Fairy Knights: A Glass Fate Christmas Tale

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Caldyr put the last ornament on her little cactus and bit down a smile. Her tiny, old apartment didn’t exactly come alive for the holiday season, but a few decorations helped.

“Looks good,” Reynardine said. “You want me to pick up some tinsel? On my way to the store in just a minute.”

“Tinsel?” Caldyr asked.

“The shiny little strips? Like long glitter.”

She nodded. “Yes, all the long glitter. I’ll give you money for it.”

Reynardine waved her off. “It’s a buck, I’ll just call it an early present.”

“It’s fine,” she insisted. “Just a buck.”

“Consider it my contribution to the decorations. I needed to shop, anyway. We’re down to half-a-dozen string cheeses.”

“It’s just not Christmas without it.” Caldyr pulled out her wallet and handed him the cash. “Get me some of those little canned sausages, too.”

“Got it.” He grabbed his coat as the pocket buzzed. Pulling out the phone, he checked the screen. “Ursie. Must be some Rose Path business.”

Or her ridiculous crush on you. “Must be.”

Reynardine hit talk and smiled at the screen. “How’s my favorite werewolf?”

Whatever Ursie replied killed the smile in a heartspin.

“Oh,” Reynardine said. “Did you tell her to call Caldyr? I’m just the secretary, I don’t do the detective bits.”

“What?” Caldyr asked, edging closer.

Reynardine shook the phone. “Rose Path business. A Myth is missing.”

“Who?”

“King Arthur.”

Caldyr raised a brow. “Is… he like…” She stopped herself. Of course it’s the real King Arthur, he wouldn’t be called a Myth otherwise. “What’s the situation?”

“One second,” Reynardine said, putting the phone on speaker. “Ursie, you mind me bringing Caldyr in?”

Ursie hesitated and Caldyr’s heartorb sank. “This is technically on the divine side of things and Fate doesn’t like us meddling as it is,” Ursie said. “So officially I can’t sanction bringing her in. But I can’t control who you hang out with Reynardine and a good detective might help. I just can’t allow it, or pay her myself.”

“Got it,” Reynardine said. “Sorry, Caldyr. I’ll be right back.” And he walked out the door and into the rainy afternoon.

Caldyr poked at her Christmas cactus for a few minutes and then made a snack. She was on her third string cheese and salami sandwich when someone knocked on the door.

After a moment’s hesitation, Caldyr opened it.

Reynardine, with a sly smile on his long face and rain dripping from his chartreuse three-piece suit. “I’m looking to hire a detective.”

Caldyr squinted at him. “Not sure you can afford me. I’m charging two boxes of long glitter now, plus expenses.”

“And I’ll split the Rose Path pay with you. Sixty-thirty, and ten percent goes to a nice queer friendly holiday charity? Also spring for Christmas dinner this year.”

“Deal.” Caldyr held out a hand.

Reynardine shook, then pulled an orangey-red handkerchief from his pocket to wipe off the mustard.

Caldyr grabbed a soda, and a napkin, before meeting him in the living room for the rundown. “So, King-Excalibur-wielding-Camelot-founding-sword-and-motherfucking-stone-Arthur? He’s missing?”

“Also had a pretty spiffy table,” Reynardine said. “More of an oval, but he tried. King Arthur’s missed a meeting several years in a row and the person he’s meeting with would very much like him to attend.”

“Who’s that? Merlin? The Lady of the Lake? Lancelot?”

Reynardine hesitated, or at least faked a moment, and then smiled. “Uh, Guin. His wife. She does not like me very much at all.”

“Cause you’re a smarmy manho?”

“More or less. After I seduced Arthur, things got pretty rocky between us.”

Caldyr blinked and then went to the kitchen for a cup of tea. She’d like a beer, really, or a double of scotch, but the tea would have to do while she was working on the case.

“Caldyr?”

“I need tea,” she said. “I don’t know why anything you do, or have done, surprises me anymore, but seducing a king—especially in medieval Briton and just… why, okay? What do you get out of all the chaos…” Caldyr paused and counted to fifty. “So, King Arthur is gay?”

“Bi. Maybe pan. He likes to shake things up, no harm in that.”

“Apparently his wife disagreed…”

Reynardine shrugged. “People can be a little strange. I could make a pot of coffee. We’ve got a guest on the way, so it’s probably a good idea, regardless.”

“Knock yourself out. Who’s on the way?”

Reynardine walked into the kitchen. “The real client, of course. Queen Guinevere. Guin, she likes Guin. Or used to. Last time I saw her, she was firing arrows at me while I climbed out her husband’s window. Haven’t exactly kept in touch.”

A knock rattled the door. Four quick taps.

Urgent. Maybe angry. Strong.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Caldyr muttered.

“Want me to get that?” Reynardine asked.

“Please,” Caldyr said, pulling off her glasses to rub her nose-ridge.

The door swung up open with a loud squeak. “Evening, Guin.”

“Hello, I’m…” a voice with a delicate, almost posh, accent started. She sounded like the upstairs people on the British dramas Reynardine liked. “Reinhard?”

“Reynardine, these days.”

“I don’t care.”

Caldyr heard the crack of bone against something harder—wood likely—and a thump.

She was in the hallway with a kitchen knife in a heartspin.

The once and future Queen of Briton wore a long, dark red coat that stretched to her black leather boots. A hood covered short blonde hair and shadowed fiery eyes.

Guin stepped into the apartment; cloth shrunk, the hood faded, and she adjusted a simple cardigan.

She stood tall, but everyone looked tall to Caldyr. Still, the mythical Queen towered over the fairy similar to how Reynardine did and he was six-six.

When he wasn’t drooling into the carpet.

Guin held a sawed off shotgun, but she slipped it into her long coat and raised both hands. “I’m here for the detective. Ursie didn’t say anything about Reinhard and he deserved that.”

Caldyr looked down at him then back to Guin. “I’m not saying he didn’t, but I’m also not pleased that my secretary is napping on my rug. I’m Caldyr Prayers, and I think I’m the detective you’re looking for.”

“Are you Rose Path?” Guin asked.

“No, but he is and I’m being subcontracted by him since the Rose Path can’t hire me for divine business. Technically, I think this should be reported to the Fated Pantheon, but I can understand avoiding official channels.”

“I’m not,” Guin said. “I asked for help from Ares office, but since Arthur and I are no longer…” She looked to the kitchen and then sighed. “Can we do this inside?”

“Are you going to hit Reynardine, again?” Caldyr asked.

“I can’t promise anything,” Guin admitted. “I won’t if he doesn’t… if he doesn’t fox things up.”

“Fair enough.”

Guin closed the door, stepped gingerly over Reynardine, and then looked around the apartment. “Uh, this is a fab place.”

Caldyr shook her head. “Skip the nice lies. Tea?”

“Yes, please. Great cactus, truly. Very festive.”

Caldyr buzzed inside, but just nodded. “I’d offer you coffee, but the machine is new and the only person who knows how to use it is sleeping on the rug.”

“Tea’s my prefered drink, anyway.” Guin looked at Caldyr. “Are you glamoured?”

“I was out shopping earlier.” Caldyr dropped the spell and her human color cracked and fell away, exposing the fairy’s natural blue-green skin and long feathery gill tendrils that mixed with her short, messy black hair.

“Pretty color. Didn’t realize you were a fairy.”

“I know I’m beautiful.” Caldyr walked into the kitchen. “If my being a fairy is a problem, then fuck the fuck off and go choke. If not, have a seat. I’ll get the tea going. String cheese?”

“String what?”

“String cheese. Want some with the tea? I’ve got Fig Halleys, too.”

“Please,” Guin said. “I don’t care what you are, long as you’re willing to help. Are you just going to leave Rein—Reynardine there?”

“Toss the couch blanket on him if you want, but I’m not hurting my back dragging’ his ass to bed.”

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Caldyr put the tea together and piled a plate with string cheese and Fig Halleys. She found some peanuts in the cupboard and filled a little bowl with them. Proper tea, since the Queen herself was in attendance.

The blanket barely covered Reynardine to the knees. A throw pillow had been shoved under his head.

Guin was seated on the couch, and staring at the little Christmas Cactus with one lip turned upward into a weak smile.

The smile faded and she looked to Caldyr. “So, where do I begin?”

“It’s your story,” Caldyr said. “Just start with what’s most important.”

“Arthur,” Guin said immediately. “My warrior-fool of a King. Not that I’m free of foolishness, I’ve made mistakes.”

“Lancelot?” Caldyr asked.

Guin shrugged. “I was mad, so I fucked someone else. I’m not proud, but I did catch my husband sliding into Reynardine’s—”

“No, nope, nada. No need for details, I’ve heard.”

“Bed,” Guin finished.

“Still too much information. Just stick to the pertinent stuff and nothing that’s not absolutely vital involving my secretary.”

“Secretary? You two aren’t—”

“Long story, but he’s just a roommate and secretary, and maybe a friend some days. Focus here: Arthur is missing? And Ares doesn’t care?”

“Me and Arthur split a few centuries back,” Guin said. “We hadn’t been close since Camelot and the whole Mordred thing. One day, he just packed up his things and walked out. I didn’t say goodbye, even.”

“Sounds a little like he might not want to be found.”

“We’ve seen each other since,” Guin said, a little quickly and uneven. “And we spend every… we were spending every Christmas together. For the last hundred and forty-two years, we spent every Christmas in a room somewhere. Didn’t even celebrate the holiday, just each other.”

“And then you left?”

She shook her head. “I’d always fall asleep and wake up alone. He… he’s really been hurting—”

“Hurting?”

“Inside. He was a good king, and good kings always blame themselves before others. When Camelot fell, he took it hard. Nearly killed him.”

“I kinda thought it did,” Caldyr said.

“Myths can’t die, and he had to come back someday. As the true King of Briton, I mean. He knows when, I think, but Merlin didn’t bother sharing with the rest of us. He was always a miser like that.”

“So he just stopped showing up at your little meetings? When?”

“Three years ago,” Guin said. “We’d been meeting in San Francisco at a little motel near the beach. I tried to get in touch, we had each other’s emails, but he never kept a cell phone and I couldn’t find his house number. Email was easiest, anyway.”

“And he never replied?”

Guin shook her head. “I asked Merlin and he said Arthur wanted to be left alone.”

“Merlin and he are close?”

“Father and son, in their own way. Have been long as I’ve known them.”

Caldyr nodded and approached the next sentence with every bit of delicate she could muster. “Guin, I’m really feeling like Arthur might not want to be found.”

“I’ve thought of that, and I don’t think he does, but I’d really like to be sure he doesn’t need to be found. He’s my husband, or he was, and I still love him.”

“Ursie seems to agree with you,” Caldyr said, then looked to where Reynardine still snored softly. “Fine, I’ll search him down. See what the situation is.”

“Find him for me?”

“I’ll find him,” Caldyr said. “If he doesn’t want to see you, and he seems in his right mind, then I’ll let you know he’s safe and that’s it. But I’m not hunting someone down just to turn them over to an ex they don’t want to see. For whatever reason.”

“He’s not hiding from me,” Guin said. “Or just me. He’s hiding from the world at large.”

“I’m sorry, but I’ll decide that, your Highness.”

“I’m Queen, so your Majesty is the correct honorific.”

Caldyr chuckled and opened her mouth, but the Queen spoke first.

“Just Guin is fine, though. This is, too. He might not want to see me, but knowing he’s safe will be enough.”

“So, tell me more about Arthur,”

“He’s protective. Even if he doesn’t know you, he’ll keep you safe. Rule six of Camelot: no one lives afraid. Everyone is safe.”

Caldyr meant his habits, or what he did for a living these days. But the sparkle in Guin’s eyes and the fidgeting hands—like they couldn’t wait to touch him—the light rose to her pale cheeks; all of them told a subtle tale, and possibly more than the Queen meant to.

“No one is beneath him. Talks to every peasant like they’re another Knight of the Round Table. Handsome. Not like Reynardine, more like… like Bogart. Classic good looks. Bodybuilder big. Tall. He’s just massive, even to me and I’m 6’1. Gentle. Birds follow him in the forest and deer show up at our window for treats in the morning.”

“So, he’s a Disney Princess?”

Guin’s jaw dropped. “No! Well, maybe a bit. Used to annoy me, honestly. I wanted my big strong man and I… I thought his softness made him weak… for some silly reason.”

“Toxic masculinity seeps into every aspect of life.”

Guin nodded. “Back then, we just called it Chivalry and had tourneys to see who was the best at it. Also wars, but they’re just a part of life.”

“Don’t have to be,” Caldyr said, even though she couldn’t imagine it being true. Reynardine said it before and she liked the sound and the hope.

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“Of course not, but they are.” Guin sighed. “Camelot fell hard after he died. We talked about holding it together and how once Merlin showed up we’d be fine. Didn’t know Merlin was trapped by Morgaine LeFay. And we didn’t have a chance without Arthur. Even I don’t know how he did it, pulled everyone together like that. The knights fought and ended up dividing the land between them. I moved to France for a while. Went looking for…” She made a slow, meandering gesture with one hand. “Comfort.”

“Lancelot?”

Guin winced and shook her head. “I didn’t know if Arthur was even coming back. Never found Lancelot, anyway. Heard rumors he moved in with his parents, but I couldn’t knock on their door. I went back to Tintagel, to the cave where we left him, and found Arthur alive again. Not quite himself. I thought it was death, that dying put him in a weird state. But he’s been like that since.”

“Like what? Exactly?”

“Depressed. Not always, but it’s there in his eyes when he thinks I’m not watching. Quieter. Doesn’t sing. Smiles for me, not because he’s happy, I think.”

“Losing a kingdom to your nephew-slash-son’s rebellion sounds like a downer, for sure.”

“That’s not really what hurt the most. He thinks he let us down. Not that we lost, together. He lost alone and now it’s all on him.”

Caldyr nodded, but kept her mouth shut about toxic masculinity. One jab was enough, especially with her client looking like she might break down crying on the couch.

“What does he do these days? For work, I mean.”

Guin shook her head. “I tried to talk, but we mostly just chatted about changes. Big events. World news.”

“He never said anything about work, or daily life?”

“He might not be doing much,” Guin said. “When I found him in the 1850s he wasn’t working. Just living in Trafalgar with all manner of vagrants. That’s when our Christmas tradition began. It was Christmas eve and I was walking with a mortal I’d been seeing and there he was—Arthur. Ragged. Tired. Standing between a man and a crying boy. I think the man hit the boy, and Arthur never stood for that sort of thing.” She smiled. “The gentleman I was with wanted to call the constables, but I told him to shove off and dragged my Arthur to the nearest inn. Put him in a bath, fed him. Tried to… fix things. He was himself, after a bit. Almost. We had a good night, and when I woke up alone, I went to Trafalgar. He wasn’t there, but he’d carved a heart with our initials into a fence near where I’d found him.”

Guin grabbed a string cheese from the tray and unwrapped it. She bit into the stick without tearing it apart, but Caldyr didn’t correct her uncouth client.

After the cheese, she leaned back on the couch. “I gave up looking after a while, but the next Christmas eve I waited near the fence. He walked right up to me, and smiled. Said he didn’t know if I’d gotten the message. I slapped him, then kissed him, then nearly slapped him, again. I dragged him to a room, made him promise to be there in the morning. Of course, he wasn’t there when I woke up, but he did leave a proper note. Needed a walk and wasn’t sure he’d make it back. Promised to be at the fence next year, if I wanted him. And it’s been like that since, all over the world, and finally here in California for the last decade. Every Christmas up until twenty-fifteen. He just wasn’t there and I’m tired of waiting. I’m going to find him.”

Caldyr unwrapped some cheese herself and ripped the stick apart before shoving half into her mouth. “So he’th like homeless, probably?” She swallowed and grabbed a handful of cookies. “And here in Cali?”

“Maybe, and yes. We’ve been meeting in San Francisco since the late 70s.”

“So he’s probably there?”

“Most likely. I hope so,” Guin said. “He likes big cities and I know he loves San Francisco. Says it’s close to Camelot as he can find, this century.”

“Give me your contact number. Soon as my secretary wakes up, we’re heading to the Bay Area.”

***

Years back, during the Monarchy war of the nineties, San Francisco had been marked by the Fate of All Things as a free zone; the only completely neutral area on the West Coast. Peace talks, prisoner exchanges, and anything else that needed to be conflict free, were held here.

The ancient streets were blessed and protected by the Emperors, a line of powerful mages that stretched to this day. Naturally between them and Fate, the area was teeming with supernatural life. Most just looking for safety.

Plenty looking for trouble and excitement. Reynardine’s eye swirled as he drove, and Caldyr knew he was the latter.

Also, the old city was gorgeous at Christmas, of course. 5309877945_18d41542eb_b

The first streetcar they passed blinked in red and green lights. Buildings were strewn with tinsel and strands of every color light.

Caldyr tried not to fall under the festive spell, but the round topped federal building in red and green drew a tiny smile. People partied in the touristy areas. Or at least, gathered so thick they resembled a party.

Watched over by the star of a giant Christmas tree, dozens of vendors hawked wares along the piers. Candy cane colored cotton candy and other treats. People, and more than a few beings that weren’t normal people at all, weaved along the sidewalks. Some laden with last minute shopping and others just strolling.

The city truly came alive with the season.

Caldyr had been a few times, mostly out of boredom and she usually almost regretted the trip because of the expense.

“You want a meatball sub?” Reynardine asked.

“I don’t even know what that is,” Caldyr told him. “Can we just get burritos. You know a good place?”

“Mission street,” Reynardine said with a serious expression he didn’t use very often.

After an almost absurd wait, Caldyr munched on a chicken-pork burrito and had to agree. The burrito was pretty serious, and delicious, business.

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She also kept her eyes peeled for a giant, royal looking dude as they drove down street after street.

There were a few, and Caldyr pointed them out, but Reynardine didn’t recognize anyone.

A couple of fairies passed by holding hands. Both wore bright Christmas sweaters and impressively built glamours.

Caldyr waved. The other fairies laughed and flipped her off.

She returned the gesture and stuck out her tongue.

“Want to say hello?” Reynardine asked.

“Kinda just did, but nah.” Caldyr bit back a wistful sigh. “We got stuff to do.”

More blocks passed and the sun started to sink, but the crowds just swelled.

“It’s the Thursday before Christmas,” she muttered. “Why the hell aren’t people home, hiding from the cold and drinking?”

“You know that’s not how everyone celebrates, right?”

“Sure. Some people watch Die Hard, some people watch Nightmare Before Christmas.”

“Always been into both, myself, but that’s not even remotely what I meant.”

Caldyr nodded, and knew he had a dinner planned for a few friends, but didn’t acknowledge all that, yet. She didn’t want to say no, but inviting a half-dozen gods to her place felt higher risk than Caldyr liked.

“Let’s check Haight and Ashbury,” Foxbutt said after a few minutes. “Guin said he liked Trafalgar square and Haight Ashbury would be kinda the same.”

