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 Post subject: Fireborn PostPosted: 2011-12-09 11:01pm
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Jedi Knight
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This was a request from a friend, a continuation of another short story I'd written in this universe and I think it does decently on it's own. And since I'm a glutton for punishment, I thought I'd put it up here as well.

~

The heat was almost overwhelming.

Bill Kingsley removed his hat as he stepped off the elevator, fanning himself in a futile attempt to stay cool. He took a gulp from the flask – filled with water rather than the traditional whiskey – under his jacket. The water was blessedly cold; he normally kept it in the freezer for these occasions.

Sweat was already starting to bead on his forehead and he wiped it away with the back of his hand, as he trudged down the hallway to the penthouse door. He patted the side of his jacket, already regretting having worn it, but the torrential downpour outside hadn’t left him much of a choice. He could hear the soft booms of thunder outside, muffled as they were by the condominium’s walls. A heat storm that had turned into a monsoon, but even the pounding raindrops offered no relief from the heat, each of them all but steaming away the instant they touched your skin. It was the second week of this hellish heat wave, with no end in sight.

Plants and animals were dying, crops withered in their fields, the very young and very old alike perished, dehumidifiers and air conditioners ran day and night in an attempt to alleviate the oppressive, cloying temperature. Unpredictable blackouts rolled through the districts as unpredictable riots and gang violence spilled through the streets. It was if the city itself were being swallowed by Hell.

Perfect weather for some.

He rapped on the door out of habit more than politeness, but no answer was forthcoming. He hadn’t expected one and reached for the doorknob, wincing at the warmth of the metal. The old childhood warnings about not opening a door that hot sprang to mind, but it wasn’t fire he was worried about and he pushed the door open. It wasn’t locked, of course.

The heat inside the room was almost like a physical blow, staggering the private detective back and making the sweltering corridor seem blessedly cool by comparison. He shrugged off his coat and dropped it just inside the door, stepping into the suite with growing trepidation. The heaters were going full-blast and the air shimmered with distortion. Kingsley took another gulp from his flask. Sweat was already staining his shirt, but he forced himself to take another step and another, almost blind from the overpowering heat of the penthouse. Lightning flashed, brief white flares of light creeping in through the slats of venetian blinds and the corners of blinds. He couldn’t stay long; he’d pass out. Anyone who lived here would have surely died long before now from the deadly temperature.

He found her sprawled across the bed. Naked, her arms and legs hanging limply over the side. Her skin was flaking, peeling off her body like the paint on the walls. Her eyes were closed, a dreamy smile on her face as if she hadn’t noticed the heat. Bill didn’t bother to check if she was breathing; he’d known what he’d find as soon as he’d stepped off the elevator.

Her wings twitched every so often, causing more bits of skin to crack and flutter to the ground. Her tail waved back and forth slowly, its tip leaving random lines and patterns in the plush carpet.

With a sudden, mad impulse he reached over and touched her shoulder lightly, something he’d dared not do if she was awake. The skin there cracked at his touch and flaked away, revealing more of the iridescent red-gold of her true flesh. She stirred in her torpor, but did not wake. Bill kicked his dry, cracking lips and, emboldened, gave her a stronger nudge. She was hot to the touch, hotter than the doorknob.

Her eyes opened, blue irises clouded over and milky in death, but he saw the gleam of her true eyes beneath them as she focused on him. “We need to talk,” he rasped through a parched throat.

~

He found some respite out on the patio, the steaming rain cool on his face compared to the heat of the apartment. Thunder continued to crash overhead, lightning spiking and writhing through the sky. Behind him, the doors slid open as she came out to meet him, a robe tied loosely around her body, her wings tucked uncomfortably under it. Her tail hung down to the ground. A cascade of skin flakes were swept off her face, arms and legs by the downpour, leaving gaps in her human flesh and her dead eyes stared sightlessly at him. Her arms were folded over her chest, talons tapping against her upper arms; she was apparently in no mood to wear her masque and he decided not to push her on it.

“What do you want?” she demanded.

Bill didn’t answer her, not right away. “You’re going to lose the Clementes their security deposit,” he noted.

“I wanted to be warm,” she replied. “Besides, I think they can afford it.”

“That’s not the point,” he said with a sudden flash of anger. “They don’t need to come back to a wrecked condo. That’s going to lead to questions. I put you in here because they’re out of the country for the next six months and you could have a place to stay.”

“Because you destroyed my home,” she pointed out evenly.

“Because I destroyed your home,” he acknowledged. “The point is, I didn’t give you a license to do whatever you want with the place. They’re good people.”

She snorted derisively, about to reply before Bill pre-empted her. “I don’t want to have this argument with you again,” he said.

“But you did come here to have an argument.”

He nodded, stepping under an overhang, out of the rain. He reached into a pocket and took out his blackberry, holding it out to her. On the screen was a local reporter’s blog. She took the phone for a moment and looked it over. “A lot of rumour and speculation,” she concluded. “The ‘artist’s impression’... it’s not a very good likeness,” she said, sounding a touch put out. “And I don’t care much for the name.”

“‘Heat Wave Vigilante’ isn’t really that clever, no,” Bill conceded, taking the phone back. “And they mistook the wings for a cape, but that’s not the point.”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course it isn’t. You’re going to tell me I’m being careless. That I know better. That I’m taking stupid risks that I probably haven’t for centuries and it’s going to come back on me and probably you, too.”

“That’s about the size of it,” he acknowledged.

“I saved people.”

Bill shook his head. “I don’t believe for a minute that’s what your motivation was.”

She stared at him for a long moment, then turned and stalked to the end of the balcony, her bathrobe completely soaked before she made it even halfway there. “I remember what this city was before it was a city,” she said wistfully. “The people who lived here were fisherfolk, depending on the ocean for sustenance. It was hot and arid and beautiful. Now,” her fingers tightened on the railing as she looked out on the cityline. “It’s ugly. Stone and metal and hordes of stinking, gawping, sweating people everywhere. Small, frightened, short-sighted vermin.” She leaned back, letting the hot rain wash over her. “I used to be revered. Feared. Worshipped. Now you make movies and video games about killing my kind. You write romance novels about us, as if we were tortured, angst-ridden spirits needing your touch to soothe us.” She looked over at him and her eyes were no longer dead; now they burned like citrine gemstones.

“We gave you the fear of fire,” she said sharply before looking back out at the cityline. Her shoulders slumped. “I just wanted to be free again,” she admitted.

Surprised at the admission, Bill stepped forward. Despite her vulnerability, he didn’t dare reach out to her, but he stood beside her, watching the city. “Things change,” was all he could manage to say. “We adapt.”

She looked over at him. “I should throw you off the ledge,” she said in a tone that indicated she was seriously considering the matter. “See if you adapt to that.”

“I might,” he answered her, choosing to take the threat as a joke. With her, it was often both. “I might sprout wings on the way down. Big feathery ones, like an angel. Maybe fly by that racist church and tell them that this really is the End Times and I’m here to take the chosen up to heaven. Just not their lily-white asses. ‘I’m the black angel mothafuckas and God’s pissed at all yo’ cracker asses.”

She chuckled, camaraderie threatening to blossom between them. The moment passed, though. “I don’t understand how you can live like this,” she said after a moment. “I do it because I have to. Because I’m forced to, but you... all of you,” she swept a hand across the skyline. “You celebrate this. You venerate it. You think it’s somehow an achievement.” She closed her eyes. “You’ve never known what it’s like to ride through the air on your own power. To eat something that you hunted and kill yourself with your bare hands. You have airplanes. You have hang gliders and base-jumping. You have guns and knives. You close the world in around you, denying every truth that you cannot hold in your hands. That you decide what is and isn’t. You think this makes you wiser, better.” She shook her head. “It makes you smaller. You don’t even realize it, but you chip away at yourselves day by day, cutting yourselves off from the world and thinking you’re somehow more connected to it until you’re whittled down to nothing. ‘This is real,’ you say. ‘This is not,’ and then you break it off, leaving it behind.” The hatred in her words was almost a physical thing, the loathing and disgust almost palpable. “I should be grateful for that, I suppose.”

“We’re not all like that,” Bill reminded her.

“No.” She let out a breath, the water streaming down her skin, revealing more and more of the gleaming flesh beneath her false human skin. “Before I met you, I hadn’t flown in years. And then... I came home one night to find my apartment in flames. All my neighbours, useless mewling scraps of meat, were crowded around the building watching their homes burn, whimpering about their possessions. About their trinkets.” Her claws flexed angrily. “Some were better than that. They were afraid that a friend, a lover or family member was one of the few that hadn’t made it out. Some people were trapped on the upper floors. They’d sealed themselves in a panic room. The firefighters couldn’t get to them. The heat was too intense, the fire out of control.” She smiled sadly. “I saw her there, amidst the panic and confusion. One of my neighbours. Everyone else gave me a wide berth. Like you, they always thought something was... off about me. Maybe she did too. She and her daughter. Always with a bowl of cookies or a tray of pastries. Always smiled and waved, no matter how many times I brushed her off. She never stopped trying to make a connection with the ‘creepy’ young woman who lived in her apartment. It annoyed me. Confused me. It... had been a long time since anyone showed me kindness.”

“She was there. Pushing away the respirator, ash on her face, her clothes stained with smoke. She was there, and her daughter wasn’t.” She touched two fingers to her temple. “What does one life really matter? Nothing. Nothing at all. That’s what I told myself. But... she had been kind. She had never been anything but kind, even when she had no reason to be. Even when she should have stopped trying. So I made a choice. The building was still ablaze, the firefighters – cowards – were pulling back. I made a choice.

“Fire. Heat. Smoke,” she shrugged. “An inferno was raging around me and it felt... good. There was only me and the flame. No pretence, no masque. I didn’t have to hide anything. I just... was, as I hadn’t been for a lifetime.

