"Take me with you," her reflection whispered, and the girl only shook her head with a finger to her lips, and turned away to smile at the king who'd come to court her, though she was but a peasant.
"Take me with you," the girl in the mirror begged again, as the now-princess laid her hand in her soon-to-be husband's, and was led out of her old home. But the princess turned her back on her image, and pretended she did not hear its whisper.
Much time passed, and the princess became queen, and she had a child with skin white as snow, and cheeks like blossoming roses, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony. And the figure trapped in the glass called to the queen, for the third time.
And it said, "Fairest, dearest, now will you take me with you? For you promised to free me if I gave you everything you wanted, and so you have found love, and become queen, and you have borne a daughter as beautiful as you are, and now I am owed my freedom."
But the queen did not want to free the being in the mirror, for she knew there would be dire consequences, but neither could the mirror be destroyed, or all the queen had would be undone. So instead, the queen carried it deep into the woods, to be forgotten in a dark place where no one would venture and find it.
Only even without the queen to cast an image on the mirror, the being within it had enough power to call out to any who would hear, and the world is not so large that its hidden places long remain so.
And so one day, a girl found the mirror, a peasant girl like the queen used to be, and as she beheld the mirror and the image of herself it cast back upon her, she heard a voice whisper,
"Do you wish to be the fairest of them all?"
"Don't ruin this," she begs me, "Everything we have, everything we've worked for, all those years, all those lives—we sacrificed them for the greater good and you want to just—just--throw it all away?"
I stare out at the ruin of the city, the burning and the smoke and the bodies, and then down at the unassuming stone in my hands, which has the power to change time itself, for all that it looks like any old meteorite.
"It's already ruined," I tell her. "It was ruined the moment we killed the first person to stand against us, to see us for what we are."
"They call us monsters," she cried, "Monsters, for trying to save them."
I look at her then, feeling so very numb inside, unmoved by her tears. "Save them?" I repeat, "You really think we've done that? That we haven't just made things worse?"
She doesn't answer, mouth pressed tight. "Only because they fought us," she says, her voice shaking. "Only because they resisted. We can still—we can fix it, we can salvage it all. None of this matters when we can just undo it. That's what the stone does—and you want to erase us from time, rather than the real monsters of history?"
"I think," I say slowly, "That we've proven we can't be trusted to do the right thing."
For a moment I think I've gotten through to her, as she looks at me, at the stone, and then at our surroundings. But then her expression hardens, loses its pleading edge.
"We're heroes," she spits. "And we're going to remake the world in our image, like we always planned. No more hunger and disease. No more disparity between the rich and the poor. No more war. Not after this one."
She raises her hands, lets the light of her power begin to pool in her cupped palms, bleed into her eyes. "I won't let you damn us all," she says.
If I could still feel anything, I'd be heartbroken, presented with this final proof that who we are, what we wanted, has become so irrevocably twisted. She would never have stood against me before.
But maybe that's the problem. Maybe she should have. Maybe we wouldn't be here if we hadn't been such a united front against all the injustices of the world...until we became the greatest injustice.
We're not heroes, not anymore.
And we need to be stopped.
So even as she flies at me, ready to destroy me like we've destroyed everything else, I let the stone fall.
And too late she sees that I've cracked it open.
I hear her scream in wrath, in despair, in horror.
And then time is rewritten, and we are erased from it.
Tilda was minding her own business, nose buried in a book, when the curtain she was hidden behind was suddenly whipped aside and a man threw himself into her little alcove, yanking the curtain closed behind him.
"Excuse me," she hissed, and then the scoundrel had the audacity to clap a big, brutish hand over her mouth. Her outraged yell was thus muffled. The man wasn't even looking at her as he accosted her; his head was turned over his shoulders, giving all the appearance of intense concentration.
After a moment he relaxed and drew his hand away--just as well, as Tilda was about to kick him in an unfortunate place in order to force herself free of his grip.
"Explain yourself, my good sir!" She just had the presence of mind to keep it at a whisper.
"I don't have to explain myself," the man responded, also rather quietly.
Ah, American, she thought sourly, noting his accent. Of course.
After a moment, where she gaped at him and his horrible breach of propriety, and he simply studied her in return from behind his wire-rimmed glasses, he said, "Why are we whispering? Or rather, why are you whispering, as I know why I am?"
She blinked at him, scowled, and snapped her still open book shut. "My reputation would be irreparably compromised if I were to be discovered hiding behind a curtain with a man," she snapped, though honestly, this was common sense to anyone who wasn't American and thus, utterly lax with their morals.
