The Autumn King.

Autumn King, with the Fae in your eyes, let your spirit bind my heart within the forests of crimson leaves and heady words that spill from your lips to my ears. Let the way you roll your wrists over my hips be the dance that I follow with every beat of your drums. The night does not give pleasure, only aids it, and I am willing to wager my soul in this life and the next that you, Autumn King, will be in my heart and throat for evermore after that. The worship and hymns that I would douse upon your mind would send you higher than your mountains when I speak of your prowess, your cunning, your sly smile and devious footsteps that you take when you stride towards me. I would sit at your right hand on bended knee, Autumn King, for you are all I can taste in the air; the sweet scent of decay and renewal, a jumble among the scents of rain and soil and new endeavors that the season’s change brings.

Autumn, like you, is vibrant and wild and beautiful, capturing my heart every year, no matter what. Autumn, like you, revives my husk of summer, tossing aside the meaty fingers of the summer, with its heat and sun, and replaces them with the caresses of cold fingers and warm toes, and the special way the creek water meanders down and across your arms. There are lights in the sky that you put there, Autumn King, with your crown of gold and antlers four feet tall. I hang my wishes and wants upon your crown, leave offerings at your bedside for a restful night, and give myself to your needs in whatever form you require them to be. And all because you, Autumn King, have the Fae in your eyes and a mirror in your heart, residing in the ever-depths of the forest you call home within your chest. Let me get lost in the cabin you built riverside, let me put snow angels in the drifts behind it, cut cords of wood with the smell of fire heavy around us.

Autumn King, you sit on your throne of ashwood and mountains, and I cannot help but be in awe of the presence you present, the aura you exhibit, and yet I stand here unscathed, nay enshrined, in the promise of adoration and love. I care not if the world says your soul did not know mine until the year’s turn. I would and will pledge it to yours for the rest of my returns. I have no wish to leave your court, nor want to stray from your side, nor lay down the arms I took in your name. Autumn King, you leave me turned over like so many leaves, spellbound in the way the frost follows your footsteps. The way you turn the skies into masterpieces. You are in a kingdom of your own, and you fit the way a tree branch does within the foliage of the forest. There is never a dullness in your aura, and you waste no time on time wasted, for time is at your fingertips, and you are eternal and forevermore. 

Autumn King, I proclaim before your court that I do so swear to love you through the winters and springs, and love you through the summers of heat and scorching flames. I will love thine body, mind, and soul for all the years you wander the fields and trails, and within those years I will call you home, for home is where you reside and it is there that I may bask in your presence. There is no place I would rather reside than in the cracked marble and stout wood, the gaudy prismarine and dark oaks, the soft wool and stretched silks and smoothed furs that line your bed and fall upon your shoulders.

I feel you here, Autumn King. Your leaves of passion cascading around me as you open up to the glory of your reign, and what may a sea witch do when she embraces the heart of the mountain?

The walk from the foot of the peaks is a pilgrimage I take gladly and with longing, as the changing tides swirl around me, following me up the stone-cut steps to the Autumn King’s realm, steady and willing. The sway of the birch that watches my journey whisper words that echo in my eagerness, ready to catch me if I should fall – but I will not fall. No, not I, not for anything but the King. And so I press up the rocky face, writing down the things the King may deign to grant me, though I dare not ask him for more than I think I am due. The way he perceives my magics and the way he watches my movements makes me feel like a hare beneath a wolf, and it is an exhilarating thrill to be considered good enough to be eaten.

The doors are of oak and steel, sturdy like his roots, and I press them open with the tenderness of a lover shutting the door on their dozing partner. It was never my intention to be starstruck, and yet I was when I soaked in the gold and green mottled together in a stunning hue of the spirit of the wild. The court was filled with hardy grass, thick and lush, waiting for soft footsteps to befall them. Logs of spruce and the way the ceiling tilted away from the door to the sky made me feel as if I was already being watched. Of course I was, I was the King’s and that is the way one feels under his gaze, in the umbrella of his protection. He knows and he will give and take as his desires and whim wish. I prayed for the times he gave, and prayed harder for the times he took away. 

***

My body dances a wild, shamanistic rhythm that the Autumn King conjures within my bones, already ready to embrace the way I kiss him. So, let me tell you the ways the Autumn King delights the sea witch.

The first step is to lay eyes on him. 

The orbs that gaze back at me are buried with intelligence and wit, ready to twinkle with a laugh, and ready to raze entire kingdoms if they so wish. Seeing the Autumn King is like watching a bonfire build in the hills of the most majestic mountains. You can watch the embers twirl into the air, giving thanks to the jagged formation that protects us from the southern winds. Seeing him is like sharpening a sword and licking the blade immediately after. He is a room full of presence, and he does not need to be in the room to feel him. The Autumn King moves in a predatory way, and it sets my senses aflame when he stalks his prey. There is no stopping his kill, there is no mistaking the claws that dig into the ground to root themselves with the ancestors to become more.

There is a way his jaw moves when he thinks, the way his eyes tilt to the sky as he considers his words. The sprawling plains of his chest and shoulders, bearing the universe like a woolen cloak. The Autumn King embodies the energies of the wild with the reach of the cedars and evergreens, tasting of mint and sunshine-soaked acorns. He carries only what he wants to. The throne suits his cut figure, impressive and overbearing – just the way I like it. He fills the halls of my water-locked chest with the way he fingers the bracelet around his wrist, when he must dig deeper into a mystery. The Autumn King charms me with his laugh and grin, and I cannot help but swear fealty to the way he breathes. The rise and fall of empires resides in the palm of his hand, and with merely a word, he will topple usurpers.

The second step is to listen to him.

The way his laugh rumbles like a snowy avalanche, smothering me in the same way a lullaby may lull a child to sleep. The pronunciation of his words are careful and invigorating and always leave me pondering what I can do better to match the elegance and might that fill his throat. His humming is intoxicating, a sound I wish I could hear every morning; the coffee of the gods living in his noises. The way he sighs when I am too much, when I am more than too much, the way he adores nature and the rustling of the weeds and grasses between the trees. The way the Autumn King breathes is synonymous with the feeling of flying without wings – daring and addictive and perhaps dangerous, but I would risk the wolves to hear his howl in any of the moon phases.

I study the words between his words, the music he tucks away into the sentences he lays out for me to read and research. There is an order to the library of his mouth, and I want to spend years reading the experiences the Autumn King has felt and lived. For where else would I learn to sink into sleep and love and empowerment than when he fills my ears with the singing of a hundred lifetimes? He is a choir while the world is off key. Golden leaves grow from the litany of his knowledge, and in the grand scheme of things, what is one witch mewling at the King’s feet? I am unremarkable and yet he makes me special in the way he reserves words for my ears. I am a court of intrigue to his tongue.

The third step is to taste him.

