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PodCastle 755: Aurum & Indigo

Show Notes

Rated R


Aurum & Indigo

By LP Kindred

 

Aurum sits on a wooden stool, hunched over the oakwood bar, stained darker by shellac and low lights. In spite of them, he stares into his book while a second lies closed atop the bar. His feet dangle, kicking softly. Eyes rake over words but their meaning never reaches his mind. The barman doesn’t offer a mug of ale as often as the skulking leches whose eyes scrub his body in hopes of finding interest in his eyes.

Aurum manages to avert his eyes — the book — when they come calling, but his heart triple beats each time the door opens and Shikaakwa cold invades the warm dark. After scouring the door, he draws his book closer.

There is a gentleman caller for whom Aurum journeyed from the Deep South to City Center. The nightmare of crosstown travel hastened Aurum to leave with abundant time to arrive punctually. Consequently, Aurum arrived one hour and one quarter before their arranged time to meet. Should anyone be this nervous about a man he’s already inundated?

The wait has no positive impact on the young man’s face or posture. The mirror-lined spirit wall gives him view of the room and of himself. His close-cropped hair offers a sharp contrast to the burnished gold of his skin. He gazes to the looking glass and scowls at the misshapen line that forms the boundary between his scalp and forehead. Men and women enjoy his face but Aurum sees only the attributes ungainly.

When it’s eleven hours since the sun’s apex and one hour since Aurum’s arrival, he orders one more honey mead. Then wanting not to seem rude, he orders another. Then worried his companion does not enjoy mead, he orders a rumpunch. He waits impatiently for the arrival of cachaça when a firm hand claps his shoulder.

Already annoyed by the range of impolite and presumptuous men in this bar, Aurum flicks the hand from his shoulder as he turns to see the most beautiful man he’s ever been inside of. His skin is darker than the candlelit pub, bluer, but his smile, his eyes reflect the light of stars and the light within his soul.

“Sorry,” the man colored like night says, withdrawing his hand. When such a large man wilts, it’s like a mountain slumping as disappointment slow-crawls across his face.

“No, I’m sorry. I thought you were . . . I didn’t think you’d be but you’re . . . I’m Aurum,” he says, holding out his hand to shake. Almost as quickly, Aurum rethinks the gesture as too formal, like the beginning of a business transaction. As the man with skin like night commits to the handshake, Aurum pulls his own hand away. He looks up at the not-so-stranger, face still confused, and follows that man’s gaze to the unclasped hand. In a fit of panic, Aurum shoots out to grab the hanging hand but somehow ends up grabbing the wrist. Mortified with no other option, Aurum places his would-be companion’s hand back on his shoulder.

Aurum looks up again with furrowed brow. The gentleman seems no less perplexed but breaks into a belly laugh. The guffaw washes Aurum in relief, and the man says, “You’re funny . . . and handsome. All is forgiven if you remember my name.”

Aurum grins as his eyes take in locks bundled behind the head, jumping as the man laughs. Muscles corded taut and compact between a fitted tunic and a Nameate hide parka. Decorative rings wrap his thick fingers.

“Your name is Indigo.”

A smile reaches across Indigo’s face like the sun stretching across the horizon at dawn. Indigo’s regard causes a quiver in Aurum’s stomach. When his eyes avert, Aurum feels a moment of relief until Indigo says, “You look comfortable.” Nodding toward the bar, Aurum follows his eyes to the oakwood. Two books, opened — The World the Gods Left Behind and The Truth About Psychopomps —  lie amid two meads, a cachaça, a waterback, and a rumpunch. “Are you hydrating?”

Aurum closes his books abruptly. Placing books into his satchel, he says, “Sorry, I was early. Sit down.”

The stool whines beneath Indigo’s weight before he slides his knees beneath the bar. Aurum slides one of the meads and rumpunch in front of his companion.

“For me?” Indigo asks in mock surprise. He lifts the rumpunch to his mouth, eyes smiling over the small vessel. He drains it in one drag and slaps it on the wood. Indigo lifts the mead, triumphant. “Cheers me? To first dates and second nights!”

“I’ll drink to that!” Cachaça  burns all the way down. Aurum feels lightning bugs warming his belly. Indigo’s smile seems to have that effect.

With a satisfied smack, Indigo claps the mead glass back on the bar. “So, Aurum,” he pauses, savoring the syllables of the name swirling around his tongue, “why so early?”

“I live in the Deep . . . uh . . . South,” Aurum says. “Can’t predict when the rail coaches will be on time. Better early than late.”

“Damn, I wish I arrived earlier.” Indigo faces the bar, swigging the mead the barman just dropped off. The dimples cut into Indigo’s cheek as he smiles into his cup. Aurum likes his dimples. “So how long you been in the Deep?”

“Generations, man. I’m so far Deep, they call it the Wilds.”

Indigo turns to Aurum, smirking. “I know the Wilds.”

Aurum almost spits his mead but laughs while coughing. “You wear a Nameate parka and a dozen rings. What do you do in the Wilds? Buy fissures?”

Indigo’s mouth opens, then closes. “Fissures? Really? I can’t go to the Wilds because I like nice things?”

“No, you can’t go to the Wilds because someone would beat the stones off your ears and fingers.” Aurum snickers into his glass.

