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Musketeers – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

“Work in groups of three and be ready to present your project to the class at the next session. I’ll give you the rest of our time to find your groups and get started.”

Alerich looked to the desk on his right at Thomas, his roommate and newest friend. Thomas was kind and funny and put up with Alerich’s melancholy and exuberance, both. They had been thick as thieves since the first day of term. “You and me then, mate?”

“Yeah, but we’ll need a third, won’t we?”

Alerich looked from the chestnut-skinned boy to the other lads in the room. They were slowly forming into groups of three, all of them new to the school like Thomas and him and unsure yet where friendship may lie. He watched a tall, gangly boy hover at the edge of several groups, his shoulders stiffening a little with each group that turned away from him. Alerich thought the boy’s name was Edward Fitzmartin, but all he really knew about him were three other things: he was a wizard, like all the lads here; he was smart as all get out; and he was deaf. Alerich doubted that it was the first two that had the other boys giving Fitzmartin the cold shoulder. He looked at Thomas to find him watching the boy be rejected by group after group with a look of sympathy on his face. Alerich nudged him, “How ‘bout it, then?”

Thomas nodded. “Absolutely.”

Alerich got out of his seat and tapped Fitzmartin on the shoulder to get his attention. The boy tensed and shied away from the touch in a way that felt very familiar to Alerich. He would bet that Fitzmartin’s father beat him the way Alerich’s own father did. He smiled at the boy’s wary expression. “Want to join up with Thomas and me? We seem to be a lad short.”

The boy looked from Alerich to Thomas as though judging their potential and their threat, then nodded. “Alright, then.”

His diction was excellent, but his voice was too loud for the small classroom and several of the boys laughed.

Alerich gave them unfriendly glares. “I’m Alerich Ashimar, but my friends just call me Rick. That is Thomas Griffin. You’re Edward Fitzmartin, right?”

The boy watched Alerich’s lips closely but frowned at his own name. “Just call me Fitz. I hate Edward. Edward Martin is my father. He doesn’t like me having anything else of his. I don’t know why he insists on me having his name.”

Alerich nodded. “Alright, Fitz then.”

Fitz watched him closely then sighed. “Why do you want me?”

Alerich blinked a little. “Pardon?”

“For your group? Surely you can see that I’m social kryptonite. If it’s pity, you can shove it.”

Alerich grinned, both at the comic book reference and the general foul-tempered tone. “Are you always such a testy bastard, Fitz? I’m not sure if two of us in a group might not be too much attitude for poor Thomas.”

Fitz grinned at Alerich. “Too right, mate.”

“It’s not pity, Fitz. It’s greed. Why wouldn’t we want the smartest lad in our year?”

Fitz looked at Alerich as though searching for something in his face. Whether he found it or not, he shrugged. “I suppose I’ll be your third musketeer, then.”

Alerich grinned and turned to lead the way back to where Thomas was getting paper and a pen ready. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a tentative smile on Fitz’s lips and his own broadened. He was pretty sure he and Thomas had just found an Athos to his Aramis and Thomas’s good-natured Porthos.


We hope you enjoyed “Musketeers.” For more free flash fiction and all things Books of Binding, please follow us at www.aelowan.com.

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A Difference of Opinion – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

Lunch with his fiancé. Alerich stood beside the corral gate, watching Celia’s car arrive. That was going to take some getting used to. Lunch with his fiancé. His grandmother, Hildreth, the matron of both House Ashimar and House Van de Mere, considered it the arrangement of the decade, and it seemed a lot of their set agreed. The congratulations flowed in in an endless stream. Grandmother thought Celia was perfect for him. She was politically powerful, the only child of Roland Carralond, the Archwizard of the Wizard’s Council. With Alerich as his father’s heir, marrying Celia would give their family control of three seats on the council: Ashimar, Van de Mere, and Carralond. Grandmother thought that set Alerich up to be Archwizard someday.

Judging by Celia’s ambitious reputation, Alerich was wasn’t so sure.

Fiancé. It wasn’t that Alerich didn’t want to get married. He was a wizard. Wizards married, it was simply how it was done. He would have preferred to have had a say in who he married, though. But Hildreth had not given him that consideration.

