The Tales of Quirkheart & Gotthold: The Longest Night ~~ Duskwood Chapter Two

~~~~

Having arrived in Darkshire, Quirkheart and Gotthold were quickly put to work by the townspeople and local militia known as the Night Watch. However, Gotthold is unsettled by more than just the endless night, as whispers of heresy and evil ring in his mind as they head out to complete their tasks.

~~~~

“There seem to be a substantial number, friend Gotthold. However, they are spaced out in such a way, combined with the low visibility, that we may efficiently cull their pack,” Quirkheart observed.

They hadn’t gone far from the town before encountering the Nightbane worgen. In fact, all they’d had to do was crest the hill to the west before finding them. Gotthold had gone into a prone position, and waited for Quirkheart–who didn’t really need to crouch–to use her mechanized-enhanced sight to scan the area.

“It still don’t sit well, this killing worgen,” Gotthold grumbled.

“Do you wish to enter into a discourse with them, friend Gotthold?” she asked, facing him.

Her mechanized goggles glowed a cold blue, and the soft whirring of her arms and legs was barely discernible over the wind rustling the leaves overhead. Her armor and tabard were cut to keep from interfering with the gears that powered her every action, and she was always moving in some form or fashion. Despite her analytical nature, though, it was the slight head tilt along with the question that proved, deep down, mechagnomes still harbored echoes of their gnomanity.

He turned from Quirkheart to scowl at the worgen down the hill. He wasn’t big on moral quandaries, in engaging in them, or thinking about them. Yet, here they were.

“Maybe, but we should be–”

There was a soft whoomph of sound, followed on its heels by a much louder thud, as Quirkheart leapt right into the camp of the two worgen below them.

Gotthold’s eyes widened. The worgens yelped and snarled in shock at the sudden intrusion, and they scrambled backwards to get away from the tiny creature who stood before them. One of them barely missed singing themselves on the campfire, dancing away from the flames just in time.

“Greetings, worgen of the Nightbane pack, I am–”

Two things happened at once: one of the worgens rushed forward, claws raised in the air to slash downward at Quirkheart, and Gotthold, who had charged down the hill not long after Quirkheart, intercepted the blow with his axe.

The worgen yowled in pain and staggered back, clutching the remains of its bloody paw. After that, things turned from bad to worse for the surprised campers. By the end of the encounter, there were two dead worgen, and Gotthold was swearing between strained breaths.

“I hate running,” he groaned, sitting down heavily on a log not far from the camp. The handles of his two, two-handed axes weren’t far from his reach, and he kept one wary eye open as he drank from his water skin, just in case more showed up.

“You have not been following the exercise regime I created for you, friend Gotthold,” Quirkheart observed, standing at an angle from him, her back to the hill they descended. She scanned the night around them, not looking at him as she spoke, and certainly not out of breath with nary a hair out of place. While her words were nothing more than observation, Gotthold could almost detect a slight air of accusation in them.

“I’m too old to spend my days runnin’ around in circles that go nowhere, for no better reason than the pleasure of bein’ prepared to follow your fool-lead into battle. Why’d you do that?” he asked, his annoyance getting the better of him.

“You said you wished to enter a discourse with them–”

“I said ‘maybe’,” he interrupted her, “and if you’d have let me finish, I would have suggested a more cautious approach than leaping into their midst and scaring the fur from their hides.”

Quirkheart turned her attention to the corpses of the worgen. “Their fur is intact, friend Gotthold.”

Gotthold put his elbows on his knees, and his face in his hands, while muttering; “Tides give me strength.” Then he sighed, and stood from the log. “Either way, I think we can safely say these worgen are not from the same stock as King Greymane’s people.”

“Yes. They do not appear to have been cured of their mindless state,” she agreed. “Does this mean we will do what the man with impressive sideburns has asked of us?”

Gotthold scanned the darkness around them, his thoughts still not settled about the men who spoke of heresy and claimed righteous justification for their actions.

“Yeah, but I want you to keep a weather eye on, and a keen ear out for anything shady,” he said, and picked up his axes.

“Based on data collected before our arrival, the weather patterns in the area remain unchanged–”

“Nevermind, Quirk. Let’s just watch each other’s backs, eh?”

“From my limited understanding of human colloquialism, you want us to make sure that nothing unfortunate happens to each other, correct?”

Gotthold couldn’t resist a small smile. “Aye, Quirk–that’s what I meant.”

“Then we will do so, friend Gotthold.”

“That’s the spirit. Now, let’s get this over with. Those wolf kebabs won’t make themselves.”

“Of course not, friend Gotthold. Food requires at least some level of–”

Gotthold turned from the camp and headed deeper into the grove, with Quirkheart and her chatter trailing not far behind him.

 

The Tales of Quirkheart & Gotthold: The Longest Night ~~ Duskwood Chapter One

The woods are gloomy, dark, and dead, and our intrepid adventurers, Quirkheart and Gotthold, have finally arrived in Darkshire. Soon, they’ll find that not all is as it appears in this cursed land, and if they wish to see daylight again, they’ll need to keep their wits and weapons about them.

