Still My Sister: A Prompt

still my sister

Kazariah Henge was a merciful man. You could ask anyone, and they would give you the same report – even-tempered, thoughtful, slow to wrath. Good qualities in a leader, anyone would agree. He was careful not to leap to a conclusion without thoroughly studying all aspects. He held the support of his vizier and the ephorate, all wise and knowledgeable men. Especially his vizier, who wasn’t as prone to polishing Kazariah’s words to make them brighter than they were.

Stepping back and looking at himself, Kazaria could understand, he supposed, why some people might not agree with him. Stars, they might not even like him very much – he was all right with that, as long as his conscience was clear. After all, doing the right thing was always met with opposition from people with dark intentions.

He just hadn’t expected the opposition to come from Linnet.

He sighed deeply and dragged his hands down his face, his fingers tracing every sharp angle, every little scar. It might not be the face of a saint, but it was the face of a good man. That, at least, he could say with confidence.

It might be the only thing he could say with confidence, now that he knew what Linnet had done. It was the sort of event that shook the very stones beneath his feet, the kind of thing that shot a tremor underneath the very fabric of the kingdom. Everyone would feel it. It would leave the entire populace unbalanced as soon as they heard about it – but Linnet was intelligent and clever, she would have known that before she did it.

Unless it was due to an uncharacteristic lapse of judgment, which he thought unlikely. “If only you were an idiot,” he said aloud to the dungeon door facing him, closed and inscrutable. It was a thick, well-built door, because quality was important. Besides, hearing screams from the dungeon really rattled the servants.

Kazariah shook his head and hauled on the heavy wrought-iron ring. The door opened with a hollow, reluctant groan, and the emperor began the slow descent down the long, twisted staircase. You had to be careful on these steps – they were worn and uneven with age, and a misstep could send you hurtling to your death, or at the very least a broken limb or two.

He reached the bottom and shifted his jaw, thinking. He could go back up the stairs. He didn’t need to confront Linnet about her actions – not today, at least. He could put it off. Eat dinner, sleep, wait until he was calmer and his head was clear.

But for all his virtues, impatience was a fault he had in spades. He lifted the ring of keys from the wall and strode to the farthest cell. His movements sped up; he twisted the key in the lock and shoved the door open, his blood seething in his ears.

Linnet sat on the floor, both ankles chained to the wall, her mouth twisted to the side and her arms folded over her chest like a petulant nine-year-old. “About time you showed up.”

Kazariah frowned and snapped his fingers. The torches on the walls burst into flame, roaring zealously for a few seconds before dimming to as steadier, warmer glow.

“Thank you,” said Linnet. “I was about to go blind down here.”

Kazariah couldn’t bring himself to walk any closer, so he remained where he was. “How can you sit there,” he asked, his voice hard and quiet, “and act like you did nothing?”

“Well, I got tired of standing after the first couple days, so I decided to risk your annoyance and sit,” she snipped.

“Linnet!”

“Don’t ‘Linnet’ me! I’m not pretending like I did nothing. I’m chained up in a dungeon cell awaiting your royal verdict on my guilt, what do you expect me to do with my spare time? Draft an apology?”

“Did you?”

“Of course not. I’m not sorry.”

He felt his shoulders sag and forced himself to straighten them. Broad. Strong. Confident. These were his attributes, and he wouldn’t let her steal them. Not even down here, where nobody could see. “You’re not sorry,” he repeated. “Why not?”

“Because.” Her eyes flashed in the firelight. “You and I disagree on certain policies. Sometimes, they can’t be reconciled.”

“So you come to me! You tell me your disagreement. You don’t—” His voice caught, and he paused to regain control of himself. Evenly, he continued, “You don’t rush off in the middle of the night and assassinate someone.”

“Of course not. I don’t assassinate just ‘someone.’ It had to be really special,” she said dryly.

“I genuinely don’t understand how you can be flippant about this.”

She opened her mouth to respond and he waited for a quip, but none came. Instead her gaze lowered to rest on her knees, and said nothing.

“Are you sorry?” he asked softly.

Silence.

Then, she shook her head.

Kazariah swallowed past a cold lump in his throat. “If I had known you disagreed with me so strongly, if you had only told me, we could have talked, Lin. We could have worked something out.”

