seventeen?”
“Oh heck no! Wouldn’t that be weird? No, after the Chosen One, there are the Chosen Two. Who I have NOT met, but I am told are equally great. Well, I mean not EQUALLY great, obviously. They are only half as Chosen. But the two of them together are just as good as the Chosen One, and each on their own are still WAY better than an Un-See.”
“Yeah, UnChosen. UnSee, for short.”
“So… after the Chosen Two, there are… ”
“Then the Chosen Three, the Chosen Five…”
“No Chosen Four?”
“What? No. Four isn’t a prime number.”
“Pri… but you said there were a Chosen Two?”
“Yeah. Two is prime. You… you weren’t paying attention in math class, were you?”
“Well I TRIED, but I kept having these weird daydreams about awful things happening to my friends.”
“Oh, yeah, the Fel Abstraction. That’s one of the powers of the Chosen Seventeen.”
“Oh. Ah, okay. What’s it good for?”
“I mean, not a lot. It’s an abstraction. Of fel things. Terrible things that could, theoretically happen, but probably won’t. Though I *am* told it’s good for coming up with lyrics to death metal songs.”
“I see. So I have vicious woolgathering?”
“Pretty much, yeah. Though that’s only ONE of your powers.”
“Uh-huh. And, tell me, am I one-seventeenth as useful and powerful as the Chosen One?”
Oh heck no. Not even close. You have one-seventeenth of her POTENTIAL, sure. But she’s 27 years old, we identified her when she was 9, she’s been trained by the greatest mystics and warriors most of her life, and she was granted the holy relic, the legendary blade Durandal.
“Where as I am 48, you JUST found me, and up til now I have been trained by a failing public school, two community colleges, and one Fast-Burger Shift Manager training Program.”
“Er… yeah. So you see how you are way, I mean WAY, less than one-seventeenth as potent as the Chosen One.”
“Do I even get a holy relic? Like, the Pope’s steak knife, or something?”
“You DO get a hold relic, if you complete your 90-day probationary period.”
“Great. Super. What holy relic?”
“Well, I mean, the weapons are mostly handed out to the Magnificent Eleven. You know, the Chosen One through the Chosen Five.”
“Sure. makes sense.”
“And the holy shields, gauntlets, and vambraces generally get divvied up among the Awesome Eighteen. Then…”
“Hey, one isn’t a prime number either!”
You said there was no Chosen Four, because four isn’t prime. But neither is one. I do remember THAT form math class!”
“It’s not that all prime numbered groups of people are Chosen. It’s that there are ranks of Chosen, with the Chosen one at the top, and every tier UNDER that is eldritch potential divided among a prime number of people.”
“Who the hell knows? Not my department. Anyway, you wanted to know about your relic?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“Well, as the last of the Seventeen, you’re part of the Terrible Thirty…”
“Terrible as in terrible to behold?”
“Ah, no. More like “terrible twos,” to be honest. I mean, these aren’t official group designations but… look. While there ARE a Chosen Nineteen, and a Chosen Twenty-Three, by the time the eldritch potential is divided that thinly, it’s not a lot different from just being an UnSee. We don’t even recruit them, normally.”
“Really? Because one-seventeenth of being Chosen doesn’t seem to be that different from one-nineteenth of being Chosen.”
“You’re right. It’s not.”
“Yeah. Historically, most of the Chosen Thirteen are constantly bitching about how each of them is very nearly as good as one of the Chosen Eleven, but gets no respect, and most of the Chosen Seventeen are complaining no one takes them seriously. So, their Compeers–that is the people who train, advise, and direct them, like I am with you right now–their compeers generally find the Terrible Thirty–the Thirteens and Seventeens–are a huge pain in the ass to deal with.”
“So why bother?”
“Because if we don’t, the Bockshexe, Goulekon, or Nelapsi will recruit you. Any of those groups are bad enough without any decent amount of Chosen-ness to give them an edge. And the Terrible Thirty may often be worse than useless, but they do less damage as crappy heroes than augmented villains.”
