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Written by AWriter in portal Fantasy

Penelope...

It had been a long time since dragons had ruled the world but that didn't stop them from being smug youknowwhats. The smuggest of all was a dragon named Autolatry. Far to old to change his ways, Autolatry hadn't quite gotten used to the idea, or even entertained the idea, that people now ruled the known world. The idea just didn't suit his preferred order of things. He continued to burn villages to the ground, stealing princesses only sightly less obnoxious than himself; hiding them away from wannabe knights in high towers atop higher mountains.

But as with all great villains, an end to his evil ways was drawing nearer by the day. A hero, named Penelope (The man registering births that year had been rather deaf), was growing up in a small town; ruled by the single thought of rescuing the damsels from their high towers and slaying the dragon. Then one day, all grown up, rusting blade in hand, he had arrived at Autolatry's gate.

He knocked to no reply (his mother was big on manners), so quiet as a mouse, he snuck through the "open" gates, through the great hall to the place where Autolatry lay upon a bed of gold. Great snores rumbled through the hall, sleep was rare for dragon kind and when it hit, the sleep was deep and vast. With a sicker-snack Penelope parted Autolatry from his head. Not an eyelid flickered, not a noise was made. The dragon had been slayed!

Off he went, proclaiming to all, "The deed is done, dragon is dead!" Cheers echoed through the streets but fame I am afraid, did get the better of Penelope. He soon demanded a price be paid, for ridding the land of Autolatry. But greed grows if fed. Soon princesses were only returned upon payment... Economies collapsed under the weight of heavy taxations brought about to pay the might sums that were demanded; soon the land was beyond repair and the people beyond despair.

So history teaches us, that far too often, one villain is replaced by another and that evil comes in many forms. 

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Written by AWriter in portal Fantasy
Penelope...
It had been a long time since dragons had ruled the world but that didn't stop them from being smug youknowwhats. The smuggest of all was a dragon named Autolatry. Far to old to change his ways, Autolatry hadn't quite gotten used to the idea, or even entertained the idea, that people now ruled the known world. The idea just didn't suit his preferred order of things. He continued to burn villages to the ground, stealing princesses only sightly less obnoxious than himself; hiding them away from wannabe knights in high towers atop higher mountains.

But as with all great villains, an end to his evil ways was drawing nearer by the day. A hero, named Penelope (The man registering births that year had been rather deaf), was growing up in a small town; ruled by the single thought of rescuing the damsels from their high towers and slaying the dragon. Then one day, all grown up, rusting blade in hand, he had arrived at Autolatry's gate.

He knocked to no reply (his mother was big on manners), so quiet as a mouse, he snuck through the "open" gates, through the great hall to the place where Autolatry lay upon a bed of gold. Great snores rumbled through the hall, sleep was rare for dragon kind and when it hit, the sleep was deep and vast. With a sicker-snack Penelope parted Autolatry from his head. Not an eyelid flickered, not a noise was made. The dragon had been slayed!

Off he went, proclaiming to all, "The deed is done, dragon is dead!" Cheers echoed through the streets but fame I am afraid, did get the better of Penelope. He soon demanded a price be paid, for ridding the land of Autolatry. But greed grows if fed. Soon princesses were only returned upon payment... Economies collapsed under the weight of heavy taxations brought about to pay the might sums that were demanded; soon the land was beyond repair and the people beyond despair.

So history teaches us, that far too often, one villain is replaced by another and that evil comes in many forms. 
#fantasy  #fiction  #adventure  #philosophy  #dragons 
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Chapter 9 of The Culling of Casimir
Written by Harlequin in portal Fantasy

Chapter 9: Two

    Every ending entails a beginning. Before, I used to think that some beginnings come without a conclusion. But between those two, an almost paradoxical cycle emerges, wherein nothing dies without life, and thusly no beginning comes without end. And so, with a keen eye upon these two forces, we find that the two are not only inseparable … they are precisely the same.

    From our first breaths, each of us is given a gift, a reminder of that waltz of beginnings and ends, a contraption that perfectly captures mortality’s essence, simply by counting away the seconds.

    “Something troubling your heart?” Sarkana asked as we sat cross-legged in front of the fire, a cigarette of nitskel tucked between my third and ring finger. Between the small space between us, Fahim’s letter lay on the floor, almost ominous in the flickering light.

Felix shook his head and sneezed after I exhaled a cloud of smoke, but Sarkana just inhaled the aroma deeply, not disapproving of the habit, but longing for it after having to break her own addiction years before.

    Beyond the windows, the sanctuary had invited dusk into its imposing structures, where the architecture seemed to grow on an atmosphere of smoldering daylight. The jutting stonework and turrets developed shadows that began slipping off, one by one, to join the twilight. And I wondered, too, just when I might slip from the sanctuary and back into the world. Within the next morning, or by the week’s end?

    “Yes. But nothing concerning the letter,” I admitted to her. “My mind wandered elsewhere.”

    Perhaps it was the way her eyes met mine, or how warmly she spoke to me, or even how she seemed perfectly comfortable when silences grew between us, but I felt she desired more from our brief meeting than a temporary stay. I, too, would have been tempted to linger, were it not the for the nature of her studies, her secrecy, and the way that she watched how my eyes observed the details of her home. It was as if she expected more.

    “Thinking of the King?” she offered.

    “No, actually not.”

    “What is it, then?”

    “I was wondering, well, I was wondering why you haven’t spoken of my leaving your sanctuary. Why have you allowed me to linger without question?”

    Having been bent close to me and the letter, she recoiled as if I had hurt her, her eyebrows strained closer together, and her lips formed a tight frown. I had the sense that my departure would remind her of a particular shadow of pain, one I might’ve temporarily banished by interrupting the stillness of her solitude. Scars of loneliness reopen at even the most innocent encounters, reminding the soul of what relief may come with company. After all, what more did she have to gain from hiding a wanted murderer?

    Her eyes narrowed at the suspicion in my voice. “Truthfully, the thought had hardly crossed my mind, Casimir,” she replied, her voice now lowered to the pitch of a disappointed whisper. “I was convinced our similarities dissolved the constraints between strangers. I suppose I was foolish to assume as much. Foolish …” she murmured, shaking her head.

    “Sarka—”

    “You needn’t apologize. I should have known I am not half as charming as I thought,” she chuckled darkly to herself, but I could hear the sadness behind her surprise. “I didn’t raise the subject of your departure because I thought you … enjoyed it, here. That you felt safe, even.”

    “You are under no illusion of that, Sarkana. I do,” I said, now uncertain of the truth. “I was only wondering.”

    She paused. Her fingers curled around her wrist as she outlined some of the scars there. “I suppose I should tell you, so long as we are clearing the air.”

    “Tell me what?”

    “I haven’t been entirely transparent with you, Casimir.” I waited, nervousness curling in my stomach as ice encrusted her words after my suspicions had turned her affability to indifference. “I have had a large task asking for my attention for some time now, one that simply can’t be done alone. Given your skills, I thought you’d be of use to me. There would be no shortage of payment, either, if you so desired it.”

    “But you … you saved my life!” I scoffed. “I would gladly help you with anything you desired, no payment necessary.” As much as I felt uncomfortable accepting the request of a necromancer, any other response seemed unthinkable.

    “You will?” But she didn’t jump to her feet in thrilled surprise. The question uttered from her lips as if she was thinking aloud, considering whether I meant it or not. Her thumb moved back and forth over her lower lip while her eyes, once more, didn’t quite gaze into mine, but far past them. “But let’s not think on that now. We can speak of it at a later time. The letter is more important.” She cleared her throat. “How were you—”

    Her hand was reaching towards Fahim’s correspondence, but I stopped it with my own. “Wait. Please don’t think ill of me. You understand, don’t you? Living alone for so long, would you say that you have any reason to trust anyone? Is that not one reason that drove you to immerse yourself in your work? The world is full of chaos and unpredictability, but the one thing you can always rely on is that it is cruel.”

    The back of her hand lingered beneath my palm. For a moment, it began to turn as if she meant to wrap her fingers around mine. A gesture not of romance, but of an instinctual, perhaps innocent yearning. Instead, she shook her head and pulled away. “No, of course, of course. It is. You are right. I won’t hold your caution against you. It was a moment of weakness, that’s all,” she said, looking more ashamed than the admittance felt. “As I said when I met you, it has been a long while since I’ve spoken to someone else.”

    “That’s all right. I’ll pretend it never happened, as long as you promise the same.”

    “Of course,” she answered, the warmth somewhat revived in her voice. The rings beneath her eyes were richly colored, tinged by a distress that seemed to replace what should have been exhaustion. The longer she worked in her study, the more withdrawn her demeanor became, as if the fatigue of her body alarmed her.

    After our conversation in the gardens, she had secluded herself in her underground study, kindly asking that I not disturb her unless she emerged. I had managed to keep my curiosity at bay, passing the day by washing myself, my garments, and practicing performance routines with Felix in the gardens.

    “Now, what do you make of this?” she asked, nodding at the letter.

    “It is written in his own handwriting, that much I can tell. To my eyes, there are no riddles, no games, nothing hidden beneath the words.”

    “But that might as well be the riddle you are looking for,” Sarkana observed quickly. “There’s nothing amiss in a letter corresponding to a fugitive? Doesn’t that seem …”

    “Amiss?” I laughed.

    “Exactly.”

    I tapped some ashes into the fireplace and inhaled another burning gust into my lungs. In spite of the obvious possibilities of setting my own trap by sending anything at all to Fahim, I had already decided how I would reply to his request. “It certainly does.”

    “So don’t go, then,” Sarkana pushed. “Why risk dying for the sake of curiosity?”

    “Dying for curiosity would still be better than most deaths. However,” I said, holding up a finger, “this isn’t about curiosity, and I have no plans of dying. Fahim’s handwriting is unmistakable, which means he is alive, or at least he was when he wrote this. The scratches of a raving bird,” I sighed. “It’s hardly legible.” I tossed the letter into the fire and rubbed my eyes. “It was my fault at all for sending something. I thought I was in danger. But now, I might’ve put him at risk.”

    “Could, might’ve, perhaps … these are needless thoughts. It was not any fault of yours to feel endangered. But now there is little to do. Your friend knows you are alive and well, and you know he is at least one of those. Is that not enough?”

    “To a cold heart, perhaps. All the same, Fahim might have written this with a blade pointed toward his throat. The poison was concocted using plants from his stores. If any of William’s family investigated the castle, it would not take long for them to assume something devious of the magister. If they’re using him to get to me, they may kill him if this letter doesn’t earn them an appearance.”

    “He’s an alchemist,” Sarkana replied, “not some dull-witted apothecary. If there was a way of assuring his innocence, he would have found it by now. What could you possibly do to help him? Rest assured, your assassination of the King has earned you the burden of all his previous crimes. And with your bonafide title as a performer in Addoran, your name is large enough to carry those crimes quite far … even the skinning of his wife.”

The persistence behind her eyes gleamed grey in the firelight, and just like her hospitality, seemed unquestioning. I could not help but think her undying concern for my safety had less to do with me and more to do with the task she mentioned. All I had to do was look up above the fireplace, where that skeleton lay affixed to the ceiling, to remind myself just how little I knew about the person sitting in arm’s reach of me.

    “I never quite thought of it that way,” I realized aloud. “I’ll never be able to travel without turning my head to watch behind me, will I?”

    “Sellswords, bounty hunters, assassins. You earned yourself quite the audience, Casimir, the most avid kind, too. They’ll be pining for you, alive or dead.”

    The nitskel smoldered cold between my fingers as my thoughts ran, ashes scattered across my legs, and the fire in the hearth crumbled. This was nothing short of what I prepared myself for, but after all the cards had laid themselves bare, reality felt more shocking than my worst expectations. “It’s quite flattering, really,” I joked.

    “In the truest sense!” Sarkana continued. “It’s rare that somebody takes a liking to you whether your head is on or off.”

    “True, true. Though I think most folks prefer me with mine removed.”

    “I know I do.”

    “What now?”

    Sarkana laughed gleefully. “But humor won’t decide this, will it?” she asked with a sad smile.

    “Decide it? I’ve already steeled myself to go! I thought we were just passing the time.”

    Her calm expression shattered. “Then you’re determined to run to another meeting with death?! For a murderer, you seem utterly entranced by the idea of getting yourself killed.”

    “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

    She sighed in exasperation, blowing away a few strands of white hair that had fallen in front of her face after she’d hung her head down in defeat. “The truth is that you have no idea what is waiting for you at those crossroads. If this is a ruse, they will not take this chance lightly. They’ll bring more men than you can count, more arrows than they need, more swords than is necessary. There will be blood, and in all likelihood, you will contribute the most of it.”

    “But what would a proper crossroads be without a little uncertainty?” I returned, but the tight line of her lips spoke nothing of amusement. I could imagine Fahim sitting in his chamber, not guarded for his protection, but to keep him hostage. I could imagine him toiling over a potion he cared just enough for to distract his mind from the fact that he was luring his friend to his demise, how he was torn between wishing for my safety or his own to be ensured. “It’s settled then. Tomorrow, a date with death at dusk, and not a minute late.”

    “You shouldn’t do this. You don’t have to!”

    “No. Nobody has to do anything, but that is what is so infuriating. Our inactions define us as much as our decisions. Who would I be to let Fahim die on my behalf? Without him, I might’ve never brought myself to do what should have been done much sooner. I’d go, whether there is danger or not. I owe him that much at least.”

    “You’ll die for your gratitude, then? Your compassion?”

    “Not if you help me.”

    “And why might I do that? My undying love for you?”

    “Certainly, but more importantly, the task that you need my assistance for. I just happened to be the only person you let into your life, around the precise time you needed someone other than yourself? Just how blind do you think I am?”

    Sarkana snickered. “Not half as much as I thought a few moments ago.”

    “There you have it, then.”

    She heaved a defeated sigh. “You know, you look less conniving than you are. Did that help you when you were younger?”

    “Immensely. Apparently, it still hasn’t lost its touch.”

    “Apparently,” she echoed back. “Apparently.”

    That night, Sarkana broke her rhythm of sleeplessness, insisting that she needed to be as rested as possible if she were to cast spells in a pinch. Instead I found myself restless, turning over the evening’s conversation, the tiptoeing she did around her intentions, and yet, her insistence to protect me.

    That nightmare visited me again, the masks that swirled around my head until I suffocated. When I awoke, I wandered the darkened halls of Sarkana’s home until I found Zuma chewing on one of the hide rugs. Caught in the act, she scampered away. With little else to do, I followed. The imp pushed open a door in the hallway across from my own chamber.

    Inside the bedroom, Sarkana’s silhouette was silver from her almost translucent nightgown, illuminated by the moonlight that flooded through the windows into the much larger room. She had fallen asleep sitting upright against the headboard, one of her hands still resting upon the seer’s eye beside her.

    I began to pull the door shut behind me, before I heard her murmur. I froze, and listened while her dreams tumbled down darker tunnels, where those murmurs became whimpers, quick exhalations and quiet protests stifled by the paralysis of sleep.

    Hesitation fled. I pushed the door back open and stepped inside as the twitching of her body in response to the nightmare became more violent. The bed covers twisted around her as she writhed. The blood imp made no movement to suggest that this was abnormal, in fact, she jumped onto the edge of the bed and curled into a ball to return to sleep. That was when pity compelled me.

    I whispered Sarkana’s name as I knelt beside her. She curled up, and the whimpers turned to light sobs. Tears began to slip down her face as she shook back and forth. I whispered her name again with a hand on her shoulder.

