Friday, February 5, 2016

Flash Fiction Challenge: Black Letter

Hey'a, all! I'm very excited to be participating in the Flash Fiction Challenge hosted over at The Ink Loft! In these challenges, each participant gives another participant a prompt, from which they then write stories of 1000 words or less. My prompt, given to me by Athelas Hale, is:

"But even professional assassins have hearts and mothers."
As I said to Athelas when she gave it to me, I'm very happy to have received this prompt, since I can now use it as an excuse to write a bit of backstory for Aleta, an assassin from my Berstru Tales series. (Not that I don't have a lot of her backstory already figured out . . . just none of it's on paper before now and I don't know how much of it will be.) Admittedly, the actual story turned out a little differently than I expected (more sad; less action), but I'm still relatively happy with it.

Anyway. I hope you all enjoy!

    The letter was black- black as death, made blacker still by the name marked out in bone-white ink.

            In most cases, that would have been unsurprising. Nobles had a tendency to use funereal colors when contacting assassins- as if inviting them not to attend a funeral, but to cause one. By now, after five years’ intense training and another three years on her own, Aleta was used to receiving such correspondence. 

            What worried her about this particular letter was where she’d found it: her private box, used only for personal correspondence. No offers of contracts- either through the Guild or directly from nobles- should have been there. And the handwriting on the letter . . . she knew it too well. But she had never thought to see it on black.

            Bells from outside caught her attention. She listened, counting. Eight chimes. Half an hour remaining before she needed to slip out of her hiding spot- one of several around the city maintained by the Assassins’ Guild- and carry out her current contract.

            Returning her attention to more immediate matters, Aleta slit the top of the envelope and tapped out the letter with routine caution. Her teacher had explained thoroughly the numerous ways that death could be delivered in the guise of a letter. Yet despite her care, she knew already that it would contain none of those potential poisons.

            She read the letter- stark white bordered in black- with as much care as she would a potential contract. The words- things like “regret to inform you that-” “recently deceased after-” “funeral will be held on-” seemed oddly distant. Unreal. As if they were part of a dream.

            Then she reached the final paragraph and all the distance was sucked away. Phrases like “claims it was an accident, but I wonder-” and “always seemed to be bruised these last months-” and “maybe murder, but I can’t prove it.” And then, finally, “I considered hiring you or one of your associates, ‘Leta, to avenge her anyway, but he is Father.”

            Aleta set the letter down and walked across the room to the small window. It looked down on a busy Elgea street, allowing her to see without being seen. But today, though she watched, she did not notice the people going by. Again and again she turned the words of the letter over in her mind, and she reached towards her knives almost without realizing.

            She was an assassin. She could kill him. He deserved it, the-

            No. She was an assassin. She did not kill wantonly. And she did not kill for personal reasons. For a contract, or- on occasion- to protect. Nothing more. And perhaps this would be justice, would be protecting people. But it would be vengeance first.

            No. She would not kill him. And she could not attend the funeral openly; she would not be welcome there. But she would go, pay her respects all the same.

            Silently, she retrieved the letter and slid it into her pocket. Then she clambered out the window into the evening shadows and let herself disappear.
            The funeral was well-attended. Whether it was so out of respect for the deceased or curiosity over the death, none could say. The priest, the deceased’s husband, and the other friends and family members made the requisite speeches and produced the expected tears- or, in some cases, lack thereof. If anyone noticed that the second son of the deceased regarded his father with veiled hostility, they did not comment on it. Nor did any seem to notice the figure outside, clad in assassins’ black, who watched and listened with her head bowed and defiant tears in her eyes. They did not notice her shadow them to the graveyard; did not see her as she lingered in the nearby trees ‘til the coffin was buried and all others were gone.

            But the next morning, the second son returned to the gravesite to find a rosebush growing atop it, blood-red buds already appearing on the stems. And he knew what it meant, while all his family wondered how it had come there.

            For even assassins have mothers. And even an assassin’s heart can be broken.
 -Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)  


  1. Bravo! I like it! You do a good job of drawing the reader into the story. It makes me wonder what led Aleta to becoming an assassin, since she clearly loves her mother and brother.

    1. Danke! I'm glad you enjoyed it! (And that I got you wondering . . . can't give an answer, obviously, but I can tell you that Aleta's home was not an especially happy one, and also that Aleta didn't originally set out to become an assassin; that's just where she ended up.)
      Thanks again!

  2. Replies
    1. Sorry? Thank you? *not sure whether to apologize or take it as a compliment or both*

  3. You did so good, Sarah! Now I'm really intrigued by this Aleta character ...

    1. Thanks! If you're really interested, I actually have the series she's from on Google Docs- I could give you the link if you like.

