“Out.” That was all they said, and suddenly Danne found himself ejected from the only home he had anymore. He had gone to the headmaster, hoping to plead for another chance. But the door refused to admit him.
He hadn’t meant to blow up the alchemy classroom. It just…happened. Just like he hadn’t meant to frighten all the pegasi when it was his turn to groom them. Or turn all the food rancid while helping make dinner. And he definitely hadn’t meant to put invisibility powder in the laundry instead of soap. Who leaves invisibility powder sitting around the academy laundry room anyway?
It didn’t make any difference. After three years and five mishaps, they were done with him.
With nothing else to do, Danne wandered down the dirt road that ran past the academy. Sooner or later, he’d come to a town—though he seemed to remember it had been a long way from the last town to the academy when he came here. NMIMY– No Mages In My Yard—was the popular sentiment in Carolia. And given his own mishaps, Danne couldn’t exactly blame them. But he’d need somewhere to sleep for the night…
“Are you done wallowing yet?” a voice squeaked in his ear.
“I’m not wallowing!” The little fire demon had started following him around his first week at the academy—and for some reason never left.
“Sure, sure. Cheer up. I didn’t think we’d make it out of there alive. It’s a good day.”
Danne flicked the creature off his shoulder. A moment later, the scent of scorched hair told him it had reappeared on his head.
“Yup, clear sailing from here. Gotta say: I’m impressed you stuck it out that long. Most cadets don’t last six months after management decides to get rid of them.”
Content note: bigotry
Strong wings beat the skies, adding swirling gusts to the winds buffeting the Empire State Building. Zach kept a firm grip on his hat as he dropped down off the griffon’s back and dashed inside. Sara shook her head and followed him at a less hectic pace. Of course, she had been smart enough not to wear a hat. “Same time next week?” she called over her shoulder.
“Ssssssssss…. No, an hour after sun-high.”
Sara waved acknowledgment and slipped inside. Zach was gone, must have grabbed the first elevator.
Ten minutes later, the elevator dinged and the doors opened. Sara stepped out of the way as a half dozen suits hurried past. The griffon skybus wasn’t due for another hour, so they probably had a charter.
Sara hopped on the elevator and selected the first-level basement. With a bit of luck, Zach would have continued being an impatient git, and she’d be able to catch a scooter back to the office.
Of course, Zach was waiting for her in the company’s two-seater mini-auto. “What took you so long? I could have been back by now!” Sara rolled her eyes. Her long legs barely fit in the mini’s passenger seat.
“And once again, that was an utter waste of time. Why do we have to keep flying out there? Sending a telegram would do more good.”
“The dragons only deal in person.” The cool glass of the window felt good against her forehead.
Zach put the mini in gear and hit the gas. Sara closed her eyes after they zipped past a support column with inches to spare. “It’s stupid. All the protocol and dancing around. Why can’t they just make a deal, like normal people.”
On cue, a spike drove through Sara’s left temple. “Zach, you need to shut up. Now.”
“What? You know I’m right. If the dragons, and griffons, and all the others would just get with the modern world, we could have wrapped this up months ago!”
“Or maybe they have reasons for doing things their way. If we’d ‘wrapped this up months ago,’ we’d spend decades sorting out the problems caused by a rushed deal.” Stupid, stupid. Don’t engage. She should have learned that by now.
“I’m just saying, all the back and forth-ing and what not is completely unnecessary. Half a day gone, for what? A minor change in a single sub-clause? Who cares?”
That “minor change” would finally cement an alliance between two rival dragon clans that threatened the entire multi-species alliance. Sara ran a hand over her forehead. Ridges, damn it.
“If you have a problem with it, take it up with Craig. I don’t want to hear any more.” What had Craig been thinking assigning Zach to this job? She had been asking herself that three times a day for three weeks and never found an answer.
“What crawled up your butt all of a sudden? I’m just saying what we’re both think–”
Sara whirled towards him and grabbed his shirt, her claws ripping through the expensive cotton blend. He slammed on the brakes, and the car spun out, stopping just short of a parked van. Sara was passed caring. “What you have been saying, every week since you were assigned to this negotiation, is that you are a human-centric bigot who has no business on this team. Your refusal to even attempt to understand the cultures you are dealing with is noted. Your resignation is accepted. Tell Craig the next assistant he assigns me better not need air piped in through his belly button.”