“I found her; she was in that panic room. Probably taken there by someone trying to help her. There was no one else to save. The building started to collapse. There wasn’t any time to go back down. But there was a window.” Her eyes half-lidded as she re-lived the moment. “I flew. With this tiny thing, this little scrap of life holding onto me, I flew. I hadn’t used my wings in so long, but they caught the air and... I flew.” She looked over at Kingsley. “Do you understand?”

“I do. I think.” Unconsciously, he touched the flask in his pocket. It hadn’t always been filled with water. “You paid your debt. You saved the girl’s life and...” he trailed off. She’d awoken something in her long slumbering. “You flew,” he finished. “I understand that.”

Her robe bulged and twitched as the wings beneath it shifted, straining to unfurl and catch the driving wind. She said nothing for a long moment, letting the rain wipe away all but the last few traces of her humanity. Her skin, her true skin, was the colour of blood and gold, patterns shifting and changing with the barest movement of her body like the dancing of flames, the flashes of lightning making her gleam all the more. Without even looking at her companion, she let the sodden robe fall to the floor, spreading her wings.

Despite himself, Bill took a deep breath. No matter how many times he saw this, there was always the atavistic flush of fear and awe as he looked on her, the pale false skin hiding her body spilling away. Each of her wings was wider than a man was tall and despite their apparent fragility, he knew how strong they were. These weren’t the angel’s wings that he had joked of earlier, they were something else entirely, with dark claws sprouting from the tips of the ‘fingers’ that spread the thin veined membranes. The onyx spines along her backbone straightened, her muscular tail writhing like a serpent as her wings caught the wind. Her eyes closed in pleasure, her long hair matted to her skull. Wisps of steam rose from her body, trails of water pouring down her skin. She was beautiful to look upon... beautiful and terrifying.

Her hands tightened on the railing as she rocked back and forth. “I want to fly,” she said softly. “I want to fly and hunt and burn. I want to be free.”

Bill didn’t say anything. There was pain in each word, pure and deep and honest, but he wouldn’t let himself be taken in. He was about to say something, but closed his mouth. Anything he said would only come across as a trite platitude. This... woman had seen nations rise and empires fall, she’d outlived every one of a hundred generations of her enemies. She had lied, manipulated, tricked and murdered her way through the centuries. What words could he offer to something like that when humanity had spread across the Earth, growing thicker and thicker with each year as any hope for her ‘freedom’ grew smaller and more distant?

“You can’t keep doing this,” he said instead. “I understand why you want to, even why you need to,” his hand touched the flask again. “But you can’t. You just can’t.”

She turned towards him then, her gold eyes shimmering. “I can’t?” the word rolled down her tongue.

“You’re smarter than this,” he ignored the sudden skip of his heart at her tone. “You are. There’s a thousand different ways you could indulge yourself like this without... without...” Kingsley searched for the right words. “Without looking like that. This is the age of camera phones and youtube and facebook and web 2.0 and who-knows-what-else. If you keep doing this, some asshole with an iPhone is going to get a good picture of you. Nobody’ll take it seriously, not at first. Except for...” he trailed off, a sudden paralyzing burst of fear seizing him. “Except for the White Court,” he said, the heat of the rain suddenly forgotten as a chill stole the warmth from his bones. “You’re trying to lure them out. Are... are you insane? After what they did? After...” his jaw clenched, a memory of blood and cordite filling his nostrils.

Her expression softened, turned almost apologetic. “As I said,” she turned back to the storm. “I want to be free.”



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777

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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2011-12-10 01:15am
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MORE!!!!!

And is this Dresden-verse?



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2011-12-10 07:35am
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LadyTevar wrote:
MORE!!!!!

And is this Dresden-verse?


I second that one. I found it very interesting. The characters were both well-written and the story drew me in and wouldn't let go. And then the mention of the White Court... I'm a bid Dresden fan, and that had me just about bouncing off of the couch. Even if it's not Dresden-related, it's still a very good story.

Will there be more?

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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2011-12-15 11:56pm
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Lady Tevar wrote:
And is this Dresden-verse?


]MondoMage wrote:
I second that one. I found it very interesting. The characters were both well-written and the story drew me in and wouldn't let go. And then the mention of the White Court... I'm a bid Dresden fan, and that had me just about bouncing off of the couch. Even if it's not Dresden-related, it's still a very good story.


I'm afraid not. All I know about Dresdenverse if from the TV show and they only mentioned the Red Court there; I found out from a friend that the White Court in the Dresden Files involves sex vampires or something. So... yeah. Very little similarity.

Quote:
MORE!!!!!


Quote:
Will there be more?


Well, these two requests mean I'm batting a thousand for demands/requests for updates so far, so I suppose I can be convinced to do so. In the next installment, I bow to peer pressure and put in a bit about Fireborn's own White Court...



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777

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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2011-12-15 11:58pm
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Another day, another vignette chronicling the life and times of Bill Kingsley and his thermophilic companion...

Fireborn, Pt. 3

Akram al-Faddil had the kind of face that made you want to punch him. There was a smug little smirk permanently affixed to his lips, his dark brown eyes seeing right through everyone else as if they weren’t even there or at best were only there for his amusement. He stood beside his attorney, perfectly composed as the judge delivered her ruling.

Bill Kingsley was sitting several rows behind al-Faddil, greeting his teeth so tightly that his jaw ached. The bastard was going to get away with it. He was going to get away with it. The cold, hard lump of his gun weighed heavy in its holster and the detective had to fight the urge to put a round through the back of al-Faddil’s skull. He didn’t deserve to see it coming. Not after he what he’d done. With an effort though, Bill managed to restrain himself, though he continued to watch al-Faddil.

The SWAT team leader wore his Academy ring on his right hand, his police uniform perfectly creased, the medals he’d earned in the line of duty shining on his breast. There was something missing, though. A small thing; a patch of white cloth with a red cross on it. Saint George’s Cross. Incongruous for a Muslim to wear, but Kingsley remembered it well. The uniform didn’t matter. The badge didn’t matter, all Akram’s medals and commendations didn’t matter. All that mattered was that scrap of cloth and the allegiance it signified. For the first time, he could understand why she hated that symbol so much; he was beginning to despise it, too.

The trial hadn’t even begun, but the outcome had never been in doubt. The evidence was all circumstantial; there was nothing physical linking al-Faddil to the scene, as his lawyer had argued. Three of his men – and Kingsley knew they’d been wearing those crosses, too – had all vouched for his whereabouts. The defence had trotted out Akram’s prestigious service record, his commendations from captains, the chief of police and the mayor himself, all the great things he’d done for the city. All the prosecution had really had was a grainy security tap and the word of an ex-cop who’d been known for hitting the bottle.

But he’d been there; Kingsley would never forget those eyes and the arrogant laughter in them. He’d always remember them.

The weight in his jacket was even heavier, the cold metal seeming to throb insistently, demanding to be used.

Row upon row of police officers broke into cheering as the judge ended her speech, clapping and embracing one another in a show of camaraderie. Akram was shaking hands, clapping hands. He hugged his lawyer. And then, just for an instant, his eyes lifted and he looked through the crowds, seeing Bill sitting there amidst the celebration. He met the other man’s eyes and his smirk widened.

~

Akram paused as he stepped into the conference room, thrown off-stride by the person waiting for him, the confident smirk on his lips dying abruptly. He offered a belated salute and came to attention. “Ma’am.”

Gloria Drake, the ‘white queen’, acknowledged her subordinate with a curt nod. “Lieutenant al-Faddil.” She didn’t look up at him as she leafed through a newspaper. “Congratulations on the results of the evidentiary hearing.”

“The prosecution didn’t have much to go on, ma’am.”

“True. At least you proved you can do that much right.”

The knight’s lips thinned. “Ma’am?”

Drake looked up at Akram, lacing her fingers together. “While the identification of an alcoholic ex-cop was hardly sufficient evidence to go to trial, that identification should never have been made. You were sloppy, lieutenant. Careless. Your actions are a slap in the face to the entire Court.”

“We were ambushed...”

“You were overconfident, you mean. You went in as bold as brass tacks and had your ass kicked up between your ears for it. Five fatalities and five injuries in a ten-man squad. One of your survivors will never walk again and two more are still recovering. Tell me, does that sound like a job well done to you? Especially since you let the target escape and were positively identified by a bystander to boot.” She waited expectantly for his response.

“Ma’am, as I indicated in my after-action report-”

An immaculate eyebrow arched. “I’ve read it, lieutenant. If I considered it an acceptable explanation for events, would I be here with you?” As Akram floundered for a response, Drake turned away. “That was rhetorical, lieutenant.” She sighed. “Neutralization of the target was of the highest priority and you not only moved on the residence without a confirmed ID, you allowed it to get the drop on you and you’ve let it know that we were tracking it. Do you understand the position we’re in now, lieutenant? Forget the courts and that sod Kingsley. You’ve let the most dangerous creature on the planet know that it’s being hunted.”

“We’ll find it again, ma’am. She’s not been careful-”

“It, lieutenant. Not ‘she’. It. And that statement just tells me you really don’t know how dangerous these things can be.” Drake turned to face Akram and he forced himself to meet her eyes and not stare at the mutilated half of her face. “Trust me when I say that that is something I will never forget.” She paced around the table. “There are four million people in this city and if it wanted to, it could vanish into that mass of faceless humanity and disappear for decades. Instead, we get sensational news stories about a flying ‘Heat Wave Vigilante’. Why do you think that is?”

“She – it – could be acting out and-”

“Oh, you can do better than that, lieutenant.”

Akram paused, thinking quickly. “It’s trying to get our attention,” he ventured, although he couldn’t see why – that was like the mouse trying to bell the cat.

“It’s trying to get our attention,” Drake nodded approvingly. “Because it’s hunting us now. How does that make you feel, lieutenant?”

