Wild, Wild West (Drabble)

Image from Pixabay.

Since finishing the first draft of First Knight, I’ve been kind of all over the place on my writing. I’ve been brainstorming, plotting, and I’ve started a handle of short stories. None of those are near completion. So I put one of my random ideas to paper and it turned into this.

This is a drabble that might be worthy of a longer piece. 🙂

~ Effy

Wild, Wild West (Drabble)

“Okay, pardners,” Sheriff Bingham drawled, “This here town ain’t big enough for all of us. So either you move along or we’ll have a problem.” The sheriff and his men stood in a line, guns drawn, serious and silent.

The sun baked the dusty road and a wayward wind kicked a tumbleweed across the space between.

Sheriff Bingham clicked the hammer back. “What’ll it be?”

A growl echoed off the splintered building faces. Wide-eyed faces peered from within.

“Keep your women and children close, sheriff,” the alpha werewolf said. Then the pack turned and disappeared into the swirling yellow dust.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

#WriterProblems (Drabble)

Image from Pixabay.

Yes, I know I already posted.

This is my second short story for this week, to try and make up for the week I missed. This piece has actually been sitting in my notebook for a few weeks. I didn’t like the original ending and I couldn’t make it work. This ending came to me in the car earlier this week and I feel it works much better.

~ Effy

#WriterProblems (Drabble)

The day Richard turned thirty, he decided to stop trying to meet the perfect woman. Instead, he wrote her into his story. No more blind dates. No more doubling with friends. No more third wheel. No more lonely nights of Netflix with his dog, Sam.

No more disappointment.

Richard sat down with his laptop, in Starbucks of all places. He typed a new scene, a fight scene, with a woman strong both physically and mentally. She destroyed her enemies and then went to the king’s ball.

As she stepped off the page, she whispered, “You’re not quite what I imagined.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

Tiny Dreamer (Short Story)

Galaxy Blue by Glenn Farquhar

This is a piece I originally wrote as a fan fiction piece. It has been heavily edited from its original version (there’s was way too much passive voice originally) and adjusted to fit it into the world of Dadreon.

I’d like to eventually put all of my dragon pieces into a short story collection. I’m filling in some gaps for now and we’ll see where it goes.

Enjoy.

~ Effy

Tiny Dreamer

Awareness came in the dark.

Unchanging, it gave no measure of time between when she realized she existed and when she left the darkness. For now, all she knew was darkness. The darkness made her sleepy with its warmth. She slept a lot.

When she slept, she dreamt in colors.

Mostly, she dreamt in hues of blue, ranging from blue so light it was almost white to a deep blue that was close to black but not. The blue felt comforting, familiar. It felt almost like herself. She stayed near to the blue.

Some of the colors appeared in shades of red and green. Some were more white or more black. Some shimmered in shiny, reflective colors. They all felt similar to the blue, but not. She did not feel akin to the other colors like the blue.

The colors all hinted toward something greater, other sentient beings full of knowledge, but she could not figure out how to reach the colors to learn more.

Rather than fight or fuss, she instead let herself drift. Instinctively she knew when something important happened, she would know.

Occasionally muffled somethings would come to her, from elsewhere. With them they brought a sense of movement that was not her, nor her where. Since none of it affected her or changed the darkness that surrounded her, she forgot the distractions quickly. They hardly interrupted her sleep.

Then, all at once everything changed abruptly. Along with a subconscious feeling of change in her surroundings, it became warmer, too warm, stifling. The feeling woke her, and she became more aware of sounds and movement invading her surroundings.

Something was happening. She knew without knowing how.

It was time to leave.

A voice that spoke directly to her soul called to her.

For the first time since becoming aware, she felt anxious and hurried. She wanted to follow the voice, but she did not know where to find it or how to get there from here.

So she went in the first direction that seemed right.

Her path met resistance soon after. It extended in every direction–curving, smooth, unblemished. She panicked, her anxiety growing. How would she reach the voice? But the voice remained nearby and its presence calmed her. It continued to call to her.

She fought against the resistance.

With a sharp crack, the resistance gave away a little. The darkness that formed her surroundings tore open, and a small spot of light broke the darkness. It startled her sensitive eyes though they remained closed. The light was new and signified somewhere unknown, and that made it both fascinating and frightening.

The voice coaxing her onward in her mind mingled with a physical voice that uttered a surprised, happy noise. Somehow, she knew the voice within and the voice without to be the same. It did not really make sense to her, but only instincts guided her now.

