Writing Prompt ~~ Legacy

It had been more than two weeks since the fire, but the stink of it was still in her hair, on her skin. She took long showers twice a day, but the smell lingered. When she closed her eyes at night, the images came back to her. Images of the flames, of the way the dark varnish on her grandmother’s cuckoo clock, brought over from Germany when she immigrated here, bubbled and popped.

Most of all, though, Amelie remembered the heat.

Each night, she’d woken in a sweat from both the memories and the fear of them. She’d screamed herself raw each time as she clawed her way out of her mind, the thick smoke choking her as her throat constricted, trying to protect itself. It was as though the flames had followed her into the realm of dreams, intent on licking along her body, their tongues burning and pulling all the moisture from her skin as it blistered.

When she woke, though, her skin was pristine if only a little tender. And with each wakening, she’d remember it wasn’t her who’d been swallowed by the flames. When the fog of nightmares lifted and the memories came flooding back, she’d weep. She’d sob until her body convulsed with them and her eyes went gritty and dry.

She’d promised herself fourteen days. A fortnight to grieve in her soul, recover in body, and strengthen her mind. Two weeks for a plan to churn in her subconscious, sitting at the back of her mind like a slowly simmering stew.

When the new moon rose, leaving more shadow than light stretched over the quiet landscape, she left the hideaway. It had been Quinn’s idea to build it, and though she’d been foolishly over-confident enough to scoff at him for such caution, she’d humored him. He’d gone to work on the very back end of their twenty-acre property, making what amounted to a doomsday bunker, though their concern was less apocalypse and far closer to home. What she wouldn’t give to hear him say, ‘I told you so.’

She clamped down on the sob that tried to break through her swollen throat, and swallowed against it. If she started crying now, she might not stop.

Though she didn’t expect anyone to still be at the house, she took her time moving through the familiar woods. She placed her hands on the rough bark of the trees, like touchstones, and with each caress she was more grounded and less insubstantial. Her hold on the world had been tenuous at best these last two weeks, with the loss of so much that was dear to her leaving her adrift. The trees brought some of what made her, her back, like an artist drawing an outline for a character. Amelie was solid again.

At just after midnight she made it back to the clearing just behind what was left of their house. The night was still, and so was she as she assessed the ruin. She hadn’t been in any condition to do so when she fled, and looking at it now, some of the comfort from the forest withered and left her hollow like a rotted tree trunk.

After a time, she made her way to the wreckage, careful to not disturb too much in case someone came snooping around. The single cabin hadn’t been what most folks would consider much, but it had been enough for her and Quinn.

When she came to the back of the house, she knelt and cleared away fire and autumn debris from a small section of otherwise normal looking ground. However, when she worked her fingers into the earth, a small seam appeared and a trapdoor lifted. Not wanting the remainder of the cabin to collapse on her, she pulled out a flashlight and shone it into the dark cellar. As far as she could see, everything was untouched, so she made her way down the steps into the darkness. Once inside, she lit the lamps around the room. They’d never wired electricity down here, just in case someone with more than half a brain had been involved with planning their demise.

When the soft glow illuminated the small work area, everything really was intact, and she let out a small, shaky sigh. Then, when her eyes strayed over to the bookshelf, her breath caught in her throat. Her feet carried her over to the ceiling-high shelves before she could think to do it, and shaking hands grabbed a picture frame.

Dark eyes with a wicked sense of humor and smile to match gazed back at her. His auburn hair was tousled from sweat and hard work while he helped build their cabin, and dirt streaked through his face and trimmed beard. It was her favorite picture of him, and an ache spread through her chest.

“I miss you,” she whispered, and ran a thumb across the picture’s cheek.

This time, instead of a sob, something hardened in her, and she had to put the frame down before she cracked it and the glass when her fists clenched. Her eyes scanned over the books along the shelves, though she knew exactly where the one she wanted was. On the top shelf, high enough that she had to stand on tiptoe to grab it, she pulled down the dusty, dark tome. A cuckoo clock was not the only thing her oma had brought from Germany.

Oma had never shied away from the darker side of their abilities, saying the dark was as much a part of anyone as the light. Amelie, on the other hand, had never been totally comfortable with such things, and after learning them never had cause to use them again. Oma respected her decision on this, saying some witches remained in the light, others steeped in darkness, while most walked in the grey. Amelie had been more than happy to remain on the light side, though she never thought less of her oma for walking a darker path than her. That was just Oma.

Amelie sent a silent prayer to her grandmother on the other side of the veil, asking for guidance. She took the book and the picture over to the small chair in the corner of the room and sat down to read.

Her thoughts were sharp as broken glass, and claws of rage raked through her as she poured over the spells.

It was sometime around dawn when she finally put the book down, her mind whirring with one possibility after another. As the cold, autumn wind shifted small amounts of rubble overhead, she looked at Quinn’s picture.

“They wanted an evil witch, and that’s just what they’ll get.”

World of Warcraft Class Micro-Stories: Hunter

A chill wind blew over the mountain, kicking up little flurries of snow in its wake, and Drekxan was never more aware of how very far from home he was. Or how much he hated the cold. Growing up in the Echo Isles, where the heat was like a living, breathing elemental, meant his appreciation for areas where winter was eternal left him shivering and grumbling.

Bodrer needled him endlessly about it, saying his blue skin was a sign Drekxan was doomed to forever be sent to the coldest regions of Azeroth. Drekxan said he was rather mouthy for someone who couldn’t reach the top shelf without help.

However, the weather wasn’t responsible for the ache deep in his bones or the icy fingers of sorrow clenched around his heart. He was crouched in front of one of the shrines around the back of the Trueshot Lodge. Its were candles perched on an old stump and magicked to remain alight no matter the weather. In front of the stump, within easy reach of his calloused fingers, was his weapon. He ran a hand lovingly over the wood, remembering how it had fashioned itself into a bow at the first moment he touched it. Titanstrike, vessel of the Thunderspark, and a weapon to harness the souls of storms.

Dead.

His hand stilled over the lifeless wood, and a sharp pain lanced through his chest. He grimaced, and curled his fingers into a fist and away from the weapon. A soft whine sounded from next to him, and he looked over to his wolf, Shanzin. His hand went to the animal’s head, running it over the course, white fur that matched Drekxan’s hair perfectly, and offering what comfort he could.

“I know, mon. I know,” Drekxan said, and sighed.