And then, as curiosity got the better of her, "Why are you whispering?"
The man grinned roguishly and smoothed a strand of his fair hair back from his forehead. "I'm hiding from an enterprising Mama," he drawled. "Twice I've caught her trying to bewitch my tea." And then, offhand, "I'm a duke, you know. Can't tell you how many people have tried to snare me with a love potion."
The following prompt references a wip temporarily titled Glitch, which takes place in the same universe as Rivener, though several hundred year in its past.
“This time, do what I say.”
Cipher scowled up at her from where he was sprawled, and Sacha simply raised an unimpressed brow down at him, unmoved.
“If I was able to shift so that we’d be the same size,” he snarled, getting back to his feet and wiping at the blood trickling from his nose. “I’d be able to take you.”
“Is this supposed to impress me?” she replied. “That you’re defenceless without your shapeshifting?”
Cipher’s scowl only deepened. “’S not fair,” he muttered, but got his arms up like she’d showed him, one fist protecting his face, the other slightly lower. “Etienne’s a shrimp and you’re a—a giant. The odds are stacked against me.”
“Etienne would have blocked that punch,” Sacha replied, circling him like some kind of predator, looking for his weak spots so she could attack him again. “Like I trained him to.”
Cipher was convinced she got some sort of perverse pleasure out of beating him bloody, even if her face (what he could see of it behind the mask hiding her mouth) had never shifted from professional focus.
“My strength and size only give me an advantage because I know how to make it one,” she continued, her tone lecturing. “You need to do the same, which is why you need to do as I say. So if I say you need to stop locking your arm up, then you need to stop locking your arm up.”
Cipher’s scowl shifted into a pout. “Do you know what time it is?” he whined. “I’m exhausted.”
“You may be exhausted while attacked,” Sacha replied implacably, settling in front of him again. “You will need to train your body—Etienne’s body—to respond effectively.” She eyed him critically and then nudged his elbow higher with a tap of her palm. “Better,” she murmured.
“You know,” Cipher said, taking a deep breath as he saw her slide her foot behind her, ready to square off with him again. “I’m sure this—throwing yourself at someone untrained in fighting and hoping they’ll just pick up self-defence--has never worked, ever.”
There was a flicker in her pale eyes, something Cipher would swear was exasperation, and he was very good at reading expressions, as he’d spent his entire life studying them. Seemed like he was finally getting under her skin.
“And you would be the expert in that,” she replied drolly, and without warning, lunged at him.
The end result was Cipher flat on his back, a bruise the size of Sacha’s not inconsiderable fist imprinted on his ribs, he was certain.
“You could have died,” she said, squatting over him as he wheezed desperately for air, “If I was trying to kill you. It would have been pitifully easy.”
And there, another flash in her eyes. Humour. She was amused by him, the horrible hulking--
Cipher swung at her. She wasn’t expecting it, mostly because Cipher hadn’t been planning to lash out at her, and it was that element of surprise that had him raking his nails over her face. He didn’t do much damage—the mask was in the way, but the point was that he got her.
She lurched back, too late to escape entirely, and jerked to her feet. Cipher grinned at her, even as he was still struggling to make his lungs expand, heart pounding hard in his chest, and refused to acknowledge the prickles of fear in his belly.
She raised a hand to the line scoring her cheek over the mask, just under her eye. He could’ve done some real damage. She could now do him some real damage.
But all she did was feel along the ragged cut and then look at him. “Very good,” she said, and was that approval in her tone? How wildly aggravating, even if relief washed through him at her words. “You took advantage of your apparently compromised state and my assumption that you were out for the count to get closer to me than you would have otherwise.”
Cipher glared at her. “That is not the compliment you think it is,” he bit out.
Her face shifted, and Cipher just knew she was smiling beneath her mask, with the way her eyes curved. He didn’t even know she could do that.
“Bold of you to assume I meant that as a compliment,” she replied.
Apparently, Etienne’s bodyguard and Cipher’s jailer had a sense of humour buried under that mask and her robotic adherence to her profession.
The world was a riot of explosions and screams, the air thick with smoke. Everything in immediate sight was burning or broken. Behind the barrier of two crashed, bullet-riddled cars, I grinned at Ilyas, reached out to grab his hand.
"What did I say?" I asked him over the howling of the riot.
"No promises," Ilyas replied with a matching, crazed grin, eyes wide, teeth blood-smeared.
"No promises," I echoed.
