CDL Blogoversary FINALE: “Sacrifice”

I want to thank you ALL for helping me celebrate Claire De Lunacy’s First Blogoversary! Special thanks to my guest bloggers, who were willing to have their names associated with this shady enterprise, as well as to you, my readers, without whom this would all be sort of pointless. You rock, and I plan to continue trying to be worthy of the attention and friendship you’ve bestowed upon me.

[Today’s post is, as promised, a short story from the Circe universe. Cleo and Meander is nearing completion (please, God, let that be true!) and I’ve started the second book, entitled La Barceloneta. The story below takes place a few decades before the events of that book, but should serve as both a glimpse into the world I’m attempting to create and a preview of things to come. Thanks for reading, and as always, your comments are welcome and appreciated!]

They came for her at dawn.

The hut where she’d been sleeping, cramped with the other children, was filthy and cold. They’d been sleeping in a squirming knot near the hut’s flickering brazier, trying to conserve what little heat they could, but on this particular morning she found herself relegated to the outermost layer, her back to the unshuttered window. She’d no more than sat up when they grabbed her, the bigger one’s knife cutting through the heavy rope they’d used to tie her to the ring set in the floor. Her ankles burned, the flesh tender and pink where the coarse hemp had bitten into them, and she stumbled against the smaller man when his companion shoved her forward. He laughed and slapped her with careless ease, knocking her to the ground. The other man knelt, picking her up and holding her shoulders. “Little field mouse gonna be a big-big treat fer da Rainmaker,” he said, his fetid breath mixing with the scents of salt and sea. “Gonna bring da big catch, you bet.” He ran a scaly finger down her cheek, and she turned away, shuddering. “Why, Luc, I tink our lil’ ratonelle don’t care for you one bit,” laughed the smaller man. The grip on her shoulder tightened for a moment, then eased. Luc stood, shoving her toward the door again, this time more gently. “I doan care if she do or not, Martin…the only one we worried ’bout pleasin’ is Papa Chauc.” Martin snorted and grabbed the girl’s shoulder, pausing to kick one of the sleeping children out of his way as they moved to the door. The boy groaned, but didn’t awaken, and the two corsairs stepped into the misty morning air, their captive trudging listlessly between them.

The hike to the cave was not a long one, but the grade was steep and the girl was exhausted. Within ten minutes, she was limping; within fifteen, Luc had scooped her up from the ground, carrying her over his shoulder like a sack of corn. Despite Martin’s frequent goading, the girl never made a sound. Frustrated at being denied his fun, the Legartine poked her in the ribs with the butt of his knife, which elicited a grunt from the girl and a much harder jab from Luc’s knife handle to his head. “You doan wanna do that, heah? You can’t be pokin’ at her just cause she woan squeak.” Martin rubbed his head, checking for loose scales and glaring up at his companion “Why not? It not like she goan give us any trouble for it.” Luc turned, fixing the other man with a glance. “She may not, but I guarantee He will.” He jerked his head toward a nearby clearing, smirking. “A sacrifice wit no wriggle left is no good to Him nor us.”

The crested the hill and entered the clearing, which was actually more of a widening in the path, the scrub pines and lizardgrass thinning out as the loam was replaced by the rocky soil of the coast. To the left, the path continued on, hugging the coast for a short time before curving inland and re-entering the forest. To the right lay a jagged cave, the rocks outside it littered with bones of various kinds. “Well, here we are, little mouse. Ready to meet da Rainmaker?” asked Martin with a grin. Whether from the sight of the cave or Martin’s unfortunate collection of bent and broken fangs, the girl finally lost the eerie composure she’d held and began to cry. Luc shushed her, almost gently, and set her down. He ran his finger across her cheek once more, gathering her tears, and wiped them onto a cloth he pulled from his pocket, startlingly white in the noontime sun. “That’s it, little one. Your tears for His. Your life so that we may all live.” He knelt, his leathery hide creaking as he lowered himself to look at her, face to face. Her tears were still falling, but her eyes remained closed. “C’mon, xere. Nothin’ personal, eh? You gonna go to the Green Heaven, and not gonna be hungry, nor thirsty never again! Doan that sound nice?”

