Category: prose

(WP) Hellfire and The Orchid Mantis

(WP) Hellfire and The Orchid Mantis

               She’d
felt she’d earned her retirement, the former supervillain thought to herself as
she put the kettle on to boil. And she was glad; being one of the world’s most
evil supervillains was not easy. That was part of the reason that she’d risen
to the challenge; being good, heroic, just seemed so boring. Anyone could be the friendly hero, the schmuck next door
who averted everyday crises. Yes, it took someone with true fortitude to be
wicked.

               But
thankfully, that was all behind her now. She’d married, had children, had gone
on to be a productive member of society after her stint in prison. From her
place in the kitchen, she heard the television, currently on one of the
national news channels. She could faintly hear a female news anchor, reporting
on how a gang of villains were currently holding the patrons of a bank hostage
until it would fork over a million dollars in cash.

               She
smiled faintly, but she could admit to herself that she didn’t miss that life.

               Ava
suddenly found herself uneasy, as if she were being watched.

               When
the kettle screamed, she jumped, and swore quietly.

               What
was the matter with her? Pouring herself a cup of hot, steaming tea, Earl Gray,
she took the mug and walked back into the living room. Thanks to her powers,
she didn’t have to wait for it to cool. She made herself comfortable in the
armchair in front of the fireplace, turning off the TV.

Even after she’d made herself comfortable
with a worn, dog-eared book, she could not shake off that uncomfortable feeling
that she wasn’t alone. Putting down her book and mug, she stood up, feeling her
fists become enveloped with bright blue flames.

“Who’s there? If you don’t come out
and tell me who you are, I’ll barbeque you!”

She hadn’t become one of the world’s
worst supervillains by cowering in a corner, and her voice was cold,
threatening. She hoped it was only her imagination, but her instincts were much
to sharp not to heed. She gritted her teeth, forcing herself to wait, and her
patience was soon rewarded.

Of all people she’d expected, it
wasn’t one of the world’s most beloved superheroes. But the young woman stepped
out, her invisibility melting away once she was caught. The Orchid Mantis,
named for her ability to blend in, as well as her hair, as bright pink as the
flower she was named after.

“What do you want?” Ava demanded;
as far as she was concerned, the threat hadn’t been averted. “How dare you,
breaking into my house! And you’re a hero! Aren’t you and your ilk supposed to
have manners?” She bit off the rest of her diatribe and her flames extinguished.

Once she got a good look at the kid,
her defenses lowered somewhat. The teenager was pale, her bright hazel eyes
ringed with violet circles, her costume rumpled and stained. Her hair was lank
and greasy, and Ava noticed that the girl couldn’t even look her in the eye.

“I need your help.”

Ava barked out a laugh, high and
derisive. “Why would someone like Orchid Mantis need my help?”

“Let’s just say that I don’t want
to be a hero anymore. I want to become a supervillain. And you’re one of the
best, so…”

“You broke into my house!” Ava squawked
indignantly, shaking her head at the audacity of this child.

“Please, Hellfire. I’m so tired of
pretending to be something I’m not.”

**

(WP) Ironclad Hearts

(WP) Ironclad Hearts

              Once upon a time, there was a young prince who longed for love. He had everything he ever desired, except for a loving partner. Rumors had begun to swirl about the prince, about how he abducted young maids in the night to be held as prisoners in his castle.

              Of course, that wasn’t true, but truth does not matter one way or another to wagging tongues.

              The truth was, he’d fallen in love with a childhood friend, and he’d begged his parents to match him with her. He could not live without her. The prince was so distraught that his parents granted their permission for the two to wed.

              But it was not to be. The princess was engaged to another, and worse, he’d been told that the suit had been rejected with laughter.

              From that day on, the prince grew bitter and jaded and had all but given up on love. As the days passed, the castle grew into a twisted iron prison, a mirror of what lay inside of his heart.

              Eventually, he was forgotten by time and his subjects, and his lands grew thick with trees and bushes and overgrown grasses and flowers.

              But he hadn’t been entirely forgotten. The princess’s little sister, Amelie, had been unable to think of little else since her sister’s rejection of the prince. She, too, had been released from a troth of marriage, due to her disability: she had a club foot and had to use a wooden stick to walk properly.

              And this headstrong, determined princess was hellbent on getting to the prince and showing him that he could be loved as he so wished. Amelie set out on horseback with a sword, her staff, and a magical book. Accompanying her was her faithful familiar, a crow with bright green eyes and a sharp, wicked beak.