They’d done their part in the war to stop the Legion and the mad Titan, Sargeras, and what did they have to show for it? A big sword stuck right into the heart of their world, and wounds that would never heal that had nothing to do with Silithus.

Shanzin sighed back at him, and nudged the bow with his nose, whining again.

Drekxan was a hunter, and as such he acknowledged the cycle of life and death with the reverence it deserved. This wasn’t his first loss, and it wouldn’t be his last, but some bonds went so far into the soul, recovering seemed impossible beyond their loss.

When Hati had heeled to his hand, the lightning wolf’s sparks running over his arm with warm tingles, he’d been breathless with awe. Being the keeper of Thorim’s wolf was an honor Drekxan never dreamed in a thousand years he’d be bestowed with, and Shanzin had taken to the older, blue wolf like a surf crawler to water.

From one side of the Broken Isles to the other, and even to another world, the three of them had been through thick and thin, and survived. Then, Magni Bronzebeard had called for him once more, and with his words asked Drekxan for something more valuable than his own life: Hati’s.

It wasn’t so much Hati himself, but the power of the Thunderspark, which was needed to drain the death magic from the Titan’s sword before it killed their world. One life for thousands.

And still, he’d hesitated.

He was not ashamed to admit it. What were people he’d never met in comparison with a companion who’d kept him alive through the very worst the Burning Legion had to offer, and more?

In that moment of indecision, Hati had butted Drekxan’s hand with his head. Drekxan looked into the eyes of a creature who understood far beyond what any mortal one could, and realized Hati was telling him it was okay, and to let him do this one, final task.

So, he did. When Drekxan raised Titanstrike toward the sword, Hati faced the cursed blade and lifted his muzzle, howling his defiance toward the heavens. Shanzin followed suit on Drekxan’s right, and their cries intertwined and echoed out across the dunes.

And as the last spark of Hati drained away, leaving the Titankstrike empty in his hands, Shanzin’s howl carried on, alone, lamenting the loss of his friend.

They’d returned to the Trueshot Lodge after that, awaiting further orders from Magni on how to save Azeroth. Drekxan, who was by no means a young troll, was weary. Not only of the cold and endless wars, but of the never-ending death. The cycle was sacred, yes, but looking into Shanzin’s dull eyes that mirrored Drekxan’s feelings, perhaps it was time to leave the Hunt to those younger than him. Those not worn down by constant loss.

“Ach, there you are. Thought I might find you here.” Bodrer’s thick brogue broke through the haze of Drekxan’s thoughts.

Drekxan grunted. “Whatcha want, Bodrer?”

Instead of answering, the old Dwarf looked over Shanzin. “Still?” His question was not condescending, but quiet and pensive.

Drekxan merely nodded, at which Bodrer sighed. “I came to tell you that a message came from Orgrimmar for you, marked urgent.”

Drekxan snorted. “They always be thinkin’ dat their business is urgent.”

“It came directly from your Warchief,” Bodrer said, his voice going low.

At the Trueshot Lodge, there were no allegiances except to honoring the tenants of the Hunt, which the Huntmaster—currently Drekxan—was chosen to uphold. That Sylvanas was calling for him, specifically, did not bode well in Drekxan’s mind, and sat uneasily in his stomach.

There’d been some business Drekxan had stayed well away from, concerning a certain tree, but he knew it was only a matter of time before she’d demand to see him.

“I not be wantin’ ta get tangled in her web. I follow da Hunt. Nothin’ more,” Drekxan said.

Bodrer let out a barely perceptible sigh. “Still, it had news that might interest you,” he said, a small flash of mischief in his eyes.

“Oh? Ya been readin’ my mail again?” Drekxan asked.

Bodrer didn’t even have the grace to look abashed as he shrugged, and a smirk tugged the corner of his mouth. “You don’t read it, so someone should.”

Drekxan harrumphed. “I let ya be readin’ it for me, because gossipin’ makes ya happier than a boar in mud, dwarf,” Drekxan said, amicably.

Bodrer laughed his agreement, but he’d never admit to such out loud. “Any way, it spoke of a new land: Zandalar.”

Drekxan, whose attention had strayed from the dwarf as he pet Shanzin again, jerked his head over to lock on with Bodrer’s warm, brown eyes.

“Truly? Zandalar?”

“Aye, and I hear there’s plenty of land to be explored—warm land. A jungle, swamp, and desert, respectively,” Bodrer said, putting the emphasis on warm, as though he were trying to lure a wounded animal with the promise of something delicious. “Maybe even a few dinos,” he continued, doing his best to cheer his friend up.

It worked. Drekxan perked right up, his eyes shining with life for the first time since he’d come back from helping Magni.

“Dinos, ya say?”

Drekxan’s first pet was a raptor, like all other troll hunters, and though each beast was unique and worthy in their own right, Drekxan would always have a soft spot for dinosaurs. However, when he looked back at Shanzin, who hadn’t perked up one bit since Bodrer had shown up, his excited shriveled like seaweed left too long in the sun.

He sighed and his shoulders slumped, but before he could open his mouth to respond, a small, faint pulse raced along his awareness. His eyes snapped to Titanstrike.

“It cannot be,” he whispered. However, when he looked at Shanzin, he was even more surprised to find the wolf’s head up, ears forward, and eyes trained on the bow.

When Drekxan laid a hand on the weapon, there was still nothing. At first. Then he closed his eyes and focused all his senses until…There! It was distant, like trying to hear someone speak in the middle of a storm on the other side of an island, but it was there.

“What is it?” Bodrer asked, anxious and concerned.

When Drekxan turned back to look at the dwarf, he had a wide, fierce grin on his face.

“A promise from a friend.”

Writing Prompt ~~ Magic Isn’t Real

He had hunted and hiked and led backpacking trips through these woods for twenty years, and he had never seen an animal track like that. At first glance, it resembled wolf tracks, which was impossible given that there hadn’t been wolves in these parts since before Richard was born. One reason his mind had jumped to wolf and not dog, was because they formed a single track instead of staggered. The other reason was the shape, but even that wasn’t exactly correct. The pads were the wrong size and shape for any canid, and the claw marks were too thick. Richard wouldn’t claim to be an expert, but he knew these woods, and there was nothing in it that should make tracks like that. Least of all a wolf.

What he did know, though, was right next to those strange tracks were shoe prints, size 11 ½ youth, with little stars and hearts amidst the swirling tread pattern.

