(TYIP) E D E L W E I S S

One thing not many know about him is that he’s very—

“What is the meaning of this?”

very

“They’re lovebirds; delightful, aren’t they?”

“I know what they are. I was asking what they’re doing here. Abhorrent creatures.”

Melodramatic.

“Oh, please,” Persephone scoffs. “They’re lovely. Just listen to them sing.”

“They smell vile.”

“Hades, there are decomposing bodies on our porch,” she says, taking none of it. “Besides, I thought you’d empathize; they’d die without each other. Doesn’t that sound a lot like the someone who’s been whining for ten minutes?”

Her birds continue singing, their voices too high for his presence. She smiles as she watches them flutter about their cage and approach her finger when she offers to stroke them; they really are brilliant little things— one of them cream colored, like the first shafts of sunlight, and the other is green, the color of royal drapery and tropical leaves. They break the stifling air and fill the chambers with defiant cheer, with life; but they’re trapped behind the white wires of their cage, and she longs for the burst of their color to taint the weary mist of the Underworld.

“I’ve not whined,” he says, punctuating the final syllable with bitter emphasis, and drawing her back to how bleak the air is. “I want them out by the time I am back,” Hades continues as he prepares to leave.

“Isn’t it unfair that you get to keep a companion and I don’t?” She asks, spontaneously pulling the tiny white gate open to let the birds out.

“My companion whose affection for you removes me from my own bed every night?”

Persephone notices how he slightly winces at the ruffle of the birds outside their cage. She sees it in his back when he stops to listen to what she has to say, a still, calm halt. “You’ve finally admitted that Cerberus likes me more,” she retorts in triumphant calm. “Besides, you remove your own self from the bed because it’s too hot.”

Before he gets a chance to complain that it’s Cerberus’s presence that makes the bed too hot, the yellow bird lands on his head, and for a moment they both freeze in place, the situation’s absurdity evoking surprise and something like dread, then a fluttering chuckle out of her. “Now,” she tells him, calmly, but the bird takes a few steps and gets itself entangled in his hair. “Thats the girl,” she informs, “I think she took a liking to you. Congratulations.”

Watching his hands curl into a restrained fist, she wills herself to settle again. He’s never been a cruel thing, and she doesn’t fear for the bird because for as long he’s been hers, he’s never doomed anything that didn’t deserve it, his vengeance always coming from a place of justice; and though what her heart holds is nothing she really cares to explain, she knows that before all her greed and her love, it is the belief that binds her to Hades. “I’ll take it off you; nothing to be afraid of.”

He turns and slowly, almost mechanically, walks towards the daybed. “I am not afraid,” he tells her, (he worries that it’ll defecate on his head, he says, and when she tells him that he can just say ‘poop,’ instead, his gaze finds the ceiling and he just sighs). With exasperation, he descends to his seat, and she detangles his hair from the tiny talons, wearing a smile that she knows he’d feel burning on his back. When she frees them, “Here!” she chimes, and places the bird on her own hair— then wraps her arms around his shoulders, then yields her weight onto them.

“I know that it’s not my birds that got you this agitated,” Persephone murmurs in a tone still as light, melodic.

He rises from his seat and she’s met again with the sight of his back, and despite his anger she still smiles. When it comes down to it, he’s a simple creature, quick to anger when things don’t go exactly as they should, and ironically, when peace is disturbed in his kingdom. Must be a mortal trying to escape, she decides, and her “l’ll see you in a bit,” is met with the wave of his hand as he leaves.

She spends time with the ugly little things, feeding them the seeds cupped in her palm and marveling at how cuddly they are when they hide in the crook of her elbow. But before too long her duties nag from beyond the chamber doors, and she scoffs, slightly annoyed at how his habits have been rubbing off on her. So she returns them to their cage and, “Don’t nag him if he returns before me, okay?” Persephone tells her birds, then slips into her black silks and leaves behind whatever signs of her old life she keeps in the Underworld.


The dissolving wails of the dead swirl around her ankles as she walks to the throne room— her steps the only sharp sounds in that lurid death, and her humming the only life in it.

Souls that still maintain their body try to clutch whatever they can of her, bony hands dissolving as they grab her wrists and her robes and her ankles, but they break and fade away at the touch. “Sorry,” she tells them. “I’d prefer to keep the hand if I were you. There’s no use in holding on to me.”

She sounds ruthless because she is, there’s nothing more to give the dead. But she isn’t evil, and like him, finds no pleasure in torture if it wasn’t earned.

The sounds of torment reach her ears soon, macabre and ragged and undeniably living. Her interest is piqued because he must be administering whatever that poor mortal is going through— well, whatever that mortal brought on himself; she could tell by the shrill rise in the victim’s voice and the way it whimpers down to silence, and how he doesn’t dare ask him to stop, that it is Hades torturing this afternoon.

Persephone follows the voice down the endless black foyers, and thinks that it might actually be a wonderful day— the smell of rot and death aside, and she is in a bright mood until she finds the warden guarding the tortured voice, and he doesn’t move out of her way.

She raises an eyebrow? then blinks a time or two. “Well?” Persephone asks him. “Are you not going to make way?”

