Category Archives: From the Secret Files…

Red Woman

It’s #1lineWed again, and that means time to riffle through my word-stash! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from Rakushinpu, another WIP I’ve not shared from previously. It takes place slightly before  and during Japan’s Heian era, and explores some of the mythology of the Jorogumo, or Rakushinpu.

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The woman – is she, can she possibly be a woman? –  draws Miho’s eyes. The red-painted smile drifts on her face like coiling smoke. She walks under a red umbrella, and her hips sway back and forth with her steps.

Her robes are the robes of a lady, but she is alone – no guards, no outriders, no chaperon, no escort. Her face is hidden behind a red fan, but her eyes are black and gleaming above it. Miho stares at her; why is she familiar?

No woman like that has ever been inside her father’s house.

A little at a time she follows the woman through the market. Past the stalls of food vendors and their sweet-spicy smells, past shops selling paper and silk and ink and furnishings and combs and jewelry, past men and women going about the business of their lives.

Her eyes are focused on the flash of red that moves ever in front of her, the swinging black hair like a cut out section of starless night, drinking light.

Miho traces lines of gold embroidery with her eyes, then stumbles a little. She has seen a flash of pale skin. A bare foot, visible for a sneak of a moment, one shining instance that Miho was lucky enough to catch.

So improbable. Her attention lingers on it long after it has passed. Her gaze is fixed to the hem of the woman’s robe now, waiting, hoping – so pale, that skin! Milk and moonlight. Like Miho’s own skin, but more gleaming.

She is so distracted by it that she doesn’t notice the trap in front of her until it is too late. Until she is in it.

The woman turns down a darker way, and Miho waits a moment and then slips around the same corner.

A dead end, and two chips of onyx that confront her, eyes so dark she can’t discern their pupil. Miho draws in a sharp breath and turns to run, but a sharp, hard grip has her by the shoulder in the next moment.

“Don’t run, little girl. I meant for you to follow me, though I wasn’t sure it would be so easy. Do you know me, pretty one?”

Miho stares at her, stunned. No one has ever, ever called her ‘pretty one’. The fan lowers before the face, and it is a beautiful face – the most beautiful face Miho has ever seen, as she’d known it would be.

“I – you wanted me to follow you?”

The woman smiles, though her mouth does not move. The crinkles at the corners of her eyes give her away. The eyes themselves drink Miho in, drink her whole awareness with the penetrating nature of their stare.

“Yes. I needed to thank you. But you haven’t answered my other question. Do you know me?”

Miho stares at her, the slender fingers wrapped around the black lacquered pole of her Chinese umbrella, the red shade across the pale skin of her cheeks and the darkness of those eyes. Always, always the eyes.

“I know – your eyes.”

And then she averts her gaze and twists her fingers together, suddenly ashamed that she should be dressed below her station, with leaves in her hair and the dust of the market on her face – and I’m ugly I’m so ugly it’s not fair, she’s so beautiful

“But I called you pretty one, didn’t I?”

Miho starts backward away from the fingers that are reaching out for her cheek and finds her back pressed against the wall of the alley.

“I – you – I didn’t meant to say that out loud, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry -”

“Hush, flower, glowfly, beautiful darling – is that enough to reassure you? Pretty one, I said, and I did mean it…and you…you spoke only to yourself, only in your mind – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t hear you.”

Miho stares.

“You know who I am now, don’t you?”

The utsukushii woman has a voice like honey and plum syrup, thick and rich and too, too sweet. Miho feels that voice sticky on her skin and poured into her ears and drowns in it. Red woman – red woman, utsukushii woman, too sweet woman luring her closer, always closer, speaking like the spider to the fly.

“The spider.”

Yes.

 

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Wild Justice

The best part of the writing week is Wednesday, because Wednesday on Twitter is #1lineWed. The hashtag will lead you to a land of glorious lines, excerpted from the works in progress of writers all over the world!

Because I participate myself, and because Context is Key, today’s entry in the Secret Files comes from Haven, a WIP I’ve not shared from previously. It takes place at the meeting of east and west, covering nearly a hundred years, from the mid 1800’s to the end of World War II. 

This bit comes from what is  currently scene one of draft one….the very beginning! 

P.S: If Casimir’s body movements seem strange, it’s because right now…he’s a Unicorn. Bwaha!

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Casimir came following purpose, the nature of his being – the odor of a final sacrament. Out of the night of the summer forest, skirting villages, towns, civilized places, he came summoned by the need to act, to fulfill his own essential task. Yet he was drawn onward, needled through every wild place until he breached the borders of domesticated gardens.

He heard low voices, words in German and a language he did not know, quick and light and sharp, incomprehensible as the darting speech of birds.