“What’d you find, Rick?” the quiet, rumbling voice of the Sheriff asked from behind him.

Most people tended to whisper or speak in hushed tones in the woods on instinct, but that was just the Sheriff. You wouldn’t catch him raising his voice to break up a bar fight, if it came down to it. Not that it ever did. Sheriff Evans had what folks referred to as presence. The large man moved like a force of nature: you either got out of his way or were taken down in the process.

“Girl’s tracks are here. We’re lucky it rained for a couple days the other day, or I might not have spotted this,” Richard said, and waved a black gloved hand at the muddy forest floor, littered with leaves. He’d never been fond of being called Rick, but people were set in their ways, especially around these parts.

“And?” Sheriff Evans prompted, hearing the unfinished words lingering on Richard’s tongue with the keen perception honed by years of experience.

Richard huffed out a frustrated breath. “And some tracks that don’t fit any animal I’ve ever come across,” he said, and pivoted on the balls of his heavy-booted feet to face the Sheriff.

The man’s ice blue eyes narrowed on Richard, who stilled under the scrutiny. Richard had never broken the law, let alone given police any trouble or reason to distrust him. But it was still there, hovering beneath the surface.

Richard was an outlier in the community. Someone who made his living off the vast woods that most were content to avoid. Sure, people hunted and hiked and so on, but Richard lived and breathed these woods, and there was a wildness about him. It didn’t help that he looked the typical part of someone who spent most of his time in the woods: bearded, rough around the edges, clothes worn and patched, and with his wild black hair usually contained under a knit cap.

That otherness meant he’d never quite moved beyond acquaintance-level with most people. In fact, if they got more than a nod of greeting from Richard it tended to shock the good folk of Pinebrook. Most avoided his ever-present scowl and dark, hooded eyes. Those wanting to traipse about the woods only put up with his standoff-ish demeanor because he was the best around, and those that didn’t want to found someone less qualified.

“Explain,” the Sheriff said, but his wary gaze left Richard’s and began scanning the surrounding trees.

Richard, too, looked around. Though Richard was not a small man himself in weight, he didn’t quite hit the same numbers as the Sheriff who was built like a wall of muscle. When Richard looked back at their walking tracks leading to this point, Richard’s weren’t quite as deep as the Sheriff’s, as was expected. What made Richard’s body tense was the fact the unknown tracks were a depth between the Sheriff and himself. It didn’t bode well.

“I thought at first they were wolf tracks,” Richard started.

The Sheriff snorted at that, though he didn’t stop his surveillance.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. Plus, the shape isn’t exactly correct. It’s strange, though. What kind of animal would have the girl walking with it, instead of just, well, eating her?” Richard pondered out loud.

The Sheriff’s head jerked over at Richard’s statement, who just shrugged at the man’s distasteful look.

“Tell me I’m wrong,” Richard challenged, though as respectfully as he could manage. To be honest it wasn’t much, but it was the best Evans was going to get.

Sheriff Evans grunted, then considered the tracks again. “You’re sure they aren’t human?” he asked.

Richard shook his head. “Even if they were wearing something weird on their feet to try and confuse us, the impressions wouldn’t look right. When people are making fake tracks, they either press straight down or don’t walk naturally, and it shows in the tracks,” he said. Then he indicated the sides and depths of the footprints. “This has the natural gate of something that single tracks and walks on four paws, like a wolf.”

Sheriff Evans considered the tracks. “But it’s definitely not a wolf?” The lilt at the end of the sentence indicated the Sheriff was making it more of a question than a statement.

“No, not a wolf, but some kind of animal,” he said, his voice going soft. Whatever it was, he didn’t think it boded very well for the girl.

“Well, we can’t stand here and debate this anymore. You follow the tracks, and I’ll follow you,” Sheriff Evans said.

Richard nodded, and off they went.

They weren’t the only people out looking for Heather Turner, aged six, missing from her home on the edge of town. When her parents called her in from their backyard for lunch, they thought she was playing hide and seek with them. When they couldn’t find her, and instead discovered a place in the fence where the chain links had been pushed aside just enough for a small child to get through, they panicked.

When the initial search led them not far down the road and into the forest, they’d put out the call for volunteers and called in the SAR—Search and Rescue—dogs. They lived on the edge of enough wilderness that they had a couple of full-time trackers. The first real indication that things weren’t quite right was the dogs’ refusals to track. Not just a, ‘I can’t follow the scent/There is no scent,’ situation. This was a tail between their legs, one of them peed themselves, and they refused to budge, type of refusal. These dogs weren’t new, or scared of much of anything, but their behavior had put the SAR team on edge.

That’s when they went to get Richard.

He’d been gearing up to help with the search when the Sheriff himself had pulled up and explained the situation, and what had happened with the dogs. He’d been concerned about that, but not enough to put him off going into the woods to search for a little girl.

Now here they were, following the tracks of Richard didn’t know what, and they were headed to the lake. Not just any lake, but Arrowhead Lake. There were a few bodies of water in these parts, but the one that was the biggest and in the deepest part of the forest was the Arrowhead. Shaped like its namesake, it was where, to put it not-so-delicately, the crazies lived. Mostly they were an assortment of backwoodsman and survivalists, and they guarded their privacy and land jealously. If Richard was barely on the tolerated side of amicable for the townsfolk, the Arrowheaders were the scapegoats and go-to for every which thing that went wrong in these parts.

Richard looked back over his shoulder and locked eyes with the Sheriff. His lips had thinned out and his eyebrows were drawn down in a mighty frown. He knew where they were headed. He motioned for Richard to stop, and called his fellow lawmen over the walkie.

“We’re going to head to the main road and call in to Walt. I don’t want to start some kind of FUBARed fire fight with the Arrowheaders because someone gets pissy we’re on their land,” Sheriff Evans grumbled, and started to head west toward the only road to the lake.

By the time the two men managed to get there, there was a patrol car waiting, with a CB ready to go. No one up here had lines for phones, or likely the patience for them.

Sheriff Evans got Walt on the CB, and he agreed to come out. Probably twenty minutes later the old man came ‘round the bend in his beat up ’55 Chevy, expertly avoiding or going over potholes that were as familiar to him as his own land. Walt was the unofficial spokesperson of the Arrowheaders, which really meant he was the only one willing to talk before he pulled his gun.