Celia slipped from the driver’s seat, dressed to ride in the English style, helmet in the crook of her arm, her blonde hair catching the sun like winter wheat in its complicated bun. She was beautiful, he could not argue with that. She looked him over, intelligent eyes filling with approval, and she approached with a sharp smile. “I do hope you’re Alerich. Pictures in the face books are one thing, but it is far better to meet someone in person.”

Alerich gave her a small bow and a smile of greeting. “Alerich Ashimar, at your service. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Celia.” He hoped it was. He was trying, at any rate.

Celia looked towards the corral, looking over the horses. “Bit of a barbaric business, this arranged marriage thing is, isn’t it?” She gave him a sidelong glance. “But so far, so good.”

Alerich’s smile widened a little. He couldn’t help it.

“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’m acting as my own matron in this arrangement. My family’s matron… well, she’s gone a bit dotty, and we’re man-heavy in my line, so that leaves me to my own devices. Though I will say that your grandmother has been very considerate to me. I’ve asked for a long engagement. I feel it would be best for us to get to know each other.”

Alerich’s brows twitched up a little. That must have taken some wrangling to get Gran to agree to that. “How long, if I may ask?”

“Two years. We’re both young. We have the time.”

Alerich nodded, feeling a little relieved. “Thank you. I agree, a long engagement benefits us the most.”

Celia went up on her toes a little, watching the horses. “Oh, look at that black gelding with the magnificent blaze. Isn’t he a fine gentleman?”

Alerich watched the horse prance across the corral with pride. “He’s one of my favorites. I thought you might like to ride him to our picnic.”

Celia looked up at him, again evaluating. “You’re not the usual sort of wizard, Alerich Ashimar. I was expecting dinner at an elegant restaurant followed by the theatre.”

Alerich’s smile pulled at one corner of his mouth. “But I heard you love to ride. And I love to ride. I thought, if we have this one thing in common, perhaps we have other things in common. Besides, it’s too beautiful a day to waste indoors.”

Celia laughed, and it was a good laugh, the sort to turn heads. “Then let us ride.”

They spoke of small things as they rode side by side, knees occasionally touching. She spoke of her father and little rumors about the Council. He spoke of his family, his twin, Elspeth, and his two best friends, Thomas and Fitz. As they rode he wondered how well Celia would get along with his brittle sister.

Something rustled just off the path, and from his vantage point in the saddle Alerich could see a flash of red in the bushes. He brought his horse to a standstill and dismounted. “I see something.”

Celia frowned and dismounted, too. “A snake?” She obviously was concerned about her horse rearing under the trees.

“No, I don’t think so.” Alerich parted the bushes to reveal a small fox caught in an old trap, and he felt a flash of rage for the trapper. “It’s all right,” he murmured to the little one. “I’m here to help you.”

The fox cowered on its belly. It couldn’t have been more than a few months old.

Celia looked over Alerich’s shoulder. “Ah. Pity.”

Alerich grabbed the trap and began to pry it apart.
Celia frowned. “What are you doing? You’re getting filthy.”

“I think its leg is broken. My stablemaster has a talent for rehabilitating wildlife. See if you can hold it steady when I get this trap open.”

“I’m not touching that dirty little thing. It could have rabies.”

Alerich looked over his shoulder with disgust. “I see.” He pried the trap fully open and slipped it away from the kit’s leg before closing it in a controlled fashion to keep from startling the little fox into a run. He then slipped out of his riding jacket and wrapped the kit in his warmth.

Celia was watching him as if he was an alien. “You can’t possibly take it to our picnic.”

Alerich frowned at her. “One thing you’re going to have to understand about me is that I do a lot of animal rescue, both hands on and funding. That handsome fellow you’re riding is a rescue horse, as are most of the horses in my stable. This is me. Take me or leave me.” He moved to remount his horse.

Celia looked genuinely confused. “But what are you going to do, now? It’s just going to die. That’s that natural order of things, isn’t it?”

Alerich fought to not glare as he cradled the fox kit in one arm. “Not if I can help it. Enjoy the picnic. I may not make it, after all.” With that he turned his mount on the path and rode back to the stable. He let out a sigh. “You’re lucky, little one. You don’t have a fiancé.”

How could this possibly work between the two of them? Two years. It had to be enough time to talk his Gran out of this madness and find a woman better suited.

It had to be.


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Lively – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

“Girls, it’s time to stop playing and help me get dinner on the table. Sorcha, Mirilyn, you two go out to the garden and dig up a basket of potatoes and half a basket of carrots. Winter, you can help me snap beans. Now everyone, scoot!”

