Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Bringing a War

I've always liked this quote prompt, and I finally wrote something for it.
Set in the same world and with some of the same characters as the last two prompts, written to 30 Seconds from Mars' "Vox Populi" and inspired by the prompt:

“Are you sure about this?”
“Oh yes.”  Emerenzia’s eyes danced as she gathered her hair behind her back and secured it.  “Let’s set this brush pile on fire.”
Stepping regally from the tent, she paused until her eyes found the broad form of the opposing captain.  She waited until his eyes locked onto hers, and then she strode forward, alone but supremely confident, clasping her capacious cloak tightly enough together in front that it kept her fully covered.  Behind her, she caught the faint whisper of the back of the tent opening and letting out the Cats for their part in the game.
The band of people towards whom she walked was mostly male, with a couple of females behind the leader.  Scouts, her own head scout had assured her.
She halted ten feet in front of them and inclined her head slightly.  The other leader raised his eyebrows in answer.  Smiling, she took a step closer.  “Commander Engelier.”
“Commander Emerenzia.”
“It’s actually General now.”
She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen any man’s eyebrows go so high before. 
“Is it now,” he said flatly.  “You won’t receive that title from me.”
“Very well.”  She lifted one shoulder insouciantly and let it drop again.  “As I see it, you’ve been sent to persuade me to lay down arms and relinquish this—what did you call it?  Crusade?”
“I believe that was the word of my captain, not me.”
“Oh yes, your captain.  Basbrun, is it not?”  She let her eyes travel to the shortest man of the three foremost figures and rest there.  He frowned, presumably over the fact that she knew his name, but stared back for the space of several seconds, until his eyes dropped.  It was a brief hesitation, but it was there, and she smiled to herself.  She’d taken his measure correctly.  Brave, but didn’t have the stamina to go up against her people.
“Well, Commander, it would certainly benefit us both if this went smoothly.”  Transferring her attention back to Engelier, she saw a minuscule hope flash through his eyes and then die as he replayed her words in his head and caution reasserted itself.
“Yes,” he said warily.  “It would.  Milady,” he added.
She almost smiled again.  The honorific would do nothing to help his case.
“But you see, Commander,” she continued, “there are more than just me to consider.  I have a score of people here who would need protection.”
“We can offer that,” Basbrun spoke up.  “We’re authorized to give all your people clemency.”
“Hmmm.”  She tipped her head thoughtfully, eyes narrowing as she feigned consideration of the offer.  “You see, sirs, I’m not sure you really understand what you’re offering.”
The captain started to speak again, but his commander stopped him with a shake of his head.  “How so?”
“Do you know who I am, Basbrun?  For that matter, does your commander?”
“Lady Emerenzia of — City, teacher of foreign culture at the war college, probable minor strategy analyst at the same college.”  Basbrun rattled off the description as if well memorized, and Engelier couldn’t or didn’t choose to stop him this time.
Zia wasn’t given to gloating for long.  There were usually far better things to do, and satisfaction was better taken in bites over a period of time.  But his ignorance would enable her to save an entire patriot camp, display for these men the falsity of the so-called facts they’d been told, and possibly gain another ally, or at least create some neutrality towards her people.  That she got to show off her Cats was simply an extra bonus, like sunlight breaking through a cloud to illuminate a snow-covered peak.
So she smiled.  Slowly, small at first.  “Correct, Captain.”  Her smile widened.  “But only partly so.  My dear Vanora?”
Too busy looking around them for another person to approach, the captains missed the small, striped cat climbing out of the hood of her cloak and perching itself on her shoulder.  Engelier did not, and to his credit, he frowned, no doubt suspecting a trap of some kind.
He was quick.  Good.
“A cat?” someone said from behind Engelier.
The cat heard the words and stood up slowly.  At her full height, she still didn’t top Zia’s head, but her hiss was impressive, startling several people along the opposing line.
In response, six people filed out from behind the nearest tent, some forty feet away, and advanced single file on their general, who waited with a face set mostly in blank lines, though the suggestion of a smirk tugged at one corner of her mouth.