“I know what your idea of ‘working something out’ means,” she said. The spark had gone out of her, a candle blown out in a sudden gust of wind.

“It has a better outcome than you chained up in the dungeon of our castle, awaiting a trial,” he snarled, his anger flaring. He gripped his face again, with both hands, to keep himself from lashing out. His nails, pristine and filed to small points, dug into his face.

She giggled. It sounded entirely wrong in these surroundings. “Yeah. Maybe. But you know, I kind of have the feeling I might have died mysteriously in the middle of the night, too, so.”

He stared at her, horrified, and sank down to one knee so he could meet her gaze directly. “How can you say that?” he asked hoarsely, the question twisting painfully out of his throat. “Whatever you do, you’re still my sister. We have a bond. A disagreement can’t break it.”

“No,” she agreed. “It can’t. But you can.”

She could not have hurt him more if she had thrown a javelin through his stomach. He rose to his feet, numb. His chest tightened, made it hard to breathe. He shut his eyes for a long moment. “The ephorate will find you guilty. You assassinated General Thur-Azaroth, there were witnesses. You didn’t even deny it.”

“I know. It wasn’t my stealthiest moment.”

He kept his eyes shut. He couldn’t bring himself to pry them open and see her sitting there, defiant. Stubborn.

Dead.

“Apologize, and I can forgive you. You know what happens if you don’t.”

“I’ll think about it,” she said, in a tone that implied she had already thought about it, and given her final answer.

He nodded and turned his back to her. As he lifted his hand to extinguish the torches, her voice stopped him.

“I’ll take whatever comes my way tomorrow. I can live – or die, I guess – with my actions. But how can you?”

“Excuse me?” The question caught him off-guard, like a punch in the face from a friend. “How can I?”

                “Just asking.” Her voice was cold. “I’m not the one who sent a brutal general and a warlock to make an example of an entire coastal city.”

He didn’t turn around. “They shouldn’t have committed high treason.”

“You’re the one who made it high treason.”

Her words fell on his amazed, horrified ears. She was so far gone she couldn’t discern left from right, right from wrong. “I am not looking forward to tomorrow,” he said stiffly. “But the kingdom will be the better for it.”

Nobody could insult him, call him a coward, and get away with it. If it took burning a city to ash to prove it, then it was the right thing.

He was the emperor, Kazariah Henge, and he had said so.

He snapped his fingers, and the flames blew out.

 

 

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Walking Stick: A Prompt

Last week I wrote a brief scene (probably inspiration for a series of short stories – I’ve never been a prompt person before, but I’m finding it a good way to get writing in when I’m lacking a lot of energy) based on the common prompt:

anubis.jpg

“He is a weapon, a killer. Don’t forget that. You can use a spear as a walking stick but that will not change its nature.”


Varlet didn’t bother looking up. “That’s a lot better than your last opening line.”

“I was talking about the creature.”

“Oh, him?” She patted the side of the enormous black dog lying underneath her, like a living rug. He was an impressive specimen, no matter what kingdom you hailed from – one of the last Ceberi, a three-headed creature, dog-like if not for the burning red eyes, hellish voice, and the fact it was the size of a king-sized bed. “He’s comfortable. Stop calling him a walking stick.”

“I didn’t call him a walking stick,” said Archimedes, his spectacles sliding down his aristocratic nose.

“Yes, you did.”

“I called him a spear, being used for—” He squeezed his eyes shut and sighed. “Nevermind. You know full well what I meant. And it wasn’t an opening line, just an observation.”

“Ah.” She rolled over on her back, thick swaths of Dionyro’s fur warm and soft against the bare skin of her arms. “Well, you should stick to writing plays. I really liked that last one you did – what was it? Smiling Without Teeth?”

“Varl – no!  A Sharp-Toothed Smile, and it wasn’t a play, it was a historical retelling of the murder of Praetor Chanice.”

“Oh, right! Sorry. It was excellent.”

“You didn’t even watch it.”

“I did so.”

“You fell asleep eight minutes in. I noticed.”

She sighed and sat up, leaning back on her palms. The monster under her rolled slightly, but didn’t knock her off. All three heads let out a tired grunt. “You have my deepest apologies. I trained all day that day.”

“Naturally,” said Archimedes, tweaking his glasses.

