prejackpot t1_j6f3nzz wrote

Little mortal

The voice echoed in my skull as I floated through the long central shaft of the derelict. The etheric sails had been torn to shreds, first by kinetic blasts, then by micro-meteors, and finally by the ravages of time, leaving the ship becalmed in a distant orbit. The saltwater reactor had drained long ago; there was no power for the lighting strips, leaving the interior dark.

Creature of a diminished age, you diminish it more. You break what you cannot build.

The voice grew louder as I went up, away from the engine. Most modern ships house their daemon toward the center, where they can be protected and wired to every ship subsystem with the minimal length of copper wire. But old warships put their daemon at the prow.

Do you know what I was?

The lights snapped on with a flash. I blinked hard and whispered a ward. It was an illusion, but a strong one. I saw ghostly sailors filling the shaft carrying harpoons and wounded comrades; marines with spectral vibroblades. I couldn’t see out, but somehow I knew without a doubt that in the illusion, in the daemon’s memory, we were above Port Coriolis, on the eve of the fall of the Long Diet.

This had been a great ship once.

I could make you great.

The illusion shifted. Now the sailors were wearing modern uniforms; on their sleeve was the family crest, the one my grandsire had insisted we were entitled to. They cheered my name.

I double-checked the seals and wards on my suit, and then I pushed my way through the maintenance hatch at the prow. Towering beside me, bare-chested, spear in hand, was the ship’s figurehead — the ship’s daemon. Her eyes glowed red.

I could give you worlds.

There was no illusion this time; just a certainty that the ship’s daemon was right. I could fix this ship. My crew would follow me.

I felt a hunger for conquest, for revenge, and I couldn’t tell if it was mine or the ship’s.

“Boss, fuel tanks are detached, Dyan wants to know if you want to do the honors or if she can make the superstructure go boom this time."

This voice in my ear was concrete and familiar. I didn’t want to rule anything, it reminded me. All I wanted was a steady paycheck for my crew.

“Go ahead,” I radioed back. “Boom authorized.” And then I fired up my own torch, and started to cut.


prejackpot t1_j5lk9w4 wrote

rWP really is the 'real' writing world in miniature, including multiple people having the same ideas simultaneously all the time.

In mine, I was aiming to keep it ambiguous who exactly is the evil one here.


prejackpot t1_j5lae00 wrote

“You’re the wizard?”

I don’t correct clients, as a rule, so I nodded. “Yes sir.”

“And this isn’t a scam?” he asked. He was looking at me, but the question was directed at his entourage. They took care of reassuring him; all I had to do was stand there and look ominous. I knew the type: he was drowning in grief, and desperately trying to keep it bottled inside with a sense of control.

“So you can bring my dad back?”

“Not forever,” I said. “Not even for a long time.”

“But long enough to say goodbye?”

I nodded again. And to my surprise, he grabbed me in a bear hug. “Thank you, man. Thank you. I’m Guy Redmond. My dad, he-” and then he was sobbing on my shoulder.

My assistant keeps a spreadsheet on potential clients: executives getting chemo; celebrities doing their own stunts; and of course, billionaires over 85. Julius Redmond had been at the top of the list for years; so long I’d wondered if he’d found some power even stronger than what I offered. But no, when it came down to it, Julius Redmond, billionaire media baron, just had healthy habits and excellent medical care.

A car had taken me to the Manhattan helipads; a Sikorsky charter took me all the way upstate, where another car had taken me from the helipad to the Redmond family home. Now, Guy himself walked me the last leg of the journey, down the hall to his father’s bedroom. He kept his hand on my arm the entire way; I could feel him sagging under the weight of the moment.

Julius – or at least the earthly vessel I would call him back to – reclined majestically on a large bed. Medical staff were already packing up the IV poles and monitors. “Leave that one,” Guy pointed at the heart-rate monitor that was showing a steady flat line. A nurse nodded and then withdrew, leaving us alone.

“Here,” Guy said to me, pulling a crumpled check out of his pocket and pushing it into my hands.

“Your people already paid-” I started to protest, but he cut me off.

“Nah, you’re gonna dig deeper. You’re gonna give me more time with my dad. Alright?”

The toughness was back; the need for control. But that check had quite a few zeroes on it.

