Category: writing prompt

(IP) The Great Escape

(IP) The Great Escape

Darkness descended upon the land, blanketing it under the cover of dark, swirling storm clouds.

The snow-capped mountains ringed the crumbling stone fortress, a gray stone barrier that protected it and the mines that went down deep into the mountains, built on the backs of the broken and downtrodden. Still, the castle is a buzzing hive of activity, even this close to evening. Servants traveled the halls inside, often in pairs and small groups, heads close together as they whispered to one another; if one looked closely, they’d see dark, red-rimmed eyes, pale faces, bitten lips and torn clothing.

A hooded figure slipped through the crowded hallways, unnoticed, head lowered in deference, heading toward the dungeons. The chaos of the castle is such that no one even gives the figure a sideways glance. That was good; the interloper intended it that way.

She’d come all this way for a reason, and it would not do to stand out. She needed to blend in, though it took everything in her power to stay quiet. The rage inside of her chest burned bright, a flame that would not be doused by anything but vengeance, retribution. If she could, she would burn this building down to the foundations. It had been built on the backs of her people, and many others, people that weren’t rich and privileged and able to hide their darkest secrets: anything to hold their positions. To profit from every immoral thing that they’d ever committed. She had to swallow to prevent her gorge from rising, to hold in the screams of frustration that were building inside of her throat, longing to be loosed. But none of that mattered now; she’d come to free the prisoners that were rotting in the dungeons.

Her priority now had to be to get them out of the castle alive, for fear that the Queen’s Guard would spot them and murder them where they stood. She forced herself to take a deep breath; she had to stay calm. If she slipped up, if she made even the smallest error, it wouldn’t just be her life at risk.

And she hadn’t taken on this mission to lose it. She’d sacrificed everything to become a member of the Resistance; her station, her lover, her family, and almost her sanity. She’d come too far to turn tail and run now.

She found the staircase that led down into the dungeons and quickly but carefully made the descent, the stench of mold and mildew hitting her face like a blow. She put one arm over her face and used her free hand to guide her way down the steps, wincing when her fingers met wet moss. Her eyes streamed; the awful smell of rotting flesh seemed to sink into her cloak, hair, and skin, and she swallowed, resisting the urge to gag.

At last, she reached the bottom floor, and she hurried to the cells, noticing more than one shadow curled up in the eerie light of the torches on the walls, tucked into sconces. She heard someone coughing, hacking as though they were choking, and she approached slowly, looking for a cap of bright red hair.

When she found the right cell, she knelt in front of the door, shoving the key into the lock with trembling hands.

A wasted little girl sat against the stone wall, arms wrapped around her knees. Her fine gown had once been white, but now it was black with sick and other filth. Her face was deathly pale, her eyes bright amber hollows in the dim light, and her long hair was matted and tangled, full of sticks, blood, and leaves. She looked up at the hooded figure, full lips parted.

“Who are you?”

"I’m a friend. We’ll talk later, when I get you out of here, Princess.”

**

(WP) For the Love of the Water

(I was torn between the ocean and heights. So I decided to choose the ocean! I hope you all like it!)

Sometimes I wonder if I would be more at home on the water than on land. Something about water soothes me, the waves caressing the shore a lullaby that sent me off to sleep every night. It’s the first thing I see when I wake up, and the last thing I see before I go to bed. Its presence is constant but ever-changing, and despite knowing just how brutal it can be, I can’t not love it. Rivers, lakes, the ocean that surrounds the planet; all of it has been as necessary to me as oxygen and food. But the ocean holds a special place in my heart; if I could, I’d never leave it.

Sometimes I like to dream about how I’m a pirate, conquering the seas and chasing the elusive promise of treasure. But for now, I’ll just have to be okay with getting a degree in marine biology. I rise from my bed and bite back a yawn, changing out of my pajamas to a pair of black basketball shorts and a plain black tank top. I walk to the window, feeling that familiar call as I gaze out toward the beach. If I hadn’t slept in this morning, I would’ve gone surfing. I’ve always been a morning person, but since learning how to work with the water, I’ve often rose with the dawn, eager to get my fix before I had to start my day.

The other side of the bed is cold; Teddy must have gone to work already. I walk down the stairs and jog through the kitchen, grabbing a granola bar on the way out. I slip my flip-flops on and hop in the car, making sure to stop for iced coffee on the way to the university; a morning person I may be, but I also need fuel. Armed with caffeine and a breakfast sandwich, I set it on the passenger’s seat and park hastily, devouring my breakfast in a few quick bites. Wiping my mouth with a napkin and putting on makeup, I grab my bag out of the backseat and sling it over my shoulder, walking inside of the school.

My first class, Earth Science, hasn’t started yet, and I take a seat by the window, gazing out toward the ocean as if compelled. I can’t help it; whenever I’m outside, my first instinct is to find the nearest body of water; it just makes me feel safe.

My parents used to despair over it, this mysterious pull to the water; more often not, I was scheming to steal away from whatever I was doing, sleepwalking through life in order to answer the call of it. No one has ever understood it, but that’s all right. I barely do myself. But if it went away, I wouldn’t be who I am. I couldn’t imagine my life, my heart and soul, without it; it’s part of my deepest foundations.

And I wouldn’t change it for anything.

**

(WP) The Lovers

(WP) The Lovers

Gather around the fire, children, and let your Auntie tell you the stories of our people.

They say that the greatest lovers of all time were also the greatest warriors.

They were the first of our people, and the rest of our legacy was born from them. They traveled across every landscape, through bitter snow,  sheets of sleet,  blinding rain, scorching deserts, thick, dense forests, until they came to the coasts and saw the ocean for the first time. Weather-beaten, tired, and hungry, Calandra and Zamir were forced to build a raft from the trees of the forest, only big enough for themselves until they could cross the seas and settle somewhere permanently.