 

~~~~

“I don’t know, Quirk–somethin’s a bit dodgy ’bout these Duskwood folks,” Gotthold observed.

He’d stationed himself not far from the fountain in Darkshire’s town square, watching passerby. Everyone went about their business with a wire-tight wariness in their posture, and their eyes moved with a constant sense of vigilance bordering on paranoia. When their gaze landed on Gotthold–who was clearly not from around these parts–the skin around their eyes tightened, and more grim frowns than grimaced smiles greeted him.

“The term ‘dodgy’ is not quantifiable, friend Gotthold. Though evidence has proven that a lack of sufficient sunlight can negatively impact the moods of sentient beings. Perhaps these fine citizens merely need more sun,” she informed him.

Gotthold did his best not to bury his scarred face into his calloused palm. “Quanti-whatever, or not, this place gives me the same willies Drustvar does. What did that Commander want us to do? I want to get the job done and be gone before this gloom sinks into my bones.”

Quirkheart had moved about the shabby town, seeing what was to be done. They’d been sent to Duskwood from Stormwind, though the call board had been rather thin on the details. When they’d arrived, they found a land and people shrouded in eerie darkness, roads patrolled by people bearing torches and swords, and dilapidated buildings surrounded by dead countryside. It was a wonder anyone lived here, and subsequently it wasn’t a wonder that ‘thriving’ wasn’t in their vocabulary.

“Gloom has no capability to–”

“Quirk,” Gotthold said, stopping her before she could get much further.

“Yes, friend Gotthold?”

“What did the Commander want?”

“The Commander has tasked us with culling the Dire Wolf population surrounding the town. The death of at least twelve wolves has been requested. However, given my research of human facial expressions and speech patterns, I would calculate that Commander Ebonlocke has determined our success rate will be below a preferable percentage.”

Gotthold grunted. “She don’t know us then, do she? Wolves should be easy enough. Anythin’ else?”

“The man with black sideburns that are at least thirty-seven percent thicker than the average human male has expressed his concern over the efficacy of a group known as The Night Watch.”

“You mean the group led by Commander Sourpants? Why?”

“I cannot confirm whether or not Commander Ebonlocke’s pants can be designated as tasting sour. None of my research into human clothing–”

“Quirk,” Gotthold said. “Why does the man with impressive sideburns have concerns about the Night Watch?”

“Rationale unclear. He spoke of the expulsion of evil and heresy to keep the citizens safe, and that if we wished to assist him and one called Master Carevin, we must prove ourselves worthy.”

“Sounds like the hogwash some of the crazy tidesages spout off about,” Gotthold spat. There’d been a rare few tidesages Gotthold had gotten along with over his long life, and when people with power like that started talking heresy, people tended to start swinging in gallows.

Before Quirkheart could ask about why tidesages would be talking about the water pigs were washed with, he stood up straight from where he’d been leaning on the corner of the smithy, and said; “What do we have to do to prove ourselves worthy?”

“Kill Nightbane worgen, with the death of at least seven being sufficient.”

Gotthold frowned. “He say why these worgen deserve to be killed?”

Wolves was one thing, but worgen were allies of the alliance. Gotthold wasn’t sure he wanted to start off his journey of the Eastern Kingdoms in the Stormwind Stockades, all because some crazy, backwoods fanatic asked him to kill King Greymane’s subjects.

“He stated they were ‘monsters’. It is my understanding that some of the worgen never regained their sanity. Perhaps these worgen are some of those?” Quirkheart suggested.

“Mayhaps,” Gotthold said, still wary. “We’ll take a look-see for ourselves and decide what to do when we come across them. Is that all?”

“The cook at the inn has also offered us food, and the recipes of local delicacies, in exchange for a harvest of wolf and spider meat.”

Gotthold’s ears perked up at the mention of food. You didn’t get to be his size without harboring an appreciation for good cooking, and though spider wasn’t his first choice, the wolf recipe sounded promising.

“We’ll already be killin’ the wolves, and we’ll keep an eye out for the spiders. You ready to head out?” he asked.

“Yes, friend Gotthold–I am ready.”

“Then let’s be off.”

~~~~

Twitter #vss365 (Very Short Stories) with Ashton & Darby ~~ May & June 2020

April < — ||

 

May 1st
Prompt: Ragpicker

“Us pixies gotta make do with #ragpicking and ratting,” she spat.

“That’s why you took the gnome?” Ashton asked.

“He was trespassing!”

“If they promise to stop, will you agree to release him?” Darby asked.

“Mostly. He may have lost a finger, or two, along the way.”

May 2nd
Prompt: Rainwater

“The water spirits are fighting,” Darby said.

“Happens with the #rainwater floods, when they get washed into each other,” Ashton said.

“They could try to get on.”

“Your home is flooded and you have to bunk with your territorial neighbors, how well would you react?”

“Fair point.”

May 3rd
Prompt: Baked

“Evanora #baked for you again,” Ashton said.

“We might be partners, but that doesn’t give you the right to open my post,” Darby grumbled.

“When are you going on a date with the witch?”

“Or know everything about my personal life.”

“Fine, but you’re sharing the scones.”

May 4th
Prompt: Bathos

“I thought you’d like this writer,” Ashton said.

“Their portrayal of the supernatural is pure #bathos,” Darby said.

“I have no idea what that means, but it sounds terrible.”

“You’d think a vampire would do better.”

“Might be pandering to the humans.”

“Even worse.”

May 5th
Prompt: Argle-Bargle

“Don’t start that #argle-bargle again!” the woman said.

“What are they arguing about?” Ashton asked.

“A woman.”

“Why did you call us?” Darby asked.

“She put a spell on ’em!”

“Dump a tub of saltwater on them.”

“That’ll work?”

“Even if there’s not a spell it’ll get them to stop.”

May 6th
Prompt: Horses

“Something’s eating #horses in Bodmin Moor,” Ashton said.

“Might be a púca, a shapeshifter.”

“Why would one eat horses?”

“There have been cases of them doing it as retaliation against humans.”

“Why go after the horses?”

“They’re expensive.”

“Smart shifter, then.”

May 7th – June 14th : Hiatus

June 15th
Prompt: Carrel

“There was a carrel hidden in the back of the library, and that’s where we found the warlock’s tome,” Darby said to the detective.

The detective looked to Ashton, who just shrugged. “I don’t know half the words he uses. Just nod and write it down the best you can.”

June 16th
Prompt: Benthos

“They’re the most likely suspects,” Ashton said

“The morgens haven’t drowned anyone in a century. Now they cultivate their #benthos gardens for scuba tours, or to sell to aquariums. Why risk it?” Darby asked

“We’ll just have to poke around to figure that out, won’t we?”

June 17th
Prompt: Constellate

“How could they do something on this scale?”

“Though it’s rare, sometimes shadow people will #constellate to form a larger entity to attack a victim.”

“Wonderful,” Ashton muttered. “Priest, medium, or necromancer?”

Darby looked around at the wreckage. “All three?”

June 18th
Prompt: Ingurgitate

“Lamias tend to…#ingurgitate children,” Darby said, nearly choking on the word.

“Hence why they’re almost extinct.,” Ashton said.

“I thought they were only in Greece, though?” the shaking woman asked.

“Most, but not all.”

“Lucky us,” Ashton replied sourly.

June 19
Prompt: Periapt

“Evanora wanted me to give you this,” Darby said, handing over the necklace.

“What is it?”

“A protection #periapt, or charm.”

“I’m touched she’s concerned for me,” Ashton said, then; “Did you finally take her on a date?”

“That’s none of yours.”

“That’ll be a yes.”

June 20th
Prompt: None — seems they skipped a day

June 21st
Prompt: Submontane

“The Oreads keep to the #submontane, or lower slopes, of mountains,” Darby explained.

“So they’re more likely to run into people,” Ashton said.

“Yes. If they’ll speak with us, they might be helpful in finding our murderer.”

“Let’s hope they’re feeling chatty, then.”

 

Twitter #vss365 (Very Short Stories) with Ashton & Darby ~~ April 2020

March < — > May

 

April 1st
Prompt: Chicken

“I’m sorry, it’s a flock of what?” Darby asked the caller.

Ashton raised an eyebrow, questioning.

Darby scribbled on a notepad, then held it up: ‘Flock of decapitated #chickens roaming downtown.’

Ashton couldn’t help but laugh, while Darby rolled his eyes at him.

April 2nd
Prompt: Kicking

“How can we trap it if it won’t stop #kicking and headbutting?” Ashton asked with a scowl.

“Be happy its wings are clipped,” Darby said, eyeing the chrysomallos, who bleated at them.

