Thursday, August 27, 2015

New short story: Fine Print

The sorcerer held the pendant in his outstretched hand, the red stone giving an eldritch gleam in the dim light. "This was forged in the fires of Hades by the artisans of the damned. Wear this, and you will be unstoppable."

The richly dressed man on the other side of the table reached for it eagerly, but stopped when the small woman next to him cleared her throat. She was wearing a suit and a politely disinterested expression, and the sorcerer hated her instantly. "Not yet, your lordship. There are a few points of the contract I need to go over with Mr..." She flipped through a few of the pages in her hands. "Dread Dank Darin."

The nobleman sat back in his chair, disappointed. The sorcerer – Darin to his friends – narrowed his eyes at the woman. He definitely did not approve of the way she said his name without a shred of awe. "Contract? There is no contract. I have to summon a demon if you want one of those, and I'll need a case of alcohol and 48 hours advance notice."

The woman gave him a long-suffering look. "No, I meant the implied contract that comes with ownership of the pendant you are trying to sell my client. For example – you promise him that he will be 'unstoppable' if he purchases this, but what precisely do you mean by that?"

The sorcerer's brow furrowed, not sure what she was getting at but definitely not willing to admit his confusion. “Exactly what it says on the tin. Unstoppable. Cannot be stopped.”

“By whom, exactly?” The woman’s voice was just polite enough to be infuriating. “Individual opponents? Entire armies? Gods? If he takes possession of the pendant, will he be capable of stopping himself should he choose to? Or could he, for example, eat himself to death without intending to? And what definition are you using for ‘stop’? Defeat in battle? A halt in his rise to power? Death? And if it is death, does it mean he can’t be killed or that he can’t die?”

“I knew an immortal once,” the nobleman said suddenly. “He mostly gardened. Said he was bored of everything else.” He shuddered. “I can’t even imagine.”

The sorcerer gaped at them both for a moment, caught without an answer to even a single one of the woman’s questions. Then he shook his head and focused his attention on the nobleman.  “Unlimited power is almost in your hands, your lordship! All you have to do is pay me!”

The nobleman hesitated for a moment, giving the pendant one last hungry look, then shook his head. “No, sorry. Can’t do it. My grandfather got himself killed in one of those ‘no man can defeat me’ loopholes, and that was before there were so many lady knights about.” He pushed himself away from the table, standing. “No good rising to power if you make it that easy on people to stop you.”

“But… but….”

The woman tucked her papers into a briefcase, then stood as well. “I would advise you to look into researching your products more thoroughly, Mr. Dank.”

By the time he had recovered enough to correct her, they were gone.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

New short story: Vampire Ball

Annabelle covertly adjusted her corset, wondering how it could still be so infuriating even though she technically no longer needed to breathe. She had been promised that, as a vampire, she would be a goddess among mortals, but she was quite certain that no goddess had ever stuffed herself into one of these ridiculous tubes and paraded herself around for strangers.

"I should have let Lionel bite me instead of you," she sniped, sweeping a glare over the dancing crowd before turning it to the tall, elegantly dressed gentleman standing beside her. "I could be out running under the moonlight at this very moment, free and gloriously naked."

Reginald, the gentleman in question, pursed his lips briefly in distaste. "With blood and entrails matting your fur, no doubt."

"I would not care, and the forest is blessedly free of pinch-faced busybodies who would insist on caring in my stead." She yanked the comb out of her hair, letting it spill down around her shoulders as she tossed the offending piece of jewelry into a darkened corner.  "We are creatures of the night, Reggie. I let you turn me to get away from ridiculous games like this. Forgive me if I'm horrified by the thought of being trapped in them for the next 500 years."

He gave a patient sigh at the acid in her tone, tucking an errant lock of hair behind her ear. "Lionel and his kin spend their time in the forests because biology demands it of them. They hunger for the dumb woodland creatures, the violence of the chase." He sniffed. "Savages."

She raised an eyebrow at him. "And which of you has the higher body count?"

"Irrelevant. When we vampires eat, we eat with dignity." He swept a hand out to take in the swirling dancers before them, lips quirking upward. "An entire buffet spread out before us."

Annabelle followed Reginald's gaze, the light slowly dawning. "Ah," she said after a moment, her own lips curving. "I take back everything I said."

He looked amused. "I thought you might."

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Short story: De-stoning
For gorgons, getting someone to de-stone whatever poor buggers tripped across them at home was somewhere between spring cleaning and a community service. Medusa had them come by once a week, rather than once a month or even once a year, which told you all you needed to know about the kind of person she was.