The journey across the sea took many days and nights, and Calandra’s stomach grew larger, more distended. She told her husband that she was expecting a child, and Zamir’s joy was so boundless that he roared his thanks to the gods of the sun and sky, happy that his lineage was to continue. But underneath his happiness, shadows of doubt and fear lurked; he feared for his wife and unborn child; they had to get across the sea and settle as soon as possible.

 As if summoned by Zamir’s voiceless worries, the sea began to churn and boil, and shadows began to circle their raft, the clouds moving in so quickly that even the great Sun was blotted out; the sky was soon as black as the skirts of the Night’s dresses, and the raft soon became lost in the tumult of the salty water.

Zamir tried his best to take the raft to safety, but he could barely see the horizon through the cold, driving rain. A tall, dark shadow rose through the waves, revealing a large, pointed snout and huge, glowing red eyes, with the hard green scales of a crocodile; the head bent down on a long, scaly neck, and a cool breeze brushed over Zamir.

“Who dares to seek passage through my ocean without a summons?” A deep, male voice boomed; it crashed over the couple like a violent rockslide. “I am Necalli, guardian of these waters, and I demand tribute! Otherwise, you and the female will die, your bodies food for my children!”

Zamir was so struck with terror that he just stared up at the sea god, his face paper white and his hands trembling. He hadn’t known that anything but fish swam in these waters, and the fear that struck his noble heart had stolen his voice. So it was that Calandra stepped forward, tipping her face up to look at the god.

“Our greatest apologies, Great and Merciful One!” She called, shouting to be heard above the insistent voice of the storm. “We did not mean to trespass, and we mean you no harm! We only ask that we pass through your home without incident. You see,” She said, putting her hands on her stomach, “We are expecting a child soon, and I wish to give birth on land! Is there anything we might offer you to lessen our slight against your greatness?”

At those words, the storm vanished as quickly as it had begun; the clouds parted, and the sun shone on the god’s long, sleek body, which fully rose out of the water, as much to sun itself as to threaten. But Calandra stood her ground, trembling but otherwise not showing her fear

.“What could you two puny humans have to offer me that I do not already have?” He crowed, leaning down to fix one beady eye on the warrior. Zamir stood beside his beloved, shame rendering him still speechless. How could he be so useless at defending his wife’s honor?

“We will serve you for the rest of our days, O Great Necalli,” replied Calandra smoothly, bowing her head. “We promise that once we are settled fully on land, there will be a temple built in your honor, and all will know of your generosity and kindness, if you’d let us go.”

“How do I know that you and your spineless husband will keep up your end of the bargain?” The being rejoined, showing off a mouthful of sharp, bloody fangs. Calandra opened her mouth to answer, but before she could, Zamir stepped forward, struck with an idea.

“We will name our firstborn child after you! A robust, strapping boy who will know just how powerful and mighty the guardian of the sea is!”“So the man speaks at last! I was beginning to worry that you’d been struck dumb by my size and stature. Very well, human warriors. I will accompany you to land, and once you are settled and the child is born, I will return to make sure you made good on your promise.”

So the god of the ocean guided our people to this cluster of islands, where they made our home. The temple still stands today, and the son of The Lovers became the first priest of the god Necalli. In exchange, he was given mighty powers: visions, strength beyond measure, the gift of controlling storms, and the ability to read the waves as well as any scroll. The Lovers became the first chief and rulers of our tribe, and our line continued to grow after them, as more people came across the oceans and settled. Their stories are still told through our shamans, priests and priestesses, and magic workers, but that is the first story to ever be told of our people.

** 

(WP) Humanity’s Last Hope

(WP) Humanity’s Last Hope

The coppery iron tang of blood permeates the air as I walk around the bodies of the fallen, my brothers and sisters, and the animal shrieks of the enemy shatter the silence, with a steady beat of their footsteps coming toward me. This is everything that we trained for, and though I am acquainted with Death, I never imagined that I would be finishing the final battle alone.

The outer ring of the city, that walls that guard The Capitol, have crumbled, crushed to dust by the demon horde, all the work of our ancestors gone in an instant. We’ve done everything in our power to prepare, and still it isn’t enough.

Maybe it never was to begin with. Perhaps we never had a chance of victory at all. But I won’t just lie down and let the monsters win. If I’m going to go out, I’m going to make damn sure that I take as many demons and hellspawn with me as I possibly can.

The berserker rage that I’ve been taught to tap into threatens to take hold, and my vision begins to film scarlet, as I think of everyone who died in this battle. The instructors, the younger kids, and my own class, slain in less than the space of a finger snap. Hopelessness threatens to drown me, locking an iron grip around my throat, and at last, I open my mouth and let myself vocalize my loss; by the time that I’m finished, my throat is raw, ripped to shreds from unshed tears.

“YOU WANT A FIGHT?! COME GET ME, YOU DEMONIC BASTARDS! FREE LUNCH!”

At my summons, some of the demons fall out of line, heads swiveling to find the source of the noise.

Leading the pack is a creature that is an unholy marriage between a cobra and a human woman, poison-green scales glinting in the dying sunlight. It’s close to nighttime, and without any backup, throwing myself into a huge group of Hell’s worst lineup is nothing less than suicide, but I can’t say that I don’t welcome it. What’s the point of living on if everyone I love is gone?

She hisses, fangs bared into a bloody grin, forked tongue tasting the air. Her slit yellow eyes are upon me, and soon her comrades get the same idea and begin to follow.

Showtime.

I pull out the first weapon I can get out of the holsters on my back, a pair of short scythes sharpened to wicked points. I throw one of them, end over end, and it lands in the snake-woman’s skull with a nasty crunch, the blade sticking out of her head as her screams, high-pitched and full of pain, die; she melts into a black puddle of ooze and ichor, and I’m running, flying, retrieving the weapon from her body.

