Archive | December 2016

New Year New Poll – Patreon Theme Poll for January

Time for a new poll for a new theme for a new year!

Check out my Patreon and tell me what you want to see there in January.

This poll will close around nine p.m. eastern time, 1/2/2017. If you don’t have a DreamWidth account, you can vote in the comments.

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Far-Gone From the West, a continuation of Far Weston for Finish It Bingo

After Far Weston, for my Third Finish It Bingo Card. I know this isn’t done yet, but it was a good place to post while I figure out what happens next..

Being a hunter was a dangerous occupation, more so in the edges of civilization, where the forest itself was likely to fight back if it didn’t like you, much less the animals, who were often bigger and stronger than those you’d get closer to Centon.

It was the sort of occupation that meant that Pyiata lived out in the woods for most of her life, stopping into the village that had raised her only when she had to – to sell meat and furs, to buy supplies, to see the annual service of the river, when her cousins and former neighbors would draw stones.

It was the sort of occupation that meant that she was more used to the company of small woodland creatures and the occasional wandering unicorn than she was other humans, and that she tended to notice when something went strange with the animals and missed things like a new Mayor or a new priest (she had once mistaken a new priest for the old for three years, assuming the old had simply put on a lot of weight at some point. Their village was prosperous, after all. Travelers from far away would stop there, because it was the last mark of civilization before the wilds and the hills. It was easier to get fat there than in many other places).

Pyiata had spent a good month hunting. She had smoked meats to sell and tanned hides to trade, a fresh gathering of wild ramps and some early apples that grew only in two particular clearings. It was time to go back to the village, to do her trading and make sure the mayor hadn’t gotten too fat.

There was a small problem, however. She stared at the wall, then took twenty paces back and looked around.

There was the forked tree where she’d hidden as a child. There was the very old wellhead, before the spring had moved. There was the foundation of the old granny’s house, the one that had burned down when Pyiata was just a child. She was in the right place.

But there was a city wall in the way.

Pyiata shifted her pack, rolled her shoulders, and made sure her weapons were both accessible and looking non-threatening. City people, she’d been told, could be weird about weapons. They could be weird about hunters, too, as if their meat didn’t come from things that’d had skin and hooves or paws at some point, too.

She paced the wall of the city. It was bigger than the village had been, but it would have to be. Cities were big things, huge, sometimes, encompassing people and Factories and – well, Pyiata’s idea of a city was fairly fuzzy, as she had never been to one, just seen the walls of Weston once or twice. But big; they were definitely big.

She reached the gate almost by accident. It was not where the old road through the village had been; that road was gone, covered over in rubble and plant-cuttings. The new road shot straight and silver towards Weston – too silver, so silver. Pyiata swallowed down bile. There weren’t that many unicorns, this far out. Where had they found them? How had they caught them?

But the new gate was guarded by strangers, two tall people in armor as shining as the road, with pikes. They looked askance at her. She looked right back at them.

“There was a village here,” she informed them.

“There is a city here,” the left-ward one replied, as if she were a bit slow. Pyiata was used to people speaking to her as if she were a little bit slow; she smiled widely at the guard the way she had at others who had annoyed her.

“There was a village here,” she repeated. “With a Mayor and a priest, grannies and granthers and young girls and young boys. There was a village here.” Something inside her kept her from saying it was my home “Where is the Mayor? Where are the priest and the granthers?”

“There’s a city here,” the rightmost guard told her. He was shifting backwards. He was unhappy. Even Pyiata could tell that. He was worried she was going to – what, yell? No, his eyes were on her weapon.

She held her hands out, empty, non-threatening. “I want to know where the village went, that’s all.”

“There isn’t a village here.” The leftmost guard spoke even more slowly. “This is Far Weston. It’s a city.”

She wasn’t going to get anywhere with this. Pyiata smacked her forehead, as if she had just remembered. “Right! A city, Far Weston! And I have things to sell. I have furs and smoked meat, I have sausages and hoof-cups, I have fine food and soft slippers. See?” She opened her bag and let the smells of the sausages waft out. “I have fine foods to sell in Far Weston.”

“Well, be out before sunset. They don’t like loiterers, vagabonds, in the city after dark. Market’s right through there.” The one that thought she was slow gestured inward. “Get on with you, then. Through there to the market.”

Pyiata knew markets, although this market was bigger and cleaner, shinier and flashier than the one in the Village had been. She set up next to a baker and chatted with the woman about the town and its priests, its factory and its shopkeeps.

She learned several important things, although she wasn’t sure what to make of any of them. People – the baker, the pie-maker on the other side, the weaver nearby – they would talk about any given part of the city being new – the priest had come in new. The factory was new and hiring new people. The mayor was newly-elected. But nobody would say that the city itself was new. Nobody would say anything about the village.

If Pyiata said something about the village, people would seem to ignore her, or look the other way, or suddenly be very interested in their produce or what the person across the street was doing. Nobody would speak to her directly about anything.

The houses where the village had been were new – and yet they looked very familiar. It was as if someone had taken Lothenna the carpenter’s house and redone it with new materials, a little bigger, a little shinier, with a bigger front porch. The same for Gello the tailor and Kvenner who took in washing: their houses were there, and, indeed, they were occupied by a carpenter, a tailor, and a washer, but they were bigger, brighter, the people inside a little cleaner, a little more respectable looking

Everyone looked through Pyiata if she didn’t speak directly to them. They looked at her wares – the tailor who was not Gello offered to buy the skins off of her, and, although she felt traitorous, she managed to make a good profit – and they noticed her passing, but they tried not to look her in the face.

She knew she smelled a bit; hunters usually did, although it wasn’t the sort of smell the animals minded. But people weren’t making the fine-people-smelling-a-working-person face; they weren’t making any face at all.

So the village was gone. It was gone, and yet people had noticed it enough to put new houses that looked like the old in its place. The people were gone — and the only clue Pyiata had that the new residents even knew that was the way they refused to talk about the old residents.

The old residents Her family. Her town.

Pyiata could track. She could follow a quarry for days if she had to. She could bring something down with one arrow from across a meadow or through a clearing in the forest.

She could not get answers from people, so she went looking for answers from the land.

The river had moved; she went looking there, first. She put out a line to give herself an excuse — and because smoked fish was a nice change from smoked meat, sometimes. And with her line tied, she wandered up and down the water, looking at the streambed.