              The journey led her across mountain ranges, rivers, and hills, past fields and plains. Soon, she lost track of just how many days had passed. But she had started this, and she would see it through, even though she didn’t know the outcome.

              Finally, she rode through the forests, hacking her way through it with her blade, exhausted but undaunted.

              Amelie put her horse at the castle gates, then ascended the stairs, the only sound her wooden cane on the steep marble steps. If she hadn’t already made it this far, she would’ve been unnerved.

              But there was a reason she’d lived this long, and she’d be damned if a long quest broke her. What was that, in comparison to the expectations of her own family?

              The doors were barred shut, but the sword sliced through the bars as though they were mere paper.

              Amelia limped through the silent, gray rooms of the castle.

              Where was the prince? She’d come all this way to save him.

              Finally, she found him in the library in front of a roaring fire, hearing the pages of his book turn.

              “Your Highness,” Amelie whispered. “I’ve come to end your loneliness.”

              **

(IP) Mental Health Day

(IP) Mental Health Day

               The
four girls sat on the train, forming a little group on the right side of the
car. The early morning sun streamed bars of golden light, dappling their skin.
Despite their plain clothes and bored faces, something about them seemed otherworldly,
strange. Even wrong.

               One of
the girls stretched her feet out into the aisle, arms folded across her stomach.

               Her
three companions were seated in a cluster next to her, rocking with the motion
of the train as it roared through the city.

               A pair
of blondes sat in front of the windows, the sunshine making the girls sport a
halo of sorts. One had a cigarette tucked behind her ear, and the other stifled
a yawn, pulling her feet into her chest.

               But
these girls were far from angelic; they’d come into the city for a ‘mental
health day’. And everyone knew that Mondays just sucked.

               The
only brunette of the group sat next to the blondes, smiling distantly to
herself.

               “Is it
just me, or have we been on this train forever?” One of the blondes, Julie,
said, tilting her head toward her double.

               “It
hasn’t been that long, Jules,” The other blonde, Annabeth, replied, grinning
sleepily. “Besides, we’re almost there.”

               “Coffee.
I need coffee.  I feel like a zombie.”
The brown-haired girl, Ava, murmured. Of all of the girls, she was having the
most trouble staying still. Normally, this wasn’t like her, but she just didn’t
feel like dealing with school. Lately, she’d felt like a pressure cooker that
had been left on too long: stifled but about to blow. Driving herself to be the
best, constant studying of facts and figures, all to graduate pursue a degree
she wasn’t even sure she wanted. Yes, it was just easier to blow it off.

“Starbucks once we get to our stop?”
The brunette, Cat, asked hopefully, snapped out of whatever daydream was
playing in her head.

“We need to get some food, too,”
Julie said, shaking her head so her bangs fell to the side, uncovering her
bright green eyes. “I’m starving.” As if on cue, her stomach grumbled, and the
friends laughed.

Finally, the train ground to a
stop, causing all four girls to rock forward with the motion. Since they were
seated in the middle of the train car, they hurried to get to the front, all of
them holding hands, so as not to get lost in the crush.

Their giggles echoed in the station
as they exited, now single file, but all staying close, marching through the
crowd in search of food and frivolous distraction. Ava was leading, and when
they finally found a Starbucks on a street corner, they all clambered inside. She
found herself instantly calmed by the homey scent of coffee beans roasting and
sugary treats being baked.

The place was packed, but she didn’t
mind. All of the noise and controlled chaos, combined with the chatter of her
friends, distracted her from her own anxious thoughts.

They each ordered a giant coffee
drink, with the exception of Cat, who ordered a green tea latte. Ava also
ordered an array of different snacks; it wasn’t as if she didn’t have the money
to burn.

Soon enough, they were all seated
in a booth at the back of the shop, crammed together like sardines.

“You said you’d spill once we got
here,” Annabeth said, after taking a dainty bite of a muffin, licking her lips.
“Why the sudden need to ditch?”

Ava grimaced; she’d known this was
coming, but she still didn’t like it. Even with her closest friends, she didn’t
like talking about her problems. Especially when it sounded so ridiculous, in
her own head.

“I’m just… Stressed.” She said,
looking down into the swirling, dark depths of her huge macchiato.

To their credit, her friends did
not laugh, nor try to interrupt. They were just waiting through her silence,
knowing that she wasn’t finished.

