From the authors at SMFS; we want to wish you all the love and happiness on Valentine’s Day.
We hope you continue to inspire us throughout the year.
The Ink Slingers
From the authors at SMFS; we want to wish you all the love and happiness on Valentine’s Day.
We hope you continue to inspire us throughout the year.
The Ink Slingers
For Brandy, thank you for the starter, I hope you enjoy the story.
It was just for one night…
…and it didn’t matter how much skin I was going to take off in the process. My little sister had taken the abuse for me but that was going to end here. Tonight. The ground was coming up fast; I had maybe a hundred yards before it was either splat or I was going to just skim the surface of that patch of death below. I’d read about Hell in the old books. Some distant, undefined place where the Devil resided. No matter how bad it was, it had nothing on the hot, dark blaze that I was headed for. It burned at over 300 degrees and was so fiery that it turned to ash everything and anything it came into contact with. As a result, it was black as sin and as wide as the ocean. The Pilots called it the Last Land because it was the last thing that the first explorers saw and the patch of stars that no one ever went to unless they wanted to kill themselves or if they wanted to win a bet. Racing headlong at the oblivion and then turning at the last second was a great way to make a lot of money in a hurry if you had the guts for it as rich people with nothing better to do paid a lot of money to see some idiot turn themselves into cinder.
I licked my lips. Anticipation growing as I set the final course correction, grabbed the steering column for lack of something else to do, and waited. This was the worst part. Too much time allowed for too much thought. This was where I would at last prove whether I was as horrible as I always knew I was or whether I had some part of me that deserved redemption and there was only one way to find out.
Liquid eased from my hairline and slid down my face, burning a trail as if to remind me of my sins. I wasn’t religious but I knew that there were forces beyond me that had set this up. No one gets away with hiding for as long as I have and not have to pay for it. I re-gripped the control stick between my legs, tightening my fingers inside my gloves. My moment of truth was here and I had doubts. I wanted to cry at the knowledge. Why? Why was I born such a coward?
At that moment a loud, clanging ring rattled throughout the tin can I was in. A call was coming through. Of all the fucking things to be working, it had to be the one thing that did. The gods seemed to have heard my question and were prepared to answer it.
I smashed my hand against the controllers, sparking a few circuits that I probably needed but the ringing continued. I wasn’t being let off that easy. Still I wasn’t planning on taking it. Let it continue until I burned up in the ash below. The gods had another plan.
“Hello?” came a shaky, female voice.
The voice was muffled as it came through the ancient voice box but I’d know it anywhere. It was my sister. My breath caught in my dry throat and settled harshly against my lungs.
“Brother?” she called out again, a little more desperate this time. “Are you there?”
There was silence that followed as she waited for me to reply. I couldn’t though. Talking to her would only get her hurt.
“God dammit, Bastian, answer me. I know you’re there. I can hear you breathing.”
It was a lie. Of sorts. She couldn’t technically hear me over so shitty a connection as ours, but we were twins and we’d always had a special bond.
“Bastian, please,” she pleaded and I could hear the grief in her voice.
Tears came to my eyes and I couldn’t fight it.
“Talk to me,” she said quietly.
She must’ve sensed my deteriorating resolve because she added one of her patented “please’s” that I could never turn from.
“Hey,” I said, my voice thick even to my own ears.
“Hey,” she replied and the relief was evident. “Where are you?”
I didn’t answer that and my silence must’ve been enough because I could feel her anger before she said anything and it was enormous.
“You fucking idiot! What the hell are you doing?” she yelled and her voice reverberated off of everything including the inside of my skull.
“I had to,” I croaked out.
“No, no you didn’t. You turn your ass right around and you get back here. Do you understand me?”
I snorted, “You, know for a younger sister, you are really bossy.”
My attempt at levity was not well met.
“I swear to the Gods, Sebastian Reynolds, I will hunt you into every life you have after this if you don’t turn around right this minute.”
