Kadie has a scar now. A straight line, cutting one eyebrow short on the outside and skipping over her eye. It’s darkest over her cheekbone before it fades to nothing above her jaw. A fine line, nearly invisible, except that the best-trained and best-paid physicks couldn’t make it actually invisible. So it stands out.
“You won’t be leaving this town alive.”
Finishing her next step, Jennika came to a slow stop, and made an even slower turn back to look down at the man. As far as threats went, it wasn’t very articulate. It wasn’t at all clever, cutting, or funny. And it sounded especially unreliable. It was difficult to be impressed.
The power went out. The apartment went dark and silent on an exhale, as the television blacked out, the refrigerator creaked and gave up, and the hush of the breeze suddenly touched on windows that had seemed concrete before.
In the glow of their laptops, Sadie and Dana glanced around the shadowed room, then at each other.
Sadie’s mouth was open in an unformed question.
Dana’s eyebrows were folded together.
Sadie looked at her hands, still poised over the keys, now all blue and white strange. “So…” she murmured. “What do we do now?”
Dana hesitated. “Tell ghost stories?”
Some things looked like knives, but were not knives. Imalie had been carrying one for a decade now, a thin piece of steel that someone had sharpened for a clear purpose, though Imalie had confused it with a thousand others just as soon as she could.
The sharpener, no doubt, had been in perfect agreement with the craftsman who had carved and wrapped the hilt so that it fit easily in a hand and would not slip out of sure fingers. Both of them worked in agreement with the forger, who made the steel into something thin enough to barely need a point, and heavy enough to drive itself through a cut, as if it had some small measure of will all its own.
But it was not a knife. Knives were for slicing, cutting, and stabbing. For breaking, if it came to that. For severing. Imalie had tied all its weight into a sheath and strapped it to her arm under her sleeve, and never taken it out. She had never used it to cut a thing, so now, it was a memory, and a threat, and something which rode just on the edge of her curiosity before she dropped into sleep.
Taryn hesitated on the balls of his feet, wondering how there could be so much hazard in the cut of a smile. Blinking across at Lord Brance, he tried to decide if the twenty feet between them had played with the lines of his face. There was smoke enough in the Practice Court to twist things, but the look in the older boy’s eye was sharp as anything.
He had heard some stories about Lord Brance, of course. He’d had his ears covered or been sent out of the room for others. Not even the things he’d eavesdropped for had prepared him for the challenge that felt like a command rolling off him as easy as a whisper. The smile felt like a promise. It sank into Taryn’s stomach like a threat.
Not that he would back down. The Practice Court clattered on around him, hissed and cracked with fire and speech. No one else in the wide hall had bothered to be alarmed, so he rolled into his next step, taking his place on the sparring line. As soon as he moved, it became absurd that he had stopped.
He had been a conqueror between these pillars for the last two years, an untouchable and, sometimes, bored devil.
“Ready?” Lord Brance asked, just loud enough to be heard over the clamor.
The last thread of humanity broke and he collapsed into the explosion of power. It swallowed him. Consumed him. Composed him. The ice under his skin sank straight down into his bones until every piece of his insides was stone-steady and water-smooth. The fire on his hands and arms forgot to be small, forgot to be bright, and rushed, blue-black in all directions, holding him in the center.
His eyes were shut, and he could not open them. He was dragging in a breath, and his chest was full, satisfied, but just kept pulling and pulling, unable to find the end of his capacity. The fire was crackling in his ears, and building in his arms, and he was broken on the swell of it, drunk on the swell of it, lost and unwilling to be found.
He was not smiling. His lips were twisted up at both corners, and his mouth was open, trying to finish that breath, trying to laugh it back out, but he was not smiling. That was too tame for this thing he had become.
And he burned.
And he choked on it.
Answers served with party hats. Take one. :)
Today is the third anniversary of the late-night whim that created Apprentice Never Master. To celebrate, every question in today’s Gwendoogle will be answered with the words “Happy Birthday, Apprentice Never Master” repeated with meaningful inflections.
All right. That would be difficult to do. It would be nearly impossible in text. So, all answers will be given in anagrams of “Happy Birthday, Apprentice Never Master.”
