Authors: Jane Washington
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Paranormal, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Coming of Age, #Paranormal & Urban, #Romantic, #Sword & Sorcery, #Teen & Young Adult
Kindle Edition| Copyright 2015 Jane Washington
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Second Edition for Kindle
Edited by David Thomas
Table of Contents
Little Sparrow, on the Straight and Narrow
The Camaraderie of Abnormalities
The Nareon Narcotic
It Begins and Ends with Pain
Hurt me with Humanity
Feed the Hand that Bites
Monster of a Different Sort
Marked for Slaughter
The Silent Scream of the Violent Dream
Dust and Blame; Trust and Flame
Terrible, Terrible Truth
For Madison, my first reader.
My father used to walk with me every morning, back when I was young and blissfully naïve… while I was a part of a family isolated in its perfection, and perfectly isolated because of it. We would leave the cottage without my mother—while it may have been safe for us, it certainly wasn’t for her—and would skirt the northern side of the high, stone walls that encompassed the Market District of the Read Empire. And every single day, he would give me the same riddle.
What is the one thing that will never change
Never once did I take the question seriously. I answered him differently each morning, challenging myself to come up with something new, something funny, something tragic, and often in my younger teenage years, something bratty. One day it was his snoring, that may have altered in pitch and intensity, but never failed to shake the cottage and keep me awake. The next day it was my mother’s total inability to produce edible food. On days when I was feeling particularly philosophical, it could have been the sun, which rose in varying degrees of splendour, but rose each day all the same. With every answer I provided, he would shake his head and tell me to try again the next morning. In the end, it wasn’t even my father who taught me the answer… it was my mother. A week after she died, we went on our last walk, as father had just been awarded his new position on the Black Guard, and we would not be able to maintain our recluse lifestyle any longer. There also wasn’t much reason for it anymore; not now that Caroline Harrow was dead.
Though we still walked that morning, it was the first time he had refrained from asking me the question, and it was the first time I had taken it seriously. I looked at everything differently that day. I looked at the blooming flowers that would soon wilt, at the fluttering of the leaves that fell before my eyes, and at the reliable sun that would retreat into darkness as it did every night, just as reliably. I had never seen his question for the lesson it was, because until that moment, I had never experienced death.
It might have been his way of preparing me, in some small part, for how difficult my life would be. I never really respected how hard it must have been for my mother, mostly because we had steered clear of the other civilizations under the Read rule. Father had put off promotion after promotion to stay with us, knowing that it wouldn’t be safe for my mother, but after she passed, there must have simply been too many bad memories in that little cottage, and he finally caved in and moved us into one of the bordering villages. It wasn’t as dangerous for me as it would have been for her, not really.
He was worried at first that his new position would only make things worse for me. After all, the black guardsmen weren’t exactly knights in shining golden armour. Those were the men of the King’s Guard, and they had a commander of their own. Father’s dominion was a very different squadron of recruits.
, I distinctly recall hearing someone whisper, as we passed a crowd of people near the gates to the kingdom one morning. I thought it was a horrible label, especially after I started training with them myself.
I never had ambitions of being a black guardswoman, or even a regular solider, but father had initially been scared to leave me at home alone while he was away. He had never really had much of a hand in raising me, and that barely changed even after my mother passed. He had always preferred to leave all the decisions up to her, and she had joked that even though he could take down five men at once, he was still scared witless at the idea of disciplining his own daughter. That hadn’t been entirely true, of course. I had never needed disciplining, and I highly doubted that my softhearted mother would have been any more capable than my father, if it had ever come to it.
I don’t think he intended me to pick up a wooden sword and start mirroring the men through their morning paces, but there wasn’t much else to do in the barracks, and it saved me from going wandering alone in the forest the moment he turned his back.