“The ram’s wool might be gold, but there’s pure murder in its eyes, the bloody thing.”

April 3rd
Prompt: Rock

“Them gargoyles was hurlin’ #rocks at me!”

“Did you provoke the attack?” Ashton asked.

The man mumbled something.

“What?”

“He said he threw a bottle of whiskey at them,” Darby said.

“What a waste,” Ashton said, cuffing the man.

“And those weren’t rocks,” Darby added.

April 4th
Prompt: Orange

“Why does this happen to me?” Darby moaned.

“You irritate people,” Ashton said. “Though, I liked the purple skin more.”

Darby had stuffed his fluffy, tiger #orange hair beneath a cap.

“Oh, back so soon, dear?” the shop-woman asked when they walked in.

Darby glowered.

April 5th
Prompt: Classic

“It’s #classic skin-walker behavior, but we’ve never had a case here,” Darby said.

“Is it impossible?” Ashton asked.

“Improbable. They’re native to the Americas.”

“Then someone brought it here?”

“Maybe, and if they did, I doubt they have anything nice planned with it.”

April 6th
Prompt: Chrome

“Isn’t #chrome a little modern for you?” Ashton asked.

“It does ruin the aesthetic,” Darby admitted.

“The broom is in the shop,” the witch said. “Now, are you here to criticise my transport, or question me?”

“Why not both?”

“Aren’t you cheeky,” she said with a smirk.

April 7th
Prompt: Crane

“This is where I draw the line,” Ashton said, squinting up at the #crane. “Dragons aren’t in my contract.”

“Technically, it’s a wyvern,” Darby said.

“Technically, I don’t care. No fire-breathing lizards.”

“They don’t–”

“Still don’t care.”

“Rent is due.”

“Damn it!”

April 8th
Prompt: Club

“Get the troll away from its #club, and I’ll knock it out with whatever Evanore put in the water balloons,” Ashton said.

“That’s not a club–it’s a tree! Why can’t I throw them?” Darby protested.

“I called bagsy, and you can’t throw.”

Darby glared, then moved forward.

April 9th
Prompt: Telegraph

“You can’t #telegraph your moves like that,” Ashton said with a jab.

“I-” Darby said, ducking away, “hardly think I’ll be engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a werewolf!”

“You never know, and it won’t hurt.”

“It does if I can’t move tomorrow!”

“Pain is good for you.”

April 10th
Prompt: Isolation

“Most of the more powerful beings live in #isolation,” Darby said idly, reading a book.

“They don’t play well with others?” Ashton asked.

“More like territorial. They need to make sure their food supply isn’t being eaten by others.”

“And we’re the food?”

“Exactly.”

April 11th
Prompt: Rescue

“It’s not a #rescue if the kelpie drowns us along with the kid,” Ashton said.

“Just distract it long enough for me to get its bridle,” Darby whispered.

“If it dives before you can?”

“Hold your breath?”

“I owe you a beating when this is through.”

“That’s the spirit.”

April 12th
Prompt: Desperado

“He’s a bit of a #desperado.”

“You would be, too, if you’d been accused of murder,” Darby said.

“He’s a criminal.”

“Of selling body parts, not of killing the owners of said parts.”

Ashton sighed. “You want to help him, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“I was afraid of that.”

April 13th
Prompt: Road

“Robert Frost must not have met a supernatural,” Ashton said.

“How so?” Darby asked.

“He says to take the #road less traveled by, and that’s the best way to get killed, eaten, or both.”

“He was being metaphorical.”

“Well, he’s *literally* going to get someone hurt.”

April 14th
Prompt: Shelter

“How are we supposed to remove goblins from a bomb #shelter?” Ashton asked.

“Do you have any gold to tempt them with?”

“Fresh out. What do goblins like to eat?”

“Man flesh!” came the reply from the shelter, followed by a chorus of cackles.

“McDonald’s it is, then.”

April 15th
Prompt: Tumbling

The screeching of the children and the sprites could be heard a block away.

“They just came #tumbling out!” the woman cried.

“We are talking about the sprites and not the children, correct?” Ashton asked.

Darby elbowed him at the woman’s glare. “Of course we can help.”

April 16th
Prompt: Desolation

Ashton whistled. “They really did a number on the office.”

“It’s just utter #desolation,” Darby moaned.

“Because it’s clean?”

“Yes! I’ll never be able to find anything.”

“Well, that’s a bit dramatic.”

“Who said the brownies could stay here, anyway?”

“You.”

“Damn.”

April 17th
Prompt: Arrested

“Have they all been #arrested?” Darby asked, bursting through the door.

“Seems so,” Ashton said.

“We can’t tell Kara unless we’re sure they got the entire coven.”

“Kara, is it?”

Darby blushed, and Ashton chuckled.

“I’ll put a call in.”

“Thank you.”

“You owe me.”

April 18th
Prompt: Blue

“The British grindylow is #blue-black, has a mouth and gills similar to the brook lamprey, and tangles its prey in weeds to hold it down while it decomposes,” Darby said

“Lovely. How many are there?” Ashton asked sourly.

“Ten.”

“We’re not getting paid enough for this.”

April 19th
Prompt: Street

“What’s the word on the #street about the rogue vampire?” Darby asked.

Ashton just shook his head.

“What?” Darby asked.

“Someone like you should not use that phrase.”

“You’re circumscribing me within a stereotype, why?”

“Because you use words like ‘circumscribe’.”

April 20th
Prompt: Dab

“You’re supposed to #dab, not wipe,” Darby said.

“Do I tell you how to apply your ointments?” Ashton griped.

“She told you not to touch her belladonna.”

“I didn’t think she meant the plant.”

“You are such a satyr.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Please, don’t.”

April 21st
Prompt: Ruby

“The phoenix stone is a lesser version of the philosopher’s stone. It is still #ruby red in color, but can only heal minor wounds,” Darby said.

“Still sounds useful to have,” Ashton said.

“It’s also been linked to human combustion, hence the name.”

“Perhaps not, then.”

April 22nd
Prompt: Radio

“Dred Perception has topped the #radio chart again,” Darby said.

Ashton grunted. “Easy enough to perfect talent when you live forever.”

“That’s why vampires have their own category in music award programmes.”

“Strange name, though.”

“They’re vampires.”

“Fair enough.”

April 23rd
Prompt: Oddity

“You two are an #oddity.”

“Oh?” Darby asked.

“Fate has a funny sense of humour, is all,” she said, her milky, white eyes sparkling. “Here’s your mince pies, dearies. And I’d avoid the tube today. Going to be some nasty gremlin business.”

“I think we will,” Ashton said.

April 24th
Prompt: Damage

“He should pay for this!” the man said.

“As part of your lease you were informed a poltergeist was here, and waved #damage claims,” Darby said.

“You have to help. It broke my PS4!”

“Sure it wasn’t your girlfriend?” Ashton asked.