As one we pulled the pins on our grenades, stood, and lobbed them with all our might towards the advancing, faceless, Peace Corps. Neither of us looked away as the bombs exploded with a whistling percussive sound, sending electricity snapping like a hungry animal at them.
The first two lines convulsed and collapsed, the messages scrolling across their black helmets—"You are in violation of order No. 431. Resistance is illegal. Stand down, or lethal force will be taken."—glitching into a scramble of red, flickering symbols.
The third line advanced ruthlessly, climbing over their fallen compatriots. They were automatons, and as such didn't have any fiddly emotions like mercy or grief or horror to waylay them.
It was mine and Ilyas's last stand. We were out of weapons, we were separated from our troop, and my busted ankle wouldn't get me far. Ilyas wouldn't leave me; I knew better than to insult him by asking him to, knew better than to waste what time we had yelling at him.
The Crops raised their guns at us. The people around us, civilians and rebels alike, screamed and scattered, or kept throwing bombs and flares or bricks, whatever they had at hand, kept shooting them.
Ilyas and I didn't bother.
We weren't resisting any more, but that didn't matter. The message the Corps carried, like so much else about the laws in the world we lived in, was a lie, meant to reassure those who complied that they would be safe, that they were on right side, while everyone who fought for freedom and justice was in the wrong and had earned their fate of imprisonment and execution.
"No promises," I murmured. Ilyas's hand squeezed mine tight.
The Corps pulled their triggers.
"Well this was not a part of the plan," Gemma said with a grimace, wiping the blood splatter from her face. Felix stared wildly, breath catching audibly.
"What the hell," he gasped, "What the hell, you killed her. Your own sister."
"She got bit," Gemma replied blandly, flicking the safety back on the gun and setting it on the windowsill next to a capped syringe.
"You have a cure!" Felix shrieked.
"'You have a cure'," Gemma mimicked, pitching her voice high and whiny. "Grow up, I wasn't gonna waste it on her. I'm saving it. And anyway, it wouldn't have been ready by the time she turned."
"You're awful," Felix gritted out, resuming his futile struggle against the ropes that bound him to the pole. "You're worse than the zombies."
Gemma rolled her eyes and set about dragging her sister's body away from the door they'd barricaded against the horde they'd just barely escaped from. The blood would send them into a frenzy, but the door should hold long enough for her and Felix to get out.
Speaking of...she picked up the syringe and jabbed him in the thigh, depressing the plunger a few millimeters as Felix yelled and tried to jerk away.
"What—what did you--I feel strange."
"It's fast acting," Gemma replied. "Don't worry, it just makes you docile."
"D-docile?" Already, Felix's pupils were blowing wide, breath settling into something slow and easy. Damn, that tranquilizer was powerful stuff.
"Mm, can't have you fighting me. I need you around."
"Oh, this and that," Gemma answered, cutting Felix free, watching with satisfaction as his arms flopped to the ground, no resistance at all, no attempt to fight her or run off. Though of course, he didn't have anywhere to run to. Outside, the zombies were making their choked, guttural roars and slamming themselves against the door.
"Wha' d'you mean?" Felix slurred as she hauled him to his feet. He swayed, but stayed standing. Excellent.
"Oh honey, you haven't figured it out yet?"
He blinked stupidly at her. She grinned, booped the tip of his cute little nose. "It's you, baby," she purred. "You're immune darling. The cure's in you. And I'm gonna develop it; after all, that's what I'm known for. Gemma Martin, genius pathologist."
"You're a m-monster," he said, but followed after her as she tugged him over the window and the fire escape outside.
"I'm going to save the world," she replied. "How monstrous can I be? Now climb."
“It’s so quiet,” she remarked softly, staring across the battlefield. All was still but for the flickering of a few torn flags in the faint breeze, nothing but blood and bodies as far as the eye could see, sprawled upon the ravaged earth, grasses trampled brown and muddy.
I swear it’s not always like this, the shadow wolf murmured in her mind. There are usually birds, feasting. Your information was wrong; this isn’t natural.
“Not this again,” she sighed, tweaking the wolf’s ear gently and ignoring his irritated growl as he shook his head free. “When do I ever get called to tidy anything natural? Come on, let’s get started.”
The things you make me do… With a huff, he began picking his way gingerly through the corpses, leaving trails of shadow like smoke in his wake. She followed with a roll of her eyes.
“I didn’t make you do anything, you’re the one who decided to tag along with me.”
The wolf lifted his head and fixed her with his pale gaze like clouded marbles, which nevertheless saw much more than she ever would. I’m with you, you know that. So long as you bear the scythe, I won’t leave you.
