Category: writing prompt response

(WP) The End and the Beginning

The End and the Beginning

               You
stand in the king’s throne room, beaten and bruised and coughing up blood. Spitefully,
you’re glad that your blood is staining his fine, expensive carpets. You should
regret all this, but you can’t, you don’t. He’s sitting on a high throne, and
your eldest daughter is weeping, clothed in silks and jewels.

               “Father,
how could you do this?” She cries, tears streaming down her cheeks. “You must
have known that it would turn out this way—”

               “Silence!”
The king’s voice is quiet, but she flinches anyway, cringing away from him.

               “Well?
Any last words before I destroy your home and take your daughter as my bride?”
He drawls, barely able to contain his laughter, and your fists clench.

               “You may
have defeated me and taken my child, but this will not stand,” You warn, a dark
undercurrent in your words. “You have to know that this is foolishness. You
cannot rule with hatred and fear.”

               “And
what, pray tell, does a man who makes clothes for a living know of ruling a
kingdom?” He has the audacity to laugh, and your daughter glares at him. But he’s
only got eyes for you, and you know he’s playing with you, as a cat does with a
mouse before killing it.

               “Very
little,” You reply, smirking, knowing that your mouth is bright scarlet. “But I
do know that you’re not doing it correctly.”

               “Say
goodbye to your father, Vivianne, send him to his grave with words of love and
kindness. And be grateful I allowed you a chance.”

               Vivi stands
up, descending the stairs and kneeling in front of you.

               “Papa,
you know it isn’t too late, you could repent, you could go to the stocks for a
week or so. But at least you’d still be alive! Please, Papa—”

               “I won’t
take back what I’ve done, Vivianne. I cannot. What good is a man without his
honor?”

               “To the
gods with your honor!” Vivi hisses, her green eyes going dark with rage and
desperation. “You cannot leave me to marry this monster of a man!”

               “It
doesn’t have to end this way, not for you.” You reply. “I’ve lived my life,
child. And you’re barely seventeen. Run, flee, the revolution will shelter you—”

               “Even
in your last moments you are trying to turn my fiancé against me,” The king
says, voice dripping with disgust. He waves a guard forward, and your daughter
is torn from your arms, before you can so much as kiss her forehead.

               “I love
you, Vivianne.” You say softly, your eyes never leaving her. “I love you, and the
revolt is your legacy. Run, escape, do everything you can to make sure that the
people’s will will never die.”

               Guards
begin to haul you out of the throne room, and you don’t make it easy for them;
you struggle the whole way, and the last thing you see and hear is a vicious,
violent scream, and your daughter goes up in flames that are sky blue.

               The
king is devoured by the strange fire, and your daughter’s laughter echoes
through the room like an ominous portent.

               **

(WP) No Such Thing

(WP) No Such Thing

               Everyone
knows that there isn’t such a thing like a happy ending, not in real life.

               If my
life were different, if I still believed in magic and happily ever after, I’d
have told you that I had my very own fairy tale, complete with a handsome
prince and the opulent, fabulous wedding.

               But
there’s a reason that those stories are fiction, I think to myself bitterly.

               I’m
sitting alone in our big, beautiful home overlooking the beach with only a bottle
of red wine and a book for company.

               As for
my husband? Another late night at the office. But there’s something inside me
that senses a lie. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what he’s up to, but
it’s not like I can leave, not without proof.

               I’m
bristling inside, and I drain my glass, walking to the big picture window and
staring out at the beach, the waves lapping at the shore. If this was indeed a
fairy tale, I would give myself to the ocean and let the water carry me to
another place, a place where happiness doesn’t hide in wealthy trappings.

               I’m
searching my memories for the precise moment where everything went wrong.

               After
we got engaged? When we were dating? I thought I’d found my real-life Prince Charming.

               But I
think he’d found his trophy. The thought is so upsetting that I drop the
wineglass, and it hits the floor with a soft, musical tinkle. I swear to myself
quietly, then pick up the broken pieces and throw them in the garbage. A large piece
cuts my fingertip, and it’s so sharp I don’t even feel it. Drops the color of
garnets fall to the kitchen floor.

               Despite
the size of the house, my throat tightens, and my vision begins to spot. I walk
to the door and walk out, my feet meeting the soft, powdery sand. My thoughts
are consumed with escape, with leaving Brent and rebuilding my life. I don’t
even believe in marriage, but I’d let him talk me into it.

