Erika Davenport had been trekking along an unmarked logging road for miles now. The hills between the valley and the coast had a deeply reverent place in her heart, hopelessly and gloriously tangled. The deep green and mossy brown of the flora, the misty hush that cradled every centimeter of the cold, soft soil.

So soon after her mother’s passing, more than ever, she needed this place to be her refuge. But to learn the government’s rumored gestating ground for human weaponry research lived here too, her grief twisted into a sharp black knot in her chest and she couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Empetrum. 44º15’01” N 123º49’28”W

The name and coordinates were all the Conxence knew so far. Unfortunately, it was all the information the head and second-in-command were content with for the time being.

“Your energies are better spent here,” the former had said. Rann wasn’t a mean person, but his directness was often frustrating. He had everything mapped out. When he looked at her, she felt he were looking into her brain and trying to map her out too. “There are probably dozens of similar labs hidden around. No sense stomping off into the woods after one federal stain with so little information. ”

“The facility’s gotta be highly secure,” the second-in-command added, in that soft and earnest way of his. Kepler was a young man but an old soul, who had succeeded to his mother’s position in their ragtag resistance movement upon her abduction by the state. “It’s too much of a risk. We should wait a bit, concentrate on more pressing concerns until we have more information.”

Erika couldn’t be the only one that cared about this. In that moment, she couldn’t help but look at the common scar both men bore: A large hole cut into the cartilage of the right ear. Rann’s was gnarled and partially closed. Kepler had refined the edges of his with an open silver tunnel gauge. The brand of troublemakers, bestowed by law enforcement to anyone arrested under political circumstances.

“Drop it,” Rann said. “You’re not even combat trained yet.”

“Please,” Kepler said, trying to smooth it over. He was always trying to smooth everything over. “I know this is important to you, but just give it time. I’m sure it will show up again, and we’ll be better prepared to deal with it.”

Rann was a control freak and Kepler was a worrywart. With pressure tightening, no one was sure what they were up against, what was festering under the surface. Any new development could be too late. The sheer possibility that human weaponry was becoming a variable was outrageous. But she believed it, and they couldn’t deny the government would keep its secrets unless someone dug them up.

Erika stepped around a large mud puddle in the road. The frogs were out, chirping in the misty stillness. The air smelled so good here. She double checked her GPS. She was on track, moving closer. Soon she would have to take it much slower, leave the path and skirt a circle around the spot, moving slowly forward until she caught a glimpse.

At the very least, Erika needed to see what this abomination of a facility looked like.


A/N: I realized I haven’t posted any fiction in a while! Been hard at work on the comics train, developing my work, getting ready to graduate and whatnot.

This is an excerpt from The Bioroboticist, which I’m currently working on in prose and comics form. If all goes well, I’ll launch it as a webcomic later this year.

Click here for more information!

Rule No. 1: Do not cast unsupervised.

Kennick laid out his supplies: his notes, the spellbook he’d taken them down from, and the small lumpy stone from the garden.

He planted the latter right in front of where he sat crosslegged on his bedroom floor. He took a long, slow breath, carefully pulling the energy he’d swiped from the master reserve into a mass inside the center of his chest. He extended his hands over the stone, consulted his notes.

He took another breath. Channeling the energy up through the bones of his ribcage, through his shoulders and down his arms, he stared intently at the rock and said, “Náothrë, täthümkáel.”

The energy burst from his fingertips and wrapped around the stone in a glowing, sparking halo.

Náothrë, täthümkáel,” he said again, focusing hard. He hunched over, trying to blot out everything that wasn’t the rock, the energy, the words, the warm, buzzing connection with the Lifeblood. The words sounded perfect to him. Perfectly memorized, perfectly executed.

Irix probably wouldn’t say so, but it was working, regardless.

He imagined exactly what he wanted. His clear purpose for the stone. Every time he uttered the phrase, his connection with the stone strengthened, a gradual stiffening of his spine.

And as the connection grew, the stone levitated, pulling slowly up toward the space between his palms.

A slow smile stole across his face.

He tripped over the last syllable of the fourth repetition, and the stone flashed suddenly to the side, crashing straight through a pane of glass in the balcony doors and disappearing over the terrace.

The energy cord snapped unbidden and Kennick gasped, pulled slightly aside by the distinct feeling of its ripping from each wrist.

He sat there on his knees, gaping at the circle of broken glass across the room. Massaging his wrists, he slowly raised himself to his feet and stole over to the doors to look out.

Cynneth the groundskeeper was in the yard below, picking something up out of the grass. She glanced up, and they made eye contact. Kennick backed up, abruptly. He stood still in his room, eyes wide, heart pounding. He looked at the books on the floor.

Irix was going to kill him.

He turned and padded urgently to the door, down the hallway, and down the stairs. He grabbed his shoes by the door and cut through the sunroom toward the garden.

Cynneth met him on his way out the door at the back of the sunroom. The stone was in her callused hand, which looked small and dextrous when free of her heavy gardener’s gloves.

“What is this, Master Kennick?” she said, eyebrows raised.

Kennick swallowed his deep sense of mortality. “A rock, ma’am.”

“Did you throw it through your bedroom window?”

Kennick nodded and hung his head, hoping she would think him destructive, pass it off as a symptom of early puberty, and leave it at that.

She was studying the rock.

“There’s soot on it,” she said.

Kennick swallowed.

“You were practicing without the master’s permission, weren’t you?”

“Please don’t tell her,” Kennick said, fearfully.

Cynneth’s lips tightened sympathetically.

