Legal Theft Project: Between the Luster and the Gloaming

He rambled in the wilder lands, paying homage to no lord of darkness, no lady of light. His were the tangled and the natural things, the beasts and the birds, the trees whose leaves whispered secrets to travelers, and the false lights that lead them astray. His domain a place between the gloaming and the luster, wreathed in mist, and filled with wilder things than dwell in the courts both dark and light. From beneath the trees he watched the civilized sides quarrel and marked their passing, but until that day, he stayed out of their squabbles. Better suited to hunt and roam, and discover the wonders of his wild range.

Until one day their quarrels raged. Raged and spread. The sun vanished that day. Night fell over every land and chaos reigned. But briefly, before the stars were banished and light scathed back across the lands. The night and the day were at war, beyond song, beyond skirmish, if the whole of the realms fell with them, they cared not a jot. He stood frozen nearly too long before he let loose the howl to call his creatures to him. Perhaps some in the fight heard, but the leaders cared not and so were unprepared when their spells went awry, when the beasts of fang and claw and wing descended, following their lord.

The battle is one of which no one speaks. There are few things more unsettling to the folk of the realms than the prospect of non-existence, of how close the whole lot of them came to the edge. The horde disperses. The courts of the fair, light and dark, go home to seethe and resent. The wild ones scatter. And the lord of the wilds turns his back on the courts, going deep into the untamed. Speaking to none. No one has seen him since. Though every once and awhile, when the fighting gets too intense, the undergrowth growls, and those who fight, pause.


A thief am I! I stole the line “The sun vanished that day.” from a diplomat with a machete. And I’m not the only one…. check out her post to see who else nicked the line.

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Legal Theft Project: Ripples in Time

The ashen clouds began to clear, letting sunlight stream into the twisted wrecks. The siren avoided the slashes of light, slipping herself between broken boards and crushed hulls. Countless ships had crashed and sunk on the surrounding rocks. Whether from sea, storm, or siren the end result was the same, wreckage, bones, and the detritus of human endeavor. Swimming through the shadows in the broken galleon she ran her webbed hand against the splintered wood, tugging more of it into disarray. There a chest buried in silt, there a rusted cannon, and here, the clean bones of a man. She grasped the skull and lifted it to her eyes, turning it this way and that.

And it looked like bone. Incredibly clean bone. She smirked, hiding her teeth. It elicited nothing in her. Not even when it had held the mind of a man and the muscles to move and a fair and pleasing shape did they ever mean more than a challenge or a diversion. A hunt, then satisfaction, of either or both kinds.

She thought of her sister, the rituals, the oaths, the promises spun fragile as still water and twice as deep, now binding her to the world of flesh and death. Of the mortals who danced and cheered as their prince wed. Of herself walking into the sea queen’s halls and telling her sisters what Liira had done. Of the bafflement and rage so counter to the fire and welcome of the mortal rite. And she wondered at the transmutation of it all.

Her liege would call it true love. He flattered the couple with gifts, with rewards for a state that he believed they’d earned. The fool would call it folly, if he thought of it at all. In all aspects it was as foreign to her as touching the surface of a star. Singular. Untenable. She leaned back against the hull of the ship and held the skull in both hands. It revealed no new mysteries.

Yet it could bind her. One day it could be a nephew, a grandniece, or… she shuddered and released the skull. She would handle that duty when it descended on her. If it did. For all she knew the mortal customs would demand her sister remain landlocked with her lover for eternity. She bared her teeth at the skull now settled on the seafloor. How dare it mock her with the folly of time. She swam through the wrecks to the dark open water and dove deep. Away from the slashing beams of light and into the unsettling depths that would crush a mortal man. Drawing her blade, she held it close to her arm to minimize drag and looked for trouble. But as she swam, she could not escape the trickling sense of mortal time passing far above, the niggling thought that a ship with one of her blood could be sailing by without her blessing, in danger from those in the deep who frown on those who cross the lines the wrong way. The deep did not give up its takings without a fight.

