Homecomings and Holiday Hazards

Sleeping on the plane was easy after sleeping on wet rocks for three months. Liam didn’t feel refreshed, but between the sleep on the plane and the brisk walk from the bus stop to the family restaurant, he thought he could manage the magic. The restaurant windows were festooned with lights and artistic murals of poinsettias and snowflakes. The interior was dark of the restaurant was dark, but the tree gleamed in a window of the upstairs apartment. He had to take his hand out of his glove to hunt for the spare key. He found it and was glad, a man of his appearance toting a large leather duffel bag and a battered hard roller case fumbling around in the dark at a restaurant side door was usually not the stuff of holiday miracles.

He stepped into the warmth of the entry way and admired the garland on the railing. Plastic candles centered a few arrangements with real pine boughs on the console table. Stockings hung from the wooden mantle, his tacked up there hopefully next to his father and sister’s stockings. Moving quietly despite his luggage, he tucked the roller case into the closet and sat the duffel on the living room floor. He only had an hour or two before his sister woke up, bakers hours started early and customs always took too long. He shrugged away the black feelings and focused on playing saint nicholas. Candied orange peels, spices, and rich chocolates went into stockings. A cross he’d carved from rose wood was tucked into his sister’s. His father got a wooden spoon for his collection, carved with decorative leaves on the handle. He tucked a few gifts wrapped in folded cloth under the traditional tree and moved to the kitchen. Smiled at the prepped station for cinnamon rolls and sweet bread. He was draping a garland of dried chilies around the kitchen window when something warm bumped up against his elbow. He almost stabbed his arm into the festively decorated agave plants in the window. Death by sparkling pointy flora was not exactly the way things were expected to go. Though the fairy light bedecked and santa hat wearing kitchen plants would be happy to change that.

Liam looked down into the orange-yellow eyes of a fat three legged and aggressively friendly cat. He looked at the cat. The cat looked at him. The cat bumped its head into his arm again. Slowly, Liam extricated himself from the plants, and looked into the cupboards near the cat until a bag with a paw and a fish on it caught his eye. The cat meowed at him. He held up a finger. “Don’t blow this for me, okay?” he said to the cat and gently offered it a few of the treats. The cat blinked and then ignored him in preference for the food. He shook his head and finished setting out the decorations, gifts, and lastly, as he checked his watch, starting the process of melting chocolate for a truly decadent brew. He was adding the cinnamon and dash of chilis when Nora came down the stairs and saw the cat on the counter. Her eyes narrowed and she reached for a spray bottle on the end of the counter that Liam hadn’t even seen, then aborted the movement. “Liam!” She hurled herself at her brother, who for his part, grinned and opened his arms to catch her. They hugged, hard. Then Nora pulled back. “Mr. Tubbs isn’t allowed on the counters.” Mr. Tubbs, having finished his bribe, had retreated to the floor when Nora had entered, and remained, sitting on the kitchen floor like a ham bone as he cleaned himself. Liam decided not to tell his sister that not only had he fed the cat on the counter top, the cat had nearly toppled him into her plants. Which would probably have led to her coming down the stairs and throwing a pot at his head, or something. “Sorry,” he said and hugged her again. The hot chocolate need his attention, and by the time he’d settled it, Nora had gotten down the mugs and was throwing questions at him. And the bone tired he’d been carrying with him all through the flight, through customs, and through the snow, vanished in the scents of cinnamon, chocolate and dough.


A few other people may have had encounters with dangerous sparkly flora…….

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Legal Theft Project: Tantalizing Danger

The library beckoned. Dove tugged his shirt on before untangling himself from the nest of blankets. Proper barely grumbled as he burrowed into the warm spot he’d left. Dove grinned at him, but could no longer resist the lure of the open door. He’d been sharing Proper’s bed for a few months, and had never seen more than the sliver of tumbled papers and pile of clothes and blankets on the chair. For all he was careless with belongings, Proper was careful of his secrets. But… it had been months, and he trusted that any good secret was decently hidden, so what could be the harm in taking a look?

Dove padded over to the door and pushed his way in, the door only groaned a little and Proper turned over but did not emerge from the blankets. The walls were held up by shelves containing books and loose leaf papers, sheet music, containers of things Dove did not want to touch or breath near, a photograph of an unknown place, scattered statues and photographs, and a few needles close to rolling off shelves.

A window looked out over the frosted grass outside, just now letting enough of the dawn in to read by. A desk was shoved under the window. It was piled with battered paperbacks, scraps of paper with handwritten notes, a few journals, several knives with flash handles, and pouches of the snuff available downstairs. Tucked into a corner was a partially open case containing a carefully polished violin.