Winter giggled as Grandma Maria brandished her spoon at her and her sisters, but they all moved to obey. Grandma Maria might look funny shaking her glyphed focus object, but she was also known to apply it liberally to shirking backsides and none of the girls relished a spanking today.

Six-year-old Sorcha and Mirilyn grabbed baskets and headed out the sliding glass door into the garden while four-year-old Winter went to the apron rack and pulled on her strawberry-printed one. She checked that her white pigtails were secure and went to Grandma to have her tie the strings.

Grandma Maria cinched the little apron around her and playfully tugged one pig tail. “Don’t forget to wash your hands.”

Winter laughed at the tugging and went to the wide double-sink, climbing up the step stool to reach the faucet. As she soaped her hands she surveyed the kitchen. Three fruit pies cooled under the window and on the long bar were six plump chickens and an enormous bowl of green beans. She rinsed her hands, climbed down the step stool then back up a barstool to sit in front of the bowl. Quick little fingers were practiced at snapping the beans and separating out any blemishes from the large colander where the freshly snapped pieces landed.

Grandma Maria watched her for a moment, then nodded, apparently content with Winter’s technique, and turned to the chickens. “What should we do with these, Winter? Something lively, I think. Let me see what I have in the pantry to give them some zip.” She set her spoon on the bar and headed into the deep, cool pantry where her cooking spices were kept separate from her potion ingredients. Grandma Maria was a potion master—maybe one of the best in the world—and she had promised Winter that she would teach her all she knew. They had already begun doing simple potions together and Grandma said that Winter had all the makings of a true potion master.

Winter eyed the chickens and Grandma Maria’s focus object as it lay beside them. Lively? She wasn’t sure what Grandma was looking for in the pantry, but she was sure that she could help. She glanced over her shoulder at the pantry door. She really wasn’t supposed to touch the spoon without Grandma Maria being with her, but she was right in there. It should be fine.

Winter picked up the spoon, smiling at the little tickle of power she always felt when she touched someone else’s focus object. She pushed the green bean bowl to the side and knelt up on the barstool. She held the spoon aloft, closed her eyes and said, “Lively.”

She opened her eyes and looked at the chickens. They looked the same to her, pale and lying on their cutting boards. What had she done wrong? Oh! She squeezed her eyes shut and put Command into her voice. “Lively!”

She opened her eyes and squeaked. Oh blast! Maybe that was too much Command? The chickens certainly looked different now. They were no longer on the cutting boards. Instead they were dancing on the counter!

Winter looked panicked over her shoulder toward the pantry, then back at the chickens. “Stop! Stop it! Lie down!” The chickens ignored her, which Winter thought was very rude. She smacked the nearest one with the spoon. “You lie back down, right now!” The chickens began to dance in pairs, moving in complicated patterns as though to music only they cool hear.

Winter heard a gasp behind her and turned guilty eyes to Grandma Maria. Grandma’s face was stern, but her eyes were alight, and Winter thought she looked like she was shaking a bit.

Grandma held out her hand for the spoon. Winter swallowed and handed it to her. Grandma shook her head and her voice resonated with Command. “Revert.” The chickens each found their cutting board and laid down, stilling under Maria’s gaze.

Winter looked up at her great-grandmother. “I was trying to help.”

Grandma Maria let out a laugh and then couldn’t seem to stop. She finally choked out, “Help by snapping beans, Miss.”

Winter’s cheeks pinked, and she quickly got back to snapping.

Grandma Maria swatted her lightly once with the spoon, moving to season the chickens, still laughing to herself. “Lively chickens. I can’t wait to tell Katherine.”


A. E. Lowan is the pseudonym of three authors who collectively create the dark urban fantasy series, The Books of Binding. If you liked this flash, there is more original short fiction on our website. You can read more about Winter in Faerie Rising, available on Amazon now.

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Tin Lizzie – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

“You bought another one?”

A shameless smile pulled at the Vampire King’s lips, and he made a sweeping gesture to the shiny black automobile parked in front of the Seahaven Opera House. Under the August sun, the sheen to Erik’s new toy gleamed. “‘Another one,’ Katherine? You’re making it sound like an old nag!”

