Category Archives: Looking Through

Prisoner

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     Days passed, locked in that grand room. Liessa slept through much of it, waking only to eat or to bathe- a comfort she hadn’t realised how much she missed- or to ask the only servant for any information. The boy was small, quite young, with soft brown eyes and mousy blonde hair. The overall effect was a little disconcerting, giving him an intense, alien kind of appearance, although his expression always remained respectfully blank even in the face of Liessa’s interrogation. He would tell her nothing, politely informing her that any questions she had could be directed toward the lady of the house. She fluctuated between bribing and fury, at one point throwing a plate full of fresh vegetables and dried fish at the poor boy’s head. He hadn’t flinched, only ducked with practiced efficiency and then set about cleaning up the mess. His calmness was infuriating and frustration drove Liessa to tears. He came and went at the same times every day, regardless of her behaviour, though eventually he ceased to speak entirely.

     No one else visited the room. Guards came and went outside, the two posted at the door checking the lock whenever they changed shift. Liessa re-fractured her left shin attempting to kick it off its hinges and her short screams of pain brought no one to her aid. The guards ignored her. Her struggles were to no avail, and eventually she fell resigned to the bedroom, sleeping through the daylight hours and wasting away the night.

She had no idea what Zax-Sia did while she slept. Little had changed in the room when she woke, although the bath was often left full of chilly soapy water.

     Her healing was slow but steady, and though she ached the pain was rapidly easing, her scars fading to the faintest silver. When time moved slowly she would trace each of them, trying to remember where they all came from. Many of them she couldn’t, and she supposed they were from Jaraen’s attempts to interrogate Zax-Sia, and there were a couple on her arms from the battle for Aeskeir. The wound from her sacrifice remained open, though not gaping and foul-smelling as it had been during the early days. Every now and then she’d test how much pain she could take, reaching inside and exploring her own cool, wet organs.

     It occurred to her that perhaps this was not a thing that sane people did, but she didn’t particularly care, either. She was dead. Sanity had no place in the world of corpses.

     Time passed and eventually she lost count of the days. She noted interesting things that happened in the silence- once, something exploded nearby, and she watched smoke trailing around the city for what felt like hours. Someone was being chased. She heard the city guards yelling in the oddly mathematical languages of Shinkara.

Tidbit: Looking Through, The King

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“I take it you have a very good reason for being so abominably rude this hour of the night, madam, er-“ From a door hidden somewhere behind the throne, a grizzled old man constructed entirely out of jiggling wrinkles limped onto the cold stone floor, a flutter of children attempting to clothe him mid-stride. His tiny eyes scrutinized her from within wiry storm-cloud eyebrows as he waved an arm at the slaves who scattered back and then flooded back in again with the patience of those accustomed to the stubborn and powerful.  His grey streaked beard mimicked the wiry hair on his head, flaring out at all angles, lending his face a kind of hourglass shape. After a moment, the frown vanished, and took with it a dozen layers of age. A monarch barely a decade older than herself stood before her now, grumpy and tired in a threadbare nightgown. “Oh, it’s you.”

“Yes, your majesty.” Sierra bowed low as the king flailed at his slaves some more. “My apologies for-“

“Aren’t young ladies like yourself supposed to wear decent bloody clothes in my presence?” The king, having banished his slaves to the far side of the room where they gathered and stared like beetles, threw himself dramatically onto his throne, stretching with a yawn. The slaves huddled together and fidgeted with the royal gown.  Thoughts of Shouhasad were never far from her mind in Sovereign and she wondered if the king knew where his ‘stock’ had originated from. Sierra trembled at the sight of their tiny bald heads.She hoped, desperately, that he wouldn’t notice the shake in her hands as he eyed her, remaining bent at the waist before him.  “What are you doing caterwauling like a cat in heat in my bloody castle?”

“My apologies, Highness, but-“

“And what kind of armour is that for my guards to be wearing I keep you better paid than that, don’t I? What do you do with the money, get drunk and buy women?”