Pushing the rest of the way through the tear proved harder than she expected and took what seemed a very long time even after all her timeless waiting. She eagerly sought the place of the voice calling to her. She longed to end her solitude.

She squawked a note of displeasure at the resisting edge of her somewhere.

The voice came again–a low, soothing purr. She paused her struggle and cocked her head curiously. She hoped the comforting voice would speak again, although she did not know the words. The noise pleased her ears after the silence of the darkness.

Something unknown, something that was not the edges of her dark somewhere, brushed against her. It seemed to be encouraging her. She squawked again, this time softer.

Her struggle renewed; her resistance diminished. Her head and front limbs broke free and this made her think to search out the voice.

She opened her eyes.

The brightness of the new place struck her eyes and offended all her senses after being so long in the darkness. After much blinking and more noises of annoyance she focused on the source of the voice.

The creature before her reminded her of her dreams–a being of blue like the dream-beings which had been like her. Unlike the dream-beings, this creature could be focused on. This creature loomed almost close enough to touch and she realized the blue being was huge, god-like.

It watched her.

She squawked again. This time the noise tried to form a word, a word she had found in her dreams, though it had held no meaning for her in that previous timeless where.

“Odassa!” she cried.

The smaller colors had purred the word to the larger ones. It meant someone who protected, someone bigger, someone “family.” Unsure what all these new words meant, though they came to her easily, the images they created in her mind made her feel safe.

Her memories, her dreams were indeed larger than herself.

The creature that was not a dream-being and not from the darkness smiled. The smile showed a mouthful of sharp teeth, but she did not feel threatened. She realized it had understood. For when she cried out, fully in her mind had been a picture taken from her dreams. The large blue creature thought back to her with a word of confirmation, “Mother.” Now she saw the responding thought in the other’s mind–her embraced by the creature.

Then, it did just that, it brought her closer to itself. The being was warm. The warmth and closeness made her sleepy again. She had expended much energy escaping the darkness of her sleepy dream place.

Awkwardly, on limbs that had never supported her before, she left the remnants of former where. Its darkness now lay split wide open and it already felt removed from her. She felt no more attachment to the darkness, it held no more importance.

This creature, this mother, had become her focus now.

She climbed her mother’s closest limb–“foreclaw” came into her mind from it. Her muscles became steadier with each step. Then, she stepped into a cave-like area beneath her mother’s neck–”nest” came to her this time.

She added these to her growing knowledge.

A great yawn escaped her. The sleepiness won out over learning more. There would be time later. For now, she knew she was safe, every thought from her mother’s mind reinforced it.

She curled herself beneath her mother, pressing as much of her body against the warmth there as she could.

Then, she slept. Only now, the passage of time had become important.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

Necromancer (Short Story)

A Dungeons & Dragon black dragon.

Okay, first an apology. Last week my brain apparently needed a reboot. I’ve been progressively slowing down in my writing for several weeks. Work’s been busy and stressful at the height of our season. I’ve been coming home brain dead and going straight to bed. Last week, I wrote exactly zero words. No forward progress with my novel. No new short story. And that was after only the 100 words of my drabble I posted the week before.

I also suffer from anemia on top of my anxiety and depression. Silly me, I stopped taking my iron supplement, because I thought it wasn’t doing anything. Boy, did I prove myself wrong. Anemic, I’m tired and grumpy. So that’s back on track too. I won’t do that again.

This week, after my unintended vacation from writing, I’ve written almost 6000 words so far.

I’m to the climatic scene in my novel WIP and I’m working on replotting my novel from NaNo last year. It faltered about 2/3 through because the plot unraveled to the point where I was making more editing notes (which were more questions than notes) than actual writing. The story is solid and I love the premise and characters. So hopefully giving it the same plotting work-up I did for the one I’m working on currently will fix things.

Today’s short story has actually been in process for a few weeks. Yet somehow it only ended up at about 1300 words.

I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading. 🙂

~ Effy

Necromancer

In the darkest night in the darkest swamp paced the darkest dragon with the darkest heart. She wore a circular path through a swirling fog that reeked of old death and moist rot, mumbling to herself.

The hazy darkness absorbed the scant light of the twin moons, and Nehalennia’s black scales faded from view except when they caught the light of candles held by her deathless minions. Humanoids in various states of decay stood perfectly still until she came near, then lowered their head in deference. She hissed and bared her fangs at each of them, whispering words not meant for their decayed ears, and swept her head back and forth in a hypnotic display.