His eyes were twitching, Varlet noticed – they did that when he tried not to roll them. “You might as well just groan and call me hopeless before you give yourself a seizure,” she advised.

He snapped shut the book in his hands and straightened. “Bear in mind what I said, young lady.”

She scoffed. “I’m three years your junior. Should I start calling you Grandpa?”

“Spear,” he said tartly. “Walking stick.” And with that he swept out of the room, his scholar’s robe crinkling like tissue paper as he shut the door behind him.

Varlet rolled off the Cerberi. “Don’t listen to him,” she said.

The massive black shape shifted and shrunk, growing smaller, though still a good bit larger than her. The humanoid figure, still covered in glossy black fur, stretched his legs out next to her. All three of his jackal-heads grinned at her, red tongues caged by white teeth the size of her thumb.

“I won’t,” he said.


My favorite prompts are intriguing + angsty + probably a little foreboding, something with a lot of potential. Do you have any favorites?

How to Write a Psychopath

Fiction is enamored with psychopaths. The concept of an emotionless, calculating genius is a fascinating one, and one I’m always down to see – except it’s almost always wrong. Off the top of my head, I can think of one good example of a Hollywood psychopath, and it is Cillian Murphy’s character Jackson Rippner in the movie Red Eye. (I love that movie. If you haven’t seen it go watch it. I’ll wait.) But enough preamble, let’s dive into what a psychopath looks like in real life.

• Psychopaths are inherently manipulative. This is one point Hollywood usually gets right, at any rate. A psychopath, however, is far less likely to be a mastermind genius than they are to be the freeloader on your cousin’s couch who always has another grand scheme, another excuse, another seemingly good reason you should let him keep living off your good will. They don’t tend to be glamorous. They tend to be That Person You Can’t Stand.

• Psychopaths are charming. Most people who encounter psychopaths describe them as extremely charming, talkative, and interesting. They will keep you dazzled and entertained as long as they want, but you can’t trust anything they say. Interestingly, many of the people who described their psychopathic conversation partners as ‘charming’ indicated they felt the charm was insincere and more snake oil than truthful.

“What makes psychopaths different from all others is the remarkable ease with which they lie, the pervasiveness of their deception, and the callousness with which they carry it out.”
— Robert Hare, criminal psychologist and creator of the Psychopath Checklist
Psychopaths are unable to work on a team. This is a fact of how they operate. They either have no interest in ‘making it’ and are content to live without effort, or they thrive in competitive, get-to-the-top situations. Wall Street is full of psychopaths. Many psychopaths also choose to become surgeons, or engage in another job where they will be seen as the Top Dog and be able to either give orders or work alone. A while back they tried an experiment, placing psychopaths on bomb squad teams (I would cite this except I can’t remember which book it was in – I’ll list all my favorite books on this subject at the end of the post, however) and it turns out it was a terrible mistake. Psychopaths didn’t want to listen to orders, employed ‘cowboy’ behavior that constantly endangered not only themselves but their teammates, and the idea was quickly put out of practice.
Psychopaths do not learn from their mistakes. They will either blame others for those mistakes or refuse to believe a mistake happened in the first place. While not all psychopaths are criminals (and indeed many are not), the major percentage of Maximum Security Prison inmates are psychopaths. The usual cause of their being caught is their inability to learn from their mistakes. They have almost no concept of consequence, and will continue to repeat the same behavioral patterns over and over again until they are unable.
Psychopaths do not care about you. The concept of ‘a psychopath with a heart of gold’ is what I like to call Actual Garbage. Brain scans of psychopaths reveal an atrophied amygdala, among other things – they cannot feel the feelings you might want to project on a psychopathic character. They will act out of their own best interest and nothing else. It might sound harsh – but it’s also the truth. Korean Dramas are full of psychopathic characters who are not, in fact, psychopaths – they can be the BEST characters and I adore them, but they don’t hold up whatsoever against the reality of what a psychopath truly looks like.
“Psychopaths have a narcissistic and grossly inflated view of their self-worth and importance, a truly astounding egocentricity and sense of entitlement, and see themselves as the center of the universe, as superior beings who are justified in living according to their own rules.”
Robert D. Hare, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us
Psychopaths do not believe anything is wrong with them. There has been one program (still fairly new in the grand scheme of things) attempting to see signs of psychopathy in children and treat them in unconventional (i.e. actually good + helpful) ways and they have a fairly high success rate, but there has been no success with any teen-or-older psychopath. You cannot treat someone who doesn’t believe anything is wrong with them, and psychopaths will staunchly refuse to believe they have a problem. They are extremely happy existing how they are, which brings us to the next point—
Psychopaths have no empathy. The subtlety of human emotion is something psychopaths have to learn and pick up on, and when they do, they exploit it in others. Sometimes they simply refuse to learn, leading to a life of social dysfunction. A psychopath is never going to ‘feel sorry’ for you, ‘understand what you’re going through,’ or ‘want to change.’ They are incapable of feeling guilt.
“Psychopaths show a stunning lack of concern for the devastating effects their actions have on others. Often they are completely forthright about the matter, calmly stating that they have no sense of guilt, are not sorry for the pain and destruction they have caused, and that there is no reason for them to be concerned.”
Robert D. Hare, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us
Psychopathy and sociopathy are not the same thing. The words are often – incorrectly – interchanged, but there are distinct differences between the two. When asked whether they would rather be sociopaths, psychopaths have been known to show distaste toward sociopaths as ‘lesser’ and more emotive (again, I can’t recall which book this was in but they’ll all be listed below).