“...ma’am?”

“Something with centuries of experience to draw upon, the ability to look like anyone it wants to, that can tear apart a vehicle with its bear hands and has absolutely no regard for human life is actively trying to find us, lieutenant.” Drake raised her good eyebrow. “Do you remember the sounds your men made as they broke in its hands? The popping of ligaments and cracking of bones? The soft, bubbling whimpers from their lungs as they filled with blood? The sounds of pleasure it made as it killed them?”

Akram’s jaw set. “I remember, ma’am.”

“Good. Then you won’t forget what it’s capable of. Then you’ll be scared and rightly so. That’s what’s going to happen to every man and woman here if we let it get away. We have to find it first, not just for ourselves but for the rest of those four million people outside these walls.” Drake rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “It might not be just for us...” she said, almost to herself. “It’s the heat, lieutenant. That’s what you should be worried about. It makes them stronger. And this one is female. The heat could trigger a breeding cycle.”

“If there are even any males left, there aren’t any in the city,” al-Faddil said confidently.

“Can you be so certain? This vigilante nonsense has made national news.” the white queen looked over her shoulder at the knight. “A fertile female, lieutenant. That’s the thing nightmares are made of. We’ll have to find it fast.”

“Ma’am – what if... what if we don’t?”

“You know, I’ve always hated the chess metaphors that seem to crop up around here,” Drake said after a moment. “It makes it seem as if we cannot change our roles in the court. That we use expendable pawns. We can be cavalier – even callous – at times, but we mustn’t forget that every life matters, lieutenant. Every single one.” She touched the crucifix hanging around her neck. “That was the one thing our forebears agreed upon. It was the reason the Court was re-forged. “Every life matters in its own way. But if we cannot find it quickly, then we must return to metaphor and do what all chess masters must.” Both her damaged and good eye met al-Faddil’s gaze evenly.

“We must make a sacrifice.”

~

When he found her, she was splattered with blood.

“Akram got off,” he said, pulling open the fridge and helping himself to one of the soda cans inside. No beer; he was on the wagon and she didn’t drink the stuff. He’d wondered once if it was because hops and grain were for livestock, but he’d seen her eat bread, so presumably she just didn’t like the taste. “Judge threw the case out.”

She turned the tap on, the water running over her skin, red spirals dwindling into the drain as she washed her hands. “Of course,” she replied, picking up the cleaver and running it under the warm water. “You have a great deal of faith in your justice system if you thought he’d actually pay for his crime, even if the Court let it get that far.”

Just the casual mention of their name made Bill’s skin crawl. “Sons of bitches,” he swore, clenching his fists. “Motherfuckers.”

She scraped bits of fat off the cutting board into a compost bin, leaving the chopped bits of meat behind. Scooping them into a pan, she touched her other hand to the surface of the burner, checking its temperature. Satisfied, she set the pan onto the stove and turned back to Bill. “Oh, please,” she said, dismissing his anger contemptuously. “Do you think you’re the first person wronged by those...” she hissed a word, one that had no direct translation in English. “Do you think that they’ve only turned into this in the last few years?” She laughed, amused at his impotent rage. “Please.”

“They killed-”

Everyone!” It was a scream. There was a heavy thunk as she embedded the cleaver into the countertop, rounding on him. He could see the gleam behind her false blue eyes and took a step back, feeling a sudden surge of heat. “Everyone,” she repeated slowly. “Mothers. Fathers. Daughters. Sons. Women were killed clutching their children. Men died in vain, trying to save their families.” The skin around her eyes and lips was starting to crack and peel, the tips of her fingers shredding as her talons emerged. She was usually more in control, but the White Court was a sore spot for her. Recent events had only re-opened those old wounds. “They put entire villages to the sword just to set an example. They have hunted me for centuries, killed my kind without remorse, keeping trophies of their victims.” The plastic of the knife’s handle was bubbling and running down the blade, reeking smoke rising from between her fingers. “You should praise your god that your partner died as easily as he did.”

She looked down at the molten plastic dripping from her hand in surprise and turned, embarrassed. The heat faded as she regained control of herself. “You haven’t seen how they decorate their warrens,” she said, her voice trembling.

It’s not the right material, but I’ll take a little something anyways, al-Faddil’s mocking comment came back to Bill as the renegade SWAT leader pulled out a thin knife, leaning over him... “Why?” he asked. “Why would they do that?”

“Why do hunters keep the heads of lions and deer? Why do you keep bearskin rugs and elephant’s-foot wastebaskets? You make piano keys out of ivory, aphrodisiacs from tiger penis, wallets and boots of snakeskin, keychains from the heads of baby alligators.” She snorted, scraping globs of plastic off her hand. “You actually have to ask why, as if it’s some sadistic tradition particular to the Court?” she shook her head. “Unbelievable.” Looking over her shoulder at him, he could feel her contempt and disgust. “It’s always someone else who does horrible things, but never you, isn’t it? You could never do such a thing, not ever. Until you do.”

“I’m not in the mood for one of your ‘why we suck’ speeches tonight,” Bill growled.

“Too bad, because you’re going to get it anyways,” she replied, drying her hands on a washcloth. “I hate the Court. More than you ever will. More than you can possibly imagine. I want to pull them apart and feed on their entrails as they watch. I want to feel them claw uselessly at my arms as I drown them in the blood of their fellows, to burn them alive as they shriek and beat at the flames. I want to see them turn their own weapons on themselves out of sheer terror. I want them to see them degraded, their bodies defiled and the gaping wounds of their passing to forever tear at their families. I want their deaths to be pitiful and meaningless. Do you know why?”

Bill shook his head. He had the general idea, but the naked hatred in her voice stopped him from voicing it. “No,” he said instead. “No, I don’t.”

“Through everything I want to do to them, I want to be the last thing each and every one of them sees,” she said with a fervour bordering on fanaticism. “So they can know that they’ve failed, so they go to their god in shame, the knowledge of their defeat poisoning what final thoughts they have. I want them to rage as the life ebbs out of them. Through the disgrace and agony of their end, I want their minds screaming in helpless, despairing fury. I don’t just want to break them. I want them to know that I broke them and to die with that failure.

“I want to do all this and more to them, Bill.” Kingsley blinked; she didn’t often call him by name. “I’m telling you this so that you understand where this comes from. The White Court is very much human. Perhaps the exemplar of what it means to be human.”

“What do you mean?”

Her lips twitched in a knowing smile. “You would have died for Andrew, wouldn’t you?”

Bill nodded. “He was my partner. We’d been through more tight spots together...”

“Do you think Akram wouldn’t die for one of his men?”

The detective was about to vociferously deny that that smug, sadistic murderer could have a self-sacrificing bone in his body when he remembered al-Faddil shouting for his men – those still alive – to retreat, standing his ground amidst the flames. He still wanted to refuse that Akram could ever have done anything decent in his life, but honesty forbade him from it. “Yes,” he ground out. “Yes, I think he would.”

“You see? Common ground already. Now, do you think that Akram and his fellows imagine themselves to be evil men? Or do you imagine themselves to be decent, God-fearing men and women, following a higher purpose and sacred duty?”

Kingsley shook his head. “I bet they tell themselves a lot of things.”

“That’s not an answer. Do you think they consider themselves to be evil, or good?”

“Good,” he snapped.

“Good,” she repeated with a slow nod of her head. “They serve a righteous crusade, sacrificing their lives for their duty. They fight and die for another if the cause requires it. They love their families, laugh with their friends... and they have secret lives, going out into the night and killing monsters to protect everyone around them from the terrible things that go bump in the night.” Her eyes met his and he found himself unable to look away. “Isn’t that every little boy’s dream? To be Perseus and slay Medusa? Be a hero?”

The truth in her words cut deeper than any taunt. “Yes,” he admitted. He remembered getting a Superman costume one Halloween, or pouring over comic books, wishing he could be some grand adventurer. A superhero or shining knight.

She nodded. “The White Court isn’t a perversion of human nature, Bill. It’s a beacon of everything you can become when you set your minds to it. Every great strength of humanity is borne by its members and magnified a hundredfold... and so too every flaw. I don’t hate the Court for what it’s done. I hate it because it’s what any of you become if given the chance. Loyalty. Truth. Hate. Brutality. It’s all there. Every single one of you can become a bright, shining paladin. Just like them. You can make a perfect world.” Her words were utterly sincere, devoid of sarcasm or accusation and that only made the horror of them worse.

“Never,” Bill shook his head, wanting to deny it.

“Never... until you do. Remember our first meeting?” She pantomimed a gun against her head and her eyes half-lidded. When she spoke, it was Bill’s own voice that came from her lips, as full of fear and disgust as it had been on that day: “This is you. This is because of you.” She turned back to her cooking, her voice again normal. “Never is a long time. I’ve seen a great many things that would never come to pass. You say never when you really mean ‘not until the right series of events comes to pass’. I would never hit my wife, I would never cheat on my husband, I would never,” she shrugged, sprinkling a layer of oregano into the pan. “Never for you doesn’t mean never,” she repeated.

“I don’t care,” Bill said at last. “You know what? I don’t care about the Court or their war. I don’t care if you kill them all. I don’t care about their virtues or their failings. None of that matters for me, understand? None of it.”

“Then what does matter?” She didn’t look up, but there was a trace of a smile on her lips.

“Finding Akram,” Bill leaned towards her, ignoring the odour of burnt plastic. “Finding that son-of-a-bitch and putting a bullet between his eyes. I don’t care what he tells himself or how much of a great guy he is to his family. He doesn’t get to walk away from this.”

She made a considering noise. “Does this mean I can keep playing vigilante?”

“If it brings him out of hiding, yeah. He has to pay.” Bill’s jaw set. “He has to pay.”

“Of course.”