It’s a mistake to turn my back, though, because soon I’m surrounded. No matter; with the adrenaline pumping through me and my rage making me strike true, I can do it all the way until sundown. Or I die. Whichever comes first.

A wolf-man runs at me on all fours, howling to its pack, but I jump, reaching up for a light pole and pulling myself up on top of it. I stand above the teeming, looming evil before me, and I put my scythes back where they belong. Something more long range is suited from up here.

Even as my rage and loss bubble up inside of me, I take comfort in the fact of my training; I know what to do with my eyes closed. I was meant for this life, and even if I die, I can go to my grave satisfied that at least I tried my hardest.

There’s a chorus of vicious, angry snarls, and soon the demons get the bright idea to try and follow me up here.

Maniacal laughter pours from my lips, unable to be contained any longer, and that’s my only accompaniment to this insane symphony as I take out a spear that’s sharp and pointed like a harpoon, with a glittering silver tip. I let fly and laugh when blood splatters all over the pole and the ground.

But soon I am overrun, my laughter is replaced by screams of agony, and the only thing that I see is the dark cloud of evil that is descending from the sky.

** 

(WP) The Goblin Horde

The first time that my parents told me that goblins stole naughty children away, I must’ve been six or seven. But these goblins were as distant to me as Bigfoot, or the dreaded monsters that hid under my bed or in dark closets. And even if I had believed, it wouldn’t have mattered. I was a good kid. My parents had treated me like I was practically an adult, and in return for their honesty and respect, I’d wanted to make them proud. It was the least I could’ve done for the two who raised me.

But now it was three days before my eighteenth birthday, and my best friend, Scott, was trying to talk me into accompanying him to a party that Friday, one of the last of the school year.

“Come on, Ruben. It’s almost your birthday, and then you’ll be an adult. I say you enjoy your last three days of freedom. What could go wrong?” He grinned at me, bright brown eyes glinting with mischief. “You’ve never even been to a party. And there will be girls! And alcohol!”

I laughed. “You say that like it’s not a recipe for disaster, Scott.”

“You deserve to have a little fun, Rue. You’re already on the fast track to being an adult. What’s the harm?”

“Okay, okay!” I said, holding my hands up in silent surrender. “You win. I’ll go.”

“Yes! I’ll be here to pick you up. Around nine? And don’t tell your parents. I don’t think there’s gonna be any parents there.”

“I don’t really like lying to them, Scott.”

“This is the first time you’ve done it. It’ll be fine. Consider tonight a crash course in being a teenager.”

“All right, fine. I’ll see you later.”

**

I stood in front of my mirror, frowning. How did one dress for a high school party? I scratched my head, then forced myself to put my hands back at my sides; I’d mess up my hair if I kept fiddling with it. I’d chosen a nice pair of jeans and a black muscle shirt under an open plaid button-up. I’d ask my mother what she thought, but Scott had made me swear not to say anything; my dinner churned in my stomach at the thought.

I heard a beep from outside and grabbed my wallet, walking out of my room and down the hall into the living room. My mother was sitting in an armchair, her head bent over a book; my father was in the kitchen, making himself a highball.

“And just where are you off to?” Mom asked, and I stopped; I should’ve known that I wouldn’t get away without an explanation.

“Scott’s house,” I replied, giving her the first answer that came into my head.

“Are you staying the night? You don’t have a bag with you,” She said, a faint smile on her lips.

“Um… I have some stuff at his house, Mom.”

“All right. Make sure you come back in the morning, okay? It’s your birthday weekend, and your father and I want to spend time with you, all right?”

“Yes, Mom.” Waving at her over my shoulder, I ran out the door before she could call me out on my lies, the first ones I’d ever told.

Scott leaned over and opened the car door for me, his grin so wide it took up the whole lower half of his face, his cheeks flushed and eyes bright with excitement.

“You ready, Rue?”

“As ready as I’m gonna be.”

“Question: Why do you act like you’re being tortured? It’s a party! You’re supposed to be excited!”

“I’m more nervous than anything else,” I replied, smoothing down the front of my shirt, my fingers trembling.

“You have nothing to be nervous about. Just stick with me, and you’ll be fine.”

**

When we arrived at the house, the party was already in full swing.

Music was playing, so loudly that my ears rang and the floor shook; whatever the beat was, it was bass-heavy, and I was feeling it. The house was packed with bodies pressed close together, and the tables had been pushed back to form a makeshift dance floor. There was even a strobe light, giving the house a nightclub kind of feel.

Scott led the way, elbowing his way through the crowd to clear a path for us. He kind of reminded me of a politician, shaking hands and giving hugs all around; for a moment, I was sick with envy over his ease. He seemed so at home, even in this frenzied atmosphere.

“Come on, let’s get you a drink!” He called, holding my wrist so he didn’t lose me in the crush. After what seemed like an age, we made it to the kitchen, which was mercifully quiet. An array of different alcohol lined the island: tequila, bottles of wine and vodka, whiskey, and an endless variety of beer.

What did one even choose when they didn’t typically drink?

“Here, I’ll make you a screwdriver. Or would you rather have a vodka cranberry?”

“Surprise me,” I replied, leaning against the island, trying to quiet the unease that had settled like a weight inside of my chest.

Scott handed me a glass of red liquid, and a straw. “Drink up, kiddo. You’ll feel better. But take it slow, that’s some strong stuff.”

I took a sip, finding that the cranberry and lime almost overpowered the vodka. “It’s really good!” I said, and my surprise must’ve shown in my face, because he laughed.

“Okay, let’s go.”

**

We walked back out into the living room again, and as if by magic, three girls from our class materialized around Scott and I.

