Category: image prompt

(IP) A Quick Getaway

(WP) A Quick Getaway

               He had
no idea how a human had been born from such darkness; the only thing he knew
for certain was that he had to get the infant away from his brothers and
sisters, who were raging blindly at the disturbance.

               The
child was wrapped in a thin, tattered blanket, and its squalls echoed throughout
the caverns. The dark tufts of hair that crowned its tiny head blew as Sorin
flapped his powerful bat wings, preparing to launch himself and the child
through the hatch at the top of the mountain.

               A tiny
pinprick of light shone through the hole: he would have to shove them both
through unforgiving, sharp rock before making it to the outside world.

               The
infant was clearly other, clearly human, and Sorin could not silence the questions
inside of his mind. What humans would be so cruel as to leave one of their
young in the heart of their kind? Few beings of their race were gifted true
sentience and free will; Sorin had been lucky. Even as a child, he’d been
certain that he wasn’t meant to live in a dark cavern, knowing naught but
hunger, rage, loneliness and loss.

               With
the arrival of this child, Sorin was more certain than ever before of his
purpose. No, he was not meant to waste away. He would live in solitude, raising
this human child to adulthood.

               With
one beat of his powerful wings, he flew upward, toward that tiny point of
light. The wrathful cries of his kin echoed through the emptiness, and Sorin
felt a tiny whisper: of guilt, regret, he didn’t know. Nonetheless, it didn’t matter
now.

               Turning
his body so it was curled around the child, he used the force of his body to
break through the top of the sharp stone of the peak. Snowflakes beat down upon
his head, and he clenched his jaw to keep from shivering in the sharp, cold
air. The wind seemed to roar around him, obliterating all other sounds. Buffeted
by the cold, he could hardly hear the child’s cries anymore, but he could sense
his heartbeat.

               Sorin
remembered that a string of villages surrounded the mountains like dark beads,
and though he was a monster, he hoped that at least the humans that dwelled
inside would take pity on the boy. He had to try; he’d risked everything and
betrayed his own kind so that the boy might live.

               He
couldn’t give up now. Whatever forces drove the elements had seen fit to make
him different, and he had to do his best to use that gift. His kind loved
violence, reveled in it, and it was something of a miracle that this child hadn’t
ended up harmed, or worse.

               Bolstered
by these thoughts, he flew downward, the child tucked up against his chest. Its
heartbeat slowed, and Sorin realized that somehow, in all the chaos, it had
fallen asleep, burrowing into him for warmth.

               He
descended when he began to see golden lights and smoke from cook fires, drawing
a hood over his face to conceal his true form. He walked toward the lights and
the warmth, and left the child on a doorstep. Knocking sharply, Sorin did not leave
until he heard the door creak open, a gasp of surprise, and the child’s
answering wails.

               He was
a monster, to be sure, but it did not mean that he was truly evil.

               **

(IP) The Last Dragon

(WP) The Last Dragon

               The
dragon sat sedate on the peak of the hill, listening intently. But all they
could hear was silence. They were alone, and they found no trace of their
brothers and sisters. The clans were gone.

               Was it
possible that they were the only one left of their great race? The thought of
being alone, truly alone on this green, lush planet, made them flap their
wings, walk in place. If they were feeling strong enough to use their voice,
they would scream, weep, or laugh. Despite their loss, they began to explore
their new home. Tall, leafy trees with heavy jewel-bright fruit, a rainbow of
stars and comets stitched in the fabric of the sky.

               It had
been a gorgeous place to land, at least.

               They
wandered, their mind full of memories too painful and fresh to hide from, even
in the beauty of their surroundings. Fire, shrieks of agony, dragons rent to
pieces and cold, wicked laughter.

               There
was a bright flare of hatred inside of the dragon, and upon confronting these memories,
it realized that the humans were at fault for the violence. They hadn’t warred
with the children of Earth for centuries. As their numbers had lessened, they’d
all become isolated, from one another and the outside world.

               It had
been something that they’d longed for since they’d had left behind egg years.
To see real humans, up close, had been a dream, a fire in their belly that hadn’t
gone out. Well, their wish had been granted, a price paid in the blood of their
kin.