A moment passed and the righteous fury faded. Bill shook his head. “You’re playing with fire,” he commented. “Jesus, we both are now, aren’t we?”

She nodded in feigned sympathy. “I do have a request, though.”

“Yeah?”

“Akram.”

“What about him?”

“You can have him,” she said, finally looking over at him. “You can have him and as many pawns as you want. But I get their queen.” There was a hunger in her eyes that Bill had only seen once before and it unsettled him.

“Yeah. Whatever you want.”

Her smile widened, turning into something deeply unpleasant. “Good. I’d hate to leave a job half-done.” She laughed then, at some private joke.



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"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777


Last edited by Bladed_Crescent on 2011-12-23 02:37pm, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2011-12-17 06:52am
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Quote:
“You know, I’ve always hated the chess metaphors that seem to crop up around here,” Drake said after a moment. “It makes it seem as if we cannot change our roles in the court. That we use expendable pawns. We can be cavalier – even callous – at times, but we mustn’t forget that every life matters, lieutenant. Every single one.”


Oh man, it's a hidden Knight pun..




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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2011-12-22 03:38am
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A well-told story. Something seems to have been lost in revision, though.

Quote:
“We’ll find it again, ma’am. She’s not been careful-”

“It, lieutenant. Not ‘she’. It. And that statement just tells me you really don’t know how dangerous these things can be.” Drake turned to face Akram and he forced himself to meet her eyes and not stare at the mutilated half of her face. “Trust me when I say that I never will.” She paced around the table.


Those sentences do not logically mesh.



"Travelers with closed minds can tell us little except about themselves."
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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2011-12-23 01:49pm
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Themightytom wrote:
Oh man, it's a hidden Knight pun..


I didn't even notice...

Eleas wrote:
Those sentences do not logically mesh.


I'm not sure I follow; Akram is being confident that they'll find their target again, especially considering how sloppy she's been recently (Heat Wave Vigilante and all that), but Drake is pointing out that that kind of thinking is what led to the last attempt to take out their target getting badly FUBAR'ed, and that underestimating their purported victims leads to Bad Things Happening, such as the reminder she's carrying around with her.



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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2011-12-23 02:19pm
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Bladed_Crescent wrote:
Themightytom wrote:
Oh man, it's a hidden Knight pun..


I didn't even notice...

Eleas wrote:
Those sentences do not logically mesh.


I'm not sure I follow; Akram is being confident that they'll find their target again, especially considering how sloppy she's been recently (Heat Wave Vigilante and all that), but Drake is pointing out that that kind of thinking is what led to the last attempt to take out their target getting badly FUBAR'ed, and that underestimating their purported victims leads to Bad Things Happening, such as the reminder she's carrying around with her.


"You don't know how dangerous these things can be. [..] Trust me when I say that I never will."

Right... so... that makes two of them...?



"Travelers with closed minds can tell us little except about themselves."
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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2011-12-23 02:34pm
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Oh. Derp. Me am smrt.

Thanks for pointing that out.



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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2011-12-23 06:50pm
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Bladed_Crescent wrote:
Oh. Derp. Me am smrt.

Thanks for pointing that out.


Not a problem. Good writing deserves support, and yours is good.



"Travelers with closed minds can tell us little except about themselves."
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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-01-16 12:37am
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The hunt continues.

Fireborn, Pt. 4.

“I don’t see why you care,” she was saying as they continued past the bar, leaving the catcalls and sneers of the skinheads behind. “It’s just words from idiots. I mean, I don’t get offended when you say things about reptiles.”

Bill snorted, choosing to ignore the implicit insult. She seemed genuinely confused, and that pissed him off even more. “You’ve lived among humans for how many centuries, and you still don’t get racism,” he growled disbelievingly, trying to loosen her grip on his arm. Normally she hated to be touched – he still had a faint scar from the first time he’d tried to do something as inoffensive as grab her arm, but tonight’s sleuthing required it. He was playing himself – a down-on-his-luck private dick looking for work, no matter what its providence. She was his ‘sugar baby’, there to get drunk, draw attention away from him and lull would-be suitors in foolish and revealing boasts. It would be hard to sell that if she wouldn’t let even him touch her. So far, they’d gotten a lot of leads on drug deals, enforcer work and over a dozen propositions from various lowlives trying to impress her, but so far nothing smelled like Court activity.

She wanted to draw them out with her vigilante act, spreading pimps, drug dealers and muggers across the pavement but she was getting more and more careless. Bill understood why she wanted the Court, but she was taking too many risks. If Akram found them before they found him, he wouldn’t show up with just ten men.

She giggled drunkenly, wobbling on her feet. By his reckoning, she should be dead from alcohol poisoning by now, but he didn’t even know if she was actually intoxicated or just playing at it and she pressed herself closer against him as they headed towards the next site to cross off their list.

Bill was still off-balance from her insistence on that bit of verisimilitude and growing more uncomfortable with it. He didn’t mind having a pretty girl hanging off his arm, but knowing what was underneath her masque spoiled any attraction.

That, and she was hot. It seemed like she was even warmer than usual, but that was probably because they were out hunting. He looked down and with a touch of trepidation, moved her hand slightly to a cooler part of his arm. She wasn’t wearing the same ‘outfit’: her hair was dark blonde and her eyes were hazel. The sight of a young white woman on the arm of a pushing-40 black man was what had prompted a few choice words and catcalls from the punks outside the Storm Shelter, a skinhead bar that the Court liked to recruit anonymous and expendable underlings from.

From what Bill understood, the Court’s true nature would have disgusted their pawns, but none of them ever got that deep into the onion. As someone not as white as the driven snow, there was no chance Bill could get any cooperation from these assholes, but she had insisted at least doing a walk-by, in case she detected any familiar scents, but she’d said that all she could smell was sweat, vomit and cheap liquor.

She snorted, drawing his attention back to the here and now. “Oh, I know what it is. I just think it’s hilarious.”

“Maybe for someone who can change what she looks like anytime she wants,” Kingsley growled. “Most of us don’t have that luxury and there’s plenty of baggage that goes with that.”

She gestured dismissively. “It always amazes me that when you don’t have enough divisions, you have to create them. ‘She’s a woman,’ ‘He’s a Muslim,’ ‘She’s an atheist,’ ‘He’s gay,’ Always something new to kill each other over. All that strife and you still spread over the planet.” She made a disgusted sound.

“I suppose you’re going to tell me that you didn’t have any wars.”

“Oh, we did. We had wars that would have shamed Alexander the Great’s finest battles,” she said with an air of nostalgia. “Fields burned with our fire and were stained with our blood, forever poisoned.” Kingsley suppressed a shiver at the thought of that as she continued. “We had our own disagreements and divisions. I just find yours funnier. That you make yourselves captives to them, always looking for another reason to beat each other over the head. And you still won.”

“Guess that says something, huh?”

“Yes. Humans fuck too much.” Her voice grew a little distant, a waver in her stride.

Whatever he’d been expecting her to say, that hadn’t been it. “What?”

“My last breeding cycle was two hundred years ago,” she sighed. “Luckily, I was able to find a mate. He was a decent specimen and a pleasant lover, but after two weeks of attempts, I began to worry that he was sterile.”

With anyone else, he might have snidely suggested that it wasn’t her partner that was the problem. He’d made a similar comment some weeks ago and she’d nearly killed him. After that, he’d never brought up the topic of children again. “What happened?” he asked quietly.

Her voice darkened. “The White Court, of course. I came back from market to find that what was left of him. Some of them were still there, waiting for his wife. They were expecting a human.” The temperature of her skin rose, a waft of steam escaping from her mouth. “They’d denied me a mate and I was at the peak of my... condition.”

“And they learned that the female of the species is more dangerous than the male.”

“I always liked Kipling,” she nodded. “My kind... when we enter our breeding cycle, we become...” she searched for words. “Difficult. Mercurial. Violent.”

Bill knew better than to draw attention to the irony of that statement. “What happens if you don’t find a mate?”

Her eyes half-lidded, a dreamlike quality to her words. “Increased aggression, both physical and sexual. Increased metabolism. Inability to maintain a masque. Loss of rationality; atavistic urges dominate our thought processes. Propensity for arson. We start killing and fucking and burning until the need passes. It can be days, or weeks.”

Bill’s lips thinned, all lingering anger over the skinheads’ insults fading, threatening to be replaced with sheer terror. “How are these cycles triggered?” he asked.

“There are different ways. Attraction to a mate can trigger an event. High ambient temperatures can stimulate a cycle as well. We do like the heat.”

Kingsley swallowed. “When was the last time it was this hot?”

She laughed giddily, not understanding his question. “About two hundred years ago.”

“Ah,” Bill said. “I see.” Despite the uncomfortable heat of her hand on his arm, a sudden chill sent goosebumps running over his flesh.

“Why?” she asked, her voice taking on that singsong quality that, like everything else about her, was simultaneously intriguing and deeply disturbing. “Are you thinking of applying for a position as a stud?” Her hand tightened painfully on his arm, her claws digging into his skin. There was no trace of amusement or teasing in the question. Bill didn’t even know if it was possible, but at even the slightest hint that he – or any human male – might be looking to impregnate her, she’d kill him. That had come up before, too.

“No,” Bill winced through the pain. “I was just thinking that that puts my dry spell to shame.” He didn’t know if it was a reaction to their dwindling – or non-existent – numbers, but her views on racial – or rather, species – mingling were something that those skinheads would find common cause with.

Mollified, she relaxed slightly, the hint of a smile on her lips. “There’s a difference between breeding and sex.” The obvious question dangled in the air, but Bill wasn’t fool enough to take it.

Or at least he thought he wasn’t. “If you haven’t seen another of your kind for two hundred years...” the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them and he tensed, expecting to need an ice pack.