“It can be overwhelming,” I warned him. “For you, I mean. It can help to have an agenda. To help you stay focused and cover everything you want to cover with him. This is your chance.”

Guy shook his head and blinked his eyes a few times. “I just want my dad to be proud of me.”

“Alright,” I said. And then I got to work.

I won’t bore you with the details of necromancy. Guy paced the room, fists balled, until the heart-rate monitor started to beep.

“Dad?” Guy rushed over to the bed. “Dad, it’s me.”

Julius’s eyes opened slowly. I put my hand against the wall, steadying myself as I channeled, slow and steady.

“Gaius, what happened?” Julius asked.

“You died, dad. And I brought you back,” Guy said, his voice trembling. “It’s not like you think. I don’t just let things happen. I can do things. And I wanted you to see.”

Guy took another deep breath. And then he brought his fist up, and punched his father. And then he did it again. And again.

Julius had been tough for his age, but he was an old man who had died once already. I felt the tether slip. The beep of the heart-rate monitor stopped.

Guy turned to look at me. His gaze was vacant, but he was breathing hard.

“Will that be all?” I asked. I was breathing hard with the strain of magic, but I don’t correct clients, as a rule.

“Oh no,” Guy said. “You promised me more time. I’m not done.” He balled up his fist, and turned to face the body. “Bring him back again."

(Thanks so much for reading! If you enjoyed this, you can find more of my stories at r/prejackpottery_barn )


prejackpot OP t1_j2cbr4y wrote

Jack was the one who saw her first. He always let himself fall in love at first sight; that’s what he spent his luck on, when he had it. Everyone knew that about him, especially Joker, who tends bar down at the Green Lady, where all the sharps hang out. She wasn’t a sharp, you could tell. She was a mark; and just plain, old-fashioned unlucky.

“I hear this is a place you can- can buy? Some luck?” she’d asked someone, like she didn’t believe it herself. Of course Jack would fall in love with that, with her lost-puppy eyes.

Me, I didn’t have time to notice a lost puppy. We had a trick to pull.

We’d been casing The Tower for months, sniffing around the outside, pulling smaller tricks to keep us in enough luck to make sure we didn’t get made. To the marks, The Tower was just another fancy casino, but any sharp knew it had more than money locked in its vaults. It had luck, and lots of it. But it was also an arcana joint, and you don’t mess with those without a really good plan. And a will.

We had a good plan. Me, I didn’t bother with the will, though. If I had enough to give anyone, or anyone to give it to, I wouldn’t be desperate enough to pull a trick on the arcana.

I won’t bore you with the details. My luck held; Jack’s didn’t. When it was all over, I stopped back at the Green Lady one last time, to pick up the fake passport I’d stashed with Joker and to say goodbye.

She was there again; or maybe she’d never left. I knew just what Jack would do if he was there, so I went and did it for him.

“I’m Ace,” I introduced myself. “You seem down on your luck.”

“You can say that again,” she agreed.

“Can I give you some of mine?”

Her eyes went a little wide. “So it’s real?”

“It’s real,” I said. “And I find myself pretty lucky right now. Except that I was going to share my luck with the person I loved. And now I can’t.”

“So not that lucky, actually,” she said.

“That’s not how it works,” I snapped. It came out harsh. “I could find someone new, if I wanted to spend my luck that way,” I tried to explain. “But I don’t want to.”

She nodded, and I could see she understood.

“Here,” I told her. I took her hand, and gave her the luck I’d taken from The Tower – all of it. “Just… stay away from tarot cards for a while, okay?”

I got up and walked away quickly, before she could do what I thought she might with the luck I’d just given her. I hadn’t been lying; I didn’t want someone else. And I still had a new passport, and a plane ticket in my pocket. There would always be better luck tomorrow.


prejackpot OP t1_j2c5o6y wrote

You’re already at the party when I arrive. Of course you are. You don’t make an entrance; you’re the one who’s there to greet everyone. You make sure they feel welcome. I can’t help but admire that about you. Of course, you also can make sure they talk to the right people, and make the connections you want them to make. That’s one of the ways you wield your power, so subtly it’s almost invisible. I can’t help but respect that too.

I don’t mean to make an entrance. But when you stop mid-sentence to look at me – well, that makes everyone else look too. Part of me still hates how your gaze makes me tingle, that gaze that I know is just for me, no matter how many other beautiful women are in the room. I watch as your eyes go over my neckline, but your biggest smile comes just above it.