“I don’t wear all this when I go to the Wilds,” Indigo says, stopping himself. “I wanted to look nice for you.” Aurum gulps hard but he swallows only air. “My dad’s a Divine Priest from the Wilds. I was born in Augel but Divine Priests don’t live there.”

Hoping to still the red colliding beneath the skin of his cheeks, Aurum asks, “Augel is the last south street in Shikaakwa. Gods don’t speak to the people that far Deep.”

“Dad says, ‘Wherever you are when the gods call, you follow.’ He was learning at Carvery, the Sun Goddess spoke to him, and he never looked back. Of course, he got called to the North to interpret praise and portents. But that didn’t change who he was or where he came from.”

“Yeah,” Aurum says. He closes on the eye roll of people leaving the Wilds to find better things but not returning with better things. The cooling lightning bugs settle, leaden, in his belly. Aurum tastes durian at the back of his throat and honey mead cannot wash it away. Not now, he thinks.

“Not religious, then?” Indigo asks.

Aurum clears his throat, but the taste remains and the burden in his gut doubles in density. “Of course I believe in magic. It was here. If there were gods, they’re not here now and magic is waning. So whatever they did or didn’t do for us, we have to learn to persevere in their absence. As a people, as a civilization.” There’s a pull in Aurum’s gut and it’s not drawing him to Indigo.

“You don’t think the gods left children? No Obsidian Predators?”

“No,” Aurum says, hoping his chuckle hides his discomfort. “The Shadow Lions, the Obsidian Predators, the Soul Stalkers — too many damn names — are folktales my parents told to keep me in bed at night. And with all the power the gods were supposed to have, you think they fucked humans?” When Indigo breaks into laughter, Aurum joins too. When the laughter fades, Aurum breathes deep to settle his other aspect.

“We broke the rules, y’know?” Indigo says, snaking salted pistachios from a bowl. Aurum’s brows shoot up. “We discussed religion and politics on the first date.”

Aurum shifts off his stool. “But the first time we met, most of our conversation was in moans. We can count that as the first date if you want.” Aurum caresses Indigo’s face and their lips crush, tongues dance, a ripple of goosebumps erupt down Aurum’s spine at his brazenness. “Any other rules I can break?” Aurum watches a breathless Indigo lick his lips hungrily. “I’m going to the trough,” Aurum says, basking in Indigo’s dark radiance. This is the first moment Aurum feels like he belongs on this date. “And that’s not an invitation to join me.”

“You sure?”

“I’m sure. You won’t like me if you join.”

“Who says I like you?

“Nobody.” Aurum smirks, walking away.

“Shake vigorously,” Indigo calls behind him.

Aurum’s chuckles capsize as he descends the sepulchral hallway, still able to perceive the patterns of paisley on the dingy carpet. He’d be elated over the quality of this date if it weren’t for the anger bubbling up like bile. The need to purge triples as he closes the cubicle door and releases neither bladder nor bowel.

Aurum feels the pull like a magnet in his gut. He lifts his shirt and relieves himself. From the soft flesh of his belly, a lion-shaped shadow pounces. The farther it flees, the more it materializes, the less Aurum continues to be. Just a collection of thoughts following a Beast Made of Night and its abysmal pit, a divine hunger motivating the feral shadow to prowl the streets of Shikaakwa.

Aurum’s other aspect, Morxe stalks the essence of the dying. If there were one closer, biology and thaumaturgy would draw that Shadow Lion to corpse-to-be. Instead, Morxe sniffs the air for the nocturne that rings louder than breath falls. It leaps and runs unfettered by the material world, its purpose divine. Through a hotel’s revolving door and up twenty flights of stairs, never tiring, never wavering. Its paws pad down the soft carpet to a room. It enters through a closed door, unbidden. A disembodied bystander, Aurum follows as a will without means, mostly annoyed.

The athame glistens in silvery metal and crimson lacquer. Its handle juts from the wiry carpet of brown hair, which obfuscates even the man’s nipples. White pools in his navel and curdles in the hair below. The heart the athame pierces cannot fill to press blood through the body, which glistens as the soul gathers itself to depart. The beast stalks to the man, licking his dusky face. His eyes flatten in recognition. “It’s a . . . ” The words are felt more than heard, same as Aurum’s feline head nod. “No, no, no, no . . . ”

Morxe’s mouth hovers over the man’s. The Great Beast inhales the essence clinging to the man’s body. Aurum feels the other men — a twink playing conduit to a ginger and a sportsman — in the room but the lion composed of shadow isn’t here for the murderers, only the murdered. Only the wronged.

The Obsidian Predator finishes feeding, licks the corpse’s mouth closed, and turns to leave the room when the Ginger looks up from his ministrations, wailing, pointing to an invisible lion. He’s slender and fair, freckled and wiry, swinging and naked. The moment is uncommon. Crafts are easily found in Shikaakwa but the Sight is a divine gift. Gods are no longer here to bestow such gifts. The sportsman and twink look on, baffled.

Under normal circumstances, Morxe would pad back to the bar elated by the freedom of presence, but the last thing Aurum needs is this person following his other aspect back to the beautiful, dark-skinned man waiting for him to return from the lavatory. Aurum shunts his shadow aspect back to the last place he held physical form.

“Sorry about that,” Aurum says, installing himself back onto the stool. The ricochet back to the place where he unleashed the beast is known to disorient. Before returning to Indigo, he pulled on a draught to address the likelihood of vomit and the reality of migraine. A calculated risk to return to his date. “Where were we?”

