It’s funny, really, how vulnerable people are despite all their attempts at security. Firewalls, passwords, metal detectors, security cameras, background checks… all useless if you want to get past ’em bad enough. Like this, right now; see how easy it is to fall in step with a little crowd and blend right in through the slidin’ doors, past the cameras and the sleepy security guard? Everyone figures if you’re at a hospital this early in the morning, you must belong here. And anyway, no one ever watches for a girl hunched in her trench coat, skin like a candle’s wick and dark messy hair, they take one look and assume she’s visitin’ a sick relative. No need for suspicion, though I could be carryin’ anything under this coat, maybe somethin’ faster and deadlier than the handgun in my right pocket. But see, I walk right in and go left down a hallway and no one stops me, no one asks where I’m goin’ or if I need help. No one sees me, really, not even the mother and teenage daughter waitin’ by the elevator – I could shoot ’em both in the back of the head right now and they’d never know a thing. But I don’t, of course; instead I take the elevator with ’em, back against the wall and hands in my pockets, all innocent ‘cept for my martial stance.

After a few seconds the elevator comes to a jerkin’ stop on the wrong floor and a voice over the intercom commands, “Put your hands on the walls!” and when the duo look around in fright it repeats, “Now!” They both do as commanded and of course I don’t, my hands are in my pockets and I’m prob’ly smilin’, I can’t help it, I just love when things go so smoothly. The elevator door has glass panels and beyond them we all watch, they in terror and me, well, still grinnin’ like the cat that ate the canary, as what looks like a whole damn SWAT team surrounds the elevator. The guy in the lead approaches, points his big fancy gun at me, and demands in the same voice from the intercom, “JewelThief, put your hands on the wall or we fire!” That’s not my name, of course, just one of my handles. Booker Shaw, that’s not my name either, but it’s what I go by when I feel like going by somethin’. Anyway, so I take my hands out of my pockets, empty, the boys don’t seem to expect that, and lift ’em in the air, still smilin’. “On the wall!” he yells again and I obey, I can play nice when it suits me. The elevator door opens and they gesture for me to walk out nice and slow. This is my favorite part, where they think they’ve caught me all on their own, that I didn’t plan this down to the second. Sometimes you have to go deep inside in order to get past some of those security measures, break ’em from the inside out, so why not have ’em open the front door for you to do so?


A rare moment, the calm after one storm and before the next spent in weary and listless silence. Head to Tanim’s shoulder, Daren asks idly, “Which madness do you prefer? Which is the least of the evils?” but “I’m not sure I’m the best judge of evils,”  the other answers with a wry nod to the bottle at his side, half empty or half full depending on the day. It earns him a jab in the ribs and, “I’m the only one who gets to dodge questions.”

“Fine,” Tanim stares down at the bottle, rocking it from side to side to make the amber contents dance. “I don’t prefer any of them,” his reply thoughtful, “but I think the quiet one scares me the most. When you’re not angry, not sneering or snarling, not fighting back or lashing out or anything. When you’re just still and blank…” His voice trails off and Daren laughs, or his rough version of the sound anyway, honest amusement with a one-sided smirk for accompaniment. “You prefer the times when I try to gut you to the peace and quiet? You really are a masochist.” Tanim ignores the last comment and shrugs, careful of Daren’s head leaned against his shoulder. “I suppose so, yes. The knife I can see, even if I can’t always dodge. It’s predictable. This… it’s like not being able to hear the ice cracking beneath your feet.”

“That’s fair,” The smirk twists, turns sour and oddly introspective. “I’m not sure even the ice knows when it’s about to shatter.” Tanim nods in acknowledgment and the silence expands once more until, “It’s never really peace,” he admits, unnecessary confession, “But I don’t want peace. Neither of us would be here if we wanted peace.”


I wonder what those grunge singers and goth kids would have done if they knew such gods as you existed, if they had been told their militant atheism could find a better home in your worship than in the denial of any worship at all. How might their songs have changed if they had sung to you instead? What fires might their rebellion have lit if they had rebelled for you? Death gods abound and always have, but there are none in any pantheon that light even a candle to your fierce and fantastic blaze. If things had been different, you might have had a following instead of a single scribe. You might have had an army clad in leather and safety pins, black painted nails and kohl lined eyes; an army fed on stolen cigarettes and hard liquor, energized by sorrow and hate. I just wonder what others may have accomplished with you to fuel their dark creativity – could someone like Kurt Cobain or Elliott Smith have handled you, or would your darkness have only fed on their own? Or perhaps you were there after all, in another iteration, another cycle, whispering the same wrenching dirges in their ears as you do now in mine?