Martin leaned over and wiped her tears away on another white cloth, not bothering to be gentle. “Yeah, she just gonna take a lil’ swim first!” He laughed again, a smaller roar against the boom of the sea on the rocks beyond the cave. “Gonna stop and have herself a chat with Papa Chauc, yes indeed!” He walked to the cave and pressed the white cloth against the carved wheel that blocked the entrance, stepping back as it rumbled open. He stepped inside to begin the preparations, waving the cloth like a flag before blowing the girl a kiss.  Luc rolled his eyes and was muttering about  Martin and where he could put his oarman’s wit when the girl suddenly reached out toward him, eyes squeezed shut.

She’d been much the same when they’d taken her, along with the rest of the brats, from that trumped-up fishing village on the northern coast. Flower Wars were long since out of fashion in the civilized world, but in the islands and along the coast, the old ways still held, and of course everywhere the ocean touched, the ways of Papa Chauc held firmest. The parents had squawked to the local alcalde about kidnapping and murder, but he had declared (after a clarifying “conference” with Luc, Martin, and a priest being ridden by the god Himself) that the prosperity of all could not be sacrificed for the safety of the few, especially when those few were going on to eternal glory and reward for their services. And so Luc and Martin had loaded their captives into the wagon and driven away under the hateful stares of a dozen mothers and fathers, their cries so anguished that Luc had been forced to look away. That’s when he’d noticed the girl, curled into a protective ball, the feathers and shells of her sacrificial raiment set aside, eyes squeezed shut. She’d never made a sound, not one, and he was surprised to realize she could make sounds; he’d assumed she was a mute.

He’d seen this before, of course; some of ’em, they just couldn’t be made to take the steps themselves. Sometimes, their little hearts and bodies were too slender a thread from which to dangle the responsibility they carried. He’d carry her, if he had to; unlike his shipmate, he didn’t relish this work. It was necessary, of course – no sacrifice meant a poor catch and even poorer hunting – but that didn’t mean he was unfeeling toward the children he’d brought to this cave over the years. On the contrary (he’d sometimes say after a few too many ales), he was probably far kinder than anyone else they’d met, ‘sides their parents, and in some cases, even then. He was bringing them to eternal comfort and rest, free from storms and privation. He was (and this thought he never shared aloud with others – he did have a reputation to uphold, after all) a sort of angel, bringing blessings to his people and release to his captives. So, now, when the girl reached out, he leaned forward to embrace her and offer whatever comfort he could before he took her to the well and tossed her in. “That’s it, xere, just -”

Then her eyes opened, and in those black pools he saw not fear, but his own death waiting.

Her gaze was hot, somehow, and before it his thoughts of angels and necessary sacrifice withered and turned to ash. He slashed at her, his hand curled to maximize the damage from his claws, but she was fast, so fast. He opened his mouth to yell for Martin, but somehow his voice was gone, he couldn’t breathe. Then he saw the handle of his own knife standing out from the soft flesh of his throat, and the girl was standing over him. Her eyes, they blazed, he was burning up, why didn’t she say something? His body felt remote and cold despite the fury of that gaze, his body jittering the last of its life out on the clearing floor.

“The knife hit your brain stem, I think.” This from the girl, in a whispery voice that belied her raging eyes. “It’ll be quick. You were kinder than you had to be, and for that I thank you, Luc D’Argent. Now, go to your god, and find peace.” His eyes widened – how did she know his name? – but black waves were crashing around the edges of his vision, smothering thought, drawing him deep. The last thing he saw was her eyes, so bright and yet so black, shining like the sun behind unwept tears.