Sierra opened her mouth, shut it, and glanced up through her hair. Her lower back was beginning to ache. “Sir?”

“Oh for god’s sake straighten up I can’t talk to you when you’re all bendy like that. This bowing business has to stop, I mean, you can dip up and down just fine, all this posturing nonsense. I’m the king, I have a crown, I don’t need people to contort themselves to remind me.” The king sucked on his teeth and watched as Sierra straightened, leaning back slightly to stretch the ache from her spine. “I suppose you have a damn good reason for dragging me out of bed, madam Cacciatore.”

“I hope so, Highness.” He stared at her expectedly. She cleared her throat. “My apologies for waking you, sire, but we have just returned from the battle on the Batav border. I believe I have some information you’ll find… interesting.”

Tidbit: Liessa and Sierra

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“Tell me about the places you’ve been to.” Liessa nuzzled into Sierra’s hair and breathed in its subtle perfume, something soft and woody, infused with warmth from the afternoon sun. The light lit each strand in fiery glory, making the beautiful cherry colour glow against her lovers’ skin.
“Which places do you mean? I’ve travelled far, Liessa.” Sierra sighed, tracing circles on Liessa’s shoulder with gentle fingers.
“I mean the places behind the water. Where have you been?” The bed creaked as Liessa propped herself up on one elbow, her hand fluttering around her eyes to shade them from the bright sun as she peered down at Sierra, languid and feline on the rumpled linen. Sierra’s eyes remained closed against the brightness, but she smiled, offering Liessa’s shoulder a gentle squeeze.
“Well then. That’s quite a lot of places. It depends on where I am and if I concentrate hard enough. I’ve been sent back through time once or twice, that was interesting. Exhausting. Hard to remember.” A frown wrinkled her brow and she tossed her head, as if clearing the cobwebs from the memory. “It’s like old knowledge, a story I knew when I was younger and forgetful. They weren’t too different to us, the people back then. They had less respect for the land. I think that might be what destroyed them in the end. Their gods were strange, shining stone and metal, instead of flesh and bone.”

Another Unedited Prompt tidbit

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These are getting embarrassing, but I like posting them. So:
(Reminder. These are unedited. Straight from my brain.)

 

It seemed to Liessa that anyone who could sleep the night before a battle was insane. The thought of the next day’s all-or-nothing fight stuck in her mind like a splinter and she found herself wide awake; pacing and fidgeting as the camp fell silent tent by tent, growing darker with every candle snuffed. Her own candles burned down hour by hour and she replaced them without first cleaning out the holder until the last candle balanced precariously atop a mountain of dribbly candle wax. It dripped waxy stalactites as she munched an apple unhappily. Stress drove her to eat, but now everything tasted rotten.

Damn Zax-Sia’s influence! She cursed as she bit extra hard into the crunchy flesh with utter contempt. The scars twinged in response.

Being dead was a lot to deal with. It wasn’t just the sudden stillness where her heart had once beat, while that had indeed been dizzying, nor was it the way people now stared at her or ignored her completely. Mikabwe explained at one point after she had another panic attack that people can’t comprehend death, so seeing it in front of them caused their mind to fog over in an attempt to maintain their sanity. It meant that they would rationalise it, or forget her completely. It meant that the world was rapidly becoming lonely.

No. Her real issue was knowing that she had lost something, something important, but couldn’t quite remember what it was. It felt like a word on the tip of her tongue, or a memory right at the back of her mind. Something was different, and it was important, and it no longer belonged to her. Attempts to explain it to her companions had only drawn politely blank stares and confused consolations.

It was what eventually convinced her that she had actually died there in Zax-Sia’s tomb. The cold, the stillness, the alienation from other people could easily be explained away and rationalised, but this feeling of loss overwhelmed her and would not be ignored. It became her everything, and tainted how she saw the world. Even the way she spoke was beginning to change. Nothing mattered anymore. The world existed differently, and she existed outside of it.