There were nothing but human sounds from within the boundaries of the garden, and Casimir shook his head, pushed his nose through the edge of the green. Brick and white masonry, tall fences of fern and flowers plaited into webs against the walls – nothing unusual. In a clear space paved with white stones, there were a table and four chairs.

He caught the thin smell of tea, food odors, and focused on the four unfamiliar faces in those chairs. Mortal. Pale.

Empty. What was he doing here? What drew him onward?

I have nothing to do with men.

This was not the place or time for some great revival, for a fight against this world. The world of men and real things, the world of iron. And yet as he focused on the strangers – so foreign, the source of those bird-voices.

He heard a wail that did not come from this world, but from the world beyond. Purpose. Madness. Intention and price. The black eyes of a woman who stood behind one of the seated strangers opened for him, and showed him a land of mountains. Islands and sea.

How long since I have seen the sea?

But there was nothing clean in the salt or the wave, and over the green mountains, which first had beckoned him, there grew a haze of orange and gray. The vision expanded, focused, drew him down from the blue of the sky into jade canopies, the million leaves of an ancient forest. Then – terror!

Smoke sensations.

Casimir reared back, but there was no escaping it now.

Wild justice. All that was magic turned to dust. Yes. Black eyes opened over a tea cup, and they were full of future reflections. In the east, a green land would fall to screaming fire. Even the land on which he stood would turn to brown ash.

War is coming. It comes with these men – fire from the sky.

He breathed sharp and deeply, and panted enough to dislodge the blossoms before his face. A gasp of surprise broke the trance that held him, shattered the vision. It was a gasp directed at him, but that was all but impossible.

Long gone, the days when mortals knew our ways, could sense us, see us.

Casimir hesitated at the edge of retreating, then remained.

Broken Glass

Another bit of Holy, for your reading pleasure, which includes the lines I shared from this WIP for today’s #1lineWed theme on twitter: Sound! This time,  the words come from scene one, draft two! 

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It had been a quiet night. Now, there were too many lights flashing, and the noise of too many heavy, booted feet. The old brick and concrete behind the new installations of Wall-ads and neon signs hovered in a vague haze of too many colors, too much bright. It was the part of the city Artemio didn’t come to, not any more, not even though he’d been born here. They’d called it Old Boston but it wasn’t the Boston he remembered. Just a reflection, gone blurry and eye-catching on wet asphalt. He stubbed out his cigarette against the door of the van.

“Too many goddamn lights.” What was the point of calling his team in if the regulars were gonna fuck it all up before they had a chance to get started? He heard the wet slap of Taj’s boots against the pavement as he rounded the back of the van and came up beside him. Artemio threw an expectant glance at his second, but Taj was already shaking his head.

“No dice. We’re gonna have to go with the info and blueprints we got out of storage, Luca’s got nothing. No access in or out, this place isn’t even hardwired to the old surface ‘net so there’s nothing to patch in on.”

Artemio grimaced, shrugged. “Guess we’re gonna have to do it the hard way, then.”

“You wanna wait for the girls?”

“Can’t. How long’ve the regs been out here like this? Anything serious inside’s gotta know they’re out here by now, and we’ve been here five minutes – five more’s too many. We’re goin’ in – take out those east windows, blow the whole inside of the ground floor flat and clean.”

“Got it.”

“Get Jer at the rear, I want you on point with me and Marina’n Luca in the middle.”

He didn’t turn to make sure his orders would be followed, he knew they would be. He waited twenty seconds, then raised his fist, dropped it. At the signal, Luca tossed a pair of crackers, and the world dissolved into a flash of shattered magic and the sound of breaking glass.

Artemio swung himself into the window, dropped and turned to the cover the room while Taj slipped in beside him. Something was…off. The sound of the sirens had faded out of his awareness as soon as he was inside the building. He could still hear the glass breaking, but only where it crunched on the floor under his feet, and then Taj’s. “What the hell? Taj -”

“Yeah, I feel it. I can see it. Something strong. Dunno what, I’ve never felt anything like this.”

Artemio felt magic moving on his skin, itchy-tingling, already strong enough to make him tighten his fist and run the fingers of his other hand back through his hair. He drew his gaze along the walls, peered into dark corners, then glanced at the windows and noticed the way they failed to let in light, as well as sound. More glass crunched as Luca dropped in and crossed to stand beside Taj, and Artemio watched Marina drop in behind him, cat-quiet. Jer came last, face scrunched in irritation as his vestments caught on the glass.

He signaled them all out to check the rest of the downstairs, because this room was sure as fuck empty, and despite the noise they’d made busting in there was nobody on the stairs. Artemio turned his attention back to the windows. Reflections from the lights on the building across from them spilled toward them, but just like the sound nothing entered.