“You’re wearing it,” you mouth silently to me.

I was wearing it the first night we met. It was the last thing Infiltration Wing gave me, after months of tests and months more in the secret clinic under New Carthage, where I got the genetic alterations and cosmetic surgeries I’d need to get close to you. A single-use attack swarm, hidden inside a crystal pendant the size of my thumb.

I didn’t use it at that first party. Too much risk of collateral damage. I wanted to get you alone. And I did. But by then, you had looked at me like that – and had given me the other, more private look that you saved for my eyes only. You had whispered my name that wasn’t mine in my ear so passionately that I wished it was my name, I wanted it to be my name. And at the end, you had touched the pendant.

“This is so beautiful,” you told me. “Wear it for me always, so I’ll remember the night we met.”

Now, you put your hand on the small of my back and guide me through the crowd. I feel so safe, when I’m with you. I spent my whole life never feeling safe. And I know that was because of you too, so much of my fear and pain were because of you, I should want you dead, I want you dead, but this feeling of safety that you give me now – it’s so hard to give up. I want to get to feel it just one more night.

I lean against you as you discuss a new opera, old literature that’s banned for people who aren’t here in this room, how to improve the flow of traffic in the upper city. This is what I always wanted. Listening to these kind of conversations. I want everyone to be able to, of course I do, but deep down I know I wanted it for me. And now I have it. And I have you.

You’re engrossed in your conversation with one of the regents, but my mind is wandering, and that’s how I see the assassin.

One of the waiters isn’t as mind-wiped as he appeared, and he’s dropping the tray, and he has a knife in his hand, and he’s coming for you. “Death to tyranny!” he’s shouting.

Nobody else is moving. Not even you. Not even me. I have an image in my mind of you stabbed, dying on the floor. Leaving me alone. And I know, in that moment, that I couldn’t bear it. I can’t lose you.

And so I touch the pendant. I release the attack swarm at the assassin.


prejackpot OP t1_j2c17i6 wrote

“So do you have a girlfriend?”

“A girlfriend? Nah, not me. Nothing serious like that. You?”

“Me neither.”

“But I like to have fun. With girls!”

“Love to have fun with girls, man.”

“If I meet the right one- the right girl I mean-”

“The right girl, for sure, man-”

“-Maybe that’ll change things. But for now I like to keep things chill.”

“I like to keep it chill too. My mom keeps asking me when I’m gonna get a girlfriend, I just tell her, mom, chill.”

“My mom would freak out if she knew about… all the girls, you know?”

My mom would freak the girls out. Wait- dude, you okay?”

“Yeah, I just-shit- Oh, hey, Derrick, how’s it going?”

“Hey Alex, how’s it going! Oh man, Carlos? You two know each other?”

“We were just-”

“Oh damn, am I interrupting?”

“No, no, we were just chilling.”

“You sure? Because the last thing I want is to be a third wheel on your date.”

“He’s not- wait-”

“Well, gentlemen, now that I’ve made things less awkward after all – would you both be down for a nightcap up at my place?”

“Oh, thank god.”


prejackpot OP t1_j2bylq7 wrote

We dodged the Parents through the old evac tunnels, then climbed an emergency ladder all the way to the roof. We were laughing and breathing heavily even before getting the hatch open and putting the filtration masks over our heads. Then we were outside, under the stars.

“How long do you think we have?” I asked him.

I could see the twinkle in his eye as he thought, and put a hand to his ear as though he could hear the banging of the Parents somewhere far below us. “Oh, about twenty minutes,” he declared at last.

“With what margin of error?”

His smirk got wider. “About twenty minutes, plus or minus,” he replied.

“I can see why you won’t be a Planner,” I said.

It was meant to be a light joke, but I saw unexpected hurt in his eyes for just a moment. Then it was gone, and his smirk was back. “Pure uncut cannon fodder, that’s me,” he said. “And what about you? I know you’re space-bound, with those zero-gee legs-”

“Shut up-” I teased, but secretly I was flattered.

“But let’s see what your full assignment is,” he finished. And before I could stop him, he’d grabbed my arm and rolled up my sleeve to see my genetic assignment tattoo.

