Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part XV

The plains parted like water, impossible anywhere but the Other Side. His coming was inevitable as time passing too quickly for the aged and too slow for the young.

“What is lesson two?” I asked looking at Sami.

“No.” She shoved the tip of her sword into the muddy ground and leaned on it, shaking her head. “No.”

I snapped my wrist and the last of the goblin blood staining my sword splattered on the ground.  “You are still my apprentice, even here. What is lesson two?”

Her eyes shone with fury, bordering on madness. Any sane person would be mad by now. Good thing the Sisterhood never accepted totally sane people into its ranks to begin with.

“Four minutes, give or take,” Silas called from his perch above.

Why did problems always come with such short deadlines? I looked across the expanse, now littered with piles of goblin bodies, fast decomposing into the sludge that seemed to power this place.

“What is lesson two?” I turned to Sami and wished, not for the last time, that the Sisterhood had less faith in me.

“What does it matter? He’s won. I can hear him in my head. He’s—”

I grabbed Sami and shook her so her teeth clacked together and I could feel her rage throbbing into my hands. “He has not won until you give up! I will not allow it! Now, what is lesson two?”

“For every action, an opposite reaction!” She yanked herself back and stumbled as I let go.


“It means nothing, nothing!”

I smiled and she leaned away from me as if, in this moment, I was more terrifying than him. “Everything means something.”

Silas roared a warning and I reacted more from instinct than from conscious thought as I threw myself and Sami sideways as a volley of fire flew past, close enough to singe the hairs on the nape of my neck. I looked back and he was impossibly closer. But then, thinking like that, that there were impossible things on the Other Side got one killed.

“You can’t win.” His voice rumbled toward us and Sami cried out, falling to her knees. “Stop this foolishness.”

And, for a moment, I wanted to stop. It was foolishness. Why was I sacrificing myself for one apprentice? One who didn’t even care about the Sisterhood. Why was I on the Other Side? I had no need for this fight. It was not mine.

Then Silas growled, low and deep, and it broke apart such delirium that I laughed, which caused him to stop in his tracks. Like a windup doll that stuttered in its walk.

“Who said anything about winning?” Winning, whatever that actually meant, was far from my mind. I merely wanted to survive and have another cup of tea without the world ending around me or my innards being exposed for all the Other Side to see.

And I thrust my sword deep into the ground beside my feet and was met by a bellow of pain as the Plains reacted. As above…

“What?” Sami cried out and latched on to my arm as the ground shook beneath our feet, fissures breaking apart the ground along the plains. A standard reflex to pain.

“Not what,” rumbled Silas. “Who.” He turned to me. “You will be owing the Plains.”

“It cannot be helped.” …so below.

I pulled my sword from the ground and watched as the Plains reacted to being stabbed in what was essentially its hand. It writhed and we leaned against the rocky outcropping to keep our feet. Out on the body of the Plains, there was nowhere to find shelter and he was driven to his knees.

The Plains bellowed again and the ground exploded. Mud splattered up and over our heads, a volcano of earth that swallowed him. The grinding sound pain quieted as the Plains found it was now more tired than hurt. He was closer, but now limping, covered in mud. It would have to be enough.

“Two minutes,” Silas growled and shook his head, spraying mud mixed with blood at my feet. “Remember, you owe me cream.” Then he was gone, slipping through a portal that only cats could traverse and leaving us behind.

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part XIV

It’s not as terrifying as it sounds to break your mind. Most things that are broken can be repaired.


And now I needed two minds more than I needed sanity. One part of my mind to fight. A mind is no good without a live body.

The other to prove lesson one.

We are never alone in the universe.

Not even on the Other Side.

I called for help. Only the proud don’t call for help when they are in trouble. About to be hacked apart by a goblin horde counts as trouble, heaps of it. So I focused the clam part of my mind, the part not preoccupied with avoiding goblin blows and called,

“Ladies of the Other Side!” Slice, dodge, kick, grunt. “I call in my favor!”

A rumble like thunder rolled across the plains, followed by laughter. Sami screamed and clutched her head. I sliced through two goblins and I planted myself between her and the horde. Silas roared against the laughter, so it was of victory. He was on the battlefield.

“We can’t win. I should go to him, he’ll stop. He said he—“

I slapped her cheek and her eyes focused. “We do not give in.” I stabbed a goblin through the chest who dared to get within arms’ reach. “Especially when help is coming.”


