Friday, October 29, 2010

Flash Fic Party, Day 3: Hammy!

Day 3 of Bika's Flash Fic Par-tay brings us a swashbucklin' tale from none other than the super-cool, super-wee Hammy.

One day when I live on the west coast again, I will have a guest room and call it the Hamtons, or Hamsterdam. And Hammy will stay there when she visits me, which will happen a lot because she promised to teach me how to knit and I an very slow and dumb and forget numbers all the time.

Basically what I am trying to say is that it will take a long time for me to learn how to knit.

Then I will make her teach me the ukulele and the world will implode in on itself.

Author: Hammy
Word count: 329

The sails were blowing out of control.

I stepped out of my cabin, watching the men scurry around like ants as they fought frantically against the wind. Water splashed onto the deck in waves, soaking through those the rain had missed. The ship rocked back and forth. A storm is nothing, but chaos on a ship is cause for concern. They were panicking. I needed to do something.

I cupped my hands to my mouth, and I screamed.

“I want everyone in front of me. NOW.”

The men were startled. Some of them dropped what they were doing in a mad dash towards me, while others took no heed, still fighting against the storm.

“I said NOW.”

“Right.” I lowered the volume of my voice as they lined up in front of me, adjusting my glasses over my good eye. “Shifty, I want you manning the rigging. Johnathan and Fats, get below and start bailing water. Nate, Franklin, and Squirrels, you’ll bail water off the deck. The rest of you, help Shifty with the sails. I’ll be manning the wheel. Now GO.”

Three rough days of sailing to get to this coastal town, and I wasn’t about to let them screw it up now. I watched them run off to their various jobs, then strolled up to the wheel. It was only a matter of a few hours until we reached the town now. We were going to take it, hard and fast.

I’d never cared for the wealth. The men would argue over it, hoard it, scheme for it. Some of them dreamed of building up enough until they could go back to their old lives, returning as new men. Some of them had given up years ago, resigned to their fate. It didn’t matter. None of them were going back anyways.

Once a pirate, always a pirate, and I’d learned that a long time ago.

After all, you don’t get to be the infamous Tabitha Three-Eyes overnight.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Flash Fic Party, Day 2: Reggie!

Today's guest author is Regatta.

I love Reggie. She's a snarky but sweet lady made of equal parts awesome and win. She loves zombies, pinups, zombie pinups, and preparing for the inevitable Zombipocalypse. Right now she's going through multiple house moves and stress from hell, but she found time to write some fic for us. Ain't she swell?

Not to mention that what she wrote, especially for us, is her very first fic about her character's former fiancé, John. Total exclusive!

Author: Regatta
Word count: 651 words

“Did she rise?”


“Did she rise Charles, that’s all I want to know. It’s what I need to know.”

It had been a year since Regina had fallen to the Plague, and the possibility of her rising had never left his mind. He clung to it like a drowning man to a raft. Some days the hope that Regina was out there somewhere, and that he could find her, was all he had.

“John, it won’t matter any. You can’t go running off after her. She’s one of them now.”

Sometimes, Charles knew him better than his own father did. Sometimes, he was too similar for comfort.

“So you left her with them? How could you do that to your own daughter?”

“What choice did we have, boy? It was either take her to her own kind or..”

“We’re her own kind Charles.”

Charles looked at him with pity, “Not anymore John. You need to realize that. It’s the only way you’ll move on.”

“Was she in her right mind? Was she still Regina?”

A pause. “Aye. She remembered her family. She knew what had happened to her. Knew what she was.”

“And you still sent her away. I never thought you could be so empty inside, Charles. She’s your only daughter.”

“She knew what had to be done John. For her safety, for our safety. What if they’d have found out we were harbouring her? That she’d turned, and we hadn’t done anything to stop her rise? Do you think being burned alive is preferable to life among them? Do you think the elders would’ve taken kindly to our harbouring? Think they’d have understood? Carmichael burnt his own mother. Do you really think he’d have spared my girl?”

John was quiet for a long time.

“Do you know where is she now?”