               The
dragon found themselves wondering if they’d somehow caused the deaths of their
loved ones. Had the humans sensed its longing, capitalized on it to shed ‘monster’
blood? It was all so foolish.

               What
was the difference, in truth, between a human and a monster? Were they not the
same? Monsters came in all varieties. It was such a trite, human word. After
all, who determined what made a monster so?

Humans were so arrogant, so sure of
their own place in the world, never mind that all manner of creatures had
claimed the world before they so much as drew breath or opened their eyes.

But what good was vengeance,
retribution? The only result would be more spilled blood, and there was more
than enough of that to go around, for the dragon and the humans slain in the
war.

But they couldn’t just give up,
either.

Perhaps there was a better way to
go about things, even though they would never see their own like again.

After they were walking for some
time, the dragon came upon the beach, and beneath their clawed, long-toed feet,
they felt sand, smelled the salt in the air.

They couldn’t see hope now, but
that didn’t mean that it wasn’t there. Things would get better.

The pain would not disappear, but
it would recede with time.

At least the dragon had that. They
had life, and time, and a new home.

For now, that had to be enough.

**

(WP) Merely Curious

(WP) Merely Curious

My insomnia has me up in the middle
of the night again.

I sit up, being careful not to disturb
my husband, who is fast asleep beside me, one arm thrown over his eyes. It’s
tempting to wake him, but he’s been working so hard that I ignore the impulse.

Maybe a late-night walk will put me
to rights; exploring the starlit streets usually does the trick.

Getting up from the bed and tucking
in my husband again, I change into a pair of sweats and a muscle shirt,
grabbing my keys and a pair of sandals. I walk out the door, closing it behind
me.

The night around me is quiet; the
only thing I hear is the chorus of the insects singing. It’s surprisingly
peaceful, and the restlessness I’m feeling releases its grip on me slightly.

I let my feet take control, trying
to escape from my racing thoughts.

I don’t know how much time passes
as I wander, but eventually, my mind quiets, and I run my fingers through my
hair. I hear the water and realize that I’ve come to the pier. I stand on the dock,
staring up at the star-studded sky. Across the way, I study the large water
towers, glaringly white in the black.

For a while, the sound of the waves
lapping at the worn wood of the pier soothes me.

I stand up, intending to finally
head home, when I am blinded by a searing, white light.

There is a distant whir, and no
matter how hard I squint against the glare, I can’t see, and tears stream down
my face.

What’s going on?

The moon shines down on the water
like a solitary silver eye in the sky, watching over all.

Mist rises from the water as if it’s
boiling, and before I realize what’s happening before it even occurs to me to
run, I’m hovering in the air, the wood of the pier vanishing from beneath my
feet.

For a moment, I think that I’m
having some kind of twisted nightmare, that I imagined all of this and I’m back
in bed with Daniel.

But then the light beams me upward,
and I land in a heap with a metallic thud.

The light in this place is harsh
and blinding, and I open my eyes. I’m being lifted onto a cold table and
stripped of all my clothes.

I’m beginning to feel like I’m
stuck in an X-Files episode.

There are two beings standing on
either side of the table, blurry in my vision. They’re chattering to one
another in a language that I can’t understand. Honestly, it’s all I can do not
to piss my pants in fear right now. Or laugh at the absurdity of it all, I don’t
know which.

I can hear machines in the
background, not unlike those at a hospital. Then a mask is put over my face,
and I’m hyperventilating; the room wavers.

Then the words I couldn’t
understand suddenly become intelligible.

“Worry not, human, we are not going
to hurt you.”

The voice has a cadence that is
impossible to identify. I can’t tell whether the speaker is male or female.

“We were… merely curious.”

**

(IP) The Druid’s Deed

(IP) The Druid’s Deed

               He’d been searching for this creature since he’d first heard the legend as a child.

               The villagers were terrified, but he could sense the being’s thoughts: it was confused, afraid, desperate to find a home of its own.

               The druid had just barely managed to stop the townspeople from slaughtering the gentle giant.