Katherine cast a long-suffering look at Bridget, assuming that her ward would be as tired of Erik’s antics as she was. But the young seer grinned back at her. Apparently not. She smiled fondly at the girl—really a woman full-grown and at the height of her power. When had that happened? Katherine turned her attention back to the Erik’s latest frippery. “You already own the Model A, Erik. Your horseless carriage is frightening all of the real horses whenever you use it.”

Erik held up a hand, stilling her objections. “But that is the point. It’s the Model A—the prototype.”

“To be fair, Katherine, this one is a bit more pleasing to the eye than his last automobile,” Bridget put in, her words wry as she ran a gloved hand over the geometrically defined steel hood. “Perhaps it’ll be a touch less obnoxious.”

Given an inch of support, Erik took a mile. “Precisely! That was 1903—it’s been six years. Consider for a moment how much innovation we’ve had in just two years. Color photographs, the helicopter. That’s something I should invest in, by and by. We’ve traveled by foot, cart, beast, ship, train, now automobile. Why not by air?”

“Oh, lovely.” Jason, the Vampire King’s secretary and ofttimes keeper, leaned against one of the gilded double doors of the Opera House, taking in their conversation and the subject of it. “Bridget, did you get him started again?”

The young woman snorted. “He doesn’t need our help for that.”

“No, I suppose not. He gets carried away with all these newfangled contraptions. I’m still of the opinion that Katherine should take away his camera,” Jason said, and gave his king a bland stare.

The grin he got in return was entirely unfazed. “But Katherine loved our photograph.”

The queen in question arched her brow at him. “As much as you detest having to face the music of your rude creation, Erik…”

“I would take that as a warning. You do get your fair share of exercise in pushing your luck, Erik,” Jason nodded, woefully contrite, to the vampire queen. Erik’s off-the-wall sense of humor more often than not found Jason doing things the king’s secretary knew were beyond the pale.

“That he does.” Bridget mirrored her mentor’s posture and folded her arms but couldn’t keep the smile from tugging at her lips. “That aside, I can think of much better uses of your pricey innovations than antagonizing your queen. Do you intend to drive your Model T, or simply admire it?”

“If you’re going to be sassy—”

“It’s not as if you don’t deserve it, now is it?” Katherine’s own lips were beginning to curve into a smile.

The Viking waved away his queen’s teasing and tapped the hood. “Why don’t you give it a spin, Bridget? Tell me if my investment is worthwhile, hmm?”

She laughed, doubtful. “I am to believe that you intend to share?”

If Erik had ever mastered a mischievous grin, it was at that moment. “No time like the present to ruffle some feathers. Remember the rise you got from the humans with your bicycle?”

The sound that escaped her was far from ladylike. “I stand by the same statement I made two decades ago. Bloomers are an offense to the fabric they are made from.” The redhead pinned her large hat more securely and gathered up the short train of her long, iris-shaped skirts in one hand as she spoke, all while Katherine pinched the bridge of her nose at the prospect of their afternoon.

After a moment Katherine finally just sighed and gave Bridget’s hand a single pat while Erik set about starting his vehicle. “Do be careful with it, Bridget, and don’t let him talk you into a helicopter. He has enough paraphernalia to last him at least another decade,” the vampire queen said, and gave Erik a dry glance.

Bridget’s lips quirked into a smile to rival that of the vampire king’s, and the dread beast came to life with a roar—much to the chagrin of a handful of bays tied to the hitching post across the street. “That would be a pity, wouldn’t it? I will try to keep him reined in, but his hobby seems to be … what was it, ‘getting our goat?’”

“The goat has already been gotten, ladies.” Erik said, grinning wildly. “But seeing as we’re burning daylight, let’s get a move on, shall we? How many humans can we knot the knickers of in one afternoon?”

 

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Exposure – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

“Erik, you have to hold still for this to work.”

“I still feel like it needs some adjustment.”

Jason rolled his eyes in the direction of the new, breadbox-sized Kodak ‘Brownie’ camera and muttered softly in ancient Greek before raising his voice. “You do know that Katherine’s going to kill you, right?” He returned his attention to the viewfinder. Erik had a bee in his bonnet about getting this… picture… taken and wouldn’t be dissuaded.

The Vampire King laughed. “Isn’t that the point of this exercise?”

“Hold still. I’m still getting the exposure.” Dammit, Erik had moved again. “We’re going to have to try again. You moved.”

“Did not.”

This time Jason cast his look fully at his master, arid and annoyed.

