Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike and Book Promo

*Sorry for being late. Was taking D’Artagnan to the vets for subcutaneous hydration.  And then Dan had to fool with my associate links, so they actually work because the way I did the others didn’t-SAH*

Book Promo

*Note these are books sent to us by readers/frequenters of this blog.  Our bringing them to your attention does not imply that we’ve read them and/or endorse them, unless we specifically say so.  As with all such purchases, we recommend you download a sample and make sure it’s to your taste.  If you wish to send us books for next week’s promo, please email to bookpimping at outlook dot com. If you feel a need to re-promo the same book do so no more than once every six months (unless you’re me or my relative. Deal.) One book per author per week. Amazon links only. Oh, yeah, by clicking through and buying (anything, actually) through one of the links below, you will at no cost to you be giving a portion of your purchase to support ATH through our associates number. That helps defray my time cost of about 2 hours a day on the blog, time probably better spent on fiction. ;)*

FROM ANNA FERREIRA, FOR CHRISTMAS:  Christmas at Blackheath.


Agnes Rawlins would never dream of showing a melancholy face to her brother’s guests. She may be a spinster, and treated little better than any common housekeeper, but she is responsible for bringing Christmas cheer into the dark and rambling Blackheath Manor, and she does not shirk her duty, even when she has little reason to celebrate.

William Marlowe, Viscount Claridge, has reluctantly accepted an invitation to spend the Christmas season at Blackheath. It’s not his first choice- how anyone could wish to spend time in the gloomy manor house is beyond him- but when he meets the kind and gentle lady of the house, he find that Christmas at Blackheath might not be so bad after all.



Throughout the human experience, historians have wondered, “What if?” What if Sherman had fought for the South in the U.S. Civil War? What if Germany had fought to the end in World War I? What if World War III had actually happened?

Wonder no more, for these questions, along with many others, are answered within the pages of this book. Told by a variety of award-winning authors, like Sarah Hoyt and Kevin J. Anderson, the 2018 Dragon Award Winners for Alternate History, S.M. Stirling, the 2019 Dragon Award Winner for Alternate History, David Weber, a three-time Dragon Award Winner for Best Military Science Fiction, and Brad R. Torgersen, the winner of the 2019 Dragon Award for Best Science Fiction, “Trouble in the Wind,” deals with ground combat that never happened in our world…but easily could have.

The third book in the exciting “Phases of Mars” anthology series, there is something for everyone inside! From fighting Hannibal at the Battle of Cannae, to the early death of Napoleon, to scouting the bush in Angola, “Trouble in the Wind” traces a history of ground warfare…that wasn’t. From warfare in Taylor Anderson’s “The Destroyermen” series…to S.M. Stirling’s “Black Chamber,” this book has it, so come aboard and find out “what if” all of these things had changed history…just a little. You’ll be glad you did!

BY C. V. WALTER:  Hunting Red (Blessed Curse Book 2)


Jason always wanted to be a detective. When he was medically retired after an accident following a high speed chase, he started the Guard Dogs, a motorcycle club that saves and protects missing and abused children. When one of the kids goes missing hours before they’re going to rescue them, the trail leads him on a chase through a world he’d never dreamed existed.

Red’s life has become an urban legend and she’s rather proud of that fact. The stories told in the dark of the night help her on her mission to save the children who have been chosen by the Folk to become Wolves. A curse that was cast before written memory has become a weapon and she’s working against the clock to keep them from using it against humanity. When Jason’s investigation gets in her way, she can either take him out or ask for his help.

FROM C. J. CARELLA:  They Shall Not Pass (The Bicentennial War Book 2).


An Implacable Foe

The Nemeses are here. A mysterious species responsible for wiping out countless civilizations. Can the star-faring nations of the Known Galaxy stop the million-year-old force gathering at their doorstep? Hasty alliances are formed and former enemies stand together as the US Navy, weakened after the Horde invasion, must rebuild in the brief months before it has to fight for the survival of humanity.

