WIP: Teaser from Poppy and Letitia

flowersI finished up a story I’ve been wrestling with for the past week this afternoon. It’s for a game world, and it’s a fun one. I’m not sure why I had so much trouble with this one, but I rewrote the beginning four or five times, which is unprecedented for me.

Anyhow, here’s a chunk:

The book supplied a hand-colored map of the coastline. Letitita had not seen that many maps in her lifetime but she thought that this one might have some shortcomings. For one thing, the area they were heading into was a spot colored a vague green which turned out to be towering pines and cedars, shaly hills, and tiny streams inevitably at the bottom of steep-walled gullies full of blackberry brambles. It was lettered, the amount of lettering sparse in comparison to the amount of blank space provided, “Unexplored Forest,”
They were three days into changing that into “Partially Explored Forest” when they heard the screaming.

It called from off the road, among the trees, unseen but close from the volume, the sound of a horse crying out, and then a second echoing noise, like the harsh squeal of an enormous machine wheel. Poppy’s bow was out and in her hand, the other one pulling an arrow from its quiver, as she sprinted towards it; Letitia followed, pulling daggers from her belt as she went, but moving more cautiously than her mistress and therefore slower.

She arrived in time to see Poppy’s first arrow strike the monstrosity towering over the fallen unicorn, a mass of black fur and teeth and more than one head, protruding at awkward angles from around the main one with its ferocious canine grin. Every eye in the multitude it boasted burned bright as fire, red as madness.

The arrow extinguished one of that pair burning brightest and largest. The beast threw its head back, and the sound of that tortured clash came again, so loud that it throbbed in Letitia’s ears.

Daggers sang from her hands, thrown almost without thinking, thunk thunking into that glistening black snout. Annoying wounds at best, but another of Poppy’s arrows flew straight and true – had she really merely said she’d been “all right with the bow” when a girl? – putting out the other mad red glare, and as it died so did all the tinier ones, heads slumping awkward as it toppled, halfway over its fallen prey.

They circled it warily as they came up. The unicorn let out a tortured breath. Poppy made a hurt sound in her throat and started to step closer, but Letitia tugged her back.

“You can’t help it, boss,” she said. Her eyes welled with tears, obscuring the gaping belly wound, the entrails fanned out from a savage bite. “It’s hurt too bad.”

“I can put it out of its misery at least,” Poppy said. She tugged one of Letitia’s daggers free from the monster’s corpse, and moved towards the unicorn, speaking softly, calmingly, an ostler’s murmur, soothing and nonsensical, theretheremylove, theretheremypretty.

The gleaming ivory horn raised an inch from the ground as though in challenge, but was too weak to move further. She stroked her hand along the broad neck. Letitia held her breath.

“Move no further,” a voice said from behind them.

In other news, Rappacini’s Crow and All the Pretty Little Mermaids both made Ellen’s Datlow recommended list for Best Horror. Hurray!

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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