Psychologist Kelly McAleer says of the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths, “

“The psychopath is callous, yet charming. He or she will con and manipulate others with charisma and intimidation and can effectively mimic feelings to present as “normal” to society. The psychopath is organized in their criminal thinking and behavior, and can maintain good emotional and physical control, displaying little to no emotional or autonomic arousal, even under situations that most would find threatening or horrifying. The psychopath is keenly aware that what he or she is doing is wrong, but does not care.

“Conversely, the sociopath is less organized in his or her demeanor; he or she might be nervous, easily agitated, and quick to display anger. A sociopath is more likely to spontaneously act out in inappropriate ways without thinking through the consequences. Compared to the psychopath, the sociopath will not be able to move through society committing callous crimes as easily, as they can form attachments and often have ‘normal temperaments.’ . . .”

When in doubt, align your fictional character with the PCL-R. This twenty-item ‘psychopath test’ is now used in the criminal justice system (and now anywhere this determination is needed) to determine whether or not someone is, in fact, a psychopath. It’s not a list of attractive traits, in case you were wondering. Here are the traits it measures – all of which are accurate to clinical psychopaths.

• glib and superficial charm
• grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
• need for stimulation
• pathological lying
• cunning and manipulativeness
• lack of remorse or guilt
• shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
• callousness and lack of empathy
• parasitic lifestyle
• poor behavioral controls
• sexual promiscuity
• early behavior problems
• lack of realistic long-term goals
• impulsivity
• irresponsibility
• failure to accept responsibility for own actions
• many short-term marital relationships
• juvenile delinquency
• revocation of conditional release
• criminal versatility
Honestly I should have titled this blog post ‘How NOT to Write a Psychopath,’ but it’s a little less catchy. I hope this helps you in your quest to write accurate-to-life psychopaths (and maybe even be able to spot them in real life).

RECOMMENDED READING LIST

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us, by Robert Hare m.d.

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, by Paul Babiak m.d. and Robert Hare m.d.

The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout, m.d.

The Mask of Sanity, by Dr. Harvey Cleckley

Confessions of a Sociopath, by M.E. Thomas

The Wisdom of Psychopaths, by Kevin Dutton Ph.D

Flipnosis: The Art of Split-Second Persuasion by Kevin Dutton Ph.D

(A NOTE ABOUT KEVIN DUTTON: Much of what is contained in his books is pseudoscience and anecdotes. I highly recommend them for both entertainment and insight, but they can’t be wholly ingested as perfect truth.)

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Schriver (this book is fiction, yes, but provides an extremely accurate look at not only raising a psychopathic child, but dealing with the aftermath of that child’s horrific criminal actions.)

AND my personal favorite,

The Psychopath Whisperer by Dr. Kevin Kiehl (a protege of Robert Hare and longtime maximum-security prison psychologist)

See you all next time!

Know Your Novel, Part One: Welcome to Eden, Wyoming

Wade sauntered over to the side of the road, and for the first time got a glimpse of where he was. Brown, weedy grass stretched over endless rolling hills as far as he could see, on all sides of him. He turned to look at the sign he’d run into, and sure enough, the front of the truck had smashed into a pole. The green sign above it said ‘WELCOME TO EDEN, WYOMING. POPULATION 566. ENJOY YOUR STAY.’