“Really?”

“No, not really. But both have homeless people and history.”

“Wait. How’d you know Guin said he liked Trafalgar?” Caldyr asked. “You were snoring on my rug.”

“I don’t snore, and I was more on the hardwood.”

“You do and dead center of the rug.”

“Maybe a bit. But I was up a while before I was up. Figured Guin would be more open without me being conscious.”

Caldyr nodded. “Not exactly a fountain of information, anyway. Doesn’t even know what he does the rest of the year? What the shit is that?” Truthtold, she wanted Reynardine’s opinion on the story, so him hearing firsthand and not mucking things up worked out.

“I’d… I’d defer that to a professional, honestly. They sound like they’ve suffered the burden of years and other strife, and they could use the help.”

Reynardine was only allowed to live with Caldyr on the condition that he saw Tyr, the gods’ psychologist, once a week, so he spoke from firsthand experience. “But in your opinion?”

“He’s not used to losing and he lost a lot. Let everyone down, in his view. Fucking around on his wife and then having the kid from the affair kick your ass… Yeah, all bad. The Arthur I knew would never forgive himself for stepping on a spider by mistake. He could fight, sure, but against equals on a field of battle. Even then, he never killed when he could spare.”

“Nice to have that luxury,” Caldyr said.

“Being King ain’t all perks,” Reynardine said. “But yeah, having an army to watch your back is one. I haven’t seen him since, but Guin’s story checks out.”

“Would he hide from her?” Caldyr asked. “Would he have reason? Beyond being a selfish dickhead who doesn’t understand that his actions hurt people and that even if he’s suffering hiding himself away isn’t the—”

“Let me do the talking when we find him, okay?” Reynardine interrupted. “Also, no, Guin isn’t the abusive type.”

Caldyr sighed—letting off the steam from her building rant, then shook her head. “Your chin is still bruised from where she hit you with the shotgun. And why does she carry a shotgun?”

“Morgaine? Most likely, anyway. She’s their Isengrim,” Reynardine said.

Isengrim was Reynardine’s archenemy, and had been a problem for Caldyr recently as well.

“So, he’s looking to take out Arthur maybe, too.”

“Nuh-uh,” Reynardine said. “He’s the chief myth. Be easier to kill Guin, I think. I’d go after Lancelot, first. He’s been… critical of Arthur, and Arthur never forgave him—”

“For fucking Guin? Didn’t you and he do stuff first?”

“Yes, but it’s not the same—”

“Because he’s a man?”

“Because Arthur called him brother. And because it wasn’t just a fling for Lancelot, he wanted all of her. Guin ignores it, but Lancelot was more hurt that she didn’t walk away with him than anything.”

“Jesus’ jelly beans, does any Myth have a normal relationship?”

“Not the heroes,” Reynardine said. “I’m just a slut, we all know that.”

“Amen,” Caldyr muttered.

“And it’s been a touch rough for me—”

“Mostly because of you from what I’ve seen,” Caldyr added.

“But the actual heroes need to struggle.”

“Builds character?”

“Counterbalances the good they do,” Reynardine said. “And the world is just cruel, that’s a big factor, too.”

“Awesome. Back to our missing King? Please?”

“Christmas is the time for reflections.”

“Drive. Talk about Arthur? Where would he be—”

“Haight and Ashbury. Or a homeless shelter. Lots of places serving meals this time of year.”

Caldyr looked out the window, weighing choices as the car rolled down the street.

She wouldn’t have recognized Guin if the Queen had changed her coat. The bright red and short blond hair mirrored the fire inside, but also stuck out like a beacon.

So did the pale young man standing next to her. He wore all black besides a Firstlight hoodie, and Caldyr would bet her last dollar, both of ’em actually, that he was Mordred.

“That’s Mordred,” Reynardine said.

Caldyr looked back, he stared into the brightly decorated store.

“Fucking knew it,” Caldyr muttered.

“And Guin.”

“Not many ladies that dress like a lit match.”

“Or strike like one. How do we play this?”

“I’m going to confront them.”

“She’s got a shotgun…”

“Hard same,” Caldyr said. “Pop the trunk.”

***

Caldyr had never walked into a 24/7 carrying a magical shotgun, but Christmas felt like a good time for firsts.

The clerk already had her hands up as the door dinged.

Looks like she’s been there a minute.

Caldyr looked to Guin. She hadn’t turned around.

Mordred was pressed into the slurpee machine with both eyes on Guin’s hips, or crotch—

Or sawed-off shotgun.

Oh.

“Guin?” Caldyr asked.

“Caldyr?” Guin stepped to the side, to look at Caldyr, but kept her shotgun aimed at Mordred’s waist.

“Oh shit, just what I needed,” Mordred said. “Another gun toting bitch.”

“Well, I can see why you want to shoot him now,” Caldyr said. “But I’d really advise against it.”

“Leave my shop, please,” the clerk said.

“Yeah,” Reynardine said. “We’re getting to that. You want to maybe stand outside with me, and not call the police while we come to a peaceful solution?”

“I really should call the cops,” she told him, patting her hair and smiling. “But like not if I’m going to get shot…”

“Oh, no,” Guin said. “Honey, it’s fine. Just wait with the smarmy whore.”

“Yeah,” Caldyr said. “No one’s getting shot.”

“Really?” Mordred relaxed.

“Maybe Mordred,” Guin said.

“No,” Caldyr snapped. “No shooting, no death… or people not dying on cameras, Guin. We’re just going to interview him.”

“The snake killed Arthur once before.”

“This is getting even weirder,” the clerk said.

“Reynardine! Get her the fuck out of here!” Caldyr shouted.

“Right this way, Miss.” Reynardine grinned; brutally effective charm and shining confidence blended with his standard hundred watt smile.

“Sure, anything you say.”

Caldyr shook her head. “Right, Mordred, do you know anything about King Arthur?”

“Tons. He is my dad.”

“No, I mean him not being—”

“Where is he?” Guin said. “Did you kill him?”

“Haven’t seen him in decades I was just getting a slushie, I didn’t even know you were in town,” Mordred said, turning to fill an already lidded cup. “I live here.”

“In San Francisco?” Guin asked.

“Reminds me of Camelot,” he said.

She nodded. “If I find out you’re lying—”

“I didn’t even know he was missing,” Mordred interrupted. “The Firstlight update dropped and I’ve been grinding all week. Check my Shiver stream, I’m level fifty-eight already.”

Caldyr sighed. “ID?”

“What?”

“Give me your ID and go home,” Caldyr said. “I’ll have it mailed back, if we find King Arthur.”

He pulled out his wallet. “If you don’t?”

“Then I’ll drop it off myself.”

“He could just run,” Guin said.

“Not far enough,” Caldyr said, staring into his eyes. “Understand?”

Mordred nodded. “I’m innocent. I’ll expect my ID back before the end of the week. Maybe your numb—”

“Out,” Caldyr said, pointing to the door.

Soon as it shut, Guin holstered her shotgun and looked down at Caldyr. “Why’d you let him walk?”

“He’s not our man,” she said. “He didn’t know Arthur even lived here, and he gave an alibi for a week. Mordred doesn’t seem all that bright, I doubt he’d double down on the act like that.”

Guin sighed. “If Morgaine helped—”

“Let’s just stick with simple,” Caldyr said. “Arthur has a history of hiding anyway, and I can hunt Mordred down easy enough.”

“He’s treacherous.”

“I’m aware,” Caldyr said. “But he’s not a priority. If we get an inkling he’s involved in this, then I’ll go after him. What are you doing here, anyway?”

Guin popped an eyebrow. “Looking for my husband and I got thirsty. Walked in and Mordred was hitting on the clerk.”

Caldyr squinted at her. “I didn’t expect you to be on the streets, too.”

“I hired you to help.” Guin shrugged. “But Rule five of Camelot, you don’t put your work off on others. Even underlings.”

“I’m your fucking detective, not an underling, got it?” Caldyr snapped. “Go to your hotel, or whatever. I’ll call you if I find him.”

“I’m going to keep looking,” Guin said, eyes shaking with tears. She covered them with a hand and then sighed at the ceiling. “I’ve got nothing else to do.”

“The Grinch is on all day,” Caldyr told her. “The classic one.”

“I don’t even think I’ve seen it before.” Guin let out a heavy sigh. “I don’t want to watch it alone.”

Caldyr echoed her sigh. “I don’t want you out here waving a shotgun at any Myth you pass.”

“We’re at an impasse, then.” Guin walked to a fridge and grabbed a water. “Rule eleven of Camelot, compromise rather than waste time, or energy. How about I hand over my gun? Then I can stick with you, and you don’t have to worry about me shooting anyone.”

“Just keep it in your coat,” Caldyr said. “I’ve killed clients before. Don’t make me do it again, Guin.”

“Thank you, Caldyr. Sorry I called you an underling.”

She grunted, filled up a slushie cup for herself and Reynardine, and left a five on the counter.

Reynardine gave the clerk his number, while Caldyr cleaned off the backseat of the car so Guin would have a place to sit.

“Red or blue?” Caldyr asked Reynardine as he climbed into the car.

“Whichever you don’t want.”

Caldyr passed him the blue slushie and they rolled off toward Haight and Ashbury.

Guin stayed quiet in back, eyes scanning the sidewalks. Traffic was pretty heavy on most streets, so they had plenty of time to watch the mobs pass.

A naked man with a Santa hat, a beer in each hand, and his dick painted like a candy cane walked right in front of the car.

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“Want to get out and say hello?” Guin asked Reynardine.

“Hey now,” Caldyr said. “No shaming anything.”

“It’s fine,” Reynardine said. “But I’m saving myself for Arthur, actually.”

Guin turned red as her coat, but didn’t reach into it.

“Christ’s sweet rolls, shut your mouth,” Caldyr snapped. “Let’s keep the conversation clean, okay?”

The naked Santa passed by again, shaking his candy cane in slow circles and singing Oh Come All Ye Faithful.

“Well,” Reynardine said. “Maybe I could go for a bit of Christmas cheer.”

Caldyr stopped herself from slamming his face into the steering wheel—an early gift for the Foxass—and rolled down her window to yell for the streaker to move his Jingle bits or lose them.

“Like Camelot?” Caldyr asked Guin when they were cruising through the dusky streets again.

“Fairly equal social rights, at least. No one was ever judged for their preferences.”

Reynardine smirked. “I did streak at that one party, though.”

Guin smiled and rolled her eyes. “Arthur was impressed with that.” She flinched. “And a bit enamored, I think. But all that confidence just shook him up.”

“Not the confidence,” Reynardine said. “Or not just. Arthur was repressed. He liked men, too, and the culture he was raised in shamed that. Even though he could accept others, he couldn’t accept it in himself. I was so free with my flirtations, it was everything he admired.”

Guin looked at Reynardine with something kinder in her fiery eyes. “You offered Arthur something I couldn’t.”

“A penis,” Caldyr said. “We know, but I’d rather I didn’t. Can we get off the horribly awkward romance talk and focus on quiet?”

“Freedom means everything to someone in chains. Especially if they’re the only ones who know about the binding. I was an escape, Guin. An awfully insistent one. Doesn’t mean he loves you less.”

“I’m turning on the radio,” Caldyr said, spinning the knob. The lights clicked on and then faded. Her phone was at forty-two percent.

So like one song without the charger.

Guin nodded. “I should’ve worked harder—”

Reynardine shook his head. “Don’t blame yourself. We can’t know what someone else needs if they don’t tell us. Arthur isn’t the type to lay his troubles on anyone. Told him he’s gonna collapse under that cross one day.”

“Fool never listens,” Guin said. “Sorry I hit you with the shotgun.”

Reynardine shrugged. “Not a thing, your Majesty. Caldyr knocks me out once a month, don’t worry about it.”

“Music? Silence. Anything but this” Caldyr grunted, rummaging through the car for her charge cord.

All her focus was on the hunt, but even Caldyr didn’t miss the subtle whisper of change on the night’s cold breath.

“Arthur,” Guin said, right before she opened the door and bolted down a side street.

“Park the car and catch up,” Caldyr told Reynardine.

“Got it, go!”

She didn’t need to be told twice. Caldyr darted out the door and chased the flaming red coat into the darkness.

Guin turned at the corner, onto a main street packed with people and every type of hippie shop. Haight and Ashbury.

“Damn clever fox.” Caldyr dodged a couple carrying shopping bags, then jumped over a shirtless young man smoking weed on the sidewalk.

landscape-696825_640Guin passed a lit restaurant and ran into the park at the end of the road. Caldyr hurried to catch up, but she ended up walking into the lamp lit park with no clue where Guin went.

Right up until something howled.

The sound brought shivers and memories of yellowed teeth.

Caldyr forced away thoughts of Isengrim, and pushed on. She put on a burst of speed, regretting leaving her shotgun in the trunk.

Another fifty feet ahead, just past a row of small trees, Ghostly pale dogs with bare skulls for heads circled around Guin.

Cŵn Annwn. Welsh monsters that hunted wrongdoers.

“Caldyr, stay back,” Guin said. “They can’t kill me.”

But being torn apart won’t be pleasant. Not to mention the people they might hurt afterward.

Water ran through a sprinkler system under Caldyr’s feet. She could feel its pulse.

One of the cŵn annwn turned to her, stalking away from the group.

“Hey, I’ve done nothing wrong,” Caldyr said. “Down boy!”

The thing’s bare skull clacked open, showing even more of the shining teeth and an abyss within. A low growl echoed from that darkness, but the noise faded as it stalked closer.

Caldyr spotted a sprinkler head between her and the devil dog.

If she could break it, the water would be hers to shape.

Sword would be nice about now.

Another step from the cŵn annwn, Caldyr dove for the sprinkler.

The soft growl echoed clean through her entire body for a cold second before the cŵn annwn collided with her. They rolled and Caldyr ended up on her back, hands pressed against the dog’s musty fur while it snapped at her face.

She tried to scream, but the weight pushed all the air from her chest.

A fist the size of a personal pizza smashed into the cŵn annwn and the beast disappeared into the night with a yelp that got louder the farther it flew.

Caldyr stared up at a giant of a King in dirty, torn clothing. Even as a bum, there was no way to mistake Arthur. He exhaled royalty like smoke from a cigarette.

“Are you okay?” Arthur rumbled, voice as rough as the mountains he resembled.

“Just peachy,” Caldyr grunted.

Arthur nodded at her, strutting past to where the cŵn annwn circled Guin. She didn’t even seem to notice the dogs.

Her eyes were on him, lost and tear stained and hopeful. In the midst of danger, Arthur was all she saw.

The King had that handled, anyway. With grace, and strength—and his bare hands—Arthur made short work of the pack. Every kick or swing sent another cŵn annwn back to their dark master, or sailing into the night. One got a bite in, on his ankle, but the King barely slowed until the job was done.

After, Arthur stood silently; head down, eyes anywhere but his Queen.

Her armor shrunk back to the long coat.

“Sorry—” Arthur began, but that was all he got out before Guin wrapped her arms around him.

“Shhh.”

“I need to clean up,” Arthur said. “I smell and I’m gonna stain your pretty coat.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she said. “Just hug me already.”

Arthur muttered something, but tears broke his already cracked voice and the words were lost in the flood.

A shadow twitched near a tree.

Caldyr took a step closer and her wings tingled in alarm. “Guys?”

Guin reached up to lift Arthur’s chin, as Mordred and a tall woman in black armor stepped from the shaking shadow.

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Caldyr kicked the head off the sprinkled and magicked the water into a sword and shield. “Guys!”

Arthur spun around, putting Guin behind him as Mordred fired a bolt from a crossbow. Blood splashed from Arthur’s chest.

Guin’s coat length and shifted, covering her whole body and forming into smooth, red armor, much like the other woman’s darker suit.

“Morgaine,” Arthur grunted, pushing himself to stand.

The armored woman shifted. “Happy holidays, brother.”

Arthur calmly ripped the crossbow bolt from his chest and snapped it.

Guin lifted her shotgun toward Morgaine.

Morgaine drew her sword, an intricate rapier with a moonlight colored blade. “Better run, little fairy,” she told Caldyr. “I’m not about to let you get in the way.”

“Fuck you and your creepy ass kid. Firstlight sucks.”

“Fuck you,” Mordred snapped, aiming the crossbow at Caldyr.

She raised her shield.

“Sword,” Arthur whispered. “Please.”

Mordred fired. Caldyr caught the bolt with her shield and tossed her water blade to Arthur. She felt his strong hand close around her magic, and did her best to tie the spell to him so he’d be able to use the sword with as little effort from Caldyr as possible.

Guin took her shot, missing Morgaine completely, but causing enough distraction for them to close the gap. Arthur and Caldyr rushed together, her at Mordred and Arthur at Morgaine.

Mordred reached for his sword, Caldyr swung her shield and caught him on the wrist. The bone snapped; she kicked Mordred  in the crotch with everything she had.

He lifted a foot off the ground, landing in a heap of tears and quiet whining.

“Upperguard is better,” Caldyr snapped. “Call me a gun toting bitch again, motherfucker…”

Morgaine seemed better matched with Arthur. She lacked his brute strength, but moved with a predatory grace and kept her distance.

Wearing him down, Caldyr realized.

Arthur didn’t seem to care about conserving energy, or anything else besides the bloodying of his blade. Every swing was a two-handed hammerblow, powerful enough to shake trees from their roots. Certainly enough to fell Morgaine.

If he could land a hit.

Caldyr let her shield go and sent the water toward Arthur’s weapon, adding another foot to the sword and plenty of heft.

Morgaine attempted a block, but the weapon smashed through her defenses.

She let the sword drop and followed it to her knees. “Well fought, brother.”

Arthur put the water sword to her face. “Brother?”

“Your Majesty,” she corrected, cold venom overtaking her tone.

“How’d you find me?” he asked.

“Mordred had a run in with your wife and the fairy. We followed them.”

“And the dogs?”

“Borrowed the pack from Arawn.”

Arthur nodded and dropped the water sword. “Go. Now. Consider the reprieve a Christmas present.”

“You’re too kind,” Morgaine said. Her hand flicked and a dagger coalesced from the shadows.

Guin fired her second barrel, knocking Morgaine flat on back. “I’m not. Don’t forget that, Morgaine.”

She grunted.

“Let’s go,” Guin said to Arthur. “Please.”

Caldyr followed them to the main road, before Guin turned around and looked at Arthur.

The Queen shook her head. “Trouble is never more than a step away from you. I should just start following it.” She smiled at Caldyr. “Thank you, Caldyr Prayers. You’re a good detective. If I still had a kingdom, I’d offer a knighthood or something.”

She waved it off. “Didn’t do much. And I shoulda let you shoot Mordred, I guess.”

“He’d have walked it off,” Guin said. “You did plenty. Helped me find my love in time for Christmas. Earned a nice bonus, I should think.”

Arthur shuffled in place. “You hired someone to look for me?”

“You didn’t show up,” Guin said, anger stealing her smile. “Again. And again.” She laughed and shook her head. “I’m going to have to put a tracker on you.”