Dove extracted a journal from the pile and ran a finger over the embossed letters. It was heavier than the one he wrote in and he unwound the leather cord so he could take a look. The writing was messy, but legible. Dove knew most of the people mentioned though it took him longer than he would have liked to realize he was holding poison in his hand. The secrets in that journal could hurt people and he closed it quickly and wrapped it back up. He shoved it further into the jumble than it had been. Some of the notes scattered around were the same. One of the maps he looked at had markings that indicated camps, maybe men, maybe supplies. Dove looked back into the other room at the lump of Proper completely buried now under the blankets. His stomach clenched a little. The pretty, the dangerous, the illicit, and the romantic all blended into each other in this room, and some of them looked like others. Dove was suddenly certain that he had some of them wrong. He slipped back into the sleeping room and looked down at the person he’d been keeping warm. He shivered a little and went to make breakfast.


Some thieves also found libraries tempting. See who stole my line “The library beckoned.” I think some Kid and a Diplomat may have run off with it….

Legal Theft Project: Maligned Intentions

He was not an innocent man. He’d been chased through mountains, across oceans, and through deserts. He traveled the world and inevitably, somewhere, somehow, one judgmental sword-bearer or another ran into him and swore to end or apprehend. Perhaps they’d started a social club. One where they could practice swordplay and update his list of crimes. Perhaps they competed … no that couldn’t be right, they were all too sure they were on the righteous side of things. Of course… they were… but it would be nice if they might look up from their blind pursuit of justice and look into the shadows right behind him.

It would have so many benefits. They might realize there was more to the situation. They might take a spare moment to consider that it would have been rather difficult to pull off some of the crimes he was accused of, alone. They might, well, live a little longer.

Or they might decide that he was obviously a murderous zealot who’d struck a deal with an ancient evil to cover the earth in darkness.

Really, could no one imagine complications anymore?

Then again… he had woken up ancient evil. Not on purpose…. so… Not innocent, but he was doing his best.


I thieved this first line away from that diplomat with a machete

Legal Theft Project: Worse Days Yet to Come…

His magic had never failed him before, and now a boy was dead. He’d been too late. His protection charm had failed. The protections writ in wood and iron had been no match for the ritual here. The fire burned higher at his back. The light showing the circle, the body of the boy, and the bodies of those who had sacrificed him. At least he’d done that much.

Thus he was dramatically silhouetted in front of the fire and behind the bodies when the guard finally responded to the reports of smoke.

“Drop the weapon! Get on the ground!”

The mage stared for a moment, awed by the universal truth that things could always get worse. Then he muttered a few words and vines burst from his staff to entangle the guards. Cries of “Mage!”, “Demon!”, and “MURDERER!” assaulted him as he wove through the guards to the exit. A few of them got blows through and some of his own blood joined the collection on his clothes. He held back. They were just doing their jobs. He knew what he looked like, and he certainly wasn’t the hero of the piece.

The mage staggered up the stairs to the main floor, across the hall, and out into the garden. Then he ran. Ran through the rows of flowers and hedges. Ran toward the forest beckoning on the other side of the hill. To shelter, to green and growing things, toward life. He got most of the way there and happened to glance back. A figure in gleaming armor with a large sword on his back stood on the garden wall watching him.

The mage gulped and turned back to the forest with all the extra speed he could muster. The day just got worse and worse. Magical reserves all but spent, he made it safely away from the burning house and the horrors and would be heroes it contained. It didn’t matter that he’d tried to stop it. He looked guilty as sin and that was enough. It was only later, holed up in the bole of a hollow tree and miles from any path a horse could walk, that he allowed himself to grieve for the child he’d failed to save.

*****

Hours later, in the room where the bodies had been laid after the search, and before graves could be dug for them. The dead boy sat up and smiled to himself. He hopped down off the table and helped himself to one of the cultists daggers. His smile sharpened and he sauntered from the room. Things were going better than he’d dare hoped.


I am a thief! I stole this first line because someone left a gate open and I couldn’t resist. No really, go see for yourself.

