The Fall is All There Is by C.M. Caplan
Series: Four of Mercies
Genre: Science Fantasy
Intended Age Group: Adult
Published: November 7, 2022
Publisher: Razor Sharp Books (Self Published)
All Petre Mercy wanted was a good old-fashioned dramatic exit from his life as a prince. But it’s been five years since he fled home on a cyborg horse. Now the King – his Dad – is dead – and Petre has to decide which heir to pledge his thyroid-powered sword to.
As the youngest in a set of quadruplets, he’s all too aware that the line of succession is murky. His siblings are on the precipice of power grabs, and each of them want him to pick their side.
If Petre has any hope of preventing civil war, he’ll have to avoid one sibling who wants to take him hostage, win back another’s trust after years of rivalry and resentment, and get an audience with a sister he’s been avoiding for five years.
Before he knows it, he’s plunged himself into a web of intrigue and a world of strange, unnatural inventions just to get to her doorstep.
Family reunions can be a special form of torture.
Universal Link: https://geni.us/tfiati
Universal Link (audio): https://geni.us/tfiatiaudio
Author Bio & Information
C.M. Caplan is the author of the SPFBO7 semi-finalist The Sword in the Street, and the post-apocalyptic science-fantasy and SPFBO9 finalist The Fall Is All There Is. He’s a quadruplet (yes, really), autistic, and has a degree in creative writing. He was awarded his university’s highest honor in the arts for his work. His short fiction also won an Honorable Mention in the 2019 Writers of the Future Contest. If you enjoy his books, you can rate them on Goodreads and Amazon. You can also subscribe to Caplan’s mailing list with this link to receive free short stories, giveaways, updates, information, or sneak previews into future projects.
I was six years old the first time Mom threatened to sew my mouth shut. She got the needles out and everything, I swear. In her defense, I was a chaotic little shit at that age.
And while this incident never managed to convince me it was worth it to shut the fuck up, that afternoon I spent with the back of my head pressed against the cold basement cement did teach me I had to get away.
From her. From Dad. My siblings. From Mercy House.
I was eighteen before I found the kind of courage I required, but I got there. Eventually. I ran away to Blackheath House and everything.
The rest of the family didn’t like it, mind you. They all sent letters and missives my way expressing their disdain, telling me how I was embarrassing them. There were no shortage of attempts to fetch me over the first few years. But soon enough they found new conflicts, new trivialities at court to snap at and chase after.
I had five years to build a life without them. To stay out of the spotlight. To realize I didn’t need them.
Until—well. Hm. How to put this?
Let’s say you get a letter for the first time in a while. Let’s say the people sending the letter are angry. Let’s even suppose they might have valid reasons to be angry because you’ve been avoiding them.
So! When you knife the envelope open and find they’re making demands—when you find that they’re threatening everything you’ve worked five years to build—all because you refuse to embroil yourself in their insipid games…
Can you see how I’d be upset?
Honestly I was surprised it took them five years to find the words to express exactly how much and in what ways they wanted to hurt me for leaving, and how badly they wanted me back.
Maybe surprise isn’t the right word—the letter inspired something closer to fear and alarm and sheer fucking panic.
It’s a funny thing, panic. It’s got a way of getting you on your feet. Making you want to move. Like your body wants to match the speed of its thoughts.
But sometimes those thoughts are stuck on hamster wheels that spin and spin until you’re sweaty and exhausted and you can’t breathe because your heart is clogging up the hollow of your throat—and then you look around and realize you never actually got anywhere.
I couldn’t figure out what to do on my own. I needed help. Advice.
I had to talk to Avram.
I navigated Blackheath House’s labyrinthine hallways, the twisting corridors, the limestone tunnels, with my mind snarled in hysteria.
The whole place was built inside the structure of a gigantic lizard skeleton. Big wooden doors were set in between the skull and jawline. Steel and iron and concrete clung to it—the meat between the old bones.
