Demimind: Chapter 25

A bit late, but here it is. Yesterday I was a procrastinatory mess. Today I no longer have to worry about the test or the speech I had to give in class, because I’m posting this in the interim between them. On the bright side I’m done with the speech and the test. On the negative side, I’m done with the speech and the test.

Enjoy.

-Eris

 

(25) Ash And Snow

Summer doesn’t get any more sleep that night. She sits, shaking still, on the edge of her bed, staring at Thomas’s sleeping form and the unconscious body of the man.

When the sun finally rises, it shines through, and Thomas opens his eyes to find her standing over him. “What-” he starts blearily.

“We’re leaving,” Summer says shortly.

“Right,” Thomas mutters.

Thomas leads Summer on through the city. Panicked on the inside, she still consents to the former gate guard buying provisions- food, mostly for him.

Summer isn’t hungry. Her Rose feeds her, trapped in the pocket of her tee. A sort of bitterness has settled over her. Thomas can’t understand it.

Winter can’t understand it.

Not even Summer really understands it, despite being the one who feels it pulling at her. Tugging at her.

Thomas had wanted to kill the man where he lay. Summer had let him. It had been quick, and Winter hadn’t complained. Why, then, had she stopped Summer last night?

Summer doesn’t know.

Buildings loom out at her, as she waits outside the shop- Iron Spoke.

A strange name for a shop, but she hadn’t dared to comment. The innkeep, whether he was dead or alive, hadn’t called pursuit on them. Summer is thankful for that. She feels like she should be thankful to be alive.

If not for Winter using her body, she feels like she would be dead. Mostly, though, she feels hollow.

“Maybe we should go back,” Summer whispers to herself.

Why?

Summer shrugs.

He’ll kill us.

“There are worse things.”

He might do them.

“Doing nothing is worse,” Summer says, loudly. “It’s worse not to do anything at all.”

People are staring, but Summer ignores them.

You didn’t think so a day ago!

It begins to rain.

There are no clouds in the sky, but it falls nevertheless.

Summer rubs the crusted blood on her hand. It had healed in the time she was sitting there, on the bed.

People seem to keep their distance from her, now, breaking in the stream of humanity, flowing around her like water ’round a stone in tide.

She closes her eyes a moment, leaning back against the shop door. It had boldly stated, in writing she could not read, that women were not allowed inside. A glamour could probably have fixed that. Or, failing that, she could have made herself look like Winter. Winter’s boyish body would do. Flat as a sapling and skinny besides, no one would question her.

But she doesn’t feel like it now, for some reason. Whether she’s lost her nerve or interest, following Thomas into the shop had not been at the forefront of her mind.

She can trust him.

Someone is approaching her, lifeforce breaking off from the stream around her. She opens her eyes and stares the child in the face as she steps towards her. The girl’s legs are quaking.

Summer just watches.

“What do you want?” She asks quietly.

“Please, lady- are you a hero?”

She blinks at that. “No.”

“O-oh. It’s just, my parents have been c-captured.”

Summer shrugs. But the girl is persistent.

“I t-thought you might h-help. You have the look of a noble.”

“Captured by who?” Summer asks. She’s surprised to find that she actually cares, and Winter acts as the guilty conscience wondering why she should be surprised.

The girl looks as if she wants to say more, but Summer can see the glowing tail of an enchantment about her lips. It hisses bright red as she opens her mouth, and she can see sweat break out on the girl’s skin. Something is preventing her from speaking her mind.

Summer reaches forward, grasps the magic, and gently pulls it away.

The Rose feeds on the energy, glowing brighter.

The girl blinks, then smiles quaveringly. Her face- which would be very pleasant if it weren’t for the dirt and grime covering it- looks about ready to burst into tears. “Lady-”

“Who did this to you?” Summer interrupts. “I imagine they thought it funny to leave the child unable to point them out to the proper authorities and tormented with the knowledge that no one could help them. And you are pretty brave. So just tell me who they are now, and I’ll beat ten kinds of shit out of them for you.”

Summer doesn’t know why she feels like she should do this. She’d never really even cared about humans much before. Except maybe Thomas. And that was a partnership of… convenience.

Right?

Will this help you find out more?

“It certainly won’t hurt,” Summer mutters.

The girl doesn’t notice. “P-please, milady, it was the Mage’s Guild.”

Thomas- how long had he been leaning with her?- stares. “Summer. Attacking the Guild- in any city- would be suicide.”

“We’re not going to attack,” Summer says simply, a plan forming in her head even now. “Lead the way, girl. And my name is Summer-Heat-Rising.”

The girl shows not a flicker of recognition, but she leads them on. The girl is probably too traumatized to introduce herself.

“Do you mean to just walk up to the gates and take her parents away from them? Lady Summer- have you gone crazy?” Thomas asks bluntly.

“Yeah, probably,” Summer replies lightly. “Come on.”

The Guild rises high into the air, an enormous stone structure. It doesn’t seem to be connected to the ground- rather, it floats, hovering gently, held up by magic- or possibly invisible pillars. The construction seems unreal to Thomas, but he’d seen enough strange things by now not to question it.

Summer frowns, though. That sort of magic could not have been worked lightly. She can feel it, can see it spread like an immense web. Winter may have the sight for magic words- Summer feels confident in her ability to see magic itself and the framework around it.

Before them, an immense gate. To either side the street widens, and fewer and fewer people linger here. Standing before the gate is one man wearing a grey robe, and in his fist he holds a large white staff. Whether painted or natural, Summer can’t tell.

It has no knob, and doesn’t appear to be very elaborate at all.

Humans. Robes are completely impractical for combat.

Summer strides towards the gate. She notes a large stone archway next to the gate, and a terminal similar to the one she’d seen in the past- the Serpent’s cave. The raised dais has different symbols on it, but she thinks she knows what would need to be done. But that isn’t foremost on her mind yet.

Though it might be useful later, Winter notes.

The man- who Summer can only imagine is the guard- stares at her. “Come no further, wench,” He says gruffly. “The Guild of Magi has no need of witches.”

“I am Summer-Heat-Rising,” She says quietly. “Second Season. Who are you to bar my path?”

The guard smirks, arches an eyebrow, and doesn’t answer for a moment. “I’m called Geoff. No fancy titles or nothin’. Just Geoff. And if you come near me, girl, I’ll knock your block off your pretty shoulders. Shouldn’t be wavin’ titles like that if you don’t know who they’re for”

All formal pretense officially dropped, Summer torches his lips off with the flick of a finger. In this city, with life all around her and the Rose at her hip, her magic hisses towards the guard’s mouth in a jet of invisible heat.

As he screams and paws at his face, running in comical little circles, Summer kicks his legs out from under him as she passes. Then she turns and punches down the fancy embroidered gate with one hand.

The crash it makes is deafening- spell-wrought iron slamming into the ground, the hinges splintering, the marble pillars cracking.

Her hand aches, but doesn’t blister- the iron isn’t naturally made, just as she’d thought. If it had been she’d have been jumping back and sucking on crackled knuckles.

Summer storms up the bridge towards the hall, power sheathing her in a heat cloak. Thomas and the girl just stare.

Summer enters the guild through the courtyard.

The guard stands up, rubbing his lips- which, while scalded, hadn’t actually been torched off.

“Are you alright?” Thomas asks.

“I’m lucky to be alive,” The guard mumbles weakly. “That was Summer of the Four Seasons.”

“I know. You should have believed her,” Thomas says, not unsympathetically. He walks over to stand next to the guard, dragging the girl with him.

“I always heard she had long blonde hair and was shaped more… you know, shapely. I guess the skin should’ve been a giveaway. Ow.

“She’s been ill,” Thomas replies dryly.

The guard doesn’t bother replying to that. He just leans back against the pillar and keeps his mouth open so that his tender lips don’t have to touch.

Summer, meanwhile, is busy.

The inside of the guild is filled to the brim with fancy decor- marble and ivory, pillars inset with precious stones. Engravings of wizards doing wizardly things are set in the stone on pillars and walls. Summer, however, is oblivious to any of it. She’s deep in conversation with the wizard in front of her- and it’s taking all of her concentration not to just roast the smug git and be done with it.

“Madam, we’ve no record of any urchin’s parents being held here. In any case, even if we did, the sheer amount of paperwork required to retrieve her would be ridiculous. I recommend you attempt to contact some form of personal detective for this work, rather than inserting yourself into what is obviously guild affairs and none of yours.”

The bearded man- wizard or not- is proving troublesome. Summer has developed a unique way of dealing with problems over the years, and she’s suddenly aching to use it. Something about him is irritating her.

“I’ve no time for this. You’re a sorcerer, are you not?” Summer asks sharply. “Show me her parents if you want to live.”

“Are you threatening me, madam?” The man asks dangerously. His beard twinkles at her. Who puts glitter in their beard? Cycle, who puts glitter in anything?

What a twerp.

Summer reaches forward, and her hand rebounds from an invisible field- well, semi-invisible. She can see it now, a shining field of red in the air between her and the man. So he knows a trick. She grits her teeth, but then stands straight and folds her arms. She glares at him, the barrier of his power all that separates him from incineration.

“I could break you one-handed,” Summer snarls. “All I want is the location of that ‘urchin’s’ parents. I’ll leave with them and that’s the last you’ll see of me.”

“My dear woman, what makes you think we’ll let you leave?”

Summer smiles grimly. “Do I look like I’m going to let you stop me?”

She lifts a hand. As power gathers there, she flings fingers of it at the wizard, who arches an eyebrow as the heat lashes his shield almost tenderly, breaking on it like waves against sand.

She twists her fingers and the shield, so strong before, blazes with heat again, boils on all sides.

“You’re good, for a hedgewitch,” the wizard concedes. “But not good enough. My guards will be here any moment, and they’ll soon overwhelm you.”

Summer forces a burst of heat, twisting and writhing, white light, to funnel forth from her hand. It splashes across the shield again, which glows in the air. The wizard takes a step back, visibly sweating.

Summer, no longer smiling, pushes the light again. That such a mortal could dare defy her… Worse, that he could near succeed in fending her off…

It’s simultaneously disturbing and exhilarating, to have something of a challenge. A flick of her fingers cuts the heat short, just shy of snapping the wizard’s shield into splinters. “You still have no idea who I am, do you?” Summer asks, feeling smug, but also hurt. The people of this city are either stupid, or simply don’t believe her. She’s not sure which one of those options she likes least.

The wizard, lips pressed into a tight line, answers by dropping the shield and unleashing a torrent of energy- cold and hideously powerful. It snaps into existence with a flash of blinding light, white and red twisted together. The tendril lashes at her, but Summer deflects it, power for power, drawing on the life in the city and sending the magic blow spinning aside. Nearby, a pillar liquifies, melting into molten, sparking dust. Part of her is shocked, and part of her is disgusted. To spend so much power without even thinking about the consequences- the arrogance of this human makes her sick.

She lifts her hand again, narrowing her eyes. She’ll end this man-

We need him!

Summer drops her aim, and the coil of her power strikes once- not at the wizard’s head, but at his belly. A blazing digit of power slams outward and carves a line across his midriff. His scream is satisfying.

As the wizard folds, Summer strides towards him. He’s clutching his stomach- which is an angry black and red, his robes burnt out around them. Staring at her in shock and rage, he lifts one hand, looks as if his mouth would form the words to a spell.

She doesn’t recognize it, but it doesn’t matter. Her hand reaches the man’s throat and she lifts him off the ground, heat gathering around her in a cloak. “Defy me again and I’ll boil your blood. I am Summer-Heat-Rising, and you are in my way.”

The man’s eyes flicker, and Summer throws him down again. She hears the clatter of staves on stone around her. Guards, no doubt. But she doesn’t really care right now.

The wizard, moaning and clutching at his stomach still- the blackened wound leaks red at an alarming rate. The blood should make her feel something, but Summer can’t pity him. She pities him even less as the other robed men- who by now surround her- catch her attention by raising their staves. And only now does she begin to feel a little vulnerable…

Their crimson robes make her sick in a fashion she can’t quite fathom. There’s something awfully familiar about them.

“Summer-Heat-Rising-”

She lashes out, spinning spreading her hands and hurling a blast of heat all around her, drawing the power in and letting it expand in a shockwave that forces everyone except the writhing wizard back, pushing them away from her with such force that two of them fall over, skulls smacking stone.

“Season or no, you’re violating the Guild law practicing offensive magic here!” A man shouts, though he shields his blue eyes from the blistering wave of heat. She rounds on him, hand curled, fingers extended. A single bolt should do, reduce him to ash. Winter, of course, realizes her intent.

No! If we start a war, we won’t find them! I know what you want to do, Summer, but this was never about you! We need these wizards- not only do they have the child’s parents, they might be able to send us to the shrine! You saw the portal outside, the gates- if it truly is one, we might be able to get to Spring and come back before Autumn finds us! We can get your child and be away before he knows what happened!

Summer hesitates a moment too long.

“Fates above, guide my hand- bind this woman with a brand!”

The chant is familiar, as if from a dream or a long lost memory, and its effects are immediate.

Searing pain caresses Summer’s back suddenly, and she snarls, whirling and loosing an instinctive tendril of energy at the source of the noise. A girl- could she be more than twelve?- stumbles back, Summer’s power crackling over her form as she falls. Her skin is blistered and it cracks under the heat. If the girl is screaming, Summer can’t hear it. Or anything, really. She stares blankly as the girl squirms in agony.

Part of her heart dies for a moment, catching in her chest, and she pushes it away.

She can’t move, she can’t hear, she can’t talk- nothing will work, and for a moment she wonders if this is what shock is, to be stunned by your actions, to be stunned into panic and to lose your life because of it. But…

The brand. The sigil that girl just cast- it’s draining your power, binding you.

Oh. That makes it a little more simple.

Summer twirls the Rose in her pocket, pulls it up and out, then squeezes, digging the thorns into her hand. Power fills her up, its wrath making her giddy, crackling over her arms and legs and shattering the sigil on her back.

She turns, Rose blazing bright in one hand. Her other hand sweeps up, and the men surrounding her fall back before it, cowering away from her fingers.

Don’t you care about what you’ve done?

Summer bites her lip, but such weakness could be the end of her here, so she swallows it down.

“Is that it? A girl can do better what men cannot do at all?”

“She is our head seer, little more than a child,” A man says listlessly. “And the Master of Light was also gravely injured.’

“I don’t want to fight. All I want are the urchin’s parents,” Summer says plainly. Her emotions roar at her, boiling beneath her skin. Right.

Crimson robes shuffle back a little. Her tone is gentle, but her green eye is blazing with fury, a trick she’d learned from Fall.

“They might be kept in the dungeon,” the same brave man hazards, gazing at her directly. He hadn’t stepped far. “Isiah, why don’t you go fetch them?”

“What- ah. Okay.