“This book says Shadow Lions were wild and a scourge until they were bound to a tribe of humans, tethered to temper them.”

Aurum catches the crease in his brow. He knows this. The book doesn’t cover the vessels’ veritable immortality or the compulsion to serve or the agonizing ceremony by which an Obsidian Predator is bound to a human. Instead, Aurum says, “Yeah, weird that there’s scholarly work on folklore, right?” Aurum wanted to know how little the world understands about his service.

“How credible is that work?”

“I mean, there’s no more evidence of the Divine Bastards than Soul Stalkers but thinking about it is fun.” Aurum grins.

The men laugh. “Does deiphilia pay?” Indigo asks.

“It doesn’t. I curate books for a merchant.”

“Then you read a lot?” Indigo asks, surprise on his lips.

“I do. Do you?”

“Not as much as before school. Now the last thing I want to do is bury my face in a book.”

The words weren’t meant as offense. That’s what Aurum repeats to himself before speaking. “And what do you do?”

“I’m a healer to mothers and children.”

“A midwife?”

“No . . . ”

“A doula, then? My bad.”

“No, I study the science and craft of healers, specifically for expecting mothers and unborn babies.”

“That sounds fancy to me.”

“If fancy is an analogue for stressful, then yes.”

“No.” Aurum laughs. “It is not. Maybe you could read a book to unstress?”

“Nope, I’ve already met a bookish redbone who understands stress relief.”

“Are you proposing?” Aurum asks between smiling lips.

“Yes, but not marriage.”

“Then what?” Aurum asks.

If Indigo were twelve shades lighter, he might have blushed. “Iono . . . when there’s a connection like that . . . I invited you over ‘cause I needed — ” Indigo twists at the trunk to accent his words before finishing, “ — an alignment. But I never got gawt like that.”

Aurum feels a twinge in his middle. He’s not as dark as Indigo so the red hops up all into his face. “That’s sweet . . . I think.” The flavor of durian attacks his throat like a neck chop. He swallows the retching that plays at his stomach.

“Keep thinking about it while I break the seal.” Indigo rises from his seat. “And don’t follow me to the bathroom.”

“You should be so lucky.” Aurum smiles. Aurum’s stomach drops. Morxe roars inside him, pulling the leash. It smells blood, and it pulls them both. Aurum almost winks out of existence as the Shadow Lion leaps against their tether.

“Hey,” Aurum says to the barman, “I need to step out. Tell this guy I’ll be right back?” The barman nods; Aurum walks into the Shikaakwa cold. He doesn’t even realize he’s leaving his coat until he’s outside. He starts down the narrow alley at a run, but he only makes a few steps before Morxe ricochets to the hotel room.

The same hotel room. But instead of one corpse, there are three more expiring atop the two full beds. A curious tableau, for sure.

But Morxe stalks, for there’s essence to collect. The Obsidian Predator leaps onto the bed closest to the window, its blanket flowered in oranges, yellows, and sienna to complement the bright brown carpet as a red soaks into the fabric around the twink. The wildcat of presence and absence hovers its mouth over the face of a man more dead than alive, shimmering with a soul in transition. The gravity of Morxe’s open maw catches the man’s jaw in its orbit, prying it apart. And as the mouth opens, an energy, a force, an essence begins to flow from the dying man into the cat’s mouth. Like light passing between stars, the eminent corpse shines the last of itself into the Great Beast’s abysmal gullet. When the light is consumed, the cat licks its chops before licking the man’s mouth closed. A sign of respect.

Morxe bounds from one bed to the next. It’s midair when it realizes the scent. There are two more bodies but the scent of a single reapable essence to collect. The last one is very much in use.

As the Shadow Lion pads down onto the bed, the not-dying man — the Ginger — swings the blade of bronze, sacrifice, craft, and blessings between its ribs. Aurum feels the pain in his own side, though duller than the howling Shadow Lion does. With the athame in its side, Morxe cannot be invisible or immaterial so it falls to the floor — feet first, rearing up and growling.

The Ginger leaps to his feet, a maniacal expression emblazoned across his face. “I only meant for a ritual sacrifice. I’ll be craft rich for sacrificing an Obsidian Predator!” Like a torch, all his hair bursts into flame: his armpits, his mane, and his pubic hair.

Aurum’s mind reels. Sacrifices made sense when the gods walked but now they’re tantamount to thaumaturgical bloodletting. Also, a literal Firecrotch!

The Shadow Lion roars and writhes instead. The Ginger whips his open hand at Morxe and it screams. Organ meats squelch as the athame wrenches itself free and returns to Firecrotch’s hand.

Athame ready, Firecrotch looks from Morxe to Aurum’s disembodied presence. Firecrotch’s gods-given Sight is more potent and dangerous than Aurum perceived. He swings the blade at a formless Aurum, hoping to make contact. Whatever vevés or runes emblazon the blade, it remains unable to harm Aurum so Firecrotch turns back to the Obsidian Predator.

Just in time for Morxe to claw down his chest and torso: screams play like ribcage xylophone. Ginge drops the athame and presses his hands to his belly, desperate to maintain the innerness of his innards.

Both parties back into their corners: Firecrotch to ensure his organs won’t slide out and Morxe to keep from seeing spots. The Firecrotch is out for blood. The Sepulchral Stalker has one more soul to reap. Morxe couldn’t leave if it tried.