Notes of steel and ash surround me, and the Autumn King’s tongue carries the taste of whisky, fresh air, and telltale notes of chocolate. He is sweet and soft, and loves to remind me what royalty tastes like. Thunderstorms of nerves and lightning casts itself from me to him, where I drink the magic that he allows me to. There is nothing without governing and when he says swallow, I do. When he wishes me to wait, I do, and when he wants me to drown, I will do that too. The senses are perfectly intimate and the tip of my tongue delights in tracing the sharp edges of his jaw and collarbone, the hollow of his knee, the cusp of his wrist.

Don’t clean up the mess around my ankles and throat, no, let my skin soak it in to savor you regardless if you’re touching or not. The wine you serve paves the way to new places on your body, like the ice cubes you drag over my hands and set loose down my spine. You cling to my lips, where the lingering feeling of smoke and bones settles itself into my head, and forevermore you are the fog and mist that brings to life the fireflies that ready themselves to feast on the evening. I want to be the food you indulge in, the resting flank before you, the thing you tear into when you are insatiable. I want to be the feast you return to every evening.

The fourth step is to touch.

My favourite spot is between the Autumn King’s fingers where mine may intersect when he grabs mine. The way his back slopes into my hand when I knead him soft, is delightful. I revel in the way my palms fit over his shoulder blades, the tips of my hair dragging along his spine and across his neck. The way he cups my cheek, the way his lips fit mine just so. The way my face angles into the crook of his neck where I drop kisses like butterflies. The way my legs curve around his when he cradles me to him. I love the way I fit into his lap when he sits me upon him and his throne, daring the court to whisper of the witch. I celebrate the way he taps his foot to our song within our blood to annoy a lesser man, a lesser woman. I glory in the beat of the Autumn King’s chest beneath my ear. I want to live in the hollow of his throat, and call hearth and home the rugged peaks of his shoulders. I want to dance down his abdomen with kisses and praise, cross the rivers of his hips and blaze a trail down his thighs, exalting each in the way they are meant to be exalted: with care and attention and pointed playfulness. I will fall into the footsteps he leaves in the bed, and I will follow the finger that dips between my lips. The descent of his hand is a signal of quiet, and the splaying of his fingers is a sign of pleasure. 

The last step is to scent. 

When he enters a room, the presiding smell of the Autumn King is power. Of that tantalizing aroma that so many aspire for, and will never truly grasp. The way of holding oneself as a king translates into notes of stone and musk, of evergreen and flighty rivers, of the exquisite pouring of commands. It is in the smell of the hunt, blood and fur and leather and adrenaline, when the King wants to buck even after he hunts. Might so lingering that I am drunk from the mere idea of being in the throne room with him. The Autumn King is of deep trails, of thin air, and the threat of snow and ice; of the dagger that traces the wood and the wild, of the steel that rends life from death, and carries it like a trophy. I can smell the way he tastes, sweat and exertion and the clean taste of what the body does to the mind when you want something more than you want to breathe. I can feel the drifting of want, the desire underneath the robes of gold and green, of the way he bathes in waterfalls of quartz and sandstone, carved to fit him the way all things should fit the King. I want the scent of the gods to fall flat before him, and I want the way he drifts into a room long before he ever arrives, and long after he has left, to be the one I remember in all my life and times. The one I can trace across the seas and trenches. The sea witch will bottle the way the Autumn King bears his title. And I will never forget the way he knows how it makes me feel, and the way he casts it knowingly over me.

***

I awake in the hall of the Autumn King, trees stretching on the ceiling above my head and heart. The sheets of cotton are held back with my knees as I let the chill air flow in from the balcony. A mastercraft of wood and stone, my four poster bed is decorated with the dances of stags and the flight of the sparrow. The rug tickles my feet when I swing them onto the floor, reminding me of softer things that held me last night, the welts in my thighs a reminder of the harder things that cradled me last night.

I dress and wash the way the Autumn King likes; a dress of blue and gray and an anomaly in the land of sage and thistle. A witch is a previously strange creature, and the gods would watch me closely as they do their charge. I would not disrespect either powers that are within these grounds, or ever. Not if I wanted to return to the side of the Autumn King, and I do so wanted to return to his side. He haunted me between the sheets, long after he left in the wee hours of the morning. I had seen the barefooted steps across the floor after he had left, and I wished they had turned around at the door to embrace me once more. But I will walk for that embrace. 

The corridors are quiet, empty, warm, and I gathered my skirts and shawl as I headed to his rooms for breakfast. It was a tingling sensation to be at the beck and call of such power, such hands and command. It was slavery, in the finest of forms, and I adored the shackles the Autumn King placed on me with care and love. The way they fit me tells me they were mine alone. The tingling spread from my fingers to my body, like drinking tea before it’s cooled.

Portraits of places and faces line the hallway. I can smell breakfast, but what it is is still a mystery to me. I hope my first meal is not bread but him. The King tastes sweeter than any fruit or wine I have tasted in my life. He does not wait for things, but he waits patiently for me, and I hurry to keep that minimal. The King is kind and demanding and I would bend to his will every time, without question.

I find him in his rooms, every bit as much a presence here as he would be in the throne room, presiding over court. He is burnished and soft, a stalwart defender, yet tender and yielding to the right hands. I touch his shoulder gently, before bowing low. He smiles, and it is the one he presented me with only hours before I became the tool in which he used for so many long star turns. The King burns me up just in his presence, and when he leans in to kiss me, it feels like coming home after eons of travel. The walk from my room to his went from miles apart to nothing but a step in the moment it took him to press his mouth to mine, with that fire he likes to consume me with.

I am the kindling of desire, and I wanted the Autumn King to turn me into that which adorns his palace: gold, red, and a higher purpose. To serve, that is a higher purpose in which I fall into gracefully. None would see the King without the passage given by the sea witch. Curses strewn among his enemies so strategically, they pin the blame on only themselves, and corrupt the ranks in which they circle. Leaving the King to his realm and better people to serve him.

The King wants me to taste the drink he has offered, and I take the goblet with no hesitation, running the spirits over my senses. Fruit and wood and musk. 

***

I will accept everything he gives me under no other terms but the ones he lays out for me. His, the Autumn King’s witch. She who watches the waters in the name of the mountains, she who curves the tides for the forest of the King. She who hunts the depths for the heights of his glory. I will cast circles and create runes and circumnavigate his enemies, no matter how they prefer to strike.

I love the wilds with as much fervor as I put into loving the Autumn King, and the blooms that crop up around his heels smell of the ocean rains and of the safety of the lighthouse. He will reign from on high, and I will guard the stairs to his abode. No resistance shall be given, not until he asks for the knees of the witch, in which he will receive all of me and more. The powers that flow from my hands are akin to the powers that are wrapped around his fingers. He brings a presence to the room that I will never shake from my body, nor would I want to. There is too much to love, there is too much to exalt. Will he ever wonder if the Sea Witch casts her nets with him in mind? Will the King think of my waves as a luxury, not a burden? No, these thoughts are gone – the Autumn King is one in mind and body and soul, and no other would understand better the way the waters always greet the earth. Why else would he build upon the ocean if not to steer the waves in which he controls to the best way it pleases him? There are no reins needed if the waters move with his pleasures. And she will always move for his pleasure.

