Category: my writing

(WP) The Dark Goddess and the Prophecy

(WP) The Dark Goddess and the Prophecy

               Everyone knew the old story. It had been told since the founding of the kingdom and the countries surrounding them. The prophecy had predicted that there would be six heroes that would face the old, dark god. They would all be chosen from different walks of life. All with different strengths and weaknesses, but united, they would overcome the god’s tyranny and free the people from under its thumb.

               Well, as it turns out, the prophecy was only correct about some things.

               First of all, it was not a god, but a goddess. One of unimaginable darkness and rage, twisted by all of the negative emotion she’d repressed when she was a human, several centuries ago.

               The whole of humanity cowered under her cruel rule, but there were some who had willingly helped her rise to power: assassins, criminals, those dissatisfied with the law and the people who had ruled before.

               Second, only five heroes showed up.  No one knew what had happened to the sixth member of the group. There were rumors, of course. They’d died, been assassinated, or worse, even become one of the goddess’s spies.

               The first of the heroes, a young man named Nikolai, arrived at the abandoned palace, where the goddess and her cohorts were rumored to be hiding out. He was astride a handsome stallion, and he himself was adorned with furs. There were weapons hidden everywhere on his person, and he frowned. He couldn’t help wondering, if, indeed, he should wait for the others: the people said to help him in this monumental task.

               But he already had so little time. Perhaps it would be better to wait until the sun set, to hide in the lush, green foliage that surrounded the old palace.

               It was so different from his homeland, frigid and cold, where snowflakes and ice decorated everything like a pale, glimmering veil.

               Sick of thinking instead of acting, he directed his horse to the thick, leafy trees, and there they hid, waiting until the next hero in the group showed up.

               Never mind that they all didn’t know each other, they were said to save the world.

               **

But the newcomer had doubts that could not be silenced.

                 Eris knew that she came from nothing. Her family had been poor all their lives, and what chance they’d had of glory and comforted had gone up in smoke, thanks to their mother’s leaving to serve The Dark Goddess.

               It didn’t matter that she’d sent extravagant gifts, bolts of silk from which to make gowns, heavy gold and silver coins, jewelry studded with real precious stones instead of the false ones that were pasted on in the village, or that she’d done it for their family’s safety.

               That meant nothing to their proud, bitter father. He’d been so certain when Eris’s mark had shown up, inked across her back in glittering runes. He’d even asked their neighbors to donate things she needed so she could get to the palace. But even with all this planning, she’d been late.

               There was a mean, ugly little voice that spoke in the back of her mind.

               If even your own family did not want you, did not think you were capable of anything, what makes you think you will be able to unseat the Dark Goddess?

               But she, and all the others mentioned in the vision, had little choice in the matter.

               Destiny and fate seemed to have their own plans.

               **

(WP) Galaxy’s Most Wanted

(WP) Galaxy’s Most Wanted

               She was
the most wanted fugitive across the galaxies, and she felt a sort of
bittersweet thrill run through her.

               It
seemed like merely yesterday that she had been cowering in her uncle’s inn,
forced to serve her aunt and cousins as if she were not family herself. But she
had gained the courage to leave that life of drudgery and servitude behind her.
Oh, if her wicked, awful family could see her now. They’d cower before her,
begging for mercy.

               Lucky
for them, she was not the type to hold grudges.

               And
anyway, where was the fun in life without a little risk?

               She
slunk through the city, edging toward the tavern, smirking to herself when she
saw her own image smiling merrily back at her, middle finger raised high at the
viewer in naked defiance.

                For a single moment, she was tempted to throw
caution to the winds entirely and throw her hood away from her face, revealing
her identity.

               But
even for Freya Starsinger, that was tempting fate a little too much.

               Waiting
until the reckless urge passed, she kept close to the edges of the streets,
letting the crowd carry her toward the inn.

               When
she could finally see the sign, depicting a flag with skull and crossbones on
it, she broke away from the crowd and slipped inside.

