Fiction: Luck of the Ball, Part Two

Handdrawn illustration of a green meadow foreground with green and yellow pine trees growing against a mint-hued sky. Scene is overlaid with the dark green/light green/white/grey/black stripes of the aromantic pride flag. The text Aro Worlds Fiction sits across the image in a black, antique handdrawn type, separated by two ornate Victorian-style black dividers.

A coven of gentlewoman witches seems like the perfect place for Luck Vaunted to hide from hir powerful brother, father and husband. Even better, the upcoming Guildmeet ball offers the new Luck the perfect chance to experiment with genderlessness, magic and sex, if only ze can avoid more sorcery-revealing accidents. Sure, the witches welcome hir with open arms, but after hir twin’s betrayal, how can ze risk trusting anyone but hirself?

When hir brother attends the Guildmeet, a lover expects romantic intimacy and a quest of boots threatens to reveal hir deceit, Luck can no longer outrun hir monsters. Hir only chance of escape: the Westhold coven. But how does ze ask, when ze has lied to them, too?

Some fairy-tale families are formed by blood or marriage. Others are formed by aromantic witches defending each other against respectability, amatonormativity … and the sorcerer potentate’s heir.

One must possess a sense of self to flee entrapment by expectation.

Contains: An allo-aro genderless person on the run from hir family; a coven of four aromantic-spectrum witches ignoring all the rules about gender and relationships; and a version of Cinderella that rejects the amatonormativity of Disney’s fairy godmother’s ignoring familial abuse until it prevents the heroine from attending a dance to find a husband.

Content advisory: This story contains more casual sex references, discussions and descriptions than most of my previous stories, although the bulk of the main sex scene happens off-page (fade to black). It also contains depictions of hypervigilance, avoidance, anxiety, nightmares, dissociation and other trauma-related behaviours in a character having recently left an oppressive, patriarchal marriage and culture. This includes references to previous/off-page instances where the protagonist doesn’t consent to sex or marriage, as well as an on-page instance of hir being grabbed at.

Please expect casual death mentions, references to misogynistic behaviours, a fair amount of amatonormativity, an incident involving the protagonist breathlessly trapped in a tangle of threads and cords, a less-kind take on the prince’s searching for Cinderella by shoe-fitting, and frequent casual touching/moments of physical intimacy between the protagonist and hir fellow witches.

Length: 2, 054 words (part two of six).

Why?” Ze pinches a loop of cotton, pushing hir magic through hir fingers and into the thread. The loop twitches, but instead of slackening, it pulls taut against hir torso. Frantic, ze reaches for another cord-end hanging free from the human-sized knot formed by Luck … and all the cotton, linen and hemp fibres contained in the witches’ once-orderly sewing room. “Why do you do this?”

The mess doesn’t answer, creating a wriggling, multicoloured cobweb stretching from baskets, shelves and the spool rack on the far wall to Luck, sitting on a stool by the cutting table.

Neither does hir magic, spilling uselessly into a tangle of cords now binding hir arm to hir side.

“No, no, no…” Ze tries to tug free, to wriggle up out of the knot, to lean far enough to the side that ze can reach hir shears. Threads shift and strain against hir limbs, pressing against hir skin with eye-watering force. Empty spools clatter to the ground. “Please, stop…”

The witches can’t find hir like this! Without revealing hir sorcery, ze can’t explain how ze ended up embedded within a tightening tangle of threads, like a thousand vines competing for sunlight or mould growing on cheese. Ze can’t explain why these moving, crawling strands coil around hir neck and pierce hir clothes, desperate to touch hir skin. Ze can’t risk the witches, on discovery, deciding to return hir to the Citadel—to face the disgrace of having fled hir husband and family.

Too many times has ze awoken, sweating and gasping, from such nightmares.

“No! No!

Ze pours hir magic into the fibres touching hir skin, willing the tangle to halt, loosen, collapse. Even plants don’t move with this frenzied awfulness!

It began with a new seam on the cut-down black tailcoat—claimed from the closet of Sedulous’s deceased husband—meant for the Guildmeet. Luck, hir fingers aching, wondered if hir magic allows hir to direct thread through fabric. If ze can provoke or guide the growth of a branch or vine—sometimes—why can’t ze apply the same technique to linen or hemp? Won’t ze save time in sewing long hems and seams if ze doesn’t push the needle with hir hands, instead reminding the thread of the movement it once had as a living plant? Won’t seams look nicer if Luck coaxes the cut threads of the fabric’s edge to weave themselves together?