Is this the winter you’ll finally tell me why the Moon killed the Sun?


Are you ever going to tell me?

Probably not. Besides, who knows why the gods do anything?

That’s a terrible answer.

Isn’t it better to get an honest “no” than be promised truths you’ll never receive?

I feel like you’re getting too into this trickster-death-god role.

I thought that’s what you wanted?

Yes, I mean, maybe, but… I’m getting Loki/Set vibes from you and it’s becoming a little alarming.

I’m well suited to the role, that’s all. Anyway, you already know the answer to your question. I don’t know why you keep bothering me about it.

I feel like every time I get an answer it just inspires ten more questions.

It’s been thirteen years and you’re just now catching on to that?


Muddled dreams; your fingers, the knife, the needle, fear and exhilaration; strange you’d choose these forms (yes, I know it’s you), suiting masks but so many meanings; lovers and enemies and one never without the other, by blood building a world to suit you both (or neither); so whose mask should I wear? the daughter, surrogate born in her own blood, so precious she should be sacrificed rather than set free (as if you allow a trinity); or the broken one reborn as avenging angel, she who managed to capture the Devil and would have held him until the end? (as if he can truly be held, ever); the dreams don’t tell me what role I should play; in them your masks are mine; in them the knife is dear to me, and I submit (you enjoy this, don’t you); but if I write about blood and feed you dark anthems the dreams recede for a time at least.


[ Writing prompt via my arch nemesis: “Mage does a pilgrimage through a desert temple” ]

This is not your land, the sandstorms wail. This is not your place, the blazing sun hisses. Turn back, turn back, the dry winds moan. You will not survive here, the jackals howl.

But still she walks. Across savannah grasses, rocky outcroppings, desert sands. Over dried streambeds and through wide, still rivers. She walks across the entirety of the dark continent, a solitary traveler beneath a wheeling cobalt sky. She could have sailed her slim black ship up the Great River and to the very doorstep of her destination, but then it would not be a pilgrimage. Every step she takes is a sign of her respect for another creature, so unlike her and yet… similar. She recognizes the similarities between them, few as there are, and it is for these reasons she makes the pilgrimage. There are few she truly respects; this is one.

In time her journey brings her finally to the first branches of the Great River, and these she follows north for countless miles as they flow into the larger artery and toward the distant sea. In this way she comes to the goddess’ city, surrounded as it is on three sides by wide canals. In this reality the city stands brilliant and whole, a wonder of ancient architecture and affluence, and yet also stands empty of human inhabitants. No civilians, no guards, no royalty or merchants or farmers. Even the grand temple, sharp and new as if it has just risen from the desert sands, is tended by no worshipers or priests. No music or chanting float from its dark corridors. This is not a place for humans.

This is a place for cats. She steps carefully as she makes her way through the city and toward the temple at its center, for everywhere lay felines of every size and color, basking in the hot afternoon sun. Some are small, domestic cats with triangular faces and pointed ears. Others are much larger, wild cats with paws the size of dinner plates and teeth made for breaking bone. They seem to exist together in perfect harmony; kittens dance and play between groups, crawling over sleeping lionesses and tagging cheetah cubs into the game. The heavy air thrums with the buzz of a thousand cats’ deep purring.

The cats pay her no mind until she reaches the temple’s entrance; here the doorway is guarded by two wild felines larger than any she has passed, one the tawny color of the desert and the other black as night. They watch her keenly as she approaches. When she bows her head to them in acknowledgement, they move aside silently. Inside the temple is dark, the cats needing no torches to see the way – and luckily neither does she. She moves as surely and softly as any feline, following the hallways and antechambers deeper into the structure. Finally she comes to the altar room, a masterpiece of architecture and beauty, and approaches the giant statue at its far end. More cats nap at its base, curled up on the stone feet and nestled in the crook of the statue’s lifted arms. One even bats idly at the ankh held up in one stone hand.

“Greetings, Lady of Flame,” she says to the statue as she bows her head respectfully. “It’s time we talked, you and I. I believe we have an acquaintance in common.”

The statue begins to glow.


Raised as I was on songs of rebellion and mischief, stories of maritime disasters and ghost ships, it’s no wonder you became who you are now. It was no isle of Lost Boys and the vacuum left from their defeated foe who turned you to gleeful pirate villain, was it? No, the brine and salt were always in your blood, the storm and gunpowder in your bones. I should have known from the beginning that you’d become this beautiful, wicked creature itching for battle and anarchy; I should have seen the flicker-crack of lightning in your emerald eyes and understood your future. Forest outlaw. Wanderer queen. Captain of the dread ship Jolly Roger.