chosen one

8/29: “I want to believe he’s the chosen one”

Jack likes to think that he’s the chosen one, but I’m not sure he knows the rest of the gods hope he is, as well. I can never discern how much of his pompous flair comes from deep vanity and how much comes from his natural jocosity. He says shit about how the world rests in his palm and he looks at you so knowingly, like he’s aware he’s being a total ass. But he never gives any indication of whether or not he’s joking.

I’m sitting with Kurki and watching this asshole twirl fire between his hands like it’s nothing. Oh, Jack knows we’re watching. He has a sense for that—for knowing how to attract attention and then how to exploit it. How to hold it and enhance it. So you go from one minute sitting outside with your bro casually watching this self-aggrandizing prick do something totally rad, and the next minute you’re leaning forward to watch him. Absolutely enthralled. Not gonna lie, I sort of hate him for it. Same reason I love him. Same reason I think we all want him to be a savior. He just seems like he’d have the knack for it.

“You find him fascinating, Kurki says. I glance over to him, the twin I always think of as the red one even though, being twins, he and Nosturi look exactly the same. There’s just something red about Kurki and something blue about Nosturi.

“Oh hell yeah,” I say. “Dude’s manipulating fire like it’s nothing. That’s like the most metal thing in existence. Shit, I wanna go over and offer him my title just based on principle.”

Behind the mask, Kurki’s ice-pale eyes are staid. He doesn’t blink. I’m pretty sure I like Kurki way more than he likes me, but that scenario has never bothered me in the past. I always call myself an extrovert and my mom always called me obnoxious. Maybe it’s a little of both.

“I believe he calls himself God of the Night Sky,” Kurki says. “So my brother has told me.”

“Shit, God of the Night Sky is the second most metal thing in existence. I’m ashamed.”

I hang my head, a grin spreading across my mouth. I peer conspiratorially at Kurki, pulling a strand of black hair up and around an antler, out of the way.

I’ve never seen Kurki smile. At this point I’m not certain it’s a shape his mouth makes. But this time I sense something a little pointed in his reserve.

“You really gotta tell me if I’ve got something in my teeth,” I say. “Otherwise I’ll never know.”

He tilts his head to the side, that focused gesture of confusion he and Nosturi share.

“You’re lookin’ at me like you want me to say something but I’ve got no idea what.”

“You expect something of him,” Kurki says.

It takes me aback. Hell, I’ve spent most of my leisure time (and let’s be honest, most of my time is leisure) with these assholes for years, and their uncanny percipience still manages to startle me. Kurki could look at you and tell you how you felt about the lunch you ate three weeks ago. He says these things without pity or emotion, too—not like Mr. Bleeding Heart Nosturi, who sounds like he’s about to cry from empathy if he has to discuss anything remotely unpleasant. Both of them give me this sense of searching—like they’re constantly trying to unravel the vagaries of human emotion.

Maybe that’s the only reason Kurki hangs around me. Like I said, pretty sure I like him way more than he likes me.

“I mean, I get the impression he’s kinda a pompous dick,” I say. “But I also get the impression that he’s gonna bust this world wide open.”

Kurki tilts his head the other way, looking exactly like some huge anthropomorphic bird.

“Don’t you get the feeling we’re all kinda—frozen?”

Kurk’s mouth turns into a delicate frown beneath his mask.

“Maybe I’m just looking for someone to remind me of a savior,” I say, spreading my hands. “But maybe he’s what we need.”

Kurki nods slowly.

“Perhaps.”

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the immortal and the witch

written a few days ago but hadn’t typed it up before today. i think the prompt for this was “the immortal fell//into this mortal hell” but it sort of took a dire twist from my image for that awesome prompt (from this song) so I’ll probably use it again.

“You call yourself the Immortal?” Huna hissed, her visage dark and terrible as she loomed over us. She seemed to grow as her rage mounted, stretching taller and taller, growing to obscene heights until the trees around her looked small by comparison. I had the distinct impression that seeing the witch flummoxed my brain—that she wasn’t a single entity but the sum total of the verdant forest around us. That her continual growing and changing mirrored my brain’s turmoil as it struggled to unify the image.

That, more than anything, terrified me.

A gale rose around us, screaming up the rock-studded slopes of the mountain. It tossed trees’ massive canopies about like trifles. Out on the thin spine of land where we stood, the wind caught against me as though enraged to find me there. I slapped a hand over my hat and then forfeited it in favor of securing my cloak. Still, I felt a pang of regret to see the hat winging its way down the mountain. Vanity has ever been one of my strongest suits.