I looked down at the controls. Not that I had any plans to follow her order, but I needed an excuse and I found one.
“I can’t,” I stated simply.
“Yes, you can. I know you can.”
“Dials are going wild, sis; I have no more control.”
“You could fly a horse underwater if you needed to, brother, so don’t give me that bullshit.”
I sighed and let go of the stick, sitting back in the shitty seat and letting my head fall back against the cracked and beaten head rest. It reminded me of myself.
“I’m not turning back, Belly,” I said quietly and looked at my final destination with a sense of certainty.
The ground was coming up far too quickly now and I knew that I had maybe ten minutes left before I entered the gravitational pull of the piece of rock in front of me and had next to no possibility of survival.
I should be panicking, but instead I all I could feel was this odd sort of peace. It was here. My end was finally here. I could finally leave it all behind and I didn’t have to keep fighting it. I’d cause no more pain.
“You never caused me pain, brother,” she said suddenly, hearing my thoughts as clear as if they were her own.
Her voice was thick again, anger leaving her and a new wave of desperation rolled over me. I knew it was hers but it didn’t deter me. I was going to save her.
The closer I got, the hotter the tin can I was in was getting. The dials were going crazy now, swinging wildly out of control. Just like me. I was so out of control that I’d willing put myself in this situation, but what choice did I have? It was either this or let that bastard continue and I wasn’t going to let that happen.
The anticipation lifted the rhythm of my heart to a thicker, quicker beat. I could feel my blood pulsing, vibrating my body. It would seem that as I finally wanted things to speed up they only slowed down. I knew I had less than five minutes now but it felt like ages. The black mass of earth was becoming more and more defined. It was coming. My retribution
I licked my lips in anticipation. Maybe the scales would finally be balanced.
“Bas,” she said tearfully through the line, “this isn’t how you can save me.”
“Yes it is,” I said, my own tears spraining back to my eyes.
It was always thus with us.
“No, Bas, what am I going to do without you?”
“Live a good life,” I said harshly though it wasn’t directed at her.
“No,” she said and I could almost see her shaking her head, “No. You honestly think that he’s just going to let me go when you hit that inferno?”
I didn’t answer. My thought process hadn’t extended that far. All I’d see what the blood covering her body and the ultimatum I’d been given. Race one final time and instead of pulling out at the last second like everyone who was watching was betting on, I was to go down in a blaze of glory. Only it was no kind of glory that I’d ever wanted for myself save only that it would finally free my sister. My craft jerked violently and then started to rattle wildly. I’d touched the outer rim of the gravity. There was no turning back now.
“He’s a monster, Bas,” she insisted roughly. “There will be no one to enforce your stupid agreement with him with you gone.”
That was true. No, I shook my head. I couldn’t listen to her any more or she would dissuade me. I gripped the controller again. Don’t lose faith, don’t lose faith, I chanted over and over again in my head.
“Brother!” she screamed and it took everything in me not to turn the stick.
“I have to do this, Bel,” I said hoarsely. “He will kill you if I don’t.”
“No, he won’t. I’m his star. He won’t touch me.”
I snorted, “Do you think it was a fluke that you got through to me?”
She clearly hadn’t thought about that.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“This is a test. He wants me to suffer in every way possible, Bel, but there is a bomb in your room right now and it’s timed so that it will go off a few seconds after I’m to hit the blaze.”
She was quiet for a second.
“If you pull out, I blow,” she finished for me quietly.
I nodded though there was no one to see it.
“He just wanted to hear me plead with you.”
“Yeah, Bel. Don’t you see? This is the only way.”
An overwhelming sense of sadness mixed with hatred swelled throughout my body.
“Bel,” I said quietly.
She tried to answer evenly, but I could hear the hitch in her voice.
“I love you and I’m so sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for.”
“Yes, I do.”
“No Bas. No. You don’t.”