               Thankfully,
the bar was so crowded that no one so much as looked up when she walked in,
still cloaked.

               Finding
a spot at the back of the room, she sat down, the air heavy with cooking smoke
and the stench of unwashed bodies. Freya did not stay in one place for long;
even if she weren’t wanted by the corrupt government chasing her, she could not
stand being confined. It reminded her, too much, of her past.

               She had
escaped, but the scars had not yet healed.

               Her feet
and her ship could carry her as far as she liked, but she could not leave behind
her pain, or her memories.

               The
thought made her more than a little bitter.

               In
order to avoid detection, she’d cut her hair and filed her canine teeth to
points, but her armor and swords weren’t nearly as easy to conceal.

               She was
jolted from her melancholy thoughts by a serving girl appearing at her elbow.

               “Would
you care for something to eat or drink? Our inn boasts the best wine this side
of the cosmos,” She said, smiling winningly.

               She was
very pretty, and a few years older than Freya herself. She had long, strawberry
blonde hair that was piled up into a bun at the top of her head. Freckles
dotted her face like fiery red stars, all around her nose, mouth, forehead, and
cheeks. Her eyes were the bright blue of a clear Earth sky.

               “Yes,
please,” Freya said, making her voice deeper than her usual alto. “A bowl of
stew, some bread, and some of that famous wine of yours.” She set down a few
fat gold coins and slid them toward the other girl.

               She
blushed pink and took the money, thanking Freya before taking her order to the
kitchen.

               Freya
would have to set out, again, after a night of short rest.

               As
tempting as it was to let her guard down, she couldn’t afford it.

               There
were eyes everywhere, and there would be worse things waiting for her than her
aunt and uncle’s house if she were caught.

               **

(WP) Blood Like Poppies

(WP) Blood Like Poppies

               The
Queen has summoned her executioner to her chambers for a ‘private audience and
repast’.

               The
page kneels before the woman, so petrified that the parchment, sealed with
bright green wax, trembles in hand.

               “Thank
you,” She murmurs, slipping him a couple of coins for his trouble.

               The
missive is short and to the point, “Meet me for dinner in my private chambers.
You and I have something to discuss.”

               Something
tells Poppy Bloodletter that this is not exactly a social call.

               Perhaps
her luck has finally run out, and her queen has discovered one of her many
secrets.

               She
goes to her room and changes her clothes. When she comes out, she is dressed in
black, as if she is attending a mourning ceremony. Gloves, shot through with silver,
adorn her hands, to mask her fear.

               There
were many different kinds of armor, she has learned, and she will be a fool not
to protect herself in what little ways she could.

               The
queen is not a patient woman, and there is no use in delaying the inevitable.

               **

               Poppy
is announced by the queen’s page, and after several long heartbeats, she is
allowed inside. She is escorted through the sitting room and brought to the
queen herself, and there she is, pouring tea herself.

               Poppy
realizes that there is not a servant to be seen, and she can feel her heartbeat
all through her flesh, but especially in her throat. She doesn’t dare speak;
she just waited, the minutes stretching out like taffy.

               “Do you
remember, my dear, when you first came to my castle, when your father demanded
you be trained in the arts of killing and assassination?” The Queen looks up at
her, beckons her to sit at the small table, across from her.

               The
Queen was dressed in a gown of forest green, with emeralds dotting the bodice.
Along the hem, there is a ring of garnets. To Poppy, she looks like spring
embodied, given human form. With her dark skin, dusted with subtle glitter, and
black curls, the color is a stunning contrast. Her eyes, though, are the red of
the poppies that gave the executioner her name. She is beautiful, terrifying,
and arresting. More like a goddess than a monarch.

               “How could
I forget?” Poppy murmurs in reply, smiling in spite of herself. “It was the day
that my life changed forever. You told my father that I would be taking up his
trade, once he retired.”

               “That
is also the day that you swore fealty to me, my children, my house and kingdom,”
Queen Kali whispers, and a cruel, sharp smile graces her full, lovely lips.