I feared the witch—to claim otherwise would be folly. I imagined everyone, including Savriel, feared the witch in this state. Rha cringed and cowered behind me—him I ignored, content to relegate my vengeance to the nebulous later. I found Drex’s eyes and the demi-god shrugged, his dark eyes huge and staring.

I stepped forward. I’d only meant to slay Golshirazi and be on my way. This war between the Three meant less than nothing to me—at worst, I found it irritating that defunct gods were willing to drag the whole of Silesia into their conflict.

“Greeting and hello, my gigantic and terrifying friend,” I said with a grandiose outward sweep of my hands. I stepped forward and the gale slackened somewhat, the witch settling back into her less physically imposing form. She stood out from her home, cruel, twisted staff in hand, and stared at me without expression.

“I do indeed call myself the Immortal. Jack Immortal. God of the Night Sky.” I gestured impatiently at Drex until I heard his footsteps behind me on the rock.

“And I, Drexiphilious, demi-god of metal.”

Huna narrowed her eyes and moved forward, her steps easy and lithe. She had that peculiar feature of looking immensely old and immensely young in a moment, her eyes bright and alive, her face lined and unmoving. In a way I supposed she was beautiful, if ageless witches of limitless power were your type.

“One of you calls himself a god, the other a demi-god,” she said, those sagacious eyes passing from me to Drex.

Drex laughed a little too quickly, a little too loudly.

“Ol’ Jack says shit like that. You just gotta—”

I slapped a hand over his mouth and he licked me, but fell into obeisant silence nonetheless. I pulled my hand away, wiping drool onto my pants, giving him a dour look.

“Why this distinction between us, O Witch?” I asked, countering her step with one of my own, low and confident as a panther. “Are we not much the same?”

She didn’t react to my goading. Oh well. She simply drew her slender frame back, crossing her arms across her chest.

“You have brought the war here.” I sensed more than I saw her attention pass to Rha’s hunched figure behind me. The crumpled and defeated Pope fairly whimpered. Drex gave me a look uncharacteristic to him—I suppose I’d failed to enlighten him regarding our purpose here. He looked guarded, and beneath that he looked almost wounded. I sensed that Drex was not the sort you wanted to betray—because he could be dangerous, but also because of the deep pain that I’d always sensed shuttered away within him. You couldn’t look at Drex with his big, dark eyes and want to hurt him again.

“Why?” Huna said, looking back to me.

“Because I am an instrument of chaos,” I said, giving her a broad, manic grin. It faded quickly and again I stepped toward her, my step a little menacing this time.

tower pt 2

could i have waited until tomorrow to post the second part? i mean probably.

again, trigger warning for suicidal imagery/self harm etc

He returns at night, more and more exhausted and battered each time.

“What are you fighting?” I ask him one night when he climbs the stairs, unlocks the door (and then locks it behind him), and drops into the bed, his blood running out from myriad lacerations.

“You are safe,” he says. “You are finally safe.”

“Why did you wait for me here?” I push myself up in the bed and look down upon him. He lies flat on his back and his blood soaks into the sheets.

“I watched you,” he says. “You were not strong enough to fight. I needed you here, so that I could fight for you.”

“What are you fighting?” I repeat.

He studies me with a burden of fatigue so great I wonder that he has not perished.

“Demons,” he says.

“My demons?”

“You brought them here with you.”

“You wanted me to.”

He nods.

“What happens if I return?”

Every muscle in his body tightens, but his inscrutable expression does not change.

“You won’t,” he says. His voice possesses a taut drama that I have not previously heard from him. A low groan, not entirely of his own volition I think, escapes him as he sits up.

I know that I may return. I have known it since what I glimpsed in the field. I simply do not know to what I would be returning. That more than anything frightens me. But I grow lonelier by the day, locked in my room in the tower. I remember things my mother used to make, songs she sang to me when I was a child, and they comfort me. But I yearn to feel her embrace, to hear her voice again. Since I returned to the field, what I remember most about her is how she screamed when she found me.

Again the sorrow floods me, every corner of me. I have grown accustomed to it. It feels familiar, almost welcome. I recognize that it stands as the last remaining bond to the life I lived before the tower. I close my eyes and I weep, because this nauseating sorrow is my most potent memory of my life before I died.

***

            Day after day, I wake up alone in the tower. My protector fights a losing battle against the tide of darkness I have brought for him. One day, when the forest around the tower has completely sloughed away its color, I can almost hear my mother’s voice, singing the song I remember from my childhood.