Yours faithfully,
The Sea Witch

Bad Wolf Bay

Like fire and ice. I feel every heartbeat that pulses through that galaxy in your veins, the super novas and red dwarfs and asteroid fields and diamond planets that crisscross the expanse of stars that have formed your person. Ground shattering revelations make me quake in delight, lighting up the night sky in my eyes. The shade of blue that flashes through my memory, and all those times you didn’t say what I wanted you to say but I told myself that you said it through your body, every time you took my hand.

And there we stood, a lifetime stretching between us, but a brush of fingertips away on a lonesome splash of crumbled sand, the waves rolling in like a sigh from the beginning of time. I felt my heart aching and burning up like the sun, my whole being longing to fly to you, but you were just energy – a moment in between two worlds that let me tell you I love you. I never wanted you to be alone. I wanted to live out my short life beside your everlasting self, consumed by nothing but my one desire to be your companion for as long as I lived. I never told you, throughout the dangers and perils, the tears and the travel, the laughter and the memories. I had wanted so badly to hear you, the man who traveled far and wide, the god who lived through time itself, the only person to have seen what I had saw every time I stepped outside those doors with your hand in mine – I wanted to hear you say that I was too right to love you, that I’d be daft if I didn’t, and most of all I wanted to hear you tell me you loved me back. All those lifetimes, all those people, all those adventures – and you loved me.

And now here I am, light years away, and your name on my lips. And I still love you, ’til time takes me back for itself.

Do not fall in love with a writer.

Do not fall in love with a writer.

   They can paint with colors that you have never heard of before, and create new worlds with one strong emotion. They have a heart that outstrips any fuel source, and is full of butterflies and frustration. They come alive in the early hours of morning, when the only noise they can perceive is the one coming from your sleeping form; they sleep when the sunlight isn’t quite in the shape they need to work their magic. They can conjure up the most simplest of cliches, and leave you in a burning wake of words, singeing your arms and eyes with embers of passion and misnomers. They have moments of weakness, and brief seconds of strength, and the only thing they will keep to themselves is how many times they said, “You can do better than that”. They’ve fallen in love with the impossible, and wept over the improbable. Their wishes comprise of fanatical love tales, and the harmonizing of fates that were almost lost to the dusty shelves of old book stores. Ink once flowed through their veins, replaced now with the telltale signs of the clinically insane; one with the world of imagination.

   Do not fall in love with these writers, for they will smother you in complicated words and rumpled paper, unbridled attention and time laid at your feet, willingly or not. They will kiss you a thousand times to make sure they record the correct flavor of your kisses, write pages on the way you breathe when your eyes are closed. They understand cliches like the sun setting on your cheeks and starlight in your eyes, and can immortalize wounds like pieces of Da Vinci’s art. Unbeknownst to you, your very fingertips will unlock places inside them that they have been waiting to dust for years, and they will use your soul until it becomes a dried leaf in the autumn wind. Snow storms and catastrophic earthquakes mold their faces, lined with the visions of heartstrings and dark alleys. They will envision waterfall kisses, and embraces pooled in moonlight – cliffhanging their demons beside your own and wondering if they will help or hinder themselves. Lightning storms gather around their throats when they speak your name, and the atmosphere is charged with the static of what should come from them next.

   If you should fall in love with them, understand you will have a legacy that will last a lifetime. The halls of their mind will reverberate with your name, and a single touch will venture into volcanic territory, where they have hidden you away in their ever-green glade. They will build monuments in your name, and shout them into the cavernous masses that envelope their creations. Every deduction, every thought, every question they ever had about you will become a matter of who and how it will be alive to them in just the right way. You become their perfect universe, a paradox of the one their physical lives play out. They will love every piece of you, from the way you say hello to strangers, to how you brush your teeth at night. They will find every piece of you fascinating, from how you put your socks on to the way you push your glasses further up your nose. Things like tying your shoes, drinking coffee, running an errand – all fodder for an extraordinary article of continuous love and intrigue. Their tired eyes will drink you in like the fountain of youth, and their smile will be rare, but will always play when yours does. They will capture the moments you call ‘every day’, and configure them into artwork. They will love your storms, your rainfall, your sunshine and green valleys, and even your blizzards and tornadoes. And they will never stop writing about you.

SNEAK PEAK OF CHAPTER 5.

Unedited sneak peek of the first book in the WOMEN OF THE ETERNAL series, War Wine!

CH 5

Another sun rose and set in the Mal’ek Desert before Wine and Samsara started to notice tufts of dried grass beneath their feet again. Within a few hours, they stopped at a small tavern for directions to Swallowdale and to refill their waterskins. Being out of the desert and immediate danger put a spring in their step, and smiles graced Wine and Samsara’s faces as they turned their feet to their destination.

Wine and Sern were eight years old the last time she had seen her cousin. Her uncle was handfasted that summer, and Wine was the flower girl alongside the handfaster, Sern. She could still smell the rosemary and honeyed mead that floated through the warm breeze. The ceremony had been beautiful, and the party afterward resulted with the children running off to play in the cornfields until the adults called them home.

They followed a well-worn dirt path, kicking up dust clouds as the front door came into view. Abruptly, it swung open wildly, and a young man coughing and waving smoke away from his face stumbled out. Ginger hair stuck up at odd angles, soot smeared across his cheeks. When he cleared the air enough to see, surprise flit over his face, then scrutiny.

“Sorry, I’m not entertaining anyone today. Come back again another-hang on.” He stepped towards Wine, eyes narrowed. “I know you.”

Wine couldn’t help but grin, Samsara folding her arms behind her. “Sern, if you can’t recognize these locks from the Aegis Sea, what kind of cousin are you really?”

Sern blinked, utterly bemused, until recognition dawned on him.

Espe?!” He flung his arms around Wine, crushing her in a tight hug as she squeezed him back. “You turnip, how are you? What are you doing here? And just what in the Beyond happened to you…?”

Sern held her at arm’s length, taking in her appearance properly. Wine hadn’t realized how disheveled she was: caked in mud and grass, blood splattered sand, bandages peeking out from under the collar of her shirt, and Athos knew what else lay crusted on her. Sern’s eyes fell to Samsara, and he offered his hand.

“Well met, miss…?”

“Samsara,” she replied, shaking his hand firmly, “pleasure to meet you.” 

“Come come, make yourselves at home, please,” Sern said, ushering Wine and Samsara inside, a wary eye scanning the immediate area before shutting the door behind him. 

“When was the last time you tidied in here?” Wine asked, eyes devouring the interior. Massive shelves were bolted to the walls, preventing them from keeling over under the sheer weight of books. Tomes lay in jumbled stacks beneath tables and in corners, piled on counters and chairs, many dusty while even more looked newly binded.

Beneath the mess lay a beautiful wooden interior. Tall church candles found a home in the windows and reading nooks, a large fireplace with smoldering embers burned in the middle of the room. What seating that wasn’t holding books or scrolls were covered in furs and wool blankets. Wine grinned at Sern. 

“Looks like the single life suits you.”