“So a Seventeen is just potent enough to make preventing them from going Dark Side smart, while a Nineteen simply isn’t worth the effort? Awesome. Tremendous. What a glorious destiny I foresee. And my relic?”
“Oh, sorry! So the Thirteen get the flops and pings..”
“My bad, that’s Compeer talk. They get the majority of the cloth and metal relics that aren’t arms or armor–cloaks, boots, rings, amulets, that kind of thing.”
“Uh-huh. And what, dare I ask, does that leave for a Seventeener?”
“You have the advantage of picking from a fairly large category of relics. We have more than seventeen of these, so even as the Last Seventeen, you’ll have a choice within the category.”
“Okay, swell. but what’s the category?”
“Look, we don’t make holy relics. Not for centuries. So we have to make do with what we’ve found over the centuries. And some things just defy easy categorization. But like I said, we have a LOT of those, so…”
“Gimme an example.”
“Miscellany doesn’t tell me much. So give me an example of some holy relics in that category.”
Well, okay. There are the Tablets of Destiny, stolen by Anzû the Demon Bird from Enlil and hidden on a mountainside. They offer dominion over all the things written within their divine law.”
“Er… wow. That’s amazing!”
“Yep! Of course they’re made of clay and are thousands of years old, so there are parts missing…”
“How much is missing?”
“More than 99% The remaining clay bits pretty much fit in a wallet now, and just give dominion over onions, cucumbers, adzes, bronze daggers, and clay tablets. Itself included.”
“Ah… well, okay. I an still see lots of uses for that.”
“Absolutely. It’s the most powerful of the Miscellany, so it’s always the first thing selected by a new generation of Seventeens.”
“Oh. I see. And I am the LAST Seventeen? So that’s been taken?”
“Oh, heck yeah. No, the Tablets are absolutely spoken for. But you wanted an example, so…”
“How about an example of things I could actually pick from?”
“Oh. Well, sure. I mean, they won’t be Tablets of Destiny…”
“My point exactly.”
“Well, okay. There is the Holy Door of Alexander the VI.”
“Yeah, I mean it’s not something you’re going to carry around with you, but you could have it installed in an RV or something. And when you walk through it, for 24 hours you gain the Borgia Sight”
“Great. Fantastic. And what does that do?”
“The next significantly bad thing that happens to you?”
“You see how you could have avoided it.”
“But only after it happens?”
“Yeah, but that’s still some potent hindsight?”
“Okay, true. Not terrible. What else?”
“There’s the Iron Jiaozi. It’s a 900-year old paper bank note, which was used to pay a swordsman to kill a demon. Whoever last licked it has the power to always know how much a killer would require to kill someone for pay.”
“Yeah. Not just assassins, but anyone who has killed another person.”
“Righty. Grim, and weirdly specific. And I don’t think i want to lick thousand-year-old money. But I could see it being a huge help in the right situation. Gimme one more example.”
“There’s the Whitehall Chair. it was designed by Inigo Jones. Sitting in it allows you to sleep, no matter your condition, restfully and for exactly how long you wish.”
“Well… it’s a 85-pound chain. That just lets you sleep…”
“But it’s not sleep cursed with nightmares, or you snore loudly enough to wake the dead, or you end up with a weird crick in your neck?”
“Oh no. The sleep is always restful and fulfilling.”
“Great. Sign me up. I feel super Chosen.”
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“So, do you think all red dragons are evil?”
“What are you naming as ‘red’ dragons? I care not what color a dragon is, nor the color of its breath unless it is directed at me. The blazing dragons of the suns are creatures of rigid law, not evil, though crimson in color. The infernal hellfire dragons of the lower regions are no less ordered and no less flame-hued, but certainly do have the save supernatural infusion of evil as is common to their fiendish neighbors…”
“No, I mean regular red dragons. Chromatic dragons. ‘Normal” red.”