Something within me knows that once the grey extends from the tower to the field, my doorway to return will close. The wind gusts through the trees and as the leaves blow I watch the color drain from them, my hands flat against the window. My mother’s voice reaches me again and I feel something else—a deep and abiding regret. I think of it, fix it steadfast in my mind—her scream when she found me.

I open the desk drawer and wrap bandages around my fist. I catch my breath in my throat and smack my fist into the window. Stupid. It hurts. I believe I have broken some knuckles. Next, I hoist the chair at the desk over my head. I shout as I swing it to bear and the window explodes outward. The dismal sunlight catches each individual shard for one heartstopping moment and then they are falling, falling.

Following them, I lift myself out the window and clamber down the tower, wedging my fingertips and toes into each space between the rocks. I squint my eyes closed and don’t look as I lower myself, inch by inch. Adrenaline fuels me at first, then desperation. By the time I reach the base of the tower, my muscles howl. I drop from about two feet and collapse onto the grass.

I allow myself to recover. My protector will not return until nightfall. But something growls from around the curve of the tower, and then the low sound turns into the sound of my mother singing.

My blood turns electric. I scramble to my feet and I flee. I hear a cacophony of them behind me now—I recognize conversations from family videos, voices reciting the voice of an ex telling me they didn’t love me anymore. The last whine of a dying dog. My own voice—

“Am I already dead? Is this hell?”

Screaming: “Do you know I can’t remember the last time I felt happiness?”

—and above and through it all, the sound of my mother singing. I run through the forest and they pursue me. Memories flood me—I didn’t want to be dead, I just hadn’t wanted to be alive. I’d wanted to sleep, to rest. The easiest way, after a bottle of sleeping pills, had been to cut myself open. I’d done one arm before passing out.

And then my mother’s scream. And then my mother holding me like a child and singing that song from my childhood while she waited for the ambulance. That part I hadn’t seen, but I know it all the same. I know it like I know the sorrow and the fear welling up inside me as I run.

I breach the edge of the forest and spill out into the field a heartbeat ahead of the voices and the grey.

“Tonight will show us,” a voice I don’t recognize says.

“Okay,” my mother says. She sounds tired.

My lungs burn but I hurl myself forward anyway. The grey sweeps toward the center of the field. A moment before my protector appears before me, I realize the voices have vanished. And then he stands before me, his clothes torn with great blood-stained rents. He stands hunched, breathing hard.

“You think you can handle it?” he says, his eyes dark and angry. “You think you can go back and be fine?”

The grey rushes beneath my feet and my mother’s voice goes silent.

“I love you,” she says.
“I’m sorry,” I say.

“You belong here,” says my protector. “Where you are safe.”

I close my eyes. I allow him to lead me back to the tower. I no longer feel pain, or warmth. It feels comfortable.

***

            My protector leaves our bed every morning and locks each door behind him. Where once I had windows, he has constructed new walls, citing my disobedience. My demons have left. Now, he returns each evening with baskets of apples and rabbits he’s caught in the grey forest. I feel his eyes upon me as I fall asleep.

I like the walls better than the windows. The sunlight feels too bright. I do not remember the pain or the fear. And I am fine.

tower pt 1

8/27: inspired by this song (Tower by Avatar). honestly that song makes me feel horrible and i’ve been feeling horrible lately anyway so this was sort of an emotion-purge of all the suffocating decay festering inside of me lately. turned out long so i’m breaking it up into two parts because i’m an adult who makes my own decisions

TRIGGER WARNING?? for suicidal ideation/imagery

I remember very little when I find myself in the field. I feel the caress of the wind against my body and I breathe in the crisp, autumnal air.

I remember it being late August. The desultory grey skies. The rumble of a storm approaching. A glitter of strained sunlight flashed down the length of a blade. And then—the field. And him.

His fingers brush my shoulder and I look at him, his face achingly familiar and strange. High cheekbones and dark, sunken eyes. I think—I had a dream about him, once.

“Hello,” he says, his voice a low rasp.

At first I did not feel afraid but now my heart races, a corybantic rhythm that echoes in the back of my head. Everything about him whispers of a trap, and suddenly I remember my mother telling me to trust my instincts.

I miss my mother but I don’t know why. How long has it been since I’ve seen her?

Trusting my instincts, I ride the lurch of fear to my feet and I run. The grass tangles around my ankles and the man chases me. Again and again when I look over my shoulder I glimpse his eyes.

I trip and my breath tears out of my chest. I hit the ground on my elbows and knees and a gash opens down my arm. In an instant the man is beside me, the wind blowing his black hair all around his face. He looks deranged, but he kneels down and puts his hand beneath my chin.

“Don’t be afraid,” he says.

