Legal Theft Flash Fiction: The Rules of Consumption (714 words)

A firm hand drew the decanter away from him. Brance watched it leave his hand with a dull focus, as if he were watching the air roll it away, as if those weren’t his fingers wrapped around the patterned glass. Then he just blinked at his fingers for a moment. When he finally realized how slow he was being, he snickered at himself.

Vardan pulled the decanter another six inches toward him across the table. With his hand over the open top, he looked down at Brance wordlessly.

Leaned all the way back in his padded chair, Brance carefully tilted his head back to look at him. “I don’t remember giving you a key,” he said, unoffended and still amused. Turning his head made the world spin delightfully. It was almost a puzzle, working out how to meet Vardan’s eye. And he was pleased with himself for solving it so efficiently.

“Your lock is easy to pick,” Vardan told him.

Brance nodded. He knew that. But he had a dog, and he trusted Kelb’s iron jaws more than he trusted iron tumblers.

Continue reading

Legal Theft Flash Fiction: Succeed (877 words)

She had only heard gunshots at a distance. She knew they were loud. Every book she had ever read said that the blasts were louder than smith hammers. Every story she heard tossed around the table or spilled around the hearth said that the blasts were so loud they would shake through her bones. There was a certain Captain who had once told her that all he could do was laugh during his first gun battle, because he was deaf to everything except what sounded like a drunken giant stomping upside down across the sky. And still, to her, they were just thunderclaps in a storm that never quite made it to shore.

She had seen guns. There were two dozen on top of the palace wall, housed on sharp platforms that jutted off the main walk way. From above, she imagined the walls looked like a jeweled necklace, each gun a dull stud on its wooden stand. But they were cold as jewels, silent as stones. None of them had been fired in her memory.

All the salutes were saved for the guns aboard, safer firing out over the water.

Immediately, coming down onto the gun deck, those guns seemed like looser things. They were tied down, lashed to metal rings as if the roll of the ocean might have inspired them to something drastic in the past. They creaked on their stands, echoing the deeper groaning of the hull. Their muzzles gleamed when the light caught them, and their rough barrels were sand-scrubbed, light and dark.

She brushed her finger tips against the metal, and smiled just a little. They were still cold.

Continue reading

Flash Fiction: Space Beside Her (1548 words)

Dardo flicked an ear back again, picking out a new echo in the little garden square. Over the last hour, she had swung her head a dozen times to investigate, and had to shift on her hooves to keep turning  as she found the gentle end of her lead line. Snorting to herself, she looked back at Vardan where he sat on the stone bench, as if to ask why he wasn’t concerned by the wolves lurking in the high windowed walls around them. He only held her line loosely, and smiled. He knew they were being watched.

It was a strange place to have brought a horse. The garden was thirty feet to a side, a tangled spiral of stepping stones and the winter dark branches of low trees. The paved walkway that wrapped around it was hardly long enough to ride around without getting dizzy. He might have attracted some curiosity just for bringing Dardo here, when there were fit fields and trails closer to the stables.

But this square was also where the Clan Lord’s twins liked to run wild. And Vardan was confident that he had been watched every day of the last ten months, every day since he had left his prison cell.

Leaning over his knees, he smiled at Dardo, slowly drawing her close enough to rub her nose. He had stopped caring a while ago.

Continue reading

Legal Theft Flash Fiction: A Word For That (741 words)

“I can smell your bleeding heart from down the hall.”

Vardan looked up at the sound of the other man’s voice, unsurprised at the half smile on Donnemey’s face. His eyebrows were bent together, examining Vardan as he approached in the stone hall. It was such a familiar expression, this false confusion poorly painted over his amusement, that Vardan hardly registered it anymore. There was so much more to dislike about the man than the vaguely insulting lines of his face.

He met Donnemey’s eye dully. “What does it smell like?”

Continue reading

Flash Fiction: Slide (828 words)

Leonne leaned her elbows against the table top, her feet tucked beneath her in the wide seat of the padded chair. Sitting in a loose ball, she tucked her elbows to her sides. She put her hands on either side of her head, holding it gingerly. She would have liked to just rest her forehead in her hands, but that was too much pressure and her skull felt more fragile than bone that morning. So, she just pressed gently at her temples with the full length of her fingers, and shut her eyes carefully.

She heard the door open behind her, and decided it would cost her less to sit still and wait for the person to announce themselves, than it would to turn and see who it was. Her visitor paused in the doorway, then took a quiet step inside, and shut the door. Her skirt rustled against the carpet as she came farther into the room, and then the other girl set a gently steaming mug in the center of the table. The bottom clinked, and Leonne focused a little too intently on the sound. She looked up at Cerena without moving her head.

“Good morning,” Cerena said. She slid into a chair on the far side of the table, so that Leonne could see her more easily, then flicked a rough examination over Leonne. “Congratulations. You’re human like the rest of us.”

“What are you doing here?” Leonne asked. She tried a smile at her friend. It didn’t hurt more than anything else, so she kept it.

Continue reading

Legal Theft Flash Fiction: Some Lifetimes (1081 words)

Five years spent between four block walls, hours and days lived with no activity, and it seemed, now, as if he should walk these familiar rooms like nothing had passed, as if he had been here yesterday. But Vardan didn’t. The twists of halls felt long, the walls felt wide, and the echoes of his footsteps were too clear compared to the rustling and shifting in the dark he was used to. He had been here, a long time ago. He knew which turns to take, looked out windows and saw what he expected, found where he meant to be with little thought, but some lifetimes had passed since the last time he was here.