They’d rerouted the river only about ten feet, into an old bed it had sat in, long ago. The new shift in the river, though, went right over where Old Unther’s cabin had been, old Unther who had taught Pyiata to hunt. There was no trace of the cabin itself, nothing but a cute little cabin-shaped gazebo perched on the edge of the river, nearby but not on the proper site, but in the shallows, Pyiata found Unther’s old knife and seven arrow-heads.

From that, she knew Unther had not had the chance to pack up. So she looked for signs of a struggle, because Unther’s place was too far from the village to have been covered up by the new city.

They had smoothed over the terrain. They had replaced Unther’s cabin with the ridiculous pretend-cabin gazebo, which looked as much like a real cabin as a child’s wooden sword looked like a soldier’s steel blade. But they had not replaced the old elm, the one which had stood in just the right place to shade Unther’s cabin without risking falling on it, nor the ivy that grew around its base.

There she found tracks, a peel of bark missing from the tree, and half of one of Unther’s arrows. Someone had fought not to be moved. Someone had struggled mightily, and, from the looks of it, lost.

But Unther had blazed the tree the way he’d taught her too — messily, of course, but he’d taken the fight to the tree. So she knew they’d headed west.

West. Interesting. There was nothing West but strange lands and strangers, as far as she knew. Nothing there but where-tinkers-came-from and where-traders-sometimes-went, and that’s where they’d dragged Unther.

It was enough to start with. Pyiata circled the strange new city and headed West.

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Buffy: the Invitation (an Addergoole Crossover), Part 18

Part I:
Part II:
Part III:
Part IV:
Part V:
Part VI:
Part VII:
Part VIII:
Part IX:
Part X:
Part XI:
Part XII:
Part XIII:
Part XIV:
Part XV:
Part XVI:
Part XVII:

“Professor Valerian, aren’t you going to stop this?” The blonde girl pouted at the professor, entirely ignoring Xander.

Ms. Valerian smirked. “I really should, but I notice that Luke isn’t here yet, and I imagine by this point he’s quite aware of it. And he hasn’t decided to stop it yet.”

“Well, she doesn’t have a stake at the moment… Will, why’s she going for all those throat shots?”

Willow had been trying to work the same thing out. “Well, she’s not trying to… ow.” Buffy had just run up the side of the wall, pushed off, and slammed her elbow into the giant’s throat. “That had to hurt. She’s not trying to stake them, probably because she doesn’t have any sort of stake… Oh.” Buffy had ricocheted off the wall again and broken the paneling, pulling a long piece loose. “Well, now she has wood.”

“Wood, but not hawthorn or rowan,” sneered the little blonde. “What does she think she’s doing, anyway?”

“It has to be rowan? I can do that, that’s an easy transmutation – oh, wait.” Willow deflated. “We’re not supposed to be killing this vampire. So, if she’s going for the throat, she’s trying to keep them from talking – some sort of spell, probably. If her eyes are closed, someone has some sort of eye power, like, oh! I read about that last week!”

“Okay, so, how do we stop her?” Magnolia shifted uncomfortably.

“I’ve never tried stopping Buffy,” Willow admitted. “It never really seems like the right idea.”

“Well, it might be right now. I mean, if he’s a person…” Xander didn’t look all that sure about it. Willow couldn’t blame him for that.

“Of course he’s a person!” the blonde girl interjected angrily. “Why would you say something like that?”

“Well,” Xander answered reasonably, “he looks like a vampire, he smells like a vampire, and most – all – of the vampires we’ve met have been decidedly non-persons. So, ah, Professor Valerian?”

“She’s fighting blind, against two stronger opponents, and she’s still winning,” the professor mused.

“I wouldn’t bet on stronger, even with the giant there. Most things aren’t, except master vampires, and uh, I don’t see a master vampire going to school.” Xander shifted uncomfortably. “But she’s going to win, because that’s what she does, that’s her job, and then… well, now she has a stake.

“And she’ll… you’re serious, aren’t you? And how many… later, later.” Her voice rose and seemed to fill the area. “Excuse me, Buffy, Dysmas, Anatoliy. Stop.”

Buffy kicked back off the giant’s chest and stopped ten feet back in a combat stance. The giant was looking a little worse for the wear. The Dracula-wannabe was looking a lot worse off. “What?” Buffy’s voice was nearly a snarl. “I nearly had him.” Her eyes, Willow noted, were still closed.

“Unfortunately, that’s the problem. I’m Laurel Valerian, one of the professors here. And I can’t allow you to kill another student.”

“He’s a vampire. Pointy teeth, pale skin, demon inside?”

“Do you hear her?” screeched Agatha. “She’s insane.”

Professor Valerian ignored her. “You’re correct on several points, Buffy, however, Dysmas is not a, well, he’s not a demonic vampire. He does not fear the sun anymore than an albino would; he does drink blood, but he still has his original soul and his original self, tainted as those may be.”

“Your endorsement is so pleasant,” the wanna-be vampire complained. His voice was hoarse and raw.

“I’m keeping you alive, Dysmas. I wouldn’t argue about the tactics.”

“We were doing fine.”

“Her friends hadn’t joined in yet, and, from the looks of things… no. You were barely holding your own. Buffy, it’s a pleasure to meet you. But I’m afraid I really can’t let you kill this one.”

Buffy’s posture, if anything, had gotten more combative. “I’ve heard about vampires with souls before.”

“I’ve… heard of a single situation of that sort,” Professor Valerian admitted. “But the problem is, Dysmas is technically a sangovore humanoid fae, not a vampire. And… while you’re certainly more than capable, physically, of killing him, he would not, ah, react the same, from the books on vampirism I’ve encountered.”

“You’re seriously indulging this nonsense?” Agatha complained. “She attacked Dysmas! And then Tolly!”

“Well,” the giant rumbled, “to be fair, I got in the way of her attacking Dysmas.” His voice, too, was rough and strained.

“Why would be you be fair?” Agatha sneered the word fair like a curse. “She. Attacked. You. And she hurt you.”

“Excuse me? I wasn’t the one throwing around the flash-eyes be-my-will sort of thing, or the magic words that burned, I might add. I wasn’t the one doing any mind-control oogey boogy or making the floor swim.”

“…You used Workings.” Professor Valerian’s voice was dripping disdain. Willow wondered if she’d ever be able to sound half as cool as that. “On a visiting student.”

“She was attacking me,” Dysmas pointed out. “With, it seems, intent to kill.”

“And yet you were able to survive.”

“Hey! I would’ve killed him if you hadn’t interrupted. I was about half an inch from getting the pointy bit through his chest!”

