upon the bed, a girl

They say that the original valkyrie were birds who chose to become women, discontent to remain in the air when the battle raged below them. From the heavens they descended, ice-pale hair and flashing eyes, to take up sword and spear. And the men of the cold north found them fair, and so took them to wife: by force or sorcery or seduction, and from these unions came the people of Ragnival: the giant broad-shouldered men and the sleek fine-boned women, the deadliest and most dangerous of people.

Even Odin’s Witch, at her core, is no different: Oswald can put his hands around her wrists and touch thumb to ring finger without straining. He marvels each time at the delicate way she’s put together — he’s seen her cut through entire battlefields of soldiers without breaking a sweat, and even in exhaustion her spear never trembles in her grasp, and yet he just needs to squeeze a little to feel every single bone in her wrist. He can lift her with one arm and pin her with the other, and she puts her small slim hands on his throat, her thumbs stroking his jaw in sweeping lines.

Oswald’s new wife is a solemn creature, with her dark eyes and serious mouth, but she smiles for him when he leans over her, careful with his weight on her bones. She accepts his kisses with gravity and returns them in kind, always with the pressure of her fingers on his throat.

“Would you kill me on my marriage bed, then?” he asks her. “Do it swiftly, then, and I’ll close my eyes.”

Her brows draw together. For a moment she tightens her grip on him, and then she relaxes, but she doesn’t let go.

“My lord husband,” she says quietly. “Forgive me, I did not intend to cause you insult.”

“It was no insult.” He takes her wrist again, and pulls the one hand away, so he can press it flat to his chest instead. “It would be a greater insult if you didn’t speak honestly here, of all places.”

Her lips quirk. “Your veranda window is open, my lord. It does seem a place where nothing can hide.”

It’s not quite a smile, but Oswald feels himself relax a little at that, like some tiny seed has taken root in a withered landscape. If she can look like this, proud valkyrie under a man’s weight, then perhaps even without spell or artifice, he might someday …

“My lord,” Gwendolyn says. “I may be a virgin, but I am no frightened girl. I grew up among the warriors of my father’s court. You needn’t worry so about courtesy.”

“I do,” he says. “It would be disrespectful of a warrior of your status to do otherwise.”

Her eyes darken. “I am no longer a warrior,” she says. She turns her head away. “I am yours to do with as you wish.”

Oswald releases her wrist, and pulls the laces of her bodice open. Her skin is pale and battle-scarred; even the best of armor cannot turn away everything. One in particular reaches from her navel to curl around the swell of her left breast; he traces this with a finger and feels her shiver.

“What I wish for, I will only accept if freely given,” he says. “Tell me, how did you get this?”

Gwendolyn licks her lips. “A Unicorn Knight,” she says. “I had landed, and he came down from above. My sister killed it as I lay stunned.”

“Stunned,” he repeats, and traces the scar again. “Just that?”

She regards him with unblinking eyes. “No Halja came for me that day,” she says. “And none on any day since, until I am here before you now.”

“Would I could say the same,” he murmurs, and bows his head. He can feel her indrawn breath, but her question strangles on a small noise when he kisses the top curl of the scar, just alongside the nipple. Under him she goes rigid — less out of terror and more out of calculation, as she sorts out the feeling and apparently decides she likes it: her hand curls in his hair and pulls him down.

Oswald remembers that he intended to be gentle — because his wife still is a virgin, though a warrior well-blooded and seasoned. He remembers Blom admonishing him to go slowly, for disgraced or not, Gwendolyn was still the daughter of Odin, and any small insult might be enough to draw the king’s ire.

But Gwendolyn makes an impatient noise and surges up against him; in a moment Oswald finds himself turn on his back and she weighs nothing as she sits aside his hips. She leans forward, and her hair slips over her shoulder onto his chest, coarse and perfumed for the night, but still with the smell of blood and smoke in its fall. Her eyes are nothing like that day on the battlefield: she glares down at him with fire snapping in her eyes, and she’s magnificent.

“My lord,” she says, and he makes a strangled noise as she reaches to unfasten his trousers; her hands are nimble and callused. She is nothing like the giggling fairies of his youth, with their soft perfumed fingers and petal-sweet skin; his wife is a hard creature, a sharp creature, and he will not insult her by speaking of the fear that makes her fumble, nor the plain unfamiliarity that makes her fumble and her nails catch against him. The sting is fleeting and he hisses, and Gwendolyn looks down at him with the same wild eyes.

“Gwendolyn,” he says; she starts at the sound of her name, then bites the corner her mouth hard. He sets his hands on her waist, under her ribcage. Her skin is warm to the touch. I am not your enemy, he wants to tell her, knowing she would not believe, and so closes his eyes. “The first time will be unpleasant. After that, it will be easier.”