At the center of her scored and worn path lay a jumbled pile of bleached bones. Every dozen paces or so, Nehalennia would brush the bones with her talons in a touch that lingered.

“Now, what are the words?” the dragon hissed. She cocked her head as if listening, while tapping her chest plates with her talons. She let out a long hiss that was equal parts excitement and sigh. “Yes, now I can begin.”

Nehalennia continued in a circle and began to chant in a long forgotten language. Made up of hisses and long consonants, it seemed well fitted to a dragon’s tongue. The black dragon continued to pace as she chanted. The undead around her stood motionless.

The pile of bones quivered. They made a hollow clatter and reached upwards.

Nehalennia barked a noise of triumph. It interrupted her chanting, and the bones settled into silence once more.

Triumph turned to rage, and the black dragon stomped a foot, setting swamp animals, sleeping and nocturnal, on edge from the tremor. She roared. She flailed her talons and shredded the nearest undead. The creature fell in silent, bloodless gore.

The others stood stoic and unfazed. If their mistress chose to end their unlife, they had no opinion.

Nehalennia hissed and murmured to herself, chiding her impetuous display. Now there was a break in her circle, a candle with no bearer. Nehalennia cursed whatever gods were listening. She would need a new corpse to raise. The spell was abhorrently specific about the number, meant to be cast by one flanked with many followers.

Nehalennia had created her own followers, painstakingly, one at a time.

The first group had been easy, taken from a tiny village at the edge of the Dead Swamp, but humans had become more difficult to find after that. The last two had come to her completely by chance, a hapless merchant and his guard.

She sniffed the still air. Only wet and death and damp fur met her nostrils.

Nehalennia touched the bones with her talons, caressed them. “Soon,” she promised.

With an irritated hiss, Nehalennia settled on all four of her legs and lowered her body until it slithered along the ground as she walked. She hit the dark, stagnant water with barely a splash, only the faintest ripple, and swam out into the black of night.

She was not a patient dragon, but her determination outweighed her impatience. She waited near the single human road through the Dead Swamp with only her head and the ridge of her back visible in the water. Even as the sun rose and illuminated the greyish-green fog that always hung here, she would be hidden among the reeds and muck.

It could go weeks without a visitor to the swamp, but eventually the sound of horse hooves and wagon wheels over the pocked road brought Nehalennia out of a light doze, and she hissed in anticipation. Bubbles tickled her muzzle.

“That’s a big crocodile,” came the voice of a man.

She saw an arm stretch out, a finger pointing her way. Two faces peered over the side of the wagon. It brought with it the smell of sweaty horseflesh and unwashed human.

“That’s no crocodile…” the woman next to him began. She trailed off as she tried to get a better look. “I don’t know what…”

The black dragon held very still. She waited for the wagon’s front, where the two humans sat, to be nearly even with her waiting maw. Then she sprang forward with all the strength of all four of her legs, striking like a coiled snake, and catching both humans in her mouth.

They still wriggled briefly. By the time the wagon, led by the two panicked horses, was out of sight, they were still. Nehalennia was already back in the water, just two eyes scanning the stillness as a tail twitched behind and four legs pumped invisibly below.

She would have an extra, just in case.

Raising a human into undeath was easy, she’d had much practice now, but it was nothing compared to her ultimate goal. Nehalennia had spent years learning the art of necromancy. Her invisible companions had been invaluable. Before them, she’d seen failure over and over.

Now, their whispers instilled her with the knowledge she needed.

Her circle once more unbroken, a continuous wall of candles perfect in placement, the black dragon once more began to pace before the pile of bones gathered in the center.

“I have forgotten the words,” she hissed into the silent heavy fog. Her ever-present invisible mentors responded, whispering the old words to her silently. She tilted her head, listening, and her head began to nod in recognition. “Yes, yes.” A pleased smile tugged her lips back from her long, protruding teeth.

She began to pace and chant, swaying on her hind legs while making delicate gestures with her foreclaws.

The pile of bones wavered. The voices in her head cautioned focus. Nehalennia didn’t falter. Her voice grew stronger and more sure with each repeated line.

The shadows of the swamp been to coalesce like fog in the early morning. They swirled and danced and entered her circle of light. The undead never wavered. They did not feel the cold fingers of the dark magic Nehalennia summoned brush their skin, for they were beyond such senses.