Reaching her, her Cats and captains fanned out behind her, Tancorix and Mirabelle alone stepping up to her right and left sides respectively.  Tancorix wore the long iron-grey cloak of a low-level wizard, and Mirabelle had donned light armor, her right hand resting on her sword.  Behind them, the other four people stood, two on each side of her position and, depending on the person, glaring across at Engelier’s people or regarding them with indifference.
“Impressive,” Engelier said when everyone was still.
“This?  Oh my dear Commander, not yet.  Master Tancorix?”
Basbrun startled, and his face darkened at the title she accorded the wizard.
Obviously, you still believed her a journeyman.  Or was there some other reason for his surprise?
Tancorix pushed back her cloak, raised one hand slowly, and then paused before snapping her fingers once. 
Emerenzia could have been more pleased at how dramatically it was timed.  Dark red smoke swirled around the cat on her shoulder and in the space between her left side and where Mirabelle was standing.
When it cleared, the cat was gone and in its place stood a petite woman in full battle armor, her silver-grey hair glinting in the sunlight, her hands on her hips, and an extremely unamused look on her face.
The opposite commander couldn’t help grinning.  “Okay, milady, that was beautiful.  But I still see no one to whom we cannot offer clemency.  You have a wizard, a shifter, a...” he squinted at Mirabelle and the others behind her, “and several rogues, all of whom are on wanted posters, yes.  But did you think we didn’t research you before setting out?”
Zia permitted herself a small chuckle, not condescending enough to be pitying but too short to be sympathetic.  “Ah, Engelier—I may call you that, may I not?”  Waiting for his nod, she continued through a smile.  “I stand, as do all of these with me, in opposition to an extremely corrupt, tyrannical, evil regime, for which you call us rebels and others call us patriots.  But did you think we came this far without a greater knowledge of you than you possess of us?  Every person you see here has fought through fire and blood and stands here today bearing more from their pasts than most of your people can imagine.”  Pleased, she noted the flicker of his eyelids at not being included in her accusation.
Moving down the line, she indicated the person furthest to her left, a tall man with shoulders like a bull.  “Deserter, betrayer of military discipline, saver of three villages after he himself razed two.”  She flicked her fingers at the woman next to him.  “One of the best and brightest of — City’s foremost military college, stole state secrets, personally holds the record for largest number of people recruited into the rebellion.”  She smiled at Mirabelle.  “Once the most industrious healer in — City, she’s aided more medical supply raids than any one person in the last three rebellions combined.”
“I don’t—“
With a shake of her head, she cut off whatever Basbrun was about to say.  “I hardly think the names Black Jade Fox and Snow Moon Tiger need explaining.”  With a flourish, she pointed to first Vanora and then Tancorix.
Shocked murmuring ran through Engelier’s band.  Who didn’t know those names?  She could almost hear the murmurs of the soldiers re-evaluating the threat level of the rebels.
Nearly done; just two more points to make.  She nodded at the man and woman who stood behind and to the right of Tancorix.  They yanked down the black masks that covered the lower portions of their faces, disclosing features known in eleven lands.
The entire front file of Engelier’s people reached for their swords.
“Stand.”  Their Commander’s firm order restrained them just in time.
“Oh.  That’s right.”  Zia turned around and gave him a bright smile.  “One last thing.”  She shed her cloak so it dropped on the ground, revealing her ranger’s uniform and the sigil for royal inspector.
She knew the precise second the knowledge of who she had been entered Engelier’s mind; it was reflected in his eyes and the long, careful breath he drew.
“Ranger Meren,” he said with resignation.
“Even so.”  She crossed half the distance before them and waited.  Moving cautiously, he took the step still separating them and stood toe to toe with her.  Finally.  Time for the games to end and this regiment to be sent home. 
With a gesture that encompassed his whole force, she said clearly, “Believe and follow your king still, it makes no matter to me.”  Her eyes narrowed, but her lips turned up.  “But know this, Commander.  My so-called rebels would crush your regiment.  I would keep you alive, and when we were done, I would take you and lay you before the gates of the city, trussed like a dead boar as a message to your king.”
She let the words sink in, waited until their meaning was known by everyone on the front lines of both groups.  Then she lowered her voice slightly, slightly emphasizing each word.  “You want a fight?”  Raising one eyebrow, she smiled.  “I’ll bring a war.”