“She makes my point for me.” Even if he hadn’t been a vampire, Willow thought she would probably hate this Dysmas guy. He was slick like oil, greasy, and way too self-confident. He was handsome, too, and he knew it.

The giant, on the other hand – he was easily over eight feet tall, with shoulders proportionate to the height – he was kind of sweet, all hunched over and trying to be small. “We didn’t know she was trying to kill us, Dysmas.”

“Would you shut Up?” Agatha glared daggers at Anatoliy. “Seriously. She tried to kill Dysmas, she was attacking you, she should be in trouble. Expelled.”

“Nobody gets expelled for starting fights, Agatha.” Magnolia stepped forward, and Agatha did a double-take before recovering her aplomb.

“And what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be naked or something?”

“I’m all for that,” Xander offered. Both girls ignored him.

“I’m showing our new students around the school, or, well, I guess they’re might-be-comin’-here-this-year students, don’ ask me.” Magnolia held up both her hands. “I don’t pretend to understand why they’re gettin’ a tour when no-one else does, but I have a feeling it has something to do with, you know, Buffy here kickin’ your friends asses.”

“Your name is Buffy?” Agatha sneered.


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Vexing Child, a story of the 4th Husband ‘Verse, available on Patreon

This is set in the same universe as Lady Taisiya’s Fourth Husband , a world where women are far more rare than men and most women have at least three husbands. Men co-raise their wife’s children (“egglings”), but there is a strict hierarchy within the household.


“You are, without a doubt, the most difficult child I have ever had the misfortune to know.”

Pontlin was not Kivo’s shell-father — that was Yurnan, Lady Ruhinna’s most junior husband — but he was the senior husband and thus the senior father in the nursery, and he had taken a dislike to Kivo early. This wasn’t even the first time Kivo had heard this particular tirade this cycle, although Pontlin, who had wanted to be a performer, always added a certain twist to his lectures, a bit of dramatic flair.

“It is as if you look, specifically, for the most vexing thing you could do, and then try in some manner to make it more vexing…”

read on…

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Luke and Mike… Talk (More of the Chess AU)

This happens after Slave and after, subsequently, Cya, Luke, and Leo have had an off-screen conversation. Thanks to [personal profile] inventrix for editing.

“Oh, Luke.” Leo had paused just slightly, with that expression that meant he was being Humorous Leo. “You might want to give Linden some pointers, her punch is terrible.”

There had been other words spoken since Luke walked in to find Mike and Leo talking in the General’s tent, but those had stuck with him. Those, and the part where Leo had offered to give them some time alone.

“She was concerned we might not be treating you as well as we should,” Leo had informed him. There’d been a warning there. Luke had taken it to heart.

Luke stared at Mike.

Mike looked back at him. She was in female form, but her clothes said she had been travelling male.

“You’re sure…?” She hadn’t said anything since Leo had left. Now, she looked at him with her head tilted, her expression naked.

Vulnerable. Vulnerable was the word he wanted.

They’d told Mike about the mind-fucking Regine had done. They’d had to tell her twice, but Luke could see, in the way her body language shifted, that she believed them. She didn’t want to believe, any more than he had.

“There’s memories. Sa’… Cya’s good, but I don’t think she could make up the memories that are there, not with all the emotions connected to them.”

“I don’t think she ever studied Hugr,” Mike, who had always been in charge of teaching emotions, mused softly. “So Regine…”

“Took out things that were inconvenient. Stole them. Because, uh. Because I wanted to leave, usually. Because I wanted to change things. When Aleron…” His wings shifted and Luke sat down. He couldn’t deal with this.

“Aleron,” Mike breathed softly. “That long ago? That was, oh, the tenth year. I thought maybe, the Collapse…”

“That wasn’t that much longer,” Luke pointed out dryly. “But… Yeah. At least there. She’s still working. It’s…” He shrugged uncomfortably. He could take anything. He’d always let Mike think he was invulnerable to emotion.

He considered Leo, and the difference between Leo-at-home-with-Cya and Leo-the-General. Maybe he didn’t have to pretend with Mike?

Maybe, someday, he wouldn’t have to pretend with Mike.

“What is it?” She narrowed her eyes at him. She. She hadn’t been a woman in a while. “You’re…”

“I thought you didn’t read my emotions.” His voice was harsh. That wasn’t what he’d wanted.

“I don’t, I don’t. You hate it when I do. But I can read your body language.”

Luke took a breath. “Remembering those things, it was hard. Knowing my crew did this to me, that’s harder.”

“Leo said… he said something like ‘…with your crew it’s not so much of a given, is it?’ He knows, doesn’t he?”

How long had Mike been here, talking to Leo?

“You really punched him, didn’t you?”

“Not very well, I guess. It’s just, I came in here and there you were – in town, walking down the road. Steel collar, your wings all bound.” Her hand lifted up to touch Luke’s collar – silver again, because, he assumed, he wasn’t being punished anymore – and fell back to her lap.

She had seen him like that? Luke looked away. “Being Kept is… it’s not like being in the army.”

“No… no, it’s not. Oh, Luca.” She sighed sadly. “I knew this would be hard for you. But she’s a good woman, no, Cynara? She’s always seemed honorable to me.”

Luke struggled with bond-feelings (at least, he was pretty sure they were bond-feelings) and his own impressions and coughed, giving himself a moment. “I think she’s an honorable woman,” he agreed. “I think she’s being fair with me. But both she and Leo think it’s important that I know what being Kept can be like — and I agree with them.” He looked Mike in the eyes. “It’s important that we all know about being Kept, since we’re subjecting all these kids to it. Over and over again. And, Mike, there was so much I didn’t know about the collar.”

Mike winced and looked away. “Regine is — she’s hard to budge,” she whispered. “I knew, I knew that it could be hard, emotionally. I remember being Greta’s Kept, centuries ago, and how much it hurt that she didn’t really want me. I mean, to be fair, nobody had ever not wanted me, before that. I knew it could be hard — but Regine was right, we needed to, we needed to get kids in and educate them fast, and we needed them wary about the Bond before they went back out into the world. The world was ending, Luke.”

Luke’s wings didn’t move. Days in the harness had made him far too aware of how often he let his wings telegraph his emotions.

“The world isn’t ending anymore,” he pointed out, very calmly. He didn’t want to spook Mike.

She looked up at him as if he’d shouted, her eyes wide. “It’s not.” Her voice was very careful. “You think we should have intervened.”