Their stoicism strengthened her spell. She felt its power thrum around her.

The dark tendrils entwined the quivering bones, infused them.

Nehalennia’s eyes widened and she chanted louder. Her pacing quickened and it rumbled through the swamp like earth tremors.

The bones began to raise and dance with the summoned shadows.

The bones came together. They formed legs and feet and toes. Nehalennia continued reciting. They formed a tail from vertebrae, one at a time. Nehalennia continued chanting. A backbone grew from the tail, then a neck. Nehalennia continued, though her throat began to protest under the harsh rumble of the unfamiliar syllables. A skull, elongated, reptilian, and full of sharp teeth, attached to the neck.

The dark tendrils acted as tendons, pulling and holding the bones together as Nehalennia finished the final lines of the spell.

“Velenos!” she cried into the heavy night air, summoning his essence to the bone shell and giving him back his name.

The skull’s eyes began to glow with a green light. They raised on the long neck and came level with Nehalennia’s. The great dracolich rumbled and thrummed as it searched for its voice, flexing talons and neck and tail like a swamp lion waking from a nap.

“I am returned,” it said with a voice echoey as if it came from the bottom of a deep hole. The voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.

“Yes, my love,” Nehalennia whispered, her voice hoarse, her energy drained. She panted and stumbled forward. She sighed and nuzzled against the neck and chest of the bone dragon. “We are together again.”

The dracolich thrummed.

Nehalennia could have faded into that moment for eternity, but the voices returned.

Now you will do something for us.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

Rescue (Drabble)

I struggled with a story I really wanted to publish this week. Then I woke up Saturday morning with the spark of an idea. It turned into this short piece.

~ Effy

Rescue

After months of chores and proving myself, Mom finally agreed to take me to Moonlight Rescue to pick out a pet of my own.

The enclosures seemed to go on and on.

“Mom, they all look so sad.”

“That’s because this is no place to live. They need real homes and families.”

I knelt down and came to face level with one fuzzy face. Dark eyes glistened and a whine came up from a muzzle tucked between two large paws.

The sign on the enclosure said “Luna.” Beneath that read: “Every year, thousands of werewolves are euthanized. Adopt don’t shop.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

…There’s Fire (Excerpt)

A recently discovered cave used by the Knights Templar

Last week, I was very surprised to find out my throwaway, I’m going to kill you at the end of the prologue character, Solaes, had quite a few fans. This included my alpha readers, as I call them, my mom and my boyfriend (AKA my story guinea pigs). As soon as he finished reading, my boyfriend said, “You better not kill her.” At first, I laughed it off, but as the week progressed, I realized I liked her too.

This created a whole slew of unexpected problems… How do I fit her into my story? Who is she? Where is she from? How is this going to affect the story I’ve already written? It even made me rethink the entire structure of the Church of Bael, but I think there’s a lot of depth to it now.

It solved other problems as well, like explaining things my MC wouldn’t be able to witness along his path. A new viewpoint is opening up some previously frustrating problems.

I had already started to write this piece. The first line came to me while I was trying to fall asleep one night, and about a third of the High Priest’s speech I had written before I knew where this was going. But it didn’t have a path or a point of view character. Then, suddenly, I had a character who might have a reason to be there: Solaes got roughed up and is trying to find out WHY.

So this is sort of a continuation of last week’s piece. There’s quite a jump in time, though. I’ll be filling in the middle soon.

The image above was an inspiration for the setting in this piece. A farmer discovered a rabbit hole that led to a cave that had once been used by the Knights Templar. Fascinating stuff.

I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I do. I’m really excited about Solaes’s addition to my WIP.

~ Effy

…There’s Fire

Far from the eyes of the fair-weather faithful, the Baelish prostrated and prayed until the candles guttered low. Then they prayed more. They prayed to their two-faced god in deep underground grottos and waited.

Solaes made the motions, holding her hood tight around her face and wishing it would end. She still disguised her appearance but took no chances. The other handmaidens ignored her, focused only on the idol at the room’s highest point, flickering in the candlelight, light and dark, half-man, half-dragon.

A robed man came from the hidden darkness behind the idol. A cowl covered his face, hiding all except what the candles lit, glimmering eyes and gleaming teeth. He looked predatory. Solaes had never met him before but knew him to be the High Priest by his starkly contrasting half-white, half-black robes.