               “I
feel, my darling Poppy, that you have lost sight of your duty. Are you unhappy
here? Is there anything you need that I have not provided?”

               As she
speaks, her voice grows dangerously lower, more like a growl than a purr.

               As if
to give Poppy more time to answer, Queen Kali quickly uncovers the food she has
ordered for them both: a tureen of spiced lentil stew, a roasted haunch of
beef, crusted with mushrooms and spices and served with a rich wine sauce,
thick, dark bread slathered with butter and still warm, and for dessert, meringue
lemon tarts.

               She’s
really pulling out the big guns, Poppy realizes.

               “No,
not at all, Your Majesty. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”

               “Then
why, my dear Poppy, have you spent all of these years lying to me? Betraying myself and the Crown? I know
what you’ve done, and consider this your last meal. You will die for your
crimes against the Kingdom, Poppy Bloodletter.”

               **

(WP) Phoenix’s Fire

(WP) Phoenix’s Fire

               The mansion that had once stood proud on the hill was nothing more than a pile of burned wood and stone.

               The family that had lived inside were all dead, burned to a crisp in their own beds.

               Still, this wasn’t exactly an open and closed case.

               The only member of the de la Fuego family that was unharmed was the youngest of them all, an infant named Phoenix.

               The firefighter who had saved her, a young woman by the name of Stone, was in shock. She’d even spoken to several local news stations about the incident.

               “Unfortunately, I did not arrive in time to save the rest of this poor child’s family. But I climbed what was left of the stairs, and I could’ve sworn that I heard a baby crying. I walked into her bedroom and there she was, sitting in her crib, unharmed, crying her little lungs out.”

               Stone looked away from the camera, a comely blush darkening her cheeks. Tears ran down her cheeks at the memory.

               “That little girl has some lucky stars, she does. She’s a living miracle.”

               **

The infant was placed in the care of Child Protective Services while the police and fire department investigated the circumstances of her family’s death.

The case grew more perplexing as time went on.

In the care of a social worker, Phoenix grew. She grew from a tiny infant to a chubby, apple-cheeked toddler with a cap of dark curls and bright amber eyes that were the same color as honey.

The social worker taking care of the child began to notice strange things about her ward.

The near-constant smell of smoke faintly wafting off of her, reminding Miss Haypenny of a campfire.

The way Phoenix’s eyes glowed whenever something went wrong or she was denied what she wanted.

Miss Haypenny began to suspect that the little girl she’d taken in was extraordinary.

**

Eventually, the investigation was put on hold. There was no accelerant used, nothing to suggest that the fire had been more than an unfortunate accident. People throughout the city donated to pay for the de la Fuegos’ funeral, though they had mostly kept to themselves and were called eccentric by the kinder folks in town, and weird and unfriendly by the others.

Miss Haypenny put the papers through to have Phoenix adopted, though if she were being honest, she had grown used to the little girl in her own home.

But perhaps it was better that she be adopted by other people. There was only so much of herself she could give.

And, if she was being completely honest with herself, Phoenix scared the hell out of her.

She suspected, somehow, that the girl had started the fire that had killed the rest of her family.

But that was crazy, the stuff of fiction. After all, this wasn’t a Stephen King novel.

Still, she could not quiet the voice inside her mind, that said that something was deeply, irrevocably wrong with Phoenix de la Fuego.

**

(WP) The Price of Power

(WP) The Price of Power

               “Your mission is to neutralize the superheroes that have been corrupted by their powers.”

               My boss looked up at me from her place at her desk, frowning silently.

               “I’m sorry to do this to you so soon, as you’re so green. But alas, time isn’t exactly on our side. Depending on how powerful the superhero’s abilities are, the more quickly that they are corrupted.

               Hate to break it to ya, kid, but you’re part of our last line of defense.”

               “All right, Captain. Who’s the mark this time?”

               I knew it sounded cold, but I couldn’t have done my job, had I seen them as anything more than a mark. All too often, I’d seen humanity corrupted by power they could not even begin to control, but until now, I’d been the sidekick. The second banana. The comic relief.

