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Compilation of Story Links

All the links for my stories can be found here!

The blog has been up for a couple of years now, and I figured it’d be a good time to compile the story links again! Click here to visit the page. All the chapters will have links to the other chapters for the story at the bottom of their pages. Also, if you’re here from Twitch for the Micro-Stories the link is here. Enjoy!

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Twitter #vss365 (Very Short Stories) ~~ October

October 1st
Prompt: Night

Deep within’ the darkest night
You’re prayin’ for that mornin’ light
Pounding hearts and gasping breath
Looking back will be your death

‘Run,’ the hungry voices bade
Sharpened claws like burning blades
Blood so hot; the moon is black
You’ve made such a lovely snack

October 2nd
Prompt: Murder

The woman was accused of murder,
and they hung her from a tree.
She cursed them as she choked;
her body swaying in the breeze.

Little did the townsfolk know,
she committed not the crime.
Now neither her nor my husband,
will hurt this heart of mine.

October 3rd
Prompt: Blood

“The price is blood! You have me–don’t do this!” she cried, pulling on her chains.

“Oh, child,” the witch cooed. “Who said it was your blood?” The slice was quick and deep. Her lover could do nothing more than widen his eyes before he died. “Enjoy your immortality.”

October 4th
Prompt: Organs

“What’ll be yer pleasure?”

Her grin was a hair too wide, but he was too drunk on her beauty and tequila to notice.

“I won’t spoil the surprise,” she said, stroking a finger down his face. It trailed lower, over his abdomen and the tasty organs inside. “Or my dinner.”

October 5th
Prompt: Away

Crosses for the vampires
With demons it’s a prayer
Wolfsbane for a lycanthrope
Avoid all caves; they’re lairs
Listen not to sirens’ songs
Cold iron for the fae
Listen now, and these will
Keep these creatures well away

October 6th
Prompt: Demon & Delusions (Poem)

Hiding behind her smile
Was the demon lurking inside
My heart fell for her kindness
And my soul fell for her lies

Though I know I’m damned
And my delusions are shattered
I’ll love her even while I burn
‘Cause she’s the only one that’s mattered

October 7th
Prompt: Music

Thunder of paws
Panting breath
Howls shatter the night

The thrill of the hunt
The fear of the prey
Teeth bared for the struggle and fight

Down they fall
Pain and screams
On toward death they spiral

Eternal dance
Bloody and joyous
Moving to music most primal

October 8th
Prompt: Perfume

At first, he smelled her perfume everywhere: the store, the park–even her grave. It faded with time, until it never happened.

He woke with a start, her scent heavy on the air.

“Did you miss me?” she asked with a hoarse voice, and then kissed away his screams.

October 9th
Prompt: Bones

She rolled the bones, which were yellowed by age and firelight, and they clattered in the circle.

“What do they say?” the other woman asked.

“Depends on your view.”

“What?”

“Good for me. Bad for you.”

Her gods demanded blood, and she was happy to oblige.

October 10th
Prompt: Lovers

“Please,” he begged, as his cracked lips bled.

“What? Not having fun?” she asked, and then licked away the blood on his mouth.

He shuddered, and the chains holding him rattled, but he didn’t pull away.

“Remember, lover: you’re the one who summoned the succubus.”

October 11th
Prompt: Skin

He took her skin and kid it well
The Maiden of the Sea
Her mournful calls to kith and kin
Did not deter his glee

The selkie soon became his wife
And gave him many sons
But when she found her skin again
Back home she did run

October 12th
Prompt: Monster

“I’m not sure if we should leave you here, or take you with us.”

“Or kill her,” Jeffrey rumbled.

Mr. Hoffman’s eyes cut over to his bodyguard. “You don’t repay someone saving your life by killing them, Jeffrey. I’d like to think I’m not that much of a monster.”

October 13th
Prompt: Pearl

“Did you hear about Susan?”

“Everyone has. Her poor mama must be clutchin’ her pearls!”

“She’s always been a bit of a wild child, but a vampire?” The woman shuddered.

The other woman nodded, but resisted the urge to touch her inner thigh and the bite scars there.

October 14th
Prompt: Worse

When the Darkest King is called
Man’s empire will surely fall
Chaos yearns for pain and death
Calling for your final breath

Then will come the King of Light
To purge away the Darkest night
But Light’s reign may just be a curse
Be careful, or things may get worse

October 15th
Prompt: Alone

And what can I say
When at the end of the day
The cracks in my mind
Have grown so wide
I’ve fallen right through?

I’m left there alone
My broken thoughts sown
With the darkness inside
I’m barely alive
And I’m screaming for you

October 16th 
Prompt: Chunk

“It was a small chunk,” she protested.

“Small? A mouthful is ‘small’?”

“Well, next time don’t leave your snacks out for all and sundry.” The woman gestured to the pale man lying on the carpet, a tourniquet on his leg.

“Fine. I’ll label them next time.”

October 17th 
Prompt: Darkness

His face was hidden by a giant deer skull mask, with antlers like tall branches, and darkness for eyes.

“You can’t take my sister!” Thomas yelled.

“I can. She has eaten our food, and drank of our spring. She is ours.”

“No!” But he was too late–they’d vanished.

October 18th
Prompt: Ghost

“Are you a ghost, or am I crazy?” he whispered.

One side of her mouth quirked up in a smile, and humor danced in her eyes. “Maybe both. Maybe neither.” She shrugged, and held out her hand. “Does it matter?”

“No, it doesn’t.” He sobbed and reached for her.

October 19th
Prompt: Devour

There are tales of succubi
Whispered hushed and low
And for a single coin of gold
I’ll tell you what you want to know

Call to her in middle night
Then bow before her power
And if you ask her nice enough
Perhaps your soul she will devour

October 20th
Prompt: Dirt

“God made dirt, and dirt don’t hurt,” he drawled, and patted the coffin lid in a comforting manner.

The screams and pleas were barely audible over the man’s humming as he lowered the coffin into the ground; each thud of dirt on the lid a proverbial coffin nail.

October 21st
Prompt: Oblivion

“Art drank himself into oblivion again,” Ethan said.

Ken chuckled. “Where’d they find him this time?”

“Professing his love to the horse statue in town square.”

“Yikes. How’d Laura take it?”

“Well, I hope her sister hides her knives before Art gets out of jail.”

October 22nd
Prompt: Soul

*Traitor!* the ghosts wailed.

“Traitor, but not a murderer,” I whispered. “I won’t kill them.”

*Someone must pay,* they growled as one.

Justice hadn’t been enough.

“I know.” At this, they washed over me like a tsunami, ripping my soul to shreds.

“I’m sorry…”

October 23rd
Prompt: Invincible

“You’re not invincible, you know,” she said, as the needle poked through the solid flesh near his ragged wound.

“I know,” he grumbled. “But why be immortal if you can’t push your limits?”

“Being gutted in a bar fight is not a ‘limit’.”

“Says you.”

October 24th
Prompt: Cellar

“Why would a ghost be in our cellar? Seems a stupid place to haunt.”

“Some kid got murdered down here, or something.”

Neither boy went down the stairs, but Jack was patient. He had plenty of time to ‘make’ new friends, and smiled wide as the boys closed the door.

October 25th
Prompt: Alive

“If we find her alive, Zan can work the diplomacy angle all he wants,” Kailen said, checking his gear one last time.

“If she isn’t?” Nic asked.

Kailen’s eyes remained on his sword as he sharpened its edges. “Then they won’t be, either, for much longer.”

October 26th
Prompt: Horror

Alec watched in horror as the men in black armor cut down everyone around them. He grabbed the arm of the Commander, and shouted; “Stop! You said no one would be hurt!”

The man looked down with a half smile. “They’re not hurt if they’re dead.”

October 27th
Prompt: Shriek

The shriek of the ghost was relentless, as it had been every night from 3 to 4 a.m. since they’d moved in.

“I can’t take much more,” Jake mumbled into his coffee.

“You’re the one who wanted cheap rent,” Gail accused, her voice like acid on his frayed nerves.