I tried to shake my head but the rattling was so bad now that I didn’t know if the bobbing of my chin was of my volition or not.
“It’s because of me-”
“Shhhhh,” she said quietly. “We’ve all made mistakes. I slept with the bastard, not you.”
“Yeah, true, that was pretty stupid,” I said, though the tears were falling freely at this point.
A strangled laugh came out of her and it mirrored my sentiments. I had less than a minute now and the fact that I would never see or talk to her again was finally hitting me. That single bit of data was more horrifying and more detrimental to my final resolve than any other thing she could’ve said.
There was a sniffle through the line. She was crying and she’d heard everything that I’d just thought. After everything I was putting even my last worry on her.
“Don’t you dare do that,” she said.
“Do what?” I asked limply.
“Blame yourself for caring about me.”
I wiped the tears from my cheeks and took a long, cleansing breath. I was seconds from my end.
I was about to respond but the nose of my ship hit the blaze and whatever shielding I had was ripped away in a second. The tin can was now an inferno and I had no time left.
“I love you Bel,” I said softly.
“I know you do big brother. Hey Bel?”
My ship was quickly falling into the fiery pit and my body had suddenly burst into blame and started to burn hotter than the hell I’d been sentenced to. I screamed and I felt panic overwhelm me. She was still connected to me in my mind.
No, Bel, get out of my head. She didn’t need to see this.
Bas, she called out wildly.
I will find you again. I promise.
It was the last thing I heard before I combusted; the final scream caught inside my death trap.
For Marie Weppelman, whom I will always know as Yolanda. J
To health, happiness and bright futures. May you always believe.
I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but that voice that comes from somewhere deep inside me, where I seldom look, gave me no choice.
I went to the dance.
Keeping my eyes half-mast to avoid the painful lights, I hid near the trees at the back of the festival. The celebratory dance was just about to begin, and I just couldn’t think of lifting one foot with this horrendous headache shooting spasms down my neck. Why did I listen to the voice?
Rubbing my temple with one hand, I felt my way backward into the forest, eager to hide. No need to get pounced and pulled into the party only to find myself heaving up dinner at the feet of many eligible nobles and their friends.
I knew the music would have normally carried me away into a world of freedom and joy, but the farther I went, the softer the tones became. A sharp stab made its way into my eye, and I moaned.
“Are you well, Shilah?” an all too familiar voice whispered from the darkness to my left. The one bachelor I really did not want to see right now was obviously nearby.
“No,” I whispered. Just the effort made me pause and press a hand to my stomach. What was wrong with me? My back hit a wide tree trunk, and I allowed myself to sink down and settle, bent and dizzy, in the leaves on the ground. A warm hand brushed along my temple. Safety.
My heart wanted to flutter and dance in delight, but my nerves and my stomach could only bring tears.
“Shilah?” he said urgently, squeezing my shoulder, “what’s happening?”
I opened my mouth to speak and merely exhaled loudly several times before swallowing deeply and trying once more. “Ill,” I managed to say. Why had I come again? The voice. So often I listened, and it had reigned true. But this time? My pounding head stopped further thoughts as I winced in pain.
His arms went around me so quickly I hadn’t registered them, but now that he stood holding my head against his solid chest, I panicked. Of all the men, please, why? So many I could think of to lose my stomach on but not him. Not him.
The morning sun seeped between the heavy drapes warming my hand as it rest on the bed. My eyes flew open, and I took in the floral blanket draped over me, the softness of the bed, the gold and ornate coverings on the walls. I did not recognize the room, and yet for the first time in possibly years, it was the safest place in my heart. The light scent of lavender and roses effused the air and made me feel free. I must have blacked out last night, and yet here I was feeling fit and clear headed.
I noticed a table to my right with water and fresh mint leaves. I grabbed the cup and drank every bit before dropping the leaves into my mouth, relishing the last vestiges of last night’s fear leaking away and leaving me refreshed. I was just placing the cup on the table when I stopped midway as my eyes rested on a chair in the corner.
