❝Cautious selkies bring me their pelts to protect, for a fee. I have stabbed more fishermen than I can count, in the dead of night, at the foot of the safe.❞
On those nights, I think of my mother. I think of my father. I think of myself, and what my life would have been like, had my mother had someone like me, to protect her pelt. Had my father been someone like me, protective of her pelt and willing to return it when she asked for it, interested only in keeping it safe, rather than keeping her.
I wonder if she would have loved him for it. I wonder if he would have loved her, truly. I wonder who I would be, if my father hadn’t been a captor and a thief, if my mother hadn’t been a prisoner who escaped and never returned.
Would I still be guarding pelts in a safe I constructed? Would I still be giving selkies the bodies of the fishermen who would be thieves, to bury out at sea? Would I still have blood on my hands but a lack of regret in my heart, only wistful grief?
❝Mama always called me her treasure, but that was a lie. It takes years and several attempts on my life to realize: I’m the map.❞
I just don’t know what to.
So I'm on a quest: to survive, yes, but also to discover myself, the reason I'm being hunted, and what treasure I lead to.
And that's why I'm writing to you.
You knew my Mama, you knew her secrets, and I am sure you can help me. I don’t need your protection or your comfort, you don’t need to worry about being responsible for me in that way. I've learned through all the assassination attempts how to protect myself, and that I’m still alive has more to do with skill than luck, I promise you, and since I've spent all my life without a father, you can rest assured I'm not seeking you out now out of any emotional impulse or need.
But I am walking blind here and I know eventually I’ll be cornered.
That is why I need you: to guide me.
If I'm the map...I think you're the key.
❝The Archers are a mystery, carrying no arrows, and drawing empty bows. They say begging is useless, if one takes aim at you.❞
Some strike you dead, immediately. Some strike you with pestilence, others misery and malaise, still others with mad laughter that will not cease until you are breathless and weeping and wailing with the pain of it.
The worst, though, are the ones that strike you with obsession.
Oh, some call it love, those who are luckier or more foolish, but I know better.
I have seen those afflicted become raving, ravaging beasts, consumed with the desire to consume. They do not calm or cease once they have caught whomever the Archers have deemed their prey. No, they take and they rend, they eat, they break.
And only then is their need satiated, and they come back to themselves horrified, if they come back to themselves at all, covered in blood and viscera, death in their bellies, their teeth, their hands.
They say begging is useless, and that is true.
But flattery is not.
So we name the Archers gods. We worship them as though we feel more for them than fear and loathing. We give them beautiful names, and craft for them beautiful visages, and hallow for them beautiful temples.
And we hope we can satiate their desire to hunt, if we sacrifice one of our own to them every dark of the moon.
❝The thing in the tower is just as tall and thin, unknowable vigilant eyes keeping the war above at bay. The skies are strange colors these days.❞
I don’t like this country.
I don’t like their living buildings, which breathe and shift and watch the people scurry below them and upon them and within them like old, patient gods, disinclined to brush away the minor disturbances we cause them.
I don’t like the now-haunted skies, all murky greens and blues edged with sickly yellows and purples, like a bruise, where before they used to be dark and velvety, swept through with speckled opalescence.
I don’t like the distant war cries that wail like faint alarms, mournful and vengeful all at once, between the battling factions overhead.
But the thing in the tower—that I do not mind so much. It is bound, just as I am, and so I feel a kinship with it, though its chains are much larger and made of star-stuff, while mine are made of iron (also star stuff, but tempered). I appreciate that without the thing, the war would come crashing down upon all our heads, sweeping us away like a great and ruinous wave.
The thing watches—and the battalions know they are being watched, and so they keep their movements limited to the heavens. I like that too; so perhaps it is not that I like the thing in the tower, but that I am grateful to it.
I wonder if it is grateful to me at all, for the company I provide it, though it isn't willing company. The two of us are so very alone, here in this tower.
Now I know what you’re thinking--hello, it’s Vegas, I really should’ve expected this. The problem is, I didn’t drink anything but virgin drinks last night, because I needed a clear head but also to blend in at the club. So I had one of my henchmen (Dex, a whizz at mixing drinks and poisons) replace the bartender for the night so I wouldn’t blow my cover of party woman by obviously imbibing non-alcoholic drinks.
So how did I end up here, in a heart-shaped bed in a room liberally decorated with red and white kitschy romantic decor, with a floor strewn with wilted rose petals, wearing the cursed rings I was trying to track down?