"Looks like you're having a pretty good week this week," Beauty said conversationally, carefully gluing the tip of a bird's wing back in place. If you did the repair work while they were stone they always seemed perfectly whole after the potion had taken effect, and she'd decided a long time ago not to think about the details too much. "I've been coming here for months, and I don't think I've ever seen the numbers this low."

It took Medusa  a little too long to respond.  "Yeah." Another pause. "It's been good."

Beauty looked up at the gorgon, the sunglasses they both wore making it harder to see the expression on her face. But she could tell that her shoulders were hunched, and the snakes were hissing quietly as they brushed back and forth against her cheeks. "What's wrong?"

Medusa hesitated. "Nothing," she said finally, trying to brush the snakes away from her face. "I'm fine. Just tired."

The snakes weren't having it any more than Beauty was. "Nope, sorry, still don't believe you." She used the eyedropper to apply the de-stoning potion to the top of the bird's head, waiting until it had transformed and flown away before straightening. "Do it for your snakes, if nothing else. They're clearly worried about you."

Medusa sighed. "They can tell how stressed I am." She curled in on herself even more tightly. "Please don't tell your boss about what I'm about to show you."

Beauty tensed. "Is this the kind of thing that could theoretically get us arrested?"

There was far, far too long a pause. "Maybe not if we found a nice judge?"

Now she had to look, if only because it was rude to leave nice people alone in the middle of a disaster. Beauty followed Medusa back into the house, her brain cycling through all the possibilities of exactly what she might be about to see. "You know the constables won't care if you turned a burglar, right? They consider it self defense, and include the de-stoning cost as part of the bail."

The utter silence from Medusa quickly dashed her hope that the problem was that simple, and she braced herself when the gorgon finally stopped at a particular closet and opened it. Inside stood the stone figure of a man with longish hair and a shocked expression she could see even through her darkened lenses.

 Beauty didn't recognize him, but it wasn't as much of a comfort as it might have been. "Who is he?" she asked, lowering her sunglasses. "An ex-boyfriend?"

"Sort of." Medusa thunked her head against the side of the door, sounding miserable. "Remember when I told you about Perseus?"

Ah. He and Medusa had dated briefly, at least until he'd tried to chop off a handful of her snakes for a quest his prospective father-in-law had sent him on and she'd found out it was all an act. If he'd tried to chop off her head, she could have had him arrested, but it turned out the law was fuzzier on the question of living hair.

"Well, that explains a lot." Beauty turned to Medusa. "How long has he been like this?"

"Three days," Medusa said, voice slowly growing more indignant. "I know I shouldn't have, but he actually offered to pay me to kill some of my snakes. Of all the--"

Beauty held up a hand to stop her. "Sorry, but I'll be able to lie better if I don't know too many details." Then she moved forward. "How far away from your house do you think we'll be able to carry him?"


Perseus blinked, staring blearily up at the trees and Beauty's smiling face. "Where am I?"

"In the middle of the woods, and you're lucky I found you." She put on her best "innocent citizen" expression, which had been judged moderately successful by those who didn't know her that well. "A basilisk has been seen in the area, and you must have ticked the poor thing off."

He slowly sat up, still blinking in confusion. "I don't remember a basilisk. I was... I was going to meet someone...."

So she might have dropped statue him with excessive force. The chunk from the side of his head had been surprisingly easy to glue back on. "I don't think anyone lives around here." She held out a hand. "That'll be 50 credit slips for the de-stoning."

His brow furrowed. "Excuse me?"

She shrugged. "This stuff is expensive, and the boss is going to make me account for every drop. The Enchanted Forest Service sent me out here for animals, not you."

Still in a daze, he gave her the money. The following week, she gave half of it to Medusa.


Note: Beauty later appears in "Beast Charming"

Monday, August 10, 2015

New Short Story: Sleeping Potion
Rita didn’t understand why anyone bothered to wear hooded cloaks to hide their appearance. In the middle of a perfectly nice day like this, having your hood up pretty much shouted “I am up to something nefarious!”

She refrained from actually saying any of this, however, as the customer slipped into the shop and threw back the hood of her cloak. Once the young woman made eye contact, she practically raced to the counter. “I need a sleeping potion. I’ll pay anything!”

Rita gave the woman an evaluating look. “I take it you’re not talking about an insomnia cure.”

“That’s not enough.” The young woman laid her hands flat on the counter as she leaned forward, desperation in her eyes. “Anything less than six months won’t be enough. I’ll take a year if you have it.”

“I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place.” Rita kept her voice even as she reached under the counter, wrapping her hand around the wand she kept on hand for emergencies. The young woman looked harmless, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. “I sell healing potions, stuff to help you around the house. You’ll want to go to a licensed Evil Witch for the potion you’re looking for.”