Erik dropped his hand to below his waist and made an obscene gesture. “Is this in the shot, too?”

Jason sighed a long-suffering sigh. “I’m going to help her hide your body. Just letting you know.” He advanced the film with the turnkey and felt the small tug that told him this was the last attempt. “Last try, unless you want to break into the rest of the celluloid.” He shook his head. “I still can’t believe you spent this much money just to prank Katherine.”

“It wasn’t so bad.”

“The camera alone cost a dollar.” Jason tracked Erik’s expenses. If he kept spending at this rate, he would have to write to Erik’s vampire father in Rome for money.

Again.

Erik fidgeted with his pants some more until he finally looked up, grinning broadly. “Okay, now I’m ready.”

Jason sighed. He couldn’t believe Erik was making him do this. Never mind—it was Erik. “Okay, just hold still. Taking the picture… now.”

Katherine really was going to kill him.

 

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Leftovers – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

Jessie St. James felt a grin growing as she watched Justin MacDowell toddle around the worn wood floors of Otherworld Books, the stubby felt feathers on his turkey outfit sashaying with each bit of progress he made. She looked at Brian and found him grinning, too, teeth a flash of white against terracotta skin, before he leaned over and redirected his adopted little brother. “It’s hard to believe how much he’s grown in just a month,” she said, and decided to plant her plump butt in the doorway of the stock room to corral him a little.

Brian chuckled and nodded, bending to collect Justin. “Yeah, it is.” Justin objected loudly, gaze fixated on the Christmas display Brian was in the middle of assembling, and he patted the little boy’s back around the turkey accessories on his diapered tush in an attempt to distract and sooth. He sank onto the floor with Jessie and her insulated bag of Thanksgiving leftovers, and his stomach gave an appreciative grumble. A sheepish smile tugged at his lips. “That smells good.”

“Good!” Justin made grabby hands for the bag, evidently as interested in the smell as his big brother.

Jessie grinned at the toddler. “Oh yeah. About as good as it did the first time,” Jessie said, and gave a definitive nod as she unzipped the large doggie bag that Winter had so graciously provided. “I missed Winter’s cooking, you know, before everything,” she added with a glance over her shoulder, looking out for Norah MacDowell. While Brian’s mom was a wonderful person and incredibly kind, she was human and just wasn’t privy to what had happened in the last month—or some of the things that had come before. Jessie dug into the bag and came up with a Tupperware container and an itty-bitty spoon, handing them to her friend with a wry smile. “Winter also sent Justin some pumpkin pudding. Have to get him started young on that addiction.”

The young Black man laughed. “What else is in your goodie bag?”

“Hmm.” Jessie dug out stacks of plastic dishes, spreading them out between them. “Looks like the whole kit-and-caboodle. Winter likes to set people up in style, you know. Want to help me eat some of it?” It was almost like a date… on the floor… with a baby brother squealing for his share. So yeah, almost. Almost sort of counted when you were seventeen, right?

Now if only Brian wasn’t too good for her.

“It would be a terrible, terrible crime to turn down a Mulcahy plate!” Brian said, playfully scandalized as he got Justin settled into his lap for his snack—the gateway drug into all things pumpkin spiced.

“Wouldn’t it?” While Justin happily nommed away, Jessie took a few slices of Winter’s homemade bread and added some turkey and cranberry sauce before passing it along, feeling deliciously domestic. Then, Jessie’s lips pulled into a thoughtful frown when Brian took the sandwich.

Her friend tilted his head, his long, pencil-thin dreads swinging. “What’s wrong?”

Just as quickly, that frown quirked into a smile. “Just thinking. Wondering how you’re doing now that you’re in the ‘in-crowd,’ so to speak… Do you want to talk about it?” It was at least putting it on the metaphorical table.

Brian adjusted Justin on his lap and set the sandwich on his knee, deliberating in his answer. “I can’t say I didn’t suspect something was going on with you at the Theatre, but…” Brian shrugged one shoulder, “it’s a lot to swallow. I won’t deny that it’s nice to know I’m going to do something worthwhile with my life, and make an impact for the better. There’s more certainty in that than I can say I’ve had before.”

“Why’s that?”