The gathered Baelish let out a collective murmur of excitement and the High Priest waited as they calmed and grew silent. A whispering shadow, High Priestess Favalie appeared behind him and settled to his left.

The High Priest addressed the gathered Baelish:

“As champions of Bael the Grey
We must walk the fine line
Between Darkness and Light
Between Inferno and Elysium.
For how can we save those
Who fall to the Darkness
Without being intimate with Shadow?
How can we preach Light
When we know only the Sun?”

Whispered agreement rippled through the Baelish, accented by nods and bobs and clasped hands. “Embrace the light. Embrace the dark,” came the collective reply.

“For far too long
We’ve denied our nature
Our human nature.
Bael accepts humanity
The good and the bad
The Light and the Dark.
He embraces it.
Bael is the Light.
Bael is the Dark.
Bael is the shades of grey
In between.”

“Praise be to Bael,” the Baelish said. Solaes shivered at the unanimous monotone and the hairs it raised on her neck.

The High Priest’s eyes seemed to meet hers, and Solaes’s heart skipped a beat. He couldn’t know her, even if she had been without her disguise. She tried to look cow-eyed and enrapt.

“Our purpose as priests of
Bael the Grey,
The two-faced god,
Is to save souls.
Save them from
Fiery Inferno
And lead them to
Everlasting Elysium.
We do this daily–
We feed their body
And nurture their mind.”

The High Priest gestured to High Priestess Favalie, and she nodded, never unfolding her arms from where they crossed in front of her chest, forming a haphazard slash of black and white on the front of her robe. The priestesses and handmaidens around Solaes rose their voices in praise of their High Priestess. “Feed the body. Nurture the mind.”

The High Priest’s eyes grew hard as he continued, his voice more urgent.

“But Bael seeks
To test his faithful.
For magic has come
To our fair kingdom…”

The gathered Baelish murmured in a distraught moan at the word “magic.”

Solaes’s chest tightened. The young man she had seen pulled off the street and beaten in an alley flashed across her mind. Unlike with her attack, it was in broad daylight. The Baelish didn’t even try to hide anymore. They didn’t have to. She had tried to rush to his rescue, but one of the priests had struck him in the temple before she got there. She flinched remembering the sound and the sight of the light leaving his eyes.

“Dark magic and
Those who use it,
They seek to
Test our commitment
Test our strength
Test our loyalty.”

His voice rose and quickened with each proclamation. The collective response rose to match it, and someone shouted, “We are loyal!”

“Yes, we are loyal.
We walk in the
Word of our god
But many stray–
Our flock is vulnerable.
They walk in the path of
Bael’s dark eye.”

The Baelish resembled a stormy sea, a ripple of grey movement, as they agreed with growing fervency.

“Bael’s distress
Shows in the weather…
A harsh, bitter winter
That killed many
Through its bite.
Now a sweltering summer
Parching with drought
Searing with heat.
Our livelihood withers
In the field and
On the branch.”

One of the handmaidens began to cry. Solaes heard her wailing to her right. She thought it might be Jordana, but she didn’t look. She dared not bring more attention to herself.

“Yes, sister,
We all mourn.
But we must do more.
We must destroy
This evil blight,
Destroy this magic,
Before it can
Destroy us.”

A cheerful sob escaped the handmaiden and the gathered raised their voice in praise.

Solaes tensed, and her arms quaked beneath the heavy folds of the robe, fatigued with holding her weight up as she knelt on the dirt floor. She felt as if she were at the center of the room, though she was not, and retreated deeper into her hood.

“How do we destroy it?” a priest asked, desperation in his voice. Others agreed in a collective nod and a whisper of, “Yes, tell us.”

The High Priest smiled, and to the gathered Baelish it was surely a reassuring smile, but to Solaes it dripped with malicious intent. Once more, he looked the predator. She became mesmerized by his dark, glittering eyes. She felt he looked straight at her and into her soul.

“Brothers and sisters,
We must root out
Magic’s source.
We must save those
Who don’t know they
Need saving.”

“Bael, save us!” a handmaiden cried.

“We must save ourselves!
Duke Victus was not
Strong enough
To see the truth.
He fell because
He ushered doom
Into our land.
He welcomed it
Into his home,
Into our home.”

The Baelish became agitated. The response became a cacophony of noise, mixtures of crying, sighing, swearing, and moaning.

“Fear not!” At the High Priest’s sudden booming voice, the collected Baelish silenced under it like a command.