Summer stares at them suspiciously. But she has more questions, however shifty the answers she gets might be. “Fine, but what of the portal outside?”

“What of it? The gate has been closed for ages,” The man says quietly. “In a time before time it was sealed, by powers we cannot begin to imagine. We built this city up around it.”

Summer regards him warily. Green eyes and crimson robes, a sallow face and hands like wax run over a flame. This is what lesser magics will do.

Summer sighs, tosses her hair and releases her magic slowly, letting it seep back. “I can activate it again,” She says quietly. “But in return I want passage through and back, and the urchin’s parents.”

Every part of her is screaming at her to kill them all. But for once, Summer doesn’t quite feel like listening to herself.

“How will you atone for this?” The wizard asks of her, indicating the fallen Master and the burnt Head Seer.

“Blood shall be paid,” Summer replies steadily. “As a season, there must be balance. Take heart in that- it may not happen right now, but it will happen.”

“That hardly seems appropriate,” The man says mildly. “You’ve potentially killed two of our highest order.”

“I hardly think you’re in a position to demand more,” Summer snarls softly, temper flaring hot. “Or did you forget that I nearly killed two of your highest order?”

The sallow man’s eyebrows rise, then curl in anger. Those with power seldom feel good about losing it.

He glances at the Head Seer and the Master again. The Master has curled up and is breathing shallowly, the Head Seer is utterly motionless.

Summer watches the man wrestle with himself. But he seems to gather control again, for he looks up at her with a passive expression, even when behind his eyes he plots murder. Summer can read him easily enough, but his lack of fear she finds disturbing. There’s nothing she can really use here.

“I’ve got the girl’s parents,” A boy- can’t be more than twelve- volunteers, staring between Summer and the sorcerer with mixed fascination and terror.

Summer eyes him. He isn’t Isiah- Isiah was much older. She wonders where that one got to. His fire red hair had struck her as strange, and the blood of his robes had seemed strange too, marked with human runes. Nonsense, really.

Then her eyes travel to a pair of metallic spheres grasped in the boy’s hand. “What are those?” She asks quietly.

“T-travel spheres, miss,” The boy responds, shaky at having been addressed. “It’s- it’s a spe-”

“Irrelevant,” snaps the wax-skinned man. “Thank you Jeras. Dismissed.”

He turns to Summer. There’s a sort of jerkiness to his movements, as though controlled through extreme stress.

“Sir.” The Jeras boy deposits the spheres in the sorcerer’s hand and then scampers off.

“The rest of you- you all have work to do I imagine,” the sorcerer says quietly. “See to it. I’ll handle miss Summer.”

The circle of red robes scatters. A few seem to attend the Head Seer and Master, a few more simply fade, walking out of the stone arena and into the courtyard or passing through halls.

The green-eyed wizard turns to Summer and holds up the hand with the spheres. “These are the girl’s parents.”

“Release them.”

“Your bargain, miss Summer,” He growls. “First that, or I crush them and that’s the end of it.”

“What gives you the right-” One of the other red-robed men asks, but the look from the green-eyed one is murder, and he falls silent.

Summer is taken aback by how swiftly the tables have turned on her, but she shrugs. She was going to open the portal anyway, to get where she needed to go.

“What do you need the gate open for?” She asks quietly.

“Do you know how long we’ve existed on this side of the Barrier?” the man asks her. His voice, already dry, seems crackly now. “The Wheel has been here for hundreds and hundreds of years.”

Summer stares at him. “What, exactly, is your point?”

“I want out,” He says quietly. “That portal- it can take you anywhere, yes?”

Summer shrugs. “Maybe. But there’s only one place I want to go. Then I can come back and continue on my way.”

“Well then. Lead on,” The man says.

She does, turning on her heel and walking out of the hall and into the courtyard, then down the bridge to meet Thomas and the girl. The portal stands dormant, the arch completely still and stone. Somber and solidly silent.

Summer walks up to the terminal, to the raised dais.

“We have tried every key, every combination of runes and sigils,” the sallow-faced man says. The girl, the urchin, is staring at him with something like complete hatred, and if Thomas were to let go of her arm, Summer feels she’d probably try to kill him.

“You don’t know the language,” Summer replies, wrenching her gaze away from the girl’s face. “How the fuck could you? All you know is fake magic, copied magic.”

“I think you seriously underestimate us-” He begins, but then stops as Summer presses one sigil and speaks one word, a word in a language beyond any reckoning, one that no human living had spoken.

“Fire.”

Summer’s hand blazes, the sigil flashes red, then sparks and crackles. Without further fanfare, the arch shimmers, then glows, bathed in a ruddy radiance. The portal is activated. Now all one needs to do is put in the right sequence of characters and-

A scream. A girl’s scream, Summer whirls, stares, sees a man- the sorcerer- wreathed in power, sees gold strands wrapped around the young girl, connected to his fingers. On the ground lie, still and cold, the bodies of two people- a man and a woman, side by side, hand in hand. Summer knows instantly, can feel that they are dead.

Her eyes lift to the man, who opens his mouth to say something, but Summer acts.

She punches her power at him before the words can escape his mouth, and his voice turns into a whine and the whistle of steam before his bones, incandescent white with heat, fall to the cobbles and collapse into ashes. The sallow-faced wizard is dead.

She slams one hand on the terminal as the girl falls, still wrapped in gold, in magic. She can feel the girl’s life-force ebbing.

The dais responds to her need, if not to her force, three symbols flashing in the air. The portal opens for her, showing a land of endless snow through the gate. Summer stares at Thomas, who stares back.

“Go,” She says shortly. “I knew it wouldn’t be this simple. Take her to Spring, he’ll know how to save her.”

He seems like he’s about to argue. His mouth opens.

“GO NOW!” Summer roars.

Thomas flees, picking up the girl- she must weigh nothing- and running through the portal. He looks back at her once from the snow before Summer slams her fist into the dais again, and the stone goes dark, before reverting to the blank ruddy red.

Whether or not she could fight all of the wizards in the guild was never the question. Whether she could protect Thomas and the girl both at once while doing so however…

You idiot! Why didn’t you just go after them and destroy the gate when you went through?

“We need to go back through!” Summer hisses. “Besides that, I don’t know that I even can destroy it. I only know the word to ignite it, I can’t put it out again! This way at least Thomas and the girl will be safe!”

Winter stops the mental retort, thinking about it.

Summer redirects the portal to the wastes of the Barrier. She twists the strands of power in the dais, taps out another few sigils….

But something is fighting her, and the terminal, the gateway, cracks under the pressure.

The red turns blue, cold and piercing, and impossibly, red-brown death lines the metal supporting the stone dais. A few runes glow sickly on the dais, and a sense of horrible foreboding overwhelms Summer’s senses. It can’t just be the destination- someone is fighting her from another side. But where could that be from-?

The runes are to a place she had never seen, but the title above them is quite familiar.

“Fall,” She breathes, disbelieving, backing away as the letters form.

The ground underneath her rumbles ominously, pitching back and forth, power crackling. She tumbles, rolling down the steps of the dais and landing on her belly.

Her body feels bruised, and she caught her elbow a nasty crack on the stone, but the shaking slows and then stops.

She pushes herself to her feet, turns towards the portal and comes straight face to face with her cold, blue-eyed brother. The clacking of His hooves on the stone is hideously loud in the sudden silence as He steps down towards her.

“That is my name,” Lord Autumn says pleasantly. “It is good to see you again, sister.”

Summer has a horrible feeling that he means it.

Advertisements

Demimind: Chapter 24

Well, I have been working on getting a new short story done, but it will be a while before I can get the flow right. In the meantime, here’s another update. I think the length of this upcoming one will satisfy the most greedy of you- in terms of the chapter I’m actually on– well, let’s just say that the one I just finished is larger than any other chapter in this novel so far. I can’t wait to post it.

-Eris

(24) Red Ivory City

The sun dares to set, and it does so slowly, a red ball in the distance. Invisible in the Barrier, a disc of ruddy light here. It doesn’t seem as important as the city that now stretches before Summer as she steps down onto stone.

“Humans,” She breathes, barely daring to believe it. “What in the Cycle-”

Of course, two spears are pointed right at her face, but the men holding them relax when they see her face. Summer can’t for the life of her remember them.

“Ah, Glory. With your hair, we didn’t really recognize you,” one of them volunteers. “Sorry.”

Their armor is bronze, and the spear heads are black rock- probably lava glass. Her late incarnation’s tastes tended on the overdramatic. It wouldn’t surprise Summer at all if that were the case.

Thomas steps through after her, brushing grit off of himself and staring around blankly.

Summer catches a glimmer of movement, and is reminded of where she is  again.

Buildings, of ivory and red ceramic, stretch out almost as far as the eye can see. In all directions. To either side of her, pillars of marble, and above her an immense granite block. So. A portal, or a gate.

How they had missed it at all escapes her. Some magic or glamour perhaps.

Wait, had they just called her Glory?

Her attention snaps to the guards, who don’t seem to even look at Thomas as he steps through. “Where is this?”

“Lady Glory?” This guard has red hair. It isn’t often seen on men, Summer finds herself thinking. Or on anyone. But lately she’d been seeing a lot of that. Thomas, with his mousy brown hair, doesn’t seem to notice. He glances back at her and waits.

“I’m not Glory,” Summer says quietly. “I am Summer-Heat-Rising. I don’t remember you, I’m afraid.”

The guard frowns at that, and then shrugs. “Well whoever you are, you made it here okay so you must have known where we were. Welcome to the city of Wheel. And my name is Corwin, miss.”

Summer wrinkles her nose at that. “Weird name.”

“No worse than Summer,” He replies, and smiles.

Summer hates him instantly.

Just keep moving. People are people, not toys, Summer.

“Yeah, yeah,” She replies, forcing her temper cool.

She steps down after Thomas.

“Are you going to go find an inn? I don’t fancy the idea of staying outside all night,” Thomas says quietly.

“Night?” Summer asks, feeling a little lost. “What?”

“The sun goes down,” Thomas replies.

“Oh.”

Summer stares up at the sky and the sun, then shrugs. She’d heard the word before. And of course the sun went down. She just had never associated the two things.

She begins to get the feeling that she’s been in this body too long.

“You can have your turn now,” She mutters.

Aww, is it getting too hard for you, sister?

“You probably don’t even remember what it’s like,” Summer hisses, as Thomas leads her down crowded streets. People aren’t paying her any mind, really- well, no undue attention. Her eyes catch flickers of movement from men in saffron robes, though. Robes… Saffron robes. Where had she seen those before?

She remembers now that her clothing consists entirely of a shirt made of gossamer strands of heat and pants made of twisted light.

“Well, maybe you do,” She mumbles distractedly. She hadn’t heard Winter reply.

There’s something missing.

Thomas stops in front of moderately sized building. “What do you have for coin?” He asks Summer warily.

“Coin?” Summer asks, before she can stop herself. “What?”

“Money for trade,” Thomas explains patiently. “What do you have for money?”

“Uh,” Summer starts.

“Nevermind,” Thomas says quickly, and sighs heavily. “Just as well I’ve got some on me.”

It strikes Summer that she should- and Thomas too, of course- be extremely hungry. And so she is.

Thomas leads her into the building, stepping past the wooden doors and into a room nearly empty.

A thin-looking, dark-faced man looks up and smiles at them. “Welcome to the Wheel’s finest inn and hostel.”

“Really?” Thomas says skeptically, staring about him. The floor seems fine enough, but the sign outside had been faded, and the paint, thinly applied and gaunt as the man behind the counter, seems to be peeling in places. Though it is a calming pink and blue.

Thomas stamps on the floor once. The boards are made of ironwood. Not metalwood, Summer notes. But ironwood of some kind. Possibly a strong oak. The walls  and ceiling seem to be made of… ivory? Summer finds it hard to believe that such a wealth of the material exists.

“Your girl knows the truth of it,” the man replies, and gives Summer a wink. “Got yourself a regular witch there, don’t you?”

“She’s not mine, sir,” Thomas replies sharply. “She’s her own.”

The man’s eyebrows shoot up as if spring loaded. “You don’t say! A wild one, then?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Thomas says cautiously. “Is that bad?”

“If your money is good and you don’t start trouble, what business is it of mine who shares your room? And who would dare call the Guild on such a lovely lady? Certainly not I,” The man replies quickly. Summer feels that he even means it, the poor fool.

But the Guild… if it reaches out this far… Robes. Yes, the Guild wears the saffron robes. Now she remembers.

Thomas pays the man without incident. It surprises Summer, but Winter doesn’t seem to find it strange that they- the humans- have their own currency.

You spend so much time thinking about yourself it’s a wonder you notice anything about the humans whose lives you ruin, Winter grumbles. If you paid more attention to them you’d learn they weren’t so different from us.

“This from my memoryless sister,” Summer snaps.

“What?”

Summer looks up at the innkeeper. “Just talking to myself,” She says casually. “Didn’t mean to say that out loud.”

Thomas rolls his eyes, takes the key from the innkeeper with a smile and a murmured thanks, and tugs Summer away to the stairs.

He drags her up to the top floor of the building. The stairs are smooth and hard underfoot.

Polished ivory shines even as her gritty feet and Thomas’s boots stamp on it. Small wonder, too. Summer can feel enchantment on it, can taste its tang in her mouth. Along with a vicious hunger.

Thomas walks past a few elaborate- if faded- doors. The key hums in his fingers suddenly, and he blinks, stops, and pushes the key into the lock of the door on the right.

But Summer is drawn to the one on the left- for it stands wide open, and inside there is red, a sea of it, red and ill omen both smelling so strong that it threatens to send her reeling away. She practically falls into her own room after that. Thomas didn’t seem to notice, and how could he, pathetic, weak little human that he is.

She shakes her head, trying to clear it. Her eyes snap back to the present, lingering on the door across the hall. It’s closed. Closed. It was never open.

Summer collapses on the bed, while Thomas starts setting up a pallet next to it. She looks over at him as he uncovers a mat. How he’d hidden the bedroll in his pack for so long is beyond her.

“What are you doing?” Summer asks, staring at him. This whole place feels alien somehow. She’d never seen, or felt, so many humans gathered in one place. Here she feels alone, and it frightens her into curiosity.

What does it look like he’s doing? Winter asks.

Thomas looks up at her, eyebrows raised. “Begging your pardon, milady Summer, I’m setting up camp.”

“Come up here and sleep with me instead,” Summer whispers.

Thomas shakes his head, though he smiles a little. “Sorry, miss, but I can’t do that. You’re beautiful. But I’m a gate guard. Besides that, you’ve got someone out there whose already made you theirs, right? You were with child not that long ago.”

“You really are simple, aren’t you,” Summer snips irritably.

“Simple I may be, miss, but smoking pile of ashes I am not,” Thomas replies quietly. “I’d rather not risk your lover’s wrath. I’m sure he is a much greater man than me.”

