My debut urban fantasy novel, Rogue Arcanist, is coming out in 2018 – but I couldn't wait that long to introduce you to Nick Teller! So here's a free short story for you to read, share, and (hopefully) enjoy. Please be aware though that this story does feature violence that some readers may find upsetting.
Bad Luck Hunting
A Nick Teller short story, set twelve years before the events of Rogue Arcanist...
Happy birthday to me, I thought sourly, crouching before the chain-link fence bordering the warehouse. Rain was falling from a midnight sky, dripping from my hair and running below my collar; I flexed numb fingers around the neck of my torch, running the light from side to side. The fence was topped with barbed wire and had a hole cut in it, big enough that I’d barely have to duck my way through. I leaned closer; not cut, chewed. The metal had been torn and twisted, edges needle-sharp.
I gingerly put one leg through and stopped, my eye drawn by something underfoot. I crouched, shining my torch for a closer look. A paw print the size of my two hands had dented the strip of muddy grass below, deep enough that puddles were forming in the depressions. A shiver inched along my spine.
Just turned fifteen, and somehow I doubted I’d make it to sixteen.
I kept my breaths slow and even, casting my eyes back toward the rain-hazed lights of the city. For a moment I let myself imagine walking away and getting lost in those crowded streets, turning and running and never looking back. But of course I couldn’t do that. My mother was a flood, and I was... well, trapped in her current. You can’t say no to a flood, can’t debate or argue with it. I had one choice, and it was no choice at all.
I turned away from the city. My free hand was shaking by my side. I unsheathed my short sword from where it hung inverted at my lower back, metal gliding over leather. The ritual-forged steel was a touchstone; I was an arcanist, not just some teenager. Whatever lay ahead, I could handle it.
I moved through the fence into the warehouse’s dockyard, my stomach churning so bad I thought I might be sick. The building loomed, watching me through cracked windows as the ground gave way to rough concrete, weather-worn and pitted. Rusted shipping containers dotted the yard, and a cargo crane squatted precariously on the riverbank to my right like some giant matchstick sculpture. The rainfall drumming into the Thames was loud enough to drown out everything beyond the dockyard, including the ever-present sounds of London traffic; it felt like stepping into another world.
I looked around, ears straining, heart thumping. My senses were fanned out, alert for that tell-tale stain on the air that I’d been following for over two hours. It was there, just about, but the rain was making a curtain five feet in every direction; the abominant could be anywhere. I wiped water from my eyes with my forearm and rolled my shoulders against the weight of my tactical vest. The Glock strapped to my thigh was little comfort, but even still I had to stop myself from checking it was there.
Something flickered in the corner of my eye. I spun, sword at the ready as I swept my torch left and right, my breath ghosting the air. My brain felt stretched thin, senses taut and ready as a spider’s web.
I breathed out slow, forcing my sword arm to relax. I needed to be fluid, not stiff and muscle-locked. My mother’s training finally kicked in, reminding me that I was exposed, stood there like an amateur. Like prey.
I blinked, opening my third eye with an effort of will, and stumbled back, squinting at the current of arcane energy spiralling through the air not two feet away. Its ethereal purple light was bright, too bright, and I had to clamp down on my second sight to dull it – I’d been practising ever since I could remember, but was just getting to the point where experience was giving way to skill. I was acutely aware of how little that would mean if I saw something I wasn’t able to process – brain damage might be the least of my worries – but I needed to be able to see the abominant coming. I stood straighter, glancing around at the coloured energies overlying my vision, a matrix of light in every direction. My pulse fluttered; it never ceased to amaze me that I could pull back that curtain to see the mechanics of the world. It made me feel small and powerful all at once.