I hurried through the furrowed hallways of the right ribcage, passing windows reinforced with orange plasma. They hummed softly. Helped keep the ghosts out. As I passed, one of them eked out yellow veins that sizzled as the ghostfog outside breathed against it, frying the spirit-air into smoke and black vapor.
They wavered softly when the wind howled, bending inwards to receive it; growing big distended bellies every time wind swelled against them.
I slipped past chamber doors inset with heraldry. Fesses and gules. Chevrons and bordures. Scutcheons. Archways reinforced with cyborg bronze. Ribbed marble hallways with electric panels.
Until a small white door stood out, completely blank. I knocked insistently. My knuckles buzzed with the impact. I don’t know how long it took for Avram to answer my insistent pounding. Time was runny round the edges while I did it. Clarity only bothered to show up when he did. He was wearing nightclothes and looking ludicrous without his glasses. He squinted, eyes adjusting to the hallway light. “Petre?”
“Maunders.” It was the first time I’d spoken since I’d received my siblings’ threats, which meant my mouth still had to catch up with my thoughts. I wished I’d practiced what I would say to him. “Come with me. I need injections. Quickly.”
“Petre, I—?” He rubbed his eyes and blinked at me. “Your injections? What?”
“The IMI,” I blurted. Intramuscular Memory Injections.
“I know what your injections are,” he said. “You’re not due to get them until tomorrow morning.”
“I need them now.” I needed to be able to coordinate myself before tomorrow morning. Without them I was about as physically adept as a wet paper bag. IMI could at least bring me up to the baseline of the average athlete before breakfast time tomorrow. “I need them now.”
“Petre, it’s dangerous—you can’t—why—?”
I knew he needed more information, but I was struggling to array my facts on the fly. Instead, the details fell from my tongue in haywire fragments. “It’s important. I just got this letter and I read it and my sister’s about to host a coronation feast and all my siblings are reaching out to me about it and I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I haven’t had a chance to tell anyone before you now but I was thinking maybe if you got me my injections I’d be prepared to deal with them and I think I can get them to cooperate if I just see them in person so then it’ll be okay and nobody will be the wiser and I think maybe I can—”
“Petre,” Avram drawled. “Slow down. Take a breath, Mercy.”
He put up his palm. “What did I just say? You’ll wake up the whole fortress at this rate.”
It’s funny, you know? It’s not like he told me anything I didn’t know. I knew I had to fucking breathe. But somehow when he said it—I don’t know. He made it sound a lot more reasonable than I ever could.
So I obeyed. Only then did the noisy carousel of my mind begin to slow its spirals. The letter, crumpled up inside my pocket, still felt heavy and demanding. But I could breathe.
“Again,” he said. “I want to hear you.”
I did it again as Avram slapped himself awake, calloused hands sliding against blond stubble. “Alright. Alright. Alrightalrightalright. What’s the problem, Petre?”
“Actually. Don’t answer that. You said you needed your injections?”
“Yes.” The word burst out of me. I had too much to do. I couldn’t waste time standing here and talking. My fingers made their way around the crumpled paper in my pocket. “Someone’s coming tomorrow and I want to be prepared.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Are you asking if I think getting my injections is a good idea or are we talking about the thing I have to do after I get them?”
“Whatever it is you have to do.”
Damn him. I knew clarifying would hamstring me. I owed him honesty. And he knew it. And I knew he knew I knew. “Not even a little bit.”
Avram looked at me, scrutinizing the panic written deep into the contours of my face. “Tell me what’s going on.”
I swallowed. “Oh man. Where to start? I mean I just got another letter, but—”
His eyebrows shot up. “What do you mean another letter?”
Sometimes the more you worry the harder it becomes to convey what you’re worried about. You spend enough time picking at the details like a scab, digging so deep beneath you start seeing bone. When someone actually notices, you’re not sure how to explain anything anymore.