Under his hands, Gwendolyn draws in a quick sharp breath. She shifts, spreading her skirts wider around them, and presses her knees to his hips. Oswald is not shamed to realize he holds his breath when she presses her hands to his chest and rises — no matter that she is prisoner of his estate, he has always been her captive.

When she sinks over him, she gasps once — a thin, sharp noise — and is silent. Oswald keeps his eyes closed as he reaches for her hands, and she clutches him so hard he knows he is bleeding. It might be, he thinks, the first time he has done so for a reason other than death.

He whispers her name like a talisman and she begins to move.

At some point he opens his eyes to watch her and sees her watching him in turn. There is blood on her mouth and blood on his hands, and she presses a biting kiss to his knuckles like it’s a challenge. Up he surges, his arm thrown hard around her thin waist, so close that her breath is quick upon his cheek and her second startled noise is pressed to the corner of his mouth.

Once more he says her name and once more she flinches, all whipcord muscle tightening in his arms. He kisses her and she bites him back in return, and her blood tastes no different from his, sharp and metallic and hot with life.

“My lord,” she whispers in his hair, her voice grown soft, almost gentle. She slides her hands around his throat again, her thumbs pressed to his pulse. “… Owswald.”

Ahh, he thinks, his cheek to hers, her heartbeat thundering against his own: perhaps this is all he’s wanted in life.

Later, as she sleeps, he turns the ring Titrel over in his fingers. It’s another thread in the gilded jesses he’s braiding for her, and he cannot quite bring himself to give up hope. A valkyrie may be taken by force, sorcery, or seduction; he is no wizard, and she is his match in battle, so he can only kiss her ring and hope if he keeps her close long enough, she will relent beyond the duties of the marriage-bed.

Silent, he waits for morning.

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the things he dreams

His first roommate in the Academy is also nobility: not an Oak, of course, but the son of a magistrate based in the Third District, so not anything too shameful. He’s taller than Shuri by a good half-head, with long elegant hands and wispy-fine pale blond hair. His eyes are slanted and sharp and there’s always a smile that sits at the corner of his mouth, twisting it into a constant smirk.

He introduces himself on the first day, first to Papa, then to Shuri himself. Shuri forgets his name within half an hour. Continue reading

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For Pride And Honor (these things i grew up with)

Actually, when he’d been a child, Shuri saw his extended family quite a bit.

Those were the days before Papa had become a general, when Mama would throw grand parties at least once a week. There would be all sorts of people, including every member of the family within easy traveling distance, and from them there was always a gaggle of cousins that were lumped together, under the supervision of several sour-faced nursemaids. Those came as part of some other branch of the family, of course; Shuri’s own nurse was a comfortable round pixie of a woman, whose only real purpose was to fuss with the line of his collar and tell him where his parents were at any given time. At parties, though, he always knew exactly where Papa and Mama were at all times–and how could he not, when they were clearly the most dashing and wonderful adults at the whole thing?–so he ignored her, letting her sink to insignificance in his world view until he needed her again. She was a servant, after all; that was the way things were. Continue reading

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the names are symbolic

Odette was lost. It was beginning to become embarrassing.

There was a clear path in these woods–she knew, because she’d helped her parents clear it away herself, tending to Sigfried when he began to fuss. There were thin white scars on her fingers from a particularly stubborn mulberry bush, whose roots had sunk deep and whose thorns were sharper than her mother’s dagger. She’d even been following it–but then a butterfly had drifted past, ethereal and delicate as her father’s stories, so she’d looked–just for a moment!–and now Odette found herself lost. Enough sunlight cut through the branches overhead to give her something to see by, but the undergrowth was thick and nearly unyielding against her small weight and smaller knife. Continue reading

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Thirteen Drabbles (multi remix)

#1 – Forgetfulness
GHOST STORY [Vincent and Avery]

The first thing he remembers (the first solid real thing, not the flashes and fragments of imagination tangled up with memory) are gentle hands against his forehead, brushing the hair from his eyes as he shivered and tried to shape a name whose shape and weight escape him, even as he reaches. He’d been so cold except where those hands settled, lulled by a voice repeating nonsense endlessly. In the months that follow, there are bits and pieces that come grudgingly back to him, but none of it is as strong as that one memory, seared unforgettable in his thoughts.