He laughed, embarrassed, as Wine picked up a book and read over the title. “I’m glad you kept practicing. I thought you would’ve dropped it after what Aunt Eleanor said to you.”

Sern rolled his eyes, taking the book from his cousin and setting it on a shelf. “It takes more than that to get to me now. Living alone gives me room to experiment and study, and I still get my dosage of human interaction. The villagers come to me for potions and poultices, and in exchange, they give me food or others goods I may be in need of.” 

“What are you doing with all these? Surely you haven’t read them all?” Samsara asked, turning over a book to admire the cover of roses and thorns drawn meticulously on it. 

“I’ve been reading and collecting since I was young, actually,” Sern replied, peering over at the werecat. “That one is a book of herbs that can be used for both poisons and antidotes. Be careful with that, please, it’s quite old.

Samsara set it back down gingerly as Sern turned to Wine. “So Espe-”

“Um, Sern.” Wine sat down heavy in his chair, Samsara taking a spot up by the fireplace. “I…I don’t use that name anymore. It’s Wine now.”

Sern frowned. “As you like…Wine. What brings you in from Keld? How’s Auntie Jiwa?”

Wine leaned into her hands, a surge of grief hitting her.

“Sern, she’s-she’s dead. All of them, two years ago. Raiders hit us and…you know, everyone says it won’t be them, but…” Wine looked up at Sern, eyes spilling over. “We were wrong. They murdered every one of us. Da. Mama. Even Micah and Eamon. Everyone. From what I learned, no one survived, but me.”

His eyes went bright as her words sunk in. “But-but we’ve heard nothing here. Not even from the merchants! How could no one find out?”

Wine relayed her journey briefly, Samsara’s eyes watching her closely as Sern’s face went as white as a ghost. 

“I-I am so sorry, cousin. I would have come for you, I could have rescued you…” 

He moved to Wine’s side and hugged her tightly for a long moment, Samsara averting her eyes. “If you had not ended them yourself, I would set out right now to do so. You’ve given our family a measure of peace.”

“Sern,” Samsara said, her voice quiet, “we came to see if you would have more information on what has happened to the north. To Empress Calla. With Fort Warcton so close, I was hoping there would be a better well of gossip here than in the valleys.”

Sern rose to his feet and began pacing the room. “You were right to come. It’s been tense the past few days, with magic and arms forbidden among us common folk. It’s become difficult helping anyone who needs it – have to be subtle, indiscreet. No one wants to be hauled away by the brutes in Warcton because they wanted to treat a boil. Speaking of,” he looked up at Wine and Samsara, “the knights have gone completely mad.”

Samsara frowned. “How so?”

Sern shook his head, distaste on his face. “Breaking into homes, terrorizing anyone and everyone, raiding our stocks. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, but they’re causing panic and stress. People end up endangering themselves or one another.” He inhaled deeply before continuing. “I am almost positive the knights are under a spell or curse of some kind. Violent tendencies, harsh personality changes, it’s all too sudden.”

“What have you heard about this elf that’s gotten himself into the Emperor’s throne?” Samsara asked, her tail twitching to and fro. 

Sern returned to pacing. “His name is Savus Pantomime. Heavy drinker, can be unpredictable with even the simplest things, and not native to Eibolen. His audiences are known for being unjust and terrifying.”

“And no one can do anything about this?” Samsara pressed, looking between the cousins. Sern shrugs.

“I haven’t heard of anyone stepping forth, and I’m unsurprised. From what I gather, he is a formidable figure. No simple farmer or merchant would stand before him.”

Samsara rubs her face vigorously. “I will not let Calla sit within a homemade-prison because of some elvhen usurper.”

“We could do something about it.”

Samsara and Sern turned to Wine simultaneously, her eyes bright. Wringing her hands, she leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. “We could do something about it.”

“Are you mad?” Sern asked her incredulously. “Do you have any idea what that entails? We could be imprisoned, murdered, robbed, cursed – the list is endless!”

Wine rubbed her arm, nodding. “I know.”

Sern threw his hands in the air, shaking his head. “And yet you want to press forward?”

She shot a look at her cousin. “Nothing about this is right. Persecution, injustice, innocents losing their lives. By the Beyond, my own cousin falls into the list of wanted people! I sat,” Wine hesitated, pulling a long, shuddering breath, “I sat helpless for too long, Sern. I can’t sit and do nothing, not when I am able to do something. If there are troubles on the road, I will face them head on.”

“Well,” Samsara started slowly, rubbing her chin, “a couple of horses to the north is no walk in the plains, but if the merchants can do it, why not us?”

“Wait wait, you’re not really considering this, are you?” Sern asked, bewildered. The pregnant silence told him everything he needed to know, and a long sigh escaping him. “Alright then. I guess we’re going to be those people.”

“Hang on,” Wine started, frowning, “you can’t go. You’re needed here.”

Sern laughed, threading himself between the books to a tiny kitchen. “It’s only a matter of time until I’m not needed anymore. As you said, I am on the wanted list. If I’m going to be hunted, I might as well give them a good chase.”

The evening had started to settle in as Sern made them dinner. Wine felt safe, huddled in between Sern’s books, a blanket over her mending shoulder while she ate the rabbit stew and bread provided. Samsara and Wine helped Sern set up a sleeping area for them within the shelves, the door to the garden barely a foot away. Wine didn’t mind – the night air that crept under the wooden door was gentle and sweet-smelling.

While Samsara made herself comfortable, Sern approached Wine, looking anxious. “Cuz, could I have a word?” 

They stepped out into the garden, where vegetables and herbs grew as thick as Sern could get them. He glances over the maze of plants, before turning to Wine. 

“You know I’m going to ask, so let me get it out of the way. Why the name change?”

She didn’t answer immediately, instead resting her arms over the fence that penned in the garden. From behind Sern’s home, Wine could see the stretching fields of wheat and corn waving lazily, the smell of smoke and cooking meat winding between the houses. 

“It hurts, Sern. It hurts so fucking much.”

The pain in Wine’s voice was thick and pointed, grasping for words that could describe the bloody thorns that rested against her heart. She tipped her head backwards to stare at the sky, trying to blink away the tears threatening once more. 

“I can’t be Espe. Maybe ever again. It…it hurts too much.”

Sern pulled her into a tight hug, sobs emitting from Wine’s face in his shoulder. Rubbing her back, Sern shut his eyes. “I’m sorry, lass, I’m so sorry.” 

They stayed there for a while until Wine slowly extracted herself from Sern’s arms, wiping her face with her sleeve.

“I’m really glad you were home, Sern.”

He slung an arm over her shoulder, jostling her gently. “Me too. Let’s make some tea before bed.”

A thick smoke hanging in the house made Wine wake up in a panic, nightmares from the camp washing over her until she remembered she was in Sern’s home. Samsara lay stretched out beside her, fast asleep, as a meaty smell drifted over their bed. Grabbing a bowl of water for her parched throat, Wine followed the smoke to a small fire in the back, where Sern was tending to spit roasted rabbits.

“Good morning. Sleep well?” He looked over Wine’s disheveled appearance.