               Now, though, it looked like it was high time to step into a hero’s shoes.

               Still, I couldn’t ignore the fact that eventually, I’d be just like the monsters that I made a living taking out.

               I bit back a shudder; it would not do to show nervousness right about now.

               The Captain stared at me for a moment, studying me as if looking for holes in my armor, then turned her chair around and began to rifle through her filing cabinet, swearing quietly under her breath.

               Finally, she pulled out a thick file and pushed it toward me across the desk.

               I opened the file and was greeted by a snapshot of a slender, pale young woman with fanged teeth and a bloody grin. Below that were pages and pages of reports, photos, psych evals, scientific testing. It was all here.

               Still, I wanted to hear it from the captain.

               “She calls herself The Red Lady,” She said quietly. “Her powers were initially for healing. Used to be a nurse, one of the best in her field. But when she became corrupted, her blood began to infect her. She grew strong and eventually insane, and everyone else we sent to apprehend her was gravely injured or killed.”

               “No pressure, huh?” I deadpanned. She gave me a sad smile in return.

               “Go get ‘em, kid. And try not to die.”

               **

               When I arrived at the hospital that The Red Lady was holding hostage, the whole place was (understandably) in a panic.

               She was standing on top of the check in desk, clad in a tight scarlet bodysuit. Her face was covered by a white mask, and I couldn’t see if it was really her, but the holdup was confirmation enough.

               “Stop!” I yelled, and everything, all the sounds, narrowed to just that point. Her head swiveled in my direction, and a manic laugh bubbled up from behind her mask.

               “They’ve sent another wannabe to try and take me in?”

               I didn’t exactly have time to exchange pithy banter.

               After all, it was only a matter of time until my own internal clock began to tick toward my own implosion.

               In the meantime, I had a job to do.

               **

(WP) Silver and Gold

(WP) Silver and Gold

               Korrin was covered in soot and grime; the dust from the coal covered his body like a second skin. He felt, he thought ruefully, like a tunneling mole, his mouth twisting in distaste at the thought.

               He thought longingly of the sun on his skin, of the cool relief of the river.

               But his work was not done, even while his arms screamed for relief, the dull clanging of his pick the only sound under than the low voices of the other miners.

               It was unbelievably ironic that he had found work here, in the darkness of the mines.

               Being a Fae, he preferred to be above ground, where he could feel the grass under his feet, the sun warming his skin. At home, in Faerie, he could’ve easily indulged in those whims. But that had been before his powers had manifested.

               The King and Queen of the Dark Court had forced him into work in the mines; a powerful Fae with the ability to detect, forge gemstones, and imbue them with power.

               Apparently, he thought bitterly, he was too great an asset to roam free. He knew what a prison was, he wasn’t a fool.

               If he were braver, he would do the proper thing and end his life. A Fae who could not access nature, especially sunlight, was as good as mortal. Or dead.

               He shuddered, clenching his jaw against the unruly torrent of thoughts that had taken over his mind.

               This was his lot, and any other Fae, regardless of the price they had to pay, would be more than grateful to serve the Fae royals. But he wasn’t just any Fae.

               He was so distracted that he almost didn’t notice the way that the rock wall he’d been chipping away at fell away, replaced by a glowing golden outline, bright lavender runes shining in the dank gloom.

               Korrin dropped his pick, and it hit the ground with a ringing clank.

               What had he discovered? How?

               His heart raced, fluttering in his Adam’s apple.

               Through his door, was it possible to find escape from his shackles?

               Before he could muster up the courage to push his way through the door, he heard a female voice.

               He looked around, wondering if everyone in the mine could hear it, or if this was meant for him alone.

               Hurry, Korrin. Isn’t this what you wanted? To escape?

               He didn’t need any more encouragement than that, and he clenched his fists, pushing through the rock wall, expecting it to resist him.

However, he fell through the portal and landed on soft, green grass. He could feel the sun on his face, and he screwed his eyes shut; it felt as though he’d been underground for days instead of hours.

