I keep getting bits and pieces of Grit‘s world flitting through me. Between the New Year, the cold days, and long nights, I’m not surprised. I’ve been good, though. I’ve been doing what I’m supposed to be doing and focusing on the projects that are a little more pressing, a little more lucrative.

Man, do I really want to be able to launch Grit, though.

Soon.

I still need to read through and accept the edits that one of my editors made. I still haven’t heard from the other editor. Maybe I need to write another email…

Anyway, I’ve been ignoring my muses for a while now, so here’s a story off the top of my head.

And, because the new year inspired it, I’m going to title it:

“For Auld Lang Syne.”

The rumbling growl that echoed in the dank alley didn’t bode well. I prayed it was a gang of motorcyclists revving their engines in unison. But, the way my luck flowed today, it was likely the horde of Red Caps the bitch queen sicced after me.

Laughter turned to a gurgle in my throat as I remembered snatching the diadem from the tangled nettles that grew from her head. She hadn’t even noticed I palmed it, even with the extra pairs of eyes that she had bespelled to grow around her head. If I hadn’t stayed for one more drink, I wouldn’t have been pulled into the crazed goblin dance by Cayden for “old times sake,” and he wouldn’t have copped a feel and realized that my corset had been taming more than just my womanly assets.

I patted the healing wound where I magicked it inside me. If that bitch wanted the diadem now, she’d need to sift it out in bits from my cold, dead body.

I slumped onto the ground, braced my back against the shadow of the building, sweat pouring down my face, blood gushing out of my side. I pushed what little magic I had left into my wound.

They’d be able to smell it for sure, but any tracker allied with the dark queen would’ve smelled my blood worlds away. And enough of it poured out of me to be a beacon for any hunter in this city that wanted to find me.

I just had a little bit of magic left for one more trick. Slowly, I was able to coax a veil of shadows around me.

The rumbles from deep within the alley grew louder. The veil between worlds was thinner in places like these. Inbetween places like alleyways and tunnels. Heady scents of loamy earth thickened the night air. It was definitely a horde of Red Caps, their shadows were thrown in high relief against the buildings.

They were out for blood.

I’d be hidden from their sight, but their nose…if they somehow neglected to pick up my scent or the scent of fresh blood, the hounds they hunted with surely wouldn’t.

Either way, I would be sniffed out.

I clutched my dagger handle, slick with my blood, and pushed the tip a little into my neck. The skin parted, and a small trickle of blood warmed my neck. They may be able to find me but they wouldn’t take me alive.

A burst of flame lit up the darkness and licked up the sides of the brick buildings. Shouts tore through the night as the blue liquid heat shimmered and roiled into the veil between worlds.

Magic this fresh and raw was nearly palpable. My mouth watered to taste it.

The noise stopped abruptly. My ears ached to hear any noise. I held my breath and listened. Footsteps, soft and agile, edged their way toward me, but I could see nothing. Whoever it was must be cloaked in shadows as well.

I tensed, gripping my knife, ready to attack.

My shadows were ripped from me. I cringed back, not knowing who or what I needed to attack.

From one blink to the next, Cayden stepped out of his shadows, towering over me. His power swept around him like a cape.

So much for trying to get the jump on my would-be attacker. His strength would be near limitless. That, and his dragon would eat me whole if I tried anything.

“Hey,” I creaked out. “Fancy meeting you here.”

He crouched down in front of me so that we were eye-level. Then, he slowly looked me over from head to toe, pausing at the wound at my side. “Sorry about that,” he said. “You wouldn’t have gotten hurt if you just stayed where I put you.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Well, I never liked doing what I was told to do.”

His gaze captured mine and held it. “I remember.”

I shivered at the memories I’d struggled to forget. “So what now?”

“You found your diadem?”

“Yes I took it back from the bitch.” I said flatly. “So what’s the plan? Taking me back there?” I re-aimed the dagger point back to my neck. “I’ll kill myself first.”

In a whisper of wind, Cayden rolled my dagger away from my grip. “If you had listened to me in the first place, you would know I’m not one of the dark queen’s hunters.”

A whistling howl warbled in the air. The hounds found another way through the veil.

“What then?” I asked, proud that there was only a touch of hysteria in my voice. “Take the diadem and leave my body for the horde?”

“Must you be willfully obtuse?” Instead of answering me, he hoisted me up into his arms, and settled me across his lap. “I came for you, not that stupid bauble you think you need. I came for you. I’ll always come for you. Now stop squirming and let me bind that wound.”

I stopped squirming.

After he wrapped some of his expendable power around me, a little tighter than necessary, he let me go then stood up. He signaled his dragon. The horde was nearing, but I wasn’t worried about them now. With Cayden here, they were no longer a threat.

“You’re a queen without that diadem, you know.”

His words twisted my gut worse than his knife wound did. “It’s the only thing I have left from my mother.”

“She also left you a people that would fight for you to their dying breath.”

His gaze was hard to hold. I turned and faced the rippling veil that would soon be torn apart by the horde. Finding my mother’s diadem was the only goal I had since that bitch took her and tortured her to death. Now that I had it, I didn’t know what to do.

Finally, I turned to him. “I’m thinking of doing something a little crazy. You’ve got my back, right?”

He extended his hand to me. “Always.”

The End, for now. 🙂

Photo (commercial use) credit: Jamiecat