               A
gilded cage is still a cage, and the thought echoes through my mind as I walk
toward the water, my finger still throbbing.

               How is
this my life? I had so much ambition, so many dreams I wanted to fulfill. I
fear that if I look into the mirror, I wouldn’t recognize myself. When a wave
breaks over my feet and drenches me, I shiver. Would it be so bad, letting it
all go? Giving myself to the ocean and starting anew somewhere else?

               At
least I would be free.

               The
wind begins to pick up, blowing my hair around my face, and dark clouds begin
to cluster in the sky, blocking the sun like a grim, baleful hand. Thunder
booms, and the waves begin to churn and foam. Fear blooms in my heart like a
poisonous flower, but I stay rooted on the shore.

               Somewhere
inside me, a voice whispers that the storm is for me. I wade into the ocean
until the water is to my waist, and I dive, headed for the center of the storm.

               I am no
one’s pet.

               **

(WP) An Audience

(WP) An Audience

               Everyone,
especially children, knows that there are many different kinds of fey folk.

               But
there are two types that are particularly prominent: tooth fairies, and their
larger, older counterpart, bone fairies. Tooth fairies take children’s teeth
and collect them, to be inspected like they were diamonds. And bone fairies….
Well, their job was more unpleasant. They took the bigger ones.

               It was
all to pay the tithe to the Dead Queen; she required human bones to work her
dark magic. And we’d all been born under the stifling yoke of her rule. Though
there were easily more of us, we didn’t dare revolt. We’d lose what little
rights we had. But, of course, that didn’t stop the whispers.

               Discontent
spread throughout the ranks, until it grew so large that our caste of fey
weren’t the only ones talking.

               “They
say that The Dead Queen is asking for still more offerings, and she’s about to
attempt something terrible…”

               “More?
As if her fairies aren’t working overtime already. Give the poor things a break,
I say.”

               “Shhh!
She has spies everywhere! One word of dissent and she’ll sentence everyone to a
week without compensation.”

               **

               I was
summoned to the Bone Palace, under the pretense of a grand feast. But I knew
better than to refuse such a boon from one of the fey monarchs, and so I had no
choice but to go.

               My
mother fussed over me, laying out my best suit, leaving a sunflower in the
breast pocket; it shone like a bright beacon.

               “Please,
son, be careful. Make sure to remember your decorum and manners.” Her bright
violet eyes were dark with worry and warning. In other words, don’t piss off
the Queen. But that would prove easier said than done.

               **

               When
the moon rose, I set out to the graveyard, where a silent escort awaited. An ogre,
with dark gray, bumpy skin, a wicked pair of twisted, sharp horns, and eyes the
color of freshly tilled soil, smirked at me, showing off rows of sharp, broken
teeth.

               “The
Lady Queen insisted you be escorted to her. For your own personal safety, of
course.” The monster grumbled. Without waiting for an answer, he gripped my arm
and stepped forward, and then we came to a spiraling set of stairs, leading
deep down into the earth. I’d never been in the Dead Queen’s dominion, not
directly, and sweat began to collect on the back of my neck.

               Did she
know? She had spies everywhere, and fey of every court were on her side. After
all, it paid to be on the side of the winners, if not in money, then in other
things.

               The
staircase ended in a massive throne room, made of earth and stone, and the magic
was so heavy here I could taste it in the back of my throat.

               The
Queen sat upon a throne made of bones, and judging by the size of them, they
were the bones of children. I pasted on a smile to disguise the bile rising in
my throat. For all I knew, I’d helped harvest those bones, once upon a time.

               She was
veiled, dressed in a full-skirted gown in a violet so dark it looked closer to black,
but I could see her bright white smile. It was made to look coy, inviting, but
there was an undercurrent of menace to it.

               “Thank
you for inviting me to your palace, my queen,” I murmured, head lowered, and
bowed. “What is it you would like to discuss?”

               “I’ve
been hearing whispers,” She replied, not bothering with pretty words anymore. “Whispers
of an uprising…”

               I kept
my face neutral; as far as our kind went, I was young, but I knew how to keep
my feelings off of my face.

               “Would
you know anything about that, Nathaniel?”

