Hi peeps! We have Archer Kay Leah visiting today with the tour for Blood Borne, we have a brilliant guest post where Archer share a flash fiction piece with us and a fantastic giveaway, so check out the post and enter the giveaway! <3 ~Pixie~
Archer Kay Leah
For Ress, survival is a complicated nightmare. Caught between two masters on different sides of the law, his life is falling apart one bad decision at a time. All he wants is to be is a good person, a loyal family man, and a successful metalsmith—a dream he can never obtain while he works for the Shar-denn, the violent gang that plagues the republic of Kattal.
To make matters worse, he works as an informant for the High Council. He scrapes through both jobs waiting for his last breath. As the Shar-denn motto says: the only way out is dead.
No stranger to living complicated decisions, Adren is caught between worlds of cir own. As the child of a Shar-denn faction boss, cir life is a conflicted tangle of expectation and duty. When cir family is arrested, Adren manages to escape, but nowhere is safe. Desperate and on the run, Adren is determined to punish Ress for turning in cir family. No one who betrays the gang can live. Ress must pay the price, even if Adren has to go against everything ce is.
Blood Borne contains no explicit content and instances of misgendering/the use of a trans character’s deadname.
Archer Kay Leah!
Hi there! I’m Archer Kay Leah, author of LGTBQA+ speculative fiction romance. Thanks for stopping by, and the warmest thanks to MM Good Book Reviews for having me here.
Today is the last stop on the tour for Blood Borne, book 3 in The Republic series. To mark the occasion, I’ve written an exclusive flash fiction piece that takes place during Blood Borne as a little side-scene that doesn’t impact the plot, a few weeks before the end of the book. On a more personal note, this piece is in honour of Hallowe’en at the end of this month—or Samhain, as many pagans know it, a sacred and solemn holiday. Not only is it a celebration of the last harvest of the year, it’s a precious time to remember loved ones who have died. It’s also the day my mother was born, someone we lost five years ago, suddenly and without warning. This one’s for everyone who’s lost someone dear. <3
If they had any decency at all, they would grab the precious things and burn the rest to the ground.
But if Nimae ever came back… if he’s still alive, wanting to come home… Ress bit down hard enough to hurt his back teeth. If Nimae ever returned to Araveena Ford, Ress would offer him the greatest care and sympathy before raking him over the coals for leaving without a word. Afterwards, he would hole him up in his own place to keep Nimae from disappearing again. Varen would want no less. After being nigh inseparable for thirty-three years, a Nimae without Varen was a Nimae Ress feared for.
The thought was almost as horrifying as their abandoned house, more decrepit and disgusting than Ress had last seen it. During his last visit several months ago, he swore he would never step foot in that mess of memory again. There was nothing left for anyone but the ghosts haunting every nook, cranny, and happy thought ever had in the place. Outside, the woods were a tranquil image of beauty and life, their autumn leaves a sea of rich gold, fiery red, burnt orange, and deep, dark violet that danced with the cool breeze.
Inside, the dank darkness weighed heavily like the thick cobwebs in the corners. Dust clung to every wall, once beloved possessions soiled with the grit of negligence. Nothing was worse than the floor, its dark red-black boards buried under dirt, grime, and urine, with pockets that smelled like the dead animals rotting away in forgotten piles.
“It truly is that bad,” Tash breathed, stepping over the threshold behind Ress, his red robes brushing the back of Ress’s hand. He took three steps into the house and stopped, then cast a pained glance at Ress over his shoulder. “I’m sorry. If I hadn’t said anything…”
“Quit apologizing,” Mayr muttered, ushering Adren inside before closing the front door behind them. As he slipped around Tash’s left side, Adren brushed past Ress’s right and clasped his hand, saying nothing as ce squeezed his fingers.
“Agreed,” Ress said, determined to ignore whatever else Tash wanted to say. He understood why Tash had turned them all into the High Council, and he could forgive some of it—maybe most of it—but it would not return their lost brothers.
Why am I even here? Mayr’s right that Tash needs the closure, but why did I agree? This isn’t going to close anything for me, just tear it all up again. Ress battled a weary sigh and intertwined his fingers with Adren’s, needing reassurance. To his right was the ransacked sitting room and dingy hearth. The furniture was overturned, damaged by either republic soldiers or Shar-denn enforcers, unless a squatter had gone a savage rampage. Ahead of him, across the quaint cabin, was the door to the backyard, just off of the open dining area and kitchen in the left back corner. The dining table was mostly intact, though leaning forward awkwardly on a cracked leg. The kitchen looked like half the woodland creatures had swarmed and scratched their way to whatever food was left, with the cupboards bashed in, bits of rags thrown about, and claw marks marring the floor.