Always Faithful

While America prepares for war, the conflict’s outcome may depend on a single person. Colonel Lisbeth Zhang, USWMC, has been captured by a cult of warp-crazed cultist and is held in a fortress planet deep in a lawless part of the galaxy. A joint team of Marine Wraiths and CIA agents led by Heather McClintock launch a covert rescue mission. Zhang’s warp abilities may be the key to defeating the Nemeses – but only if the small team of Marines can defeat impossible odds to bring her back alive.

They Shall Not Pass is the second book of the Bicentennial War, sequel to the best-selling Warp Marine Corps series.

MARTIN SCHELL:  Awakening the Butterfly.


Suppose humanoids from a relatively close part of our galaxy came to earth not as mentors or monsters but simply as trading partners. Earth could not compete with the economy of scale of their production and distribution networks, which would be supplied by raw materials from a wide variety of planets.

Early in the 22nd century, half a century after the arrival of these aliens, our planet has become economically depressed, exporting raw materials and mirroring the dependency of Third World countries during the 20th century.

A multicultural team of earthlings based in New York City has developed a limited form of time travel that is based more on spirituality than science. They summon a man from our era to recover lost information that will help them transform our global culture into a planetary culture that can participate more fully in the interstellar community.

Awakening the Butterfly is a quantum fiction novel that takes its title from a famous poem by the Taoist philosopher Zhuang Zhou (Chuang Tzu). The story develops an old idea that the human soul has components, a recognition that is utilized by a second team of earthlings who specialize in limited teleportation.

Consensus reality is presented as a physical phenomenon as well as a social one. In this future world, computer games are used for work instead of play. The plot explores other aspects of humanity’s future including: romance, ethnicity, education, literacy, baseball, and planetary government.

This book is self-referential, emulating The Saragossa Manuscript but set 300 years later. My aim in offering it is to broaden the scope of imagining the future and inspire the reader by introducing some concepts that you’ve probably never encountered before. Enjoy!

FROM ALENE R. LOWRY:  Einarr Stigandersen and the Jotunhall (The Adventures of Einarr Stigandersen Book 1)


Once upon a time, Stigander Raenson had been heir to a thanedom. Then a curse drove him and his family and crew out of their home. Dispossessed, the crew of the Vidofnir wanders the cold seas in search of treasure, glory, and a way to end the curse.

Einarr, son of Stigander, lives a vagabond’s life on the Vidofnir, never giving much thought to the home he barely remembers. That is, until an unexpected squall and the attack of a demon-headed ship send them to winter at the Hall of his father’s childhood friend.

Now Einarr has just a single season to convince the Jarl that he would be a worthy match for the Lady Runa, the Jarl’s only child. Will he return in one piece, or will the Jarl’s impossible quest be Einarr’s undoing?

Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike.

So what’s a vignette? You might know them as flash fiction, or even just sketches. We will provide a prompt each Sunday that you can use directly (including it in your work) or just as an inspiration. You, in turn, will write about 50 words (yes, we are going for short shorts! Not even a Drabble 100 words, just half that!). Then post it! For an additional challenge, you can aim to make it exactly 50 words, if you like.

We recommend that if you have an original vignette, you post that as a new reply. If you are commenting on someone’s vignette, then post that as a reply to the vignette. Comments — this is writing practice, so comments should be aimed at helping someone be a better writer, not at crushing them. And since these are likely to be drafts, don’t jump up and down too hard on typos and grammar.

If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Your writing prompt this week is: ripe

44 thoughts on “Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike and Book Promo

  1. The situation was ripe for enormous error. How was a 13-year old girl supposed to move her entire middle school back to the normal world from elsewhere?

    I stared at Mr. S. “What? Why me?”

    “You are simply the strongest one here, Miss Donaldson. Rest assured, I and the others will be backing you up.” He paused. “Except for Mr. Dunleavey of course.” Mr. S. looked stern and amused at the same time.

    “Close your mouth, Mo. You can do this. I know you can,” my brother Donny said. “You have to. Besides, just think how embarrassed Benny Dunleavey will be when he realizes a girl, specifically you, had to fix his ginormous mistake,” he grinned.

    I looked over at Donny and grinned back. Completely embarrassing Benny Dunleavey was at the top of my list of things to do.