               **

(WP) Paint It Black

(WP) Paint It Black

               It seemed that her associate’s degree in Art History would finally come in handy.

               One of the best artists in the country had chosen her to be her assistant, and Camille could not be happier. To celebrate, she and her friends had gone out to a bar, just for a quick drink. She couldn’t be out until the wee morning hours as usual; she started in the morning.

               “I can’t believe it!” Cammie’s best friend, Liz, wrapped an arm around her waist. “I cannot believe that The Yolanda Jimenez chose you to be her assistant. Talk about being born under a lucky star.” She grinned and pressed a quick kiss to Cammie’s temple before ordering her a dirty martini, extra olives.

               Truthfully, Cammie couldn’t believe it either. She’d spent her whole life in pursuit of a career in the arts, painting in particular. Yolanda was a titan in their industry, one dominated by men. To be chosen by her was to be given a leg up into their hushed, exclusive inner circle. She hadn’t been able to believe it when she received the call announcing that she’d won the position. But for now, she chose to bask in the glow of her victory, accepting the drink from Liz.

               “To new beginnings,” Liz said, holding up her own glass of wine in salute. Cammie grinned and clinked her glass against it, then took a large sip.

               Their friends were out on the dance floor, promises of an early night all but forgotten in the haze of alcohol and old 90s tracks on the old jukebox at the front of the room.

               But she didn’t mind the distraction; it made it easier to face the fact that she’d be meeting one of her idols tomorrow. Even if she was tired, it wouldn’t calm her nerves.

               “After this drink, Liz, I need you to take me home, please. I have to get up early and I don’t want to get lost.”

               “Okay, fair enough,” Liz said, smiling ruefully at her mostly untouched glass of wine.

               **

               The next morning dawned bright and clear, and Camille dressed nicely in a pair of black trousers and a gray tunic top. Something to look professional in, but comfortable to work in also. She had to be at Yolanda’s house by nine, and she was still feeling a bit tired, even after her usual yoga session.

               Cammie grabbed a giant iced coffee on the way out of town and made the unfamiliar forty-five-minute drive out to the house.

                She pulled up a long dirt drive and found Yolanda in the yard, nursing a cigarette, standing under a lemon tree. Her long, dark hair was piled up on top of her head, and eyes keen and sharp met Cammie’s as she got out of the car.

               “Camille Masterson, I presume?” The words were accented and came out like music.

               “Yes, ma’am. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.”

               She was rewarded with a warm, soft laugh. “None of that ma’am business. I’m only a few years older than you. Come on inside.”

               **

               Camille decided that she loved the farmhouse immediately; it was airy and clean and colorful, exactly what she’d imagined. Yolanda’s art adorned the walls, from her most famous painting to her more obscure works.

               Yolanda kept up a steady, calm flow of commentary as they walked through the house. “Your duties will be simple: making appointments, getting coffee and supplies as needed, running errands. Think you can handle all that?”

               “Yes, ma’am,” Cammie replied before she could stop herself, and she saw her new boss smiling back a smile.

               “And I know this is an internship, but I insist on paying you. I don’t believe in that ‘soak in my greatness’ bull. You’re giving me your time, and I can afford to pay you.”

               Cammie nodded.

               Her eyes were drawn to a painting on the wall. It was a self-portrait of Yolanda, and when she looked at her, she noticed that compared to the painting, the rich, dark tone of her skin was paler, even wan.

               She didn’t know why, but that painting gave her a bad feeling, a yawning pit of dread opening in her stomach.

**

(WP) Restless Souls

(WP) Restless Souls

               After
the accident, I thought the first spirit I saw was a hallucination, a side
effect of the pain meds they had me on. It happened to be the lady from the
room across the hall, who’d been hospitalized with a harsh, wracking cough.

               I’d
been limping to the bathroom when she passed, her soul rising out of her body,
dressed in a fine black dress that hugged her hips, the full skirt sparkling as
if full of the night’s stars, meeting a man in midair, dressed in a fine gray
suit. And then they disappeared, as if they’d never been.

               And
then I heard the high-pitched squealing of her machines. “The patient has
flatlined!” A doctor walked down the hall at a brisk clip, gray eyes grim and
dark.