By this point, the deputy and Sheriff were chomping at the bit to get moving again. There was a kid missing, and each minute that went by wasn’t doing her any good.

Walt got out of his truck and hobbled on over to the Sheriff, though Richard hung back. While the Arrowheaders weren’t as hostile toward him as they were to law enforcement, they weren’t exactly buddy-buddy, either. He was too wild for the townsfolk, and too tame for Arrowhead.

Walt was like a piece of chewed up old leather leftover from a saddle that was rode hard and put away wet. He’d survived WWII with his body mostly intact, but in mind not so much. Sometimes when people were talking to him, he gets a faraway look in his mud brown eyes. Richard had learned the hard way with a broken nose to never touch him when he’s like that. He had a shaggy white mane, and a beard to match that he could almost tuck into his belt.

“Whatchoo doin ‘round here, Evans?” Walt said with his usual ornery tone. His wild, bushy eyebrows were drawn down, and even in his late sixties the man was scrappy as ever.

“There’s a little girl missing, Walt. We’re just trying to find her and get her home,” Sheriff Evans said matter-of-factly, holding his hands out in front of him.

Walt’s eyes narrowed dangerously.

“You think we had somethin’ to do with that?” asked another voice from over by the truck as Walt opened his mouth.

The Sheriff’s head snapped over to a boy standing not far from the front-passenger side of the truck. He was your typical, surly teenager: whip-thin, like he’d have a hard time putting any muscle on him, and dark brown hair cut long enough that it fell in his eyes, which were the same brown as Walt’s.

“And you are?” Sheriff Evans asked, suspicion evident in the set of his shoulders and tone of his voice.

“That’s my grandson, Matthew. Now answer the boy’s question,” Walt said, still glaring at the Sheriff.

“We aren’t sure,” Sheriff Evans admitted honestly. “We followed some tracks to the edge of Arrowhead property and stopped to get ahold of you.”

“Whatchoo mean you ain’t sure?” Walt spat. “Either yer here to try and arrest one of us, or yer just causin’ hate and discontent.”

Sheriff Evans glanced back at Richard, who sighed.

“They pulled me in to track when the dogs refused to do it,” Richard said, leveling a significant look Walt’s way.

Walt’s eyebrows shot up. “You mean Tommy’s and Jerry’s dogs?”

Tommy and Jerry were the SAR guys. They didn’t just handle the SAR dogs, they were some of the best trainers around for them.

Richard nodded. “Pissed themselves scared.”

Walt and Matthew exchanged a worried glance. The silent communication after hearing such news might have been expected and natural to the two lawmen, but Richard didn’t miss the something extra that passed between them.

“Whatchoo think it was?” Walt asked, bringing a heavy scowl down on Richard.

“Can’t say; never seen tracks like that. Looked wolf, but wrong, and weighed somewhere between me and the Sheriff,” Richard said, and shrugged.

Though the motion was nonchalant and the words casual, (as though Richard spoke of man-sized beasts roaming their forests every day), his gaze was subtly sharp, watching Matthew. The old man could hide his guilt from St. Peter himself, but the boy was young. He hadn’t learned to hide that well, yet.

And there it was, the small twitch of the kid’s shoulders at the description of the tracks.

“Well, long as you ain’t sayin’ it were one of us, I’ll do the rounds with ya. Boy, you stay here,” Walt said, his words emphatic and brooking no argument.

The boy glowered, and Richard might have guessed it was part of an act if the kid hadn’t been a teenager. Angst came as naturally to them as breathing.

“Deputy, you’re with us. Richard, stay here in case anyone else shows up. Tell them we went to speak to the residents, and to fan out around the Arrowhead border to see if there are any tracks leading out. They are not to go into Arrowheader land. Got me?” Sheriff Evans asked.

The only reason Richard didn’t tell the man he could save his commands for his lawmen and stick his orders where the sun don’t shine, was because a little girl was in danger. Instead, he nodded, and the three of them headed to Walt’s truck. The deputy jumped in the back, and Sheriff Evans got in the front seat with Walt. As the truck was turning around on the narrow road, the boy and Walt exchanged one last, telling, worried look, before heading back toward the lakeside properties.

Once the truck was out of sight, Richard turned to the kid.

“Tell me what you know,” Richard said, his voice low and cutting to the chase.

“I—”

“Shut the hell up, and save your lies. I know you know something, and you’re going to tell me so I can save the little girl. That way her parents won’t have to lower a tiny coffin into the ground,” Richard growled out.

The boy’s eyes went wide at Richard’s morbid words, and he paled.

“It-it’s not what you think!” he blurted out, his hands clenched.

“Then tell me what I should think,” Richard bit out, quickly losing patience. He didn’t have time for Arrowheader bullshit. He hadn’t thought they’d had anything to do with it, but after those looks, he knew they knew something. It was bad enough he was keeping this from the Sheriff, but he’d be damned if their secrecy was going to hurt a little girl.

“Not long ago, a woman moved into Derrick’s old cabin. She’s Russian, just off the boat, and with an accent so thick you can barely understand her on a good day, let alone when she’s riled,” Matthew said.

Richard made the ‘go-on’ gesture, urging the kid to get to the point.

“Well, not long after she moved in, we started noticing strange things. Things would go missing and turn up in weird places, and we’d find weird tracks around cabins after hearing noises at night. Stuff like that.”

“Okay, so you think this woman and this…whatever it is are connected?” Richard asked, just to get the boy to clarify. Because he’d bet his bippy she had something to do with it.

Matthew nodded. “It’s, well, like I said. Not what you think.” Then he looked around the deserted woods and bit his lip, indecision and guilt wringing the kid’s conscience like a wet rag.

“Take me to her,” Richard said.

The boy’s eyebrows shot high and went knotted, while his eyes grew wide as dinner plates. “She’d have my hide, sir! She’s meaner than a mess of hornets with a kicked over nest!”

It shocked him that the kid called him ‘sir’, which he most certainly wasn’t used to, but he didn’t have time for this.

“You’ll think she’s a day-old kitten compared to me if something happens to Heather Turner, boy.”

The kid’s shoulders slumped and he grimaced. “Alright, but I’m hanging you out to dry as sure as the sun rises.”

Richard nodded. “You help me save that little girl, I don’t care if you throw me to a whole pack of hacked off Russian biddies. Now, move,” Richard said, and gave the kid a nudge.