“I don’t have one.”

“How surprising.”

April 25th
Prompt: Mittens

“Tell your mother thank you for the #mittens,” Darby said, handing him a wrapped box.

“What’s this?” Ashton asked.

“Petit fours from Hazel’s Enchanted Cakes.”

“I can’t give her these. I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Why?”

“Because I only got her a tin of biscuits.”

April 26th
Prompt: Heavyweight

“We can’t take the boggart on,” Darby said.

“They’re not #heavyweights,” Ashton said. “Horseshoe, bit of salt, and you’re right as rain.”

“The child gave it a name.”

“Well, shite.”

“Exactly. I’ll ring Evanore.”

“You’d like that.”

“This is business!”

“Sure it is.”

April 27th
Prompt: Killing

“… and everyone wonders when the #killing will end,” the news reader said.

“What do you think?” Ashton asked

“The Ripper imitated revenant attacks trying to stir up trouble,” Darby said.

“So, it’s a revenant, or a copycat of a copycat?”

“Just so.”

“How uninspired.”

April 28th
Prompt: Resurrection

“It’s a true #resurrection?” Darby asked.

“That’s the rumor,” Ashton confirmed.

“There’s only been a handful of those. I doubt this one is real.”

“Stranger things have happened.”

“Didn’t take you for a believer in divine intervention.”

“Like I said: stranger things.”

April 29th
Prompt: Guitar

“The devil plays a fiddle, not a #guitar,” Ashton said.

“Sugar, if I were the true devil your mortal body would have disintegrated,” she said, her southern accent as sweet as her predatory smile.

“You play well,” Darby said.

“Immortality is a drag without hobbies.”

April 30th
Prompt: Alcoholiday

“I need an #alcoholiday,” Ashton groaned.

“It wasn’t that bad.”

“I had to wear a dinner jacket. And make a speech.”

“You did save those kids from that pack of hellhounds.”

“Post the award, then.”

“You’re being terribly dramatic.”

“They had no liquor.”

Darby sighed.

World of Warcraft Class Micro-Stories ~~ Warlock

A quiet humming fills the exceedingly tidy and small work space. A fel green glow gives off barely enough light for anyone save a Night Elf, or the occupant, to see by. There’s a short break in the humming, which is replaced by grumbling and harrumphing.

“The combination is still too unstable.” The voice is raspy, as it tended to be for some Forsaken, but most days Alzira was thankful she’d been left with her jaw, if not her joints.

“I don’t like this place,” a deep, yet wispy voice calls from the doorway.

“Me neither. Too much damp. We’ll have to set up shop somewhere else, and soon,” she responds absently.

The hulking void creature, bound into shape through its heavy-plated vambraces, made no response. Not that Jhazgorg ever did to something that wasn’t a command or question. And not that Alzira ever noticed.

“I need something to stabilize it,” she said, and sat back from the desk.

Though she didn’t feel the cold, Alzira still had a preference for long-sleeved robes, as a bygone comfort from her previous life. She folded her hands into the sleeves, bony fingers tracing the now familiar paths of sinew, patches of skin, and exposed bone. She hummed a nonsensical tune again, as her eyes scanned over the parchments on the wall. It was more from habit than actually reading the notes, as they’d all been committed to memory at this point.

After many long moments, she shook her head and sighed. “There’s no use for it. I need to talk to Grelx. No fighting with Yaznar this time, Jhaz.”

“Cannot resist,” Jhazgorg rumbled.

“Fine, but don’t break anything in Grelx’s workshop, or I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“As you command.”

 

***

 

“How many times I gotta tell ya, ‘Zira. The fel and the arcane just don’t like to play nice. We can brute force it, but don’t expect nothin’ delicate,” Grelx said, examining the vial. “Without order and control, the arcane is unstable, and won’t work. Fel energy is chaos, and naturally destabilizes the arcane as it subjugates it. The line where the arcane goes from useful to useless is finer than fancy elvish underwear.”

“Are you telling me it can’t be done?” Alzira asked, watching the goblin swirl the fluid.

The amethyst liquid was iridescent and sparkly, and was immiscible with the bright green portion, like oil and water. They churned as though agitated; a visual example of what Grelx had said.

“Now, now,” Grelx said, looking up, a gleam in his void dark eyes. “I never said that. We’ll either come up with this miracle potion, or a combustible so powerful the Horde and Alliance both will scramble to get their hands on it.”

“Aren’t we at peace right now?” Alzira mused.

Grelx snorted. “Like that’ll ever last. I mean, they even got the peace, love, and panda people to choose sides,” he said, and put the vial on the cleared space of his alchemy table. “No, it won’t last, and they’ll need something else to kill each other with. Especially now that the over-sized doorstop has outlawed the use of azerite except for his pets.”

“I think you mean, ‘champions’.”

“Hah! Champions of chaos, maybe. Half the messes they clean up are their fault in the first place,” he said, then shook his head. “Anyway, let’s see what we can come up with.”

Just as they were getting settled around the table, Alzira tilted her head.

“Does it seem quiet to you?”

“Hmm?” Grelx said, then his head shot up. “Jhaz! You fat, lumbering blueberry! Did you eat Yaznar again?”

“I must feed,” came the reply from somewhere outside.

“Well, at least they weren’t fighting,” Alzira said, an edge of humor to her words.

“Whatever. Dismiss that walking garbage bucket so we can get started,” Grelx said.

Alzira knew the only reason he didn’t blow up about the newest tally in Yaznar’s death counter, was because he had a puzzle in front of him. The only thing that could garner his ire now would be interrupting him while he worked.

“Go for now, Jhaz,” Alzira said, her mind already turning in the same direction as Grelx’s.

“I…am…void…where prohibited,” Jhaz said, then diminished in size before disappearing through a portal.

“What a comedian,” Grelx muttered. “Yaznar! Get back here, and bring some fel with you!” Then Grelx looked to Alzira. “Can you get more of this?” he asked, and pointed to the purple liquid.

“Of course,” she said.

“Good. We’ll need plenty, and cross whatever fingers you have left that we don’t blow ourselves up before figuring this out.”

“This is why I came to you Grelx: you’re an optimist.”

Twitter #vss365 (Very Short Stories) with Ashton & Darby ~~ March

February < — > April

 

March 1st
Prompt: Bridging

“With Samhain comes the bridging of the spirit realm and our own,”Darby said.

“You mean with Halloween comes three times our usual workload,” Ashton grumbled.

“The dearly departed deserve our help just as much as the living.”

“Calling them ‘dearly’ is going a bit far.”

March 2nd
Prompt: Atlantic

“Not afraid of a little sea monster, are you?” Ashton asked.

“We’re on a rickety boat in the Atlantic–”

“Ship.”

“–and I’m not meant to worry about a kraken that could swallow us whole?” Darby asked.

“I thought you liked this observation stuff?”

“On dry land? Yes.”