Ze thought to experiment on a worn linen pillowcase with a single strand of cotton.

Instead, every plant-based filament in the room swarmed hir like starving ticks on a dying dog. Threads. Cotton yarns. Modesty’s basket of laces. Even the pillowcase and fabric scraps!

Please! Stop!” Cords wriggle against Luck’s skin. Ze gags as they swarm over hir face and tighten around hir throat, attempting to jerk hirself free … but while a few strands snap, hundreds hold firm in a smothering cocoon, and hir magic only strengthens them further. Ze stills, trying to imagine the threads falling quiescent, trying to pull hir magic back into hir own skin. Why won’t they obey? “Just stop!”

Ze can’t move. Ze can’t let the witches know. Ze can’t breathe. Ze can’t risk—

“Bean!”

Bright spots form a flickering halo around Modesty as she snatches up the scissors hanging from her chatelaine, cutting her way towards Luck. A black blur dives for the shears before joining her. Steel blades click and snip; fibres wriggle. Luck can only gurgle, the edges of the world slipping away from hir—and then the pulling tightness stills, loosens, eases.

Hir lungs expand in the sweet, gasping bliss of inhalation as ze slides from the stool onto the sewing room floor.

A lifetime passes before Luck can do anything but breathe, lost in hir body’s violent, exhausted trembling. Somehow, for reasons ze doesn’t know or understand, hir cobweb has fallen quiescent. Sorrow slides a wad of woollen cloth under hir head for a pillow and murmurs reassurances, while Modesty keeps cutting, removing handfuls of cotton and linen as she frees more of hir torso, head and neck from the mess of hir threaded, fabric-bestrewn clothes.

Finally, hir gasps ease and Luck discovers an emotion that isn’t breathlessness: deadened, defeated terror.

“I’m sorry … I … didn’t mean…”

“Has anyone told you, dear, that when it comes to magic, you’re a little impulsive?” Modesty pulls away most of the cord pinning hir arm, frowning as Luck grunts in pain. “Are you hurt? Can you sit up?”

The cord lies—tangled, frayed and knotted—on the floorboards.

Ze watches it like a dog eyeing off a snake, waiting for its attack.

“Bean, dear?”

Luck nods, wincing as the movement pulls at a body caught, twisted and pressed by thread and fabric. Ze still feels giddy, as if the world sits far in the background—as translucent as tissue paper, not quite extant. Somehow, ze reversed hir birthday-wedding: then, as ze waited for Prospect to join hir before the altar, everything else held substance while ze floated above the real, hir soul untouchable as he slid the marriage bracelets on hir wrists. Even when he took hir to bed, hir luckborn wifehood no longer theoretical, ze felt as though watching someone else, unmoored from hir very skin and bones.

Only when ze learnt of Seven’s betrayal—convincing Father to deny hir request to forgo marriage in favour of spinsterhood and studying—did Luck again find in hirself certitude of hir own realness.

One must possess a sense of self to flee entrapment by expectation.

“Are you hurt, dear?”

“I’m sorry! I wanted to see if I could … make quicker. Seams with magic. I thought… I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean!”

What if this is another nightmare? Will ze wake and discover, again, that nothing happened in the sewing room, that ze hasn’t revealed hirself, that ze is still, if not safe, at least free?

Please, let me wake up. Please.

“Bean? May I look at your arm?” Modesty rests a hand on hir forearm, her fingers warm and heavy. Real. “I want to see if you’re hurt.”

“I wanted to make thread go in thread … weaving, fabric, so I tried to put … magic in. But it all came and knotted.” Ze frowns, considering: if ze dreams, ze can speak without consequence, but if ze’s awake, can ze explain in a way that makes hir magic appear ordinary? “I just wanted to try. Like guiding a ball of light. I thought it’d be like that, like your magic. Like things you all do. I’m sorry. I thought it wouldn’t be—”

“I understand. In future, may you consider first asking us how to more safely experiment?” Modesty gently extends hir arm up and out, while Sorrow positions herself with the shears at Luck’s feet, freeing hir ankles; the click of steel blades, followed by pauses to brush away fabric, thread and cord, sounds as regular as hir own heartbeat. Piles of clippings grow, innocent of motion: inert, ordinary, safe.

Never forget the Sixth Law, Seven. You do all you can to prevent unwanted consequences, but when you must direct lightning, fire and earthquakes, remember that sorcery can never be, despite your protections, safe.