There he sat, dark curls in disarray, eyelashes resting heavily on his cheek as he slept sitting up. Lord Byram. My heart’s one and true love.
I put the cup down so as not to disturb him and watched him sleep. His clothes were slightly wrinkled, but it only made him more adorable. Many, many moments passed before I remembered.
The warm and satisfied smile that had found a home on my lips faded. I pulled the blanket down and saw that I was still wearing one of my two handmade dresses. A lip pulled up slightly before settling back again when I saw that he was indeed a gentleman.
I needed to leave. The fantasy, though brief and wonderful, had ended. I had work to do at the home of the Crescent’s, where Lord Byram’s dear sister resided with her gruff husband and their two children. I had no life with Lord Byram.
I ever so slowly slipped from the bed to the side away from him. As I hid behind the bed listening to the sound of his breath, I saw my boots, cleaned and set at the doorway. Hearing no change in his breathing, I tiptoed to the door, picked up my boots, and placed a hand on the door pull. Escape.
His voice was soft and yet commanding. I froze and turned to meet his amber eyes as he gazed upon me half-lidded.
“Yes, sir?” I whispered.
“Leaving so soon?” His voice was soft.
I curtsied before speaking. “I didn’t wish to disturb you, sir.” He stood. “You seem to have…uh.” He took a step forward. “You saved…” He took a longer step. “You helped me and I am…”
He stood before me and pressed a finger on my lips. I shut up and with wide eyes looked up at him. He was frowning. This couldn’t be good.
“I’ve no wish to make a tramp of you, my lady, but I most certainly want to kiss you.”
“But I am no lady,” I whispered. My heart couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted to beat from my chest or stop completely. He ran a hand down my cheek and then dropped it to his side.
“A lady is a woman who is polite, thoughtful and well-spoken. You are most certainly a lady,” he said.
“A lady is a woman who is high born in an upper economical class. I am most certainly not a lady,” I countered. Now I was getting angry.
“Well, you can’t have it both ways,” he chuckled.
“There is no both ways. There is only what others believe.”
He nodded and bent his head to the side, his eyes narrowing slightly before he breathed out a sigh. “That may be true, love, but we make others believe what we wish.”
“You make others believe. Nobles make others believe. Those of my stature merely clean the homes and look after those who make others believe.” Tears welled in the corners of my eyes, and I blinked them away.
His hand gently touched my chin. “Shilah?” he asked gently.
“Yes?” I said barely audible even to myself.
“I believe we shall make others believe. Do you trust me?”
I sighed. “You know I do. Since the time you stopped that stable boy from bothering me. No has ever tried again.”
He smiled, the glow so radiant and so warm, that I really believed. We would make others believe.
When we walked into the Crescent’s home arm in arm, I thought my legs would buckle. The fear ate at me. The villagers and the Lords who had never noticed my existence of course hadn’t blinked an eye at me, save maybe full perusal of my new dress but the Crescents? They had known me since I just a girl. They kept me on even when my mother had passed. Surely they would oust me and I would lose…
I glanced to him by my side. Beaming. My husband. My legs started to shake again.
“Byram!” Lady Crescent strode into the room like she was going to take down a bull but instead, gave Byram a tight hug as she laughed. It had been months since he’d visited. She turned to me, took my hands, and looked into my eyes. Familiar eyes. Byram had trained me and trained me some more to keep eye contact until I thought I would throttle him. I didn’t look away. She smiled then. I was surprised to see her eyes become moist before she batted her eyes together a few times, and it was like it had never happened.
“You are officially welcome to the family, my dear Lady Shilah of the house of Lord Byram Stropefeld. May your children be one day crossing my threshold.”
I blinked. I felt his warm breath on my ear. I blinked. I smelled the vanilla in the air. I blinked.
And I believed.