She soared through the water, challenging the menaces of the deep to dance with her. To take up a fight that was as much a part of her as teeth and song and scale. None answered her. She swam back up. Past the wrecks. Up to the rocks, where she sheathed her blade and pulled herself out of the water. It wasn’t a song that burst from her lips, but a scream. It did not in the least resemble something human. It pierced the air and seemed to make the sun waver as she sustained it. The water seemed to slow its swell, and gulls froze, gliding or standing. Then she let it die and waves rushed away from her. Empty of… something. And yet… she felt no better. She stood upon the rock and shed her scales, shaking back her hair, and donning her armor. It was enough.


I stole this first line from that machete wielding rogue. She wrote about “Illusions of Home.”

Legal Theft Project: Caging Waves

She couldn’t leave the river, and she was malevolent. They’d bound the curse in iron wrapped around the bones of dead boys and staked it across the mouth of the river. To swim near the sea was to have their curses seared into her flesh. She retreated up the river, tested her palms against the land, but they’d barred her from the banks with the hair of weeping mothers and the blood of fathers. Trapped. Her rage grew. Two lives or ten, they thought they could bind her. Starve her. Her lips curled. Tame her. Chain her in a pen and keep her from their kin, watch the monster so she cannot get you. She screamed her defiance to the stars and dove beneath the white water. The people shivered and shook, but she did not emerge from the river and so they were relieved.

The moon waxed to full and no sound, scale, or claw emerged from the river. The town recovered. The story moved to boasts from the young and cautionary tales from those who had spilled blood to make the binding. She bided in the water. Waiting. Weighing.

Fog stole out of the river and over the town. No moon brightened the dark. She rose from the water onto a thin rock in the center of the river. Her gaze raked down the river to the sea and she began to sing. Wordless and quiet, the new sound wove under the fog. Slowly, people ceased their talking and turned their heads toward the windows. Her song beckoned, the soft shush of waves against the shore, the promise of cool dark relief, the play of light along waves that hinted at wealth and pleasure. Yet none felt called to the water. They heard the song and thought of danger, of treacherous rocks, of ropes and lives and caution. The song paused, an interlude of fog and water and smug satisfaction that the siren was still trapped.

The next notes rang out as clear and sharp as a war cry on a still morning. A series of notes the merging of a call to arms and the rumbling rise of thunder. This was no defiance. The song that poured out of the woman in the river was made of war and wicked weather. Her sisters answered. Voices rose from the sea and sinuous scaled women stepped from the waves. Blades of coral and bone held loose at their sides. Men who woke to the danger and sprang to defense were cut down as waves crash against a shore. Mothers gathered children and lovers close and guarded their doors. The sirens ignored those smart enough to cower before the storm and joined their voices to their sister’s in the river as they rent the bindings caging her.

When the sun rose, none could remember if there had been a true storm or if it was the only way to comprehend the voices of raised together in violence. The river ran red with the blood of those fool enough to try and fight the sea. Of the sirens there was no other sign. Except when storms roll in from the sea they carry the voices of war.


 

Yes, I still commit first line larceny. This first line was filched from Kathryn. See what else lurked in the river here.

Legal Theft Project: Companions in the Violent Dark

The darkness spread from the palace like a living thing, and even the most careless of the fae paused to take note and hide. But it wasn’t until the darkness trickled down into the hollow the three had claimed for their practices that they took any note of it. They could afford the risk. The spill of inky darkness paused the flurry of strikes and steps. One of the men threw his thick brindled hair out of his eyes as he reared back and scented the air. He growled in disgust. The other man froze still as a midnight statue, lowering his point so slowly it seemed to have always been down. The woman turned to look at the epicenter of the darkness and the lashing anger that drove it outward. They paused for a moment to consider it. To taste it. The woman licked her lips. “That one’s new.”