I forced myself to take another deep breath. “So my family started reaching out again three months ago. Right after I skipped—” I was not about to say the words Dad’s funeral. That was absolutely not going to happen. “They’ve um. They’ve been checking in on me. But they’re getting…nastier? I guess? They’ve started wheeling out some new threats, and I just—here. Look.” I handed Avram the letter. It was a single page stuffed full of ire and ink.
Anxious breaths knifed out from my throat while Avram read. It didn’t take him long. Each character was smudged by the side of a hand or drowned in ink. Desmon had sent me something halfway to an inkblot test.
Avram looked up from the page and sighed. “Come inside. Tell me what you want to do about this. I’ll make coffee.”
* * *
He used the letter as a coaster. His coffee cup made a brown ring on the empty inch at the tail end of the paper.
Avram leaned his elbows on his thighs. He pored over the red ink, reading the words while I watched the bald spot on the crown of his head for signs of life. I sat in silence as my heart nailed its rhythm to my throat.
“Who sent this?” Avram asked when he was done rereading.
“One of my brothers. Desmon.”
“Is he the older one or the younger?”
“They’re both older. By two minutes. I was born fourth.”
“Right,” he frowned. “I can never remember the birth order.”
“Anoïse is the oldest. Then Edgar. Then Desmon. Then me.”
“And it’s Desmon who’s asking you to come home?”
“Telling,” I amended. “It’s an order. And I think all three of them agree on it. Desmon’s only acting as their mouthpiece. Anoïse is getting crowned in seven days. They want me to be there for it.”
Avram scanned the letter again. “I didn’t see that in here.”
I balled up my hands in the space between my knees. “My other brother reached out too. Edgar. He sent a missive earlier today. Said he was in the area to pick me up. I think he’s taking me to Anoïse so I can swear fealty before they put a crown on her head.”
“How come you’re only freaking out now, then?” Avram asked.
I shrugged. “Easier to ignore when I thought it was just him.” Last time I saw him we’d fought with singlesticks in Dad’s feast hall over a series of scandals too inane to reiterate. I was not sure whether or not we’d be on good terms when he got here. “He said he’d arrive at Blackheath House tomorrow morning. Anoïse and Desmon fucking sent him after me.”
“And that’s why you need your injections?”
“Yeah. Because if Ed takes me back there’s no way they’ll let me go as easy as they did last time. There’s no way they’ll bring me back just to swear an oath so they can let me go again.”
Avram frowned. “Are you going to head back with him?”
I took my coffee cup between two fingers. The mug was lukewarm. And worse, it was black. Was Avram aware coffee still woke you up when it didn’t taste like murdered dreams? I downed a mouthful as I worked his question over.
My primary concern was the life I’d built in Blackheath House the last five years. I didn’t want to leave. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
Avram dragged an exhausted hand down his face. I braced for scorn. Judgment. But he had the audacity to pause and consider his words before he spoke. “That’s a tough one.” He tilted his head. “How do you think Edgar will react if he gets here just to find out that you’re staying?”
Have you ever really stewed over someone? Ever knifed to the core of every interaction you’ve had with them, searching the entrails for signs of who they are and what they believe? You can spend so long agonizing over that inexact astrology that you lose sight of what they’re truly capable of.
That was how I felt when I answered, “With threats. Escalation. I…I think I have to go back. I mean don’t get me wrong—I don’t want to leave you guys. But I don’t see how staying wouldn’t set off a whole conflict.” If there was one thing my family was good at, it was blowing everything out of proportion. “I still haven’t heard anything from Anoïse either. I have no idea what she thinks about all this.”
“Maybe she’s still mad at you about the funeral?”
God. I still couldn’t figure out why anyone was still upset about that. “Look, she told me to do what I wanted. And I didn’t want to go.”
Avram looked vaguely troubled. “It isn’t that simple, Petre.”
“But that’s what she said,” I insisted. “Why would she say it if that wasn’t what she meant?” If none of my siblings cared enough to tell me what the fuck to do what right did they have to get upset about what I chose?