She’d kicked the knife too hard, and the tip was embedded in the corsair’s spine. After several useless attempts to free it, she stood on the dead Legartine’s chest and, digging her heels into the scaly muscles of his broad chest, jerked the knife free. Blood gouted from the wound briefly, but he’d already lost so much that the gush became a trickle within seconds, and with his heart stilled, it stopped soon after. She wiped the knife clean on the edge of Luc’s tunic, reaching up to close his eyes with a silent prayer. Rummaging through his belt pouch, she found tinder, some a few lucifers, and, as she had hoped, the length of rope meant to lower her into the cave for her “chat” with the thing inside. She had no sooner fastened the pouch around her own waist when Martin emerged from the cave, looking over his shoulder.

“Luc, we’d best hurry. I’d say Papa Chauc is big-big hongry, eh? Time to..” Despite his girth, the squat sailor was nimble, and the stone that was meant to blind him merely stunned him instead. He roared, dashing behind a boulder just as another jagged stone smashed into the wall behind him, shattering. “Well, well, what have we heah?” he said, a terrible good humor in his voice. “Looks like our little mouse has some teeth after all!” When there was no response to this sally, Martin popped his head from cover to evaluate the situation, then drew back as another stone shattered on the rim of the boulder. His captain was down, and judging by the ichor soaking the sand around him, very dead. The girl was nowhere to be seen, but the only possible cover was the tall boulder across the clearing from his own. “Girly, we gonna have a chat of our own, and I doan think you gonna like it! No sir, you gonna BEG me to introduce you to Papa Chauc befo’ I’m through!” He kept it up, a steady stream of threats and imprecations designed to keep her attention on where she thought he was, rather than where he was gonna be. The heavy rock walls around the clearing made his voice a crash of echoes, and he knew she’d never be able to see him coming if he stayed low and moved slowly. He was a third of the way around the clearing when the sound of stones skipping and shattering all over the clearing stopped. He froze, certain she’d be on him in an instant, but there was nothing…not even the wind. He craned his neck and peered out from behind the low rock he was using for cover. The sun was burning high and hot, but nothing cast a shadow in the clearing.

He grinned, confident she had either fled, in which case he would soon chase her down, or run out of ammo, in which case he would leap from cover and rip out her throat before tossing her body into the Well. “Xere, you just about outta time! Tell you what – if you give up nice and quiet, maybe I’ll just take your legs befo’ I give you to da Rainmaker.” There – a scuffling in the sand. He leapt up with a roar, diving behind the tall boulder, ready to savage her and satisfy his own bloodlust along with his god’s.

She wasn’t there. Nothing but sand and the sacrifice rope, neatly tied to the tip of the bould –

CRASH!

Dust roiled, sparkling in the sunlight. She leapt down, the rope now coiled over her shoulder. She winced at the pain in her still-tender ankles, then blinked and steadied herself. As she came around the far side of the fallen boulder, headed for the cave, a hand shot from the sand, the claws broken, the armored skin rent and bloody. It grasped her ankle, a leathery manacle, and she forced herself to stand there, calmly counting the minutes, until at last the hand twitched and relaxed, releasing her. She spit, just once, and then kicked sand over it until nothing remained but a vaguely misshappen lump in a chrystalline blanket.

She stood before the cave, hair gleaming like a raven’s wing in the sun, thirteen years old but already carrying herself with the deadly ease of a seasoned campaigner. She stood there, listening to the roar of the sea, letting the sun soak her with its strength. Then, as she had been taught, she drew her knife across her forearm, her blood dimpling the bonedust that had accumulated into drifts over the milennia. She slapped a bloody handprint on the doorwheel, whispering “Blood calls to blood, tears to tears.”  Immediately, the walls of the cave began to shake, the earth shifting as something made its way up from beneath. He was coming, full of rage and hunger and – could it be? – fear.

“Uncle, are you home? My father sends his regards.”

And smiling ever so slightly, eyes flashing like obsidian mirrors, the girl from Barcelona made her sacrifice.