Instead, she laughed. The sound was mellifluous, but he didn’t know if her amusement was genuine or another trick of her skill with voices. “Sometimes, one of you impresses me. Extraordinarily beautiful, smart, skilled or something else that catches my eye. They usually survive.” There was a teasing light in her eyes as she winked at him. “It hasn’t always been dogs and horses.”

He snorted, not believing that last crack for a moment. Mercurial... The word flashed through his mind before he’d realized he was thinking it. She’s never this friendly, Kingsley realized with a start.

“Your heart rate just increased,” she noted. “Is something wrong? Or were you thinking of all the grunting and thrusting?”

“Yeah,” Bill answered, trying to project assurance despite the sickly smile on his face. He patted her hand comfortingly, as any husband would. “That’s it.”

She laughed, patting his cheek in a pantomime of affection. “Humans.”

Bill didn’t answer, looking up at the sun as it set over the jungle of concrete and glass, the orange glow making it seem as if the city itself were ablaze

~

She dreamt of fire.

Clad in battle-mail sculpted by a Master’s hands with the symbols of her bloodline and allegiance, she raised her sword to the sky and roared a battlecry, joining the chorus sung by ten thousand throats. She rode no steed, for horses would not seat her kind and her wings were bunched beneath her armour. Her tail, plated and tipped with a spiked club, twitched eagerly as looked to her lord’s banner.

Across the plain, the host of Lady Edrima stood against them, drummers pounding a dreadful cadence, stoking the warriors into a killing frenzy. In answer, her lord’s musicians blew their horns and the rustle of the Aerys’ wings stirred the dry wind, the intoxicating aroma of kill-scent making her drool. The horns blew again and the advance began...

..arrows sang as they were released, falling down upon their ranks, the synchronized downbeat of wings as the Aerys in their light armour took to the skies, falling back along the arrows’ path to target the archers, duelling their opposite numbers in mid-air...

...she was covered in blood, laughing as she cleaved her way through the enemy’s ranks, her greatsword keening as it cut the air, the screams of the enemy music to her blood-fevered mind...

...ahead, she could see the banners of Edrima’s personal guardsmen as they cut a path through her kinsmen for their lady’s escape. One of them saw her and raised his sword. She accepted the challenge, tearing through those between her and the escaping liege...

...the pounding of drums and the wail of the horns, the shriek of blades, the cries of the victors and the wails of the dying. Metal clashed on metal as she fought Edrima herself, her massive greatsword parrying the liege-lord’s blows, driving the lady back. Her foot slipped on a patch of bloody earth and she stumbled, Edrima lunging into the opening...

...she screamed in victory, holding Lady Edrima’s head high for all to see, a cry of challenge and dominance. The trickle of retreating soldiers became a flood and then the opposing army was in full retreat, their will to fight broken by their liege’s death...

...kneeling before her lord, offering him the head of his rival, not daring to look him in the eyes. These were the days before masques, when they had hidden from no one and the radiance of his being humbled her. He told her to rise...

...sweating, burning, clawing as he took her, her teeth in his shoulder, his claws in her back, her tongue lapping at the wounds she’d inflicted, tasting his blood as she moved against his powerful body, calling out for more...

...strong, he was strong...

...our child will be strong...

When she awoke, her cheeks were wet.

~

Bill lurched into his bed just as the sun was coming up. “She’s getting bored,” he groaned to himself, his face buried in the pillows. “Three nights of this and nothing. No bites, no hint of the Court. She’s going to go out and start killing again.”

“Of course she is,” a stranger’s voice answered.

Bill’s eyes snapped open and he was instantly awake, rolling across the bed and coming up with his pistol aimed at the intruder. His visitor was a well-dressed man with pale skin and black hair. He didn’t seem to care that Kingsley had a pistol aimed at his heart. “She’ll start doing that even if your little trawls were successful. She’ll be hungry. Are there any good butcher shops in the area? Or wholesalers? I would point those out to her, though she’ll still have the instinct to hunt.”

“Who...” Bill growled. “Who the fuck are you? Are you one of those White Court assholes?”

A smile – thin, unpleasant and superior – touched the man’s lips. “Hardly. I’m simply an... interested party. I’ve seen the news and I simply had to come looking for this ‘Heat Wave Vigilante’.”

“How did you find me?”

“Well, it wasn’t quite as easy as my appearance here may suggest. But I do have some experience in these matters and anything I set my mind to, I accomplish. So,” the man raised an eyebrow, gesturing to Kingsley’s gun. “Are you going to lower that?”

“No.”

“Smart man. I wouldn’t, either. It won’t help you, but it’s still a smart decision.” Bill’s visitor pointed to his coat. “May I?”

“Slowly.”

“Of course.” The stranger reached into his jacket and pulled out a small business card, holding it towards Bill. When Kingsley didn’t move to take it, the other man sighed theatrically and set it on the nightstand. “Give her this, would you? I’d like to meet her.”

“What makes you think she wants to meet you?”

“Oh, she will. Especially now.” The man stood, smoothing out the creases in his clothes. “I’ll be off now, I think. Just be sure to give her that, will you?”

He turned to go. “Wait,” demanded Kingsley. “Who the hell are you?”

“Ah, well – if we had a few hours, I could answer that for you. Sadly, neither of us has the time. If she asks, though... tell her my name is Du Noir.” He smiled then, with seeming warmth, but the expression never quite reached his eyes. “Au revoir, Monsieur Kingsley.” The door clicked shut behind him.

Bill slumped back against the sheets. “Anyone else here?” he called out to the empty apartment. “Akram? Elvis? No? Anyone?”

When he finally fell asleep, he dreamt of a city in flames and a great red beast curled around a clutch of eggs, watching him with unblinking golden eyes.



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777

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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-01-16 10:03pm
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oh, now this is interesting



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Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-01-17 02:39am
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Fantastically, gorgeously written across the board. One of the best pieces of writing I've seen in a while, frankly. I require, however...context.
Is this at all connected to an existing series/franchise, or an original work?
Once again, I commend you on your writing skill. Keep it up!



These disgruntled people can refocus their energies on getting more sovereignty for Indian nations within America; you know, the groups with actual reason for being disgruntled.
-Haruko, on the terrible plight of those wishing to secede from the United States.

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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-01-19 07:16pm
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Lady Tevar wrote:
oh, now this is interesting


Thank you; one does aim for that. :)

Chimaera wrote:
Fantastically, gorgeously written across the board. One of the best pieces of writing I've seen in a while, frankly. I require, however...context.


Thank you.

How much context? For this series I wanted to do something a little different and tell a series of vignettes - basically picking up the story halfway through and letting past events and context come out in bits and pieces; things happen between each part of the story. I may go back and tell some of the events that led up to the situation, but we'll have to see.

I've toyed with the idea of adding other supernatural creatures, but I'm two minds of that; when you start cramming more and more magic into the present-day world, it makes it harder and harder to suspend disbelief that all this could be happening and nobody knows anything about it. I found the later seasons of Buffy and Angel operated at this level, requiring either truly monumental levels of willful ignorance or abject stupidity on the part of the world at large and it's something I'd prefer to avoid if I can.

The flip side of that is, of course, to make the supernatural known to the general public - which could still work in some ways. The White Court could go legit, for example - they'd effectively be arbitrators, police officers and kill teams to keep the supernatural community in check. It may be my experience with the Anita Blake books, but I'm rather soured on that idea.

I've been toying with the idea of creating a type of vampire based on this world's own mythos. They do not sparkle and probably won't make an appearance in this arc, if at all.

Quote:
Is this at all connected to an existing series/franchise, or an original work?


It's an original work. The first vignette is actually the story Bill's companion tells him about the burning apartment building and her rescue of the trapped girl. More fleshed out, but that's basically the gist of it. I never really intended on continuing it until a friend told me about an urban fantasy novel with a humanform dragon in the place of a sparkly vampire, angsting endlessly. "Oh, woe is me for I am all alone and though I am attracted to you, we cannot make the sex for I may hurt you." It reminded me of the original vignette and I started work on Fireborn in earnest, simply out of spite.

...spite drives more of my inspiration than you'd think.



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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-01-22 02:51pm
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Another excellent work ..... although I would love to see more Rabbits based stuff :twisted:

Bladed_Crescent wrote:
..spite drives more of my inspiration than you'd think.


And it's that which makes it more visceral and raw.
Don't change.
Pretty please with cream and chocolate sprinklies and a disembodied head on top.



So I stare wistfully at the Lightning for a couple of minutes. Two missiles, sharply raked razor-thin wings, a huge, pregnant belly full of fuel, and the two screamingly powerful engines that once rammed it from a cold start to a thousand miles per hour in under a minute. Life would be so much easier if our adverseries could be dealt with by supersonic death on wings - but alas, Human resources aren't so easily defeated.

My weird shit NSFW

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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-01-25 12:04am
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I've been considering doing more Rabbits-verse material, although I don't have anything solid for a story yet. I've got something I've been working on, but I don't think it's quite polished as a concept, so it'll still be a while before there's any movement on that front and as I've got three different writing projects (all the lost, fireborn and another) currently on the go, my plate's rather full at present. I do intend to continue that series, but it'll have to wait its turn.

Quote:
And it's that which makes it more visceral and raw.
Don't change.
Pretty please with cream and chocolate sprinklies and a disembodied head on top.


"Sparkly vampires my ass! Let's see about some good old-fashioned beasts!"

"Fuck you, angsty dragon! I'll learn you good!"

...and so forth.



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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-03-12 09:27pm
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Old secrets.

Fireborn, Part 5:

Niyati. Fate.

Niesha. Pure.

Necia. Fiery.

Najila. Eyes that Glisten.