Richard knew, vaguely, the location of all the dwellings around Arrowhead, but he couldn’t remember exactly where Derrick’s place was. He’d died last year, too old to get through another harsh winter up in the woods with minimal supplies. While he wasn’t too keen on taking the kid with him, he needed him as a simultaneous guide and white flag. People would get riled if they saw just Richard, no matter how much more they tolerated him than they did the townsfolk. No, having the kid was like a hall pass in a place the teachers would shoot you if you were caught without one.

After a long walk and many worried glances at the sky from Richard as the sun made its inevitable trip toward the horizon, they finally made it to the cabin. It was in better repair than last he’d glimpsed of it, many years ago, but he didn’t have time to admire the scenery. Search and rescue never boded well in the dark, let alone when some unknown creature was involved, and time waited for no one. Not even missing little girls.

He stalked right up to the cabin and pounded on the door. Before a fourth knock could land, the door was yanked out from under his fist. A scowling, royally ticked-off woman stood there, her pale grey eyes flashing.

“Vat is the meaning of this?” she asked, her accent thick on her tongue like molasses. She had her hands on her generous hips, and the long, thick braid of her chocolate brown hair snaked down over her equally generous chest.

Not the time, he ground out, annoyed with himself.

She barely came up to Richard’s chin, and he met her glower with one of his own.

“We’re looking for a missing girl. Six. And I think you know something about it,” Richard said, his words clipped.

She reared back a bit at this, her eyebrows shooting up. “And vhy vould I know about this girl?”

“Because I found some incredibly strange tracks alongside hers, and I’ve been told that ever since you’ve moved here, people have been finding strange, unidentifiable tracks around their cabins.”

Panic flashed through her eyes like a shooting star: there and gone just as quick. But it had been there, and Richard latched onto that like a hound on a scent.

She’d gone quiet, and her eyes darted behind him to Matthew. When she saw the boy, shuffling his feet like all the guilt in the world had been placed on his shoulders, she sighed.

“You said leetle girl? Six?” she asked. At Richard’s nod, she shook her head and started muttering in Russian, clearly irritated. “It’s not vhat you think,” she said.

“So I’ve been told,” Richard ground out. “Now, take me to her.”

The woman—he realized he hadn’t even asked her name—grabbed her coat from by the door. Richard moved out of the way so she could close it. After doing so, she set off toward the woods on the opposite side from where they came in. Richard followed the sway of her braid down her back as she moved, and the boy brought up the rear. He wasn’t comfortable with two Arrowheaders flanking him, but it couldn’t be helped. There was no way the boy would leave him with one of their own, and he wouldn’t have listened to Richard if he’d tried to tell him to stay.

They weren’t long heading into the forest when the woman came to a halt, and Richard almost ran into her. He hadn’t realized he was following her so close. She inhaled deep, tilted her head to one side, as though listening for something, and changed her direction at a sharp westward angle, heading deeper in. After about the same amount of time she stopped, and this time Richard inhaled with her.

Forests always held smells of growing things, or of wet dirt like now, and sometimes rotting things, but this was a different smell. It was familiar, and not. Like the smell of a cut Christmas tree, even though there were no evergreens here, but it had a bitter edge, like tree sap on your tongue.

Then, she started speaking in Russian. “Vykhodi, Leshi! Vy znayete, chto ne mozhete derzhat’ devushku.”

He was about to tell her to stop, and speak English, when there was a rustling in the brush to their left. What walked through the brush was impossible for his eyes to reconcile with his brain. It looked like it was covered in green fur that wasn’t fur, but instead grass the color of olives. It was tall. Far taller than anyone Richard had met in his fifty years, and its head was decorated with a crown of autumn leaves. Its eyes were intense, and the black of fresh churned, deep forest earth. They bore into Richard as though it could see his very soul, and maybe it could.

“What—” he barely managed, the word strangled.

Before he could finish, though, the creature’s cradled arms moved forward, as though it was offering him something. When he looked down, it was the first time he noticed what the creature carried. It was Heather Turner, fast asleep, a peaceful, content smile on her face.

There was a noise like the groaning of trees and the rustling of leaves in the wind, and it was coming from the creature. Richard couldn’t move. Of all the things he expected, this wasn’t it.

“He says he’s very sorry. He vas lonely, and just looking for someone to play vith. In human years, they aren’t far apart in age,” the woman said, her voice soft and sad.

When Richard turned wide eyes to her, her face was haunted by some memory playing in her mind. It wasn’t too far off how Walt looked during those times it was a bad idea to touch him.

“Take her,” she said, her voice urgent.

Richard jerked at the words, and his arms automatically went forward to take the sleeping child from the—him. He rustled a bit, and where his grass-like fur touched Richard’s flesh, it was cool, but not so much so that the child would have taken chill in his arms.

Heather scrunched her face a bit as she moved between the two, but quickly settled down. Richard just held her there, still not sure what to say.

“He is the last of his kind—a Leshi. Something you might call a forest spirit, or fairy, that can shapeshift. They vere hunted to the very last. My family has alvays been vith them, protecting and being protected in turn. Ve came here for better life,” she said by way of explanation. “Now…” she trailed off.

Richard realized what she meant. There was almost no way to explain the situation away. Heather never would have made it up this far without some kind of help, and someone would have to take the blame. A thought slowly formed in Richard’s mind.

“Unless she wasn’t found here,” Richard said slowly, his first words to the two Arrowheaders since leaving the cabin.

After a moment, hope lit a joyful fire in her eyes so fierce, it almost made Richard take a step back.

“Of course, we’ll need your friends help,” he said. Richard looked over at the creature, who nodded once, and slow.

Da. Of course!”

It wasn’t too long after that Heather Turner was found, tucked away and asleep in a tricky little hole in her favorite tree in her backyard. Her parents hadn’t even known it was there. When they hugged and kissed and scolded her for not answering when they’d all called for her, she simply told them about the most wonderful dream she had. There was a large wolf in it who changed into a boy, whose skin was made of grass, and they played in the woods. Her parents merely shook their heads, and apologized profusely to all those involved in her search and rescue.

Everyone was just glad she was found safe. No one mentioned the behavior of the dogs. Or the strange tracks walking right next to those of a child who had the exact same shoe type and size as Heather, heading to Arrowhead Lake.