               I tried
to shake off the woman’s death, but something inside of me lingered, worrying
at the memory like a kid with a loose tooth. It had to have been a crazy dream,
a side effect; people didn’t really see ghosts. Or perhaps I was going crazy. I’d
lost everything in the car crash that had killed my family. Maybe my mind just couldn’t
take the strain.

               Once I
was out of the hospital, I forced myself off of the meds, even when the pain
was enough to nearly knock me out. When the hallucinations didn’t persist, I thought
I was home free.

               But
that was before The Cataclysm, before the Veil thinned, and the death numbers
climbed. Everywhere I went, souls departed from their bodies in pale, opaque
clouds, and I wept, hearing their voices, feeling their emotions, receiving
flashes of their memories. I stayed in my bed for three days, my job be damned.

               But
unfortunately, I wasn’t crazy, cracked, or mad. It was our world’s rules that
had gone all screwy. Our world’s balance had been thrown all out of whack, and
by some strange twist of fate, I was dealing with the fallout of it all.

               I
couldn’t make it stop, no matter how I tried. I tried to sleep, tried to lose
myself in my hobbies, anything to distract from the constant, discordant noise
within my own head. It was tempting to call the doctor, beg for some more
medication. I’d denied it at the hospital, but the thought of an escape was so
sweet that I got halfway through dialing the number before I changed my mind.

               Then I
noticed that a spirit was hovering over my head, a young woman who looked a few
years younger than I.

               I
blinked, and my mouth opened as I met her eyes.

               “You
can see me!” She said, and her voice was a low, quiet rasp. “Oh, my God, you
can see me! Finally! I’ve been so lonely!” She was in a wedding dress, the
pristine white fabric marred by something dark and tacky, and it was completely
at odds with the sunny smile upon her face. She was still holding her bouquet:
roses, lilies, baby’s breath and peonies.

               “What
happened to you?”

               “Oh, my
ex murdered me on my wedding night,” The ghost said airily, waving her free
hand as if shooing away an errant butterfly. “But that’s all right, because
now, I finally found someone to talk to!”

               What
had I gotten myself into?

               **

(WP) The Old Ones’ Return

(WP) The Old Ones’ Return

               The
oceans held untold secrets, but the biggest and most well-known was that they
held The Old Ones fast, imprisoned at the bottom. And they were receding for the
first time since the war had ended. Some people took this as a sign that history
would repeat itself; others used it as an excuse to live it up like The Great
Gatsby.

               My
mother returned home from the market, bringing with her the scent of warm
sunlight and exotic spices. Her brow was wrinkled, and her mouth was pursed,
pressed into a thin line.

               I left
the table, my lessons forgotten. “Mother? What’s wrong?” I asked, as she put
her groceries on the counter to be put away.

               She
didn’t answer for a moment, putting the food into the icebox. Her shoulders
were tense, and one fist was clenched into the fine sapphire cloth of her day
dress.

               “The
oceans are receding, Cassiopeia,” She said at last, each word breaking the
silence like glass. I was thankful that my siblings were playing in the living
room, none of them privy to our conversation.

               She
might as well have told me that the world was about to end. Everyone knew that
it had been a close thing the first time; the gods who’d established our world
had exhausted their divinity locking up their parents, and thus faded to mere
legends.

But that was the thing about evil: defeating
it was only temporary, just as this fragile peace had been.

“What does that mean?” I asked,
even though I very well knew what it meant.

“It means that The Old Ones are on
the verge of shattering their ocean beneath the waves. And if that happens…”

She didn’t need to finish. I hadn’t
been alive to see the devastation wrought by them the first time, but the proof
was everywhere: buildings decimated, people my mother’s age missing limbs, and
the most brutal of all: the death of our own father, one of the countless causalities
of the war.

“Of course, it isn’t for certain,”
She added, smiling weakly. “But it never hurts to be prepared. Perhaps we could
leave?”

I smiled, biting back a bitter
laugh. She knew better to float that idea with me; it was too late anyway.

“I could ask some questions at the
temple,” I said, trying not to touch the inside of my wrist.

I’d known what I’d gotten into,
somewhat. But by the time I’d been branded in the gods’ name, in service to
them should they ever need to fight their parents’ reign again, I couldn’t tell
my mother what had happened. How could I, knowing what our father had gone to
battle for?