Thursday, January 17, 2019

I Have to Try

My random scene from last night's writing session with my writing partner, written to 30 Seconds From Mars' "Closer to the Edge" and based on this prompt:

Everyone assembled in the tent looked up as the wizard poked her head in.
“She’s not here,” a silver-haired warrior said, standing up.  “Isn’t she in Command?”
Shaking her head, the wizard backed out of the tent, striding to the nearby rise with irritated steps.  Where under sunrays was the general?  She’s got an op to lead in less than an hour; she should be triple checking her plans and briefing her team.
“Cori?  Should we be worried?”
Tancorix spun around to see the silver-haired warrior had followed her, as had their chief healer.  “I don’t know.  I’ll let you know.  Search the lower tents again, please, maybe I missed her?”  She knew she hadn’t, but she needed solitude to listen. 
“I’ll check the healer tent,” Mirabelle said, eyes narrowed in an attempt to keep her concern from showing too openly.  “She has two lieutenants in there now.”  The healer went off down the rise at a speed that would have been called a fast walk…but only by someone seven feet tall with a long stride.  Anyone else would have called it running and would have been entirely correct.
“I’ll check Command again.”  The warrior’s copper necklace threw back a flash of sunlight as she spun and hurried off, her braid bouncing and slapping against her neck.
Left alone, the wizard closed her eyes and breathed deeply, centering herself.  Then, her eyes still closed, she reached out, searching for that wisp of dark purple.
In the barracks?
What an odd place for her to be at this hour.
And what an odd vibe coming off of her.
The wizard, to her credit, didn’t run toward the barracks, but those who passed her could tell she was bent on a purpose and merely smiled or called hellos instead of trying to stop her for conversation, as they otherwise would have.
She caught up with the general as she exited the barracks.
“General, please!” a young man scarcely old enough to grow a beard tumbled out of the barracks on Zia’s heels.  “Please, I…” he trailed off when he saw the wizard.  “Milady Tani.”
Tancorix raised her eyebrows at the boy, one she recognized as a promising scout-in-training.  He sent her a pleading glance, and then his eyes fell before the general’s uncompromising posture.  The wizard nodded, mutely promising to try to find out what was going on, and fell into step with the general, heading toward their tent.  Zia was closed off to the point that the chill coming from her was alarming. 
The warrior and the healer, both in the middle of the camp on their quest to find Zia, stopped upon seeing her, and Tancorix waved for them to wait nearby but leave her to talk to the general.
The instant the tent flap dropped behind them, Tancorix circled around to stand in front of Zia.  “Talk.  What did you do?  Why does Meysu look like you kicked him?”  Her voice was sharper than she’d intended, but even trying to soften it didn’t quiet the worry bleeding into it.
Sliding a hand over her eyes, Zia was silent until she’d removed her cloak and flipped it onto a cot.  “I took him off the strike team.”
“Did he do something?”
“What?  No.  I just reconsidered.”  Zia sat down and reached for her combat boots.
Tancorix stared at her.  “I’m confused.  I thought you expressly added him to this team because it was as safe an induction as he could get.”
“I made a mistake.”
“Okay, now I’m getting worried.”  Clenching her hands tightly didn’t calm the power sparking under her skin but tucking her arms behind her back did at least keep Zia from seeing the orange glow.  In this strange mood, her general might well decide to simply shut down, pull rank, and leave.  “You, we went over the lineup of that team four times.  What mistake?  When?  What happened.”
Zia finally glanced up, briefly, but it was enough for the wizard to see the iron determination in her eyes.  “It’s too dangerous for him.  There will be another chance soon.”
No less befuddled, Tancorix blinked at her.  A rustling on the roof of the tent announced that the wind had made good on its promise to pick up pace.  Which was exactly what they were waiting for, because moving upwind, they’d surprise the garrison they were going to reclaim.  Time was running short, and the general continued dressing in light armor as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
“He’s good.”  She shifted and sat down, cracking her knuckles as Zia tightened her belt.  “He’s been waiting for this.  I don’t understand what’s going on.”
Abruptly, Zia wrenched her belt off and flung it onto her cot, startling even more tension into the wizard.  “I’m not losing him on his first mission,” the general said in a voice so stiff it was hardly recognizable as human.
This was about L.  The chief scout who was still missing.
Of course.
“So you don’t give him a chance to prove himself even?” Tancorix said gently.  Carefully, so carefully this had to be done.
“His time will come.  It’s just not today.”
“But another good mission might not come along for weeks, and he’ll be losing valuable hours he could have spent gaining field experience in the meantime.”
Tancorix had had enough.  In a single stride, she came up off the cot and wrenched Zia around to look at her.  “You can’t protect everyone,” she snapped, and the words held equal measures worry, understanding, and frustration.
Zia didn’t look at her, a surer sign than anything else that she knew she didn’t have a strong position from which to insist.  “I have to try,” she said in the weary tone of someone who knew they were stepping into an argument.
“No, you do not.  You think you do, but you know better than any of us that you can’t and sometimes you shouldn’t try.”
“I am his general!”  Zia flung her head back and matched the wizard’s glare.  “You can talk all you want to about how I need to give them a chance and how he’s suited for this mission.  I know all of that.  I gave him the chance in the first place.  But you know and I know that we could be walking into something more dangerous than I originally anticipated.  You dreamed darkly last night too.”  Zia chopped the sentence off and closed her eyes, muttering a calming word rhythm under her breath.  “I do need him.  But he’s not the only one I can take.  And I think that right now, for this sevenday, I have sent enough young people into death.  I don’t want one more.”
Tancorix sank back down, this time onto Zia’s cot.  Absently, she shoved the cloak under her off to the side.  “You don’t get to choose,” she reminded the general quietly.
“I know that!”  Zia’s words were little more than a hiss now.
“Then why aren’t you acting on it?”  The words were still quiet, searching.  “You’ve barely slept in a week.  This isn’t even battlefield unhealthy, it’s near-insanity unhealthy.”  She regretted the choice of words when Zia flinched and rushed on, “I didn’t mean insanity.  Well, I kind of did, but you’re not losing your mind.  Just your…you…you’re too tired, Emerenzia.”
Silence filled the tent, the general standing stone still, her eyes fixed on the single candle on an overturned box next to her cot.  Projection after projection spun through her eyes, racing to assure her that she’d found a way to accomplish the mission and not lose any more people today.
Then she sighed and sat down hard on Tancorix’s cot.  “Fine.  Yes.  I know.”  Reaching behind her head, she yanked her hair loose and began rebraiding it tightly.  “I know,” she added again.  Standing and picking up the discarded cloak, she swung it over her shoulders and started for the tent door.
“So?  Where are you going now?”  The wizard furrowed her brows deeply.  How exhausted was the general if she didn’t even give a proper conclusion to the argument?
“To tell Meysu he can come after all.”  Zia ducked out of the tent and then half turned to put her head back inside.  “Rixi?”
The general searched her friend’s eyes, and Tancorix let trust and faith shine for her.
“Thank you.”
“Always, my general.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Just For One Day