In fact, the only thing that changed was the frequency of Richard visiting Arrowhead. The townsfolk wrote it off as a simple case of a man wooing the first new face to grace the town in a couple of decades. It helped his case that Tatiana’s face was pretty as any to look at. Once you got past her temper, that is.

And if people sometimes spotted a large, green creature that sometimes looked like a man, and other times a wolf, walking in the woods that disappeared like magic in the blink of an eye? Well, it just wasn’t spoken of. They weren’t a town of gossip-mongers like those hippie-dippy types with their Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest. No, they were a private folk, and they kept such things to themselves. And if lost hikers spoke of lights in the forest, like fairy lights in the stories of old, leading them out and to safety, well, they chalked it up to dehydration. Magic wasn’t real; everyone knew that.

 

 

********NOTE************
For anyone who speaks/reads Russian, I apologize ahead of time: I only had Google Translate at my disposal, and I did the best with conveying the accent that I could. This is what Tatiana said in the woods:

“Come out, Leshy! You know you cannot keep the girl.”

Tales of the Graveyard Shift: The Greasy Goblin ~~ Chapter Twelve

Chapter 12

I’d like to say the minute I left the room I realized I was being a terrible person, let alone sister, and turned around and went back in. But no. I made my way down to the kitchen, fully expecting it to be full of children who just took a hit for their sugar fix, gossipy moms, and harried catering staff. I was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn’t the case, and it was strangely quiet. The only noise was coming from the back yard, where the children sounded as though they were having a contest to see who could scream the loudest.

The kitchen was modern, with shiny appliances, and a white paint scheme that I imagined took a full-time staff to keep clean. It was large enough to fit most my apartment in, but that’s what my brother gets for being the best personal lawyer in the area, and from the money that was left over from what our parents gave us.

I walked around the island to the large window overlooking the backyard. My nephew had opted for some kind of pirate theme, and was currently running around with his fellow buccaneers in their personal backyard playground. There was even a bouncy house. My other nieces and nephew were now dressed up, too, and my heart clenched. There was pure joy on their faces as they ran around, searching for treasure at the command of Jason, who was the spitting image of my brother. I couldn’t hold that against him, though—he was a pretty cool kid.

“Don’t feel like joining the party?”

I spun around to see a well-dressed man on the other side of the island, a small smile quirking the corner of his mouth. He was impossibly handsome, with features that toed the line between too rugged and romance novel cover model. His hair was a dark bronze, cut short on the sides and just long enough on the top to come off as devil-may-care. Like there just might be a bad boy lurking beneath the expensive, tailored, and designed-just-for-him conservative clothing.

But it was the expression in his honey brown eyes that reminded me of my brother at first glance: lawyer-ish and falsely concerned. My brother was a natural at his profession—a born and bred shark. For survival reasons, I’d learned early on to identify the surface emotions he used to manipulate people into opening up, or doing what he wanted.

However, if my brother was a shark, this man was something more. Something prehistoric that glided through the ocean with deadly grace, and put the fear of god in sharks of old if they’d been capable of the emotion. Something that sent a chill down my spine and made my bones ache with dread.

So, instead of answering his question, I decided to play on my apparent knack of irritating supernatural beings with my insulting questions. And if this guy wasn’t some kind of preternatural bugaboo, I’d eat my tongue.

If you keep irritating things that can murder you with a flick of their pinky finger, they just might make you eat it, Rational Brain grumbled.

Primal Brain was, once again, silent in its terror.

“What are you?” I asked, going straight for the offensive jugular of questions.

He blinked at me, once, long and slow. “I see no one has taught you how to speak to your betters,” he said with a faint hiss, his voice going from pleasant to dangerous as easily as flipping a switch.

I grit my teeth against the sudden surge of adrenaline from my flight response, and stubbornly jutted my chin up at him. “If I come across one maybe I’d be obliged. As it is, I don’t see the point.”

Why are you picking a fight with something that could murder us with less effort than it takes to open his eyes? Rational Brain groaned.

That was a good question. Why was I picking this fight? Maybe it had something to do with needing to lash out after discovering my brother was married to a demon and my nieces and nephews were half-demon? Nah. I was probably just this dysfunctional.

“You know, for someone with little to no standing, protection, or anything worthwhile, you’re quite mouthy,” he crooned, and moved slowly around the island separating us.

“So I’ve been told,” I said, and stupidly stood my ground.

He came right up to me, with barely half a foot separating us. I’ve always been short, so it’s no surprise when someone is taller than me. In fact, I expect most people to be taller than me more often than not. But there is almost a visceral shock that goes through you when someone quite a bit taller than you invades your personal space. You’re left staring at their chest at best, or the bottom of their sternum at worst, and breathing in their subtle, expensive cologne.

When I looked up at him, his eyes had flashed to the same indigo as Candy’s, though his seemed more blue than purple. A thrill of…not exactly fear went through me, and my eyes widened.

His nostrils flared, and a small smirk played across his lips. Then he leaned over until his mouth was right next to my ear.

“You know, I’ve heard you’re trying to help the goblins find whoever killed their wayward heir,” he said, his voice going low and smooth as silk.

At his pause I swallowed and nodded, the motion jerky and tense.

“The goblins are incredibly important clients of ours, and I’d hate to disappoint them with your amateurish—at best—detective skills.”

A flash of annoyance furrowed my brows. “I told them I wasn’t the person for the job, and they didn’t listen. Plus, they’ve already threatened my brother and myself. This seems a bit like overkill.”

His throaty chuckle raised the hairs on the back of my neck. “No, they threatened your brother’s reputation, but my brethren and myself will do more than threaten. And take more than just his reputation,” he said, and leaned back.

That statement dumped a bucket of ice water on whatever hormones had, however briefly, reared their atrociously timed heads. When I met his eyes, the cold-blooded malice that pooled in their depths held a promise of agony in my future. One that might not even be contingent on whether or not I succeeded at finding Stribs’ murderer.

Whatever he saw in my face must have pleased him to no end, because a huge grin broke out across his face and he laughed a full-throated laugh.

“Oh, human. Your kind is a source of endless amusement,” he said once the laugh had died down into a series of staggered chuckles.

Well, at least he didn’t call you an Ord, Primal Brain reasoned.

That pales somewhat in the face of him threatening Joel’s life, Rational Brain replied scathingly.

“What I find amusing,” I said, my voice taking on a slight growl, “is how pathetic all you supposed ‘better’ beings must be to rely so heavily on humans to do everything for you.”