That feeling withered in my chest as I caught sight of the black light dusting the air. Even against the night air, it stood out; tiny, cancerous pockets of light in the shining fabric of reality that spoke of only one thing: Elsewhere. My mother hadn’t told me what I was tracking exactly, only that it was an abominant – some creature from one of the countless realities bordering our own. Whatever it was, it was big, and it could chew through a metal fence like it was nothing. And judging by the direction of the black light, it was inside the warehouse.
I crept up to the building, the eaves overhead providing a slim band of shelter from the rain. I skirted around the edge to the side facing the river. There, the black light disappeared through a violent hole in the warehouse’s metal shutter-door. I pressed my back against the outer wall, taking a moment to centre myself. I held my breath, released.
The rainfall seemed to slow, each drop crystallising until it seemed I was staring at a thousand reflections beaded on the air. What the hell am I doing?
I blinked, letting time catch up as I fought against the adrenaline in my system. I placed my torch between my teeth as I swept my soaking hair back. I touched the Glock at my thigh and ran my fingers over the empty pouches on my belt. I hadn’t been permitted to bring any spells, and I felt their absence like a missing limb. Still, I took the torch back in one hand, sword in the other, and crept into the warehouse.
I wrinkled my nose; there was an animal musk lacing the air, faint but unmistakable. I ran my light left, up, right, checking the angles as I’d been taught, sword held firmly in a low guard. My stomach was trying to eat itself and my arms and legs felt as fragile as spun glass.
The warehouse towered three storeys high, ribbed with steel rafters and capped with a raised skylight. It was largely empty, with only a few broken crates stacked and draped in shadow to the sides and back. The rain hitting the roof was echoing overhead like muted gunfire. I could just make out a dilapidated staircase clinging to the back wall a hundred yards away, leading up to a foreman’s office with windows looking out onto the warehouse floor.
I walked on, following the black light of Elsewhere deeper into the warehouse. The prolonged use of my second sight was a white pressure building between my eyes; I couldn’t risk using it for much longer. I stepped over what looked to be a failed campfire, placing my feet carefully between crushed beer cans and an empty vodka bottle. I spared a moment to think of what it would be like to be there under those circumstances, with people my own age, no worries or cares or responsibilities, but the thought of sharp teeth and alien hunger drove the fantasy clear from my mind. The need to turn and run was pressing against my bladder, and the thought of pissing myself finally stoked my anger.
I clenched my jaw hard and moved on. The air was getting thicker with that animal stench, a warning in the back of my throat; I shifted my weight onto the balls of my feet, checking over my shoulder every third step. Distant thunder rumbled at the edge of my hearing.
I was more than halfway inside the warehouse, now. Rain was waterfalling through a hole in the roof, splattering on the floor, and the tip of a chain hanging from the rafters was scraping the concrete as it swayed in a slight breeze. The thunder was getting closer, louder – far too quickly to be natural.
I stopped. Pointed my torch straight ahead. The shadows beneath the staircase ahead were absolute, but even still I strained my eyes, searching for what I knew was waiting for me.
A growl shook the air, reverberating in my chest. And then the abominant stepped forward, paws the size of shovel blades gliding silently over the floor. It stepped further into my torchlight, intelligent black eyes glaring from above a scarred, grey muzzle.
I knew then what it was. The crocotta was three times as big as any wolf, preternaturally strong and fast, with teeth that could cut through metal as easily as flesh. Its head was level with my shoulders, fur bristling along its neck and back as it snapped its teeth at me, and the black light of Elsewhere was clinging to it like a storm cloud.
This was what my mother wanted. She wasn’t one for classroom tuition – hell, I’d never seen the inside of a school – but she was all for hands-on experience. Every lesson she’d imparted had been at the tip of a sword, the edge of a cliff; it was about survival. And I had no doubts about the purpose of this exercise.
I turned side-profile, sword ready. My heart was beating so loud it must have been like a dinner bell to the crocotta, my pulse pounding at my temples. I wanted to run and fight and scream and hide, but I couldn’t look away from those eyes, those teeth – I was imagining every way they could tear me apart and what damage I might do in return.