“Um,” the specter starts. He’s green and purple in the face, and one of his eyeballs is dangling out of its socket. “My Queen, you can’t— I mean, My Lord asked me not to let you in.” Again from beyond the doors: screams, desperate and unnatural; and the warden giggles awkwardly.

“Did he, now?” She asks him, bemused. In her palm she gently cups his eyeball and shoves it back into its place, then, patting the rusty helmet on his head, “You’re a good kid. I’ll see to it that you get a raise. Now get out of my way, please.”

He screws shut his newly placed eye, and, noticing how he’s definitely trapped between a rogue and death itself, “yes ma’am,” he whispers and shuffles away from the door.

“That’s my boy,” she tells him as she winks, and she’s sure that she finds a little blush behind the scaly skin of his face. He stutters a warning, that his lord is indignant and that he’d surely need her protection now that he’s gone against Hades’s word. “He’ll be in better humor when he comes out,” she assures, then the gates open and a gust of bright green air blasts through her.

It smells of burnt flesh and innards and sin, but Hades is unbothered by it, eating his meal with Cerberus by his side. He’s inflicting torture without so much as a wince, casting his spells from a few feet away so as to not stain his robes. Before anything, “You’re eating,” she says, emphasizing his crime, “without me?”

“I remember telling them not to let you in.”

“Well, the kid outside listened to me, not you,” she says, and as the chair’s pulled out for her by an unseen force, and her meal is served by waiting hands, “which is the wiser decision, and a very brave one, might I add. I think he deserves a raise.”

“He does not.”

“He does, because he’s cute.”

“Stop offering raises to guards of hell because they’re cute.”

Across their dining table sits a guest, bound to his chair by snakes coiling around his legs. He screams and crushes his face onto the table, trying to die or lose consciousness at least, but Hades wouldn’t let him. His skin sears beneath him onto the chair, and he melts, skin and muscle and flesh, and she hears the squelch of his parts tumbling to the floors, then the splatter.

“Oh my,” she says, shoving her bite to the side to talk (Hades has always been too meticulous with his table manners, but in her kingdom she couldn’t really care much about that, not now when she’s in a particularly bright mood). Pointing her fork at the other end of the table, “What’s he done?”

Hades calmly tells her, “Why don’t you ask him?”

She calls between his screams, occasionally interrupted by them. “What is it that got you into this mess?”

He lifts his head from where he’s crushed it on the edge of the table, and when he sees her with the single eye he has left he spirals into another fit, like it’s his doom he sees, like she brought it on his head.

“Tell her,” Hades commands coldly, flicking his wrist from afar to put the man’s tongue back into his mouth after he bit it off in his pain. But he doesn’t say a coherent thing, still whimpering as he squirms in his seat, and when he lifts his face to see her his horror is renewed, and again his cries burst into the air and quiver down to the floor.

In a tone she isn’t expecting, Hades speaks again, “Tell her,” he demands, and it’s so sharp Persephone herself is startled, and so loud she’s heard nothing like it before.

She wonders what’s holding him back when his tongue’s been stitched back— then she notices the seat he’s attached to and, “Is that the chair of forgetfulness?” she asks, unsettled, and when Hades nods, she finally feels something in her jolt into place.

The mortal entered Hades for her, and Hades wanted for him the horror of realizing his fault, over and over again.

“What do you think of it?” Hades asks as he rises from his seat. His calm steps are hushed agains the floor when he walks to the victim, personally this time, and spreads his palm on the wrecked face. “I think I’ve spared him quite a lot.” She sees his fingers dig deeper into the mess, and then he lifts him up so that his skin tears and remains on the chair while the rest of him is in Hades’ hand. Now, he remembers.

It’s so fascinating, so mortal, she thinks, that foolishness, that man now trampled in her consort’s hand, his brains crushed out of him because he’s never used them by the looks of it. But now they’re trying to retain the memories of how mad he was to barge into the Underworld to steal its Queen, how brave, how that arrogance will trap him here forever.

She asks Hades to stop, and he scoffs a knowing sound before dropping what’s left of the man to the floor. As Hades returns to his seat, she walks to the mutilated body and fixes it, watches the sinews attach themselves back again and the muscles latch onto his bones, and he whimpers, endlessly drawing his final breath.

“You poor idiot,” she whispers, and maybe he isn’t cruel but she is, when it comes to what binds her to him she is cruel, a sacred bond scribed on the fates themselves— to think that a mere mortal thought that he would break it— the obscenity of it was almost too much; it was laughable. “You wanted to uproot me?”

She finds Hades’s smirk from the corner of her eye, a tiny curve on the edge of his severe lip that grows more evident when she lifts the mortal— now looking more human and less like a trampled mass of blood and flesh— and places him back on the chair.

After the comfort of being saved he growls and screams anew, his muse before him a beautiful, vicious sight, as she ruins him herself, as she reaches for his mortal heart and tears it out, and she laughs while he dies and dies again, as he bleeds, and she takes that heart that thought it loved her, then she tramples it underfoot.


“I’ll free them,” she says when they’re walking back to the throne room, their hands sticky with blood, intertwined. “The birds. Back to their world.”

“Stepping down, are we?” Hades deadpans. “How unusual.”

