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HoG short story

Page history last edited by Volkes_Wagon 11 years, 6 months ago

Creased Palm


     Rhea's mother had tough old hands that were wrinkled like dried plums, and twice as hard. When Rhea was too young to know but old enough to understand she would hold out her own hand, fingers spread wide, and feel the mass of bones and callouses scrape against her own soft palm like sandpaper on the petals of a flower.

     Rhea never talked about her parents directly to Ashfire, but she wrote it in her journal, and talked in her sleep sometimes, so Ashfire knew. It amused him to know so much while pretending to know nothing. There was no need to understand.

     The moon was bright enough that night to see without a fire. Light pooled into the sloping hills and jagged rocks like silver liquid in a cupped hand. But Rhea liked to eat her meals hot, and Ashfire toyed with the thought of her still afraid of the dark, scarred for life by what he had done. So they built the fire and he kept it alive until she closed her eyes and her breathing grew soft. Then he sat back against a rock and watched the fire slowly choke itself to death.

     Something rustled in the gravel behind him, and a shadow of a human appeared on the ground that stretched back beyond his scope of vision, cutting across Rhea's face. He made no motion that he had noticed. But he watched.

     The shadow was still for a fistful of heartbeats. And then it darted smaller suddenly, and a black boot with the toes open and a silver cowboy spike at its heel crunched into the glowing embers. A few red sparks leaped into the air before all traces of warmth disappeared.

     "What were you looking at?" Ashfire muttered. [note to self: Ashes gave himself the name Ashfire, but Blades didn't have that personal spark. so he's just Blades.]

     "Still got that cute pet of yours, heh." It was no longer a shadow, this person; but somehow his shape still seemed filled with darkness, except for the glint of steel on the heels of his boots and up his shins to where the cloak began. His teeth were stark white.

     "What about it? You want one, too?"

     "Don't get edgy. I'm just surprised you haven't broken her yet, by accident or whatever, that's all. These things don't last long."

     He leaned back easily against the rock and watched the shadow. "Well, this one's lasting."

     "What do you do with her, anyways?"

     "None of your business."

     "Why doesn't it run away? I tried picking one up back in Rushfalls but it jumped off the cliff, all by itself. Crazy, huh?"

     "Maybe to us."

     The shadow laughed. The teeth shone unnaturally. "Anaglades. Mountain air makes them different. Hair like snow. Practically animals."

     Ashfire watched the shadow's cloak roll softly in and out of his view of Rhea. And suddenly, for no reason apparent to him, he was afraid that this creature blocking the way would never leave. Afraid of being separated from Rhea.

     He quickly pushed the thought away. The mere notion that he, the Ashes, could be afraid was ludicrous. But the uneasiness sank deep, and it stayed like a lurking beast in the black waters of his soul. It didn't show on his face. Nothing ever showed on his face except contempt, he was good at that. But his voice, less practiced, was strained.

     "What do you want?"

     "Oh, nothing, just on my next mission, you know. Saw this cute couple and thought I'd drop by for a chat."

     "I'm not in the mood for chatting, you freak," he hissed.

     Friek smiled with his lips pressed tightly together, and the pale white of his teeth disappeared. He bent down and pulled something out of his cloak with his teeth. The black cloth opened for an instant, letting the moonlight shine on the silver braces on the ends of his shoulders that concealed the two stubs he had for arms. Then he withdrew, and the cloth fell back closed. A newspaper clipping was in his mouth.

     And then he ran forward. The wind only caught up to him after the fact. He stopped an inch in front of Ashfire, his black cloak beating in wild confusion against his skeletal frame. Ashfire's long, greasy black hair was blasted back by the wind.

     Ashfire merely regarded the newspaper distastefully.

     "Jus' fer you," Friek said between clenched teeth. The crinkled pages dropped.

     Ashfire caught it between his own teeth. It was the closest he had ever gotten to expressing approval for Blades.

     "Guess I'll go now; don't want to disturb you two, heh?" Friek turned to leave, but paused. He looked over his shoulder. "Say, you ever heard of that legend - the one with the giant ladder?"

     A pair of eyes, black as coal, stared back at his gray gaze. He laughed into the silence.

     "Well see, there was a guy who wanted to harness the sun and ride it around the world. Absolutely crazy, but he had this idea, see, that if he could control the sun he could bring it to the places that needed it most - a lot of people were dying during the winter back then, you know. And plus, every time your average farmer looked up and saw the sun, he'd think of the hero who had gallantly harnessed the sun and was riding it around the world.

     "So he started to build a ladder. It was the tallest ladder you've ever seen, so tall it could reach the heavens. And when it was done he stood it up and rested it against the sun, and with harness over his shoulder he started to climb. Rung by rung, struggling not to drop that harness, he climbed; and as he got closer to the sun he got hotter and  hotter. Sweat was pouring off his face. But finally he reached the top and he held out a hand to touch the sun.

     "The sun set his hand on fire. The ladder burned too, from the top down; and by the time the remains of his glorious venture reached the earth, it was nothing but a thin rain of ash."