“Or get him a cell phone,” Caldyr suggested.

“I hate those things,” Arthur muttered.

“Grow up and keep it anyway,” Caldyr told him. “And—”

“Maybe see a therapist, too?” Reynardine suggested, from a few feet away.

Arthur turned to stare at him. “Reinhard?”

“Why can’t people let that one go? It’s Reynardine now,” he said with a smile. “Can we talk a bit, ladies? Me and Arthur.”

Guin didn’t seem so sure, but she backed off to a McDougal’s across the way. Her and Caldyr split an order of fries while Reynardine started a video chat on his phone.

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“Who’s he calling?” Guin asked.

“Who do you think? Tyr, the Norse one. He does counseling for all the gods and myths and other folk. Arthur needs help. We’re good at finding help, if we can’t offer it ourselves.”

Ten minutes later, Arthur and Reynardine walked into the restaurant.

Tears puddled in the corners of Arthur’s giant brown eyes and Caldyr remembered those giant St. Booze dogs from the old cartoons.

“That go well?” she asked.

Reynardine gave her a thumbs up.

“Sorry,” Arthur said, eyes on Guin’s shoes. “I shouldn’t hide from you.”

“Forget it,” Guin said. “We don’t need to talk—”

Reynardine cleared his throat. “You both have an appointment in the middle of next week to talk all about it, actually. Together. Tyr’s good at this. Helped me, anyway.”

“He must be good, then,” Guin said. “Thank you both for everything.”

“Sorry to trouble you,” Arthur said.

Caldyr shrugged. “Just a normal Thursday for us.”

“We skipped the board games,” Reynardine said. “But this is good quality family time. Too bad, though, I’ve got Space Wizards Oligopoly and—”

“I’m never playing Oligopoly with you again, you treacherous dickhead,” Caldyr snapped. “Sorry,” she told Guin and Arthur. “Old wounds, but it still stings.”

Arthur cracked a very tiny smile for such a giant man, but Guin’s eyes lit up soon as it broke through all the same.

They parted ways in the parking lot, the Queen and her King heading off to shack-up in a cheap motel.

Caldyr told Reynardine to find coffee and Christmas lights to look at.

“Not in the mood for home?” he asked.

“You like them, right?” Caldyr asked. “The lights and the Christmas songs and the driving together?”

Reynardine smiled. “Sure, it’s kind of nice.”

She nodded. “That was good of you. Stepping in and saying whatever to Arthur to get him to look for help. I’m…”

“Proud?” he asked.

“I don’t know if I should be,” she muttered.

Reynardine ruffled Caldyr’s messy hair. “Can’t help who you’re proud of. Let’s go find something shiny to stare at.”

END TALE

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Mixed Feathers

(Content Warning: Possibly like sexy times ahead…)

Knoel loved to rant about the decay mortal culture brought on Angelic society, but Quizazael kinda liked his morning coffee. His cell phone too, if he admitted it. Which he had on occasion, just Knoel loved to talk in general and interest, or agreement, with her rants didn’t seem to be a factor.

She always rambled to fill the spaces he left and Quiz kinda liked that too.

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“…we didn’t even have a proper meeting last Sunday.” Knoel pinched off a bite of her blueberry muffin. “Only about half-full. Not that you would know.”

“People are busy,” Quiz replied, yawning and stretching. His left wing hit the counter, brown feather tips bent, so he pulled in fast. Left had always been a little long and he didn’t like people to notice.

“We’re angels, Quizazael, we can’t just skip church to lay around in our boxers and eat cheesy crackers.”

Quiz almost spit out a sip of coffee. He gulped it down and ran a napkin around his mouth. “Those were running shorts, I wouldn’t have answered the door in my boxers.”

Knoel ripped off another hunk of muffin. “Are you going to be ready this Sunday?”

“I promised didn’t I?”

“Whatever that means,” she muttered.

“Angels can’t lie.”

“Yet.” She snapped up the last bite of muffin and crumpled the paper. “Only a matter of time before we’re nothing but winged mortals.”

“Mortal life ain’t so bad.” Quiz watched a taco hut spring from nothing across the street. “I like a lot of mortal stuff.”

“‘Isn’t’ Quiz. ‘Ain’t’ isn’t even a word. And where did you get that… silly drawl from?”

“I downloaded it from the webstore last night.” He sighed and added, “Thought it sounded good,” in a lower voice.

“It’s weird, what’s wrong with your old voice?”

“Nothing, I just… I thought some people might like the deeper tone. And accent,” he said, clearly meaning a very specific person.

Knoel threw her cup toward the trash, and missed both the can and the obvious. “As a Class One Arch-Examiner, I think we should be looking deeper into mortal culture’s effects. Your turn to grab dinner. Want to meet at my place? Seven?” Knoel rose to pick up the trash, but Quiz grabbed it first.

He looked over the room and then into Knoel’s scarlet eyes. “I thought maybe we could go out tonight.”

“Out?”

Without looking, Quiz tossed the cup over his shoulder. It sailed directly into the can dead center. “Maybe get a nice dinner. Out and alone. Together. Like humans, kinda.”

Knoel’s cheeks flared bright red, but she just nodded quietly.

*

The day passed slow. Quiz worked in the Arch Archives, sorting the incoming files and retrieving the occasional requested ones for upper management. He didn’t particularly love his job, but he’d just now gained free emotion about heaven and life entirely, so that’s not much of a surprise.

Emotions weren’t so new, but until recently they were just exotic concepts humans seemed to struggle with.

Then came the update last fall. One day, they were all simple beings, purpose built to do angelic works and and the next, they were a little more human. Suddenly, emotions weren’t nearly as distant or easy to deal with.

Obtaining them gave Quiz new perspective on the mortal experience, which might have been the point.

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Didn’t provide much else he enjoyed so far, besides the new point-of-view about Knoel. She didn’t notice, or seem to feel many of the same issues as him. Mostly Knoel got smarter, louder, and the attraction may have bloomed from those bare trimmings. Quiz saw beyond them, of course, to the new little dog she spoiled and to the sudden interest in old television. To the lovely way her hand twisted a few strands of hair before a rant boiled over, or when she was nervous.

Quiz sighed and added another file to his ‘F’ stack.

The phone rang twice, and he answered both times. Nothing important, a file that needed to be rushed upstairs and another that needed to be rushed back. He didn’t do the rushing, just collected the files or left them in a tray. The Metatron ordered tighter security, so they rushed and hid the files these days. All very official and secure that way, Quiz guessed.

Even mundane ones about everyday people, which described most of the files. Heaven didn’t see much excitement, so angels rarely saw any.

Quiz did one strange thing today, and that may have been the seed growing into the bravery to try something else off-kilter. He left two minutes early. Just walked out, even though the day normally ended at five P.M. exactly. Logic barely touched his decision, it was more an impulse—a flare of desire.

He wanted to start home early, and take a shower before meeting Knoel. Maybe even get a bottle of cologne.

*

Knoel answered the door in blue jeans, a red shirt, and smelling rather different herself.

“You look nice,” she said.

“I know,” he replied without thinking. “I mean thanks, thank you. It’s a new shirt.” And slacks, and shoes. Even got his feathers groomed, the long brown wings shone with the cleaning. “You look amazing.”

“Just what I had in the closet,” Knoel said. “And new makeup. Lipstick.” She pursed her lips and stuck them out to show off the shining purple and Quiz held back another new, but already common, impulse.

“It looks nice.”

Knoel nodded and stepped onto the porch, close enough that Quiz had to step back. She took a deep breath and smiled. “Perfume?”

“The male version is cologne.”

“Is there a difference?”

“No, but men on Earth are touchy about those things.”

“Ah.” Knoel locked the door. “So where are we headed?”

“Um… How does Chinese food sound?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “When did heaven get Chinese food?”

Quiz remembered an advertisement on TV, but he couldn’t place the exact date. “Must be recent. Just started with the restaurant update in the last month or so, right?”

“But… Chinese? That sounds… weird and spicy… I don’t know…” Knoel’s lips twisted to one side.

Quiz wondered how he’d never noticed their funny motions, or why he couldn’t help but focus on them now.

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“We can try it,” she said, finally, reluctantly and with a distinct morose edge.

“Oh, well thanks, your grace. I’d hate to impose.”

Knoel tilted her head back and laughed. “You’re quite welcome, and it is a terrible imposition. If I don’t like it, you’ll have to buy me an ice cream afterward.”

Quiz shook his head. “Ha, nope. Your turn for dessert, that’s the way it is.”

“Fine, but we’re coming back to my place. I’ve still got some of that cake I made in the fridge.”

“On second thought, maybe I will spring for ice cream.” He focused on the cobblestones to hide his smile.

Knoel punched him in the arm. “Gonna hold you to that.”

“See, even you didn’t like that cake.”

Knoel frowned. “Still not sure why it turned out salty.”

“We’ll go over the recipe together later and figure it out.”

The autumn breeze carried their conversation away from botched baking and onto some of Knoel’s favorite subjects. She’d built up a decently long winded case against the use of wing dyes by the time they approached the restaurant.

Heady charred spices scented the air, and cooking meats; steam from vegetables and noodles, some type of sweetness Quiz couldn’t place.

“Smells amazing,” he muttered.

Knoel stared up at him with a raised eyebrow. “The dye?”

“No, the food.” Quiz shook his head. “I don’t know anything about wing dyeing.”

“Oh. Well it’s human hair dye and I’m pretty certain it’s bad for wings.”

“Humans use it. Can’t be that bad.”

“Yeah, but pink!” She rolled her eyes. “They’d have never even tried that in the old order.”

“If some angels want to dye them,” Quiz held the dark wood door open, “then that’s their business.”

Knoel flicked her own soft white wings forward and examined them. “Maybe the tips in a mild color, but full on is just a little garish.”

“Yours would look good bald,” he said. “What color were you thinking?”

She blushed and pushed her wings back. “What does it matter how mine look? And no color, I’d never dye my wings.”

“Sure.” Quiz imagined she’d have purple tips by Friday at the latest. “What looks good to you?”

Knoel looked up at the menu and then to the few dozen red wood tables in the dimly lit room. “Nice place, but the sun is about to set. Let’s eat outside.”

“Whatever you’d like, but what are we actually eating?”

In the end, after the traditional debate, they settled on ginger noodles, fried chicken, and dumplings. The food arrived in little white cartons with dark wings stamped into the side, the seal of the Metatron. He ran a lot of the new businesses.

Quiz carried the bag and Knoel grabbed two canned drinks from a strange vending machine that hadn’t been there when they entered. The writing matched some of the lettering in the restaurant, heaven must be diversifying their districts again.

Good, Quiz liked the idea of exploring Earth cultures and Knoel adored complaining about new things. They’d both have fun.

The sun lingered in the South, and their normal park had turned into a shopping mall while they ordered. Instead they carried their food to the outskirts of town and time itself, and sat overlooking a nice little void on the edge of existence that Quiz liked to stare into.

Knoel picked up the noodle box first. “We should have got plates.”

“Want me to run back?”

She grabbed a set of chopsticks. “If you want to.”

“I don’t mind sharing.”

“Fine with me, if you’re good with it.”

“I’m perfectly okay.”

“Me too.”rose-3121249_1280

The noodles were good, spicy and sweet at the same time, and Knoel ate every last bit of the chicken. Quiz finished her share of the dumplings, as she only tried one, and spit half of that into the endless maw of rainbows under heaven’s border.

But Knoel didn’t seem to mind the food adventure overall. Progress, although what Quiz had been counting remained a mystery even to him.

After dinner, she let him toss the trash into the void. He liked to the way the little boxes crumpled and twisted, falling into a singularity and repeating before disappearing entirely. (Quiz never knew, but the trash ended up a mile outside of a landfill in Hoboken, New Jersey per universal law.)

“Want your—” Quiz picked up the little cookie. On contact, the information flowed into him. For a long second, his eyes flared gold. “Want your fortune cookie?”

Knoel grabbed one and got the update as well. “No, I don’t like the taste.”

Without opening the package, Quiz snapped his cookie. He ripped one end and pulled out the slip of paper. “What about the fortune?”

She shook her head. “What does yours say?”

“‘She’s cute. Good luck, you’ll need it’,” Quiz read aloud.

“Really?” Knoel snatched the little paper. “I’ll be danged.” She opened her cookie. “ As a Class One Arch-Examiner, I have to check, of course. Hmm. ‘Go easy on the featherhead’.”

“Fortunate cookies indeed,” Quiz noted and flicked his paper into the void. The cookie tasted okay. A little bland, but he didn’t expect much from complimentary sweets that already included prophecies. Real dessert sounded good about now. “Ice cream?”

“Walk a bit first?” Knoel countered with a smile. “And then maybe we’ll just go back to my place, I’m pretty tired.”

“Just a candy bar then? Can’t be a date without dessert…”

“Eating take-out with your best friend isn’t a date anyway.”

Quiz steeled his courage and tried for a small smile. “What if we make out afterward?”

Knoel coughed, stumbled over her own feet, and turned to stare back at him. “What kind of question is that?!”

“We’re two blocks from your place, so a rather urgent one,” he replied in all seriousness.
She blushed and looked over the street. “I’ve changed my mind. Buy me ice cream.”

“Is that a no?”

“That’s a buy me ice cream while I stall for time to think,” she said. “Take it or leave it.” Panic was half-a-second from overwhelming her scarlet eyes—better reaction than he expected, really.

“It’s plenty, let’s go.” Quiz held out a hand.

Knoel studied her own first and then carefully took his.

Her skin was soft and she smelled a little like velvet feels: soft, shimmering, warmth. Easy to sink into and just always about right.

Floriel’s Confectionery served the best ice cream in heaven since they opened last week, so Quiz led straight there. Knoel hadn’t been joking about the thinking, she barely even noticed as they entered the shop and let him do all the ordering.

“A large waffle cone sundae with everything and two spoons.”

The server nodded, eyes on Knoel.

She’d started texting, probably Idriel or Caniel for advice, and her thumbs quickly became violet-polished blurs on the poor screen. They were her best friends, besides Quiz, and Idriel was half of heaven’s first couple.

“And two coffees,” he added, remembering she mentioned being tired. “Something cold and sweet.”

Quiz deposited Knoel in a corner, not too close to the door, and went to collect the food.
The phone was gone when he returned, although it buzzed away in her pocket.

“I get the okay?” he asked.

“Traitors is what they are,” she muttered, pulling the sundae to herself. “What kind of friend…”

“What?”

“Nothing. Them, not you.” Knoel’s eyes narrowed to bare scarlet slits. “You’ve done quite enough tonight, Quizazael.”

“What did I do?”

“You tricked me into this date,” she replied. “I was expecting a quiet evening watching TV…”

“We can still watch some TV. And we’ve been friends a while… would trying more be so bad?”

“More like what?”

Quiz’s turn to blush. “Like… kissing. Holding hands was nice too. I want to do romantic things, sometimes. Like be a couple…”

“A couple? Sleep together and everything? Like Idriel and Hyatel?”

“Yes, like that!” The first two were both male, but Quiz knew love’s true androgynous nature. He and Knoel could make it work too. “Would you be a half of my couple?”

“I’d be willing to give it a chance.” Knoel’s eyes flicked to the door, but she took out her phone and stared at that a moment. “Your place is closer,” she said, finally. “And I’ve already walked Lottie today, so I can… we could maybe go there. For coffee.” She gulped at the one already in hand. “Private coffee.”

“Let’s go watch that TV,” Quiz offered. “I’ll get a to-go box.”

“Thanks, that sounds nice.”

The server’s eyes bordered on scandalous, but so did Quiz’s intentions—he didn’t worry too much.

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Knoel carried the food this time, and they sipped at their coffees and walked slow. No one replaced the moon after the last war, so only stars lit their walk, besides the occasional street lamp or wandering gaseous being.

Quiz enjoyed a ruby glow from a passing one. The light really played well of Knoel’s nervous face.

The neighborhood he lived in hadn’t converted to modern row houses yet. The older style wasn’t very nice, simple square buildings with little outer color. Quiz filled the inside of his with posters to make up for the bland outside. Movies, art, and music, and whatever caught his eye. A particularly vivid zombie dragon Knoel hated occupied the space above his TV.

Normally criticism came easier than breathing for her, but tonight she just shook her head. “Put on that witch show.”

Quiz turned on FeatheryFlix and Knoel went into the kitchen. His freezer door squeaked and she returned a long moment later without the sundae bag, but glowing with a strangely attentive smile. Quiz watched every motion as she sashayed across the floor, his mind lost somewhere in the pleasantness of her company.

Knoel bit her bottom lip and dropped onto her normal end of the couch. Both hands flew to her mouth. “Ouch.”

Quiz held back a laugh. “Are you okay?”

“It’s nothing, I’m fine. It’s healed. Bit my lip.”

A touch of blood still shined. Quiz wiped the drop with his thumb and held back a laugh.

“Don’t grin at me, Quizazael! I was trying to be seductive for your weirdo couple thing.”

“Thanks.” He leaned down. “But you’re plenty seductive just lookin’ at me.”

Knoel turned red again and Quiz lost all patience. He closed the gap, capturing their first kiss in a clumsy bump.

Her lips twisted beneath his own and he mirrored the smile. Knoel pulled her leg onto the couch and Quiz dropped his at her crux. She shifted downward slightly, pressing against him, and broke the kiss.

Their eyes locked for a stark, intrusive, and blistering moment.

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Knoel grinned and sighed.

“What?” Quiz asked, leaning forward to kiss her cheek.

“I’m feeling warm and buzzy and happy.”

“Buzzy? Was it the kiss?”

She winked. “We should double check, I’m really not sure. As a Class One Arch-Examiner, I’d imagine it was my duty.” Her hand wandered upward and twisted a lock of brown hair. “To explore this, I mean.” The hand teased down and stopped at her belt.

Quiz traced the path with the tip of his fingers, enjoying her twitch and the slight flutter from her wing. “I’m always willing to be your test subject.” He stole another kiss, and a longer caress upward. She tasted of chocolate and coconut—her favorite sundae toppings and forever an indelible path to this memory.

“How do my lips feel to you?”

“Like I’ve been missing a bit of heaven,” Quiz muttered.

“You should shave more,” she said.

“What if I grew it out?”

Knoel laughed and shook her head. “We’re…” She looked down at his knee and then at her own breasts. Both nipples were taught under the red fabric of her shirt. “It could be worth trying, if you wanted to.”

With a push of her wings, Knoel sat mostly upright and leaned close. “I like the scent, thing. The colony.”

“Cologne. And thanks, I hoped you would.”

“You’re wearing my lipstick now,” she muttered into his ear. “That’s incredible for some reason. I feel possessive. Like I should mark you.”

“Why?”

“So no one else thinks they can take you.”

“Oh.”

Knoel gripped him a little tighter. “You don’t want other people, right Quizazael?”

“No, no, not at all. I didn’t realize you thought others might want me.”