“Sorry, boya. You know I can’t do that.” She tucked the stone into the pocket of her overalls with a sigh. “So…Do you want me to tell her, or shall I let you do it?”

Kennick felt a sucking sensation in his chest. His head was still buzzing with traces of the extra energy in his system, the rumor of the broken energy cord like nails on a chalkboard in his sensory memory.

“I’ll tell her,” Kennick said.

“Good,” Cynneth said. She didn’t hand over the evidence. “Sweep up the broken glass. I’ll go up and tape the hole until we can replace the panel, all right?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Kennick said.

Cynneth nodded. Before she turned to go, she pointed a finger at him. “As soon as she gets home, you tell her.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Kennick said.

The edges of the house seemed to loom in over him as Kennick stole back into the house and crept into the kitchen, hunting for a broom. Open, breathless, waiting.

He glanced at the square clock on the kitchen wall. Irix would be home in an hour.

He stared at it, clutching the broom in his fatigued, jittery hands. One more hour to live, he thought dismally.

Enceladus’ Indigenous

I was the first to turn.

It was extremely quiet on Enceladus, the tentatively friendly moon of Saturn whose colonization we were sent to oversee. The operation was already pretty far along. They had begun to build towns across the frozen valley. I could spot people from the station windows. Going about their business, living life, quietly.

After two months here on assignment, I was beginning to think I didn’t like it here. It felt like we were living under a microscope, but with no one at the eyepiece. Like we were on the edge of being forgotten. As much praise and ambition people had had for the project back on earth, I had come to expect…more.

It’s a strange thing, to leave your own planet. It’s not like leaving your province, your country. It’s even farther. A deep, cold, alien homesickness, that lodges in your bones and never quite leaves.

And as I force myself to concentrate on work, updating the station, monitoring the environment, managing communication between earth and the projects across the valley—I can’t get over the fact that I signed up to be here for two years.

Two years.

The station was always chilly, but you get used to it after a while. The rooms were big and quiet and ominous. We all slept in the same room. The kitchen was massive as well, silent, dark, with the light from the skylight glinting blue off every chrome surface.

I hated to stay in the kitchen, the sleeping quarters too. But I was one to let my imagination run wild.

“¿A veces, te sientes como alguien está mirándonos?” I sometimes asked one of my colleagues, without thinking.

“¿…Qué quieres decir?”

That’s where it would end, usually. Me feeling like a paranoid freak, with the more rationalistic minds of the group beginning to think I was a paranormal fanatic.

I began to have nightmares, of dead people under blankets, rising with hollowed screams as I drew near. My colleagues, my friends. I began to see things, shadows racing across the walls, whispers of touch on the back of my neck, a gaze on the back of my head.

But there was never anything there.

A little fuzzy creature that called itself Pud got into the station, and stuck a little too close if it saw me. None of my colleagues could see it. Even when it stood right at their feet, looking up at them. I couldn’t get Pud to leave. It always found a way back in. Tried to cause trouble with the work. Always questioning what I was doing. Jeering at my colleagues.

They’d catch me telling it to get lost and let me work, to not sit so close, to get away from my food. I tried to reign it in when they were around. I tried to figure out where the little imp came from, but it never answered anything.

And how could it speak my language, anyway? That’s what I’d like to know.

I needed to get up the guts to stick up for myself to my colleagues. But…what if it really was just me? This frozen rock, the muffled, distant rumbling of its petulant geysers, hoping one wouldn’t form under the station. Perhaps it was beginning to get to me. Admittedly, I hadn’t been the most stable of people upon leaving earth.

I meant to put together something with empirical evidence, to show my colleagues something really was there. But I kept forgetting.

I was forgetting everything, actually. Simple things, like forgetting to wash my dishes after meals, even when the protocol was to line up and do it all at once. I kept finding things from my desk in my bed.

I dreamt my blanket wrapped me up and was trying to drag me off into the darkest corner of our quarters. Pud appeared and I punched it straight in the face. I woke up on the kitchen floor. The only sound the vague rumbling of Enceladus’ geysers outside.

I began to feel angry, all the time. Everything was cause for aggression. I am not an aggressive person. I don’t pick fights. I don’t bark, and I don’t bite.

But I did. Many times. Over stupid things. I got headaches. I lashed out at every opportunity.

The last straw was when I caught myself actually trying to physically bite someone.

I backed off, horrified. I turned and ran, looking for silence, for solitude. Sweating and shaking, I found myself in the kitchen.

I sank to the floor behind one of the counters. The only light came from a skylight in the middle of the ceiling, creating ghostly shadows, a frozen, blueish hue to everything.

I ducked forward, hands clutching my head. I wanted to kill them. I wanted to kill them all. But why? It didn’t make sense. They were my colleagues. We were a team.

Something stood over me, but when I looked up, I saw nothing. I fought to breathe.

This was supposed to be a quiet two years. Eerie and lonely too, perhaps. Sure, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but it was quiet. A chance to do honest work, to be some good in this universe.

But I wanted to tear it down. Ten years of collective effort, I wanted to see it wiped from existence. These people and their arrogant, stupid structures. Didn’t they once stop to think that maybe Enceladus belonged to someone else?

My breath caught at a sudden, sickening crack of my spine, in the shoulder region. More followed it, all the way down, painful, electrifying; curving and elongating and pushing up and out.

With a cry of pain, I fell to my side. My legs grew longer, my feet stretching far beyond the backs of my slippers, losing human form. The skin was darkening, hardening.

I curled up into a ball. I could hear footsteps, muffled voices. I panicked. They couldn’t see me like this. I pushed myself up, feverish, my vision blurring in and out. My arms were unsteady, clawed hands warping beneath me. My spine had become longer, stretching my body another half its length.