“Not as unusual as your mood changing in there,” she retorts; she loved it, that sound that thundered out of his throat when he laughed, short and gritty and rarer than anything.

(And while leaving behind Pirithous, the mortal who came seeking her, she meets her little guard again and, “See?” she tells him about Hades’s lighter spirits, although there’s nothing to see really, not when Hades’s face is that stern, always. But the guard nods because that guffaw was loud enough to tell of her success, though she wasn’t striving for it then— not when that visceral rage swelled with catalysm inside her, made her think that if someone had come for her, someone could come seeking him, too; but it wasn’t that anger that made him laugh, it was right when she pulled her sandal out of the mortal’s heart and turned her back, then uttered a curse so obscene to bring herself down from her anger that Pirithous, even more dead than alive, still winced.)

“Instead,” she continues about her birds. “I’ll ask for vultures, they suit us better.”

Hades only clicks his tongue, and yes, she thinks, that; his intricacies and small, invisible gestures that belong to only her, his delight shown in occasional smiles hidden behind an infernal glare and the back of his hand, his longing in secret, muffled growls and the ardent heat on her skin. “Vultures,” she contemplates— because they’re more like them, aggressive symbols of bleakness, ugly and feared and deemed evil. She’s never felt the need to hide her own possessiveness, but she doesn’t have to say it now, he knows that they’re both birds of prey if anything; ragged and loyal and savagely protective.

If anyone comes seeking him she’ll crush them, she thinks, and she realizes that she voiced that concern when he adjusts his grip over her hand and, “Of course you will,” he tells her, and she takes it with humor, then asks him, taking his chin towards her, not to seduce anyone with that pretty face.

“I will try not to,” he responds dryly, like it’s always been out of his control who he seduces; and though he’s teasing, she remembers herself and how he took her with such ease, how her plan was to take away his inhibitions and his power, and before she knew it she was recklessly consumed with yearning, mad with it. And though she believes he won’t betray her (nor disrupt his routine to seduce anyone,) she still finds the scene before her— remorselessly violent, a mortal or so turned into an immortal twig or a branch because they dared steal his heart, and his— Hades’s, head, served to her on a silver plate, ravaged and dethroned, with that same unruffled expression plastered on his face, his beautiful eyes open and looking at her only, eternally. No penance would appease her; and it’s a comforting thing how her rage swells, how nothing would tire her, ever.

“That’s an extremely devious look,” he suddenly says. “Even for you.”

He’s a few steps ahead of her now, after she’s stopped in her tracks and was lost in her thoughts— and when she skips ahead to cling onto his sleeve he doesn’t react, only, “I would not be involved in whatever you’re plotting, would I?” Hades asks, and she sees it that he knows already.

“I’m only thinking of taking that guard to be my bird-keep,” she says, too innocently, and when he mutters, ‘lies’, under his breath she promises that, among other things, she really will take that boy to look after the vultures because he’s cute, and his bewilderment will be so endearing at first, wouldn’t it? Don’t you want to watch him being flustered when it all is so new and unusual?

He continues on his way, telling her to do as she pleases, but he halts in place when,“Hey,” she calls with cheer. “Tell me you love me.”

“I do,” he tells her simply, then he turns and approaches until she has to lift her face to meet his eyes, and she smiles— her wide, lethargic smile that charms him out of his wits, and she knows it’s working when he sweeps his thumb over her cheek, softly. “And you know it— my beloved undoing.”

“Well then, say it,” she demands, and when it comes in a whisper she bites the inside of her mouth to keep from chuckling. “Not like this,” Persephone continues. “You stingy old crow; say it out loud, scream it for everyone to hear.”

“I will not.”

Of course you won’t, she thinks, but she pouts and she teases because she believes his hoarse, toneless whispers— that he loves her, because when she reaches out to hold him he pulls her as close as she’ll come, no stubbornness in his touches, and even if he doesn’t voice it she believes him, because when she draws a long breath she sees the panic in his eyes, and when she screams what she feels about him there’s no anger between them, though she says it so loud that even the dead stop groaning for a few seconds. It’s only comfort now (and the precious bashfulness emanating from him as he presses a finger to his temples and sighs again, because she really should stop tarnishing the image of the Lord of the Underworld, he tells her).

“I think you should stop looking after that image for a little while, a few days at least, it’ll do you good.” Then she clasps together her hands in excitement and exclaims, “Let’s go to the surface and find the vultures together!”

He gets no time to respond with anything but a tired stare that only gets more and more spent as she adds that she’ll show him all the new crawlies she’s learned of, oh! and he could finally get his skin bronzed by the sun— come on, how long has it been since he spent some time above ground? Thanatos will look after this lively bunch, she adds; not a thing to be concerned about— he deserves some time off, and then it sounds within reach, and then he slowly realizes that she’s not joking.

“We personally get the vultures, or the lovebirds stay,” she bargains, and prepares to negotiate further when—

“Alright.”

“W—what?” Persephone stammers, a hundred questions tangled in her as she tries to continue mouthing him off.

“We’ll go,” he tells her, and it feels like a challenge more than a submission, to see what else she’ll come up with, how far they can banter before one of them gives in.