“I don’t know what I want anymore,”
Ava admitted, at last, feeling a flush starting to climb up her neck. “And my
parents would freak out if I told them. They’ve got my whole life mapped out
for me. Graduate at the top of my class in high school and college, get married
to a nice guy and give them grandkids. But I feel like… I never got a choice in
the matter. School’s so stressful anymore.”

Cat reached across the table and
took Ava’s hand, her touch surprisingly warm.

“You should talk to them. I’m sure
they’ll understand. And even if they don’t, well. You’ll be eighteen in a little
less than six months. You’ll be an adult, and able to make your own decisions.”

**  

(WP) Strange Newcomers

(WP) Strange Newcomers

               The
town of Sapphire Moon was a peaceful one, a tiny hamlet on the coast of a crumbling
island. Surrounded by the ocean, it supplied the surrounding countries with a
bounty of seafood: fish, prawns, squid, octopus, and crabs.

               It was
monotonous for some, but there was something comforting in the routine.

               The
mayor loved the island. All of his ancestors had watched over it since its
conception. Yes, it was his calling, and one that he took gladly. His cottage
was hidden in the thick jungle foliage, the better for privacy.

               But his
thoughts were interrupted by a rush of footsteps, and a knock at the door.

               “Come
in!” He called, and he could hear his wife in the kitchen, preparing the
evening meal.

               A young
woman, named Callie, walked inside of the hut and bowed her head in deference.

               “Excuse
the interruption, Mister Mayor,” She said, her long, fiery braid gleaming in
the firelight.

               “Oh,
nonsense, Callie. You know I welcome anyone from the village into my home,”
Matthias replied, smiling at her. “Would you like to stay for dinner? Mrs.
Ellery is making paella.” He winked at the mention of his wife.

               “I
would love to, sir, but unfortunately, I’m not exactly here for a social call.
You see… The island has a visitor.”

               Matthias
blinked, her words taking him by surprise.

               “What
did you say?”

               “There’s
a visitor. And he refuses to speak with anyone but you. He says that you’ve
been expecting him.”

               Matthias
went back into the kitchen, where a cloud of steam and the scents of garlic and
saffron greeted him like old friends. “Kira, my love, I have to go.”

               Kira
looked up from the pan she was stirring, brow knitting. “I’m assuming one of
the townspeople needs you?”

               “I’m
sorry. Yes.”

               “Don’t
worry, Matthias. I’ll just put some away for you. Go on, I’m not going
anywhere.”

               He
kissed the top of his wife’s head and left with Callie.

               “Show
me where he docked.”

               **

               Callie
led Matthias through the hot, humid jungle at a brisk clip. All too soon, the
forest gave way to the black sands of the beach.

               And,
sure enough, there was a tiny ship tied to the dock, a bloodred sail flying
high in the evening twilight.

               Could
it really be, that the old tales his father used to tell were true? Not tales or
myths at all?

               There
was a figure in shining gold armor standing on the shore; he looked like an
illustration from one of the old books his father used to read to him from. He
was leaning on a gigantic broadsword, smiling broadly under the visor of his
helmet.

Villagers of all ages surrounded
the newcomer, their eyes shining with interest.

Matthias could not blame his
townspeople for their curiosity. Visitors and strangers were few and far
between on Sapphire Moon Island.

But Matthias found his interest
tempered by a sudden, red rush of fury, because surrounding the man were the
island’s most treasured relics, the only remnants they had of the time when the
gods had created the land, scattered in so many pieces around him.

He and this stranger would have to
have a talk.

But first, he’d have to get him
alone.

**

(WP) The Curse of Truth

(WP) The Curse of Truth

               The
princess Verity had been born with the curse of always telling the truth.

               Never
mind that her parents were both beautiful, silver-tongued liars, able to
persuade, charm, and seduce as easily as breathing.

               To
punish the monarchs, the Goddess of Honesty, Virtue, and Justice, Kiara, visited
the infant’s room in the night and enchanted the baby’s tongue to resist lies
and only tell the truth.

               Of
course, no one knew of this until the child grew older and was able to speak.

               The
kitchen cook and her assistant brought the child to her parents. Verity’s face
was sticky and streaked with stripes of icing and honey.

               “Darling,
did you eat a cake when the cook wasn’t looking?” The queen mother laughed, her
bright gray eyes warm with affection.