She opened the door and climbed out of the mini. Checked herself in the van’s mirror. Crap. Full scales, yellow eyes, the works. “And tell him I’ll be out the next few days.” It would take that long to get her human face back on.
Content note: guns, threat of violence
John listened to the fool in the bus seat in front of him and grinned.
“It’s highway robbery, I tell ya! What they expect me to pay just for keeping the lights on. I mean what do they think we are? Made of money?”
The man’s $1000 Rolex glittered as he waved his hands in the air, emphasizing his outrage.
Out of the corner of his eye, John saw Ned, three rows forward, signal.
He reached into his jacket and checked the holster. Ned got up and walked forward to speak with the driver. John stood up, nodded to Lucy in the back of the bus. The drive was being smart, pulling over to the side of the highway.
John drew his gun. “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm and no one will get hurt!”
Lucy started going up the aisle with a bag. “Just drop your valuables in the bag, and we’ll be out of your hair.”
John couldn’t help noticing the idiot with Rolex was clutching his watch. He leaned in and whispered to the man, “By the way, this is highway robbery. What your utility company is pulling is a monopoly. Which is way worse than what I’m doing to you now, you might want to write your congressman.”
Content note: religious content (Catholic)
“Holy, holy, holy.”
The ancient prayer rang out through the cathedral, nearly a thousand voices raised as one.
The sheer power of that much belief made the hair on Pal’s neck stand on end. He resisted the urge to shudder.
“Lord God almighty.”
All the sheep were focused on the alter and their Shepherd. They took no notice of him, standing by a chalk circle in an alcove that should have been filled with a saint’s statue and candles.
“Heaven and earth are filled with Your glory.”
With each verse, the power grew. Taking a deep breath, Pal scraped his foot across the drawn circle, breaking it. The tiny crystal talisman in the center reacted immediately. It drank down the power, gathering in all the belief, the faith, the power, the sheep had gathered to offer, in hopes the Shepherd would slaughter some other fools for Its meal.
No longer clear crystal, the talisman darkened. It gorged on power, and the power stained it a blue so dark it was black.
Pal ignored the rest of the prayer, absorbed in his casting. It finished as the last “Amen!” resounded through the ancient building.
Bending over, he scooped up the talisman. It was cool to the touch but heavy. Weighed down with the prayers and hopes and fears of all the people who had filled it.
Pocketing his trophy, Pal quietly slipped out of the cathedral. He knew a demon who would pay good money for a nice catch of faith.
Content note: Assault
Marie’s eyes narrowed as she saw Paul and a strange woman laughing and holding hands outside the movie theater. She stormed up to them and slapped him. Hard.
“What the hell!” Hand to his face, he growled at her, “Marie, what is your fucking problem.”
“Fuck you,” she said, “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on. My sister is marrying you next week, and you have the fucking balls to be out at the movies making kissy noises with someone else?”
The woman beside him suddenly started laughing. After a moment, Paul joined her.
“What’s so funny,” Marie demanded.
“Ah…” Paul’s laughing trailed off, “You know, I was sure this was gonna bite me in the ass, but I’m not allowed to tell you.” He shrugged a bit uncomfortably. “Call your sister, and she’ll explain.”
And they just started walking off. Marie stared after them in shock.
After a moment, she pulled out her cellphone, speed-dialed her sister, “Sis, I’m really, really sorry, but I gotta tell you. I think you need to call off the wedding. Paul is cheating on you… Yeah, yeah, I’m sure. I saw him coming out of the movie theater making kissy-face with some stranger… you mean you knew about her?… I… yeah, I guess we can talk later… I interrupted your DATE- but Paul was just… your boyfriend… BUT YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED!”
These pieces are mostly from a Second Life writing group I was in nearly 10 years ago. We got together once a day to write for fifteen minutes on a single word prompt. A good chunk of those prompts became scenes in The Bargain. But quite a few were just random brain firings that I’ve somehow managed to hold onto.