“I know we should have intervened. Over and over again. There’s probably a Keeping going on right now that we ought to intervene with, either students or someone graduated.”

“Do you know how many people there are out there? We don’t have the resources—”

“The fuck we don’t!” Luke felt bad the minute he’d shouted. He patted awkwardly at Mike’s hands. He had such a harder time with this when she was female. “But we should try.” Luke caught his breath. “Look… we can debate this later. Maybe with Regine, since… since none of it will happen without her say-so anyway.”

“She really… really…” Mike shook her head. “Do you think she did that to me, too?”

“I’d bet on it,” Luke admitted. “Probably not as much. It took you a long time to get to the point where things bothered you. I… hunh.” He considered Mike. “I figured you didn’t want to know.”

“I didn’t. Especially not when it was my cy’ree, being Kept, Keeping. Being hurt, hurting. Because we’d said it was a good idea. I, I said it was a good idea, and I was the one who had been Kept, over and over again, out of all of us. Who’d Kept people.”

“None of us anticipated how nasty some of those kids could get,” Luke offered, an excuse as much for himself as for her. “And they, uh. They got good at hiding it.”

“I’m an empath. I’ve caught some in the last few years, and if I caught those, when they knew what to hide, I should have caught the earlier ones.” Mike shook her head. “You’re right. We should allow Keeping… but we should be a lot more careful about it. We should be watching them.”

“Later.” Luke was feeling the pressure of orders and non-orders. For a little, Leo had said. He’d leave them alone for a little. They could borrow his tent.

A flush came to Luke’s cheeks at the thought of what he could do with more than a little time and a tent that Leo often sound-proofed. He shook his head. “Later,” he repeated. “Right now… Mike, you didn’t have to release me from those promises.”

“That’s what she said,” Mike pointed out, looking confused.

“She meant the oaths from Regine. For you…. look. You know I’d go against orders to protect you, right?”

Mike looked both amused and a bit confused. “I’m centuries older than you. I’m pretty capable of taking care of myself.”

“And I’ve bailed you out against a tougher opponent how many times? Mike.” He patted her shoulder awkwardly. “I mean it.”

“I’ll do my best not to get into any trouble that runs you against orders. Have you, yet? Tried going against orders?”

Luke shook his head slowly. “No. Suggestions, yes. Orders, no.” He meant to smile but it came out as a grimace instead. “The whole thing is hard enough without doing that to myself… I’ve seen what that does to someone.”

“Good.” She reached for his collar again; this time, she let her fingers brush over it. “This is nice. It should be gold… but it’s nice.”

Luke understood why it wasn’t gold. He wondered if he could explain it to Mike. He considered it, and ran into an order, and then another order. “Silver suits me,” he said instead.

“It’s better than the steel.”

Luke grimaced. “If Addergoole ever gets serious about disciplining students who break the rules… we should hire sa’Doomsday to coordinate it.”

Mike winced. “Still can’t believe you getting in trouble. Aren’t you the straight-arrow?”

Luke snorted. “I’m the straight arrow when I like the rules, turns out.”

“Or when, what, someone’s making you forget you don’t like the rules?” She looked like it tasted bad just to say it. Luke didn’t blame her. It tasted bad, knowing it.

“Yeah. Yeah, or that.” He folded his wings close against his back. There were so many things he wanted to say to her. They only had a little while to talk. “I’d rather she not know I know.”

“She’s got to know Cynara has the Words.”

“The thing is… Regine is likely to underestimate Boom. She always have — we always have. Would you think someone you’d taught could untangle your Hugr Workings?”

“Hunh. No. You think they could?”

Luke opened his mouth, closed it again, frowned. “You should talk to sa’Doomdsay,” he said, because that was on his mind and he could actually say that. “About your mind, and about not letting Regine know before we’re ready for her to know.”

“You don’t want Regine to know that we know that you know everything you’re not supposed to know?” Mike smirked at Luke. “When did you get complicated?”

“I guess,” Luke shrugged, “being Kept is complicated, and then I have to come up with, uh, complex ways to deal with it.” He thought about the teenagers they’d Mentored who’d been dealing with this. “We really ought to teach a master class in being Kept. And another one or five in Keeping.”

“Regine wouldn’t like it.” Mike’s comment was almost reflexive. Luke could tell by the way she flinched afterwards. “And the Keepers wouldn’t like it.”

“I think the ones that wouldn’t like it are the ones who need it the most,” Luke muttered. “…and the ones whose Kept probably need it the most, too.”

“You have a point.” Mike sighed and fell silent. Luke watched her, the way he had avoided watching her for years. She had one blonde curl loose, draping over her eyebrow and hiding something of her face. She must do it on purpose; her hair was short-cropped when she was male. And yet he wanted to brush her hair out of her face and let his hand linger.

This was why he didn’t look at her, not her. This was why he liked it better when she wore a male face.

But she’d shown up male, punched Leo, and been female for a conversation that, from the sounds of things, had revolved around her being protective of him. (Her! Protective of him!)

Luke cleared his throat. He should wait. He should wait until he knew he’d be able to see her privately again. He should wait until he knew that he’d be able to… able to… He shied away from the thought process with long practice. Regine had never had to delete those thoughts.

He should wait until he had longer than a little while to talk to her.

“I’ve been thinking,” he tried, “Leo is gay.”

Mike stared at him. “We’ve known that for some time, you know. I know you didn’t like to think about that, with your Students…”

“Not like Aleron.” He tried to be level-voiced; he tried to be calm. He thought he sounded a little too urgent. “Not, uh, interested in any kind of gender. I mean, Leo likes guys.”

“Yes?” Mike had a strange expression on her face, like she was worried Luke was losing it.

“Cya… Cya’s female, which, yeah, we knew already. I’m trying to say-“

“Ohhh.” Mike’s eyes widened. “Because Leo is into guys, but – oh, are he and Cynara…?”‘

There was a lot he couldn’t say, but Luke could definitely insinuate. “They’re… something, and they’re something even though Leo’s gay.”

“Fascinating. I wondered how long it would take them.” Mike looked up at Luke’s expression. “I am an empath, you know. They’ve been… well, fighting it for – no, all I know is that they were fighting it in school. Not all the time in between. I do cheat sometimes,” she added, misinterpreting Luke’s expression.

He cleared his throat. Did he have the balls – ha. Did he have the nerve to go through with this?