October 28th
Prompt: Grave

“You are in grave danger.”

Quint raised an eyebrow. “So? What else is new?”

The angel in white robes blinked in shock. “You are not taking this seriously.”

“I move questionable magic items, so danger is the status quo. Unless you have a real warning, buzz off.”

October 29th
Prompt: Eternal

Some will claim their love’s eternal;
More plentiful than the stars in the sk
y.

But take some advice from this immortal:
Eternal love is life’s cruelest lie.

October 30th
Prompt: Warm

The cicadas sang, and humidity hung heavy in the Florida night. She shivered, and pulled the blanket tighter around her.

“Will I ever be warm again?”

“Not even while you turn to ash beneath the sun,” he replied. He’d told her, but no one ever listened.

October 31st
Prompt: Raven

Raven , raven, black as night
Mocking laughter
Keen eyes bright

What omen ill brings you to me?
Your knowledge vast
From Prophecy

Have you, then, foreseen my death?
Are here to guide
My soul to rest?

“Begone,” I say! I beg of thee.
“I won’t go!”
I flee

I flee

Writing Prompt ~~ Freely Given, Fairly Taken

“You’re special.” She smiled sadly, tucking a lock of golden hair behind the young girl’s ear. “I get why she chose you.”

The woman’s warm fingers lingered on the child’s jaw for just a moment too long, as something moved behind the woman’s eerie silver eyes. Something that did not match the calm she was trying to project.

The child had power, though what kind likely wouldn’t be clear until she hit puberty. What she could sense from the girl pointed to an ancestor many generations ago who had a tumble, willing or no, with someone of the Courts. At that thought, the woman quickly pulled her hand away as though burned, and grimaced. The girl didn’t react.

The two were in the child’s room, which was decorated in pink frills, unicorns, and fairy lights. The irony of the fantastical design wasn’t lost on the woman. People rarely looked beyond the pale beauty of the unicorns to see the faded stains on their horns. And fairies? The woman’s eyes cut to the closed door, as her keen hearing picked up snippets of the hushed conversation on the other side.

“—almost got her this time.”

“There’s too many bodies, how will we—”

Thadria closed her eyes and took a deep breath, shutting the voices out. She exhaled slowly and turned her gaze back toward the child, who still hadn’t said a word since they arrived.

She stared blankly at Thadria, her emerald green eyes dull. A soft, floppy rabbit half the size of the child sat limply in her lap and arms, while her feet dangled over the side of the bed. They’d handed her the stuffed animal after they’d cleaned her up. All the pictures of her featured the toy, and the worn ‘fur’ indicated it was well loved. Yet it had done nothing for her. All of them had tried talking to her, and they’d been given no information to indicate the child was mute, or unable to communicate. Of course, trauma was its own monster. The one that lurked in the shadows after an event, slipping into your mind and whispering words coated in bittersweet poison.

The humans would be coming for her soon. They were waiting for the all clear from her captain that the girl harbored no magical remnants that could hurt other humans. Some lessons were learned the hard way by the human agencies, and that had been one of them.

Until then, though, Thadria was tasked with keeping an eye on her, and trying to coax the child into talking, as long as it didn’t appear to stress her further.

Thadria held back a tired sigh, and looked around the room. When they’d gotten there, the window over the porch roof had been open, and the gauzy white bed curtains were fluttering from the cool, late spring breeze. When they removed the girl—Charlotte, according to the cotton candy pink letters on the outside of her door—from the scene of the crime, they brought her back to her room, and promptly closed the window.

All the bedroom furniture was a pristine white, which included a vanity table with a pink upholstered stool, and a bookshelf. Between her long day and the girl’s unresponsiveness, Thadria decided to take a different approach. Her footfalls were noiseless as she moved across the carpet to the bookshelf, grabbed the first book she saw, and then picked up the stool. She set the stool down in front of the girl, but not too close. She didn’t want to crowd her. When she sat on the stool, Thadria’s head was just above the level of the girl’s knees, since her bed was tall—tall enough for the child to need a stool to climb in.

Thadria looked up at the girl, who now stared over Thadria’s head. She was looking at the wall, but not looking. It seemed as though no one was home. So, Thadria bowed her head, opened the book written by a man who wasn’t a real doctor, and read the child a story about creatures with stars on their bellies.

Thadria’s people weren’t known for their books, but they were known for their skilled oral storytellers. Even the homeliest of elves could carry a tune and charm their audience. As she moved from one story to the next, she kept her eyes on the book and her voice calm. When she reached the end, she closed the book, looked up, then froze.

The child was watching her, eyes boring into Thadria’s, who scarcely breathed for fear of sending the girl back into whatever hole in her mind she’d fallen into. The girl’s body was still limp, not holding the rabbit, with slumped shoulders.

When she spoke, it was in a hoarse whisper, as though her throat was raw; “Another?”

Instead of saying yes, Thadria nodded then stood up. She went to the bookcase, pulled out a random book and showed it to the girl. Already her eyes were becoming distant once more, and Thadria had to suppress the panic clamoring at her to do something. Despite this, the girl gave a single, slow nod.

Thadria went back to her seat, and opened the book, this one about winter naps. The boy in the story was trying to go to sleep, but animals kept knocking on his door and asking to come in, out from the winter cold. When Thadria got to the end of this one and she looked up, there were tears running down the child’s face, though she made no sound.

“That’s what I did,” she said, her voice thick from the tears.

“Did what?” Thadria asked, keeping her voice soft and neutral. The twisting in her gut and the whisper across her thought said; “You already know what.”

“She said she was cold, and it must be nice for me to have a warm house. She would visit my window every night and say that. I felt bad, so I let her in.” The more she spoke, the wider her eyes got, and she started to take short, sharp breaths. “Then she…Then she…”

Thadria’s heart clenched at the girl’s words, and the rhyme all her people’s children learned floated through her mind:

Do not ask them for the gift,

Or retribution will be swift.

Freely given, fairly taken,

Is how the Darkness will awaken.

Knife of bone and chalice white,

Call him forth in Middle Night.

Into their heart you plunge the knife,

And thank them kindly for their life.

If the blood is pure and sweet,

The Dark God you’re sure to meet.

If the blood is false or wicked,

Then your mind will start to sicken.

Be careful if you tread this path,

Lest you court the Mother’s wrath!

 

It was an old rhyme, from a time before the Dark Elves worked with the humans, and killed them instead. They thought Nenia had been trying to do something like this, but the girl’s words confirmed it. Nenia didn’t ever ask to be let in. She didn’t ask for their lives. She’d manipulated, charmed, and twisted words much in the way of the elves, be they Light or Dark.

The girl was getting dangerously close to hyperventilating, so Thadria quickly put the book down and touched the girl’s hand. She’d been about to call out to the team’s medic, but the girl’s reaction stayed her tongue.

The child shuddered at her touch, and immediately calmed down with a relieved sigh, like a junkie taking a hit of their drug while trying to detox. This made the situation ten times worse, far sadder, and it reinforced Thadria’s growing rage at what Nenia had done.

Thadria didn’t remove her hand, though, and when she managed to finally unclench her jaw after taking a few calming breaths, she called out for her captain.

The door opened slowly on silent hinges, and a man who was as discordant from the theme of the room as one could possibly be stooped to get through the doorway. Deron Thornwood had a dark, neatly trimmed beard that graced a perpetual scowl, and lean muscles on a long frame. He wore their non-descript black fatigues, with no identifiers except his name tag. His eyes were as dark as his beard, and when he came in he looked between Thadria and the girl, raising an eyebrow in question.

“We have a problem,” Thadria said. “She’s elf-struck.”

Before Deron could reply, the girl took her hand from Thadria’s, who turned at the movement to face the girl again. The girl, her eyelids heavy from elven magic, leaned forward and lightly touched Thadria’s cheek.

Her expression and smile were vague as she said; “You look just like the pretty woman at the window.”

The girl’s pale skin was a stark contrast to Thadria’s, whose was the black of a raven’s wing. At the words and the gentlest brush of tiny fingers, Thadria’s heart wrenched and blood drained from her face. Her stomach turned threateningly at the enraptured gaze from the tiny human, and she swallowed back the bile rising to her throat.