               Verity
could not lie to her mother; trying to resist the truth was like having something
uncomfortably spicy on her tongue. Her eyes watered and her tongue stung, her
throat closing in desperate need of water. Still, the words fought to be said.

               “Yes,
Mother,” Verity said at last, and the pressure inside of her yielded. She took
a deep, greedy gulp of air as if she’d been forced underwater for a long time.

               “Verity,”
The king said, shaking his head, but his smile revealed that he wasn’t truly
scolding her. “You should know better than that. You are a princess. You are to
be well-mannered and gracious. Now, say you’re sorry to the cook and her
assistant, my love.”

               “I’m
sorry, ma’am,” Verity murmured, bowing her head in contrition. “I won’t do it
again.”

               The cook
smiled, shaking her head. “That’s all right, little lass. Next time, let
someone know you have a craving for sweets, won’t you?”

               **

               As the
years went on, Verity grew from a precocious little girl to an accomplished
young woman. Her parents gave her everything she could’ve possibly desired,
including the best education in the entire kingdom. When she reached the age of
seventeen, her father began making arrangements for her to be married.

               Never
mind that that wasn’t actually what Verity desired.

               Eventually,
a prince came to the castle in order to actually meet his new intended: he was
old, widowed, and had no children. Immediately, Verity knew that this was not what
she wanted, or if she even wanted a partner.

               It
seemed that Kiara, her patron goddess, had a rather twisted sense of humor.

               Verity’s
engagement to Sir Reginald Fairfeather was celebrated with a feast, and all of
the common people and gentry were invited to attend. Though she was dressed in
finery and sported a large sapphire ring on her left hand (a keepsake from his
late wife, he’d told her with a wink), she was not happy. And she knew if she
were asked, she’d have little choice but to reveal how she truly felt.

Verity was positively miserable. Where was the good in being
a paragon or all that was good, virtuous, and honest if she could not be honest
with herself?

**

(WP) The Golden Years

(WP) The Golden Years

               She was
awoken by the phone ringing shrilly.

               Normally,
she and Henry were in bed by 9:00 PM, at the latest. But the night before had
been long and strenuous. She wondered if they were getting too old for this
gig.

She refused to get a cell phone;
she nor her husband, Henry, could figure out how the darn things worked. No, they
were perfectly fine with a landline, thank you very much.

Eleanor was greeted by a mad cacophony
of voices, and she found herself smiling.

“Happy 75th birthday, Mom!” Her
daughter, Tessa, chirped into the phone. She could hear her grandchildren in
the background, squabbling. “We have a surprise for you and Daddy later. Is it
okay if we bring the kids?”

“Of course, you can bring them!”
Eleanor replied, laughing. “You know your father and I, the more the merrier.”

Henry was already out of bed, and
Eleanor finished up the conversation with her daughter.

“Timothy and his kids are coming also.
We’ll see you later, Mom! We love you!”

Eleanor put the phone back into its
cradle, putting her feet in a pair of baby blue slippers.

“Henry! The children are coming
over later to see us! What are you up to?”

She found her husband in the kitchen,
preparing breakfast. There was a bowl of oatmeal already sitting on the table,
studded with raisins and bananas. Sitting beside it on a saucer was a cupcake,
frosted with the number 75 in the icing.

“I was making breakfast for my
favorite person,” Henry told her, smiling so widely his dark eyes crinkled up
at the corners. “Everyone deserves to be made breakfast on their birthday.
Especially their 75th!”

Eleanor found herself blushing.
Really, she was too old for all of this fuss. But she couldn’t deny she was
secretly pleased.

She sat down and ate the cupcake
first, relishing the sweetness. Normally, she ate healthy, all the time, but
she figured that since it was her birthday, she would make an exception.

“I asked for the day off,” Henry
told her, sitting across from her and eating his cereal. “I don’t know if we’ll
actually get it, but it was worth a shot.” He shrugged. At a year younger than
Eleanor, he was still spry and fit. After all, their job demanded it. And
family or not, there were very few breaks.

They both enjoyed their jobs, especially
in their prime, but she found herself wondering, once again, if they should’ve
hung up their capes a few years ago. What about their retirement?

“Thank you, Henry,” Eleanor said,
and he beamed in reply. “I love you, Ellie.”

**

Soon, the house was abuzz with the
sounds of shrieking children, crying, and laughter. Eleanor didn’t mind. With
her and Henry, it was too quiet, even for her.