“Navigator, huh,” he said. He was still trying to sound easy, but I could see him looking at me differently. Dammit, this is why I didn’t want him to know. “I was wrong,” he added. “They won’t let the likes of you breathe this dirty air for twenty whole minutes.”

“Then we’d better make the best of the time we do have,” I told him. And before I could think about it, I pulled off my mask, and I could taste the fumes in the air but I didn’t care, not then, and then I pulled off his mask, and then we were kissing.

He had been right the first time, it turned out. We had nearly twenty minutes alone before the Parents finally made their way up a maintenance hatch and came to take us home.


prejackpot OP t1_j2bwdj3 wrote

“Oh fudge,” Claire said with feeling, hopping up and down on one foot, the other above where a Lego piece lay on the carpet. She shot an unnecessary glance at the bedroom door, assuring herself the kids were asleep before she allowed herself to swear for real.

“What’s that?” asked Greg from the couch, not looking away from his video game.

“I stepped on a Lego,” she said.

“Classic,” Greg said with a chuckle. “Ouch.”

Claire sighed and picked up the laundry basket already full of little plastic toys. In went the Lego piece. Her phone buzzed in the pouch of her hoodie again. She carried the basket into the living room, and placed it pointedly on the couch next to Greg. He didn’t seem to notice as she kept moving through the room, picking up the toys that were strewn across the floor.

The floor finally clean, she moved the basket back to the floor and sat down next to Greg. “Alright, the house looks a little better,” she said.

“Thanks, babe.”

She sighed. Weighed her options. “The kids are asleep,” she said, trying to put on a bedroom voice. “If you want, you could join me upstairs.”

Greg paused the game, and for moment she thought he was going to reciprocate. “It’s been a long day,” he said, at least looking at her this time. “I just need to unwind right now, okay? You’re gorgeous,” he added as an afterthought, giving her a quick peck on the lips before turning back to the TV.

“Fine. I’m going to read in bed,” she said. She didn’t need a mirror to know that she wasn’t gorgeous, not right now in baggy mom clothes. But she couldn’t be that bad, right?

Her hand touched her phone, and she absently took it out to see what group chat had buzzed earlier. She stopped on the stair, phone in hand.

Josh Peters, she thought to herself as she read his long, charmingly self-conscious message to her. Huh. She’d had such a crush on him in high school, but she’d figured he hadn’t been interested. Apparently she had been wrong.

She scrolled through his Facebook as she brushed her teeth. He had aged well. And not married yet. No serious girlfriend either as far as she could tell.

haha omggg I had a crush on you too! she typed, and quickly deleted. Should she just block him?

She tried again. I always thought you were cute ;) That was even worse, right?

Another burst of noise came from Greg’s game downstairs. Before she could think about it, Claire hit Send. Crap. Crap.

We should catch up sometime, he wrote back right away.

This was crazy, right?

Sure that sounds fun!


prejackpot OP t1_j2ae8lj wrote

The two men walked side by side. They were just barely far enough apart not to draw undue stares, but their strides fell into a perfect rhythm of easy familiarity.

“So? How was it?” asked Ashley, the sandy-haired one.

“How was what?” asked Jack, taking a long drag on his cigarette.

“What do you think? Viet Nam,” Ashley said, dragging out the name.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“That bad, huh?”

“How were things here?” Jack asked, his tone softening. “With your father?”

“How were things here?” Ashley repeated. “How things here were was, you need to tell me about Vietnam. So I know what to expect when I get there.”

Jack stopped mid-stride in the middle of the path. Ashley took one inadvertent step ahead of him, then turned and took another deliberate step over. “So?” he asked. “Are you gonna tell me or what?”

“Your father can’t make you-“ Jack started.

“Make me nothing, there’s a draft, haven’t you heard,” Ashley cut him off.

“Draft, hell,” Jack’s voice grew louder. “With your family’s money-!”

“Lower your goddamn voice,” Ashley growled, leaning in for a moment before straightening up and sliding his hands into the pockets of his pants. “There won’t be any family money if I don’t do this, don’t you see? Not for me.”

“Then to hell with your family’s money. We don’t need it.”

“We?” Ashley asked. He seemed to lean back for a moment, and then slowly pivoted on his heels and started walking again, putting distance between him and Jack.