“I see,” Deron said. His voice rumbled in the small space, like thunder at a great distance. Then he sighed. “This isn’t going to go over well.”

“No, it won’t,” Thadria said.

Being elf-struck was something that happened to only a small percentage of the human population. Most humans were fascinated with the fae, much the way they were with famous people. The average fan is excited and star-struck when meeting their preferred celebrity, but there were those select few fans that took things too far. Who were too intense. That rabid desire was similar to being elf-struck.

However, to the people it impacted, seeing the fae was like being drowned in the highest quality, feel-good drug imaginable, and smiling right until their last breath. If they did manage to detox, they were left with a yearning so strong, most didn’t last long beyond that. No one knew why it impacted some more than others, and most not at all. The best guess elven scholars had, was that the people it affected the strongest had fae blood somewhere in their heritage. Thadria supposed it was as good a guess as any, but it didn’t do a whole lot of good for anyone right now.

The girl had scooted forward, letting the beloved toy slip from her lap. It landed with a soft wumph on the floor, and it took everything Thadria had in her not to jerk her hand away from the girl and break the connection. She remained still as the darkest hour of Middle Night, while the girl reached for Thadria’s head.

“Pretty,” she said, as she smoothed her hands over Thadria’s silken, porcelain white hair.

Thadria was glad now, more than ever, that their dress code required her to have her hair pulled up and in a bun. While contact with the child was the only thing keeping her from either slipping into a near-comatose state or descending into hysterics, it was also a double-edged sword. More contact would mean a greater dependency to elven touch, and it might already be too late. The fact that the child didn’t try to get closer to Thadria when she first came in the room, or outright climb all over her now, was a bad sign. A sign that the child could slowly fade away, until she was nothing more than a shell of a human, and then die.

“Go get the humans. The quicker we get her started on the meds, the better,” Thadria said, her voice hushed as she kept her eyes on the girl.

The problem wasn’t just with the child, either. Elves in general had an unhealthy fascination with humans, as did most fae. Blend human genetics with that of elves, and the combination was nearly irresistible. She wanted nothing more than to cuddle the child. Care for her. Kill for her.

The final urge was sharp as broken glass, and twice as deadly. The longer the child’s hand remained on her, the harder she had to fight against the rage howling to be released. To slaughter everyone and everything that was remotely a threat to her.

“Are you okay?”

“Just go. I’ll be fine,” she said, and almost managed to say in a calm tone. The only thing that betrayed her was the slight whine to her voice in, ‘fine’.

Deron grumbled as he walked away, and Thadria leaned away from the girl. Shuddering as contact between them was broken. She had to get herself together, because it was going to be difficult enough to convince the humans of what needed to be done. If they came in here, and she was twitching and growling at them, there was zero chance they’d go along with it.

So, she took a deep breath, and concentrating on centering herself. The girl slipped back into lethargy, and the two of them waited in silence for the humans to show up.

 

<****>

 

It didn’t go over well, but Thadria hadn’t expected it to. In the end, the only thing that convinced them was when the child’s mood violently swung in the opposite direction. They were hopeful that they could reattach the social worker’s ear. When Deron offered to send their medic to the hospital to help with the healing, they were met with cold eyes, snarls, and one cop barely refrained from spitting on the captain.

It also helped that there were no living relatives, distant or not, to take her. Given the explanation they gave the humans along with her outburst, it was better she didn’t become a ward of the state. There was precedent with other species of supernaturals, where an afflicted child was given to a group to care for. Deron had called in to the social worker’s office, and they grudgingly agreed to send over the guardianship paperwork.

“I’m assuming you’ll need some time off to sort this out?” Deron asked from the driver’s seat.

Thadria was in the back with the girl…Charlotte. She was fast asleep, her head on Thadria’s lap, and clutching the floppy rabbit. Even though she tried to keep her hands occupied, they inevitably found their way to Charlotte’s hair, running her fingers through it. The girl sighed, content, while Thadria did the same in exasperation.

“Yes. I have to get her somewhere safe, and started on the meds—for both our sakes. Plus, Nenia is still out there, and given how I’m reacting to the girl I wouldn’t put it past her to try and snatch Charlotte.”

“It’s that bad?” Deron asked, the concern in his voice growing.

“It’s…not good. I’m ready to tear apart anything that breathes in her general direction. We don’t have many cases of this, so I’m not sure if such a strong reaction is normal, but I know she has elven in her line somewhere. It might be that a Power among my people is her ancestor, which could explain it.”

Thadria had her doubts about this. Powers rarely deigned to associate with the regular elves, let alone humans, who were viewed as barely better than animals. However astronomical the odds, though, it was her best guess. It also made her feel a little better in the face of her own powerlessness to resist the pull to care for the girl. She could never stand up to a Power, so what hope would she have against any of their offspring?

Deron grunted. “Looks like you landed yourself in a hot mess,” he said, in a tone that implied he didn’t envy her.

Thadria’s laugh was humorless, and then she said; “You have no idea. I’ll be lucky if the Elders don’t skin me alive for bringing her to the city, but there’s not much choice. She needs the meds, I need approval from them to watch over her until she reaches adulthood, and I imagine that whatever power lay dormant in her will need training.”

Thadria had had no intentions of being a mother in her own right, and it would be a disservice to Charlotte and her mother’s memory to insinuate herself in such a role. There was a whole mountain of responsibilities and things to work out that had fallen on her head in the last day. They’d just have to take it one obstacle at a time.

“Maybe you’ll get lucky, and they’ll be struck dumb like you over how adorable she is. Better you than me, though,” Deron said, though not unkindly.

Thadria huffed out a laugh, and continued to stroke Charlotte’s hair. The road hummed beneath their vehicle, and the first tendrils of dawn were stretching languidly across the sky.

“If only I were so lucky.”

No, the odds of the Elders falling all over themselves to help her care for the girl was slim. Looking down at her, though, as her slender shoulders rose and fell from the steady breathing of sleep, it didn’t matter. She’d fight them, oh, how she’d fight. Settling back into the seat, Thadria rested her head against the window. She had a suspicion that she’d need all the sleep she could get.

Book Review: Schooled in Magic, by Christopher G. Nuttall

Emily is a teenage girl pulled from our world into a world of magic and mystery by a necromancer who intends to sacrifice her to the dark gods. Rescued in the nick of time by an enigmatic sorcerer, she discovers that she possesses magical powers and must go to Whitehall School to learn how to master them. There, she learns the locals believe that she is a “Child of Destiny,” someone whose choices might save or damn their world … a title that earns her both friends and enemies. A stranger in a very strange land, she may never fit into her new world …

…and the necromancer is still hunting her. If Emily can’t stop him, he might bring about the end of days.” — Schooled in Magic, from Goodreads

 

Schooled in Magic is the first book in Christopher G. Nuttall’s series by the same name, and it follows the main character, Emily, as she tries to adjust to the medieval magical world she’s been kidnapped into. She’s being hunted by a necromancer named Shadye, who wants to sacrifice her to the Harrowing, because he believes she is a Child of Destiny and her death would be a powerful offering. It’s a very classic, world domination plot, and the necromancers are the current Big Bad, with the faeries being the background, Ye Olden Days Big Bad. Before Shadye could go through with the murdering, Emily is rescued by a sorcerer named Void. After the rescue, it’s discovered that Emily has powers herself, and is promptly enrolled in the–impenetrable from everything but plot–magical school of Whitehall.

Okay, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Yes, it comes across as a story that borrows heavily from Harry Potter. In fact, if I had to give a brief description, I’d say it’s all seven Harry Potter books with their major highlights pulled out and rolled into one. We start with, “Yer a sorceress and the Chosen One, Emily,” and finish with the, “Battle of Hogwarts, er, Whitehall.”