“Hey, Scott!” Kay McDonald beamed at my best friend, showing off straight white teeth. Her short blonde bob reflected the rainbow colors of the strobes, and she was dressed in a little black dress that showed off all of her ample curves. Her hand was wrapped around a green beer bottle, and she leaned forward. “I was hoping that you’d come.”

“I wouldn’t miss it! Plus, Ruben has never been to a party, and it’s almost his birthday.” He clapped me on the shoulder so hard that I nearly dropped my drink. Kay smiled at me. “Happy almost birthday, Ruben.” Her eyes returned to Scott, and he smiled at her; sparks were flying between them, and I felt like I was watching something private.

The two girls with her, Callie Carpenter and Veronica Lang, were watching quietly, each of them nursing their own drinks. I smiled at them shyly, feeling my cheeks heat; to say that I was awkward with the opposite sex was a huge understatement.

“Hi,” I said, shouting to be heard over the thumping bassline. Callie smiled and wiggled her fingers, tilting her head to the side as though she was studying me. She was pretty, with long, dark hair that she’d formed into space buns, eyes so dark that they looked black, olive skin, plush, kissable lips, and an open, welcoming smile. She was dressed in a pair of tight red leather pants, and a halter top that was shimmery and scarlet, nursing a glass of red wine.

Veronica was watching the crowd, a distant smirk pulling at her thin, expressive mouth, a cup with orange liquid inside it perched in her hand. She had red, curly hair that she pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck, and keen, bright green eyes that glinted like chips of emerald. Her clothing was conservative, considering all of our classmates: just a simple pair of ripped black jeans and a sweater the color of crushed raspberries.

When I turned back to Scott and Kay, they were gone; I looked around and spotted them on the stairs, Kay leading Scott, their hands entwined and their drinks abandoned on the coffee table.

**

Later, when I’d drank a good three or four more vodka cranberries, Callie was in my lap on a couch in the den, arms wrapped around my neck, kissing me softly.

“Have you ever done this before?” She asked, her fingers exploring under my shirt, and I shook my head mutely, unable to believe my luck.

“Lucky me,” She whispered against my neck, and I shuddered. After the chaos in the living room, the room was almost too quiet, but she smelled so good, and all of my senses were overloaded, full of her; everything was clouded by her.

But even having a gorgeous girl in my lap wasn’t enough to distract from one of the windows breaking, the glass sparkling on the carpet.

Inside the hole wriggled a tiny, little green creature whose head barely came up to the sill, pointed ears twitching. It was naked, aside from the tiny, filthy loincloth wrapped around its waist.

“Your parents told you that if you were naughty, we would come for you,” It said, in a voice that reminded me of a serrated knife. “And now you must go before the king to confess your crimes, however big or small, Ruben Cafferty.”

**

(WP) The Worst Villain and The Fiery Heir

(WP) The Worst Villain and The Fiery Heir

At last, it was happening, finally, he thought to himself, flushed with his victory. He’d done it.

He stared down at the sedate princess that lay down on the bed inside of his tiny cottage. He may have been the villain of this land, but he knew how to stay under the radar. It would not do to make any missteps, not now, when he’d finally captured a princess. It had taken weeks of planning, but at last, he had a pawn to use, something to hold over the kingdom’s head until they gave in to his demands.

He hadn’t become the best villain around just to be ignored. Not anymore.

The princess was deep in slumber, even several hours after she’d been kidnapped. She was a lovely specimen, with golden brown skin,  tattoos of red, gold, and orange looping up and down her arms in a language he hadn’t seen before, long, dark lashes, and a full, plush mouth that was parted slightly, as if waiting for a kiss. Her gown had gotten ripped in transport, even though he’d told the blithering idiots who served him to be especially careful with her.
But he simply couldn’t have done it himself, without any muscle. He may have been a magic worker, but he’d had things to do here in the cottage, so he’d sent them instead. He was itching to wake the princess, but he didn’t dare; better that she wake up on her own.

Then he’d break the news that she was his prisoner, at least until he’d gotten his way.

Lost in his own thoughts, he turned away, wanting to prepare a simple meal for his captive when she woke. He knew how to entertain, even if it had been years since he’d even attempted to do so. People who lived around here tended avoid him, partially due to the fact that he had been such an awful villain until now.

He found himself grinning; that would all change now. The kingdom would not allow their precious only heir to waste away here; she was his golden ticket to ruling over all.

**
When she awoke, the room swam; why wasn’t she in her suite in the palace? This place was small, dark, and smelled of game and smoke. She sat up, so quickly that the unfamiliar room spun around her.

“Where am I?” She asked, and her voice came out muffled, as if from underwater. “This isn’t the palace. I demand answers!”

She could feel the flames inside of her flaring in her blood, readying her for a fight. She wasn’t some fragile, delicate flower that needed saving. Quite the opposite, actually. But the universe had endowed her with the ability to hide her true nature inside of her skin, and she was thankful for it. It was much better to hide in plain sight; as a result, no one but her family knew what she really was.

She was ready for a fight; she would burn this pile of sticks to the ground if it meant getting free, and the creature inside her strained against her hold on it; it longed to spread its wings, to rip and tear and rend, to feel the air on her skin.
But first, she had to figure out just who, or what, had spirited her away from the palace.

She got out of bed, ignoring the way her limbs were heavy, fighting her as if sleep still had a firm grip on her body.
Just as she did, she heard the creak of a wooden door opening on rusty hinges, and her head swiveled in the direction of the sound. And then a merry, deep baritone, singing a jaunty tune. It made her sleepy, all over again, and she shook her head, trying to clear it.

She had to keep her wits about her.

**
When he entered the room, he saw that his ward (the word prisoner was so unpleasant, and he didn’t want them starting off on the wrong foot), awake, bright golden eyes blinking in the dim light.