But he loses, distinctly letting out a despairing grunt after she tells him that Mother will be thrilled to have the three of them over— who else beside them two? The bird-keep, of course!

She manages to force a tiny, exhausted smile out of him by how impossible she’s being, and she takes his agreement and runs with it, teasing him again about being theatrical. Their world stretches before her, veiled with mist and fog and lost, wandering souls— all of them foul and mournful, but it is home, certainly, it is, the life that she chose and the life that chose him, the death that she settled in like a lover’s embrace, and if she’s meant to be lost in it she will be, because as hard it is and as filled with shards— she was created for it; because she’s a creature of life and all of earth’s wonders, and what is that if it isn’t an eternity of transmutations, of death and decimation and living—

it is her, and it is him, two old vultures sheltered in the hollow tree they call home, prepared to tear apart anything if it meant protecting one another, if it meant they’d remain together, always.

Flower prompt: Edelwiess— eternal love, devotion

The day I lost my sister

I burned vividly the sight of the rain as it fell like a singular sheet beyond the window of the taxi I took to the hospital that last time.

My heart was settled in place, surprisingly, as I rushed through the layers of doors towards my sister’s room in the ICU. Mom had just panicked, I thought; she’d exaggerated how bad the meltdown my sister had that morning. She’ll be fine, I know my sister’s going to be fine.

It’s a strange thing what hope does to you. When I looked past the shutters I saw her unconscious, with wires all over her body. She’ll be okay, I thought again. I’d seen all of these wires before, the only new thing is a massive oxygen mask obstructing her pretty little face. I’d seen it before, the bags of platelets by the twos, never seeming to stay in her body, and the bags of blood, and the NG tube inserted far into her perfect nose to drain the pitch black liquid that gushed out of her stomach if it wasn’t pulled out with a syringe.

But then the doctors came in and asked us to follow then for a chat, and my mother kept asking them to take just me. “Take her,” she told the tall doctor who knelt at her feet. “Take Maryam, I can’t go. Maryam will tell me everything.”

But the doctor insisted, and my mother and I, hand in hand, followed a group of them past maze-like entrances into the quiet room. I knew it was bad news, quiet rooms always are, but as much as I’d thought I’d steeled myself for the possibility of my sister passing during the two years she battled leukemia, “We think we should let her go,” still made me want to yell at her doctors and call them stupid liars.

I didn’t do that. I cried, I cried so hard my body shook with it; a whole two years’ worth of tears trying to break out of my chest. I couldn’t support my mother; she supported me as she wept on my lap. I vaguely remember someone handing me a cup of water that I couldn’t really see.

So we went back to her. It was around 11 in the morning by then, and she was stable. My sweet unconscious sister was hunched in her floral pajamas, holding her new unicorn plushy. We’ll just have to make her comfortable until she goes. The meds are too much, you see? They just make her anxious and fill her lungs with even more fluids.

And so started the harrowing journey of sitting in a room with my sister and waiting for her to die.

There’s no other way to put it. For a day and some change, I stayed in a room with my mother and over-sympathetic nurses, watching the screen as my sister’s vitals dropped and increased for a little spark of hope, the leap of a heart anticipating a miracle. But there were no antibiotics nor steroids, just medicines to make sure she’s comfortable.

Her nurses from the cancer ward came to say goodbye. She’d been hospitalized for 8 consecutive months, and they all couldn’t help but consider us family. Even the cleaning lady burst into tears when she saw us packing later that day.

The doctors and nurses weren’t expecting her to make it through the night but she did, fearlessly, responding to our “Do you love me?” in her delirious state, and groaning the names of our other siblings who weren’t there. I love her. I love her so much and I told her a thousand times that night; and I told her that everyone else loves her too, all the siblings whose names she cried.

But her response became slower, and it was time for her to say her shahada. My mom said it again and again until she followed, and there was so much sadness in my heart I didn’t know what to do with it. “Ashadu Alla Illaha Illa Allah,” she said, slowly, deliriously, brilliantly. It meant that she knew that it was her time to go.

Then she stopped responding entirely. No more nods to our “I’m here and I love you,” and no more unconscious “thank you”s to the nurses after they give her more painkillers. The monitors continued showing her pulse and her oxygen dropping, and her heart fighting a futile battle. It was the following morning then, I hadn’t eaten or changed or even slept for twenty four hours; and my sister was still dying before me. Nurses and doctors kept coming in, and there was one thing I couldn’t stop asking, “What do people do in this situation?”

Really, it was unfathomable. I was waiting for her to go, just sitting there and waiting, shivering uncontrollably under three blankets, in my jeans and my thermals. “There’s nothing I can do to prepare you for what will happen,” a nurse told me, and she was right.

Thankfully, a consultant and a doctor were there to bid farewell, both of them women.

And then it happened.

My legs gave in, and I thought, no, no no no not yet, please, not yet. But it was time, and I saw her breathing still, a warrior in her glory, every inhale racking the entire bed it was so laborious, the distance between each and the next becoming longer. The doctors held my hands and asked me to look into their eyes; Sarah had incredibly round ones. I wanted to run away and never come back, how could this be? I wanted to run and run and cry, but I held her hand and kissed her face and told her again how much I love her, and I couldn’t believe how fast the color of the fingertips change.