“Fear not,” he repeated quieter, and all hung on his words, leaning closer.

“Bael has prepared us.
We do not go
Forward alone.
Together
We are mightier
Than the enemy.”

Solaes swallowed at the dryness in her throat. It felt packed with cotton. The High Priest remained fixated on her, spoke straight to her. She retreated further into the shadow of her hood, wishing she could meld into the shadows.

“That enemy who is among us!” The High Priest said it so suddenly Solaes flinched.

A collective cry went up and every acolyte, every priest, every handmaiden, every priestess, looked around them, to their neighbors, desperation in their eyes.

Looking for the enemy.

“Who is the enemy? Point us!” someone begged.

Solaes couldn’t convince her legs to obey her. She knew she should run. She knew the High Priest’s focus before his finger pointed her out. But where could she run? She was surrounded, and as soon as the accusatory finger settled, hundreds of feverish, rabid Baelish descended upon her.

Robed bodies crushed her, clawing and punching, and Solaes summoned air to her lungs without thinking about it. She gasped it in, though she couldn’t expand her lungs fully.

Panic overtook her, and she retreated inward. Blows fell, bruising her. Panic changed to angry self-preservation. Solaes burst upward, lashing out in an explosion of fire, radiating out a sphere of flames.

Screams rained around her ears but the press of bodies receded. Only the smell of burnt flesh and hair surrounded her.

Solaes forced her legs beneath her and ran, clutching her chest as fire burned within her breast.

The High Priest’s voice rose above the confusion:

“Capture the magician!
Smother the flame!
Your salvation lies
In her demise!”

Solaes ran through a maze of corridors. Each looked the same. Each carved from the dirt and rock. Each formed of the same curving archways. Each lined with flickering, candle-crowded alcoves.

Her previous descent was a blur. She couldn’t even know what direction she headed. The corridors were flat. They didn’t rise. Solaes didn’t either. The surface was impossibly far.

Each corridor continued on in an unending mirror of the previous.

Footsteps, multiplied by a hundred, echoed behind her. They grew closer.

Solaes hesitated where several corridors met. She gasped the stale earthy air. She glanced behind her. She went left.

She met a dead end and exhaled a sob.

The stampede of feet slowed, and it was the High Priest who first came through the archway, a press of bodies walling off the way through. He smiled at her and didn’t speak right away. He merely looked Solaes up and down, taking in her borrowed robe and her borrowed face.

“Drop the masquerade, my dear,” he said, his voice a dangerous purr.

Solaes did.

“Ahh, the fire dancer.”

She didn’t know how he knew her, but kept quiet. She waited, expecting him to continue, but he did not. She blinked back the hot, angry tears that stung her eyes as she held his gaze.

The High Priest gestured and two priests came forward. “Do better this time. Don’t let her get away. But don’t kill her or you’ll answer to me.” He disappeared through the packed bodies of acolytes and priests. They expanded around him and contracted back into place, crowding the archway and cutting off her escape.

The two priests grabbed her arms and Solaes struggled. Fingers pressed into her flesh like steel clamps and twisted her arms behind her until she cried out in pain. She flared her skin with fire, but the priests wore gloves this time and merely blinked at the flames and sneered at her.

She looked up.

The priests looked up.

The ceiling above began to rumble. It started with a few pebbles, then larger clods of earth and stone, and then the entire smooth-carved ceiling above them crashed down around their ears.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Solaes awoke in darkness.

She swore. She was still alive. She hoped she had at least taken out those two priests.

Cold metal bound her wrists and ankles, clanking as she moved her arms and legs. They kept her from standing.

Metal. A material she couldn’t manipulate, but maybe she could heat it.

She focused on one of the links until it began to glow red in the darkness. The molten red metal began to drip. Half a dozen drips fell as Solaes tried to hold her concentration. Perspiration sprung on her brow. Her chest became uncomfortable, but she tried to ignore it.

She pulled her focus away, panting. She’d misshapen it, but not even broken through the single link. Getting through one chain would take forever. All four? She slumped against the wall, the shackles clanking.

“You awake in their, girlie?” a voice from outside her small space said. A yellowish light appeared before her as a window in the door opened.

Solaes hid her hands and blinked in the light as she watched the eyeballs studying her. They were wide with most of the white showing, and they swiveled in their sockets searching the darkness where she sat, helpless but hidden from his sight.

She didn’t answer.