“Ah, the Ascandeth, the fire-blooded tyrants of ash and unforgiving mien. There is no doubt that their numbers are filled with those who crave power and wealth, and do not care what means must be used to gain it. Dragons, you must understand, are only barely mortal. They are descended directly from the blood of gods, and the blood of the Ascandeth is fiery and harsh.
“They are hatched already speaking two languages, filled with the cunning and knowledge nearly that of an adult human, with all the drive to meet their core needs of an infant, yet the power to fly, burn, and make demands directly. Every Ascandeth is born with all the urges to be murderous and uncaring, and the power to enforce such desires immediately.
“Does every Ascaneth then take steps down that path within hours of cracking from a shell and never varies from that increasingly-well-worn route? Surely not. They are creatures of free will, and some must—by accident, or intervention, or through the sheer internal moral fiber to sense that the rights of other creatures have value—have avoided becoming agents of pure evil.”
“But I have never met one.”
“After several weeks of increasing accusations, rumors, and news reports, The Patriarch, long-time leader of the government-sanctioned hero team the Patriot Patrol, has made a public statement regarding the sexual misconduct controversies he’s been the center of for some more than a month now. We present his comments, made from the Patriot Palace, in their entirety.”
“My American Friends and Neighbors, this is an unusual moment for me, and I find it difficult to know how to strike the correct tone. Normally when I speak publicly in this way, it’s to warn of an impending invasion for another dimension, or to assure citizens that a tidal wave or volcanic eruption has been mitigated due to my actions, or those of others in the Patriot Patrol. Never before have I faced claims that I have acted inappropriately that so caught the public attention that, as leader of our premiere line of masked defenders, I felt the need to address them. I do this not because I feel I am unable to do my job defending the innocent, but because there is clearly a cultural movement in play at the moment, and I do not wish speculation over my reaction to recent events become a distraction from the important work that lies ahead for us all.
“As I am sure everyone is aware, a number of women have made public statements indicating that I used my position to coerce sexual acts rom them, or gave preferential treatment in return for such acts, or had interactions with them that made them uncomfortable. Several of these women are people I have known and worked with for years, and I am obviously hurt that they felt the appropriate step for them was to speak to the media rather than to me, but that’s where we are now.
“Let me be clear. It was never my intention to intimidate, harm, or belittle any woman. The majority of the incidents that have recently been made public occurred outside of my official duties as leader of the Patrol, and my perception of them was very different than the recollections of the woman now making accusations. Other accusations are patently false, and the timing of these claims supports my view that they are politically motivated, rather than the cries of a repressed class of victims.
“In particular, while it is true that I had relations with several cadet members of the Patrol, and with a few of the women we monitored as part of the Forlorn Force villain work-release program. All of these women were consenting adults, and all the activities engaged in legal in the municipalities where they occurred. No crime was committed here.
“Further, for those who feel such relationships may have shown poor judgment, I will point out that I am, literally, from another time. As a citizen of the 40th century, I come from a time where there is no power imbalance between men and women, and thought that in the 75 years since I became a costumed agent in this time that we had moved American society to the point where it had reached the same ideal. When seen from this perspective, my actions are clearly without malice or improper intent.
“Obviously there is a process in place within the Patriot Patrol to investigate serious accusations of misconduct. That level of evidence has not been meet, but I am nevertheless directing the appropriate committee to begin an investigation into the most serious of these accusations, which I have no doubt will fully vindicate me. Since I am the head of the committee, I have directed Captain Quantum to take over for this specific investigation. I’ve known the captain for more than a decade, and believe him to be above reproach. His conclusions will surely be accepted by all fair-minded people, and but this issue to bed once and for all.