“I won’t be telling you. It’s madness to go where she’s gone, do the things she’s done. How she gets up each day and fights alongside those monsters I’ll never know. But she does. Because she’s not our girl anymore. She’s theirs now.”

“How do you know what she’s doing?”

“She writes. Sends trinkets, gold. Tells us about her strange adventures, her new life.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“John, we didn’t want you to hurt any more than you already did. We all talked it over and decided it was best for you to mourn and then, move on.”

He looked down at his hands and said, almost inaudibly, “Has she moved on?”

Charles passed a hand over his face. If he lied, maybe then John could finally get on with his life.
“Aye boy. She has. And so should you.”

His face was grim as he slowly walked out of the room, shutting the door silently behind him. Charles had braced for a slam, and when one didn’t come he knew that John hadn’t believed him. He also knew, that very soon John would do something stupid.


He lies awake in the dark listening to her breathing. She breathes out of habit more then necessity. He himself never breathes. It’s just a waste of effort. He doesn’t even really need to sleep, but she does. So he lays next to her and enjoys the feeling of her weight leaning against his side, while he listens to her sleep. She’s so loathe to give up the little pieces of her life. She still writes her letters to her family, despite the fact that return letters are few and far between. Especially now that her Grandmother was growing frail. Soon her Grandmother would pass, and then her family would finally just let go. Then she would have no choice but to let go as well, and look to the future. The very thing he refused to do so long ago.
She rolled over and he kissed her forehead gently.

There is something to be said for tenacity.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Flash Fic Party, Day 1: FUSABAAA

Hello, cats and kittens. Do you know what time it is? That's right. It's time to kick off the first-ever Flash Fic Party at Bika Central!

Our first writer is known by many names and possesses an amazing variety of awesomeness. Fusaba can no longer enjoy peace and quiet, for everyone insists on shouting her name at the top of their lungs whenever she shows up; she's also the very same SkyBison who drew the totally bitchin' portrait of Ambika found near the upper right-hand corner of all my blog pages.

Be prepared to get your hate on, 'cause not only is she a very talented artist (she'll deny it, but COME ON LOOK AT IT, IT IS AMAZING), she's a talented author as well.

Hope you don't mind a little PG-rating. I know I don't.

Author: Fusaba
Word count: 811


“Farorei, what is the meaning of this?”

Despite his stern words, Sarorick Suncaller’s tone was anything but serious. He had been situated at a neatly made table by his wife (who was being very secretive today) and she had since vanished into their kitchen. Several minutes had passed with him sitting in silence and waiting for her return, and finally as he called out for her she sauntered into the dining room as if on cue.

“I’m sorry, Darling,” She cooed, sweeping around behind him and giving his jaw a delicate stroke, “I’ll be just a few more minutes.”

With a laugh to distract himself from his own blush, he watched her as she made her way into the kitchen again, humming a merry tune.

“What’s going on, then? Can’t you give me a hint?”

She called out a sing-song “no” to him from the other room and he relaxed back in his seat, another hearty chuckle escaping his lips. He hadn’t the slightest idea what she was up to, but he could only predict that it was going to make his day. So lucky he was to have such a wonderful wife.

It wasn’t long before she appeared from behind the kitchen door once more, this time carrying a large silver serving platter topped with a roasted boar, the sight and smell of which drew Sarorick forward in his seat to admire the impressive display.

“Farorei, you’ve outdone yourself.” He laughed and smiled up at her and she returned the look with a fond gaze of her own.

“I’m not done yet.”

Then back into the kitchen she went, only to reappear several moments later with a bottle of wine in hand; one of the finest from their cellar, and their cellar had quite the extensive (and expensive) selection of wine. A crystal glass was set down before Sarorick as she carefully poured the dark red liquid into it, tilting her head a bit so as to give him another warm smile followed by a gentle peck on the lips.

“You’re too good.”

She laughed quietly at the compliment, stopped short as he placed a hand on the back of her head in order to pull her in for another kiss. This one lasted longer, keeping her distracted just long enough to let a bit of the wine spill over the lip of his glass and onto the table. She squeaked in surprised and pulled back. Sarorick laughed.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll clean it up in a bit.”