He was pretty sure he’d never hear the end of it from Leo if he didn’t. “I’m…” He paid attention to his wings, placing them very carefully half-opened. He spent heartbeats on it, looking at one tip and then the other, as if he couldn’t tell exactly where they were without looking. “I’m not… into guys”

“Luke, I know that. I’ve known that for a long time. Pretty much since the moment I met you.” Mike’s voice rose up a bit, exasperated and, Luke thought, a bit hurt. Damnit. “You don’t like… you’re not into girls that are boys sometimes, either. Women that are men sometimes. You have made that very, very clear.”

She was more hurt than he’d expected. And she wasn’t letting him get a word in edgewise.

“If you’re trying to tell me you’re sleeping with Cynara, one, duh, two, what does Leo think about that, and three, last I checked, she’s female. Which you said… oh. Oh, Luke, are you and Leo… are you into… Into Leo? It’s Cya’s collar, isn’t it? I mean, if it was Leo’s, the bond can do that, even when you don’t feel it normally. That’s what it was like with Greta… oh. What?” Mike frowned. “You said it first!”

Luke cleared his throat and heroically hid a smile at the very young-sounding wail in Mike’s voice. “I don’t have much time.” Not nearly enough time, damnit, why had he started this now? “But I’m not talking about Leo, Mike. Meckil. For one thing, I think sa’Doomsday would flay me.”

“She might. I don’t think she shares well. Which, uh, begs the question…” Mike’s voice turned slowly upwards. “Luke, who are you talking about and why are you talking about this now?

Luke swallowed. “I’m talking about… um. About you. And I’m talking about it… because uh. Someone hit me upside the head — not literally! — with it and, uh. It’s going to be a long twelve years and I am advising in an active war zone…”

Luke didn’t really think he was at any direct risk of dying. They weren’t fighting many nedetakaei, and when they did encounter other fae, most of them weren’t a match for Leo or even Leo’s younger lieutenants, much less for Luke.

He wanted to tell Mike that, especially with the ashen look her skin was taking on, but he —

“I’m trying to be honest with you. So. I’m not out here fighting gods —” He’d never been out there fighting gods, not more than the two or three times he’d managed to bully Regine into letting him go. But that was a matter for another time. “— and I’m not in huge risk. But things happen. And, uh. If I let things happen to Leo…”

Mike considered that. “From what I’ve seen, if things happen to Leo, I don’t think I’ll survive long to mourn you. Boom can be, ah… explosive.”

“sa’Doomsday can be very explosive,” Luke agreed dryly. He was letting himself get distracted. It was tempting to just let the conversation flow away from the touchy stuff. “So… if I don’t make it.” He forced himself back on topic. “I want to be sure I’ve said it. And if I do make it, I want to have said it early, so you know. So you know it’s me saying it.”

Her eyes were wide. “Luke?”

“I’m.” He coughed. “I let myself get hung up on things that are kind of ridiculous. So, I apologize. I,” his wings spread out a little bit and he tried to rein them in. “I haven’t been protecting you, sticking close to you, hell, sticking with Addergoole all these years for the fun of it, you know.” He found he was scowling and tried to soften the expression. “But… as much as I can, while…” he touched his collar with both hands, “while I’m paying off the price of my stupidity, do you think, maybe, you and I…”

She was smiling. Luke squirmed. “What?”

“You’re awful at this. I always wondered how you’d be at it.” She touched his cheek gently, taking the sting out of her words. “I think I knew you’d be awful. But I am, too. I haven’t been sticking around Addergoole, around this colonial mess here, around the frozen north, for the fun of it, you know.”

Luke’s wings twitched and he let them. “I don’t have a lot of practice,” he admitted.

“I know, cloud-chaser, I know.” She leaned back and studied him. “I don’t think I can do faithful,” she warned. “This won’t be like it was with your wives.”

“I guessed.” He smirked dryly at her, because he didn’t trust himself with another expression. “I’ve been around a while, Mike. I know you.”

“You know some of me,” she corrected. “It will be interesting to see what happens when we get to know the rest of each other.”

“I know some of you,” he agreed, “and vice-versa.” Damnit, he really did have no time at all. How long was a little while? He did not want Leo walking in at the wrong moment. “Will you let me get to know more?”

“Will your Keeper?” she countered. “Or… do you want to pick this conversation up in twelve years?”

Twelve years should be nothing to a friendship that had outlasted a nation. Twelve years…

“Mike and me, whatever’s between us, it’s been there centuries. It’s not going to go strange or stale in a decade.”

He hadn’t meant to tell Leo that he was in love with Mike. Hell. He’d never even thought those words coherently before Leo starting goading him (”unless you and Linden are secretly in love with each other or something, you’re going to have to go out and meet people….”)

It hadn’t even come out so much as Luke had let himself get agitated, and getting agitated around a mind-reader and an emotion-reader who were in control of his life was not the best idea.

And then Leo had started looking worried, and he hadn’t needed Mind or Emotion readings to guess at it. So he’d said that. That it would hold another twelve years.

And, ever helpful, Leo had said,

“You’ve never been Kept before, though.”

“…No,” he’d admitted, ruefully, unwillingly. “… Fuck. But. Let’s be honest. I never saw Mike and me going anywhere, either.”

And here he was. He took a breath. “My Keeper suggested I talk to you. My… she… Cya would probably prefer you to be her ally, rather than her enemy.”

“She enslaved you,” Mike complained.

“To be fair, we were part of an agreement that, uh, paid for her conception, arranged for her slavery, and then did the same thing to her kids.” Luke had never said the words quite that baldly before. Cya was rubbing off on him.

“She enslaved you,” Mike repeated, clearly not having an interest in being fair.

“Mike? I beat Leo to within an inch of his life, within sight of most of his army. Enslaving me let him not lose face, and, uh, kept his army from beating me to death. I made a stupid choice; I let my pride get in my way. Twelve years in a collar? I can handle that. It’s better than war.”

“It’s better than you dying,” Mike allowed. “How long do we have, do you think?”

“Probably not long.” He spread his wings a bit, testing the air like it would tell him. “But we’ll have other times, I think. I mean, I’m teaching in Fall.”

“Twelve years.” She looked thoughtful. “I suppose that’s long enough for you to teach me how to punch properly, isn’t it?”

That had not been what’d been on Luke’s mind, not at all. “…What?” He knew he was gaping. He didn’t care.

She winked at him. “Private sessions. In your room. Even if all you do do is teach me to punch… it’s still time alone with you. And I have a feeling I’m going to be a slow learner.”