And the song of the Ladies cut through the laughter and the goblin chattering, a piercing, clear melody that struck fear in every being of the Other Side. For it was the song of the Ladies hunting.

I smiled because, for once, I was not the hunted. I barred my teeth like Silas and added my roar to their hunting song.

And the Ladies came through the horde, slaying the goblins as if it were no more difficult than flicking dust from one’s hem. The goblins closest to us tried to flee, but we did not let them. Silas swatted them with his huge paws and my sword sung as if it knew the Ladies were here, too. Sami cowered behind me, holding her head and the part of me that wasn’t killing goblins felt sorry for the chaos swirling inside her head.

Then, all was silent, apart from our panting breath as the Ladies had reached us. They pulled back on their mounts who snorted, their breath as hot as the wind across the fiery plains.

“Well met, we are,” said the Lady nearest me.

“Well met indeed.” I inclined my head slightly, never taking my eyes off her.

She smiled. “It is a good day for battle, but you are short of time, Little Sister.”


She laughed and the other Ladies threw their heads back, too, and added their musical laughter which was so out of place, yet fitting, like the Ladies themselves. Then she reached down and touched the middle of my forehead. A bright, sharp white pain flared through my head followed by cool relief.

“You will need your mind intact.”

“Thank you.”

“Our debt is paid.” It was more statement than question, but still it lingered in the air. Part challenge, part oath binding as old as time. Part of me wanted to hold them to further deeds to settle the debt between us. But that was greed whispering in my ear, so much stronger on the Other Side. In my lifetime, I’ve never found being greedy to bring anything but pain.

“Yes, the slate between us is clear and I thank you for it.”

“Good.” She looked over her shoulder to the plains that had begun to roil like a pot about to boil over. “He is still coming.”

“Nothing is ever easy.”

She tilted her head slightly. “He is not truly Other Side, not yet.”

My face must have shown my shock as the Lady’s eyes glittered with something close to mischief. “That is why we cannot slay him…As above, it is below.”

“Always and forever,” I replied in the ancient greeting.

She shook her head. “Nothing is forever, Little Sister.” Then she and the rest of the Ladies left in silence without so much as a glance back.

“You should’ve held them further. Never know when we’ll need them again.” Silas smoothed the hair on the back of his paw with a lick as if simply discussing the weather.

I watched the last glint of light from their tack as the Ladies disappeared back into the clouds and shook my head. “They have given enough.” I turned my attention back to the plains where one lone figure continued his way towards us.

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part XIII

“What is lesson one?”

“Are you kidding me?” Sami’s eyes were unfocused as she swung around to face me.

“No, what is lesson one?”

“You are crazy!” She turned back to look at the horde approaching, looking like they sprang from the ground, multiplying with each breath. Who knows? Perhaps they did.

“Lesson one!”

“I am not alone in the universe!” she shouted as the vanguard closed in, now a leap away.

“Then prove it!” I yelled as the wave of goblins crashed on us. Then I had no breath to spare for talking.

Swing, pull, duck, kick, breathe, repeat.

The reality of a melee never aligned with what the authors and the bards described. It was not romantic or glorious.

It was terrifying, bloody, and abrupt.

No time to think. No time to fear. No time to worry.

I yelled, adding my voice to the cacophony. Silas roared. Sami screamed and didn’t stop screaming. She wouldn’t be aware of it until her voice was lost tomorrow. If we all lived past the next 10 minutes.

Even as goblins piled at my feet, there was no break in the wave. For each that dropped, another took its place. My lungs burned as I slipped on a slick of blood and stabbed a goblin who tried to use my unbalance in his favor. He hacked at my hip as if to cut me literally off at the legs. His blade cut through my apron but clanged on something, surprising us both. I regained my footing and slashed him in two.

“We seem to be at an impasse,” Silas growled as he struck down a goblin with a massive paw then snapped another in two with his jaws.

“Yes.” I couldn’t spare as much breath. “Suggestions?”

“Do something.”

“Of course.” Jab, duck, repeat. “Never occurred to me.”

“Your humor is ill timed.”

Humor was the only thing that kept one sane in battle. That or the ability to disassociate.

“Eight minutes.”

As if I needed a reminder, as if a clock was not ticking in my head every time I took a breath or swung my sword. Fools who thought themselves wise said sanity was necessary for life. That’s why they are fools.

Sanity is not what keeps you alive. The willingness to fight to survive is what keeps you alive.

So I took a breath and broke my mind in two.