“But it will stain the-”

“Please, I want to enjoy this moment with you.”

They shared a silent smile for a moment before Farorei leaned in, eyes closed, to plant a kiss on his forehead. Afterwards, she circled round behind him and began to rub his neck and shoulders, her fingertips delicately tracing patterns along his jaw every now and then.

“I suppose it’s too much to ask that you sit down and help me eat this incredible meal?”

“Yes, it is. I cooked it for you, not for me.”

He chuckled and shook his head, leaning forward a bit in order to pull a few chunks of the succulent meat from the boar’s flank onto his plate. Several silent moments passed; Sarorick enjoying his meal, Farorei gently massaging his shoulders. After a while he relaxed back into his seat and let out a great, content sigh, head falling back against his wife’s abdomen.

“Are you happy?” She asked quietly, smiling as she traced her nails across his jaw.

“So happy.”

“Do you love me?” Her fingertips glided down his throat and over his clavicle. He sighed contently.

“So much that I fear my heart might burst out of my chest.”

“Oh?” She cooed, her hand reaching down to play with the collar of his tunic, “That would save me a great deal of trouble.”

Sarorick barely had a chance to take in her words before the sickening sound of metal piercing flesh reached his ears, and moments afterwards the feeling of an unbearable, burning, heavy agony reached his brain. With eyes wide he looked down to his chest to find a dagger buried just to the right of his heart, the hand wrapped around the hilt the same one that had been so lovingly caressing him only moments before. She had just missed his heart, but as she began to saw a circle around it he suspected that was the idea.


“Do you still love me?” Her voice maintained the same pleasant tone as before, her lips still curled into a sweet smile as she carved away at his chest. He was numb to the pain now, feeling only horror and confusion as his mouth gaped and he sputtered up at his wife, blood pouring liberally from his wound and dribbling from his lips.

“Of course you do.”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

[RP] Dreams in Salt, Part 6

When he returned with a bag of hot food containers, he saw she’d tidied up a bit. Her hair was braided into several plaits and tied at the back of her neck. It made sense that she preferred her hair up. Down, it made her look like a little girl. The seeping crate now rested on top of a damp towel and the standing water had been neatly mopped up; a pair of lamps illuminated the kitchen half of the small apartment.

She hadn’t bothered to lock the door after he went down to the lobby, and she wondered if she was getting too comfortable, too quickly for her own good. It was unsettling on some level to see him come and go as he pleased. It was also somewhat of a relief just to let it happen. She made a conscious decision to focus on the relieved aspect of things and greeted him as he set the bag of food on the table in front of her.

“I have the shovel, pickaxe, and lye by the way.” He opened the bag of food on the table and began to set out smaller containers around it.

She snatched a bowl and pried the lid off with her fingers. There was a dense, tomato-rich stew inside and she promptly dug in with her teaspoon, hardly heeding the scalding temperature as she ate. “Good. You can bring them by next time you come, if you like. They’ll need to be stored until I’m finished gathering.”

“And what are you gathering exactly, aside from a lot of clams in the trash?”

Busy with a mouthful of potatoes and squash, she jabbed her spoon in the direction of the bowl of pearls. They gleamed in the white bowl like oversized sporefish roe.

Zana’zua sat down at the table, folding his hands on the tabletop in front of him. “Ambika, may I ask you a question?”

“Mmph.” She spooned another bite of soup into her mouth and waved him on impatiently with her free hand.

“What exactly do you intend to do? All I can guess right now is that you want me to dig up a body. I can’t say I have an issue with corpses, but I would like to know why we’re doing this. Why the pearls, and why the other tools?”

Further inspection of a crinkled, folded piece of waxed brown paper revealed two fine biscuits, and she broke pieces of it off as she talked.

“I made a mistake.” She glanced up at him and wiped crumbs from her lip. “The entirety of the Echo Isles belongs to Bwonsamdi, but two of those islands are especially sacred. I chose my site... poorly.”