Aurum, for the first time in his life, finds himself concerned for Morxe’s wellbeing. There’s never been an occasion for the Shadow Lion to tussle but there’s never been a reason to believe Morxe would meet a peer. But Firecrotch’s attacks hurt more than Morxe, and Aurum isn’t sure he’s as durable as his other aspect.

Aurum recedes his consciousness — even less of his rational mind to temper an Obsidian Predator. All instinct, Morxe mauls its assailant. And when Morxe is satisfied that Firecrotch will cause no more concern, the Shadow Lion stalks over to the other dying man and sups on his essence. It starts to pull from Firecrotch but stops.

Aurum barely gets to question it before sated Morxe initiates the ricochet this time, pleased to relinquish presence to Aurum. Cold in the snow, Aurum runs down the alley back to the pub. There are twinges of pain and looming vertigo, specters of damage inflicted to Morxe. He turns a corner and runs into a wall.

A wall named Indigo.

“The barman said you went outside. At last call, I came out looking for you.” The set of Indigo’s jaw only leaks smoke from the spliff in his hand. “When the bar closed, I gathered your belongings and waited outside for one quarter of an hour to tell you about yourself.”

Aurum grew up in the Wilds, trained his mind for clapbacks and the Dozens. He’s good at protecting himself and protecting his secret. But Indigo is right and Aurum is tired. Tired of lying. Tired of being alone. Tired of being commandeered.

Aurum’s stream of thoughts crash into his chest, like the satchel pressed against it. “Here.”

“Hey, I’m sorry. I had to do something.”

“Like what, bro? Leave me with the bill?” Indigo centers. “Money isn’t even the issue. You said you rarely come to this part of the city. What could you have to do?”

“It’s complicated,” Aurum says. The words are true but no less patronizing. Aurum takes Indigo by the hand. “I’m complicated. I had to go out but I came back like I said I would.”

Indigo snatches his hand away. “You told that to the barman. He never saw you again! Do you know I spent more time waiting on you than actually spending time with you? Do you know what I could be doing with my Friday night?”

That question softens Aurum’s posture. “No, but you could have found someone in the pub, I’m sure.”

“No! You don’t get to do that. I can find someone anywhere, just like you! I came here for you.”

“I came back.” Aurum pleads this as his mind metabolizes Indigo’s words. “Wait . . . You think I was with another guy?”

“Thank you so much for coming back,” Indigo says. “I’m honored.” Indigo walks into Aurum’s shoulder to knock him off balance. Aurum turns, watching Indigo create more distance between them.

“I’m sorry,” Aurum says. Indigo stops walking, and hope springs in Aurum. “I’m sorry.” Upon repetition, Indigo strides forward and away, across the alley.

As he walks across the mouth of the alley, a man-shaped rocket flies out of the alley, into Indigo, knocking him to the ground. Skin pale and freckled, red hair blazing, and not a stitch of clothing in Shikaakwa winter. Firecrotch’s hands terminate in his athame and a boomstick — a cane that strikes like a hammer and thunders when it does. Adrenaline must be the ingredient keeping the cold from harming him. But Firecrotch steams atop Indigo. Each blow from the boomstick delivers the impact of a thing ten times as dense, and each impact lands on Indigo’s face.

When the darker man is prone on the ground, Firecrotch beats Indigo’s head and even the booms can’t mask the crack of bone beneath the beating. The comely curves of cheekbones and forehead and smile are concave, crushed.

Aurum’s breath catches in his throat. Firecrotch stabs Indigo’s heart with the athame. Aurum can’t even scream.

An open hand calls the athame from inside Indigo — inside the corpse. Firecrotch stands, dangling. “I think you have something I need.”

Lie! “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Aurum backs away.

“I saw you in the hotel room. That cat’s beside you right now. Trying to claw its way out.”

Firecrotch isn’t wrong. Morxe wants another go and Aurum is all that’s standing between it and round two.

“Whoever you think I am, I’m not.”

“Tell that to your boyfriend.”

Aurum should meow out right now. But he’s in shock. And no one can see him switch aspects: the rules. Aurum isn’t a fighter. And he stands no chance against the guy who dropped Indigo. Indigo?

He chances a glance at the face, searching its mar for beauty. Aurum watches for the weak chestfalls. In that moment, Aurum’s rage dovetails with Morxe’s.

Whatever Sight Firecrotch possesses, he did not see Morxe shift into presence this quickly let alone the Great Beast attacking him so viciously. The ball of midnight and anger flies at Firecrotch’s . . . crotch, knocking out his center of gravity. Ginger tumbles but not before kicking the Shadow Lion in its wounded side. That knock rattles Aurum on an astral level while Morxe fights on, undeterred.

The Binding made Aurum a leash to Morxe, but in this moment he stands witness to the savagery the Shadow Lion wreaks. The attack is gory and sickening, but there’s so much beauty in this primal dance. When Morxe lifts his head from Firecrotch, the Ginge is little more than a cored-out carcass. Again, Morxe wants not for his essence.

And when Morxe pads over to the corpse that was Indigo, it licks at the black hand before bringing itself to heel. Morxe licks Indigo’s mouth closed before it cedes presence to Aurum who sits, catlike, at Indigo’s side. Aurum takes Indigo’s bejeweled hand, surprised by the heat it still generates. The thought of immortality alone crosses his mind and whether love collaborates with fate.