“Of course they would.” Knoel leaned back and eyed him up and down. “Tall, dark wings, bright orange eyes and… well the drawl might be nicer than I let on.” She looked down at her body. “Would others want me, you think?”

“Certainly, but I feel confident that I’ll hold onto you.”

Knoel frowned. “I don’t feel confident about any of this. Do you think that’s strange?” The frown deepened into something close to panic. “Am I weird?”

“Nah. That’s natural, I’m sure. My confidence comes from foolishness, or love maybe… they feel about the same right now.” Quiz stopped his hand on her belt and slipped it under the clingy shirt. “You are weird about stuff, Darlin’. It’s strange that you’re worried about things other than my hands. I’m gettin’ a mite insulted.”

Her body twisted; warm muscles shifting under his palm. “I’m starting to lose focus, if that makes you feel better.”

“It does.”

“I should be writing this down. Maybe recording.”

Quiz blinked and chuckled. “We can if you want, but you want to experiment more first?”

Before he finished speaking, Knoel shook her head. “Not… no, not like that. Wow, you do take to this couple thing, Quiz.”

“I’ve thought about it a lot.” He caught one of her earlobes with his teeth and tugged.

“About you, a lot.”

“That feels amazing.”

“Me thinking about you?”

“The ear nibbling! Do it more.”

Quiz repeated the process then mixed the formula, playing teeth over her neck. He tickled behind her ear and searched her warm body for any reaction. Knoel wiggled downward, and her wings pushed her body up into his. Quiz knew the buzzing himself now, the soft tingles and pops of sensation. They rang deep inside and on his surface. As often happened when thoughts of Knoel infected his own, he found the pressure working it’s way south.

One of her hands followed the sensation, down his body and to his belt. “Can you take this off?” she asked.

“Sure, but I think we’re supposed to undre—”

“Just sod the process, okay? Clothes off.”

“Yes’m.”

Quiz stood and yanked his shirt off. The cloth ripped, not made for angels. Didn’t matter, he’d buy another one.

Knoel watched, nodding slowly and with a wicked smile.

“Are you joining me?”

She wiggled her eyebrows. “We’ll see. Might decide to just observe for tonight.”

“That’s what I’m worried about. Shirt maybe?”

“In a second.” Knoel leaned back on the couch. “When did you know you liked me?”

“Remember that day last June? The summer’s first heavy blood rains… We got soaked on the way into work, ‘cause I just had to try the ‘dang’ coffee thing.”

“The week you cut your hair?”

Quiz looped his thumbs into his slacks and forced them off. He stood naked and hard, with her scarlet eyes burning over him. “I just knew. You smiled, I stared, you told to me to stop staring and I was in love.”

“We’ve known each other since the dawn of time and it took that long? And why today?”
Quiz considered that while Knoel pulled herself off the couch. “Maybe good love just takes it’s own time. Can’t rush forever.”

She gripped his hand, and pulled him toward the bedroom. “Now that sounded pretty great in your drawl. Let’s go to your bedroom, I don’t want zombie dragons to see my privates.”

“I’d follow you anywhere,” he said, urging her forward. “But let’s hurry.”

Knoel did, stripping her clothes with far too little care. She rushed down the hall to Quiz’s room and left her panties at the door. The slow shift onto the bed revealed well-thought dreams and more in full life, and Quiz tried to forge the view to memory. Her rosy nipples caught his attention, and the soft curve of her inner thigh.

He climbed after her, throwing a quick and hard kiss onto her lips, before they collapsed to the bed. She groaned and pushed on his chest. Quiz sat up, and moved himself between her legs to look down at her pussy.

“I thought you squashed me,” Knoel gasped.

Quiz trailed a finger down her skin and past the small patch of curly hair. “Shh, I need to figure this out.”

“Wha—”

He stuck a finger in and she shuddered, covering her mouth.

“Warn me!”

He removed the finger. “Sorry.”

Knoel pulled the hand back. “Don’t stop, just say something.”

A little slower this time, he slipped a finger inside. Warm and just a little wet. Softer than anything I can imagine. Twitches a bit as she shudders…

Quiz grunted and grabbed the back of her leg. A yank and she laid back. Her wing spread out, tips inches from the walls. He moved his fingers, thumb resting on her mound and she responded with twitches and gasps. Each motion seemed to carry through her, rocking her body and dancing her wings.

After minutes, Knoel’s hand moved in, circling his wrist. She pulled him away, and examined the wet fingers. “Do you enjoy this?”

“No.” He used the other hand and she let go of him to clasp at the bed. “Your questions are normally fine, but right now it’s wearing my patience something awful.”

“Fingering me, I mean. Featherhead is right…”

Quiz nodded. “So very much, Darlin’. Looking forward to going farther too, of course…”
Knoel teased her fingers down his bare stomach, leaving a trail of sensation that pulsed even as it faded. Her nails touched first, cold and hard before warmer flesh cupped his cock.

“Ah,” Quiz twitched and pulled back, she moved with him.

“What?” Knoel let him go.

“I didn’t expect you to grab that.”

She shrugged. “It’s the next step, I Googled it earlier.”

“Me too, did you watch the videos though?” He dropped over her again, careful not to crush her entirely.

“No. I was thinking maybe we can try—Ack!”

With a push, his penis slid to her core, and she bucked. He grunted, low buzz turning to a fevered pitch in a heartbeat. “That’s definitely quite good.”

Knoel nodded. “Yes, we can agree that was mutually—”

He drew back and the air around his dick felt cool and uncomfortable for a short second.

“Pleasurable,” Knoel finished. “Nice. All very nice.”

“I’m not sure what I’m doing.”

Knoel grabbed the back of her knees. “We’ll figure it out. Just keep trying different stuff until it works.”

Quiz rocked in and out of her, finding rhythm for a few strokes and losing it just as easy. Slowly, and with a few fumbles, the concordance built. She gripped his back and pushed upward to stay joined. Gasps filled the bare spaces between moans.

With a shattered cry, her whole being twitched, wings curled inward, and Knoel collapsed under him. Quiz joined her in ecstasy, finding a moment of purity beyond words in their oneness.heart-2028655_1280

Moments later, he rolled over and stared at the ceiling.

Knoel climbed onto his wing and scooted close. “You feel anything?”

Quiz shuddered at the touch of her breath against his neck. “Happy. Hungry. You?”

“Sore. Those things too. I think I’ll want more in a bit though.”

“Already? Was I bad or…”

Knoel rolled her eyes and slapped her wing against his chest. The cool breeze felt nice. “No, but like I had fun. You were fun. Being a couple is good, Quizazael. You think too much sometimes.”

“Try not to. Want to split that sundae?”

Sadness overtook her sweaty face. “I… I’m not moving, Quiz. Just no.”

“I’ll get it.” He shoved Knoel softly to she side, and took a moment to enjoy her skin under his palm.

She pushed back against him, angling for a better view. “I’ll have to think of a nice reward.”

Quiz chuckled on his way down the hall. The sundae waited on the freezer’s middle shelf, still in the bag, and he grabbed some drinks to go with the snack.

And a bottle of chocolate syrup for other purposes entirely.

On the way back, Quiz stopped to untack his zombie dragon. He rolled the poster and shelved it until he could find a new home. Something else could go above the TV, he had plenty to brighten the place up now.

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Authors’s Note: Thanks for reading and have a great Valentine’s Day! Hope you enjoyed and if you did, maybe leave a like? Sharing would be great too! Also I’ve got a novella out that’s pretty much very not like this. An action, mystery about a sassy water fairy and a tricky fox. Still weird and funny.

Check it out on Amazon for just 99 cents!

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Silver And Cold: A Glass Fate Christmas Tale

(CW: Abusive Language, Cursing, Violence)

Chapter 1. Chilled

Athena hit the stop button on her alarm, leaned over the trashcan and emptied her stomach of last night’s gin.

Cold air teased her bare back, she shivered and looked to the broken window. “How…”

“Sorry,” Ares muttered from the floor. “I tried to stop you, but you said ‘fuck this window’ and hit it with a bolt.”

“Ares? Did we…”

The god shook his head and picked some pale fluff from his trimmed dark beard. “No, but you were topless when Safkhet dropped you off.”

“What…” Athena shook her head as memories tickled like dreams. The bar. The crying…
Emmaline.

“Fuck.”

Ares opened one of her dresser drawers and pulled out a shirt. “Cover up… are you okay?”

“Good. I’m fine.” Athena stared into the corner of her mirror, at the reflection of her little toe. “I’ll be fine.”

“Aphrodite offered you a new crush. On the house, just so you know. If you want something to get the mortal off your mind.”

“How’d she hear?” Athena snatched the shirt out of Ares’ hand and slipped it on.

“LifeTree. You Seeded about it a few dozen times. There were pictures.”

“Oh fuck.”

“I know, it was bad.” He nodded sagely. “Even Reynardine was trying to be nice.” Ares picked up the blankets and pillows from the floor. “I was worried, a bit, so I slept over. I’ll have Phaestus send some automatons around to repair the window.”
Athena looked up at the ex-war god, but couldn’t muster a smile. “Thanks, Ares.”

“I thought you’d do something stupid. I’m a cop.” He smiled. “We should hang out more, A. I mean, when we’re not saving the world or on godly business.”

She muttered a response, but didn’t really have time for a renewed friendship this week. There was a few hundred year old bottle of scotch in her cellar she wanted to drown in for a bit, today at least.

Her stomach gurgled. Later today…

Ares cleared his throat. “Want to brave Hestia’s Christmas party together? We can talk trash on all the happy couples.”

“I never go to that. You know how I feel about Christmas.” She stood up and looked around at the bare walls. “Thanks, but I’m not going to start in now.”

“Offers open.” Ares looked her room over. “And you’re welcome, A. Have a good one and go easy on the bottle today.”

With the taste of bile and gin so fresh, even the word ‘bottle’ churned her stomach.

Ares exited through the gaping hole in her window and Athena made her way to the bathroom. She stripped off the shirt and the stained, holey sweatpants.

“I went out drinking in sweatpants…” Safkhet really left a lot to be desired for a best friend. Not that she was bad, most the time, but enforcing fashion choices on the drunk and heartbroken was a pretty important task.

Athena started up the shower and took a few aspirin before climbing in. The hot water didn’t cure her cotton mouth, but she gulped some down anyway and stood under the spray until the pounding in her skull faded.

And the shout took over. ‘Don’t talk to me like I’m stupid, you slut.’

Emmaline. She’d always been so nice, the venom hurt even worse. Burned.

‘I’m leaving. Call that guy you’ve been fucking to drive me home.’

Ares and her were always just friends.

What led to that insult?

‘Do us both a last favor and lose my number, Attie.’

Athena remembered that one, hurled at her as Emmaline climbed into Ares car for a ride home, back to the mortal world. Athena had just called her stupid.

For the first and last time.

Athena slammed a fist into the wall and through to the other side.

“Screw it,” she muttered. “I’ll expand the bathroom into the garage. Never drive anyway.”

The phone’s ringing didn’t help her headache, probably Fate’s office wondering why she’d skipped work. Well, technically, Athena was just late at this point, but the office could survive a day without her. Maybe a few.

“Maybe, it’s time to quit.” Athena spun the shower handle and slipped her mostly fresh shirt back on. She skipped combing her hair, tangles be damned for a few days, but brushed her teeth until they hurt a bit.

By the end of that, she conceded to the hairbrush and ran it through her blonde locks.
I should dye it. Get some darker makeup too, I’m tired of this pastel life.

She pulled on some underthings and blue jeans. The hole in the shower, and missing window, would have to wait. Maybe Phaestus would help.

Athena headed to the kitchen and popped a little single-serve cup in her coffee machine.

The coffee sludge began rehydrating and Athena turned to grab her bottle of flavored creamer from the fridge. She flipped open the door, slammed it shut, spun across the room, and grabbed a chef’s knife in about a second total.

The door swung open again and Reynardine the Fox peered out in a red stocking cap with a white ball on the end. In human form, handsome face, missing right eye, and smile meant to drop panties or start wars. Probably both, when the bastard was on a roll.

He took a sip from a carton of milk and looked around. “Morning, Honeyweaver.”

“Don’t call me that,” Athena said. “What the fuck are you doing in my fridge?”

“Drinking your milk,” Reynardine told her. “What’s up with the knife? I thought we were close.”

“We’re not you sleeping in my fridge close.” She sat the blade on her counter. “Sorry, just alarmed is all. You surprised me.”

Reynardine finished the milk and climbed out. “That’s probably good. Trust nothing and no one. Least of all strange foxes claiming to be from Santa.”

Athena snorted. “Oh no, we’re not doing this today.”

“I’m sure the day will be full of surprises,” Reynardine said. “Brr, you always keep it so cold in here?” He wore slacks and a bright green sweater with a topless, muscled Santa riding a candy cane themed unicorn. “Caldyr got it for me,” he said. “Nice, huh? You like sexy Santa?”

“I don’t think anyone likes it, Reynardine. She must either hate you or know you really well.”

“Aw, we know it’s both. You want to hit the road, or what?”

“Road?” Athena shook her head. “No, I’m drinking a cup of coffee and eating something terrible for me instead of a healthy breakfast and then crying while I watch sad movies until it’s drinking time. I’ve written out a schedule, somewhere.”

“Nope.” Reynardine tapped his cap. “We’ve gotta discover the true meaning of Christmas or love… or something, I only read part of the script for this shindig.”

“It’s the day before Christmas eve—”

“I’ve got plans this year, Athena. We gotta rock this boat now, let’s boogie.”

“I’m not boogeying anywhere, Reynardine!”

“But Santa sent me.”

“Bullshit,” Athena said. “Why would Santa use you—”

Reynardine pulled out a golden candy cane with a key for the straight end. “I told you, me and old Kringle are tight.”

Athena stared at the Christmas key. “I thought you were just trying to get me to do something naughty.”

“That too.” Reynardine looked around. “So, we got a little over twenty-four hours for this party. You want a little hair of the dog?”

“I don’t know…”

Reynardine snapped and they were inside a busy grocery store.

“I don’t have shoes!” Athena’s toes curled against the cold cement floor.

Reynardine looked around. “You’re a god, Athena.”

“Oh, right.” She magicked a pair of socks and canvas sneakers on. Humans didn’t notice the magic, her godly abilities were beyond mortal sight by Fate’s Decree. Pretty spiffy, really, in the old days she had to be careful about being seen all the time.

Athena added a night-blue blazer, but left the rest of the outfit. She wasn’t in the mood for much magic right now. The jacket was darker than her normal soft blue, but she liked the look.

Reynardine picked up a large, expensive bottle of eggnog. He spotted her jacket and raised an eyebrow, but just asked, “You hungry?” And took off for the front before she had a chance to answer.

Athena hurried to keep up. “Yes and tired. Slow down, please.”

Reynardine disappeared down an aisle, and when Athena reached the end, he was lifting up a bottle of nice brandy.

“What are you doing?” Athena asked.

“Donuts? They have them here, and that’s the best endorsement I can offer. Ain’t no Crunchy Cremes, that for sure, but let’s go.”

“Reynardine—”

He was already half-way to the case, and suspicions were building in Athena’s tired mind. She followed and watched him pick out a dozen donuts. “Need anything else, Fox?”

“Nope,” Reynardine said. “Hold this real quick?” He forced the box of donuts into her arms before snapping.

And they were in a park.

“Did you just steal all that?”

Reynardine nodded. “Well, actually we did. Go team owlfox, right?”

Athena dropped the donuts on the table and covered her mouth. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“That’s a whole ‘nother story, Honeyweaver. Want some eggnog?” Reynardine dumped out half the bottle, “For the lost foxes and dead gods,” and then added the stolen brandy.

“First swig?”

Athena grabbed it and washed down her doubts with the milky cocktail. He poured in either too much or too little brandy, she couldn’t decide. And didn’t really want to think about it—or anything—the burn of the booze was enough for now.

She sat the bottle on the stone table and Reynardine pushed over the box of donuts.

Athena traded him the spiked nog and grabbed a cherry crunch. “So, what’s the epiphany?” she asked around a mouthful of donut. “I’m not sure I have the stomach for a full journey today.”

“Nope, doesn’t work that way. It’s the rules.”

“Bullshit.”

“Hey, who’s an official deputy of Santa Claus himself?”

Athena pulled the eggnog to her and took another sip. “I’m still not entirely sure I believe all that. Why would Santa send you?”

“Like I said, we’re close.”

Athena rolled her eyes. “How? What, you banged his wife—”

“Hey! I’d never hit on Ms Claus. That woman is a saint.” Reynardine took a sip of their shared drink and pushed it back. “I did have an interesting weekend with Rudolph once, but who hasn’t?”

“Me,” Athena said. The bottle’s tiny opening didn’t hold as much appeal, quite suddenly, but she steeled herself and took a hearty swig. To wash the bitter taste, she ate a sprinkled cake donut and considered her options.

If Santa really sent Reynardine, and his possession of a North Pole key spoke volumes, chances were Athena couldn’t just skip out—Santa didn’t fuck around with naughty listers.

Besides Reynardine. If there was one being more persistent than Santa himself…

Even he couldn’t, and wouldn’t, actually steal a key from Santa, though. Reynardine might be a clever trickster, but the Claus’ were another level of magic entirely. More on par with gods, or perhaps even Fate herself.

Ignoring this little trip down memory lane would land her on the naughty list for a few decades, at least.

Athena didn’t really need the gifts, but people would find out.

And talk. They always talked, nothing more boring than small town life—especially for big city gods like them.

She washed her donut down with brandy straight from the bottle. “All right. And what’s the plan then?”

Reynardine looked up. “Plan? Honeyweaver, where we’re going, we don’t need plans.”

“What? Reynardine, it’s not the time for lame quot—”

He snapped and they were off again.

 

Chapter 2. Shiny

Athena landed butt first on cold ground. “Oh, fuck. Reynardine, what the hell was that?”

She sat in the middle of a small camp, old style green army tents and…

Oh.

Camp of the New Pantheon. Judging by the lack of recruits, it must’ve still been early days for their little revolution. Not even a sign of artillery, maybe Christmas 1915.
More than a hundred years ago now. Time really does fly.

“And so does Reynardine, apparently.” Bastard Fox was nowhere to be found; tents, trenches, and little else stood out.

Athena snuck among them, listening carefully for a hint of Reynardine—or even whatever she was here to see. Athena was a big goddess, no one needed to hold her hand, she could epiphany herself just fine.

The sunlight had peaked already, but daytime didn’t mean much at the camp back then. They’d all been on different schedules, all 8… no 11 of them in ‘15.

If you didn’t count Reynardine,which no one really did. He’d been a spy, working both sides and not too shy about telling Artemis—the leader of the New Pantheon in those days.

Athena looked around sadly. Last thing she needed today was another reminder of bad times and lost friends.

Reynardine walked out of the showers tent, fixing his fashionable slacks and coat. Musta changed clothes.

Athena started over, but he looked right through her and walked off.