Or, maybe not. Because I’m not sure what question “A carpenter’s empire braved thy hippy ant!” would answer. So, all answers will be given, using only the letters of the alphabet used in “Happy Birthday, Apprentice Never Master.”
Or, maybe not that either, because that’s only 15 letters of the alphabet, and while a, b, c, d, e, h, i, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, and y are lovely letters – and I can use them to spell “a bardic nymph vest” – I’d like more. So, all answers will be given without using any of the letters in “Happy Birthday, Apprentice Never Master.”
Wait. Nope. That only leaves me eleven letters of the alphabet. I’d be wandering around saying Fgjkloquwxz! for the next hour.
So, all answers will given as usual. After all, I’ve already used up the number of times I can say “Happy Birthday, Apprentice Never Master” in this post. ;)
Neekers searched: How do you finish a nap?
Dream about a baby prince elephant who came to your house on an epic quest for a thousand clean socks so that he can use them to to keep his herd’s noses warm for the winter. You feel bad because, you would give him the very socks on your feet, but they are, of course, dirty. When the baby prince elephant trumpets to call the town together to make a plea for socks, you will jerk awake. Continue reading
Cerestine heard the front door open, then shudder shut, and she turned the next page of her book without looking up. The stained glass window spilled shards of blue and white light onto the carpet around her feet, but she had turned her chair so that only white light covered the pages across her knee. The trees and tangled walls outside were only shadows on the other side of the glass, and her hall was pleasantly dim, warm in its seclusion.
There was a moment more of quiet. Then, a light set of footsteps rounded the corner, echoed by heavier boots behind them. Cerestine glanced up without moving her head, then turned and smiled when she saw her granddaughter.
“Hello, Kadie,” Cerestine said. Smiling, she closed her book as the girl approached. Kadelyn was gentle on her feet as she had always been, but there was an evenness to her step that hadn’t been there a few months ago. She had gotten taller, too, but that was expected in a twelve-year-old. She would be taller than her mother by the time she was grown, and she was quickly learning her father’s confidence in motion.
The wide colonnaded yard of the practice court was filled with the reckless crackle and hiss of energy on the air, running heels on the paving stones, and shifting voices. Shouts echoed. Some clouds of twisted glowing smoke came off the hand and cracked like thunder deep in the chest. Light shifted and shadows jumped with just a sigh and a crack. The keimon paired off in their practice matches, throwing heat and liquid smoke across the space between them, and any given match played out as if it were silent, for all the sounds that mashed and layered and could not be sorted out. And still the echoes built and ran rounds between the columns until they were all the thunder that filled the yard.
Taryn sat on one of the benches at the edge of it, jacket balled in his hands while he bent forward over his knees, stretching his back and shoulders. He’d unrolled his sleeves, buttoned them back around his wrists, but couldn’t bring himself to put the jacket back over his shoulders. Sweat still held his shirt tight to his skin, and heat had coiled under his skin as soon as he ended his bout. It was taking a long time to cool again, and all he wanted to do was drop his head, and let it peel off him into the open air.
His little brother was stooped beside him, tightening the laces of his boots. Caden had always been the runner of the two of them, enjoying the dodge of a fight as much as the slam and strike. He always took a little longer to set his clothes back in place and ready himself to leave the hall. He had one foot up on the bench, his jacket still neatly folded beside him.
As halls went, it was half as grand as the best Jaera had ever seen. She had spent hours waiting just inside doors in the First Lord’s mansion. On infrequent occasions, she had patrolled the edges of great rooms that belonged to the Clan Lord himself. The comfortable house of the First Lord’s younger brother did not impress her.
But she had never stood so long in the center of a room like this. The ceiling seemed a little higher than she was used to. The walls seemed wider. The hall was not particularly full, but she was used to watching the array of rich, heavy fabric and sparkling gem lines from farther away. She kept her elbows close to her sides, and moved her feet a little at a time.
“I hope you won’t take it as an insult if I say you look lost.”
Jaera looked over her shoulder at the tall man who had stopped behind her shoulder. He had her friend Zain’s shaggy blonde hair, though he was a decade older and did a better job of taming the curls. His shoulders were wide, and the muscles in his arms looked a little too large for his green jacket.