Jack tossed his cigarette on the ground, stomped on it once, and followed. “Yes, we,” he said, quieter now, catching up. “Like we talked about before.”

“We were kids,” Ashley said casually, not looking at Jack.

“Kids hell, you meant it. And so did I.”

“And what about the rest of the world, huh?” Ashley started walking faster now, eyes looking somewhere above the horizon.

“I’m not afraid of the rest of the world. Especially not anymore. Are you so afraid?”

“Yes!” Ashley stopped and spun around so fast that Jack nearly collided with him. “Of course I am.” There were tears at the corner of his eyes now. “And if you’re not, then you came back from war even dumber than when you left.”

Their faces were inches apart now. “I love you,” said Jack, his voice low and certain. “I still love you.”

Ashley seemed to sway in place, his face approaching Jack’s, then suddenly pulling away, then jerking back. Jack leaned in to kiss him, and at that Ashley did pull away with a yelp. Then he turned quickly and started to walk down the path, faster, arms pumping like he was running away. This time, Jack didn’t chase him.


prejackpot OP t1_j2a64f2 wrote

I lie for eons as dead as a god can be. When the new house is built at the edge of the village, I have the patience to wait. I gather my power. And one day, when she steps out to see the sunrise, I expend it all to call a breeze and make autumn leaves dance on the ground. Just for a moment, but it’s enough for her to notice. She smiles wide with delight. A small act of worship for a small wonder, but enough to give me life again.

On a winter morning, she comes out again. This time, I make birds dance around her. She claps her hands with joy this time, and the following day she puts out a feeder for the birds. An altar to me.

She is my one worshiper, and I am bound to her altar. I make her front yard a place of delight. The sunrises are more colorful, the birdsong sweeter. In the fall, the leaves crackle just so. She too grows more delightful too under my gaze. The wind teases her hair, the sunlight makes her eyes sparkle. Her fingers dance as she feeds the birds, an offering at my altar. Here, where my power reaches, she is the most beautiful of all creatures.

Others notice her loveliness, of course. Men come to call. She is sweet to them, but I can see that she does not need their attention. And neither do I. Her worship is enough for me; and my wonders are enough for her. We are perfectly matched in that way.

She doesn’t need my help, I can see now. Her grace is her own. The sunrises are all the more radiant for being seen through her eyes.

Everyone knows gods live off the worship of mortals. But what happens when a god worships a mortal? She will become something like a goddess herself. Her beauty will never fade. She will be bound to this place, as I am.

We will never be parted.


prejackpot OP t1_j2a1uz1 wrote

Lord Rowan felt cold rage running in his veins as he peered through his ambaric viewer at the village below. He had imagined finding Lydia dead, or even – heaven forbid – held captive, suffering a fate worse than death in some chieftan’s smoke-filled tent. He had steeled himself for such eventualities, and comforted himself with thoughts of the vengeance he would wreck on the primitives who did it.

What he hadn’t expected was to see Lydia out and about in the village, dressed in skins like an ancient savage herself. Good Lord, was she skinning a deer? Was she their slave?

This was Lydia’s own fault, he knew. A chronovelic excursion was no place for a lady, but she had insisted and badgered so relentlessly he had finally attempted to find a safe destination for her to accompany him to. He should have been stronger, he realized now, for both of their sakes.

What had they done to Lydia, he wondered? Her movements were unladylike; one of the other primitive females had said something in their own tongue, and Lydia responded with an undignified cackle of laughter. He had never heard her make such a sound before. He had to rescue her, he thought as he reached for his elecro-rifle.

No, Lord Rowan suddenly realized. He had heard her cackle like that before. Before they were married; when she was a girl, and he was a young scholar, and she would insist on hearing the gossip from the academy. He would make her laugh like that then.

A tribesman approached Lydia, and she turned and – oh, God – kissed him full on the lips. Lord Rowan squeezed the rifle and prepared to take aim.

She used to kiss him like that, when he would come upstairs from the laboratory, from another long day and night of failed experimentation, to find her still at her sewing. Before the chronoveler. Before the lordship.

When had she last kissed him like that, he wondered? When had she last laughed like that?

Lord Rowan thought of the Lydia he knew now: shrill-voiced and pinched, choked with rage at some society snub or some transgression of his own. Not the girl he had loved, he had found himself thinking before.