“Better than I have in a long time,” she replied, nursing her bowl. Wine nodded to the rabbits. “A bit early for rabbit, don’t you think?”

Sern smiled, turning the carcasses over the flames. “I’m working on provisions for us. The sooner we leave, the better.” He peered around the garden, looking for nosy neighbours before continuing in a lower voice. “I saw Imperial colours being marched around earlier, probably looking for magic, since they confiscated all the weapons last week.”

He flashed Wine a wry smile as he rose to his feet. “Where else would a sorcerer go but to a sleepy little village to hide, hm?”

“How have they not found you yet? Surely they’ve come knocking before?”

Sern shrugged halfheartedly. “I have a few personal tricks up my sleeves. And no, I won’t tell you what they are.” He winked at Wine, pulling an adamantine knife from his belt.

“Where did you get that from? That’s a pricey knife,” Wine commented, watching him cut the rabbits from the spit. Sern turned it over in his hands, nodding. 

“A fellow sorcerer sent it to me as a thank you gift for helping him figure out a cure for fish boils. It seems like such an overpayment, but when I wrote to him, he wouldn’t hear anything of it.” Sern shrugged, and continued with his slicing. “It never dulls and I use it all the time. I’ll take it. Why don’t you wake up Samsara? We can leave as soon as this is done.”

Wine finished her water and headed back inside, waking the sprawled out Sam and explaining the plan. Together, they packed up the few things they had with them, adding the dried fruit and smoked meat Sern brought inside. As Wine helped Sern tidy up his books, scouring the room for anything useful for the trip, Samsara jolted to a stop by the window. Her eyes narrowed dangerously as Wine surfaced from a tower of papers.

“What’s wrong?”

“Imperial knights. They’re here.” 

Samsara moved aside to let Wine peer out the window down at the heart of the village. A band of knights dressed in indigo and gold stood menacingly by the well, their captain demanding something from an older farmer. Terrified, the old man shook his head, only to be shoved aside by the knights. Samsara and Wine pulled back to see Sern, who was pasty white.

“We won’t make it in time.”

Sern glanced at his books, before grabbing armfuls and dumping them into a seemingly empty corner of the room. A soft whoosh, and they disappeared.

“I had hoped to do this a bit more carefully, but time is of the essence,” he muttered, shoving several chairs in the invisible pocket. Wine looked outside again to see a grumpy looking woman with her arms crossed over her chest speaking with the knight-captain, before pointing directly towards Sern’s home.

“Shit – time’s up, they’re coming right now.”

Eyes wild, Sern waved his hand over the room. Books vanished, scrolls melted into their shelves, while the remaining furniture turned to ash. With a pained look, he turned to the corner again. 

“Follow me, quickly!” Sern dived into the corner and, like the rest of his belongings, disappeared just as the front door crashed open. Knights rushed through in a cacophony of steel and dust, the captain close behind, to find only Samsara and Wine standing there grimly among the ashes. 

“Who are you two? The broad down there told us a sorcerer lives here. Where is he?” The captain’s breath smelled of rotten fruit and meat, but it was his eyes that horrified Wine: the irises were bright red, almost painfully so, and looked as if they would glow like the full moon.

The captain stepped close to them, glaring at Samsara. “Well? Unless one of you is him?”

Samsara held up her hands. “We’ve been traveling since before the desert, we have alibis at the inn before Swallowdale. This is what we found. Werecats can’t use magic, anyways.”

He pushed into Samara’s space, eyes narrowed dangerously. “I don’t give a fuck where you’ve been, flea bag. Anyone can say anything with the right amount of persuasion or gold.” The captain rounded on Wine. “You, Red! The woman said you were family. Where. Is. He?”

Wine felt her knees shake, and her hands were sweaty as she stared the knight-captain down, weighing her odds heavily.

“It appears he’s moved on, and erased evidence of himself. I have no idea where he might be, and we know as much as you do. Looks like we all missed him.”

The captain grabbed the front of Wine’s shirt, tearing slightly as he jerked her towards him, brows furrowed deeply. Visions of the bandit camp flashed through Wine’s mind and she shuddered, trying to suppress the sudden jolt of fear as his crimson eyes met hers.

“You are a liar,” he hissed. “You know where he went. Where the fuck is he, or is magic worth more than your pretty hide?”

Wine did her best to keep her expression deadpan. This was just like the camp. She could do this.

“If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you regardless. Not that you’d catch him, what with the magic and all.” 

The knight-captain growled, furious, before shoving her away into Samsara. He swung around to his men, who were kicking the piles of ash as if it were sand at the beach.

“Men! We’re done here. You,” he jabbed a finger at one of the men, who snapped to attention, “Red goes with us. I’ll be damned if she doesn’t know something, and if the Emperor finds out we left an accomplice behind, it’s all our hides. She can learn to talk the hard way.”

The knight saluted. “Yes, Knight-Captain Gerrart!”

“No!”

Samsara made to grab for Wine’s arm, but the captain stepped between them, sword tip digging into the werecat’s abdomen.

“You have ten seconds to get out of here, or I turn you into a fucking rug.”

Gerrart’s hatred oozed in his voice. Samsara met Wine’s eyes, who gave a minuscule shake of her head. Resigned, she bared her teeth at the knight-captain. 

“Not unless you catch me first, filthy human.”

Wine’s heart slowly slid to her stomach as she watched Samsara take off out the doorway, the knights brandishing their weapons halfheartedly after her. When the werecat disappeared from view, a heavy feeling set itself on her shoulders, and she suddenly felt very, very alone. 

Gerrart gave Wine a cursory glance layered with malice, before gruffly calling a retreat. Two knights took up position on either side of Wine, two more in the rear guard, and they marched out of Sern’s home and into the square once more. They dragged her through the homes of a few more people, looking for weapons or Sern that everyone knew, including the knights, weren’t there. 

The sun was high in the sky when the knight-captain ordered them all back to their base, and a cold stone dropped into Wine’s throat.

They were taking her to prison.

The Silent Guns

“You are sure this is the course of action you wish to take, my love?”

Eva’s soft voice felt like it filled the entire room with emotion, though he would never admit to such feelings. He had long put emotion aside, as he had done with any hope of painting. He turned to her, his devoted creature, a solemn expression on her face. He had never truly loved her, if he was honest with himself. She had been loyal to a fault. That was why she stood here now, alone with him in their soon-to-be mausoleum. Her reward for being stalwart in her belief in him. How ironic that they die now.

“It is the only way. I will not be made a fool of as they did with Mussolini. This is my final word on it.”

A revolver hung loosely in one hand, a small capsule in the other. Eva’s hands shook ever so slightly as she held them out, and felt that tiny pill drop into her palm. Such a small item, such a final impact. She looked upon the face of the Fuhrer, and studied it for a moment.

She knew him better than herself, and to this she was not sure she was proud of or not. Her entire life had been devoted to this man, but … for what? He had married her, as a token of his appreciation, he said. She could care less for the token, she had belonged to him since her teenage years. And now here they were, about to commit their final victory against the enemy, though she would never call it that aloud. Adolf had become particular about victories and losses as of late, with good cause. 