She allowed herself a small smile. “And in return for my companionship, you keep me safe, huh?”
Indeed, the wolf said, and ducked his head to sniff at a soldier. This one, he said, wagging his tail, shadows wisping after the movement.
Obligingly, she swung her scythe over the body. There was a faint spark, and then the soldier’s spirit rose from his body. “There’s no right side to this,” he told her. “Only kill or be killed.”
“Hush,” she replied. “Don’t linger, or you’ll be eaten.”
The soldier blinked at her and then nodded, saluted, and vanished.
Unsentimental, the shadow wolf remarked, letting his tongue loll in a doggy grin. I like that in you. You don’t waste time on soothing the dead.
“They’re dead,” she replied blandly. “What use would it be? It’s too late for them. Besides, that’s not my job. I’m only meant to clean up the ghosts and keep the veils closed.”
“This is it, isn’t it?” ‘Amr asked.
“Yup,” Dima murmured.
‘It’ was a pond. More like a glorified puddle, really, if Ishaq was being honest. It sat unassumingly in the middle of the little glade, ringed by stones, its water a peculiarly vibrant blue-green.
The surface was ruffled by the breeze that wafted over it, rippling the reflection of the surrounding pine trees. As he watched, a water strider made its way along the edge of the pond.
It was, however, all an illusion. Dima was the one who’d discovered it, through sheer accident. They’d been horsing around and he’d playfully shoved her a little too roughly and she’d fallen into the pond. Only instead of a resulting splash and a very wet, muddy sister glaring at him and promising swift revenge, Dima had completely disappeared.
As if the pond was far deeper than it truly was.
Ishaq had panicked, of course. Jumped right in after her, which in hindsight could’ve been a really stupid decision, but it had worked out.
Instead of becoming submerged in water, there had been a strange heart-dropping sensation as though he was falling a great distance, and then he’d landed—right on the bank, only the world was completely different. For one thing, there were no trees in sight.
For another, two suns shone in the sky, the second smaller and an orange colour. For a third, curving over the little pond had been a strange stone archway carved with mysterious sigils that made his stomach twist unpleasantly to look directly at.
More importantly though, Dima had been sitting next to him, looking dazed and pale but very relieved to see him.
Of course, the only thing to do was jump back in the pond. It figured that if it brought them to this place, it could bring them back. Luckily it had.
Now, several oaths that they were telling the truth and days of fierce debate later, they had gathered with their third sibling ‘Amr around the portal pond, carrying packs on their backs of all the things they might need for a good adventure. They’d been excited up to this point.
Now, nerves were settling in.
“Well,” Ishaq said, taking a deep breath. “We doing this or not?”
In answer, Dima took his hand. On his other side, Amr did the same, face resolutely set.
And then as one, all three stepped in the pond...and vanished without a sound.
That could have gone better, I thought to myself as I watched the ship sink, flaming, beneath the waves. Or rather, as I watched most of the crew escape the sinking wreck in the safety of their lifeboats.
I could bring them down just as I had their ship, and much more easily, but they were aware of me now and thus full of rightful terror. Fear clouded my song’s effect on them; before it could've ensnared them they would’ve attacked me.
If I weren’t alone, if my pod were with me, I wouldn’t need my song. We’d overrun them, flip their boats, drag them into the deep...but I was alone, and they weren’t with me.
I would have to content myself with the few that had been swept overboard or hadn’t made it off the ship. Even two or three would be enough food for me and my pups for a while. It would have to do.
With a sigh, I flicked my tail and dived below to find and retrieve my catch from the hold of the currents.
“Mal. Mal. Mal, wake up.”
“...nnh, Adam? ‘zzup?”
“The moon’s gone pink, Mal.”
“‘Spose that was gonna happen sooner or later.”
“But it’s pink.”
“Didn’t we already have this conversation?”
“Mal. The moon. Is pink.”
“We live in a town that borders Avalon, the moon’s gonna go pink sometimes! Or blue! Or purple! Or get, I don’t know, green spots!”
“...It ‘aint natural.”
“Magic isn’t natural. Now please, close the curtains if the moon bothers you so much, an' go to sleep. It’s past midnight; I gotta be up early to birdsit Mr. Finch’s finches an' he wants me there at the crack of dawn.”
“...Sorry. I just couldn’t sleep and then I look outside and—”
“I know, babe. Adjustment period an' all. Now sleep.”
Welcome to the blog!
Featuring prompt fills, excerpts from my wips, posts about my writing process, and more.