Something burst out of my sides, thin shafts jointing and planting on the floor. Four extra appendages. My blood dripped on the polished tiles—black, viscous liquid, like an insect. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.

Structures sprouted on my forehead. Two rows of two. When they opened and the confused visual information imposed itself upon my natural perception, I realized they were eyes.

The doors beyond the counters opened. Silence ensued. Listening.

“¿Renata?” One of my colleagues called. Sergio. “Renata, ¿estás aquí?”

Slow footsteps. I held still, my chest heaving, head and heart pounding.

He crept around the corner. As soon as our gazes met, he backed up in horror.

I acted on the first impulse: Attack.


When I came to my senses, I found myself beating against a prison door with all six arms, screeching at the top of my lungs. I stopped, abruptly, and backed up, surprised and mortified.

I could still taste blood in my mouth. Red, coppery. Not my own. There was a gash in my grasshopper-like leg. It hurt like heck.

I sat down against the wall, trying to catch my breath, taking in the sight of myself.

My skin was almost black, plated along the top like some kind of lightweight bio-armor. My uniform was ripped and too short in many places. It was bloody.

I’d never been covered in blood before.

Had I killed someone? Oh god…

I stood up, creeping to the door. I felt like I was on stilts, with silly putty for a spine. Everything hurt. I tapped on the cell door, tentative.

“¿Aló?” I called. My voice had changed. My jaw felt torpid, trying to talk through rows of jagged teeth. “¿A—alguién está? ¿Qué pasó? No…no puedo acodarme después de…” After transforming. How long had my blackout been?

And why had I regained sentience now? Lost and found it just like that? If it was that easily forgotten, I could forget it again.

I was better off caged.

But for some reason, everything in me screamed to be set free. This cell was suffocating. It wasn’t safe, it was strangling me. I had to get out. They couldn’t keep me here. I had to empty this station. They all had to die or surrender—

I jerked myself away from the door, so sharply I collided against the back wall. That beat back some of the animalistic thoughts clawing through my head. For a moment, the spiraling, seething voice silenced.

I was shaking.

I felt the anger, as well as the derision. From deep inside me. Mingled with my fear and confusion and shame. Something else. Whatever had taken control of my body…it hated me.

It hated all of us.

This is the price for trespassing, it said. This world is not yours. It will never be yours.

“¿Qué es usted?” I demanded. To myself in the lonely cell. To the monster inside my head.

We are the indigenous.

“¿Renata?” A voice from outside the door made me jump. Delfina. “Franco dice que dijiste algo sofisticado. ¿Tú estás…tú?”

“¿Todos están bien?” I said, anxious. My voice shook. “¿Por qué estoy cubierta de sangre? ¿Maté a alguién?”

There was silence for a moment. “No.”

I brought a hand up to my mouth. “Gracias a Dios…”

“Pero empezaste algo,” she said, solemnly. “Algo aún más feo.”

“¿Qué quieres decir…?”

A screeching sound burst into the air from the cell next to mine. Scratching and banging against the door.

A weight dropped into my chest. “O no…” I straightened up. “¿A causa de la mordedura?”

“Eso pensamos,” Delfina said. “Funciona rápidamente. Pregunta es, ¿quién te mordió a ti?”
“Nadie,” I said. I tried to think back. No strange wounds had manifested. Just a lot of other strange things. “Pienso que me seguía un rato…De algún modo, me entró. No sé cómo…”

Delfina hesitated. “¿Este…Pud cosa?”

I took a steadying breath. “No sé. Es posible que tenía algo que ver…”

Maybe the night I punched it incited something. But that was in a dream…It had to have been…

“Tenemos que irnos,” I said, urgent. “Recoger todos de esta luna. Las creaturas aquí…Ellas son las que hacen esto.”

“¿Qué son?”

“No sé.” The thing in my head was sitting back and watching through my eyes and ears. If I did what it wanted, I hoped maybe it would leave us alone.

“¿Cómo hacen esto?” I muttered.

None of your business.

“Estamos dispuestos a trabajar con ustedes. Queremos colaborar.”

Now you’re negotiating, because we’ve made you a crazed monster. You will never be human again, you know.

I swallowed. “No creo eso,” I whispered.


“¡ALÉJATE DE NUESTRA LUNA!” The screech exploded out of me, compulsive. “¡O MUERA! ¡VAMOS A MATAR TODOS USTEDES!”

I clutched my head in my hands, bracing the other arms against the floor.

“No sabíamos—” I said through clenched teeth. “Por favor, no sabíamos. Tienen nuestra atención total, ahora le suplico, nos permitan colaborar con sus exigencias.”

The creature quieted then. I sat back, trying to catch my breath. I looked at Delfina, apologetic, wishing more than anything I could set this right.

10 years of collaborative effort. The pressure of colonization pushing back against an isolated incident on a tiny science station. As it stood, the indigenous had claimed me and Sergio. They wanted immediate evacuation, but we all knew they wouldn’t get it, not without an epidemic.

And as I sat on the cold floor of my cell, in temporary possession of my mind and altered body, I knew the indigenous intended to give us one.


A/N: Been sitting on this one-off for a long time. I get really weird stories from dreams–more the environment and a few strange impressions, and then it spirals off into the sunset from there. Originally, like most of my scribblings, this was all in English, but I thought I’d experiment with language a bit for kicks, see how it changed its flavor, so to speak. I kind of like it.

For the translation: Enceladus’ Indigenous dialogue (english)


A hand jammed into my chest. A quick, lethal tug.

That was my last memory.