But the creature didn’t attack. It snarled and pawed the ground, teeth like white-hot knives in the torchlight, but it didn’t attack. And neither did I.
My mother might have sent me out to play executioner, but I’d been nursing a secret hope that I wouldn’t have to actually go through with it. She’d trained me in the ways of violence, tried to make it my first instinct – and succeeded in many ways – but I wasn’t the same as her. I enjoyed the fight, the competition, but the finality of bloodied steel had bile rising in the back of my throat.
‘Okay, okay,’ I found myself whispering, ‘steady now. I’m just going to take a step back, like this.’
The crocotta growled again and I froze.
‘I’m not going to—’ the words died on my lips as something darted between the crocotta’s legs, yapping at another something giving chase.
The crocotta barked, so loud and deep that I took another half-step back as hot air and the stink of metal and meat washed over me. The puppies cowered and scampered back into shadow, tails so low they were scraping the ground. The crocotta stared at me, and I could see something in its black eyes – a warning and an understanding, of sorts.
Neither of us moved. The creature was just as terrifying as I knew abominants to be, but it also wasn’t. It was different, alien, but it wasn’t a monster. I looked at the sword in my hand, then back to the crocotta guarding its young. No, it wasn’t a monster.
I reversed my grip on my sword in one smooth motion and held my arms out, sliding one foot back. Then the other. ‘I’m leaving. Slow and steady. No tricks. Just leaving.’
A sound like a cannon from behind had me jumping aside on instinct. I rolled over one shoulder, thumbing my torch off and holding my sword back against my forearm. Within seconds I had my back to one of the crates, breathing deeply.
The crocotta! I looked for the creature in a panic and could just differentiate the black light of Elsewhere from the sudden dark of the warehouse – it hadn’t moved from its young. The wind and rain were louder now, and over that the clattering of metal; I risked a glance around the side of the crates.
The shutter-door had been blown straight out of the wall and was lying inside the warehouse amidst a litter of broken bricks. Framed in the hole were two figures standing atop the fallen door, both broad-shouldered and tall, moonlight catching on the blades of their swords. The wind gusted past and lifted the hems of identical black cloaks worn over their shoulders.
I ducked back around the crate, dread stabbing my stomach repeatedly. Oh no, oh no, oh no. I screwed my eyes shut and fought to control my breathing, methodically folding my fear and rising panic into tight, tiny parcels and shutting them away to be dealt with later. It helped a little. My heart was still thundering, my hands balled so tight they hurt, but I eased my eyes open and released a long breath.
I’d had nightmares about Blackcloaks since I was old enough to understand the danger, had felt as though the Society’s enforcers had been stalking me my entire life. They were killers. Zealots. If they discovered I was a rogue arcanist, existing outside the Society’s influence, they’d put a sword through me without a second thought, regardless of my age. But they couldn’t be after me, I reminded myself. More likely they were after the crocotta – nothing to come through into our world from Elsewhere escaped the Society’s notice forever, and they looked no kindlier on abominants than they did on rogues.
Harsh white light blossomed overhead, throwing the warehouse into stark relief. I felt the spell as it ignited, hovering like a miniature sun somewhere overhead, and I raced to shut down my second sight even as pain hammered me square between my eyes. I blinked and shook my head, my brain feeling loose in my skull. It took precious seconds for the pain to become manageable, then I was clawing my senses back feverishly; staying hidden was my only chance of staying alive.
I shuffled along the floor until I was between the crate and the warehouse’s outer wall. The sounds of the Blackcloaks’ footsteps were loud as they approached, no hesitation, no fear. If I needed any convincing of how dangerous they were, that did it.
I looked to the staircase and the crocotta was still there, front paws splayed before her den, the pups pawing and tumbling over each other behind. They looked like German shepherd puppies, black and tan and no bigger than cats – six of them. Their mother was growling, low and steady, saliva dripping between her teeth and pitter-pattering on the concrete.