    The nightmare fluttered. Sarkana’s bolted up and stared in confusion at me through the blur of her tears that stuck her eyelashes together.

    She murmured my name as a question, shocked to see me sitting beside her, the haze of the nightmare thick in her voice and squinting eyes.

    “I heard you muttering in your sleep from the hallway. You were crying.”

    “So I was,” she whispered as she wiped her face with her hand and watched as her glistening fingers caught the moonlight. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

    “No, I was sleepless.”

    “Well, thank you.”

    “Of course. I will … let you rest now. Hopefully it won’t return.”

    Gently, she pulled me back by my hand. “Casimir?”

    “What is it?”

    “Do you have any stories like the one I told you?”

    “The one with the rooks?” Hesitantly, I sat at the edge of the bed and wrapped my arms around myself. “I … believe I do, yes.” I looked around the room, observing what I assume was the majority of her skeletal collections as they were scattered about the walls. On either side of the doorframe, two fully-armored human skeletons were posed to be holding drawn swords parallel to their chest, their ancient battle regalia polished to a sheen. I turned my head back to her.

    “Would it be asking too much?”

    “For a nighttime story?” It was as heartwarming as it was humorous, to hear someone like her request such a thing. 

    “Yes.”

    “No, not at all.” I tookfistfuls of the blankets and pulled them over Sarkana’s chest, not surprised to find how comforted she seemed by this. She eased herself down while I set the seer’s eye beside the bed. “My hometown was named after the mountain it sat beneath, Storm Breaker. It was called Breaker’s Edge, a prosperous place that grew from the wealth of Westrun’s fur trade. My mother and father were both leatherworkers, but like you, I had grown up with companions. Or, in my case, just one. A — ah — a fox. Her name was Lisence, and from my earliest years of childhood, a friendship sparked and grew. We hardly left each other’s side.”

    Sarkana’s eyes were closed as she listened. I waited for a question, a response, but she remained silent. I took a deep breath and looked out at the Ruined Sea, collecting those recollections once again. “But the gods have a way of tainting our earliest memories. Maybe it is the only way we could ever learn to survive in a world where corruption is one of the strongest hands of progress. But … I, well, my turn came, I suppose, to be introduced to misery. Some cliffside hyenas had been ravenous from the winter, and in the middle of the night, they wandered into Breaker’s Edge. It was a whole pack of them.”

    “Weren’t there any guards to stop them?”

    “A few, but they were tired, frozen from the night’s watch, and not nearly enough. The hyenas were cunning, they picked through the weakest, took what scraps they could, remaining as quiet as possible until it was inevitable that they were discovered. By the time they were, more guards from Westrun were sent for, but most of the damage had already been done.”

    “What happened to Lisence?”

    “They took her from me.”

    The story was resurrected in the shadows on the wall, the moonbeams that split from between the clouds, playing tricks on my eyes of memories I could not forget, but would rather not remember. Through the thick silence, the rustling of a sea of forestry that sounded so similar to waves splitting against the ground, I heard Lisence scream for me.“Did they kill her, the way the wolf killed my rooks?”

    “I always imagined that they did, but I was never certain. They dragged her away while she cried. I tried to stop them, I did. I ran as fast as I could, and I fought them as hard as I could, but I was young, weak, untrained … useless. You know how hyenas laugh, don’t you? You can imagine how they did as they took her away, while I begged them not to. Shortly after, the guards from Westrun came to assist us, but the pack had already fled. For weeks I waited, hoping for a sign that they had been hunted. Nothing came, though. After that night, I never saw Lisence.”

    For awhile, I thought Sarkana had fallen asleep. Then, and just as I was about to stand from the bed, she said, “Tomorrow, Casimir.”

    “What about it?”

    “Tomorrow we will be the wolves. We will be the hyenas.”

    My mouth hung open, but I found no way to reply, not fast enough at least. Her lips were parted as she breathed lowly with tranquility in her expression. I felt Sarkana’s exhaustion spread until my eyelids were heavy, and my body felt frozen there, staring out at the sparse clouds overhead the sanctuary. I tried to fathom the cascade of events that had brought me here. Here, sitting beside someone who spoke of similarities I could not see, not until now, as the epiphany dawned, alive in a still quiet that nightmares could not penetrate. What death could construct from bitter hands, a life fostered from vengeance, and the pursuits born from the hollows of its inadequate findings.

    There lay Sarkana Bloodbane, a necromancer, a wielder of death and life, yet just as I tormented as I, just as driven as I, by the memories death gifted us in our innocence. Pulled along like puppets on strings, our actions driven by a yearning for resolution, wondering all the while why it could not be found in the place where it was first made, in those complex contraptions we call hearts.

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Chapter 9 of The Culling of Casimir
Written by Harlequin in portal Fantasy
Chapter 9: Two
    Every ending entails a beginning. Before, I used to think that some beginnings come without a conclusion. But between those two, an almost paradoxical cycle emerges, wherein nothing dies without life, and thusly no beginning comes without end. And so, with a keen eye upon these two forces, we find that the two are not only inseparable … they are precisely the same.
    From our first breaths, each of us is given a gift, a reminder of that waltz of beginnings and ends, a contraption that perfectly captures mortality’s essence, simply by counting away the seconds.
    “Something troubling your heart?” Sarkana asked as we sat cross-legged in front of the fire, a cigarette of nitskel tucked between my third and ring finger. Between the small space between us, Fahim’s letter lay on the floor, almost ominous in the flickering light.
Felix shook his head and sneezed after I exhaled a cloud of smoke, but Sarkana just inhaled the aroma deeply, not disapproving of the habit, but longing for it after having to break her own addiction years before.
    Beyond the windows, the sanctuary had invited dusk into its imposing structures, where the architecture seemed to grow on an atmosphere of smoldering daylight. The jutting stonework and turrets developed shadows that began slipping off, one by one, to join the twilight. And I wondered, too, just when I might slip from the sanctuary and back into the world. Within the next morning, or by the week’s end?
    “Yes. But nothing concerning the letter,” I admitted to her. “My mind wandered elsewhere.”
    Perhaps it was the way her eyes met mine, or how warmly she spoke to me, or even how she seemed perfectly comfortable when silences grew between us, but I felt she desired more from our brief meeting than a temporary stay. I, too, would have been tempted to linger, were it not the for the nature of her studies, her secrecy, and the way that she watched how my eyes observed the details of her home. It was as if she expected more.
    “Thinking of the King?” she offered.
    “No, actually not.”
    “What is it, then?”
    “I was wondering, well, I was wondering why you haven’t spoken of my leaving your sanctuary. Why have you allowed me to linger without question?”
    Having been bent close to me and the letter, she recoiled as if I had hurt her, her eyebrows strained closer together, and her lips formed a tight frown. I had the sense that my departure would remind her of a particular shadow of pain, one I might’ve temporarily banished by interrupting the stillness of her solitude. Scars of loneliness reopen at even the most innocent encounters, reminding the soul of what relief may come with company. After all, what more did she have to gain from hiding a wanted murderer?
    Her eyes narrowed at the suspicion in my voice. “Truthfully, the thought had hardly crossed my mind, Casimir,” she replied, her voice now lowered to the pitch of a disappointed whisper. “I was convinced our similarities dissolved the constraints between strangers. I suppose I was foolish to assume as much. Foolish …” she murmured, shaking her head.
    “Sarka—”
    “You needn’t apologize. I should have known I am not half as charming as I thought,” she chuckled darkly to herself, but I could hear the sadness behind her surprise. “I didn’t raise the subject of your departure because I thought you … enjoyed it, here. That you felt safe, even.”
    “You are under no illusion of that, Sarkana. I do,” I said, now uncertain of the truth. “I was only wondering.”
    She paused. Her fingers curled around her wrist as she outlined some of the scars there. “I suppose I should tell you, so long as we are clearing the air.”
    “Tell me what?”
    “I haven’t been entirely transparent with you, Casimir.” I waited, nervousness curling in my stomach as ice encrusted her words after my suspicions had turned her affability to indifference. “I have had a large task asking for my attention for some time now, one that simply can’t be done alone. Given your skills, I thought you’d be of use to me. There would be no shortage of payment, either, if you so desired it.”
    “But you … you saved my life!” I scoffed. “I would gladly help you with anything you desired, no payment necessary.” As much as I felt uncomfortable accepting the request of a necromancer, any other response seemed unthinkable.
    “You will?” But she didn’t jump to her feet in thrilled surprise. The question uttered from her lips as if she was thinking aloud, considering whether I meant it or not. Her thumb moved back and forth over her lower lip while her eyes, once more, didn’t quite gaze into mine, but far past them. “But let’s not think on that now. We can speak of it at a later time. The letter is more important.” She cleared her throat. “How were you—”
    Her hand was reaching towards Fahim’s correspondence, but I stopped it with my own. “Wait. Please don’t think ill of me. You understand, don’t you? Living alone for so long, would you say that you have any reason to trust anyone? Is that not one reason that drove you to immerse yourself in your work? The world is full of chaos and unpredictability, but the one thing you can always rely on is that it is cruel.”
    The back of her hand lingered beneath my palm. For a moment, it began to turn as if she meant to wrap her fingers around mine. A gesture not of romance, but of an instinctual, perhaps innocent yearning. Instead, she shook her head and pulled away. “No, of course, of course. It is. You are right. I won’t hold your caution against you. It was a moment of weakness, that’s all,” she said, looking more ashamed than the admittance felt. “As I said when I met you, it has been a long while since I’ve spoken to someone else.”
    “That’s all right. I’ll pretend it never happened, as long as you promise the same.”
    “Of course,” she answered, the warmth somewhat revived in her voice. The rings beneath her eyes were richly colored, tinged by a distress that seemed to replace what should have been exhaustion. The longer she worked in her study, the more withdrawn her demeanor became, as if the fatigue of her body alarmed her.
    After our conversation in the gardens, she had secluded herself in her underground study, kindly asking that I not disturb her unless she emerged. I had managed to keep my curiosity at bay, passing the day by washing myself, my garments, and practicing performance routines with Felix in the gardens.
    “Now, what do you make of this?” she asked, nodding at the letter.
    “It is written in his own handwriting, that much I can tell. To my eyes, there are no riddles, no games, nothing hidden beneath the words.”
    “But that might as well be the riddle you are looking for,” Sarkana observed quickly. “There’s nothing amiss in a letter corresponding to a fugitive? Doesn’t that seem …”
    “Amiss?” I laughed.
    “Exactly.”
    I tapped some ashes into the fireplace and inhaled another burning gust into my lungs. In spite of the obvious possibilities of setting my own trap by sending anything at all to Fahim, I had already decided how I would reply to his request. “It certainly does.”
    “So don’t go, then,” Sarkana pushed. “Why risk dying for the sake of curiosity?”
    “Dying for curiosity would still be better than most deaths. However,” I said, holding up a finger, “this isn’t about curiosity, and I have no plans of dying. Fahim’s handwriting is unmistakable, which means he is alive, or at least he was when he wrote this. The scratches of a raving bird,” I sighed. “It’s hardly legible.” I tossed the letter into the fire and rubbed my eyes. “It was my fault at all for sending something. I thought I was in danger. But now, I might’ve put him at risk.”
    “Could, might’ve, perhaps … these are needless thoughts. It was not any fault of yours to feel endangered. But now there is little to do. Your friend knows you are alive and well, and you know he is at least one of those. Is that not enough?”
    “To a cold heart, perhaps. All the same, Fahim might have written this with a blade pointed toward his throat. The poison was concocted using plants from his stores. If any of William’s family investigated the castle, it would not take long for them to assume something devious of the magister. If they’re using him to get to me, they may kill him if this letter doesn’t earn them an appearance.”
    “He’s an alchemist,” Sarkana replied, “not some dull-witted apothecary. If there was a way of assuring his innocence, he would have found it by now. What could you possibly do to help him? Rest assured, your assassination of the King has earned you the burden of all his previous crimes. And with your bonafide title as a performer in Addoran, your name is large enough to carry those crimes quite far … even the skinning of his wife.”
The persistence behind her eyes gleamed grey in the firelight, and just like her hospitality, seemed unquestioning. I could not help but think her undying concern for my safety had less to do with me and more to do with the task she mentioned. All I had to do was look up above the fireplace, where that skeleton lay affixed to the ceiling, to remind myself just how little I knew about the person sitting in arm’s reach of me.
    “I never quite thought of it that way,” I realized aloud. “I’ll never be able to travel without turning my head to watch behind me, will I?”
    “Sellswords, bounty hunters, assassins. You earned yourself quite the audience, Casimir, the most avid kind, too. They’ll be pining for you, alive or dead.”
    The nitskel smoldered cold between my fingers as my thoughts ran, ashes scattered across my legs, and the fire in the hearth crumbled. This was nothing short of what I prepared myself for, but after all the cards had laid themselves bare, reality felt more shocking than my worst expectations. “It’s quite flattering, really,” I joked.
    “In the truest sense!” Sarkana continued. “It’s rare that somebody takes a liking to you whether your head is on or off.”
    “True, true. Though I think most folks prefer me with mine removed.”
    “I know I do.”
    “What now?”
    Sarkana laughed gleefully. “But humor won’t decide this, will it?” she asked with a sad smile.
    “Decide it? I’ve already steeled myself to go! I thought we were just passing the time.”
    Her calm expression shattered. “Then you’re determined to run to another meeting with death?! For a murderer, you seem utterly entranced by the idea of getting yourself killed.”
    “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
    She sighed in exasperation, blowing away a few strands of white hair that had fallen in front of her face after she’d hung her head down in defeat. “The truth is that you have no idea what is waiting for you at those crossroads. If this is a ruse, they will not take this chance lightly. They’ll bring more men than you can count, more arrows than they need, more swords than is necessary. There will be blood, and in all likelihood, you will contribute the most of it.”
    “But what would a proper crossroads be without a little uncertainty?” I returned, but the tight line of her lips spoke nothing of amusement. I could imagine Fahim sitting in his chamber, not guarded for his protection, but to keep him hostage. I could imagine him toiling over a potion he cared just enough for to distract his mind from the fact that he was luring his friend to his demise, how he was torn between wishing for my safety or his own to be ensured. “It’s settled then. Tomorrow, a date with death at dusk, and not a minute late.”
    “You shouldn’t do this. You don’t have to!”
    “No. Nobody has to do anything, but that is what is so infuriating. Our inactions define us as much as our decisions. Who would I be to let Fahim die on my behalf? Without him, I might’ve never brought myself to do what should have been done much sooner. I’d go, whether there is danger or not. I owe him that much at least.”
    “You’ll die for your gratitude, then? Your compassion?”
    “Not if you help me.”
    “And why might I do that? My undying love for you?”
    “Certainly, but more importantly, the task that you need my assistance for. I just happened to be the only person you let into your life, around the precise time you needed someone other than yourself? Just how blind do you think I am?”
    Sarkana snickered. “Not half as much as I thought a few moments ago.”
    “There you have it, then.”
    She heaved a defeated sigh. “You know, you look less conniving than you are. Did that help you when you were younger?”
    “Immensely. Apparently, it still hasn’t lost its touch.”
    “Apparently,” she echoed back. “Apparently.”