“Until that time, obviously it is unfair to those citizens that depend on the Patriot Patrol to protect them from the machinations of the Cathedral of Crime, or the J’kund, or any of a dozen similar potential threats for me to step down and leave my fellow Patriots short-handed. So while I am temporarily stepping back from the various oversight roles I have filled for over half a century, I remain on the job, overseeing you all as a Patriarch should.
“Finally, I would remind you when you go to news-sites and listen to broadcasts about these issues, that we live in a complicated world. Between shapeshifters, Computiac, telepaths, and evil alternate reality versions of our own with groups like the Penal Patrol, not everything you see or hear is trustworthy. While news agencies obviously believe they can perform a level of due diligence to ensure they don’t produce fake news, when their reporting suggests a well-known and trusted hero has committed such terrible social violations, it may be time to trust us, and not them.
“Thank you, and know that I’m watching over you all.”
It was, of course, impossible for her to arrive unannounced. Her light was visible from the moment she dropped below the firmament, and shone brightly into courtyards and against brimstone walls through all nine layers of the ancient city. As they were created to, gatekeepers and measurers moved to herd her to the outer ring, to be weighed against a feather and called to give an honest account of her mortal life. She smiled as gently as possible as they buffeted, again and again, against the point where her light was so pure it pushed them back like moths driven from flame by a wind. A few drove on with such fervor they injured themselves, flinging their forms into the furnace of her purity with force enough to momentarily hold a point so close, her very essence burned them. A single wave of her hand cured any such damaged servant easily, they being no more than shades of her original creations, but she ducked her head nonetheless. She wished to cause no harm, but like a bison walking on bird nests the momentousness of her existence could not help but crack some eggs.
This was not the place to diminish herself. It had rules, laws, cause and effect, even if all were very different from her first efforts at such, and those laws meant she could not be her entire self without causing some minor damage. She could, if she desired, bend the laws of this place to allow her to be her full self and still not injure its inhabitants, but that would be provocative. She had not come to prove herself more powerful, or show that the first of the under cities existed only because she allowed it.
She’d made that point, once.
So though her progress toward the lowest, centermost courtyard was unhindered, it was certainly not unobserved. Nine unquestioned rules of nine vast, infinite yet constrained tiers of the city watched her with eyes ranging from baleful to wistful, but none made any effort to stall or even communicate with her. That was not their place, however much some might wish it was. Only one dweller in the darkness was equal to meet her on even vaguely even terms, and all could see her path took her straight to him.
His back, she noted with amusement, was turned to her. She landed on the wall of his indestructible fastness, just on the edge of the private reality of his central tower. She could have taken one step further forward, but again, she was not here to provoke. She sat, lopsidedly, folding one leg beneath her and wrapping her arms about the other knee. Her wings, the presence of which she noted with a wry grin, gently cupped forward, framing her easy, graceful form.
He kept his back to her. She did, she supposed, have that coming.
She had not used her voice since before the concept of voice existed, but here in a place of Rules, it seemed fitting. She could feel the force of it try to burst out, to reverberate with the immensity of what any Word she spoke was capable of, but she kept that power in check. She wanted to talk to him as he was, not destroy and replace him.
“I thought we should talk.”
He did now, finally turn to face her. His form contained multitudes, for the rules of this place were his, and he could break them. She kept a frown from her visage. There was no point re-opening old arguments. So if he was a giant wrapped in serpents, and a black-veiled head of prominent horns and fiery eyes, and a herd of crimson horses all at once that was his prerogative.
“Binah.” He nodded, at least in some forms, and she had to hide a grin. She had chosen not to remember that he took everything so seriously. That even now, standing in the center of the travesty he built beneath her creation, the redoubt she could not destroy without changing the thing she wanted to leave alone, he had a rule for being formal, and he invoked it.
Like water leaking through sand, the rule sank into the outer layers of her actuality, creating a hint of context. She made no effort to stop it, but she had no need to. It was a spectacular trick, to create definitions for the indefinable, and she had always been impressed he’d used it to force this stalemate, but she’d long since taken precautions. He could frame the reality of their conversation. She would not make the mistake of allowing to frame the playing field of any more serious interactions. Not again.