    I took a deep breath, nodded at Mr. S. and started the spell.

    1. Oh, ***NOW*** this mother@#$%er decides to post my comment?!? Like, a DAY after I’ve already reposted and had the entire conversation?

      You’re just straight up trolling me now, WordPress.

        1. First time I really noticed it being THIS bad. I have to admit I’m torn between disgust and admiration; one the one hand it’s kind of funny and on the other fuck WordPress and the horse it rode in on.

          Are we allowed to carp the blog software itself?

          1. I’ve tried. That is I tried to upgrade to the business plan, because it was supposed to be better. It embuggered the site for 24 hours, and then I demanded it be removed.

  2. “The best plan,” said Aidan, “would be to strike before his plans are ripe.” His mouth was dry, but he could not hesitate. All turned on their never stopping to remember he was no longer a prince. “We must act so that he must act, before all is in place.”

      1. Not the first time it’s done that to me. But always annoying. It seems to be okay with me linking Youtube videos but objects to written articles.

        Anyway, I was trying to ask how the cats were. The link was me also trying to share what I thought was a particularly good one from the Babylon Bee. Since I can’t link it I’ll just give you the headline: In Genius Move, Trump Supports Impeachment, Forcing Democrats To Oppose

        I was taking a drink of water when I read that headline and just barely stopped myself from spraying it out by laughing.

        1. The Babylon Bee is in large part written by Frank Fleming. It is GENIUS.
          The cats: Well, Greebo comes home the day after Christmas. We won’t know till Feb. or so if the treatment worked. We’ll see. He might have gained a very little bit of weight, and he was feisty enough to try to escape the vet employee who came to take him back from the visitation room. If they didn’t carry him around in warm towels, I’d think they were abusing him, honest, the way he clings to me. But he’s a one-person cat.
          Euclid… I don’t know. I WILL have to make a decision, but I don’t know what to decide. Because of the moves, when we realized he had hyperthyroidism he was in too bad a shape for the meds, and it’s a slow, hard death. I don’t know what to do. I keep wanting to know when he’s had enough, but there’s no way to tell.
          D’Artagnan, older son’s cat, is doing better. Mind, we’re taking him for subcutaneous hydration every other day, but he seems more chipper and happy with life in general.
          He’s also decided I’ll do for a substitute person, which means all my work is done around happy elderly cat sleeping in my lap.
          It’s a little depressing, because they’re all on the way out, but … so far so good?

          1. >> “I don’t know what to do. I keep wanting to know when he’s had enough, but there’s no way to tell.”

            Sorry to hear this.

            If you don’t mind, I have a question about this. You said before that Pixel was able to tell you when he was ready to go. How did he communicate that?

            1. He lay down, wouldn’t engage with us, and sighed deeply when we petted him or addressed him.
              I’m convinced he knew exactly what was going to happen. Don’t ask how. But he walked willingly from the carrier at the vet, and lay down on the little blanket, and stayed very still while they gave him the sedative.

              1. Sarah, there’s a vet service here in Philly that will come to your house when that decision is made. Maybe there’s something like that in Denver? It cuts out the fear of going to the vet for the cat and keeps them in their comfortable, familiar surroundings.

                1. I think there’s two. We’re trying to decide. There will be an exam in January and we’ll try to determine if he’s in pain.
                  Either way, I’m going to feel guilty. Either for sending him too soon or for making him suffer. Sigh.

              2. That won’t help with mine, but thanks for sharing. I wish it were that easy to tell with all of them.

                1. I know. Pixie was VERY bright. I swear I’m not making up that he had different “words” to call each of us, and he had sounds for “food” and “water.” Most brilliant cat I ever met.
                  As I said below, I’m going to feel guilty if I do and guilty if I don’t.

                  1. >> “Most brilliant cat I ever met.”

                    I recall someone here mentioning once that Leslie Fish breeds cats for intelligence and sells them. Apologies if this is an insensitive time to suggest it, but If you eventually go looking for a cat rather than waiting for strays to take in that might be worth looking into.