    That night, Sarkana broke her rhythm of sleeplessness, insisting that she needed to be as rested as possible if she were to cast spells in a pinch. Instead I found myself restless, turning over the evening’s conversation, the tiptoeing she did around her intentions, and yet, her insistence to protect me.
    That nightmare visited me again, the masks that swirled around my head until I suffocated. When I awoke, I wandered the darkened halls of Sarkana’s home until I found Zuma chewing on one of the hide rugs. Caught in the act, she scampered away. With little else to do, I followed. The imp pushed open a door in the hallway across from my own chamber.
    Inside the bedroom, Sarkana’s silhouette was silver from her almost translucent nightgown, illuminated by the moonlight that flooded through the windows into the much larger room. She had fallen asleep sitting upright against the headboard, one of her hands still resting upon the seer’s eye beside her.
    I began to pull the door shut behind me, before I heard her murmur. I froze, and listened while her dreams tumbled down darker tunnels, where those murmurs became whimpers, quick exhalations and quiet protests stifled by the paralysis of sleep.
    Hesitation fled. I pushed the door back open and stepped inside as the twitching of her body in response to the nightmare became more violent. The bed covers twisted around her as she writhed. The blood imp made no movement to suggest that this was abnormal, in fact, she jumped onto the edge of the bed and curled into a ball to return to sleep. That was when pity compelled me.
    I whispered Sarkana’s name as I knelt beside her. She curled up, and the whimpers turned to light sobs. Tears began to slip down her face as she shook back and forth. I whispered her name again with a hand on her shoulder.
    The nightmare fluttered. Sarkana’s bolted up and stared in confusion at me through the blur of her tears that stuck her eyelashes together.
    She murmured my name as a question, shocked to see me sitting beside her, the haze of the nightmare thick in her voice and squinting eyes.
    “I heard you muttering in your sleep from the hallway. You were crying.”
    “So I was,” she whispered as she wiped her face with her hand and watched as her glistening fingers caught the moonlight. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”
    “No, I was sleepless.”
    “Well, thank you.”
    “Of course. I will … let you rest now. Hopefully it won’t return.”
    Gently, she pulled me back by my hand. “Casimir?”
    “What is it?”
    “Do you have any stories like the one I told you?”
    “The one with the rooks?” Hesitantly, I sat at the edge of the bed and wrapped my arms around myself. “I … believe I do, yes.” I looked around the room, observing what I assume was the majority of her skeletal collections as they were scattered about the walls. On either side of the doorframe, two fully-armored human skeletons were posed to be holding drawn swords parallel to their chest, their ancient battle regalia polished to a sheen. I turned my head back to her.
    “Would it be asking too much?”
    “For a nighttime story?” It was as heartwarming as it was humorous, to hear someone like her request such a thing. 
    “Yes.”
    “No, not at all.” I tookfistfuls of the blankets and pulled them over Sarkana’s chest, not surprised to find how comforted she seemed by this. She eased herself down while I set the seer’s eye beside the bed. “My hometown was named after the mountain it sat beneath, Storm Breaker. It was called Breaker’s Edge, a prosperous place that grew from the wealth of Westrun’s fur trade. My mother and father were both leatherworkers, but like you, I had grown up with companions. Or, in my case, just one. A — ah — a fox. Her name was Lisence, and from my earliest years of childhood, a friendship sparked and grew. We hardly left each other’s side.”
    Sarkana’s eyes were closed as she listened. I waited for a question, a response, but she remained silent. I took a deep breath and looked out at the Ruined Sea, collecting those recollections once again. “But the gods have a way of tainting our earliest memories. Maybe it is the only way we could ever learn to survive in a world where corruption is one of the strongest hands of progress. But … I, well, my turn came, I suppose, to be introduced to misery. Some cliffside hyenas had been ravenous from the winter, and in the middle of the night, they wandered into Breaker’s Edge. It was a whole pack of them.”
    “Weren’t there any guards to stop them?”
    “A few, but they were tired, frozen from the night’s watch, and not nearly enough. The hyenas were cunning, they picked through the weakest, took what scraps they could, remaining as quiet as possible until it was inevitable that they were discovered. By the time they were, more guards from Westrun were sent for, but most of the damage had already been done.”
    “What happened to Lisence?”
    “They took her from me.”
    The story was resurrected in the shadows on the wall, the moonbeams that split from between the clouds, playing tricks on my eyes of memories I could not forget, but would rather not remember. Through the thick silence, the rustling of a sea of forestry that sounded so similar to waves splitting against the ground, I heard Lisence scream for me.“Did they kill her, the way the wolf killed my rooks?”
    “I always imagined that they did, but I was never certain. They dragged her away while she cried. I tried to stop them, I did. I ran as fast as I could, and I fought them as hard as I could, but I was young, weak, untrained … useless. You know how hyenas laugh, don’t you? You can imagine how they did as they took her away, while I begged them not to. Shortly after, the guards from Westrun came to assist us, but the pack had already fled. For weeks I waited, hoping for a sign that they had been hunted. Nothing came, though. After that night, I never saw Lisence.”
    For awhile, I thought Sarkana had fallen asleep. Then, and just as I was about to stand from the bed, she said, “Tomorrow, Casimir.”
    “What about it?”
    “Tomorrow we will be the wolves. We will be the hyenas.”
    My mouth hung open, but I found no way to reply, not fast enough at least. Her lips were parted as she breathed lowly with tranquility in her expression. I felt Sarkana’s exhaustion spread until my eyelids were heavy, and my body felt frozen there, staring out at the sparse clouds overhead the sanctuary. I tried to fathom the cascade of events that had brought me here. Here, sitting beside someone who spoke of similarities I could not see, not until now, as the epiphany dawned, alive in a still quiet that nightmares could not penetrate. What death could construct from bitter hands, a life fostered from vengeance, and the pursuits born from the hollows of its inadequate findings.
    There lay Sarkana Bloodbane, a necromancer, a wielder of death and life, yet just as I tormented as I, just as driven as I, by the memories death gifted us in our innocence. Pulled along like puppets on strings, our actions driven by a yearning for resolution, wondering all the while why it could not be found in the place where it was first made, in those complex contraptions we call hearts.
#fantasy  #TCOC  #Talosguideme  #MrFrodo 
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You have the power to manipulate reality, what would you do?
Written by Snowshoerabbit in portal Fantasy

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Make all my book characters real people. I also want to be one of them.

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You have the power to manipulate reality, what would you do?
Written by Snowshoerabbit in portal Fantasy
Books
Make all my book characters real people. I also want to be one of them.
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Chapter 8 of The Culling of Casimir
Written by Harlequin in portal Fantasy

Chapter 8: One

Welcome back to Netherway, and more specifically, a winter in Addoran! I hope you enjoyed the intermission. I must thank everyone again who is still following the tale as it unravels. If you have any thoughts, questions, suggestions or critiques, feel free to drop them in the comments; an artist is nothing without criticism. It will be a long while until mastery is reached, but every word is another stone in the path. I am delighted to share the journey with you all, and hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Without further (nervous) delay, here is Chapter 8: One. 

                                                       ~ ~

I had no dreams, only the darkness of a sleep deepened by heavy exhaustion. I awoke to that brief amnesia where nothing seems important beyond the opening of the eyes, the stretching of the arms, the confused observation of what is around us.

    Three winter suns exalted colossal, white clouds with golden light that beamed down on the glittering waters of the Ruined Sea, now aquamarine and inviting in the light of a late dawn. Half a dozen pointed tails broke the surface of the water in the distance, a school of blackfin hydras circling before dipping back under. I stared at the scene through a nearby window, sat up in a bed that I had no recollection of getting into, tucked under two layers of thick wool and a heavy blanket of mismatched, stitched hide, as if it took three animals to make it. Two of Sarkana’s towers obscured the cliffside view of the sea, still exuding their violet light with rhythmic pulses, as if even the sanctuary breathed.

    Cool sweat lined my forehead and caused my clothes to cling to my skin.

    Perhaps more puzzling than the fact that none of last night was a dream, as the lingering pain from the gargoyle bat’s claw marks made apparent, was that Sarkana had managed to haul me up the stairs while I was still sleeping. I had little doubt she was stronger than she looked, but even still …

    The chamber I was in was modest in its size, yet elegant with its sparse decoration. An empty desk and dresser sat beside each other on the wall opposite the window, where the bed lay directly beneath. The wall across from me displayed the full skeleton of a bird attached to a mantle, its wings fixed in a permanent position of being splayed, each bone threaded to dozens of tiny nails to keep it upright. A hanging circlet of iron swayed almost imperceptibly from the ceiling, the six candles in their holders untouched and collecting dust, never lit for visitors. 

    Seared mutton spiced with herbs, roots simmering in oil, caffek being steeped in water. My mouth watered as the flavors wafted through the cracked doorway of the chamber and my stomach growled, reminding me that I had not eaten anything since noon the previous day. I had been too nervous to eat during William’s starday feast.

    I tossed off the blankets and jumped a little too quickly from the bed, igniting the stiff aching of my muscles which laughed at my attempt at exuberance. I spotted my hat resting on one of the bedposts, where beneath it hung my scabbard, belt and satchel. I reached my hand out for the hat, but stopped. I was distracted by the bloodstains on my hands—dried puddles that splashed down my arm and dotted the clothes I had worn the previous day, reminders of lives that could never be restored, of the brief euphoria I felt not only dodging death, but turning its hand in my favor. The guilt burdened me, but the excitement lingered. I left the hat where it was.

    The thought of talking to the isolated practitioner that had aided in my escape didn’t seem like a particularly appealing venture, especially not with a clouded mind. Welcoming though she was, Sarkana’s sanctuary did little to make me feel at ease. Still, the promise of food outweighed my trepidations, so I found myself slowly, curiously, observing the home after I left the room.

    Along the walls, hanging from the rafters, was no shortage of similar displays of organized and catalogued bones as the bird in the bedroom. In meticulous script on neatly cut parchment, each creature was labeled down to the smallest of structures. For the more grandiose or rare skeletons, such as a phoenix—whose bones still held a faint glimmer of fire—in the hall just outside my chamber, their remains were enchanted to hover quietly above pedestals or small tables. I resisted the urge to touch the skull of the phoenix, afraid to disenchant the spell that held it perfectly aloft.

    I managed to pry myself away from exploring further and made my way down the staircase in front of the entryway. My shoes were being warmed by the embers splitting over the iron grating in the fireplace, their leather cleaned and polished. After I slipped them on, I found the largest piece in Sarkana’s skeletal collection: a human’s. It was laying supine and firmly affixed to the dome ceiling above the armchairs in the living room. Only, this skeleton had no labels, and even the bones were grimy, unpolished, dirtied by decay but naked all the same, held within a circle with crisscrossing lines and symbols, pulsing with that same light that flowed throughout all of the sanctuary.

    ‘Necromancers,’ Magister Fahim once laughed at me after I’d asked about them. ‘All the angst-ridden adolescent practitioners dream of becoming them. An empty dream, sadly. Very few have a firm grasp of how to perfect that kind of magick, and I doubt they’ll be sharing their secrets anytime soon. Scholars would have more luck pursuing the kind of alchemy that turns dirt to gold. Foolish, foolish ambitions. What’s wrong with destruction magick, I always ask them. Isn’t that exciting enough? Why do young students always wish to drag dead things into the mix? It’s some sick perversion, if you ask me.’

    ‘Besides resurrecting the dead, what could one of them do, exactly?’ I prodded him.

    Fahim had been immersed in the crafting of a new tincture, and was becoming visibly annoyed with my pestering. ‘You mean a masterful necromancer, not just an apprentice?’

    ‘I … suppose so?’

    ‘Let’s put it simply: necromancy is the manipulation of the dead. In a way, all living things are in a perpetual state of decay. Theoretically, a master necromancer would have domain over, well, everything. But with all that power and only one body, what’s the purpose? You’d still find yourself exhausted after a few incantations, just like most practitioners. At most you would, what, make a puppet out of a body, maybe two? And how long could someone control something so burdensome? I doubt very long.’ Trying to imagine it, he shook his head.

    ‘Sounds quite exciting to me,’ I had laughed.

    ‘Don’t take this poorly, but you’re not exactly a seasoned practitioner. You don’t know how painful it can be to cast higher magick. It wouldn’t be enjoyable in the slightest. You’d have to have some very deep motives to pursue such an arduous study. Either that, or you’d have to be mad.’

    Fahim’s words echoed in my head as I stared at the skeleton. He really had been a good friend, now that I thought about it. It was difficult to realize I may never speak with him again.

    “Casimir? So you really are awake, those footsteps weren’t just my imagination.” Sarkana was standing in front of the kitchen’s doorway, holding a long, wooden spoon and wearing the same garments she’d had on the night before. Her grey eyes were alight with that same curiosity, too, looking all over my body as if she’d miss something important if she didn’t examine every detail.

    I grinned at her, uncertain as to why she seemed undisturbed by the fact that I had been perusing the various cadavers throughout her home. “Do you often imagine phantom footsteps throughout your home, Sarkana?”

    “Oh, I don't need to imagine them,” she returned without hesitating, as if it wasn't an unsettling remark.

    I opened my mouth to reply, but my stomach interrupted me, at an embarrassing volume.

    She raised her eyebrows before laughing. “Care to satisfy the beast? I thought some food from our home country would be comforting after everything that’s happened.” Without waiting for a response, she went back into the kitchen.

    Tentatively, I followed her through the open, arched doorway. Inside, Sarkana was prodding at stuffed potatoes on a rack in the concave stove, whose stone roof merged with the kitchen’s ceiling, exhaling its spiced aromas through the chimney shaft. Pots, ladles, and other cooking ware hung from the ceiling, while spices and herbs were put away in wooden containers of various sizes, all organized impeccably. At the heart of the room, a tree’s trunk yawned from beneath the floorboards and stretched through the roof. Small cracks had been developing around the rim of the roof’s circular opening, splintering as slowly and deliberately as the trunk's steady widening stretched the structure. From cut branches of the tree, Sarkana had fashioned table tops and, within the trunk itself, more shelves for storage.

    “Your home is breathtaking,” I admitted. “It doesn’t seem like a single room lacks a touch of you. Did you do all of it yourself?”

    “Oh, you’re too kind. I had some help,” she shrugged, then nudged the four stuffed potatoes onto two plates, before spooning out sautéd greens beside them. Herbed mutton steamed up from inside the potatoes’ buttered skins and flesh, doing its best to get me to drool in front of my host.

    With a poker, she dispersed the logs of the cooking fire in the stove, until all that was left was glowing embers and cinders turning to ash as they stretched out towards the colder edges of the stone surface. She set the plates down on one of the tables extending from the tree and sat down at a chair. A little awkwardly, I stood without a seat, staring at her as she readied a metal fork and knife.

    “I …”

    “Oh!” She jumped from her chair, then snatched another from the kitchen that seemed to have held the lonely and solitary use of a stepping stool, with no visitors' rears to oblige for for years. She wiped off the dust marks of her footprints from its surface before letting me tuck myself into it.

    “Thank you." Then, and only after we had made it through half of the meal in silence, I asked, “Have you lived alone very long?” The food had satiated my hunger, though my questions for Sarkana were ever voracious.

    “Alone,” she repeated with a chuckle. “I suppose that word means different things to different people. But, in the common sense, I have been alone for many years. And to be quite honest Casimir, it is much longer than I care to count at the moment. I am not sure that finding the number would do any good for me. I haven’t bothered since I lost track. As the saying in our kin goes, Pal’thases reqimet est pal’thases coleltia.”

    I nodded, a little discouraged to have already prodded a tender spot. “So do you regret it, then, leading this kind of life?”

    Zuma crawled as close to the stove as she could without getting burned, and nipped a few stray pieces of fried potato to nibble on.