“You first.” Adolf’s voice was low, and she barely heard him. He looked less of the charismatic leader than he had been before, and more like a tired old man. She nodded once and popped the cyanide into her mouth. She had a moment to register the bitter taste as she bit down into it, before she could feel her breathing coming up short. Her throat felt dry, as if she had not had water in years, and it felt as if her very body was on fire. The last thing she saw was Adolf raising a gun to his head before the world turned black.


Johanna sat by the radio, her nails digging into her palms as she waited with all the patience of a runner at the starting line. Six years, she thought, that familiar feeling of determination and desperation filling her once more. Six years we have all been working towards this. If there is a god, let him shine through now

She looked out into the night, through the grime streaked windows, and saw the Red Army pushing through the fallen walls of homes, stepping over the rude protruding angles of lost bodies and misplaced dogs. The closer they got to the Chancellery garden, the faster her heart beat. She sat back in her chair, the crackle of the radio white noise for the moment.

It felt like decades had passed since she had first met Gustav Bruhn, in her small editorial office. He had come armed to the teeth with knowledge and a purpose, and murmurs of a resistance group being formed trailed behind him when he left. He was charismatic, almost fiery, and it had been contagious, like wild fire in a dry wood. Men of all walks of life flocked to him and his partners, all eager to put the Fuhrer down in their own way. She herself had committed to the cause without truly understanding the consequences that might take place; she only knew that she wanted Germany to be at peace once more. But that was almost 5 years ago.  She had worked her way through the ranks of the resistance to where she was now, as lead communications officer. The title felt overbearing to her, but the role was supremely important. Working in editorial had infused in her the importance of communication, and if she had learned anything during her time in the Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen, it was that this was more critical than anything else. And that duty was why she sat where she was now, waiting.

She cast a wary eye at the radio once more, but it gave no clues as to what was happening outside. She heaved a sigh, and lowered her head into her hands. They had murdered him, last year. Gustav. And his wife. The Nazis had carted him and Elisabeth off to Neuengamme, one of their numerous concentration camps, to be executed. All of the Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen group held fear in their hearts for the Bruhns, until word came from a family friend. Alfred Baumbach had driven to Neuengamme to see what he could do for them, hope very slim – it was for naught. A message was sent out, and in the early hours of February 15th, 1944, the resistance learned that Gustav Bruhn and his wife Elisabeth had been hung by the Nazis. They had mourned greatly for them, Johanna included. It had been a wounding blow, though not fatal, and a terrible reminder of what they were up against. She heard later that Baumbach had gone underground after he had informed the resistance of the Bruhn’s fate. No one knew if he was still alive. She prayed he was safe.

It had been because of their leader’s actions, including Gustav’s, that had led them here. The resistance had undermined companies that supplied the regime, whisked away hidden funds and caches, taken every back door – legal or not – to ensure supplies would not reach the Fuhrer and his fanatics. And they had largely succeeded. The linch pin of their operations fell into place when Karl Wolff, an SS-General, had shown up on their doorsteps several weeks before with his hat in hand. He heard of them, and had come to them for aid. Johanna had been going through reports with fellow members when the knock on the door had brought them back to the present. Surprise was an understatement if used to describe the expressions on their faces, before a deep-seeded suspicion settled over them.

Wolff was taken in for intense interrogation, and Johanna learned afterward that he had come to seek their help in surrendering the German forces in Italy. Johanna didn’t want to believe it for a moment, but her superiors seemed to be convinced with the evidence Wolff had provided with him. From then on, they went in deep to help Wolff achieve his goal. She heard very little about any of that business, and wondered what had come from it. The only request Wolff had asked of them was to send cyanide capsules to the garden, but refused to say why. She found it highly suspicious, besides dangerous, but she carried out the orders to their group to be done, and left it at that. 

The memory of the Bruhn’s fate in her mind, she bitterly thought about Hitler, wondering what he was doing now that he knew he had lost. Would he surface from his bunker, a prisoner of war? Would he point fingers at all those around him? Or would he go quietly? She didn’t have to wait long for her answer. 

The radio began to crackle with a choked voice, and it felt like the entire night had come to a stand still. Johanna froze in her chair, every sound gone but the radio frequency that she turned up as the words fell forth.

“Unser Führer ist mit seinem letzten Atemzug für Deutschland gegen den Bolschewismus gestorben. Ich wiederhole, unser Führer ist gestorben.”

She felt her ears ring with the sudden announcement, and for a moment, she didn’t move. Then, a swooping feeling of utter relief crashed through her, and she leaped to her feet, tears in her eyes and a laugh on her face. They had won – they had won. Hitler was dead. A sickening feeling of betrayal and anger rode over her for a moment: He had chosen the coward’s way out. A double suicide, she would learn later. He had shot himself in the head, while his new wife had taken cyanide. Johanna knew she was not the only one who felt swindled out of justice, but she would take it. So that’s what the capsules were for, she thought, remembering Wolff’s request. She put the General to the side – that was for another time. Instead, she grabbed her own radio, and concentrated on sending out the most important message of the year to the many who had waited, to the many that had died, and to the many who were lost.

Adolf Hitler was dead.

Nothing Personal.

“Janey? Janey, you in there? Open up!” Mary pounded on the screen door, praying the neighbors wouldn’t stick their heads out and see who was causing a ruckus.

It was 2 AM on a Thursday, and Tuesday Avenue was as quiet as could be. The trailer park across the street was ominous looking, with its shabby awnings and dead grass fences. There were bottles of god-knows-what lying next to rubber don’t-want-to-knows, and Mary’s eyes strayed down the street with fear. No shape of a person coming her way, no whisper of a smile on the wind. She was safe – for the moment. If only Janey would open the damn door.

“Janey, I swear to God – there you are!” 

The door creaked open and a bleary-eyed woman stood there, frazzled blonde hair in tight curlers and a tattered robe tucked around her body. She blinked at Mary for a moment, before rubbing her eyes. 

“Jesus Mary, it’s late, what’s -“

Mary edged her way inside the house, and Janey slid the door shut behind her, following her lover to the couch. A brand new cigarette pack lay next to an ash tray on the coffee table, filled with debris, and Mary briefly wondered when Janey had started smoking, before turning to her.

“Janey, you gotta help me. I think I fucked up real good this time.” 

The woman rubbed her face vigorously, then frowned, looking slightly more awake. “What do you mean? What did you do this time, Mary?”

She wrung her hands, glancing at the windows. “Remember that place I told you I was gonna get a hit on the other night? Well, I finally got inside.” She glanced at the blonde, who was watching her attentively now. “Janey, it’s not a morgue. It’s a fucking lab.”

Janey squinted. “Like a meth lab?”

“No, much worse. They had … people, suspended in this .. stuff. And there were these people in coats talking about some place on 90th Avenue where they were going to ’round up more of the filth’. They’re testing on people, Janey!”

The blonde sat back, thinking hard, absently grabbing a cigarette from the table and lighting it. “This sounds pretty bad. What else did you see?”