The Blackcloaks walked into view, stopping ten feet from the crocotta.
‘Abominant,’ spat the closest one. He wore his blond hair in a crew cut and sported three white stripes sewn onto the shoulder of his cloak.
‘Half-breeds,’ said the other, younger man, pointing with his sword to the pups behind. He had long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail and two stripes where his partner had three.
The air was near vibrating with the threat of violence. I stared at the crocotta, willing it to run, praying for something, anything, to stop what was coming.
The older Blackcloak – Blondie, I thought – stepped forward, spinning his sword in a perfunctory circle and pointing it at the crocotta. And just like that, it began.
The crocotta let loose a concussive bark and covered the ten feet between them in seconds, her jaws open and lunging for Blondie’s throat. I could barely track it as it went in for the kill. In my mind’s eye, I could already see the blood and feel the heat of it as it spurted from his torn jugular, but instead the floor erupted in a shower of concrete and earth. The blast was aimed directly at the crocotta, slamming into it and knocking it back; the pups cried and whimpered, scrambling from the clumps of dirt and concrete raining down.
Wizardry, I thought, slumping against the crate. It would have been too much to hope that neither of the two Blackcloaks had an elemental affinity; Blondie obviously had control over earth, which meant he also had some degree of affinity for fire, too. I could only pray his partner, Ponytail, didn’t have an affinity as well.
I shuddered for a moment, half-remembering how my mother had put me through the ritual to grant an affinity when I was ten. I still woke up at night sometimes feeling as though my chest were about to explode, as though my every nerve ending were a magnesium flare, wracked by the muscle-memory of that power coursing through me, carving and splicing; I’d been lucky to survive, not everyone does. I could feel its effect even now, a pull to the air around me, but I was far too inexperienced to actually do anything effective with it – and if I’d gained the affinity for water like I should have, I’d never felt it. No, all I had was my sword and my wits.
A growl rumbled through the warehouse, undercut with rage and frustration and the building determination of an earthquake. The crocotta was standing again, shaky but otherwise unhurt, its huge paws digging into the now-exposed earth. Its black eyes were little more than slits, nostrils flared, teeth bared.
Blondie took a step closer, and before the crocotta could charge once more it sank abruptly a foot into the ground. The earth softened and hardened in an instant, locking the crocotta in place; it strained and snarled, head whipping back and forth, but it wasn’t going anywhere.
Blondie moved to within a few feet of the struggling crocotta. ‘Blackcloak Espinosa,’ he said, voice as detached as a surgeon’s, ‘if you will.’
Ponytail glided forward, and it was as if he were moving in slow motion. I watched his tight smile form as if it were being chiselled from the stone of his face, saw his hand tighten around his sword hilt by degrees. I wanted to cry out, to stop what was happening – this wasn’t right, wasn’t necessary – but my tongue was thick in my mouth, my whole body limp and unresponsive.
The crocotta was struggling now with desperate strength, throwing her weight violently forward and back and crack! One of her front legs snapped with the sound of splintering wood, just above the ground, and she collapsed awkwardly onto her chest. She cried, a high-pitched keening from behind bared teeth, then turned her head and barked – a single, deep blast of command that sent her pups racing for the warehouse’s entrance, skirting the walls, one even weaving between Blondie’s legs before he could react.
But it was too late for the crocotta.
Ponytail drew level and in one brutally efficient swipe, he hooked the tip of his sword around her neck and pulled it through her throat. Blood cascaded to the ground as if pouring from a gaping envelope, thick and red and so, so much of it.
I squeezed my eyes shut and turned away, clinging to my sword, but I couldn’t ignore the sounds of the crocotta getting weaker, vainly struggling to get free, to fight; footsteps, running back toward the entrance; the Blackcloaks calling to one another; then just the sound of the rain against the skylight.