               Even now, they clamored into the clearing, their footsteps and shouting echoing like thunder.

               “Kill the beast! Look at how big it is! It will destroy the village, take our children for its dinner!” One man shouted, brandishing a pitchfork.

               “It will take us all!” A woman cried passionately, holding her babe close to her breast.

               The druid frowned silently, then turned away from the beast, standing in front of it, trying his best to hide it from the hysterical villagers’ gaze.

               “Enough,” He murmured quietly.

               He waved a hand, and the forest quieted, as though a thick blanket had muffled all sound. In reality, he’d cast a spell to silence them.

               “Have you all gone mad?” The druid said, swallowing around a lump that was forming in his throat. “This is naught but a nature spirit, a guardian of the forest.”

               Perhaps it wasn’t entirely their fault; he knew that few people were privy to auras, energies, and things that weren’t precisely human. But it still didn’t excuse the senseless violence.

               Lips were moving, people were clutching their throats, staring at the druid indignantly for taking away the power of their speech. But he had long stopped caring.

               “The reason that she attacked you was because you murdered her children.”

               The dark, ominous proclamation dropped on the villagers like stones in a still pond.

               The druid’s hand swept the clearing again, and one by one, the villagers again found their voices.

               “Its children? What do you mean?” Someone asked, a young woman who had pushed her way to the front of the crowd.

               “The trees,” The druid snapped, his patience leaving him for the first time. “You have been taking the trees. To build houses, to stoke your fires, to make roads for your horses and carriages.

They might just be resources to you, but to this spirit, they were her children. Her family. And you hold her at fault for attacking you? What else would you have her do?”

This was one of the reasons he’d become a druid in the first place; to harness magic, yes, but also for the coveted ability to speak to nature.

Everything had a voice; one only had to be open to the idea in order to hear it.

“Would you not all do the same to protect your own kin?”

It began slowly: axes, pitchforks, knives, bows and arrows, all were lowered.

Several people even began to weep, for they now understood the ‘monster’s’ plight.

The nature guardian pressed its head to the druid’s palm, grunting softly, its heaving breaths fogging in the cool autumn afternoon.

“Soon it will be winter,” He murmured softly, stroking its cheek with gentle, calloused fingers. “And you and your children will be able to relax and regrow when spring comes again.”

**

(IP) The Door to Power

(IP) The Door to Power

               The forest hummed with the soft, dry whispers of the dead, breaking the silence of the misty, frozen night.

               Dozens of pairs of glowing eyes stared out at her, full of silent menace, daring her to enter their domain. She could feel their censure, as well as the magic that seeped like sap out into the air. She could taste it on her tongue: floral and sharp, with a bite that promised resolution as well as pain.

               She’d come this far. What was an army of spirits, compared to what had preceded it? Her hope buoyed her, despite looking darkness in the face. She would make it to the door; she had no intention of surrendering, not when she was so close. The cold slipped into her joints, making her stiff and clumsy. She was from warmer climes, but it made sense that the door to the Underworld would be in the frigid north region, fringed by jagged mountains.

               A few feet away, her mount, a gigantic, muscular moose with a noble crown of antlers, breathed raggedly, bright eyes on the woods and its occupants opposite. Its pants were urgent, but it seemed to be waiting for a signal from its comrade.

               “We have to do this, friend. I thank you for being my companion on this quest.” The warrior spoke for the first time, all too aware of the ice crunching in her hair, the snowflakes melting on her cheeks like a goddess’s tears.

She unsheathed the dagger at her waist and stepped forward, eyes on the gap that led into the trees. The moose followed, its footsteps across the frozen river cracking like rapid drumbeats. For all of its girth, it was light on its feet, and was soon bringing up the rear, ears flicked back in wariness.

               “I can feel the magic now,” She whispered, trying to ignore the restless sound of countless creatures writhing in the dark woods. “We’ll be there soon.” Though not without resistance, she mused to herself, lips drawing downward in a frown of consternation.

               But she’d expected no less. What was the point of a quest without obstacles? And this was bigger than her, anyway. She had a duty to her people, and she would not fail. She would sooner give herself to the ice and snows before she returned home emptyhanded.