We have the one loyal friend from the beginning (Ron/Imaiqah), and the bossy friend who was befriended through a harrowing experience, (Alassa/Hermione). Though, the intelligence level of the characters is swapped, the parallels are there and incredibly obvious, as are all the other ones: History of Magic, the McGonagall character, a Dumbledore character, a Defense against the Dark Arts type class, Care of Magical Creatures type class, Alchemy (Potions), Charms, and so on. The author also makes no bones about his incredulity of how other fantasy novels of similar ilk portray their worlds. However, he should keep in mind to not bite the hands of those who helped make fantasy more mainstream.

That said, here are my pros and cons, which include **SPOILERS** so reader beware:

Pros:

  • Because the main character was kidnapped at a more mature age, and wasn’t cloistered away for most of her life like Harry, there’s more real-world comparisons between the magical world and her own. She compares the writing of spells to computer coding, which, as someone who writes scripts, resonated with me.
    • In the same vein as above, because she’s put in a medieval world instead of a magical world hidden within our own, there’s more opportunity for her to try and introduce real-world concepts, (bookkeeping practices, Arabic number systems, stirrups, and a few more), into this world. She theorizes that development is stunted through a combination of magic, and a medieval class system, and she’s probably correct. It’s interesting to watch the waves she creates by introducing these things.
  • The magical system was laid out more in-depth. It gave us a more technical look into how the magic system works, and was like putting icing on an otherwise delicious, but barren, cake (Harry Potter world). Such things are explored in Fan Fiction of J.K. Rowling’s works, but the author herself didn’t touch too much on how magic functions. To be fair to Rowling, though, her target audience in the beginning was much younger than Nuttall’s, which means he had more leeway with attention-span for such details than she did.
  • It was interesting, for me, to draw comparisons between Harry Potter, both obvious and not, and see how Nuttall interpreted or changed those references. And there’s no doubt that, despite the low level of scorn displayed by the main character for unbelievable aspects of other fantasy novels at certain points, the book played on the nostalgia of people who enjoyed Harry Potter.
  • I enjoyed that their History of Magic was an actual discussion on the topic, rather than memorizing and spitting out facts. More history classes need to be taught like this, to be honest.
  • The main character is relatable, in that her reactions make sense given her new environment, and likeable enough for a teenager.

Cons:

  • I had a couple of main grievances, one being Emily supposedly introducing the concept of bras to the world. That one had me going, “Oh, come on!” While the modern concept of the bra we know today was introduced in the early 1900s, women have been binding their breasts as far back as ancient Greece, or farther. Is he trying to tell me that a woman never stopped to think, “Gee, it’s really uncomfortable to walk around like this, guess I’ll not try anything to make myself more comfortable.” I’d believe there was an alternate world with magic in it, before I believed any species with breasts went thousands of years and didn’t think to give themselves some support.
  • My other main grievance: the numbers don’t add up. What I mean by this, is we’re told by Void that necromancers outnumber sorcerers. We are also told that a necromancer functions by using murder to gain massive amounts of power. “Drain the mana, then drain the soul.” (Mana is the magic of the world.) It’s this massive amount of power being channeled through their minds that drives them mad, and they end up destroying themselves. However, one of the linchpin moments in the end is Emily being forced by Shadye to sacrifice someone to make her a necromancer, but the person has no mana, so it doesn’t work. Maybe I missed something, but here are my issues with this:
    • If regular humans don’t work, and sorcerers are in short supply, how in the world are these necromancers even a threat? Who are they sacrificing in massive amounts to gain enough power to be a threat to the allied lands?
    • We’re told in a story from one of the teachers that the necromancers were sacrificing people by the thousands, and rulers were sending shipments of people to be sacrificed in an attempt to bargain with the necromancers. As I said, the numbers and plot point don’t add up in the slightest.
    • All they’d have to do to win is put everyone with significant mana behind wards like in Whitehall, and let the necromancers tire themselves trying to get in and access the only sources of power they can use.
    • It could just be the population is half-magicless and half-mana capable, but not enough to utilize it. However, I don’t think that’s ever stated, leaving this plot hole wide open.
  • In the beginning we’re told a General Kip is in charge of Combat Magic, but later, when the character is in said class, no one of that name is there. Instead, we have two Drill Sergeants: Harkin and Miles. It’s another point to a lack of consistency that occasionally crops up.
  • The author seemingly uses a lot of terms interchangeably, like elves/faerie/Fair Folk, sorceress/witch/sorcerer/wizard, and so on. For the latter, I’m assuming it’s sort of a power structure, as Imaiqah states she’s a magician which is less powerful than a sorceress. However, since it isn’t really explained, it created a somewhat jarring, and less than smooth transition when giving the history of things.
  • The overall technical aspect of the writing left something to be desired, and more rigorous editing was needed. There were grammar mistakes, homophone mix-ups (knew instead of new), and a lack of consistency with capitalization of certain things, like goblins/Goblins. While even the best editing can leave a few flaws, and I don’t tend to nitpick to this level, there were enough to be rather noticeable.
  • The secondary characters have, well, character, but most feel as though they fall just short of being three dimensional.

CONCLUSION

I want to give it 3.8 out of 5, but the number system doesn’t work that way, so we’ll round up to 4/5.

The book was enjoyable for what it was: a play on Harry Potter’s popularity, but beginning with a little more maturity and critical thinking, as well as more depth with the magic.

The later books have higher ratings, and from what I’ve read in other reviews Nuttall’s technical writing gets better as it goes on. Given the fact that he has seemingly written 17 books in this series in a span of 5 years, while also writing other series concurrently, my only thought is that his man is either a magical machine, or a beast that never sleeps.

In the end, I’d recommend this book to anyone who won’t be offended by the obvious Harry Potter similarities, won’t get too hung up on the technical writing, and enjoys a reasonably good book about a magical school and saving the world. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, but I do think I’ll be purchasing more books in the series, so there’s that.

Enjoy!

Slimy Pet Crystal Farm Coords & Screenshots

If you’re not familiar with the Slimy Pets, Hazelnutty did a wonderful, comprehensive YouTube video on it here.

All I’m adding is my farming/feeding route I take for the Prismatic Crystals & Slimes. If all you want to do is go in, feed your slimes, and get out, this route will take 5-7 minutes. This will depend on how many crystals you come across, and whether or not you hit the extra two spawn points between Slime #3 & #4.

Here are the Slime locations:

I’ve also added screenshots just in case you need a little extra help on finding them.

All Coords:

Start at Slime:

/way 32.82, 39.58 (Slime)

/way 29.41, 40.30

/way 29.97, 35.99

/way 29.56, 36.16

/way 32.16, 32.98

/way 45.62, 24.14 (Slime)

/way 44.08, 21.62

/way 43.12, 19.44

/way 42.19, 18.02

/way 38.71, 18.25

/way 38.33, 18.27

/way 44.74, 21.20 (Potentially 2 Crystals)

/way 47.82, 27.73

/way 48.20, 28.05

/way 49.04, 27.70

/way 70.28, 24.72

/way 71.95, 22.59

/way 71.78, 25.76 (Slime & Crystal)

/way 71.30, 31.50

If you’re good on Crystals, skip down to the next Slime coord. If not, there’s a couple more points to check.

/way 72.36, 47.66

/way 73.40, 50.44

/way 54.98, 48.72 (Slime. For this one, I keep a /tar Aquafly macro on my action bar)

/way 52.94, 52.72

/way 52.26, 51.87

/way 50.96, 51.39

/way 46.79, 52.09

/way 45.47, 53.65

/way 43.42, 55.48

/way 39.70, 59.46

/way 39.08, 59.49

All done! Hopefully you now have plenty of Prismatic Crystals for your Slimy Pet farm.

In addition to the route above, here are some additional reported spawn points. Special thank you to Corgi for sending me their screenshots and cords!

/way 47.28, 69.06

/way 47.61, 85.47

/way 48.39, 86.25

/way 40.64, 71.20

/way 40.70, 65.99

/way 26.27, 30.96

/way 45.82, 38.04

/way 45.77, 42.36

/way 45.60, 40.59

/way 51.53, 73.19

/way 44.69, 72.94 (Potentially 2 Crystals)

/way 50.57, 69.39

Best of luck, and happy battling to you!