“I don’t—” My voice catches. “I don’t know how to not be afraid.”

He smiles something that looks a little like a grimace. Overhead, the clouds darken. The wind grows frigid.

“You’ve hurt yourself,” he says, his eyes moving down my arm. He touches me just above the laceration and I manage to not pull away. “Come with me. I’ll take care of you.”

Now I do flinch. I pull into myself like a child, smearing blood on my skin and my clothes.

“I don’t know you,” I say. “I don’t know where I am.”

But to part of my mind, the answer is obvious. I am in the field. I remember the blade. Where else could I be? The man smiles a gentle, tentative smile.

“I’ll take care of you,” he repeats. “That’s all I’ve been waiting for, all this time.”

***

            The tower he takes me to stands in the middle of a valley, the hills sloping down to meet it, the trees dense and packed against its stone curve. It looks to me as though someone had cast it in greyscale—every surface covered in a grey dust so lifeless no other color touches it. The windows glint dully in the pale storm-light. The storm breaks overhead and within moments a torrential rain falls.

He opens the door with an iron key and stands there, poised and motionless. His eyes never leave me. I become aware that this entire time, his eyes have never left me. I do not find this comforting.

“What’s your name?” I ask, holding my injured arm and studying him with some trepidation.

“Whatever you need it to be,” he says.

The rain pours down upon me. Past the door he’s holding ajar, the tower looks dim, but dry. With my pulse still thudding in my throat, I walk through. The door closes and I hear the distinct click as he locks it. It does not unnerve me—instead I feel safe, with the shadow of the water on the windows painted across the stone walls within. I realize that being in the open had provoked a certain unease in me—that I’d existed with a monotonous drone of anxiety just beneath the level of my consciousness this entire time. The door shuts and I am at peace.

The man leads me up the stairs and into a room, this one locked as well. He stands beside the opened door as I enter, turning in a slow circle. An enormous bed occupies most of the room, but a desk rests in the corner as well. The walls are entirely comprised of windows. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, the light flickering down the panels of glass.

He approaches and motions toward the bed. I sit down and he opens a drawer of the desk, producing a roll of bandages. I hold myself stiffly as he seats himself beside me. He pulls my arm away from my own clutches and begins to wrap it. He says nothing. I hear nothing but the rumble of thunder, muffled by the layers of stone and glass.

“Are you a protector?” I ask.

His motions at my arm, mechanical and perfunctory, cease and then resume, slower. Quickly he nods, his hair falling over his face.

Unbidden, a profound sorrow wells within me. I cannot understand or control it. It spills out of me and I stare at the door he closed behind him, tears moving smoothly down my face. I begin to shake. The fear had dissipated but I cannot conceive of a world in which a sorrow like this exists.

He touches me, his fingers light and hesitating. Then I feel his arm around my shoulders and I crumble, allowing him to pull me in toward him. I wonder at the fact that he does not feel warm at all—not his arms, not his chest, not his breath on my hair.

I realize that I, too, feel cold.

***

            He sleeps beside me every night, and vanishes by morning. He locks each door every night and unlocks them deliberately each morning so that I will hear them and know I am free. The first morning when I awaken, ash lays across every surface in our bedroom. I brush a finger through the layer of ash on my skin and come further awake. That day, I remain inside, too afraid of what awaits me outside the tower. I watch the sun rise and fall through my windows.

The first week, I do not leave. I only become hungry when he returns, and then I am famished. We sit on the lavish bedspread and glut ourselves on the apples and rabbits he brings back to the tower. His eyes never stray. The moment he sees me to the moment I fall asleep, he watches over me.

When I am cold at night, he returns the following night with an abundance of blankets. When I mention the cinnamon strudel my mother makes—used to make? I cannot be sure—he finds a cinnamon strudel and delivers it to me without comment.

I venture out on the first day of the second week. I hear him unlock the doors as he leaves, I watch the sun hoist itself above the treeline, and then I leave the room. The stairs creak and groan beneath me as I descend. I open the front door and emerge, and the wind against my skin feels sharp and unwelcome. It whispers through the trees in a susurrous whir, the muted verdure of the forest less extravagant than I remember. The grey of the tower has leeched into the soil, I think, before laughing a little nervously at what sounds like utter lunacy. But the greyscale seems to have bled into the trees, the leaves green but diminishedly so, green but also grey.

I walk into the forest in the direction of the field where I first found myself. An inchoate sense of foreboding grows within the pit of my stomach. As I walk, my fingertips grow numb in what I soon recognize as the return of warmth to my flesh. I find the sensation irksome and uncomfortable, wringing my hands as I walk. So, too, do the colors return the further I stray. Blinking at the intrusive brilliance of my surroundings, I break the trees and find myself in the field.