He sheds a tear, not of love or regret or acceptance. It’s the tear you cry when you mourn the death of hope. Aurum sits vigil for moments that stretch between now and forever. Indigo’s hand edges toward hot as furtive squelching draws him from his reverie.

Turning to see the sound of guts knitting together, Aurum’s head gets rocked by a blow. Behind his closed eyes, Aurum sees bursts of red and green and blue. And the throbbing above the temple feels like his brain bleeding. Gravel pokes at his face while the cold of snow melts to water against his skin. Aurum lays still, afraid to move out of fear his body won’t respond.

Aurum wiggles his toes. He opens his eyes and pushes himself to tabletop just in time to feel a swift kick to his stomach.

Aurum collapses again, this time coughing into fetal position.

“Turn into the cat.” The closeness of the voice startles Aurum almost as much as Firecrotch’s yellow-toothed smile. Ginge squats low — dangling — one hand holding the athame while the other holds his viscera in place. With the sun rising behind him, he looks like an angel.

Morxe pulls at the leash it shares with Aurum but he won’t let his aspect take over. This is a trap. Firecrotch plunges the athame between Aurum’s ribs and Aurum’s shriek could summon the dead. Do people lose the capacity to discern colors as they die? The sunrise doesn’t cast blue light and Aurum hopes it’s just shock.

“Just turn,” Firecrotch says. “Even if you feel it, I promise it’ll be fast. I’ve sacrificed all manner of cryptid and human. It will be quick.”

Aurum thinks the blue light comes from Firecrotch’s balls for a second. That is shock.

Warmth radiates from them, he thinks. That is shock.

“Callum!” The voice is cavernous, cacophonous; its sound hits Aurum on the physical and the astral. Even Morxe whines. And despite the effect, Aurum knows the voice and refuses to believe. Also, shock.

Firecrotch falls to a knee and turns to see Indigo’s should-be corpse. A squee releases and the Ginge crabwalks back, tumbling onto Aurum — onto the rib-buried athame — only for a moment before crawling farther away. The corpse stands, black as a starless night, except for the space where the head should be, scorched vestiges of the Nameate parka and pants falling away. Azure light conforms to the contours that made Indigo’s face beautiful. Against the light his skin looks ebon, igneous until it cracks to let more of the blue light escape.

Morxe pulls at the tether now, but to run not toward Firecrotch — Callum — but away from Indigo. Aurum hears Callum’s bare feet pound the snowy pavement when Indigo lifts a hand. The bolt of blue pierces Ginge through the gut, shearing his lower extremities from his thoracic cavity.

Indigo steps over Aurum to touch both halves. It looks like Indigo pushes the blue light into the pieces of the man until that’s all that exists of them — blue light. He stands and stalks back to Aurum. The glare that was Callum dances into the air like Northern Lights before returning to their master.

He pulls the athame from Aurum and reaches for his body with a glowing hand. Aurum winces away but Indigo speaks to him finally, in the same voice Aurum remembers from ecstasy: “I’ve got you.” Beneath the glowing hand, Aurum feels a spike of agony, a scream, tissue tearing in reverse: Aurum’s healed.

“You’re an Obsidian Predator.”

Aurum looks at Indigo, so bright but not blinding. Surprised to be surprised. Until he realizes Indigo’s words are more interrogation than declaration. “Bonded to one, yes.” Gulps. “Your father was a priest from the Wilds. Priests don’t come from the Wilds.” At these words, Indigo cocks a smirk. “You’re a Divine Bastard?” Aurum says.

“I hate that term.” Indigo breathes deeply, slowly, and his brightness recedes to a dull blue. “Choices of the parents shouldn’t define the children.” Indigo’s words sting.

“My parents bound me to a soul-sipping, silhouetted psychopomp and called it a gift and an honor,” Aurum says, “then got mad because I’m not making a family line to drop this burden onto.” Now Indigo’s skin slowly returns to its deep umber tinged in cerulean. “Sun goddess?”

Indigo nods and the awkwardness between them blooms like an orchid, beautifully but difficultly tended.

“You left to eat souls — ferry souls?”

“I can’t really stop it if I’m the closest to essence in need of transportation . . . I can stave it off for a little but Morxe acts on instinct.”

“Morxe?” Indigo laughs. “Mom wanted to name me after that cat.”

“You were almost . . . Of course your mother would know the Shadow Lions.” Aurum laughs. “Wait . . . you knew that guy?”

“Yeah, he was . . . my nephew. My apologies.”

“Nephew?”

“Divine Bastard, right? Demigods — that’s the preferred term — can have kids. They have less miracle in them but much more than the average human. Some of them are obsessed with grabbing more craft. Hit him with that divine pyre. Nothing there to reap.”

“Morxe can’t carry thaumaturgy. Gives it indigestion.”

Aurum thinks to stand. Shock and adrenaline fade and cold sets into his bones. He collects his belongings. When he gets to his coat, Aurum offers it to naked Indigo. “You’ll need this more than me.”

“Thank you,” Indigo says, tentative. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Morxe is immortal, so he took the brunt of that. Just . . . that was a lot.”

“How’d you know Ma is the Sun Goddess?”