She’d had many names over the millennia. Most of them were unremarkable; a few were not. Kingsley thumbed through the Du Puis Chronicle carefully, its yellowed pages crisp and brittle. It didn’t seem like much. Just an old book. Worth a pretty penny to a collector or antiquarian, but nothing to kill over, nothing to start a war over. Bill smiled to himself as he ran a finger over the text. He was getting better at reading Old English. The Latin, not so much. There were a few brown drops on the pages; Lamel’s blood. Another death Akram was responsible for.

He remembered the scene; a neat little hole through the front window of John Lamel’s Quality Antiques, matching the one in the man’s head. It had been a small caliber round. No real mess to clean up. Despite himself, Bill managed a tight little smile. Akram had been arrogant; if he’d bothered to go into the shop, he would have found the book still clutched in Lamel’s hands. Instead, the Du Puis Chronicle had fallen into Bill and Andrew’s possession. At the time, they’d thought it was a hoax, or even a centuries-old Zombie Survival Guide. Certainly it couldn’t have been real.

There was the Court, and there were the Chroniclers – who were now probably fewer in number than the objects of their study. They were humans who watched the Fireborn for centuries, recording their lives and struggles. Nos memor. We remember; the motto of the Chroniclers. They’d dedicated themselves to lives lived in secret as they’d followed the Fireborn throughout the world, the drakes unaware of the eyes on them.

The Chroniclers had somehow made themselves invisible to their subjects, a secret that the White Court had coveted and one that the Chroniclers had died to the last to protect when the two went to war. It was nothing history books would even notice; blades in dark alleys, a few more “witches” burned at the stake, heretics stretched on the rack. The outcome was as final as it was one-sided; the Court utterly destroyed their “heretical” brethern, but the secrets of the Chroniclers died with them. Treatises, compendiums, scrolls and books dating back to the first written words were burned to keep them out of the Court’s hands, the remaining Chroniclers scattering to the winds or taking their own lives lest the Court find them. In the end, nothing remained of them but rumours and the handful of artefacts the Court had confiscated.

The Du Puis Chronicle was not one of these. Penned by Giscard Du Puis, a French Chronicler from the 15th century, it was a compendium of dozens of works, plus Du Puis’s own observations, experiments and records as he’d wandered Europe, following the Fireborn. The volume dealt mostly with a young – only a few centuries old – female named Di giallo luminos. Giscard had had something of a soft spot for the girl – if girl was the right word. She’d lived longer than any human ever had or ever would, but compared to Niyati, Giallo had been a babe in arms. Du Puis had wrote of her “a most inoffensive member of a race normally notable for its antipathy, antagonism and aggression in its dealings with our own.”

With Du Puis following her every step, the drake had spent most her time travelling Europe, Asia and Africa up until a White Court knight took her head.

Having seen what his companion was capable of, Bill found it hard to believe that a single man could ever take a drake in hand-to-hand combat, but he had to give credit where credit was due: the White Court knew what they were about. Du Puis wrote, in a shaking hand, of Giallo’s final stand. It was an ambush. The knight set hounds on her first; a pack of “frothing beasts, large as horses and red-eyed like demons”, loosing arrows into her as she killed the dogs in “a craven’s stratagem, skulking in the shadows, whispering praise to God for every shriek of agony his arrows wrought from her, tattering her golden wings and sticking her like a javelinist preparing a bull for the arena’s butcher.”

With his distraction gone, the knight mounted his horse, lance in hand and rode her down. She tore the animal out from under him, “the steed shrieking a horrific death-cry as its belly spilled upon the ground”, but the Court’s man had landed favourably. Gravely wounded, the drake had faced off against the knight, nearly killing him more than once, but as Giscard had lamented, luck had favoured him and he managed to open her throat, delivering the killing blow as she had choked on her own blood. The next page was a prayer for Giallo’s soul.

It was an odd sensation to read a eulogy for something that every physical and natural law said would not, could not and should not exist. The Chroniclers had had many theories for their existence; they were the Nephilim, the children of the sons of God and daughters of men.

Next to the Chronicle, Kingsley kept a worn, dog-eared Bible, its pages bookmarked at only several sites, but only twice were Nephilim mentioned. Genesis 6: 1-4 and Numbers: 32-33. There wasn’t much about them to go on. Lamel had been the researcher; his notes – what little Bill and Andrew had saved from the fire – sat spread open on Kingsley’s desk, mostly incomprenhensible.

There were other theories; not the children of heavenly angels, but sired by fallen ones. They were not true dragons, but the result of a mating between human and dragon, human and serpent, human and demon, heavenly angel and demon. Gorgons, children of pagan gods. The Chroniclers had never learned the truth and the closest they had was rumour, superstition and theories that were closer to wild guess than anything approaching fact. The drakes themselves had never spoken of their origins to any human and their chosen name, ‘fireborn’ was equal parts cryptic, vague and useless. They were old. That was all the Chroniclers had known. They’d once had a civilization that had put Alexander’s empire to shame, thousands of years before the first human set stone upon stone. And then... it was gone, their race shattered into ever-dwindling fragments. Fratricide accounted for some of their losses since, but most died at the hands of humans and more ever since the White Court had been resurrected.

She might really be the last one left, Bill thought with a sudden solemnity. He set the Chronicle down, trying to understand that. To have lived so long and seen everything you knew crumble... to only rarely see others of your kind. Being hunted, moving from life to life, town to town, decade after decade. It would be enough to drive most people mad.

Pulling himself out of his maudlin mood, Bill smiled to himself as he thumbed carefully though the rest of the Chronicle, pausing as he always did at the painting Du Puis had had commissioned of Giallo. Even worn and folded into the pages of a book as it was, it was priceless and Lamel had spent a small fortune to restore and preserve it.... only to fold it back inside the Chronicle, afraid that anything more would catch the Court’s attention.

Her eyes closed in repose, Giallo reached tenderly for the sun and sky above her, her golden skin agleam even as vines coiled around her other arm and legs, binding her to the earth. Behind her loomed the silhouette of a dragon, rearing mightily from the girl’s shadow.

Dragon. It felt... wrong to use that word on them. When he thought of dragons, he thought of great winged beasts. He’d once asked Niyati if dragons – real dragons – had ever existed. She’d just smiled. Tolerantly, like a teacher humouring one of the slower pupils in her class.

She was such a bitch.

~

The heat wave was in its fourth week now and showed no signs of breaking. Heat storms crashed and thundered on the few days that the sun wasn’t shining, but the pouring rains they brought steamed and sizzled against concrete and skin alike. 57 people had died so far just from the heat with dozens – perhaps hundreds – more hospitalized. That didn’t count the brushfire gang wars that flared up, nor the spike in the crime rate. Adding all those in, in the past four weeks, things got a lot worse. There were even threats of a police strike as overworked precincts struggled to keep order in neighbourhoods that seemed to be going mad.

Of course, she loved every moment of it. If she even noticed the troubles of the humans around her, she certainly didn’t care. She was too... Bill couldn’t think of the right word. Relaxed some moments, wired the next, she alternated between mellow and manic.

Today, she was the former, curled up in the middle of the Clementes’ king-sized bed. Naked, she had no masque and her red-gold skin glistened under the studio apartment’s lights, the pale gleam of fluorescence giving her skin an almost wet look. Even now, he still didn’t know if she was layered in scales, or if it was just the pattern on her body. Aside from that brief poke weeks ago, he’d never touched her actual body; always with a layer of false human skin.

It was... disorienting to look on her for too long, the rippling of red to gold with each movement and the apparent shifting patterns tugged at your eyes, making you look everywhere at once.

“What,” she drawled sleepily at his approach, her tail twitching idly. The only thing he’d seen more relaxed was his ex-wife’s cat whenever the spoiled little hairball found herself a window and a sunbeam. “Do you want?”

Bill took a breath, stepping closer. He reached into his jacket and took out the business card his visitor had given him. “Someone broke into my apartment a few nights ago.”

She made a sound that tried to convey both interest and sympathy, failing at both. That she’d made that much of an effort was strangely heartwarming. “It wasn’t the Court,” she surmised.

“No. Some well-dressed asshole. He wanted to talk to you.”

That got her attention and she lifted her head, looking over her shoulder at him. “Did he.”

“Yeah. He left a card. Said to give it to you.” He held it out to her.

She rolled over to face him, sitting up and wrapping her wings around herself. “Obsidian Exports,” she rolled the name down her tongue. “Owner, Vander Zwart. Funny.” She lifted her eyes, meeting Bill’s. “Who gave you this?”

Droplets of sweat beaded down the detective’s back. The rising temperature was only partially responsible. “He said that if he asked, to tell you his name was Du Noir.”

“Du Noir,” she said, very quietly. She was very still, save for the sudden spastic lashing of her tail, pounding against the bed, the blade on its tip ripping into the down sheets. Her wings trembled, shivering against her body. She stared at Bill for a long moment. “Get out.” It wasn’t a demand; it was a warning. A plea.

He all but ran for the door. He’d made it halfway to the elevator when he heard her scream, so loudly that even through the walls, he had to clap his hands over his ears. It went on and on, rending the air, so visceral that Bill could feel it in his bones and the detective panted and stumbled, his mind numb, awash with impressions of hatred and fury and... and... and fear.

For the first time since he’d known her, she was afraid.

Bill stabbed at the down button, slumping against the wall as the elevator took him away from the penthouse, the sound of her despair fading away into silence.

~

She vomited, retching a bellyful of half-digested food onto the floor of the ruined apartment, her entire body trembling, shivering with adrenalin. Du Noir. A transliteration of a translation. Hate, rage, fear – they all warred for dominance, but she was too exhausted to give voice to them. Tears dripped from her eyes, drool and venom from her mouth.

Still alive. After all this time, another of her kind was alive and it was him. Thin wisps of reeking smoke filled her nostrils as her venom burned the expensive shag carpet. Her talons kneaded the fabric unconsciously, ripping out great fluffy clumps, scoring gouges in the floor beneath.