+++ Continue reading

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without touch

Like a cat, Shirogane never blinked. Once Akira had realized, it became something he couldn’t help noticing all the time. There were those moments when Shirogane would tug the brim of his hat down, over his eyes, and just smile (and those irritated Akira more than nearly anything else)–but he never *blinked*. Not unless it was “cute” or pretending confusion, and those times didn’t count. Continue reading

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homecoming

The birds are first to notice: they build their nests high and see her approach. By the time the ship lands and she finally sets foot on the soil of her homeland, they have gathered to wait for her. She studies each in turn, beast and Celestial alike–tired, ragged, worn from long years of waiting–and between one heartbeat and the next she has hands to extend, as if she could gather every one to her breast. On her back, her mirror reflects the emerging sun.

Again the birds burst into song: the great god Amaterasu has come home.

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Gone Home Again

The thing that no one ever tells anyone else–the thing every person has to learn on his or her own, by the process of growing up–is that eventually, even the story’s heroes must make way for others and fade to nothing. That is one of the truths you learned years ago: no story exists on its own. One life connects to a thousand others, and each of those connect to a thousand more; your story is the same one that is unfolding for people you have never directly met, and never will.

Your part is almost over. Continue reading

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the seed of the devil lives on in men

The so-called holy land of humanity is a desert that stretches listlessly beneath a blistering-hot sun; the horizon shimmers with the heat. People here don’t really look anyone in the eye, suspicious and uneasy of their neighbors, let alone the tiny handful of strangers that trickle in and out throughout the year. Money is money, though, and the Earl’s pockets are as deep as they need to be: it takes some searching, but they manage to find a tiny inn that lets them have a single room for twice the going rate.

Devit peers out the window as dusk comes and turns the sky dusty violet, and then deep black. He watches people hurrying to their own homes, and his arms prick into goosebumps as the day’s heat leeches out of the sand. Under the rising yellow-white eye of the moon, the entire world looks like it’s been carved out of rotten muscle and old bone.

“Gross,” he says. Continue reading

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Believe

The thing is: not everything a Nation remembers is of its own history. There are the whisperings of its people, the superstitions and the beliefs and the gods that live and spread and die from border to border, changing until they’re hardly the same as they once were. Heroes pursue monsters that flee with maidens in their jaws, larger than life in deed and gesture, yet utterly contained by it.

Go back far enough in any one memory and there is the truth, but there are things that have never happened that are just as real. Continue reading

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empty cradle

It is coincidence, really, the timing of this evening, where her work and her traditions intersected. She only visits the graveyard twice a year, after all: once upon the anniversary of her husband’s death and once upon the anniversary of her heart’s death. Normally she makes sure it’s a quiet affair: she tells no one, slipping out after her office has closed and before she returns to her house. She doesn’t bother to dress in black for these events: after all, she knows quite well who’s looking, and she knows exactly how little he cares. Continue reading

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yours the only face

“Congratulations,” Bastien tells him, when he emerges from the final hallway. “You did well.” He is smiling as he says this — that same serene look that has always been his, and will always be his first. Frau looks at him and resists the urge to scuff his toes against the ground like a kid.

“Yeah,” he says. “Guess I did.” Continue reading

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hopefall

This is all for you, my love, says the man who is to be her husband. His broad arm is hot and heavy around her thin shoulders. All that is mine, I will share with you.

She looks at the house, the fields, the healthy strong slaves who wait patiently for their orders. She looks at the tall heavy shape of him, blotting out even the sun. Coquettishly she lowers her lashes and murmurs gratitude, and wonders how he cannot hear the blood-red tone of her voice: she has chewed the inside of her cheek raw, and runs her tongue across it as she speaks.

+++

“What’s in this?” Tim asks. He sits back on his haunches and holds up his find: it’s a small jar of black stone, its designs faded and rubbed away from age and covered in a thin film of pale dust. He blows on the lid for a moment, wrinkling his nose at the kick up of dust, then rubs his thumb across the spiderscript design carved on the top. The jar has a simple metal lid sunk to settle partway into its round mouth, tarnished and faded from age. He slides his thumbnail under the edge of the lid and holds it there. Continue reading

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a song of six and pence

Sing a song of sixpence
— of six and pence and pence and six —
sing a song my darling, that will do the trick
sing a song and line your pockets all full of rye
sing a song my darling, hush now, do not cry
fools are the only ones to die

He does not want to go to church on Sunday morning; his mother boxes his ears once and speaks to him sternly, but she takes pity on his pale face and shivering hands, and tucks him in with a kiss to the forehead before she goes. He can’t rest, though; he lies curled on his side and feels oddly restless. It’s like there is something inside of him that’s trying to crawl out, and his skin’s too small for it, his body’s too weak — there should be more of him, he thinks dimly, another-him for he excess to spill into.