The dark-skinned teen just shrugged, again. “Growing up out there,” he made a vague gesture to the streets with one hand, and gave his little brother another spoonful of pudding with the other, “sometimes you have to wonder.” Another sheepish smile immediately followed. “That’s not to discount what Norah’s done for me—and that’s been a lot. Being a Hero, though… that pays things forward in the best way, if you can believe in Destiny.”

“I do believe in Destiny.” Someday, that Destiny would take Brian from her, but she was determined to get the most of every day she had with him. Jessie found a smile for him and playfully nudged his knee with her sneaker. “But, you don’t have to be a Hero with emphasis on the capital H to be the everyday hero variety. Winter and I are ‘come as you are’ people. You know that. And Norah knows it without the rest of the picture,” she said, and scooted over to eat her lunch with him just in time to catch a flash of flush across his terracotta cheeks. Maybe…? Naw. “Now, after we go Jaws on this bountiful feast, what can I help you with here? Not really in the mood to go home yet.” She was never in the mood to go home, but that was another story.

He laughed, grateful for the excuse to move on. “If you need an excuse to be busy, you can help me with this display.”

“Perfect.”

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Things Fall Apart – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

He sniffed the air. The scent of burnt bones and under it—blood. A lot of it. And the outhouse smell of violent death.

He walked the utility area carefully, reconstructing the deadly dance from a lifetime lived among its devotees. The spatters of brown flecks. The dust-free smears where a body had been dragged, struggling. A broken fingernail caught in the chain-link. The cloying smell of burning hair and garbage, and just a hint of cucumber. Acetone. At least they had destroyed the body, but it meant the attackers were not human. A human gang might have doused the body with gasoline to throw off the authorities, but they wouldn’t have brought their victim all the way out here, and it wouldn’t have been acetone. They’d brought it with them to make sure the body was gone. He sighed heavily. Perfect. He didn’t have time to pity the dead. This was just one of the sites he had been sent to check.

He opened the dumpster, holding his black sleeve over his sensitive nose, wishing the leather were doing a better job of masking the stench. The inside was charred black, the sides a little warped from the heat, but the accelerant had done its job. Nothing remained to mark this victim as different. Just a lumpy sort of ash. Shattered bone fragments and the occasional tooth. He could have his team sanitize the area, but they couldn’t remove the smell. If the authorities didn’t find the body they could smell, there would be more questions than a few teeth, they would never find a match for, would pose.

This city was a mess. Its preternaturals were out of control. Just short of all-out warfare between too many factions. It was getting worse, and more importantly, it was getting sloppy. That was something his masters couldn’t allow. The humans could never know who lived among them. They were a panicky breed and the only thing they liked more than killing each other was killing anything else. It would be open season on them all, and as superior as many preternaturals liked to feel with their extra strength or speed or longevity, there were billions of humans in this world. No matter his people’s advantages, they would lose any concerted war.

He heard a car approach, its tires crunching the gravel. He lowered the dumpster lid soundlessly and scaled the fence behind it, dropping to a crouch on the other side. He heard the ding of the car as the occupants left the engine running and the lights pointed in his direction. He sprinted for the tree line, trusting the dumpster to block him from view. He hurtled past the first line of trees and hauled himself, hand over hand with the ease of practice, into a tall one a few feet into the stand, coming to rest about fifteen feet up. Any higher and his weight was going to be an issue.

He watched from his temporary blind as a man and a woman crossed through the beam from their headlights. The woman wore a long dress and carried a large, floppy bag, from which she was pulling a flashlight and a few small bottles. The man beside her had his hand across his stomach, fingers under his jacket. He would bet most of his not-insubstantial resources that the jacket held a gun. The man’s eyes never stopped moving, searching outside their pool of light—muscle then, which made her the boss.

“I don’t like this. It’s too exposed out here. Let’s come back in the morning.”

“Etienne, it has to be tonight. Do you smell that? Tomorrow this place will be full of families and someone is going to notice the smell.”

The man frowned, and he stopped his scanning to look at her for a moment. “I smell it. Why don’t you go wait in the car? I’ll take care of it.”

She sighed and seemed to be counting to ten. “I know that you think you’re protecting me. You seem to think I’m much more fragile than I am. This is not my first burned body, Etienne. Not my first murdered friend. This isn’t even my hundredth. I appreciate you coming with me, but this thinking that I’m the damsel you have to save has got to stop. This is my city. I’m the Mulcahy now. You have to let me do my job or I can’t have you come with me again. Tell me you understand.”