Tessa and Timothy were in the
kitchen, putting several wrapped gifts on the table. Tessa was sipping a cup of
tea, and Tim was nursing a beer. They were talking, while their spouses focused
on wrangling the children.

Everyone insisted that Eleanor not
lift a finger; her children had even brought her lunch from her favorite café.
She sat at the table with her food, eating contentedly, lulled by the
controlled chaos around her.

Then the phone rang, and Henry
answered it. Immediately, Eleanor could tell it wasn’t good news.

“Yes. Yes, sir. Okay, sir, we’ll be
right there.”

He hung up, and looked at Eleanor.

“We’ve got a problem at work.”

She had a feeling he’d been about
to say that. But saving the world never stopped, not even for an old woman’s
birthday.

**

(WP) Blood, Bonds and Fire

(WP) Blood, Bonds and Fire

               The
battle had raged for what felt like days, though truly, it was only minutes.

               Fire had
raged throughout the castle, gathering speed and oxygen as it did.

               It was
slowly creeping toward the throne room, and if they didn’t get out soon, it
would devour them both.

               But she
might have been willing to die in the fire if it meant the eradication of the
evil she’d spent her whole life fighting.

               The
monster was on the floor, taking labored breaths. But she was wearing a
victorious smirk, her teeth bloody. Or perhaps that was the fire, a trick of
light.

               “Come,
child. You cannot be so blind that you see the world in shades of black and
white.” She said, raising her honeyed voice to be heard over the roar of the
flames.

               “I’m
tired of your waxing philosophical!” Amara snarled, and she lifted her blade, eager
for the kill.

She didn’t have time for this. She
was so tired. Tired of fighting, of running, of her quest. Noble though it was,
she just wanted it all to be over. What was a little more blood on her hands?

“Amara,” Artemis rasped, laying prostrate
on the stone floor. “Wait. Please.”

Did her sister really believe she
would stop, just because she’d asked nicely?

Not likely.

But against her will, she lowered
her arm, and her grip on the sword went slack.

“We don’t exactly have time for a
debate,” Amara said. “The castle is on fire.”

“So, we’ll keep it quick,” Artemis
said, her voice raspy. “Before you kill me…”

Amara waited, her throat aching and
her body fatigued. It was so tempting to lay down beside her sister and rest.
If they were just going to die anyway, what was the point of fighting at all?

“Do you have any idea about the lengths that humans will go to, to save the life
of one of their own? Or to even avenge another human?”

The words stopped Amara cold, and
she gritted her teeth. She was sick to death of games.

“What’s your point?” She asked
through clenched teeth.

“Humans are always eager to shed
blood, especially if one of their own is threatened. I’m not evil; I’m merely
practical. I do what you and the Council are too weak to even attempt. Evil is
just a name given to anyone who doesn’t agree with the laws, the old, outdated
tenets of the Council. Deviant. Deserter. Warmonger and defiler. We’re not so
different, you and I. I just chose my own path.”

Amara frowned, but she could not
help but reflect on her sister’s words. Perhaps she was right. But now was not
the time for an existential crisis.

“Come, sister. It doesn’t have to
be this way. We can do what we like. Together.”

The fire was close to devouring the
whole castle, but Amara could feel her heart wavering.

Why did it matter, what she did?
What claim did she have to destiny?

Who was to say that her sister wasn’t
right?

**

(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.”

**

(WP) The Ocean’s Rage

(WP) The Ocean’s Rage

The beast had been chasing them
across the seas, though everyone knew it was pointless to run. Its size alone
meant that it was impossible to escape. The waves surged around it in a
churning rush, and the deck of the ship became slick with saltwater.

But what had they expected? After
all, they’d enraged the Goddess of the Ocean, and this was her retribution for
their hubris.

“We should’ve left her an offering
before we set sail!” The first mate called; his words lost in the fierce gale.

“Stop your blubbering and tie the
lines!” The captain roared back, using the full force of his voice to be heard
over the elements. They’d already lost several men, both to the ocean’s wrath
and the beast’s hungry maw. “Keep your wits about you, gentlemen!”

But it was hard to keep that in
mind when a giant whale hovered behind their ship, so big it was
incomprehensible. It was like something out of a nightmare.

The creature lunged again, diving
under the waves and soaking them all with a huge wave.