I wasn’t exactly a soldier, but
that didn’t mean that I couldn’t learn. And I had to do something to save my
family, to put gold and silver and jewelry in their pockets.

What was the price of my soul, in
exchange for their protection and happiness, however temporary?

**

(WP) Unholy Matrimony

(WP) Unholy Matrimony

 These days, it was not unusual for a human to make a deal with a supernatural creature.

Of course, depending on the bargain, you’d have to find the said creature. Demons, merfolk, angels, Nephilim, ghosts, and gods.

For me, I was looking to make a deal with The Devil. Or at least one of his subordinates. Sometimes you have to take some shortcuts to get what you want to be. I considered myself an ambitious person, but I wasn’t about to slave away under some idiot, trying to climb the corporate ladder. Nah, that was thinking too small. I wanted to rule the world, screw the rat race.

So that’s how I ended up in a dry, barren desert in Scottsdale, Arizona, murmuring in broken Latin, the stars staring down like bright, cold eyes. I’d had to pay a pretty penny for the incantation, but what was a few hundred dollars for world domination?

The ghost of my voice hovered in the air, and I gritted my teeth against the goosebumps that sprang up on my arms. If I’d been catfished, I was gonna be pissed. But my fears were unfounded because a plume of red smoke began to cover the sky, funneling toward me like something out of a horror movie.

The smoke materialized into a curvy woman with a bright, crimson grin and eyes so dark they appeared to be black.

“You rang?” She asked, her voice melodic and soft, deceptively so.

“I need a word with your boss,” I said, smirking down at her. “Lucifer, the big guy, the head honcho of Hell.”

“I’m afraid you’re stuck with me,” She rejoined, laughing. “You have to be special in order to talk to The King of Hell, after all. But I can help you easily.”

“Uh, no, you can’t,” I said, shrugging. “You see… I want a special bargain and need to speak to him personally. Go on down and tell him it’s important, won’t you? I’ll make it worth his while.”

The demon frowned, her arms crossed, but her mouth was mashed into a thin line, eyes narrowed; I could tell she was listening to me. I wasn’t budging; this gamble was crazy, and I hoped it would work.

A few tense moments passed before the ruby-colored smoke disappeared again. The wind blew cold, sending up sprays of golden sand. It took so long that I found myself wondering if I’d overreached. If this was the time that my want, desire, and ambition were going to destroy me.

But this time, the smoke blocking the stars was black, dark as oil, as pitch, and a handsome man in a fine gray suit appeared in front of me. His smile was like something out of a magazine, and his eyes flashed dark.

“One of my employees told me you had the most interesting proposition for me.” He purred, in a voice that made me think of crushed velvet. “She said that you demanded to speak to none but me. Lucifer, the first Fallen. I presume you want a deal?”

“Of sorts,” I replied, smiling. “I wanted to offer you my hand in marriage, as well as my soul.”

“In exchange for what, pray tell?” He asked, circling me, a smirk on his lips.

“The world. I want the whole world. I want to be Queen of Everything.”

 I shrugged. “If I have to be on the Devil’s arm to achieve my ends, then so be it.”

Much to my surprise, The Devil laughed uproariously, the sound echoing back at us in the vast space.

“Oh, God, I haven’t seen this kind of ambition in a long time. I love it. You’ve got yourself a deal, girlie. Let’s hit Las Vegas and get hitched.”

** 

(WP) Ragnarok Now

32(WP) Ragnarok Now

You must’ve drunk too much during D&D night last night because when you finally get to sleep, you’re bombarded by strange dreams.

**

You and your party are walking down a wooded path, toward a clearing bathed in moonlight.

You can’t understand what everyone is saying; their words are muted as if you’ve all been dunked underwater. Your steps are especially slow as if the lot of you are walking through syrup.

You hear words coming out of your own mouth, though you don’t even feel your lips move.

“Allfather, maker, and master of all that is, we come to you with heavy hearts. Your children, the gods, control our actions. We seek to wage war against them.”

The clearing goes dark as if the clouds are hiding the eye of the silver moon.

 At the center of it all, there are gravestones, but they waver in and out of sight, all emblazoned with your party’s names.

The ground begins to rumble, and then part, beneath your feet, ominous blue light seeping out of the fissures. Your friends fall into the cracks, sealing them on the inside of the earth.