❝My family lives near the siren camp. One day, we will learn how they make their strange blue fires, the Seaflame that burns even underwater.❞
For now, we must respect the boundaries and the danger they pose to us. We go through the world deafened by cotton and soft wax in our ears, so they may sing without ensnaring us. We learn to speak to each other with the hand signs one of my grandfathers, who has long lost his hearing, teaches us, and develop it further, for they are mostly old soldiers’ signs. We go out paired with our hounds, who alert us to what we cannot or do not notice with one of our senses so restrained.
And we never, ever swim in the waters, never even approach the shores without a partner on the watch, ready to pull us out of the clutches of any sirens who become hungry. Bathing is done using the streams that lead into the loch or the rainwater we collect.
For all that they can and will eat us, given the opportunity, they are not bad neighbours. They do not bother us if we do not bother them, their presence keeps us safe from other trouble (for their songs lure and trap the monsters of the woods beyond the plainslands just as well as they do humans), and they trade us fish and kelp and other bounties of the sea for the things we make, like combs and baskets and nets, for they seem to be fascinated by our tools and craftsmanship.
And one day, one day, they will trust us enough to share the secret to, and a spark of, their Seaflame, and we will never suffer the cold and wet of winter again.
❝There’s a spirit sparkling just above the barn.
“It’s beautiful,” I say.
“It’s blinding me,” says Mama, pushing me out the door. “Go shoo it elsewhere.”❞
Mama’s always got her priorities straight, unlike me. I get distracted, sticking my nose places just to sniff the different scents out. Which is, she says fondly, only to be expected, and I’ll grow out of it as I grow up—or at least, learn to be wiser about it.
I pad towards the side of the barn, where it’s crooked enough for me to scamper up the walls to the roof with ease. The spirit is still where I left it, and it doesn’t shift as I stalk towards it, squinting my eyes against its brightness and moving carefully, conscious of the long drop on either side, the breeze tugging at me.
“Spirit!” I call up to it.
The spirit flickers and flashes, a conflagration of floating light, like a rainbow that is also a cloud that is also a ball of heatless fire. Like the sun, but far closer and prettier. It doesn’t really move, but I get the sense that it’s looking at me, even though it doesn't have eyes like mine or any other creature’s eyes that I know of.
❝“Are you a Vessel?” I ask, weak and wary, but starving.
He gives me an evil grin.
“Why don’t you find out?”❞
This mortal means to cause me trouble, I can tell. He thinks he can handle me, thinks he can bind me and bend me to his will. He’s not the first to think so, and he won't be the last. And weak as I am right now, he may be right. But as I grow in strength, so will I grow in power. He will subjugate me—but only for a short time.
I study him, trying to gauge how much harm he’ll cause before I’ll be able to wrest control back from him. He’s not my preferred choice of Vessel—I don’t tend to go for murderers; they garner too much attention, and I prefer to remain unnoticed. But then again, I don’t have much choice.
❝Everyone warns me the Bone Beach is not what it sounds like. They say there’s no point in visiting, that no one understands its strange name.❞
It looks like a regular beach—pale water under the persistently cloudy skies lapping at the slightly pebbly sand at a regular rhythm, washing up the occasional piece of driftwood. It’s utterly empty, and remains so the whole time I’m there, even though the town’s just beyond the ridge leading to this beach. My only company is the v-formations of birds heading to warmer climes that pass overhead, calling mournfully to each other.
I set up camp out of reach of high tide, and I only leave to get necessities, like food that I don’t have to cook on my campfire or camping stove, or a hot shower at the community centre. On one such excursion, a few days after I arrived, I asked some of the locals why the beach was empty. Sure it was the tail-end of fall, so I wasn’t expecting swimmers, but I hadn’t even seen anyone out walking their dogs or enjoying a stroll.
Well they do nowadays, anyway, but it’s a trend that first started with me and Seph.
See, I bring the dead back for a fee and for a cost, which are two different things. The fee is my going rate of three gold coins per body—real gold, mind you, though I don’t care about when or how they were minted. The cost though; that’s not about me, that’s about the necromancing.
I bring back someone who’s died, who’s been to the Other Side, and not only that, but I bring them back in their original body, no matter how far along in the decomposition process it is.
(Hey, I’m a necromancer, not a rejuvenator. They charge a hell of a lot more than I do and for good reason.)
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Featuring prompt fills, excerpts from my wips, posts about my writing process, and more.