Category: Black Roses

Black Roses: Crossing Borders (AU)

Technically, they’re not supposed to intervene. Call it the masquerade if you like (and if you’re a fucking geek), or just call it plain old pragmatism – Dusksiders don’t get involved in lightside business if they’ve any sense. 

Then again, Kay thinks, winding her boxing wraps tight around scarred knuckles, I never was much burdened with an overabundance of that. 

Across the room, Pirate and Hawkeye are talking tactics, heads together over a city map that looks like it came out of the damn ark. Cutter’s leaning against the wall next to ‘em, close enough to offer suggestions (and bait Pirate while he’s about it), but far enough away that Hawkeye ain’t about to bite his head off for smoking inside. 

Kay envies him a little for that, if she’s honest. She’s too keyed up to smoke right now, but damn if a cigarette wouldn’t take the edge off the tension thrumming through her. 

Then again, maybe she needs that edge. Going lightside’s serious business, especially when it’s technically against orders. But lightside’s also fucked to hell and back and getting worse, and she’s not sitting on her arse doing nothing while the world burns.

And besides, they made Ella cry.

Copyright © 2020 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

Black Roses 100themes 3: Light

Here’s the thing about morality: sooner or later, no matter how rigorous your principles or how well-defined your code, you are going to find yourself in a situation whereby what you define as ‘moral’ and what you define as ‘right’ are not entirely in agreement.

Here’s another thing: you won’t necessarily see it coming.

Even if, for the sake of argument, you’re a several-hundred-year-old scholar with a wide breadth of knowledge, a decent handle on people and their motivations and, you think, a fairly thorough understanding of exactly how cruel sapient beings can be to one another, especially when those sapient beings are acting under the guise of so-called medical advancement.

And here’s the third thing about morality: if the choice between doing what is moral and doing what is right has anything to do with another emotion – say, for instance, love – then whatever you would have hypothetically chosen, in a vacuum, in a world where that emotion didn’t exist, has absolutely no bearing in any way on what you actually decide to do in the moment, faced with that sudden and terrible choice.

Archer certainly thinks what he did all those years ago was immoral.

He’s also still certain, in a way which goes beyond logic and into bone-deep instinctive knowledge of how the world should be, that it was right.

[Author’s note: Slightly more abstract interpretation of the theme here, but I’m still happy with it. Also, I swear I’m not using these as narrative breadcrumbs deliberately, and yet]

Black Roses 100themes 2: Love



“I… Um. I need to tell you something.”


“…You are listening to me, aren’t you? Because I really really need you to listen to me right now.”

“‘m listenin’, El. Keep talkin’.”

“I love you.”

“Mmhm- Wait, what?”

Kay blinked, rolling over and fixing the blanket-covered shape lying next to her with a blurry-eyed stare which was equal parts confusion and sheer bloody panic. 

“Say again?” And, when the other girl didn’t immediately respond, ” ’cause I thought y’said-“

Ella propped herself up on one elbow, took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. “I said, I love you.”

“That’s- yeah, that’s what I thought y’said.” She bit her lip. “Fuck.”

There was a short, awkward pause. Then Ella said, very quietly, “I have to admit, that’s not entirely the reaction I was expecting.”

[Author’s note: Short and sweet, this time around.]

Black Roses: Heatwave

[Reposting some older [as in, from 2013] content, because it’s sweltering over here and I don’t have the brain to finish up the 100themes piece I’m currently writing. Also it seemed apposite, given the current weather.
cw: emeto discussion]

It was hot.

No, more than hot. Sweltering. The kind of heat that stole the air from your lungs, stuck what clothing you could bear to wear to your skin with sweat, pressed down on your skull like you’d stuck your head in an oven, and near enough boiled you alive if you set foot out of doors between sunup and sundown.

At least, over on the lightside it was.

In Dusk it was, unsurprisingly, dusk. Permanently. Which meant for all the air was still too damn warm by about half a hundred degrees (an exaggeration, but it sure as hell didn’t feel like one), it was a damn sight better than it could’ve been. Some sort of a breeze, too, which meant the sweat at least did something to cool you down a little, and you actually felt like you could get a full breath every now and again.

Kay took another drag on her cigarette, blew a stream of smoke out the side of her mouth, and yanked her damp tanktop away from her skin, grimacing as the sweat-sodden fabric peeled away from her chest. “Y’think the Duke’d see his way to lettin’ us get a li’l more air in here?”

Black Roses 100themes 1: Introduction

She’s smaller than he expects, somehow. 

Logically he knows how big a newborn is – even if he’d not helped deliver a few back in the desert, he still remembers the sudden shock of seeing his own smallest sister for the first time. But, logic or no, the tiny shape nestled in the crook of his elbow still seems somehow mis-sized for the world she’s fallen into: when he holds her, he’s half afraid that even the slightest touch might shatter her fragile form.