               But another voice lingered in the back of her mind, oily and insistent. What did the homeland want with this power, after all? She was the emissary, the chosen one, the one who’d given up everything to retrieve this power.

Why shouldn’t she take it for herself?

As if summoned by her dark, selfish thoughts, the eyes began to grow, bodies melting into the moonlight, dark, rippling hides and sinuous movements. The Guardians of the door were on the move, ready to keep her from one of the greatest powers in their land.

Perhaps they did not judge her worthy, but that mattered not. She’d made her choice, and it was to crown herself ruler of all, to hoard the source of this delicious, dark power all to herself.

**

(IP) The Deal

(IP) The Deal

               The tiny cottage stood in the long, dark shadow of the mountains, with a small copse of trees to the right of it. An indigo plume of smoke puffed into the cold wind, one of the only signs of life.

               The day was gray and rainy, but that did not deter the person living there. It marched out of the dwelling, whistling a low but merry tune, quiet but cheerful. The figure was hooded, its face hidden, but it was of medium height, walking over the river and onward. There was business to be attended to today, that beckoned far beyond the clandestine location of the cottage.

**

               After walking so long, legs began to numb and exhaustion began to set in. By the time the outskirts of the small town hub was reached, the person threw back their hood, revealing a young woman with long, strawberry blonde hair braided down her back, pale, creamy skin, and bright amber eyes.

She ducked into a tavern, instantly assailed by a riot of sound, color, and sensation: the scent of meat roasting over a fire, the sounds of a group of men crying foul over a game of dice, high, female laughter. After the silence of her journey, the noise hit the young woman like a series of blows, dazing her. She slipped inside and sat at a table, her stomach grumbling in want of food.

She would take a repast, and then, she would move on to what had actually led her here. Waving over a serving girl, she asked for a bowl of beef stew, some mulled wine, and a slice of apple pie for dessert. The girl took her order and disappeared to the kitchen, and the woman sat at the table, quietly waiting. The only sign of her impatience was the drumming of her fingers on the wood, and when her food was brought out to her, she tucked in eagerly, famished after the long walk to the bar.

She was just bringing the goblet of wine to her lips when the door opened again; it had begun to rain once more, and the man who came in was soaked to the bone, clutching something close to his chest and cursing in a low voice. He looked around the room, eyes narrowed. When he spotted the woman, he hurried through the crowd, head lowered, shoulders drawn up in wariness.

“Do you have it?” The woman hissed, and the man’s brows drew together as he sat in the empty chair opposite her.

“Do you take me for a fool? Of course, I have it.” He snapped back, gazing longingly at the remains of the food in front of her.

At his look, she summoned the serving girl over again and asked for more food, making sure to pay her handsomely for the trouble.

When she walked away, the woman looked around to make sure no one was listening.

She slid a small, wrapped object across the table, and the man slid his own package over to her. She peeled back the paper slightly, as if to check the authenticity of what was in front of her; there was a faint, rainbow glitter before she closed it again. The man peered down at the object in his lap, one hand cupped around it.

“This better be the real thing, or it will be the end of you.” He said quietly, lips barely moving around the threat.

This was interrupted by the reappearance of the serving girl, her tray laden with food: warm, buttered bread, a jar of honey, a bottle of wine, beef stew, roasted vegetables, and a generous slice of pie.

“Thank you very much,” He murmured, though his eyes never left his companion, lip curling in naked, blatant disdain.

The woman, for her part, was silent, slipping the package into an inner pocket sewn into her cloak, smiling in a way that distinctly told him that she was unruffled by his threats.

“Good luck to you, and good riddance,” She said, taking her leave and disappearing into the rain.

**

(IP) Love and Jealousy

(IP) Love and Jealousy

               There
had been rumors of the remnants of a spirit haunting the woods for years:
whispers on the wind, a rush of cold gusts blowing in faces, even on the balmiest
of summer days, animal bones of all sizes scattered in the bright, verdant foliage.