Both of his eyes. “Oops, wrong fox.”

A second later, another Reynardine—one missing eye and horrific sweater and all—walked out of the same tent.

Fixing his pants.

Athena blushed and stared. “General? Did you just—”

“Oh, don’t act like you haven’t thought of it.”

“With a past version of myself? I really can’t say I—”

“It was a rare opportunity,” Reynardine explained. “Forget it, we have stuff to take care of.”

“Forget it? Reynardine that’s a… a hard thing to forget.”

“Bit part of another tale, my Honeyweaver.” He nodded at the food tent. “Real tale is in there.”

“Hestia making pancakes?”

“No, but—”

Reynardine paused.

The past him was crawling out Hestia’s window, box of sausage in one hand and bottle of wine in the other.

“Hn.” Athena looked over to the current him. “What did you do with a crate of sausage?”

“Lunch for a friend. I do look rather dashing though, right?”

Athena nodded ruefully—no denying he offered a certain roguish charm. Handsome too, clever as well. Plus a complete asshole and cocky to boot, but Reynardine was always a… a something all right.

“So, drag me here just to play around with your past sausage or what?”

Reynardine gave a long barking laugh. “Clever, Ath. C’mon, the real party’s inside. It’s Christmas eve’s eve, and you just cheated death.”

He held the tent flap with a flourish and a low bow.

Athena ducked slightly and walked into the smoky little mess tent.

Hestia held court at the front, doling out pancakes and fat little homemade sausages with sage from Demeter’s garden and lamb straight from Pan’s flock.

“Can we steal food from the past?” Athena wondered.

Reynardine shrugged. “She’ll probably blame it on me anyway.”

“Well, to be fair, you did steal a whole crate a moment ago.”

“A hundred years and a moment ago,” Reynardine corrected officiously.

“Course,” Athena muttered. She snatched a warm sausage from the tray. Greasy, spiced, and better than she remembered. Been a long time since Hestia made sausage, decades at least. “So, how did I cheat death here again? The times kinda blur.”

“I know that feel.” Reynardine nodded across the tent.

Athena stared at the blonde laughing at the table for a long minute before it clicked.
Burnt hair, singed skin, two black eyes, and dried blood trailing from most of the holes on her face. “Wow, I was thumped on.”

“Blown up,” Reynardine said. “Technically. By a god’s bolt too, so—”

“Fucking Jupiter, huh? Roman bastard, I remember this.”

Athena sat next to Safkhet, across from Artemis and Hel. She talked loudly, her hearing wasn’t so good right then, although the words were a little off track with their current state of existence. Athena leaned closer and listened until they cleared.

Safkhet poked at the past Athena’s blackened armor and burnt combat fatigues. “You said you dodged the blast?”

“I said I dodged death.” She turned to the other table. “Thanks by the way, Pluto. I saw you look the other way.”

Pluto blushed down at his eggs. “Accidental. I’d never allow just any soul to abscond, of course.” The god looked up and gave her a timid smile. “But you know how much I like shiny things.”

The past Athena smiled back, and tried to pat down her hair, but that side had been burnt off entirely.

Current Athena gave a tired smile, she remembered what came next; six or seven months of mediocre romance with some good bits, before a weird, hard split.

“Right, Christmas past. Check.” Athena looked over at Reynardine as the voices faded.

“So, we gonna watch me get seduced all the way?”

Reynardine looked up from his phone. “I’m game if you are, it’s your memory. But we can abscond once you’ve learned your lesson.”

“Which is?”

He waved a hand dramatically and dropped onto an empty seat. “I don’t know, it’s your lesson.”

Athena knew that was bullshit, but she’d probably have better luck arguing with the wall. Easier to win, at least.

Instead, she focused on the moment.

What did I learn, or could I learn from this?

“Do you have some paper?” she asked.

“Phone dead?”

“Oh, right.” Athena unlocked hers and took a quick selfie with the past her in the background. No signal now, but she’d post it to LifeTree soon as they were done in the past.

She opened a note file and started organizing feelings and memories into something she could correlate with the current memory. Formulas would have to be from memory, but Einstein worked out some pretty good ones before he switched from magic to physics.
Athena focused on the numbers, barely watching as Safkhet and the others skipped out and Pluto sidled up to her.

“Damn, he works fast,” Reynardine said. “For a geeky type.”

“He’s not a geek.” Athena looked Pluto over. “Maybe a bit, but I like them a little geeky.”

She shrugged. “I’m a wisdom and politics goddess, they like me a lot of the time.”

Reynardine nodded. “Why’d you break it off with him?”

Athena rolled her eyes. “Nothing to do with him really. We had fun, he just wanted something I couldn’t give.”

“Settle down?”

She nodded.

“We’ve all been there. Us unmarried gods… well, I’m a myth, but you know what I mean. You love ‘em.” Reynardine popped open his eggnog bottle again. “But love isn’t what it’s all about. They want steady. And just you.”

“He probably wouldn’t have minded the odd lady or two,” Athena added. “Pretty much though. Offered me a ring, the fucker.”

“Broke it off the next day?”

“I didn’t want to,” Athena said. “Pluto…” She sighed. “He was a good guy, I liked him a lot, but we were in a war. If he couldn’t deal with what I had to offer, then it was just time.”

“Amen.”

Athena looked into Pluto’s coal night eyes. “Damn, that hurt though.”
“You took R&R for the first time ever.”

She forced a grimace. “That was in Paris, huh?”

“Good time?”

“I cried and ate some chocolate. Drank a lot of wine too.”

“But you survived.”

“Sure, not like a broken heart ever killed a god.”

“You’d be surprised at the damage a wounded heart can do.” Reynardine gave her a tired half-smile and snapped.

 

Chapter 3. Cracked Pillar

Reynardine landed on top of her on a bed.

Athena looked up into his amber eye. “A bed. Hn. Coincidence, right?”

“Ha. I’m not low enough to prey on a heartbroken friend.”

Athena huffed. “Probably a bad idea, anyway. Get off, you know I like being on top.”

“Right.” Reynardine rolled to the side and off the bed. He pushed himself up fast and started for the door.

Athena followed, eyes searching the small hall. “So, we anyplace special?”

“Obviously. We’re not time hopping at random. Probably.”

“Probably?”

“I’m just the conductor,” Reynardine said. He stuck out his tongue and tasted the air.

“Olympus, 1954.”

The place did feel a little familiar, but they’d redone the floors and walls in her forty year absence. “You can tell that from the air?”

“Sure, why not?”

Athena shook her head. “Right. So just before we won?”

“A few weeks,” Reynardine told her. “We’re here to see Hera.”

“Hera?” Athena shook her head. “I don’t want to see my evil stepmother, Reynardine. Thought I’d never have to again.”

“That’s a pretty common feeling, on this cold Christmas eve’s eve.” Reynardine pointed.

Hera stood in front of a blue, watery pillar with Uncle Poseidon emblazoned on the front in all his dickheaded glory. More than 50 years since Athena saw the brunette goddess. Half that since Athena even thought of her, they’d never cared much for each other.
Hera wore nothing but a few bits of gold, not unusual for her. The elder gods never cared much for modern style and Olympus was awful warm this evening.

Air was hot, actually. Always got that way when Father was on a rager.

Athena’s hand found Reynardine’s without a thought and he gave a soft, kind squeeze.

“Honeyweaver, I wouldn’t put you through that. We’re just here for Hera.”

Athena nodded, and knew better, but the stress still boiled.
So she focused on Hera.

“…just think we’re going too far.” She leaned her head against the pillar. “Please, Poseidon, answer. I need a friend.”

Mercifully, Poseidon kept his silence. Athena doubted she could handle seeing him at the moment, anyway.

Hera flinched and sulked her way to the next pillar.

Apollo.

“Son? Oh, my shining sun of a child.”

Hera laid the butter on thick and even offered some candy—an old lyre she knew of resting in some mountains— nothing but silence.

“Apollo must be ticked too.”

“They were losing,” Reynardine said with more than a hint of pride. “Suddenly. Oops.”

Athena didn’t smile. She watched her stepmom move onto the next pillar, Hades, and past.

Hera walked toward some lone pillars, all the ‘traitors’ on the revolution’s side.

Finally, she paused and sat down.

In front of Athena’s silvery stack of books. “Hello, Honeyhair.”

“For fuck’s sake, it’s just blonde,” Athena muttered.

“Close to honey, though,” Reynardine said.

“She hated it anyway.” Athena looked at her stepmom. “Always telling me to wash it.” Athena put on Hera’s sulky, low voice. “Looks dirty. Thought I was stupid, too. I could see when she was thinking it, she’d look right at me and—”

Reynardine shushed her. “Listen, I don’t like rewinding bits.”

The head goddess twiddled her thumbs. “I know you can’t hear me. I’d be risking a lot to contact any of you right now. Still… damned tempting.” Hera picked at her teeth with a fingernail. “Been a long year, I guess. Quite a few of them, I think. When is it? The 40’s again, right? Twentieth century? Or 21st, I mix those up, you know. Oh, I don’t care.

“Your Father is on a bad one tonight. Same always, these days. I really didn’t think this spat would last the year, you know? Been a lot of them now and you kids…” Hera wiped an eye. “You know, we swore we’d let it go? When I first had Apollo, and that hellion sister of his, we knew one day, it’d be your turn. To rule and everything. It’s the way it works. Hestia and Aphrodite made us promise. Zeus swore to. We’d have a couple of millennia as the leaders and then when it was your turn, we’d pass along the scepters.”
Athena heard rumors, but straight from Hera’s mouth was closest to the truth as possible—the only one she hurt with the confession was Zeus.

If anyone heard.

Hera sobbed softly on the floor and didn’t speak for a long time. “I loved you, kid. I mean, I loved all of you kids, even the bastards. Sorry, you hate when I say that.” Hera looked into the distance to her, but right through Athena. “Even the ones I didn’t have the honor of birthing. That’s more fitting a royal. I know you hate me.” A tiny laugh. “I don’t love me either all the time.”

“I don’t really…” Athena stopped and every drop of ichor in her went cold. “I didn’t.”

“She knows and knew,” Reynardine whispered. “Let her finish.”

“We’re two grapes sharing a stem,” Hera said. “Two close to the base to ever fit right. Dionysus would like that. He’d be good right now. If he was here. He’d calm Zeus, and soothe Artemis, whoever else in this crazy thing. And we’d have dinner on his birthday, like we will soon. Dry turkey you hate, I know you all talk about my food when I’m cooking.” Hera hung her head. “I don’t care what you little ingrates think… but I’ll have Hestia help so no one leaves early this year. It’ll be good for us, being a family again. I’ll say it in person this time, too. Like I always meant to. But… I love you, little honey bug. I’m very proud of you.”

Hera looked at her hands and shivered. “I need to speak with the rest of my wayward kids too. Don’t know why I wanted to talk to you first. I know you’d never listen anyway. I wouldn’t.”

Snap.

 

Chapter 4. A Fairy Short Interlude

Athena sobbed for a long time in a little park, on a bad street that ran dead center through Stockton, California.

People in modern clothes wandered by, some stared, but most ignored the shittily dressed crazy woman crying for ghosts and missed chances against a stone bench.

She didn’t think, just let the emotions and memories dictate what she cried for at any given second.

Later on, when she’d run dry of tears, a soft purple cup appeared in her vision.

“It’s happy hour and I got you a slushie for half-price,” Reynardine said. “No booze, but we can pick up some at the next stop.”

“Oh thank the lord yes please.”

“You’re welcome.” Reynardine waggled his brows. He held a brown paper bag filled with foil packages.

Athena nodded at them. “What is this?”

“It’s a chicken wrappuritaco blast. I got a bag for Caldyr, gotta drop ‘em at home.”

Athena picked a foil package up and sniffed. She’d eaten fast food, even enjoyed some, but dollar menu burritos seemed a little… scary, even for a non-human. “She eats these?”

“‘Eats’ is a generous term. She inhales them, fast. Not sure what else happens.” Reynardine hitched a thumb and they started walking down the cracked sidewalk.

She rolled her eyes. “Really, why not stop off at someplace decent, I’ll spring for it.”

“I would,” Reynardine said. “But Caldyr’s broke and she won’t let me pay for every meal.”

“That’s dumb, she should fleece you for whatever she can get.”

“Caldyr’s not dumb, Athena. She’s a shining star of intelligence.”

Athena raised a brow.

“What, she’s a good detective.”

“Yeah, she’s alright,” Athena said, even though she’d more raised a brow at him. He sounded like… like Zeus used to sound about her—on the good days, at least.

“Anyway, she doesn’t want me to pay all the time. Asked me to get lunch and bring it home.” Reynardine tugged at the ugly sweater. “I know she’s a little extra broke too. This wasn’t even Christmas, we just hit each other early with surprise gifts.”

“So we hopped through time to deliver food to a lazy fairy?”

“If you have to wrap down your wings and get all glamoured up to leave the house, you’d want to chill on a day off too.”

“Right, good point,” Athena said. “Caldyr lives here?” She looked around at the run down buildings and occupied stoops. Teens and young adults, sharing an afternoon and a bad view. Some adults too, and even some families on half-dead lawns.

Not the world’s worst neighborhood, but Athena wouldn’t want to be a girl living alone. Even a blue one with hydromantic powers.

Reynardine led her into a tiny brown apartment complex and up a set of chipped cement steps. Apartment 14, all the way at the end. He pushed open the door without knocking and rustling followed from the couch.

Caldyr bounded over, bright blue, and wearing a red Christmas sweater with a knitted orange kitten tangled in lights. She was a little under five-feet and her gorgeous leathery wings flapped, as she spun in the air. The fairy laughed and danced right up to them before she paused and blinked at Athena. Both hands were above her head, but Caldyr slowly lowered them.

“Hey, Athena. Sup?”

“Caldyr.” Athena forced down a smile at the purple blush creeping up the fairy’s cheeks.

“Nice sweater.”

She nodded. “It’s epically soft. Foxbutt got it for me. I got him that one. Just a weird coincidence.”

“Looks cute. Love the kitty.”

“Aw thanks! Reynardine even had wing holes sewed in.” The fairy spun a little off center and laughed, quite drunkenly Athena realized.

“And I brought lunch, Super Sleuth,” Reynardine said, not even hiding the pride on his face. “You watching TV?”

“Who Killed Santa is on again, but I think it’s the alternate ending version this time. With the zombies.”

“You know, Santa hates that movie,” Reynardine said.

Caldyr rolled her eyes. “This dick, keeps on talking like Santa’s real. I’m not a kid. Jerk.”

Athena nodded and gave a few quick glances around. Cheap apartment, old and held together by more duct tape and plaster than love… not that different from the one she found Em in a few years ago. The goddess shook her head. “I can’t even believe him most days,” she told Caldyr. “Always a surprise.”

“It’s the actor that plays him,” Reynardine continued. “Although, I thought Miranda was magic.”

“Of course he is,” Athena said. No Christmas tree she could see, but a cactus had some tinsel hanging off the needles.

“Want to watch?” Caldyr asked. “We got burritos, now, and I got some good scotch… well a bit, been a long day. We can split the lees at least and there’s some beer too.”

Athena spotted the green bottle on the table. Not her normal brand, but nice enough maker.

“Sure,” she said. “But I’ll just take the beer, scotch puts me in hitting mood.”

Caldyr gestured to Reynardine. “He’s soft and takes a fall real nice.”

Athena chuckled. “Noted, kiddo. Let’s get to the movie, I want to hear the Christmas Train rap.”

Reynardine grabbed them a beer and they did split the last of the scotch. Athena worked up a nice buzz, and the Meltichangaritto things weren’t half-bad after that.

When Athena first saw Caldyr with Reynardine, a few weeks back, she assumed that the General was simply looking to get a little extra wet. Caldyr being a fairy and he was always pretty well-known for his exploits.

Now, Athena didn’t know exactly what to think. His smile wasn’t wheedling, or ironic, but plastered and prideful.

She lit him up and Athena recognized that light. The pride of creation, she exalted herself in the glow often enough to spot it anywhere.

After eating most the burritos, and downing another beer, Caldyr passed out before the big sleigh chase medley ending.

Reynardine wrote her a note while the credits rolled and they slipped out the front. He checked his watch. “Sorry, I didn’t plan on that being a whole movie detour.”

Athena shook her head. “Nah. She wanted to hang out. It’s fine.”

“Doesn’t get out much, or have anyone too close here.”

“I’ve been there. She’s fun, it was a good time. Thanks, Reynardine. You’re a good dad.”

“She’s not really my daughter,” he said.

Athena laughed. “By blood? No. But that’s not so important this time of year, or any, really.”

Reynardine hugged her. Sudden and so fast, it might not have happened if she couldn’t still feel the warm shadow of his arms. “Thanks, Athena. Here I thought I was the one delivering advice.”

“You knew that already, you’ve got more ‘family’ hanging around than a royal wedding.”

“Course. But, it’s always nice to hear it aloud.” Reynardine snapped.

 

Chapter 5. White Christmas

Snow danced somberly around them.

“Where are we?”

Reynardine chuckled. “Check your phone.”

The device had 2,463 updates waiting. “A week in the future?”

“Few years, actually.” Reynardine nodded. “There she is.”

Athena squinted through a broken, glass door, and realized they stood on top of a outer balcony of a massive building. Fate’s building, the one skyscraper in Lumin. The tiny town of the gods lay below, quiet and covered in snow. “Wow. It never snows in Lumin.”

“Athena, we don’t have time for sightseeing, okay? Look through the door.”

“At what?”

“Your cold, bitter heart,” Reynardine announced with more grim air than she’d expect him capable of.

Just a glance was plenty enough to see why.

Athena herself sat in Fate’s chair. “Woo. Upgrade.”

“Yeah, but look at you.”

She walked closer, and leaned into the giant room, but the cold and the darkness of the office told its own tale.

Ares chained and broken body above her empty fireplace added another layer to the story.

“Oh.”

Bellona’s spear stuck from the fire-poker stand. Just half, blackened and rusted.

Nothing else to signal the end of any other friends, but the air itself sang of death. Gods died and haunted here.

“Yeah,” Reynardine whispered. “This isn’t the world that will be, for sure, but it’s an ever-growing possibility.”

“But… why?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know all the details. It’s a big deal, clearly. Something to do with old enemies. You go a little crazy on us. End them, and then… well, Hestia is first. After you absorb her fire, you work your way through the Pantheon. Outsmart us all.”

“I love Hes! Me? I’m not…” Athena watched as blood dripped from Ares’ broken flesh to the cold stone mantle.

She looked to herself. Colder white blonde hair and deep sparkling eyes. Ice seeped from her pores, as she scribbled on scrap of paper. “What am I writing?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Long as it’s not emo poetry.” Athena laughed a little.

Reynardine gave a long, solemn nod.

“Wowzer. I am pure dumpster fire in this future.”

And she looked up. The other icy Athena.

“Can she… I hear me?”

“Why do you think I wanted to hurry?” Reynardine asked, tugging on Athena’s sleeve.

