coming soon: fiction blog hop

SFF BloghopOn August 26th, I’ll be participating in a speculative fiction blog hop with a number of other writers.

What’s that, you ask? Good question! On that day, all the participants will post a short story or flashfic on their blogs, and link to all the rest. You, gentle reader, will have the opportunity to go from blog to blog, feasting on the literary delights that await. Rest assured, there won’t be any explicit content.

My offering will be set in Highwind, the same city that forms the backdrop for Mourning Cloak and Wither.

Keep an eye on this space August 26th!

Singing for the Enemy & Other Stories

singing-enemy_WEBA disgraced War Bard takes a wrong turn in the jungle and falls into the hands of her enemy.

A pudgy, middle-aged accountant is chased through a smog-filled city by sinister men.

A mage bonded to a ship is given one last mission and a chance to win her freedom.

My latest release, Singing for the Enemy and Other Stories, is a collection of five fantasy short stories. Most are adventure fantasy, one is lighthearted and humorous, and the last a weird, melancholy flash piece.

Now available at Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

Planets Project: Mars

Sisters

They doubled the guard on the nursery in the wake of the attack, though they know it is too little, too late.

The remnants of the royal clutch lie in the middle of the hatchery. One egg is bright and opalescent, rainbows shifting across its surface. The other is dull and grey, blighted promise across its mottled surface, hard and cracked in places, spongy in others.

All their hopes rest on the egg that survived, whole and unscathed, now that the Queen… no.

Don’t think of it. There is always a Queen. There she is, in the egg.

The priests chant prayers every day. The masses assemble at the mountain’s base, to sing and weep and plead. The broken, fragile magic of all those voices are tossed up to the summit by dry and dusty winds.

They want to protect the Queen egg, lock it away deep underground. Surround it with steel and lasers and traps of all kinds. But their kind has always quickened in eggs bathed in sunshine and drizzled with starlight, rocked by wind and washed in rain.

So they wait, anxious and always hovering.

And one day, the egg trembles, birthing pangs running in wavelets all over its surface. The nurses strain towards it, the guards step forward, but the priest stops them with an upraised hand.

No, the young Queen must do this on her own. If she is to be great, she must learn to be alone.

That is also the way of their kind.

The egg splits open; a lacy arm, glistening with fluid, emerges. The nurses sob. Delicate claws rip again and she unfurls. She stands there, shimmering opal and tall and wise, looking around with her multi-faceted eyes.

The guards shout and their wordless rapture is carried by the winds to the people down the mountain. The rejoicing begins.

The new Queen is an island of stillness in the midst of it all. She reaches out a hand, softly, slowly, as if breaking through a bubble and into this new world. Touches a pedestal with a withered plant at the top. Under her fingers, a new flower unfurls and reaches for the sky.

The priest sighs, drops his head into his hands for a moment as he masters himself. Then he calls out, loud and clear, “The Queen lives! The Queen is whole! The Queen is power!”

And while the nurses rush to their new mistress, the priest beckons to a guard. The second egg, the one that almost didn’t make it, rocks urgently, futilely. The thing inside is alive, a writhing shadow inside hardened translucence.

“Poor youngling,” says the priest. His voice is kind, but firm. “Cast it into the ravine. Put it out of its misery.”

The guard nods, stoops. He is unnoticed by all as he covers the egg with a black cloth and hastens out a back entrance. A short tunnel later, he stands on a ledge, looks down at the steep drop. The egg in his arms trembles more violently, as if the deformed thing inside knows what is about to happen.

The guard thinks he should say something, something to mark the end of this creature, whose life is over before it even begins. This creature whose womb is also its tomb.

He cannot think of a single word, so he mutters a general blessing, and drops the egg.

He does not stay to watch it fall, hurrying back to kneel at the feet of his new Queen.

*

The egg shivers at the bottom of the ravine. Its fluttering attracts the attention of a bird, one that swoops lazily down to investigate. It stands on the egg, cocks its head. Gives an experimental peck, or two.

The leathery shell is tough, but the bird’s beak slices through. It dips its head for yet another peck, but sounds explode nearby. The people are setting off firecrackers, but the bird is already startled and away, thoughts of the egg driven completely out of its skull.