I joked before this month began that I apparently have a thing for angsty guys winding up in mysterious small pseudo-western towns where the preternatural happens, but that joke wound up becoming Welcome to Eden, Wyoming – -a novel about an angsty guy winding up in a mysterious small pseudo-western town where the preturnatural happens. My main question was if I could convince people it wasn’t  Dark is The Night 2.0 but the book is taking care of that itself and shaping up nothing like my other Novel with a Similar Premise. Wade isn’t even that angsty. He’s kind of sweet.

So far.

  1. What sparked the idea for this novel? Honestly, it just came together in a flash without a particular ‘spark.’ Watching Logan and Predator made me want to write Boyd Hallbrook’s particular persona into a novel. I love the ‘weird west/american gothic’ genre and wanted to write something that felt a little more western than Dark is the Night, and include beings I hadn’t used before in other novels, like ghouls and kelpies and black shucks. Also I’ve wanted to use the town of Eden, Wyoming in a novel since we drove through it last year – I gave it a population of 566 in this book, but it might actually have been less in real life.
  2. Share a blurb! When Wade Lawson wakes up on the outskirts of Eden, Wyoming in a stolen truck, with hands that aren’t his and tattoos he doesn’t remember getting, he figures life can’t get any worse. The only thing to do is wait for his memory to return so he can go back to his normal life – but Eden’s inhabitants hold more mysteries than Wade’s past, and Wade’s past just might hold a fate worse than death for everyone involved.
  3. Where does the story take place? What is your favorite thing about the setting? I wanted to write a small midwestern town that felt kinda old-fashioned but kinda Night Vale at the same time, with a very small population and lots of room for Mysterious Things to Happen. Hence, Eden, Wyoming. Also I enjoy ironic names.
  4. Tell us about your protagonist. I originally set out for Wade to be kind of a ‘confused badass.’ So far he’s just confused. Mid-thirties. Honestly I can’t tell you more about him than he knows, that would be giving things away.
  5. Who (or what) is the antagonist? This I DEFINITELY can’t tell you. I can tell you the unseelie sidhe are involved. I can also tell you that I wanted to make them legitimately scary and not just ‘beautiful but fickle.’
  6. What excites you the most about this novel? Probably the upcoming plot twists. I do love a good plot twist. Also the Phoenix character. Also the Kelpie character. Also Miranda Rodriguez. But mostly the plot twists.
  7. Is this going to be a series? Standalone? Something else? Honestly I don’t know. I might hazard a guess at a duology unless I manage to actually wrap the whole book up this month, which is slightly unlikely. I have trouble writing standalone novels, I always wind up with dramatis persona I enjoy too much to relinquish after one book.
  8. Are you plotting? Pantsing? Plantsing? I usually plot out the barest minimum at the beginning and then fill in the rest as I go. Honestly there’s so little real plotting involved it’s BASICALLY pantsing but there is a smidge of plotting involved. Sometimes.
  9. Name a few things that make this story unique. What kind of QUESTION IS THIS, I ask? It’s not as if I choose a generic story and go ‘here’s how I’ll make it unique,’ I pick a story and I write it and hopefully everything that happens has the unique flavor of a Mirriam Neal story and manages to be fairly unique in its own right. If it winds up being unoriginal, that’s a BAD thing.
  10. Share a fun “extra” of the story (a song or full playlist, some aesthetics, a collage, a Pinterest board, a map you’ve made, a special theme you’re going to incorporate, ANYTHING you want to share!). The Pinterest Board is here for your souls: https://www.pinterest.com/mirriamneal/welcome-to-eden-wyoming-novel

SNIPPETS

(These aren’t officially part of this post but I’m including them because I’ve posted a few on Facebook but haven’t done the mandatory ‘snippets post’ for NaNoWriMo yet)

The sheriff stuck the patch onto Wade’s head. “There. Should be fine in a day or two. You didn’t seem concussed, so.”
Wade raised his eyebrows as the sheriff crumpled up the packaging and picked up the alcohol bottle. “Didn’t seem concussed?”