Artemio  scoped out the room around them again with sharp eyes. That was the other thing bothering him – not a single shadow was disturbed, though there should be many. He filed the thought away with all the other things that already stuck out as wrong about this place.

It was right at the edge of the worst of the blasted district that still had buildings standing, but this one was untouched. There wasn’t a boarded window or a cracked brick in the whole place, at least not that he’d seen. And the silence, when outside there was the beginnings of rain and the sounds of sirens, crackling speaker-static, tires on wet pavement, boots tramping and conversation? All of that was loud enough that the noise should have been spilling in, flooding the whole of this downstairs room. The shadows didn’t move because the outside lights went dark at the line of the window, as if they didn’t dare come in.

Artemio stared at the broken pane of glass for a second – yeah, just what he’d been afraid of. The line of dark and light was sharp, unnatural, cut off just where the glass should be.

“Somebody fortressed this place up real good. Best goddamn barrier I’ve ever seen.”

And that’s not good.

Accidental Master

As I’ve been whining about it everywhere lately, I thought it only fair to share with you a snippet of my newest and most all-consuming work in progress: Holy.  

This bit comes from what is  currently scene two of draft one!

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Angel-face didn’t stir until Artemio had made his way almost a full block, past the screaming lights of a half dozen ambulances to the emergency tent that had been set up on-scene. Even then, it was only to press his face against Artemio’s shoulder, to sigh and breathe deeper, reach his arms around Artemio’s neck.

“You awake? I thought you’d gone out on me. Think you can stand?” There was a pause, and then he felt the head against his shoulder shaking no. “Don’t worry about it then, not like you weigh much.” It wasn’t far, anyway, just around to the other side of the tent where the parmeds were clustered together, speaking in low voices.

Female, all of them, but not women – not, definitely not women. What they were exactly, Artemio didn’t know. Taj would, always did, but it was enough for Artemio that they were Other, and therefore trouble. As much as he was capable of, he was…quiet with them.

“Hello, ladies. Got another patient for you.”

Six pairs of eyes turned to him at the same time, though he’d no doubt that they had noticed him long before he’d spoken. The murmuring was quiet, but only one stepped forward, peering at the Angel-face in his arms.

“This one is not like you, this one is Other – all the rest were human, had mortal mothers.”

He stopped. That was…interesting. “He was marked for a sacrifice, tied up, kept captive -” Their faces were growing darker with every word, and he took an involuntary step back at the sound of hissing, rattling, snake-and-shadow-sounds to which his most primitive instincts were vulnerable. “Yeah. I know – he’s cut up and bruised but I think the worst of it’s probably mental. I think…” He hesitated, then shrugged. “I think he’s been captive for a while.”

“This is not done -”

“It was, so take care of him, will you?” Artemio stepped forward, and the parmeds parted around him, let him into the tent. It was only when he tried to put his burden down on one of the medtables that there was trouble. The blond head snapped suddenly upright, and tight fingers clutched at Artemio’s duty vest, then at the sleeves of his jacket beneath it.

Oh please no. Don’t let go.”

Artemio shook his head, lay him down on the table and unwound his arms, but he couldn’t get away. Soft fingers plucked at his jacket, tried to keep him close. “Angel-face you’ve gotta – you’re hurt. You need to let the parmeds look at you, they’ll bring you to -”

“No don’t send me away not back not anywhere not – no – Master – Master.” It was a babble of words on the edge of terrified hysteria, and despite himself Artemio took a step back toward him, reached out and lay his hands on shaking shoulders.

Angel. You need -”

You.”

Artemio pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead, huffed out a breath. “Look I – I’ll stay while they check you over, all right? I can do at least that much.” He turned to get the attention of the parmeds again, finally, but they were standing by the wall, clustered together, staring not at Angel-face but at him. “One of you gonna help him, or -” He was interrupted by all of them in turn.

He called you Master -”

“You, no king, no lord, no caster!”

“If we could we’d take him from you-”

But what has been done is not in our power to undo.

The last phrase was blazed only across his mind, not in his ears, and Artemio jerked himself away from clutching fingers, took a full step backward, angry, averting his eyes awkwardly. “Stop that, just – stop. This one’s one of you and I just pulled him out of that house, and you don’t want to help him?”

As he does not want us to, as he wants only you – and what a disaster! A servant of the Master – so mastered!

“Get the fuck out of my head!”

The lead parmed drew herself up and threw a scornful glare in his direction. “He is yours. We will not, cannot touch him. Go to the Council, if you’d make much of it!”