March 3rd
Prompt: Whitecaps

“Think we’ll see any seafolk while we’re out here?” Ashton asked.

“Not likely,” Darby said.

“Are there any we’d want to?”

“Nereids are nice, though they hide in the whitecaps while they watch seafarers. Think siren, but friendlier with less singing us to our deaths.”

March 4th
Prompt: Seagull

“You know, my grandad used to say it’s bad luck to kill a seagull. That they carry the souls of sailors lost at sea,” Ashton said.

“I thought I was the lore expert,” Darby joked.

“I’m allowed to know things, too.”

“If you say so, geek.”

“Use it while you can, nerd.”

March 5th
Prompt: Tribute

“When she refused their tribute they attacked her,” Darby said.

“So, they try to give this witch an offering because they fear her, but when she refuses they attack her? Someone that powerful, in her place of power–her home?” Ashton asked.

“Doesn’t track.”

“Agreed.”

March 6th
Prompt: Seventeen

Seventeen are missing,” Ashton said.

“I’m sorry, did I hear you correctly? Seventeen?” Darby asked.

“Daycare’s worth of kids, and two teachers.”

“What do you think?”

“Custodial abduction. One kid’s dad is a sorcerer in a nasty divorce. The others are collateral.”

March 7th
Prompt: Patch

“The spells here are the patches holding together a weaker group of spells,” she explained.

“How would this happen?” Ashton asked.

“Two spellworkers.”

“Apprentice and master?” Darby asked.

“More like idiot, and the person keeping the idiot from hurting themselves.”

March 8th
Prompt: Spark

“A single spark could destroy this whole block,” Darby said. “He should have had the sense to make a containment circle.”

“Never depend on people to have common sense, especially alchemists,” Ashton said. “They all go barmy eventually from sniffing too many chemicals.”

March 9th
Prompt: Spoken

“We’re to check on a reported troop of Gefs,” Darby said.

“There’ve been no Gefs in twenty-odd years, let alone a pack of them. Has anyone actually spoken to these mongooses?” Ashton asked. “Or is it mongeese?”

“Either.”

“I knew there was a reason we kept you around.”

March 10th
Prompt: Words

“Friday the 13th sucks,” Ashton griped.

“Truer words were never spoken,” Darby said.

“One more, ‘My witch of a neighbor sent a black cat after me!’ calls, and I’m done.”

“You two! You got another black ca–”

Ashton growled and stormed out. Darby followed with a sigh.

March 11th
Prompt: Unfathomable

“The depth and breadth of my machinations is unfathomable to you!”

“Tell me he’s not monologuing,” Ashton said.

“You know not wrath-”

“Seems so,” Darby said over him.

“-simpleminded cretins!”

“Redundant, but not your average insult. Colour me impressed,” Ashton said.

March 12th
Prompt: Insurmountable

“Your opponent is insurmountable,” the diviner said, reading her cards.

“Hold on, I’m not into this vrykolakas like that,” Ashton said.

“No, she means-” Darby started.

“I know what she meant; it was a joke.”

“Vampiric werewolves are a joke to you?”

“Today they are.”

March 13th
Prompt: Normal

“Do you ever wish things were normal? Mundane?” Darby asked.

“Like in those fantasy books where’s there no magic, and whatnot?”

“Yes.”

Ashton shrugged. “Maybe, but I doubt the world would be any less cocked-up. In all likelihood, people–not magic–are the problem.”

March 14th
Prompt: Foreign

“Do we have to go this fete?” Ashton asked.

“We’ve been invited to meet the leaders of the foreign enclaves,” Darby said.

“But it’s vampires.”

“They’re not so bad.”

“They think we’re cattle.”

“Not all of them.”

“Enough do that ‘not all of them’ isn’t good enough.”

March 15th
Prompt: Stroopwafel

“I didn’t know you liked stroopwafels,” Darby said.

“What’s not to like? They’re delicious,” Ashton said, taking a bite.

“May I have one?”

“Absolutely not. I don’t share my stroops.”

“I thought we were friends.”

“I won’t even share these with my mum.”

“Cruel.”

March 16th
Prompt: Mannequin

“The mannequin came to life and attacked everyone in the store?” Ashton asked.

“Yes,” Darby said.

“Witchcraft?”

“Maybe, but it could be any number of magic-users.”

“Too many suspects.”

“I can’t always give you the answer on a silver platter.”

“More’s the pity.”

March 17th
Prompt: Kindergarten

“You had the kindergarten class scared witless,” Ashton said.

“I did not!” Darby protested.

“Why did you tell them the boogeyman was real? Or that Black Annis sightings have started again?”

“Forewarned is forearmed.”

“They’re six.”

“Just so.”

“You’re hopeless.”

March 18th
Prompt: Robot

“Does it counts as a robot if magic is used to animate it?” Ashton asked, poking the contraption.

“No. This runs on magic, not technology,” Darby said.

“Even though it looks, walks, and talks like one?”

“Robots can look human, does that make them human?”

“Touche.”

March 19th
Prompt: Armada

“It’s an entire armada of ghost ships?” Ashton asked.

“That’s what’s on the report,” Darby said.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s on the water again.”

“Still whinging about your nausea?”

“You didn’t spend weeks sick.”

“No, but I had to listen to you, which is just as bad.”

March 20th
Prompt: Organised

“Ghouls aren’t this organised, unless being controlled,” Darby said.

“A necromancer?”

“Probably, but there are–”

“–multiple potential magic-users. I get tired of that.”

“Then why ask?”

“Because I think horses, not centaurs.”

“With us, centaurs are more common.”

March 21st
Prompt: Haiku

“Spells don’t have to rhyme;
haiku will channel power,”
Darby filled him in.

“That seems rather odd,
but poetry’s not my strength,”
Ashton said, then shrugged.

March 22nd
Prompt: Acrostic

“The note is an #acrostic,” Darby said.
“A-what?” Ashton asked.
“Never mind. The first letters form a word or phrase.”
“That’s why he looks so pleased with himself?”
“Right. He won’t feel clever once we tell him we know.”
“Undoubtedly.”
“Might even cause a tantrum.”

March 23rd
Prompt: Short

“I’m not sure either of us is short enough for this tunnel,” Ashton said.

Darby scoffed. “No one over three feet is, but we still have to go in.”

“I-I’m claustrophobic.”

Darby stared. “I didn’t think you were afraid of anything.”

“Everyone is scared of something.”

March 24th
Prompt: Stork

“A stork?” Ashton asked.

“Yes,” Darby confirmed.

“With a baby?”

“That’s what the report says.”

“But that’s not a real thing, is it?”

“No, but some deities, like tricksters, can alter reality.”

“What happened to the pregnancy, erm, stuff?”

“You don’t want to know.”

March 25th
Prompt: Cosy

“Well, this is cosy,” Ashton said.

“Disturbing, you mean,” Darby said.

