Tag Archives: Free Fiction

DOGLEAF

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I heard funeral chants. They were distant dreams while I was buried under a blanket of soft goat wool. I was neither awake nor asleep. Instead of being alive, I lay in a half-world of raging sands and alternating fogs so damp and heavy that they pinned my arms to my sides, kept my eyelids pressed shut. It was better to stay there than wake and deal with everything I’d lost.

My skin feels tender and stretched, even the slightest movements pull at stitches, remind me of my bruises.

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THE MELANCHOLY RAVEN

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We wake alone. The house is standing expectant, waiting for Eline to strike. I think of the body cooling in the blue room and press my fist against my mouth until the urge to sob passes.

Another little game piece, fallen. We met at a party, and her first words to me were about the Ives’ girls who had just been brought into the House games of power and prestige. I couldn’t tell if she felt sorry for them or not. Certainly, she didn’t see them as innocents. But she never had their weapons, their training. And she lost because of that, and more importantly, because of me.

I let the tremors pass through me. She’s gone. She’s not going to paint raw and wild pictures, or smoke ‘ink in back street tea shops.

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OFFERINGS

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What are you trying to do?” Jannik says the moment we are alone in our suite of rooms.

I don’t know what you mean.Outside has gone dark with the afternoon thunderstorm. If Pelimburg was a city of impossible times, MallenIve in summer is a pocket-watch. By three the clouds begin to gather low and black, rumbling ominously to each other as they convene, and within the hour, they release their downpour on the sweating city. A fat blob of rain splatters on the glass. Four o’clock, then.

Thishurting people, using them. It’s not like you.He walks closer, and the room shifts around him, growing small and close. Trapping me. “First Merril, and now her.”

I protected you,I say.Would you rather I stood back and watched you suffer?I can hear the tears in my voice, that thick sound of a female weakness for which my brother always mocked me. I swallow over and over, willing myself back to a calm state – a vacant, logical state.

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IN THE PALACE OF THE MATA

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Carien rises from the pale green couch as we file into the visitor’s parlour.

An icy rage sweeps over me, and my heart beats faster and faster. The rage dies as suddenly as it rose, and in its place I feel a faint green shimmer of hope. I quell it. Don’t fall for her, for her false innocence.What are you doing here?I say.How dare you–

Harun raises his hands.Felicita, stop.

Carien looks at all of us, her face a blank House mask. Her eyes widen at Jannik’s appearance; the fading bruises, and the blood still welling from his wounds. She seems genuinely flustered.Oh -I – Oh my, what happened?

Jannik snarls, and says nothing.

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PITY’S SWORD

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Another hour passes before Master Gillcrook sends us a messenger from the Guyin house. The Hob is crimson-faced and breathless when he arrives. I send for cider and bread for him while I read the note. It does not reveal much, merely that the meeting with Eline is over, and the house is safe to return to. I raise one eyebrow. For how long? Garret will have realized by now, surely. He will make a move soonopen or hidden.

We need to be prepared for either. I pull the bell to summon Master Twissel from his rooms. He arrives, smooth and unflustered even though it is the middle of the night.The servants need to be moved,I tell him. Even though we have just brought them all here and attempted to settle in. They’re going to be put out, but better that than caught in another fire.

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The Lark

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Harun walks me to the small private coach I’ve hired and helps me in.Take them to your apartments, and I’ll send Master Gillcrook with news when it’s safe to move.” He is doing what I’m doing – talking as if the deed is done, that it is going to be as simple as walking into a garden and twisting a leaf from a branch.

My coachman already knows what we plan to do. We have had to bring a number of the servants into our confidence, but Sallow has proven himself a man of worth many times, with a closed mouth and sharp mind.

I don’t like that you’re putting yourself in danger, ma’am,” Sallow tells me when we draw up on a side street that leads to the close where House Eline’s manor commands the top of the circle.I could go for you–

And if you were caught, Master Sallow? What then? I can talk my way out of a misunderstanding. You would lose your hands sooner than the sharif could shout,Thief!’

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PIECES IN PLAY

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Our coach rattles down the wide avenue that leads to House Eline’s manor. “I hate this.” Jannik is fiddling with his neck tie, re-knotting it over and over, though each time I can see no difference. There is a fine sheen of sweat at his temples.

My head hurts, panic that isn’t mine skitters under my skin. “Leave it,” I tell him. “You look fine.”

He lowers his eyelids and stares at me from under long dark eyelashes, his silence saying all the things he needs to. “I’m not particularly concerned about my appearance,” he says, finally.

“Then leave the Gris-damned neck-tie alone.”

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THE HOUSE IMAGINARY

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The House Imaginary

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We end up on the storeroom couch, still fully clothed. We only kiss when the doors are closed. Perhaps, like me, he is still embarrassed by this sudden silent confession. Jannik presses me down onto the thick covers. His weight is comforting. He’s heavier than Dash was, a little taller, and he kisses differently. There’s something almost subversive about the way he kisses, something sly and sharp and fox-like that makes me feel like I am charged with static. I match my kisses to his, my breathing, then pause to gently take his lower lip between my teeth. This is me, saying mine.

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A SMALL TRUTH

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We head back to Harun with the news. I wonder how much he knows through the bond. He was confused enough when we left him, and there’s also a chance he’s done himself permanent mental damage. And now here we come to inform him his prize belongs to someone else. Sold. “You tell him,” I say.

Jannik has been deep in thought, frowning. He jerks up. “What – he already hates me.”

“Exactly.”

He tips his head back. “Ah,” he says with a sigh. “You do realize when this is all done we will never be welcome there again. We know too many of their dirty little secrets.”

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SEVEN-FOLD FUTURES

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The house on Ivy is still standing.

Well that’s a good sign.I look up at the wide, darkened windows.I suppose.

Jannik gives me a dubious glance before climbing the wide stairs and rapping the brass knocker several times. The thuds have barely died away when Isidro opens for us.

He looks dreadfulpanicked and sweaty, and even his cold beauty can’t hold up under his obvious fear. While he’s not spent the night putting out the flames on his own home, he somehow manages to look worse than Jannik and I combined. His flawless mask finally crumbling.

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