There was nothing Luke could say to that, so he kissed her.

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Christmas and Traditions

This past weekend was Christmas, and, if you hadn’t guessed by the number of Christmas reposts I’ve been putting up, I’m kind of fond of the season. It’s a lot more work than when I was a kid, of course – that shift between primarily being a recipient of gifts and being a giver of such (Which, in itself, might be a nice metaphor for adulthood…) – but I am one of those people who gets a blast out of people liking the gift I gave them (And, luckily, so is T), so it’s a different sort of the same warm feeling.

(I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m an only child; I still get pressies. This year was long-sweaters and leggings a la 1989, warm socks and scarves and a long down jacket. We live in the frozen North!)

There was vegan cake (possum-free!) and vegan soup (and tasty bread) for mom and dad, spices and breadpans, warm hats and flashlights. There were dogs helping, because they do that. And for a moment, when I walked into my parents’ living room and saw the tree all lit up and the presents underneath, I was a kid waking up on Christmas again, and Santa had come overnight.

Christmas traditions have shifted over the years for me – when I was young, it was Maternal Grandparents’ in the morning and Paternal Grandparents’ place in the afternoon. When I was older, it was just Maternal Grandparents. And then, after my maternal grandparents had both passed, it was – well, that’s when I started doing Christmas Eve with my parents and my husband.

I like traditions. I don’t particular like change, if I’m being honest. And so when something we did once, twice on Christmas, thrice and it started turning into a trend, I held on to it like a tradition.

Movies on Christmas. I can’t remember what movie started it, but I know that Sweeney Todd and Emperor’s New Groove were a couple of the more memorable Christmas-Day movies. Back in Rochester, sometimes we’d go out to Denny’s or some such – someplace willing to be open on Christmas, someplace we could sit and chat, someplace with free coffee refills.

We moved down to Ithaca, and movies-on-Christmas-sometimes-with-friends became movies, the two of us. We skipped a year or two, but it felt wrong. Like Christmas wasn’t right anymore, without a movie.

This year, we put of seeing Rogue One for a couple weeks so we could see it on Christmas. We went to the sushi place across the street from the movie theatre. We drank free ea refills and ate maki rolls, and all was right with the world.

When I was little – three years old, five years old, fifteen, when my grandma was still alive – the kids would pass out the presents and everyone would dig in. My cousins have kids now, older than we were when that tradition started…

But on Christmas Eve, T & I meet Capriox at Tim Hortons (the one in the plaza where I went grocery shopping with Grandma as a kid), and we open presents with my parents and my parents’ dogs (I still pass them out), and on Christmas Day, we watch a movie….

I guess what I’m rambling around about is, I miss my grandma. I always will, I think. And I miss the way Christmas felt when my grandma was telling me about Santy Claus, when I knew I’d get a new ornament from Grandma and a new National Geographic book from my Aunt. But I’m pretty fond of my new traditions, too.

Now all I need is a cute red dress for next Christmas.

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First: Slaves, School
Previous: Climbing

::They’re supposed to leave the decision up to us::, the collar was complaining. ::You heard them. “Until your compatriot tells you that you have reached the appropriate level.” That’s me, your compatriot. Your co-resident. Your co-::

“-llar,” Desmond interrupted. “You’re my collar.” He pushed the white door open, surprised at how smoothly it swung.

The collar, it seemed, was sulking, and said nothing. Des moved carefully, not trusting the floor, especially not when the stairs behind him were vanishing.

He stepped onto a smooth black marble floor, in a room much like the reception center he’d begun this adventure in. Broad sweeping stairways led up in both directions; two perfect people sat at the reception desk, looking as much a part of the decorations as the gold trim on the stairs or the broad silk carpets on the floors. They were collared, this time, in gold.

He touched his own collar, and then bowed, the sort of bow that his mother had been trying to get him to do for years, low and courtly and very polite. “I —”

::I come as a supplicant, having done as I was commanded. I come collared, to seek power. I come having struggled, to seek ease.:: The collar sounded strange now, almost mechanical, after the more lively dialogue of the stairway.

Des repeated the words. The collared person on the left, Des thought, looked impressed; the one on the right still looked bored.

The bored one was the one who spoke, in an affected alto. “Come, supplicant, to the stairs of knowledge. Come to learn the forbidden arts. Come — and know that these are allowed to you because you are now sealed beyond those the laws apply to.”

Des felt a chill. Beyond those the laws apply to? “Am I dead?” he muttered quietly. “… or dying?”

The reception-person raised thin-plucked and gold-painted eyebrows at him. The collar didn’t answer, at first. When it did, its words were very slow, as if it were struggling through molasses to reply.

::No. And yes. Legally… you are dead. By the charters of the nation and the city, you’re not a citizen anymore. You weren’t the moment the collar appeared around your neck. But your heart still beats, your blood still pumps, your mind still works.::

Desmond looked at the receptionists. “Not dead,” he translated carefully. “But dead. I’ve sailed beyond the horizon.”

At this, the bored receptionist smiled. “It was a very long climb. And yours was higher than many’s.”

“I ran out of stairs!” He hadn’t expected to be indignant. He’d been ready to be finished, after all; it was just the collar that had different plans. But here he was, glaring at these nice people in collars.

“Indeed. That is when you are done.”

Des frowned. “They said, when ‘my compatriot’ said we were there, that’s when we stopped.”

“That is one way of putting it. And for some people, their collar – their ‘compatriot’ – will tell them when the appropriate time is to get off the stairway. But that is not a bond all – or even most – collared people have.” The collared person on the right, the one who had been impressed at first, stood up. Their robes, so different from Desmond’s tight and structured layers, were loose, with wide, stiff shoulders that stood out from their body and a circular neckline that showed off both the collar and the collarbones while obstructing almost the entirety of the rest of their body. They reminded Desmond of Judges’ and Potentate’s robes, save for the neckline that was clearly designed to show off the collar. “I am Halthinia, and I will be one of your teachers. What you need to know is that your level – the door you can reach – is determined primarily but not entirely by your skill and determination. At a certain point, your collar’s desires and yours are no longer in sync, and at that point, you are done climbing for now.”

“But that’s not fair!” The words were out before Des could stop them. He glared at Halthinia anyway, since he’d already said it.

“It is not so much fair as it is necessary. You and your collar working together is required, and we need to know at what level you two can collaborate.”

“So… what. I’m done?”

Halthinia smiled very broadly. “Oh, no. No, now you are beginning. Come now, you know where the door is already. Let us move on to the next stage.” Halthinia gestured Des to lead.