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CDL Blogoversary Day Five: “Simon Velour Retaliates”

We’re celebrating Claire De Lunacy’s First Blogoversary, and I’ve invited some very gracious and awesome friends to contribute to this mess, sharing their words with you, my beloved readers. Through June 10th, there will be a new post from a different guest each day, culminating with a new, full-length short story by yours truly. I hope you enjoy my guests’ work as much as I do, and I hope you’ll stick around to see what happens during the NEXT year.

[Today’s Guest Blogger is Stuart Beaton. Stuart’s something of a mystery to me, I only know him through his strange – well, to be honest – warped persona on Twitter. He masqueraded as a stuffed monkey for several month, then threw in the towel, to move on to “somewhere else”.

Somewhere else, it seems, is China. There he pretends to teach English, whilst trying to do as little work as possible.

Judging by his website, “The Small Picture” (http://rastous.spaces.live.com), he’s succeeding. It seems he’s a plump little thing with a penchant for food, guns and an expanding collection of Totoros, Spongebobs and Doraemons.

Which leads me to think he’s probably right round the twist, but, hey, who cares, right?

Anyway, Stuart’s Australian by birth, educated at Adelaide Uni, and has lived and worked in both China and Japan.

It seems that occasionally, he’s struck by brilliance – so here’s a short piece of fiction, weeded from the normal dross he produces.]

The man opposite Simon was unusually tall for a Japanese, and muscle filled out the lines of his Armani suit. He gripped a tumbler of whiskey and ice in one hand, and a punch corona in the other.

“Velour-san, let me understand what you’re asking of me… you are asking me to help you to recover something stolen from your government, by a rival clan?”

Simon sipped at his drink, and shuffled gently on the soft leather sofa. “Er, well, yes. It’s rather embarrassing really… I can’t make it official, but I must get the briefcase back. And I understand that you have no love for this other mob, anyway.”

“Ah, Velour-san, perhaps you do not realise that your request, as it stands, is very unusual. Why should I help you with this endeavour?”

“Oh, Kenichi, you have such a short memory… who saved your arse last year, when those bastards tried to blow your head off in the bar, eh? Weren’t  you glad that the lads and I were there that night?”

“Verlour-san…”

“That guy did have the barrel of a pistol to your head, Kenichi, when I hit him with the bench.”

“Ok, Velour-san, we’ll do what we can to help you. Now, what do you need?”

“Kenichi, old son, I’m going to need a light for this cigar for starters….”

*

The black limo rolled to a halt outside the office block, and Simon stepped out of it onto the footpath.

“Jesus, this is their headquarters? At least the Guineas have a little more style.”

The grey block was two minutes walk from the Kashiwa train station, but a world removed from the department stores that the Station Mall housed.

Barely 15 stories tall, it was a light weight beside its Shinjuku cousins.

The ground floor housed a run down bar and a florist, which were separated by a small lobby.

Simon stuck his head into the limo, and told the driver to keep the car running.

“Ok, Kenichi”, he muttered under his breath, as he strolled across the lobby, “we’ll try it your nice, polite way first.”

A reception desk was located next to the lift wells, and pretty young lass behind it rattled off a string of Japanese at him as he approached.

“Sorry, M’Dear, I didn’t quite catch that – come again?”

“I said, sir, can I help you?”

“Yes, you most certainly can. Get on that phone, and tell Mr Suzuki that Mr Velour is here to talk to him about a briefcase.”

“Er, sir….”

“Do it. Now.”

The woman picked up a phone, and held what sounded to Simon like a rather heated conversation, before she replaced it again on its cradle.

“Mr Suzuki will see you now, sir. If you’d like to take that lift to the top floor….”

As if by magic, the lift doors glided open, and a pair of heavyset guards stepped out. Simon got in, and the goons flanked him as the doors closed.

Simon was quickly but efficiently patted down for weapons before the lift arrived at the top floor. When the doors opened, Simon was stunned for a moment by the subtle opulence of the place – a far cry from the shabby exterior of the building.