               People
from the village, and even from far away, tended to stay away from the forest, even
the elders. Whatever lurked inside was best left alone, everyone said. Of
course, that didn’t stop reckless children and curious youths from sneaking
into the wood and searching for the thing that haunted it.

               Never
mind that they’d been told of the risk, that they knew better. Nothing else
came close to the sweet, painful burn of anticipation and terror.

               **

               “We
shouldn’t be doing this,” A female voice whispered, impish with unseen glee. “What
if the ghost gets us?”

“Everyone knows that that is just a
fairy tale. A horror story told to scare the young,” Another voice replied,
chuckling quietly. “Besides, I’ll protect you.”

“My hero.”

The couple used the shadows for camouflage,
and as they drew into a heated embrace in a clearing, neither of them could
sense the invisible entity watching them, aflame with silent jealousy.

**

How
dare they? How dare they come into her domain and so foolishly taunt with their
bright, delicate humanity?

The spirit hovered above them, her
form flickering, swaying like a candle in a high wind, bright white teeth gritted,
garish scarlet lips peeled back in a snarl. It just wasn’t fair, and the anger
that was a constant companion, her only friend, flared to life inside of her.
If she couldn’t have what they did, she would do the only thing she could: to
take them from each other, and their world.

Perhaps that was not her right, but
so many centuries had passed she had stopped caring. She was dead, and nearly
gone, and what remained were mere pieces.

**

The couple broke apart, and the
woman shivered, burying her head into her paramour’s neck.

“What was that?” She asked,
clinging to him tighter. “It got cold.”

“It may just be the wind,” He said,
holding her flush against him, trying to warm her. “You don’t have to be afraid.
No one has ever seen the ghost, it’s all just nonsense.”

Before the couple realized what was
happening, they were ripped apart, thrown to the cold ground; they hit the
earth with two hard thuds, limbs akimbo and teeth rattling in skulls.

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” A bodiless
voice purred, hovering inches before the man’s face. Cold fingers trailed down
his cheeks, and icy, lush lips touched his. When he opened his lips under the
invisible pressure, cold breath entered his lungs, and when it disappeared,
there was nothing left but a pale, frozen corpse, and his lips were still
gaping wide, eyes staring up at the black night.

His lover’s screams shattered the
silence of the evening like glass, and the last thing she heard was maniacal
female laughter before she lost consciousness.

**

(IP) Hunger

(IP) Hunger

              He wasn’t supposed to be here; it was forbidden. It belonged exclusively to the royal family. It was one of the most sacred places in the country. But with all this opulence and wealth, there had to be food somewhere. And death seemed too high a price to pay for something as inevitable as hunger.

               The boy crept along the shadowed path, using the shade provided by the trees to hide. The heat of the late summer day made his threadbare clothing stick to his skin, and he shuddered, making a note to take a trip to the river for a long, cool bath later.

               If he made it out of here, anyway. He shook the thought away like a particularly bothersome fly. He couldn’t think like that, not when his ailing mother and his smaller siblings were depending on him. Gods knew that he knew better than to steal, but the hunger pangs had gotten to him, and his sisters seemed to shrink more with every passing day.

               A hot flame of rage and resentment burst to life inside of his chest, and if his self-preservation instinct wasn’t so strong, he would steal into the palace of the widowed Empress and burn it to the ground. For what ruler was happy while her people were starving to death?

               The death toll continued to climb, people dying quietly in their sleep, begging for the slightest morsel, anything to save them from the cracked lips and empty stomachs. Some didn’t bother to wait for death, choosing to take the lives of their families instead of waiting for the goddess of Death, Kasmira, to bring them peace. The thought made him ill.

               The Empress had all but sentenced the peasants in her prospering country to death, choosing to keep all of the profits for herself and her household, all the while, her people were dying. The bitterness that coated his mouth and throat was an all-too familiar sensation, and with thoughts of his family and village spurring him onward, he at last made it inside of the temple.

               The stone temple was silent and dark, surprisingly cool after the immense heat he’d just come out of. Statues of gods, goddesses, and idols adorned pedestals around the room; there was the cool scent of stone and the spicy aroma of incense. The boy felt a slight twinge of fear and regret; he wouldn’t have dared defile the temples of The Old Ones if he’d had any other choice.