He looked around when his eyes adjusted; he appeared to be in the center of a bustling village, and he was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells. Everything felt foreign outside of the mines.

Then he heard the same voice that had urged him to come through the portal sounded behind him.

“You made it. I have a proposition for you, Korrin Gemheart.”

**

The Carseat in the River: Part Two

The Carseat
in the River: Part Two

For
a little while, we were quiet, digging into our food: a salad for me, and a
burger for Luna. She always craved comfort food after a long day or night at
the office, and I could hardly blame her.

But
I couldn’t focus on my food; I chewed mechanically, not tasting a bite. But it
made me feel more awake. The coffee was the real lifesaver, though. It gave me
something to do with my hands.

“I
know you’re dying from your questions,” Luna said at last, smiling at me
grimly. She wiped her mouth and set her napkin beside her plate. “So why don’t
you have at it?”

“I
wanted you to eat first, at least,” I said indignantly, frowning at her over
the rim of my mug.

She
looked like shit; she was pale under her olive skin, and dark circles stood out
prominently under her eyes. She hadn’t even changed out of the clothes she’d
worn to work the night before: a crumpled black shirt and high-waisted jeans,
and worn gray high-tops. Her hair was gathered in a high ponytail.

“What’s
got you so concerned about this?” Luna asked, refusing to be diverted from the
conversation.

“I
just have a bad feeling. I can’t really explain it,” I said, shrugging it off.

But
I could feel her scrutiny regardless.

“What
kind of bad feeling?” She asked, and relief made my stomach unclench slightly.

If
I’d been talking to anyone else on the force, I’d been branded as
overemotional. Hysterical. Told to call my kids, check on them, return to my
husband and take a few days off.

But
I should’ve known better, with Luna. She listened to me, cared about me, and
cops were taught to go with their gut feeling, but only if they had hard
evidence to back it up.

“I
just have a feeling that this one isn’t going to be clear-cut. I can’t explain
it. But when I saw it on the news…”

She
frowned at me thoughtfully, waiting for me to finish.

“This
one is gonna be rough, Lunes.”

She
finished off her coffee and asked for another cup. I got the feeling that she
was preparing herself for what she was about to say next.

When
the waitress turned away to get us our refills, she frowned at me; I could tell
that she had the same feeling as I about this.

“There’s
not a lot to go on, as I said. They just fished the car seat out of the
marshes, and much of the physical evidence was destroyed as a result.”

Of
course, I’d guessed this much, but said nothing.

“We’re
going to be conducting a search tomorrow morning,” She murmured quietly, making
sure to keep her voice down; the town busybodies didn’t need any concrete
reason to scare people.

Fear
was something that spread like wildfire, especially in a small town such as
this one, and the flames were already beginning, fueled by rumor and lies.

“The
chief said that he didn’t want you on the case, Ells,” Luna murmured, and her
eyes flashed. “He said that you always involve yourself way too much.”

That
arrogant son of a bitch, I thought, my heart sinking to my toes.

It
was almost as if our boss saw through me, to my tender core, and used all of my
insecurities, as a woman and a human being, against me.

“Well,
fuck him. He has no idea what he’s talking about,” I spat, and blushed when the
waitress returned to the table, setting down our mugs of coffee.

Besides,
it was too late. I had a personal stake in this, and I couldn’t just forget it.
Even if I had to ask Luna to keep me informed, I would get to the bottom of
this, even if I had to do it on my own.

**

(WP) All Hail the King

(WP) All Hail the King

               The revolution began in the bowels of the king’s castle; everyone from the lowest servant to the highest-ranking noble was sick to death of their ruler.

               “What a bumbling fool,” A noblewoman said, smirking over the rim of her chalice, filled with wine. “We really should get rid of him.”

               Low, quiet laughter followed her statement, as if the crowd surrounding her were amused by the suggestion.

               But some people, obviously, did not take her joke for jest.

               “That’s it!”