Well, that and the hunger. Liessa had spent every waking moment with a steadily growing hunger that only grew with the food she ravenously ate. Her body functioned as it needed to digest and expel the substances as normal, but it rapidly became apparent that no nutrients were being absorbed as her appetite grew. Put simply, the food wasn’t actually feeding her.

It was comforting though, a familiar motion to ease the squirming fear in her belly that came with the knowledge of imminent war. As the nobles ate chocolate, so she ate everything. Apples, jerky, gruel, if it seemed like food, she would eat it. Even the raw rabbit stolen from the previous nights’ stores had seemed at least palatable.

It didn’t matter, anyway. The meals could have been prepared by the king’s own catering staff and they’d still taste bitter and dusty.

Liessa looked up, distracted from her thoughts by her monstrous candle. It had suddenly started guttering, fluttering and stretching towards the soft wall of her tent. It flickered wildly for a minute and then went out completely, as if someone had sucked the flame right off the wick. All over the camp came crackles and strange reversed sucking noises, occasionally accompanied by sounds of annoyance or surprise. Liessa barely had time to clamber through the tent flaps before a loud metallic pop and a stream of creative curses signalled the arrival of an irate puddle jumper somewhere nearby. Even through the hiss of snap-boiled water, Liessa recognised that velvety voice.

“Sierra?” It was almost too much to hope. She twisted her fingers around her belt and pulled it tight as she peered through the dark, her stomach writhing and fluttering uncomfortably.

The whole world held it’s breath, the forest nearby falling still. All but one cricket ceased their singing, and eventually even that one slowed and self consciously stopped. The silence lasted an eternity. Liessa’s heart began to fall.

“Liessa?”

And then she was suddenly up in the air, squeezed tightly with Sierra’s joyful laughter in her ear and that cinnamon leather smell in her nose. The leather is stiff, Liessa noticed fuzzily as she wrapped her arms around the jumper’s shoulders. She has new armour.

“Oh, Liessa, I missed you so much. So much. I’m so glad you’re still alive, my darling, my love.” Sierra whispered breathily in her hair, finally letting her feet back on the ground but refusing to release her from the tight embrace. “When I couldn’t find you I thought you were dead.”

The comment flushed ice through Liessa’s veins. Cold replaced any feeling of happiness or delight that accompanied Sierra’s return. What should she say to that? What could she say?

Sierra felt her go rigid in her arms and pulled back to peer at her. It took some bending and dodging to catch the priestess’ eye, and when she did, concern rapidly replaced relief. Liessa’s green eyes lacked the mischievous sparkle they’d once had. “What’s wrong?”

“I think you should come inside.” Liessa sighed, breaking the gaze after a moment to motion towards the tent. “A lot has happened while you were gone.”

 

Straight Off the Surface

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I’ve started a project where every week, my fiancee will give me four random words, and I spend the week writing 500 words using those words. I’m posting the unedited version, for your pleasure or revulsion.

 

Mikabwe sat at the cave entrance, his legs dangling limply over the edge. Frothy cobalt waves crashed hard against the crumbling rocks below and the drifting spray caught on his toes, rinsing away the blood drop by tiny drop. The water was warm, heated by the midday sun, and would likely remain warm through the coming night. A small blessing for Mikaela. If it were earlier in the year, the shock of the cold ocean waters could severely decrease her chances of survival, having always lived inside the heat and humidity of the jungle caves. The heat was second hand, funnelled down from the land around the Odroenir, but still sufficiently warm enough to give the innermost tunnels a thick, tropical feel.

Somewhere down below the other Makotta called to each other, negotiating the crumbling cliff face as they carried Mikaela’s limp body to the shore below. Their clicks and throat-sounds became a mental map for Mikabwe; there was only a small patch of sand safe from the tumbling chunks of limestone, and set upon it was the medicine hut, a small but weather-hardy shelter full of healing herbs and carefully sharpened tools. Mikaela would be examined, cleaned, and sewn up, left to bathe in the small ocean dam until she either woke or died. There wouldn’t be enough room for anyone other than her and the healer woman. One of the carriers warned that they did not have much time left before the sun set, and that nightfall would bring the cold and the dark, leaving them to the tides. He wanted to leave Mikaela in a nearby abandoned cave and return in the morning.