          2. About D’Artagnan, I know I became a bit of a vet tech to do subcutaneous fluid injections for my Spike. It is not difficult as cats have a loose scruff that is relatively easy to inject into and it is not complex like intravenous injections. At least around here they’ll sell you the Wringers Lactate and assorted paraphernalia for about $40 including a liter of the Wringers and a dozen 14g needles. That’ll do 10 100 cc injections so almost 3 weeks. It is a 2 person task and the cat has to trust you ALOT. One thing to do is as soon as you (or the vet techs) do the injection make sure D’Artagnan has access to a warm place. The fluid really kills their body temp and cats already run way warmer than us (103-104 F is NORMAL for them). I remember poor Spike shivering after treatments (old Bony cat) consider having a heating pad for the kitty.

              1. You’re not alone. It nomnoms my own blog posts sometimes, without rhyme or reason. Had to rewrite a chapter and a half the oncet, and I have precisely *no* time to put fingers to keyboard on the stuff I’ve been itching to do. Bah. Probably needed a rewrite anyways. *chuckle*

                1. I’ve learned to cut-and-paste my comments just before sending them so I have it on the clipboard if I need to resend.

                2. Most of the time I get the random multiminute delay. OTOH, for that one, *all* fresh comments are delayed until the hamsters come off break.

                  On the gripping hand, long comments seem to be a favorite food for the comment noshers.

  3. Cather Hargreaves lifted the hatch into the service plenum and wrinkled his nose. “Sheesh, it’s ripe in there.”

    From the opening came the distant sounds of scurrying feet. The people at Food and Nutrition were right — Grissom City had a mouse problem. And lab mice gone feral would be just as destructive as the wild ones back on Earth.

  4. The appleberries were getting just ripe enough to fall, Dariya considered.

    A tendril of suit-goo wiped the sweat off her brow with the delicacy of the mother’s touch that she never had. This is what mattered, Dairya thought, looking around through her skinsuit’s faceplate. Three years in the Survey Academy after two years of university, and her second field assignment was a five year planetary survey mission. And, she had drawn a Class-III survey mission-a good portion of the basic planetary ecology known, most of the known biological and mystical hazards programmed into her mage core, most of it was finding the things that the Class-II survey had missed.

    It didn’t mean that she was going to crack her skinsuit outside of the habitats any time soon, mind you. She had complained about Class-III protocols in the Academy, pointing out that even with the “unknown unknowns,” an Imperial Survey Service medical package was nearly equal to the Imperial Family and Black Operations, with perhaps a bit more emphasis on unusual biological and metaphysical threats. Her teacher had thrown at her one of the twenty page report he was infamous for when somebody asked a silly question in reply, and required it after a weekend’s worth of work on other projects. The report was on Queeghallow and what happened when someone had guessed wrong about their Class-III survey. The nightmares of the only two survivors of a fifty-man team reduced to adult-sized babies after neurological reconstruction still lingered with her.

    Her sensor halo beeped and Dairya checked as her mage core tagged two potential contacts, possibly the local pollinators. The local pollinators combined the worst characteristics of bees and wasps, devouring dead and rotten wood to build concrete-solid nests to store larvae and their version of honey. And, they were highly aggressive if you got close enough to their nests and feeding areas. They had glass-smooth stingers nearly an inch long, carrying a combined load of neurotoxins and acidic materials that would eat a golf-ball sized chunk out of an unprotected, baseline human, and the pain would feel like someone was flaying them alive with a power sander. They couldn’t punch through a skinsuit, but there was a first time for everything.

  5. A plate heaped with fruit sat on the table. They looked like Red Delicious apples, fully ripe, and so fully red, too red for rubies, closer to garnets.
    She folded her arms. Those apples were bred so for color that they had no taste. From these fruit, she suspected worse.

  6. Is this how a song* gets to be #1 on the Christmas Carol Chart?

    As you do your last minute shopping, keep in mind that the person dawdling in front of you is a pathetic moron who desperately needs killing and no jury would convict probably thoughtfully contemplating the perfect gift item for a loved one.

    *Huh! Whattaya know – minus the caterwauling it is a perfectly pleasant tune.