Legal Theft Project: The Proper Lighting

Outside the open apartment gate, a small pack of children threw rocks at passing cars. Fen ignored them and got a closer look at the shattered window and colorful graffiti that circled it. He got a few decent shots, playing with the afternoon light and saturation. He’d gained a small audience by the time he lowered the lens. Apparently he was more interesting than automobiles. He didn’t blame them. If he’d been out on the trail he would have had something for them. Something to light up the day and let them remember him. But … he simply lived here. So he stowed his camera and walked off, long legged strides leaving the curiosity and palpable pressure of boredom at his heels. A block later and he broke into a run. Tightened his camera bag strap so it wouldn’t fly off, and raced down the streets. Stares, whispers, and swears followed him. When he nearly tripped over a man leaving a shop and was treated to an improbable account of his ancestry, he finally slowed. He checked the sun and grudgingly turned his feet toward home, he still had homework to do.

His father was busy with the evening rush and his sister was off with her friends preparing for some school event. He understood glitter and poster board were involved. He managed not to shudder. Slogged through about a quarter of his assigned homework. Took a break by writing his required sentences for Spanish as a villanelle and then gave up entirely. Formulaic, cohesive, unimaginative crap. He put on the CD of traditional guitar he’d gotten when he last visited Spain and pulled up his pictures from the day. He studied the broken window, played with light levels and sharpness. Flipped back to earlier in the day, a blurred shot of a crosswalk, an electrical box so covered in tattered paper you could barely tell what its intended purpose was, the stark contrast of the new bakery next to the abandoned lot with the rusting car. He played with mood, making some stark, some bright, more false… but nothing worked. Frustrated he went downstairs and dug into the cookie jar. His sister must have been experimenting as his cookie contained both chocolate chips and butterscotch and the texture was delightfully crispy. He left her a note and headed back up the stairs.

It was the music that was wrong. Nothing about the pictures he’d taken felt like Spanish guitars. He flipped through his collection and made a list of modern, mostly eerie music and settled down in front of his computer screen. This time through, the broken glass was opportunity wasted, the electrical box showed time and carelessness, and the bakery seemed illogical in its place on that corner. Here, with the ability to manipulate moods, light, and blur, the world he was trapped in took on other properties. Transforming from desperate to mysterious, from abandoned to ancient. From mundane to magical. They became places he was willing to spend time. They just needed proper shading.


I stole this first line from a machete wielding diplomat. Well, at least it gave us something to do.

Legal Theft Project: Once More With Feeling

I would have shut up, but he gave me the “If you do that one more time I’m gonna murder you” look and I adore dodging homicide. A beat later, I ease into the first verse  and by the second line I’m sliding behind a pillar to evade the lightning bolt. He holds his fire as I sing the next few lines, but I can’t help it and by line eight, I swing around the pillar a la singing in the rain and look straight at him. Deep breath while rolling out of the way and into the last two lines of the verse. Build up the bridge. I have a good voice, strong lungs, and know how to use both. Pop lyrics soar between the columns and bounce off the vaulted ceiling. Everyone else is collapsing in laughter. The collapsing also drops them out of the danger range of the purposeful and pointed electric annoyance doing its best to catch me, but so far so good.

The chorus is the absolute best part and we put on quite a show. I skid across the floor, cover behind tables, and pop up at the beginning of every line to direct all of the saccharinely critical lyrics at the ends of his platinum blonde hair. The last line of the chorus and I throw my arms open wide, but I timed it wrong and I finish my note and a bolt hits me straight in the chest. I fly across the room and hit the wall hard. There’s silence for a moment, and then everyone laughs. Well, I cough first, but then I laugh. After a beat, he laughs too and comes over to give me a hand up. I take it.

“You’re supposed to have better taste than this, Oh lord of poetry.”

“While most days I would agree with you, it rhymes, so, therefore it is poetry. Light, happy poetry, but poetry. Plus, I would call that performance poetic. We square, oh lord of storms?” I offer my hand.

He takes it, my hand tingles with the remnants of sparks. “Even enough. Just know that I am going to pick all of the music for the next revelle.”

I blink. “This is going to be painful for me, isn’t it.”

“Probably.”

I sigh. Then, “Still worth it.”


My turn to share the wealth, see what my group of thieves did with this first line over here.

 

Legal Theft Project: Weight of Chains

“Uncuff me.” She said it like he’d simply forgotten and she graciously took pity on his poor mortal brain. He checked on the jungle again, the sounds of pursuit were faint, but still present behind them. He helped her up from where the decomposing muck they’d fallen into when she lost her footing. She was covered in mud, decaying leaves, and splashes of blood. It worked for her. If you could consider looking like the forest goddess of death and decay a good look. He probably looked like a dirt laden mongrel. She was looking at him expectantly, and she shook her hands as if he had perhaps forgotten they were both handcuffed and chained.

“I would if I could, but I can’t right now.” He looked away from the slight furrow that formed between her brows and oriented himself. “We need to keep moving.”