“You want some food? I can get you some food. You’re allowed that.”

She still didn’t answer.

“Okay then.” The window closed and the light disappeared.

“Wait!” Her voice cracked, and her throat felt like she’d swallowed razor blades.

The window opened a tiny bit.

“I want something to drink.”

“Okay then.”

The window closed. There was silence and Solaes thought the jailor had left. She was about to shout again when metal clattered and the door opened. Her jailor’s eyes fell on her as the light from the corridor intruded, making her squint. She couldn’t raise her hand enough to block it.

He opened the door wider, letting more light into the cell.

He approached cautiously, as if he thought she might already have slipped her bounds.

He crouched and dropped a tray to the floor with a clang. A bowl of colorless sludge slopped around, some splattering out. Solaes was more interested in the cup in his hand.

“Water, please,” she croaked. Her tongue would barely work, dry and thick in her mouth. She raised her arms and they jingled a discordant tune, only half-raised before the chains stopped her.

“Okay then. You behave and I’ll give you this.” His other hand held a staff, oaken and metal-shod. His boots slid across the floor, one at a time, inches that took hours.

Solaes realized the man was scared of her. Or scared of her magic.

She took the cup when it was finally within reach and guzzled it. It caught in her throat, and she coughed half of it back up until she was gasping and her throat was screaming worse than before.

“Now, now. That’s no way to drink it.”

Solaes glared at the jailor as she fought to catch her breath.

He dropped back a step. “Okay then. I’ll let you eat in the dark.” He scooted out faster than he had come in. The door clanged behind him.

The cell went black.

Food didn’t interest her, only escaping before she had to face the High Priest again.

She waited for an opportunity to attack her jailor, but he didn’t come back. She fell into a restless sleep, leaning against the wall in the only comfortable position she could manage, which made her neck sore.

She awoke with a start when the jailor began to speak. Her head rolled on her neck as she tried to shake off sleep. The words were muffled, whether by the door or her sleep-fogged mind, she wasn’t sure. She realized with a sigh that he wasn’t talking to her. There was a second voice, a second jailor.

Jailor number one left. Jailor number two stood silently outside the door.

He opened the window a crack, and though it pained her eyes, Solaes was glad for the light. “You be good and we’ll have a nice quiet night, you and me.” Jailor number two was younger and the fear in jailor number one’s voice was absent.

An idea came to Solaes. She hoped she could summon the energy.

She disguised herself and her voice. “Hey! Lemme outta here!” she said in what she hoped was a good enough impression of jailor number one.

Jailor number two spun and opened the window wider. “Jakie? That you?”

Solaes didn’t know his name, but played along. “Yah, open the door!”

“How’d you get in there?”

“That magician. She attacked me and locked me up.”

“How? I just talked to you. You just left.”

“That was her! She must be able to disguise herself, to look like me!”

Jailor number two looked dubious. “How do I know this isn’t a trick?”

“No trick. How else would I be in here?”

Jailor number two didn’t reply.

“Gimme outta here! We gotta catch her before she gets away.”

Jailor number two fumbled with the keys in the door. It opened wide and Solaes blinked, hoping her disguise was holding.

“Jakie, how dumb are you?”

“Okay then, pretty dumb, but it don’t matter. The High Priest will have our skins!”

Jailor number two nodded and sorted through the keys again. “I can’t believe it,” he mumbled. He found the key he was looking for and put it to each shackle.

Still looking like jailor number one, Solaes rubbed her wrists. “Okay then. Let’s go.”

Jailor number two nodded again. He tucked the keys into his belt and walked to the door. Solaes came through behind him.

His staff stood just outside the cell door. Solaes grabbed it, swung, and knocked jailor number two on the head as hard as she could. It made a sickening soft thunk, but jailor number two didn’t drop like Solaes had expected.

Her eyes went wide and so did his.

“You! You tricked me!” He felt the bloody lump on his head. Frowning, he charged her, reaching for his staff.

Solaes let him grab a hold of it and they struggled with it. She drew him close enough that she could smell the garlic on his breath.

She inhaled deeply, and jailor number two’s eyes went wide. He gasped, and his grip on the staff lessened. He fought for breath, his hands going to his throat, clawing there as if trying to pull away squeezing hands.

His face turned red, then bluish.

Solaes took a step back, holding the staff out before her like a shield.

Jailor number two fell to his knees, still gasping, his face turning a darker shade of purple.