They streamed out of the tent past him in one unbroken line behind her, but his glare was tempered by the need to steady himself against the table as Angel-face crawled all the way out of the tapestry he’d been wrapped in and up into Artemio’s arms. “Master -”

“Oh, no. Don’t get comfortable, I’m going straight to the Council with you, I don’t care if it’s two in the morning, I’m not dealing with this -” But his arms were closing around the worn, warm body, drawing him close, and when Artemio looked down again, the coffeecream eyes were already shut, and his face was relaxed, and Artemio knew, knew, that he was doomed. “Fuck.”

Artemio lay him back on the tapestry, wrapped it up around him despite the sound of protest he got when he let go, and then picked him up again. “’S a damn good thing you don’t weigh much.”

“Yes, Master.” But it was more of a yawn than words, and in the five minutes it took Artemio to make his way back from the tent to where Taj had parked his car, the Angel-face in his arms had fallen asleep.

“Hey Art, you need a ride home, or -”

Artemio whipped around, knot between his brows. “Shh. And yeah, I need ride, but not home.”

Taj blinked at him when he came around the corner and saw his arms still full of blond, sleeping Other. “What are you still doing with him?”

“The parmeds wouldn’t take him. He’s – he keeps callin’ me master, Taj.” The word came rough and thick and hesitant off his lips, still quiet. Even if he was causing trouble, Artemio didn’t want to wake the poor bastard. He’d suffered enough.

“Master? The fuck did you do, pick up a -”

“I don’t know. But I’m not gonna keep him no matter what he calls me or what the parmeds think. You know I can’t.”

Suddenly bright with djinn-fire, Taj’s eyes met his gaze. “But you want to.”

“I -” The word came out loud, angry, and Artemio caught himself, stole a glance down at the sleeping angel-face. Fucking Taj. Fucking djinn. Knows too much for his own good.

“I don’t know what I want. He’s gorgeous, yeah. But he’s Other, and that means he’s trouble. Plus he was…fuck, Taj, you know what I like. I can’t do that to him. Not the way he was…not how he was when I found him.”

Taj’s brow knit into a dark maze of disturbance. “That bad, huh?”

Worse. Let’s go – Council never sleeps, but I do – and I don’t wanna hold onto him for too long, might give him the wrong idea.” Carefully, groaning faintly as he bent, Artemio slid into the front seat and settled Angel-face on his lap, tucked his legs in so Taj could shut the door. There was a content murmur against his throat, lips and sound both whisper soft, and the arms around him tried to squeeze tighter. Artemio shook his head. He had never been a safe space for anyone, and now this Other was clinging to him like his life depended on it.

Well, maybe it had – but only for about five minutes. So why wouldn’t he let go now?

Goddess

As accompaniment to my latest Rant, have this snippet, which comes to you from the first draft (ooooo! scary!) of the prologue of Earthbound!

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Pine for me, and I will return from the moon to love, brown earth and green leaves and the flowing water. Pine for me, but that means to remember my name.

Tell me, beloved, how do you forget what you cannot remember? I have been drawn to you from the beginning. Timeless, I am still enamored of time, and all its passing shadows…you are those shadows.

What lives in them is a man, and a woman. You and I, beloved. Shall I tell you their story? Once, it was for her, not the world, that he would have done all things, any thing. And so it was for her, not for the world, he shot the sky. His arrow past the moon, white-shining in a world made clear as glass by the fall of night.

The sun rose. The sun rose. The sun rose and rose and rose and rose until the face of the earth heaved and flame rode its curves and settled in the hollow throat of the world and cried out from the curled and hidden core, hidden at last in its own petals.

“Enough, enough, we can bear no more!”

He heard. You heard. Hou Yi, the archer. Did you know then? No… But the price of heroism would be steeper than the mountain, steeper than the curve of the sky. Nine times, you lifted your bow to heaven. Nine times, slew the sons of the brightest light. So that the fire fell, gleaming, bolts brighter than lightning piercing heaven and earth together…and not to be undone.

Your reward was your punishment. To put on the robe of heaven is to forget the world left behind, and you, you forget even now what you have done that was forbidden, even in the name of saving the whole of the earth. I remember, what you do not. That is my punishment.

To slay a god with mortal hands…

But this is not the first time I have told this story. This is the last, because you do not understand it, do not hear me, and you are the one it is for.

What speaks the shadow to the one who casts it, what speaks the shadow to the sun? Ages of ardor and ages of agony, and they were mine – as I was like you, doomed from that first stretch of the bow. 

Now I must acknowledge having planted temptation in your path – but in the manner of all good things, what I give is no more, no less than I sought. Whatever you suffered in the light, yes, all those eons in which I begged and you did not listen, do you suffer more in the darkness?

What are the thousand woes of your new existence? Are you still the lord of frigid stars? Are you still my darkest king?

What are you?