The fear returns, but howling out overtop of it flies the sorrow. I stand paralyzed, stricken by the roaring cavalcade of emotion threatening to rip me asunder. I fall to my knees. The cut down my forearm tears itself open as I watch—flesh peels back in a vicious curl. Blood boils down my arm and washes over my clenched fist. I realize the screaming is mine—

“This is hell! I’m in hell!”

—and a moment later a hand claps over my mouth and drags me backward. The colors disappear as he drags me back through the greying woods and once again I find myself in the tower. Once again I sit on the bed and weep, and once again he wraps my arm.

“I shouldn’t have gone outside,” I say.

His dark eyes find mine. He nods once.

“You’re my protector,” I say.

“Yes,” he says.

“Protect me.”

“I will. I always will,” he says. “You are safe.”

I look down at my arm and he follows my gaze. Both his hands wrap around my wrist.

“Safe from what?” I ask. The question feels like a trap. I’m afraid of the answer.

He looks at me and says nothing.

I know the answer. My fear knows the answer. I can’t admit it to myself. When he leaves the following morning, he unlocks the doors and then locks them again.

winter

depression is a hell of a thing

8/20: the prompt for today was me sitting outside and it felt like autumn. this is nothing I’m just going through that thing where I’m trying to convince myself I still know how to put words into a sentence.

“It’s cold outside for the first time,” Till said, and Jack laughed his easy, crisp laugh. They sat at the edge of a copse of trees which opened onto a wide plain, and the wind combing through the grass smelled like change. Till couldn’t quite describe it–that smell like browning leaves and the thinning veil, but not quite the impending-rot and demise-of-nature smell that came later in the season. He enjoyed this although it made him melancholy for reasons he couldn’t fathom.

Jack stood beside him and Till glanced up to meet his eyes when the Immortal dropped his star-strewn cloak onto Till’s shoulders.

“Thanks,” Till said.

“Well, I am a perfect gentleman,” Jack said. But he sounded and looked a little absent, his golden eyes flicking off towards the hills.

Till waited. Usually these contemplative moods required no prompting for elaboration.

“Why do mortals fear winter so?” Jack said at last. Till didn’t answer for a long moment, enthralled with the way his friend’s pupils darted minutely to and fro, monitoring the motion of the wind across the hills.

Finally he looked down at the grass beneath him, plucking at it absent-mindedly.

“Everything dies,” he said. “Maybe it’s like an instinctual, ancestral fear. I don’t know.”

“Perhaps,” Jack said. “Do you fear winter?”

“Yes,” Till said. He shrugged. He feared the loss of true warmth, the baking, sultry heat of the sun. He missed sweating. He missed open windows and sleeping warm. “Do you?”

He looked back up in time for Jack’s mouth to draw into a sour line, his brow crinkling inward.

“I suppose I do,” he said.

I should be taking it

Old prompt response (it was “stream of consciousness), figured I’d post two (… even though i didn’t write this today haha) since i missed yesterday. Fanfic for DAI because i am trash

Sword on the table, and Cullen stares through the arrow-slit in the wall of his requisitioned office. It’s never warm in Skyhold, the wind off the mountains freezing and visible with the fingers of snow it lifts and flings. And it’s especially never warm in his office, with the windows and the gaping hole ripped into the ceiling of his bedroom. He has to remember to speak with Morris, to get that thrice-damned hole fixed, but he’s had so much on his mind lately, with—Maker, what was Samson thinking? And abruptly it overcomes him, breaking down the commander’s resilient façade. He sits down hard, turning away from the window to sit with his back against the freezing stone wall.

Red lyrium, Varric says it is, and Cullen thinks about Meredith in Kirkwall, thinks about the twist in his gut when she’d ordered Hawke killed.

“You said we were only to apprehend her.” He hears his own voice in his head as if he were standing in Kirkwall’s gallows listening to himself. The templar in him hates what happened next, but the human in him recognizes it as necessary. And the human in him recognizes that Samson’s actions are not about solidarity to the templars, his actions are about being a hollow man with nothing left to give. Because Cullen is a hollow man with nothing left to give and it frightens him some nights, when the nightmares awaken him and he listens to the wind howling through the hole in his ceiling. It frightens him how easily he could have been Samson, so easily swayed by the promises of a false god. It frightens him that he sympathizes with Samson.