You know where the door is. So it was probably under the broad stairway, like it had been last time. Des paused for a moment, looking at the wide sweeping stairways upwards.

“You could climb one of those,” Halthinia allowed, “but it wouldn’t get you where you’re hoping to go. You are in a very exalted class, you know.”

Desmond didn’t know why he was feeling so depressed about the situation. After all, he’d climbed as far as he’d planned on going. And the collar wasn’t muttering in his ear – at least, it wasn’t muttering audibly.

“Thank you,” he said, as politely as he could. He bowed to Halthinia, who chuckled.

“You will be fun. It’s not so often that the collars are given to someone with such fine manners. Generally, they seek out the poor or the destitute.”

Des swallowed. “I’m not that fine,” he protested. “I’m just from Lesser Hunstsworth and Red Aisle, not from anyplace fancy.” And, although he’d tried hard not to think about it, his family could probably do with one less mouth to feed. “I’m just a younger son.”

“With very fine manners,” Halthinia repeated. “That is needed. It may be why you made it as far as you did. Now. Onward.”


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King for a Day, a commissioned continuation of the Aunt Family

This is written to sauergeek‘s commissioned continuation of King(Maker) Cake, a story of the Aunt Family. There’s more to be told on this story, but this is where this piece wanted to end.

“Damnit,” Stone swore, and immediately wanted to swear again, because you didn’t use words like that in front of the family adults. “My…” He meant to say my tooth, but as he fished the piece of metal out of the muffin, he started to feel strange. “… ooooh.”

He realized everyone was looking at him, and his survival instincts, which appeared to have been taking a nap up to this point, finally kicked in. He looked at his nearest male cousin — Geoffrey, who had the advantage of being just about as phlegmatic as family men were supposed to be — and muttered, “tell ’em I went out for a walk if they ask. Picking walnuts or something?”

Geoffrey eyed the little gold rabbit in Stone’s hand and nodded. “Walnuts. They’re in the back,” he offered in a mutter.

Stone wanted to retort that he knew where the walnuts were, thank you, but it had been years since he’d run around his grandmother’s back yard picking walnuts or cherries or mulberries. It wasn’t so much that he grew up as his sisters had, and Stone found Grandma Ardella incredibly uncomfortable without Beryl or Chalce to act as a buffer.

And now he had to pick some walnuts. He slipped out the side door, the one they weren’t supposed to use, and made sure it was firmly closed behind him, and slipped down past a row of trees, so he couldn’t be seen from the house. He would go get walnuts, but first, he had to figure out what he’d just bitten.

The tiny figure was the size of one joint of his thumb, but the work on it was incredibly fine. He brought it up close to his face to really look at it — a rabbit, it looked like, on a curled leaf, its ears up. You could almost see its nose wiggle.

Stone turned it over. There, on the underside of the leaf, were two things: the world’s tiniest ladybug, cast in the same bronze as the rabbit, and an etched signature. Z, it said, in a wide florid letter.

Stone ran his tongue over his teeth. He hadn’t knocked anything loose, at least not anything in his mouth. What were they thinking, putting something this heavy in the cakes?

Considering the way his head was swimming, the more important question was what were they thinking, putting something this magical in the cakes?

The Z probably meant it was Aunt Zenobia’s charm. If it wasn’t — if it was some granny or some far-older Aunt or some cousin — Stone was a little worried, because at least Aunt Zenobia had lived in the Aunt House within creaky-but-living memory. Anyone else, any relative he couldn’t bring to mind, that could be tricky. The stars and the earth-core alone knew what it could do, if it was one of the really old Aunts.

Okay, Rabbit. Brass. He had to focus, because he had to figure out exactly what they were going to do when they found out. Aunt Zenobia — figure it had been Zenobia for now — had been working with animals, he knew that. Something with little glass figures like that stupid creepy play they’d read in English, the one with the metaphors held up like road signs.

Stone hadn’t pointed out to anyone, yet, how growing up in a family of witches meant that you paid close attention to the way things were said, or how that translated to his straight-A’s in English. It wasn’t that he thought his English teacher wouldn’t understand — it was that he was afraid Mr. Bonner would.

There were already enough rumours about his family going around. The last thing Stone needed was to make them worse by telling the one teacher who already seemed aware of what the world could really be like.

Rabbit. Brass. His tooth had stopped hurting. Stone ran his tongue over all his teeth, just in case he’d missed something. Nope, nothing hurting, nothing seemed like it was chipped or turned into a swan or anything.

But his head still felt like it was swimming. Right. Rabbits. Rabbits were all about, what, abundance? They’d done a unit on that in English class and poor Mr. Bonner hadn’t been able to stop blushing. Then again, when Ruth Decker kept glancing over at Stone, he’d been having a little trouble with the blushing, too.

Fertility, please, don’t let it be a fertility charm. He’d never hear the end of it. Sons might not be under the same pressure to marry that daughters were (Quick! before they became the Aunt!), but his mother wasn’t blind, and neither was Aunt Eva. They might try to push him into three-kids-before-nineteen just in hopes that it would kill the spark in him.

The spark, oh, no. Stone sat down on a nearby boulder and felt inside of him. He didn’t have cards or a scrying bowl or even a pen and paper out here, nothing to use as a focus.

The rabbit was warm in his hand. Stone fished a piece of leather thong out of his pocket and threaded it between the rabbit and the leaf. That let him dangle the little charm in front of him, where he could stare at it and feel for his magic.

The spark, the family called it. Boys weren’t supposed to have it, but Stone knew he wasn’t the only one. Social pressure might work that way, but genetics didn’t, not usually.

He took a deep breath. He didn’t want to do anything big, just, say, make the grass grow a little. It might be wintertime, but the snow had all melted a few days ago (the way it often did when the family needed to travel), and he could see the whole lawn spread out around him. A little bit of growth on the lawn would be small enough to escape notice. He didn’t want to call attention to what he was doing, after all, especially not here. Here, he risked get caught out by all the women in the house that wanted him to be snugly married and safely powerless. And as long as you didn’t get carried away, making the grass grow was one of the safer pieces of magic.

As long as you don’t get carried away might very well be Aunt Eva’s motto. He’d heard it at least once a visit since he started going over there with his sister and cousins.

He felt the life of the grass under him, felt the way it was all joined together, and called on it, just a spark, just a suggestion of power.

