October 21

Fictober, Prompt 21 – “Change is annoyingly difficult.”

Warnings: magical battle, slight creepy imagery.

Fantasy follow-up to Day 2 and Day 9 (starts immediately after #9).


It was large, amorphous, and colored with a sickening swirl of unpleasant greens and reds and oranges. It looked like something that should have oozed over the ground, but instead it was fast, and the discordance jarred my head worse than the colors.

The creature came straight for me, scarcely seeming to notice the kami.

She intercepted it before it could reach my shields, cutting off a reaching, gooey arm with a sword made out of light.

The thing screeched in pain and drew back, only now seeming to focus itself (did it even have eyes?) on the deity standing before it. Still, it did not move to strike her, but squirmed sideways, working towards me again.

I sent out a blast of my own power, dark and heavy, aiming for another multicolored arm.

The magical punch struck home, and did some damage, but this time the creature shrieked in rage rather than pain.

I was the target of its malice, clearly. Because I was human? What did that mean?

The kami went on the offensive now, darting forward with her shining blade, her sword strokes fluid and practiced as she hacked off piece after piece of the strange, magical flesh. Some of the pieces quickly reattached themselves, while others wisped away into nothing.

Now it did strike back against her, but either it was unable to touch a deity, or her own magical protections were strong enough to fend it off, for she sustained no apparent wounds. Slowly, she drove it back.

I followed as close as I dared, sending my own magic in whenever I could get a clear shot. I doubted that my strength would do much to touch a kami, but I did not wish to hit her, even by accident.

As we pressed closer to the river, the thing seemed to temporarily regain some strength, surging up larger again, as if drawing form and power from the area where it had originated. I could almost tell what the kami meant about its power having a weird taste; it wasn’t quite that, not for me, but the smell of the air was strange here, a swampy miasma where there should have been only forest and rock and river.

Still the kami pressed it, relentless.

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October 20

Fictober, Prompt 20 – “You could talk about it, you know?”

Warnings: none. Fantasy.


I traced the last rune and watched as the energy poured down into the mixture bubbling on the stove. It looked good so far, the color was shifting from brown to orange the way it was supposed to, and I’d double-checked all the ingredients three times, so it should—

Something in the magic twisted, and whole pot flared briefly orange, and then faded into a distinctly unappetizing gray.

I cursed at length, spinning away from the stove and trying not to stomp along the floorboards like a petulant child.

“Still having trouble?” a voice asked from the doorway, and I glanced over to find Nkiru standing there before turning my head sharply away. I thought she had gone out; I didn’t want her to see me like this.

I didn’t want her to know that anything was wrong at all, but it had been impossible to hide for long with the two of us sharing the house right now.

Nkiru sighed and came over to wrap a dark-skinned arm around my shoulders, squeezing a little. I kept my head turned and tried to accept the comfort for what it was. She was open with physical affection and while I was discovering that that could be nice, I was…not used to it. Not after living on my own for so long.

“You could talk about it, you know?” she said softly, voice warm and understanding.

I squeezed my eyes shut tight against the sudden threat of tears. Kindness made this harder, somehow, but I couldn’t bring myself to shrug her off and turn away.

I shook my head. I didn’t think I could stand to talk about it. Not with my latest failure still simmering on the stove, smell becoming fouler with each passing moment.

She squeezed gently once more and then let me go when I turned away to move the pot off the heat, replacing it with the kettle. No sense in having gotten the stove going for nothing, and tea sounded appealing. At least all my non-magical cooking still went smoothly, which was just as well, because Nkiru wasn’t very good at it.

“Maybe it is a curse,” she said.

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October 19

Fictober, Prompt 19 – “Yes, I admit it, you were right.”, Original Fiction

Warnings: none. Fantasy, follow-up with Day 3′s raven friend.


On the fifth magical blast, the last of the Constructed soldiers finally fell apart and dissolved into black dust.

Lowering my hand, I panted, gulping in enough air to get my breath under control. I couldn’t risk speaking an incantation incorrectly, but I had to be sure there weren’t any more of them in the area.

When I was sure I could speak steadily, I enacted a magic-seeing spell and then turned slowly in a circle, watching for the cloudy glow that would mark the presence of an active spell or magical being (including Constructs of any kind) for at least a mile around.

It was a relief to come back to my original position having seen nothing.

I let the spell collapse, and staggered off the road just enough to be out of sight before putting my back to a tree and slumping to the ground, all the strength going out of me now that the danger had passed. It would take food and rest before I would be able to manage that kind of magical battle again.