Today we’re packing to leave London, and every thing I touch reminds me of her. I’ve always been the thief sister who rummages through her closets for pieces to complete my outfits, and she was the only one who could glue my falsies on. I found so many eyeshadow palettes and bronzers, new and unused, and unopened bottles of floral perfume. But I think I’m making peace with it. It was just so peaceful how she went, she took a breath and then not another one after it; and I keep going back to that memory when I think about all the makeup she wouldn’t get to wear, and all the kimchi fried rice she wouldn’t get to eat. But my heart knows that she’s got much better food where she is, and she’s got ambrosial perfume, things beyond our pathetic earthly pleasures. Oh, and good company, with Grandma and our pilot uncle, and her ugly little green bird, Dino.

Fatma, my patient, fearless sister who faced cancer and chemo and a horrible, horrible GvHD. I will always be your big sister, I will think of you every time I have any of your favorite foods, I will pray for your pure soul as long as I can. I’ll miss you, but I know that you’re in a much better place now.

I love you.

إنّا لله وإنا إليه راجعون

(TYIP) Protea

There was a giant white crocodile suspended on the ceiling.

“Goddammit,” he hissed after it’d made him jump. His violent intent to beat the shit out of the captain was disrupted by a crocodile lamp.

He’d received a letter inviting him to ‘Enjoy the night’ in a godforsaken tavern hidden in the backwaters of the moors, far enough that the chaos wreaked by the arrival of pirates went unheard. He was keenly familiar with the ambience, the loud laughter and the constant tension of fights brewing, threatening to erupt; it was air that invited dirty secrets to come to surface, along with indecency and the general absence of basic human integrity.

But he was familiar for the wrong reasons, how he stood on the other end of the law. He’d chased countless criminals in this setting or around it, vagrants smelling of piss in fetid alleyways, and pirates who’d just docked to drink and raid the businesses of poor old vendors.

Hyder kept an eye out for the owner, looking for a cowering old man or a tavern wench who looked like she could snap his neck. But when he found her she was a young, sweet thing, who, to his surprise, seemed a good friend of the entire crew. With her light steps around little round stools and the too-big men on them, effortlessly navigating dangerous waters with a tray full of drinks, it was easy to tell she had memorized their poisons by heart and served them unprompted.

She approached Hyder, doe-eyed and her lips like petals. “Haven’t seen you before,” the barmaid said, brightly. “New recruit? Never too late to be a deckhand, huh?”

“I suppose not,” he responded, desolate. What else could he tell her? The truth? That he was a Captain in the Navy with ships and men to his name, upholding a role in command of the sea and maritime security, held currently against his will by pirates using a girl he secretly raised as leverage? On top of which he was sick to his stomach with worry over said girl, and that itself was a problem, seeing as he’d already thrown up once into this pirate captain’s face after he got squeamish thinking of how two of his fingers were crushed while he was getting sacked? Should he just ask her about the crocodile?

“Can I fetch you anything?” The barmaid asked, dragging him back to the din under her roof. In response he shook his head and thanked her; he needed all the wits he could muster if he was to attack tonight.

Rigel, captain of the crew that filled the tavern was man whose notoriety traveled seas ahead of him, and whose arrogance was not suited for a man of his size. When Hyder had met him first, Rigel’s tunic had been stained with blood, and so were his breeches and the black leather boots he strode so proudly in. He had left behind red footsteps behind him. “Sorry for the wait,” he’d said. “I was humoring my other guest. For information, of course. I’m not cruel.”

He’d feared it’d be Willow, that guest, but it wasn’t. The screams of a man had filled up the galley beforehand, and afterwards Hyde was taken to see Will. She hadn’t been crying before he went in, but she broke into tiny sobs when she saw him— then burst wailing, but he wasn’t released to break her out of that secluded room, and it shattered him how helpless he was. “I won’t hurt her,” Rigel had said later. “She’s of no use to me dead.”

The bastard, with that audacity he threw in his wake was playing cards while a long-haired girl leaned onto his bony shoulder (‘I’ll get to you as soon as I kick these bastards’ asses,’ he had said to Hyder when he saw him enter the bar. The crew cheerfully responded to that, “Oh, you’ll be waiting for a long time, Doc, Cap never wins shit.’)

He’d left Hyder uncuffed, bound to the crew with nothing but his adopted kid, Willow, held captive. They even let him keep a weapon. A brass display of underestimation, he thought while wrapping his fingers around the hilt of the dagger at his belt. But Gal, Rigel’s right-hand man and the only true raw strength protecting the captain, was nowhere to be seen now. It made Rigel as vulnerable as he could be; distracted with a game and a pretty girl in a pale yellow dress. His guard was down, Hyde could tell from the way he bit the tobacco roll between his teeth, a tiny smile tugging at the scarred corner of his lips as he contemplated his next move.