     He grinned at Ashfire expectantly.

     "I hold no interest in fairy tales," he muttered darkly.

     "Aw, come on, don't say that! Isn't it amazing? The power of the sun can vanquish even the most ambitious man. He was at the top of the world! But there was one thing that he couldn't stand above, couldn't harness, and that was the power of destruction.

     "They finished building Skybridge."

     Ashfire jerked his head up half a centimeter. For a fraction of a second he was shaking. And then he was back to normal, as stoic and brooding as ever.

     "So that's what this was all about," he growled. He let a mat of black hair tumble over his face.

     "What? I don't know what you're talking about. Just thought you'd like to know, is all. The world's tallest building. From the earth to the sky. Six miles."


     "I can make her do whatever I want. And that is my greatest pride and my greatest shame."




I can't stand the silence. It speaks of all the things I can't stand to hear. Sometimes it sneaks out from the pocket of hollow darkness in my chest and crawls up my neck, into my mind, spiraling around my hands until the black veins etch an engraving of fire. So I have to bleed it out, and it's the cities that feel the burning.



     The people set him on edge. Too many clothes brushing against his fingertips, too much moving flesh. So many things to crush. It was painful to be among his prey and pretend to be one of them.

     "Ashfire! This fruit smells!"

     Rhea shoved a yellow pellet under his noise. Reflexively, he grabbed it and squeezed it to a pulp.

     Rhea wailed. "Why'd you do that!?"

     "It's just a durian. Never seen one before?"

     "Of course not!"

     The grocer sneered at her. "Where is this from? A cave? Doesn't even know what a durian is!"

     Rhea's face puckered. "I'm not from a cave. I'm Rhea of the Glades."

     "Hoh? An anaglade?" The condescension in his voice was clear.

     In the blink of an eye Ashfire's hand was around the grocer's throat. The crowd made a collective gasp of horror and quickly made room.

     "Hey, old man," Ashfire growled, pulling close. Sweat beaded on the grocer's forehead and the rolls of fat on his neck. "You don't want to ruin all these nice durians with your blood, do you?"

     "Stop it, Ashfire!"

     Ashfire felt Rhea tug on his coat. She was interrupting his fun again. He shrugged her hand off without taking his eyes off the grocer's bugging sockets and brought his face closer. "Now let's play a game--"

     And something monstrous hurled him up by the arm. The world flipped upside down.

     Rhea threw him over her shoulder as easily as tossing a small bag of rice.

     His back struck the ground and the air whooshed out of his lungs. Pain shot through his left side. "I said stop!" Rhea snapped. "That was terrible! You were stepping all over the durians - do you know how much effort was put into growing just one of those!? Pay the grocer back!"

     Ashfire groaned and rolled over on his right. "Close those putrid lips of yours! You're obsessed with payback. It's not the grocer who deserves it, and it's not me who owes it. And it's not the durians that you oughta be angry about, anyway."

     "I don't care! It's just not right, what you're doing!"

     The crowd murmured. Ashfire creaked to his feet and fished out the loot he had taken from some nameless corpse in the road, then handed it to Rhea. "Fine, fine. It's not my money. Use it as you please."

     She snatched it out of his hand with a hmph of disdain and dropped the whole bag in front of the grocer. "We'll take all the damaged ones, please. And if you've got some water and bread we'll take that too."

     He scrambled to package everything in a cloth sack.




Sometimes, at the crack of dawn, I sit on the edge of a rock and watch the sky grow pale from between the trees, and I'm afraid of the task that's before me. I don't know where I'm going. I don't know what I'll do once I get there. I'm living on the soft whispers of fearful minds to follow a trail that the rest of the world is running from. But then I hear the birds waking up and sing their sweet melodies, and the sun touches the thin blades of the leaves and gilds them with a clean sort of gold, and I know that it'll be okay.



     Despite what I tell people, I still haven't come to terms with a lot of things. I don't like walking in wet boots. I can't read a map. I like eating my food while it's hot.

     I'm still afraid of the dark.

     Ashfire isn't afraid of the dark, but he's scared of the light. It gave me courage. Maybe I thought that if I stayed with him long enough I would learn how to face the shadows, as I would teach him how to walk under the sun. Or maybe I knew even then that he was a creature of the darkness; and I wanted to know him so that I could shed light on the world he lived in.

     I'm not sure which one of us is the coward, now. Maybe we both are.

     When Ashfire abandoned me I thought, this is for the best. He had been complaining about me since we first met. Surely he would feel glad to be free again, and this time he might be able to face the light by himself, find his own path to travel by. And yet I wanted him back.

     See, this is the difference between Ashfire and I - even though I'm afraid, even though I still can't quite accept that my parents are dead and I've fallen in love with their murderer, I don't take it lying down. I get up, I put my boxing gloves on, and I search for the truth. It's out there somewhere.

     And this time, when I find Ashfire, I'm going to make him tell it to me.

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