               A joyous voice rang out of the crowd: a young woman dressed in a servant’s livery, her eyes taking on a manic gleam.

               “We can start a revolution and kill the king! Don’t you see? If that idiot is slain, then the noble houses can put someone else on the throne! Someone of their own stock, and someone who can actually run the country.”

               “Surely you speak of treason,” someone said in a low, shocked voice, their eyes as wide as dinner plates.

               “The idea has merit,” said another noble, a smile splitting the lower half of their face.

               **

               Murmurs of revolution and unrest began to simmer throughout the kingdom, and the common people became anxious.

               **

For his part, however, the king, a strapping young lad of but seventeen, was not worried.

After all, he was King Alastair, and he had been divinely chosen to take the throne.

“Jester! Cook! I demand food and entertainment, this very instant!”

The two individuals in question ran to do the King’s bidding.

Really, how could he be unhappy, with all the word at his feet?

**

His two advisors, a pair of aging siblings, stood next to each other, on either side of the ornate throne.

“My King,” said the female advisor, named Amara, smiling tightly, “Do you not think that this is the time for festivities? After all, I’ve been hearing the most unsavory rumors about the common people.”

Alastair’s face darkened, with rage or disinterest, she couldn’t tell.

“That’s all they are, Amara. Rumors. I have you two for such things, do I not? Unless you aren’t satisfied with your employment. In which case, I could easily get rid of you and your brother and hire someone who actually understands the needs of a young king.”

“You are unwed, Your Highness,” Amara replied tartly, eyes narrowed. “Your rule is far from secure. I meant no offense; I only offer a word of caution going forward.”

“It would be wise of you to quiet down,” Alastair murmured through a forced smile and gritted teeth.

Amara’s brother, Cassius, shook his head at his sister, so subtly that the young monarch didn’t see it.

Caution indeed, he thought to himself. But that had always been his sister’s fatal flaw. She was too outspoken, too hasty, always eager to make her opinion known.

But if they wanted to succeed in pulling this off, they had to acquiesce, for now.

They would be no good to the revolution if they were sent to the chopping block.

**

(WP) By Land or By Sea

(WP) By Land or By Sea

               Mermaids being real, instead of fairy tales or folklore, was a fairly recent development.

               Of course, this prompted droves of people to attempt to change themselves into the seafolk, and to have their powers. Occasionally, a merperson would meet someone on land and choose humanity, to live on as normal with their spouse and children.

               But the process was mostly kept secret; it happened rarely, and it was not publicized. I suspected that that was part of the reason that people were so fascinated by it all: the mystery of it.

               After all, what little girl did not dream of having fins, of living undisturbed, deep within the oceans?

               That was true for me.

               But I would be lying if I hadn’t been searching for an escape.

               Every night, I went to the beach, clothed in a hoodie and shorts, searching the moonlit waves for the tell-tale signs of a mermaid dwelling there: a glimmer of sparkling fin, bright eyes peeking up at the star-studded sky.

               This had been the seventh day of my nighttime vigil, and so far, my searches had been fruitless.

               Nonetheless, I could not give up hope, not when it felt like this was the only avenue I had left.

               I sat down in the sand, taking comfort in the feeling of the grains on my skin.

               I took my bag off of my back and set it down beside me; it was full of snacks and bottles of iced coffee.

               In the back of my mind, a pessimistic little voice spoke, not for the first time.

               Even if you do find a mermaid, how do you propose you’re going to give up her fins and gills? And for you, of all people?

               You can only fight the inevitable for so long, Calypso. Why not just make it easier for yourself and accept it?

               But I tried to ignore it; I just couldn’t give up yet.

               **

               I must have fallen asleep, because when I awoke, the moon hovered just over the sea, the water cradling it in its grip, and the white sphere gleamed like a bright pearl.

               Just below, there was a mermaid laying on the waves, letting the ocean carry her closer to shore; the only thing I could really make out was a long, thick mane of hair, the color of stone.

