Skin Deep

Leopard Neune Stein flickr

Photo credit: Neuner Stein

Taen Hirani returned from his religious retreat before his enemies could stop bickering long enough to coordinate.  He brought exotic creatures, fierce but loyal. Fabulous gifts from the gods. They resembled tigers with round markings, like the sprouting beans that symbolize Entovan’s grace. The taen’s hair had turned shock-white: a sign of his transformation, he claimed.   Any low-level modder can cast color spells, but no dark roots grew in.  Perhaps he wasn’t lying.

Hirani gave soft, sweet speeches about change, unity, renewal.

No more purges, we thought.  No more torture.

For a while, I believed.  Even the worst sinner can repent.

Then I started noticing the missing.  Sent on faraway assignments.  Retired from public life.  Worse were those who mysteriously changed their minds, supporting Hirani’s policies with gusto.

Some of my closest allies became strangers overnight.

When it was my turn, I knew.  Seeing who was in the room, and what they held, I cast quickly while I still could.  My pendant cracked.

My husband’s matching pendant would crack.  I prayed he understood: We are betrayed.  Run.

I was a fool not to recognize a tiger spell-dyed with spots.  And more so, to believe a tyrant could change his colors.

Word count: 200.  Written for this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction challenge, hosted by the stalwart Alastair Forbes.  Click the link to read other stories inspired by the original photo (below) and to join in!

Setting note: The term “modder” is short for body-modification mage; these are low-level wizards who couldn’t advance far enough in their training to become very powerful, and instead took jobs as the personal servants of nobles. It started with them making the nobles look younger (hiding age spots and wrinkles, dying graying hair, filling in bald spots, etc.) but over time they developed elaborate hairstyles, weird cosmetics, temporary tattoos, floating clothing, and the like.   Parties for nobles get pretty crazy toward the end of the Pyanni Empire, believe me…




24 thoughts on “Skin Deep

  1. A very wise piece and an interesting story. No a tyrant will always be a tyrant and as u play open, cannot change his spots. I wonder sometimes if these same men are the ones who are born w/o a conscience and are socio or psych-paths that we’re allowed to much power. Or maybe it’s just that too much freedom of power in itself corrupts and once a tyrant has that freedom, he’ll do anything to keep it.


    • Fiction wouldn’t be as engaging if it didn’t ring true. But then, I’m just happy our politicians don’t have actual magic at their disposal. Some of them are bad enough about deceptions and “charm spells” as it is!


  2. Lovely and sad with some glorious ideas – I actually want to be a ‘modder’! Could do with ridding myself of this wattle that’s growing under my chin 🙂 Seriously, a lovely scene and I liked how the mages were linked, how she was able to send a warning to her spouse – ket’s hope he understood.
    Another fascinating walk through Eneana. BTW, how’s the latest book going since NaNo? Progress?

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a nice comment Lynn, thank you! I wouldn’t mind having a modder myself, although given as I’m now too frugal to pay regular, non-magical people to do my “body mods”, I would have to be quite rich before I’d spend the money!

      The book series is sitting on the back burner. I never get much written in December anyway, with the holidays and baking and travel and such, so I just accepted that from the get-go this time. Now I’ve set up my priorities for the year; I plan to focus on short stories in non-NaNo months and focus on getting the skeleton drafts of the next two books out in Camp NaNo in April and July and then NaNo in November. Since I can’t take time off work like I did last November, this is going to be tricky, but we’ll see how it goes. How are your new year writing goals going so far?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I admire the fact you have such a solid plan! My writing plans are often shaky at best and I find myself frustrated I produce so little. The rewrite of my WIP continues and I’m hoping to pitch another magazine serial soon. Also hoping to start a copywriting course – I’d really love to make a living from writing and fiction probably won’t do that for me! Best of luck with it all x

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not sure how solid it is, we’ll see. I’ve had that same frustration for the past two years, not having a good enough sense of what to prioritize, and feeling at the end of the year that I wasn’t sure what my goals had been, but I hadn’t met them. Then in Dec and Jan I kept seeing all these bloggers posting about their Very Specific Goals and how they’d met them last year and making more this year, and… Well, it took about three weeks, but I *almost* have my yearly goals worked out. Best of luck with your plan for revising and writing and copywriting!

        Liked by 1 person

      • What do they say about goals? SMART –
        Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focussed, Time-bound (I had to look three of those up by the way. Maybe I need to achieve the goal of remembering what SMART means first?)
        I’ve never been good at this – too drifty and indecisive. Something I need to work on too, just to stop projects drifting on and on!

        Liked by 1 person

      • From this end, it looks like you’ve been doing a fabulous job sending out stories and getting them accepted, so whatever you’re doing, it’s working! But yes, I should take the”SMART” lesson to heart more myself. So many days I am swamped with other things, between my job and housework and errands, and social activities. I need to have a very clear idea of what writing goal I’m working on so that when I can find that hour or more of time somewhere for writing, it’s easier to switch gears.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s amazing all of us manage to write anything really, with all the stuff to juggle. But then, when you love doing it, you make it a priority, don’t you. I’ve just (possibly foolishly!) enrolled in a distance copy writing course, so that’s another thing to fit into my week. I think for a while the WIP and the course will have to be my priorities, with odd short story entries slotted in where I can. Should be fun though. Goals are good though – I write more when working on something time sensitive (a competition closing date for example).


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