The soft displacement of air by feathered wings was sufficient warning, and I did not open my eyes as my companion dropped out of the trees and landed on my shoulder. The raven croaked in an inquiring way, nibbling at my sweat-soaked hair.

“I’m fine,” I told her, summoning the energy to reach a hand up and gently stroke her chest feathers. She switched her gentle nibbling to my finger, then croaked again.

“Yes, I admit it, you were right,” I said, laughing a little. “That was definitely the best place to set an ambush for them.”

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October 18

Fictober, Prompt 18 – “Secrets? I love secrets.”

Warnings: creepiness? Implied monster? This one is weird.


“Can you keep a secret?”

“Secrets? I love secrets.”

That was…not an answer to my question. “Why?” I asked.

“Why what?” This was followed by a childish giggle that was very out of character for the woman I had been speaking with for the last several days.

“Why do you love secrets?”

“They’re so interesting!” She spun around, arms flung out in a parody of childhood delight. “Full of whispers and corners and shadows.”

Another not-answer. A chill crept through me as I realized that she was not what I had thought, not at all.

What she actually was, I didn’t know, and was beginning to think that I didn’t want to. Not something I could confide in, certainly.

She was watching me sidelong with a too-wide grin, hands clasped decorously behind her back.

Had she always been this other thing? Or was this a recent change?

“Tell me your secret,” she sing-songed, bouncing on her toes.

“What will you do with it?” I asked, voice low, wondering if I should risk backing away. We weren’t in a deserted area of the mall, exactly, but there wasn’t anyone else around right now.

“Keep it,” she said, “keep it forever. But there’s a price!”

I swallowed, knowing my eyes were too wide but unable to fix it, unable to blink. “What price?”

She grinned that too-wide grin at me and clapped her hands together in delight.

“You!”


(To be honest, I have no idea what is happening here, but I ran with it.)

October 17

Fictober, Prompt 17 – “There’s just something about them.”

Warnings: none. Urban fantasy.

It turned out that this was a continuation of Prompt 13, which I was not expecting. I really like this world though!


With that specific group of United Wizards Legion members thoroughly removed, thanks to the help of my new…friend from elsewhere, the next few days were calmer than I had anticipated. There were more of them out there in the world, but this loss would be a blow to their group, and this had been the most immediate threat.

We were lying low at my small house in Oak Hill outside the city, which mostly consisted of trying all the different foods we could find take-out for, and me buying new subscriptions to both the electronic and magical entertainment services so that we had something to fill our time other than the internet. The former was more than I anticipated, and the latter was probably a bad idea, since it wasn’t going to give my friend the most realistic view of things. Still, he seemed almost as interested in how the technology and magic worked (sometimes separately, sometimes together) as in the content of the shows and movies we watched.

On the second day, I made the mistake of saying, “Um, is there something I can call you? A name, or title, or anything?”

He blinked those human-but-not eyes at me, then smiled. (Like his laughter, it made my spine crawl, but…not in a bad way? Or maybe I was just getting used to the feeling.) “My native tongue is not one that humans find easy.”

I almost said, “Try me,” but managed to hold my tongue. For now. I was pretty good with languages.

“But,” he went on, looking thoughtful, “I would be happy to pick a human moniker, if that would suit.”

“Sure,” I agreed, and then promptly made my second mistake by introducing him to a few baby name sites on the internet.

“Are you sure that I cannot use Enguerrand?” he said after I had fervently vetoed his first half-dozen choices. “It has such a nice resonance to it.”

“What does that even mean? Never mind,” I shook my head when he opened his mouth to explain. “You’re trying to blend in a bit, right? If I’m going to call you by this name in public, then it can’t be too unusual.”

“I suppose you are right,” he sighed, and eventually settled on Alexander, to my relief. I was never going to be able to think of him as an “Alex” or otherwise shorten the name, but at least it wouldn’t sound weird.

Grocery shopping on day four was an experience.

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October 16

Fictober, Prompt 16 – “Listen. No, really listen.”, Original Fiction

Warnings: horror, implied monster, ambiguous ending. Midwest/north woods gothic.


I stuttered to a halt in the middle of the trail, looking warily to my left where the high, trilling call had sounded.