They stumbled a little further into the jungle. A monkey screamed and he flinched, jerking the chain between them when he did. She took a step forward and glared. “These are hampering our escape. They are uncomfortable and chafe. Remove them.”

“I don’t have the key.” He kept walking and perforce, so did she.

She flicked her wrist dismissively. “There is more than one way to open a lock.”

He gritted his teeth and helped her over a log. “I can’t pick locks with a stick.” The look she gave him would have been better directed at a less than bright puppy. He was getting tired of it. “And if I did what you’re thinking I should do, the guards would be all over us within minutes. Just wait. We’ll get them off once we’ve gotten clear of their patrols.”

She considered. He had gotten them out of the stone prison and they had not been discovered yet on their trek. It was undignified, but he had proven himself clever and passably resourceful.

“You will remove then as soon as it is feasible to do so.”

He tried to hide his exasperated sigh under his slight bow. “Of course, my lady.”

“Very well then. Lead on.”

He nodded and started walking again. The metal cuffs bit into his wrists. Oh yeah. This day just got better and better.

 


I slipped this first line out of M.D.’s pocket. See who else got cuffed here.

Legal Theft Project: Temporal Relationships

“Where is your human?”

From anyone but her, that question would have carried an air of amusement. Would have been a meaningless part of morning small talk, like asking how someone’s cat was doing. When he didn’t answer, she put her back to the counter so she could see his face as he payed too much attention to an omelette.

“He’s not dead.”

“Not yet.” He checked on how the potatoes were browning. “He will be.”

She tilted her head. It was infuriating how well he could read her. Not that it had been difficult to begin with, she seemed incapable of being indirect. But the fact that she could tell something was off. Something was difficult for him. That rankled. That made him want to hunch his shoulders inward and let her know exactly what he was feeling. But all would get him baffled pity. So instead he flipped an omelette and let his voice distance itself in cold tones.

“I lost my temper. He’ll be lucky if he lasts the week.”

“This upsets you.”

He gritted his teeth. “Yes. Damn it.” Everything was cooked, so he started plating the food. “I’m not one of your experiments.”

“No, I understand them better.” She moved to her chair but didn’t sit down. “And they don’t matter on a personal level.”

He put the plates on the table and then flattened his palms against the wood. Braced, he looked up at her. “What?”

“You matter on a personal level. No one else has known me as long, or cooks me breakfast in the morning.” She crossed to him. “You accept me and all of my interests. You may not find them interesting,” she made a throwing away gesture with her left hand. “But you listen. I have found I appreciate the consideration.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I may not understand what attracts you to the living.” Her dark eyes warm with humor. “But one does not need to understand to know if something matters.”

He slumped and she put a hand on his shoulder. He nodded after a moment and they both sat down to a cooling breakfast. They ate in the quiet. Rain pattered gently on the roof and he contemplated a theoretical eternity. A life long enough that generations would pass before he looked old. Perhaps it was a good idea to stay in contact with someone who shared that lifespan. Even if they didn’t understand the things that drove you. Even if you didn’t understand the things that drove them. That wasn’t true. He knew what drove her. And he could respect it. He just had no interest in it. He looked at her. She looked at him.

“He’d been seeing other people. A lot of other people. He told me otherwise.” It sounded so… simple when he tried explaining it to her. He didn’t feel simple. He never did. He always felt too much, tried too hard, and ended up back where he started.

“So you ended it.”

He laughed. “We had a fight. I cursed him. I don’t remember who said it was over. I just had the final say.” And he felt a little better. Damn it. “It’s one thing to know things will end badly, but this is the first time I’ve been the bad end. It, as you said, upset me.”

“Do you enjoy it when they reach bad ends?” She was genuinely curious.

“Sometimes. Mostly not. Sometimes it seems right, sometimes it seems inevitable, and sometimes its just depressing.”

“But you enjoy being depressed.”

“I enjoy feeling. Highs don’t come without lows. Though… I’d have to think harder if I wanted to determine if I enjoyed them as much. I certainly get here often enough.”

“Yes, you do.”

He smiled a little.

“Did this help?” she asked.

“It did. More than I expected.”

“Good. I appreciate the food, but I had no idea what to do when you get surly.”

He hid his smile. She stood.

“I have some things I need to see to in my laboratory. Call me if you need me.”

“I will.” And he meant it. Even though she left him all of the dishes again.


A thief is never late. Nor is she early. She posts precisely when her computer co-operates. Stole this first line from Dylan’s “Possessions“. Check out the ring of thieves here.