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part XII

“What took you so long?”

Sami shrieked and tried to jump into my arms.

“Be still.” I turned to Silas who was perched on an outcropping of rock beside us. “Where do we stand?”

“Physically or metaphysically?”

I didn’t reply, but gave my best annoyed cat expression back.

“Not bad physically. They’ll have to cross that flat and there is no way to hide.” He flicked his ears forward. “They are still a few minutes out. The darkening horizon.”

I nodded. “As good as can we can hope for.”

“Inversion on this side will be in ten minutes, give or take.”

“Nothing is ever easy.”

He said nothing, but stretched and dragged his claws across the rock so tiny sparks leapt and sputtered. Good we were not in a forest. The last thing I needed was a fire to contend with, too.

“That’s not Silas.” Sami held her sword fully extended in front of her, her elbows locked. That stance would get her killed faster than trying Silas’s patience.

“Fix your guard, unless you want to die before the battle even begins.” I knocked my palm against her inner elbows. She dropped her guard with a flush spreading across her face.

“Of course, I am Silas.” He dropped down with the grace of all cats. In fairness to Sami, he was ten times his normal size. “And you, mousling, better learn fast to get us out of this mess. I do not look well inside out.”


I glared at Silas. It is one thing to try to prepare someone for the Other Side. It is quite another to talk about inversion to someone who is an apprentice and on the fine edge of panic.

“Do not worry about that now. That is our future problem. First we must survive the goblin horde.”


“You don’t think they are coming for tea, do you?” Silas growled and it shook the ground, causing Sami to stumble.

“Get your guard up and stay near me. Do not let them surround you. Do not give up the high ground.”

I did not know if she attended to me or not. I had my own preparations to see to as the horde came close enough to begin to count individual goblins, each holding a pick or axe or sword, and snarling curses that thankfully Sami could not yet understand. A small blessing, perhaps, of my apprentice’s less than enthusiastic study. I laughed and Silas twitched his ears.

“There’s always a silver lining even to laziness, you just have to come to the Other Side.” Then I drew my sword and yelled.

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part XI

“No!” she grabbed my sleeve as I opened the kitchen door. “The threshold—“

“Will not save us.” I pointed to the smudge of darkness that looked like the lazy heatlines above a road under the summer sun. “It will grow and devour until it finds you. Blood always wins.”

“But I didn’t mean to!”

I grabbed her shoulders and shook her once so she attended to me. “Your intentions do not matter! Only your actions and their consequences. Now move!”

And I pulled her out of the house with me. She stumbled, but didn’t fall. That was good. Her dying by falling on her sword before we even made it to the Other Side would have been an ignoble way to go, even for a failing apprentice.

When we reached the splinters of the gate, the darkness had grown large enough to swallow a horse.

“Where does it go?”

“To the Other Side.”


I shook my head. “Nothing that nice.” I turned and looked in Sami’s still clear eyes. There was too much to say and too little time. Wasn’t there always? “Trust me, trust yourself, trust Silas, trust no one else. They whisper lies. Do not accept anything and remember your lessons. Then we might get out alive.”

She said nothing, but blanched in return.

“Good.” Fear, not panic, was healthy and could be worked with. “Time to go.”

I have been to the Other Side twice to bring back something that was lost. Once I succeeded and once I failed. I placed no bets on the outcome this time. Only amateurs and fools did that.

I took one last breath of the country air, filling my lungs with its freedom, then stepped through the portal dragging Sami beside me.

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part X

“Listen well and quickly.” I paused, feeling a lump in my apron pocket. I pulled out a teaspoon and frowned, then the house shook again, it fell from my hand back into my pocket and I turned my attention to more important things.

“The man you met has your blood, he will try to command you. He is very powerful, but the Mountain and the River have held him back for years, perhaps even centuries. We forget what true evil is when it is out of sight.”

“That makes no sense.”

“More quickly,” Silas said. “Your gate is next.”

“The Sisterhood is here not only to teach things to grow, but to prevent the Inversion. Do not believe his lies. Remember your lessons. Stay close to me. Do as I say. Do not touch anything on the Other Side.”

“What?” Sami’s question was more of a strangled cry. “What is the Other Side?”

Silas jumped from the window ledge to the counter nearest Sami. Eye-to-eye he stared at her and her trembling stilled. “She’ll try to keep you alive, but you are blood bound. Don’t be a simpering kitten. Fight, if you want to survive.”