“Come on. We’re just shades to her, but she is the God of All Things now. Who knows what she can do.”

They edged back across the terrace as the Icy Athena crawled onto the desk and crouched like a B-movie vampire. She took great whiffs of the air and looked toward them. The ripped, white cocktail dress really drove the point home. “Remind me never to go evil.”

“That’s kinda what I’ve been getting at,” Reynardine said.

And the icy goddess leapt.

Shadows and sparks of thunder filled the air behind her. Zeus’ thunder, just like when she was a kid.

Athena screamed, but the sound became a tight squeak.

Icy Athena had caught her by the throat. She squeezed and the world blurred. Pain filled her body as air stuck in her lungs. Athena felt her power draining into the evil twin just above.

And then pure, frozen light.

 

***

 

Em stood at the edge of the doorway, anger already marring her pretty face. “Where have you been?”

“Out with Ares and Safkhet,” Athena muttered. “Did you need something?”

Rage flashed and she shook her head. “No.”

“Good then. I’m tired, we stopped some human magicians from summoning a demon and ending all life in Quebec.”

“Wow. Sounds fun.”

Athena shook her head. “Not the word, I’d use. But Canada is quite exhilarating, I think.”

“I’ve never been.”

Athena nodded absently. “You should sometime. It’s cold, take a coat.”

“I hardly ever leave here, anymore,” Em said, with a trace of irony in her voice that just didn’t fit. “I’m a real homebody, I guess.”

“You should work on that.” Athena looked around the dirty house and wondered how she stayed home all the time, but never managed to get anything clean. With a wave, Athena set the living room in order. “I was reading a study the other day, about correlations between low-light living situations and depression. Maybe that’s why you’re so moody lately?”

Em walked off, stomped really, to the bedroom.

“I’ll text you a link.” Athena didn’t have time for a mortal’s pissy little mood swings, even one normally as splendid as Em.

She poured herself a drink and wondered where Safkhet was. Maybe she should go out instead. Athena always found some time alone helped her relax, surely Em could use another few days.

“Em? I’m going out, again. Did you need me to leave some money for food, or maybe a little toy? Something from those superhero things?”

Silence from the bedroom. Athena searched with her extra senses and found Em drinking. Straight booze and a lot.

“Good, she might loosen up again.”

***

Snow.

Cold. Endless. Wet. Icy air all around.

Burning in her working lungs.

Athena gasped and rolled over.

Reynardine held a snowball to one eye. “Morning.”

“We still in the dystopian future?”

“Oregon, actually.”

Athena thumped back into the snow. “Just send me back to whenever that was then.”

“Sure, soon as my eye heals. You pack a helluva punch, Honeyweaver.”

“Damn right. Wait me, or early-2000s-screamo-band me?”

“You. I snapped, but the magic took a second, and by the time we ported you were pretty out of it. Turned on me before you passed out.”

“Good. Drag me all through history just to let me almost kill me. Jerk.”

“Right. Anyway, we’re almost done here and I’m ready for a nap.” Reynardine tapped her knee. “Come on, one more stop.”

“No,” Athena said. “I’ve learned. Don’t go evil. Got it.”

“And how do you know which way not to go? How do any of us know where our coldest hearts lie?” Reynardine asked.

Wind howled and in the distance a car backfired.

“Right. What I thought, come on.” He strutted off through the snow.

Athena trudged just behind him through the powdery streets. She’d never been to the area, looked like just a tiny mountain hamlet somewhere. Nice enough, but Athena hardly knew anyone this far North in America.

“What town is this?”

“Bend,” Reynardine said. “Kim and Erik live here.”

“Who?”

“Kim’s a baker and Erik is a part-time security guard and full-time teacher.”

“Sounds like a busy life.”

Reynardine nodded. “But, rather fortunately, they took Christmas off.”

“Why is that fortunate? And not normal?”

“Bad economy. Expensive to live these days. Not the time for politics.”

“Things are getting worse, huh?” Athena asked, but she already felt the answer in the hallow air of the town itself. “But there’s always time for politics, Reynardine! What’s going on in America is—”

“No!” Reynardine barked. “Sorry, but I’ve got plans tonight and some more gifts to pick up for a certain blue friend… and some others, maybe. But right now, we’re talking about what’s their names. The broke ones, comforting their friend.”

“Kim and Erik.” Athena paused. “That’s a little familiar.”

“It should be.”

“I know, you just told me, but something else.”

“I know.” Reynardine smiled and nodded at a pink SUV parked at a curb.

“Oh.” Emmaline. She talked about them a few times. Always texted Kim when things were rough. The goddess paused and took in the town with new eyes. “Em grew up here.”

“Come on, Athena. One last stop.”

“No,” she nearly shouted. “We broke up. She broke up with me.”

“Are you sure?”

“Oh right, like I’m some idiot crying all drunk and alone when all I had to do was reach out.”

Reynardine raised the brow above his blind eye.

“Bullshit.”

“Prove me wrong.”

Athena followed him to a frosted, four-pane window with a tiny crack through the bottom corner.

Emmaline sat on the couch with a baby on her knee. A ragged little tree sat opposite of her. No, not quite ragged, Athena realized, just every branch of the tiny thing was weighed down with an ornament and a candy cane.

The look on Em’s face—the light in her eyes from that lit pine—made Athena regret every drab Christmas they’d shared.

Never even occurred to her that Em might enjoy the holiday.

“I’m a fool,” Athena muttered.

“Yes,” Reynardine said. “But you’re good at learning, right?”

“Can you learn to be a good person?”

“I hope so.” Reynardine smirked. “I know so. Now pay attention, our show’s starting.”

Two hipsters curled up on a smaller loveseat and listened.

“We might still make up,” Em said in her adorable, squeaky voice. She leaned forward and shook her head. “She was drunk. I was drunk, it was sudden.”

“Oh, don’t start again, babe,” Kim said. She pushed herself off the couch and straightened her pajama pants. “Erik, get Matchbox some dinner?”

“Yeah,” he muttered with a grateful smile. “I’ll just be in there, the kitchen. Doins’ dinner things.”

“Thanks,” Kim whispered and planted a kiss on his bearded cheek while he retrieved the kid from Em.

“Aw,” Reynardine said. “The hipster couple is kinda cute.”

“She’s beautiful,” Em said, holding up her phone. “I know the pictures with her are all a little fuzzy.”

“That happens,” Kim lied kindly. “She sounds nice too.”

Em shrugged. “Not always. She was good in bed though, really good. Sweet sometimes too. Funny at times.”

Athena preened a little.

“But cold.”

And that hurts.

“And she thought I was stupid,” Em said. “Like I am—”

Athena didn’t realize her jaw dropped until freezing air hit the back of her throat.

“No,” Kim said in a loud quit-being-silly tone.

Reynardine repeated it, but more serious and added. “She might not be a rocket scientist, but she saw past your faults, and found you to start.” He smiled. “Takes a bit of smarts to find anything warm enough to hold in all that ice.”

Em laughed. “I’m not all that bright, but she’s a god of knowledge. Or like Einstein or something.” She gave a nervous laugh. “Reads a lot.”

“That was a little clever,” Reynardine said.

Kim sighed. “If you really want to call…”

“I don’t. I’m always the one apologizing, or just not saying anything. If she can’t be bothered to pick up the phone…” Em dropped her own to the couch. “I’m not stupid. Not really. She can call me.”

“I don’t think she’s stupid,” Athena said. “I never said that she was stupid, when I… I mean, I’d never. I didn’t mean for her to think…”

“But you are cold, Athena. And inside your head a lot.” Reynardine grabbed Athena’s hand and gave a squeeze. “People don’t read minds, Honeyweaver. Most don’t even read people. You can think the world of person, but unless you let them know… who knows what they’ll think of you.”

“Shit,” Athena said as tears welled up. “Thought I was done with the crying.”

Reynardine tugged her off the little porch. “Wanna go get cleaned up? Maybe text her and see if she’d mind a visit?”

“Where’s the nearest coffee shop?”

***

Reynardine watched from across the cafe as Emmaline buzzed in. She moved like a hummingbird; energetic, happy, in love with life.

Probably what Athena saw in her.

No mystery what Emmaline saw in Athena either. Well, maybe a bit, but the joy shining in her eyes as she walked to the small table was pretty clear.

Athena stood up.

Words passed. A moment. Sighs.

They hugged.

Reynardine winked at Athena and pointed to the door.

He was in the parking lot, obtaining a ride home, when she texted. <Thanks, General. I’ll stop by on Christmas, me and Em, if it’s cool. I owe C and you some scotch.>

Reynardine already figured, and planned ahead, but he texted an affirmative.

He was going about eighty on a dark freeway when Ms Claus appeared in his passenger seat.

“Hello, Reynardine.”

The Fox smiled. “Ellen. How’s Kris?”

“Busy.” She pulled a cigarette case from her velvet dress pocket. She lit one and the scent of cloves overtook the car. “And missing a key, I believe. You wouldn’t have seen it?”

Reynardine laughed and passed over the golden cane. “Sorry, El. Tell Big Red I owe him one, okay?”

Ms Claus stuck the cane in her bra. “Just one? Reynardine, you’re not so good at math.”

“Unfortunate. But we both know I got other talents.” He clicked his tongue and winked.

“What’d you need this one for anyway?”

“Hmm?” Reynardine winked again, this time with the dead eye. “Helping put a friend on the right path. I might not be a god of love, anymore, but even I could see a chance to help out a bit.”

El smiled. “Always something for a friend, huh?”

“Tis the season, right?”

 

Epilogue: Blue Christmas

Caldyr picked at her teeth and watched Reynardine closely.

The scent of roasting turkey fogged her mind, for all she knew dinner was never coming, and she’d run out of little cheese filled sausages hours ago.

Maybe days. “Reynardine! I’m dying.”

“Did you even touch the crackers?”

“Not when I could help it,” Caldyr snapped. “We’re out of real food.”

“I’ve got another snack platter,” he said. “But give the guests a few minutes, they’re barely even late yet.”

Caldyr muttered some blasphemy, but that didn’t make the gods hurry.

About ten minutes later someone knocked on the door. Reynardine hurried in to answer and Caldyr stood up.

Bellona, War god, and Reynardine’s friend walked in with a man that reminded Caldyr of warm, home baked apple pie.

Tyr, obviously. She knew Bellona and he were a thing. He was a Norse god of justice and honor in the far back past. Also played a big part in the Great War, but Caldyr wasn’t too sure what he did these days.

From his looks, probably modeled for superhero posters and saved kittens from trees.

Even the beard didn’t dissuade from the wholesome image, just added some grit to help strike a match.

Bellona caught Caldyr’s eyes and mouthed, I know right?

Caldyr gave a small nod and stopped ogling her friend’s boyfriend.

“Hey, C.” Bellona waved. She wore slightly ragged clothes, but still nice. A normal sweater and blue jeans.

Tyr wore flannel—what else—and an easy smile. Bellona was quite a few inches taller, but they were both somewhere over 6 feet. He extended his only hand, the left. His right had been lost a millennia ago to Fenrir the wolf.

“Tyr,” he said in a voice like melted butter.

Something melted, certainly. Caldyr gave his rough hand a hearty shake. “Caldyr Prayers. I’m Reynardine’s… roommate, I guess.”

Tyr nodded. “I’m Bellona’s boyfriend.”

“I prefer protege,” Reynardine said. “For Caldyr. It makes us sound closer.”

“It makes me sound like a crook,” Caldyr snapped. “We’re friends. Barely.”

Tyr nodded. “Yeah. It’s hard with him. Trust can take a lot of time to build and Reynardine’s constant insistence on testing the limits of—”

“Hey!” Reynardine walked in with a platter of cheese and meat. “We don’t need any of that today, Doctor.”

Tyr nodded, resignedly, and took a seat on the couch. “I have a PhD in psychotherapy,” he told Caldyr. “I’m not really licensed, but I run a service for gods,” he paused and looked into the kitchen, “myths, or others of our type.”

“That’s… very interesting.” Caldyr took a mental note—never know when a good shrink might come in handy, especially one in the know.

He shrugged. “Pocket money, if the client can afford to pay, and it’s a hobby I’m passionate about.”

Bellona smiled. “And good at.”

Tyr tapped her knee.

Another knock at the door. Reynardine led Athena, and a younger blonde human Caldyr didn’t know, into the living room.

“Hey all. Caldyr, thanks for hosting,” Athena said, offering her a bottle wrapped in blue and silver tissue paper. “And hosting the other day too.”

Caldyr blushed a bit and took the large, odd shaped bottle. “Ah. Yeah. sorry, I was smashed.”

Athena smiled, a warmer glimmer than her usual cold humor. “Been there a few times. This is Emmaline, by the way.”

“Em,” the blonde said. “Hi… you’re blue.”

Caldyr looked at her arms, covered all the way to the wrist in Christmas sweater. “Weird, wonder how that happened.”

Athena laughed, but muttered. “Sorry, babe, forgot to mention it, but our host this stop is a fairy.”

Em lit up. “Oh, that’s so cool. You’ve got wings too! What?”

Caldyr fought back a smile and gave a little flap. “Well it is kinda. You two want a beer, or something?”

“Actually,” Athena said, loudly and toward the couch. “Can we borrow your boyfriend, Bellona? Me and Em need to set up some…” she sighed and then smiled at the blonde on her arm. “We need to set up some counseling, Tyr, if you’ve got the time.”

Tyr’s jaw dropped. “For you? I mean, both of you?”

Athena gave a small, tight nod. “I’ve got some stuff to work through.”

“Let’s talk a walk,” he said. “We’ll set up a time that’s good for all of us and get some preliminary talking out of the way. This is a good, big step Athena.”

“Been a good week for that sort of thing,” Athena said. “Always time to change, but now’s best.”

Em grabbed her hand a gave a squeeze. “Thank you.”

Reynardine assured them dinner needed a bit still, and they could use a spare 12-pack from the corner store anyway.

“We’ll hurry,” Athena said. “We’ve got a few other places to be before this Christmas is over.”

Reynardine’s face lit up. “Glad to hear it. Sounds like a busy holiday.”

“A blessedly warm one,” Athena told him, and followed the others out.

Caldyr couldn’t shake the feeling she’d missed something, but the bottle drew her attention. An unlabeled vintage, dark as night.

“Nice gift.” Bellona tapped her empty glass. “Just, I mean if you’re going to open it.”

“Right, we really should,” Caldyr said. “I’m not sure what it is, and I’d better know. To thank Athena properly and all.” She gave the wax cap a slow, hard twist. The seal broke to reveal an old cork marked with a gold coat of arms.

Reynardine brought in some clean glasses and a corkscrew.

“This looks like a nice vintage,” Caldyr said. “I assume. I’ve never had anything better than the green and yellow one.”

Reynardine nodded. “A few hundred years old. Scotch, I bet.”

“Generous gift.”

“She was grateful for the company, the other day. And, I imagine, she went all out this year,” Reynardine said with a sly smile. “Guess she caught the Christmas spirit, somewhere.”

 

End Tale

 

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, or just hope it’s goin’ alright, dear readers! I hope you’ve enjoyed this little Christmas tale! Thank so much for reading!

 

Can’t get enough Reynardine? Wondering how he and Caldyr became friends? Pick up Tybalt Perdition on Amazon now! Makes a helluva Christmas gift too!

And watch for more adventures in the Glass Fate series!

© 2017 John Cordial.

Leftover

Part One: Strawberry Rain

**

The rain tasted strange that day.

Vanth woke late, to the sound of heavy drops on her van’s roof.  She’d driven North this month, during winter the nights were cold but something about the rain reminded her of Home.  Maybe it was the way they danced in the heavy showers that weekend in Scotland.  Vanth couldn’t say but the goddess often longed to feel the rain’s kiss.

Maybe she just missed her own Hell, the one she used to rule.  Rained all the time there.  Vanth’s primary focus as a goddess was death, truly she was a psychopomp but her parents were gods so she counted.  Back then, she counted.  Exile didn’t change a being but what is a god without worship?

“An ever aging fool,” she said to the empty vehicle.  “Never gonna grow up, at least. Still feel like the bottom of the jar this morning.”  She flipped the blanket off, fixing the snap on her jeans, and ignoring the rattle of empty beer bottles.  The cold made her shiver, but she could warm up the VW after she peed.

Pulling the door back, she stepped barefoot in the rain and hobbled the icy ten steps to the nearest tree.  She noticed the taste then, and sticking out her tongue confirmed her first impression.  The heavy drops tasted like cold strawberry wine.

Just like that first night with Home.

Vanth rushed her business, sanitizing her hands with the bottle of rubbing alcohol she kept under the seat.

Leaning back, she let the rain collect on her tongue.

Strawberry wine fell like demented tears from a drunken god.

She slammed the van door, walking around to the drivers side.  Dawn seemed liked a good time as any to start her day.  And today would be a strange one.  Vanth could already tell, booze didn’t fall from the sky on normal days. She climbed into the van, pulling a handful of cheez-its from the box safety belted into the passenger seat.  “We’ve got a mystery,” she said to the air.  “Or at least something to do today.”

The van turned over easy, she’d just had it looked over on her way up here.  Good thing, as she didn’t have anything resembling insurance on the vehicle.  She didn’t have the money, or even an address, for that sort of luxury.

Vanth needed to get in touch with someone.  Reynardine might be a god, and a friend of Fate’s but he still took Vanth’s calls.  Even sent her something at Christmas.  More than she expected from the General and much more than she got from anyone else from the old days.

Her phone needed juice, she cruised through the wet streets looking for lights.  A fast food joint shined bright, the goddess could already smell sausage and eggs.

Parking in the empty lot, Vanth slipped flip-flops on before heading out the door.  She had to turn back to grab the cord from her glovebox.  The rain had picked up on the short drive from her sleeping spot, her long brown hair hung in messy curls by the time she made it to the restaurant.  Standing under the overhang, she tasted the rain again.

Normal water.  Good but confusing.  At least the area’s wild animals wouldn’t be drunk all day.

A blonde with nice eyes manned the counter, wiping down trays and yawning sleepily in dawn’s light.  Vanth approached the registers, eyeing the menu.  “Hola, can I get a muffin special, extra sauce and a large breakfast tot? And a milkshake.”

“We can’t serve shakes before ten-thirty. We do have a new cafe line of drinks, the blended latte is a coffee based milkshake.”

Vanth smiled at the girl, taking a deep contented breath.  “Oh, what a marvelous time to be alive. I’ll take one of those.”

“Sure.”  The woman tapped her order in.

“You got a place to charge this?”  Vanth pulled the phone and cord from her pocket.

The woman pointed to the small hall that led to the bathrooms.  “Last booth down.”

“Thanks, honey.”

“Sure, thing.”

Vanth waited for her food at the counter, starting up her phone and texting the General to see if he could talk.  <Hey, are you okay to chat? It’s was raining booze over my van this morning. Weirded out.>

Her food arrived, Vanth got a few mustard packets to go on the sandwich and with the potatoes.  Breakfast burger unwrapped, Vanth just bit down when her phone rang.