The man with brindled hair laughed – a sound like hounds baying. “Not as new as all that.” The woman tilted her head in consideration. The second man simply raised the point of his sword in question. They fell to. New or not, this darkness could not turn them from the rush of skilled combat. So onward they fought, and danced, and strove. The darkness covered all the lands visible from the hollow by the time they slowed and stopped. Bowing to each other in appreciation of points well scored, they retired to a nearby bower, noting how the darkness roiled like a thunderstorm that refused to break.

The woman, Thana, Champion of the Lord of Blackstone, sat in the center seat. At her left, the brindle haired Lord of Wilds, Obyas, reclined, removing the deep green glass cover from his meal. On her right, Zarheel, the Keeper sat, swirling wine in a midnight blue glass. Thana dipped her hand into the elegant bowl before her and removed a wriggling eel. She tossed it into her mouth and consumed it contemplatively. “Not new to you then, Obyas.”

“Intensity varies, but many can set their centennial celebrations by thorned tempers. If one cared to watch time that closely.” Obyas snorted. He had hare, roasted with wild greens, and ate it with his hands.

Zarheel placed his glass on the table and turned to the many small pots of brightly colored curries. He took one at a time and ate them slowly. Cleansing his palate with a soft orange paste between each pot. “You running off to check?” he asked Thana.

She cut her eyes at him and he smiled at their withering. “He does take much looking after.”

“You would know, Keeper. Yet, oddly, I earned the place I hold. So perhaps they believe there is cause.”

“There is always cause. But time is such a tricky monster.” His smile faded down to a smirk.

“How long will he be keeping the fields clear of quarry? That’s what I want to know.” Obyas looked to Thana as he asked.

Thana shrugged. “Not my calling. Perhaps the Fool will do his job, perhaps not.” She considered the darkness outside the bower and an odd smile played about her lips. “Perhaps he’ll lose his head for it. Either way. I know better. Time may be tricky, but one can count on it being lazy. All things perish eventually.”

Zarheel acknowledged the hit with a tilt of his current curry pot. “Ah, but it is your job to keep our dear prince from perishing, is it not?”

She laughed, a sound like ships bells washing against rocky shores and oddly compelling. “You misunderstand my role.” She leaned forward capturing the attention of both men. “My job is to perish others, and, failing that, perish before the prince. But never let it be said that I am one who maintains life.” She plucked another eel from the bowl. “I am merely canny about where and when I end it.” The second eel followed the first between her teeth.

“You worry not at all?”

“Only that if the Fool does lose his head, he’ll simply continue bantering until he reattaches it. One does occasionally enjoy silence.”

In mutual understanding, they all enjoyed their meals and ignored the darkness pulsing like a heartbeat under every breath they took.


Someone left the gate unlocked… I stole this first line from TheGateintheWood. See who else slipped through the gate and grabbed some darkness here.

Legal Theft Project: Siren

Waves churned under the heavy grey sky. The wind whipped the waves into white capped chargers crashing and careening around Thana’s rock. Thana grinned into the wind and hoisted herself fully out of the sea. Wrapped around the top of her rock, she gloried in the difference in the world above and the world below. The sky grumbled with thunder and Thana laughed at it. No giant storm was brewing. She and her sisters had not called it, and nature was far more fickle than fey. There was the promise of dangerous weather, but Thana doubted nature would fulfill it. There was not enough depth to its growls and the wind only whistled, it did not howl. It was not a day for wrecking.

Thana stood on her toes and spun. A dress swirled around her, simple grey shift and slate blue bodice and skirt. She stayed barefoot and left her dark hair loose and wild. The unwary would see a fisher girl. She didn’t care for them. But those who looked again, she would hold out her hand. The clever would shake their heads, offer her a trinket and be on their way. Those that dreamed, or those with more heart than sense, would take her hand, and she would take them dancing. Some would go back home with a story and a sense of pride. Some would flee in fear and tell the tale from the safety of a warm fire. And one, if she found one that suited her fancy, would not go back at all.