  4. This was very good... and sad. I absolutely LOVED the last line. I think it was a perfect way to end the short story.

    And how awesome that you were able to use the prompt for you novel. It's like hitting two birds with one stone. :P

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you liked it!

      I know, right? Like I said, I was really excited when I got the prompt.

  5. This is a really good story, Sarah! You sucked me right into it (and after the first paragraph I forgot to pay attention to details for critiquing and had to reread it. xP).

    Before I critique it, I should warn you that I go very in-depth in my critiques. So if you want to just scan it, feel free.

    Your description, especially the description of the letter, is superb. Not only the physical description, but the words you chose gave a very clear feel to the reader. That was very well done.

    "Nobles had a tendency to use funereal colors when contacting assassins- as if inviting them not to attend a funeral, but to cause one. " - When I first read this paragraph, I originally thought that the word "funereal" was intended to be "funeral". This was my own mistake, but it drew me out of the story, so I thought it may be worth mentioning. Whether or not other people would think it was a typo, I don't know.

    The way you went through her thought process was very skillfully done. A lot of writers would heap all of her thoughts together or draw them out, but you kept them at the right length, and in a way that let us get to know your character better.

    "Then she clambered out the window into the evening shadows and let herself disappear. This "let herself disappear" threw me off just a little bit... It makes it seem almost like her disappearing is something that just happens whenever she climbs out the window, and (if you're being picky about character point-of-view, which I'm not, but it seemed worth mentioning) you wonder since we're in her point-of-view, does she disappear from her own view?

    The part after the scene break was also very well done. You didn't go into details, but managed to show rather than tell anyway. That's very difficult, but you pulled it off masterfully.

    The second son intrigues me. Does he play a larger role in your story? (It may be worth mentioning that the randomest characters intrigue me or become my favorites sometimes, so if he wasn't supposed to be interesting to your readers, it's probably just me. :p)

    Like Katie said, the last line was really good. It very neatly tied together the story. But oi, poor Aleta. I can't help but hope that something will happen to mend that heart of hers.

    Your story was very good, and I especially liked the details (like her watching for poison in the letter). At no point did I feel blind to what was going on, and it seemed like you knew your world well. You did fantastically! :D

    1. I didn't realize how long this critique was until I published the comment. Sorry. :p

    2. Wow, this really is in-depth. Thanks so much for taking the time to do it!

      I'm aware that using "funereal" might cause some confusion. I'll look and see if I can find another word to use (any suggestions are welcome), but in general I'm not terribly worried about it.

      Thanks for mentioning the "let herself disappear." I was trying to make it seem that disappearing (figuratively) is natural for her, something she doesn't really think about any more than you think about, say, walking or ducking when someone throws an orange at your head. But I will try to work on that as well.

      The second son is significant, yes. And not just because he's closest to Aleta of any of her siblings. Though I have no idea if anyone who's read the rest of my series will catch on to who he is . . .

      And for the record . . . yes. Aleta's heart is at least partially mended . . . eventually.

      I'm glad you enjoyed my story! Thank you very much for reading and critiquing it!

  6. Is the second son…Mr. Alyron? I can't seem to find his name, but I didn't look for very long.

    1. Maaaaayyyyybeyes. My grin over this speculation is insanely large, just saying.
      Thanks for reading!

  7. Given the facts that Aleta has no established relationship with the Alyron family, yet she has violet eyes in a world where, as Ariana comments, "if someone has violet eyes, they are most likely an Alyron"—plus the fact that Gwen is struck by "the resemblance to herself and Nightshade"—I believe there's a substantial amount of evidence for my theory.

    What is Mr. Alyron's name, BTW?

    1. I agree. Very nicely done, gathering the evidence. :D And yes, your theory is correct. How long ago did you come up with it, by the way?

      Mr. Alyron's first name is Dale. It came up in the "Return to Alyron Village" short story; nowhere else.

    2. I came up with the theory a few days ago after reading your reply to Athelas saying that the second son was important. :P Not at that very moment—I had to think about it a bit before I drew the connections. There weren't too many important men around Aleta's age I could connect to Aleta—Dale Alyron was the obvious choice.

    3. Ok. I wasn't sure if you'd come up with it before I posted this story (as a sort of "hey, I wonder if this is true" thing) and just never mentioned it or if this story/the comments on it had been the spark for the theory (which is what I hoped it would be, TBH).


I'd love to hear your thoughts! But remember: it pays to be polite to dragons.