Category: Original Fiction

Shifter’s Sands

[Author’s note: This was originally written and posted on dA back in 2011, so it’s a rougher draft than most. It’s also very squarely written with the expectation that the reader understands how plurality and systems work [hi, multiple people in one head over here], so if you don’t have that context it might be more than usually confusing.]

“You know,” I say, digging through the rubble on the fourth day after the earthquake, “I didn’t sign up to this to be a construction worker.”

Fourteen rolls his eyes at me (at least, I assume they’re his – he and Tag share the same colour irises, but the rest of him looks like Fourteen). “You think we did?” he asks, hefting a piece of rebar and tossing it onto the mountain of junk we’ve collected. “I thought this was going to be one of those chance-of-a-lifetime deals. You know – the whole ‘use your powers for good’ superhero schtick?”

“Yeah, yeah.” I can hear Finch sniggering to himself, but I keep a straight face. For all Fourteen’s a geek and a nerd and everything else you could sling at him, he’s hit the nail on the head with that one. “I got the whole ‘join up and serve your nation’ thing pinned on me. Like the shifter thing was something I ought to be using for the greater good instead of ‘wasting’.”

I hadn’t been wasting it, of course. If anything, I’d been using it better than half the shifter kids I knew. Sure, there’d been the occasional break-in, and that liquor store, and the hold-up where the witnesses all swore they’d seen a different guy, but that was better than pretending you couldn’t shift at all and hiding like you were ashamed of it. I wasn’t ashamed. I was strong. I was a fucking shifter, and that was better than any goddamn mundanes could think.

So I was a criminal. So I didn’t use my ‘gift’ to my advantage. So fucking what?



The library isn’t real. 

It exists, of course. That much is indisputable. But it is not real. 

That doesn’t bother you overmuch. Neither are you. 

The stacks are dark tonight, in the library which is not real and thus can contain neither stacks nor darkness, and you hold your lantern higher than you usually would, the light catching the glittering edges of books bound so long ago and far away that the materials used are lost to almost all knowledge. 

Not yours, of course. You know what they are, as well as you know that your lantern is not a lantern, but merely the light that has to exist if the darkness does, because how else would you see your way? (You could always decide that the stacks weren’t dark, of course, but the library tends to react badly to that kind of meddling. It has a very strong sense of internal narrative consistency, and you’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to let it alone when it comes to that kind of thing). 

The light from your lantern (and, for the moment, it is a lantern. It fits the aesthetic you prefer to cultivate, and the library allows it for that reason, even if it would otherwise abhor the pseudo-flame so close to the books) pools around you, a small sphere of glowing orange bobbing down the cavernous spaces between the shelves like a leaf caught in a current. Above you, the pages rustle gently in the warm, welcoming dark, as though whispering to each other in a language even you can’t quite translate. 

This is normal. Or, at least, as normal as anything in the library ever is. Familiar. Comforting. Homely, perhaps, if that was a concept which made much sense to you. 

Ahead of you, something makes a sound which is none of these things. 

You stop. Consider. 

It was a very small sound. It’s possible that, if you ignore it, the library will reassert normality around you, and the sound (and its originator) will go away, filed back into… wherever the library files things that it deems inappropriate or untidy. 

That would be the easiest thing to do. 

But, then again, it has been a very long time since something like this happened last. And you are the librarian. That ought to come with some rights and privileges. 

And besides, of all the sounds that something that shouldn’t be in the library could be making, ‘Help me’ is definitely one of the most intriguing.

Copyright © 2020 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

Blood on the Snow: Chapter 11 (draft)

“For the record, ‘melia, I still think this is a stupid idea.”

Amelia rolled her eyes, though she was grinning as she did so. “Your objection is noted, just as it has been the other hundred times you’ve told me that. But I don’t see what else I was meant to do – it’s either this or try and sneak him into the house without Mama and Papa finding out, and that’d go far worse for the both of us if they did manage to catch us. At least this way I can tell them I was just out adventuring, and the worst that’ll happen is they’ll stop my allowance and forbid me from going anywhere other than the University and the house for a month.”

“And stop my pay for a month for being fool enough to let you do it, if I’m lucky” Viola interjected, more bitterly than she meant it. “I’m supposed to be at least partially responsible for you not getting yourself killed, after all.”

The other girl pulled a face. “I won’t let them. I’ll- I don’t know, I’ll say that I threatened you or something. Or that I said I’d go whether you went with me or not, so you had to either come along to keep me safe or let me go and get myself hurt, which would’ve been failing in your sworn duty to protect me.”

“Or I could pick you up, stuff you in a box and sit on the lid until you’d stopped wriggling.”


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.

Blood on the Snow: Chapter 10 (draft)

The witness statements, as the captain had implied, were almost entirely useless – though given it’d been only a day since Harrow was murdered, Archer had to admire the speed with which they’d been acquired. Harrow had disappeared from one of the many Smoke dens which dotted the lower levels of Old Town, which meant that half the witnesses could barely remember what they’d been doing when he’d vanished, let alone recollect the movements of a man most of them had only ever seen in passing, and the half who’d been sober enough to remember had mostly ended giving the Watch variations on ‘one minute he was there, and then the next he wasn’t’ – which, while it had a certain kind of poetry to it, wasn’t exactly helpful.