Mikabwe knew she didn’t have until morning.

Her blood was still beneath his fingernails. Still in the creases of his hands, still up the length of his arms. It gathered in the flesh around his spines, browning and tacky, beginning to tighten as it dried. The smell of it almost overpowered the smell of the limestone around him. Her wounds had been great and so much blood had been lost. The sight of her pale yellow rib bones still lingered in Mikabwe’s mind, torturing him, like her whimpering. The way she recited the songs of the Makottana, the gods Mikabwe believed so completely had abandoned them, the way the songs became a low growling chant. It chilled him to the bone. She chilled him to the bone.

Somewhere behind him they had staked the priest to a patch of dry stone, close to the cave mouth so the carrion hawks would easily find his body. The Bone Mother had cut off and burned the man’s face, ensuring that his family would be unable to recognise him in the afterlife. It had left his head looking like a chunk of meat, daffodil-yellow fat hanging like old custard to tight bloody muscles and shiny bone. Mikabwe’s stomach had turned as the skin burned on the fire, but he watched, he watched with cold rage and quiet hatred while he did his best to stem Mikaela’s bleeding.

 

Tidbit: Liessa post-ritual

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Writing today is not going too well. Here is a tidbit from when I was writing in last years’ NaNoWriMo.

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A rolling thunder shook the clammy air.

Mikabwe stood and closed the window over Liessa’s bed as the first fat raindrops fell on Farthing, preceeding what was to be a violent thunderstorm. He watched the rivulets run down the world warped by window glass and thought of the Marianne. She’d better be well tied and covered or he’d be without a ship.

The soft sound of movement indicated Liessa’s rousing. The thunder had woken her. She’d sat up in the bed, blinking, staring blearily at Mikabwe. He watched her in the window reflection- A smear of dried blood lingered on one of her plump cheeks, and her curls on the left side of her head were tousled and knotted.

“Sleeping beauty wakes.” He greeted her warmly, turning slowly. Blood witches were often easily startled after waking from a trance, usually with violent tendencies. Liessa just stared at him with barely-there comprehension. “How are you feeling?”

“Thirsty.” She rasped, lifting a slender, pale hand to her slender, pale throat and wincing.

Mikabwe loped over to the bed stand and poured her a tall glass of water, handing it to her gently, and taking back his place in the chair beside the bed. A wide metal bowl rung as he tapped it with his spikes. Liessa paled as she noticed its contents- water, cloudy with blood. Mikabwe had cleaned her.

He smiled calmly as she opened her mouth to say something and tapped her chin. “No need to explain, Little Boss. I do not hold you responsible for what happened.” A quick movement and he’d taken the flannelette cloth and dipped it in the water, taking to scrubbing Liessa’s face in between her swallows of water. She made a quiet disgruntled sound, but let him clean her.

When he’d finished, she curled up beneath the blanket, uncomfortably aware of how naked she was. “I didn’t want to do it.” She sighed. “I don’t like doing it. The slaves at the temples were still people. I might not be able to stop once I start but I can always hear them, and feel them, and… And…”

A shiver ran down her spine, raising goosebumps on her skin, and she pulled the blanket closer around her. “I did it in front of all those people. All those people… Tishka and Raudsparr think I’m a monster now, don’t they…”

“They think no such thing, Little Boss. If anything they have more respect for you. The dwarf-queen will not be asking you for information for a long while, I think.” Mikabwe moved about the room, cleaning lightly as he went, carrying the bloody water bowl in his right hand as he scrubbed and wiped and organised. “Tishka is sad for you. I do not believe she knew quite what the cat priestesses are trained to do.”

The rain pelted the room as he opened the window to tip the water into the gutter below. Liessa yelped at the cold and hid beneath the blankets. Mikabwe, for a moment, didn’t notice.

“Rain is a purifying thing. It removes the grime from the limestone.” He watched the streets below. “I wonder how much rain it would take to clean the city?”