When he looked left, he was heartbroken to see Varen and Nimae’s bed tipped against the wall, the floorboards beneath it ripped apart and discarded haphazardly across the floor. Whatever they had kept there was long since gone, hopefully in Nimae’s possession. Even the cradle at the foot of the bed had been destroyed, scattered in pieces around the open armoires and dresser. The cradle had rarely been used, save the times Varen had taken care of his niece when his sister was too sick to care for her. It certainly had never been used by the child Varen and Nimae had hoped to adopt. Varen’s arrest had come before they could fulfill that wish.
It’s just as well, considering. While Mayr and Tash drifted towards the bed, hand in hand, Tash caressed nearly every surface he could, slow and hesitant as though lost in reminiscence. They spoke with hushed voices, though he recognized Tash’s strangled, near-sobbing tone.
Ress led Adren into the sitting room, grateful ce lingered by his side, cir green gaze filled with empathy. Ce knew what it was to lose family… even if Ress was the one responsible.
Maybe we aren’t so different, Tash and me. Not in our bang-up decisions, anyway. Ress scowled at the rodent nests he passed, one of them fresh with dried red grass and golden leaves strewn everywhere. Once in a long time past, he had spent many a night in the house and the occasional afternoon. Nimae had purchased the tiny bit of land from a friend as a surprise for Varen, wanting a hideaway they could call theirs. Few knew its location, or what they did there, though most of their gang faction had theories. They had never disclosed the full nature of their relationship to the Shar-denn, for fear someone would use Varen against Nimae or vice-versa, but the truth was never far from the surface. By the time Varen died, they had been husbands, or so their families knew, even without the official ceremony or papers. That was knowledge the gang had never earned the right to know.
In the end, their relationship did them in anyway, regardless of who knew.
Love can be such a disaster. Righting one of the chairs, Ress stared at the ashes in the hearth. How many times had he been there to fritter time away, gambling and eating whatever new dishes Nimae had dared to make? How could he forget all the times Varen had convinced Tash to play one of his drums so Varen could reel Nimae, Ress, Inesta, and their sisters into silly dances? The house may have been small, but it may as well have been as large as a fortress with the way they lived in it.
As Adren wandered away, Ress brushed off the stone mantle and fondled the silver keepsake box near its centre, only vaguely aware of the back door opening. Picking up the box, Ress swept off the dust and cracked it open. Inside, the few remaining treasures were surprisingly intact: a bronze chain, a twine bracelet, a jewelled hairpin, and two red wooden discs engraved with flowers, strung on black cord.
Ress cursed softly and withdrew the hairpin, turning it over in his hand. The jewels still gleamed in the sunlight, forming a fragile butterfly in various hues of greens, blues, yellows, pinks, and purples. It had been one in a set of six, crafted by his mother but gifted to Varen by Ress’s oldest sister, Lalaern, for his sixteenth birthday. Varen often wore the hairpins whenever he was not doing the Shar-denn’s bidding, mostly decorating the beautiful braids and curls of his long blond hair for family functions. Lalaern had her own set, and the two would dress to match as though they wanted to be twins.
“Little Butterfly,” Ress murmured, smiling at the wings. Tash’s sister had called Varen that since he was born, plucking the name from wherever the inspiration came, just as she had named Tash Little Bird, Ress Little Pup, and Nimae some mix of Little Kit and Little Fox, depending on her mood. Lalaern not only adopted the names like the rest of their sisters and mothers, but she had insisted on calling Varen Flutterbloom. Ridiculous as it was, Varen had laughed and revelled in it, calling her Baby Flutterbloom in return.
Tears slipped down Ress’s cheeks before he could stop them, hot and cruel. Laying the hairpin in the box, he snapped the box shut and hugged it close. “It’s all dead,” he said, wiping his wet cheeks with his sleeve. “That’s all this is—a tomb, just like I told you.”
Tash was at Ress’s side a moment later, his voice cracking as he spoke. “Ress—”
“No, don’t go reasoning through this, you holy pain in my ass,” Ress argued, anger surging through him like an enraged beast. He needed someone to blame, to yell at and take out. Nimae had left the keepsake box behind—precious memories abandoned with everyone and everything else, as if Tash pulling the same stunt had not hurt enough. Nimae’s disappearance just rubbed dirty, pest-infested salt in every fresh wound. “It’s all dead. Gone. There’s no life, no hope, nothing worth saving.” He threw his hand out, motioning to the ruined floor. “So let’s just burn everything, right to the ground. Let the ghosts have it. No one else wants it. No one else deserves it. So let’s go, right now. Light it up.”