When my next bit of sentience reengaged, I was lying on my back, looking into a round dark face, fluffy black hair framing it like thunder clouds.

“You are alive!” it said.

I jerked back. I tried to get up, to run. My leg was supposed to plant into the weedy grass and propel me, but it missed. Only air. I pitched straight onto my face, amid background noise of its voice, words I didn’t care to hear.

Its human voice.

The last voice I’d heard was human. Raised. I could still feel the tug. The last word.

u  s  e  l  e  s  s  .

GET AWAY FROM ME! I tried to say—but what issued from my voice simulator was a staticky buzz, ugly and unintelligible.

I cut off, surprised. Half my left leg was missing, twisted and snapped clear out of its socket. My chest panel was also gone, baring my sensitive inner circuitry.

I tried my voice again, quieter.

The human stood over me. It was showing me its palms. Bare hands.

Good for you. You have hands.

Bare hands were supposed to pacify me? Bare hands had fingers, muscles, bone, the perfect combination for insertion and extraction. Soft and vulnerable, perhaps, but cruel, all the same.

“It’s ok, it’s ok,” it was saying. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

I can’t trust you— More ugly buzzing. Water damage, probably. I glared at the hole in my chest, hunching my shoulders.

It had registered by now. I was in a junkyard. I could see the me-shaped outline in dead grass under a fallen beam a few yards away. Spindly arms, smooth edges.

The human had propped up the beam with a small scissor jack.

u  s  e  l  e  s  s  .

We are not supposed to have feelings.

But that’s a pesky side effect of advanced AI. Those of us that are placed with humans develop personalities.

She’d probably already seen it, this human. I didn’t know what to do. She’d decided it was a good idea to revive me, and now she’d seen—how many emotions plastered on my simplistic mechanical face? I didn’t care to count, but I tried to think of them—fear, surprise, hostility, disgust…

All problematic.

She’d probably cut more of my wires now, including the ones she had soldered back together. I had no escape.

My outer panels were already starting to rust. She would cut my power, take whatever scraps she wanted, and leave my remains to rust away.

Because robots were never supposed to feel.

“What are you doing out here?” she said, gently kneeling next to me.

I curled up, slowly.

Sadness came, then. Pain, betrayal, confusion, grief. Welling up in my circuits, flooding my broken voice simulator, adding a whining tinge to the grating buzz. They threw me away…

I showed negative emotion and they threw me away, and now that same fearful ugliness was spilling out of me.

I curled up tighter. I hid my face, but I couldn’t hide the shaking.

Why did she revive me? Why?

I hadn’t hurt anyone.

Why did they throw me away?

What was I supposed to do now?

“Well then.” She got to her feet.

When I looked up, she had extended a hand.  “What do you say we get your leg fixed up? Your voice simulator too?” She flashed a smile. The well-meaning type. “You look like a talker…”

I stared at the hand. Callused palms, short fingernails, grease and rust along the fingertips. Probably from me. The hand remained in the air between us.

I chanced to look into her eyes. Tentatively, I unfurled a tiny bit. I lifted a hand.

I placed it in hers. Metal panels against seamless skin.

Her smile softened and the warm, organic fingers closed.

And I wanted to believe in that sensation.

I wanted to believe that maybe overstepped malfunctions like me deserved to live too.


A/N: A written version of a comic I did for class this last semester.

Paths crossed

Stacea stopped in the street, suddenly, making Aría jump.

“What was that?” Aría said.

Stacea raised a hand to her head. “I don’t know…it felt like…” She shook her head, brow furrowed. She looked around, mouth slightly open, tasting the air, thinking.

“I sense a mage…” she said, slowly. She turned around. “The reptile one…”

“Ingram’s apprentice one?” Aría said, following her step in her chosen direction. “His master too?”

“No, just the one…” Stacea’s eyes narrowed. She shook her head again and rubbed a hand under her nose. “None of our business, anyway. I don’t care what the little skink does.”

Stacea continued walking down the street, and Aría tripped after her.

“Does he smell bad?” Aría glanced back.

Stacea hesitated. “Not really, why?”

Aría gave a one-sided shrug. “You seem really…hostile. He seemed pretty harmless to me at the anniversary dinner…”

Stacea kept her eyes on the street. “Have you not heard about Arkenyon mages?”

Aría hesitated. “No…? Aren’t mages like…herbalists, fortunetellers and the like?”

Stacea shook her head. “Not Arkenyons. They take it forty more levels. From what Mariet has told me, they can rip reality apart. Skilled mages can do just about anything they want. They’re sensitives, is the thing. Diliken sensitives are more herbalists, reading the lines of the lifestream, communing with nature and helping keep things in balance. I don’t know what they do in Kaladría, but in Arken, it’s like they’re made of those notorious thunderstorms of theirs. It roots them out, drives them insane…” She shivered. “I can feel it when people like them are nearby. It makes my skin crawl…”

Rapid footfalls on the street swelled behind them, shouts of “‘scuse us! Coming through! Look out!”

Aría glanced back again, just as they tore past her and Stacea.

“I think we’re going to head it off!” one of the boys panted, triumphant. Aría caught the hint of smoke from his singed shirt.

They swerved into an alleyway.

“What was that about…?” Aría looked at Stacea and paused at the look of sheer dread on her friend’s face. “—Are you all right?”

They heard a distant crash of wood and Stacea took off in the direction the boys had gone. Aría tripped after her. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know.” Stacea called back. “Nothing humane, I can tell you that!” She turned the corner just in time to watch the boys turn one further up. “I think they’re after that mage kid. He’s nearby, moving—” Her eyes narrowed. “And he’s scared out of his mind…”

Aría kept up with her, winding through the alleys. Finally, they turned a corner and found a group of people gathered in the mouth of a narrow alley.