“Ah, the remarkable Simon Velour… you honour us with your presence. To what do we owe such an honour?”

Simon slipped walked across the polished floor towards a large mahogany desk, by which a short man in a dark black suit stood. Behind him, a pair of cleaners worked diligently on a descending rig, polishing the large plate glass window.

“Mr Suzuki, I presume?”

“Yes.”

“I believe you have something that belongs to me… a briefcase one of your lot lifted from a cargo terminal at Narita. I’d like it back… and I’d like it back now.”

Suzuki’s face flushed red, and he snarled, “You have a lot of impertinence, even for a gaijin, Velour. What is to stop me from simply killing you now, and keeping the briefcase?”

“Because, you idiot, there are two men with machine guns standing behind you.”

Suzuki turned, and gazed at the smiling faces of the two “cleaners” who stood holding H&K MP5’s outside his office window.

“No use calling for help, either, Suzuki mate, your lads are a bit tied up with a punch up in your bar, too. Now… about that briefcase?”

Suzuki’s face was a mask of rage, one that would have suited any samurai’s armour, as he walked towards a large bar against the wall of the room. Simon crossed the distance to him, careful not to interrupt the line of fire of the two gun men.

“Ah, ah, ah, not so fast Suzuki”, Simon said as the man unlatched a concealed panel. “A smart man would have a weapon in there, too. Open it nice and slow, and don’t make any sudden moves.”

The panel slid silently open, revealing the plain black leather briefcase – and a pair of 9mm Glock pistols. Simon picked up the case, and gave it a careful heft.

“I trust you’ve not been stupid enough to open this? No? Good. Then I shall bid you adieu, Suzuki….”

“Velour, you gaijin dog, how do you expect to live long enough to even take that case out of this building?”

“Oh, please, Suzuki, no idle threats. Do you remember that hotel you took that little schoolgirl to in Shinjuku? The one that had all kinds of closed circuit programmes to watch on the TV?”

Suzuki’s face blanched.

“Well, smile, dickhead”, Simon deadpanned, “you’re on candid camera. I’d love to see what the other clans would say if that video became public….” He turned on his heel, and strode back in to the lift.

“Next time, you might want to dispense with the Superman outfit, too.”

The lift doors closed.

*

Still clutching the case tightly, Simon walked past a raging brawl that had erupted in the bar, and in to the waiting limo.

Kenichi handed him a cigar, and asked, “Well, Velour-san, you have the case, and I have a nice little video tape in case that little prick Suzuki decides to throw his weight around. I do hope my men aren’t getting hurt in that punch up you engineered, though.”

Simon took a draw on the cigar, and nodded. “Thanks for your help, Kenichi, I reckon that makes us even. Nice of you to lend my lads the cleaner’s outfits… just how long have you had the maintenance contract on Suzuki’s building?”

“About six hours, Simon – long enough for your purposes… and ours. By the way, what’s in the case?”

“Promise me, Kenichi, that you won’t be angry if I show you?”

“I give you my word, Simon.”

Simon extracted a slim key from his coat pocket, and unlocked the case.

Opening the lid, he revealed to Kenichi eight large black jars, each with a bright yellow label.

“For this, Simon, you would have my clan go to war, and risk your life?”

“Oh, c’mon, Kenichi, everyone knows Vegemite’s worth more than gold in this country….”

[It’s me again. He’s a funny sort, isn’t he? Pay him a visit at his site, I’m sure he’ll appreciate the interaction – it’ll give him something to talk about with the guards.

Coming up tomorrow: A fascinating piece on something I’m sure nobody ever expected to see on this blog – breast reduction surgery. See you then!]

CDL Blogoversary, Day Three: “Flight”

We’re celebrating Claire De Lunacy’s First Blogoversary, and I’ve invited some very gracious and awesome friends to contribute to this mess, sharing their words with you, my beloved readers. Through June 10th, there will be a new post from a different guest each day, culminating with a new, full-length short story by yours truly. I hope you enjoy my guests’ work as much as I do, and I hope you’ll stick around to see what happens during the NEXT year.