Or had you forgotten that you’d had a baby? Winter chides. What’s wrong with you?

She had forgotten. Now she feels ashamed for it, so she rolls over and stares at the wall, not answering Thomas, and not willing to let him see her tears, either.

Surely more days and nights had passed. But she couldn’t remember them. It isn’t so much that she feels alone… just that she feels like she couldn’t be with someone even when they’re right in the same room as her that rankles. She closes her eyes, though, in the night, and lets time pass.

It seems like an eternity slips by before she’s finally beginning to drift off. The bed is so huge and dark- truly it was meant for two to share.

She rolls onto her back as Winter dozes in her head, then sits up as she hears a creak at the door…

Her eyes pierce the darkness and find nothing there, not a shape, not an image or a hint, and the nothing moves into the room, raises sharp claws, and leaps at her.

For a moment she doesn’t register it, she can’t fathom it. Her heart pounds in her chest, she’s wide awake, and her hand is lifting, slowly, too slowly. The nothing passes right through her and keeps going.

Summer, shudders, lowers her shaky hand. She’s drenched in sweat. Was it a waking nightmare? A vision?

There’s something sticky between her thighs, and after a moment she reaches down and her fingers come up covered in red.

Her other hand- she can’t feel it. A stump! She lifts it up and stares at it as blood soaks her wrist and pours down her arm, as the slash on the back of her leg reopens and soaks the sheets. Her head pounds, her body aches all over and she twists, turns, stares into a grinning skull not three feet from her face- Jane’s skull, a serpent’s skull- and…

She screams, eyes snapping open, gasping, taking in a shuddering breath. Another.

Lord Autumn. Horned visage, terrible rage, crackling power, raised hand.

Jane, dead, dying, torn to pieces. So many pieces. Putting her back together would be impossible.

Summer hugs herself, steadying her breathing, not daring to move. All this power.

She stares at the hand she’d lost, at where a stump should be. It’s started to regain its former color.

She snaps her fingers, quietly, summons the Rose to her, hand clenched around it tight enough to draw blood. It glows in the darkness, ruining her night vision, but she doesn’t mind. Its presence, the sting of its thorns in her hand… they’re familiar things compared to the frightening dark.

Compared to the dreams.

Summer breathes out, shivering, though not from cold. Her heart slows to a reasonable pace. But… the hand holding the rose, the fingertips are stained red, still, and her thighs still feel sticky.

She blinks at that, wondering. That had never happened that she could remember…

How much do you know about your own body? Winter asks quietly.

“Enough,” Summer answers weakly.

Who made you- you know- pregnant?

“I don’t know,” Summer whispers.

Will you find out here?

Summer shrugs helplessly, staring at the Rose in her hand and the blood on her fingers. “I don’t know.”

You’ve changed…

“I was certain before.”

Now nothing is certain.

“Now I’m not certain,” Summer agrees, and she slips out of bed. Using ambient life-force from all around her, drawing on the energy from everyone near her, she fashions a glowing skirt and tee, dons them both, and steps over Thomas to reach the door.

As if from a long way away, she sees herself reach for the handle. Her fingers close around it, and she tugs the door open. A voice in her head drowns out Winter’s alarmed question. It issues from everywhere, but paints a clear line- the doorway to the room filled with red.

Free us.

Summer takes another step out and, when the handle before her refuses to budge, closed and locked, she presses her hand against it and pushes, harder and harder until the hinges finally give and it slams into the polished floor.

It’s so dark. Had she woken in the night? They had gone to sleep so early.

The polished ivory here is awash in red.

It’s old, stained into the floor and the walls, covering everything in a dizzying sheen. Her eyes penetrate the dark, and she hold the Rose aloft like a torch regardless, as blood runs down her palm, forms a drop and splashes on the floor to join the sea.

The discarded bodies, five, six, seven, eight- they lie in a pile before her, stacked aimlessly against a window, a sacrifice to nothing. A sacrifice to everything, the beckoning night and the horrible darkness.

Summer finds her legs shaking, but she strengthens her resolve and takes another step into the room, even as dread bites at her heart. The throats, the wrists, the ankles and thighs of each victim- neatly slit, neatly cut to let the blood flow the better. Her eyes catch on runes on the floor, and in the presence of so much death, even her Rose seems to dim as the darkness around her closes in.

Nothing surrounds her, then, in saffron robes. She can feel them on their way, to investigate her intrusion, but it’s the innkeep who arrives first, stepping into the room, covering his nose.

“By the gods- what IS this?” He shouts, momentarily forgetting himself. His eyes fall on Summer, whose hands drip red, but thankfully he has a moment of sanity. The corpses here are obviously old.

“How-” He starts, taking a step forward. An immense force slams into him, eliciting a mental shriek from Winter. He stumbles into the room, whirling, hand dropping to cover a wound on his side, red leaking from his fingers and falling into the wash of it. In the other he draws a weapon like a cross with a string. He aims it at the doorway one handed.

Summer, still frozen, watches the string flick forward. Watches the razor bolt as it leaves the nock, watches it disintegrate midair. Into nothing.

A figure stands in the doorway, surrounded by terror, a cloak of it that rushes forward and seizes her heart, seizes the innkeep’s heart.

It squeezes hers until she feels it burst. But it’s the innkeep, nameless and now forever unnamed, who drops forward onto the floor.

She forgets herself, forgets who she is, instead, with Winter finally heard over the drowning whispers of the dead, she screams.

It explodes out of her. It flees her fingers. It erupts from her hands in a wall, a bolt, a blast of fire, a sheet of it that washes the walls clean white with heat.

But the darkness sucks it back in again, and the Rose in her hand drops from nerveless fingers. The figure takes a step in, runs at her, fingers like talons reaching towards her, a mouth visible in the dark, razored teeth bared. An unnameable shape that screeches something primal.

It’s Winter who moves her, who forces her forward to meet it, taking advantage of lifeborne strength to reach out and grab the creature’s neck and, empowered by panic and terror, twists its head off. The severed part falls to the floor, smacks it soundly.

Shaking, weeping in fear, Summer stumbles out of the room.

A man in saffron robes meets her, whirling in front of the open door to her room. His eyes, shocked, in his hand a sword. He has no room to swing it, so he draws it back for a quick stab.

His mouth frames ‘Witch!’.

Summer doesn’t see it, or him, but her hands seem to. Her fingers find his throat and she chokes the word before it leaves his mouth. Chokes it out of him one handed.

Summer feels her heart slow again, feels the terrible fear leave her in a wave. Her hand feels weak, but she tightens her resolve and her grip, watching the man’s eyes bulge in a mixture of fury and wide-eyed fear.

She studies him, fury boiling in her now, as horrible as the fear was. She can still smell the corpserot from the room behind her. She can feel the man’s thoughts, but they give her no hint. He was holding a blade, and whether it was meant for her, Thomas or the innkeep she cannot say and does not care.

She reaches down, grips the steel, and gently twists it into a loop. The screeching it makes soothes her frayed nerves. Her hand finds his arm and, using two fingers, she twists it like a green twig, feeling it bend and then snap. Her hand chokes the noise, though, and-

Stop, Summer!

An irritating voice in her head demands something of her, but she pays it no mind as the man’s face turns blue and then spotty purple. His mouth is open and his tongue is lolling and she can’t help but feel it’d look so much better if she just tore it right o-

Her hand is fighting her suddenly, unclenching, letting the man drop unconscious.

Summer wants to kill, she was scared and now she’s angry. She can feel the energy gathering in her, she needs something to kill now, and her body is fighting her every step of the way. Her nails dig into her palm, her fingers grinding at the holes where the Rose pierced her skin.

Bronze and pink, her arm and hand slowly fall to her side.

Summer feels the breath come in and leave her in a sob, feels the tears as they run hot down her face. She shakes, all over.

Summer.

She can’t answer, won’t answer. She will not answer. The dead have no hold over her.

Summer. Calm down. It’s over. It’s okay. Calm down. 

You’re alive.

It’s different when you’re in the body and feeling the deaths. It’s different when you know that every time you kill someone you’ve shut their potential, shattered them whole. It’s different, nothing like she remembered, nothing like the thrill Glory had taken, that she had taken from it. And the terror!

The fear, the stark madness that gripped her!

Had she been exhilarated by it at one point? Had such things made her happy, excited even? Had she ever taken pleasure from slaughter? She had! She had been Summer, mistress of heat and storm, capable of reducing mere mortals to dust, of taking anything she wanted when she wanted it!

Summer, the Heat Rising. Summer-Heat-Rising. That’s who she is now. She’s sure of it. Not Summer-Glory.

Bile rises in her throat, and she forces it down again. She hadn’t killed this time. Nothing human.

And she can’t face the thing she had killed. Not right now.

Demimind: Chapter 23

Gettin’ closer to thirty! Sorry I missed an update. Friday was busy- I just didn’t have the time.

Hope chapter twenty-three will make things better! Maybe this time Summer can catch a break.

-Eris

(23) Lost

Summer smacks into the gritty ground. She lies there only a few moments before she pushes herself to her feet. She’s abominably hungry, for some reason. From that she surmises she needs to draw energy from something to sustain her body. She summons the Rose, grasps it. The sting of its thorns remind her that she’s really, truly alive and in the present again.

She siphons some of the plant’s energy, then dismisses it. It disappears in a puff of smoke.

A familiar human groan sounds next to her. She looks around and spies a familiar human figure to go along with it. “Thomas?” She asks incredulously.

“Miss Summer? What’s happened?” Thomas asks blearily.

He hasn’t pushed himself to his feet yet- which doesn’t seem right. Had they both really arrived at the exact same time? That doesn’t even sound possible. But then, they shouldn’t have been able to get back in the first place, really.

“Have you heard the saying ‘you can’t cheat Fate’?” Summer murmurs, staring around at the Barrier. Nearby, a familiar scrap of paper tumbles off. On the horizon, a thunderous flash sends a shock of pain behind her eyes, and when she opens them again, the map is vanishing off into the distance.

There doesn’t seem to be much chance of catching it.

“Yes Miss,” Thomas replies warily. “What about it?”

“We’re being taught why you shouldn’t try.”

“Ah. Spring sent us back.”

Summer walks over to Thomas and helps him up one-handed. “Do you remember where we were- where we are?”

“Yes,” Thomas replies weakly. “Barrier, right next to the Line. In theory, all we have to do is cross it- though what lies beyond the Line is uncharted, I’ve heard tell from travelers that there are people there. And Miss, you might not be feeling it, but I’m tired and hungry to the point of delirium.”

Summer wouldn’t admit her own flaws to anyone if she could help it, but she gives Thomas a small nod anyway. He’s the only one who can help her out of here, after all.

He turns, squinting at the mess of black horizons and flashing lines of lightning in the blistering heat. The wind changes, and suddenly it’s freezing cold instead and Summer hugs herself, shivering, teeth chattering.

Thomas is silent for a while.

“Yes?” Summer prompts, feeling a bit impatient, and maybe testy thanks to the cold. “So?”

“We should try to find a crossing,” Thomas says suddenly. “Lord Autumn is looking for us, and so far seems to have found us everywhere we go. It may be that he can’t see us if we cross over. That and there’s sure to be settlements if we go far enough. I shouldn’t think there’s any way we’d make it to one in just one day, but there’s no point if we don’t even try.”

There’s an idea, Winter whispers.

“Mm,” Summer seems noncommittal. She nods, though, and Thomas starts a new path through the dust, along the edge of the Line. It seems like it just goes on forever- and it almost appears to be a simple line all the way into forever.

The voices- the whispers from the past- are gone. She wonders whether that’s because they did what they wanted, or because the one who sent the message was killed. In fact, who had sent the message?

“Who do you think told us to come here in the first place?” Summer asks. “Thomas, you seemed the most inclined to talk with them. What did they say?”

“They said they were the spirits of those who have died,” Thomas replies flatly. “I was inclined to believe them, Miss, just because they seemed pretty earnest about it.”

A hot desert wind washes over the pair of them. Thomas won’t look Summer in the eye. “They told me they could restore something to me.”

“Well, we know where at least one spirit of the dead is,” Summer says grimly.

“Your Servant?” Thomas asks sharply. “You said before that she was dead in this time.”

“Yes. But if we’re leaving it behind, it won’t matter,” Summer replies softly. “If it means we’re safe and out of this, maybe it doesn’t matter that she’s dead. She was doing what she wanted to do.”

There’s a heartbeat’s pause before Winter explodes.

Are you insane? Winter hisses. She’s the only reason we’re alive- we’re the only ones with the power to bring her back, and you say we should leave her?

“What happened last time, Winter?” Summer whispers hotly. “We almost died! You lost your way, without me to push you through, we all would have been dead! For good!”

“Er-” Thomas tries to cut in. Winter, oblivious, bowls right over him, drowning out his interruption and muddling Summer’s thoughts.

Don’t give me that bullshit! Don’t tell me you’re afraid! Winter snarls.

“Oh come on! She would have snapped us up at the first opportunity. We’ve saved her once already, the debt has been repaid!”

Winter goes silent after that, but Summer can feel the chill of her fury.

The sisters walk in silence for a while, following their human guide through the sand.

I hate you, She says eventually.

“We’re here,” Thomas says wearily. “And what great company the two of you have been, if I do say so myself.”

“Thomas,” Summer starts.

“Shut up already, Miss,” Thomas interrupts irritably. “The two of you arguing just isn’t my idea of fun. By my ancestors and parents both, I was raised with the fear of Gods in me, but from everything I’ve seen you’re just like normal people. Worse, you’ve got a spoiled attitude, Summer, and you’re far too soft, Winter, if you can even hear me.”

He pauses, then turns away again. “And we’ve arrived. Beyond this bridge there’s uncharted territory.”

The ‘bridge’ is hardly even a long, precarious ledge near two feet across, stretching on into dust and blowing grit, an invitation to the suicidal.

Summer stares at it, unbelieving, momentarily distracted from Thomas’s angry funk. “Bridge,” She says flatly. “I-”

“Look, just take what you get, and if you die at least you come back, alright?” Thomas snaps. “Sweet Cycle willing, we won’t cross this way again.”

The wind howls over the gorge, the only sound as the echoes of Thomas’s voice fade.

Summer, to her own surprise as much as to Thomas’s, shuts up.

Then, to her further surprise, she finds herself moving in front of Thomas. After all, if she dies than she does come back.

The same might not be true for Thomas, or for Jane.

As soon as she takes that first step onto the rock, she feels something must be wrong. A voice hisses in her head, and her heart pounds in her chest, bruising her ribs.

You dare to trespass on my territory?

She trembles on the rock bridge as the wind picks up again, blistering cold caressing her skin. Of course her shirt is no help. She shivers again, taking a long, shuddering breath before she takes another step forward.

Leave!