I felt the spelled-sun above wink out and opened my eyes, blinking the warehouse back into focus. I looked around the edge of the crate; the crocotta lay broken and bloodied, legs still half-buried in the ground, black eyes sightless. The Blackcloaks had left the warehouse already, and I walked numbly to the crocotta.
I knelt by her huge head and ran my free hand along one of her ears, then down across her scarred muzzle to her still-wet nose; I stroked her head down to her ruff, letting the fur bunch between my fingers. There was a warmth building in my veins, a mindless heat that began to bubble and quicken and burn. I felt as if my skin were flaking from the inside out, as though my fingers were bars of molten steel wrapped around the hilt of my sword.
I stood, turned, and started walking toward the warehouse’s entrance, past the body of a pup impaled on a spike of solid earth jutting up through the concrete floor. I picked up speed, passing another pup lay on its side in a spreading puddle of blood, and then I was running, turning my eyes from the bodies of the crocotta’s litter – past another, and another. There was a voice in my head screaming caution, but it was barely the shadow of an echo. I was outside, rain in my eyes and the wind stoking the heat inside me until I felt swollen with it, past another pup missing its head, the night air needling my lungs, sprinting, vision tunnelling in on the Blackcloaks. They had the remaining pup penned up against the riverside; its teeth were bared, and as I approached I could see black tendrils creeping through its amber eyes.
‘You!’ I shouted over the roaring in my ears, voice breaking. ‘HEY! YOU!’
The Blackcloaks turned to face me, their eyes falling on me like a fire blanket. I skidded to a stop, boots kicking up twin waves of rainwater. My chest felt two sizes too small for my thundering heart, and I suddenly noticed how much taller they were than me. Blondie took a step my way, eyes flicking to my sword and back.
‘Rogue,’ he said, voice quiet but somehow hitting me like a sledgehammer.
I slid one foot back, settling my weight into a fighting stance, sword held defensively across my body. Blondie didn’t move, but I felt the tremor in the ground not a second too soon. I launched myself sideways, rolling over my shoulder and ignoring the jolting pain; the ground where I’d been standing detonated with a deep thwump as concrete and earth clouded the air. I sprang back to my feet, stumbled, fell against a leg of the cargo crane squatting on the riverbank and felt it shudder dangerously.
I was breathing hard, time seeming to move too fast and too slow all at once. It was like I couldn’t process things quick enough, getting only fleeting impressions. Blondie’s flint eyes tracking me; the half-crocotta pup latching on to Ponytail’s ankle; the Blackcloak kicking the pup and sending it spinning into the Thames.
I don’t remember drawing my Glock, but it was suddenly in my hand, safety off and firing. I emptied the clip at the Blackcloaks’ shins, the force of each bullet jolting my arm until I dropped the gun from numb fingers, its barrel steaming in the rain. Blondie didn’t hesitate, ducking down as a wave of solid earth rose from the ground to shield him and his partner. The bullets were swallowed by the earth, no more bothersome than insects, but I’d bought myself a few seconds.
My thoughts were barrelling through my head, too fast and wild and STOP! I sucked in a lungful of air and held it, all my fear and rage swirling to a halt. It was a technique my mum had drilled into me years ago, how to force the mind to stillness by using my breath as a handbrake; it wasn’t perfect, but it gave me that moment of calm I needed to wrestle my thoughts back onto familiar tracks – rationality, cunning, imagination.
I was outnumbered and outmatched, that much was clear. My only hope was the ritual-forged steel in my hand, a blade that could cut through almost anything, but the Blackcloaks had swords of their own and decades more experience. I glanced left and right, searching for anything to even the odds. Blondie’s earth-wall was coming down, but still I held my breath. There had to be something. I straightened up, pushing off the cargo crane with one forearm.
The cargo crane.