Half of the mangled biscuit went into the soup as she continued, eating much more slowly now, breaking up the bread and taking small bites as she took the edge off her hunger.

“I was justified in what I did. He needed to die, it was only a matter of time--but back then I was very young, and didn’t know even half of what I should have before taking on such a task.” She swallowed, then left her spoon in the bowl and leaned back in her chair.

“I sealed his spirit into a space no larger than the grave I dug for him and left him there to die. Perhaps I should have killed him before I filled in the hole, but.” Ambika shrugged.

“In any case. My first offense was sullying the holy grounds of Bwonsamdi with a vile sinner. My second was in binding a soul there, when such things are only permitted on holy grounds with the Loa’s say-so. I didn’t know. But it’s no excuse.”

“Ambika.” Zana’zua frowned and unfolded his hands, then folded them again. “You are telling me that you murdered someone.”

“Yes.” She honed in on him with her clear, golden eyes. There wasn’t a single spark of guilt, regret or any other emotion to be found in them, for good or ill; she merely stated fact. Her soup had soaked up the last of the bread and she pushed the bowl away.

“He killed my mother. I was, and still am, quite certain of that. And though I could not remember her, I felt that he had stolen something sacred from me which I could never recover. That remains true to this day. His offenses were numerous; the death of my mother was only one of the reasons I did what I did. Once I was grown enough to understand my own power and what steps I could take to ensure that such a wicked troll could never harm me and mine again, I began to wait for an opportunity.

“Am I disturbing you?” she asked, looking sharply up at him before rising to put the kettle back on the flame.

“Ambika.” The death knight shook his head. “I have seen disturbing things, more than I hope any other person ever sees. I have also committed them.” He looked back up to her. “But the problem here is that you are only owning up to one mistake, and not the other.”

“He owed me a life.” There was that look again, cold and grim, making her look markedly older than she was as the steam from the kettle rose up toward the ceiling.

“Do you think Bwonsamdi only took offense at where you buried him?”

“Where, and how,” she replied. There was a long pause as she poured and steeped another cup of tea, mulling over his words. She wasn’t stupid; she knew what he was intimating. It had been a long while since she’d considered this particular point of morality in the whole business, and she still felt justified in what she’d done. But here was this death knight, sitting at her table and attempting to plant the seeds of doubt in her mind.

She frowned.

He shook his head again. “Then we will dig up the body. What are the pearls for?”

She sighed heavily and sank onto the couch with her cup. “The pearls will help me fulfill one of Bwonsamdi’s demands. He insists that I find a way to redeem or, at the very least, defuse the spirit of my uncle before I release him.” The cup went to her lips and she sipped, staring moodily at an undefined point somewhere under the table before beginning again.

“I will hear his sins and bind them to each pearl. He will have the opportunity to show remorse and ask for absolution; whether he chooses to do so will not affect the ritual. Once imbued, the dissemination of pearls will be a grueling task--this is, of course, an oversimplified explanation. There will be many steps that I cannot complete on my own.”

Zana’zua did not look at her when he spoke next. “And who will bind your sins?”

“Perhaps the very soul that binds yours. Does it matter?” Her tone was demanding, and she stared at him, daring him to look at her as her tea steamed, undrunk, on her knee. “My own absolution lies in appeasing Bwonsamdi. I intend to do precisely what he asks of me, and nothing more.”

His shoulders sunk, almost as if under the weight of the small priestess’ words. “Ambika, I have done a lot of things that I regret. Unforgivable things...unspeakable things. But the worst thing I ever did happened before I became a death knight. It is not uncommon to hear my kind say their worst regret happened before they died.” He looked back up at her. “People don’t always die the way I did. Sometimes they die on the inside.”

She smirked grimly at him. “I will hear and bind your sins as well, if you wish.”

He stood up from the table. “That is not what I meant. Perhaps some day the death god will grant me that, but not right now and not from you. Would you like me to meet you at the same time next week?”