    “Absolutely not,” Sarkana said, sounding almost offended. “Some people pursue commendable ranks or titles, some people chase after lofty ambitions or passions, searching for fulfillment or gratification. But regardless of what they’re after, the only ones who seem to get very far are those that sacrifice the most. Time, wealth, companionships, obligations …” Sarkana’s gaze held mine, but I could tell she was looking far past my eyes into memories that did not belong there, “just about everything they can let go of. As it seems in this world, the more things you let go of that most folks hold onto, the more things you can grasp that are untouched.”

    Repetitive, stark, and unrhythmic caws from an unkindness of ravens accented our conversation from the gardens outside. A few of their wings flashed darkly in front of the window as they swooped to find their perches on the same tree that we were eating from. The branches above could be heard shifting under their weight, even through the roof.

    “Zuma! Caffek,” Sarkana commanded suddenly.

    The blood imp jumped at her name. But at the second word, she darted to the kettle beside the roasting rack in the open stove and performed the trained maneuver of pouring caffek into a cup from one of the shelves. Sarkana handed her another to fill. The tiny demon stretched her arm across the empty space towards me, and I took the cup with an astonished nod of thanks from her claw.

    “So then, are you after something?” I asked.

    Sarkana blew gently on the steam rising from the cup. Then, before drinking, she replied, “Aren’t we all?”

    I looked down at the caffek, my burning eyes now smoldered by the dark reflection of the thickly steeped substance. “Not everyone, not always.”

    “I used to think the same, actually. But, one day, I realized something that changed my mind.”

    “One particular day?”

    “One particular day, yes.”

    “What did you realize?”

    Zuma hopped from her station at the stove, then circled the ground and attempted to make the stone floor more comfortable for sleep by slapping it with her tail. 

    “It doesn’t matter if you haven’t realized it yet. Everyone has their purpose, their calling, even if some people delude themselves into thinking they have none. For the unambitious, their lives are easily dictated by others; for the apathetic, their lives are spent for the sake of another’s. I have little faith in fate or the gods, Casimir, but I think some people are born cradling purpose, while others spend their entire lives searching for it. It comes, it exists, one way or another, from one hand or another. It’s an object of possession, no doubt about that, but you only have it so long as you convince yourself it’s in your hands.”

    I drank the caffek deeply, savoring the trail of heat down my throat and the rich, bittersweet burn hinting at chocolate.

    “What is your purpose, Casimir?”

    I choked, surprised by her sudden shift of attention and spluttered all over the table. I used my sleeve to wipe off the droplets as I muttered an apology. But this only amused her further. “If I tell you, will you tell me about that day when you stumbled upon that realization?”

    Sarkana’s eyes flitted from mine to her hands, where she pondered over the trade in the lines of her small palms. The laughter faded with her smile. Her tall, arching ears fluttered a little while a silence longer than I anticipated held on her lips. “I will,” she agreed, “in my gardens. There's no sense wasting a perfectly fine day inside.”

    As she led me away from the kitchen, both our plates now bereft of their Qalmorian culture, I spotted the room that I had heard Sarkana leave into the night before. At the center of which was a trapdoor, its handle wrapped in a chain and lock affixed to bolts in the floor. Before she could catch me staring, she tugged me toward another door inset with silverglass panes that blurred the outside forestry and blooming color of her gardens, despite winter’s current hold on Addoran.

    She pushed the door open and stepped on the only stone that stood between us and the steep fall to the ground beneath her home. At her touch, stones rose, flipped, and collided before us in a sudden stroke of cascading construction, to form a small bridge that arched down to the floor.

    Unsurprisingly, a smile touched my lips. “You just aren’t satisfied with doing things normally, are you?”

    “To be fair, you don’t seem much different,” she retorted.

    “Fair enough. Now, am I going mad, or does it suddenly feel like summer out here?” I reached my hand out toward the air as we descended the bridge, surprised to find that my teeth didn’t start chattering. In fact, I was uncomfortable in all of my layers. It seemed just as temperate outside as it was within the home, and if anything, a bit warmer.

    “I cannot answer the first question for you, but I assure you it isn’t summer.” Upon the final step of the bridge, the stones dissembled themselves to rest inconspicuously upon the damp earth, where daisies, pale roses and dragon teeth blossoms bloomed in rows along ivy-wrapped arbors marking the walkways. “In my gardens,” Sarkana said with a tone of defiance, “it is always spring. Life is punitive and death is selfish, but in my home,” she said as she bent to the head of a dying rose, “I am death’s keeper.” She brought the rose to her lips, muttering while her hands cradled it, and as if she was merely breathing embers to flames once more, when the rose fell from her hands, its wilted petals had turned plump with revived color, its sagging stem stiff and searching again for the sun.

    “Remarkable,” I breathed.

    Sarkana stood up again, not recognizing my reaction. “You’re still holding onto that answer.” And as she asked once more, I discovered something surprising within the tension of truth before its release, that even the most ethereal concepts, even if they cannot be held, can surely be tainted if not stolen. And I wondered, just like that rose, what words might wilt and bloom within her fists, should I allow her to clutch them, even briefly.

    “My purpose?” I looked up at the rain clouds forming above her sanctuary, the brief burst of moisture as the droplets failed to penetrate the aura that kept the season inside fixed, the countless ravens that enjoyed the air without chill as many of them attended to nests that should never have been made at this time of year. “My purpose is to inspire others to find theirs.” 

    In my mind, the strength of those words echoed as cannons booming in a castle; in the past, they ruptured the most dreadful silences and revived hope from lost meaning and graveyards of regret; it scorched shadows of the past and sent phantom thoughts fleeing in terror. But now, as they left my lips, Sarkana’s scrutiny cast their resonance in translucence, and I felt just how hallow they were without action. “Am I a fool to not strive for something within myself?” My fingers went for the ring that normally wrapped my left thumb, to twist it in nervousness, but found its bare skin. Unsettling. I remembered that I had sent it off to Fahim.

    Absentmindedly, Sarkana tugged on her lower lip with her thumb and forefinger. “Your purpose may be fixated on something beyond you, yet it still comes from you. I think you’d be a fool to think it was anything besides beautiful. It may not be anything I would do, or anyone else for that matter, but whatever meaning you hold is yours … does anything else matter?”

    Truth conjoined with likemindedness and sparked a connection, time’s brevity collapsed, and Sarkana seemed, in the filtered light of winter kept at bay, a goddess without age in her own, tiny realm. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

    “Will you tell me about that day?” I asked quietly. 

    “If you promise to keep it only to yourself.”

    “Hei’ta prosium, Sarkana.”

    “Takka, Casimir. I will, then.” She led me to a bench in front of a trellis overrun with ivy, motioning for me to join her in sitting. Overhead, the tree was still a bustle of wings and cawing. “I was quite young, blessed to grow up in a household where magick was nothing short of routine, in a seaside town called Yarimen in Qalmora. At the time, I had little ambition but to become a scholar and attend The Light Academy not a week’s journey from our home.”

    “Did you ever attend the academy?”

    “Yes, but ... that story may be for another time. As I child, I was given two rooks. The birds grew up with me, became my companions. In my eyes, they were inseparable. They hunted, feasted, played, and even watched over me, together. I couldn’t walk beyond our home without their shadows following me. It seemed no matter where I went, I was safe, protected.”

    “They were that loyal?”

    “Of course. I had them since I was born, after all. But … that morning, something happened. I left the home, alone, for the first time. I needed to retrieve some things from the nearby fish market, nothing extraordinary, just some ingredients for dinner. The rooks had been kept in their cages back at home.”

    “Why were they kept there?”

    “I suppose I felt they should be there. Every child looks forward to their first day of being unwatched by a protective eye. The rooks watched over me, but I wanted to see how I faired alone in the bustling market. I was just past my tenth year, and I felt I could handle myself well enough. Everything went well, after all, that wasn’t the problem. Of course, I could purchase some fish and return home. The horror was what awaited me when I got there.”

    “What did you see?”

    “I pushed open the door, my basket heavy with supplies, but then suddenly, dropped to the floor. Bread, fish, spices, they all spilled out at my feet. I was surprised to find that my fingers had gone numb, that my fist had relinquished its hold on what should have been a happy day of, for the first time, being independent. But when I looked inside my home, I saw bloody paw prints  scattered across the floor. And besides them, countless, black feathers parted from the rooks.”

    “Did you call for help?”

    “It wouldn't have mattered in the end, but at the time, I couldn't think to do so. Without thinking, it seemed, my feet wandered past the doorway and shuffled into the living room. Somehow, the cage had been unlocked, and beneath it, one of the rooks was laying there, her talons already curled up by the rigor mortis, her beak snapped in two and her body shattered by the teeth of a wolf that had found its way inside.

    “I followed the paw prints and found tufts of fur ripped from the wolf, along with the silence that had settled into our home. The prints led me upstairs, to one of the studies, where I found the body of the wolf, its neck riddled with puncture marks from a beak, its eyes pecked to shreds. But besides it, there was the second rook, too, his feathers heavy and still like blackened stone, unmoving as they soaked up the blood.”

    My face clenched up as I realized what the story was missing, or rather, what was hidden. I felt my suspicions of Sarkana soften. “What did you do?”

    “I did what any child would do, I cried. But after that, and after the silence of that afternoon pursued me as I grew older, I thought often about what had happened, why it happened.”

    “But does tragedy need to have a reason behind it? Does death desire a meaning?”

    Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Sarkana’s head turn from the clouds to mine, so I did the same, watching the memories play out across her eyes, the metaphor unraveling in grisly clarity. “Precisely. Tragedy does not, it seldom does. But it’s our duty to give it one. Death asks nothing of us, it only takes. It’s our task to shape something from it.”

    “Is that your purpose, Sarkana?”

    “I have many,” she replied, touching her hand to mine, “but they all stem from that one.”

    Confused, I looked down at the sudden display of affection. But she was only getting my attention. The warmth of her fingers left to point towards the sky. “It appears your friend is smarter than you thought,” she said with a smile. “Some news from the castle, then?”

    Beyond the direction of her finger, I spotted a very confused and very tiny Felix discovering just how warm it was inside the sanctuary, flapping around in circles before swooping down in exhilaration at spotting me. Forgetting his task, the crow dropped the letter that he'd been holding in his beak, crashing into my chest with many caws, flapping feathers, and attempts to stroke his beak against my chin. After soothing and introducing him to Sarkana, I dug into the pouch at his talon, to find my ring awaiting me. I slipped it back onto my thumb, glad to feel another comfort returned. 

    But it was with a racing heart that I stood up, walked toward the unmarked envelope, and unfolded the letter that Fahim had wrote in reply to my signal.

    I skimmed the writing with greedy eyes, past the rushed greeting and hopes of my survival, down to the final lines scrawled in the same haste as all the others, the ones that read:


Meet me at the Reaver’s Crossroads, dusk of the 6th of January. 

