Tag Archives: speculative fiction

Blood and Runes

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series Market of the Macabre

He wastes no time. Already the moonlight has crept across the box, and if he misses this opportunity, it will be weeks before another presents itself.

He slips his tongue between his teeth — and bites down, hard, severing the flesh. He takes the torn tip of his tongue between his fingers, even as his mouth fills with blood. He turns his head to the side and spits, a misty spray of blood and saliva.

Then he leans forward, the moonlight washing over him, and licks the top of the box. He takes his time, caressing the box with his tongue with a movement that is almost sensual. The blood from his mouth fills the depressions in the wood, up to the brim and then some, so that each appears as a black bead of fluid in the moonlight. The box itself drinks up the remaining blood, so that when he is done and straightens again, the box appears to have been set with dark, glistening glass jewels.

It is enough. With a click a seam appears around the perimeter of the box, and wisps of vapor seep through the gap.

Moonlight

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Market of the Macabre

It is night now, and moonlight pours through the one open window in the room. The moon outside is full, the light it casts bright and rich. Almost the moonbeam reaches the table. Almost it reaches the box. The moment he has been waiting for has very nearly arrived.

He continues to hold station against the wall. His body is sore from remaining motionless for so many hours, but he barely notices. His focus is single-minded, his muscles taut with anticipation. The moon continues its descent, the beam of light it casts now touching the table surface and beginning to inch toward the red box positioned at its center.

Yeeeesssssss, he thinks to himself and releases a held breath.

Finally, the light slips over and around the box, and the surface of the box changes with the light. A series of geometric depressions sink into the wood, each separate from the others but seen together forming a rune-like shape.

He moves instantly. The moment he has been waiting for has arrived, and it will pass far too quickly.

The Red Box

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series Market of the Macabre

The box rests on a small, round table, perfectly centered on its rough surface. The man who purchased it stands across the room, leaning with one shoulder against the wall, staring at the box without really seeing it, lost in contemplation. Before him lies the prize for which he has sought so long, but the moment to open the box, to grasp the prize within has not yet quite arrived.

And so he waits.

A scent of smoke passes before his nostrils, one with which he is familiar. It matches the scent of the smoke within the box, and yet he knows the scent is not really there. It is a memory, of a time long past, but one which his brain, his body remembers all too well. The mere memory is so strong, so palpable, that for a moment he nearly loses his resolve and dashes to the box to tear it open immediately.

But instead he closes his eyes, takes deep breaths, and clears his mind of all thoughts. It would not do to be premature, he reminds himself. You have waited this long. You can wait a little longer.

Smoke Merchants

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series Market of the Macabre

He winds his way through the chaos, trying to avoid bumping into anyone. Such a thing is nigh impossible here. But it hardly bothers him. Here, anonymity is paramount.

Finally, he reaches a dark corner where two grey men sit. He sits across from them, aware of the open room at his back. An acceptable risk.

“You have it?” he asks the men. They exchange nervous glances.

“ID,” one says, voice tense.

“Of course,” he replies and produces an odd coin from a pocket. It is large, embossed with an image so profane the two merchants visibly flinch. It is enough. One of the grey men reaches down and produces a small, red box. He handles it gingerly, sliding it across the table.

“You know what this contains,” the merchant says.

“Of course.” At last! His eyes are captivated by the box, riveted by his prize. Without looking up, he says, “You may go.” The merchants are gone in an instant.

“I have you now,” he says and grins. He lifts the box near his face, inhaling deeply. He can almost smell the smoke inside.

Bearers

Olivia hits the ground with a sickening crunch, but she barely feels it. Her vision is swimming, her ears ringing, and it takes her a moment to realize she’s landed left hip on the pavement, her arms supporting her upper torso. Her jaw throbs with a dull ache, the site of the punch that sent her sprawling. She shakes her head slowly, lightly, trying to clear the disorientation. It helps, some, as her vision snaps back into focus. She is relieved to see Petalbloom still held securely in her right fist.

Slowly, carefully, she pushes herself up to her knees and then to her feet. Petalbloom’s Weight resists the motion, but only slightly, as if to remind her of what it is. She hefts it reflexively, sunlight glinting along the length of the 12-inch blade. With her free hand, she wipes a dribble of blood flowing from her burst lower lip down over her chin.

That should not have happened, she thinks, staring at the blood glistening on her fingers. Then aloud, “That should not have happened.” She turns to face her assailant, who stares her down mere steps away in the alley, smug expression fixed on his face.

“You,” she says, a puzzled tone to her voice. “You’re a Bearer?” His response is to spread his arms wide and grin even wider, as if to say, So? Only one of his hands is gloved, and she realizes, too late, that the glove itself is an Object. It is wrapped in that unmistakable aura of Weight that all Objects possess.

Which only confuses her further. “You’re a Bearer,” she repeats, incredulity replacing confusion. “And you fight me?” she asks. “Why?”

He laughs, dropping his arms and tilting his head back, roaring at the sky with obvious delight. Then he looks back at Olivia, his eyes cold and hard, all traces of a smile wiped from his face. Olivia notes a glimmer of madness in those eyes and feels the flesh on her arms prickle.

“Why not?” is all he answers.

“But, Bearers are supposed to be heroes,” she stammers, that note of confusion returning to her voice. “We don’t fight each other. We fight monsters. We fight evil. We push back the darkness wherever we find it. That is our purpose and our calling. No Bearer can claim an Object without first accepting those terms.”