32.82, 39.58 (Slime)
29.41, 40.30
29.97, 35.99
29.56, 36.16
32.16, 32.98
45.62, 24.14 (Slime)
44.08, 21.62
43.12, 19.44
42.19, 18.02
38.71, 18.25
38.33, 18.27
44.74, 21.20 (Potentially 2 Crystals)
47.82, 27.73
48.20, 28.05
49.04, 27.70
70.28, 24.72
71.95, 22.59
71.78, 25.76 (Slime & Crystal)
71.30, 31.50
72.36, 47.66
73.40, 50.44
54.98, 48.72 (Slime. For this one, I keep a /tar Aquafly macro on my action bar)
52.94, 52.72
52.26, 51.87
50.96, 51.39
46.79, 52.09
45.47, 53.65
43.42, 55.48
39.70, 59.46
39.08, 59.49

 

Additional Spawns:

/way 47.28, 69.06
/way 47.61, 85.47
/way 48.39, 86.25
/way 40.64, 71.20
/way 40.70, 65.99
/way 26.27, 30.96
/way 45.82, 38.04
/way 45.77, 42.36
/way 45.60, 40.59
/way 51.53, 73.19
/way 44.69, 72.94 (Potentially 2 Crystals)
/way 50.57, 69.39

World of Warcraft: Safe Haven Observations & Sylvanas Windrunner Theories

Hello everyone, and thank you for joining me for some fun theorycrafting and observations! I’ll preface this by saying: this is LONG. There were so many hints pointing toward certain things, that I needed to give some background information and some extra here and there. It also doesn’t help that, perhaps, I can be long-winded. Ehehe.

Anyway, buckle up and I hope you enjoy!

 

Safe Haven, and the Implications

With the release of a new cinematic short, Safe Haven, we’ve had yet another nail driven into the proverbial coffin of Lady Sylvanas Windrunner, Warchief of the Horde. As High Overlord Varok Saurfang is talking with Thrall, they’re attacked by two Forsaken rogues. The attackers are quickly dispatched, and Thrall accuses Saurfang of being followed. To which Saurfang replied; “I followed them.”

 

Now, there’s nothing to indicate Saurfang is lying about this. In fact, when Thrall declares this place is; “Home. And family,” Saurfang looks around, somewhat wary, and asks; “And where are they?” To which Thrall replies; “Not far.” Some might say this is just to make sure Thrall’s family doesn’t hear Saurfang accuse Thrall of being absent in the face of what Sylvanas has done to the Horde. It can also be said that he was making sure Thrall’s family wouldn’t get in the crosshairs of the attack from the rogues he was following.

On the other hand, Sylvanas declared to your character in Queen’s Favor: “Let me be perfectly clear. You will find the traitor Saurfang. You will deliver him to me. And you will not fail me again.” In this, she might have dispatched more subtle forces than Dark Rangers and Deathguards, like rogues. A couple of points that might indicate Saurfang was simply turning a situation to his advantage are this: Why wait to kill Thrall until Saurfang is there? And, Saurfang was in the Swamp of Sorrows when Lyana and your character encounter him, which feeds directly into the Blasted Lands and the Dark Portal. Indicating Saurfang was probably already heading in that direction, and the rogues simply followed him

Rogues operate on subtlety, and would know that attacking when both orcs are there would put them at a disadvantage despite Saurfang having no weapon. If Thrall is truly the target, chances are they’d have just killed him and left. However, if they were following Saurfang, and heard the High Overlord trying to convince the former Warchief to fight for the Horde again, they may have felt obligated to take both of them out. They couldn’t take the chance of both orcs leaving there, united in their efforts to overthrow their Queen.

Plus, who is Thrall more likely to believe here? An honored war veteran, or Sylvanas? The rogues certainly can’t dispute what he’s said. I really don’t want to doubt Saurfang, and would love to take his words at face value, but at this point Saurfang may be willing to do whatever it takes to convince Thrall to fight for the Horde. Including luring two rogues he knows were following him right to Thrall’s door. The wariness we see when Saurfang asks about Thrall’s family, may have also been him making sure his actions wouldn’t end up with Thrall’s family dead.

We’ll have to wait and see, but at the moment I’m going to say that Saurfang manipulated the situation to his advantage. Either way, this does not reflect well on the Banshee Queen.

Is Sylvanas going to be Garrosh 2.0?

 

So, this question has been answered by Michael Bybee at Gamescon, stating that she won’t, but as her actions become ever more warmongering some players are struggling to believe this. However, I’m inclined to put my faith in the writers at Blizzard and I have a few reasons for this.

  1. Vol’jin, the loa, and hunting shadows

At the very beginning of Legion, Vol’jin is struck down by a demon and Sylvanas calls for the Horde to retreat to try and save the Warchief. Unfortunately, Vol’jin was beyond saving, but before he died he stated he’d been granted a vision:

Now, this decision has had major consequences for Horde and Alliance alike. And, until recently, we believed that the loa wanted Sylvanas in power for some reason or another.

However, in Battle for Azeroth and Tides of Vengeance specifically, we find out that this is 100% not the case. Vol’jin is summoned by Baine, Talanji, and company to hear who it was that told Vol’jin to make Sylvanas Warchief. However, Vol’jin’s memory is muddled, and you go back through his final hours to see if it will jog his memory:

Now, what I find most interesting about the above is two things. Vol’jin has declared his death was no accident, and he was, and still is, cut off from the loa. And there was a power lurking in the shadows. It took him somewhere to see this vision, but he can’t remember what this power is, or where they took him.

As a little side-note, one of the shades being fought says; “We tried…to spare you…the truth.” It might seem small, but this could be a huge part in some of the theory I’ll get down to below.

Having declared that he thinks it might not be the loa who granted him the vision, there’s only one thing left to do: visit a loa. Specifically, Bwonsamdi.

Bwonsamdi states he can’t hear Vol’jin either, and that he wasn’t the one who sent the vision. He cites ‘the balance’ as to why he would never suggest Sylvanas, because she, ‘tips the scales too far.’ Now, this isn’t the first you’ve heard of the Balance, as we get it, ad nauseum, from druids and anyone in touch with nature. However, this is another potential arrow pointing to who, or what, did send the vision.

However, that’s for later.

Moving on from here, Bwonsamdi tells us that he might know a couple different ‘people’ we should talk to, to see if it was them. His competitors, if you will, who deal in the dying and the dead.

So, first stop is Icecrown:

What I find so incredibly amusing is that even the Lich King says the Banshee Queen is too extra, and again we hear someone bring up ‘the balance’. We also get our next clue that something has gone awry with Vol’jin’s afterlife. That Vol’jin has been changed ‘more than you know.’

Then, in the true spirit of Lich King hospitality, he sics some ghouls after you, and tells you to remain with him forever or kick rocks.

Having fled Icecrown, we make our way back to the Broken Isles to visit Eyir:

Eyir gives us an interesting piece of information, that whoever has elevated Vol’jin beyond a ‘mere spirit’ is ‘a hand of valor’. She also indicated that such a force would not be interested in schemes for mortal thrones. We’ll get to that little tidbit later, because while I think that is factually true in letter, it is not true in spirit. See what I did there? Eh? Eh?

Yeah, okay, moving on.

So, here we’ve established that whoever granted the vision is not the same entity that elevated Vol’jin to…well, whatever he is. Bwonsamdi has no claim to him, the Lich King states he is not Undead or Damned, and Eyir says whatever has elevated him is beyond even her power. And, oh boy, this is getting good!

After Eyir says she knows what the thing probably is, but she won’t tell us, she also tells us to kick rocks. Man, these immortal beings are freaking rude! Anywho, we then hear this from Vol’jin:

Having established how little we know, Vol’jin says that he’s going to continue searching for answers, and that he’s going to hunt the potential new enemy before it’s hunting us. Which I think is going to bring a whole new facet to the title of Shadow Hunter for Vol’jin.

So, what, might you ask, does that incredibly long bit of exposition have to do with Sylvanas not being Garrosh? This leads me to #2.