His words had some effect on her; what, he couldn’t say. She looked at him long and hard with her teacup warming her hands and finally nodded once, slowly and deliberately. “Yes. Bring the supplies with you if you like.”

She called to him as he turned the knob.

“Lock the door when you go.”

Monday, October 25, 2010

[CW] Preparing for NaNo: Loglines

I may create a meta black hole by doing this, but I've never been one to back down in the face of potentially world-breaking devastation: I am about to blog about a blog blogging about a blog.

Twitter nets me some interesting tidbits now and again. Today it coughed up a neat little post--two posts, actually--by one Tami Moore about cheat sheets and loglines that were immensely useful for planning my NaNo project.

Even more props to Miz Moore: the posts were concise, which is ideal given my tendency to get distracted by shiny things, small invisible objects, and drafts of both the first type, and the air type.

"Loglines are teasers. They tantalize. Hint at something incredible. Take root in their target’s brains and make them ITCH to read the book they’re talking about."

I love making people's brains itch. Do go on.

"They’re also ridiculously daunting for the writer who is trying to distill their 100,000 word novel into a travel-sized package."

Daunting? Wait a minute, hold the phone. You mean this will be work?

I wasn't deterred for long (only about 2.17 seconds, if I recall correctly). My desire to see whether I had enough information about my plot to make a successful logline far outweighed my desire to continue sitting around, creating a miniature intellectual void.

The original logline formula for this exercise came from Miss Snark's First Victim.


I set to work and here's what I got out of it:

"Abandoned by the rest of her search party in the middle of the Bironian steppes, amateur psychic archaeologist Roberta Skellis must continue to hunt for her older brother and his missing excavation team alone. Just when her explorations yield what could be the most important discovery of the age, a competing archaeologist and his crew threaten to scoop her victory right out from under her feet. Roberta must choose between her brother, an unexpected admirer who is not what he seems, and the discovery of a lifetime in a grueling race to the finish."

Now you all know the basic plot and I'll look like an ass if I chicken out; I think that's how these things are supposed to work?

Tomorrow I'll be working on my cheat sheets. Roberta needs a bit of fleshing-out and my antagonist needs a name (among other things). Tami's blog is definitely going to be on my reference list for the next month or so!

What's your logline?

[RP] Dreams in Salt, Part 5

She came to soon after the sun set below the horizon of the floating city and dipped low toward the rim of the rest of the world below. Her mouth was dry and she opted not to move for several minutes as she slowly regained consciousness and registered the existence of the world around her.

It was very gloomy-dark in the apartment, which meant she’d missed the entire afternoon and most of the morning. Ambika supposed it could very well be the evening of the following day, and prepared herself mentally for that possibility. The stench of clams filled her nose. Familiarity hadn’t diminished that particular olfactory shock yet and it fairly bludgeoned her senses. Impossibly, her stomach growled.

Or perhaps it was somewhat possible, considering she hadn’t eaten in three days.

A dry chuckle snapped her out of her sleepy state. She sat up, hair fluffed out into a strange, asymmetrical halo around her head, and prepared to unload roughly four tons of shadow energy in the direction of the sound.

Zana’zua, either unaware or unafraid of how close he was to utter annihilation by brainwave, simply sat in her dining chair with his hands on his knees, an outline against the faint light that came in through the stained-glass window as the streetlights flickered on. Ambika blinked at the pair of softly-glowing blue eyes hovering in the gloom, and they blinked back.

“Sleep well?”

She grunted. A stray lock of hair fell in her face and she brushed it all back in annoyance, searching fruitlessly in the dark for her errant clip.

“I don’t know why you waited so long.”

He grinned at her. “What else do I have to wait for?”

Thanks to the streetlamps outside it was just light enough now to see the troll rubbing her fists in her eyes with her mouth turned down at the corners. She resembled a slightly overgrown and very cranky child.

“I don’t know. Whatever it is you people do.” Rising to her feet, she put both hands in the small of her back and stretched, cracking several aching joints at once. “How did you get in?”

“The door was unlocked.”