“You’re awake! I brought you some food. Simple fare, less than what you’re used to, no doubt, but it will do, I suppose.”
Before he could so much as take another step, the girl growled, a deep, guttural sound low in her throat, and if he wasn’t mistaken, smoke curled out of her nostrils.

“Who are you? Where am I, and what do you want with me?” She snarled, teeth bared at him, but he just smiled; he was certain that lack of rest was making him hallucinate. There was no way that smoke was coming out of her nose. That was impossible.

“Oh, just someone who wants to use your position to gain control of your kingdom, Highness.” He said blithely; he saw no point in lying. “Now, you’d best eat, because at dawn, I must send word to your parents that you are in my possession. I’m sure they’re worried.” He set the tray of food in front of her, waving a hand so that she sat against her will.

She’d heard of this magic worker; he may have played at being a villain, but until now, he’d never been successful at anything remotely evil. She sniffed at the food in front of her: a glass of milk, a savory stew swimming with chunks of meat and a bounty of vegetables, and freshly baked bread, studded with fruit and nuts. It all smelled delicious, and the monster inside her growled, desperate for nourishment.

She didn’t smell any poison in the food, and besides, she needed strength if she was to fight back.
Keeping one eye on her captor, she quickly ate the food, barely tasting it. Thankfully, the low light hid the glowing tattoos that adorned her arms and shoulders.

She just had to bide her time, even if she was ready to scream her impatience. All of her animal instincts were firing up, and as a result, it was close to impossible to sit still.

**

She’d eaten the food, with little hesitation, even as he saw the questions that blazed in her eyes. He stood up to take the tray to the kitchen, and he turned around, walking to the door. But he never made it, because when he spun around, there was a gigantic scarlet dragon standing behind him, with razor-sharp fangs and bright golden eyes.

The princess’s eyes.

And that was the last thing he saw before his blood splattered the cottage walls.

(WP) The Last Warrior

(WP) The Last Warrior

The empress stood up, a tall, lithe vision in royal purple, surrounded by her retinue, in a box high above the stands. Her face was covered by a long, dark veil, signaling the mourning period for her late husband.

“Congratulations, warrior! You have fought most valiantly, and for that, you shall be richly awarded. But first, you must challenge my champion.”

The crowd below her roared its approval, baying for yet more blood. The warrior stood in the center of the arena, chest heaving, sweat dripping down her brow, into her eyes. She blinked the sweat away, wishing that she could at least have a drink of water before facing her final opponent.

“But wait! You need a weapon. I don’t wish to hear that the empress is unfair to the warriors who fight for her name and empire,” The empress boomed again, and she waved an elegant hand, beckoning someone forward.

A young woman in a fine gown stepped forward with a massive tray of weapons, all of which gleamed wickedly in the bright afternoon sunshine, holding them out to the gladiator.

She frowned, poring over them: there was a long, rusted blade, a sharp khopesh with two glittering, gleaming sharp ends, two sharp silver knives with mysterious symbols carved into the hilts, a shield with the empress’s symbol on it, a lion with something hanging from its jaws, and finally, a halberd with a sharp, gleaming golden tip. The warrior selected the shield and the pair of knives, strapping the shield to her left arm, and she tucked the knives into the pockets of her dirty, ripped tunic. She smiled at the woman and bowed her head, indicating that she had made her choices. Then, as she was backing away, she held up the shield and one of the knives, a signal to bring out her final challenger and begin.

The empress smiled down at her, then shouted down from the stands: “It appears that our warrior is ready to face her last opponent! Bring him out!” She told the guards, and the baying, roaring crowd went quiet, the air hushed with ugly anticipation.

The guards flanked the figure that was emerging slowly from the tunnel in front of her; she swallowed, feeling as if she could feel her heartbeat everywhere, in her throat, her wrists, the back of her knees, roaring in her ears and inside her head, blocking out all thought except for one: To win. To be victorious. At any cost.

She was so close to her freedom that she could taste it; she hadn’t come this far, hadn’t practically drowned in the blood of her competition, to lose now. She would not allow it.

The guards and the figure between them emerged at last, though the gladiator could not see her opponent’s face; a hood had been drawn up over their head.

That was fine by her. She didn’t need to see one’s face to make them concede. A fierce heat built up in her blood, screaming at her to rise and fight, to cut and rend until she saw blood, until she was unopposed.

The bell rang to signal the fight to begin, and she moved without thinking, charging her opponent and moving to kick their feet from under them.

But her competitor was just too quick. There, and gone, a flash of black and a gust of wind. In the motion, the hood fell back, revealing a tiny young woman with pale skin, eyes blacker than sin, and a feral, fanged smile.

What was going on? Surely this was a trick. A jest. Nonplussed, the warrior stopped, looking around. But then a cold hand closed around her throat, and she was up in the air, dangling, limp as a ragdoll.

Then the girl threw her as if she weighed nothing, and then she was on the ground, gasping for breath.

What was wrong with her? She had to defeat this woman, if it took every ounce of strength and defiance that she had.

She reached into her pocket and grappled for her knives, desperate to defend herself. She couldn’t lose, and already bitterness was gathering in the back of her throat, as if her body had given up before she’d even began. She screamed, a hoarse, vicious sound of frustration and defiance.

She scrambled to her feet, and just barely had time to raise her shield in front of her body before the girl struck again. The shield rattled, and the warrior used all of her strength to shove the girl back; the girl fell, almost, but managed to catch herself.

The gladiator charged again, roaring with rage and bloodlust, one knife tucked in between her fingers, hidden just so. The pale woman was fast, but not fast enough to block the shield coming at her and the knife in her fingers. Knocked off balance when the shield hit her, the warrior reached up and slashed at her throat, the tip of the knife so sharp that it ripped through the skin like paper.