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Chapter 8 of The Culling of Casimir
Written by Harlequin in portal Fantasy
Chapter 8: One
Welcome back to Netherway, and more specifically, a winter in Addoran! I hope you enjoyed the intermission. I must thank everyone again who is still following the tale as it unravels. If you have any thoughts, questions, suggestions or critiques, feel free to drop them in the comments; an artist is nothing without criticism. It will be a long while until mastery is reached, but every word is another stone in the path. I am delighted to share the journey with you all, and hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Without further (nervous) delay, here is Chapter 8: One. 
                                                       ~ ~
I had no dreams, only the darkness of a sleep deepened by heavy exhaustion. I awoke to that brief amnesia where nothing seems important beyond the opening of the eyes, the stretching of the arms, the confused observation of what is around us.
    Three winter suns exalted colossal, white clouds with golden light that beamed down on the glittering waters of the Ruined Sea, now aquamarine and inviting in the light of a late dawn. Half a dozen pointed tails broke the surface of the water in the distance, a school of blackfin hydras circling before dipping back under. I stared at the scene through a nearby window, sat up in a bed that I had no recollection of getting into, tucked under two layers of thick wool and a heavy blanket of mismatched, stitched hide, as if it took three animals to make it. Two of Sarkana’s towers obscured the cliffside view of the sea, still exuding their violet light with rhythmic pulses, as if even the sanctuary breathed.
    Cool sweat lined my forehead and caused my clothes to cling to my skin.
    Perhaps more puzzling than the fact that none of last night was a dream, as the lingering pain from the gargoyle bat’s claw marks made apparent, was that Sarkana had managed to haul me up the stairs while I was still sleeping. I had little doubt she was stronger than she looked, but even still …
    The chamber I was in was modest in its size, yet elegant with its sparse decoration. An empty desk and dresser sat beside each other on the wall opposite the window, where the bed lay directly beneath. The wall across from me displayed the full skeleton of a bird attached to a mantle, its wings fixed in a permanent position of being splayed, each bone threaded to dozens of tiny nails to keep it upright. A hanging circlet of iron swayed almost imperceptibly from the ceiling, the six candles in their holders untouched and collecting dust, never lit for visitors. 
    Seared mutton spiced with herbs, roots simmering in oil, caffek being steeped in water. My mouth watered as the flavors wafted through the cracked doorway of the chamber and my stomach growled, reminding me that I had not eaten anything since noon the previous day. I had been too nervous to eat during William’s starday feast.
    I tossed off the blankets and jumped a little too quickly from the bed, igniting the stiff aching of my muscles which laughed at my attempt at exuberance. I spotted my hat resting on one of the bedposts, where beneath it hung my scabbard, belt and satchel. I reached my hand out for the hat, but stopped. I was distracted by the bloodstains on my hands—dried puddles that splashed down my arm and dotted the clothes I had worn the previous day, reminders of lives that could never be restored, of the brief euphoria I felt not only dodging death, but turning its hand in my favor. The guilt burdened me, but the excitement lingered. I left the hat where it was.
    The thought of talking to the isolated practitioner that had aided in my escape didn’t seem like a particularly appealing venture, especially not with a clouded mind. Welcoming though she was, Sarkana’s sanctuary did little to make me feel at ease. Still, the promise of food outweighed my trepidations, so I found myself slowly, curiously, observing the home after I left the room.
    Along the walls, hanging from the rafters, was no shortage of similar displays of organized and catalogued bones as the bird in the bedroom. In meticulous script on neatly cut parchment, each creature was labeled down to the smallest of structures. For the more grandiose or rare skeletons, such as a phoenix—whose bones still held a faint glimmer of fire—in the hall just outside my chamber, their remains were enchanted to hover quietly above pedestals or small tables. I resisted the urge to touch the skull of the phoenix, afraid to disenchant the spell that held it perfectly aloft.
    I managed to pry myself away from exploring further and made my way down the staircase in front of the entryway. My shoes were being warmed by the embers splitting over the iron grating in the fireplace, their leather cleaned and polished. After I slipped them on, I found the largest piece in Sarkana’s skeletal collection: a human’s. It was laying supine and firmly affixed to the dome ceiling above the armchairs in the living room. Only, this skeleton had no labels, and even the bones were grimy, unpolished, dirtied by decay but naked all the same, held within a circle with crisscrossing lines and symbols, pulsing with that same light that flowed throughout all of the sanctuary.
    ‘Necromancers,’ Magister Fahim once laughed at me after I’d asked about them. ‘All the angst-ridden adolescent practitioners dream of becoming them. An empty dream, sadly. Very few have a firm grasp of how to perfect that kind of magick, and I doubt they’ll be sharing their secrets anytime soon. Scholars would have more luck pursuing the kind of alchemy that turns dirt to gold. Foolish, foolish ambitions. What’s wrong with destruction magick, I always ask them. Isn’t that exciting enough? Why do young students always wish to drag dead things into the mix? It’s some sick perversion, if you ask me.’
    ‘Besides resurrecting the dead, what could one of them do, exactly?’ I prodded him.
    Fahim had been immersed in the crafting of a new tincture, and was becoming visibly annoyed with my pestering. ‘You mean a masterful necromancer, not just an apprentice?’
    ‘I … suppose so?’
    ‘Let’s put it simply: necromancy is the manipulation of the dead. In a way, all living things are in a perpetual state of decay. Theoretically, a master necromancer would have domain over, well, everything. But with all that power and only one body, what’s the purpose? You’d still find yourself exhausted after a few incantations, just like most practitioners. At most you would, what, make a puppet out of a body, maybe two? And how long could someone control something so burdensome? I doubt very long.’ Trying to imagine it, he shook his head.
    ‘Sounds quite exciting to me,’ I had laughed.
    ‘Don’t take this poorly, but you’re not exactly a seasoned practitioner. You don’t know how painful it can be to cast higher magick. It wouldn’t be enjoyable in the slightest. You’d have to have some very deep motives to pursue such an arduous study. Either that, or you’d have to be mad.’
    Fahim’s words echoed in my head as I stared at the skeleton. He really had been a good friend, now that I thought about it. It was difficult to realize I may never speak with him again.
    “Casimir? So you really are awake, those footsteps weren’t just my imagination.” Sarkana was standing in front of the kitchen’s doorway, holding a long, wooden spoon and wearing the same garments she’d had on the night before. Her grey eyes were alight with that same curiosity, too, looking all over my body as if she’d miss something important if she didn’t examine every detail.
    I grinned at her, uncertain as to why she seemed undisturbed by the fact that I had been perusing the various cadavers throughout her home. “Do you often imagine phantom footsteps throughout your home, Sarkana?”
    “Oh, I don't need to imagine them,” she returned without hesitating, as if it wasn't an unsettling remark.
    I opened my mouth to reply, but my stomach interrupted me, at an embarrassing volume.
    She raised her eyebrows before laughing. “Care to satisfy the beast? I thought some food from our home country would be comforting after everything that’s happened.” Without waiting for a response, she went back into the kitchen.
    Tentatively, I followed her through the open, arched doorway. Inside, Sarkana was prodding at stuffed potatoes on a rack in the concave stove, whose stone roof merged with the kitchen’s ceiling, exhaling its spiced aromas through the chimney shaft. Pots, ladles, and other cooking ware hung from the ceiling, while spices and herbs were put away in wooden containers of various sizes, all organized impeccably. At the heart of the room, a tree’s trunk yawned from beneath the floorboards and stretched through the roof. Small cracks had been developing around the rim of the roof’s circular opening, splintering as slowly and deliberately as the trunk's steady widening stretched the structure. From cut branches of the tree, Sarkana had fashioned table tops and, within the trunk itself, more shelves for storage.
    “Your home is breathtaking,” I admitted. “It doesn’t seem like a single room lacks a touch of you. Did you do all of it yourself?”
    “Oh, you’re too kind. I had some help,” she shrugged, then nudged the four stuffed potatoes onto two plates, before spooning out sautéd greens beside them. Herbed mutton steamed up from inside the potatoes’ buttered skins and flesh, doing its best to get me to drool in front of my host.
    With a poker, she dispersed the logs of the cooking fire in the stove, until all that was left was glowing embers and cinders turning to ash as they stretched out towards the colder edges of the stone surface. She set the plates down on one of the tables extending from the tree and sat down at a chair. A little awkwardly, I stood without a seat, staring at her as she readied a metal fork and knife.
    “I …”
    “Oh!” She jumped from her chair, then snatched another from the kitchen that seemed to have held the lonely and solitary use of a stepping stool, with no visitors' rears to oblige for for years. She wiped off the dust marks of her footprints from its surface before letting me tuck myself into it.
    “Thank you." Then, and only after we had made it through half of the meal in silence, I asked, “Have you lived alone very long?” The food had satiated my hunger, though my questions for Sarkana were ever voracious.
    “Alone,” she repeated with a chuckle. “I suppose that word means different things to different people. But, in the common sense, I have been alone for many years. And to be quite honest Casimir, it is much longer than I care to count at the moment. I am not sure that finding the number would do any good for me. I haven’t bothered since I lost track. As the saying in our kin goes, Pal’thases reqimet est pal’thases coleltia.”
    I nodded, a little discouraged to have already prodded a tender spot. “So do you regret it, then, leading this kind of life?”
    Zuma crawled as close to the stove as she could without getting burned, and nipped a few stray pieces of fried potato to nibble on.
    “Absolutely not,” Sarkana said, sounding almost offended. “Some people pursue commendable ranks or titles, some people chase after lofty ambitions or passions, searching for fulfillment or gratification. But regardless of what they’re after, the only ones who seem to get very far are those that sacrifice the most. Time, wealth, companionships, obligations …” Sarkana’s gaze held mine, but I could tell she was looking far past my eyes into memories that did not belong there, “just about everything they can let go of. As it seems in this world, the more things you let go of that most folks hold onto, the more things you can grasp that are untouched.”
    Repetitive, stark, and unrhythmic caws from an unkindness of ravens accented our conversation from the gardens outside. A few of their wings flashed darkly in front of the window as they swooped to find their perches on the same tree that we were eating from. The branches above could be heard shifting under their weight, even through the roof.
    “Zuma! Caffek,” Sarkana commanded suddenly.
    The blood imp jumped at her name. But at the second word, she darted to the kettle beside the roasting rack in the open stove and performed the trained maneuver of pouring caffek into a cup from one of the shelves. Sarkana handed her another to fill. The tiny demon stretched her arm across the empty space towards me, and I took the cup with an astonished nod of thanks from her claw.
    “So then, are you after something?” I asked.
    Sarkana blew gently on the steam rising from the cup. Then, before drinking, she replied, “Aren’t we all?”
    I looked down at the caffek, my burning eyes now smoldered by the dark reflection of the thickly steeped substance. “Not everyone, not always.”
    “I used to think the same, actually. But, one day, I realized something that changed my mind.”
    “One particular day?”
    “One particular day, yes.”
    “What did you realize?”
    Zuma hopped from her station at the stove, then circled the ground and attempted to make the stone floor more comfortable for sleep by slapping it with her tail. 
    “It doesn’t matter if you haven’t realized it yet. Everyone has their purpose, their calling, even if some people delude themselves into thinking they have none. For the unambitious, their lives are easily dictated by others; for the apathetic, their lives are spent for the sake of another’s. I have little faith in fate or the gods, Casimir, but I think some people are born cradling purpose, while others spend their entire lives searching for it. It comes, it exists, one way or another, from one hand or another. It’s an object of possession, no doubt about that, but you only have it so long as you convince yourself it’s in your hands.”
    I drank the caffek deeply, savoring the trail of heat down my throat and the rich, bittersweet burn hinting at chocolate.
    “What is your purpose, Casimir?”
    I choked, surprised by her sudden shift of attention and spluttered all over the table. I used my sleeve to wipe off the droplets as I muttered an apology. But this only amused her further. “If I tell you, will you tell me about that day when you stumbled upon that realization?”
    Sarkana’s eyes flitted from mine to her hands, where she pondered over the trade in the lines of her small palms. The laughter faded with her smile. Her tall, arching ears fluttered a little while a silence longer than I anticipated held on her lips. “I will,” she agreed, “in my gardens. There's no sense wasting a perfectly fine day inside.”
    As she led me away from the kitchen, both our plates now bereft of their Qalmorian culture, I spotted the room that I had heard Sarkana leave into the night before. At the center of which was a trapdoor, its handle wrapped in a chain and lock affixed to bolts in the floor. Before she could catch me staring, she tugged me toward another door inset with silverglass panes that blurred the outside forestry and blooming color of her gardens, despite winter’s current hold on Addoran.
    She pushed the door open and stepped on the only stone that stood between us and the steep fall to the ground beneath her home. At her touch, stones rose, flipped, and collided before us in a sudden stroke of cascading construction, to form a small bridge that arched down to the floor.
    Unsurprisingly, a smile touched my lips. “You just aren’t satisfied with doing things normally, are you?”
    “To be fair, you don’t seem much different,” she retorted.
    “Fair enough. Now, am I going mad, or does it suddenly feel like summer out here?” I reached my hand out toward the air as we descended the bridge, surprised to find that my teeth didn’t start chattering. In fact, I was uncomfortable in all of my layers. It seemed just as temperate outside as it was within the home, and if anything, a bit warmer.
    “I cannot answer the first question for you, but I assure you it isn’t summer.” Upon the final step of the bridge, the stones dissembled themselves to rest inconspicuously upon the damp earth, where daisies, pale roses and dragon teeth blossoms bloomed in rows along ivy-wrapped arbors marking the walkways. “In my gardens,” Sarkana said with a tone of defiance, “it is always spring. Life is punitive and death is selfish, but in my home,” she said as she bent to the head of a dying rose, “I am death’s keeper.” She brought the rose to her lips, muttering while her hands cradled it, and as if she was merely breathing embers to flames once more, when the rose fell from her hands, its wilted petals had turned plump with revived color, its sagging stem stiff and searching again for the sun.
    “Remarkable,” I breathed.
    Sarkana stood up again, not recognizing my reaction. “You’re still holding onto that answer.” And as she asked once more, I discovered something surprising within the tension of truth before its release, that even the most ethereal concepts, even if they cannot be held, can surely be tainted if not stolen. And I wondered, just like that rose, what words might wilt and bloom within her fists, should I allow her to clutch them, even briefly.
    “My purpose?” I looked up at the rain clouds forming above her sanctuary, the brief burst of moisture as the droplets failed to penetrate the aura that kept the season inside fixed, the countless ravens that enjoyed the air without chill as many of them attended to nests that should never have been made at this time of year. “My purpose is to inspire others to find theirs.” 
    In my mind, the strength of those words echoed as cannons booming in a castle; in the past, they ruptured the most dreadful silences and revived hope from lost meaning and graveyards of regret; it scorched shadows of the past and sent phantom thoughts fleeing in terror. But now, as they left my lips, Sarkana’s scrutiny cast their resonance in translucence, and I felt just how hallow they were without action. “Am I a fool to not strive for something within myself?” My fingers went for the ring that normally wrapped my left thumb, to twist it in nervousness, but found its bare skin. Unsettling. I remembered that I had sent it off to Fahim.
    Absentmindedly, Sarkana tugged on her lower lip with her thumb and forefinger. “Your purpose may be fixated on something beyond you, yet it still comes from you. I think you’d be a fool to think it was anything besides beautiful. It may not be anything I would do, or anyone else for that matter, but whatever meaning you hold is yours … does anything else matter?”
    Truth conjoined with likemindedness and sparked a connection, time’s brevity collapsed, and Sarkana seemed, in the filtered light of winter kept at bay, a goddess without age in her own, tiny realm. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
    “Will you tell me about that day?” I asked quietly. 
    “If you promise to keep it only to yourself.”
    “Hei’ta prosium, Sarkana.”
    “Takka, Casimir. I will, then.” She led me to a bench in front of a trellis overrun with ivy, motioning for me to join her in sitting. Overhead, the tree was still a bustle of wings and cawing. “I was quite young, blessed to grow up in a household where magick was nothing short of routine, in a seaside town called Yarimen in Qalmora. At the time, I had little ambition but to become a scholar and attend The Light Academy not a week’s journey from our home.”
    “Did you ever attend the academy?”
    “Yes, but ... that story may be for another time. As I child, I was given two rooks. The birds grew up with me, became my companions. In my eyes, they were inseparable. They hunted, feasted, played, and even watched over me, together. I couldn’t walk beyond our home without their shadows following me. It seemed no matter where I went, I was safe, protected.”
    “They were that loyal?”
    “Of course. I had them since I was born, after all. But … that morning, something happened. I left the home, alone, for the first time. I needed to retrieve some things from the nearby fish market, nothing extraordinary, just some ingredients for dinner. The rooks had been kept in their cages back at home.”
    “Why were they kept there?”
    “I suppose I felt they should be there. Every child looks forward to their first day of being unwatched by a protective eye. The rooks watched over me, but I wanted to see how I faired alone in the bustling market. I was just past my tenth year, and I felt I could handle myself well enough. Everything went well, after all, that wasn’t the problem. Of course, I could purchase some fish and return home. The horror was what awaited me when I got there.”
    “What did you see?”
    “I pushed open the door, my basket heavy with supplies, but then suddenly, dropped to the floor. Bread, fish, spices, they all spilled out at my feet. I was surprised to find that my fingers had gone numb, that my fist had relinquished its hold on what should have been a happy day of, for the first time, being independent. But when I looked inside my home, I saw bloody paw prints  scattered across the floor. And besides them, countless, black feathers parted from the rooks.”
    “Did you call for help?”
    “It wouldn't have mattered in the end, but at the time, I couldn't think to do so. Without thinking, it seemed, my feet wandered past the doorway and shuffled into the living room. Somehow, the cage had been unlocked, and beneath it, one of the rooks was laying there, her talons already curled up by the rigor mortis, her beak snapped in two and her body shattered by the teeth of a wolf that had found its way inside.
    “I followed the paw prints and found tufts of fur ripped from the wolf, along with the silence that had settled into our home. The prints led me upstairs, to one of the studies, where I found the body of the wolf, its neck riddled with puncture marks from a beak, its eyes pecked to shreds. But besides it, there was the second rook, too, his feathers heavy and still like blackened stone, unmoving as they soaked up the blood.”
    My face clenched up as I realized what the story was missing, or rather, what was hidden. I felt my suspicions of Sarkana soften. “What did you do?”
    “I did what any child would do, I cried. But after that, and after the silence of that afternoon pursued me as I grew older, I thought often about what had happened, why it happened.”
    “But does tragedy need to have a reason behind it? Does death desire a meaning?”
    Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Sarkana’s head turn from the clouds to mine, so I did the same, watching the memories play out across her eyes, the metaphor unraveling in grisly clarity. “Precisely. Tragedy does not, it seldom does. But it’s our duty to give it one. Death asks nothing of us, it only takes. It’s our task to shape something from it.”
    “Is that your purpose, Sarkana?”
    “I have many,” she replied, touching her hand to mine, “but they all stem from that one.”
    Confused, I looked down at the sudden display of affection. But she was only getting my attention. The warmth of her fingers left to point towards the sky. “It appears your friend is smarter than you thought,” she said with a smile. “Some news from the castle, then?”
    Beyond the direction of her finger, I spotted a very confused and very tiny Felix discovering just how warm it was inside the sanctuary, flapping around in circles before swooping down in exhilaration at spotting me. Forgetting his task, the crow dropped the letter that he'd been holding in his beak, crashing into my chest with many caws, flapping feathers, and attempts to stroke his beak against my chin. After soothing and introducing him to Sarkana, I dug into the pouch at his talon, to find my ring awaiting me. I slipped it back onto my thumb, glad to feel another comfort returned. 
    But it was with a racing heart that I stood up, walked toward the unmarked envelope, and unfolded the letter that Fahim had wrote in reply to my signal.
    I skimmed the writing with greedy eyes, past the rushed greeting and hopes of my survival, down to the final lines scrawled in the same haste as all the others, the ones that read:


Meet me at the Reaver’s Crossroads, dusk of the 6th of January. 
#TCOC  #amideadyetitis2am 
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Written by AtMilliways in portal Fantasy

Journey

A single drip ran down the side of a shot glass that was filled to the brim. Jasper grinned, tossed it back without losing a single drop more, and plunked it back down on the bar. “So,” he said, turning toward the woman sitting beside him, “what did you say your name was?”