His expression didn’t change, but he did quirk an eyebrow. “All good leaders know how to delegate tasks appropriately. You don’t see the farmer pulling the plow, but the ox,” he said.

I won’t react to him calling me a cow. I won’t, I thought, and grit my teeth.

“And what good does it do the farmer to abuse or kill the one pulling the plow?” I asked. “Sounds like nothing more than an excuse to be cruel for no reason other than pathetic self-amusement,” I spat.

Though his smile hadn’t died during our back-and-forth, it went gentle. His eyes softened, and his head tilted slightly as he leaned in close, our noses almost touching.

“There might be one more thing you should consider before you mouth off to someone less genial than myself,” he said, his breath tickling across my skin, and smelling subtly of mint.

“What’s that?” I bit out.

“We aren’t the only ones who know about your familial connections, and what do you think will happen to Candace—” I couldn’t help the brief moment of satisfaction I got from the fact that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to call her Candy, “—and the children should something happen to Joel?”

Whatever vindication I’d felt for that short second died at his words. I sucked in a shocked breath, and my chest tightened so painfully it hurt to breathe.

“Aunty Holly!” a familiar voice shrieked from the doorway leading out to the backyard.

I jerked backward from the demon just in time to catch a tiny, adorable, armful of pirate. He had an eyepatch and everything. I ignored the scream of protest from my hand, though I did let out a small, pained noise inaudible over the commotion the little one was making. I nearly inhaled the white-blond curls of my youngest nephew, Owen, who still sported that baby fine hair of younger children just like Evelyn Rose.

“Missed you, Aunty!” he proclaimed as he squeezed my neck with all the force of a python, despite the fact he’d seen me barely more than half an hour ago.

His breath smelled of sugar, and I gave him a suspicious glance. “You haven’t been sneaking frosting from your brother’s cake, have you?” I asked.

“No!” he proclaimed far too quickly.

I laughed. “Well, if you say so, I believe you.”

He grinned in triumph. Who was I to rain on his parade? I was the indulgent aunt who didn’t have to scold him about his brother’s cake if I didn’t want to. I’d leave that to my brother and sister-in-law.

“Were you and Uncle Dizzy going to kiss?” he asked, in all his youthful innocence.

I let out a strangled, inarticulate noise of surprise. I wasn’t sure which shocked me more. The fact he called him uncle, that his name was Dizzy, or if he thought we were going to kiss.

“What made you think we were going to kiss?” I asked, trying to keep the utter panic from my words.

‘Dizzy’ broke out into an amused, truly affectionate grin aimed at Owen.

“He was close to you like Daddy when he’s going to kiss Mommy,” he proclaimed, and bounced in my arms. After a moment, he tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. “You know kisses are yucky, right?”

“Absolutely, which is why Uncle Dizzy—” I just managed not to choke on the name that didn’t fit the demon at all, “—and I certainly weren’t going to kiss,” I reassured him.

He pursed his lips as though he didn’t quite believe me, but then he started to wiggle, an indication he’d had enough of being held. I let him down, and he grabbed my uninjured hand and started tugging me toward the backyard.

“Come on; you’re missing the party!” he said, and tried to drag me away.

I planted my feet to keep from falling forward. “I’ll be out in a minute, Handsome. I need to ask your dad something,” I said.

He pouted and dropped my hand, then crossed his arms over his chest. “I want you to come now!”

“Don’t worry, dear heart, she’ll be out soon enough,” Dizzy said.

Owen looked between the two of us a couple of times before shouting, “Okay!” He ran back through the door, slamming it behind him and making me cringe as the glass fairly rattled.

There was a long moment of silence before he turned to consider me once again.

“Dizzy, huh?” I asked.

“It’s Dezanoth, actually, but try getting a five-year-old to say that,” he said with a shrug.

Well, he wasn’t wrong.

“And Uncle?”

He rolled his eyes. “You ask far too many questions, but in a roundabout, distant way you could say Candace and myself are related.”

I didn’t want to touch that with a ten-foot pole. The thought of having this…man for a brother-in-law gave me the heebie-jeebies. Now that I’d interacted with a demon far closer to what I expected, I could certainly appreciate Candace in a way I hadn’t before. Now I really needed to ask the two of them some questions.

“I really do need to speak with my brother, so, try not to murder any ‘amusing humans’ if you can manage it,” I said scathingly. With a glare, I turned and went to head back to my brother’s office.

“Holly,” he said, his voice soft, the words caressing my spine and making the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up again.

I turned back to look at him, and he was still on the other side of the kitchen. With how quick and silent supernaturals moved, I half expected to come face-to-face with him, and was relieved to find that wasn’t true.

When I met his eyes, though, I stiffened and my breath froze. The wicked look there promised all the imagined torments of hell would come to my doorstep one day, and the alluring smile gracing his lips indicated I might just beg for it to happen.

“Don’t forget: the farmer isn’t nearly as replaceable as the ox.”

 

******************************

World of Warcraft Class Micro-Stories: Rogue

 

This was the last time Kavea took a job from that slimy goblin. He always managed to have her track down the scummiest customers, and the scum tended to accumulate in the seediest, filthiest, and most vermin-infested holes in all of Azeroth.

It didn’t help that her mark—Durrant—seemed content to drink the inn dry instead of go to bed. But there was nothing for it, so Kavea drew her hood further down, sighed, and waited.

***

Just after three in the morning he finally staggered his way up the stairs. Kavea followed after tossing a few coins to the barkeep for her drink, plus a few extra for the potential mess upstairs.

With her steps so light that falling snow was cacophonous in comparison, she made her way to the top of the stairs, and watched him enter the last door on the left. After he went it, she crept down the hall and listened at the door. What sounded like a sack of potatoes landed on the bed with a groan. She waited in the shadowed hallway for her keen blood elf hearing to pick up the steady, deep breathing of sleep before she slipped into the room. He hadn’t even locked the door.

The only reason his attack didn’t catch her off guard was because she’d learned to never trust only one sense, and she’d been scanning the room as she entered. Kavea jumped away from his sword and to the right side of the small room. She had just enough time to draw her daggers and cross them at the hilts to stop his downward swing. He was strong. Stronger than someone who’d been drinking since noon had any right to be, and it sent her to a knee.