The man’s body was tense, his face a mix of frustration, anger, and a touch of fear. “Winter, you can’t seriously expect me to—”

“Tell me you understand or go sit in the car. This is my job, Etienne. This is what I do. None of that has changed. I am responsible for keeping as much peace as can be had in this city, and barring that, for keeping things under wraps enough to not have us all killed by the Eldest to keep the Veil of Secrecy intact. Sometimes that means stopping fights before they start. Tonight, it means making sure that a missing lion’s body has been destroyed enough not to raise questions. A fifteen-year-old lion.” Her teeth and fists were both clenched as she spoke. “Who belongs to a very good friend. Tonight, my job is to make sure his body is unrecognizable. Tomorrow, it’s to talk to his Queen and tell her that my need that she maintain the peace is more important than her need for vengeance. So, tell me you understand. Back me up and help me do this impossible job or stay home.”

The man searched her face, and sighed heavily. “I don’t understand.”

The woman raised her hand to point at the car. “Then g—”

He caught her hand gently. “I don’t understand, Winter, but I’m trying to. Do your job. I’ll back you up.”

The woman struggled to control her face, but nodded, and turned toward the chain-link fence.

Winter… this was Winter Mulcahy. Seahaven’s wizard. The man in the trees had heard of her, but never met her. She was out of her depth, but it looked like maybe she was recruiting some help. He hoped it would be enough. Seahaven was winding up on his masters’ radar too often. The Eldest were neither patient nor forgiving. They couldn’t be.

He slipped silently out of the tree and into the darkness beyond. Lions. He couldn’t help Miss Mulcahy comfort her friend, but he could make sure that whoever was attacking the lions was too scared to do it again. His smile was feral as he ran toward where his car was hidden.

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There’s A Monster at the Door – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

The little monster crept toward the door of the enormous stone house. Maybe this was not such a good idea after all. Her friends had dared her to come here. They’d called her weak and scared. She swore she would show them that she was made of tougher stuff than they thought. But standing here, at the end of the mile-long drive, the house gave her pause—squatting here on the edge of the world, nothing but water as far as the eye could see on the other side.

She eyed the door and tried to summon her courage. It was just a house. Nothing to fear. She stepped away from the comforting shelter of the bushes, squared her shoulders, and climbed the stairs. She raised her hand and—

The door swung open. Light poured into the night and framed an angry man holding a struggling grey cat. “You have your own door, cat. Why are you screaming for me to let you out this one?”

The monster froze, her arm still raised like a startled statue.

The man blinked for a moment and set the cat down. The cat apparently changed his mind. He sniffed the monster once, twined himself around the man’s legs, and disappeared into the depths of the house. The man took in the diminutive monster—her horns, her claws, her spotted fur, her row of sharp fangs, and the spiked tail that hung behind her. He studied her with a perplexed look on his face, then turned to call into the house for help. “Winter! There’s a monster at the door.” He turned back to her. “What do you want?”

His words unfroze her and she turned to run back to the shelter of the bushes and away. Who cared what her friends thought? She had come when none of them dared.

A woman came to the door, white hair in a bun. She gave the man an exasperated look and called out into the night, “Don’t go. You’re welcome here, little one.” She reached back into the house and pulled out a small cauldron, filled to the brim with candy.

The monster turned back, uncertain. The woman seemed nice enough. She came back toward the pair standing in the light and held up a sack, uncertainly. “Trick or Treat?”

The woman smiled and held out the cauldron. It held candy, but not the normal cheap kind that most people had. The cauldron was filled with full-sized candy bars. “Take all you want. Very few people are brave enough to venture out here.”

The monster straightened and smiled. She was brave. Take that, third-graders of Room 31! She reached her blue-furred hand into the cauldron and took her favorite, looking speculatively at the woman.

The woman smiled and nodded. “You can take as many as you like.”

The monster grinned and took two more. She tilted her face up to the woman and smiled. “Thank you!” She spun and ran down the steps toward the bushes and her bike. She put the candy bars into her sack but stopped when she saw a glimmer of light—a symbol that glowed for just a moment then disappeared when it touched the other candy. She looked back to the woman.

The woman tilted her head a little but smiled. “It’s alright, little one. It will keep you safe tonight.”

The monster considered that, then smiled at the woman. She put the sack in the basket on her bike and pulled back out onto the long driveway. She called back to the pair, “Happy Halloween!”