I released my breath and turned, slashing out with my sword and putting the full weight of my body behind it. The blade cut through the steel leg of the crane easily, leaving a thin line of heat behind. I spun, gathering momentum into a second swing through the same leg, a foot below, then kicked out hard, my boot connecting with the foot of steel I’d sliced apart and sending it cartwheeling through the air. The crane lurched toward me, the brackets pinning its back legs to the concrete squealing and straining. It wasn’t enough.
I didn’t look behind, couldn’t spare even a second. I darted to the next leg and did the same, had just managed to kick the segment free when I felt that tell-tale tremor in the ground. I jumped underneath the crane as the ground exploded behind me. The force of it hit me like a giant fist in the lower back and threw me forward – a second of weightlessness and then I hit the ground, rolling side over side, my sword flying from my hand. I tucked my head and shoulders, one leg hitting the crane and blinding me with the pain of it. I skidded to a stop, coughing and wincing as my ribs complained.
A scream of metal had me looking back as the crane toppled toward the Blackcloaks, its back legs tearing free from their moorings violently. The crane hit the ground with a crash that set my teeth on edge. I couldn’t see the Blackcloaks in the twisted wreckage, but it wouldn’t be enough to waylay them for long. I knew I should run, but my thoughts had already turned to the pup. I pushed myself up and limped my way to the riverside. The water was satin black, the entire surface pinpricked by rain. Where are you? Where are you?
There! A small ring of white foam. No time to hesitate.
I dived from the bank and slipped beneath the water in one clean motion, the sudden pressure cutting off all sound. The cold was worse. My chest seemed to shrink, driving the breath from me in an involuntary rush, and for a moment I forgot who I was. I angled my arms on instinct and kicked my way to the surface, gasping greedily as my thoughts flooded back. I twisted this way and that until I caught sight of the struggling pup. I could see its head now just above the water, nostrils flared and ears flat. Its amber eyes were wide and scared, with no evidence of the black tendrils I’d seen earlier. I swam toward it, reaching it just as it fell beneath the water.
I grabbed and caught it by the scruff of its neck, hauling it up and pulling it close even as it scrambled and pawed against me. ‘Easy, easy,’ I kept saying, my words coming out clumsy and slurred, ‘I’ve got you.’
The pup was tiring, but there was an almost imperceptible shift in its struggles as it leaned into me. I started kicking my way back to the bank as best I could, cold stealing into my limbs, and after a moment of scrabbling the pup managed to wriggle over my shoulder and lie across my back. I could hear it gasping, paws digging into my tactical vest, but it didn’t move from there.
I continued toward the dockside, but I was slowing. Every awkward stroke was harder than the last; my boots and vest felt made of stone. I was still mumbling nonsense reassurances to the pup clinging to my back, but my teeth were beginning to chatter between words.
I reached the side, fingers grasping at algae-slick stone. No ladder. I tried looking for one but slipped beneath the water. Fear was racing through my veins, giving me just enough strength to stay afloat, but I was spitting water every second breath. I swam right, fingers clawing at the stone, then even that took too much effort. All I could do was keep kicking, water in my eyes, stinging, filling my nostrils; black all around and my traitorous feet dragging me lower. I managed to get my hands under the pup, holding it skyward as it tried to paddle.
I remember thinking of a birthday cake, chocolate sponge with gingerbread icing – my favourite – and how ridiculous it was that I was going to die thinking about cake.
Then I was moving. Or the river was moving. I couldn’t tell. I broke the surface, propelled on a pillar of solid water, rising to the lip of the dockyard and unceremoniously deposited on its edge. I fell on my side, cradling the pup to my chest. The pillar of water dispelled with a splash, leaving me soaked through and shivering. The pup sneezed weakly once, twice, tickling my neck.
I blinked dazedly, my eyes settling on the pair of black combat boots in front of me. They were army-issue, laces pulled tight and tied at the back in the same way I tied my own.
Oh no. The thought cut through the fog in my head like ritual-forged steel.