“‘Lo,” she said around her food, chewing the hot sandwich fast.

“Was it beer or wine? Or the hard stuff?”

“Wine, why?”

“No clue, just curious. Even I’ve never heard of random rains of booze. Interesting.”

Vanth chugged some of her coffee shake to cool her burned tongue and seized under a sharp headache.

“You okay?”

“Brainfreeze.”

“Good to know you’ve got one right?”

Vanth rubbed her offended forehead, wondering if a bite of her steaming sandwich would help. “Know anyone that might be able to offer some advice?”

“Ask around town maybe?”

A dark truck pulled into the lot, a new trailer bumping over the cement behind the vehicle. The front door popped open, and a tubby man in dark coveralls dropped from the seat. He stared aoround the lot, stopping on Vanth. Drawing a cell phone from his pocket, the man turned and jogged toward the back of the trailer.

Reynardine cleared his throat. “Vanth?”

The driver opened the trailer, running for the front of his truck.

“I’ve got to go,” Vanth said, taking a fast bite of her burger and chewing.

“What? Is everything okay, V?”

A withered dark harpy climbed to the top of the van, eight feet tall and covered in sparse black feathers. The lean bird creature walked on thin wings and taloned legs. She sniffed the air, sticking out a scarred tongue for a taste of the wind.

The driver climbed into his truck, leaning back out to slam the door. With a cry, the harpy dropped to the ground. One long arm caught the man’s, he slammed the door on the limb. Her shrieks filled the air, the restaurant work started screaming in time with the horrible creature. The harpy pushed back, a metallic groan filled the air and the door reversed. She grabbed the man, slamming him to the ground. Eight inch talons went straight through his shoulder, pinning him to the cement.  The harpy shifted it’s heavy body, leaning the human face down to the screaming man’s back.

Vanth stood, shaking her head. “No, Reynardine. Things are not okay.” She ended the call, setting her phone on the table. Things were about to get messy, and she couldn’t afford a new one.

The bird woman fed, tearing at his spasming meaty shoulders.

Pulling magic from the air, Vanth drew the her sword from the small plane of existence she used for a sheath. The black blade came from her scythe, the goddesses symbol of power since her first, a torch, went out in the fourteen hundreds.

The harpy’s victim stopped screaming, ending the creatures interest in the meal.  She used her long wing-arms to shove the corpse away, retching some of the flesh onto the pavement.

Whimpering caught Vanth’s ears, she turned to stare at the blonde.  “Go into the back, wait for me to give the all clear, okay?”

She didn’t move, her eyes locked onto the giant creature.

“Go!”

Two thumps, and the restaurant’s double doors crashed open.  Vanth turned to the harpy, holding her sword high to block.  Claws caught on the magic steel, the goddess pushed back against the harpy.  The creature relented, rearing back with a hellish screech.

Vanth closed the gap, slashing at the spindly arms with everything she had.

Something heavy collided with the goddess’s head sending pain rampant through her.  A frying pan rattled on the floor.  She dropped to one knee, staring back at the wincing counter girl.

Another screech and the creature stabbed downward, all three claws tearing into Vanth’s chest.  Lifting her high, the harpy slammed the goddess into the ground.  Her sword bounced away, the harpy threw her in the other direction.

The world went fuzzy, Vanth couldn’t hear anything but hollow buzzing.  Her ears began to clear, screams cutting like acid into the static.

Pushing herself up, the goddess rushed forward on weak legs.  She stumbled, grabbing the frying pan’s handle before vaulting the counter.  Gold and red god’s blood leaking behind her, she sailed through the air onto the harpy’s back.

Her feet slipped on the loose feather, the creature turned.  Vanth swung the pan, all of her divine strength behind the attack.  A sickening crunch, and the neck turned all the way around.

Gasping for breath, Vanth stumbled toward the head of the creature.  One hard whack from the pan and the harpy breathed no more.

Vanth collapsed herself, watching the blonde scream into her hands as darkness crushed her world.

**

Vanth could tell the Washer was in this dream, goddesses got perks like that.  She started looking for a river, and the oft sage advice of the Screaming Oracle.  Water trickled in the darkness of her dream’s pure night.  A wide field of tall grass stood between her and the gentle rushing sound.

A dangerous field, the grass could hide a lot of things.  Vanth checked for her sword, dismayed to find the pocket empty.  No waiting now though, she’d have to face her dreams unarmed.  She started across the heavy green field, her violet eyes sharp for any sign of life.

The river glittered under the moonlight, not reflection but a flow of souls looking for their current.  She stumbled onto the small trail.  The Washer did her duty a little ways down, washing the uniform of the truck driver.

Vanth skipped a little on the way, enjoying the soft dust of the bank under her bare feet.

“Hello, Madame Banshee.”

“Aw, Mrs Vanth. I didn’t expect to see you here.”  The Washer’s voice sounded like rocks in a blender, too rough to be human.  Too smooth to be a banshee, truth be told, but she didn’t count as much else.

“That’s a bit hard to believe, considering you’re in my dream.”

“Am I?” the old woman asked, searching around with wide eyes.  “I supposed I must be, I’m sure you couldn’t be anywhere else.”

“That I cannot, I doubt very sincerely that I’m outside California’s borders.”

“Sad state of affairs, fine wings like yours and you keep them up all the time.”

“So, you here to taunt me about my exile, or are you here to help with the booze-slash-harpy incident?”

“Drunken harpies? Sounds like my book club. No, I’m just here to see Mr…”  The washer squinted at the stitched pocket of the shirt.  “Mr Stanywickz? Stanwycks? Something, he’s being helped home. I’m here to offer him guidance.”

“And me?”

“I guess, you’re here to listen.”

Vanth sat on the bank, watching the water ripple with the approach.  Slowly a corpse broke through from beneath, the truck driver stumbling out of deaths endless stream.  Naked and bleeding, his flabby body turning a bluish shade.

“Shit, it got you too?” the man asked, spotting Vanth.

“Yes,” the Washer said.  “Yes, you’re both dead.”

“Sorry, I thought it might hurt other people, but they said they had someone on hand to ensure that didn’t happen. To me, I mean. I guess they wanted you dead.”

“Who?” Vanth asked.

“The guy who hired us, a tall dude with dark hair. My boss hunts the things, she sells the spares to the highest bidder.”

“What was the harpy supposed to be doing there?”

“Just killing the brunette, I don’t know all the details. Sorry you died, I didn’t know it was a girl he was after.”

The Washer handed him his clothes, nodding to the man.  “These things happen.”

“Yeah,” Vanth added.  “It’s feeling better already.”  She turned to the Washer.  “Can I go?”

“Sure, let me know how things turn out, okay?”

“No problem. ‘Night.”

“Day, where you’ll wake up.”

**

Vanth sat up in a real bed, surprised as hell she wasn’t in a hospital.  Or a freaky Government lab.

And naked.  Always fun to wake up naked in a strange bed.

The goddess pulled the blanket off with her, standing and wrapping the cover tight.  The dark almost hid the door, she stumbled closer yanking on the handle.

Voices reached her from a lit room down the small hall.  She walked forward, listening to the soft conversation.

“…The wound is so dark though, like a deep black color. I wish it was me instead of her, she’d know what to do.”

Wound?  Vanth looked at her chest, pulling the blanket down.  She’d healed fine, takes more than an angry harpy to down a goddess.  Even a leftover like her could heal a lot of damage.

“She’s got maybe a day or two.”  Vanth recognized that voice, the soft lilting accent and deep rumble.  Even her legs twitched at it, and the General really wasn’t her type.

Comforted by his presence, she strode into the room.

Reynardine leaned back in his chair, bright teal suit offset by shining red hair.  One eye sparkled amber, the other had been lost.  No one knew where but him.

A different blonde from the restaurant sat opposite the General.  Hands clasped in front of her, she looked lost in her own worry.  Fresh and drying tears marked her sun kissed face. Red cracks spidered through her pretty cornflower eyes.

“Hello?” Vanth asked.

“Oh hey, V,” Reynardine said, head bobbing an inch.  “Glad you’re feeling better.”

“Yeah, it’s all gravy on my end. Naked though, that sucks.”

The blonde looked up, shaking her head.  “I put clothes on the chair. Yours are covered in blood, I did my best but the shirt is ratfucked. The jeans are drying.”

Vanth nodded, adding a sorry smile. “I’ll just go put that on then.”

“Please don’t drag the comforter all over the house.”

“Yeah, yeah, no problem.”  Vanth walked backward lifting the hem of the comforter, toward the room.  Flicking on the light, she found a pair of blue sweats and a loose green t-shirt with just a small hole in one arm.  She threw the clothes on, stopping off in the restroom before rejoining the other two.

Her hair needed a good wash, she tousled some of the dried blood out but the flakes stuck to the scalp. She looked half-bled, the icthorian blood in her veins still working on the damage. A prayer would speed things up. She expected the woman gave all she had to something else, and the General would get exiled himself just for consorting with her. Which never stopped him in the past, but she couldn’t directly plead for help like that. Another few hours and she’d be normal as ever these days.

When the goddess returned to the living room, the woman cried on the couch. Vanth edged around to the free chair.  She gave the sobbing blonde a sad look, mouthing ‘what?’ at the General.

He shook his head, pushing a steaming mug of coffee in her direction.

Sipping the coffee, Vanth pieced together what she knew.  Someone else is probably hurt. Bad.

But the person still lived, the woman said as much. So why the General just sat there Vanth had no clue.  Gods couldn’t intervene directly, but rules and Reynardine often parted ways.

Finally the blonde spoke again.  “I guess I should be with her.”

“Sorry,” Vanth said.  “But what’s happening?”

“My wife is dying,” the woman said.

“She’s Kate Frew, her wife is Drystellia—”

Vanth certainly remembered that name, what’s a divine war without a chosen one?  He’d passed away many years ago, so this must be— “Frew’s grandkid? What are we waiting for then, what’s wrong with  her?”

“Vanth, we really can’t help. Anapa would never help a Frew, and she’s been bitten by a Stygian serpent. I don’t know any other free roaming psychopomps.”

And that’s his game.  The General was a miracle man, or fox technically, but even he didn’t have a permanent pass in and out of Hades.

Vanth did though.  Assuming she didn’t mind risking death to save a stranger.

Calling scraps of loose power, the goddess looked at Kate, reading the mortal’s whole life through the cornflower irises.  She saw every heartbreak, every love, and moments no one, even her wife, had ever seen. Vanth’s true nature shined, she judged Kate like a newly harvested soul.  Staring deep into the women, the goddess found enough love, more than enough, to make the risk worth the endeavor.

Smiling at the nicer moments, Vanth asked, “Just need a few Kore’s bells, right? Easy peasy iced squeezy.”

“What?”  Kate looked at the General for answers.

“Stygian serpent venom is counteracted with Kore’s bells, the blue ones and the green work best,” Vanth explained.  “The General brought me here because I’m a psychopomp, I can go to hell with relative ease.”

“Actually, Drys is a doctor,” Reynardine interjected.  “I brought you here for healing, if you needed it. I traced the call to find you. Good job, by the way. Nice work with the harpy. Yeah, the doctors dying though, didn’t see that coming. At all. Just another coincidence, but a fortunate one.”

“Sure,” Vanth said, remembering the amount of heavy coincidences he never saw coming in the past.

Kate cleared her throat.  “Can you really help?”

“Yeah,” Vanth said, she didn’t want to lay the heavier part of the venture on the crying woman.  “I just need some food, and a nice place to die I guess.”

Kate shook her head, glancing at Reynardine. “What?”

**

Kate fed Vanth two turkey sandwiches, Reynardine went on a quick trip and returned with her sword.  He told her he’d make the journey if he could.  She had no doubt, the General would do most anything for a friend.  She didn’t mind either, nothing wrong with helping people.  Made the world go round, in the end.

Vanth didn’t truly die when she ventured to nether realms.  Her body went stiff and vacant, she left the mortal shell behind.  If she chose to, she could even view her body from outside.  Interesting, but not very useful these days.  Smartphones made checking out your own ass much easier.

Of course, she didn’t visit anywhere else these days.  It’s been sixty years since Vanth last ditched her meat shell.  Odd feeling, to be part of something else for that long.

Might all be over now, if Fate caught her out of bounds shit would really hit the divine fan.

“Be careful,” Reynardine said.  “And quick as you can.”

“I land where I land, no helping that. I’ll be back soon.”

“Need anything else?” Kate asked.

“No, I’m sound as a pound,” Vanth said, dropping onto the bed.  “Cover me up if it gets cold. I hate coming back to a cold body.”

“Got it.”

“See you guys in the next life.”

She pushed her soul out on an exhale, there were worse ways to leave a body.  Reynardine could still see her, she could tell from the way his eyes caught on her ass.  Kate couldn’t, she didn’t notice the goddess’s pirouette as she headed for the door.

Vanth should hurry, and she did, but down the hall first. Only door she hadn’t been through.

Drystellia Frew lay dying on a pink bedspread, ashen and sweating in the dark room.  Her breath came in short gasps, Vanth raised an eyebrow at the woman’s midsection.  Two weeks pregnant, odd for a woman in a relationship with a woman but science worked miracles.  Also the old fashioned way, Vanth knew what wanting a child could drive someone to.

For quite a while in her younger years, Vanth wanted one.  Motherhood didn’t agree with her, but she knew from the rapport of love that things would be different for the Frew’s.

“Hanging out?” Reynardine asked, slipping into the room.

“Just wanted to meet the woman I’m risking my life for. She’s pregnant you know.”

“Really? Bet Kate’ll be thrilled. She’s incapable, but she wants one bad. After this, I bet they name it ‘Vanth’ or ‘Van’. One of those cool hero names.”

She flicked stray hair from her eyes. “I’m not any kind of hero.”

“Sure, V. And I’m just a dull and witless fox.”

“Pshh, lame too. Your music taste is horrific.”

“Ah, but you got the reference. Luck, soldier. See you soon.”

“Aye, aye, General.”

Vanth took another deep breath, leaned back and fell clear to Hades.

**

Part Two: Everything Goes To Hell

The trip wasn’t all that far, the distance varied of course.  Some traveled an unending road, and other’s lived a hop away from hell.  Vanth wondered what the brevity of her trip said about her.

Probably nothing good.

The goddess landed on her back, softly in a serene field of tangy scented white roses.  Thorns and all.

“Fucking, fuckity, fuck flowers fuckery.”  She pulled herself up gently as possible, losing a lot of skin and remembering her shoes, the ones she politely slipped off as she laid down in Kate’s nice clean bed.  Looking over the fifty feet of thorny path to the beach, Vanth decided that shoes would be very nice indeed.  “Fuck.”

“Wow, you are very unladylike.”

“Oh, fuckoff.”  Vanth turned around wincing at the needles in her feet.

A tall demon in heavy leather armor stood on a patch of road.  His orange skin glowed in the dim light.  Both pitch colored eyes trapped on a phone of some type.  “Hey, watch your mouth,” he said, not looking at her.

“Seriously? Okay, where the hell am I?”

“Hades.”  His eyes raised from the phone, focusing on her with a flash of surprise.

“And you are?”

“Voiastra. From the demonic exchange commission.”

“Of course. So Voiceassa, how do I find the Styx?”  Kore’s bells grew around the larger river, some said only near where Charon held court.  The goddess hoped she didn’t have to go that far.

“Who are you?”

Vanth cocked an eyebrow, taking the well worn hard route.  “A divine being asking a damned question, who the fuck are you?”

“Voiastra. From the demonic exchange commission.”

Clenching the bridge of her nose, Vanth reminded herself he was just a demon.  All they knew could be summed up in their name and job training.  They voted republican and had opinions on torture and little else.  “Okay, and I just need some flowers and to get out of here.”

The demon cleared his throat, covering his mouth politely with one hand.  “I don’t think so. You’re not supposed to be here, I think I should call—”

“What size boots are those?” Vanth asked, nodding at his feet.

“Elevens?”

The goddess let her power go, surging forward to sock the demon with everything she had.  He flew backward, face twisting in pain.  Like lightning, she followed through the air.  Vanth landed on top, punching again to leave him unconscious in the hellish soil.

“Should have just given me directions, Foccacia.”

She stole his shoes, they were actually pretty clean.  Uggs, but beggars can’t be choosers.  The rest the armor wouldn’t fit, the boots were a few sizes too large but better than miles of rocky shoreline.  This river must connect somewhere, Hades five rivers formed a perimeter around the underground world.

Looking around, she decided left seemed good path as any.  Never done right all that well to begin with.

The red sand of the beach shined in Hades sunless light.  She’d never liked this underworld, too much flora and fauna for her tastes.  Way too many snakes, of course.  Every version of hell had a lot of snakes, whether metaphorical or just scary ass reptiles.

Usually the latter, to be honest.  Hells weren’t really meant to be nice places.

Vanth rushed, moving  at a decent jog for her loose boots.  The miles passed but her steps didn’t slow.  She could move for days at this pace, living off just the spare energy in the environment.  If she had some prayers, she could move much faster or even teleport.  No such luck today, but other bits of fortune had the goddess’s back.

Along the opposite bank the horizon glowed.  Streetlamps of some type, Vanth guessed.  “Towns in Hades, things have changed.”

Gaslamps, as it turned out.  And a brass drawbridge, with a rather imposing patchwork tower above.  The rivets were a darker metal, some type of iron she guessed.  Nice looking place, very imposing.  She’d have to apologize to the builders, if she burned it down or something.

Not that she planned to burn any cities down, just events often got out of hand on adventures.  The natures of such quests, Vanth reckoned.

She considered going around the town, but a sign on this side of the river advertised rooms, foods, and apothecaries.  Be easier to find the right plant, and she wouldn’t have to traipse over half of Hades.

“Sounds about right,” she muttered, staring at the tall tower.  A guard stared back, a proper soul in heavy steel armor.  “Oi, can I get into town?”

“Got a passport?”

Vanth wondered if her sword counted.  Fighting a whole town face on wouldn’t work anyway. She’d be better off not attracting such robust attention.

“Nevermind.”

“A’ight then. Move along, you’re scaring the ugly off the walls.”

“Whoa, say that to my face!”

“Got a passport?”

Vanth hitched him a fig, turning away from the mouthy spirit.  She walked along the river, crossing over soon as the last guard tower faded from sight and heading back.  The water stung with icy cold that pulled at her spirit.  The goddess bitched her way through the waist deep water.

To be counted as a proper town they needed a criminal element, and that would include smuggling.  She’d find a way in, even if she had to beat a few smugglers into showing her the path.

As Vanth approached from this side, she could see a slant to the walls to the outer walls.  A bright yellow tent caught her eye, most likely a small market.  Surely, with a passage into the city.

She hurried along the bank, spotting a cobble road snaking in from the other direction.  A dirt highway.

