All in Story

The Grave

The work was rough. The soil was hard, and thick with roots. The smaller ones Beryl cut with the spade. The larger ones she had to burn. Her fingers and knuckles bled from the effort. Without her cloak, she must have been cold, too, although she hardly noticed.

Eventually, though, she got the grave dug, and, as day turned to night, she carefully arranged the bones.

“If the day comes when I can no longer protect my Comtesse,” Sir Ruth said, “then I will fill my pockets with stones, and I will walk into the sea.”

“Surely that’s a bit overdramatic,” Aurélie said.

“It is an honorable death,” Sir Ruth said.

Aurélie laughed bitterly at that.

“There are no honorable deaths,” she said. “We are alive, then we are dead. The dead have no honor. That is a lie the living tell themselves, as they wipe the blood from their blade.”

The War

There was a part of Layna that wanted nothing more than to sleep. To curl up beneath the shelter of one of the snow-laden pines, to dig herself a little hollow in one of the wind-blown drifts, and to sleep. Layna had not slept in days. Her body was tired, as was her spirit.

But there was another part of Layna that knew that she could not rest. Partly because she needed to keep walking, needed to reach the village. But mostly because she knew that, if she lay down now, if she closed her eyes, she would never open them again.

New Morning

The bruising around Lucky’s eye was bad, and it would hurt like blazes for days, but at least Honeysuckle hadn’t broken any bones.

“How many times she hit you?” Jackie asked Lucky, as she handed the steak back to the boy.

“Just once, Miss Red,” the boy mumbled, pressing the steak back against his eye.

Jackie nodded her head, then turned to face Honeysuckle. “What’d you hit him with?” she asked.

“Left cross, Miss Red,” the minotaur said.

Jackie whistled softly. “Nice punch,” she said.

Four Points

Elise LaRoux spent her days aboard the Mourning Reign the same way she spent most of her days: In a dark room, alone.

Over the years, the rooms had changed. Growing up in the chateau, Elise had had a wonderful bedchamber at the top of the grand staircase, with a canopy bed, and shelves of books which stretched so high she needed a ladder to reach them. But, even in that room which she had thought of as her sanctuary, the windows had been forever covered with dark, velvet curtains – sewn shut, lest she try to open them – and even the lamps had shades so thick that they barely cast enough light to read by, so that Elise would have to hold her books just inches from her nose, and, even then, she squinted to read them.

Her room at the chateau had been her sanctuary. But it had also been her prison.

Treading warily, Lam followed Lissa inside, where he found her standing, frozen, just a few steps across the threshold. She was shaking, but not from the cold, and he followed her eyes to the shape of a lone woman, who lay huddled in a far corner. She was hard to see, through the network of roots which grew all the way from the sunken ceiling to the earthen floor, and the simple green dress she wore matched the color of the grassy walls so closely that, from a distance, it was almost hard to tell where the woman stopped, and the earth began. She was lying there, silent, and still, with her eyes closed, and, as Lam crept warily towards her, she did not stir.

“Who is she?” Lissa said.

The Lie

Beryl closed her good eye, and she sighed. She felt sorry for the boy. He was only a child.

Everyone she met stared at her maimed face. Everyone she met secretly wanted to know how it had happened. Beryl wasn’t stupid. She knew that they stared. She knew that they wondered.

The only difference between adults and children was that adults tried to pretend they hadn’t noticed her scar. The children didn’t know they were supposed to lie.

“Very well,” the Grand Magistrate said. “If you persist in condoning treason, then I shall be forced to hang one citizen of this town every hour, on the hour, from now until such time as the traitors I seek are brought before me.”

“You cannot do that!” Brigitte cried out, and again tried to rise, only to feel Sir Ruth holding her in place. “You cannot simply condemn my people to hang! They are innocent!”

“My dear Comtesse,” Perrine Labelle said, with a sympathetic nod of her head, “there are no innocents in Mont-sur-Mer."

The Wish

Beryl took the flower from Aloise, and she held it up in front of her face. After a moment for thought, she closed her eye, puffed out her cheeks, and blew as hard as she could, sending a tiny storm of dandelion seeds flying up into the air, where their little white sails caught the freshening breeze, and the wind carried them off into the blue distance. 

Opening her eye, Beryl saw that the dandelion’s head was completely bare, and she smiled. 

“What did you wish for?” Aloise asked.

Magic swords are basically pure profit. I have a ratfolk acquaintance who digs up old battlefields out beyond the marshes – she’s a graverobber, if we’re going to be fully honest about it, but she prefers to call herself a scavenger, and that suits me just fine. Anyway, whatever you want to call what it is that she does, she’s mainly on the lookout for bone charms – fingers are the best, she tells me, although toes will do in a pinch, or really tiny ribs – but she digs up a lot of old swords in the process. 

The bones, she keeps for herself. The swords, she sells to me. I buy them by the cartload.

3:15 to Dayko

The man swallowed nervously, and he nodded his head. “You’re making a mistake,” he stammered, as he walked over to the metal table and began to unbuckle the belt around the woman’s neck. “You don’t understand who they are. We have to be protected. They’re not natural. They’re not—”

“—I really need you to stop talking,” Jackie said, “before I shoot you to make you stop.”

“Did you ever once stop to think about why we did what we did?” she eventually asked him, without waiting for him to reply. “Did you ever once think to question the rightness of our cause, as we broke whole worlds in two, all in the name of peace, or order?”

There was no point in lying to her. Not anymore, anyway. So he didn’t.

“No,” he said.

“I didn’t think so,” she said.

Six-Shooter

Sax had been to enough hangings to know that most men closed their eyes in the second before the lever was pulled.

As he bent his head forward so that the Judge could slip the noose around his neck, Sax resolved not to. He would hold his head high, and he would keep his eyes open, so that the gathered crowd would see that he was not afraid.

Rest for the Wicked

In a silent, abandoned orphanage, that had seen more suffering than any sort of building has a right to, Jackie DeCoeur looked down at a faded white line, and she thought about judgment.

As a little girl, the line had filled her with a special mix of terror and resentment. Terror at the sure and certain knowledge that she would be judged and found wanting; resentment at the sure and certain knowledge that there was nothing she could do to change that fate.

She was marked, and she could never be unmarked.

She was the devil girl. The girl with eyes the color of blood.