Now and then my writing partner and I feel like writing something random.  I find us several prompts, we scribbled something, sometimes it goes on to become more, sometimes it's one scene and then done.

My scene from tonight's session, based the prompt below and written to the soundtrack of David Bowie's "Heroes", The Script's "No Good in Goodbye", and Shiny Toy Guns' "Somewhere to Hide".

I never understood: why me. Why of all the people she could have chosen, why me to follow, to befriend, to love.

It was not an uncommon question for me to ask silently of any of them.  But it’s unimportant right now, in this moment flying too fast.

Her breath catches in her throat, and I press her hand harder, trying to hold back the ebbing life.  “Rest,” I urge, and my voice catches in a strangled sound like a rusty blade being pulled from an old sheath. 

Her eyes flash open, and I shove my feelings away so the worried look will leave her eyes, so that she won’t worry about me in these moments. Her last moments.

She is hard to fool, and her indigo eyes tell me that she understands. But then, she always did. “You did your duty,” she whispers. “We all did.”

Diola was one of the most beautiful women I’d ever met. Hailing from southern lands, her dark skin was highlighted with a dusting of gold freckles that always seemed to make her eyes glow like a lake under the noon sun…or so her second always used to describe it, especially when under the influence of too much tangerine wine after a long battle. 

He wasn’t wrong. 

Her black hair was always in five braids that represented each member of her family no longer living. Those braids are stiff with blood now, seeping from the wounds on her torso. The wounds no healer or wizard can close. 

She gasps, her fingers scrabbling in my hand, signaling for me to bend closer, to listen. I don’t want to turn my head to put my ear closer to her mouth because I want to hold her eyes as long as possible. I want to be the last thing she sees; I want her to know how sorry I am.

But who am I to deny the wish of a dying woman to salve my conscience? I tilt my head and lean closer, my ear level with her mouth.

“I wish…I wish we’d had more time to…gether,” she croaks. Her breath hisses through her teeth as she fights for one more breath and then another one.

“I wanted to turn to dust with you.” Her lips seem barely able to form the words, but she keeps going, and I can hear each one as clearly as if they cost her no effort. 

“I wanted to be your captain for a long time. To see your new kingdom. To grow old watching the children we all saved.” 

I want to tell her to save her strength. I don’t want her last words to be about her loyalty. About what she would have done for me. I don’t want to be reminded of the weight that is settling crushingly over my shoulders, never to leave it now. The weight of her death.

There have been so many deaths, so many people I’ve sent to die. That is a reality of war. But some sit more heavily than others, as hers will for time and an age.

I lift my head enough to meet her eyes again. They are starting to flutter closed, but they lock onto mine one last time. I bend to kiss her brow and as I straighten, I draw the sign for peace lightly on her forehead, clammy with deathsweat. 

She can still feel enough that she knows what it is; she has drawn it on enough foreheads in the aftermath of battles. Her lips twitch, and I know she is trying to smile.


I stare into her eyes for a long time, but she doesn’t see it. She’s gone, fled with the echo of her last word to me. 

I wanted her to turn to dust with us too, my band of cohorts who have spilled more blood for this land than it would ever know, than the people we’d saved would ever realize. 

“Goodbye, Diola,” I whisper, folding her arms over her chest, and then, squaring my shoulders, I rise.
There is another battle to fight, and it will be won in her name.