Round 2 of Christmas gift short stories! This one is for Quynh, who I was blessed to get to meet in person this year. 2018 had ups and downs, but that was 100% an up, and I hope you can come visit again!
a glimpse in time, by Ashe Mocaw
Ibariz only loves three things: herself, money, and gambling. Which is, of course, why she’s made her way to the Below casino she’s currently lounging in, a beautiful woman on her arm, a set of dice in her hand. She offers them to the woman—Ibariz has already forgotten her name, if she ever learned it—and the woman obliges, pressing her plump red lips first to the dice, then to Ibariz’s cheek. Smirking at the scowls her opponents wear, she rolls.
Two fives. The second highest score. She wins again.
She collects her winnings: enough gold to see her off for a year, a rare fossil worth millions, a journal from a scientist who has connections to Lady Mye herself. She tucks a piece of gold into her companion’s bra, giving a sultry wink as she walks away. If Ibariz can come back here, she definitely needs to learn the woman’s name.
Sadly, though, she has to have other plans tonight. She walks over to a game of cards, slamming her winnings down. “Room for another?” she asks.
There always is, when you have enough money. They deal her in. Ibariz’s smile grows as much as her winnings do.
Lady Mye nods to herself, pleased at the progress she’s made in her topiary garden. Not that she’s doing the work herself, mind—that would be ridiculous for a woman of her stature, not to mention the exertion would be too much on her weak leg. No, no, that was what gardeners were for, and she only hired the best of the best. A perfect copy of her personal zoo, but done with shrubbery. It would be the site of her next party. A showstopper.
Waltzing inside from the balcony, she takes a seat at one of her favourite grand pianos in the house. White with black keys, a piece of sapphire embedded in it, and a stool encrusted with precious gems and gold leaf. Simpler than her others, perhaps, but the sounds… the sounds were a work of art when played by a fool, let alone someone with her talents. Yes, a piece of music would do lovely to pass the time.
She plays by memory: it would be foolish to think the Lady Mye would need sheets. Play a piece for her once and it would never leave her mind. Talent and ambition. A powerful combination, her mother always said. Traits Lady Mye is always glad to have inherited.
She sits, and plans, and plays, music and plots swirling around her. A work of art.
Jin-hwan skims over the piece of text, the ancient language foreign to his eyes. “Can you translate this for me?”
Statia, seated a few feet from him, nods. He’s surprised she’s listening, but he’ll take it. He slides the book back to her, the only one open amongst stacks as high as he is tall. He brushes back his white bangs, pulling another book close to him.
Information is power. And oh, does he want more of it.
Both he and Statia sit on the floor in one of her immense libraries, funded, of course, by him. She claims she thinks better on the ground, cross legged and wearing nothing but a flimsy robe and golden bracelets. Jin-hwan sits with her because he’s unable to stand for longer than ten minutes at a time, and needs his energy to gather more texts when he finishes with those here. Besides, he would rather be close should Statia find what he’s looking for.
A terrible thing, illness. More terrible when it prevents his body from keeping up with his mind. No matter. He always plans ahead. He has a plan for this, too.
Jin-hwan is nothing if not prepared.
image is drawn by me