“Fair enough. I thought the house was supposed to be made of candy?”

“No, but she used to lure the children with treats.”

“What does she use now?”

“Fortnite.”

“How deviously enterprising of her.”

March 26th
Prompt: Delicious

“How many times have I told you not to eat something if you didn’t see who it came from?”

“‘Least they were delicious,” Ashton barely managed from his swollen mouth.

“You won’t think so when you find out what you have to eat to counteract this,” Darby muttered.

March 27th
Prompt: Outblowing

“He said he was…outblowing?” Ashton asked, eyeing Darby over the report.

“It’s a translation from a Dutch phrase,” Darby said.

“Keep it simple for us stupids, eh?”

Darby sighed. “He was out for a jog when he was allegedly attacked by a redcap.”

“See? Much simpler.”

March 28th
Prompt: Toad

“I’m not going to kiss him,” Ashton said, looking down at the #toad.

“I’d hardly subject the gentleman to such cruelty,” Darby said.

“Ha-ha. So, what can we do, genius?”

“Find the witch, find his true love, hand him over to Obscurus, or find a nice patch of bog.”

March 29th
Prompt: Butt

“Gargoyles are roosting on the buttresses, and we need to relocate them,” Darby said.

“Did you say they’re roosting on #butts?” Ashton asked, his voice breaking up over the call.

“No. Butresses.”

“Why would gargoyles be on butts?”

“Nevermind. I’ll meet you there.”

March 30th
Prompt: Finisterre

“He was a sailor on the #Finisterre, and was killed when it was driven aground,” Darby said.

“Has anyone tried an exorcism?” Ashton asked.

“He’s French, so someone who speaks French or Latin needs to do it.”

“Let me guess: you do?”

“Both, actually.”

“Overachiever.”

March 31st
Prompt: Zarf

“The curse is passed through the inheritance of the #zarf set,” Darby said.

Ashton scoffed. “Zarf is not a word.”

“Of course it is.”

“Well, I’ve never heard of it.”

“I could fill a set of dictionaries with all the words you’ve never heard.”

“Someone’s feisty today.”

Twitter #vss365 (Very Short Stories) ~~ February

January < — > March

 

February 1st
Prompt: Script

“And this script will extract the data we want.”

“It’s like he’s speaking a foreign language,” Ashton muttered.

“Agreed,” Darby said, frowning at the computer.

“How does an ancient god know more about computers than you two?”

“Too much time on his immortal hands.”

February 2nd
Prompt: Sanity

“Potential side effect: Loss of Sanity,” Ashton said.

“Very low chance,” the witch reassured Darby.

“I’m not sure it’s worth it.”

“Well, I hear purple’s in this season.”

Darby glared and snatched the bottle, his magenta skin flushing to a lovely shade of mulberry.

February 3rd
Prompt: Fantasy

Ashton wiped the ectoplasm from his face. “I have this fantasy, that one day I won’t be called into work to deal with poltergeists.”

“Last time it was a hellhound fighting ring, not ghosts.”

Ashton gave Darby a look. “You’re being pedantic, and I need a vacation.”

February 4th
Prompt: Frantic

“The woman was quite frantic,” Darby said.

“They always are. She probably just saw an overfed house cat.”

“Or, it could really be the Cat Sìth.”

“If the King o’ Cats is hiding behind a pub dumpster in Kingsbury, I’ll eat my hat.”

“You don’t have one.”

“Exactly.”

February 5th
Prompt: Atlas

“They’re trying to sell the cloak of Atlas the Titan?”

“No, this was supposedly from Atlas, the first king of Atlantis,” Darby said.

“That tourist trap?”

“Tourist trap or not, the cloak could be an important piece of history.”

“Or a fake.”

“Possibly.”

“Likely.”

February 6th
Prompt: Ritual

“This some kind of demonic ritual?” Ashton asked.

“No, but I think they were trying to imitate one.”

“How so?”

“Unless they were summoning the demon of–” Darby squinted at a symbol, “–sweaters, it’s fake.”

“Demon of sweaters not a thing?”

“Not that I know of.”

February 7th
Prompt: Enchanted

Enchanted items are logged and sent to Obscurus.”

Ashton snorted. “If our sorcerer knows we’ve sent his doodad to MI13, he’ll disappear.”

“But–”

“Do you want to keep him from killing again, or follow protocol?”

“Both,” Darby ground out.

“Can’t have both. Choose.”

February 8th
Prompt: Mules

“You can’t turn kids into donkeys,” Ashton said.

“They’re mules, not donkeys,” the witch said.

“What’s the difference?”

“Mules are the product of male donkeys and females horses, and often sterile,” Darby said.

“Now the kids are, too,” she said with an evil grin.

February 9th
Prompt: Pride

“They say that pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” Darby said.

The demon rolled the possessed man’s eyes. “As though demons have a cornerstone on pride. Have you seen the human race recently?”

“It’s not wrong, you know,” Ashton said.

February 10th
Prompt: Request

“Did you put in your request for leave yet?” Ashton asked.

“Yes,” Darby said.

“Any plans?”

“I’m visiting a friend, and we’re going to observe a pack of chupacabras in Texas.”

“Don’t you get enough of that stuff here?”

“It’s interesting.”

“You’re such a nerd.”

February 11th
Prompt: Ally

“Will the vamps cooperate?” Ashton asked.

“Doubtful, but we don’t want them to be too friendly, anyway,” Darby said.

“Why?”

“What happens if the other supernatural groups think we are #allies with the vampires?”

“Chaotic political bollocks?”

“Exactly.”

February 12th
Prompt: Judge

“My stuff can’t even do what you’re sayin’!” the woman protested.

“SOCO will be the judge of that,” Ashton said, as the shelves of the occult shop were slowly cleared.

“Most of this is for tourists,” Darby whispered.

“You want to bet someone’s life on that?”

February 13th
Prompt: Empire

“Vamps have their own empire?” Ashton asked.

“The enclaves need someone to keep them from falling into squabbles,” Darby said.

“Who rules them?”

“An empress. We don’t know much about her.”

“Is she real?”

“As long as they behave, does it matter?”

“I suppose not.”

February 14th
Prompt: Rookie

“I don’t see why we have to get the rookie,” Ashton grumbled.

“It’s only for a few months,” Darby reassured him. “Plus, we’re one of the few liaison teams, and training more will lighten the workload.”

“If he survives,” Ashton muttered. “I give him a week.”

February 15th
Prompt: Parody

“Is this supposed to be a parody?” Darby asked.

“Actually, I think they’re trying to be serious,” Ashton said.

The man in a ghastly werewolf costume dropped to his knees, then did a poor imitation of a howl.

Darby cringed. “I’m not sure Hamlet needs werewolves.”

February 16th
Prompt: Creed

“I thought human sacrifice went against their creed?” Ashton asked, looking up from the body.