Betrayer. Her mind hissed the ancient curse, one hand straying down to her belly. I know why you’re here. “You won’t,” she whispered. “You won’t have me. No. No no no.” She raised her head, staring her fractured reflection in a broken mirror. “No,” she growled, low and vicious. “No, you won’t. I’ll kill you.”

She straightened, no longer trembling. Steam vented from her mouth and she reached over, tracing a single talon along the edge of the shattered mirror. She looked up, meeting her own reflected gaze.

“I’ll kill him.”



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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-03-13 12:49am
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Well... that's a really nasty reaction. I hope there's some background.



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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-03-14 10:42pm
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A bit of one, yes. We'll definitely get to see more of Du Noir and just why Niyati's reacted the way she has to the thought of him still being alive, let alone there for her.



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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-03-15 01:30pm
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I'm really enjoying this. The short punctuated scenes really leave me wanting more background into the characters and the universe. And I also immediately thought Dresden when I read White Court.

Above you mentioned that this is a continuation of another short story, could we get a link to said story? I'd really like to read that as well.

Thanks for sharing this!



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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-03-15 03:06pm
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Bladed_Crescent wrote:
Betrayer. Her mind hissed the ancient curse, one hand straying down to her belly. I know why you’re here. “You won’t,” she whispered. “You won’t have me. No. No no no.” She raised her head, staring her fractured reflection in a broken mirror. “No,” she growled, low and vicious. “No, you won’t. I’ll kill you.”


It seems rather clear what she thinks he wants. I wonder how correct she is?

I'm also very intrigued by the whole Betrayer comment. I wonder what he did to earn that particular moniker? I know it'll come out in the story eventually, but I want to know NOW!! :cry:

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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-03-16 08:22pm
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TronPaul wrote:
I'm really enjoying this. The short punctuated scenes really leave me wanting more background into the characters and the universe. And I also immediately thought Dresden when I read White Court.


Damn that Jim Butcher!

Glad you're enjoying the story, though. I've made a deliberate choice to limit context when and where I can, unless it can come naturally out during one of these short snippets. Heh.

Quote:
Above you mentioned that this is a continuation of another short story, could we get a link to said story? I'd really like to read that as well.


I've thought about posting it; it's a lot rougher than the rest of the series (more of a proof-of-concept), but I've never gotten around to polishing it, which is why mostly why I haven't posted it.

MondoMage wrote:
It seems rather clear what she thinks he wants. I wonder how correct she is?


Let's just say he hasn't shown up to reminisce about old times. Besides, what's more tempting then re-making your species in your own image?

Quote:
I'm also very intrigued by the whole Betrayer comment. I wonder what he did to earn that particular moniker? I know it'll come out in the story eventually, but I want to know NOW!! :cry:


You'll just have to wait, but let's just say that that title is very apt...



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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-03-18 09:00pm
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I have to wonder if he's one reason for the White Court.



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 Post subject: Re: Fireborn PostPosted: 2012-04-01 06:00pm
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Betrayals, past, present and future.

Part 6

He licked his teeth. They were stained red, dripping as Athena’s eyes went glassy and blank; she still tried to speak, but no words came from her torn throat. She twitched, looking out at Nike, their eyes meeting for the last time. Grey and gold. She remembered screaming, frothing with rage and thrashing against her bindings as if the Destroyer itself were upon her. Cold iron dug into her skin. She had no flames, no bloodweaves and burning venom drooled impotently from her mouth.

Athena was twitching, dead but for the firing of random nerves. Nike didn’t know that, and so she thought her mentor was still alive when her brother began to feed.


~

La Boisson Royale was an upscale coffee house, frequented by writers, directors, actors, actresses and their hangers-on, its overpriced drinks appealing to self-styled gourmets with more money than taste. Kingsley was sitting on the upper mezzanine, browsing a newspaper, with a house iced special that had long since gone warm. On the lower level, his ‘partner’ sat in a booth, tapping her fingernails against the tabletop in a manner that, judging by the glares of the other customers and waitstaff, would shortly provoke a bloody uprising. Her masque was Hispanic this time, with a full head of wavy raven tresses cascading down her back. Her brown eyes were quick and curious. She was very beautiful, a fact that had not gone unnoticed by the other men in the restaurant. She’d already received one complimentary espresso-mocha-grande-latte-whatever, to which she had batted her eyes and smiled.

Luckily, the poor dumb bastard had received some kind of emergency call and had had to hurry out before he could act on her seeming flirtation. She knew Bill was watching. She would have flirted more, maybe even letting her would-be suitor touch her, just to get a dig in at Bill. Malicious. Mercurial. He was still having the dreams. They weren’t always the same, but there were two constants: One was fire. The other was birth. He wasn’t sleeping well. He tried to console himself by telling himself that the thought of Niyati raising a... what? Brood? Litter? Clutch? Well, the thought of her procreating at all was probably giving those Court assholes even worse nights.

He’d spent every free moment looking through Du Puis’ Chronicle, trying to find something – he didn’t even know what – looking for any scrap of information, anything at all about their breeding cycles. His guts churned with acid and Bill fumbled an antacid into his mouth. God damn it, he thought in equal parts anger and desperation. I’m not supposed to be dealing with this kind of shit. I should be chasing adulterers and bail-jumpers, not getting involved with psychotic templar assholes and freaky pyrophiliacs. Andy and I should have just stayed out of it. It wasn’t our business. If he was smart, he would have backed out long ago and gone back to stalking husbands and wives for their suspicious partners. The jobs were boring, but they were safe. He should have done that.

He should have found something to quell that nagging inner voice that told him to stay, even if meant drowning it in drink. Now, though...

The door chime rang as another customer entered the shop and Kingsley surreptitiously looked down at the entrance, his guts folding in one themselves. Now, though... now it was definitely too late.

~

Aetos fell to his knees, clutching at the spear buried in his guts. He gurgled, blood running over his lips. His tail twitched weakly in the mud, his wings hanging slack his sides. “This...” he forced each word out, fighting for each one. “This is wrong.” He looked up, defiance in his remaining eye. “Betrayer.” He spat the word into the churned earth.

The flat of a blade lifted his chin and Aetos met his brother’s gaze. “Not me,” the dying fireborn whispered.

“Pardon?”

“Not me...” Aetos repeated.

“Tsk. I thought you were made of sterner mettle.”

“...but another,” Aetos finished. “Not me, but another. Another kills you. Traitor. Keerthi. Mayon. Necia.”

His murderer smiled. “Keerthi begged for her life. Mayon never so much as raised his sword and I’ll be paying little crimson a visit in due time. So who else is left,
brother?”

Aetos spat in his ‘brother’s’ face.

“That’s right,” the black-skinned drake said. He swung his sword around in a gleaming arc, beheading his fallen kin. “No one.”


~

They held hands in greeting like old friends, he kissing her cheeks in welcome, but inside...

As soon as the waitress took his order and was safely out of earshot, she spoke. “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you.”

“You wound me, poco carmesi,” he said. “How many decades have gone by, and still you bear me such enmity?”

“Until the end of time.” Niyati took a sip from her beverage, heated to almost scalding, despite the oppressive temperature outside. Behind the brown cow’s gaze of her masque, Du Noir could see the glint of her true eyes and the anger within them was enthralling, only serving to stoke his desire. “And you haven’t answered my question.”

“True enough,” He looked around at the baristas, trend-setters, entourages, stars and starlets all jabbering to each other. One in particular caught his eye and he nodded towards her. She was stunning; blonde hair hanging past her shoulders, tanned skin glistening slightly with sweat, even in the air-conditioned coffee house. She was an up-and-coming actress whose face had been plastered across more magazines then ‘Carmesi’ cared to count, but her name escaped the woman at present. To the fireborn, she was just another one of the seven billion humans infesting the planet.

Du Noir looked the celebrity up and down appraisingly, smiling charmingly as one of her hangers-on noticed and whispered something in her meal ticket’s ear. The starlet almost looked in his direction, but caught herself and whispered something back to her clinging compatriot. The other woman snuck a discrete glance at him, nodded and said something back to the starlet. He turned his attention back to his own dinner companion; she was nakedly staring at him, making no attempt to hide the fact that she was planning on murdering him.

Exhilarating.

“That woman,” he said, with a dismissive gesture towards the starlet at her tittering pack of sycophants. “Is, by most standards, quite beautiful. Rich and with every chance of becoming the next greatest ‘It Girl’ in this town, shortly the country.” He nodded politely as the waitress delivered his own drink, taking a brief sip from it. “Beauty, wealth, fame... even power. I’d sooner fuck a rutting pig. Oh, I could have her. She might be a brief diversion, but really... so fragile. Humans,” he said with a shake of his head. “they just come apart in your hands.”

She said nothing, but he could see the subtle cracking of her skin around her eyes and fingers. “Mind yourself,” he said, taking another drink of his chilled latte. “We’re in the age of cell phone cameras and paparazzi.”

Carmesi took a deep breath, steadying herself. She wanted to kill him. She wanted nothing more than to leap across the table and sink her teeth into his throat, drive her claws into his belly and start tearing, to soak herself in his blood. She wouldn’t, though. No matter how much she wanted to, she had to restrain herself. No matter what he said or did, she couldn’t touch him.

Delicious.

“It’s getter harder, isn’t it?” he enquired nonchalantly. “The masque. The... ‘dance of deception’. No, don’t bother to deny it. I can see it quite easily, thank you. You’re having trouble holding it.”

“Your point?”

“It has been rather warm lately,” Du Noir said. “You’re starting a cycle. I can see it. I can smell it. You’ll be in heat soon.”

Her hands clutched at the edge of the table, the only thing keeping her from lashing out at him. A drop of corrosive saliva spilled over her lips. It hissed as it ate away at the polished mahogany tabletop. “I will kill you.