The one consistent oddity among the more coherent statements was a mention, mostly in passing, of an odd smell in the area where Harrow had been taken from. None of the witnesses could agree on what the smell had been, mind, but a fair number of them had agreed that it had definitely been ‘odd’.

It was probably nothing – there were odd smells in the vicinity of Smoke dens at the best of times, and the testimony of a bunch of drug-addled members of the city’s underworld wasn’t exactly the most stable foundation to build a hypothesis on – but nevertheless, Archer found himself fixating on that one detail as he flicked through the reports again, searching for anything he might have missed on the last two readthroughs. 


Summer Bonfires

You think you know how this story goes. 

You think you know who I am. You think you know what I did, and what was done to me. You think you know how this story goes. And you are wrong. 

My village loved their witch. Not feared, not hated, not even tolerated out of a need for the works and wonders I could perform, but loved. I never wanted, never went without while others filled their bellies, but I sat with them at their tables, took their children on my knee, hauled water at their well and sang with them at their firesides long into the dark while the wolves howled their hunger in the woods beyond the walls. 

I was the one who called the hunter. Not some jealous priest or spurned lover – their priest knew well I was no threat to him, and I took no lovers of my own kind or otherwise – but my own hand on the pen and my own words in ink upon the page. I told him no tales, wove no webs to trap him, but called him simply by his profession and his will, and bound him to seek out the witch who dwelled just a little off from the old ruins on the hill, where once, so local legend said, the Kindly Ones had kept their hunting lodge.

And he came, black-feathered and behatted, eyes bright, burning with his holy fire. He came to my village, seeking whom he might devour, and my people closed their arms and their mouths and their doors and sent him on his way, for they loved their witch and would not give me up to the fires. 


Barfights and Bloodstains

“Does it help?” 

Sabbat hissed, tightening his grip on the arms of the chair as Archer pressed the damp cloth carefully against the worst of the grazes decorating his ribcage. “Does what fuckin’ help, Archer?”

“This.” The vampire made an irritated gesture with his free hand, taking in the bowl of bloody water, the pile of bandages, and pretty much Sabbat’s entire everything. “Bar brawls? It’s not as though you need the practice.”

“That ain’t the point.”

“Of course it’s not.” He sighed. “I don’t suppose you’d consider switching to boxing.”


“I assume that’s a no.”

The assassin sneered. “The hells d’you think? Next thing you’ll be wantin’ me t’take up fuckin’ fencin’.”

“As amusing as that mental image is, I’ve very little interest in getting stabbed. Again.”

To his credit, Sabbat actually looked somewhat embarrassed at the reminder. “I was seventeen, Archer. An’ it was your bloody idea, anyhow.”

Which was true. And, if he was entirely honest, attempting a fencing lesson on the deck of a ship in full sail hadn’t been the best of plans even before he’d realised his student was a habitual knife-fighter who’d never held a sword before in his life. 

“Fair. Though-”


“Bare-knuckle fights aren’t exactly gentlemanly. And you’ve the skills for it, if you chose to put the time in.”

Sabbat rolled his eyes, yanking the cloth from Archer’s hands and wiping away a trickle of blood from the gash across his forehead. “First off, y’know what happens to fighters who get hit in the head once too often? Fuck that. Second, I ain’t got the time t’waste on it. An’ third…”


He grinned, teeth red-stained. “If I’m fightin’ in a bar brawl, I don’t have t’care what happens to anyone who gets in my fuckin’ way.”

Copyright © 2020 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

Broken Children, Precious Things

We came back wrong – or, at least, that’s what they tell us.

Teeth just a hint too sharp. Mouths that don’t close right. Limbs and spines that twist and lock in ways that human bodies were never meant to move – or, rather, that their bodies never do. And, under our fingernails, locked tight inside soft skin and all-too-human flesh, the claws.

We came back wrong. Not the human children who were taken, who’d never bite and scratch, never raise their voices, never embarrass them like this in public when everyone is staring do you want them to think you’re mad?

We came back wrong. Which is to say, to some of them, we came back at all.

[Author’s note: Heavily inspired by Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children books – which, if you’ve not encountered yet, are well worth your time to check out]

Copyright © 2020 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.


A Mouthful of Sand

There’s sand in his mouth.

He’s not sure why there’s sand in his mouth – hell, he’s not sure of anything at the moment, beside the fact that he seems to be alive (and even that’s up for debate) – but sand in his mouth there most definitely is, coating his teeth and tongue in a gritty metallic-tasting sludge that he realises, with an odd sort of detachment, tastes a good deal more like blood than it would probably be expected to.

So, he thinks, after a moment’s hazy contemplation, there’s blood in his mouth.

This puts a new spin on things.


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]