               I didn’t dare breathe; surely my luck couldn’t have turned this quickly. Maybe she was a mirage, but I wasn’t in the desert.

                               A few moments later, the mermaid approached me, her powerful fin crushing the waves.

“Who are you, girl? What do you want? Why are you sitting out here by yourself, in the middle of the night?”

Her voice was soft and melodic, but up close, I could see that she was not young after all: Her dark skin was wrinkled, crows’ feet around her eyes and laugh lines around her full, lush mouth.

Who’d ever heard of an old mermaid?

“I’m here to ask for a favor, actually,” I replied, swallowing around a lump in my throat.

I felt like a character in a fairy tale, pleading for a boon she did not deserve.

“And what favor would you ask of me?” She rejoined, and I swallowed.

“I want to become a mermaid. I… I need to escape my life. And what better way than to give myself to the waves?”

There was a brief pause, and the mermaid stared at me; now that I could see her eyes, they looked more like a shark’s than a human’s.

“The process is painful. There are many who do not survive it. And if you were to become a mermaid, I would be human.”

“Please. Please help me.”

“Very well, girl. We’ll help each other out. My fins for your humanity. That seems an equal trade to me. Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Then it will be done.”

**          

(WP) Hoards of Knowledge

(WP) Hoards of Knowledge

               Legend has it that there is a dragon whose hoard lies deep within the mountains.

               What kind of hoard? A treasure hoard, full of gold and jewels and wealth beyond imagining?

               No, my child. It is indeed a hoard, but of a different sort.

               What kind of dragon doesn’t have a treasure hoard?

               Listen, child, and you will know.

               **

               This dragon feeds on knowledge, ravenous for words, paper, and stories. Unusual, to be sure, but not unheard of. Dragons are creatures that are just as varied as human beings.

               But how do you know that if you’re never seen one?

               Patience, child. We’ll get to that in its own time.

               Once upon a time, there was a scholar, one who thirsted for knowledge more than food, than drink. But she was a woman, so naturally, even as she studied in secret, she was opposed on all sides.

               ‘The lecture halls of our great nation are no place for a woman, for it is she who bears and rears the children, who makes the home a safe haven. Who are you, of all people, to defy our gods-given roles in society?’

               Naysayers from far and wide disapproved of the scholar filling her mind with words, stories, facts and figures, but she persisted, refusing to give up until she unlocked every secret that captured her imagination.

               One night, under the darkness of the new moon, people began to gather throughout the country, whispering about the stubborn girl who insisted on rising above what the world had seen fit to give her. Tempers and emotions ran high, stoked by alcohol and dissent.

               At last, the townspeople set out, armed with knives, pitchforks, axes and staves, determined to silence the scholar once and for all—

               What happened, Grandma? What happened to her? Please don’t tell me that this story of yours doesn’t have a happy ending! What kind of story doesn’t have a happy ending?

               Hush, my love. Let your old grandma tell her story. At her own pace. No interruptions anymore, yeah? And there will be a reward in it for you.

               **

               Where was I? Ah, yes, the townspeople. So, under the cover of near-complete darkness, for the stars seemed to be hiding their eyes for shame, they descended on the scholar, breaking into her tiny cottage at the intersection between the village and the forest.

               They took her from the house and in the scuffle, a candle that she had been using for light fell upon her papers, and the dwelling burned to ash. To this day, all that’s left is the bricks that the woman had used as makeshift bookshelves.

               What happened to the scholar, Grandma? Did they kill her?

               The fire that had burned down her only home had transformed her into a dragon. Blinded by rage and grief, she slew every last villager, except for one woman who had brought a book for her.

               Taking the volume in her jaws, she flew away, into the mountains.

               No one knows if she still dwells in those mountains, surrounded by the written word. Few even remember that there was a time that she was human.

               But Grandma. How do you know what happened?

               I was the girl who gave her the book, child. And I like to think that she rebuilt her horde of stories and tales from it. I hope that she’s happy, and that she has been allowed to do what she loves.

               She deserves the peace she’s been looking for all that time.

               **