Leave! Leave!

A multitude of hissing voices now, dry and scaled. Summer shuts her eyes, and takes another step.

I will feast on your petrified corpse, mortal!

“The tales are true?” Thomas asks incredulously.

“Tales?” Summer asks weakly. “What tales?”

“The canyon hisses. The Line is filled with it.”

“You don’t understand what they’re saying?” She asks cautiously. Of course he can’t, Winter gripes. He’s human.

“Not a word, Miss. It’s just echoes anyway, it’s not like it’s actual speech. Snakes can’t talk.”

“Right,” Summer replies warily, edging forward and trying to ignore the dire warnings that follow her every movement.

Turn back!

“Sorry,” Summer whispers, trying to focus on not being blown off the edge. “There’s a man much scarier than a little hissing following me.”

We were going to go to Season’s Refuge, Winter notes.

“Plans change,” Summer mumbles. In this case, they change very quickly, Summer thinks to herself.

Your bones will fuel my furnace!

“Shut up.”

Summer pushes forward against a sudden furious burst of wind. The bridge disappears into fog ahead. Behind her, Thomas seems not to care about the fury of the sand and wind, nor that the canyon edge they left from has likewise disappeared into a cloud of stinging grit. The way he advances without a care in the world makes Summer grind her teeth.

“Nice view,” Thomas comments, looking over the edge.

“How the hell can you tell? I can’t see a damn thing!” Summer snarls.

“Over the edge, Miss. It’s clear all the way down to the bottom.”

Summer risks a glance, bites her lip, and keeps moving, trying hard to prevent her stomach from doing a somersault. It’s a long, long way down. She can see spikes of rock jutting upwards from the canyon floor. She might miss them if she falls.

It doesn’t seem to help.

After an eternity, with the voices hounding her every step of the way, Summer finds herself at the other end of the bridge. The edge is in sight, and finally she can take a shaking step onto the other side.

She takes a deep breath, brushing herself off. She turns and tugs Thomas up after her, and, perched on the edge of the canyon, she gestures expansively. Beyond is a wide wasteland. Desolate as the Barrier before.

“I can see why no one would want to cross,” Summer says dryly.

Thomas stares at it, then sighs. “Should we go back? I… could probably last a day or two. Could be that if we go back now and head back the way we came, we could find the edge of Barrier and be into open plains in no time at all.”

“Autumn has seen to it that we can’t go back,” Summer replies. “We have to keep going. I don’t know how far away he is, but knowing him it won’t take more than a week or so before he catches up with us. And in that time I want to be a long way away from here.”

“If you say so, Summer,” Thomas says easily. “Let’s go this way.”

The former gate guard starts off into the waste and, Summer, not knowing what else to do, follows after him.

They don’t have to walk far.

The air is cooler mere meters from the edge. Summer can feel a draft, pulling at her, tugging at her feet and calves. She shivers, despite herself, following bravely after Thomas anyway. But something is nibbling at her awareness.

After a while, she figures it out, noticing the sand near her feet being drawn… forward. With her.

“Thomas, the wind is pulling us towards something.”

“Yes,” is his reply. “Sure.”

She probably should have expected that. But something about his tone catches her a bit off guard. Feeling reproachful, she starts again.

“Thomas-”

“Look, miss, I’m sure this is fascinating and everything, but I’m trying to figure out where we are,” He says patiently. “If you have something relevant to add-”

Summer’s gaze falls on a patch of sand- which is swirling thickly around a central point. As they pass it, she feels a shift in the wind, and feels grains of grit scrape one leg. It seems to blow much harder, in a miniature cyclone, near this one little area. All of the wind is being drawn to this spot.

“That’s weird,” Thomas mutters.

Summer blinks and stares at him for a moment.

You should kill him, a part of her whispers.

It’s been doing that for a long time now. Summer grits her teeth, fighting it down for a few moments. But it’s quite strong, a part of her based heavily in habit and instinct.

He’s a connection to Spring, and through Spring, Autumn. You should kill him and leave him here to rot in the Barrier.

No one will miss him.

Summer’s gaze falls to her hands.

She’s grown weak over the years. Here, where practically no life lives, all she has is her strength. Her body’s strength. Her body, lithe and very strong even without life surrounding her. It would be simple enough to crush Thomas’s unsuspecting skull.

The thoughts are dark as they swirl in her head, and cloud over reason quickly.

When was the last time she’d killed? She feels hungry for it now.

She never told Winter that part. Sure the dark days are behind her. But that was because she was sure she’d have some opportunity to… well, to kill to maim to burn things later. Her self-control is really astounding, just like every other part of her.

Summer clenches her hands into fists and then looks up at Thomas, who is now a good twenty meters away and fading into the fog.

He turns suddenly, mouths something at her. Shouting at her, though she can’t hear it. Because of the wind? No, it shouldn’t be that strong…

She turns towards the patch of sand, swirling as it is. She just has this feeling….

She can always kill Thomas later, after all. The voice inside roars at the thought.

She beckons to him wordlessly, not trusting herself to speak without voicing a growl, and then takes a step towards the tiny sandstorm.

What are you doing?

She stops, one stride away, and glowers at Winter internally, but says nothing.

What’s happening to you, Summer? I can feel you, sort of, you’re not really acting…. uh… like you usually do, She finishes lamely. What’s going on?

“Gnn,” Summer manages, eyes half-closing, fighting back a literal killer instinct. “Ngh.”

That’s not helpful.

Neither is this stupid bitch, if you could kill her you would, dig your claws into her scalp and tug until her head just pops right off. Yes. That would be fun.

Summer grits her teeth and takes another step to drown out her own mind. She doesn’t think about it as her foot slips through the stinging sand and into nothing. Her heart pounds and her head aches, but she ignores it and forces herself forward.

Everything swirls.

Everything crackles. The world around her dissolves.

And she steps into another.

On the nature of short stories

…That is to say, on the nature as I have observed it. While I am not, currently, an extremely prolific author [read, have not been published], I have some things to say based on my experience in the field thus far. [Both as a reader and as a writer]

Short stories do not need to be resolved. The immediate problem may be addressed and taken care of, but when all is said and done, the overarching main problem may continue to be an issue so long as it does not interfere with the characters’ resolution of the immediate issue.

Short stories can have vicious, brutal protagonists because you don’t need to be in their perspective as long as in novels. I don’t know- as a reader, I find it very difficult to sympathize with characters who are total buttfaces. But that’s just me. I’m sure some of you don’t mind reading whole novels where the main character is an unsympathetic mess of violence, but for me…

Not so much. And indeed, there are likely novels out there where the main character IS an unsympathetic violent mess. I don’t believe in it from a writing standpoint. Characters, for me, make and break a story- for a short story, such a character might be okay [especially if he/she gets his/her comeuppance in the end]. But for a novel? Forget it. I’ll drop the book rather than sit through that drivel.

But in general, as long as the story has more than just the violent mess of a main character going for it, it can make it into a short story collaboration.

Next, I’ve observed that short stories are not always short- or meant to be, as it were. A short story can easily be an excerpt, clipped and cut from a novel, and mailed in as a short story. There can easily be any number of short stories clipped INTO a novel, just waiting for you to pluck them. Sometimes short stories start as such and grow into novels, in the way that Demimind started as something quite small and has sort of grown into this monster. [Though I recognize that as far as actual wordcount goes, it isn’t really all that big]

But it isn’t always that easy, either.

In the vein of my second idea on brutality in short stories, you can also push more limits with short stories and get away with them. A short story takes less time to write than a novel on average, and a short story takes less time to read. Someone who does read it may be more tolerant of new ideas than if they had to deal with a full novel of them. The material in a short story is generally much different from what goes into a full novel or novella. The plots are accordion’d down into tiny little stacks. A lot of the time they squish together- in fact, a lot of the time a short story differs from a novel simply by dint of being so fast.

The hardest thing about writing a short story is the ending. For me, it’s simply the question- ‘How will this end?’

How do I go about it? How could I end something with so much promise? It’s always a challenge to figure out exactly what I’ll do.

But there’s the cool thing about my writing style- I don’t have to figure it out. The words flow for me. I recognize that sometimes they don’t and I have to write through it, but they’re never gone for long. I could sit here and write for hours and hours about that feeling, about how scary it is to rely on flow over, say, the laborious task of learning how to write without it. That’s where the well educated masses have me, I suppose.

I don’t have my degree yet. They can write mediocre things after a few long, hard hours of trying to come up with a plot…

And every once in a while I- poor old me- can write out brilliant works of art right off the top of my head. Well I guess the joke is on me- this is the closest I’m ever likely to get to being published.

By the same token, I’m not bitter about that. I like my style. I recognize there are others. Some people have to work really hard to write. It works differently for everyone. I take my inspiration from the world without and within and transform it into words.

Some people mimic, some people strive, some people flow and some people just do math. It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you do it. The same goes for short stories- no matter how you get the job done, it gets done. It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad- if the story inside gets out on paper, it was worth the effort, and you have the art to show for it.

-Eris

Demimind: Chapter 22

Last of the super short updates, folks. Necessarily short- perhaps I should have made it a two part chapter! Anyway, enjoy as always. Maybe I’ll spend some time working on another short story this week.

-Eris

(22) More Bloody Time Travel

Summer gathers heat in her hand, but keeps it there, narrowing her eyes as her predecessor approaches. “What do you want?”

“That’s pretty simple,” Glory says quietly, her voice like leaves crackling dry in the sun. “I want you gone. I want you to go back to your own time.”

“In many ways we’re the same,” Summer points out cautiously. “Couldn’t we… work together?”

Winter cringes at the idea of that, but says nothing. Summer isn’t seriously thinking about that, surely.

“Don’t compare me with you, Summer! I am everything you can never be. I don’t want you dead- I just want you back where you belong. I’ve already paid our mutual brother a visit and convinced him of his own stupidity. I told him you were dead, and I sent your guard back to his original time as well. With a little luck, Fall can start down his own path soon.”

“You bitch!” Summer hisses. “Why the hell would you want Fall to become like Autumn?”

“It’s his destiny!” Glory snaps. “The power he’ll learn to wield will crush mountains and right wrongs- he must become the true embodiment of entropy!”

“Now hold on a second-” Casper starts.

“You’re insane. Fall can’t use that power and stay the same! You’re effectively killing the man Winter loves!”

Wait, I’m supposed to love him? Winter asks.

Shut up! Summer snarls.

“And what if I am? Winter is a spineless, worthless piece of fey trash, there’s no reason she should have anything! If Fall is too weak to survive without Winter, than maybe it’s time he evolved!”

Okay. I’d vote to kill her, but I’m not in the mood for suicide, Winter says dryly. I sincerely wish it was my turn, though.

Summer steps away from Casper, who just shrugs and backs off. Azzy steps back from Glory, who is now radiating heat like a barrier.

In unison, the two seasons begin to circle.

Summer clenches the Rose in her fist, digging sharp thorns into her palm.

“Who is Autumn?” Casper asks.

Glory answers. “Autumn is the final incarnation of the four seasons! His power has rendered Him immortal, and He has promised a world without conflict.”

“He’s a loony who tried to kill me and Winter, bound me permanently within Winter’s head. Now we have to trade places with some weird pill Spring has developed,” Summer replies grimly. “We’re trying to stop Him.”

Azzy shrugs. “It is not our business, then.”

Casper seems to think it over.

But the rest of the dragons seem to agree with Azzy.

The circling continues- now Summer stands near Azzy, and Glory stands near Casper.

Summer lifts her hand, takes a deep breath, and hurls a bolt of pure heat at Glory. In a flash, her twin grabs the power from the air as if catching a baseball, staring back at Summer with a smile. “Now, why did you think that would work?”

Heat flares around her suddenly, and Casper has to take a step back.

Summer takes a cautious step forward, and Glory lashes out, hurling the bolt back double- it leaves a hissing, smoking trail as it burns the air between them, an invisible blast of pure energy.

Summer catches it casually, curls it into a string between her fingers. She lashes the floor beside her with a flick of her wrist. It’s hot, but nowhere near hot enough, even as stone flashes into steam, and her heart snarls with anger.

“You’re a fool, Summer! All that power and what do you use it for?” Glory taunts. “We’re far from the same! The difference between a mere immortal and a goddess!”

She hurls a crackling blast of energy at Summer, a burst that would fry the meat from a normal human’s bones. Summer walks through it like a warm breeze, advancing on the self-proclaimed goddess. “You’re right,” Summer says calmly. “We are far from the same. You’re a spoiled little brat. I used to be just like you, not even two weeks ago. I used to want the same things you did, I remember what it was like to think the world was my toy.”

Summer narrows her eyes. “There’s a big difference between the two of us, do you want to know what it is?”

A second wild lash of heat energy glances off of Summer’s shoulder with more force than before, actually making her flinch. But she rights herself and strides towards Glory, who backs away. Casper has to shield her face from the heat.

“We both treat the world like a toy. I just don’t want to share it with filth like you,” Summer snaps, closing the remaining distance between herself future and past. Her slap flings Glory aside like a doll.

She pulls herself to her feet, brings her hand up to finger the bruise, rage fueling a wild snarl as she leaps towards Summer.

Summer steps back once and holds her hands up to meet the blows she’s sure will follow- but they don’t.

Spring, who holds Glory by the collar of her gossamer shirt, gazes at her amiably before turning a stony glare on Summer herself. “You really shouldn’t be here,” He says quietly. “Glory here has the right of it.”

“I have business here,” Summer says sharply.

When did this green-haired bastard show up? But then, that’s always his way. Spring can be anywhere at any time he wishes- but he always turns up exactly when things are about to get out of hand. It doesn’t seem to matter whose hands things are about to leave, only that he stops the things from leaving said hands. What a twerp.

“It was an easy way out of the situation back in the Barrier, I’ll grant you that,” Spring says cheerfully. “And it’s not that I don’t approve of running, you see. But I must send you back like I sent Thomas. Neither of you belong here. You could ruin the whole of the timeline this way.”

“What about Autumn?” Summer asks incredulously. “Will He be forced back as well?”

“Of course. He knows where you’ll next be, naturally,” Spring replies gently. “Since you were destined to visit His other self- Fall- here, He was inevitably drawn here as well. It is, after all, where He began.”

“What…?” Summer starts. “But-”

“Did you think that you could stop it?” Spring asks sadly. “Don’t be ashamed- such thoughts are common, but everything that has happened has already happened. It’s called the Cycle for a reason, dear Summer.”

“Then why must we go back?” Summer asks desperately. “Why does it have to be this way?”

“Because it has already happened this way,” Spring explains patiently. “Please, just let go. The past is the past- it is the future, which, while it too has already happened, is the only place you can possibly live.”

Spring smiles pleasantly, waves a hand, and vanishes from Summer’s sight.

Unsurprisingly, so does everything else, as Summer also disappears in a flash of cold spring dew.