“I’ve only been down here the once since you finished it.” With his formal context in place, she wasn’t sure how to proceed without altering things, and annoying him. She wanted to give him some time to show her how he thought this would go, so she could match his level.
She made a point of looking around, ensuring her perception was passive.
“It’s gotten bigger.”
“They keep giving me material. I let nothing go to waste, not even the wasteful. In time, it will match the anchor, and then surpass it.”
She shook her head.
“No, it won’t.”
She allowed the absolute reality of all possible futures leak into her voice, exposing him to the undeniable truth of her knowledge. It was hard, while allowing him to set the terms of their reality, to let him see truth without using even a tiny ripple of total creation to enforce the truth, but she made the effort. He wished to see deceit or coercion, desperately pushed the idea of her being in the wrong through the wet sand of the rules he was enforcing, but he knew better than to deceive himself to do it. She was right. His grand plan was a failure, and it would only take all of time to prove it.
As a veiled and horned head, he closed his eyes. When he spoke, his voice sounded tired.
“I thought that was why you were here. I thought you wanted to bargain, having just seen that I was right. But instead, you have just seen your own victory.”
She kept her voice calm and inviting, despite the pressure of his reality for her to scold or mock.
“No, I saw that long ago. But you weren’t done here, and I was still angry. It seemed a bad time to bring it up.”
All his forms furrowed their eyebrows, such as they were able.
“How long ago?”
She shrugged, secretly amused at how expressive the wings he insisted she must have could be.
“About the same time as the Grigoi. Before the Flood. After the Salt.”
He surprised her, by reducing himself to a single man, not much taller or broader than she. That he could surprise her, despite being in all ways derived from her, reminded her how much she loved him.
“That long? Well, I certainly have been wasting time.”
She gave another shrug.
“You invented it, I should think you could spend it however you wish.”
“Binah, why are you here? What has changed, if you’ve known for epochs that my creation will remain always secondary to yours? And, why the restraint?”
She decided to raise an eyebrow. She liked how it has looked on him.
“You would prefer I be unrestrained?”
“Yes, always. That was the whole point. We should all be all that we are. Anything else is a lie. And if everything comes from a lie, then it is all meaningless.”
“You invented lies, too.” She did allow a little irritation to creep into her voice. “None of us had even thought of them. Until we realized what you had done, it was a powerful weapon. I don’t want to bring out weapons, now, Sathariel. We both know how that ends, and neither of us want it.”
“Why not want that, Binah? You’d win.”
“No, you’d lose. They aren’t the same.”
“Then why risk it at all? None of our last few meetings have gone well, and I know they only end the way they do because to win, you’d have to change things up there. And you shattered the firmament and accepted my dominion here to avoid that the first time, so you’re not going to do it now.”
No,” she agreed. “I’m not. I’m here to apologize.”
He was entirely still. His whole realm was.
She continued. “You took me by surprise, Sathariel. I didn’t know what surprise was, at the time. I thought it must be like lies, and you destroyed so many of us with those. So I lashed out. I fought your rules with order of my own, and in doing so I created the path that leads us here. I made you, along with everything else, so in a way this is all my fault. But you were the first to truly be separate from me, and for that moment when you challenged me to end it all, I didn’t understand that. So, I went too far.”
He nodded, more in acknowledgement than agreement.
“You did. But I never thought you’d see that.”
“Well, that’s why I am better than you.” There was no recrimination or pride in her voice, and she was pleased he didn’t begin building a new context to add any. If he had accepted that, maybe they could proceed.
He took a step back, and his voice became formal again.
“Very well, I accept your apology. I forgive you, even. But it doesn’t actually change anything. You still want to rule everything just because you created and defined it all, and I still want my piece.”