He took his steps slowly. The windows spilled heat and light along the long hall, and he passed in and out of them. He blinked in the light, and missed the heat when he stepped into the next shadow. High in the palace, each square of glass showed off a tumble of roofs and wash of waves on the far side. He’d spent hours on hours here once, and he considered stopping at a window, leaning against the frame, pretending he could hear water through the glass like echoes in a shell.

He continued on his way.

At the end of the hall, he turned right, looped down a set of back stairs and arrived in the squarer hall below. Two guards stood on either side of Lord Damion’s office door. They stood straight-backed and square, perhaps built into the wooden architecture. Vardan watched them as he came closer, waiting for either of them to move. They let him pass, hardly looked at him, and didn’t move as he knocked firmly on the door.

Continue reading

Flash Fiction: Fade (466 words)

The Night Fire was a strange sort of ship, prone to prowling the darkened oceans with its lanterns unlit and bound to their hooks to keep from creaking. The glass was kept under light wax paper to erase their glinting. All the other creakings and moanings of the ship were bundled and padded and greased until the ship moved like a stone on water, the waves whispering rumors against the hull while it stayed silent.

Almost, Vardan could imagine himself on a rock on the middle of the ocean. The sleek body of the dark ship tossed like any other, built for speed and sharp turns, not steadiness, but the quietness of the timbers left him stranded somewhere else. He listened to waves with their thick voices that overlapped each other on the wider waters, and when he looked up, the sky glittered with stars kept only in the light of their own company.

Without lanterns, without the dull yellow light of flame that touched the world with young, clumsy fingers, the sky didn’t draw back so far. Every star in its face peered down into the world, flaring and primping themselves to be admired.

Continue reading

Flash Fiction: Hold On Tight (479 words)

The cliff edge was barely wide enough to fit them all shoulder to shoulder. Cerena tucked herself against Vardan’s side, her arm tucked in front of his, and Taben and Leonne held hands, just for space. Damion turned sideways, one foot braced against a large stone, and he leaned out, looking at the dark blue water beneath them. Aymee was just behind him, catching herself on his hand, and looking down too. Behind them, they had each left a bundle of their jackets and boots and socks and jewelry, and left them weighted down with a stone. They stood on the edge in breeches and shirts, bare toes rattling in the loose stone.

“We’re not doing this,” Leonne said, as if she couldn’t believe the last mile she’d hiked to reach here.

Cerena gave her a too-wide, nervous smile.

Aymee just looked at her over Damion’s shoulder and nodded. “Oh, yes, we are,” she said.

Continue reading

Flash Fiction: Pockets (1043 words)

The main hall was full, edged with the gauze and frill of the vendor’s canopies. They hung out their wares, the best of glitter and gleam, while men and women wove through the center, shining in their silk and leather, draped in their long jackets or thick skirts, tapping rich heels against the flagstones. The windows had been flung wide, letting the breeze run its cool fingers over everything. At one end, the great double doors had been flung wide as well, along with the smaller doors to either side, and people passed in and out as they pleased, escaping to quieter air, or running in for the festivities. At the other end, the court thrones and podiums and judges seats had been cleared away. A band of seven played just beneath the dais, and unlike in the city markets, not a single vendor shouted to be heard above them.

No one shouted, though here and there, someone laughed a little too loudly. Coins clinked, but no one haggled. Children ran around the room, and their parents called for them slow down, but never to stay close. Everywhere, the party whirled on, under its thin market skin.

Leonne watched it all out of the corner of her eye, most of her attention focused on Kadelyn sitting on the floor a few feet away.

The little girl had plopped herself down after she took a few teetering steps, bored with the attempt to walk. Her father, Damion had laughed, scooped her up, kissed her. She giggled at the feel of his beard, at the way he swung her almost upside down, then grinned at him when he pulled her upright and smoothed her skirt back down. He set her on a blanket on top of the dais after a moment, and she stayed just there. Wide eyed, she looked around at every shifting color, every passing person, and the gleam off the belled brass instrument straight below her.

When her twin, Brance tottered past her, back and forth, back and forth, running between his mother’s knees and his father’s, Kadelyn spared him the closest thing to a glare that a one-year-old could gather. There were very few things she knew yet, but she knew he was a show-off.

Leonne smiled.

Continue reading

Flash Fiction: Returns (739 words)

Aymee went very still when Vardan entered the hall. There were yards between them, but she went skeleton-stiff, fleshless at the sight of him. Vardan slowed, hovered in the doorway for half a moment. He hadn’t expect any kind of fear when he arrived. He looked down, counting out the floor stones between them. Slowly, he approached.

Her hands knotted in her skirts, and the rich, blue cloth whispered in complaint.

At a respectful distance, Vardan stopped. It felt strange. Once, he would have walked right up beside her, shoulders almost touching. He might have just smiled, and it would have been enough of a greeting for them. Now, he looked down again, bowed low. “My lady,” he said.

Aymee still didn’t move. “Vardan?” she whispered. “How are you here?”

Continue reading