Spring turns to Casper and frowns. His grip on Glory is like iron- she can’t move a muscle. “And what are you waiting for, little human?”

The one thing the Cycle could not possibly account for- the works of mortals are ever being written. Only the immortals are set in stone. It was, of course, always troubling to talk to someone whose ways you could not see.

Casper shrugs. “I could ask the same of you, you sad magic sod. You look a bit like an elf lambasted with quick-gro.”

Spring smiles briefly. “Did you want to go with them?”

Casper frowns, then shrugs again. “Just take me to somewhere with humans, if that’s in your power. I think I’ve had enough of being a pet.”

Azzy steps forward, looks as if he’s about to say something, and then doesn’t, dropping his hands to his sides and shaking his head ruefully.

Casper catches the movement out of the corner of her eye and turns slightly. “I don’t belong with you people,” She says quietly. “You’ll all outlive me, you all can’t care for me. I can’t live here.”

Azzy shrugs helplessly. “Go then,” He says, haltingly. “I’ll find you eventually.”

Casper feels an unfamiliar smile on her lips, and, sheathing her sword, steps forward towards Spring. “I’m ready,” She says confidently.

“No you aren’t,” Spring replies amicably. “So long!”

Casper vanishes. Azzy sighs and shakes his head, staring at the cavern floor for a few moments. The rest of the dragons- the gray-scale and Aura- wander or limp away.

Spring, after giving Glory a gentle peck on the cheek, shoves her forward one handed. She has time to pick herself up and launch herself back at him before, smiling faintly, Spring disappears as well, this time for good.

The dew left on the cavern floor from his passage makes Summer-Glory slip and fall on her butt.

Demimind: Chapter 21

(21)Prisoner

An open, tortured plain stretches on into the distance. Withered patches of grass and old, dried mud litter the ground. Two children, a boy, tall and thin, and a girl with long blonde hair beyond her years sit next to each other. They’ve never seen each other before. In fact, they’ve just met. But the girl feels a kinship with the boy all the same.

“Summer,” the girl says uncertainly, brushing out tangles from her long hair. “My name is Summer. What’s your name?”

“Spring,” The boy replies quietly. His hair waves in the breeze. It’s fresh green and stands straight up, reeds growing from the top of his head. “But there are more of us.”

“How do you know?” The girl called Summer asks, staring at him. The boy frowns, and then shrugs his thin shoulders.

“I just do,” He answers lamely. “Come on, we can’t stay here.”

“Spring is a stupid name,” the girl says sharply, giving Spring a glare. “And why is your hair so weird?” She doesn’t know why she’s acting mean, and she regrets it as soon as she says it. But she can’t take it back, either, so the silence stretches on between them.

Spring doesn’t answer. He simply stands and walks off across the plain. The landscape is pockmarked with enormous craters and holes- the grass has overgrown them, twining around twisted bits of shining rock that jut up out of the ground.

Summer, not knowing what else to do, follows him.

Summer comes awake with a start. She is lying on a bed of straw. It isn’t the first time that she’s felt it under her. What disturbs her most is her lack of clothes, and the fact that she’s slept long enough to have developed another scar from the earthmetal blade that struck her.

She rolls over onto her belly, then pushes herself up to a standing position. Her hands hang loosely by her sides for a moment. She isn’t wearing an earthmetal collar, fortunately. No iron binds her. But there’s so little life around her she feels it can’t really matter. There hardly seems to be any way she could fashion new clothes. It’s quite dark here, and she simply can’t see anything from where she stands.

She concentrates, lifts a hand, and wills a flame into existence. Unsurprisingly, nothing happens. If she’d slept more than a few hours, it would probably be the lack of any living life source near her that did it. Combined with the lack of food for her physical body in some weeks… yes.

No wonder she hasn’t a speck of power left. She’s only alive because it’s still functioning on a vital level, preventing her from being hungry.

She walks to the edge of the cell and raps on the door sharply. It’s made of stone, but she barely notices. She feels weak- and it’s only confirmed when the door doesn’t snap to little splinters. The thuds her fingers make are swallowed up by the stifling dark.

And then she remembers the Rose.

She’d kept it with her. Nothing short of the works of another Season could have kept it from coming with her. She snaps her fingers and grasps it by the thorny stem as it appears. The sting as the translucent thorns scratch her hand reminds her she’s alive.

Hey- Winter says. What are you doing?

“Getting us out of here,” Summer replies quietly. “We don’t have time for this!”

She sucks in a breath, lifts a hand again, and wills the door to melt away. Threads of power, drawn in through the thorns of the Rose, thrum into action.

Heat discord vibrates through the stone. It turns molten cherry red for a moment, and then slides aside as Summer steps through. Pure energy flows through her veins- she feels giddy with it, almost consumed by it. It tingles in her arms and legs, and some of her old confidence returns.

Careful. I don’t know exactly what happened, but judging by the scar you’ve got, all that power didn’t help before. That girl cut you, and you dropped.

“She caught me off guard,” Summer hisses, and then stops, pauses in the doorway. An earthmetal sword would slice through anything she could conjure in a moment. Only true heat barriers would stop something like that, and even with all of her power it hadn’t been enough to stop that metal blade from carving her up. Whoever the girl Casper is, it seems suddenly prudent to have every assurance possible, should she run into her again.

At the same time, it feels almost as if it won’t make a difference. It still helps her steal the courage she needs to take a few more steps down the forbidding hall. It’s all made of stone, and the walls bleed wet at her as she passes. It’s cold enough that the heat surrounding her hisses and crackles.

Rose clenched in one fist, her other hand sheathed in flame, she continues into the darkness.

She comes to a turn in the smooth stone hall, rounds it, and is confronted with another long, dark hallway, as bland as the first. Presently, as she walks, she notices that the stone surrounding her is covered in marks, glyphs in the stone. She finds herself wishing it were Winter in this mess. Winter would know to read them, she’s sure. Though Eldritch had never been her strongest reading point… what she understood of it was basically limited to what she’d seen Winter read for her in the past.

Of course, asking for Winter’s help in the matter would be pointless. For whatever reason, magic like the Eldritch language would refuse to work unless read out loud, and unless one knew the word required… well, suffice to say that a helping thought from Winter would not be of assistance. Such work would take much longer than Summer feels she has.

It wasn’t, actually, the official language of magic. No, Eldritch was drawn from even more ancient roots. It wasn’t so much that it was defined by the structures of the creatures and trees around it as it was that it defined them. Naturally only words alone would not be able to completely define a whole world, so it was that several other languages, based on sight, sound or smell, also had been responsible for creation. At least, that was the theory she’d studied, so long ago. Where had that been? She doesn’t remember, but it must have been a different age.

She’d had more time then. Now, with the dimming of immortality, it seems to slide in her memory, as if slipping away from her. So much is lost with eons.

She rounds the next corner. This hallway is not a hallway at all. A double turn. There is a small, boxed room here, opened into from the tunnel. And up above, the sun shines down, raining light from above. If Summer could fly, she could escape in seconds.

She could be free in a blink.

She can’t fly.

A door prevents her from continuing. She doesn’t even bother with the handle, instead hurling a blast of heat at it. The door is blown off its hinges, charred to a crisp and turning to ash as it strikes the stone.

Summer steps through the doorway incautiously. So, the idiots had sought to keep her prisoner?

Careful! Winter snaps. Do you want to get us killed?

And just then, the corridor opens up into an enormous cavern. It isn’t as important as the grey-scaled man standing in front of her. He looks up as she enters, opens his mouth, framing the word ‘You-‘.

And is blown backwards, a fireball blossoming on his chest and sending him tumbling. Into the cavern steps Summer, lowering her hand and staring ahead- at the far end of the room is another door.

Does it lead out?

“I don’t know.”

She walks slowly, taking deliberate steps towards the door, though every instinct screams at her to run as she crosses the open hall. A flash to her left, a flicker of wild hair, movement. The patter of bare feet on stone. Words, shouted, in a language- not Eldritch, thankfully- she can’t understand.

Summer takes a deep breath and points to her left. Wall.

There’s a yelp and a scream. Aura couldn’t stop herself from running smack into it, and now the sick-sweet smell of burnt flesh fills Summer’s nostrils.

She falters, suddenly feeling an overwhelming pang of regret, half-turning before she catches herself.

No! Just keep walking! She’ll be fine. You don’t even like her, what’s wrong with you?

“I…” Summer starts, and then curses with feeling, whirling, backing towards the door but staring at the wall of flames. Aura stands to the right of it, clutching her arm and staring at Summer in a mixture of fear and hate. Her black skin is charred from the heat.

Summer backs away slowly, fire surrounding her like a blanket. A queer, unfamiliar feeling comes over her. She feels her body begin to tremble.

Abruptly, she feels a cold blade grazes the skin of her neck. And just like that, Summer’s magic drains away. Casper’s voice, from behind her.

“Don’t move.”

She feels the heat leave her in a flood. Suddenly she’s too tired. She lets it go, feels the fire slipping out of her grasp.

“Why?” She whispers. “Why are you keeping me here?”

“The way I see it, you know something.”

“I know nothing of Aura’s sister. She brought me to the Lair and when I emerged she was gone. That’s it,” Summer says wearily. “Let me go.”

“I don’t think we can do that in good conscience,” Casper replies quietly.

The grayscale is approaching- brushing cinders from his chest, and the silver-haired girl from before appears to be tending to Aura. As the grayscaled man stands before her, Summer drops her arms to her sides. Casper withdraws the blade, and in a rush, Summer feels her magic return. Its momentary flight from her body had been disheartening.

She stumbles away from Casper, but the girl keeps her within arm’s length. “I can’t stay,” Summer growls. “A Season lies in wait for me at Everspring’s shrine. You must let me go.”

“It seems to me you are out of your league, little Season,” Aura’s voice taunts. “You’ll pay for what you’ve done to my daughter.”

“You’re a dumbass,” Summer snaps. “Seriously- I haven’t touched your stupid daughter! Don’t you have some stupid dragon trial or something? I remember that last time I was here.”

Dragon trial? Really?

“Shut up,” Summer hisses to Winter. “They aren’t proper dragons if they don’t have a dragon trial. It’s how it works!”

The grayscale stops midstep, standing right in front of Summer and staring at her. “We’ve never seen you here before, Season. Am I right in deducing that you are Summer of the Four, then?”

“Yeah, I’m Summer,” Summer snaps. “I was going to tell you before. But my name is Summer-Heat-Rising.”

“She fainted,” Casper notes. “From earthmetal.  I didn’t know you were that vulnerable to it. Not even fey are hurt that much by it.”

“To be honest, it’s just me and Winter who suffer from that. I think it’s us being bound together, our weaknesses sort of overlap,” Summer admits. “I’m not sure whose it was at first.”

“Winter-Long-Frost is with you as well?” the grayscale asks incredulously. “How did she come to be bound within her opposite?”

“Oh, it’s always been like that,” Summer says vaguely. “I dunno if you’ve ever met Summer-Glory?”

“The current incarnation of Summer has that name,” Aura says, rage apparently curbed by curiosity. “Is she still around?”

“Yeah,” Summer grumbles. “And, you know, just so it’s clear- I’m from the future. I’m the next incarnation of Summer.”

Casper rolls her eyes. “Pull the other one.”

Azzy’s voice calls from the other side of the room. “I think she’s telling the truth.”

“And what the hell gives you that idea?” Casper asks, turning. Summer watches her eyes narrow, and turns as well, to see what she’s staring at.

A woman, bronze skin blazing with long blonde hair, walks with Azzy towards Summer. Her smile is triumphant.

“Found you,” Glory says.

Oh shit, Winter whispers.

Summer couldn’t agree with her more.

Character Study: Winter

Ye who are caught up, read on. Ye who are just beginning to read, hold up a bit. Try to catch up before you read this, or, if you don’t care ’bout spoilers, don’t worry.

Winter is one of the most complex characters I have ever written, while simultaneously remaining very, very simple. Her reactions to problems at the start were always pretty easy to figure out- from the beginning it’s obvious that she runs. And she runs a lot. Later she starts getting braver and braver, naturally. But since she’s often the one in control of her body, Summer finds that horribly inconvenient.

But this Winter is much different from the one before she lost her memory, and she doesn’t care what Summer thinks. The one before, as Winter later discovers, would only do what she thought Summer wanted her to do. She was basically a puppet, and one whose strings Summer yanked freely. BB, as the past Summer is affectionately referred to, gleefully would shove Winter around.

Something happened in the duel between Summer and Lord Autumn- no one seems willing to say anything about it yet, and I’m sure as heck not going to spoil it for you. But know this- Winter-Long-Frost is a lot stronger than she ever was before the fight with Fall.

The character of Winter started simple- my friend, who shall remain nameless, gave me this lovely idea for a character. In fact, she gave me the character as part of one of our character swaps. Since then I’ve expanded on the concept, and she went from one person in two minds to two people with two bodies and two minds, sharing the same space. The leap made it possible for me to do all sorts of fiddly things to spacetime, which I love. There is nothing more satisfying than finding a continuity error in my own work and correcting it, and without Winter, there would not be a work to look through to find the errors. And I know there are errors. I’m not a perfect writer- no one is a perfect writer. There are so many laws (guidelines, really) in the english language I cannot fathom how someone could construct a truly grammatically correct sentence.

Yet Winter presents a much different problem, because the errors are in continuity. Since Summer and Winter are essentially two different characters- see polarized opposites who have to share the same mindspace- in one space, it means that Winter could be bleeding out and Summer could be just fine.

It does weird things to Winter, psychologically, too. Some people have a conscience pointing all the things out they did they should regret. Summer is like a reverse conscience, pointing out everything she thinks Winter should do to benefit herself. In that way, Winter and Summer are completely different. When Summer is in control, Winter is always trying to protect the people Summer might hurt. She rarely seems to care about her own safety, or even Summer’s safety.

Winter, who Summer thinks is too soft for her own good, is constantly berated for trying to save people. The two balance each other out in a lovely synergistic way- or would, if they weren’t constantly at one another’s throats. While the whole [SPOILER]* incident helped cement the two of them together firmly in mind as well as in body, they still have very distinct character differences. It’s part of what makes Winter so enjoyable to write. Alone she would just be another heroine who tried to handle too much. Along with Summer to be the superbitch [not a real word] she’s balanced out.

I don’t generally think about that so much. I think about the relationships between my characters, but rarely do I actually meditate on why they are as they are. I think it’s a good exercise to go into depth about what experiences drive Winter…

And the main one I can think of, the first one that really struck her, was the [SPOILER] of the two men early on. She was just starting to learn what and who  she was. And look how far she’s come now!