**

You wake up in a cold sweat, the ghost of the invocation still hovering on your lips. Your clothes stick to you, and your mouth feels like sand. You throw the sheet off of you and go to the kitchen, trying to calm the racing of your heart. You’re so rattled you don’t pay attention to how hard you’re walking. You get a glass of water from the tap and gulp it down, but the relief is temporary.

What are your friends going to say when you call them later, telling them that their weekly D&D session is canceled? You try to tell yourself that it was nothing but a dream, brought on by exhaustion and too much alcohol. But there was something about that ritual that felt real, and you can’t shake off your fear, no matter how many glasses of water you drink or breathing exercises you try.

You look at the digital clock on the microwave, squinting to see the numbers correctly. 3:52. It’s almost four o’clock in the morning, there’s no way that you can call your friends now. You force yourself to go back to bed, deciding to send a group text in the morning. You can get everyone together at breakfast and explain yourself then.

**

Morning dawns and everyone agrees to meet at the local diner a few blocks away. You still can’t shake the idea that the dream you had was not, in fact, a dream, but a vision. It has sat in your bones heavily, and you wait until everyone has gotten their meals to speak.

“I’m sorry, guys, but D&D has been canceled from now on,” you say, buying yourself some time by shoving a piece of bacon in your mouth.

Five different faces look up at you, blank with shock. Then they all speak at once.

“What? Why?!” “Oh, come on, Brayden, you can’t do that!” “I’ve been looking forward to it! Why are you doing this?”

“I had a dream that we were about to start Ragnarok and we all died. It was real. I saw your bodies disappear, the gravestones. I saw it all happen. I’m not risking your lives for a roleplaying game!”

**

(WP) Simple Courtesy

(WP) Simple Courtesy

               I got
engaged to be married to a wyvern by holding the door for him.

               I didn’t
think anything of it; I was only being polite. We both worked at the same
bookstore, and we happened to both be returning from our break, and he was
behind me, so I just held the door open.

               He
beamed at me; his eyes dewy with something that I couldn’t understand.

               “Patrick,
you’re too kind! We’ll have to tell our parents, you know. Wyvern-human
marriage is generally frowned upon in my culture.”

               I
stared at him, frowning. “Marriage? What are you talking about, Dalton?”

               “You
held the door for me, Patrick!” He answered as if this was obvious. “In my
culture, showing someone specific kindness, such as you just did for me, shows
the other person that you wish to be married!”

               There
was that word, again. Marriage. I didn’t even know if I wanted to get married,
and now here I was, engaged to a wyvern. For opening the door.

               “Uh,
that’s not what I meant,” I said hurriedly, damning the bright flush that was
climbing up my neck and flooding my cheeks. “I was only being polite!”

               But it
was too late to backpedal, and I found myself making a date to have dinner with
Dalton and his parents. My stomach had quickly tightened into knots, and nausea
was quickly roiling my stomach. How had this happened?

               **

               When I
returned home, I told my parents the situation, feeling embarrassed all over
again.

               My dad,
who’d been folding laundry in the living room, looked at me, brow furrowed. But
his eyes crinkled up at the corners, the corners of his mouth turned upward as
if fighting a laugh.

               My
mother was sitting with a cup of coffee on the couch, frowning thoughtfully.

               “But
surely you can say that this is all a misunderstanding,” She said, taking a sip
of her drink. “I’m sure once you explain, it’ll be a laugh, and then we can
move on with our lives. Besides, we’ve been long overdue for a night out. We
need to make a good impression on our future in-laws.” She dropped a wink, and
my embarrassed “Mom!” was drowned out by my parents’ laughter.

               **

               We met
with Dalton and his parents in a fancy restaurant on the outside of town. We
were all dressed nicely: I wore my finest suit, though it was too small and
parts of my wrists showed; Mom had donned a silk gray sheath dress and a little
tiny bag to match, with heels and my dad wore the tux he’d worn to his own
wedding to my mother, fifteen years before.

               But no
matter how nice we looked, my heart wouldn’t stop pounding, and sweat formed on
the back of my neck, my forehead, the small of my back. The restaurant wasn’t
even warm, but I couldn’t stay still. I had to get out of this, or I was going
to be married to a wyvern.

**

(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.”

              **