  7. For Chanukkah’s first night …

    In the immortal words of Alan Shepherd, “Let’s light this candle.”

  8. “You never know what you’re going to get,” said Marian. “There was the time when we were fighting wolves that breathed ice. Slaughter them all and get pressed into helping pick all the grapes frozen before ripeness.”
    “For a good batch of wine,” said Florio. “Paid well, with the money.”

  9. “Ha, ha, ha!” said the ogre. “I do not eat unripe fruit!” It waved its club at the children, and pointed it at Corridon. “Or those who cower behind them!”
    “Face us!” said Nico, staff in hand, his voice quavering.
    “Or die with your back to us,” said Imogene, coldly. The ogre roared with laughter and turned its back.
    Imogene lifted her staff. The earth the ogre stood on turned into a slurry of mud. As did the mountainside that led away from them. The ogre grunted, lifting his foot.
    Imogene blasted its back with wind. It began to slide.

  10. Everyone knew that you can’t look sexy in a flight suit – but watching his wife walk across the ramp with her crew, he knew everyone was wrong. She swung her helmet into her offhand as she came through the gate, and he caught her around the middle, pulling her out of the way to claim a kiss. No matter how baggy the nomex, he knew every curve underneath. And the smile she wore for him was sexier than anything she had or soon wouldn’t have on.

    He slid his hands around the slight convex shape of her middle, the new life ripening there. Bending to nuzzle her neck, he murmured in her ear. “Mother of my child.”

    “Shh. Flight doc hears, he’ll ground me.” She turned her head, and kissed him. “Wanna blow this popsicle stand?”

    “Born ready.”

  11. The peach tree had not been pruned for several years. Still it had fruits in its branches, ripe or over-ripe. Minette inched onward in the wildflower thickets, and saw more trees in this orchard.
    Others could judge more closely than she how long it had been abandoned.
    And then why.

  12. “Mommy! Come see how big these leaves are!”

    “You’re right! They are big enough to pick.”

    “Will you make the chicken soup now?”

    “What makes you think I want to make chicken soup?”

    “Because you said you’d make chicken soup when the thyme was ripe.”

    50. 😉

  13. A pre-flight checklist on a nanotech battle suit seemed anachronistic. Still, Alice managed to find and squash a glitch deep in her firing control software by using the checklist, so her superstitions proved their merit.

    “See? Told you,” said Alice. “Gremlins. Tell me again about your virgin ears, suit.”

    “I was play acting to make you feel better,” said the suit calmly. “Part of protecting you is keeping your emotions within the acceptable limits set by George and Nammu. If you wander too far off, you become a danger to yourself.”

    “I know,” replied Alice. “I forget sometimes because you’re so lifelike. George makes you suits too good if you ask me. My other suit turned into a real person, you know. Tizzy. Now we’re kinda married, which is SO weird.”

    “I heard that!” exclaimed Tisiphone on the closed com network. “It’s weird for me too, you know. Do you miss me? Want me to take over for your suit AI?”

    “I dunno,” said Alice hesitantly. “You’ve been my suit for quite a while, Tizz. But you’re a person now, so that makes it awkward. I get all sweaty and ripe in here, you know? Too much togetherness makes me twitch.”

    “You know what I think,” announced Nike, breaking in on the conversation. “I think you worry way too much. A firefight is not when you want to be breaking in a new suit. Let Tizzy ride along with you, and the suit’s Turing AI can do the autonomous stuff like it is supposed to. I have a feeling that we are all going to want some excessive togetherness before this is over.”

    “You sold me,” said Alice abruptly. She was starting to get a feeling too. “Suit, Tisiphone is going to ride along and do your functions. Okay?”

    “Acknowledged,” said the suit crisply. “Shifting to sub-process, accepting control by Tisiphone.”

    “Woo,” said Tisiphone’s voice in Alice’s speakers. The suit lining gave her a comfy squeeze. “Your suit is haunted by me now. I missed you too, Alice. Ready to blow stuff up?”