What amazes me most is Winter’s flaws. Despite having a kind character… Winter still manages to come off as a bit childish in her views of the world. While she’s terrified of Lord Autumn, one of her major flaws is her lack of true understanding of what’s happening. She gets fragments of knowledge from her memories, but the fascinating thing for me is that even when she’s getting all this help, she’s still only brushed the first of hundreds of webs of intrigue wrapping around her. She’s blindly flailing, trying to figure out what exactly is going on at the same time as the reader. Fortunately I’m coming close to [SPOILER] the messes all in, and it won’t even need to be [SPOILER] heavy.

But I’ve already said too much. That’s it for Winter, for now.

As always, enjoy!

-Eris

*[Hint: I’m not going to tell you what I put in the spoilers unless you ask me really nice.]

Gender in my writing

It’s occurred to me that one of the things I never think about in writing that people overthink normally is the gender of my character. I never think about it ever.

I don’t know why, but it just never seems relevant, no matter what I do. I feel like my characters are my characters regardless of whether they’re male, female or other. And to tell you the truth, most of the characters I draw up- or at least the ones I like– fall into the third category. It’d be a flat out lie if I said that it was because I find it fascinating. While I find gender itself to be fascinating in concept and execution, obsessing over a single character’s gender seems overdone and silly- storylines involving the bucking of tradition, like a girl going to war and a guy staying home and watching the children, doing the sewing… It isn’t as interesting to me as stories which make up their own traditions.

I suppose that’s where the idea for Summer and Winter and the rest came from. Summer is a hot-headed, often vindictive character with few redeeming qualities at the start. Winter is confused, hurt, but strong. Their genders make little difference in the situation- perhaps Summer wouldn’t have exploited the gateguards quite as much, perhaps she wouldn’t have been [SPOILER] either, but that’s simple biology.

One of the main reasons I made Spring male was because it felt right, and I think it probably felt right because Spring is often represented as a woman. If there’s something I’m notorious for, it’s subconsciously switching the genders of anything I look at. If you’re normally a guy, I’ll picture you as a girl. If you’re normally a girl, I’ll picture you as a guy. If you don’t fit either I might imagine what would happen if you’d been born the other way.

But I don’t think about it most of the time. I’d much prefer to think about what the character of my characters are. If I put gender into it and start thinking about it too much, I run the danger of treading into obsessive territory. So I don’t let myself.

Well, most of the time. While for me characters write themselves, I understand that for many people, they have to think it all through.

Now, this is offtopic, naturally, but I’m always going off on a tangent, so here goes.

My general build for any character goes: Name -> Base -> personality -> quirks -> abilities -> fate.

And the last is a bit shaky. OF COURSE IT IS. I love to write, but I don’t write in a cool, logical manner. I am no spinner of intricate, complicated webs of intrigue. The webs spin themselves, the characters speak and act for themselves, and if I have any hand in their fates it’s only by dint of writing them down!

Similarly closer to the topic, I am a historian of my characters’ personalities, but lately I have been a very busy historian. I’m going to do my best to get a Friday update of some kind, of course!

If it does appear it will be later at night, since… well, to be honest, college is a long, involved process and after I’m done with my daily classes I like to sit back and relax. Constantly.

Sometimes that relaxing involves writing, and sometimes it involves playing games and sleeping. Whatever strikes my nerves, as they say.

(I don’t know if anyone even says that, do not quote me unless you’re sure they actually say that, I would be so embarrassed)

-Eris

Knight in Stone

SURPRISE UPDATE!

This story can be found under the black band under ‘Other Stories’. It doesn’t get its own page because I’ve decided I’m just making a link page to it (and others) rather than going through the bloody trouble of trying to set up a page for each short story, which could mean we’d run out of band and lead to awful clutter.

You can find the demimind chapters page here, if you’re new. Of course, if you just want to read this story I won’t blame you. Demimind is pretty thick stuff, and a lot longer than this one, despite the monster post.

Enjoy the story- it didn’t take all that long to write, but I certainly enjoy the characters in it!

-Eris

PS: Find typos, like something, don’t like something- whatever? This site is small enough right now that I can probably get around to reading the comments and fixing bits, editing it a bit. I do appreciate feedback, so don’t be shy!

Knight in Stone

A short story by Sam Oliver

[ErisDiscordant]

With the groan of ancient stone falling away from her limbs, a knight pulls herself upright, leaving the corpse behind her.

The sword is in its scabbard when she leaves the room. She doesn’t expect she’ll need it yet, but in these fell times it pays to be safe rather than sorry.

She feels the pain fade from her legs as she stretches her muscles. Fifty years in stone had not been kind. Whoever had woken her- the sight of the thing that had once been a woman lying in her own blood flashes again through her mind- had been desperate for aid. Her bones practically creak as she takes a few tottering steps away down the hall.

She passes a room she barely remembers- was it here before? The doorway is covered in red slickness. Some foul deed took place, and recently. She wonders at the blood from the woman- she had not bothered to check to see if she was still living, and with wounds like the ones the girl had suffered how could she be?

Still, it seems to her that there’s no way this much blood could have been from one person, and indeed when she smells the blood it has an odd scent to it. Definitely not human. Like sulfur and ammonia. Abnormal.

The knight steps through the doorway uncertainly. The trail leads here, and if she’d been called to avenge, which she most certainly had been, she should follow it to the source. She’s rewarded by a foreboding feeling, and the prickle of eyes on the back of her neck. Someone is watching her.

She takes another step into the room and turns around. The darkness bothers her, so she lifts a hand. Light flares in her palm as ancient words part from her lips, shining in the gloom and illuminating, for only a second, a long, scaled tail. It slithers out of view, and the knight’s heart quickens in her chest.

“Who- what- goes there?” She asks, her voice firm, but creaking from disuse. The ancient tongue she speaks is the same as always, and the sharp way it leaves her mouth leaves a bitter taste in her mind, a memory of times that were almost certainly better than forever guarding the weak. But, it was her choice, and a choice of the type she chose, once made, is not easily unmade.

It does not answer, but in the silence that follows, she catches, on the edge of her hearing, voices approaching from the hall she left. The trail leads from this room into her chamber, connecting with the hall here, but, the voices pique her curiosity. Perhaps friends of the woman who was killed. They may help her understand better what she is required to do.

She changes direction, turning towards the voices, again entering the hall, the dilapidated stone beckoning to her as the noise of conversation- human conversation!- reaches her ears.

She continues on her way down the hall, sword occasionally scraping on the walls. She wonders at that- why such a long blade? Why could she not wield a short blade instead? But it is the avenged who can call upon her to wield whatever they will, and this woman wished her to wreak her vengeance with a longsword.

She had used many things over the ages, hadn’t she? It is only now when she is not dreaming, the rare times when vengeance required some form of extra thought that she could recall. Those times the weapons had been simple and the desires simpler, but for the life of her the knight cannot remember a time when she had wielded something quite as elegant as the blade nestled in her scabbard. It seems a family heirloom, runes dancing over its surface. She hadn’t drawn it yet, but in her dream she had seen it.

Her steps gradually grow shorter as she comes upon the source of the voices. It is two men and a woman, one man with a sniveling voice, begging, at the hands of the man, who is stern faced, and the woman, who, to her surprise, wears full plate and carries a long, long staff with a curved blade at its top, and at her side wears a scabbard like the Knight’s own.

She pauses at the edge of the hall- for they are in a room, well lit by torches, and she is in the shadows, as yet unnoticed. She cannot understand what they are saying, and this strikes her as odd- always she could understand what the victim had been able to understand, those who needed avenging would pass their knowledge on.

It disturbs her that she had not known what these people had said. And complicates matters. She should announce herself and see if they are multi-tongued, or if they are truly strangers. Perhaps- and here lies just the faintest spark of hope- one would be a wizard and, if he were of enough power, perhaps he could undo the magics which bind her. She finds herself tiring of answering these calls.

She watches instead, standing in the shadows.

Their conversation is alien to her, but the emotions seem clear enough. The man is begging for his life by the way the tears run down his face, and the way the woman slashes her hand with every word means that she is unwilling to give it to him, though by the uncertain way she holds her polearm, she seems also unwilling to take it. The other man, stern-faced and holding himself slightly aloof, just looks to the shadows. He does not look the type to come to the sniveler’s aid, but twice his eyes brush over her. Then, they finally notice the light from her hand where it glows by her side.

He has no sword, but he lifts a short, curved metal rod and says something in that strange language, and the words are high and lilting, strange as they pass through her ears. The queer noise affects her oddly- she steps out from the hall, staring at the man uncomprehendingly. What sorcery is in his words, that he could order her so? Her feet moved without her willing it.

Then he speaks to her in her own tongue.

“Who goes there?” He calls. “Tell me thy name and I might spare thee. I am a magician of great power, thou hast trespass’d one step too many.”

“I am the Knight in Stone,” she replies haltingly. Her voice is unsteady from too many years. Her hand strays to the sword in her scabbard uncertainly. “What name do you go by?”

The avenged should have given her dormant knowledge of the attacker’s name. Without a doubt, if foe this man should be, a sign would be given in her mind.

“The name I carry is Carnilus of Trent. Is that name familiar to thee?”

“Nae,” she replies ruefully, and means it.

“For why does a wench carry a blade?”

“I could ask the same of thy companion,” The Knight in Stone responds quietly.

The man smiles briefly. He is bald. His face is weathered and old, and the rod he carries is leveled at her, as if he truly were a magician as he said. He carries no cane to aid in walking, and his voice comes out slowly. His armor appears to consist only of a long crimson robe, with an unfamiliar design upon it in hexagrams, octograms and other strange, eldritch signs.

“Knight of Stone, why have you come?” Carnilus asks cautiously. “And why as a woman?”

She shrugs her shoulders, the stone armor covering her crackling with the movement. “I am always a woman,” She replies simply. “And I am here to avenge a death.”

Carnilus of Trent eyes her warily. The woman and the man, who had stopped to watch the conversation, both suddenly seem to catch sight of her. Had they truly been so intent on their conversation that they had not seen her?

The woman’s hands both suddenly jerk on the staff, and she levels her weapon at the Knight.

The sniveler shrinks back. Why are his hands unbound?

The Knight in Stone draws her longsword. Well, if it should come to blows…

The shimmering blade draws a gasp from the woman, and Carnilus of Trent shoots her a sharp look. “Ease back thy blade, Knight, we are none of us the one ye seek. That bold beast slipped past us into the dark; we did not see where it went.”

The woman steps forward and snarls something at her, and then shouts something at Carnilus.

The old man arches an eyebrow at her, and she steps back, then turns again to the Knight. “She does not understand Eldritch. I am sorry.”

She waves a hand, stone grinding on stone for a moment. “That is fine.”

“That girl- when she ran forth into the dark, she took something of value to us. Will ye lead us to her?”

“What is thy relation to the one I must avenge?” The Knight in Stone asks carefully. Thinking is hard, so close to her true goal- this mage might be strong enough to free her!

But the grating pain of a quest unfinished forces her tongue silent about that.

“None- we were but companions, we stumbled upon her, already fleeing, and gave her what comfort we could before that thing attacked. Its blade did quick work- she was its only target, and we could do naught for her. She fled into the dark after, and we let her go.”

Something behind his words feels slippery, but she nods and shrugs her shoulders again. “I can lead ye to her. Thine words have the ring of falsehood, but if ye desire only to see the one I must avenge, I shalt do as ye ask without question. But ye shall not take from the corpse until my task is complete and my watchful eyes watch nae more.”

The woman says something to Carnilus that the Knight does not understand.

He responds with a nod, and she lifts her weapon at ease. She snaps a command at the sniveling man, who likewise nods and stands, staring at the Knight with open fear.

She turns her back on them, and stalks back the way she came slowly, making sure that they follow her. It takes a good three minutes at her pace, but she is unwilling to walk faster. Her joints ache and the armor is heavy around her shoulders.

The walls are ancient, the stone weathered as her hand, half-hidden by granite, brushes the rock.  It nearly crumbles at her touch, and to her this seems very strange. Had she been gone longer than she thought? But the people she leads seem to have garb similar to the time she left before.

She cannot remember the state of the walls from before.

She reaches the room wherein the woman lies dead, and stops short at the door, eyes narrowing. Something feels very wrong- she can tell from the air.

The body is missing, and a long line of crimson stretches from where the lady lay- drawn deep into the shadows. Her hearing, deadened by the stone around her, still seems to pick up the faint moan of someone in dreadful pain, and a purr that sounds horrible, and yet very, very familiar to her. The trail glistens in the gloom, but her magic eyes pierce the darkness.

She steps into the room, and makes no motion to stop the magician as he runs inward and kneels by the trail, plainly distraught.  Strange that he knew exactly where she lay…

A sense of foreboding falls over the Knight then, though. For a deep, dark growl echoes from the depths of the shadows around the room. The cavernous hall is large enough that it had hidden itself and its prey well, but now she feels its approach with every padding pawstep on the stone.

The Knight steps forward, rock boots faded with use grinding into the floor.

Carnilus turns to her, opens his mouth. He does not hear it? How could he not?

But all that dribbles down his lip is blood, and there is a ferocious roaring- then a sound again, like a sigh or a whisper, air being sliced clean. Two spikes, sharp and deadly, bounce off of her stone armor and land on the floor.

The padding draws closer as the magician slumps forward. Judging him to be gravely wounded, the Knight sets herself for the manticore’s charge.

Instead, there is a whooshing noise, and a hideous snarl- leathery wings bat the air, she catches a glimpse of them before it lunges down at her, volleying another pair of spikes at her with that vicious tail before swooping down, upon her already. The spikes glance away harmlessly, but the razor claws of the lion-like creature rake her, one finding a gap in her stone armor and tearing a line of white pain down her back. The weight of the creature rocks her for a moment, but she recovers quickly.

“You are not who I seek,” She says quietly. “I’m sorry.”

With one stone-gauntleted hand, she grabs its throat, and with the other, she pummels its struggling head over, and over, fist like a hammer. The blows fall hard, slow, and calm. It writhes at first, but its strength flees it quickly. When she is done, the manticore lies dead, and its thrashing tail falls still. Its head has been reduced to pulp.

“Mindless beast,” She admonishes gently. “Ye did not need to die here.”

The Knight winces as she puts a bloodied stone sheathed hand to her back where the claws of the monster had laid her open. No permanent damage- her soft inner body still remains mostly safe, though it leaks red at a rapid rate. Another scar to wear into the centuries. Still, it’s not like she has any true prospects. The Knight has no need for marriage. What use has a spirit of vengeance for matrimony, holy or otherwise?

A noise behind her makes her turn, though. She’d almost forgotten about Carnilus’s companions.

The Knight chews on her lip behind her helm. Hm.

The woman is trying not to retch. The man seems to have set his lips. She moves aside so that they might step over the corpse and go to Carnilus, who lies gasping on the floor, two foot-long black spikes driven through his back. The manticore’s surprise attack had been… rather surprising.