Ambika frowned mightily and hobbled to the small open kitchen, rattling the cupboard as she located a cup and a tin of tea leaves in the dim light. “I suppose I forgot to lock up.”

She didn’t mention that it was also, for her, quite worrisome. Her stomach rumbled again and she paused for a moment, trying not to heave at the fish-market stink that assaulted her senses.

“Do you need anything?” Zana’zua shifted in his seat, resting against the back of it.

“I need something to eat,” she admitted as she put the kettle on to boil. “I haven’t gone to market in ages, I have nothing in the house.”

Zana’zua stared pointedly at the wastebucket full of clams. “How old are those?”

“Why?” She stared blankly at the death knight as she wiped out a teacup with a clean towel.

“Do you not eat clams?”

“What.” Her gaze fell to the bin at her feet, which was filled to the top with pale white meat.

“You just said there was no food in the house.”

“I don’t eat those.” Her disdain was evident in the wrinkling of her nose.

“Why not? They’re good, if I remember correctly.” He walked over to the wastebasket and looked in.

“I don’t know,” she said truthfully, shrugging as she tipped the steaming kettle into her cup. “I wasn’t thinking of them as food. I haven’t since...”

Her mouth tightened and she stopped there, busying herself with the seeping of tea leaves mixed with various sweet-smelling herbs.

The death knight turned towards her, smiling gently. “Since.”

“You will eat anything when you’re poor. Sometimes when you leave bad memories behind, you also leave behind the things that remind you.” Tap, tap went her silver spoon against the side of the cup.

Zana’zua nodded. “I see.” He stared thoughtfully at the bucket for a moment before turning back to Ambika. “Where would you like to eat, then?”

“I’ll order something from the bar downstairs. They have a decent kitchen.”

“Would you like me to wait here?”

She put a hand up to the crow’s nest of her hair and looked at him. “I don’t suppose I could talk you into getting something for me.”

The death knight chuckled. “What do you want to eat?”

There were soft sipping sounds in the dark as she contemplated the question. “Soup. Something with a lot of vegetables.” She paused to sip again. “ seafood.”

He shrugged, and headed for the door. “No seafood.” He chuckled again. “I’ll be back soon.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

[RP] Dreams in Salt, Part 3

So, it turns out I overlooked an entire chunk of text when I posted what I thought was Part 3 of this segment. Awkward! So here's the REAL Part 3. Whoops.

Part 4 is here.

The apartment was quiet. Motes of dust floated through the bars of blue- and green-tinted afternoon sunshine that spilled over the room.

“I hate riddles,” Ambika said finally, looking small on the overstuffed couch with her knees drawn up to her chest.

There was another pause, during which the priestess stared blankly at an indeterminate point on the rug, then she spoke again before he could ask any questions. “I woke feeling like I’d lived a hundred lifetimes, expecting my hair to be white and my skin to be dried up like withered paper. Instead I found myself unchanged, only a few hours having passed while I slept. My sense of unease was heightened when I found that--” she pointed at the bowl on the table, “still wrapped around my hand.”

Zana’zua met Ambika’s eyes for a moment before turning his attention to the bowl. “What’s in it?”

“I’ll give you one guess.”

Zana’zua winked at the priestess. “Shrunken heads.”

She rolled her eyes. “I threw it in the corner, but after a week it was still alive so I decided I may as well give it some water.”

The death knight chuckled under his breath. “I would guess kelp.”

“Right.” She stood and walked over to the table. The kelp lay in a harmless coil at the bottom of the heavy bowl. The dreamy look that flooded her face when she looked at it was unmistakable, but he was pretty sure she had no idea it was there. She dipped her fingers in the water.

“I didn’t know if I could survive another dream like that. I don’t know if you understand what I mean, or if you ever could. I came so close to losing myself in there.” Her eyes never left the frond of green-brown kelp, and her hand crept closer through the water until it closed around it.

Zana’zua’s expression changed to one of seriousness. “Ambika. Have you spoken to the Loa of the sea?”