2. New Powers that Probably Aren’t so New

One of the things you’ll notice with almost all the big bads we face in WoW, is that they tend to pull from ye olde days. They’re bad guys we’ve either faced in the past, or the beings of Azeroth have faced in the past in the RTSs and Lore:

  • The Old Gods (Vanilla, War of the Ancients, and more)
  • The Burning Legion & Illidan (Burning Crusade, War of the Ancients, The Opening of the Dark Portal)
  • The Scourge and the Lich King (Wrath of the Lich King, The Scourge, Warcraft III)
  • Cataclysm & Deathwing (Cycling back to Old God influence, and Deathwing seemed to have his fingers in a lot of pies)
  • Sha & Garrosh (Old Gods…Again. Sensing a theme, yet? The Sha were spawned from Old God essence. Garrosh brings us back around to the original sentiment of Orcs vs. Humans)
  • Warlords of Draenor…eh, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. But really, it’s just more Through the Dark Portal-esque stuff, right?
  • Legion (The Burning Legion again)
  • Battle for Azeroth (We’re still angry at each other, Azshara the Sunderer, and the old gods are still trying to kill everyone)

Now, after the original game and seven expansions, all featuring heavily with themes and bad guys from the past, what’s on the horizon?

Fresh blood.

Every franchise needs an infusion of fresh types of enemies to face to keep a storyline going. You can only re-use the same baddies so much before it gets stale. Now, Blizzard knows this, and I think they’ve been leaving hints along our storyline paths for what kind of fight we can expect post-N’Zoth.

Light versus Shadow and…More?

Okay, this isn’t a new concept completely, I mean, we’ve had paladins since day one, right? But I think it goes deeper than that.

When you see enemies like Old Gods, Titans, the Burning Legion, and so on, do you go toe-to-toe with them, or do you do the smart thing and work in the background and try to take them down through proxies? Like, you know, heroic adventurers? Demi-gods? You would also use these proxies to enforce your will.

Now, let’s get something clear: the Light is not ‘good’ and the Shadow is not ‘bad’…”but such concepts do not apply to the Light and the Void, they are simply primal forces with their morality characterized by how they are wielded” — Gamepedia ‘Light’

This is getting well into theory, but there are a few hints that I think support this:

  • Going back to Legion with the disastrous Xe’ra versus Illidan encounter, we get to see what kinds of lengths the Light is willing to go to. Khadgar has theorized that, during the great ordering of the cosmos or the ordering of Shadow and Light, Xe’ra was created by Elune. Xe’ra, and other Naaru, are agents of the Light. Illidan is known as the Child of Light and Shadows, but we see him forsake this birthright when he kills Xe’ra and remains at the Seat of the Pantheon. So, the Light is looking for new ‘Champions’.
  • We sort of see this happen with Calia Menethil, an undead brought back by the Light. Who may be put in place to battle Sylvanas once she’s deposed? (Because, trust me, if she’s not dead by the conclusion of certain events, she will likely be banished).
  • Vol’jin was shown a vision by something in the Shadows, maybe not the Shadows itself, but elevated in status by the Light, and will become a true ‘Shadow Hunter’.
  • Sylvanas becoming Warchief at the will of something, but I’m not so sure it’s the Shadow, or Void. We see the Void essence in Alleria warning her about Sylavans; “This one is dangerous. She is a threat and must be ended. Beware this one. She seeks the death of all things…All possibilities.” This is likely the Void trying to keep the balance.
  • Alleria is created as an agent of the Void by another agent of the Void, the Locus-Walker.
  • Night Warriors created by Elune.

I’m sure I could dig up more examples, but this’ll do for now.

So, coming back around to Sylvanas, how does this create a storyline different from Garrosh’s?

3. Destroying the Balance

Because, ultimately, I think this is what whoever gave Vol’jin the vision is going for. We’ve had three heavy hitters–Bwonsamdi, The Lich King, Eyir–stating how bad Sylvanas is for the Balance. This also implies that these beings work to keep the Balance, or maybe they are even bound by the tennets of Balance.

The Light and Shadow or ‘Void’ might be bound by these same rules, or they have to follow those rules when exerting their will in our world. Not totally sure. This brings me back around to Eyir’s comment about the hand of valor not scheming for thrones, which might be true in the strictest sense, but it sure tries to influence things behind thrones. *cough* Boy Wonder himself, Anduin. *cough*

The Void is no different. However, what these two shimmering seas of energy situated outside the barriers of reality share is this: they aren’t overt. They influence from behind the scenes. They whisper. They guide the hands of their proxies toward the outcome that suits them best. They do not orchestrate the death of a Warchief, kidnap his spirit to show him a vision, and force the appointment of the Warchief that would suit them best.

That’s where our third party comes in: The Gray. While the reason behind why The Gray would want the Balance thrown out of whack at best, or at worst destroyed, is unknown, we can see that’s what they want. And who, you may ask, are the first beings we encounter that were likely agents of The Gray? I’d have to say the Scourge Val’kyr all the way back at the end of Wrath, when Sylvanas kills herself from jumping off the top of ICC.

They show Sylvanas a vision of what would happen to the Forsaken if she truly died. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think Val’kyr are known for having visions. Who is? The Gray.

This has me asking so many questions:

  • Is the Balance bad for us? The Light and Void manipulate us to their own ends, and we can see in certain cases (Illidan) that they don’t care about the people, as long as their goals are met. Perhaps The Gray is doing us a favor by trying to shatter that balance through Sylvanas.
  • Maybe The Gray are simply a faction of the Void unhappy with the Balance, and are seeking to destroy it? We’ve seen other examples of beings going rogue from their faction, like Kairoz from the Bronze Dragonflight when he helped Garrosh.
  • What has The Gray Seen that has compelled them to take these actions? Is keeping the Balance going to cause more harm than good? Is shattering it the only way we keep ourselves from annihilation?

4. Who Else has The Gray Influenced?

I think we get this answer in that amazing trio of cinematic shorts: The Warbringers, Sylvanas, Azshara, & Jaina.

Yes, even Jaina.

Azshara: The female voice that whispers to her when she looks at the fish isn’t male, like N’Zoths. Also, who has been seen to control spirits, like the ones she sees accusing her? The Gray. It isn’t until she shouts about a ‘deal’ that we hear from N’Zoth. The Gray knows it can prod Azshara’s pride into taking N’Zoth’s deal.

Jaina: Again, we see spirit manipulation with Jaina’s father, forcing her back into the confrontation when she’s been absent from it for so long. She even says, ‘I’m listening now, Father’, which might not be her father at all, but The Gray.

Sylvanas: Destroying the home of the Night Elves, as a result of much plotting from various sources like Elegy, A Good War, and Before the Storm, is a major attack on the Balance, since the Night Elves are agents of Elune. Agents of the Balance.

Remember, it isn’t trying to make all of those it’s influencing work together. In fact, the more war they bring, the more likely it is that the Balance will suffer.

Conclusion:

First off, I have to tip my hat to the team at Blizzard. I have never been so invested in the lore of the game, and it has been amazing to join them for this ride. I am truly looking forward to each new addition as we go along.

Many thanks to you all.

As for The Gray, I could be totally wrong on all points. If that’s the case I’ve just wasted hours of my life, and maybe ten-ish minutes of yours, from this whole thing. If that turns out to be true I apologize profusely, but I had fun, and I have no one to discuss this with so you were all stuck with this post, heh.

I do think, with the harping on about the Balance, that is what will be under threat and Sylvanas is that threat in physical form. Now, if it turns out The Gray has set her up to destroy the Balance because it’s the only way we’ll be saved from annihilation, then do her actions justify that end? We had that question with Illidan: do you justify the murder of the few to save the many?

Or, is The Gray doing this to gain an upper hand, consequences be damned?

I have to think it’s the first, to be honest, and one of the reasons is shown from earlier, when Vol’jin is making his way back through his final hour. The shade said; “We tried…to spare you…the truth.” That doesn’t sound like something a being would care about if they just wanted mayhem and murder.