“Hey, I’m not a doctor.” Zane walked out of the cell, leaving the door open as he set the alcohol back in the unusual first-aid kit. “And you look okay.”


“There’s an old cemetery over the hill behind the house. Keep an eye on it but pay it no mind.”

Wade glanced over his shoulder at the hill, an eerie sensation washing over him like he was a kid and his parents had just told him to ignore the monster in the closet. “You have a real grave-robbing problem or something?””

“Not usually.” Zane climbed back into the car and shut the door, draping his arm out the window.  “If you see Moon-Jae, say hi to him for me.”

“He your not-usual grave-robber?”


“Did Zane send you or what?”

The figure chuckled and opened the granola wrapper with a single long tear. “Hardly. He didn’t tell you about me, did he? He has a delightful sense of humor.”

Wade was not feeling delighted. Nor was he feeling a large amount of patience. “Yeah, well, this is my place for a while so I suggest you get out before I make you leave.”

“I suppose I shouldn’t blame you for your behavior, but it leaves something to be desired.” The figure broke off a piece of granola bar, and Wade heard the stranger chewing and chewing loud.

“Out,” said Wade. “Now.”


A twig snapped and he turned, squinting through the early-morning light at the trees to his right. A shadow – too large for an antelope or a deer – moved, then surged out onto the street several yards in front of Wade.

It was a horse, but unlike any horse Wade had ever seen. His charcoal-gray coat was slick with water, dripping in rivulets down its long, sharp face. Its mane and tail were abnormally long, and Wade was pretty sure he could see seaweed tangled in them both. Rows of small, ridged spikes ran down the animal’s neck and side, from ears to haunch. The horse shook itself like a dog, flinging water, and swung its head to look at Wade with large eyes.

“Easy, boy.” The words left Wade automatically, but for a reason he couldn’t understand this animal gave off the vibe of a half-starved junkyard dog more than a horse and he didn’t want it coming anywhere near him.

The horse lifted its ears as if surprised at the sound of Wade’s voice and took a tentative step toward him on slender legs.

Wade lifted his hands. “Easy,” he repeated, wary.

With a sudden snort, the strange animal shook its head and spun, cantering away down the street with fluid speed until even the sound of its hooves on the pavement faded out of hearing.

Wade lowered his arms and released a deep breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. With the strange feeling he’d escaped something bad, he picked up the pace again, trying to make sense of the strangeness in the air around him. The horse, the skeletal man from last night. The howling that sounded almost wolf-like but also not quite.

The fact even the air here felt different; every breath he took filled him with a mingled sense of dread and excitement, like he was going to round a corner and see a UFO idling in the middle of the road.

I was tagged by Arielle who gave me no choice thought of me but if you want to join in, head on over HERE to link up!

Ye Stars That Shudder (snippets)

Several years ago, while I was writing The Fading of the Light (the first novel in my futuristic science-fantasy Samurai Robin Hood retelling) I joked, “Just wait until I put a spin on King Arthur. ‘Camelot & Aliens.'” A few months ago that joke came full circle as I began to write Ye Stars That Shudder, a mostly-modern-day post-alien invasion version of King Arthur. I began it, wrote seven chapters in quick succession, and then had to put it on the back burner while art, the moneymaker, sat in front. I’m trying to find a way to write and paint, and at my mom’s suggestion I’m going to take up waking at 5:30 consistently so I can write for an hour/hour and a half before the workload starts. That said, it’s about time I introduced you to the current novel in the form of snippets!

YSTS

Arthur folded his hands and studied the scarred tabletop. Searching his feelings, he realized he felt oddly betrayed by Uther’s capture. Here in the mountains they were isolated but still received news – infrequent trips into so-called civilization for supplies, the scattered reports over the old radio in the corner. Since the Visitors landed three years ago, Uther had risen; a determined, stubborn beacon of hope shining through the fog of complacency and despair. Uther was the rebellion and the rebellion was Uther. Now he was captured, soon he would be dead.

It did not seem terribly irrational to Arthur that the rebellion might die soon after.


“Even so,” said Hector; his voice mild and his eyes hard, “they’ll be expecting this kind of thing. I won’t have you be the next well-meaning idiot who dies at the hands of the Visitors.”

“Well-meaning, yeah,” said Arthur. “Sometimes. But I’m never an idiot.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” said Kai.