“Maybe she wanted you to come without putting pressure on you. Petre. She’s allowed to be upset.”
“I’m not saying she can’t be upset.” There was something here I seriously was not understanding. I wasn’t sure if I ought to press the issue. “But why wouldn’t she have told me what she wanted if it was that important to her?”
“It’s not always that easy, Petre. It’s not always that simple,” Avram said again.
“Well it should be.” I knew I was being unreasonable. “But if it meant so much to her…maybe that’s why I have to go back.”
“Do you think the risk of being held there is worth it? You said you weren’t sure they would let you leave again if you go.”
I sighed. “I don’t know.”
“I just don’t want you to walk into a trap, Petre. You’ve told me what your life was like back home. I wouldn’t want you getting stuck there all over again. I’d miss you, kid.”
I didn’t doubt it. Avram used to work in the capital as one of Dad’s resident mad scientists. Labcoats, I think, was the polite term. He was exiled around the time the four of us were old enough to start learning about factions, when we were beginning to test how much we could interfere in each others’ businesses.
And that’s where I was headed back to. Tomorrow.
Fear curdled in my stomach. Goddammit. I needed my injections already. “Maunders. I—I have to go. I don’t know if it’s worth it, but I don’t want the rest of you to get in trouble.”
“Trouble?” Avram lifted an eyebrow.
“I have to swear fealty to Anoïse when she takes the throne in about a week.” Was it that soon already? Goddamn. The Three Months of Mourning for Dad were almost up. “If I don’t then people might start talking about me. Wondering if I’ve ever been loyal to Anoïse or the rest of my family, if I won’t swear a vow on it. And from there rumors can spiral. Maybe they start worrying that I might be planning something. Maybe the people around me are involved. Maybe Blackheath House has eyes on the throne, and suddenly—”
“Petre. You’re getting worked up again.”
“Oh, right.” I took a breath. Easy and slow. In and out. “I don’t want anyone here tangled up in any accusations.”
“It also sounds like you don’t want to see Anoïse.”
Unwanted memories squirmed into my mind. Visuals of the day I left five years ago. I had already been threatening to leave for years. Anoïse had thought it was an empty threat. But she was the only one who walked into the stables when I made good on it.
I’d thought she would be mad. Instead there were only tears and red faces and clogged throats. I remembered the exhausted squeal wrapped around her words when she begged me not to leave, and the feeling in my stomach when I left anyway.
The last thing I ever heard from her was don’t go.
God. Anoïse was going to strangle me if I went back home.
Avram’s voice extracted me from my thoughts. “I just want to make sure you’re thinking this through. You’ve got a good thing going here. Mercedes Blackheath has been treating you very well, from what I hear. And you’re not having any trouble killing Gaunts for her, right?”
“I always have trouble killing Gaunts,” I said. “They never asked to be what they are.” Nobody tries to breathe in ghostfog. To get infected with dead lives. But once it happens the results are rarely pretty. You have to put them down before they hurt someone. “But I do it cause I owe it to Mercedes.”
“So have you talked to her about this? You two are friends.”
More than that, of late. A couple benefits had come about recently. She was older. She knew what she wanted, and that I wanted to give that to her. It was fucking fantastic, really. Except! “Mercedes isn’t here right now.” She was on a business trip off in a town called Bullion, closing some kind of deal.
“Well, yes. But it sounds like this has been building for a while, right? Are you telling me you never talked this out with her?”
I became acquainted with how a corkscrew feels as it gets twisted. I swallowed the mousy noise building in my throat as I debated how best to answer him. Five years I’d been working for Mercedes Blackheath. I’d fought for her. Killed for her. I even fucked for her. Put on a kind of paramour show. So it wasn’t like I didn’t trust her, you know?
It was just— “I can’t!”
“Why?” Avram asked.
“I don’t know, I just shouldn’t—”
“You’re planning on talking to her before you leave, right?”
Hesitating there was probably a mistake.