It wasn’t the physicality of the training that drew me in at such a young age, but something less tangible. It was the unity of so many outcasts, a comfort that I found in these huge, scary men who snarled and spat and picked their fingernails with daggers. These people were hissed at by groups of others meeting them at the gates to the kingdom, just as I was. They were scared, feared, and often rejected in royal society, just as I was. Heck, they were scared, feared, and rejected in
society. They were the only people who didn’t stare at me, or whisper about me as I passed them, they treated me as one of their own, just as I did them. Of course, that didn’t stop them from laughing at my pitiful attempts with a sword, even when I graduated from a wooden tip to a steel tip. I’d like to say that I’ve gotten better over the years—and while I may be faster, leaner, and subtly stronger—I would still be lying.
Looking back on our years in the old cottage, it always made me sad to think that my mother had never felt anything like what I felt with the black guardsmen. It wasn’t as though she didn’t try, even simply being near my father and I would have been painful for her, though she always denied it. And this was all because my heat-stoppingly beautiful, soft-as-satin mother was… quite simply, terrifically dangerous.
There are few races that the humans live in peaceful coexistence with, some being the elves and the fae, who actually make up almost a third of our population. Unfortunately, there are even more races that we have waged war against—those that we call the Tainted Creatures. The renegades are mostly only dangerous to us when under the coin of one of the more powerful dark races, and the vampires are always a sure choice when telling ghost stories to children in the dark, though some deny that they exist beyond such stories. But the worst, by far, are the synfees. Even
can say that, which is a considerable feat, as my mother was one, and I—as an unfortunate result—am half of one.
The synfees are the pinnacle of evil. Creatures of monstrous destruction; they seemed to get the best of every race. They had the superfluous beauty of the fae, with the honed strength and sense of the rangers and sometimes even manifested the bender talents, though those powers were rumoured to have been bent into something else entirely. Normally, this would not be a bad thing. Normally, this amount of talent and ability would be practically worshipped. Unfortunately, for each gift that they seemed to possess, there was a curse to accompany it. Their ethereal beauty had a seductive edge, something that drew people to them, even against their will. Their senses might have been heightened, but it made them animalistic, it made them want to
the weaker creatures of the world. And then of course, there was the appetite. For the synfees were supposedly cannibals.
Yes, cannibals. The kind that snack on their own young for breakfast, though—in truth—the synfees much preferred people their own age, people that they were attracted to, and people that weren’t synfees themselves. The only time my mother had ever spoken about it, she had deliberately not commented on the cannibalism aspect, instead saying that the reason synfees were so beautiful, so irresistible, was because they fed off the desire of the weaker races. Being young enough at the time that I couldn’t really understand the concept, I had revisited the issue with my father a few years after my mother died. He—not without some discomfort—told me that every nightmarish quality the synfees possessed was a product of something pure, pushed past the boundaries of it’s own purity by the strength of their twisted magic. I don’t think he meant to insult my mother, and perhaps not wanting to insult her was the reason he refused to talk about it after that. But I had borrowed what books I could find, and while the information was limited, I did discover that my father wasn’t far from the truth.
They were awesomely powerful, and yet, that power was used in awesomely horrific ways. They were bewitchingly beautiful, but the desire evoked by their beauty was fed upon, preyed upon, used—if these books were correct—to sustain them, as might regular healthy food and exercise for any normal person.
My mother had been different. She must have killed at one stage; I assume they all do, but never in the lifetime that I knew her, never in the lifetime that my father knew her. She had lived a long life before she met my father, a life sustained on synfee magic, something that she gave up to have a family and be human. The synfee urges should have been impossible to resist, but somehow she managed it, and she also managed to survive off human food. Of course, refusing to use her synfee magic, acting in every other way how a human might, was essentially what killed her. Synfees were immortal, they survived off other people’s desire, and apparently once that was had, the bodies of the dried-out human husks that remained, were devoured.
This was the one defining characteristic of a synfee that didn’t seem to stem from something perfect and pure, instead it was the other way around. The ideal of immortality was the product, and the horrible appetite was the cause. So, when my mother ignored her terrible hunger, she was rewarded with the imperfection of mortality. She aged, she got common colds, and eventually, a common disease. She died. Weak.