“It’s Rede, not creed. ‘An ye harm none, do what ye will’,” Darby said.

“This looks harmful.”

“Then it wasn’t a wiccan.”

“And this?”

“Anyone can buy a pentagram.”

February 17th
Prompt: Greed

Greed does crazy things to a person,” Ashton said.

“Yes. Using ghouls to kill his grandfather for the inheritance was terrible,” Darby said.

“He got his, though. There was barely enough of him left to fill a gym bag after they turned on him.”

“Comeuppance, indeed.”

February 18th
Prompt: Infiltrated

“How did Mr. Bailey not notice a barghest had infiltrated his flock?” Ashton asked, going over the report.

“Bad eyesight?” When Ashton gave Darby a look, he shrugged. “His real dog and sheep didn’t seem to mind.”

“Did it kill him?”

“They’re omens, not killers.”

February 19th
Prompt: Purpose

“You did that on purpose!” Darby accused, brushing himself off.

“Of course I did. You should have seen your face when they dove at you,” Ashton said.

“Cockatrices are dangerous–that was not funny!”

“Maybe not for you.”

“Ridiculous. You and this illegal breeder.”

February 20th
Prompt: Soldier

“You were a soldier?” Darby asked.

“Yeah,” Ashton said, not elaborating.

“Did you see anything in the middle east?”

“Yeah, sand.”

“No, I mean–”

“I know what you meant.” There was a long silence. “There’s things out there best left alone, and not talked about.”

February 21st
Prompt: Solution

“This is not a solution, it’s a band-aid.” Darby grimaced at the smell of the sachet.

“Band-aid is better than dead,” Ashton said. “I’m not the one who pissed off the necromancer.”

“But we were all there, so why single me out?”

“Must be your stunning personality.”

February 22nd
Prompt: Peace

“If you could get one wish, what would it be?” Ashton asked.

“That’s not how the djinn work,” Darby said.

“We can’t wish for #peace on earth, and good will toward men?”

Darby grimaced. “Not unless you want them to kill everyone.”

“That’s a bit harsh.”

“But it works.”

February 23rd
Prompt: Royal

“This is a royal mess,” Darby grumbled.

“It’s not so bad,” Ashton said.

“Being quarantined for a potential magical malady outbreak is not trivial.”

“Think of it as a mini-vacation.”

“Yes, one that could end in death.”

“This is why no one invites you to parties.”

February 24th
Prompt: Belle

“Are you sure she said we’re looking for a bell?” Ashton asked, eyeing the scantily clad woman.

The succubus smirked, and her eyes flashed scarlet. “My name is Belle, pleasure to meet you.”

“There may, um, have been a slight miscommunication,” Darby said with a gulp.

February 25th
Prompt: Spirit

“You mean they’re spirits distilled from…spirits?” Ashton asked, looking a bit green about the gills.

“Fascinating, isn’t it? I wonder how they do it, and what it tastes like,” Darby said.

Ashton gagged. “Absolute nutter.”

“You just have no sense of adventure.”

February 26th
Prompt: Vermin

“Wraiths are a vermin class of incorporeal undead,” Darby said.

“What does vermin class mean?” Ashton asked.

“They can cause whatever disease they died of.”

“So they’re like graveyard rats?”

“Essentially.”

“Ugh, imagine getting ghost syphilis.”

“I’d rather not.”

February 27th
Prompt: Destination

“It’s a tourist destination now, not a place of power,” the old woman said.

“Could someone change that?” Ashton asked.

“Only with a lot o’ blood and power.”

“If they have that?” Darby asked.

“It’ll either wake the Henge, or kill everything in a hundred mile radius.”

February 28th
Prompt: Deathly

“Liches have a deathly complexion,” Darby said.

Ashton snorted. “That’s most people this time of year.”

“Won’t bleed–”

“As with most undead.”

“–and attract dead creatures through inadvertent leaking of their necromonic powers.”

“A zombie Pied Piper?”

“Seems so.”

February 29th
Prompt: Purge

“During the Hundred Years’ War, the English purged a vampire enclave, so the vampires took the side of the French,” Darby said.

“It helped that one of the French royals had a vampire lover,” Ashton said.

“Rumored, but not proven.”

“They’re French, that’s proof enough.”

Twitter #vss365 (Very Short Stories) ~~ January

–> February

 

January 1st
Prompt: Charlatan

When Ol’ Jenny came to town
They threw stones and tore her gown

Charlatan!” the townsfolk cried
When the crops withered and died

Preacher claimed a witch she be;
They hung her at the crossroad tree

Cursed ’em with her final breath
And now their lands know only death.

January 2nd
Prompt: Obfuscate

Obfuscate!” she yelled, throwing her hand up in a stop gesture.

A chuckle followed her from the dark as she staggered away.

“Oh, Little Witch, you won’t be rid of me that easily.” His thrown knife ended the sentence, and her cry of pain pulled a smile from him.

 

~~Ashton & Darby starts here~~

January 3rd
Prompt: Unicorn

“Is that–“

“No.”

“It really looks like–”

“I said no.”

Someone had tried to keep the zombie horse’s mouth shut by impaling it with a machete, making it look like…

“It’s not a unicorn .”

“No, it’s clearly a zombicorn.”

“I almost hate that enough to kill you.”

January 4th
Prompt: Latent

“Did you check the house for latent spells?”

“Do I look like an amateur to you?”

“I’m not sure you want me to answer that question.”

Ashton scowled, but responded; “Yes, I checked. Happy?”

“Not particularly. Three dead, and a missing warlock? I’ve had better days.”

January 5th
Prompt: Disinter

“What’s he done now?”

Disinterred corpses, and relieved them of their personal effects.”

“Jewelry?”

“And body parts. Best of both worlds, really. Jewelry to pawn, and parts to the black magic folks.”

“You’re sick, Darby.”

“No, just practical.”

“Same difference.”

January 6th
Prompt: Yip

“Should he be doing that?” Ashton asked, leery of the yipping man.

“Well, he is a werewolf,” Darby said hesitantly.

“What do we do, Mr. Expert?”

“Animal control?”

“Not likely.”

“Have you got a collar and leash?”

“Don’t try to rope me into your kinks, Darby.”

January 7th
Prompt: Obviate

“Staking a vampire does not obviate the removal of the head.”

“How informative,” Ashton said. He pulled out the hacksaw, then gave it to Darby. “Being a liaison doesn’t obviate your duty to make sure the vamp is dead,” Ashton explained with a grin at Darby’s grimace.

January 8th
Prompt: Usurpers

Usurpers!” the caged pixie shrieked as Ashton put him in the back of their car.

“Murderers!”

“Will he do this all the way to the station?”

“Human filth!”

“Probably. He’s on the fae drug he’s been dealing.”

“Which one?”

“Revel.”

“Oh, he’s in for a rough night.”