“Young stars are blue,” Aurum says, staring into his eyes, his smile, his dimples. He wraps a scarf around his neck and starts off.

“Where are you going?” Indigo says.

Aurum says, “We.”

“Wayment, what?”

“In a world where magic is dying, we are made of the shit. There might be others like us but we found each other. I am a pariah from my Pride Tribe and must secret this part of me from anyone I meet,” Aurum says, his eyes communicating this pain to a place within Indigo where it reflects. “I don’t know what this is or what it could be. But the truth feels good. You feel good.” The smile emblazoned across Aurum’s face is contagious; Indigo’s spreads like a sunrise. “Now I’ve had a hard day and I’m horny. And I’d like nothing more than to wake up wrapped around you.”

When Aurum pulls away from the kindest and gentlest kiss he’s shared with Indigo, there’s an intimate warmth coming off the taller man.

“We,” Aurum pauses for emphasis, “are going to your place.”

Indigo holds out his hand. Aurum takes it.

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PodCastle 754: TALES FROM THE VAULTS – The One They Took Before

Show Notes

Rated PG

This episode is a part of our Tales from the Vaults series, in which a member of PodCastle’s staff chooses a backlist episode to highlight and discuss. This week’s episode was chosen by associate editor Tarver Nova. “The One They Took Before” originally aired as PodCastle 388.


The One They Took Before

by Kelly Sandoval

 

Rift opened in my backyard. About six feet tall and one foot wide. Appears to open onto a world of endless twilight and impossible beauty. Makes a ringing noise like a thousand tiny bells. Call (206) 555-9780 to identify.

Kayla reads the listing twice, knowing the eager beating of her heart is ridiculous. One page back, someone claims they found a time machine. Someone else has apparently lost their kidneys.

The Internet isn’t real. That’s what she likes about it. And if the post is real, the best thing she can do is pretend she never saw it.

After all, she’s doing better. She sees a therapist, now. She’s had a couple of job interviews.

She calls the number.

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PodCastle 753: TALES FROM THE VAULTS – Piety, Prayer, Peacekeeper, Apocalypse

Show Notes

Rated PG-13

This episode is a part of our Tales from the Vaults series, in which a member of PodCastle’s staff chooses a backlist episode to highlight and discuss. This week’s episode was chosen by associate editor Andrew K. Hoe. “Piety, Prayer, Peacekeeper, Apocalypse” originally aired as PodCastle 449.


Piety, Prayer, Peacekeeper, Apocalypse

by Rati Mehrotra

Soru Khara had been hunting her death for many years before she arrived at the crumbling old port of Tyron. She camouflaged her skimmer and stalked up to the rusty gates as the sun set over the citadel, the fishy tang of the sea sharp in her nostrils. The smell of childhood—the smell of things best left buried. It was why she usually avoided ports. This time, though, she had no choice. She was to deliver a letter, like a common messenger. She had not questioned the inanity of her assignment. One did not question the Voice of the Star Emperor; one merely obeyed it.

“Halt!” Crossed spears barred her way into the passage under the city walls. A man with the insignia of the Umnia falcon stepped up to her. “No one enters the city between sunset and sunrise.”

Soru Khara swept her gaze over the company. A captain and ten guards, and they expected to take on a death-hunter. Possibly they did not know who she was. She withdrew the letter with the seal of Yimri and waved it front of the captain’s stony face. “A message for Queen Lariel from her master. It cannot wait till morning.”

The captain held out a gloved hand. “Give it to me and I will deliver it.”

“No,” said Soru Khara, feeling her patience crumble. “I must deliver it myself. Do not delay me, Captain. I have skimmed six days across the continent to reach your little village. Is this how you treat messengers from the Star Emperor?”

“Village?” said the captain, affronted. “Tyron is the capital of Umnia. Watch your tongue, messenger.”

“Umnia is but one of the eight realms on Earth, and Earth is but one planet under the Star Emperor’s authority,” said Soru Khara. She slipped the letter back into her pocket and allowed her voice to gain an edge. “Get out of my way. I have no wish to shed blood tonight.”

“You threaten the Umnian Guard?” The man whipped out a scimitar from the scabbard at his waist. The curved blade glinted in the flickering light of the oil lamps that hung on both sides of the gate. “Leave, before I separate your swollen head from its pitiful body.”

He meant to frighten her, not to kill her. Also, she was a guest in Tyron, however unwelcome. Soru Khara took these things into consideration and summoned Piety, her least lethal weapon. A sudden drain of energy, heat above her palm, and Piety appeared: a blue ball crackling with electricity.

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PodCastle 752: The Music on the Hill

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


“Traveler’s Guide to the City of Intrigue” advert voiced, scored, and produced by Eric Valdes.

 

The Traveler’s Guide to the City of Intrigue is an expansion book for the 5th edition of the world’s most litigious roleplaying game, about a city ruled by a council of bizarre and fantastical aristocrats: The people-eating ghouls of the Grave Society, the brutal, feudal aristocrats of the Galloway Orcs, the austere and sinister Church of the Blood Pentarchy, the fey-aligned circus of the Carnival Occultus, and the cruel dark elves of House Evnesh. Find out what they’re up to and how you can stab them in the back by looking for the Traveler’s Guide to the City of Intrigue on Kickstarter now or DriveThruRPG in the future.