He wants to hate him. But Cullen can’t hate anymore, he’s too tired, he’s always tired now that he stopped taking the lyrium. There’s enough of it, the purest blue stuff that all the templars beneath his command in Kirkwall would have cried to see. The Inquisition takes care of him and he feels so unworthy, dreaming day and night of lyrium, hands shake-shaking when he drills with his soldiers. Cassandra notices it and takes him aside from time to time and he cries in front of her, in front of Cassandra Pentagast, and she pretends to comfort him even though he knows it disturbs her. And he knows he disturbs the little red-haired Dalish apostate who hangs around him, he knows she wants to be close to him but he can’t do it, he can’t—

“I should be taking it,” he whispers into the palms of his hands, which are shaking, no strength left. He wants to be close to the Dalish apostate but mages frighten him, too. Sometimes he watches her sparring with Dorian and they both laugh and throw fire at each other and Cullen feels his muscles clench and his first instinct is to explode into their midst and destroy them, and what kind of a man just wants to destroy pretty girls? It’s the instinct that crouches inside him, the fading remnants of the life he lived before, the remembered murmurs of templars who really hated mages. The feel of magic makes his skin crawl and the thought of it now makes him shake harder until he can’t imagine climbing the ladder that will take him to his bedroom, and he runs a hand through his curly blond hair—

Varric calls him Curly and Cullen smiles a little to think of it, closes his eyes and rests the back of his head against the wall.

guardian of a dead empire

8/9: “Guardian of a dead empire.”

He’d known the day would come. He’d have been an imbecile not to sense it. The civil unrest, the stirrings of mutiny—the ground beneath Samuel’s feet had become friable indeed. But he, like any other man in his position, had stood his ground as best as he could. He knew no other way.

Some may have called it blind loyalty—and he knew for a fact that some had, in fact, named it thus. He did not believe it, but he supposed he maintained something of a bias in that regard. Unavoidable, really, when one turned the lens upon oneself.

Shuffling the papers on his desk, Samuel awaited the inevitable. He knew what must happen. He knew it with a dead certainty in the middle of his chest, not in his heart but in his sternum, where it sat leaden and uncomfortable. It felt a little like grief, but not quite. Something like rage, but not quite. A sort of dull, dead sorrow that felt in the same moment invigorating. He couldn’t explain it. Didn’t want to. Didn’t have to. Didn’t have the time.

He paused, his brow drawing tight, and he signed his name at the bottom of a page he supposed he’d forgotten. A sudden rush of voices from outside the door and Samuel straightened, slapping the papers down against his desk with such intensity that the candle’s flame swayed erratically. The shadows of the room spun. Samuel drew in a steadying breath and felt the leaden weight in his sternum ache to manifest as fire.

Not yet, he could almost hear Craiton whisper in his ear. The unheard voice sent a shiver down his spine. Not yet. He had to wait. Samuel, the last guardian of an empire already dead and cold, had to wait. Because the longer he waited, the longer Craiton and his core advisors had to leave the palace. The longer he waited to die, the longer Craiton would live.

The voices outside the door increased in volume and fervor and then the door buckled beneath an enormous force from without. Samuel sat down, steadying his breathing. He breathed in and became the man he’d trained for years to become—calm, imperturbable. A bulwark. His lined face settled into a stern frown, and he ran a hand through his receding grey hair before folding his hands atop the desk.

When they burst in, Samuel looked as though he’d summoned them there to deliver some rebuke. And then he rose in a fluid motion and slapped a palm outward toward them, and flame consumed him and them. It raced up his chest and around his shoulder and down his arm. It blasted outward from his hand.

Salamander, they’d always called him, because of his affinity for lighting himself on fire as well as his enemies. Samuel smiled and it became a grimace of pain, and then in his last moments he screamed, a long, tortured sound that came from the empty place behind his sternum. Years of loving a sociopath who’d ultimately set him to this final watch, unleashed. Years of serving dutifully beneath the command of someone every fiber of his logical mind had insisted he doubt and mistrust. But he’d loved Craiton.

And so he died. The fire leapt and slithered down his body and caught the stack of papers alight. The desk roared and went up, and then the walls of the room. The mutineers screamed with Samuel, but even as they died, Samuel knew there would only be more of them. This had been the first wave that he’d held off.

Craiton had insisted he die. There’d not been any other way. Because Craiton got to start anew.

Samuel, the guardian of a dead empire, only got to die.

blood painting

8/7: “First there was the void, and then there was you.”

From a story I’m working on, trying to coax Ty into sharing some details with me and I’ve always been best able to do this with random little scene sketches like this. Ty is agender and honestly I want them to use ‘they’ pronouns but they seem determined to use masculine pronouns so idk, I’ll figure it out. Part of me just wants to get more comfortable writing with gender neutral pronouns since it’s an important issue for me!