She nodded dreamily, leaning over the table with her arm half-submerged inside the bowl. “I feltI would be in serious danger if I did not and was not willing to risk it. I washed the salt from my clothes and went to Grom’gol as quickly as I could.”

“Salt?” He frowned.

“My bed still reeks of it. I was soaked from head to foot in ocean water--I had salt in my eyelashes.” She waved absently toward her bedroom door with her free hand, eyes never leaving the kelp in its bowl of salted water. “You are welcome to see for yourself, since we are being... open.”

Zana’zua shook his head. “I certainly believe you. That is a great sign of favor.”

“I went to a lonely length of shore and gave an offering. Then I slept. I feared it would be another like the one that sent me to seek Olokun’s wisdom, but my fears were largely unfounded.” She stroked the kelp. “My visions that night were frightening, but not dangerous to my sanity.”

“And they concerned speaking to the death god?”

Mention of Bwonsamdi seemed to pull her out of her trance. She withdrew her arm from the bowl, grimacing at her dripping sleeve. “Eventually. First I was permitted several reminders of my childhood and coming of age.” Her voice was positively thick with sarcasm.

“Pertinent reminders, I am assuming.”

“At the time I did not think so.” She pulled a white towel from a drawer and blotted water from her sleeve. “A long time ago, I exacted justice and in doing so, usurped the authority of Bwonsamdi himself. On his own sacred grounds, no less.”

The death knight’s forehead wrinkled. “That is a heavy burden.”

“I have borne worse.” A teakettle went on the tiny stove, then she disappeared into the bedroom, still speaking through the half-cracked door over the sound of rustling fabric. “At the time, I did not realize I committed such a serious offense. I was merely using my fledgling, self-taught abilities to contain my... problem.”

“And the death god was angered.”

She emerged from her room in a clean, dry dress. It smelled like the ocean. “So it seems. The rest of the dream is not very important. What matters is the penance I have been given, and whether I can perform it to the Loa’s liking.”

He grimaced. “I will admit, I did not understand Bwonsamdi’s words. I do not know what help I can give you.”

“I don’t know either.” The kettle steamed and she poured water in her cup. “He must have had a plan if he chose to single you out for the task. I am not reckless enough to think I can defy him directly to his face and escape punishment.” She looked at him from across the room with more than a little fear in her golden eyes. “And I assure you, it is a punishment I will do anything to avoid.”

“I shall provide whatever help an old fool can.” He smiled wryly.

“Don’t think me ungrateful--I am not--but I don’t understand your readiness to help, especially when your role is so woefully undefined.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “If it’s what I am meant to do, then I have no other choice. Perhaps the death god will finally claim me.”

“So you believe in fate.” Ambika sat at the table with her tea. Her attention slowly wandered to, then fixated on the kelp in its pottery.

“To a certain extent.”

She absently touched the side of the bowl and murmured, “Even kelp grows toward the sun.”

“And so does Ambika?”

“I don’t know.” She looked up at him with the ghost of a glower on her face and almost looked like her normal self. “It doesn’t matter. I think I know what needs to be done, I’m just going to need a lot of pearls.”

“Pearls for what?”

“You’ll see. Can you find a pair of sturdy shovels, a pickaxe and a jug of lye?” She pulled a heavy pouch from her belt and pushed it across the table without looking at him. It was fat with coins and gave off only the faintest of muffled jingles.

He eyed the pouch of gold warily for a moment, then nodded with resignation and picked it up. “Yes. When will you need them?”

“Not until I have all the pearls I will need, and then some. If I don’t bring enough, I will have to start over, and we will have to dig him up again.” Her fingers curved over the lip of the bowl and she forced herself to pull her hand back and clasp it tightly in her lap. She was not so successful in prying her eyes away from the water inside.

“Would you like me to bring them at the same time next week?”

“Mm.” She stared at the bowl and slowly got to her feet, leaving her tea untouched on the tabletop. “Do you have any questions before you go? I have some fishing to do.”

The death knight shook his head. “If you need me before then, I sleep in a hammock at the Filthy Animal.” He winked. “You might even still remember where it is.”