A shame. Maybe he had truly been strong enough to free her. She feels her heart sink back into despair, but the sting of the quest keeps her plodding towards the corner where the woman now lies. She can feel the girl’s presence- her heart is beating, which is strange enough in itself. How can she avenge a death…

She hears the woman wailing over Carnilus’s prone form. She hopes distantly that they have the sense not to try to pull the spikes out. That would cause much more damage, for they are no doubt barbed.

She reaches the fallen girl. She had been nibbled on, nothing more. A lost finger, a lost toe- what matter was it? She had somehow woken up after being slashed. The Knight in Stone blinks at that.

The girl’s body is breathing, shallowly. And now something like anger bubbles in the Knight’s chest. How is she to deal with this?

She slaps the girl across the face lightly, hoping vaguely that the shock will wake her. The Knight feels a bit guilty when she doesn’t stir- obviously she had been in great pain. Is it right for her to attempt to bring the girl back? She’s suffered enough.

Yet- part of her isn’t willing to let the girl die. Though surely it is the lack of her needing to be truly avenged yet- having not died- that is preventing the Knight from knowing the name of the one responsible, the Knight in Stone does not want the girl to die. Something compels her to help this woman live.

She turns to the warrior woman, who is glaring at the her with something like hatred.

“Can you understand me?” She asks, speaking slowly.

The woman’s reply is cloaked in venom. “Yes. I am not the fool Carnilus made me out to be. What are ye? He has- had- told us little. Can ye not help me heal Carnilus?”

“My task is to avenge the dead, not aid the living,” the Knight replies stonily. “He lied to me at any rate. Are ye not a healer? What of thine craven friend?”

“I am not craven!” the man snarls, immediately on his feet. His eyes flash with anger. “It t’would be foolish only not to be scared witless, upon having seen what I have seen! The man who lies dead here- Carnilus, his name, sorcerer, his trade- was an abomination! He killed my family. Are ye to tell me that I should not be afraid of that? It took but a finger’s stroke for each, and my father stronger, braver than me!”

“What a feat,” The woman says dryly.  “Truly, the man deserves nothing but praise.”

The one called craven shoots her a glare. Obviously he harbors towards her nothing of the terror on his face when Carnilus had been amongst the living. Perhaps he still lived, but if so, not for long. From what the Knight knew of manticore spines, they were likely venom’d. A poison would soon tear him apart from the inside.

There was no telling how long it would be, and no telling exactly when it would be, but the man would die and with no mage among them, the two of his former companions would surely be unable to do anything about it- whatever their motivations for his resurrection.

The Knight in Stone watches the pale form of Carnilus the sorcerer. She turns to the woman again.

“Who are ye?” She asks, wincing at the clumsy way her mouth formed the words. Oh, to be alive again.

“A companion,” She says flatly, in a way that, to the Knight’s ears, said ‘Lover’. The wailing had died in her heart, it seemed, leaving nothing but bare rock in its place. “I go by the name Shira.”

Shy-ra.

“Where didst thou come by that name?” The Knight asks slowly, frowning. “It seems such a long time, perhaps it will be a long time hence ere I hear it again. But please tell me how ye learned of it.”

“Are ye mad?” Shira asks, incredulous. “Where do ye think I came by it?”

“I do not know,” The Knight reproaches, in the same steady, earthy tone. “That is why I asked ye.”

“Surely ye don’t mean to suggest I stole it,” Shira says quietly.

They both stare at one another, the Knight with stone curiosity, the woman with a glare that dares her to say it.

“I see no other way ye could have come by it,” the Knight says plainly. “Ye are too young to slay monsters. Thy arm is too weak, thy thighs too thick and thy armor too thin.”

“Ye need not be a barren muscle-bound waif to win in combat,” the one called Shira snaps. “And who are ye to talk?”

“Dead,” The Knight in Stone says sharply. “I was nae warrior when I slew my first man. The stone armor protected me long before then. I am the Knight in Stone, ‘Shira’, slayer of monsters. It is my duty to avenge those who have fallen unjustly.”

This seems to infuriate the woman, but her thought is interrupted by Carnilus’s sudden scream of agony. The poison had begun its dirty work.

The noise wakes the girl the Knight is holding, and she feels a pang of guilt, suddenly, from nowhere. She moves, unsure of what exactly she will do, but determined to do something.

Her hand closes on the red robe of the fallen mage. “Are ye not a sorcerer?” She asks loudly. “Have ye nae spells that might heal ye?”

Carnilus gropes for something, anything, finally grasps at the stone paldron on the Knight’s shoulder. He raises his eyes, his expression grey as ash, his eyes already clouding.

“Are ye not a Knight?” He asks, his voice a rasping whisper just above a death rattle. Laughter, insane, horrible laughter bubbles up from his throat and flecks her armor with blood. It shakes his whole body, but his eyes now burn. “Have ye nae honor? The demon who forced this injustice to happen- is within!”

The last word is a shriek, a loud wail.

He slumps forward. But his body shakes, twisting and turning, writhing under some unseen hand’s control. Spines erupt from the robes and his head twists full circle as the bones under his flesh force his body to assume a shape not of the world of man.

Shira is screaming, the girl in the Knight’s arms stirs and moans, and the Knight in Stone takes one step backward.

When the man’s body erupts in heat, when the wave of fire washes over her and cooks the hair on her desiccated arms even within the armor, when her boots, touching the floor, cook and turn a brilliant cherry red, she knows the beast she is about to face will kill them all.

“A sorcerous death,” She whispers, backing away quickly and setting the injured girl down. “A battle on the inside that cannot be won.”

The heat from the demonic conflagration is making her skin crawl and sweat.

The Knight counts the demon’s spines as they emerge. Three. Four. Four dorsal spines. Then it is the warrior caste. It will fight her first. Perhaps giving the woman and her craven companion time to escape.

The man is shaking. He has no weapon on him, and the fiery blast had singed his clothes, burned holes in breeches and tunic, but his eyes are boring into the demonic shape coalescing before him.

It rises, bipedal, standing a full ten feet tall on craggy legs hung with burnt, tattered bits of robe, radiating flame and heat like a shroud. The warrior woman, Shira, is stepping away uncertainly, her strange blade-stick raised. The curved edge, fully a foot past the haft, seems tiny in comparison to the monster confronting her, and even two feet away it glows orange with heat.

The creature seems to gather its bearings, and confronts the woman, whose shaking posture and lax defensive position make the Knight wince.

The Knight in Stone steps forward quickly, shouldering the young monster slayer aside. The woman tumbles over in a clatter, but the Demon seems ready to accept the Knight’s unspoken challenge. Its guttural roar is felt more than heard- she can see the shape of it, an enormous humanoid with red skin, three lower legs and one long, spined tail. Its arms are huge, and while it bears no weapon, its hands are wreathed in white flame.

“What are ye doing?” Shira asks, plainly too stupid to still be afraid. “Ye should-”

“Run, idiot!” The Knight grits out. “Are ye that much of a fool? Run! Take thy companion and go!”

She squares her shoulders and stamps her feet, gritting her teeth and grinding stone boots into the stone tile floor. Here, in this place, before the altar- before her altar, the Altar of the Avenged- this demon, this monster dares to take shape? She owes it to all those who have fallen to slay this creature. And she feels sure that the sorcerer- or at least the demon inside- was responsible for the serpent-creature that struck down her newest charge. At last the foe is here, and she can feel it in her gut that it had called both manticore and lizard-creature in order to do its dirty work.

Shira grabs her craven friend and the two flee the room.

The Knight has enough time to wish that she had made them take her charge as well, and then the demon is upon her before she can even draw steel.

“Mortal!” It screams in Eldritch. “Too long have I waited to face you!”

It brings one clawed hand around in a lightning fast swipe. She takes the blow on her stone armor, letting it glance aside. The impact near breaks her shoulder, and she yelps without thinking, breath hissing between her teeth. She grinds back one step, drawing the runed longsword from its scabbard and taking up a vague fighting pose- how does one guard against a demon who can strike mighty blows with its hands?

The Knight frowns as the creature’s next cry reverberates up through her armor. The blows it rain down are much too soft. She blocks them with ease, standing her ground, the longsword practically parrying for her. Magic seems to be involved- it leaps from position to position with the slightest nudge, with even her thoughts.

The demon, whose face is shrouded and ripples in the heat haze, hisses in frustration as she meets each and every strike with cool, calculated defense.

But her armor is hot. Too hot- her skin is burning up in her stone prison. She breaks the engagement, backing away, sword down, struggling to catch her breath in the grip of stone that feels too tight and far too hot.

Sweat drips down into one eye. The armor that defends her better than any steel is naught but a liability here. And the demon’s strength is incredible, even if, with her blade, it is easily deflected. At any moment it may realize that fighting her is useless, and take advantage of her inability to give chase to go torment more people.

For some reason, the Knight finds this troubling. Her charge- had she ever seen one survive the attacks?

Something is different here, and she can’t quite place it.

The spiny tail whacks across her back, a blaze of searing heat against her spine making her yelp. She jerks forward, stone grinding, charging, sword out.

The demon had never been attacked quite like this before. It had expected its prey to be more defensive. Its misjudgment about her flexibility proves distressingly painful.

The Knight in Stone steps back, blood steaming on the blade. It isn’t demon blood, which troubles her somewhat. The severed limb, fallen and twitching on the ground, also bears more than a passing resemblance to a human’s arm.

“You argunt erif!” The demon roars, its rage forcing it to switch to a language both unfamiliar to her and painful to hear. It drives invisible spikes into her ears.

“You talk too much,” The Knight notes calmly, sweat dripping down her cheeks. Her longsword flicks again, sure and true, but the demon hops back this time, and the tip merely carves a line on its aberrant ribcage. The strike leaves her open.

The demon’s claws wrap around her throat and, one armed, it heaves her into the air, snarling. She swings wildly- though not desperately- and her blade leaves a searing ruin across its abdomen. The beast flings her- actually flings her, sending her flying across the stone hall. She hears the clatter of metal on the rock, and shortly after her vision blurs as she cracks against the floor, armor shattering under the impact. She strikes the wall afterwards, skidding and slamming against the bare stone.  Her head takes a nasty blow, though the helmet shields her somewhat, and her mind spins, struggles to make sense of the insanity.

Fragile bones, too long without use, harden again as she pushes herself up onto her knees. She can hear the clatter of the creature’s talons against the stone floor. It’s approaching her. She can hear it chuckle. Its heat is stifling, then actually painful as it stands in front of her.

Her head aches. Blood drips down through her hair. She has no weapon in her hands. She has nothing. Her fingers, clad in stone, dig into the tile, unearthing it as the monster laughs. She wrenches upward, the heavy stonework of the tile smashing into the creature’s head heavily, and it smashes into the creature’s face. It stumbles back, its remaining clawed arm up, and she takes advantage of its momentary weakness.

She drives one stone gauntlet into the beast’s belly. It’s like striking iron, but she smashes her fist into its stomach over and over, with all the strength she can muster. It grunts, crumpling, swiping at her, missing, but then rushing her, tackling her into the floor, bearing her down with weight and heat, its tail flicking and then coiling around her neck like a long, sinuous snake, squeezing

Impossibly, her hand, blistering with heat, grabs at the stump of its arm. Her fist rams into its snout. Her vision blurs and swims, her mind fuzzing over. She feels a snarl growing in her constricted throat, and it wants to burst free.

She slams her knee into the monster’s belly and pushes the demon over in the same movement, fingers digging into the stump of its arm, rolling on top of it, her thighs, belly and calves screaming in heat-agony. Her gauntlet rises and falls, like against the manticore, her fist smashing into the demon’s face again. And again.

Teeth are shattered, bones crunch. She can’t breathe, she can’t think- her heart fills her mouth and her limbs feel like lead.

But she smites the demon, that beast from the depths of hell with all her force.

It batters her with its tail, teeth snapping and clashing crookedly, unable to bite down on her fist, its grip loosening on her throat with the next hammerblow.

She sucks in air, foul with demon’s breath, brimstone and fire. Her body hums, her hair is burning and her heart pounds so hard she fears her ribs will break.

“She’s my charge,” The Knight says softly. Then again, as her fist smashes down with all her strength and the stone gauntlet crushes the demon’s skull, its bones finally breaking. The savage heat goes out like a fel candle flame, the eerie red glow fades, though her armor glows blood red and she can feel her skin burning, feel the hissing and screaming of all her nerves.

“She is my charge!” The Knight in Stone snarls. “You cannot have her, you cannot harm her anymore.”

The demon does not answer her. It lies still, its face a broken ruin, its boiling heart dead. Its tail twitches once, and then falls still as well. Its blood- a tainted human’s blood- coats her gauntlet.

Shaking.

Her arms, her hands, her fingers… Her whole body is shaking.

Through blinding, burning pain, the Knight in Stone rises.

She staggers to the girl where she lies. The scent of demon is thick on the Knight. She can smell it every time she draws breath. She can feel it saturating her skin, along with the sickly sweet smell of her own burnt flesh.

“Girl,” She says weakly, when she draws near. “Are ye safe?”

The girl stares at the Knight in awe, in terror. Had she watched the entire thing? In the gloom it is slightly hard to tell, so the Knight summons a light by her side again.

It all seems blurry now.

What puzzles the Knight most is that she no longer feels she need return to the Stone. The girl has been avenged, surely. The lizard creature could not have survived such wounds as it had sustained to leave the blood trail. Both the manticore and the demon who summoned it whilst in human shape were dead. The sorcerous man’s companions had nothing to do with it and therefore she need not kill them.

There is only the girl left, and, by a twisted turn of fate, she is alive.

It had never happened before, and the Knight feels lighter- and heavier- at the same time. Her heart sings- she saved someone. She had saved many people.

She would gladly go to rest in Stone now.

But instead of the pain of being parted from it for so long…. she feels only a baffled uncertainty. What should she do next?

“Are ye well?” The Knight in Stone repeats quietly. “I do not mean to bring harm to ye. I am the Knight in Stone. Ye called me to avenge ye.”

“Ye have avenged me already,” The girl whispers. She appears about to burst into tears… but no, the Knight can see she is stronger than that.

The girl smiles, and for a moment there’s a flash of red in her eyes, a spark of madness, perhaps. It troubles the Knight but a moment. Other things are on her mind.

For the first time in ages, she feels free. She has her own path to walk again-she feels not even the old compulsion to wear the armor.

Slowly, with trembling hands, she removes her helmet and tosses it aside. She slips out of the stone plate carefully, and the girl assists her- for it is no easy task. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, the Knight shivers in the cold of the cave.

The only thing she keeps is the scabbard. Though her clothes are old- ancient and fragile- they still seem serviceable after all these years. To feel the breeze, the draft, the air around her caressing her skin…

She had forgotten what it was like.