With that being my guess, I had my own sort of ‘vision’:

At the conclusion, when the Balance has been shattered for their benefit, Sylvanas is confronted by all the leaders. They see why she did it, because in the end it was the only way to save the most people, but as Vol’jin stated as he was dying: “Many will not understand.” And they don’t. Some will want her true death. Some will want to grant her mercy. All acknowledge that she cannot continue as Warchief, and will likely have to step down as queen of the Forsaken.

In some ways, I see her returning to ICC, and staring down from the top. Trying to decide if she will end her Undeath there as she had those many years ago. Perhaps the Lich King is still there, and offers for her to stay there forever, as he did for your player in the cut scene.

Perhaps The Gray offers her an alternative to the damned afterlife she saw when she jumped from ICC after Arthas’ death.

Either way, the only thing I see Sylvanas sharing with Garrosh, is that after this storyline comes to its end, she will come to hers in the game. One way, or another.

Flash Fiction ~~ Lost

The woman across from him was as old and weathered as her shack near the sea, and her cold eyes were the same stormy green as the chill waters washing along the shore. Her mouth was set in a perpetual frown, but her words were warmer than her countenance.

“Ye’ll drive yerself mad if ye do this,” she said, her voice gruff from disuse, but her tone soft. Knowing.

“If there’s a chance, then I have to find her. I won’t lose her this way,” he insisted. He didn’t raise his voice, but the resolve there was firm. He leaned on the table, and his tan, work-roughened hands supported his solid weight.

“She were lost long before she sought the sea,” the woman replied, softening further, but never turning away from the desperate grief shining in his honey brown eyes.

He wasn’t the first, nor would he be the last to seek her here, and she made a point to never turn away from the pain of those who sought her out. She could do no less, but no more, either.  

Just like the others, he ignored her words and asked; “How did you make it back without going insane?” He looked to the large conch shell sitting high on a shelf.

Her eyes followed his. Even in the low light offered by the overcast day, it gleamed, and the dark red lines on the shell were like runnels of blood spiraling against the pearl white.

 Her very bones ached with the question, and as she turned back to meet this stranger’s eyes, she wondered if it was time. There was a strength in him that had little to do with his stature, and more to do with the fire she saw in him. His soul burning bright through his eyes. Such a soul just might have the strength needed.

He barely heard her over the wind off the sea when she whispered; “I made a deal.”

“A deal?” he asked, his voice losing its frenzied edge as it gave way to confusion.

She didn’t answer him as she stood from the table and hobbled over to the shelf. Her hands shook as she extended her arms to their limit to take the shell down. When her fingers had barely brushed it the wind picked up, whistling through gaps in the wood and howling around the shack.

“What deal?” he asked again, a heaviness settling into his gut like an anchor hitting the seabed.

Her back was to him, hunched, but not from age. More like she was folded tight around the shell. Then, even though her words this time were not loud, they found their way to his ears all the same.

“An exchange. Do ye still wish to find her?” she asked.

The weight in his stomach grew heavier, but he swallowed, trying to wet his dry mouth before he answered; “Yes. With everything I am.”

She turned to him then, her mouth set in a soft, mournful smile. Her eyes were full of sorrow, and like the little shells on the beach that held tiny pools of the sea, the tide was more than they could hold, and tears spilled down her cheeks. When the first drop hit the wood of the floor, the wind shrieked its warning, but it fell on deaf ears. He was lost in the endless depths of her eyes.

“Good. Because that is what it will take,” she said. Then, faster than he’d imagined she could move, she smashed the shell on the floor.

It was later, when he woke, hungry, cold, and alone in the shack, that he finally understood. His eyes were grainy as he opened them, and the coarseness of the dried saltwater along his skin was rubbing it raw. Seaweed green eyes looked across the floor of the shack, but the shattered conch was gone. As was the old woman. His humorless exhale of a laugh ended in a shudder. He curled in on himself, cradling his own shell protectively with his shivering form.

The conch was an all-over pale pink color, like the roses his wife would lovingly tend in their garden, while the underside of the flat portion was the gleaming porcelain of her skin.

“I’ll never leave you again,” he whispered, the words raspy from his dry throat.

The shell pulsed with warmth in his hands, and he held on even tighter to it as the sea of grief washing along the shores of his mind drew back. Even if only for these few moments.

For right now, though, those moments were enough.

Short Story ~~ Come Away

0 for 4 on the contests, but such is life.