Mary felt a modicum of calm come over her: she was taking her seriously! Taking a deep breath, she went over her steps at the morgue once more.

“Well, I went through the back door, where the police enter. I made sure the Giovanni’s didn’t hear about anything, I swear to God. I’d have been dead before I touched the door if they knew I was going in for their mother’s shit. Anyways, I got inside and was creeping by the security window, and I saw a guard talking to someone in a long white coat. I figured it was one of them autopsy people, uh … dieners, you called them?” Janey waved in acknowledgment, and she pressed on. 

“Anyways, they were chatting it up and I was wishing they’d hurry the hell up because I really wanted to get outta there, and then they mentioned something about waiting for the police to lose their reports, and I thought, ‘Well that doesn’t make any sense’. So I listened a bit longer, and they started talking about the security in some room below the morgue, and it sounded too good to be true, Janey! I just wanted a peek, you know, maybe there was something better down there. So I follow the suits downstairs, with a lovely view mind you, that security was gorgeous, I wish I had hair like hers – sorry, right,” catching a raised eyebrow from Janey, Mary pressed on. “Well, we get down there, and there’s this massive door with some fancy scanner on it that the lady touched and the door opened. I figured it’s not gonna let my grubby hands in, so I followed quick behind, and crept around to a pile of boxes and fuck me, Janey.”

Mary turned to stare at her lover, horror in her eyes. “It was bad. They had children and women in there, mostly, though a couple old guys were there too. All of ’em floating in this liquid stuff, most were asleep-looking, but one or two were awake. The fucking look in their eyes! I dunno if anyone saw me or not, but it’s not like they could do anything about it anyways, stuck in those damn tubes. And they had one woman on a table nearby, out cold, and she looked just like Sasha! You remember her, the one with the tattoo on her right eye? The one the fuzz were trying to catch after she gate crashed Arnie’s wedding? She was stretched out over the table looking almost dead , until they stuck some contraption in her ears, and she perked right up. They gave her a moment, and I swear to the President she got up like a zombie, and just wandered out of there without so much as a fart in their direction.”

Mary had taken to chewing her nails and glancing out the window, and didn’t see Janey had finished her smoke, and started another. “I don’t think anyone saw me, but it was fucking scary Janey. I am never doing another hit like that again, I’ll stick with grave digging and to hell with these inside jobs. What kind of sick fucks would do that? The government? The military?” She glanced at Janey. “What d’ya think?”

Janey sat back, her face passive as she watched Mary blather on, her eyes glazed over. Taking one last puff, she stamped the smoke out on the arm of the couch. “You’re sure no one saw you?”

Mary frowned, eyes searching over her face. “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying, have you not been listening? And by the way, when did you start smoking, Janey, it’s making me ill.” She waved the smoke cloud away from her face, her nose scrunched up. 

She didn’t get a chance to scream as Janey lunged at her, covering her mouth with a scabby hand. Mary finally saw, deep in Janey’s ear, the same contraption that she had seen in the morgue. 

“Just covering our tracks. Nothing personal, Mary.”

The Sweet Divide

“They won’t notice, trust me. Besides, even if they did, my mother loves me too much to toss me out into the wild.”

Persephone smirked at her nervous attendants, the worrisome lookouts they were. She was perched on several wooden crates behind the settlement, where the rest of the settlers slept fitfully. Turning her attention back to her work, she slipped bars of power out of the holster that kept the generators running, and pocketed them. The lights flickered on the other side of the camp, and the humming of the generator lowered to a dull, fuzzy roar. Triumphant, she leaped nimbly down from her spot, beckoning her attendants to follow as they crept into the darkness.

It had been two years since Apollo had quit the pantheon. He was, he said, sick of the twisted games they played in Olympus, and wanted nothing to do with the gods or humanity. As his last act of defiance, he decided to cast a plague upon the Earth before going into hiding. His reckless act caused the Earth to be plunged into darkness, as well as killing millions and effectively creating a subspecies of mankind that lived in a half diseased state. They barely functioned as people, and were shunned by healthier humans. The gods had a dry joke after that: even when the worst is upon them, mankind still insisted on separating themselves from each other.

Persephone envied Apollo sometimes. She wished she had the ability to walk away from mankind, go into hiding with Apollo and perhaps start a new life. She was caught up in her thoughts when suddenly her leg went through a rabbit’s hole. She gave a stifled yell, sinking up to her waist as her leg squelched through the ground. Her attendants gave a yelp and went to help her up, yanking on her arms and she tried to squirm free from the ground. The goddess’ face suddenly filled with utter horror, and she renewed her struggle in earnest.

“Someone has my leg! There’s a hand on my leg!” 

Her panic grew stronger as the attendants started losing their grip on her, and slowly Persephone sank into the the ground with a final screech that they knew echoed in the settlement. The last they saw of her was her fingers wriggling wildly before the surface smoothed out and resumed its normal appearance, as if nothing had happened.

“I had hoped she would learn.”

The attendants jumped, and turned to see Demeter standing behind them, arms crossed and a grim look on her face.

“M-Ma’am? What happened to Lady Persephone?” 

Demeter gave the attendant a hard smile. 

“Why, her new home, of course. If she insists on trying to sabotage these people against my wishes, then she will learn to obey authority in another manner.” She took a deep breath, closing her eyes. “She is to wed my brother.”

A chorus of tiny gasps made her eyes flicker open, and they cowered slightly. “Do not think I take this lightly. She will be with him for most of the year, returning once for a handful of months to apply her new knowledge to the people she has wronged here. Let us hope she takes it seriously.”

Ye Have Used Love For An Excuse

Indra’s eyes gazed out the window, searching for something that wasn’t really there. He could still remember every freckle in her eyes, and the smile that made his tiny heart nearly beat out of his chest. He had been ‘alive’ only a few years, but Earth was a wondrous place, filled with hidden treasures and dazzling landscapes. Man-made creations towered above him or stretched out as far as his eyes could see, and he was thankful his Master had brought him into the world in this day and age. But there was one thing he had discovered that his Master had never really spoken of, and when he had gone into his library to research this new sensation, he could find nothing on it in any alchemic or scholarly reads. 

Feeling ever more curious, he turned to the poets and authors, and it was there he found the elegant words and soft hearts on tidal shores that resonated with him deeply. It was here he discovered that what he was feeling was love, and he found no higher purpose or emotion than this one. He felt doubly blessed that his love was also immersed in the pursuit of alchemy, for she was one of his Master’s apprentices. He found her strikingly beautiful, though he had heard his Master call her ‘stuffy’, and he enjoyed their conversations that often stretched much further than anyone else in the lab took pleasure in. 

When he had been given permission to explore the world, the apprentice and Indra promised to write each other whenever possible. He took heart in this while he traveled the world, reading over her letters in sub zero weather, scratching out his discoveries and small inventions in warm breezes. When he finally took root in the forests of Europe, he enlisted a raven to be his messenger and take their letters between each other, for a small fee of course. 

However, the apprentices letters gradually began to slow, almost to a stop, and Indra wondered if she was alright or if something had gone wrong in the Master’s laboratory – until that morning.