Of course, there were loons out on the lake at this time of year, making their way south for the winter. I just hadn’t realized how much more eerie the sound would be when I was out in the woods after sunset, and not safe inside the coziness of our cabin. We couldn’t see the lake from here, the trees were too thick, but it was nearby.

“Just a loon,” Lukas called back to me, still walking up ahead.

“I know,” I said, unable to shake the feeling of uneasiness as I continued, trotting a little to catch up to him. He had spent more time up here than I had, but even I knew what the loons sounded like by now.

We passed on through the increasing darkness. Lukas thought there might be some good owl-watching tonight, if we could find the right spot in the woods. That had sounded a lot more fun back in the cabin, where it had been warm near the fire.

Now, out here, with night falling around us and the temperatures slowly dropping, I was less sure about it. I shivered, and shivered more when the loon called again, long and wailing.

Another voice answered it this time, almost that same, wailing cry.

Almost.

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October 15

Fictober, Prompt 15 – “That’s what I’m talking about!”

Warnings: none. Fantasy of sorts.


“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Nadia called to me as we ducked low over our mounts to avoid the vegetation hanging low over our heads. Our mounts continued to pace forward steadily in spite of the thick foliage. “We can’t just ride up like this and assume we’re going to receive a warm welcome!”

I waved off her concerns, careful not to grin. We probably weren’t going to receive a warm welcome…that was half the point. The other half was to make a statement.

No one was going to ignore two riders who had managed to tame mounts like these.

Of course, “tame” might not be quite the right word. The pair stopped, necks stretching out as their heads swiveled, looking and smelling for something that had caught their attention.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” Nadia whispered fiercely, careful not to disturb whatever potential prey had been spotted.

I did grin this time but leaned forward and touched the back of my mount, the bigger female. “Maybe later?” I asked, cajoling. “We did eat just a couple of hours ago.”

Her head turned slightly so that one large eye could stare at me. The look seemed more reproachful than irritated, which was a good sign.

“I promise we’ll find you some good hunting grounds when we get there,” I promised, raising my voice so that the male could hear too. It wasn’t clear exactly how well they understood me, but they weren’t unintelligent creatures, and talking to them seemed to be working well so far. “It’s good land, and we are coming to help.”

The female blew out a breath, relaxed out of her alert stance, and paced onward. I smoothed a hand along her thick scales next to my saddle in thanks and reassurance. Her mate followed without question.

I was hoping, if we could get settled outside the city according to plan, that there might be some little ones too, at some point. It wasn’t mating or nesting season now, fortunately, but it wasn’t too many weeks away. I was glad that mated pairs stayed together year-round, though, as it made this much easier.

“Well, at least they listen to you,” Nadia grumbled, but I saw her giving the male a surreptitious pat as well. Secretly, she loved them as much as I did, but felt that one of us needed to be “sensible” about it.

“It will be fine,” I told her, grinning again, and it would be. The city might not be excited to see us immediately, but once I explained and we four proved ourselves as a team, they would let us stay.

After all, who was going to turn down a pair of tyrannosaurs as gate guardians?


(RIP, Victor Mílan)

October 14

Fictober, Prompt 14 – “I can’t come back.”

Warnings: none. Sci-fi.


“You have to come back,” he pleaded.

“I can’t come back.”

“You can! The Head Instructor said she’ll let you in again, and you haven’t missed too many lessons—”

“Let me rephrase: I won’t come back.”

“You’re way ahead on flight time, of course, and she said— Wait, what?” He stuttered to a halt, staring.

I looked back calmly, not caring to repeat myself again.

“But you— You have to! If you don’t graduate from the Academy no one will ever hire you!”

“That seems unlikely,” I pointed out. “Just because many space pilots train here doesn’t mean they all do.” I turned back to my packing. The cadet rooms in the Academy were tiny, streamlined and industrial. I hadn’t bothered to accumulate many personal items beyond the necessities; only a few small presents from my twin, always a tiny balm for our continued separation.

Xue continued to gape at me from the doorway. “But— Well, even if that’s true, it’s going to make it a lot harder for you to get work!”

“I know.”

“All you have to do is promise to be more respectful to the Instructors from now on!”

“More obedient, you mean.”

“Well…” he hedged. I wasn’t sure why he was still trying to convince me; he knew me well enough after two years to know that I wasn’t going to accept such an argument.

“But, your family,” he tried next, hesitantly.

“I’m sure my brother will be upset, but he will understand.” He was the only family I was speaking to, these days, and he certainly would understand. He’d be joining me, if he were here.