On the rocks in the sea, she threw back her head and sang her plans to the wind and sky, and the weather answered. Her voice carried over the waves and those tucked safely within shuttered houses ignored it. The few with open windows or out walking heard her voice. Most took it as a warning and scurried inside. A few stopped and wondered at the voice. The dare it flung into their lives.

Challenge issued, Thana danced over the rocks to the shore. Today was a day for mischief and she intended to fill it well.

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My friend Bek stole the first line of this piece to write “Beaches and Beauty.” Check it out.

Legal Theft Project: Blood and Raisins

She nodded at her brother, stepped out of the circle, and did not look back. Pointed teeth gleamed in the forest spirits smile. “This way,” it said. She walked into the forest following the sharp movements of her bark skinned guide. She had a small stash of bribes, baked goods mostly, in case she needed to make more bargains. A good cloak, sturdy boots, and her hunting knife. Tall branches blocked out the light of the moon and it sifted down in threads. She wasn’t worried; her guide had made a bargain. Bargains with the spirits were always kept. If she stumbled and fell it would be forced to wait. It did not seem like the most patient of sprites. Mist rose up in the trees and she walked for awhile in a cathedral of trees and shadows with home falling farther and farther behind her.

Her legs wearied, but she pressed on. They needed the name and this was the only way she knew to get it. When the light among the trees warmed to a pale gold glow, she knew what she’d forgotten. She kept her face uninterested, but pulled a raisin out of her pack. “How long will it take to get there and back?”

The spirit grinned and took the raisin. “Two years by the safe roads, less by more dangerous paths.”

“Two years is too long.”

Black eyes glimmered with an old cunning. “Safety was your restriction.”

“Are there ways to make the trip more quickly?”

“For a price, many things are possible.”

For the first time on this journey, Zepporah felt her stomach clench. They were bargaining, she need offer nothing else but she wasn’t in a circle and she needed the guide. If only it were as easy as negotiating peace between her siblings. Heart aching, she pushed thoughts of home aside.

“A combination of the quick and dangerous paths. I want to return to my lands before a year and a day have passed.”

“I cannot guarantee your safety on the dangerous paths. There are places even I could not help you.”

“You are under a bargain.”

“Not all creatures stop to ask.”

“You can inform me of the dangers and I will make a decision on if I want to continue down it.” In the corner of her mind Zepporah thought bargaining with spirits was a lot like training a horse. She’d always been more stubborn, more patient, and had more power. This was a lot the same, except a false step here got you more than cracked ribs and filthy skirts.

“I take you on quicker paths, faster time, maintain the current bargain, and for that, I want blood.” It could not disguise its hunger on the last word.

At least that was honest. Zepporah shook her head. “No blood. I-”

The sprite hissed. “I risk as much as you on the other roads. I keep you protected. I want more than treats and tricks.”

Zepporah took a breath in through her nose and let it out slowly. Blood was a bond a strong one. All her reading emphasized its power. “One drop now and one when I am returned to my lands.”

“Three drops now and one for each day I bring you back before the year is up.”

“Three drops now and one for every month before the year is up.”

“Week.”

“Fortnight.”

“Done.”

Zepporah took her hunting knife and nicked her thumb with the edge. She let three drops fall into the waiting hands of the forest sprite who lapped them up. She thought the black eyes gleamed a little brighter.

“This way.” It turned and walked into the deepening gloom and Zepporah shut home away in her thoughts. She put her thumb to her mouth and tasted the blood. She took her handkerchief out of her pocket and wrapped it around her thumb. It would do for now. She took one long step into the shadow of the trees, then another. And another. And another.

 

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My friend Kathryn is a thief! She stole the first line of this piece to write “Bottled” on her blog, Nine Pages. Check it out.