[Today’s Guest Blog comes from my charming Tweep Mari Kurisato. Her short story, “Flight,” is set in the same world as her upcoming short story “Lurker,” to be published in M-Brane SF Magazine later this year.

Mari Kurisato is a 32 year old recovering hikikomori (shut-in) digital illustrator, Twitter addict, and unpublished novelist, working on her third novel. She lives at home with her wife and cat somewhere in the US. She has an irrational crush on Masamune Shirow, and considers Elizabeth Moon her personal deity. Despite her pen name, she is not Japanese. Her website can be found at http://www.marikurisato.com]

The young woman whipped through the air, large black feather wings angled sharply behind her. Thermal drafts helped Sumiyo rocket upwards through blue sky of the Realm. The cold wind stung her face, and strands of her black hair snapped about in the breeze, but it didn’t hurt her at all. Here she had nearly infinite power, and was respected by nearly everyone else who lived in these lands.

She banked on her right wing, hung in the sky a moment, and stretched her perfectly muscled frame, before allowing the gravity to tug her body back towards the trees below. She plummeted towards the forest. Sumiyo rolled and flexed her shoulder blades at the last moment. Her great wings whispered against the leaves of the tree canopy as she swept away just above the aspen trees.. She inhaled a great deep breath of warm fragrant air into her lungs, and sighed. She didn’t want to go home.

A small golden sphere like a miniature sun appeared in her vision, and tinkled like a cat’s bell. She frowned as she sped along inches above the treetops, her shadow dappling the green and yellow leaves. She thought about swatting it away, but the glowing sun bell would only get more insistent, and not even she was that powerful.

Sumiyo rose into the air and scanned around for a place to land before settling on a high, jagged blade of red granite that over looked the valley. She braced herself, and whistled the log out tone.

The brilliant and warm world slithered away into cold darkness.

Leaving the Realm was always hard, not just because of the mental fuzziness of the Sensemit cable Sumiyo pulled from the port at base of her skull. (She hated the popping sound.) Her office was dark except for the glow of her thirty inch touchscreen computer where the small golden sphere sat on screen, chiming.

She touched the glowing ball; it chirped and unfolded into a video mail from Koichi Yanagata  (Mr. 770 he called himself.)  He appeared on the video screen and squinted a moment before speaking.

“Kurimotosan. Something has happened with Kajiyama. She has-”

Sumiyo slapped the pause button onscreen at the sound of that name. Her. Ryoko Kajiyama.  The memory of the incident came to her mind’s eye in great detail, as if created digitally in brilliant  colors and sharp focus.

Two years ago, Sumiyo and Ryoko were standing on the top of a brown spiral staircase in the alleyway behind the ladies’ bar Kinswomyn, in Shinjuku. Ryoko looked amazing, with long brown hair and pale blue eyes, dressed in a form fitting red cocktail dress with a flared hem. But Sumiyo hadn’t noticed. They were both drunk and arguing.

Ryoko had later told the police that Sumiyo had slipped backwards and fallen by herself, and at the time Sumiyo didn’t remember anything.

But after that night she never saw Ryoko again, and she still had nightmares about Kajiyamasan’s grinning face as she looked down at Sumiyo falling over the railing.

Doctors said she had been relatively lucky. The T10 spinal fracture had sent fragments of bone into her spinal cord. Though she had only fallen about twelve feet, she could have easily broken her neck and died, instead of being just paralyzed, they said.

Cold comfort that, thought Sumiyo as she sat staring at the frozen face of “Mr. 770” onscreen. She leaned forward in her wheelchair and tapped the play button

“has finally been formally charged in the murder of Mika Anzai. Kajiyama committed suicide last week.” Koichi said, with the empty look of a Bunraku doll. He continued, his voice flat. “I know you haven’t been out of the house since you returned home from the hospital, but I think we should meet and talk about what has happened. I’ve enclosed an RSVP for coffee if you like. I think you should talk about what happened between you and Ryoko.”