She turns to the girl and beckons once. Then she fetches the longsword and replaces it in her scabbard. The metal is reassuring.

“Can ye speak Common, girl?”

“Yes,” She responds quietly. “Yes, I can.”

“Good. Come with me to town.”

“Where are ye bound?” The girl asks. Then, “Where are we bound?”

The former Knight in Stone just shrugs helplessly. She doesn’t know where she wants to go first, but she knows for sure that she won’t stay here.

The girl, leaning on the Knight even as the Knight leans on her, walks out of the cave with her guardian, and they never once look back.

Demimind: Chapter 20

I’m sorry for the long wait! It was an extremely busy week. Do enjoy the new update. In addition, I have a new story I plan on posting- all done, and of the short variety. I’ll probably put that on a separate page from the main to make things easily accessible. Remember that all additional pages may be found in the black band just below the main picture- like the Chapters page and the About section. Knight In Stone will be put up in a page of its own soon. Thanks for reading!

-Eris

 

(20)Trial

She screams, shuddering, hugging herself in the sudden light. Every part of her aches, her breath comes in short gasps, stabbing pain strikes her brain squarely.

She opens her eyes, her mouth shut again, determined to let that be the only outburst dragged from her. She pushes herself up to her knees- she was lying prone- and, shakily, looks around herself. She feels slick with something, something hot all over her naked body.

Saliva. Spit. She can feel it all over her.

It’s bright here, and for one crazed second she thinks she might be dead again. Had it swallowed her up?

No. Her hands are touching stone. She is on the floor of something stone. Beside her- no, in front of her- an immense crack nearly a foot deep spreads across. Beside her also, and, upon turning, she sees it behind her. It is grey stone. She is on… a tile.

It’s cold here as well, and smells faintly of sulfur. She finds herself shivering, despite the heat of the spit all over her. She stands up, feeling alone, her legs feeling like they can barely support her weight.

Where is here?

She stands in the middle of a pool of light from an unseen source. All around her is darkness, cut off by the tile lines.

The clack of claws on stone surrounds her. Click clack.

Shapes move in the light, shadows that slowly resolve themselves as they step closer. Black scales flash, along with teeth the size of swords.

The dragon who brought her here stands before her and stares down at her with piercing red eyes.

How she wishes she were Winter. Winter could understand what they were saying without needing to feel as if her mind were being torn to pieces.

To her surprise, however, the black dragon doesn’t talk to her first. Instead, there’s a bright flash of light, and a nude, dark, wild-haired woman stands before her instead of the dragon. Her skin is black as night and her eyes are the same red as before. She folds her arms and stares at Summer steadily.

Taken aback by the shapeshift, Winter is the first to point out that more are coming from the darkness.

Look, She whispers. They’re all different.

A slimy green-scaled dragon shapeshifts as well, into a long-haired human-dragon hybrid with blonde hair, so covered in scales that she couldn’t guess as to its actual gender.

A cold blue-eyed man steps forward from the shadows beyond her pool of light to stand at the edge of her tile. He wears naught but a belt, breeches and a sword at his waist. His musculature is impressive, but Summer is more focused on the glow from the scabbard. The sting from Autumn’s attack on her legs has long since faded, but she finds herself still feeling wary of the weapon. The one her brother had carried deflected her spells.

A few others step forward- a grey skinned, brown-haired man with a few snow white scales on his arms. A silver-haired girl, shorter than the rest with pure white eyes and a short stubby tail.

But they all stand to the side of her, even the wild one who brought her. They stand and stare expectantly into the dark. And even though she tries as hard as she can she is unable to hear a sound. Its approach is so silent, that when a hand grips her around the neck gently, and from behind, she doesn’t register it until something clicks into place. There’s the flash of a dark cloak in front of her. An old, old man, hair so grey it’s almost white, skin wrinkled with age, strides to the front of her tile and turns with frightening speed.

Someone so old shouldn’t be able to move that fast, Summer thinks to herself.

And then her legs buckle underneath her, strength sapped through the earthmetal collar around her neck. Her head is very heavy, but she lifts it to stare up at the dragons surrounding her.

How are we going to get out of this? Winter whispers. Weren’t we going to visit Spring, and from there head to Season’s Refuge?

Fate seems to have other ideas, Summer directs back weakly. And I can’t grab on to a pocket world like this. I suppose if you were in control you could kill them all-

I’m tired of killing, Winter says warily. I hate it.

Well that’s fine, because there’s no way that plan would work anyway. They’re highly resistant to magic- protection given long before we Seasons were born.

“So,” The old man says, facing her and shrugging his shoulders. He wears a long cloak that covers what must be a truly massive body. He stares down at Summer with something like kindly disdain, as if she were insignificant, but nevertheless to be pitied, like a tiny fly with its wings cut.

Summer half-closes her eyes. All of her strength is being sucked out through the damnable collar- what is it made of, bronze, iron?

No, worked metal like bronze wouldn’t hurt her. Iron, though… she’ll have welts there, blisters there for ages. It stings abominably.

“Why is such a pathetic creature disgracing the council with its presence, Aura?” The old man asks. His voice is deep, rich and strong, belying his obvious old age.

The wild-haired one, with her dark skin and burning eyes, answers. So she must be Aura, Summer thinks blurrily.

“It has information pertaining to the whereabouts of my sister,” She says, and there’s a sharp, bitter tone to her voice, etched firmly in place. It sounds like a cold night.

“I see,” The elder says quietly. “Does anyone have anything to say before we begin?”

“What are you going to do?” Summer asks, feeling dread stir in her belly.

“The poor thing has no idea where it is,” The grey-scaled one drawls drly, arms folded. He looks incredibly bored. “Perhaps we should inform it before it dies.”

“You are in the heart of the Council of Ten,” The old man informs her solemnly. “And to answer your question, we will burn you- or I will, at least- and glean the information from your ashes.”

At that, Summer suppresses a lunatic smile. Burn her. An ironic death. She once claimed to be master of fire. That was so long ago- well, relatively. Now she suspects it’s only been a short while. Summer-Glory is testament to that. She wonders, through a haze of panic, whether or not the flame will hurt her if she is touching iron…

“Now, if that is all, shall we begin?” All of them nod as one. It’s almost comical- human gestures from human-shaped dragons. Perhaps the myths were true and they were growing soft.

There’s surprisingly little fanfare. The old man steps forward to the very edge of the light.

“Don’t worry,” the silver-haired girl says brightly. “It will be over soon.”

The old man says no magic words. Dragons don’t need magic words to work their spells. He doesn’t wave his hands or otherwise indicate that he is about to hurl fire or call down lightning- he simply stands there, and, as the dread peaks in Summer’s heart and she lifts her head, he nods- just a fraction.

Fire leaps up around her, heat, incredible, overwhelming, bone-searing heat. It’s there for a flicker, for an instant. Any longer, any hotter, and it would’ve killed her instantly. Instead, it vaporizes the earthmetal collar around her neck.

Enough of this, Winter says quietly. The heat is making her dizzy. She finds herself thanking Spring profusely in her head, the pain coming over her in a hot, fierce torrent. Summer is drenched in sweat.

Summer’s skin bakes as the flames disappear. Heat rises off of her like steam, rippling the air around her, washing over her in waves. And she stands. The old man seems uncertain for a moment. Then,

“I don’t know how you survived that at first, but this time I’ll-”

Summer draws on the life of every dragon near her, all six, their power flashing through her and making her truly giddy. She does it without words. It’s innate to her, unique to her, and it floods her like fire in her veins. Winter is unconscious now, naturally, passing out from the force of the power within her sister.

But Summer doesn’t care. She’s laughing, giggling helplessly, as if the impotency of the flames around her had been the world’s biggest joke.

The tile beneath her, unscathed by the intense fire before, melts and bubbles under the sheer power which blazes from Summer’s body.

“You should better learn to understand those you capture, Aura, if that is really your name,” Summer says sharply. “I am Summer, mistress of all heat and life. You can’t hurt me with fire.”

She tosses her long hair and stands straighter, no longer feeling naked, but rather confident. She’s at her peak, here, at her strongest with the life-energy of such magnificent, powerful creatures surrounding her and flowing through her. Magnificent- and stupid.

The old man arches an eyebrow, but says nothing.

The way the dragons seem unimpressed eats at her confidence a little.

And then, in the blink of an eye and a roar of noise, she’s on her side, clutching at her ribs and trying to catch her breath. And her ribs are smoking. There’s steam rising off of her where her sweat flash-evaporated, steam rising from the stone floor beneath her. And that can’t be right, she’s staring at the tile she was on, and the semi-circle of dragons, from forever away, meters and meters.

She was flung. The echoes of the thunder shook the stone. She was sent tumbling by a bolt of lightning with the force of a titan’s swipe. She’d skidded to a rest here.

Her back feels raw and her skin, tough though it is, had been unable to reject the heat of the bolt. She pushes herself to her shaky feet and stares as the blue-eyed, bald man breaks from the group and strides towards her, sword still sheathed. Or recently sheathed- the scabbard is smoking. She stares at him as he advances, watches him raise a hand.

There’s a flicker of his attention, the feeling that his look is piercing her right through. It’s the only warning she gets.

That, in itself, does nothing to prepare her. A moment later, she’s again gasping, trying to catch breath from lungs that won’t work. She tries to stand, her legs and hands, her arms twitching, crackling with electricity. Lightning. He had struck her with lightning. Yes, she remembers now. Her heart begins to beat again, faster, too fast, erratic and wild. It sends arcs of pain through her, her hands clenching spasmodically.

It hadn’t been as strong this time. Did the distance have something to do with that?

She rises again. Is it a duel? No other dragon is bothering with her.

“How dare you still live, mortal?” The blue-eyed man asks softly. His voice is deadly. “After mocking my sire your life is forfeit. I don’t know how you think to match one of the Seasons when a little lightning is enough to break your bones.”

She stands straight. He’d lowered his hand again, a mistake.

“Of course I’m Summer!” She snaps. “What human has power like this?”

She snaps her fingers, shouts a Word: Strike.

Her eyes indicate her challenger, and she doesn’t notice the sound of footsteps on stone until a boy- how did he appear here?- suddenly appears right in front of her intended target. She registers several things. His manacles, his height- had she ever seen a man so large? He’s as tall as Autumn!- and his sword, grasped in thin arms, long and sharp. His hair falls about his shoulders, a pale, sickly brown.

Then she releases her power, gathered into a lightning fast whip of energy. It snaps out in a blink, and just as fast flashes into nothing, seemingly before it can touch either of them.

Did she misjudge? No. It was a Word. How could she have misjudged? The formula for it is timeless. It does not allow for error.

Winter stirs again, for the cavern itself is cool without Summer’s power heating the air around her.

And she’d gathered it all into that strike, hadn’t she?

Where did it go?

She focuses on the blue-eyed man, whose cold demeanor has broken into one of shock, and… fear?

And the next words, all on their own, explain everything.

“Casper! How on earth did you get here?” The words come from Aura’s mouth, as if she can’t believe them.

The boy’s voice, and with a shock she realizes the ‘boy’ is a girl the moment words escape, is accented. “First why don’t you tell me what the bloody hell you idiots think you’re doing?”

She stabs her sword into the ground, and it sticks, sliding through solid stone like dirt. She lifts her eyes and stares at Summer steadily. Clearly she’d just done something distasteful by interrupting the duel.

“When did the whelp get here?” The grey-scale asks dryly. “Wasn’t it you who was to keep an eye on it, Azzy?”

The blue-eyed man responds, so Summer can only assume his name is ‘Azzy’. “She was in her quarters sleeping when I came down,” He says cooly, but his voice is hiding something very close to anger. “I’ll deal with her-”

“Actually, I think she should stay,” The silver-haired girl says quietly. “She shares at least some heritage with our new prisoner, does she not?”

The girl called Casper shrugs her shoulders and draws the sword out of the stone. “I’m not a child anymore,” She says irritably. “And I’m a human- from what I’ve seen, this… thing isn’t. Are you stupid or something? It’d take years and years of training to become anything like as skilled as it’s shown, and it can’t be more than a few years old. Probably just a bloody fairy or something, we’ve already got enough of those.”

She pauses a moment, then grins. “I’ll handle it.”

The one called Azzy stands back, staring doubtfully. “If that’s what you wish.”

The elder remains silent.

Casper advances on Summer, sword at the ready. Her manacles seem earthmetal- was it mere coincidence they’d been set on Summer? Or had they known her weakness to it?

It seems likely that it was a coincidence. Summer backs away slightly. Winter is being loud and obnoxious.

You can’t kill her! She’s a girl!

“So?” Summer hisses. “She’s trying to kill us!”

Well at least try to reason before you blow her fool head off!

“Fine. Hey! Come any closer and I’ll blow your head off!” She shouts at the advancing child. She can’t be any more than fourteen. Underfed and malnourished, but she carries the sword as if it were a toy. Summer is dwarfed by her, too- the girl is tall and lean. Instead of answering, she changes tack, striding quickly. It’s clear she’ll try to end it in one blow.

Summer thinks for a moment. “We’ll do things your way,” She whispers. She gathers her power and flings it at the girl’s feet. Burst, She commands.

The stone under the girl ripples and explodes, hurling the skinny frame a good twenty feet into the air.

“Whoops,” Summer remarks callously. “Didn’t mean to hit quite that hard.”

But Casper lands on her feet lightly, doesn’t seem fazed in the slightest. She wasn’t even injured, and Summer barely has time to register that before the girl is a mere ten feet away, sword raised.

Summer gathers her power again, lets the strength of the dragons fill her in an eyeblink, and holds up one hand to stop the arc of the blade as it falls towards her. Casper, however, just isn’t there anymore.

The blade strikes from behind. Summer whirls in time, can feel it pass a hair’s breadth from her face. She reaches out and grasps Casper’s arm as it passes, yanks the girl close, wraps her other arm around the teen’s thin neck, and begins to squeeze.

The girl’s strength is unreal.

Casper breaks free with apparent ease, turns and brings the sword down. The tip whistles through the air and draws a line of singing agony across Summer’s midriff, carving clean through skin and clipping a rib before she draws the blade away. Blood drips from the blade. And the blood is red.

Summer claps a hand to the wound. Red oozes around her fingers, and her lips clamp shut. She suddenly feels weak in the knees. She expects the bite to come again, expects to be killed, but her opponent is distracted.

Casper stares at the edge of her sword. She lowers it after a moment, then turns a glare on the elder, who shrugs.

“She’s human,” Azzy says quietly. “Interesting.”

“She’s not fey, at least,” Casper grumbles. “But if she were some kinda sorcerer, how did she learn that kind of magic so fast?”

Tell them, Winter says grimly. Now is the only chance we’re likely to get.

Summer opens her mouth to respond. She really does mean to say something.

But suddenly, it’s too much just to stand up, and she collapses into darkness.