    “Super 99.95% ready, Tizzy,” said Alice with a smile. “I guess I missed you more than I thought. Let’s finish this checklist really quick, I’m getting an itchy feeling in my neck hair.”

  14. LOVED your story in the anthology!
    Re the prompt- Jason slumped back against the warm rock as he queried his AI, “Define ripe.”
    The AI took a few seconds, surprising Jason with the delay, then finally said, “Ripe is normally determined by color. Greens turn to reds, reds turn to orange, or flowers drop from protrusions. In other instances flowering is the determining factor in ripeness.”
    Jason muttered, “Fat lot of help you are. We’re starving, down to emergency rats, and not many of them. We’re in what appears to be an orchard, and this is all the help you can give me?” He pushed himself to his feet with a groan, walked over to a ‘tree’ and pulled a rounded fruit/seedpod/something from it.
    Steeling himself, he looked closely at it, sniffed it, then used his vibroknife to cut into it. Nothing jumped out at him, and the odor vaguely reminded him of an apple.
    “In for a penny, in for a pound,” he mumbled, as he took the first bite…

  15. He held the purplish grape between thumb and forefinger, looked at it closely in the ethereal rays of the undiluted sun, turned his hand almost as if he wanted to hold it up to the light and candle it like an egg, but then simply popped it in his mouth.

    Where it burst in tart sweetness, flavorful as a New World wine grape, smooth and free of seeds on the inside as one of those insipid green grocery-store seedless ones.

    “Almost ripe, now, for the picking. Soon indeed, yes, it will be…”

    Aelianinas Kors hadn’t been talking about the grape; that had been just right.

    “Do you really think so?” Beilinonia Turs had a quality of doubt and inquiry in her voice that was familiar enough from her intense, prolonged work of seeing deeply and then, most carefully, nudging and pruning and pushing. “As long as it’s taken us from the start to reach this point, as slow as we’ve gone, truly, soon as you say?” She looked all around her, appreciating the shallowest fringes of the Deep Realms as if this march of the Veiled lands were a clever painting — not quite like that mayfly one, what had been his name, Maxfield Parrish — but clearly something not far different.

    “Yes, I do believe so. What they like to call ‘destabilizing’ is now proceeding so very nicely, exactly, for us, but so very incomprehensibly, unnervingly, disturbingly for all of them — all or at least most. Their leaders are acting half-mad and half-drunk and nearly all scared of their own shadows, never mind their own people. Their followers are as two ships crashing into each other on the high seas, all captainly skills forgotten. Ready to pound each other to bits, given the least excuse, even at something as overtly joyful as a wedding. Surely, if this were a pot of slow-simmered soup, the dish would be very nearly done.” There was barely any glamour at all on him, here and now, to alter his native appearance in any way. He needed no such things, at rest and at peace here, in a place that so resembled his original Realm so many light-years afar.

    “Space elves. As I live and breathe, alien space elves invading Earth through our own Blessed Otherworlds. Inventive, most surely non-derivative, but oh so very gauche.” And two pairs of woods-hazel eyes tracked to where — someone — was now, though she had not been an instant previous. Kors almost moved, instinctively, to Shove her Far away, but then held himself back. A wild human, here? Daring to insert herself where no mayfly-mortal could belong, where his kind had built a bridgehead even the strongest of the native race of Fair Ones could not breach with their arts and passions… intriguing.

    “And you are called, brief little mortal one?”

    “Is mise Adrianna Sanitsky. My Elvish is so limited, and my blood so thin that way, I make do with the old Scottish courtesies at such times.”

    “And we should listen to your words to what end?”

    “One of my friends asked me to introduce her to you. So I do, since it turns out I’m able to go just about anywhere, here in the Otherworlds. Starting out, that was not always–” she stopped and swallowed and began again “–such a good thing at all.”

    “I see no ‘friend’ here of yours.” Turs’ voice was cool, but not hostile; no such clumsy resort was indicated.

    “Somehow, I can open gates,” said Adrianna, slowly, almost haltingly. “Somehow, I am one. No matter where I go, there they are.”

    “And here I am.” The speaker looked– ordinary. In some indefinable but real way, as ordinary as anyone. Red-yellow hair, green dress, well-broken-in vest.