This was for a contest with the prompt: New Beginnings

Word Limit: 2500

 

~~~~

 

Come Away

 

If you’d asked Thomas right then what had woken him, he wouldn’t be able to put his finger on exactly what it had been. All he knew was the air was still. Like that moment of anticipation in a movie theatre, between the previews ending and the movie beginning, when everything’s dark and everyone’s holding their breath. Except this was endless, like someone had hit the pause button on the world at just the right moment.

Thomas held still, too; something wasn’t right. Heart hammering, he opened his eyes to a slit, revealing nothing more than the ceiling of his room. After a long, tense moment, he slowly moved his head to look around. Moonlight streamed in through the window, illuminating familiar sights, like his desk and dresser, while throwing others into sinister shadows.

He closed his eyes, and breathed in slow and deep. He was ten now, and being afraid of the dark wasn’t okay anymore. Plus, his mom had warned him he’d never be allowed to watch a scary movie ever again if he had nightmares. She’d let him stay up late and watch one with her after Paige went to bed, since it was Halloween and a Friday night. He couldn’t remember getting to the end of the movie, so his mom must have put him to bed.

When nothing pounced on him from the dark, he sat up, and then he heard a stifled laugh from down the hall. He rolled his eyes and sighed.

That must have been what woke me up. Paige is playing in her room, he thought, and shook his head. Annoyance flashed through him like lightning, for his little sister and at himself. Paige, for being up, and himself for being scared over a six year-old.

Thomas threw his covers back, and quietly padded to his door. When he grabbed the knob, he gripped it tight, and slowly turned it to minimize the noise. He opened the door just enough to slide through the gap, to avoid the squeak that happened a few more inches beyond that.

He didn’t want to wake his mom. She’d worked all day, then took them trick-or-treating, and ended the night watching the movie with him after he’d begged for it. He didn’t need to wake her just to tell Paige to go back to sleep.

His socks made no noise on the hardwood floor as he moved two doors down from his room. He frowned as he approached, though, because her door was already ajar, so he pushed it all the way open.

Paige’s room looked like someone threw up one of their aunt’s bridesmaids’ dresses all over the room. Everything was pink and lacy, and Thomas usually had to repress a shudder at the sight. Tonight, though, something was missing: Paige.

A giggle floated on the air, but this time from downstairs.

Maybe she needed some water, he reasoned. He glanced behind him at his mother’s door, but pursed his lips and turned towards the stairs instead. When he made it to the bottom, he headed left toward the kitchen, but she wasn’t there. It was when he went to the end of the counter, toward the dining room, that he saw the open sliding glass door.

His heart stopped. Their mom had been worried about Paige opening the back door and getting lost in the woods behind the house. Mom called Paige her, ‘Mischievous Rugrat,’ to which Paige would usually laugh, her green eyes sparkling. Their mom had put in one of those locks that bolted at the top of the door, specifically so Paige couldn’t reach it, even with a chair.

Yet, the door was open.

More giggles floated in through the open door, and then through the sheer curtain in dining room he saw her: curly brown hair bounced as she skipped, her bunny slippers kicking up sticks in her wake, and her white and pale pink onesie pajamas glowing in the moonlight.

There were no thoughts going through his mind when he rushed out the back door, only stopping long enough to shove his feet into his slide sandals. Then he took off across the back yard, the dead leaves and sticks barely crunching beneath his feet as he ran as fast as he could. His breath was coming in heavy pants, and his arms pumped as he broke through the tree line where he saw Paige last. She couldn’t have been far, but with each moment he didn’t see her, his panic rose in him like a bath filling, until he thought he might drown in it.

He stopped to take a look around, wild-eyed, as his blood pounded in his ears like an urgent drum.

“Paige!” he called, the woods silent.

“Thomas?” Paige said, surprised.

Her voice came from Thomas’ left, not too far away, and he started in that direction. He didn’t run, since he didn’t want to pass her by accident, but he wasn’t being a slow poke, either. After a few minutes, he was close enough to hear her having a conversation, but not what was being said. It stopped him dead in his tracks. He clenched his fists and grit his teeth.

She’s not alone. This was turning into a much bigger mess than just putting his little sister back to bed. He was torn between running back to the house, or to keep going to try and get Paige.

“Come on, Thomas! Come meet my friends!” Paige said, her words bright and excited.

Thomas’ stomach clenched. Friends. As in more than one. He didn’t have much choice, though; they knew he was here.

He crept forward, pushing low-hanging branches and brush out of the way, until he entered a clearing. It wasn’t large, but it was almost the size of their backyard. It was the stones that caught his attention, though.

Some were short, coming up to his knees, while others were eye-level with him. They were all gray and smooth, and shaped like eggs with the bottoms in the ground. Each of the tops had a hole, and it went from one side to the other. The smaller ones he could probably barely fit a pinky finger through, while the larger ones were big enough for his fist. The stones formed a perfect circle around the clearing, with six or so feet of clearance between them and the tree line. In the center of the circle was Paige.

“Thomas!” she said, and jumped up, waving at him. “Did you come for the tea party, too?”

“Tea party?” he asked, gaping at her as he moved closer. Then he saw the low, round table, covered with a white lace tablecloth, and the fanciest tea set he’d ever seen outside of one of Paige’s princess books. The small plates at each setting had equally little cakes. Page’s wide grin was dusted with powdered sugar, and the cake at her place setting had a neat little bite taken out of it.

“Paige,” he said, disbelieving, “please tell me you didn’t eat anything a stranger gave you.”

She just laughed. “They aren’t strangers, silly; they’re my friends! We’ve been talking for days and days. So, do you want some cake?” she asked, and started to turn toward the table.

He wanted nothing more than to jump the circle, grab her hand, and run with her back to the house. But there was something about that ring that set his teeth on edge, and made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Each time he tried to step forward, his brain screamed; “No!

“No, I do not want any cake!” he said, scowling and clenching his fists. “I want you to get over here so we can go home!” By the time he finished the sentence he was almost shouting.

Paige’s eyes had gone wide, and her lower lip trembled. “You’re being mean, Thomas,” she accused, and a small sob escaped her.

“Oh, don’t mind the boy, little one. He just doesn’t understand.”

Thomas’ body jerked in surprise. The voice was coming from right next to Paige, but there was no one there. Also, it sounded strange. High-pitched and buzzing, like a bee was trying to speak after breathing in helium.

“Who’s there?” Thomas demanded, voice trembling.

Paige’s eyes went wide, and were shiny with unshed tears. “It’s like you said, Novus. He can’t see you!”

“No, little one, he can’t,” Novus said, as though mournful about the fact. To Thomas, though, there was something disingenuous about the way they said it. Like when a bully has to apologize to a kid they beat up.

“Paige, please. Let’s go home,” Thomas begged, deciding to ignore the voice. Whoever they were, they didn’t sound very big, and he’d rather take his chances than talk to them anymore.

“We can’t leave yet. Novus promised I’d get to meet Herne!” she said, and stamped her foot.

“I don’t care, Paige! We need to get back before mom wakes up and worries about us!” Thomas said, shouting again.

“She will not wake until all has finished here. Worry not.” There was a pause. “In fact, you should not have woken either, naughty boy. Perhaps there is some belief in you, yet.” Then a tinkling laugh, like broken glass falling on metal, caused Thomas to shiver. “Or there will be after tonight.”

“He comes!” a chorus of voices called, similar to Novus.

Thomas jumped at that, but before he could call for Paige to run, something came out of the tree line across the clearing from him. Thomas’ jaw dropped.

The man—if that’s even what he was—was huge, and not just because he was riding the biggest deer ever seen. Most of his face was hidden by a deer skull mask, with antlers that were more like towering branches. Though it wasn’t quite right, because the eyes of the skull were set in a more human way, and there were no eyes, only darkness. The nose portion covered down to his chin, so he couldn’t see a mouth, but his cheeks were left bare. His skin was a dusky purple, his upper body muscular, and he wore nothing but a forest green cloak, with pants and boots to match. He also had a longbow sitting across his back, and Thomas swallowed at the sight of the weapon.

The deer snorted and stamped its hooves when it reached the stone circle, chewing the bit of its bridle.

“Has she partaken of the food and drink?” the man asked, his voice rumbling across the clearing like thunder.

“She has, Lord Herne!” the voices chorused out again.

Thomas’ eyes jerked away from the man to his sister, who was still, her head tilted back to look up at the man.

“Then it is time. Bring her,” he said, and held out a hand.

“Wait! You can’t just take my sister!” Thomas yelled, breaking out of his stunned trance.

Everyone went still at his words, and then the man turned his gaze to Thomas.

“I can, child. She has eaten our food, and drank the water from our spring. She is ours.”

Thomas’ head was spinning. None of it made any sense. He opened his mouth to yell at the man again, but something fluttered in his face. He jerked back to get away, but before he could, something cool brushed across his forehead.

It was as though a curtain was pulled back, revealing everything. A small form hovered in front of his face, its wings beating so fast he couldn’t see them properly. Bits of leaves covered their body, almost like scales, and thorns and flowers were tangled in their hair. The eyes were a liquid silver, like a faceless coin in water, and its mouth was pulled back in a cruel grin, revealing sharp teeth that would do a shark proud.

“A gift,” the buzzing voice said, but the pronouncement came across as more of a curse. “From Novus.”

Novus floated away, back toward Paige, and he realized there were at least twenty of these things, all floating around her. She turned, just enough to meet his gaze, and smiled wide, as though all her dreams had come true. Then she turned, and started walking toward the man.

“Paige! No!” he yelled, and grabbed the stone closest to him to launch himself over it. Before he could complete the movement, Novus was in his face again, throwing some kind of powder at him.

“Shh,” Novus said, holding a finger to its lips. “Sleep and peace, Thomas,” it continued, the words sing-song.

Thomas’ eyes drooped, and his legs grew weak beneath him. He tightened his grip on the stone, struggling to remain upright and awake, but it was no use. The last thing he saw before falling asleep was his sister taking hold of the man’s hand.

 

<***>

 

Giggling woke Thomas with a start, and his eyes flew open. Everything from the night before crashed through his mind, and he scrambled to get out of bed, nearly falling as his sheets tangled around his feet. When he jerked open his door, indistinct voices were coming from downstairs. Thomas dashed from his room and down the stairs, slipping dangerously in his socks over the smooth floor.

When he burst into the kitchen, his mom was at the stove making breakfast, and Paige was sitting at the table. He gaped at her, as she happily munched on pancakes.

“Good morning, sleepyhead. Your pancakes are on the table,” his mom said, gracing him with her smile, before turning back to the stove.

He couldn’t move, though. There’s no way that was a dream! But there she was. He scowled, and cautiously made his way over to the table. Paige didn’t pay him any mind, and hummed a happy tune as she ate.

Thomas sat down, but didn’t eat. He just kept staring at Paige.

“Are you okay?” his mom asked, from right next to his shoulder.

Thomas nearly jumped out of his skin, and yelped.

His mother frowned, and then raised an eyebrow. “I think we’ll hold off on anymore scary movies until you’re older,” his mom said, and made her way to sit down and eat.

His cheeks burned, and he dropped his eyes to stare at his pancakes.

“Can I have more milk?” Paige piped up, holding out her cup before their mom could sit.

“Oh, of course, honey,” she said, and grabbed the cup.

Once their mom walked away, Paige’s giggle caught his attention and he looked at her.

Instead of green, liquid silver eyes stared back at him, and a cruel grin full of sharp teeth made him let out a small gasp. Then it put a finger to its lips in a sign for quiet, and when Thomas blinked, the face was Paige’s again.

“We’re going to have so much fun, Thomas,” Novus said, and giggled.