It won’t, of course. He knows that, just as much as he knows that here, in the heart of the Duke’s power, is by far and away the safest place in Dusk for two outlanders to raise a child. Just as much as he knows that whatever power brought them here did so for a reason, and that, if that’s the case, it probably knows enough to stay the hells away from their daughter. And just as much as he knows that, despite all that, they’ve brought a child into the world in the middle of a warzone, and there’re very few ways that ends well for anyone concerned. 

Cionne, perhaps unsurprisingly, shares almost none of his fears in that regard. She carried their daughter in her womb for nine months, across two worlds and half a continent, and she knows full well how much resilience lies within that little body (if nothing else, she has the half-healed bruises still banding her ribs to prove it). She understands her husband’s feelings – even if she teases him about them, it’s in loving jest – but, as far as she’s concerned, they’ve little enough reason to fear how the world will treat their daughter. 

If anything, given how she came here, it’s the world that should be scared of her.

[Author’s note:

So! Way back in the mists of 2010/2011, when I was still writing primarily on deviantArt, I found a prompt challenge that seemed like a good fit for my at-that-time-very-new urban fantasy ‘verse. And, surprisingly for late-teenage me, I actually gods-damned finished it: 100 snippets (of, admittedly, very varied quality) set in the Black Roses universe.

8 years later, I went back to those stories… and, reader, they had not aged well. While the characterisation was, for the most part, still vaguely accurate, the stories themselves had a fairly bad case of my-first-darkfic syndrome, and the OOC bits were too damn OOC to be borne.

Which meant there was only one thing to do: take the originals down, and write 100 new prompt-fills using the same list. Because I make sensible life choices, apparently.

If you’re wondering who the hells these characters are, hang tight – things will be made clear in time. Or, if you’re curious/impatient, check the Black Roses tag on this blog for more fiction set in the ‘verse (though I own there’s not much there right now).]

Lines on an Unlikely Lover

I wreck my bones upon your rock-strewn headland
And tempest-tossed, my bark is broke asunder
The salt seas swallow boat and sailor both
And do you care? The storm-clouds rumble thunder
I think you laugh, to see my vain approach

You are an island, rugged, wild and wicked
No sheltered bay gives solace to my craft
And yet, I set my sails to find your heading
And send my soul, with all my hopes abaft
I wreck my bones upon your rock-strewn headland

I think you laugh to see my vain approaches
Your cliffs are steep, and jagged as a knife
The storm-tossed waves close grey and cold around me
And once again, I offer up my life
You are an island, rugged, wild and wicked

And yet, as if compelled by some addiction
I set my face once more towards the light
That from some ruined tower shines toward me
And bids me brave the waves through endless night

No poet I, and you no fair young maiden
Nor handsome youth, whose beauty I might praise
And all in all, this is a ghastly poem
But what the hells, it’s done and here it stays.

– W.J.A

(and, in this world,

Copyright © 2018 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.)

Black Roses: Butterflies and Photographs

[CW: child death]

Pelita sits down cross-legged on the attic floor, the shoebox balanced on her lap. She’d noticed it when they were clearing room for her brother’s old cot, and her mother had said she could go back up and look through it after lunch if she wanted to – so of course she’d bolted her food, skipped clearing up (which she knew she’d end up being told off for) and headed back up as fast as possible.

She brushes the lid of the box with her hand, dislodging a cloud of dust and exposing block capitals laboriously inked in marker pen: ‘PELITA: ASYLUM’ To anyone else, the connection would be inexplicable (and possible worrying), but to Pelita it’s as clear as day – or as clear as the dust-motes shining in the light from the window. The asylum is, after all, where she was born and where she grew up, and where she lived until she was about eight or so. She smiles at the memories, and eases the box open.

It’s full to the brim with old photographs. She’d never thought they’d kept any of the photos people had taken while they were there, but here they all are, from almost-professional looking portraits to blurry and out-of-focus shots of someone’s thumb. She takes a handful at random, spreading them out on the floor.

The first one shows her parents, both looking younger, smiling at the camera. Cionne’s belly is rounded, and she leans a little on Malben’s shoulder. He stands tall, arm around his wife, proud and happy – and the air of the picture is only spoiled a little by his bloodstained apron and the scalpel tucked absent-mindedly behind his ear. Behind them, the asylum looms, but even its presence can’t take away the smiles on their faces.

The second one is much later – in it, a dark-skinned redheaded girl sitting on a mortuary slab, swinging her legs, laughing at whoever’s behind the camera. She looks oddly out of place in her surroundings, but the dark figure standing just to the left of the shot looks more out of place still.

Pelita looks closer.

The figure seems to be made up entirely of darkness – almost like a three-dimensional shadow.

She smiles. She remembers those figures, and, she realises, she remembers the day that picture was taken. It had been Felix she was laughing at – that explains the blurriness of the image, as the catboy had never figured out how to take a proper photo – and she’d been trying to explain to him who the shadow-man in the corner was. As far as she remembers, she didn’t get very far with that.