“Karen,” she replied, tucking a lock of dark hair behind one ear. Not a particularly standout name, in Jasper’s opinion, but he could overlook that. Her smile was hesitant but flirtatious as she looked him up and down in return, taking in his heavy boots and clothes of reinforced leather. They gave him an aura of looking for trouble that made him stand out in a quiet, middle of nowhere town like this.

Plus, he happened to know that his ass looked fantastic in leather pants.

Jasper was about to ask if he could buy her a drink when a hand slapped down between them. The shot glass jumped, fell over, and rolled down the bar. He let out a heartfelt groan, for he already knew who it was without even needing to glance down at the hand, much less turn and look.

“Nightfall,” his business partner announced briskly. “Time to get going, Jasper. Those monsters aren't going to catch themselves.” Without waiting for a response, Beatrix snatched up his travel pack from its resting place at the foot of his stool and walked off, knowing he would follow.

After hastily apologizing to Karen and tossing money on the bar, he chased after his pack. It contained all of his belongings too important or too personal to leave with the horses, including his dowsing rod made of a wood that was particularly hard to find on the northern continent. In retrospect, he probably should have been keeping a better eye on it, but between the size of the small community and the fact that something nasty had been preying on vagrants in the night hereabouts, he hadn’t bothered to keep his guard up.

Outside the saloon’s swinging double doors, the night was sharp with cold. That was enough to get Jasper’s pulse up a bit, because it was mid summer and the day had been too sweltering for all the heat to have dissipated so soon naturally. She was right; it was time to go.

He caught up with her halfway to their patiently waiting horses and snatched the bag out of her hand. “Give me that! Hell’s sake, can't you let me have any fun?”

The road was quiet and lit by glowstone lanterns spaced widely apart enough to not be especially effective. In the distance there was the glimmer of marsh fire, too. It undulated dimly over the surrounding swamp like an earth-bound aurora, but the tricky light only made the town itself seem more shrouded in darkness. Jasper supposed they were used to it around here, but he still found it unnerving.

Beatrix went to her horse, Fenwick, and swung herself into the saddle. “A murder of nightghasts is hanging around the edges of this town, and there are plenty of shadows to creep up in. We have a job to do.”

“Fine. But after this I demand a week off for some me time,” he retorted, mounting up as well. Barnabus snorted and turned his great head around to eye his rider tolerantly, as if to say what took you.

“Believe me,” Beatrix said, rolling her eyes, “I've been unlucky enough to share a campsite with you several times when you hadn't had enough ‘me time’ lately. I'm in no rush to hear that again. Ready?”

Jasper was pleased that he would get what he wanted, but even more eager now to begin the hunt. The dowsing rod was already out of his traveling bag and ready in his hand, twitching like a compass trying to settle on an elusive north.

He flashed his roguish grin, something that never seemed to move his companion in the slightest. “Let’s hit the road.”

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Written by AtMilliways in portal Fantasy
Journey
A single drip ran down the side of a shot glass that was filled to the brim. Jasper grinned, tossed it back without losing a single drop more, and plunked it back down on the bar. “So,” he said, turning toward the woman sitting beside him, “what did you say your name was?”

“Karen,” she replied, tucking a lock of dark hair behind one ear. Not a particularly standout name, in Jasper’s opinion, but he could overlook that. Her smile was hesitant but flirtatious as she looked him up and down in return, taking in his heavy boots and clothes of reinforced leather. They gave him an aura of looking for trouble that made him stand out in a quiet, middle of nowhere town like this.

Plus, he happened to know that his ass looked fantastic in leather pants.

Jasper was about to ask if he could buy her a drink when a hand slapped down between them. The shot glass jumped, fell over, and rolled down the bar. He let out a heartfelt groan, for he already knew who it was without even needing to glance down at the hand, much less turn and look.

“Nightfall,” his business partner announced briskly. “Time to get going, Jasper. Those monsters aren't going to catch themselves.” Without waiting for a response, Beatrix snatched up his travel pack from its resting place at the foot of his stool and walked off, knowing he would follow.

After hastily apologizing to Karen and tossing money on the bar, he chased after his pack. It contained all of his belongings too important or too personal to leave with the horses, including his dowsing rod made of a wood that was particularly hard to find on the northern continent. In retrospect, he probably should have been keeping a better eye on it, but between the size of the small community and the fact that something nasty had been preying on vagrants in the night hereabouts, he hadn’t bothered to keep his guard up.

Outside the saloon’s swinging double doors, the night was sharp with cold. That was enough to get Jasper’s pulse up a bit, because it was mid summer and the day had been too sweltering for all the heat to have dissipated so soon naturally. She was right; it was time to go.

He caught up with her halfway to their patiently waiting horses and snatched the bag out of her hand. “Give me that! Hell’s sake, can't you let me have any fun?”

The road was quiet and lit by glowstone lanterns spaced widely apart enough to not be especially effective. In the distance there was the glimmer of marsh fire, too. It undulated dimly over the surrounding swamp like an earth-bound aurora, but the tricky light only made the town itself seem more shrouded in darkness. Jasper supposed they were used to it around here, but he still found it unnerving.

Beatrix went to her horse, Fenwick, and swung herself into the saddle. “A murder of nightghasts is hanging around the edges of this town, and there are plenty of shadows to creep up in. We have a job to do.”

“Fine. But after this I demand a week off for some me time,” he retorted, mounting up as well. Barnabus snorted and turned his great head around to eye his rider tolerantly, as if to say what took you.

“Believe me,” Beatrix said, rolling her eyes, “I've been unlucky enough to share a campsite with you several times when you hadn't had enough ‘me time’ lately. I'm in no rush to hear that again. Ready?”

Jasper was pleased that he would get what he wanted, but even more eager now to begin the hunt. The dowsing rod was already out of his traveling bag and ready in his hand, twitching like a compass trying to settle on an elusive north.

He flashed his roguish grin, something that never seemed to move his companion in the slightest. “Let’s hit the road.”
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Written by JRose in portal Fantasy

Paper Wings

She stands on the second story balcony; looking down at the ground first. She wonders if she jumps will she land on her feet. She holds onto the blue painted wooden rail and carefully sits on it. Her feet swing back and forth and she smiles. She can feel the wind in her hair. The breeze caresses her cheek and she closes her eyes. There is a whisper in her ear. Telling her to look up into the sky.

A bird flies past her just as she opens her eyes,and she smiles; reaching out to touch it. Wishing she could be with it. She looks up at the sky. The fluffy clouds that to her look like small puffs of smoke begin to float away. The blue sky hypnotizes her and she once again reaches out to it. She hears giggles come from inside the hallway and turns her head to see her friends.  They offer smiles and in their hands are paper wings.

Each of the wings are colored in different specks of red, pink, purple. These wings are simple, stapled together, and carrying two small straps. The wings are so small they could only ever fit a baby's back. 

"What are you doing?" The girl asks one of her friends.

With a smile, her friend looks up at the sky as a white bird passes by. She extends her hand out and the bird chirps at her before a feather drops. The wind causes the feather to sway, back and forth, back and forth until landing in her hand.

"What are you doing?" She asks her friend again. Her friend doesn't respond instead offers another smile and places the feather on her paper wings. Placing the small wings on her back she smiles when they do transform. Her wings are beautiful, the whitest and most feathery wings anyone has ever seen. They remind her of angel wings. Her friend climbs on the rail spreading her arms up and she jumps. 

The wings spread and she flies high into the sky going around the house and when she lands on the ground she looks up at the rest of her friends who are now smiling.

"Come on!" She calls out to them. Each of the four kids run downstairs all hoping to find feathers. This girl however, she looks at her friends. The one with the wings and the ones searching for them. She watches each one of them find one and not a bird is in sight. She wonders if she'll ever get to fly and can only feel melancholic when she sees each and every single one of her friends take flight. 

From the sky something screeches and when she looks beside her a black feather lands. She looks up and sees a black crow. Placed beside her an empty pair of paper wings. With no color she places the black feather on the paper wings. When she places them on her back she can feel the heavy weight on her shoulders. The color of the wings cause everyone to gasp. These wings are black, the color so shiny and silky and yet, there is a reflection of green that sparkles with the sunlight. This green shiny undertone makes her smile. She sets her sights on the sky and with a leap she jumps. 

"How do I work this?" She thinks, while her friends scream thinking she'll fall. Her feet are inches away from reaching the ground and then. She flies. Her wings spread and begin to move on their own. She smiles as she goes higher and higher. Her friends follow her as she goes up to the clouds. Her arms are spread, the wind is in her hair, there's a smile on her face. She can feel her heart race and as she looks beyond into the sky. 

"This is home."

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Written by JRose in portal Fantasy
Paper Wings
She stands on the second story balcony; looking down at the ground first. She wonders if she jumps will she land on her feet. She holds onto the blue painted wooden rail and carefully sits on it. Her feet swing back and forth and she smiles. She can feel the wind in her hair. The breeze caresses her cheek and she closes her eyes. There is a whisper in her ear. Telling her to look up into the sky.

A bird flies past her just as she opens her eyes,and she smiles; reaching out to touch it. Wishing she could be with it. She looks up at the sky. The fluffy clouds that to her look like small puffs of smoke begin to float away. The blue sky hypnotizes her and she once again reaches out to it. She hears giggles come from inside the hallway and turns her head to see her friends.  They offer smiles and in their hands are paper wings.

Each of the wings are colored in different specks of red, pink, purple. These wings are simple, stapled together, and carrying two small straps. The wings are so small they could only ever fit a baby's back. 
"What are you doing?" The girl asks one of her friends.
With a smile, her friend looks up at the sky as a white bird passes by. She extends her hand out and the bird chirps at her before a feather drops. The wind causes the feather to sway, back and forth, back and forth until landing in her hand.
"What are you doing?" She asks her friend again. Her friend doesn't respond instead offers another smile and places the feather on her paper wings. Placing the small wings on her back she smiles when they do transform. Her wings are beautiful, the whitest and most feathery wings anyone has ever seen. They remind her of angel wings. Her friend climbs on the rail spreading her arms up and she jumps. 

The wings spread and she flies high into the sky going around the house and when she lands on the ground she looks up at the rest of her friends who are now smiling.
"Come on!" She calls out to them. Each of the four kids run downstairs all hoping to find feathers. This girl however, she looks at her friends. The one with the wings and the ones searching for them. She watches each one of them find one and not a bird is in sight. She wonders if she'll ever get to fly and can only feel melancholic when she sees each and every single one of her friends take flight. 

From the sky something screeches and when she looks beside her a black feather lands. She looks up and sees a black crow. Placed beside her an empty pair of paper wings. With no color she places the black feather on the paper wings. When she places them on her back she can feel the heavy weight on her shoulders. The color of the wings cause everyone to gasp. These wings are black, the color so shiny and silky and yet, there is a reflection of green that sparkles with the sunlight. This green shiny undertone makes her smile. She sets her sights on the sky and with a leap she jumps. 

"How do I work this?" She thinks, while her friends scream thinking she'll fall. Her feet are inches away from reaching the ground and then. She flies. Her wings spread and begin to move on their own. She smiles as she goes higher and higher. Her friends follow her as she goes up to the clouds. Her arms are spread, the wind is in her hair, there's a smile on her face. She can feel her heart race and as she looks beyond into the sky. 
"This is home."
#fantasy  #fiction  #adventure  #childrens 
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Written by Mnezz in portal Fantasy

Is It Easter yet?

With a large hop, skip and thump-The Great Master of Spring fun is really getting antsy.

All round the Island the other Easter team are getting the baskets and loads of mega-bajillion pounds of candy ready for the next greatest time for kids, other than Christmas no doubt.

There is an uncountable whole team that see to it that the event goes well. The main task of their boss is to make sure that he uses the express portals that tunnel through from the massive outdoor Island statues that even humans wouldn't expect to explore. They think that aliens are the ones who placed the pieces there. But in all truth that is the quickest way to the Easter ginormous lair. It's surprisingly all right below the statues and no person would think to check & think that that's where all the Easter plans are made. And all the deliveries to the rest of the world are kept safe and sound.

Grand Bunny: Hey let's all make sure that the eggs will soon be ready for delivery. We mustn't forget to check to make sure that no living human sees us heading out via the main statue(s) entrance. That's the best way to get the Easter Ship out from here and into the air to deliver all the treats to boys and girls everywhere.

Chickedy: All systems are clear and the decorating team are not remaining off-task Sir.

Grand Bunny: Eggscellent. Sorry I could t help myself. You could say I am having a really eggtastic time getting ready for Easter.

Chickedy: (clears throat) Hahaha! I forgot to laugh. I'm so excited to finally be a part of the team Sir.

Grand Bunny: You don't have to address me as Sir all the time. Even G.B is fine.

Chickedy: Eggvellous.

Grand Bunny: You can leave the puns to me there okay. No need to try and make one.

Chickedy nods and his beak lowers in defeat.

G.B: I'm kidding. You've got to enjoy your time here. I bet it's much better than the North Pole. I mean it's not freezing.

.....................

Meanwhile somewhere far away towards the highest freezing point region.

Martha: Nick you've got to calm down. Why are you pacing around so much?

Nick: I feel as if I need to start getting all the preparations and elves ready. We don't want to have another incident like last year. Where we ended up forgetting about that one special kid. Which place was he located?

Martha: Easter island.

Nick: (laughs in a hysterical manner)

Martha: What's funny about that?

Nick: (wipes away tear) For some reason I thought they celebrate Easter every day there. Have you seen what G.B does to the place? It never even snows there. That's a sign that he actually doesn't like Christmas. Apparently, he thinks that his holiday should be the most wonderful time of the year.

........................

Back at the Easter H.Q.

(In the background the song "it's the most wonderful time of the year" plays as all the Easter team work their feathery tails and wings off).

General Sncikers: All right all of You munchkins. We mean serious business here-especially when it comes to getting all the candy gooods, and yum delicious treats unlike any other in the whole vast wide world.

Charlie: What's the secret to making them taste so well-brilliant?

General Sncikers: It's all about the magic goodness and fun.

All: Oh-Ah! Woohoo.

General Sncikers: Enough yipper yapping. Easter is around the corner.

As the sweet patrol all get the treats ready the G.B keeps checking to see that all is going according to plan.

Chickedy: The countdown and charts are showing all our progress G.B.

G.B: What a truly great team effort that you've all put in this year. I'm sure all the little ones will remember this year's Easter and the best one yet!

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Written by Mnezz in portal Fantasy
Is It Easter yet?
With a large hop, skip and thump-The Great Master of Spring fun is really getting antsy.

All round the Island the other Easter team are getting the baskets and loads of mega-bajillion pounds of candy ready for the next greatest time for kids, other than Christmas no doubt.

There is an uncountable whole team that see to it that the event goes well. The main task of their boss is to make sure that he uses the express portals that tunnel through from the massive outdoor Island statues that even humans wouldn't expect to explore. They think that aliens are the ones who placed the pieces there. But in all truth that is the quickest way to the Easter ginormous lair. It's surprisingly all right below the statues and no person would think to check & think that that's where all the Easter plans are made. And all the deliveries to the rest of the world are kept safe and sound.