Xue was silent for several moments then, while I finished packing my bag and my one small trunk. I stripped the sheets off the bed and sent them down the laundry chute, and made sure that the computer terminal was wiped clean of my data. My handheld was in my bag, and then all that was left to do was to shut down the lighting, step out into the hall, and close the door behind me.

He followed me out, then asked quietly, “What will you do?”

“Work, first,” I responded. “Until I have enough for a small ship of my own. After that?” I mused over the question as we headed down the dim hallway. “I think there’s probably a faster way to make the run between Chi’dong and Binyun.”

“But no one’s ever done that run in less than five days!”

“This certainty that we know everything there is to know about known space is most of why I’m leaving,” I told him sternly. “The run that is used now can’t be done in less than five days. I think there’s a faster run along a different route.”

“But that’s dangerous—”

I stopped dead in the corridor, turning to face him and cutting this latest protest short.

“Good-bye, Xue,” I told him. “Thank you for your concern, and for keeping me company. But dangerous or not, it’s my flight to make.”

He opened his mouth on what was probably going to be another automatic protest, then closed it. He frowned, but when he spoke again it was to say, “You’re welcome. Good luck.”

I nodded in thanks and continued alone.

Luck wasn’t going to have much to do with it.

October 13

Fictober, Prompt 13 – “I never knew it could be this way.”

Warnings: none, I think? Slight creepiness, urban fantasy.


It wore the shape of a young man, though the pupils in its eyes were not quite round, and its teeth just a little bit too sharp.

It grinned at me. “Have I gotten it right?”

“Pretty close,” I said, and explained about the eyes and the teeth. Something in my vision rippled, and now it looked like a perfectly normal human was standing in front of me.

“And now?” It asked, with another smile. I nodded. “Very well. What next?”

“Follow me,” I told him – it – and turned to leave the clearing. I sensed its hesitation, but heard footsteps following.

I was taking a chance, turning my back on it, but it seemed more pleased than upset at being summoned, and I thought that it probably wouldn’t try to rip through the binding spells just yet.

It could, I suffered under no illusion about that. I hadn’t meant to summon something quite this powerful, but this had been the creature that answered, and I’d had no choice but to proceed with my plans. I was just fortunate that it was amused for now.

We crossed out of the woods and back into the town. I kept going, heading for my car, grimly intent on my goal, and didn’t realize that it was no longer following me until I was a dozen paces away.

The look of…was that surprise? Wonder? Curiosity? Whatever the expression was, it was not something I had expected to see on the face of something like this being.

Yet there it stood, looking up the small-town street of houses and shops and streetlights, and the distant skyline of the city, examining them with every sign of interest.

“The last time I was on this world,” it said after another moment of observation, “it was nothing like this.”

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October 12

Fictober, Prompt 12 – “What if I can’t see it?”

Warnings: implied violent death, implied eldritch horrors. Horror-flavored fantasy.


“Of course, the containment is in place!” The Head Sorcerer was clearly offended by my question, drawing himself up to his full, thin height and looking down his nose at me. “What did you say your credentials were?”

Keeping my face neutral, I held out the badge I had already shown to five different people to make it as far as the Head Sorcerer’s office. “I am an independent containment inspector, sent by Magistrate Susumu. I am making rounds of all the known Holding Places, doing a standard inspection, and I need to see the seals and locks myself.” I handed over the letter of command from the Magistrate before he could ask for it.

“Well, I’m sure this is all quite unnecessary, but seeing as Magistrate Susumu has commanded it, then we must comply.” He gave a put-upon sigh, tossing the letter back to me. I caught it deftly just before it slid off the edge of his desk and tucked it away in my robes. The Head Sorcerer grabbed a large ring of keys carelessly from a drawer, and stood, coming around the desk and sweeping out of the room without waiting for me.

I followed silently, noting the problems that would have to be entered into my report: unsecured keys, a dangerously arrogant attitude regarding the containment, and a failure to perform any basic magical verification as to the veracity of my person, my badge, or my letter of command.

I followed the Head Sorcerer down through the great stone building, and then further down still into the catacombs below.

Poor lighting, I noted, continuing my earlier list, unsafe levels of moisture on the staircase.

Perhaps that last was a little bit petty. Despite being only halfway through my tour of inspections, my tolerance level for authorities overly impressed with their own importance had rarely been lower. And a slippery staircase was never a good idea anywhere, much less one leading to a containment area, where one might conceivably need to move fast.

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