The egg lies still as if the creature within gathers its strength. Then, with one lunge, two sticklike hands emerge from the rip and push. With a gloop and swish, the shell gives way.

And the Queen’s sister tumbles out in a spreading pool of thick, foul-smelling liquid. She is the color of curdled milk and grey cobweb. Strands of mucous stick to her short buzzed hair and dead-looking skin. She tries to move, to stand, but ends up collapsed. Her limbs shake; she can barely control them.

She grabs for a straggly thornbush, to pull herself forward. The hardy plant withers to brown and crumbles to dust and vanishes between her fingers.

The sister rests. She knew that it is wrong for her to smell so, to look so, to affect the world so.

She could die right now, under this burning sun.

But she wants to live and after a while, she pushes herself forward, slowly, painfully, on her belly.

She leaves behind her a trail of dead grass.

Planets Project: Earth

Terra Forma

They wondered about their youngest, born as he was in the maelstrom of a supernova, amidst the debris of an exploding star. His birth, thought Papa, had given Terra an unfortunate taste for garbage.

“If only he would stop playing with byproducts,” he sighed, sending gusts of hydrogen and plumes of helium across space. The plasma of his stellar vessel roiled in agitation. “Why can’t he turn from his dratted rock-marbles and look to the stars?”

“They all began with rocks,” soothed Mama, her dim-yellowness steady and calm. “He’ll move on to greater things, like Gravitas and Cerulaea did.”

“He’s too old for such playthings now,” grumbled Papa, but he conceded the point. Gravitas and Cerulaea made him proud, but they concerned him, too.

Gravitas had grown big and dark and silent. His very presence sucked everything toward him. He swallowed up light and laughter and words, giving nothing back. Papa wished he knew what had happened when Gravitas had gone a-journeying.

And Cerulaea, their brilliant, high-strung one, burning ever so brightly. He was afraid that she’d wink out too soon, the way she poured herself into her work.

Yes, they were doing great things in the universe, his older two, pushing the limits the way the children of others didn’t.

And then there was Terra. Little Terra who—his father guiltily thought he shouldn’t even think such things about his own son—was more matter than energy, almost falling off the lower end of the chart. As if he almost was one of the dull material things he played with so incessantly.

***

“Are you ready?’ Terra glimmered with mischief. It shone out of the thin brown-roughened body that he had kept for longer than a star cycle. Not done, thought Papa, indignantly, ready to lay down the law, but he caught Mama’s look and subsided.

“Yes, yes,” said Cerulaea, with a toss and a fidget, trailing sparks. Even in her stripped-down form, the heat emanating from her was almost unbearable. Yes, Papa needed to talk with her, too. “Can we get this over with? I have work to do.”

Gravitas said nothing as usual, wedged into a corner, separate and shadowed. They didn’t look upon him—no one did these days—but they felt the drag of his silence on their words, the way their energies streamed towards him.

In my house, too! Papa twitched a warning flick of energy at his oldest child. Gravitas took the hint and the headache-inducing pull released.

Cerulaea was still talking as Terra opened the portal with a flourish and they all passed through. “I mean, we all cut our teeth on this play-rock. After my electromagnetic experiments, there’s not much left to do on this rock, save smash something into it and see what happens—not that Gravitas left me much to work with anyhow—oh! Oh.”

She stopped, speechless for once.

Where once there had been just rock and ice and metal, there was now…. other stuff. Delicate, growing stuff that tickled their senses in new ways: thousands of shades of yellow and green, intricate traceries in patterns never before seen, complex molecules that flowed, wafted, interacted, tingled.

As Terra scampered around in glee, like a child half his age, calling out names and explaining processes in that breathless way of his, Papa knew only one thing:

His son, the one who played with trash, was special. He had done something not great, but small. Beautifully, wonderfully small.

As they gazed in wonder, Gravitas spoke, for the first time in a long while. His voice fell across them all, suffocating their speech, but for once Papa didn’t mind.

“This,” said Gravitas, slow as rock cooling, “this must be protected.”

No one answered him. But they didn’t have to.