When his mother returns home, he hides under his blankets and pretends to be asleep when she checks in on him. She touches his head with one cool hand and says a brief prayer. He feels guilty, because he knows she worries, he knows she cares — with his father two months in the grave and the creditors watching with hungry eyes for the first sign of weakness, he shouldn’t be adding to her burdens, but — ah, he’s sick, he’s tired, and there’s not enough of him for this.

Eventually he stops pretending and does sleep. Someone else’s hand is in his, fitting easily as a missing piece, and the restless twist in his stomach is finally relaxed. Fire blooms red and hot all around, but he’s unafraid because he’s no longer alone, he’s never alone; when he turns he can see a knifesharp grin and a shock of dark hair, and there’s another hand ruffling his hair to a mess. A giggle rises from his throat, sharper and higher than any sound he’s made in his life, heeheehee, and his other laughs too and he thinks it’s a beautiful sound, a perfect sound and

he wakes retching from pain; his head feels like it’s going to split in half. His mother comes running in, and she holds him close even though he’s already fifteen, already supposed to be a man, and he sobs because it hurts, it hurts, and his mother is singing lullabies to him and rocking him and it feels wrong. This is not the person he wants beside him, it’s not right and he reacts against it, shoving his arms out hard to knock the impostor away. She hits the floor with a cry and says his name, and that snaps him back to the waking world.

They stare at each other. Apologies bubble up in his throat and dash themselves to silence against his teeth. His mother picks herself up with dignity. We will talk about this later, she says, and he looks down. He can’t make himself look in her face, because even now, something is wrong about it.

Morning comes; morning goes. They don’t talk. He drifts through the days listlessly; it feels like his apathy could suffocate him. He skips dinner just to avoid his mother’s pinched face and skips straight to dreams. He’s so relieved at the hand in his that he cries again; the other laughs, and roughly dries his face with part of a sleeve. We’ll kill them all, let’s play, the other says, and he finds himself laughing as well, as the world freezes to ice and the only real thing is himself and the other, and their breath turning misty-white in the cold air.

He wakes crying again, but manages to keep it quiet; his mother does not come for him.

Two Sundays later, there is knocking at the door.

He goes to answer it, and the pastor is there, recoiling at the sight of him. He doesn’t know why; red is a good color, isn’t it? Even when it starts to fade to brown, it’s nice. It’s nice, it’s nice, but the pastor is screaming now, pointing and screaming and his voice is sharp and ugly and full of words like monster and abomination and God deliver her poor soul and he won’t. Shut. Up. It’s important that everything is quiet — he’s waiting, he’s trying to be patient; he has to be good, or else his other might not be able to find him. He took the woman’s needle and thread and tried to set an example to her — shh, shh, they must stay very quiet, seal the lips and everything but she still kept screaming and it’s drowning out all other noise. He can’t be found this way, and he’s tired of being alone, he’s so lonely it hurts, and that woman has been quiet for weeks now, so quiet, and that’s been good, that’s been right, but the pastor WON’T SHUT UP–

(sing a song of sixpence, of six and pence and pence and six)

“Shit,” says the other from behind him, and then there is weight on his shoulders and against his back. It feels like something sliding exactly into place; he straightens automatically and leans his own head back. “You really went all out. Wait for me next time, that’s no fucking fair.”

He moves his lips. They hurt a little; they’re stiff and they taste like dust and blood, and he has to remember how to make his voice work. “They were noisy, heee.”

“They’re no good,” his other says confidently. “You knew that already, but it’s true. Fuckers.” The hand in his hair lets go, and fingers wrap with his own, and unlike his dream, this is real. This is true. This is all that matters.

“Let’s go,” he says to himself, and the smile on his face stretches the skin till there is fresh blood on his tongue, but that doesn’t matter: he isn’t alone. He’ll never be alone, forevermore.

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various songlines

Ayakashi/Mononoke

The kitten is a small, shivering thing, so scrawny that its ribs are clearly visible through thin layers of skin and muscle and fur. Rain drums hard against its side, drips off its whiskers. It breathes slowly, pathetically; its eyes are closed. The taste of malice hangs heavily in the air, like miasma. All the blood has long since vanished.

He squats down. The hem of his kimono drags against the wet ground and soaks up water, turns dark with it. As though it senses his presence, one eye rolls open. It’s filmed over in white, but it sees him, and it hates. Deeply and desperately it hates, so that its entire world is encompassed. Given time and momentum, it could become something that should not exist. He can see the potential there, hovering dark and restless.

A growl rises from the kitten’s throat. The sound tapers into a wheezing whine. He puts his hand against the kitten’s side. It hisses again, showing off its teeth. They’re yellow and brittle, just like the bones under his palm. Malice continues to bristle and rise at him; he ignores it. Continue reading

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