               But he couldn’t just let what family he had left die. Perhaps the gods would forgive his transgressions, he thought as he knelt in front of Lapis, The Blue Lady, murmuring thanks for offerings that were not his to take in the first place. But he could not resist the bounty of jewel-bright fruit resting in her lap: mangoes that looked like bright, round sunsets, tiny orange goji berries, bloodred pomegranate seeds spilling out of a juicy melon, tiny buns filled with ground meat, thin strips of beef and vegetables layered over rice, scarlet cubes of tofu in a spicy, black bean sauce tiny squares of glistening coconut ice candy; it was all a veritable feast, and everyone knew that the gods did not eat, not unless they had taken a vessel on this plane, and that hadn’t happened in more than five hundred years.

               He got as much food as he could carry in a small, makeshift bundle crafted from an old, clean work smock, and he began to creep out of the temple, hoping that no one saw him.

               When he reached the door, he just barely avoided crashing into a tall figure with glowing sapphire eyes.

               “And just where do you think you’re going with my offering, child?” A musical voice broke the silence of the empty building, accusatory though not raised.

               He’d been caught with the offering of a goddess. And, so it seemed, that same figure from all the stories had somehow descended from the sky to confront him for his theft.

**  

(IP) Star Patrol

(IP) Star Patrol

               The vast expanse of the galaxy spread out beyond them like the most colorful painting, the bright, dazzling sky belying the dark mission that lie ahead.

               The pilot sat at the front of the ship, thin lips set in a white, grim line. Her voice streamed out in a garbled sentence.

               “I don’t know about this, Captain. Something seems fishy to me. It seems… too quiet.”

               “We have our orders, Pilot McKeene,” The captain’s sharp, quiet voice broke the stale silence of the ship. “And they were to go on until the light disappears.” Her tone brooked no argument, but it did nothing to silence the sudden chorus of unease firing in the back of McKeene’s mind.

               Orders or not, this felt wrong. They weren’t allowed, by law of the Galactic Peace Union, to go past the Celestial Fields, into Dark Space and beyond. But their mysterious benefactor had offered quite a hefty sum in exchange for what the Captain called ‘a quick trip across the universe, nothing out of the ordinary’.

               McKeene had known that was a lie; the captain had been grinning at her over a neat whiskey, challenge gleaming in her bright amber eyes. Her Captain never took a job that wasn’t difficult; anything too easy tended to bore her and send her packing. But, what with the need to eat and survive and all that, even on the fringes of society, she’d ignored her misgivings and gone along with the Captain.

               Never mind that they’d hired a bunch of green new recruits, for medical purposes and protection; it was clear that none of them had ever been on an actually functioning spaceship, but McKeene was certain that the Captain had taken them on out of sheer desperation, not that she’d ever admit it.

               The doctor stood at one of the wide windows, hands clasped behind her back, eyes narrowed against the many pastel lights of the sky.

               “It’s so beautiful,” She breathed, raising one hand and putting it to the glass.

               “Enjoy the view while you can,” The Captain growled quietly, and McKeene bit back a sigh. This was exactly why she hadn’t wanted to hire a couple of greenies, but regardless of her opinion, the Captain was going to make her own choices. It was what had drawn McKeene to her in the first place; she hadn’t wanted a life where she could not choose her own path.

               Space had offered many things for her, but freedom had been most effective in swaying her. She had little use for the gilded trappings of her family’s nobility. And the Captain had offered her a way out.

               ‘It won’t be easy, kid, and it’s nothing like anything you’ve experienced before. You gotta be willing to get your hands dirty, to go for what you really want. And you’re a great pilot; haven’t seen anyone fly like you in years. So, you coming or not?’

The young chef, the only man on their ship, came up front, leaving the galley to see how close they were to the boundaries. His apron and toque were already, somehow, stained, and he’d brought with him the fragrance of coffee and fresh bread.