“Thirty seconds and I’m leaving,” said Kai, blowing out a breath through his nose and looking at the door.

Hector placed his spoon on the table. “You’ll do what I tell you, boy.” Kai raised an eyebrow, and Hector leaned on his elbow and pointed at him. “That’s what I said. Boy; which boggles my mind, personally, seeing as how you’re nearly thirty years old. And you,” he added, pointing the finger in Arthur’s direction now, “I made my share of bad decisions when I was your age, but twenty-three is plenty old enough to know what constitutes a fatal mistake. Savvy?”

“Savvy,” said Arthur, straightening. When Hector took that tone it always made him feel like he was slouching, even if he wasn’t.


                Kai set the bow down and lifted the rosin up to his face. “The only reason I’m not throwing this at your head is because I’m not done using it.”


“Uther would give it to me.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” said Badge, in a slightly less-friendly tone.

“I cannot disclose the reason to you, but it is a good one.”

“Oh, well. As long as it’s good.”

“You sure you don’t want to shoot him, Badge?” asked a man with a bow and arrow standing several feet behind the other man. “Looks like he could use a bullet. Or an arrow,” he added, acknowledging his current weapon. “Whatever works.”


It was the most up close and personal Uther had ever been with a Vee – probably the most personal anyone still alive had ever been, probably. They breathed, he could tell that much; the suits emitted a rhythmic purring sound every couple seconds.

When they spoke, it was only in words typed onto a screen. They might not be able to speak, but they could read and write English. The same word had been staring at Uther in black, sharp lettering for the past twenty-four hours – W H E R E I S T HE S W O R D, unrelenting. Their concept of spacing was backwards, apparently.


Merlin lifted his hand to his face, touching his fingers to his forehead like an exasperated father. “There is a plan,” he said, “and I will tell it to you once you stop reeling.”

“I’m not reeling. Surprised, shocked, definitely not cool with any of this, but not reeling.”

“I wish I had the ability to blink,” said Merlin. “Slowly. To show my exasperation,” he added.


He reached into his back pocket, holding his other hand out. “Don’t hit me, love, I’m just getting my business card.”

“You have a funny way of making sales pitches, I hope you realize that.”

“It’s not exactly a sales pitch,” he said, holding the business card out between his fingertips.

She took it from him with a sharp glance and read the name. Tristan Troye, Private Investigator. Collaborator. She looked pointedly at him and let the card fall from her hand onto the floor. “You look like a Tristan,” she said with a disdainful sniff.


“What guy are you?”

“I don’t know,” Arthur snapped. “I’m the guy who makes sarcastic comments on things and has existential thoughts.”

“Oh, yeah? Today should be right up your lane then, mate.”

“Ha; you’d think, but no.”

“Says the guy who was griping at me earlier for not caring about the world at large,” Kai retorted. “Now you’ve been told you’re like some kind of angsty superhero and you don’t want it.”

“This isn’t exactly what I meant,” said Arthur, tasting bitterness sharp on his tongue. “This is like wishing for firewood and having a tree fall on your house.”

“Hey, wood is wood.”

“Oh my gosh, go away.”


Wayne Gaheris could never remember to turn his phone off, which was why its ringing woke him up at three forty-seven in the morning. He answered automatically with a groggy, “Deputy Gaheris.” Only then did he look at the clock and fight the urge to swear at the caller.

“She got away. She ran off.”

“Tristan? Who ran off?”

“Vivian Atwater! She’s got a hell of a roundhouse. I took one in the knee.”

“A what?”

“A kick, man, a kick.”

“Are you telling me a sixty-seven-year-old woman incapacitated you and then took off?”

“It’s a terrible truth and I’m ashamed, but yes.”

“You’re a disgrace.”

“I shall wear sackcloth and kowtow fifty times at the alter of your disapproval, but as I’m currently en route to the hospital you’ll have to accept a postponement.”


Hector broke in, his voice rough with barely-suppressed anger. “Hang on. You’re telling me you brought this all on our heads without knowing if you had your head on straight?” He took a step toward Merlin but the robot did not back up; he only turned his head unnaturally far to the right and replied, “Yes.”

“I should grind you into dust right now.”

“Try it, tough guy,” said Merlin, in a voice that sounded suddenly very human, very old, and very annoyed.