It began, as it always did, with a blank page and Tyler sitting at their desk. Often they’d try to sit in a chair and paint like how they’d convinced themself normal humans performed art. Then the creaking chair as they pulled their legs up and leaned forward. Then the inevitable shift onto the floor.

It began, as it always did, with paints and a palette, the way Ty had convinced themself normal humans performed art. And then, sitting on the floor with their legs crossed, eyes a little bloodshot from withdrawal, they’d put their hands in their shock of neon green hair and stare. Then the knife, weighted in their hand, the blade drawing a delicate line of red from the forearm.

Painting with blood felt romantic in a way Ty couldn’t explain. Intimate, almost. For the moments–minutes–hours that the painting engrossed them, all of their attention shifted outward, away from the twisted knot of self-loathing they nurtured eternally. They’d smile a manic little smile and twist the blood into shapes–a silhouette against a window, a lighthouse with shattered windows and the sea rushing in against it. Ty had stopped trying to remember the last time they’d felt happy, but in these moments, they felt content. At least they could have that.

It began, as it always did, with a blank page and Tyler sitting at their desk. They felt–fractured, today, pieces falling when they shifted in the creaking chair. In a matter of minutes Ty had given up and moved to sit on the floor, where they sat and stared at the paints Sean had bought them and fidgeted. The front door opened and Sean stood in the doorway for what felt like too long.

“What are you doing?”

Tyler dropped the knife they hadn’t realized they’d picked up.

“Nothing. Painting,” they said.

Sean’s forehead crinkled in that way that sent Ty’s brain twirling into eddies of anxiety–the concerned expression on the face of the man they loved instantly making them feel guilty and indignant. Nobody had ever made them feel more like a child than Sean did.

tear down the stars

8/6: “Together, they took the stars down.”

eh eh wasn’t really feeling it so not too much tonight, and felt a bit stiff in writing. The demigod All Names began life as a star, and was summoned down by the god Ramiroth. When they landed, All Names tore a crater into Huna’s forest, destroying much of it, and earning the witch’s hatred forever.

Followers of Sathanus shrouded themselves in black. They became shadows of shadows. They treasured anonymity and defunct religions. Followers of Huna bedizened themselves in the various tones of nature—from the brilliant to the mundane, every shade between the browns of the earth and the yellow of the sun. They followed nature’s path without question—they emulated it, the violence, the clemency, the beauty and the rancid ugliness. Followers of Ramiroth wore predominantly white. They cherished the image of the lion, marauding and proud.

Savriel, spinning her staff around behind her, grunted as she delivered a sharp kick to the ghoul’s chest. He staggered back a step, his balance easily regained. She spotted the subtle pivot of his backmost foot and then she moved again, her staff coming around and cracking into the arm he stretched out to block her strike.

The wood struck flesh and he should have displayed more pain than he did. Years of monastic training and all that. Savriel personally thought it all bullshit—the vows of silence and anonymity, the drab black attire, the masks. Boring. But then, she didn’t follow Sathanus. She didn’t belong to his elite cult in the mountains. So she didn’t have to find it interesting.

The night above the field of snow in which they battled felt suffocating. And then, in a moment, it felt revivified—a light pale and vicious as sunlight splashed across ice moved forward. Huna strode across the snow, light on her feet, her long white hair drifting about her body. Huna the bolt of lightning, Huna the fallen star, Huna who represented everything and everything Savriel strove for. The goddess and the witch strode forward and the ghouls fell back.

“That’s right,” Savriel spat after them, whirling her staff back around to her front and planting it into the snow. It made sense that the ghouls would guard their church, but that didn’t make their persistence any less annoying.

Huna stopped a few feet away and looked at Savriel in that particular way of hers, keen and curious beneath a pall of extreme, unreadable calm. The witch blinked slowly and then tilted her head back. After a moment Savriel did the same, until witch and shepherd beheld the same stars.

“You hate them, don’t you?” Savriel said, glancing back down toward the witch.

Huna’s eyes narrowed, and she nodded vaguely.

“One day, we will tear them down,” the witch said, her voice low and terrible and utterly devoid of inflection.

Listen, my son

8/5: “Fire, who rises up to become his own dead father.”

A good deal of inspiration drawn from “The Last Firstborn” by Celldweller. Pretty sure I want to write this story at some point, first time using these characters.

“All I’m sayin’, kid, is that some of us have noticed your dear old dad in the way.”