The market covered about five-hundred square feet, a motley of tents and stands.  Gorgeous colors, especially with the dusky blue backdrop of dead sands.

Vanth slipped in among the tents, keen eye for anyone dressed shady.  Unfortunately, everyone in Hades looked criminal.  A guard with a little more innocent face than most passed by, wearing boots that were much closer to her size.  Maybe shady is overrated.

The goddess tailed him to the outskirts, watching the guard walk a wide circle.  He passed by a large stable and she hurried to catch up to him.

She tried to sound flirtatious, but her coquette days were buried longer than her temples.  “Hey, Mr handsome guard gentlemen. Can I borrow you for a moment?”

He raised one long arching brow.  “Is there a problem?”

“That would depend on your definition of ‘problem’, I guess.”  Vanth shimmied closer, trying to look non-threatening as possible.

He looked down at her face, raising one lip slightly and sniffing.  “Your teeth are stained and crooked. You smell like the river, honestly.”

The goddess punched him in the jaw.  He dropped into the sand. “Thanks, douche. I almost felt bad about that.” Glancing around, Vanth grabbed his ankles and dragged him to the stable.  She stripped him, leaving the underwear and socks.

A horse whinnied, adding, “I’m telling.”

“Not if you want to keep the ability to stud, Mr Ed.”  Vanth ditched her borrowed shirt, slipping on the guards dark red tunic. If she wore his clothes, and snuck with a group. Maybe a distraction, I might have to burn this…

“Damn, calm down. It’s fine.”  The horse looked her over.  “You trying to sneak into town?”

“No, I’m just in the habit of clubbing guards and knicking their pants. It’s like yoga, but for the less spiritually inclined.”

“Wow, sarcasm your first language?”

“Just been a long day.”

He whinnied sympathetically.  “Are you wanted or something?”

“Sort of. And I don’t have a passport to get into town.”

The horse nickered, shaking it’s head.  “You’re in Hades, we don’t have passports.”

“What?”

“This is Faren’s Folly, sassybritches. We don’t have any sort of paperwork. The last town council went insane ten years ago, since then we’ve been ruled by a coalition of corruption and darkness.”

Cold anger iced the goddess’s heart.  “But the guard, by the drawbridge…”

“Probably just didn’t want to lower it. Or he was fucking with you.”

“Dammit. Fuck.”  She kicked a hay bale, scattering golden flecks into the air.

“Although, I should think clubbing a guard and stealing his kit would get you into trouble.”

“Shut up, I don’t need more shit to worry about.”  Vanth ditched the guard’s clothes, slipping her own on but keeping the comfy leather boots.  She took the leather purse as well. Apothecaries must charge something.  “Can I leave him here?”

“With me? No! I’m not getting hanged for this.”

“They’d hang a horse?”

“I… I don’t really know. Maybe, best not to risk it.”

“What should I do with him?”

“Take him with you?”

Vanth crossed her arms.  “No, that’s horrible. I’d need to steal you to carry him.”

The guard groaned, shifting over on his side.  The horse kicked him in the head, leaving the man snoring in the dirt.

“Tie him to a rock and dump him in the river,” he ordered, murder hot in his braying tone.

Vanth stared slack-jawed at the insane creature.  Grabbing the guard by one arm, she dragged him away from the horse’s pen.

“Maybe they should hang horses.”

“Maybe they should hang mouthy little girls too. You think of that?”

She left, ignoring the whinnies chasing her through the small market.

They didn’t even stop her at the gate, the guards might not have cared her if she was carrying the unconscious one.  A bribe would have fixed any issue of that nature.  The town looked corrupt, from it’s dirty cobbles to the dingy gaslamps adorning the wrought iron crosses on every corner.  Vanth almost expected a bribery menu for the various corruptions above the guards stand.

Instead they had a crude map.  The apothecary was marked in the corner opposite her, a green leaf over a caduceus symbolized them on most any plane.

She slipped through the crowded streets, eying a few of the nicer clockworks.  A brass lion with a bright red mane caught her eye, being led along by a sullen faced boy.  His dark red eyes were matched by a leather bandolier holding a violin.  Vanth watched him pass, wondering how a kid made a life in Hades.  The giant clockwork lion probably helped.

A side street was packed with stands selling food.  She looked at the various delicacies and decided to wait until after the apothecary.  No telling if she even had enough in the small leather bag.

The palace, or mayor’s house, or whatever stood out.  A blood stone fortress, almost clear except for the thickness of the macabre gem.  Gorgeous, but she hated to think how many died to make the building.

Two apothecaries sat across from each other on the quiet streets.  Vanth stared between them, deciding on the older looking one.

Pushing open the door, a cacophony of scents assailed her.  Fresh grasses, herbs, potions, and heavy magics; mingling with camphor and heavy alcohol.

“Welcome to Erringdor Apothecary and Psychiatry. How can I help you?” a spirit asked from behind the counter, turning his translucent head around at a horrific angle.

“Umm, just some Kore’s Bells?”

“Kore’s Bells? Hmm, we’ve got capsules and teas.”

Vanth shook her head.  “It’s for an unconscious person, she’s been bit by a stygian serpent.”

“Oh, my. Well, we’ve got locust seeds, you can apply a layer of them to draw the poison out and then crush up the pills and apply them directly.”

“You’re sure?”

The face split into a viciously happy grin.  “I’ve been remade by dark gods to be the perfect apothecary assistant.”

“Oh, nice then. Can I pay with coins?”

“Absolutely,” he said, grabbing two small jars from containers behind him, and dropping them on the counter.  He started to fill smaller glass bottles.

Vanth looked around the small shop, eyes catching on a rack of pills.  “What are these?”

“Emotions in pill form. The red are anger, blue sadness.”

“What’s in the yellow pills?”

“Pure terror, drawn from spirits that died screaming. The color is just candy coating. Banana flavor.”

“Ah, sounds useful.”

“Good for the heart. Be seven silver, three bronze.”

Vanth tugged the purse string, dropping the bag as it began to scream.

The spirit in front of her turned dark.  “Oh, stolen purse. Very bad things, very bad indeed, coming for the thief!”

Vanth grabbed the containers, bolting for the door.  The spirit flew toward her, reaching out a long arm.

She spun, grabbing the wrist and snapping the hand off with a sharp pull.  “Stay down, ghost!”

Confusion crossed the spirit’s face, probably didn’t figure her for a psychopomp.  He didn’t have to follow her order, but she spoke with enough force to slow him down.  Vanth ripped the door open, checking both ways on the busy streets.  Nothing but people, mostly normal spirits and a few regular humans.

Hoping for a quick escape, she left the wounded spirit to stitch himself together and raced into the brass town.

**

Part Three: Hard Run

Vanth looked back down the alley, hearing the braying of hellhounds in the distance.  Hades must have a surprisingly strict policy on thievery.  She drew her sword, doubting something loud as hellhounds would be the dark gods only defense.

Creeping along the alley, she made for the guard tower overlooking the river.  The two story fall would mean nothing to her, and she could swim toward the south.  She just had to find a gate now, tons of the structures littered hell.

A little bit of luck and she’d be safe in California by morning.

The wall behind her exploded, throwing masonry and metal into the alley.  Vanth ran, putting distance between herself and the attacker.  Clicking chased her down the alley, legs creaking just behind her.  The opening loomed feet in front of her, Vanth spun to the left swinging her sword behind her.

She connected, the force nearly ripping the blade from her hand.

A clockwork scorpion burst from the alley, eight foot tail slightly longer than the whole body.  Her first attack had removed one hubcap sized claw.  The other looked fine, gleaming steel in the sunless daylight. It struck, tail flashing forward.  Vanth blocked, letting the tail push her back and saving balance.  The scorpion reared back, she aimed for the face.  One fast stab before she spun low and away from another jab.  Slamming her blade onto the tail, she damaged the appendage enough to disable the gears.

Dancing away from the grasping claw, she took off a leg.  Stepping away from another feeble grab, Vanth jumped onto the back and stabbed downward.  The blade sunk clear to dirt, the hole hissed steam and oil into Vanth’s face.

Wiping her eyes, she started running blind.  The hounds were closer.  Voices called too, not far off in the grim city.

Vanth ran from them, correcting her course the best she could.  Eyes finally clear of the sticky fluid, she aimed for the tower.  Three rusty steel blocks, and darted through a clearing.

A small entryway yawned at the base, she dived inside.  An arrow struck her shadow, a long dark shaft with blood stained fletching.  Six more followed, Vanth dodged up the stairs, turning at the corner.  A red armored guard ran up behind her, blade high.

Grabbing his wrist before he attack, Vanth ran the man through, kicking him down the stairs but holding his sword.  Both blades at the ready, she met the next foe.  He tread with more care than his dead friend, but not enough, catching her blade in the throat in mere seconds.

A third stepped over the choking man, Vanth roared slamming her left blade forward.  He parried fast, stepping sideways.

Clanks caught Vanth’s ears, someone approaching from the top of the tower.  She turned fast, trying to put distance between herself and the lower attackers and catch the other by surprise.

The blade pierced her shoulder, the guard from above moved faster than she expected.  Staring down with a smile he twisted the blade, driving filthy steel deeper.

Vanth dropped her sword, swinging the other across the guard’s face. Red flowed over the man’s eyes.  He recoiled and she smashed her forehead into the wound.  Blood splashed hot over her skin, she dived forward slashing the man’s legs from under him.

Her scythe clattered down the stairs, she couldn’t leave the old sword.  Diving toward the first guard, she rammed the blade into his chest.  Leaving the steel sheathed in the dying man, she stepped farther using her good fist to backhand another. The man collapsed, rolling down the stairs. Dazed and with blood pouring from his nose, he pushed him to stand.

Vanth gave him a moment to take in the carnage. Wisely, in her opinion, the guard ran. She didn’t give chase. Picking up her dropped blade, the goddess started the long climb to the top.

The guard who lied about the passport stood on the flat roof, bow at the ready.  He fired, Vanth sliced the arrow in half before it reached her.

“Mercy?”

“I don’t know, can I see a passport?”  Vanth smacked him in the head with the flat of her blade.  She gave him a good kick, and sliced his bowstring more out of annoyance. He’d be sleeping off the love tap for a while.  “Dick.”

Finally, she jumped off the tower.  The freezing water helped with the blood and pain.  She’d need soap and hot water for the oil.  And a week in bed, after this day.

The goddess floated on her back, letting the river have its way.  Coming to rest on a sandy shore, she climbed out of the icy river.

“Vanth. How strange seeing you here.”  The voice sounded as if chipped from cold stone, and blended with cries from the dead.

“Oh, cousin Hades.”  Vanth laughed.  “What are you doing in California?”

Hades looked around his regal eyes genuinely confused.  “We don’t even have a sun, or grass, this wouldn’t even pass for Salton Sea.”

“Oh, no. How did I get here? Fugue state, or… or something?”

Hades sighed, shaking his head.  “No, Vanth. What the hell are you doing in Hades? And truth, cousin. I don’t have time to screw around here, and I should be chopping you to bits right now. Or calling the F-bomb down on you.”

“Screw Fate. A friend’s dying.”

“Who?”

“Well not a direct friend, per se. But the granddaughter of a friend.”

The god of shadows conjured a seat, a large skeletal throne with an iced drink in a hallowed skull on the extended side table.  Giving a tired snap, he created a folding cheer and a bottled water next to Vanth.  “Who, exactly.”

She stalled with a long chug of the water.  “Drystellia Frew.”

Hades shook margarita over his hand.  “Frew?! You’ve got to be… Vanth, you fucking… Every time I see you, it’s worse and fucking worse. I offered you a good job here.”

“As a fucking lackey, that’s not me Hades. I’m my own goddess, not a foot soldier.”

“Whatever, I’m not even debating this with you tonight. Or ever, cause we’re not seeing each other long as you’re banished. And don’t come here fucking up my toys.”

She’d avoid a fight with Hades tonight, that was a minor relief.  “On a steampunk kick?”

“Well, Kore is pretty into it. I don’t mind really, it’s her Hades too.”

Vanth smiled.  “You guys are cute.”

“Thanks.”  He sighed, setting the drink on the table.  “I’m serious, I debated turning your ass in this whole night. Don’t think you can fuck around in my world without me noticing, little cousin. And don’t think my affection for you will allow you an easy run.”  A creeping sensation rattled Vanth’s spine.

The hounds brayed in the distance.

“Nearest portal to Earth is about a mile that way. The dogs are fast, but you’re wearing comfy shoes right?”  He looked at her stolen boots.

“Thanks, I guess.”

“Sure. Luck, cousin,” he called after her, sipping his iced drink on the dark beach.

“You too, cousin!”

The dogs appeared, at first shadows in the distance.

Vanth ran all out, tearing dust behind her in a stream.  Hellhounds could move in shadows, blurring between spirit and physical.  They’d catch up, of that she had little doubt. Three of them gained already, rangy greyhound like wraiths.

Vanth drew her blade again.  The magic calling the sword from her pocket flowed weaker, all the running and healing wearing her down.

The first dog caught up, lunging from the shadow of a rock to snap ghostly jaws at her.

She rolled, slashing at the hellhound.  Cold ectoplasm splashed from canine’s side, he yipped falling to the ground.  Vanth leapt at the next closest, not waiting for the wolflike shades to draw into striking range.  She nearly cleaved it in half with a lunging slash.

The third jumped at her, Vanth jumped backwards and away from the snarling wraith.  It tried again, she stabbed the blade into the leaping spirits face, slicing into the jaws and catching ghostly teeth on one wrist.  The creature shuddered, falling to die in the sand.

Blood pouring from the latest wound, she limped to the exit.  A large outcropping of stone with a single dark shadow for a doorway.

A hard step through the warm veil, and she faded once more.

**

Back to the Washer’s river.

Huh.

“Find what you were looking for?”  The Washer tilted a bottle of dark liquor back, coughing on the drink.

“I wasn’t really looking for an ass-kicking,” Vanth admitted.

“Looked to me like you did your fair share. Give and ye shall receive.”

“Amen. You need something?”

“Nah, just returning a favor to an old, old lover.”  The banshee revealed another bottle from the folds of her tattered dress.

Sweet pink wine.  Strawberries and memories flooded the goddess once more.  “You and Frew were a thing?”

“For a tumble or two. I know, I slummed it around in my youth. Well his youth, I was two hundred and nineteen. He did alright, for the record.”

“Ugh.”  Vanth tried to shake her brain free of the image.  “What about the harpy?”

“Oh, someone was really trying to kill you. No idea who, might want to look into that. I just made sure you’d call the Fox. So he’d find you, the bimbo at the restaurant would’ve called an ambulance. Whole other story, not near as fun.”

“For who?”

“Well, me. You’d have gotten laid. But like I said I enjoyed this version.”

“Great. You’re welcome, we’ll be here all week.”

The banshee laughed again.  “Oh, no. You’ll be saving my friend’s granddaughter from a very undeserved death.”

“How’d she get bitten by the Stygian?”

“Must of just been a loose one.”

‘Cause hell snakes are all about the wandering. They can’t even teleport.  “Huh. Should have asked Hades.”

“Oh, the one’s who know all never tell, Vanth. Luck, by the way.”

“You know Drystellia Frew is preggers?”

Mock surprise was quickly replaced by a wicked grin, enough mischief in her eyes to make even the General doubt himself.   “Oh, my. Kate will be pleased, she’s been undergoing treatments for a year now.”

“Drys is pregnant, though.”

“Odd, of course. She’s never been with a man, or received a treatment.”

Buzzing filled Vanth’s ears.  “Very odd. Almost immaculately so, one would say?”

“Thanks, Vanth. One day, the world might owe you a favor for something like this. And as you can see, I repay favors well.”

**

Vanth woke in the bed again, sweating from a heated blanket.  She kicked the covers off, sure Kate would be pissed about the ruined clothes and muddy boots all over her nice bedsheets.

Slipping the boots off, Vanth pulled the medicine from her pocket.  No lights shined in the small house, she crept into the kitchen.  Reynardine waited at the table, cup of coffee in front of him and smile cutting his five o’ clock shadow.

“Good trip?”

Vanth held the bottles up, waving them victoriously.  “I’ve had better. Saw Hades, low chance he’ll rat on me.”

“Oh, lovely.”

“And I saw the Washer. She said someone’s trying to kill me.”

Reynardine gave a little sigh and a toothy smile.  “Bad news, but something we can handle. You’re hard to kill.”

“A bit, but I’m not the goddess I used to be.”  She gave the bottles a little shake.  “Want to pass these on to Kate?”

The General checked his watch.  Vanth eyed the timepiece, noting Ares and the god’s personal symbol etched into the mithril band.  “Nope, I’ve got people to do. Umm, why don’t you wake her up? She’ll probably be pretty happy to see you. Might even let you use the shower, if everyone within nose range is very lucky.”

Vanth looked down at her filthy torn clothes and stolen boots.  Even she could smell the sweat and blood, never a good sign.  Hellhound drool crystallized on one arm, her legs ached… Everything ached.  Yes, a shower sounded nice right now.  “Okay. Uhh, one more thing. Did you know Drys is… Clean? I guess? She didn’t get treatments, Washer said.”

A serious look crossed Reynardine’s face, never a good sign. “No, I’m just a dumb fox. And virgin births, especially in such an esteemed line, are big and rather secretive business for anyone. Especially two nobodies like us. Thanks, Vanth. Have a good weekend.”  The Fox-god faded from sight, single eye winking last.

Vanth went to the main bedroom, flicking on the light and wincing at the yellowish flood of brightness.

Kate lay next to Drys, clinging to her like the fading woman kept her afloat on deadly seas.  I know the feeling.

Vanth went around to her side of the bed, giving Kate a light shake.

Redlined eyes snapped open.  The goddess held the two small bottles in front of them.  “Special delivery, Mrs. Frew.”

End Tale

 

Rust Red, Iron, & Thyme

Blood, crimson and fresh, marked Alice’s trail.

The box cutter slipped, the retractable blade touched her palm a bare second–A three-inch long gash shined clean for a long heartbeat.  Blood flowed a moment later.  She hurried to the restroom, just two aisles away from where she stacked toys.

Alice watched her life rinse away in the pink water circling the drain.  Using paper towels, she wrapped the cut.  Palm bound tight, the woman continued off in search of a supervisor to take an accident report. Continue reading

Flesh: Character Prompts

Okay, so you want to create jaw-dropping characters no one will ever forget?

That’s my goal too and in pursuit of that I’ve created a huge list of writing prompts. Then I made a whole set of them into images to share with you. (Practicing my image making skills and I’m nice like that.)

So from here they’re pretty self-explanatory and red.  What?  I like red. Continue reading

Scales in the Sun

Note: This one is a little scary. Just a warning. Header is a painting by John Waterhouse (From Wikipedia Commons.)

The moon fell in waves of muted light across the estuary.

It was the third night in a row they watched the sunrise together.  Dylan relaxed in Becca’s arms, water soaking their feet.  Even near dawn the heat of the previous day hung over the beach. Continue reading