“Please listen…” Aría heard a young voice, cracking and frightened. “I’m not dangerous! I haven’t done anything—”

Stacea marched forward, and Aría heard the dragon in her voice. “Leave him alone!

The group paused, glancing back as Stacea pushed herself through, Aría on her heels. Stacea straightened as soon as she broke through, as if in surprise. Bristling, she twisted to face the group as Aría wrestled herself out the other side of the gathered.

She found herself looking at a huge pile of snake, more than anything else. Pressed up against the wall of the dead end, she saw the boy, his ashen face orange, not the burgundy she remembered from when she’d seen him with his master in the royal commorancy. His brown eyes were wide and tearful. He was shaking.

She took a step forward, palms held out in a peacemaking gesture.

“It’s all right,” she said gently. “You’re all right now. Stacea can hold them off. We’re not going to hurt you.”

His unconvinced gaze switched between her and the deterred crowd. Stacea was chewing them out. Aría ventured nearer, and the snake boy let her approach.

“—Don’t let her get near it!” one of the people cried. “It’s like an electric eel! Not to mention it’ll snatch her faster than you can blink! Crush her in an instant.”

Stacea barred their way with an arm, drawing herself up further. “Does that kid really look like he’s going to hurt anybody?”

“Never seen anything like that,” someone said.

“Shapeshifters are dangerous,” another added, resolute.

“So we gang up on them?” Stacea spat. “Oh sure, that will make them safer to be around. Haven’t you spoken with him?”


“And what was he saying!” Stacea demanded.

“What’s your name?” Aría said softly, kneeling down next to Irix’s apprentice.

“Kennick…” the boy said. He brushed a hand across his eyes. “Kennick Turmen…”

Aría offered a tender smile. “I’m Aría. I don’t know if you remember me…but I’m the maid who gave you soda water that night in the Diliken commorancy…You’re Irix Ingram’s apprentice, right?”

Kennick stared at her, his breathing beginning to calm. Confused, he nodded. “I remember you…” He glanced down at himself and shifted, pulling his torso up to more of a sitting position. “Sorry…I’m sorry–this is so messed up. You probably–”

“You’re a shapeshifter?” Aría said, stopping his embarrassed fumbling.

Kennick nodded. “But I’m not dangerous—I swear I’m not—”

Aría held up a hand. “It’s all right. I know.”

“Go about your own business,” Stacea was growling at Kennick’s assailants. “We’ll take it from here. We know exactly how to deal with shapeshifters. We’ll figure out where he means to go and get him out of here. Don’t cause any more trouble than you already have.”

Aría smiled in spite of herself. Stacea was bluffing. As if all shapeshifters were the same…

“I tried to keep this from happening…” Kennick said, tripping over himself. “I tried so hard–” Aría wasn’t used to Arkenyon accents, but she followed as best as she could. “But—see—I can’t have legs for more than a few hours because I broke my instinctive cast…and I thought everything was going to work out, but I got lost and…” His throat tightened. He bowed his head, wiping at fresh tears and trying to get a hold of himself.

Aría gave him a moment. “Where’s your master?”

Kennick glanced to where the people were beginning to filter away. Some disappointed, some angry, others just embarrassed. Stacea stood planted in front of them like a mean house cat, her fluffy hair a swatch of black in the tan bricks of the alleyway.

“My master…” Kennick trailed off. He lifted a hand to his head, breathing a shaky exhale. “I…” He looked into her eyes, desperate. “I need to speak to the king. Can you help me? It’s extremely important…”

Aría hesitated. “That’s a steep request…”

Stacea came up behind her.

“Thank you so much,” Kennick looked up at her. “They were threatening to cut me open…”

“Disgusting,” Stacea said. She docked her hands on her hips. “You should know better than to show this side of yourself in the city…”

“I know—and I do—it’s just…I couldn’t help it—” Kennick stammered, miserably drawing his tail closer around himself, away from her feet.

Aría glanced back at her friend. “He said he damaged his legs so can’t have them for long. Is that correct, Kennick?”

“More or less.”

“He also says he needs to talk to the king,” Aría said.

Stacea stood over them, brow furrowed. “We can’t get you in there.”

“But you work there—” Kennick blurted.

“Yes, but there are guards at the gate, who are not going to let us waltz through with an orange Arkenyon boy,” Stacea said. “A snake, no less. And even if we did, someone’s going to find out we smuggled a shapeshifter into the royal commorancy, and we will be in the worst trouble of our lives.”

Kennick’s face flushed. He sank into himself a little in despair. “I know…” he said. “I knew it was a long shot…”

“Why are you here?”

Kennick glanced aside. “You won’t believe me…”

“Try me,” Stacea said.


A/N: Hello! It’s been a while! I was going to post a life update, but I thought nah. Maybe I’ll post that later. Have a Diliken fiction blurb instead! *thumbs up*


“Oh—they came!” Elna cried. Kennick looked up from his nest by the hearth as the girl hurried over to the door and stood up on her toes to look through the window.

Tiny dots of light undulated past the glass.

“Fireflies?” Kennick said.

“Come here—“ Elna waved him over.

Kennick picked himself up and crept to the door to look.

“Däkhama,” Elna said. A group of the glowing orbs sat around the edge of the bowl Elna had stationed on the end of the porch. The milk inside rippled gently, like small tongues disturbed the surface.