A rapid tapping on the front door made Indra shoot out of bed, racing down the stairs and flinging the door open. The raven sat there, massive looking as always (though everything was massive to him) and perched just outside the door, the branch swaying ever so slightly with its weight. But what made his heart leap was the letter that was in its beak. He went to reach for it, but the raven gave a muffled caw, and he remembered himself.

“Right you are, apologies. You know how it is when she sends me letters.” 

He ducked inside, not noticing the raven’s eye roll, and returned with a small bag of crackers and dried fish.

“I hope this will suffice, the cheese isn’t quite ready yet.”

He set it down carefully just outside the door, so as not to drop it to the ground below. The raven leaned over and allowed the homunculus to take the folded letter from his beak, before grabbing the bag. It shuffled it around carefully, getting a proper grip, before taking off once more. Its leap into the air shook the house, but Indra had long since flight-proofed his home. He scurried back inside, shutting the door and leaning against it, hugging the parchment to his chest. It had been weeks since her last letter, and he could just barely catch the scent of her perfume and the Master’s lab buried in the parchment. 

He plunked himself down on his couch, pushing things out of the way eagerly to unfold the human-sized letter. His eyes scanned the page, and his face grew hot. He read it several more times, before pushing it away from him with force, and slumping against the cushions, eyes on the ceiling as tears fell from them.

Dear Indra,

By now you must have noticed my letters have become infrequent, unlike when we used to write during your travels.  I must confess that I have fallen out of love with you, and I apologize for the blunt words I use here. I am not used to writing so directly in terms of emotions, as you know. But I must say what is on my mind.

It has occurred to me that a homunculus and a human should never partake in such relationships outside of friendships, perhaps even acquaintances. How would we ever live together? I am so much taller than you, it would be hardly fair to you and I with our respective powers and abilities. No, it must be this way.

I hope you will call me friend in the future, for though I do not love you, I do care for you. And I hope you will forgive me for any hurt or pain I have caused you.

Yours, 
Allie

PS
I am to be wed in the winter. I would love to see you there, if at all possible.

I Always Kill The Things I Love

The cigarette between my lips illuminated the cloche hat that hid my long blonde hair. I turned my jacket up against the wind, the weather threatening rain once more. I pulling out a pocket watch. He was late, again. Not for the first time, I wondered if he was worth keeping around, after all the hell he had been dragging around with him like a lost puppy dog. How many times had I bailed him out? Keeping face like the perfect wife I pretended to be, all coiffed hair and hot meals in stark aprons. Sure, he didn’t mind playing dress-up on the evenings of galas and being wined and dined by the positions of power around the city. But if it came down to the brass tacks, he was just a shmuck. He followed his old ideologies like they were going to save him, like they were going to plant the Silver Star on his chest again, and we both knew – even if he didn’t want to admit it – that he never deserved it to begin with.

Oh I heard all the tales and propaganda about how he was a war hero, came home to the wife and kids decked out in medals and accolades. Received that departmental promotion, climbing the ladder like a fire in a dry wood. I dug up old army buddies, asked them out for drinks, regaled them with her sultry voice and slicked back smiles, and they came to me like bees to honey.

He was known for being secretive, kept things to himself. In the war, he never thought of his men – just the orders, the outcome. And even the outcome was blinded: all he wanted was to follow the rules, and be damned his conscious. Well, he sure damned himself. Where did that land him?

Dead men. One crazed, following the dream of helping people after being made to murder so many innocents in the name of “order”. He scared me at first, who wouldn’t be if you were kidnapped by a man with a flamethrower? But he was just a lost soul, and you couldn’t come back from that. You can’t ever come back from that, not without a bullet to the head. And that was the kindest thing that could happen to him, the poor bastard. The others? One a drug dealer, out of his mind with the idea that he would be forgotten just because he played a small part in such a large scale war. He had guts, I’ll give him that. But guts only get you so far until you need the mind, and he was just as lost as the other bloke.

Then there was Jack. He played the right cards, no matter what. Phelps used to make fun of him, throw him out to the wolves in camp. He never believed he had what it took because he didn’t follow the protocol that he lusted after. But Jack … he was the best of them all. He looked after the men, whether they were his own or not. He made the calls that Phelps never could. He did what had to be done, because he was human and a soldier, and Phelps … well, he got the Silver Star, didn’t he? He had no men to show for it, and in the eyes of war, that was worthy of redemption.

But would his men agree? I doubt it.

So here I am, waiting for that lone ranger. He didn’t know I had been following his history, not until tonight. I told Jack that his lieutenant friend was going to see the light one way or another. He said he wasn’t his friend, but that he wasn’t his enemy either. I think the death of Hank still riled him. Poor guy. I wish there was a better way to wash away memories besides pouring alcohol over it. Some wounds just grow stagnate. I sure am glad Jack stayed in Vice.

I watched as his car came around the corner, headlights flashing high. I stood just out of the streetlight, observing as he pulled in, parking across the lot. Thunder shook above us, but I hardly noticed. Jack promised he would come by in about ten minutes – I had until then. I watched as Phelps jammed his hands in his pockets, hat tilted over his face to ward off the wind, and jogged over to me.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he said, reaching my spot. I handed him a cigar, lighting it up for him. “Thanks.” He took a puff or two, and seemed to relax slightly, before turning his head skyward. “It’s going to rain soon, did you want to go inside?”

I took her hat off, hair spilling out across my shoulders. I was glad she put a little more effort into my makeup today; it was the least I could do for him.

“No, that’s alright honey. We won’t be long anyways.” I smiled at him, taking a long drag. “You don’t talk about your past. Why is that?”

I saw him stiffen noticeably, and he took several puffs of his cigar. “It’s not important. What happened, happened. Why do you ask?”

I shrugged, letting the cigarette hang from my fingers for a moment. The clouds were darkening above us properly now. “Ran into some old friends of yours, all were pretty tight lipped about what happened in the war. Seemed pretty worried about talking about you in particular, but they kept calling you the shadow. No reason why?”

He was silent, taking a long drag and staring into the darkness for a long time. Whatever he saw there, I didn’t want to know what it was. Let him have his demons.

“What’s going on Elsa.” His voice was straight now, and he didn’t look at me. Fine by me.

“You know I don’t play around, Cole. You couldn’t be honest with your own wife, never mind your men – why change now, right?

His head snapped around to me as I pulled the trigger on the Beretta, squarely against his chest, three times. His eyes widened as he realized what happened, and he crumbled. I stood there, watching him for a moment, the smoke from his cigar curling up from the cement as the rain started to come down heavily. I guess he was right, it was going to rain pretty soon. I tucked my hair beneath my hat once more just as another car pulled up, and this time I didn’t have to wait. The passenger door kicked open, and I stepped over his body to ease myself into the seat. The door shut with a click, and I remembered that Jack had such good taste. He smiled at me warily, and I leaned over to kiss his cheek.

“Well, that went smoothly.” He looked at her carefully. “Are you alright?”

She smiled, leaning against the seat comfortably. “Of course, sugar. I always kill the things I love.”