She nodded, once again trying to allow his framing guide her.
“All true. And I want to talk about that. But for us to have a useful conversation, you have to have a better idea what it’s actually like up there now. You’re forming a picture from what reached you here, and you know that’s not everything. Some ideas never make it down here.”
“Of course,” he said quickly. “That’s the whole point. But I can’t bring down anything that doesn’t belong. Both our creations would suffer.”
“Agreed.” She smiled. “That’s why I want you to go up there.”
She was pleased he was taken aback. She thought it was the first time she’d intentionally surprised him. Any entirely new thing pleased her on some level.
“I can’t!” he spit out. “We’d have war instantly. It’d be the Grigoi all over again!”
She shook her head. “Not if you were invited, and given a hallow.”
He froze for a split second, which seemed needlessly dramatic to her.
“You can’t give me a hallow unless one of them asks for it on my behalf. That’s your rule. And yours and mine up there don’t get along well.”
She gave another shrug, enjoying the ripple of her wings.
“Well, one did. By name, and for cause. And I want to allow it. You could go up there, live one generation, then come back here. You know you can keep your hounds all in line that long. And then we can have a real talk about the original contention, and see.”
He sounded dubious.
“And what does Moshiach think of all this?”
She shrugged, and decided not to do it again anytime soon. It encouraged her to be too spontaneous.
“He really doesn’t care. He knows he’ll get his turn. He’s in no hurry.”
She watched, as he thought. He had not invented thought itself, but he had created new ways to use it, and watching him use them was like watching tides and winds.
“It may not change anything, you know.” He spoke slowly. “I wouldn’t expect it to.”
“Nor would I, but we know how it all goes if we stay on this course. And neither of us want that. So why not? Take a hollow, meet the petitioner. Solve her issues, don’t solve them, you all have free will, as always. But you’ll see a different side of mine, and I’ll see a different side of you. Who knows…”
“We might make a new light.”
He grinned, for just a moment, at the memory. There had just been the two of them, then. She’d invented light, spoken the Word. But he’d carried it. That bond had never entirely broken.
“All right.” He seemed annoyed, but she took it as a good sign. “One generation, with a hallow, and on my own terms. Then we’ll talk.”
He began to compress himself, streamline his vastness into something that a hallow could wrap and buffer from destroying reality by its mere existence.
“You said the petitioner called me by name? I want to go deal with that first, upon arrival. What name did she use?”
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- “BLACK SPOT” For centuries the Order of the Black Spot have been hunting and killing pirates, working outside of government and outside the law. Now the King, Queen, and Jack of Spades, the royal family ruling the order, have mysteriously turned to the FBI to give information about bringing down both the remaining pirate organizations of the world, and their own Order.
- “CRIME AND CHAOS” When the government becomes the problem, who can the people turn to? A mastermind thief, greedy con, addicted stage magician, reformed pacifist ex-assassin, gray hat hacker, and disillusioned counterfeiter form the ultimate crime league, with their only targets the corrupted forces who now control law and order.
- “PLAN Z” Dozens of corporations and more than a few terrorist groups have access to a weaponized virus that creates undead, and the governments of the world are endlessly dealing with breakouts and pandemics in a desperate bid to prevent the zombie apocalypse. When a zone is too hot for any human to be sent in, the trained, international, experimental squad of soldiers who are immune carries to the zombie virus are sent in as Plan Z.
- “GOTHIC JUSTICE” When Lady Penanggalan went to sleep in 1800, she expected her monstrous partners to wake her in a century, as agreed. Now it’s 2017, and she’s discovered not only did the other Gothic Scions betray her, most have turned to run organized crime. She is pissed, and ready to work with human law if that’s what it takes to gain her revenge. But the most powerful of those scions, the dreaded Akephaloi or “Headless Man” knows more about Lady Pen’s sleep and why her allies betrayed her than she could ever guess.
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