“Momma says they’re the heartbeat of the world. The observers. They come and watch all creatures, and they give off certain vibes that help things stay in balance, especially between humans and mythical creatures. Da says they can predict earthquakes and stuff too.”

Kennick squinted, trying to see the creatures through their light, but he couldn’t. “How?”

“Don’t know,” Elna said. “But they come to visit if you put out milk and sugar just when it’s starting to get dark.” She smiled at him. “We’ve been doing this a long time, so they all know this is a good place to come for snacks.”

Kennick watched some flit away from the bowl while others crammed into their spot along the rim. Some were sniffing around the grass off the porch like glowing bumblebees.

“If you’re mean to them, the forest becomes a very sinister place,” Elna’s mother said, from by the fire.

“Do they let you near them?” Kennick said, raising a little higher to see better.

Elna grinned and reached for the doorknob. Kennick backed up as she carefully unlatched and opened the door. She peeked her face out, listening, waiting.

Kennick glanced back. The family was watching the ordeal.

Elna’s father got up and went to the kitchen. He opened a drawer and scooped some loose, granulated sugar into a small bowl. He handed it to Kennick.

Elna pulled her head back into the house. “All right,” she said. “They seem to be in a social mood.”

“How can you tell?” Kennick said, quietly.

“You can just feel it.” She stepped out onto the porch, gesturing for Kennick to follow.

He carefully slithered out onto the wooden boards. The air outside felt industrious, but the feel of it filled more and more with curiosity, directed at him. He gently closed the door behind him.

A few däkhama drifted up to Elna’s face.

“Hello,” she said, smiling.

The dots of light began to gravitate toward Kennick.

“Stay still,” Elna said. “Let them sniff you.”KEln_Dakhama_2

Kennick complied. He tried to hold his breath as they hung around his face, landing on his arms, his hair, his long, serpentine lower body. They were warm creatures.

One alighted on his nose, and he felt very tiny grippers, like caterpillar feet. He tried to see it through the light. It was vaguely star-shaped, full-bodied, but he couldn’t see much more than the blurred outline.

“Do they sting?” he whispered. The däkhama on his nose took to the air again, skimming back to the milk bowl.

“No,” Elna took some of the sugar from him and a handful of the creatures left their investigation of Kennick to eat it from her hands. “Don’t worry.”

Gradually, the rest of the däkhama began to lose interest in the human shapeshifter, and filtered away to continue their meal, or to take sugar from Elna or the bowl in Kennick’s hands.

“So—if you’re nice to them, they tell their friends, and the supernatural doesn’t really target you?”

“More or less.”

Kennick raised his gaze to the hundreds of soft lights floating around the yard. He sat back. “Wow.”


A/N: Where Kennick is from, to be a mage commands a measure of volatility–which can be difficult to control. In the vast, notoriously dangerous forests of Dilikí, such sensitivity carries a very different meaning.

Snake Wrangler

A/N: Kennick is too old for a proper governness, not that Irix thinks she needs additional house staff to manage him. Edhard Delaine is the head of Irix’s household security, which incidentally includes miscellaneous tasks not included in his job description, such as chasing down the baby mage.


Edhard appeared in the doorway of Kennick’s room. “Master Kennick, you’re to get ready for—”

Kennick was over the side of the bed in an instant, catching himself on his hands and propelling himself toward the side door.

Edhard jumped. “Hey—Kenn—”

He leaped for Kennick’s serpentine lower half, but Kennick managed to pull it out in time. He heard Edhard scramble up as he grabbed the corner and pulled himself around it.

Any moment, he expected to feel Edhard’s grip. He had to find some way to lose him, somewhere to hide. There was no way Kennick was going to a political meeting and pretending he wasn’t slowly turning into a snake in front of royals and politicians, while pretending he understood or even cared what they droned on and on about.

He spotted a window. It had a ledge. If he could access it in time, he’d be able to hang on it and cling to the trellis below and hopefully throw off Edhard’s pursuit. Irix couldn’t drag him anywhere if she couldn’t find him.

He veered toward the opening to freedom.

A body slammed down around his tail. A tug stopped Kennick dead. He lost his momentum, along with the balance of his torso.

Frantic, he planted his hands underneath him, pulling and reaching up for the sill.

“Oh no you don’t—” Edhard said, clawing his way up Kennick’s flank.

The floor tiles offered a poor anchor. Kennick could shift his tail under Edhard’s grip if he twisted it right. Maybe if he jerked everything to the side—

But then Edhard was on top of Kennick’s back, and Kennick’s torso was pinned. His tail looped and thrashed behind Edhard, while Kennick pulled uselessly. Edhard had the physique of a brick wall. His hands planted on Kennick’s shoulders.

“Come on, Master Kennick,” he said as Kennick struggled. “You can handle being bipedal for a couple hours.”

“Last time was horrible!” Kennick’s tail collided with the wall. He could get it out and over the sill, but he might hurt Edhard if they both fell. “I start feeling sick after 30 minutes! And I puff up like a biscuit and everyone can tell—”

Edhard pushed Kennick’s shoulders flat with a grunt. “Your master is waiting.”

“I’m not going,” Kennick huffed.

“I don’t think that option was on the table…”

“I’ll be sick then,” Kennick said. “You’re breaking my ribs, anyway…”

“Sorry…” Edhard gingerly eased himself up from Kennick’s torso.

Kennick tried to bolt immediately—an act which earned him a headlock.

He squirmed, gripping Edhard’s clamped arms. He shifted and wrapped his tail around Edhard’s legs, trying to pull him off, but the guard held fast.

The more Kennick pulled, the more he pulled his own neck. He stopped, finally, to catch his breath.