Luck, an eavesdropper on sorcerous conversations, thought that the Sixth Law’s true meaning described the sorcerer potentate’s regard of sorcery’s unexpected dangers, and the threat they offer, as valuable a tool as his magic itself.

Now, ze isn’t so sure.

“We would have cast a circle,” Sorrow says, a snowdrift’s amount of fluff and thread-bits clinging to today’s dour black dress, “around you and one spool of thread, so that the others don’t get so … well, excited, when you direct the one in your hand!” She gestures at the growing halo of cut thread and fabric surrounding her and Luck. “We’ve learnt ways to … not avoid, but minimise, these sorts of happenings. Ways for you to learn more safely about how you may use your magic. Just ask us.”

Today’s familiar, a sleek cat with one white paw and half a tail, lies beside her mistress, her yellow eyes wide as she watches threads fall onto the floor.

“I didn’t want to bother…” Yet the fibres knotted around Luck’s body shriek truth: asking the witches for their input must be less bother than their rescuing hir. It surely must be less bother than the damage ze did to the witches’ sewing room! “I like trying the doing of things. I like trying.”

Modesty pats Luck on the shoulder, her words soft. “We don’t want to stop you from learning and exploring. We do want to make your trying safer—for you. We can replace cottons, dear, but not you! Now, does this hurt? Can you flex the joint?”

Somehow, this gentle correction feels worse than Father’s anger at hir various scrapes and mishaps … although better than his reaction should he, Seven or Prospect discover and return Luck to the Citadel! Cheeks afire, ze nods. “I’m sorry. I don’t have much money, but I’ll replace what I can. I promise.”

Is this a dream, in all its strangeness? Shouldn’t Sorrow and Modesty ask more questions and offer fewer reassurances?

Sorrow frowns, petting her black cat—transfixed by a cord hanging from Luck’s skirt—on the head with her free hand. “Can you repeat that? My ears aren’t attentive.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll replace everything I can, even though I don’t have a lot of money. Promise.”

A moment passes before Sorrow nods, brushing her hand down the cat’s twitching back. “Well, Sedulous sends your zucchini to market, so perhaps this evens out! Finish taking in your coat, but after the Guildmeet, you may want to spend your free time seeing what parts of this mess can be salvaged and wound. Without magic!”

Relief leaves hir giddy, even though Luck thinks ze’ll be old and grey, if not dead, before again attempting to imbue thread with magic. “Yes. Of course. Thank you.” In case the cat still pays more attention to falling thread, ze finishes with one of the signs ze learnt in case of animal absence, spell failure or exhaustion: Sorrow expends some effort to keep her mind merged with that of her familiar. “Yes!”

Sorrow smiles, her cheeks warmed by a flush of copper, and again takes up her shears.

“Was your nod a yes, dear? How much pain? Can you rotate your shoulder? I do wonder why you didn’t call the wool as well, come to think.” Modesty frowns, tilting her chin towards the row of baskets by the workroom’s shuttered window. “It’s closer to you than—”

“Aren’t you wanting lun—what happened? It looks like … I don’t even know what it looks like!” Joy stands in the doorway, her battered around-the-house cane held loose in her hand. Wide eyes and raised brows sit above a half-open mouth. Given the mess—a corona of cut threads and cloth, a mess of drooping yarn covering tables, chairs and floor—Luck can’t blame her. “Coincidentally, I’ve just remembered something really important…”

Grateful for the distraction, Luck tries to rotate hir shoulder without wincing.

“If you run,” Sorrow purrs, slicing through a tangle of lace with a sharp snick, “you’d best be prepared to find things in your bed that you won’t like.”

Joy plants her hand on her hip, her chin held high. “Try me, Fluffball!”

Nothing in the witches’ gentle correction or cheerful bickering bears any resemblance to the Citadel’s lessons, both those taught to Luck as a wife-to-be and those taught to hir twin as a sorcerer. Nothing in what they’ve asked of hir seems unfair or unreasonable … and they don’t seem to care, at least for the moment, that Luck’s wild magic speaks more of a seventh-born son’s elemental sorcery than a witch’s more fragmented craft. Nor do they seem interested in punishing hir! If ze dreams, shouldn’t ze wish never to awaken, thrilled to find hirself occupying such wonderment?

Yet hir stomach roils with shame, because ze never will ze risk provoking the witches’ curiosity or interest by telling them how ze means to experiment with hir magic. Never will ze risk the chance of their asking questions.

Seven betrayed hir once.

Luck doesn’t plan on giving anyone else the opportunity.

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