He looked through the ambaric viewer. The woman down in the village laughed again and fed some cooked meat to the tribesman. No, that was not his Lydia, not anymore. That woman was far too happy.

Lydia had died, he decided he would tell the academy. A tragic accident during an irresponsible chronovelic experiment. There would be some censure, to be sure, but it would be mild. She was only a woman, after all. Yes, Lord Rowan decided. That would be the best solution all around. Quietly, he lowered his elecro-rifle, and began to prepare to return home.


prejackpot OP t1_j29wqpv wrote

Dale couldn’t get his face out of their head as the truck sped through the streets. Would he be there? Was he okay?

“Memorial General?” Larkins said loudly as they pulled up. “Don’t we usually go here after the incident?”

“Hey, buddy?” Lieutenant Hoss put a hand on their shoulder. “You good?”

Dale nodded. And as they put on their turnout gear, they realized they were. This is what they trained for. “I’m good.”

The captain pulled the teams together and laid out the attack. Later, Dale would think it had felt like a fugue state. Moving with the rest of the crew under the flashing emergency lights, the world reduced to the cone in front of their eyepro, tuning out the whine of the alarms and the screams of the evacuating patients, and, eventually, the heat of the fire that had started in the second-floor kitchen and picked up fuel from an overstuffed supplies closet. They must have seen him on the way in, helping get patients out of the ER. They must have recognized him. But in that moment, for the first time in two years, his face wasn’t a distraction. There was a fire. Dale’s body knew what to do.

He found them later, out in the parking lot, after the fire was finally out. He’d lost his white coat, and someone had given him a thermal blanket that he draped over his t-shirt like a cape. “Dale Brown, right?” he asked.

“Dr. Mitchell,” Dale blurted out. “I’m surprised you remember.”

“I never forget a patient,” Dr. Mitchell said airily. “Well, not usually. Not when I save their life.”

“I guess today I get to return the favor,” Dale replied.

Dr. Mitchell laughed at that. His laugh was deep and rich, and it had the familiar tone of tension being let go. Finally, he pointed behind Dale, to where some cardboard boxes of coffee had been set up on a folding table. “Can I get in on that?”

Without talking about it, they sat side by side on the curb nursing coffee in paper cups. “You don’t need to be working now, do you?” Dr. Mitchell asked. Dale shook their head.

“Listen,” Dr. Mitchell said at last. “Can I ask you something? Do you get used to it? Almost dying in a fire?”

Dale smiled. “A little bit.”

He sipped his coffee. “Well, today was my first time. I’m used to other people almost dying,” he added with a laugh that sounded forced this time.

Dale noticed that Dr. Mitchell’s hands were shaking. And for the second time that night, they acted without needing to think about it. Their body knew just what to do.


prejackpot OP t1_j29p0cf wrote

Oscar prepared meticulously. He scrolled through cooking subreddits to make sure he had a hang of the basics before finally posting: Beginner cook. Critique my menu for a fancy date night dinner. He lurked on men’s fashion communities enough that when he posted his date-night outfit he was met with enough thumbs-ups and crown-emoji responses that the troll replies didn’t even bother him. Even the candles for the middle of the table were recommended by r/Candles.

“Your gf is so lucky,” one redditor even said. Someone gave him a Wholesome award.

All that was left to do was take a photo of the final product. Seafood pasta, a balsamic-drizzled salad, a loaf of homemade bread, all lit by candlelight. Oscar himself, wearing a well-fitted Oxford shirt, sitting across from — an empty chair.

tfw no gf, he captioned it, and posted it with a smile. Let the karma roll in.


prejackpot t1_izyopt6 wrote

“There is no question of succession,” Princess Ireni said smoothly. “With the death of his father the king, Prince Reynaud is now King Reynaud the Seventh. We only await his coronation.”

“Your highness-” the archbishop began softly. “The prince has not been seen these twenty years.”

“For heavens’ sake, princess,” Chancellor Mors cut in. “You can’t truly believe that Prince Reynaud is still alive.”

Princess Ireni turned slowly to fix her gaze on the chancellor. “If I did not believe it, my lord, would I continue to stand at the Lake of Longing every evening, day after day and year after year? The prince is now your king. And he will return.”

“The prince is dead, Ireni!” Mors snapped. “He’s been dead twenty years, and your longing is a woman’s madness. I’m sorry,” he said to the rest of the royal councilors. “But someone has to tell her.”