The gladiator smiled to herself, certain that now she had the upper hand.

But it was simply not to be, for her opponent had coughed, and the skin slowly knitted itself back together.

Her mouth dropped open in shock. What kind of mad sorcery was this? It didn’t make any sense, because she was sure she’d dealt a killing blow.

But her eyes hadn’t been deceiving her. The woman smirked, cracking her neck lazily. “That hurt!” She snarled, her voice thick with an accent that the warrior didn’t recognize. She must have come from a faraway land. “You’ll pay for that, human.”

“Less talking, more fighting, whatever hellish creature you are!” The human quipped in return, smirking and raising her hand, beckoning her opponent forward, taunting her shamelessly.

The creature roared, a deep, guttural sound that exploded out of her throat.

The crowd screamed raucously, full of stomping feet, screaming in dozens of different languages, and clapping hands.

At least they had their attention, the warrior supposed. She reached for her knives and realized that she had left the weapon on the sand, covered in sticky, black blood. She swore to herself quietly and began to run, but her opponent appeared in front of her, as if born from smoke.

“Oh no, I’m not making this easy for you!” She snarled, and her teeth snapped mere inches away from the warrior’s neck; she felt a gust of air as she twisted out of the way.

Backed against a wall, quite literally, the human thrust out a fist, the knife clenched between her fingers, and it was as if her hand had met cold stone; there was an ugly crunch as her hand gave way against the creature’s stomach and broke.

The creature was laughing, brushing off the blow as if shooing away a particularly annoying fly.“

I will truly enjoy ripping your body apart for the lions to eat… At least you won’t have died in vain, you foolish, arrogant thing.”

The human snarled through clenched teeth, but the sound was strangled as the undead woman wrapped a delicate hand around her throat.“Say goodbye, human. Enjoy your last moments.”

** 

(TT) ‘Pain is only a sensation. You must overc…

For a long time, the only sound was deep, visceral screams, as if someone were being torn limb from limb. 

They echoed throughout the cavernous room, amplifying the sound.

“STOP! PLEASE, I CAN’T… IT HURTS SO BAD, THIS IS TOO MUCH! MASTER, PLEASE–”

 Leander’s voice was harsh and raspy; on top of the torture he was currently enduring, it felt like his vocal cords were being ripped out, but he could think of nothing else but the pain, so the last thing on his mind was controlling his mouth, both literally and figuratively.

“Stop your groveling, boy. Do you want to be a hero or don’t you? You knew the sacrifices when you signed up for this. You must be a man.”

“There’s a difference between trying to make me stronger and killing me–”“I did not ask for your disobedience. And if I’m remembering correctly, it is you who came to me,” The old man growled, shuffling over to his chained student. He punched him, right under the chin, and the boy groaned, the room spinning in a gray haze around him. 

“Was it not you who came to me as a young boy, desperate for training to defeat his corrupt father and brothers?”

Nothing but ragged breathing, and tears streamed down Leander’s face. But he knew that if he did not answer his master, it would result in something even more awful. There were many things that the old former lord had tolerated in his many years, but insolence was not one of them.

“Yes, Master. I asked you for your help, you’re right,” Leander replied, working to defuse the situation before more violence ensued. 

“I am sorry.”

“As you should be. I expected better of you. Pain is only a state of mind, and you can overcome it.”

Leander gritted his teeth in frustration. That kind of crap was pretty easy to say when you weren’t being skewered like a roast pig with white-hot iron rods.

“Yes, Master.”

“Remember your training exercises. Only when you rise above your pain will you be able to wrest control of the throne from your family and do right by your country. What was that you said to me, back when we first met? That you deserved power more than anyone else in your family, because you were the only one who did not seek it? Compared to everything your family did to you, this should be nothing. Less than nothing.”

He cast a scornful glance at his charge’s back, thick and knotted with red, slashing scars, as if made by a blade or a knife. 

“Pain is nothing but sensation, and you can block it out. You must find every bit of strength inside yourself, or you will fall to them again.

Be courageous, as you always have been. I cannot be there when you launch your coup; that you must do alone. But I will strengthen your body and your mind. This is what you trusted me to do, and you will overcome, or you will die.”

With that, he retrieved an iron poker, glowing red, and thrust it through Leander’s stomach, stone-faced as the screams began once more.

(WP) Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold

(WP) Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold

The house felt too empty without her inside of it. She and her daughter hadn’t lived together in years, but she’d come over for a visit just last week. She’d been acting odd; so much so that her mother was worried; that was her job. She was the parent. She’d be dead before she stopped worrying about her child.

She could still feel Ellie’s ghost lingering all around her, and the hole in her chest seemed to widen; she fell to her knees, using the coffee table to catch herself before she face planted. What was she supposed to do now? She’d done everything in her power to help her daughter get out of her husband Ted’s clutches, including moving her halfway across the country; anything to keep her safe.

And she’d failed. That bitter pill was so hard to swallow that she was considering ending it as well. What did she have to live for anymore? Her Eleanor, her little Ellie elephant, was gone, the flame of her life snuffed out before her time, all because that piece of human garbage had lost control of her, and had vowed that if he couldn’t have her, none would, not even the woman who had brought her into this world.

The unfairness of it all made her dizzy. There was one thought in her head that was loudly drowning out the others: It should’ve  been her, instead. A parent should’ve never had to bury their child; it felt like the universe itself had failed her. Ellie had been what was called ‘a miracle baby’. She had been conceived right before her father passed away from a car accident, and when Jane had discovered she was pregnant, she’d been happy, hopeful; she’d had a small piece of her late husband, growing inside of her those nine months.

She touched her cheeks and found them wet, her eyes leaking rivers of crystalline tears.

 This was all too much. Hadn’t she been dealt enough loss in her life?