Edhard’s breathing had deepened as well. His body was humid around Kennick’s face. Between breaths, Edhard began to laugh. “Never a dull moment,” he said with a sigh of a scoff. “Never a dull moment…”

Kennick slowly released him. “I’m not going,” he said again, strained.

“Are you now?” Edhard seemed content to lie there on the floor, Kennick’s still-attached head as his prize.

“I can’t,” Kennick said into Edhard’s sleeve. “I’ll be bipedal while Irix is gone, if she wants, but I’ll transform at home—not in high society.”

“I’m afraid there’s nothing to negotiate,” Edhard said gently.

Kennick moaned.

“I had a feeling this would happen.”

Kennick looked up. His master stood over them, arms crossed.

Kennick exchanged a glance with Edhard.

Irix sighed. “Thank you, Edhard. You can let him go.”

Edhard hesitated. Kennick considered resuming his attempted escape, but thought better of it as the guard released him.

Edhard helped pull Kennick upright. Then he brushed himself off, tipped a polite nod, and departed, scooping his hat up off the floor as he went.

Kennick waited, chagrined.

“Stay put,” Irix said.

Kennick nodded, looking at the floor.

“So what is all this?”

“Can’t we wait until I’ve fixed this?” Kennick mumbled.

“We can’t put anything on hold,” Irix said. “I have enough portable energy reserves to last you all night if necessary.”

Kennick made a face. He preferred to use the master reserve downstairs in the temple with its warm, crackling energy. The portable energy reserves were angry little electrocution boxes. Callous, abrupt. Like shooting lightning up his nose.

“I’d have to use them every two hours,” Kennick said. “And because you won’t have a moment, I’ll have to transform all the way in order to revert back. That’s a waste of energy, and I’ll have to do it in some bathroom somewhere. Some of those fancy bathrooms are really small.”

“Maybe,” Irix said. “But you won’t have to do it more than three times—at the very most.”

Kennick’s expression darkened. “If I was sick with a virus, you’d let me stay home.”

“Life goes on even when participation is hard to stomach,” Irix said simply. “If we waited for perfect conditions, we’d never accomplish anything.”

Kennick rolled his eyes.

Irix flicked his forehead. “None of that, Kennick.”

“Sorry.” Kennick rubbed his forehead.

Irix turned. “Come on, then. Get ready and meet me down in the temple in half an hour with your trousers and other effects. You can revert right before we leave.”

“And if I’m late?”

Irix didn’t turn around. “You don’t want to be late.”

Kennick crossed his arms. The door to the hallway closed behind her.

Kennick frowned. He’d been punished by his master enough times to know that suffering through the night’s political meeting with his current affliction was probably better than finding out what Irix had had in mind.

With an exasperated groan, he directed himself back to his bedroom.

He should have planned this out better.

The Ghost Prince

“Why did you take your coverings off outside?” Evin’s governess, Gwinna sighed as she applied a pungent glob of salve to the raw skin on the back of the boy’s otherwise colorless neck. “And why did you leave them off for so long?”

Evin winced. He looked at the reddened skin of his burned hands. A little closer, he thought. A little closer to the color he should have been.

Though he was still very far off.

“It was too hot,” Evin said quietly. His mask and hood breathed well enough, but the canvas chafed against his face. The coat it was attached to became humid if he ran, especially in the summer.

Not to mention the garb looked stupid. He hated it.

The only part of him people could see were his eyes, but only through large tinted glasses—which didn’t fit his face properly and constantly slipped down his nose.

Everyone knew Evin couldn’t set foot in the sun without being covered head-to-toe. Yet Stephan and the other kids always insisted on playing outside anyway. It was supposedly more fun.

Evin had freed himself that afternoon. Just once, to see for himself how expensive it was. They didn’t understand how good they had it.

A door opened and the smug, violet face of his older brother appeared.

“Hey old man,” Stephan said. “How’s the ectoplasm?”

“Shut up,” Evin muttered.

“Stephan,” Gwinna said. “I think your brother needs some space right now.”

Stephan smiled and shrugged. He sauntered out to the balcony and disappeared over the side.

“You know how dangerous it is for you to be out in the sun,” Gwinna said. “Don’t ever take your coverings off outside again, all right? I know you don’t like it, but it’s not worth hurting your health over.”

Evin nodded dismally.

Everyone in the whole world got to have some sort of color: Red, orange, burgundy…And how could Evin, a kid who happened to belong to a family with a very specific, important skin tone, be the only one denied?

Poor Evin, they said. Had to be cursed, they said. The royal family was always dark violet. What had the king and queen done, people whispered, to deserve to have a child without pigment?

“This is going to blister…” Gwinna sighed, gently applying the salve to his face. She lifted a hand to rub some in the part in his white hair. “Thank goodness you kept your glasses on out there.”

Evin nodded, narrowing his red-violet eyes at the tiles beneath his feet.

At least Dilikí had one proper heir.


A/N: Diliken tend to be superstitious, and rather shallow in some circles. It’s just a genetic defect, guys. Everybody calm down.

Still, 13 years later, Evin did rise to the head of the monarchy. How? We shall see.

Royal Bicarbonate of Soda

A/N: Stacea doesn’t quite understand that regular people really can’t smell as well as she does. But everyone else just thinks she’s either being sensitive or metaphorical most of the time. Perthaeam are kind of like highly territorial guard dogs with a knack for sensing things that lie beneath the surface. Two days’ time will reveal for Kennick and Irix what’s afoot.


“Aría.” Stacea stepped up beside her, an empty silver tray tucked under her arm. “What do you make of that kid over there?”

Aría surveyed the guests in the direction indicated by Stacea’s tilt of head.