“And don’t be a parrot. They’re nasty birds.” He jumped down. “I will see you—“

“—on the Other Side,” I finished.

He flicked his tail and walked into the Other Side, though it appeared he’d simply disappeared.

“Where’d he go? He vanished!”

“No, he is waiting for us.”

The house shook again as the gate exploded. “Well, clearly I was had.”


I laughed, picturing Sami as a parrot. Panic and terror rendered most next to useless, at least for a while. Sami would recover or not, but that was not our current problem.

“I paid for Elder ash. Clearly that was counterfeit.” I took a deep breath, my panic and terror could be saved for later. “Come, let us face him together.”

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part IX

“What are you talking about?” Sami hurried to follow me into the kitchen.

I ignored her as I pulled the canisters of flour and sugar from the cupboard and felt for the knothole behind the papered wall. I pushed it and the back of the cupboard swung in.

“What…” her question trailed off as the house shook again causing us all to catch our balance.

“The mountain has surrendered,” Silas said as if reporting the weather.

“Yes, thank you.” I pulled out the bundle I’d stashed behind the cupboard. I’d hoped not to need again. Not after my last apprentice. “Do you know how to use one?”

“One what?”

I pulled out one of the weapons from the bundle and snapped it open with a flick of my wrist, the blade glowed with the flash of lightening from the storm. It was a very old sword, one that the craftsmen no longer knew how to forge. The sheath of the blade was its handle, as long as my forearm. It made it easier to carry, easier to conceal than today’s swords.

“We don’t have to learn to fight. We’re responsible for making things grow!”

“That is not what I asked.” I pulled the second sword from the bundle and palmed it, holding it out to her. “Do you know how to use one?”

“Yes,” she said in a whisper. “I do.”

“Then for Mother’s sake take the blade.”  I thrust it in her hand.

She shook her head and tried to shove it back to me. “No. I don’t want to.”

I grabbed her by the collar of her dress, an affront that could get me expelled from the Sisterhood or worse, but there was no time. “I do not care what you want. I do not care what happened to you in the past. What you did or did not do, does not concern us. What I care about is surviving until tomorrow. So take the damn blade and try not to run any of us through with it. And if we survive, we can talk about your wants tomorrow.”

Her eyes narrowed as I spoke until the panic turned to anger. That I could work with. That might keep her safe or at least safer.

“The River is boiling.”

I ran to the window, not that I doubted Silas, but I needed to see for myself. The mists rose where the River should be and though I knew the mists would be as hot as teakettle steam, my heart felt like a shard of ice had lodged in it. I was afraid.

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part VIII

“She’s too stupid to know what she’s done,” Silas continued. “But how did he get his hands on her. He hasn’t been in this area for years. The River has seen to that.”

There were many ways to infect an impressionable mind, especially a young one. Ways that didn’t require one to be physically present. The old saying might be that words couldn’t hurt you, but I always found that laughable at best and incoherent at worst. How could words not hurt yet knowledge was power?

It was bad to look to trite sayings for wisdom, worse to look to them to save you. Most of the time words got you hurt, at least in my experience with the young.

But Silas was right. There was no way to get that type of control without being present. He’d need a lock, a touch, something with her on it. Not even Mother was powerful enough to replace a mind without that connection. It made all of this unbelievable, impossible.

I grabbed on to the kitchen counter as another shockwave caused the house to shudder. The wooden frame groaned, but held. I would never complain about the Carpenter’s fees again.

“Well?” Silas was more impatient than usual in his fright.

“I do not…”

I spun around and ran to Sami’s room. I threw open her door without knocking. Her head snapped up, her eyes registered surprise then anger at my invasion.

“You can’t—“

“Did you go to your parents a fortnight ago?”


“Were you at your parents or not?”

“I haven’t seen my parents since last winter.” Her honest answer tumbled out of her mouth before her brain caught up. I saw the look of panic on her face as she realized her mistake.

“Where did you go?”

“I missp—“

I grabbed her shoulders, our faces inches apart. “We do not have time. Where did you go?”

“To Deeping Market. There was a festival…”

“Ah.” Silas sat in the doorway. “A masquerade no doubt.”

Sami nodded, tears welling up in her eyes. “I…I went with some of the other apprentices…”

I sank back on my haunches and rubbed my left temple that had begun throbbing in time with the rolling thunder. “And had your fortune told.”

“How did…”

“By a man whose eye color you cannot describe, but cannot forget. And voice that made you remember and forget. And you had an unexplained cut on the side of your finger that you noticed in the morning.”