She wiped at her cheeks and stood, her legs shaking; it seemed to take every bit of energy she had just to get up. But she couldn’t give up; it would be an insult to Ellie’s memory if she gave in to the darkness that had returned, once again, to haunt her.

Ted’s face appeared in her mind, and she heard a high-pitched, painful keen, a senseless wail of rage and grief.

Where was it coming from?

 Her throat hurt, and then she realized that it was her. It was coming from her.

She curled up on the couch, haunted by her daughter and the man that had ended her life.

**

When she awoke, she wasn’t sure just how much time had passed. She was curled up in a ball, and the sun was beginning to set. She had slept fitfully, dreaming of running to her daughter, but it was as if she were running through syrup; she just couldn’t reach her. And laughter, Ted’s deep, mocking laughter.

“Did you really think that she wouldn’t come back to me? I love her. She’s not yours anymore. She’s mine, and was mine from the moment she said yes to marrying me. Bye bye, Mommy dearest.”

The words echoed in her head, and she clenched her jaw, wishing she could block it all out. But then it came to her. Now she knew what she had to do, even if it ended her life.

**

She pulled up to the prison in a car she’d borrowed from a friend; it would not do for her vehicle to be recognized. It had taken several weeks to plan, but now she was ready. She wasn’t exactly a Christian woman, but didn’t The Bible say something about an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth? She hadn’t paid much attention in the few church services she’d been made to attend as a  teenager.

She was dressed immaculately, in a long-sleeved pink shell, accented with a gold chain that wrapped around the waist, wide-legged trousers that were adorned with black and white stripes, and the highest pair of heels she had. If she was going away after today, she wanted to look her best. And she also wanted to haunt him; she knew she looked just like Ellie, only older. Bitterness rose up in her throat and she swallowed, hard. None of that mattered now, for she was about to make it right.

She walked up to the visitor’s desk, which was covered in bulletproof glass.

“Name, ma’am?” The female guard asked, her voice muffled.

“Jane Sparks.”

“Who are you here to see, Miss Sparks?”

“Ted Rawlins.”

“Hmm, he doesn’t have many visitors. Of course, I’ll have to see ID and search your things. Do you have a bag or anything with you?”

She slapped her ID on the desk and slid it through the window, smiling.

 "After you verify that, I can give you my bag.“

"You’re awfully cooperative, Miss Sparks. I appreciate that, ma’am.”

“Oh, the pleasure is all mine.”

**

Jane stood in front of Ted’s cell, where a guard unlocked the door, cuffing him as he escorted him to the table in the visiting room; Jane followed, saying nothing, though her heart pounded in her chest. She’d prepared for this, practiced for weeks. She wasn’t exactly afraid; sweat gathered on the nape of her neck, in her hairline, on her forehead. This was something different: anticipation. It burned and seared inside of her chest, a cold blue flame fanned by hatred and pain.

“It’s nice to see you, Ted,” Jane drawled, taking a close examination of her former son-in-law when he sat with a thud at the table. She noticed, with a secret burst of glee, that he had remained handcuffed. That was good; he would have no way of fighting her back.

“I wish I could say the same, Jane. You been thinking about me, since I killed your daughter? Oh well, it was her fault, after all. She tried to leave me. She was mine. And then, well.” He shrugged, a smirk slowly unfurling on his face, reminding Jane of a poisonous flower. “Then she was dead.”

It took all of Jane’s self-control not to lunge for him, not to strangle him with her own bare hands. But what she had in mind was much more painful, anyway. She just had to get through this conversation; she only had an hour, and she could hear the clock ticking behind her.

“Why did you do it, Ted? She was leaving you. She was beginning to get her life back in order. Why couldn’t you just move on?”

“I loved her.” Her voice was toneless, robotic. “And then you stole her away from me. Poisoned her against me. We were in love.”

“You were abusive.”

“I don’t think you know the difference. After all, Ellie told me–”

“Don’t you say her name.”

Before she was even finished with the sentence, he spoke over her. “Ellie told me that your husband died before she was born. How do you even know what love is?”

**

She didn’t remember much of it, only in flashes: pulling out the knife, leaning forward and slashing Ted’s throat from ear to ear, and blood, so much blood, splattering all over her clothing. The weak, sputtering gurgle that emerged from his mouth, blood bubbling on his lips, and the shock in his eyes.

But he should’ve known better. Every mama bear had claws.

(WP) You Can Check In Anytime You Like, But Yo…

You Can Check Out Anytime You Like, But You Can Never Leave

“Welcome.”

“You mean, welcome to the Hotel California. All of these years and you still can’t get the greeting right.”

“Another one! Oooh, he’s cute!”

“Gorgeous. I wonder if we’ll be able to keep him…”

A chorus of quiet, ghostly voices followed him down the corridor, and he gulped. He wondered if he was just imagining it, if it was all just a figment of his overtired imagination.

If he hadn’t been almost out of gas, he wouldn’t have stopped. But he had been driving all night, and was in desperate need of rest. This hotel, a crumbling and regal remnant of an older time, had been the only open establishment for miles, its neon lights casting a rainbow of colors across the night-blackened sand.

The hallway seemed to elongate and stretch like taffy, making him wonder if perhaps he’d pushed it too far. He was certain that after some sleep and some food, everything would be better again. He frowned, scrubbing a hand across his eyes in irritation. It was nearly three in the morning, and he needed to get it together. The voices seemed to follow him, quiet but persistent. He reached the door and slipped the key into the lock; it was an old-school, legit key, not one of those electronic cards you’d get at a regular Marriott.

This place was so weird, he thought as he turned the key and opened the door. It was almost as if it was stuck in the period in which it had been made, a portal unto itself. This feeling was further cemented by the room he entered into: all rusty orange shag carpeting, cheesy, shiny red velvet wallpaper, ugly plaid comforters. It was like a very drunk and angry interior designer had brainstormed all of the ugliest things you could put in a hotel room and put it all together, an ugly kind of joke.