“Please, there’s no need to be so dramatic. I’m not asking you to forgive and forget – although I hardly think I have much, if anything, to apologize for – I’m just... presenting you with options. For all you know, we may be the last of our kind.”

She smiled sweetly. “I would rather our race die out then bear any of your bastards.”

“Tch. So inflexible,” Du Noir took a fifty dollar bill out of his wallet and set it on the tabletop, standing to go. “I’ll let you think about it. When you’re writhing around in need, I doubt I’ll seem so bad an option.”

“Never.” Her dewey-sweet expression never changed, even though she slurred an epithet through a mouthful of poisonous drool.

He smiled, ignoring the insult. “‘Never.’ That word means so little to us, doesn’t it?” He turned to go, then paused, as if just remembering something. “The White Court... they’re here, aren’t they? I’d be careful, poco carmesi. They’re not ones to appreciate the maternal instinct.”

Du Noir gave his companion a respectful bow of his head feeling her radiate helpless fury as he took his leave. He stepped out into the street and thunder crashed, a sudden pulse of steaming rain pounding down, sending the cattle yelping and scattering for cover. In seconds, his Armani was soaked. Du Noir turned his face up to the skies and laughed.

~

The blade sang.

He clutched at his chest, at the gash that had suddenly appeared. A blade twirled in his opponent’s hands, a massive greatsword wielded as if it were a rapier. Gold eyes glared hungrily back at him. “All your little toy soldiers,” his sister purred. “Broken.” Knights lay at her feet, crumpled and hewn. Her chest rose and fell with each breath, steam venting through her teeth. Blood spiralled and curled around her feet, pulsing in sympathy with the beating of her heart. Grass withered from the heat, each of her footsteps leaving a charred patch of ground behind.

He held his scimitar up in a guard position, but the wound was deep and he backed away. “I misjudged you,” he admitted carefully.

Her skin shimmered as she stalked closer to him, red and gold. She held the blade towards him, rivulets of human blood smeared down its length, her forearms, chest and face decorated with it. There was only murder in her lovely citrine eyes. She’d never been more beautiful.

And then they danced.


~

“This... this is blasphemy.”

“Steady,” Akram whispered to his men as they strode through a profaned temple.

The church of Our Lady of Mercy had been closed for almost two decades after a rash of bizarre accidents, culminating in the suicides of a parishioner and one of the clergy. Considered cursed, even the homeless and the drug addicts that had choked out this neighbourhood avoided Our Lady of Mercy. After tonight, they’d have even more reason.

Weeping angels stood silent vigil as the SWAT swept through the desecrated church and Akram felt a bead of sweat run down his back. This should be its lair. The Court had run geographical profiles of the ‘Heat Wave Vigilante’s’ kill sites and the church was close to ground zero. Nothing would appeal to a fireborn more than using an abandoned church as a lair, and this one had outdone herself.

Itself, al Faddil corrected himself. Itself.

That’s what they had thought, anyways. It seemed, however, that the blood-born bitch was playing with them.

The church stank of rotten meat, alcohol, sweat and piss. Spoiled blood rotted on the walls, blasphemies scrawled across every available inch of space; curses and imprecations against Yahweh and Allah, renditions of Mohammed and Jesus that ran the gamut from crude and cartoonish to those whose heresies were lavishly detailed. Targeting lasers swept over each new depravity, night-vision goggles rendering each insult in perfect detail.

The faces of saints had been burned and clawed away, stripped from statuary, painting and window alike. Here and there, it had kept the bodies of some of its victims, crucifying, hanging and posing them in further mockery of the faiths of the Court. Flies buzzed around the dead, maggots writhing in mouths and burst bellies. Even through his mask, Akram could smell the overpowering stench of decomposition.

“This is wrong,” Akram said to himself, not realizing he’d spoken aloud.

“She’s mocking us,” growled Sabir, pointing to a particularly insulting rendition of Mohammed. “She mocks our faith.”

“Yes, she does...” Akram mused. “But why?”

This wasn’t spastic rage he was seeing. It was calculation, cruel and cold. Not the frothing, spiteful anger that it appeared to be. He could feel her laughter here; there’d been no venom behind these heresies, only amusement. “You’re right,” he told Sabir. “She is mocking us. But this isn’t about our faith.”

“No?” The other man shone a light on the pulpit; a large crucifix had been hung upside down, the image of Christ despoiled. A hunched and hooded form was posed at the pulpit as if about to give a sermon.

“No,” Akram said with growing certainty. “She wouldn’t – doesn’t – care enough about our beliefs to do this. This is her... is its... way of calling us out. Of naming us as fools and idiots.” Even before his other teams reported their sections clear, Akram knew they would find no trace of her in this church. “She knew how we would look for her,” he sighed. “She knew we would come here. This – all this – is it laughing at us, at our fumbling in the dark.” He felt his lips twitch sardonically, running his gloved hands along various blasphemies. “Don’t give this power. Don’t let its little whimsies blind you. It wants you angry so that you aren’t thinking clearly.” He’d made similar mistakes and too many people had paid for it; Akram refused to let it happen again.

Sabir nodded choppily. The other Muslim was devout and the fireborn’s insults were calculated to cut to the quick of the faithful, but he saw the wisdom in his lieutenant’s words.

“A lot of effort,” Jessica Sanders commented. She was one of Akram’s new knights, freshly promoted to fill the losses his unit had suffered at the drake’s hands. Sanders was ‘double-duty’, with a position on Captain al-Faddil’s actual SWAT unit as well as serving at the Court’s pleasure under Lieutenant al-Faddil.

“They’re immortal,” Akram pointed out. “They have nothing but time.”

“Not as much as everyone seems to think,” a new voice announced.

Instantly, Akram and his unit had their weapons raised. The voice had come from the hooded figure at the head of the church, what the captain had taken for another corpse. Slowly, the figure raised its hands, pulling back its hood. A handsome man with dark hair and eyes wearing a priest’s collar stared back at them. A wry smile pulled the corner of his mouth into a condescending smirk. “Welcome, my children. I don’t have a sermon scheduled today, but I will take confession if you wish it.”

His eyes glinted red as one of Akram’s men shone a light over the priest’s face, and half a dozen automatic weapons were trained on him. The smile widened. “Is there something the matter, my children?”

“Is it her?” Sanders asked, her eyes flitting over to Akram. “Is this her?”

“No,” Akram said quietly. “She has gold eyes.” He remembered them, glinting amidst the flames, Yuri screaming as she pulled the big man apart, the popping of muscles audible over the crackling fire. “This is a new one.” His finger tightened on the trigger.

“The ‘priest’ seemed completely unperturbed by the weaponry pointing at him. “Before you do anything hasty, I think we should have a talk, you and I.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” hissed Jessica. Small and vicious, that summed Sanders up pretty well. “You’re one of those things.”

“This is the standard you teach them to?” the drake shook its head. “How you’ve fallen. I remember a time when the Court’s knights were all warrior-scholars. Poets and writers, learned men and women. Now... what? Zealous little thugs in tactical vests?” He stepped around the desecrated altar, his hands out before him as if in supplication. “What has become of the White Court?”

“Don’t come any closer,” Akram warned.

“Of course not. I came to talk.”

“There’s nothing you can say,” Sanders growled, her eyes flickering over to Akram, waiting for the order to fire.

“I believe there is,” the false priest said, seating himself on the steps leading to the pulpit. “Though, I must say all this hostility is very disheartening. I remember a time when the Court and I got on very well.”

Sanders snorted. “Say the word, LT.”

“Wait,” an unpleasant sense of familiarity was tickling the back of al-Faddil’s brain. “What are you talking about?”

The drake sighed. “You see? Thugs in vests. How disappointing. Do any of you know your history? Do any of you remember a period of time when the Court wasn’t quite... white?”

A few of Akram’s team traded brief glances. “The Black Court,” he said, his stomach threatening to drop out of his gut. Not the official name, but one it had carried for several decades when they had been allied with...

“You’re him,” he said at last. “Du Noir.”

The ‘priest’ nodded, smiling. “At your service.”

“There’s still a price on your head. I know what you did. You betrayed us.”

“People keep telling me that...”

“I haven’t heard a reason not to order my people to take you down,” Akram said. “Anything else?”

“Why, yes. I’ve heard that you’re looking for a particular individual. You’re worried that she might be suffering from a certain... condition.” He smiled, much too wide for a human. “I can tell you that your fears are justified.” He stood, his hands clasped behind his back. He leaned towards Akram. “And I can give her to you.”

~

She was on her knees, panting and struggling to rise to her feet. Her greatsword had fallen from her hands. Blood dripped into her eyes from a cut on her scalp. Her hide was scored by slashes and lacerations, the deep wounds slowly but surely healing. She had won, for what little that was worth. Or, rather, she had survived. She’d been lucky.

She let out a low moan, crawling through the mud and gore of the upturned earth, snapping a locket off a dead knight’s belt. A blood-red sapphire, it glinted in the sun. Worth enough to buy the lowliest commoner lands and titles, the human had carried into battle as a trinket. As a trophy. It had belonged to one of her cousins.

She let out a despairing cry and clutched the locket to her breasts, crying out in pain. She screamed until she had nothing left in her and fell to the ground. “I didn’t know,” she whispered. “I’m sorry, I didn’t. I should have listened. I should have believed you. I should have.” She screamed again, but this time in fury, harsh and terrible. Steaming tears ran down her cheeks.

He was still alive. She’d gone at him with her all, and he’d survived. Wounded and bleeding, but still alive. If she’d been faster. If she’d been stronger... she should have been. She should have been. She’d been weak and she’d failed. He’d lived because of that failure.

“I wasn’t good enough. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She looked at the locket. It was coated in her blood, her talons dug into her palm. “I will be,” she promised. “I will be.”



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777

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