 

Legal Theft Project: Hindsight

When charging into dangerous situations you can either be fast and silent or fast and prepared. He was probably going to regret the lack of preparation later. Fen took a half moment to wonder if he was over reacting and then laughed. It didn’t matter. Better fast and foolish than late and …nope, not thinking about that. His uncooperative mind still decided to list all of the things he might possibly need and did not have: protection amulets, garlic, silver, the blue gem, acid, the perfume that wights hate… might as well wish for natural sunlight in the catacombs and an anti-gravity marble while he was at it, secret forgotten tunnels required a lot of fancy foot work.

He took a running leap over a rather nasty gorge. Once it may have had a bridge over it, the stonework was carved, and each of the sides had two matching crumbly sections.

He looked up at the stonework above his head. Deep enough to start getting worried about the kinds of things that could lurk down here, he concluded. So… close to where he needed to be. He took his time moving among the deep shadows and odd statues. A disproportionate amount of the worked stone had hourglasses topped with skulls carved into their surface. When the air felt dense and unwelcoming he pulled the dowser from his pocket, and slipped a lock of hair into the chamber. The dowser compass spun and pointed through the wall to his right. So he placed his hand against it and started walking, keeping a look out for secret door, footprints, dried blood, or cookie crumbs.

An hour or so later, the dowser began to glow a light green and Fen’s nerves were wound tight as a bowstring. He slowed down and shielded the dowser from view. “Come on, Leon,” he whispered to the sepulchral air, “Where are you?” He didn’t get an answer so he walked forward, past a stone altar and turned into the left hand hallway. It wasn’t long before he reached the heavy iron bars that separated alcoves into small chambers. It just figured.

The third alcove to his left had a dark headed form chained to the base of the bier. The dowser in his hand turned white and went out. Fen pulled a few lock picks out of his boot and went to work. The small metal sounds woke up the chamber’s occupant.

“Leon.”

Leon looked up. “Fen? What are you doing here?”

“I take it personally when you don’t pick me up at the airport,” Fen replied. “Catch.” He tossed Leon the set of picks from his other boot. Leon caught them. “Are you alright?”

“I think my nose is broken.”

The amount of relief Fen felt at the petulant complaint in that phrase went a long way toward soothing his nerves. “Someone finally gave in to the siren song of hit me?”

“No, they slammed my face into a wall… more than once.”

“Who are they?”

“The people we’re about to be running from.”

“What did you do?” Fen asked.

Leon shrugged off his shackles as Fen opened the door.

“I stole a goddess.”

Fen blinked. “An idol?”

“No, a goddess. It’s your fault really. I tried to save someone from an altar.”

“Let’s talk about this when we’re above ground.”

Leon shrugged and the two men started the long hike back to the surface.

 

The goddess watched them leave, considering.

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Legal Theft has changed its day to Saturday! Look around for all the people who stole from me this week. (Or look here.)

Legal Theft Project: Reveries and Revenants

The sheath relinquished the sword with a soft click like a key turned in a lock. A sharp sound in the sudden silence. An arm’s length of black steel whispered through the air. The whisper was almost a name, but not quite. Not yet. An afterthought, the sheath twisted, reticulating into scale like plates that snaked up his arm to cover him from head to foot. Bullets clattered off his new armor and he barely noticed. He felt light. The blade whispered again as he turned toward the guns on the edge of the jungle undergrowth.

He was untrained in the use of a sword, but it seemed to pull his hand. He knew how to move and the balance of the sword shifted like water, easing him through motions. He managed. Death was not his goal, but neither did it bother him. Not against them. His enemies’ purpose was war, destruction, strife. Now it turned back upon them. Behind him, someone screamed. The edges of his vision wavered, darkness shifting. Shadows elongating.

The jungle and stones were gone. He ran down a hallway bright with white shimmering light. Darkness bit at it. Nipped at his heels, and growled. The sword sang in his hand, flickered, cut. Bright figures stood ahead of him, but he fell before he reached them. He ran. Ran. Ran.

Anger arrived slowly. Heat radiating from his heart into the bones, magma beneath the surface of his motions, a shield between himself and his losses.

Pain sparked along his spine and faded. A heat echo of his anger. Blade flashing, he emerged from darkness back into the light. He knelt, and as sheathed the blade home over his shoulder he understood her whisper. She was Ysenya. He tasted the name, Ysenya. A guardian’s name. A part of him. He thanked her and gave her his in return.

___________________________________________________________________

So many people stole this first line and used it in their own fiction. Check it out here!