The whispering wouldn’t stop, but it had died down to the point that he barely heard it. And anyway, he was certain that it was just his mind playing tricks on him…

**

When he awoke again, there was a knock on the door; he’d fallen asleep right on top of the blankets, without even taking off his shoes. His throat was dry, and his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth. He would’ve given anything for a drink, anything to parch his throat. The knock sounded again, more insistent this time.

“Give me just a second! I… I’m not decent!” He dug through his duffel bag and pulled a shirt out of it, though it was wrinkled and dirty and smelled like the desert, wind and sand, then pulled it over his head. When he was sure that he looked okay, well, as well as he could, considering that he had just gotten up, he opened the door to a strange sight.

An old, wizened man stood at attention, like a soldier, next to a rolling cart, laden with covered dishes.

“Hello, sir. My employers felt that you might be hungry and insisted that you be brought food.” He smiled, and the guest had to resist the urge to shudder.

The Butler, as he had been dubbed in the guest’s mind, still tired and sluggish from his late night, was tall, and his skin was wrinkled and papery, with an unpleasant greenish tinge underneath. His teeth were sharp and pointed, as if they’d been filed that way. His clothes were years out of date, a suit complete with a red bow tie and sharp coattails. His fingers were long and spidery, with nails that had a bluish tint under them. He smelled of minty aftershave. But even with all that, his guest could help but back deeper into the room.

“I… That’s very kind of you. But I’m actually not hungry. And I couldn’t pay for all that. Thanks anyway.” He tried to close the door in The Butler’s face, but quicker than blinking, he caught the doorknob.

“Please, my employers insist you dine. After all, this is a hotel, and we wish to show you the best example of our hospitality.”

The guest frowned, and he sighed, rubbing a hand over his neck. He felt his jaw beginning to clench, but he stopped himself. He didn’t want to offend these people, not when he already had such a bad feeling about this place.

“Would it be all right if I showered and changed, and met you in the dining room? I was raised to eat at a table, even at such a… gorgeous establishment like this one.”

“Very well, sir. I’m sure that my employers would love to meet you in a more formal setting also.”

**

After he showered and put on some clean clothes, in the form of a pair of torn jeans, a gray muscle shirt, and a black leather jacket with colorful skulls embroidered on the back of it, completing the look with steel-toed boots, he dug through his bag and retrieved his switchblade; he wasn’t sure exactly why, but this place gave him the creeps.

He tucked the weapon into the cuff of his jacket, his spine tingling with unease. Sweat formed on his brow and dripped down his face, and he frowned. This heat seemed to seep into everything, stealing what little energy he had left. He wished that he hadn’t agreed to this meal; something in his gut told him that he’d just signed up for something huge, and he hadn’t yet seen the consequences.

**

At last, he reached what looked to be the old ballroom; the room was all bright gold wallpaper, adorned with summer fruit, and the floor tiles of the palest rose gold. In the center of it sat a long wooden table, set for many, surely more than there were in the hotel. But there was a couple sitting at the head of it, and The Butler hovered by the door. When he spotted his guest, he smiled, then turned to look back at his employers.

“Please, come sit,” He invited. “My employers are most eager to meet you. We haven’t had many guests recently.”

The man could hardly imagine why, haunted as the building seemed to be. Full of history and more than a few ghosts. He had already begun to regret stopping in this place. But those regrets evaporated almost instantly upon seeing his hosts.

They were obviously a couple, a man and woman seated side by side. They were a study in contrasts, and soon the man had forgotten about the meal, so consumed was he in studying them. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but there was something about this pair that set him on edge and begged closer inspection, all at the same time.

“We’ve heard much about you from our faithful servant, young man.” The woman spoke first, a seductive purr that sent chills skittering up and down his spine. She was lovely, exquisite, and under the table, he felt his fingers twitching with the urge to touch her. Her skin was smooth and dark, reminding him of the night sky, with a subtle glimmer like the stars, and her eyes were a warm, honeyed amber, lit with a fire that he couldn’t decide was malice or excitement.

“But you must be famished. Please, eat. And then you can answer our questions.”

Her companion, on the other hand, frowned, arms crossed, his chair pushed back from the table, his long legs on the table. His skin was so pale that it looked as if he were formed from moonlight itself, his eyes like two chips of ice, this skin adorned with colorful tattoos, even on his face, curling like smoke onto his cheeks and climbing up onto his forehead. His jaw was clenched, and his eyes darted between their guest and his companion, twitching as though he could barely stand to stay still.

As if by magic, food appeared on covered dishes, releasing the most enticing, mouthwatering scents. He was so very hungry. What was the harm in accepting? “I… I don’t feel comfortable eating in front of people,” He lied, his gut roiling with warning. “Why don’t my kind hosts join me?” He offered, though every instinct inside of him was screaming to abandon this meal, to turn tail and run while he still could. But he had a feeling that it was far too late for that now.“

We aren’t much for eating big meals,” The man countered, his voice gruff and angry. “We were kind enough to give you this feast. It would be rude to refuse.”“Don’t be rude to our guest.” The woman replied, and put a glass of wine in front of him, smiling. “You’ve nothing to fear. Not even my brother here. You were on the road all night, were you not? Even something small would help.”

Resigning himself to his fate, he lifted the cover to one of the dishes that had appeared in front of him. It was laden with bright, ripe peaches, and just the smell made his mouth water. He took one, and lifted the fruit to his lips, ignoring the way his stomach knotted up as he did so. He bit into it, the warm juice dripping down his chin.

The siblings smiled, first at each other, then at the man who had unwittingly become their prisoner.

“You’re ours now.”

**