“How close are we, Captain?” He asked, eyes on the windows, a toothpick between his lips. In his gaze, McKeene saw the wonder, that shocking punch that always came, sooner or later, that accompanied living this far into the star systems.

“Nearly there, as long as we don’t have any problems,” She replied, shooting McKeene a sharp look.

Something was still bothering her; normally, by now, they’d be running into something dangerous: asteroids, scavengers, space debris, hostile humans or aliens; that feeling of unease clamped down on the back of her neck, and she inhaled sharply.

“Someone should be watching the back of the ship,” She said, not daring to take her eyes off of the darkening landscape in front of her.

As if in response to her words, the ship rocked, and there was a high, crunching sound of metal meeting metal. Alarms began to blare warning in high, keening peals, and the chef clapped his hands over his ears, eyes screwed shut tightly against the sound.

“What in the universe is going on?!” The mechanic came running out of the cockpit, hair pulled back in a bun and a smudge of grease on one of her cheekbones.

“I think something hit us!” The Captain snapped, and she walked to the seat next to McKeene, eyes narrowed.

“There’s another ship, we bumped into it.” She said, her voice hushed even under all of the distress sounds.

Behind them, the door opened, and a tall figure stepped through it: A young woman with a shaved head, half of her blue locks shaved close to the scalp, and she was wearing an eyepatch.

               “Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Captain Georgina Delalo, and my fine crew and I will be taking over this fine vessel. Surrender everything, or die.”

**

(IP) An Invitation

(IP) An Invitation

               The
young woman knelt before her, one hand held out in invitation, long silver
tresses turning pink in the dying evening light. The sacred symbol inked onto
her forehead glowed faintly, pointed ears twitching.

               “Isn’t
this what you wanted?” She inquired, tilting her head to the side. “An escape from
everything you’ve never wanted? I can’t promise that this will be easy. But
surely it’s better than not having a choice.”

               The
other girl stared up at her, brow crinkling slightly. “You can’t be serious.”

               At
first, she’d thought that this young woman—this sly, beautiful fey girl with
pointed ears, a secretive smile, and the most impossible of it all, a way out—had
been a dream, a figment of an overtaxed mind after a long day of working in the
village. She’d been sitting on the riverbank, resting her hands in the cool
water. Then she heard twigs snapping behind her. She’d whirled, only to find a
lovely girl staring at her, a basket of herbs in her arms.

               Immediately,
Matilda had been entranced; she hadn’t had a chance. And it appeared that the
girl, whose name was Rin, was just as fascinated with Matilda. After that, they’d
met in that same spot, every night, to share their days, or at least their
evenings.

               Rin
hailed from a land that for Matilda only existed in stories and fairy tales,
and even in her own language, it was practically forbidden to discuss. But for everything
she’d heard, Rin was nothing like she’d imagined, and now here they were, with
Rin inviting her into her world.

               Rin
blinked, and she smiled, her whole face glowing when it stretched across her
face.

“Why would I not be, Matilda?”

“I couldn’t,” She replied, shaking
her head and pulling away before she could think through her response. “I… I
should stay here.”

“Is that what you want, Mattie?”
Rin asked, and Matilda’s heart fluttered at the nickname. “Do you wish to stay
here? I’ll support your decision. It’s just that… You seemed so unhappy.”

Matilda’s eyes filled with tears,
and she put her head in her hands; she could not deny the truth of that
statement, not to herself or her only friend. Her first friend.

What awaited her if she stayed
here? A life of drudgery, a miserable marriage to one of the men in the
village, inevitably followed by offspring, and then working until she was old,
and finally died. The bleakness of the future that lay ahead of her made her
heart weep.

She might not have known what lay
ahead, but Rin was offering a way out, an escape she hadn’t dared to dream of.
A future in which she had a choice, and had a chance to make her life into
something that she was proud of. She would never get something like this again.

When she turned around, Rin was
beginning to walk away, the faint rose glow of the portal painting her in soft
pastels.

“Rin! Wait!” Matilda cried, and she
ran after the other girl. She grabbed Rin’s hand and clasped it tight; Rin
smiled, delighted, and kissed her fingers.

“Come, my love. Come home.”

**