The old man leaned back in his chair, his wizened hands caressing the leather as though the badly upholstered seat were truly a throne. He had that way about him that made Cameron respect him, although the boy could have grabbed the feeble man and crushed him. Men like this would always cow boys like Cameron—those who lacked the intelligence to make it alone on the streets.

But Cam had strength, and the dull biddability of a cow. It had made him an asset, sort of, and he found that being an asset, sort of beat the hell out of being one of the starving husks panhandling on the street corners. The city housed a limited number of careers, and the number dwindled by the day, as rival gangs constricted their hold. Fewer and fewer opportunities to be an entrepreneur, or at least what passed for an entrepreneur in their disintegrating dystopia. Fewer still for someone operating alone.

So Cam stared at Williams—all he knew the man as, probably a false surname, who knew—with his particular slack-jawed look. He’d turned seventeen last week and it’d been the last time he’d seen his dad. Tall and hale even as his strength fled, his father possessed the last vestiges of a dying breed of human—that was, he possessed distinct characteristics delineating a heritage. A strong Swedish accent. A dark sweep of hair, a goatee, dark brown eyes. A far cry from the ambiguous brown-hair-brown-eyed race that had spilled out into the city generations ago, the melting pot melted as far as it could.

“You have to listen to me, son,” his father had said, grabbing Cam by the shoulders and holding him, his strength unnerving and infuriating in a moment. “Listen, my son. Williams and his crew, they took your sister, or they know where she’s hidden, at least. You’re in with them. You have to help me find her.”

Cam had twisted away with a low note of revulsion in the back of his throat. Now, he regarded Williams without expression, his eyes dark as his father’s.

“So, what you want me to do?”

“Well, I ain’t gonna tell ya to kill yer dad.”

The words fell flat and hard, toneless and darkly insinuating. Cam understood. Williams wouldn’t tell him to kill his dad, but it’s what he would do, or wouldn’t do, and it would decide what Williams would do, or wouldn’t do. He had a choice.

“Do you have my sister?” Cam asked.

“Nah,” Williams said, leaning further back in his chair, a shadow passing over most of the upper half of his body. “That matter?”

“Nah,” Cam said, not meaning to mimic his elder but doing so anyway. He shrugged. “What all’s he doin’?”

“Sellin’ information, I’m told, to the coppers. Layin’ out your name and all the rest of us. ‘Cept I’m pretty sure you’re the only one dumb enough to use yer real name.”

The cold implication struck Cam. His dad would know this—would know his son used his real name. Would know that the rest of the gangster scum would filter back through the sewers, back into anonymity, once the information he promulgated led the cops to Williams’ den. Leaving only Cameron, cold and culpable for a number of crimes. Some, perhaps, punishable by death.

Cam flexed his fingers, something he did that everyone except him noticed, when his brain worried over some complicated onus.

“Okay,” he said.

Cameron hugged the corner, the rifle cold and heavy in his hand. He held it up, his face inches from the barrel. His breath came in quick staccato bursts, after he’d jogged a good mile or so in his hand-me-down combat armor, borrowed from Williams. Ahead of him in the cowled darkness of the starless night, his father stood a precious few inches away from another man, shoulder to shoulder, muttering.

He heard his name. His blood went cold for half a second, and then Cam went cold, an expression that had drifted halfway between incredulity and outrage melting away into nothing. He adjusted his grip on his rifle and drew in a deep breath. Stepped out from the corner, swung his rifle down, fired. The man his father spoke with vanished in a cloud of pink mist.

For his part, the Swede only stiffened somewhat, his breath rushing audibly from him. He turned, no surprise visible in his face. Just—something quiet, and soft, and resigned. They regarded one another, father and son.

“Listen, my son,” the Swede said.

“I can’t believe you,” Cameron choked out, fear lighting abruptly in the back of his mind, an unwelcome spark that brightened his vision and set his hands to shaking. “I can’t believe you’re doing what he said you were doing.”

“Listen,” the Swede said, but said nothing else.

Cam shifted the rifle, which had wavered from its target. He gritted his teeth and swallowed and fired. Pink mist. He liked the rifle—he liked the way it simply vaporized its target. But this time, it felt a little hollow. He wanted a skirmish, he wanted to close with his father and feel the Swede’s strength just once more.

Williams stepped out of the alley behind him, and Cam didn’t look at him, just lowered his rifle.

“I can’t believe him,” Cam said numbly, and Williams didn’t offer a hand on the shoulder or a conciliatory word.

“Come on, kid,” Williams grunted. He didn’t sound nearly as tired as Cam did. “We got other shit to do.”