The spark seemed to catch a bit of tinder. It wooshed through him like a wildfire, wooshed out just as hot, just as fast, and every piece of grass in the lawn grew four inches.

“No, No.” Stone pushed at the grass, urging it with both hands, palms-down. Too much, too much The grass subsided, bright green, far too vibrant, but only maybe a quarter-inch longer than it had started out. “Phew.” He looked around the yard.

The daffodils were blooming. It was Christmas, and all the daffodils were in bloom.

He looked down at the rabbit. It looked like it was blooming a bit.

“Abundance, hunh,” he muttered. He could hear the front door opening. And the back door. And the side door.

And a window upstairs.

There was no hiding this. Stone put his face in his hands and waited for the storm.


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Lady Taisiya’s 4th Husband, Chapter 14: Fighting – a fantasy/romance fdomme story

Find Chapter 1 here
Chapter 2 is here
Chapter 3 is here
Chapter 4 is here
Chapter 5 is here
Chapter 6 is here
Chapter 7 is here.
Chapter 8: here
Chapter 9: here
Chapter 10: here
Chapter 11 (R-Rated) here
Chapter 12: here
Chapter 13: here

You can skip Chapter 11 without losing the plot.

They stood, staring at the door, exchanging nervous quips and trying to look brave. They had drilled for this. They had been trained for this — Sefton knew he had, at least — since they could hold a weapon, trained, and drilled, and then told over and over again why they would not fight.

It was different, knowing there was an actual fight coming, than all the training in the world.

Sefton tried to count his heartbeats, but they were moving too fast and told him nothing of time’s passing. He remembered an old rowing song, something he’d heard the fishers use when hauling in big catches, and tried to match their slow but intent cadance.

“One circles round town, one paces round town,
one skips her way down, she dances on down.
Two answer the call, two dance to the call.,
two hop to the sound and they bow to the sound.”

Ba— bah-bump-ba-bump, it went, the two-beat quicker and stronger. Jaco joined in on the three verse, and by the four verse Sefton’s heart rate had calmed.

“Five council the fools, five make up the rules.
Five stand ‘gainst…”

The door opened with a terrifyingly quiet sschtkt and a bandit sneered at them. He was wearing chains, Sefton noticed, first, ridiculously, almost before the curved blade he was threatening them with: bangles with three links dangling from each one, like he was someone’s honored husband, like he was flouting the rules, the reason they wore such things.

Standing in a robe and his new wife’s chains, Sefton found that infuriated him. He sneered back at the bandit.

“House-men,” the bandit drawled. “Surrender now and you can live.”

Jaco hummed the beat, ba-bah-bump-ba-bump, and Sefton nodded. He shifted back a half-step, as if scared, and to the left, giving Jaco more room, giving himself more room to swing his blade.

“Five stand ‘gainst the ghouls five carve out our rules,” he sang, chanted, really, and swung his weapon against the bandit.

Jaco carried on the song in a breathy chant as he attacked first the lead bandit, and then the next one through the door. There were only three of them. What did it mean, that there were only three? What did it mean that they were there at all, that they’d opened the door to the nursery?

Sefton didn’t care — did care, but couldn’t afford to care right now. He landing his war-hammer in a crushing blow against the man’s neck, placed a foot on the man’s chest and shoved his backwards into his friend.

“Flee now,” he panted at the survivors, “and you can live.”

The men stared at Sefton and Jaco. “You’re supposed to be fluffy little house-boys. You’re supposed to be in chains!” complained the one in front of Sefton. They looked freaked out. They had looked freaked out since Sefton had started singing.

“You’re supposed to be in chains, too,” Sefton pointed out. Who was this guy, to act like Sefton was breaking the rules? “You’re supposed to be tied down to a home, too. It’s in the rules, in the charter.”

“The rules are for weaklings and eggshells. They’re for prey. We’re not prey.”

“And yet,” Jaco pointed out, “you’re wearing chains. All three of you are wearing some woman’s bracelets. Are you brother-husbands? Where is your wife?”

“Dead,” he sneered. “The rules are shit. But you, you’re good little husbands. You should be following the rules. You should be weaklings, tied up and helpless, ripe for the picking. Then you could come with us. Then you could be Changed by the Shining One.”

Sefton found himself grinning. It wasn’t a nice expression, but it was a fun one. “You obviously didn’t read the whole charter.”

“I don’t think he read any of it,” Jaco opined.

“You may be right. But he definitely didn’t read the part explaining why the chains.

“Maybe we should put some chains on him and explain it.”

“On both of them.” The second remaining bandit had been backing up slowly, trying to escape without being noticed; when Sefton said that, he bolted for the door. Sefton laughed.

“So it’s you and us,” Jaco grinned. “Why don’t we show you what the chains are for?”

“You’re house-boys,” the bandit complained. “Locked into your nursery with the children for protection.”

“Oh, yes.” Sefton took a step forward, his weapon dangling in a position designed to look casual. “How did you get into the nursery without blasting the door?”

“I don’t have to tell you anything!”

“…yet,” Jaco added ominously. The bandit cringed.

“How did you get into the nursery?” Sefton repeated. He let his weapon swing slowly. “I think you’d better tell us than our lady…”

That was, of course, assuming their lady wife was still alive. Sefton didn’t want to think too hard about that. He might not know Tasiya very well, but he knew what happened to widowed husbands. It made his glare at the bandit a little more intense than it might have been otherwise.

The bandit took a couple steps backwards. “You’re not going to chase me. . Not and risk leaving the nursery unguarded.”

Jaco sheathed his knife and grabbed his hooked stick with a movement so quick and smooth he had to have practiced it. “Don’t have to.” He dropped the hook low, caught it on the bandit’s ankle, and pulled the man off his feet. “Now, talk.”

“Or what?” The man wheezed it out as he struggled to regain his breath, but with the pointed end of Jaco’s hook against his stomach, he showed no signs of standing up. “You have egglings in there. You can’t leave them, and you’re not going to torture me in front of them.”

“Hothyan,” Jaco called, without taking his eyes off the bandit. “Sir, you wear chains, but you don’t know the first thing about the chained men. You have tattoos of the sea-farers on your collarbone,” he moved his hook to casually pull aside the man’s shirt, leaving a thin line of blood and showing the tattoos he was referring, “but you don’t fight like a sailor. What are you?”

The bandit paled as Hothyan ran up, holding two of his own weapons. Jaco took a step forward, his hook slowly moving back to the man’s stomach. “Hothyan, do you remember what I showed you? About the best way to flay a man?”


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