January 9th
Prompt: Kinetic

Darby displayed the sigil on the bottom of the swing. “They’re reaping or feeding on the kinetic energy created by the children.”

“That’s why they’re tired?”

“Yes, and it urges them to keep swinging.”

“For how long?”

“With no one to stop them? Until they pass out.”

January 10th
Prompt: Inquisitive

“Darby, get this thing off me,” the creature said. The satori sat on Ashton’s tensed shoulder.

“It’s just inquisitive , no need for hysterics. The Japanese liaison will be here soon.”

Then the satori growled at Darby.

“Couldn’t agree more,” Ashton said.

January 11th
Prompt: Lively

“Quite the lively bunch,” Ashton said.

“Yes, but mostly harmless,” Darby reassured him.

“Mostly?”

“There are good and bad nixie.” He gestured to the otters playing in the park pond. “These nixie chose to be around humans, but wild nixie warrant far more caution.”

January 12th
Prompt: Languor

Ashton’s body and mind were languorous, and the only thing that mattered was her.

Darby shouted for a medic, and did his best to drag Ashton along with him.

“I’d rather like to visit her again.”

“Not if I can help it,” Darby muttered. “Damnable sirens.”

January 13th
Prompt: Opaline

“The murder weapon is a fancy dagger?”

“It’s an athame; a ritualistic dagger used by certain practitioners of magic.”

“Right, so a fancy dagger.”

Darby sighed. The opaline quality of the gem in the hilt shimmered. “Anyway, I think they’re using it to trap souls.”

January 14th
Prompt: Fibrous

Ashton eyed the #fibrous material of the noose from which the homemade doll hung. It was too fine for normal rope.

“What is that?”

“The victim’s hair.”

“How’d they get enough for a noose?”

“The victim recently donated their hair. A good deed turned bad by voodoo.”

 

January 15
Prompt: Flourish

The man waved his arms with a flourish, grandly pronouncing words of utter gibberish.

“I believe this is one of yours,” Darby said, eyes avoiding the man’s stark form.

“Not a wizard or sorcerer, then?”

“Certainly not.”

“Tough break for him when he finds out.”

January 16th
Prompt: Yearning

“Their bites are like a drug–destroying the vampire won’t kill the yearning.”

The man was in cuffs in the back of a police vehicle.

“Guess he thought it didn’t hurt to try,” Ashton said.

“He could have died.”

“Maybe he’d rather be dead than live with that need.”

January 17th
Prompt: Riparian

“Kelpies are usually found in the riparian zone of a river or body of water.”

“You should have gotten me a pocket dictionary for Christmas instead of a tie. English please, Pointdexter.”

Darby pinched the bridge of his nose. “On the shore.”

“See? Was that so hard?”

January 18th
Prompt: Muddled

“He’s muddled on his account of the incident.”

“Fae mischief, or embarrassment?”

“Both. Would you want to admit to relations with a goblin you thought was a daoine sídhe, because she illegally used glamour?”

Ashton grimaced.

“Exactly. I’ll contact Fae relations.”

January 19th
Prompt: Articulate

“Having decomposed, the skeleton’s bones are articulated with necromantic magic, allowing it to move.”

“Great,” Ashton said, reloading his weapon. “How do I kill it, Professor?”

The sharp report of his shot rang through the air.

“Um…”

“If I die, I’m haunting you.”

January 20th
Prompt: Jasmine

“Can I tempt you with some jasmine for your garden? To attract love to your door?” With a coy smile she ran a finger down Darby’s chest.

Ashton snickered as Darby let out a strangled; “No,” then backed away. “We’re here to ask about wood nymphs.”

She sighed. “Pity.”

January 21st
Prompt: Obstinate

“The ichthyocentaurs combine the most frustrating traits of its parts: obstinance, pride, and vanity.”

“They sound like real winners.”

“Well, they certainly think so, and they’re starting trouble with the local seafolk.”

“Of course they are,” Ashton grumbled.

January 22nd
Prompt: Rigmarole

“What’s this rigmarole about vamp murders?” the Captain barked.

“You make it sound like they’re the murderers.”

“Aren’t they?”

“Not this time,” Ashton said, before Darby went into a diatribe.

“Then find who’s re-killing ’em before a fang freak cries to the press.”

January 23rd
Prompt: Cacophony

The cacophony from the cages was deafening.

“When our guy found a magical way to fuse animals, his first idea was this?” Ashton yelled, and pointed to the screeching, flapping creature.

“Maybe he likes Wizard of Oz?”

“Well, we’re definitely not in Kansas, Dorothy.”

January 24th
Prompt: Happen

“Why did you let that happen?” Darby gingerly touched his nose.

“Is it my job to step in front of the punch when you shoot off at the mouth?”

“I beg your-”

“You asked the witch if she was, ‘a lady of the night’.”

“Well–”

“You’re lucky all she did was punch you.”

January 25th
Prompt: Amaze

“Do you know what amazes me?” Darby asked.

“Will you leave off?”

“Every time I tell you not to touch something, you never listen.”

“It was a doorknob. Not some magic doodad.”

“A doorknob to a trap room.”

“You going to complain, or help me look for a way out?”

January 26th
Prompt: Range

“What’s the range on this heart-stopping spell?” Ashton asked.

“It depends on many factors.”

“So you don’t know?”

“I would know, if I had all the necessary information.”

“Should I update my will?”

“Only if you plan on subjecting the spellcaster to your presence.”

January 27th
Prompt: Adversary

“Vampires and weres wax and wane as adversaries throughout history,” Darby informed Ashton.

“Isn’t that some kind of urban legend made up by Hollywood?”

“Not exactly, but greatly exaggerated, to be sure.”

“No one is immune to war, I suppose.”

“People rarely are.”

January 28th
Prompt: Could

“How could you let that roam free?” Ashton asked, pointing to the wolpertinger in the cage.

“It wasn’t harming anyone.”

“Except the local livestock, and your neighbor’s cat,” Darby observed.

“Serves her right. Mrs. Davies has always been too nosy for her own good.”

January 29th
Prompt: Tremendous

Tremendous job on that werewolf kerfuffle, you two!” the captain said.

“Thank you, sir.”

Once the captain was gone, Darby whispered; “We didn’t do anything, just mediated.”

“Take praise where you can, Darby. Especially from the captain, and especially with you.”

January 30th
Prompt: Extra

“Do you not have any #extra salt on you?”

“I left my condiments in my other jacket,” Ashton scathingly replied.

“Leave it to you to not pack basic supplies on a witch investigation,” Darby scolded.

“I thought we were here to interview her, not cook her a meal.”

January 31st
Prompt: Rosy

“Her cheeks were #rosy! She’s a vamp!”

“She’s not a vampire; that was make-up for her funeral,” Darby said.

The patrol car took the man away, and Ashton shook his head. “Good thing stakes don’t kill a vamp, or we’d have more twice-dead corpses than we could handle.”

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.