“You poor man,” Princess Ireni shook her head. “Your poor wife, to have been married to you for your family name, her father’s lands. You know nothing of love. Love is not madness. Love is clarity. When two souls are joined as one, when one soul can look out of another’s eyes, yes, that is clarity. Reynaud and I have that love. I have that clarity. Reynaud is our king. And he is returning.”

The rest of the councilors shifted in their seats, glancing to the door as if expecting Reynaud to enter it there and then. Chancellor Mors hesitated, looking around for support. Finding none, he banged his fist on the table. “This is delusion!” he shouted. “The prince is dead!”

“Careful, my lord chancellor,” Princess Ireni warned. “To envision the death of your king is treason.”

“Envision? Treason?” Mors sputtered. “King Reynaud has died, and has been reunited with his son in the halls of heaven! These are not visions, these are facts this council must deal with!”

“Guards,” Princess Ireni said serenely. “Take Lord Mors into custody.”

“You will do no such thing!” Mors turned to the guards, but they seized his arms.

“My husband, when he returns, will judge your crime,” Princess Ireni said as he was taken from the room. “But I know he will show mercy.”

The doors closed. The room was silent. Sir Archambault, the Master Treasurer, was the first to kneel. “Long live Reynaud the Seventh!” he declared.

Next came young Lord De Rihe. “Long live Reynaud the Seventh! Long live Queen Ireni, the Queen Regent!”

The rest followed.

“It is done,” said Ireni softly to her attendant, Leyda, when she returned to her chambers.

Leyda lowered herself as gracefully as she could on her aging knees, until her forehead touched the floor. “My queen.” And, in a lower voice once Ireni told her to rise: “Your vengeance is complete at last.”

“He took all I had,” Ireni said softly. “Twenty years ago I took his life, but today I take his birthright.”

“Must we still go to the Lake of Longing, your highness?”

“Of course,” Queen Ireni gestured for Leyda to fetch her cloak. The weather was starting to turn, and the winds across the lake were cold. “My husband will return. I can feel it in my heart.”

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prejackpot t1_iy8f33i wrote

At the bar in Eppley Airfield, Ash pulled up the Wainwright file on his iPad to go over it one more time. He’d been working on this takeover bid for months. Every i was dotted, every t was crossed. All that was left to do was to change the date back to where he’d originally set it: December 25th. Then he emailed it to his assistant. “Change of plans. Let’s ruin Christmas after all.”


At first Ash worried the man sitting down next to him had read over his shoulder, but he was gesturing at the bartop, where Ash had been absent-mindedly spinning Briana’s engagement ring.

“She said no? On Christmas eve? I’m sorry, man.”

“Probably for the best,” Ash said. He spun the ring again. “At least I don’t need to wear the matching pajamas with her family tomorrow morning.”

“I hear you,” the other man said. He gestured to the bartender, pointing to Ash’s scotch and holding up two fingers, and then slapped his hand down on the bartop like he was laying down a winning poker hand. Under it was another engagement ring. “It still hurts, though.”

Ash made a sympathetic wince. “What are the odds?”

“When your good-hearted girlfriend decides she misses her tiny hometown right before Christmas? I’d say the odds are pretty high.”

“The city isn’t for everyone,” Ash raised his glass.

“You get it,” the other man clinked his tumbler against Ash’s and took a long drink. “Anyway, you know what they say. They travel the fastest-”

“-who travel alone,” Ash finished the quote. “Kipling. A man of taste, I see.”

“Wealth and taste,” his new friend smirked. “Lucas Wainwright,” he offered his hand.

Ash took it. “Not the Wainwright Group?”

Lucas’s grip was tight. “The very same.”

“Ashton Jones,” he introduced himself. “I’m at Cerebellum Capital.”

He watched recognition dawn on Lucas’s face. “No shit?”

“No shit,” Ash lifted his glass again in a salute. “I think we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other.”

“Let’s see, your investors don’t have the stomach for what it’s going to take, your reputation is already in the gutter, and oh yeah, we’re fighting to save the insurance company my grandad built from nothing. You’re going to lose, my man,” Lucas clapped him too hard on the shoulder, but his arm stayed there when he was done. “But until then,” he added. “I wouldn’t mind it.”