Hyde looked at his reflection on the blade, contorted and made into a monster. Though in truth he didn’t look much better, his eyes deep in their sockets and his face gaunt; but he didn’t even look as horrible as he felt. His dominant index and middle fingers had both been broken during the crew’s first attack, when they mauled him then hurled him at their captain’s feet. That runt was barely bigger than the girl by his side— the knife Hyde had in his palm was more than enough to penetrate straight to his heart if it were pushed right, and dismember him afterwards. With his knowledge of the human body, it wouldn’t take much, he thought. He was a surgeon before everything, had studied anatomy through and through, knew every tendon and every ligament, every point of a man’s body that could kill him. He’d known it all before he was trained to wield a sword, and before the insignia on his uniform gave him his rank. He could tear this bastard limb from limb with a pair of scissors from a suture kit.

But he wasn’t going to. He only planned to turn the tables, take the captain as leverage and force the crew to give his girl back; that was all.

The dimming light glossing over wooden planks made the air warm and pleasant, and in any other circumstance (and in the absence of the crocodile), Hyde would’ve found a comfort in it, that din and the scent of polished hardwood; it reminded him of his childhood and something long forgotten in it. It made him want to sleep.

Before he drew his next breath, he heard the chime of steel meeting its kind. He’d darted and pounced atop the round table, knocking glasses to the floors and the breath out of the girl’s chest. Cards fluttered around him to the floor, then for a second, all else made no sound.

Rigel had drawn his sword, partially, only to block the tip of the dagger coming his way. From where he crouched, Hyde could see the eyes behind the blade, something otherworldly or wild, serpentine in its yellows and green. “You bastard,” he heard, whispered from beneath him. “And I was finally winning.”

Then he unsheathed his weapon, fully.

The force had Hyde instinctively recoil, kicking his foot firmly on the edge of the table and drawing back. They had the attention of everyone in the tavern by now. He blew it, he thought. The crew will interfere soon.

But all he wanted was to take his Will and get the hell out of here, wash up and go to bed. He’d bet all he had on that first strike, and it got blocked by the half-pint.

Hyde took a defensive stance, the knife pointing towards the opponent staggering his way. But in a beat Rigel was sprinting, sure-footed and swift, until their blades met again, the clink louder this time as two forces collide, opposing.

Hyde dropped to avoid the attack— did this kid want him killed? In the midst of strikes and parrying, his mind wandered to that first meeting, when Rigel had made what he sought clear. ‘Be my eyes and ears’ he’d told him, with no reserve. ‘Betray the Crown.’

His words had come as unbridled as his strikes. ‘How would I be your eyes and ears if you end up killing me?’ Hyde lamented, dumbfounded. He could hold his ground, but Rigel’s feet were all but planted in the planks, sea-legs accustomed to duels on water, and movements fluid and decisive.

Rigel attacked, his blade drawing a clear arch above Hyde’s head. Lower down, Hyde finally found an opening. He drove the pommel of his weapon into Rigel’s stomach and felt it hit his hipbone, pulled the dagger back in a blink, and thrust it into Rigel’s gut this time, harshly.

Rigel toppled forward, but his sword was still in his grip. Hyde was vaguely aware of a betting pool forming around them, and as Hyde reached down to seize Rigel, finally..

He felt the impact on his shin, a kick that had him grit his teeth in pain as he fell to the ground. In the second it took him to rise to his feet, he heard Rigel hissing to his crew, “You shits are betting against me?!”

“He’s a big shot in the Navy, Cap,” one of them said, laughing.

Rigel grunted something with the crude gesture he raised to the men behind him. “No choice now,” he said, pointing his sword towards Hyde again like the duel started anew. “I can’t have my own men look down on me”

How cocky.

Hyder looked down to his feet; he was a big shot in the Navy, but he’d rusted after being shackled behind his desk for so long, a pile of documents growing by his side, waiting to be signed. Ignoring the protests of his joints, he pointed his own blade towards his opponent, and watched as a small grin stretched along his lips; if he’s in this neck-deep, he might as well enjoy it.

Two swift strides ate the distance between them, and Hyde crouched seeing Rigel’s sword come for his neck. Shoving a breath past his teeth, he pressed his entire weight on the point where their swords met, sending Rigel sprawling on his ass; but then he was up again in seconds, striking like he knew how— fiercely, and without reserve.

The roar of the blades filled the tavern to its brim and mingled with the cheer of the crowd, looking after their bets. He felt his shirtsleeves clinging to his back, and the trickle of sweat down his brow.

And then it hit him.

‘No,’ he thought, his eyes opening to the truth, bound by a piece of cloth and the air of authority. He was blind to it by choice, but it all made sense, too much sense. Rigel’s palm was splayed flat behind the pommel while his dominant hand was wrapped around the hilt, firmly driving it forward. He really was coming for the kill; and distraction meant Hyde’s end, but he couldn’t stop his mind from spiraling, repeating all the little instances of the past two or three months when he found himself staring at this Captain, considering his size and his slender forearms and his narrow frame and his choice of weapon; a short sword, a small, deadly thing— just like him.

No.

Wait. Wait.

But he didn’t, not for a second. His sword spun on the apex of his wrists, then hit the back of Hyde’s hand. Hyde’s weapon shot to the planks with a loud clank.

Rigel sneered, trapping him between himself and the wall behind, and when Hyde grabbed his collar to defend himself, he was kneed between the legs. Hard.