The screen returned to the text layout of the email, and Sumiyo sighed, her breathing ragged.

So, Ryoko committed suicide.

Sumiyo took a deep breath, or tried to, but breathing outside the Realm was harder, and her breath was harsh, her lungs felt full of water and she was tired besides.

That was just the psychological side of things, she thought to herself. She set the Sensemit cable down on the desk  The creaking of the wheelchair and her breathing matched the sounds of her Prime Realm computer’s constant humming. She rolled herself across the room, the lights coming on as they sensed her movement. The door at the other end of the room slid aside silently, and out in the hall way the two story arched windows splashed rainbow hued beams of light  across the marbled floor bathing it in fiery patterns of color.  The hall was large enough for a three lane street, and a carpet of deep scarlet ran the length of the hall in the middle, a river of red  against the white stone floor.

Two years ago she and Ryoko had walked that length of carpet holding hands, much to the disapproval of the house staff at the time.

Now the carpet was ribboned with light from the windows, and Sumiyo squinted a moment until she could see the outline of Tokyo’s skyscrapers and the Tokyo Tower rising above Minato. Two years ago, she would have taken a car to the base of the Tower and walked around it just as the twilight of the sky faded to night just to watch the lights of tower.

Now she couldn’t even leave her apartments in the Mori Tower. The scars on her face drew too much attention, and she couldn’t force herself to even step outside. Not that she had too, when he died, her father left her the residence and a sizable inheritance.

Though she felt guilty at the emotion, as she looked out at the harsh pale blue sky and the menacing razor straight edges of the buildings she felt grateful that she could afford to stay inside. She couldn’t be out there anymore. The one time she tried, people stared at her. Sumiyo could feel the pressure of their gazes even if she wasn’t looking at them directly. It was as if they were glaring at her in anger at what she had done. It had been her fault after all.  She had been so careless.

She had never even made it out of the building

Her father would have frowned upon her choice to remain in her apartments all the time, but he hadn’t seen her like this. He died five years ago, and back then, she was fresh out of high school and taking university entrance exams hoping to pursue a degree in economics at Todai.

That seemed forever ago.

The weeks after her father’s death were a blur of paper work, and Sumiyo found herself buffeted by the hurried rush of it all. She sold her father’s shares in his company, a move that shocked her cousins and the national press but ensured she never needed to work again.

That was when she met Ryoko Kajiyama at a coffee shop. Also forever ago. Ryoko wove herself into Sumiyo’s life easily, because she asked for nothing other than friendship. At least at first. As time progressed, it became something deeper. Taboo. They had to be careful about it, but even though Sumiyo knew her house staff disapproved they didn’t quit their jobs in protest. For awhile, Ryoko and Sumiyo roamed Nichō getting drunk together and staying up late, living careless lives when the sun went down.

In the daytime Ryoko worked as a financial manager for a Chinese owned financial services company in Aoyoma  and Sumiyo spent time in Ginza shopping, or surfed the net. When she discovered 2.ch, an internet forum, she found out about the Realm, though at the time she didn’t get into it, because it seemed like a waste of time.

How wrong she had been.

Sumiyo never admitted that the night on the spiral staircase was anything but an accident, and yet, the nightmares of Ryoko grinning at her as she feel seemed too real, too detailed to be just a fragment from dreams. It wasn’t until she read the threads on the 2ch. forum about the death of Mika Anzai that Sumiyo knew something about Ryoko’s polished personality was off.

She met Mr. 770 there, as she followed his account of what might have happened to Anzai. Mr. 770 knew she was a Realm Player, and they began chatting online as Sumiyo helped his new avatar gain more power through quests. They spent time together, talking about the Mika Anzai suicide turned murder case, and a few weeks ago Koichi shared with her his suspicion of Ryoko’s involvement. After that, Sumiyo withdrew from Koichi, spending her time in the more wild parts of the Realm where he could not follow her.