The next photo is earlier – the girl is younger, perched on her mother’s lap as she leans out across the tabletop, reaching for the newspaper the man sitting across from her is holding. He’s smiling, showing teeth that are altogether a little too sharp for comfort. The man leaning on the wall behind him scowls, cigarette jammed in the corner of his mouth, cut-throat razor open in one hand.

Pelita smiles at the photo, but the smile is tinged with sadness. She remembers those two men very well – Archer, the man holding the newspaper, had been almost an uncle to her, and his partner…he’d scared her, but she’d also felt sorry for him, when she found out who one of her shadow-men was. And she remembers seeing their corpses lying together after the battle that had almost destroyed the army entirely – they’d been holding hands, and she’d wondered at the time whether someone had placed them like that, or whether one had reached for the other, right at the end.

Their ashes are buried behind the asylum, and she still goes there sometimes. The last time she took some wine with her, and a book, and some cigarettes – the wine was to pour on the graves, as she’d heard Archer tell her mother that that was what was done in their world, but the book and the cigarettes were her own idea and had very nearly got her into a great deal of trouble.

She pushes that photograph away, exposing a smaller one which was hidden underneath it. It’s face-down, and the first thing she notices is her father’s scrawled and illegible handwriting across one corner. She picks the photo up, holding it close to her face as she puzzles out the inscription, working through the letters out loud.

“Pe..Pelita….ang- no, that can’t be right- oh, aged! Aged! Pelita, aged…” She frowns at the number, then turns the picture sideways. She can’t quite tell if it’s a 5 or a 6 (though it could possibly be a 3) and so leaves that for the moment, turning her attention to the smaller writing underneath. This is, if possible, even more illegible, and it takes her several minutes of peering and guessing and resisting the temptation to just look at the photo before she makes out the words ‘with butterfly’ in brackets under her name and age. This intrigues her, and she finally turns the photograph over.

The picture is another one of Felix’s, judging by the out-of-focus finger blotting out the top right-hand corner of the image. It shows Malben sitting on the floor in one of the corridors, grinning. In his lap sits the same dark-skinned girl, looking intently at something held in her cupped hands. From between her fingers, a flicker of colour can be seen – a butterfly’s wing.

She is about to put the picture down again when a familiar tingling feeling shoots up the side of her jaw, grounding itself behind her eyes. Almost instinctively she tightens her grip on the picture and looks around, searching for any sign of a shadow-man or something similar.


Confused, she turns her attention back to the photo, wondering if something in it had provoked that reaction. At first glance, it seems nothing has changed. Then, as she watches, a second image appears, superimposed on top of the original picture.

The new image shows the same two people as the original one, but the positioning is different. Malben is kneeling, head bent, eyes closed and – she looks closer – tears on his face, mixing with the dust and blood he seems to be covered with. He’s cradling something in his arms. She looks closer still, then recoils with a stifled yell as she realises she is staring into the eyes of her five-year-old self.

Her dead five-year-old self.

She can’t stop staring at the photograph.

As she looks, she begins to notice details. The blood soaking not-Pelita’s shirt and matted in her hair. The glimpse of a collapsed wall. And, almost out of shot, another body, curled as if trying to protect something or someone. Another redheaded, dark-skinned body.

And a butterfly, caught as a brightly-coloured blur in the top right-hand corner of the photograph.

She still can’t stop staring at the photograph.

The image begins to fade, and she almost wishes it wouldn’t – she needs to know how this happened, when it happened, why it happened.

She brings it closer to her face, looking for any clues.

The second image fades entirely, replaced by the original. Her father’s face, unmarked by blood or tears or dust, smiles out at her. Her self from twelve years ago, unbloodied and living, focuses her attention on the captured butterfly.

Pelita shoves the picture into the pocket of her jeans and stands up quickly, knocking the shoebox over. Photographs cascade out over her shoes, over the wooden floorboards, one over another, faces from years ago smiling or scowling or laughing out of them at her, and the tingling behind her eyes is getting worse, and she knows, she just knows that that picture isn’t the only one which has echoes of that other future in it, and she also knows that that is a future she doesn’t want to see.

She almost throws herself through the loft-hatch in her haste, scrambling down the ladder and falling into Malben’s arms as he limps round the corner of the corridor.

He staggers backwards a little under the weight of her, but catches himself on the wall, one arm still round her. “What’s the hurry?”

She doesn’t reply – just hugs him tight to reassure herself he’s here and she’s here and they’re both flesh and blood and nothing has changed.

He, surprised, hugs her back, and she buries her face in his shoulder and breathes in deeply, taking in the warm familiar living smell of him.

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”

“I’m…I..” She gives up on trying to explain. “Nothing’s wrong, Hade.”

He smiles a little, and hugs her tighter. “Something must be. You haven’t called me that since you were nine.”

“Ten,” she corrects him, and smiles as well, the image already fading for the moment.

And so she doesn’t notice when the photograph slips from her pocket as they walk down the stairs.

Copyright © 2018 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.