His face turns suddenly angry, livid with rage, and she feels a cold fist of fear in her belly. His next words are even colder, like frost on a mid-summer’s day.

“Go be a hero, then, Olivia Childress,” he spits, and she tries not to let the shock that he knows her name show on her face. “Not all of us are meant for such things. Maybe some of us are meant to be something else. Maybe some of us meant to be antiheroes. Maybe some of us are meant to be Breakers.”

He turns on his heel and begins to walk away, and Olivia feels that cold chill of fear on her skin once more at that word she has never heard before but immediately recognizes as somehow being fundamentally wrong.

One final question escapes her lips.

“WHO ARE YOU?” Her own voice is deafening, enhanced by the Weight she bears. It thunders down the alley, bouncing off the walls. The ringing returns to her ears, nearly drowning out his answer.

“You’ll know soon enough, Olivia child!” His laughter drifts back to her even after he turns a corner and disappears from sight.


Weeping in the Willows

The child sits at the base of the tree, silently weeping. Her arms are crossed over her upraised knees, her face buried in her arms. Tears fall from her cheeks, staining her pants and the soil on which she sits. A few even land on the tree roots.

A gentle touch on her cheek startles her, and she looks up. She is alone, the canopy of the willow sheltering her.

The tree itself rustles, its branches gently swaying. The child’s misery turns to puzzlement. There is no wind, and yet the tree sways of its own accord.

More tears slip from her eyes. Another gentle touch, this time on her opposite cheek, and she turns to catch sight of a branch brushing a tear away. A single, salty drop rests on a leaf then drips to the ground as the branch pulls away.

The child is in wonder, her pain momentarily forgotten. She looks up at the tree, amazed to see a face there, sad but compassionate.

Her tears flow anew, her grief given release. She leans her head against the willow as its branches envelop her in a tender embrace.

My Defiance

It soared out of midnight, all gas envelope and aerosolized Nightmare, propelled by only God knows what. It carried a tiny bomber bay, loaded with a lethality that would have made any nation quake to its roots, if any knew it existed.

The airship was black as night and quiet as death. It harbored no pilot, guided only by an intricate clockwork array designed to get the ship from Point A to Point B. No living navigator could have survived such close proximity to the payload for the duration of the voyage.

And so the vessel sailed on, unheeded and unnoticed.

Until…

A klaxon sang out somewhere far below. Spotlights lit the night, sweeping the sky for a target. One swept past the airship — then back. Others joined it, until the whole thing was lit from the ground.

The beam of one light narrowed, focusing on the bay, searching for… something.

There! A name.

My Defiance.

A question as much as an answer, neither of which would ever be known. The torpedo doors opened, and death fell from the sky.

A Warm Glow

This entry is part 16 of 18 in the series The Rusted Blade

Orthael watched the child raise her weapon to point at him, felt the Judgement shiver slightly in recognition. Through it, the All-Consumer whispered of times long past, when demigods and archangels had come to the lands of men to fight darkness.

The triple-flamed shield of the Paladin Guard emblazoned on his golden shield seemed to vibrate with power, tugging the tip of the Judgement to face a threat. No, he whispered to himself, feeling his pastoral pendant under his armour. No, she is a child and the Flame welcomes her into its embrace.

With a gathered effort of will, he put away the Judgement for a while. He drew upon the warmth within and spoke a greeting imbued with the power of the Church.

“The Fire be with you, child. Its warmth comfort you, its light guide you, its purity inspire you.”

Orthael’s voice was quiet, but he knew the words would carry – just as he knew tears would dry and hearts would lift. There was no flash of light, but it was magic all the same.

Flames of the Fire

This entry is part 18 of 18 in the series The Rusted Blade

“Orthael!” she spat. “Protector of life, servant of the All-Consumer.” Her voice dripped disdain. “Summoned by a local parish, no doubt.” Orthael nodded. “To protect us.” He nodded again.

“Well, holy man, where were you when my village was destroyed by one of the Greater Dead? Where were you when everything and everyone I loved and cared about was ruined utterly?” Malika was weeping openly now, her grip tightening on Morduth’s hilt, its blue flames traveling further up her arm with each spoken word. “Where were you when we needed you, when I needed you?”

She lowered Morduth, bringing the sword into a ready position, and when she spoke again, her voice was cold, empty, bereft of grief and rage alike.

“Defend yourself, holy man, if you can. I would know the strength of your resolve — and the power of your god.”

And with that she charged, raising Morduth to strike even as the sword voiced a single word of alarm and objection:

MISTRESS!

And then blade crossed blade, blue flame mixing with orange.

An Introduction and a Challenge

This entry is part 17 of 18 in the series The Rusted Blade

“I ask you again,” Malika said. “Who be you, and how be it you come to be here, just at this very moment? Be you a final test, holy man or not, to confirm my resolve, to baptize me in the fire of purification against the forces of Ashmar?” She could feel her tone rising with every word, feel the heat of anger warm her face, feel the wetness of the tears sliding down her cheeks once more. “What be you, holy man? I would know, else I cut you down where you stand.”

Mistress… Morduth cautioned, but he was cut short as the other man spoke.

“I am Orthael, young swordmaiden,” he replied, “Paladin, holy warrior of the All-Church, servant of the All-Consuming Fire, wielder of Judgement versus the demons of Ashmar.”

He was silent then, and Malika took a long a moment to evaluate this man who stood so calmly before her. The rage and despair welled up inside her once more, and when she spoke again, she found herself shouting, her rage and grief now full and complete.