The pain sent him sliding down the wall with a grunt, and, “Yield,” Rigel said, triumphant, holding him by the collar like it was payback, and placing the tip of his sword beneath Hyder’s chin.

God.

Rigel was so close Hyde’s voice caught in his throat, the tips of their noses almost touching — he drew a shuddering breath, and tried to avoid looking straight towards the scars between them, under Rigel’s white tunic, three ragged lines starting below his collarbones and disappearing into the bindings. Hyde wasn’t sure why right then he was reminded of the morning after a storm at sea, that unbelievable stillness and the first breath of relief. He was tortured with it, some longing or pain, and what was it that dropped his heart so desperately, reaching out for something he didn’t know. It was the booze, he decided, that made light look like this on Rigel’s scars, that made him tremble with the need to touch them. It fucked him up, and he couldn’t help but direct his eyes towards the ceiling.

He knew it somewhere inside him, that he’d seen Rigel before, amidst fire and carnage and death; Rigel’s head was shaved then, and his bony body was barely covered with rags. He remembered the scars; how could he possibly forget the hands that placed the tiny red-haired Willow into his own, then pointed at a dead body nearby; a woman with hair like fire.

“Because you’re a woman?” Hyde hissed, defiantly. He waited for a reaction of shock or offense. He knew, after all, and he could very well announce it to the world, that the pirate that turned it on its head was a woman. “Or because you kicked me in the groin?” Hyde continued.

“Because I have a sword at your neck.” Then, once more, and more fiercely this time, “Yield.” It was the only word said loud enough for the crew to hear.

“Make me,” he challenged, rashly, like a man much younger than he was, like he hadn’t seen as much of the world, like the exhilaration was worth living for.

But then she did. She made him yield— crushed her lips onto his, caught his breath and his entirety and closed her eyes in reckless abandon, and she smelled of the sea and gunpowder and something like ink. Soft, he thought, like it was criminal— how did she feel so soft? This pirate who was all shards and anger and sharp edges, leaving him stupefied like he had turned back into a boy, unsure of where to put his hands. Push her back by the collar he had in his grip? Slide to the rounds of her shoulders to draw her nearer, then sink into it?

What?

Then it ended as fast as it started, with him left breathless and overcome on the floor and their audience ignorant of what had happened. “What?” Rigel asked, hunching overhead. She was so close he could count the scars on her face, pale ridges and curves against her lips and down her collarbones. “Never been kissed by a pretty girl before?”

(Later when what sat between them was no longer malice and hungry rage, after he’s seen all of her— burned off the secrets on her back with iron and fire, and called her real name— she tells him about every scar and ragged old wound, and shudders when he touches the lines on her neck like they hurt still. Then she closes her eyes, eyelids heavy with burdens and memories of crueler things, not wanting to see his expression for fear that it would be disgust or pity. “Hey,” he starts, but she only responds with a sigh, and by then he’s learned how happiness truly looks on her, and how anger does, too, and other things. By then he’s run his fingers across her ribs enough times to know by heart which ones haven’t properly mended after being broken in her past, and how the curve of her ribcage fits in his palms, but her eyes don’t part until he reminds her of that night. “You know,” he tells her, lightly. “Those scars were the last thing I saw before a pirate once kissed me. She was so pretty my legs buckled.”)

What?” Someone from the crew asked, disappointed and not bothering to hide it. “Cap won?”

“Hah!” She exclaimed, gloating. “Serves you bastards right.”

While coins were begrudgingly passed around, Gal barged through the batwing doors, leaving them creaking as the clatter quieted down. His imposing presence was acknowledged thoroughly, and the brows above his deep-set silver eyes were drawn together. “What the hell?”

“Cap got into his first bar fight,” said one crew member. “And won, somehow. Or at least it looks like it.”

“Gal,” Rigel called. “Your shitty crewmates bet against me, their own captain.”

Gal picked Hyder’s dagger up and flung it towards his captain. “I would’ve done the same,” he said, a scoff following his words.

“Saved your coins then.” Rigel bent down again towards Hyder, her presence fierce as she handed him back his weapon. “No one hears of this,” she told him, about the kiss or her secret, he couldn’t tell. He nodded to his own surprise, not hers, and then she laughed. As she headed to the dark staircase, “Oh, my darling scalawags,” she announced to her crew. “This’ll teach you to trust me a little more. And sorry for the mess, Eli. The boys’ll take care of it,” she told the barmaid.

(The crew had their protests, though. “Take care of it yourself, Cap,” they laughed. But when the owner fluttered her eyelashes and asked, “Won’t you?”

“Of course we will!” They exclaimed, and got to work.)

A large arm extended towards him. “Get up, Doc, Rigel’s going to be waiting,” Gal said. “We’ve got government secrets to discuss.”

He looked again at the crocodile, no longer the most absurd thing of the night. This crew had a nickname for him, and they called him by it like he hadn’t spent the evening trying to kill their captain, like they were friends.

He’d just become Doc.

