As part of my vow to do something to repay the generosity people have shown me already and in hopes of more properly earning any future donations, I have begun writing what will be a series of short stories taking place after the events of my currently untitled book (I lean toward After the End, but still undecided). Some of the content of these stories will allude to events of the book, but details will be vague enough that I wouldn’t worry too much about spoilers.
Good News by Samael is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
She said her name was Katherine, but her mother called her Catriona, her father spelled it Catherine, and her other father sometimes said it was Aikaterine. She said a lot of things like that, talking about having two fathers like it was nothing in the world. That sort of thing makes folks go quiet and look at each other, but she never paid much notice of us when that happened. I think she had better things to do than worry about what people thought about where she came from, things like where she was going and who might come with her, I guess. She told us right up front that she couldn’t stay long. I like to think maybe she was just being polite and she’d planned to pass right on through and never stop. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that she dumped her entourage before she ever got here, like she knew what was going to happen —but I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?
She walked into town on a day like any other day. We’d heard about her, of course, but it was only rumors by that point, the kind of drivel carried by trader caravans around the cloister. The Council didn’t think it was important enough to mention at any of the last few community suppers, but we heard about her all the same. In a sleepy town like ours, anything interesting gets passed around pretty quickly, and nothing’s more interesting than gossip from faraway places like Tulsa or Kansas. News about a troublemaking woman roving around with a band of misfits, that’s the sort of thing that gets tongues wagging whether you’re man or woman, human or demon. We got ourselves so worked up imagining what she must be like and whether she was real at all that no one recognized her when she walked right in and said hello.
Okay, that wasn’t quite how it happened. She stopped at the gates like any other traveler and asked to come in, same as anyone else would, only I’ve never seen anyone come walking out of those tunnels without an escort of at least a few hunters and a sorcerer. I had lookout duty at the gate, perched up on a stubby tower with a spyglass so the guards had someone to warn them of strangers approaching from out of the tunnels. Not that we’d had raiders in at least twenty years—my Ma and Pa used to say they’d seen a village get raided when they were younger, but that was before my time—but it never hurt to be right cautious of strangers. I guess that means I saw her first, which I suppose ought to be something special, but I didn’t much think so at the time. Anyway, imagine my surprise when this one little woman comes walking out of the gloom of the tunnel, carrying herself a lantern and not much else, like she wasn’t afraid of anything in the world coming out of the dark and eating her. Normal people just don’t do that. That made me wonder, and a little worried.
I called down to the guards; I said, “There’s a person coming. Just one, it looks like.” My voice didn’t have very far to carry, so I didn’t have to yell.
There was a stir of interest under me as the guards moved closer to the tower, trying to get a better look. Frederick, the taller of the two, squinted into the distance. “One? You sure? Sometimes they run on ahead of the caravans—“
The rest was lost to me as I focused through the lens again. Yes, the woman was alone, and she didn’t have any sort of raggedy quality or fatigue or desperation or any other quality I’d associate with someone who’d been separated from a larger group through misfortune. She looked… well, she looked…
How can I describe her? I’ve never been really good with words, not like a real writer. I hope someone doesn’t look back on this someday and think it meant anything more than me trying to put my thoughts down on paper while they’re still fresh in my mind. I’ve never been big on the way people put so much stock in the books from the old religions; I can just see someone a few hundred years in the future thinking this old scrap of vellum is some sort of holy scripture. It’s a terrifying thought, but I’m getting away from Katherine.
Here’s what I saw: A human woman, young, maybe twenty, maybe younger; curly red locks that lifted and bounced healthily as she walked, completely unlike someone who had been on the road for any length of time; a simple tan dress that would have been appropriate for light work or any casual function; a lantern which caught her eyes as she lifted it to snuff the flame, entering the ambient light of the town. Even through the faintly distorted image at the other end of the spyglass, I swore I saw her eyes give off an almost crystalline sparkle in the magical light. Her lips were curiously red and I couldn’t help staring as they curled in a smile. She wet them with her tongue, then did it again. I tore my eyes away from her, blushing uncomfortably.
I have never had feelings of that sort for any man or woman before, but I swear, reader, for a moment I thought… well, never you mind what I thought!