The customer’s eyes filled with tears. “I can’t trust them! And if I go home….” She pressed a hand against her mouth, fighting back tears. “I won’t survive.”

Rita hesitated. She wasn’t interested in breaking the law, but if the girl was using it in self-defense…. “Your father? Or your husband?”

She waved a hand. “Oh, he’ll be fine. He just loves her, and thinks it’s all a big misunderstanding.” She wiped her eyes. “Of course, he’ll be horrified that I was arrested for homicide, but I’m sure she’ll keep him busy telling him how right she’s been this whole time….”

Now Rita was lost. “Wait.” She held up her other hand to stop the ramble. “Who are you talking about?”

The young woman clunked her forehead on the counter. “My mother-in-law. Her house got destroyed in an ogre attack and she’s moving in with us.”

Rita turned the startled chuckle into a cough. “And you think dosing her will keep her out of your hair for awhile?”

The young woman’s head shot up. “No!” she said, horrified. “That would be rude.”

Rita let go of her wand. “Then who were you planning on using it on?”

The young woman’s shoulders sagged, and she dropped her head into her hands. “Me.”

This time, Rita couldn’t stop the chuckle. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Adventures in wildlife, part 2

Photo courtesy of
You know those moments when your gut tells you that something is happening, but your brain doesn't really want to deal with the complication and keeps deluding itself for a few more minutes?

Turns out I do that waaay more than I'm comfortable with.

I was sitting just outside the front door of my apartment on the darkened walkway, surfing the internet by the glowing light of my computer screen. It was inching on 2 a.m. and I really needed to go to bed, so I finally made myself surface and shut off the computer. That's when I looked over and saw this ... shape on the walkway not more than a foot away from me.

Staring at it through the darkness, I could almost hear my brain think the words "Oh, it's probably just a leaf." Now, this shape looked absolutely nothing like a leaf, and I knew that as I stared at it, but if it was anything else I would be forced to actually do something. So, still telling myself it was a leaf, I reached over to touch it.

It was warm and just a little soft, like the skin of a particularly fuzzy peach. I was forced to accept the fact that it was most definitely not a leaf.

As if in agreement with the thought, it chose that moment to chirp.

Well, the only thing to do at that point was to scramble upright, tuck my laptop out of the way of whatever was about to happen, and turned on the porch light. There, lying on my walkway, was the most adorable little brown bat I have ever seen. It was just plastered against the cement on his belly, and I was suddenly afraid the poor little thing I'd just heard the poor thing's final chirp when it started to move around.

Now, this was not my first encounter with local wildlife. I've hauled to safety several birds who tried to kill themselves in my hall closet, but this was different. The little guy wasn't imposing on me at all, but my apartment complex is full of idiot kids, even more idiot teenagers, and drunk people, all of which could easily show up before I got outside in the morning and none of which I wanted anywhere near this little guy.

So I Googled, the one information source that doesn't care what time it is. I desperately started searching on my tablet, standing outside on the off chance I could keep him from getting stepped on (in the city, drunk people can literally show up at any moment). Most of the information was about what to do if they were flying, but as my little guy was still plastered against the ground that was clearly not the issue.

Not that he wasn't mobile. I turned off the light, in case it hurt his eyes somehow, then jumped dramatically like a minute later when something warm and soft bumped into my foot. I immediately flipped back on the light (with apologies, of course) to see the little guy crawling along at a pretty impressive pace. It thought about going off the edge of the walkway for a few seconds (not a comforting thought – I'm on the second floor), then clearly decided against it and turned around.

By this point, Google was telling me that the best way to move the bat was to urge it to grab onto a stick and carry it around on that. I was short of actual sticks – there are very few convenient branches in the city – so I grabbed a very dull-edged decorative sword (yes, I know. The only excuse I have for grabbing that instead of oh, I don't know, a broom, was that it was 2 a.m.) and ran back outside to find that the bat had crawled about 2 feet up the brick wall right by my front door and settled in for the night.

Now, I was really tempted to let him stay – like I said, the little guy was adorable – but that was still very much grabbing height. So I tried to get him interested in the sword, but unsurprisingly he wasn' t having it. I found a grabbing arm with a nice metal pole, but he wouldn't grab that either. In the end, I got desperate and used the grabbing arm to gently urge him into an empty, lidless cool-whip container (apologizing the whole time). Then I carried him to the one strip of relatively protected green space for like five blocks and wedged him into branches a few feet off the ground. When I went back to check on him a few minutes later, the container was empty and he was gone.

I went back the next morning to check again, but there was no sign of anything (I shooed off a cat, just in case). Clearly, I'm getting a little bit of a reputation amid the smaller portions of the animal kingdom.