I looked up at my mother standing before the twisted wreck of the fallen crane, her unnatural silver eyes shining like twin accusations in the dark. Her dark hair was cinched back into a severe ponytail. I looked away, busying myself with standing up and keeping the pup from wriggling free. My legs were shaky and every breath sent pain lancing through my side, but I managed.
‘Hello, mother,’ I said. I kept my eyes lowered, taking in her tactical gear and the exposed blade of her sword; it was thin, half again as long as my own, and the rain was sluicing something thick and red from the steel – it wasn’t a mystery what had happened to the Blackcloaks. My stomach cramped and I clutched the pup tighter, surprised when it nuzzled its nose into my neck, licking under my chin.
‘Unacceptable,’ she said, voice clipped. ‘Foolish.’ The web of scars around her eyes creased as she frowned at me, her gaze turning to the pup in my arms.
I had the childish urge to hide it behind my back, as if that alone could shield it.
‘Kill it,’ she said, her silver eyes giving no traction, no choice.
The pup was still dripping wet, the smell of its fur thick in my nostrils, but it was warming up, its breath steaming against the artery in my neck. An echo of that mindless heat I’d felt earlier stirred inside me as I looked down at it in my arms, its amber eyes huge and round and warm. I knew the pup was half-abominant, that the crocotta’s alien DNA had been bred into the tiny thing, but I wasn’t afraid of it even holding it so close. The pup’s tongue darted out to tickle my chin again.
I met my mother’s eyes, my throat thick with words I couldn’t say. The muscle in my jaw was tight, pulsing.
Nothing changed in her stance, but I was powerfully aware of a subtle tension thrumming through her. She held out one arm, palm extended. ‘Give it to me.’
Part of me was watching this unfold as if from a great distance, but the larger part of me was there in the quickening of my pulse, the pounding of my heart, the quick-slow trickle of sweat down the inside of my arm. My mother’s sword was almost cleaned of blood now, rainwater stained pink below as it ran to the river. I slid one foot back, habit sending my hand drifting to the empty sheath on my back.
We stared at each other; my mother was as implacable as the sea, and I knew that you couldn’t argue with something like that, couldn’t debate with it. But I was surprised to find that you could say no.
The word came easily, then, with all the force of my fifteen years behind it.
‘No?’ she parroted back, the word hanging between us like static.
I ground my teeth, drawing strength from the contact.
My mother reached one hand to her neck, idly clutching the leather pouch strung there. I imagined I could hear the contents click-clacking together; I could see the bleached bone fragments in my mind’s eye, each one lovingly engraved with glyphs. I wanted to scream and roll my eyes and throw her oracle bones in the river… my mother was obsessed with divination and the unfolding of the future. I’d lost count of how many times she’d lectured me, how often she’d justified her lessons as necessary preparation for some apocalyptic future she’d dreamed up, and in that moment I truly, deeply, hated her.
‘You don’t get to do this,’ I spat, half-surprised at the words and powerless to stop them. ‘You don’t get to weigh everything on your idea of the future! Just… just…’
My shoulders dropped, voice escaping in a whisper. ‘No.’
She toyed with the leather pouch, her silver eyes peering at me, cataloguing the angle of my jaw, the set of my eyes. For the longest time I thought she’d cast her oracle bones like always, but then she let her hand fall.
She favoured me with a slight grimace and in one practised motion sheathed her sword at her hip. The tension in the air evaporated leaving me cold and confused.
‘Come then,’ she said, turning and striding off. ‘And find your sword,’ she called over her shoulder.
I looked from the pup in my arm to my mother and back again. ‘Okay,’ I mumbled, the last of my adrenaline evaporating and leaving me as hollow as a puppet. ‘That happened.’
The pup sneezed again and growled.
‘Yeah, I’ve got a bad feeling about this too,’ I said, sweeping my hair back. I sighed and started limping after my mother. ‘So I guess we’ll need a name for you, eh?’