“Or not,” Adren said quietly from the back door. “Come on.” When no one moved, ce beckoned with a crooked finger. In the afternoon light, cir long hair was bright red like the fire Ress desperately wanted.
Ress grumbled as he obeyed, entering the backyard with Tash and Mayr. The back shed was still upright, the glen behind it undisturbed, and the thickets among the trees as dense as ever.
“You’ve been trying to convince me I shouldn’t give up on anything, and I appreciate it,” Adren said, backing towards the furthest right corner of the yard. “But maybe you shouldn’t give up on this place, especially when it’s not giving up on itself.” Ce stopped and pointed at the ground.
Shuffling to Adren’s side, Ress glanced down—
He stopped cold, his grip on the keepsake box tight. A trail of dried summer flowers littered the ground, almost painfully diligent in how the dull sky blue and greyish purple petals were scattered among the white. They led to a patch of fresh autumn flowers, cascades of vivid, bell-shaped yellow and orange-blue petals on a bed of short, lush black leaves. Surrounding them, small, bright blue buds peeked up between the leaves, some of them already sprouting with the white and red curls of berry plants that would bloom come winter. From beneath, dark green vines snaked out, tendrils reaching towards the trees only three feet away. One of the vines had already found purchase around the branch of a red shrub.
On even closer look, he noted the small tracks along the edges of the plot: rabbits, among other critters that had the pretty garden to themselves.
“Varen would’ve loved this,” Tash said softly. “He wouldn’t have planted it any better.”
Before Ress could agree, the wind picked up, harsh and cold like the morning frost. The blast whisked leaves and petals upwards, swirling the yellows, reds, and oranges into chaos with blues, purples, and whites.
As the breeze diminished, leaves and petals swayed and fell like a gentle rain. Two white butterflies with stark black tips fluttered around the garden, chasing one another before sweeping up and away, nearly hitting Ress and Tash on their way skyward.
For the briefest moment, Ress felt at peace. In the time it took to manage a shaky breath, he swore Varen was right there with them, laughing and playing while he danced and sang and loved every moment.
Mayr slipped his arm around Tash’s waist. “Maybe Varen’s in agreement,” he said, kissing Tash’s temple. “I’m no priest, but maybe he’s trying to tell you something.”
“Mm, like don’t burn the place down?” Adren suggested, pulling Ress into an embrace.
“I guess not,” Ress murmured as he hugged Adren back. He glanced at Tash to find his eyes glassed over with unshed tears.
“No… No, we won’t.” Tash blinked and tightened his hold on Mayr. “We’ll find someone to clean it up and nurture this bit here. We’ll make it as beautiful as it ever was and give Varen the run of the place, especially until Nimae comes back.” He sucked in a breath then let it out slowly. “I’ll do some rituals, too, something to cleanse this place. It could use a good blessing or five.”
Clutching the keepsake box as though it were a delicate promise, Ress nodded and followed Adren towards the house. The past was out of their hands, far from their reach of fix-its and try-agains, but memories forged ahead with whatever hope roped them together. Varen was dead, but never truly gone, not when bits of him still clung to the place where he’d truly been happy. And while Nimae was still missing, there was every chance that he was alive. After all, Tash had come home after being assumed dead. Perhaps Nimae would return, too.
As they reached the back door, Ress glanced over his shoulder. A soft glow drifted over the garden, lighter than any mist. Within it, a wisp of light glided around the flowers, beating like wings and trailing like ribbons.
With a blink, the light vanished, a whisper of Varen’s bright laughter in its wake.
Welcome home, brother.
Archer Kay Leah was raised in Canada, growing up in a port town at a time when it was starting to become more diverse, both visibly and vocally. Combined with the variety of interests found in Archer’s family and the never-ending need to be creative, this diversity inspired a love for toying with characters and their relationships, exploring new experiences and difficult situations.
Archer most enjoys writing speculative fiction and is engaged in a very particular love affair with fantasy, especially when it is dark and emotionally charged. When not reading and writing for work or play, Archer is a geek with too many hobbies and keeps busy with other creative endeavors, a music addiction, and whatever else comes along. Archer lives in London, Ontario with a bigender partner and rather chatty cat.