Grand Bunny: Hey let's all make sure that the eggs will soon be ready for delivery. We mustn't forget to check to make sure that no living human sees us heading out via the main statue(s) entrance. That's the best way to get the Easter Ship out from here and into the air to deliver all the treats to boys and girls everywhere.

Chickedy: All systems are clear and the decorating team are not remaining off-task Sir.

Grand Bunny: Eggscellent. Sorry I could t help myself. You could say I am having a really eggtastic time getting ready for Easter.

Chickedy: (clears throat) Hahaha! I forgot to laugh. I'm so excited to finally be a part of the team Sir.

Grand Bunny: You don't have to address me as Sir all the time. Even G.B is fine.

Chickedy: Eggvellous.

Grand Bunny: You can leave the puns to me there okay. No need to try and make one.

Chickedy nods and his beak lowers in defeat.

G.B: I'm kidding. You've got to enjoy your time here. I bet it's much better than the North Pole. I mean it's not freezing.

.....................
Meanwhile somewhere far away towards the highest freezing point region.

Martha: Nick you've got to calm down. Why are you pacing around so much?

Nick: I feel as if I need to start getting all the preparations and elves ready. We don't want to have another incident like last year. Where we ended up forgetting about that one special kid. Which place was he located?

Martha: Easter island.

Nick: (laughs in a hysterical manner)

Martha: What's funny about that?

Nick: (wipes away tear) For some reason I thought they celebrate Easter every day there. Have you seen what G.B does to the place? It never even snows there. That's a sign that he actually doesn't like Christmas. Apparently, he thinks that his holiday should be the most wonderful time of the year.

........................
Back at the Easter H.Q.

(In the background the song "it's the most wonderful time of the year" plays as all the Easter team work their feathery tails and wings off).

General Sncikers: All right all of You munchkins. We mean serious business here-especially when it comes to getting all the candy gooods, and yum delicious treats unlike any other in the whole vast wide world.

Charlie: What's the secret to making them taste so well-brilliant?

General Sncikers: It's all about the magic goodness and fun.

All: Oh-Ah! Woohoo.

General Sncikers: Enough yipper yapping. Easter is around the corner.

As the sweet patrol all get the treats ready the G.B keeps checking to see that all is going according to plan.

Chickedy: The countdown and charts are showing all our progress G.B.

G.B: What a truly great team effort that you've all put in this year. I'm sure all the little ones will remember this year's Easter and the best one yet!
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I want dragons, I want elves, I want knights errant and magic swords! Or any magic really, I want classic fantasy, with hero's and villains with evil plots, the only twist is that the dragons have to be the good guys! NO poetry, only prose please :)! Extra points if you can write a laugh or two into it! Tag me @AWriter
Written by QuinnyQuinn in portal Fantasy

Banished

A brave mountain climber had just finished scaling a part of the mountain, and had stopped to set up camp on the flat space he had just found. He pulled out a flashlight; the sun was quickly sinking below the horizon. As the beam of light cut through the darkness, it found a cave. The climber noticed the cave was perfectly tucked away. One of the best places I could have found to spend the night, especially since it might rain! the climber thought to himself. He set up his small camping equipment around the cave and his sleeping gear inside, then quickly fell asleep, as a day of climbing had exhausted him. So exhausted, in fact, that he didn’t notice the low, deep, growling sound that started a few hours after he had fallen asleep. When the sun arose, only a deserted climber’s camp remained, and a single claw mark in the rock - perhaps meant as a warning.

“You can't just sit there, doing nothing! This is the fourth death this month alone!”

“I’m doing all I can, Mrs. Blexli.”

“Well, it's not enough.”

“Remember to whom you are speaking with.”

“Apologies, Your Majesty.”

“I’ll send people to thoroughly investigate, if it makes you feel any better.”

“It would.”

Mrs. Blexli respectfully bowed and left the room. Emperor Gaodi sighed and called for his head guard. “Send a troop of twenty-some to find the cause of these deaths. Last we heard, they mostly occurred in the Himalayas.”

“Sir, yes, sir.” The Head Guard quickly walked out, ready to alert his troops of their task. What have I gotten myself into? Emperor Gaodi thought to himself. Never a day’s rest for an Emperor.

Outside, a goose followed the Head Guard. “Okay, men, we’ve been asked to investigate a series of deaths in the Himalayas. Pack your bags, and get ready to go. We will eliminate this threat to our kingdom. But, before we leave tonight, send up offerings to the yellow dragon, the dragon of imperial authority.”

“Yes, sir!”

The goose honked, being the goose it was. She felt bad for the poor dragon who had twenty soldiers coming straight to her lair. Well, it's obviously a dragon, what else could make such a large claw mark? Oh! Look! A vibrant patch of grass! Yum! The goose, Matilda did not have a long attention span. It was about as short as the blink of an eye. But, this time, she remembered that she needed to warn this poor dragon, before she was killed or worse, banished. To be banished was the worst possible fate for a dragon. You would lose total control of your element, all of the other dragons’ respect for you, and be, obviously, banished to the NoLands, the unconquered lands full of looting bandits and rogue killers. Matilda shuddered thinking about it. Oh! Look! A vibrant patch of grass! Yum! How didn’t I notice this before? Matilda’s memory wasn’t very good, either. It looks like the Grass Dragon blesses this area! Dragon….Oh! I must warn the dragon in the mountains! Matilda flew off in a flurry of feathers.

Deep in a cave inside the Himalayas, Xilang the dragon, who hadn’t seen the sun for years, sat restlessly. With scales as black as a shadow that had a certain blue-green-purple-gold glimmer if you tilted your head. A long, scaly tail wrapped around a stalagmite. Dilong, the dragon of the underground had allowed her to stay here for a while, as long as she continued to bless places he specifically picked out. She had agreed, having nowhere else to go.

She jolted up with a start, when she heard a loud honking coming in from the mouth of the cave. I’m going to kill that goose one day! she thought irritatedly. She moved herself up to the cave to see what Matilda wanted.

“Honk! Honk!” Matilda was seriously getting on her nerves.

“Are you ever quiet, Matilda?”

“Have you ever considered growing some lovely grass up here?”

“Is that what you came to tell me?”

“Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t remember. Have you ever considered growing some grass up here? It would look nice.”

“Matilda! No grass! Forget the grass! Try to remember what you wanted to tell me.”

“Tell you...tell you...Oh! The emperor sent some soldiers to see why that other climber, that you ate, disappeared. Also-”

“NO! I DON’T WANT GRASS UP HERE!”

“Geez, I was going to suggest some decorations. Like, a bench, or some flowers.”

“Wait, soldiers are coming? To this mountain?!”

“Yeah. And, do you want to hear my opinion?”

“Sure, Matilda,” she said tiredly, hoping that she had good advice, for once, on how to defend against the soldiers.

“I think that some grass would look nice over there,” Matilda pointed to a barren rock next to the cave entrance. Xilang lunged for Matilda, yelling,”GET OUT OF HERE!”

After Matilda had flown away, Xiliang drew back into her cave. If the soldiers come here, and find me, I’m done for. I could definitely kill them, but what happens then? They send the rest of the army after me to kill the “murderous, blood-thirsty dragon.” I can’t flee, they’ll see me. I don’t have any options. Other than to turn myself in, which always ends up in Banishment. They don't care, anyways. A loss of the oil dragon is of no issue to them. I've got it! If they are to kill me, then I will make oil hard for them to obtain. Only once every thousands of year can oil be found. Let them remember me every time they run out of fuel.

Xilang felt the vibrations of a small army approaching and braced herself for the worst. Thud, thud, thud...

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I want dragons, I want elves, I want knights errant and magic swords! Or any magic really, I want classic fantasy, with hero's and villains with evil plots, the only twist is that the dragons have to be the good guys! NO poetry, only prose please :)! Extra points if you can write a laugh or two into it! Tag me @AWriter
Written by QuinnyQuinn in portal Fantasy
Banished
A brave mountain climber had just finished scaling a part of the mountain, and had stopped to set up camp on the flat space he had just found. He pulled out a flashlight; the sun was quickly sinking below the horizon. As the beam of light cut through the darkness, it found a cave. The climber noticed the cave was perfectly tucked away. One of the best places I could have found to spend the night, especially since it might rain! the climber thought to himself. He set up his small camping equipment around the cave and his sleeping gear inside, then quickly fell asleep, as a day of climbing had exhausted him. So exhausted, in fact, that he didn’t notice the low, deep, growling sound that started a few hours after he had fallen asleep. When the sun arose, only a deserted climber’s camp remained, and a single claw mark in the rock - perhaps meant as a warning.
“You can't just sit there, doing nothing! This is the fourth death this month alone!”
“I’m doing all I can, Mrs. Blexli.”
“Well, it's not enough.”
“Remember to whom you are speaking with.”
“Apologies, Your Majesty.”
“I’ll send people to thoroughly investigate, if it makes you feel any better.”
“It would.”
Mrs. Blexli respectfully bowed and left the room. Emperor Gaodi sighed and called for his head guard. “Send a troop of twenty-some to find the cause of these deaths. Last we heard, they mostly occurred in the Himalayas.”
“Sir, yes, sir.” The Head Guard quickly walked out, ready to alert his troops of their task. What have I gotten myself into? Emperor Gaodi thought to himself. Never a day’s rest for an Emperor.
Outside, a goose followed the Head Guard. “Okay, men, we’ve been asked to investigate a series of deaths in the Himalayas. Pack your bags, and get ready to go. We will eliminate this threat to our kingdom. But, before we leave tonight, send up offerings to the yellow dragon, the dragon of imperial authority.”
“Yes, sir!”
The goose honked, being the goose it was. She felt bad for the poor dragon who had twenty soldiers coming straight to her lair. Well, it's obviously a dragon, what else could make such a large claw mark? Oh! Look! A vibrant patch of grass! Yum! The goose, Matilda did not have a long attention span. It was about as short as the blink of an eye. But, this time, she remembered that she needed to warn this poor dragon, before she was killed or worse, banished. To be banished was the worst possible fate for a dragon. You would lose total control of your element, all of the other dragons’ respect for you, and be, obviously, banished to the NoLands, the unconquered lands full of looting bandits and rogue killers. Matilda shuddered thinking about it. Oh! Look! A vibrant patch of grass! Yum! How didn’t I notice this before? Matilda’s memory wasn’t very good, either. It looks like the Grass Dragon blesses this area! Dragon….Oh! I must warn the dragon in the mountains! Matilda flew off in a flurry of feathers.
Deep in a cave inside the Himalayas, Xilang the dragon, who hadn’t seen the sun for years, sat restlessly. With scales as black as a shadow that had a certain blue-green-purple-gold glimmer if you tilted your head. A long, scaly tail wrapped around a stalagmite. Dilong, the dragon of the underground had allowed her to stay here for a while, as long as she continued to bless places he specifically picked out. She had agreed, having nowhere else to go.
She jolted up with a start, when she heard a loud honking coming in from the mouth of the cave. I’m going to kill that goose one day! she thought irritatedly. She moved herself up to the cave to see what Matilda wanted.
“Honk! Honk!” Matilda was seriously getting on her nerves.
“Are you ever quiet, Matilda?”
“Have you ever considered growing some lovely grass up here?”
“Is that what you came to tell me?”
“Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t remember. Have you ever considered growing some grass up here? It would look nice.”
“Matilda! No grass! Forget the grass! Try to remember what you wanted to tell me.”
“Tell you...tell you...Oh! The emperor sent some soldiers to see why that other climber, that you ate, disappeared. Also-”
“NO! I DON’T WANT GRASS UP HERE!”
“Geez, I was going to suggest some decorations. Like, a bench, or some flowers.”
“Wait, soldiers are coming? To this mountain?!”
“Yeah. And, do you want to hear my opinion?”
“Sure, Matilda,” she said tiredly, hoping that she had good advice, for once, on how to defend against the soldiers.
“I think that some grass would look nice over there,” Matilda pointed to a barren rock next to the cave entrance. Xilang lunged for Matilda, yelling,”GET OUT OF HERE!”
After Matilda had flown away, Xiliang drew back into her cave. If the soldiers come here, and find me, I’m done for. I could definitely kill them, but what happens then? They send the rest of the army after me to kill the “murderous, blood-thirsty dragon.” I can’t flee, they’ll see me. I don’t have any options. Other than to turn myself in, which always ends up in Banishment. They don't care, anyways. A loss of the oil dragon is of no issue to them. I've got it! If they are to kill me, then I will make oil hard for them to obtain. Only once every thousands of year can oil be found. Let them remember me every time they run out of fuel.
Xilang felt the vibrations of a small army approaching and braced herself for the worst. Thud, thud, thud...
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Written by AWriter in portal Fantasy

The Travellers.

The first Traveller to arrive:

Beneath the vaulted ceiling of the forest eaves the trees talked of wonders lost for a thousand years, of wars fought against dark shadows with magic swords and mythical things forgotten by men. Yet there was not a soul to hear, slowly quietly, the voices dimmed as a hundred years, a thousand passed. Seasons turned until the blessed spring arrived with delicate flowers, all done up in pastel colours, bringing with it a traveller and his horse. Neither much caring where they were going, together Edward and his horse wandered where they may, simply taking joy from the wood's delight in spring. The horse munched fresh grass from around the roots of the trees as Edward greeted the trees friendly branches with laughter. 

A whisper rustled through the leaves, faint at first, the forest's voice almost forgotten. The horse pricked its ears and stopped. The traveller, sensing something had changed, holds his breath; was this the start of an adventure? Foolish hope twisted through his gut as the whisper, stronger now, tingled through the air. The man's eyes widen and a single breath is taken as secrets are whispered to longing ears; burning with a desire to learn, to hear, to know, as places long lost to the world spill across the traveler's inner eye as if they were a dream. 

Slowly sound and time returned, the evening sun spilled mellow light across the forest floor as the man looked to the trees with a thousand questions upon his lips. But no answers came and only silence met his pleading gaze. As he waited shadows filled the nooks and crannies of the forest. Lurking in those shadows was something more than just the darkness of the growing night. Foreboding filled his heart as fear settled over him. He turned the horses head towards the dying light and set off determined to beat the shadows rise.

With questions still ringing through his mind, he turned and gave the forest one last glance, the only way to find salvation, to find the answers needed to keep the darkness away, was to seek out power. He let his memory guide him to a place where power rested, awaiting a hand to wield it and in that forests quiet heart, hope for the return of day, lingered with the scent of spring.a

***

The first to fall:

Edward stood in a small clearing, far from any town, or any person. At his feet a set of crumbling stairs lead into the damp earth. He turned at a sound behind him, there stood his horse, chomping at the grass, the shadows were there too; dancing around the clearing, darkening the light and whispering of danger. The traveler dived down the stair, the only hope now was to reach whatever thing of power was hidden there. Only power would save him.

He dashed blindly through a maze, not caring which way he turned, the shadows biting at his heels. Hidden traps went snicker snack within the walls yet nothing stopped the growing danger. Fear tingled through every nerve, he ran until he came to a hall, dull with dust and remnants of fabric upon the walls. There an object lay upon a stone table, not a speck of dust had settled upon it's dark grey surface. The rough shape of a scepter, it was unassuming, yet power lurked below the surface. 

He felt them arrive, he turned around knowing that he would see the shadows weaving ever closer. His fear told him that his only hope was to reach the scepter first. He sprinted across the room, hand outstretched toward that which would save him from the dreadful fate that the shadows had in store for him.

As if in slow motion his fingers closed around the scepter and power, raw and unrefined pored through his body. The shadows paused, weaving in the air, then one by one they bowed before him. They begged and promised allegiance as Edward turned to face what he had before feared.