The first mate, Lionel Fredricks,
began to hastily tie the lines so each member was secure. But this normally
easy task was made that much harder by the storm, and Lionel’s own fear. His
hands were shaking so badly he could barely tie a knot.

His hesitation cost him, as two men
were forced to let go of the ship’s sides. With terrified shrieks, they
disappeared over the side of the ship.

Lionel looked down into the
bubbling soup of the waves, trying to track the massive beast’s shadow, but it
was lost in all of the chaos.

Then it reared upwards, a lightning
strike illuminating its huge girth before it struck; long scars and pockmarks
marred the whale’s side, and Lionel wondered, with horror, what kind of
creature was able to cause such agony to an animal so gigantic.

The blood sprayed across the deck;
Lionel imagined that he could hear a vicious, ugly crunch as the whale feasted upon his friends’ bones. His throat
tightened.

Those deaths were his fault. His, and his alone. His
stomach clenched, and he worried that he would heave his water and hardtack
onto the already slippery deck.

Death was already a constant companion
on these waves, and it would strike at any time. He wasn’t afraid of it; it was
simply a fact of life. Especially for a sailor. But in all the ways he’d
imagined dying, he’d never even come close to this.

Lionel could sense the monster
growing tired of its games. Then the whale rammed its head into the ship,
splintering the wood and causing a huge hole to form.

At this rate, they’d either die of drowning,
or they’d become an appetizer for this monster.

He thought he would’ve preferred
drowning: It had always seemed to him a peaceful way to die.

The world narrowed to a single,
sharp point: Dimly, he could hear his comrades screaming, scrabbling for
purchase upon the deck breaking under their feet.

The monster reared its tail, and
another icy wave broke over them. But Lionel barely felt it, because the whale
was staring at him with a dark, glittering eye.

Had the Goddess turned Her back
upon them? Or was this creature merely hurt, frightened over the ships that
were unlucky enough to sail into its domain?

**

(WP) The Lost Sorceress

(WP) The Lost Sorceress

               It was
a yearly tradition, being chosen as the sorcerer for the kingdom, by the king
and his council. But it wasn’t their choice alone: The sorcerer in power wore
an amulet that shone bright red when their successor was in the room. For a while,
all was peaceful: The sorcerer used their magic to help improve the lives of
everyone in the kingdom.

               That
was, until the young Prince Alastair became king. The boy did not believe in
magic, not in the way that it was used in their kingdom. If magic was used in
the kingdom, it should have been used strictly for the crown. When the sorcerer
protested this injustice, King Alastair banned all of the magic entirely.

If it was not used for the crown,
no one would use it at all. As a result, the fields grew fallow and barren, and
people throughout the kingdom began to die. But it didn’t matter to the new
king; what were the lives of a few peasants? He celebrated his coronation with
a grand party and feast, and the ceremony was lavish and extravagant.

King Alastair, I thought bitterly,
was nothing like monarchs that had ruled before him.

I was on the outskirts of my
village, scavenging for food. I’d managed to find some leftovers in pantries of
broken, long abandoned houses. Half-empty bags of grain, pickled fruits and vegetables.
It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.

Putting my spoils in the sack on my
back, I walked into a broken, crumbling hut. There was a faint, ruby shimmer
coming from the dark. The hut’s only occupants were spiders and rats, but
nonetheless, I tiptoed through the hut, following the light. I was spurred on
by a feeling I didn’t understand.

I found the source of the light in
the ashes of a fireplace: it glittered like an ember, and I knelt on the
hearth, digging through the ashes. There was an amulet, made out of gold: It
was so tarnished that I could barely tell what it was made out of. But the
jewel it held inside of it caught my eye. It looked like something out of an
old book, and when I touched it, it sparkled. The ashes fell away, and it
gleamed like new.

Something about the necklace teased
my memory; it was like something from a dream I could barely remember. It felt
as if it were meant for me, and before I fully realized what I was doing, I put
the amulet in my sack.

I began to forage through what was
left of the family who’d lived here before, and there wasn’t much. There was a
wedge of hard cheese, some dried fruit, and a heel of bread that had somehow
evaded mold.

It would keep myself and my family
fed for another couple days, at least.

My palm itched from where I had
touched the amulet, and I gritted my teeth, trying not to scratch it.

When I returned home with my pack
stuffed to the brim, I sat by the fire.

I scratched absently at my hand and
realized that there was a bright blue streak cutting through my palm.

What did it mean?

**