“At least Grexo sent someone pretty after me this time. I was getting tired of cutting up the ugly mugs of his enforcers,” Durrant said, his voice like gravel and with a smirk on his face.

Kavea just scowled and turned his sword away. They fought, and at first Kavea tried to keep the ruckus down, but eventually had to give up stealth in exchange for surviving. They each had shallow cuts over various body parts, and Kavea was getting more suspicious by the minute as her poison seemed to have no effect on Durrant. However, she was slowing, and it wasn’t long after that she stumbled. His sword came down, and her eyes widened before everything went black.

***

Kavea had the worst headache, and for a moment she wondered if she’d gotten into her father’s stash of winter ale again. Then she remembered her father was dead, and by all rights she should be, too.

She cracked open an eye to see the face of a worgen sporting black fur with a white muzzle standing over her.

Kavea muttered a curse and scowled. Grexo hadn’t told her Durrant was a worgen. “Well, that explains why my poison wasn’t working.”

Durrant grinned. “It’s a helpful thing when you have rogues constantly trying to kill you.”

“Why am I alive?” she asked, cutting to the chase. She didn’t see the point in bantering with someone who would likely kill her soon.

Durrant shrugged. “Seemed a waste. You lasted the longest against me, and if Grexo didn’t tell you I was a worgen, he meant for you to die. Since he seems to want both of us dead, I thought I’d make you an offer.”

“Oh?” she asked, quirking a pale blonde eyebrow.

“Work with me, and eventually we can both get back at that green greaseball.”

After a moment, Kavea met his wolfish grin with a devious smirk. She didn’t trust the worgen farther than she could throw him, but as they say: the enemy of my enemy is today’s ally, and tomorrow’s prey.

She’d never liked that goblin, anyway.

“Let’s discuss terms.”

World of Warcraft Class Micro-Stories: Priest

 

The dead were numbered beyond count, and many had passed to the Light. Or the Shadowlands. Ashalien shuddered at that thought, and then she pulled a sheet over a face far too young to have met any end, let alone one that left fully half his body charred to the bone.

“Another dead before they even set foot in the tent. Why do they keep bringing them?” Ashalien’s fellow priest, Devonna, asked, more mournful than angry.

“Because they have hope,” Ashalien said, and then closed her eyes to say a prayer over the child soldier. With each word, the impact of the war weighed heavily upon her shoulders like Dwarven plate armor.

Just as she was finishing, there was a commotion at the entrance of the tent.

“No, we can’t take anymore,” Devonna said, her voice firm.

“Please, Priest! All the other tents are full, and you’re the only ones that can help!”

There was such desperation in the voice, Ashalien paused, the final words of the prayer not passing her lips. A flutter of something soft, like the feathers of an infant bird, brushed against her soul.

“Let them in, Devonna,” Ashalien said, before she’d even thought to say it.

She levitated the dead boy’s body off the cot and to the side, freeing the bed. There was no time to change the sheet, if the situation was as dire as it sounded.

The two who came to the cot were covered in mud, blood, and likely worse, with one carrying the other.

“Thank you, Priest; he’s my younger brother,” the one carrying the other said, his voice soft and choked.

He gently laid his burden on the cot. The younger boy—though neither were long beyond their first shave—groaned as he touched the bed.

“Meus—”

“Hush, Zane. We’re with the healer,” the older brother, Meus, consoled.

“Peace, Zane,” Ashalien soothed. Then she sang, her voice soft and airy, weaving the healing and soothing magics of the Light through the Hymn.

Zane’s face relaxed, and a peaceful smile graced his lips as he looked up at her, and made him appear even younger. Instead of grimacing, as she wanted to do because of his age, she smiled back. Even as she saw the fatal wound, cutting him deep across his belly, which was followed closely by the smell of rent bowels, still, she smiled.

Meus sucked in a breath at the sight, his eyes going wide with shock, and filling with tears of bitter hopelessness.

The fluttering was back, but this time more insistent, and the familiar comfort of the Light infused her very being, making her glow.

“Fear not, Meus,” she said, and his eyes snapped up to meet hers.

His jaw dropped open at the sight of her, and his heart thundered in his chest. He did not want to give in to the soaring sensation trying to break free from him like a bird from a cage. That road led only to pain. But with this priest glowing with so much Light, it was as though she’d swallowed the sun…It was difficult not to submit and open that cage.

Her hands hovered over Zane, and the Light moved from her to him.

“For you do not hope in vain.”

World of Warcraft Class Micro-Stories: Druid

 

Pain. Pure, unadulterated pain lanced along her nerves as though every fiber of her body were cut by an infinite number of daggers. She gasped and fell to one knee, digging nails into her chest in an effort to loosen the phantom grip squeezing her heart. Black spots danced in her vision like the devilish Grells, gleefully rejoicing in her torment.

She was not the only one. Other druids in Moonglade were falling as she had, and gritting their teeth against the onslaught of agony, while still more were writhing on the ground or passed out. The lowing of the Tauren was woven in with the growls and howls of the Worgen, as well as the guttural moans of the Trolls and wails of her fellow Night Elves. The screeching of the hippogryphs was so high-pitched it was a wonder her ears did not bleed, and they thrashed about in their nests. Even the dragon, Aronus, was not spared from whatever occurred, having fallen into the small moonwell it hovered over with a roar.

Lynithe Skyshadow’s tears fell to the fertile ground, and when she placed her palm to the dirt, the very earth trembled beneath her hand. Something was wrong. So very wrong. Her first thoughts flew to the giant sword impaling Azeroth in the wasteland of Silithus, but this was something else. Something far closer to home. She snatched her hand back, and for the first time she became a druid she did not want to connect with the earth. Fear thrilled through her as though her blood were turned to ice, and it crushed her throat, making it difficult to breath.

When she managed to stagger to her unsteady feet, she stumbled toward the Shrine of Remulos and the Keeper himself. She and the others could not concentrate enough to shift to their faster travel forms, and instead made their way on foot and en masse down the road, leaving Nighthaven. Lynithe was one of the first to reach the Shrine, but the Keeper held his silence until the last druid managed to lumber their way to the back of the group.

“Keeper!” someone called from the midst of them. “What has happened?”

Lynithe watched as the very grief of the earth poured from his gently glowing green eyes, leaving tracks of tears over his amethyst skin.

“It is Teldrassil,” he said, his rumbling voice full of despair doing nothing to curb the growing horror within the hearts of all present. “It burns.”