With a smile Edward twisted them into shapes that pleased him, "Why fear what is now mine to control?" he asked himself. 

With a command the Overlord led the way out of the hall into the graying day. With the power held within the scepter he would rule. He would rule over it all and bring to this land wonders like it had never seen before. 

In the forests heart, hope died as a breeze swept away the scent of spring.

***

A second traveller and a second chance:

The Shadows where after him. Althalus had hoped that if he entered the Forbidden Forest that they would leave him be. After all he had seen them turn away before at the forests edge.

Unfortunately it seemed they wanted him more than they feared the forest. Althalus stumbled in yet another snow drift, his legs numb with tiredness and cold. He lay on the ground trying to find the will to get up. He didn't know how long he had been running, long enough that all he felt was tired, the fear having been replaced by the need to just keep moving.

The silence was all about him now and a small bit of will to live, to fight another day against the Overlord and his shadows returned. With effort he recalled the dark empty houses of his small village, he at least had to get up for them, to remain the last one standing, proof that not every soul who had defied the Overlord had died.

With a muttered word he got up out of the snow drift and stumbled on. He did not see the steep slope in front of him. Suddenly his feet vanished from under him and he was rolling down the hill, a flash of white sky and dark bare branches were the last thing he saw.

Althalus opened his eyes and saw roots, there was also some snow and everything was cold, there were also no shadows and he was still alive. While the last two facts where oddities, he had never been one to look to closely at a gifted horse.

Whispers ruffled around him, it took him a moment to focus on what they were saying through the throbbing ache in his head. As the words became clear, his eyes widened, the very trees where speaking. They told him of a mistake made, of power corrupting absolutely, of hope lost. They also spoke of ways hidden and lost, ways to once again bring light again to the land. Althalus sat up, he looked at the dim light of midday and set his stubborn ways to a new course of action. He let go of the idea of revenge, his mission now was to bring the light back to just one place in the land.

Tired limbs shook as he stood, he turned towards the east, the very place the sun rose. It would be a long journey but he would find what he was looking for in the land of the sun. 

***

Return:

Althalus stood in an empty hall, in an empty town. It had been a long time since the last person had lived here, the low stone buildings were crumbling with age. He smiled, this was the perfect place to set things right, a forgotten town too be home to a forgotten freedom.

In his hand he held a sword, its power cut stray dust motes in half a good inch from the edge of the blade. With twirl of the sword, he took ahold of the power within, sweeping away the dust and ruin. He turned as the blade sang and walked out of the shifting and rumbling hall, through doors that were fabricating themselves out of nothing. 

He looked up at the dim sun and closed his eyes. The sword seemed to need to move, every swing, every turn releasing a little more power, its edge cutting through what was, too create what was wanted... with a final slice Althalus released the magic and slowly at first, light returned to the town. He knew that it wouldn't be long before word would reach the ear of the Overlord. He had not returned quietly. No, he had spread the word of where he was, of what he planned to do. He knew that it would take time before the first people arrived, but arrive they will as there were always those that hoped. 

With a shake of his head he turned and set about making the town ready for those few souls who would seek this place. 

***

The importance of light:

 As the second day dawned Althalus stepped outside to find the Overlord waiting at the foot of the stair. His back was turned, "Why are you challenging me?" his voice was odd, to loud yet too quiet.

Althalus started down the stairs as he answered, "You have embraced the dark you were meant to fight, you killed all who have questioned your power, your right to rule. Tell me, why I should not defy you?"

The Overlord turned and Althalus saw the madness in his eyes, "Because I am greater than you."

Althalus looked around at the early morning light, "Have you ever lit a candle?" He asked,

"What have candles got to do with this?"

"However great the dark may seem, however filled with fears and monsters, the light always chases it away. However small the flame."

In answer the Overlord commanded the Shadows to attack, but as soon as they touched the sunlight, they crumbled to nothing. Rage sparkled in his eyes as he lifted the scepter, power filled every part of his mind.

But to slow, to ruled by his power, Althalus had already thrown the magic blade, spinning like a throwing dagger, it pierced his hart. With a clatter the scepter fell, the power holding the shadows failed and they dashed away to hid in dark and secret places.

As Althalus stepped towards the fallen man, sadness filled his hart. He had known that this was how it was to end, the evil in the Overlords heart would not have allowed it to be any other way. Althalus gathered up his sword and looked at the fallen scepter. He had hoped to destroy it but such power radiated from it he knew that he would destroy more than just the scepter if he tried. Yet such a thing could not be allowed to live in the lands of men. 

With a twist of the sword he sent it safest place he could think of, a ocean that he had seen upon his travels. So deep in places that even the greatest seamonsters have not seen the ocean floor. Here he hoped no hand could touch it and the world would have the time it needed to banish the last of the shadows. 

A few could still be seen filtering through the air. But a candle had been lit and hope was there to chase the dark away.

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Written by AWriter in portal Fantasy
The Travellers.
The first Traveller to arrive:
Beneath the vaulted ceiling of the forest eaves the trees talked of wonders lost for a thousand years, of wars fought against dark shadows with magic swords and mythical things forgotten by men. Yet there was not a soul to hear, slowly quietly, the voices dimmed as a hundred years, a thousand passed. Seasons turned until the blessed spring arrived with delicate flowers, all done up in pastel colours, bringing with it a traveller and his horse. Neither much caring where they were going, together Edward and his horse wandered where they may, simply taking joy from the wood's delight in spring. The horse munched fresh grass from around the roots of the trees as Edward greeted the trees friendly branches with laughter. 

A whisper rustled through the leaves, faint at first, the forest's voice almost forgotten. The horse pricked its ears and stopped. The traveller, sensing something had changed, holds his breath; was this the start of an adventure? Foolish hope twisted through his gut as the whisper, stronger now, tingled through the air. The man's eyes widen and a single breath is taken as secrets are whispered to longing ears; burning with a desire to learn, to hear, to know, as places long lost to the world spill across the traveler's inner eye as if they were a dream. 

Slowly sound and time returned, the evening sun spilled mellow light across the forest floor as the man looked to the trees with a thousand questions upon his lips. But no answers came and only silence met his pleading gaze. As he waited shadows filled the nooks and crannies of the forest. Lurking in those shadows was something more than just the darkness of the growing night. Foreboding filled his heart as fear settled over him. He turned the horses head towards the dying light and set off determined to beat the shadows rise.

With questions still ringing through his mind, he turned and gave the forest one last glance, the only way to find salvation, to find the answers needed to keep the darkness away, was to seek out power. He let his memory guide him to a place where power rested, awaiting a hand to wield it and in that forests quiet heart, hope for the return of day, lingered with the scent of spring.a

***
The first to fall:
Edward stood in a small clearing, far from any town, or any person. At his feet a set of crumbling stairs lead into the damp earth. He turned at a sound behind him, there stood his horse, chomping at the grass, the shadows were there too; dancing around the clearing, darkening the light and whispering of danger. The traveler dived down the stair, the only hope now was to reach whatever thing of power was hidden there. Only power would save him.

He dashed blindly through a maze, not caring which way he turned, the shadows biting at his heels. Hidden traps went snicker snack within the walls yet nothing stopped the growing danger. Fear tingled through every nerve, he ran until he came to a hall, dull with dust and remnants of fabric upon the walls. There an object lay upon a stone table, not a speck of dust had settled upon it's dark grey surface. The rough shape of a scepter, it was unassuming, yet power lurked below the surface. 

He felt them arrive, he turned around knowing that he would see the shadows weaving ever closer. His fear told him that his only hope was to reach the scepter first. He sprinted across the room, hand outstretched toward that which would save him from the dreadful fate that the shadows had in store for him.

As if in slow motion his fingers closed around the scepter and power, raw and unrefined pored through his body. The shadows paused, weaving in the air, then one by one they bowed before him. They begged and promised allegiance as Edward turned to face what he had before feared.

With a smile Edward twisted them into shapes that pleased him, "Why fear what is now mine to control?" he asked himself. 

With a command the Overlord led the way out of the hall into the graying day. With the power held within the scepter he would rule. He would rule over it all and bring to this land wonders like it had never seen before. 

In the forests heart, hope died as a breeze swept away the scent of spring.

***
A second traveller and a second chance:
The Shadows where after him. Althalus had hoped that if he entered the Forbidden Forest that they would leave him be. After all he had seen them turn away before at the forests edge.

Unfortunately it seemed they wanted him more than they feared the forest. Althalus stumbled in yet another snow drift, his legs numb with tiredness and cold. He lay on the ground trying to find the will to get up. He didn't know how long he had been running, long enough that all he felt was tired, the fear having been replaced by the need to just keep moving.

The silence was all about him now and a small bit of will to live, to fight another day against the Overlord and his shadows returned. With effort he recalled the dark empty houses of his small village, he at least had to get up for them, to remain the last one standing, proof that not every soul who had defied the Overlord had died.

With a muttered word he got up out of the snow drift and stumbled on. He did not see the steep slope in front of him. Suddenly his feet vanished from under him and he was rolling down the hill, a flash of white sky and dark bare branches were the last thing he saw.

Althalus opened his eyes and saw roots, there was also some snow and everything was cold, there were also no shadows and he was still alive. While the last two facts where oddities, he had never been one to look to closely at a gifted horse.

Whispers ruffled around him, it took him a moment to focus on what they were saying through the throbbing ache in his head. As the words became clear, his eyes widened, the very trees where speaking. They told him of a mistake made, of power corrupting absolutely, of hope lost. They also spoke of ways hidden and lost, ways to once again bring light again to the land. Althalus sat up, he looked at the dim light of midday and set his stubborn ways to a new course of action. He let go of the idea of revenge, his mission now was to bring the light back to just one place in the land.

Tired limbs shook as he stood, he turned towards the east, the very place the sun rose. It would be a long journey but he would find what he was looking for in the land of the sun. 
***
Return:
Althalus stood in an empty hall, in an empty town. It had been a long time since the last person had lived here, the low stone buildings were crumbling with age. He smiled, this was the perfect place to set things right, a forgotten town too be home to a forgotten freedom.

In his hand he held a sword, its power cut stray dust motes in half a good inch from the edge of the blade. With twirl of the sword, he took ahold of the power within, sweeping away the dust and ruin. He turned as the blade sang and walked out of the shifting and rumbling hall, through doors that were fabricating themselves out of nothing. 

He looked up at the dim sun and closed his eyes. The sword seemed to need to move, every swing, every turn releasing a little more power, its edge cutting through what was, too create what was wanted... with a final slice Althalus released the magic and slowly at first, light returned to the town. He knew that it wouldn't be long before word would reach the ear of the Overlord. He had not returned quietly. No, he had spread the word of where he was, of what he planned to do. He knew that it would take time before the first people arrived, but arrive they will as there were always those that hoped. 

With a shake of his head he turned and set about making the town ready for those few souls who would seek this place. 

***
The importance of light:
 As the second day dawned Althalus stepped outside to find the Overlord waiting at the foot of the stair. His back was turned, "Why are you challenging me?" his voice was odd, to loud yet too quiet.

Althalus started down the stairs as he answered, "You have embraced the dark you were meant to fight, you killed all who have questioned your power, your right to rule. Tell me, why I should not defy you?"

The Overlord turned and Althalus saw the madness in his eyes, "Because I am greater than you."

Althalus looked around at the early morning light, "Have you ever lit a candle?" He asked,

"What have candles got to do with this?"

"However great the dark may seem, however filled with fears and monsters, the light always chases it away. However small the flame."

In answer the Overlord commanded the Shadows to attack, but as soon as they touched the sunlight, they crumbled to nothing. Rage sparkled in his eyes as he lifted the scepter, power filled every part of his mind.

But to slow, to ruled by his power, Althalus had already thrown the magic blade, spinning like a throwing dagger, it pierced his hart. With a clatter the scepter fell, the power holding the shadows failed and they dashed away to hid in dark and secret places.

As Althalus stepped towards the fallen man, sadness filled his hart. He had known that this was how it was to end, the evil in the Overlords heart would not have allowed it to be any other way. Althalus gathered up his sword and looked at the fallen scepter. He had hoped to destroy it but such power radiated from it he knew that he would destroy more than just the scepter if he tried. Yet such a thing could not be allowed to live in the lands of men. 

With a twist of the sword he sent it safest place he could think of, a ocean that he had seen upon his travels. So deep in places that even the greatest seamonsters have not seen the ocean floor. Here he hoped no hand could touch it and the world would have the time it needed to banish the last of the shadows. 

A few could still be seen filtering through the air. But a candle had been lit and hope was there to chase the dark away.
#fantasy  #fiction  #adventure  #myth  #legend 
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Chapter 12 of Scenes From a Dusty Mind
Written by dustygrein in portal Fantasy

(fa) A New Perspective

As the light began to fade, Rialla prayed she had chosen correctly.

She lay back in the downy softness and let the small vial roll from her numb fingers. The incantation had gone well, and the stone had turned blue in her hand, as the old woman had said it would. She only hoped that the end , and the beginning, would be painless. This too was a promise from the witch, but one that had been said with much less conviction.

The last thing Rialla saw as her eyes fluttered shut, was the large tawny owl which swooped in and lit next to her head. She blinked twice and as her eyes closed, her shallow breathing stopped and her body released her. For what seemed like hours she fought the panic she felt. It threatened to drag her into the darkness, yet bit by bit she was able to claw her way toward the bird; it was so close, yet so far away.

With a final push, she used the last of her strength to send herself hurtling toward the flattened face, sharp beak and huge eyes of the predator.

The universe echoed a resounding silent scream and her mind snapped over that of the owl, and was twisted into the form it now must occupy inside the creature. She blinked its (her) large eyes, intrigued by the difference in the color spectrum it (she) could see. The animal brain was still strong, even though it was under her will. It (she) was hungry.

Looking down at the cooling corpse by her feet, she let the instinct to feed take control.

The only thing sweeter than the relief her new body felt at being fed, was the taste of the human blood dripping from the chunks of meat as she devoured them.

(c) 2017 - dustygrein

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Chapter 12 of Scenes From a Dusty Mind
Written by dustygrein in portal Fantasy
(fa) A New Perspective
As the light began to fade, Rialla prayed she had chosen correctly.

She lay back in the downy softness and let the small vial roll from her numb fingers. The incantation had gone well, and the stone had turned blue in her hand, as the old woman had said it would. She only hoped that the end , and the beginning, would be painless. This too was a promise from the witch, but one that had been said with much less conviction.

The last thing Rialla saw as her eyes fluttered shut, was the large tawny owl which swooped in and lit next to her head. She blinked twice and as her eyes closed, her shallow breathing stopped and her body released her. For what seemed like hours she fought the panic she felt. It threatened to drag her into the darkness, yet bit by bit she was able to claw her way toward the bird; it was so close, yet so far away.

With a final push, she used the last of her strength to send herself hurtling toward the flattened face, sharp beak and huge eyes of the predator.

The universe echoed a resounding silent scream and her mind snapped over that of the owl, and was twisted into the form it now must occupy inside the creature. She blinked its (her) large eyes, intrigued by the difference in the color spectrum it (she) could see. The animal brain was still strong, even though it was under her will. It (she) was hungry.
Looking down at the cooling corpse by her feet, she let the instinct to feed take control.

The only thing sweeter than the relief her new body felt at being fed, was the taste of the human blood dripping from the chunks of meat as she devoured them.

(c) 2017 - dustygrein
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