Previous books in the series can be found here: https://chamomilehasa.blog/chamomile-has-adventures


The Music on the Hill

by Saki

 

Sylvia Seltoun ate her breakfast in the morning-room at Yessney with a pleasant sense of ultimate victory, such as a fervent Ironside might have permitted himself on the morrow of Worcester fight. She was scarcely pugnacious by temperament, but belonged to that more successful class of fighters who are pugnacious by circumstance. Fate had willed that her life should be occupied with a series of small struggles, usually with the odds slightly against her, and usually she had just managed to come through winning. And now she felt that she had brought her hardest and certainly her most important struggle to a successful issue. To have married Mortimer Seltoun, “Dead Mortimer” as his more intimate enemies called him, in the teeth of the cold hostility of his family, and in spite of his unaffected indifference to women, was indeed an achievement that had needed some determination and adroitness to carry through; yesterday she had brought her victory to its concluding stage by wrenching her husband away from Town and its group of satellite watering-places and “settling him down,” in the vocabulary of her kind, in this remote wood-girt manor farm which was his country house.

“You will never get Mortimer to go,” his mother had said carpingly, “but if he once goes he’ll stay; Yessney throws almost as much a spell over him as Town does. One can understand what holds him to Town, but Yessney . . . ” and the dowager had shrugged her shoulders.

(Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 751: Flash Fiction Extravaganza – Mortality

Show Notes

Rated PG-13.


“Traveler’s Guide to the City of Intrigue” advert voiced, scored, and produced by Eric Valdes.

 

The Traveler’s Guide to the City of Intrigue is an expansion book for the 5th edition of the world’s most litigious roleplaying game, about a city ruled by a council of bizarre and fantastical aristocrats: The people-eating ghouls of the Grave Society, the brutal, feudal aristocrats of the Galloway Orcs, the austere and sinister Church of the Blood Pentarchy, the fey-aligned circus of the Carnival Occultus, and the cruel dark elves of House Evnesh. Find out what they’re up to and how you can stab them in the back by looking for the Traveler’s Guide to the City of Intrigue on Kickstarter now or DriveThruRPG in the future.

Previous books in the series can be found here: https://chamomilehasa.blog/chamomile-has-adventures


The Stars That Fall

by Samantha Murray

 

When Sara asks me if I want to go doom-spotting I say yes. Of course I say yes. The Edge Lookout is dark and rocky and romantic, and I usually say yes to anything Sara suggests. And I’ve been addicted to doom-hunting ever since I was nine and got my first telescope.

“Why do you need to see it? You know it’s up there,” Ibu says, as I lug my viewing gear out to the car. All of my aunt’s once-dark hair is grey now.

“It’s meant to be lucky, if you find it,” I tell her.

“Mmpffh, lucky,” she says in her dry voice. Ibu does not believe in luck, only unluck.

(Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 750: We Are All of Us

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


We Are All of Us

by Deborah L. Davitt

 

They wore white armor, sleek and chitinous — not the white of chalk, but the white of bone peeking through the skin of a mummy. The white of a grub writhing in black river soil. They dwelled in the deep desert, where few of the Folk dared to tread, in cities carved from the bones of the earth. No one knew much about them, yet everyone knew everything that they needed to know. That they crawled into rock-cut tombs to devour the dead. That their cities wended for miles under the earth, and that they could dig up into a house at night to defile the living.

As blue first-sun set, and red second-sun rose, Suvan went out into her fields. Shared with her husband Petemet once, their lands lay at the periphery of the village, as far from the River as the canals could reach. Here, the black soil brought by the floods each year waned into the silver sand of the desert, and they’d wrested crops from it each year by dint of back-breaking labor. The tales of the priests spoke of a time when the devices of the gods and ancestors, carried through the void between the stars, had broken earth and sown seed, bringing plenty and ease to all.

Suvan had never known anything but ceaseless toil.
(Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 749: Sungrass Girl

Show Notes

Rated PG-13

 

The music for the promotion intro is “Sneaky Snitch” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 

Hey everyone, Alasdair here – hope you’re doing okay. The summer months are upon us, which means two things – hat weather for yours truly, and the part of our year when costs are high and support tends to dip. We know things are tight everywhere at the moment, and that includes us. For those of you who support us already, thank you so much. We hope you’re enjoying the great new CatsCast episodes. If you’d like to join them, we’ve got tons of options for you at Patreon and PayPal. Even a one-off at Ko-fi makes a big difference, or check out our great new swag store – maybe like me you need a hat! It all adds up, and helps us bring you the best in free audio fiction every week. Thanks, and enjoy this week’s episode.


Sungrass Girl

by Uchechukwu Nwaka

 

My first memory of the Light is her face. Her round eyes that swelled in curious wonder and innocent inquisition. I remember the way the light from the incandescent bulb fell on her face, outlining her dark skin in paint strokes of shimmering gold that twinkled right into her large doe eyes. Her smile was warm milk, her laughter the essence of happiness. Her hands — they were so small then, yet so calloused — reached under my forelimbs and she lifted me into the sky with an ebullition of glee so intoxicating, it reverberates through my bones till this day.

“An mmụọ!” she cried. The pitch did not startle me. Rather, it was joy lit in the pits of my gut. “Mama! Papa! An mmụọ!”

(Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 748: Colors of the Immortal Palette – Part 3

Show Notes

Rated R

“The Traveler’s Guide to the Goblin Fells is an expansion book for the 5th edition of the world’s most litigious roleplaying game, about halflings riding giant pugs fighting against goblins piloting arcanotech mechs for control of valuable farmland at the onset of a brutal winter. The harvest is lean and there’s not enough to go around, someone’s going to go hungry this winter, but it doesn’t have to be you. The Goblin Fells can be easily located in any campaign setting and use the Creative Commons Weskven setting by default, so look for it on Kickstarter now or DriveThruRPG in the future to support the open source setting and indie development.”

[Note: This is Part 3 of a three-part novelette. Visit our previous posts to read Part 1 and Part 2.]

 

ALIZARIN CRIMSON

 

I’m still fighting the ultramarine depths of despair some fifteen years later, when I meet Joshua at the Club DeLisa. We get to talking, a fragmented conversation to fill the space between sets. He’s a singer and he used to play trumpet in a swing band, up until he got caught in Chicago by wartime travel restrictions. Little Brother Montgomery and The Red Saunders Band are playing tonight, along with a comedian and some dancers.

“I love the music, but what really brings me here is the energy. It reminds me of the Café Guerbois —  in Paris. I used to go there with some artist friends of mine, painters who wanted to push boundaries and create something new.” There’s something about him or the music or the energy of the club tonight that compels me to keep talking. “The way the musicians build on each other, changing the nature of music, it fills me with nostalgia. They have a passion that I’ve been missing for a long time.”

He gives me a strange look. “You’re one of those immortals, like Pops.” (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 747: Colors of the Immortal Palette – Part 2

Show Notes

Rated R


“The Traveler’s Guide to the Goblin Fells is an expansion book for the 5th edition of the world’s most litigious roleplaying game, about halflings riding giant pugs fighting against goblins piloting arcanotech mechs for control of valuable farmland at the onset of a brutal winter. The harvest is lean and there’s not enough to go around, someone’s going to go hungry this winter, but it doesn’t have to be you. The Goblin Fells can be easily located in any campaign setting and use the Creative Commons Weskven setting by default, so look for it on Kickstarter now or DriveThruRPG in the future to support the open source setting and indie development.”

 


[Note: This is Part 2 of a three-part novelette. Visit our previous post to read Part 1.]

Colors of the Immortal Palette

by Caroline M. Yoachim

 

COBALT BLUE

 

I paint the English Channel at Étretat, shortly after sunrise. The sun is a fiery vermillion and the water shimmers cobalt blue. It is roughly my hundredth impression of a sunrise, spread across the year on whatever days I can gather up the energy to greet the dawn with my easel at the shore.

I have painted skies both cloudy and clear, water in a variety of hues. When the tide permits I paint from the beach and include the white cliffs, and when the tide is high —  as it is today —  I paint the vast expanse of the channel from atop them. Sometimes the dark silhouettes of ships break the line of the horizon, and sometimes there is fog, a thin white mist that gives me shivers not entirely accounted for by the crisp morning air. Monet set off a movement with his Impression, Sunrise, painted not far south of here. Monet, and before that Manet, changing the world of art forever. Or so the historians like to spin the tale, imposing order onto the chaotic jumble of the past, pulling a single narrative thread from the fabric of time. Providing a focal point, like the bright orange sun that hovers above the water. And their focal point, of course, must always be a man.

(Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 746: Colors of the Immortal Palette – Part 1

Show Notes

Rated R


The music for the promotion intro is “Sneaky Snitch” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 

Hey everyone, Alasdair here – hope you’re doing okay. The summer months are upon us, which means two things – hat weather for yours truly, and the part of our year when costs are high and support tends to dip. We know things are tight everywhere at the moment, and that includes us. For those of you who support us already, thank you so much. We hope you’re enjoying the great new CatsCast episodes. If you’d like to join them, we’ve got tons of options for you at Patreon and PayPal. Even a one-off at Ko-fi makes a big difference, or check out our great new swag store – maybe like me you need a hat! It all adds up, and helps us bring you the best in free audio fiction every week. Thanks, and enjoy this week’s episode.


Colors of the Immortal Palette

by Caroline M. Yoachim

 

LEAD WHITE

 

I will always remember the view of Paris from his window. Snow, pure and untouched, softens the outline of the buildings and covers the grime of the streets. White, the color of beginnings. His canvas is primed and ready to be painted, and stark winter sunlight glows bright on his undead skin.

The studio is cramped, drafty despite the heat radiating from the stove. One corner is clean and lavishly decorated, the rest a cluttered chaos of painting supplies and personal effects. He studies me intently as I take in the room, evaluating me much as he did at the Café Guerbois when I’d first caught his eye.

I wait for him to ask how I came to be in Paris. Artists are so very predictable that way — no trouble at all accepting this pale immortal creature as one of their own, but a woman of my mixed ancestry? Utterly implausible.

“You should hear the stories they tell of you at the café,” he says. “If Émile is to be believed, you arrived here as a ukiyo-e courtesan, nothing more than paper wrapped around a porcelain bowl. A painter — he will not say which of us it was, of course — bought the bowl and the print along with it.”

“And the painter pulled me from the print with the sheer force of his imagination, I’m sure,” I reply, laughing. “Émile is a novelist and can hardly be trusted to give an accurate account. The reality of my conception is vastly more mundane, I assure you . . . though it does involve a courtesan.” (Continue Reading…)