She spotted him, standing along the edges of the reception, mouth clamped shut and eyes staring straight ahead. His entire demeanor was an inward moan of social anxiety.

Aría ducked her head closer to Stacea. “What about him?”

“What do you make of him?”

“He looks uncomfortable to me. I didn’t see who he arrived with—seems too young to have come alone. Who does he belong to?”
“He smells like a reptile to me…” Stacea said quietly. “I don’t like him.”

Aría hesitated, confused. “Like he can’t be trusted, you mean?” She didn’t know if calling someone a reptile was an insult in Dilikí as it was in Kaladría.

“I don’t know,” Stacea murmured. “It puts me on edge.”

The boy winced. His hand found its way to the gold vest, over his abdomen.

“You really don’t smell it?”

Aría abruptly handed her tray to Stacea, startling her. “Hold this for a second.”

Once the tray was out of her possession, she ignored Stacea’s hissed protestations and threaded through the satin and conversation to the kid leaning against the wall.

The boy noticed her with a start.

“Excuse me, sir,” Aría said gently. “Are you all right?” She could practically feel Stacea’s dismay boring a hole in the back of her head, but she didn’t look away from the king’s guest. “Can I get you anything?”

The boy looked at her, wide-eyed, as if cornered. He pulled his hand off his vest and pinned it to his side.

He was sweating. “No, I’m fine,” he said. “Thank you—” His breath caught. He swallowed. “Actually, where is the bathroom? Sorry…”

“Here, let me show you,” Aría said. “It’s just outside of these doors down the hallway.”

The boy moved after her, his hand finding its way to his middle again. “Thank you, ma’am.”

Aría hadn’t expected an honorific toward her to come from his mouth. She led him out into the silent hallway, watching him in her peripheral vision. He kept his gaze on the floor, eyes tight.

“Really, can I get you anything?” she ventured again as they came upon the door. “Soda water, perhaps?”

The boy cracked a wan smile and reached for the doorknob. “No, thank you.” He opened the door.

“If you change your mind just let any of us know, all right?” Aría tugged lightly on the black collar of her servant’s uniform.

The boy nodded and slipped into the bathroom. As Aría stepped away, she thought she heard the sound of vomiting.

She hesitated. The door from another one of the rooms opened and Aría jumped to make herself scarce. She stole down the hallway, ducked into the servant’s passage, and headed straight to the kitchen to continue her assigned task for the night.

She would keep an eye out for him, she decided, and possibly swing by the bathroom later to make sure he was all right.


Kennick dragged himself out from behind the heavy bathroom door. As he unsteadily made his way toward the ballroom, the door opened to betray his master.

“Where have you been?” Irix said.

Kennick gestured behind him. “In the bathroom, hurling chips.”

Irix let the door shut. Her expression softened as she strode up to him. “That’s not good…” She put a hand on his forehead. “You don’t feel feverish…And what did I say about colloquialisms?”

“Sorry…” Kennick said.

“You haven’t been drinking have you?”

Kennick shook his head. “Just juice, water, and food, as you said.”

Irix crossed her arms. “Have you been feeling sick today? Are you nervous? Did you drink tap water somewhere?”

Kennick shook his head again. He winced at a sharp jab of pain in his abdomen. “I think it’s passing.” And he thought he’d already adjusted to upper class tap water.

“Good.” She considered his face. “I have another couple of hours before we can leave. Can you make it that long?”

“Yes, I think so,” Kennick said. He felt like he was lying, but he thought he’d be fine sitting still and sipping water. If he could just be with his master, he’d be all right. People didn’t usually talk to him much if he was near her.

Half an hour later, the maid who’d shown him to the bathroom found him in the parlor, reclined in an easy chair near where his master sat at a table talking with colleagues. The maid offered a well-meaning smile and handed him a squat wine glass with a cloudy, fizzing liquid inside.

“For your stomach, sir,” she said quietly. She didn’t sound Diliken, or Arkanian as far as Kennick could tell. “I hope you’re feeling better.”

“Thank you.” Kennick flashed a wan smile as he took the glass. Irix glanced back, making eye contact first with Kennick, then the servant before giving a single, appreciative nod, and returning her attention to what the man across from her was saying.

The maid bobbed a respectful curtsy before pivoting around and taking her leave.

Kennick watched her go, gingerly raising the glass to his lips.


“Stacea,” Aría lowered her voice as she accompanied her back toward the kitchen. “That kid you don’t like? I think he’s with Irix Ingram.”

Stacea glanced back, the side of her nose scrunching up. “You were babying the apprentice of Irix Ingram?” She looked aside thoughtfully. “No wonder he smells strange.”

“She has an apprentice?”

“How did you find out who he was?”

“He was sitting by her in the parlor when I gave him soda water.”

Stacea brought a hand to her forehead. “Aría, that’s not your job.” She looked up at her. “Wait—you mean you were close to his master?”

“We made eye contact…Can you believe that?”

“You not only handed her apprentice an unapproved beverage, but you handed it to him right in front of her? She could have thought it was poison, for all we know. What if she took offense?”

“She looked kind of grateful, actually.” Aría ducked her head. She lowered her voice further as they entered the kitchen, “I just wanted to help the kid. He looked so miserable. And the posh and starch of these sort of things are bad enough without throwing up in a king’s bathroom—”

Stacea shot her a warning look as they neared the table where the kitchen staff was busily filling trays with more appetizers.

Aría picked up a tray. “He’s with his master now. I’ll leave him alone, all right?”

Stacea’s lips tightened as she picked up a tray of her own. “That would be best.”