“That’s all well and good, Captain,” Liessa yelled, muffled beneath the blanket, “But could you please leave the purifying wet outside the room?”

Mikabwe twisted to peer over his shoulder, distractedly swinging the windows closed. “Sure Little Boss.”

Liessa peeked over the top of the blanket, and when she was satisfied that she would no longer be pelted with freezing rain, she let the blanket slip to her collarbones and wrapped her arms beneath her breasts.

“I can still feel her inside me, Mikabwe. She was there, riding me like I was riding him. She was filled with such.. sick pleasure.” She shivered again. “She was so wrong. What am I doing? Being hers? Why does she need so much death, and violence, and- and horrible things!”

Mikabwe leaned on the edge of the bed and wrapped her in an embrace, burying his weathered face in her hair. “Because she’s your goddess. You don’t always like what they tell you to do, Little Boss. You do what you need. She chose you because she needs you.”

She shuddered.

“I feel like my bones are oily.” She murmured after a moment.

“’Fraid I can’t scrub those clean.” He admitted, chuckling. “I can run you a hot bath, though.”

Liessa nuzzled his shoulder for a little while, breathing in the herb-and-smoke scent she’d always thought suited the word ‘fatherly’ and sighed.

“That would be wonderful.”

Tidbit: Sovereign

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Tishka marvelled at Sovereign, impressed long before the Marianne came in dock at the sky-harbor. Never before had she seen such a grand cluster of buildings, just beginning to sparkle as night fell, lit by orange and blue and white dots of mage-fire and plain yellow oil lamps. Lights blinked on, one by one or sometimes two by two, tracing outlines of streets and houses, the light rolling in a rippling effect in lines across the city that stretched to the horizon. The designs of each building, lit from below or above or behind, changed from street to street, path to path; down one cobbled road the walls were finely sculpted with stone leaves and animal faces; down a dirt path the houses piled atop one another like wooden teeth, rope clothes lines strung from wall to wall. Scattered everywhere in view were plazas and fountains, places where the market stalls were packing up, where groups of women flocked around young girls selling flowers and men stumbled in herds, laughing raucously.

Through the hobbled buildings and past the distracted people moved shining creatures of metal and crystal, each seemingly with its own purpose and skill. They clicked and shone as they tottered and lurched along, ignored by the people they passed. Some of them, the smaller ones, made a high-pitched ringing sound as they moved that made Tishka’s skin tingle and her bones ache.

Mikabwe slapped Tishka on the back, laughing at her amazement as he tied the last of the ropes and hobbled below decks to alert Liessa of their arrival. Music drifted up from somewhere far below- a tune played gaily on a string instrument of some kind- pattered with laughter and gossip. It sounded like the trade-meet festivals, where there was too much cactus-water and even more food, and great bonfires stretching to the desert night sky. It pulled her without warning back home, to the nights of worshipping the blanket of stars with drunken romps in the dark quiet with the men of other tribes. She could almost smell the warm dusty breezes, the sweat on hot flesh, the strangely intoxicating taste of Gogh.

She had been taught, once, how to make Gogh. The Oglasha Trade Master had taken her to find the cactuses, showed her how to dry pieces of them and steep them in water. He’d warned her never to give the mixture to humans- “They go weak, their brains paint for them.” – and he’d laugh, and drink until he passed out.

As she peered down at the city, she wondered if any of the desert folk would be here, enjoying Gogh and music. So large a city would surely have many people from many lands, even the prolific breeders like humans couldn’t fill it all by themselves.

Liessa’s joyful tinkling laughter shook Tishka from her thoughts, raising her spirits to see the girl dancing out from the lower decks, donning her mask over a face of wonder and glee. She stepped lightly and quickly to the rail, leaning far over the edge to gaze grinning at the city below. Her chain belt rapped against the bronze lining, and the breeze kicked up the edges of her robes.

“Oh, gorgeous! Look at it Tish, it’s so beautiful! Look at all the lights!”