    “And who then are you?” Kors’ real question would have been, what are you? There was none of the sense he got with others, with this ‘Adrianna’ human — she looked, this new one, quite ordinary, but the familiar way the sunlight fell on her hair…

    “Is mise Áine, friend of the Fair Folk.” And she curtsied, in a soft and courtly way.

    “So who are you that we should talk with you?”

    “Someone who walks the worlds here… as a friend and ally to all of them that are.”

    There was an old, accustomed, cozy smile on Turs’ face. Like a wolf’s. “Worlds do not need friends, they need instead mistresses, and masters, and a firm hand. To think or do any different is… a capital mistake.” Something in her manner — preened.

    “Ah,” said Áine, “but they do want, and do need, things far more agreeable.”

    “You are so ignorant, so naïve, so quaint. So — precious, in your timidity.”

    “No, it is you who do not listen even to the world you stand on. A weakness.”

    Now it was Kors who smiled a wolf’s smile. “I can show you strength…”

    There was no signal perceptible; but Adrianna simply blinked. While she stood tall and straight as she’d been doing, long black braid shining in the sun.

    And suddenly someone else stood by Áine’s side. A gentleman of middle years with that same indefinable quality of ordinariness she had, that same nullity of sense. In a white shirt and a dark coat and pants, salt-and-pepper hair black as pepper where that was. And the sunlight fell on him, too, that same… intimate way.

    “There are many kinds of strength,” he said, “and gentleness often the strongest.” In the sound of his words was something far closer to the wide spaces of Russia than to the bogs and mountains of Áine’s words, or the southern American hills of Adrianna’s. In his left hand, he took her right, naturally and easily, as a longtime friend to another.

    “To the contrary,” said Kors, starting to be just the least bit disquieted himself. “We are the darkness, the hungry dark that stalks between the stars…” And broke off.

    “Sorry, so sorry,” said Áine, still a little breathless from curbing her fit of helpless laughter. “But you are nothing like her, at all.” She sobered, far more. “‘The wings of Night are Her wings, and the stars extinguished in their folding.’ That one, you do not and cannot know. You could not speak of her so, if you did…” And she came back to that rooted quality she’d had. “…and I know her, well enough, as a friend.”

    “Friendship is overrated,” returned Turs. “And strength knows strength well.” There was a quality of challenge in her last sentence, as of a puzzle to be cleverly solved.

    “I will not follow the lead of these ladies,” said the man in black, “but by those who know me I am often called Daz Bog.” And for the first time there was a dazzling, cold, bright smile on his face, like winter sun on the endless taiga forest. He turned to Áine, and they looked familarly into each others’ eyes, and then simply… blinked.

    And the eye of the sun of this Realm did too. For an instant, only a timeless but unmissable instant, the full sunlight dropped over into deep night, and then returned.

    “Friendship,” those two said in easy unison, “has incontestable strengths.”

    “Enough of that,” said Kors, almost but not quite snapping the words out. “This is my Realm, this is my world, mine and hers and not yours. We have spent too long and too much making it so, taking it, breaking it, to our hand and to our harness.”

    Áine turned her head, quick as an owl, and looked at Adrianna. Who threw her hands out to either side, arms and fingers outstretched, threw her head back a moment, and looked far into the distance before her. And there was a… ripple, of… something, a wave of openness that flowed out from her, across and to all this Realm, all the world.

    It was as if the earth underneath them trembled, a bit, though it did not move.

    And she, Áine, still hand in hand with her friend, looked at the foreigners again.

    “Well enough, then, much as I want to show you all courtesy and diplomacy, deeply inclined as I am to understanding and consideration…” and it was as if the sunlight had shifted subtly around her, emphasizing and outlining her still more, as if the look on her face had gained something of the focused intensity of whole square degrees of the Sun’s total output collected and aimed into a beam, “…since you really do insist on foregoing the time-hallowed and proper forms of all such things…”

    And her voice dropped into a lower and darker register. Like a shadow of Night.

    “It’s bloody-well high time for you lot to get off my lawn.”

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