“Yes, I…” Tears spilled as she jumped at the next shake of the house.

“Not good.” Silas cocked his head to the side, hearing something we did not yet. “Not good at all.”

“No, not at all.”

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part VII

“Die?!” Sami slammed the greenhouse door as raced to catch up to me. She grabbed my arm; I didn’t want to stop, but did. “All I did…I don’t know what I did.”

“I know and that’s the problem.” I took two more steps toward the house before turning back around. “And, yes, you could very well die.”

I looked around the yard and didn’t see what I needed. “Silas!” I yelled. “You are called!”

“The cat? What could he—“ Sami was wise enough to stop talking as I settled my glare on her.

“In the house, now. Stay in your room. Don’t go by the window and do nothing until I come and get you.”

To her credit, she didn’t argue. She did flounce into the house, but that was neither here nor there.

Rain began falling as I secured the gate at the end of the walkway to the house. Thank the Sisterhood I’d repaired the crossbeams on the fence after the last of the snowmelt earlier in the year. It was not a lovely looking barrier, not with the roses in need of deadheading, but it was sturdy. I would take steadiness over beauty any day, but especially today.

Thunder rolled across the sky as I ran for cover on the porch, wiping the rain from my forehead. Still no sign of Silas. If he was much later, it would call for more desperate measures.

“If Vinia’s pride costs me another…” I would not finish such thoughts outloud. Hatred was not, unlike the popular trope a useful catalyst for power. It was the corrosive rot. I was opening the door when lightening split the sky and a dark shadow launched itself over the gate as if hellhounds were after it.

“Inside! Get inside!”

I ducked on instinct as Silas bounded over me and slammed the door shut behind us, tumbling backwards onto the floor as the door shook in its frame.

“Too close,” I muttered.

“Yes. I don’t want to use up another life, especially not on your damnable apprentice.”

I nodded. I had no desire to use up any more of my life on her either, but life never much cared about my thoughts.

“How bad?”

Silas licked the back of his paw where the hairs were singed. “The mountain is moving. He’s coming. She’s spilled blood.”

Sunday Short: Close Enough, Part VI

If my life were a story, like the ones I used to sneak from Mother’s personal library and read when everyone else was snoring in bed, everything would have changed after Vinia’s visit. Sami would have become the model apprentice, quick to mend her ways, eager to learn everything she could, and a pleasure to have in one’s company. Alas, my life was not a story any more than Silas was a reliable companion.

The week after Vinia’s visit, Sami was better than she had been, but that was not saying much. A flock of pigeons would have been a better apprentice than she was through sheer chance. After a week, the threat of a teacher who wanted her to leave and the fear that I had hoped would make her wise had faded like water from the storm.

Her belligerence I could deal with, I held court with a talking cat so stubbornness did not trouble me as much as her lack of fear. That would get her killed.

I finished scouring the kitchen as Sami had left the counters still speckled with signs of cooking and the floors with tracks of now damp dust. At least she had the decency to be in a hurry to get to her lessons in the greenhouse. Perhaps today she would finally learn lesson three.

It was a beautiful day for working with living things. Plants always felt fresh in the morning, like people. Perhaps it would be a good day for talking, for listening, for learning.

I walked into the greenhouse and yelled before I was half-conscious of why I was yelling. Everything froze in place, even Sami. Blood rushed to my cheeks and through my ears, a roar like the ocean, and I smelled some acrid and rotting sweet. A breath of it, enough to panic.

But I would not let him win so easily.

I grabbed the candle, its flame unmoving yet burning, from Sami’s grasp. Her confusion behind her eyes did not match her languid motions, like a person in a dream. I paid her no more mind as I licked my fingers and snuffed out the flame. I pried the knife from her left hand and threw it so it stuck deep into the wooden beam by the door. Then I swept my arm across the bench and the drawings in chalk with their manic curling lines blurred like sand on the tideline.

I looked around my greenhouse for signs of taint, but saw none and whispered the words that let everything move and breathe again. The plants sighed and Sami fell forward at the bench, gulping for air.

If I were Mother, I could be gentle in my wrath and find the lesson in every moment. I am not Mother.

I swung around and grabbed Sami’s chin with one hand. “You have no idea what you have done!”

She slapped my hand away and pushed herself back from me. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I know.” I looked away towards the north and saw a dark line forming on the horizon. “And for that you may well die.”