Flower prompt: Protea — transformation, courage

A/Notes: The croc lamp was a gift from Rigel. She thought it was cute.

my gentle decimation

I fell in love with my sadness

With her primordial existence inside me

With her magic, ancient and devious

and raw

and maddening

Leaving me yearning to be abandoned

in a city of quiet ghosts

in the safety she promised,

where no other soul exists

where the day’s no longer

aglow, and the night’s calm

is no more

where I am stranded in an

eternal forlorn onset of darkness

that drapes forsaken buildings, ruins

I want it, that terrifying quiet

I want the desolate pleasure of

exploring it, scrutinizing its secrets

After the world has ended

and everyone’s gone,

and waiting for me

to follow suit.

Short Story: She of the Depths (2/2)

Read part one here


They make a habit of meeting when the full moon peaks. It’s far too short, barely a night’s length.

He talks a lot during those, enough for them both, about books and maps and compasses. Humans use the stars to find their way around the oceans, she learns, and they ink parchment with symbols to communicate.

She huffs when he tries to teach her. On the sand, she draws the sun. ‘No time.’

So speak until the seconds are filled to the brim.

Continue reading

Short Story: She of the Depths (1/2)

Like her wholly-marine counterparts, the Angler siren was conceived from destruction. A vicious act brought her to life, the disintegration of another, the utter breaking of flesh and bone. Like her wholly-marine counterparts, she’s been wed to the depths since her beginning, condemned to be bound to its cold and its danger. But unlike them she rose from the breaking of spirits too, and unlike them she isn’t a creature of grotesque features, of frigid eyes, and teeth protruding, sharp and threatening.

In truth, she is the complete opposite of that. 

Continue reading

Two thousand friends and another update you don’t really need

Hello!

So my blog’s hit two thousand followers recently. Thank you so much! I have been doing none of you justice, but I genuinely appreciate your time and kindness. There’s really nothing as gratifying as knowing that someone’s enjoyed what you’ve created, so I’d still be happy if just one person cared to read this blog, but I guess I’m two-thousand times as grateful now.

Currently, I’m as writing-blocked as I always have been. My last post, Soft callings , was actually written as part of a twitter activity. I asked my followers to send me emojis and used them to write tiny stories. This was my favorite.

(I have around 10 more requests but I’m so creatively bankrupt to the point where I feel like a joke saying that I write for a hobby)

Have a great rest of the day, friendos 💓

Constellations Part 2: The Heroine

The hands that had spread maps before me and dotted them like the night sky now cradled my face, rough and dry and wearing away by age. They held worry and an odd form of pride when too little time was between us and the beginning of my journey.

I have yet to find anything as comforting as the warmth of my father’s hands that night.

He pressed his lips to my brow, and his frame was still as large as it’d been, refusing to bend down to age just yet. He was readily graying, though, and I’d given him grief for it. His eyes crinkled at the sides, lines much deeper than they were many springs ago. I thought it was clear why age had suddenly shown its weight on him. It had started once Mother got sick.

What took her was acute. It spared us no time to come to terms with any of it. A fever, short and sharp and the most horrifying thing I’d seen. Then she passed, taking along the light of her laughter from the life of my father and my own.

The yield had been especially poor then, barely enough to feed us. But the urgency of her illness brought surgeons in nonetheless, as many of them as it could. The cure could’ve been a few villages away, but she was too weak, and the limits of humans caught in a drought glared, ugly and desperate.

They blamed the crisis on the Woodwose, but I know the skies, their force too restless, too great, to be controlled by a being. The Woodwose’s roots exploited the richness of our lands, and that, compared to the unbound power of the sky, is a force that people perhaps can stand against.

But my journey was not inspired by revenge; that was that notion that pushed me to dig out his roots. There was the knighthood that I sought, the voice that it all held, one loud enough for the villagers threatened by hunger and illnesses and too much grief.

‘Not revenge,’  I had repeated time and time again, hoping that it would become the truth.

“You really are your mother’s daughter.”

Suddenly, I was brought back to the present, but as young as I had been when the life my father spent laughing under the sun hadn’t etched his lines as deep, back when my mother would bake apples while she answered all my questions, one from every corner of the world.

Who rules the East, Mommy? And the Southern Sea? Where are all the mermaids? Are they pretty?

Until my questions reached the sky, and right until then, she would answer like she’d seen it all.

What’s the brightest star in the sky called, Mommy?

Then Mother would smile and place her hand on my head. “Isn’t that question more suited for Daddy? You know no one knows the skies like he does.” He’d taught me how to chart the stars because I feared the dark.

“Would you grow up like Mommy, Constance? Or will you turn out land-bound like Daddy?

Or better yet, you’d grow your own self. I’m sure of it.”

I’d missed her, so much that it felt like something broke in half inside me, and I was faced with another parting still. The tightness in my throat ached fiercely. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t, but the sob tore despite it all, and before I knew it, I was a child again, contained in the protection of my father’s arms. My hands grabbed fistfuls of the back of his clothes, desperate, broken things.

I was frightened out of my wits, the world was so large beyond our village, but not once did I doubt my desire to go, to see it and brave its seas. I caught my next sigh and swallowed it, out of the stubborn determination to ready myself for the journey if nothing else.

But what he said about my resemblance to Mother was blurred and muffled by my tears. I didn’t understand any of it then. I couldn’t, until many seas later.