And now Ryoko was dead, by suicide.

The grin on Ryoko’s pale face as Sumiyo fell played through her mind again. It was so real.

The sun slid across the sky as Sumiyo sat there, staring at the skyline, shadows moving over  the tiles and carpet.

Now Koichi wanted to meet with her to talk about it? He knew she was a recluse, a hikikomori. Sumiyo sighed and asked Hayashi to prepare a dinner for her before going back into her room and closing the door.

She dove from the red granite ridge, her black Angel’s wings beating the air with thundering cracks, like huge flags in a storm. A new avatar had ventured into her valley, a tenth-season warrior who must have thought this place would yield easy treasures. Sumiyo had seen him just as she returned, and so had the Scarlet Chimera  jumping through the trees, chasing the terrified warrior. The new avatar was running as fast as he could for the river.

The Scarlet Chimera leapt from an oak tree, tearing it apart with a crack, and the dragon’s head shrieked, a gout of liquid fire splashing the forest floor just behind the warrior. The beast flung the trunk of the oak it had destroyed at the warrior, striking him hard. He fell, and then Sumiyo slammed into the Scarlet Chimera from above.

The creature screamed as it clawed at Sumiyo for purchase, but the woman grabbed the dragon’s head and whispered the simple spell. Suddenly the beast squealed in terror and fell apart, blood and ash in Sumiyo’s hands.

Sumiyo drifted to the warrior’s body on the floor of the forest, and threw some silver dust upon his misshapen form. The dust caught fire and bathed the warrior in golden light, and he screamed in pain as he resurrected.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Sumiyo said to the new avatar as he stood up, his armor ruined.

“Neither should you, Kurimotosan.” said Koichi as he took off his ruined faceplate. “Will you join me for coffee?”

Sumiyo simply stepped up into the sky and soared away, her speed breaking the sound barrier.

Sumiyo thought Hayashi was having a stroke when she asked her head staff to ready the car.  Sumiyo had dressed herself in a blue blouse and white slacks and was waiting by her private elevator. Hayashi looked dumbstruck. Sumiyo repeated the request.

“I’m sorry this is so sudden, but today is the day, and I definitely don’t want to be late. Please?” Sumiyo said. The older woman nodded (smiling,) and agreed to drive Sumiyo herself.

As they rode the glass elevator towards the garage, Sumiyo looked at the blue sky above the city skyline, trying to project more confidence than she felt. She was trembling. As she gazed at the Tokyo Tower to the east, a lone crow flew past the glass elevator, black wings extended, drifting. Hayashi clicked her disapproval, muttering about  “pests,” but Sumiyo just smiled, remembering.

Now was the time to fly for real, she thought.

[It’s me again. I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I did – clearly, Mari is a talent with many great things ahead of her. Take a moment to stop by her site, won’t you?

Coming up this weekend: the Blogoversary fun continues, with a pair of short stories and another excerpt from my book Cleo and Meander. Stay tuned!]

Guestastic!

Faithful Readers:

Later this week, Claire De Lunacy will be celebrating its first blogiversary.  It’s been an interesting year, full of adventures with the courts and virtual attempts to bike to Mormon-filled deserts.  I’ve changed, the world has changed, and so have all of you (except for this guy).

To celebrate my first blogiversary, I’ll be featuring a week of guest posts starting Wednesday next (June 3rd) and concluding on the following Wednesday (June 10th). I’ve got a couple pieces of short fiction, some commentary, and more!

Plus, to commemmorate this (ahem) momentous occasion, I’ll be publishing a FULL-LENGTH short story from the Circe universe on the last day, June 10th.

Each day, I’ll briefly introduce each guest author and then let their words flow. As always, commentary from the readers is both welcome and encouraged.

I hope you’ll join us for the week’s festivities!