The woman, Winter Mulcahy, turned back to Etienne and shook her head, pulling him and the cauldron back inside and shutting the door.

Etienne looked at the candy and back at the wizard. “Is that going to be happening all night, then? Monsters at the door until dawn?”

Winter set the cauldron on the side table and headed back to dinner. “Not a monster. A witch.”

Etienne glanced back at the door. “A witch?”

Winter nodded. “She saw the glyph of protection. She’s one of us. Now come eat.”

Etienne sat and picked up his spoon. The night was a cool one and the stew was warm and filling. He glanced back at the door and the purple-spotted monster. He hoped the little witch would be safe tonight.

A grey form rubbed against his legs under the table. He pulled a bit of beef from the stew, blew on it, and slipped it to the cat.

Winter pretended not to notice.

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Liminal Space – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

Etienne paused within the cold-flame-wreathed rift, within this liminal place between realms. Before him lay the Mortal Realm, and behind him, Faerie. He had spent weeks seeking a rift to pass through. He had wandered alone, his body aching with the agony of knife and fire that still wracked each step. His mind aching with the sting of humiliation, desperation, and betrayal. He had endured it all, looking for this passage—this escape. But now, he paused.

There was nothing for him among the mortals. Not anymore. Not since his beloved Bess had died. Not since the plague that had robbed him of her sweetness, of her kisses.

Of their children.

But behind him he was a hunted man, scarred by his enemies. By his sidhe step-father. Scarred by his allies for his own protection, because a sidhe magician had carved spell glyphs into his flesh—glyphs of compulsion and control—and the only remedy was to brand dwarven runes over each and every one.

And still his step-father hunted him. Still he could not rest.

That was the thought that propelled him forward, even as pain knifed through his chest. He had not set foot in the Mortal Realm since losing her. Losing them. Losing everything. But Bess would not want him to die at his step-father’s hands. She would want him to live, even as hollow as his existence had become.

He would persist for her.

With that, he shouldered the pack over his raw shoulders and threw his lot in with the mortals.

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Uh-huh – A Books of Binding Flash Fiction

Elspeth plunked down the last square tile with enthusiasm. “I’m out.”

Alerich eyed the pieces, trying to keep the corners of his mouth from twitching into a smile. He waved at the board. “You’re cheating.”

Indignation gave her voice an edge. “Am not.”

“Elspeth, ‘spong’ is not a word.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it’s really not.”

“Yes, it really is.” She picked at a speck of lint on her blouse. “It’s a potions word.”

“Uh-huh.” Alerich settled back in his chair and took a sip of his bourbon, then motioned at her with the glass. “Define it.”

“A spong is a … It’s kind of a … It’s like … “

Alerich was losing the battle with the corners of his mouth. “Uh-huh.”

“Will you shut up, I’m trying to figure out how to describe it to you. It’s kind of a specialty item. You have to know a lot about potions to have even heard of it.”

The corners won and he had to hide the smile in another sip of the bourbon. She was so much fun to wind up. “Uh-huh.”

“Look, I don’t care if you believe me. It’s a word. You can ask grandmother if you want.”

“Uh-huh.”

“God, you’re such a baby! Fine! I’ll just take it off the board. Here, ‘song,’ unless you don’t think that one’s a word either, Mister Never-cracks-a-spellbook-but-thinks-he-knows-every-word-ever-said. It’s a perfectly good word, but no. You have to be such a bad loser. So, fine! I’ll take it off the stupid board. There. Are you happy, Mister Game-police?”

“Uh-huh. ‘S.’ ‘Songs.’ I’m out.”

Elspeth glared at him for a moment, then produced a sound somewhere between a growl and a scream. She pushed away from the table and stomped off through the dim of the library.

Alerich watched her go. She was fun to wind up, but he would be paying for this one for a while. ‘Spong.’ Why does that sound familiar? He took another liberal sip and stood, carrying the heavy glass with him to the ancient dictionary on its stand. He turned the onionskin pages delicately. The smile came back, this time more rueful than wry. “‘Spong. Noun. A projection of land; an irregular, narrow, projecting part of a field.’” He glanced at where his sister had stormed off. She would most likely be in the greenhouse. He took another sip of the bourbon. She might throw a pot at him, and spong was definitely not a potions word. He settled into an armchair by the fire and picked up his book. He might tell her eventually.

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