Finally he collapsed to the ground. Solaes looked at him for a moment, horrified at herself. She shook it off and dragged him into the cell. Luckily, he wasn’t much bigger than her. She shackled him to the wall, locked the cell door behind her, and disappeared into the corridor.

This time, she blended herself into the shadows and took her time, without a hundred Baelish right on her heels. She’d had more than enough of this place.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

Where There’s Smoke… (Prologue)

I like prologues. I’m not afraid to say it.

My current work in progress almost got by without a prologue, and then this week it hit me that it could benefit from one. Since it’s deeply from my main character’s point of view, it’s proving difficult to figure out how to tell the story of what the antagonist is doing in the background. I’m hoping to break the ice of that with a prologue.

I’ve been struggling to write this week. So I want to apologize, as I don’t feel this is as polished as I’d like it to be.

Let me know what you think. Would this interest you enough to keep reading the book?

Where There’s Smoke…

Solaes danced in a hypnotic display of skin barely hidden by shimmering orange sheer and complemented by tendrils of flame. Tongues of red and orange fanned before her fingers and reflected in the unblinking eyes of her audience. They rained coins of gold and silver before her, and Solaes traced snaking trails through them with her bare feet.

The music alternated between slow and fast and her body knew every beat–her feet, her hands, her torso, keeping in time. Teasing and snapping, dancing and flipping, sinuous movements merged limbs and fire until they were one. A tap of her foot sent a column of fire spinning into the dark sky. A sweep of her arm twirled a dancing fan that lit her face and her dark eyes.

She watched the flames as intently as those who paid to see her. Faces faded into the darkness beyond until only Solaes and her dancing fire existed.

Slowing again, the music cued her to conjure a new fire. She built it before her until she all but disappeared behind a wall of orange that twisted and swayed to the beat. It took shape until a dragon of fire danced with her. Tempo building, Solaes and the fire dragon followed until its wings snapped open and a roar of flame jetted from its mouth.

The dragon disappeared and Solaes stood there alone, arms raised, skin glistening, chest heaving, in the shadow and afterglow.

Applause exploded and a smile lifted Solaes’s lips.

Then the jeering began.

“Blasphemer!” a disembodied voice called. The voices were always stronger when they hid in the dark crowd. “You dare flaunt Bael’s dark image? His vengeance burns hotter than your evil magic.”

“Come forward and face me, critic,” Solaes replied.

As she expected, the man attached to the voice disappeared. Only her true fans remained, but they had grown quiet.

“Thank you for coming, folks. Tomorrow night I’ll be at the closing of the summer festival. I hope to see you there.”

As they dispersed, Kargen, the innkeeper, approached her. “Let me walk you home. It’s late.”

Solaes gave him a humoring smile. “I’m fine. Go home to your wife and children.”

“Maisy’d put me out if she knew I’d let you walk alone.”

“She worries too much.”

“You worry too little.”

Solaes met Kargen’s unrelenting gaze. “Alright.”

She started walking and Kargen took a few long strides to catch up. He didn’t speak but his presence comforted her more than she let on. Her fans were loyal but her critics were becoming more vocal.

The farther they got from the inn, the darker it got. It was high summer and the sun retreated late, but it was nearing midnight, the darkest time and the best time for her show. The day’s weather had been scorching and the humidity still hung in the air, but Solaes shivered at the warm breeze that brushed her sweaty skin and raised the hairs there.

The cobble streets were quiet and empty, only the buzz of cicadas and the flicker of glow bugs keeping them company.

Several uneventful blocks later, they reached the building were Solaes rented a room above a bookstore. She placed a hand on the railing that would lead her up and turned back to Kargen. “See? Nothing to worry about.”

Kargen grunted. “I’ll wait until you’re inside.”

“I do appreciate the gesture–” A sound cut her off and they both looked into the dark alleyway between her building and the next.

Kargen held up a finger and took a cautious step toward the sound’s direction.

“It’s probably a stray,” Solaes said, but she realized she was whispering. A warm prickle traveled up her neck and scalp and she crossed her arms tightly over her chest.

Kargen was already half-hidden in darkness, sweeping his gaze back and forth. As Solaes watched, a thump caused him to shudder and buckle. A gasp caught in her throat. Four men detached from the shadows, more dragging Kargen’s limp form out of sight. They wore dark clothes and carried metal-shod staves.

Solaes licked dry lips and summoned a small flicker of fire to her palm. The four hesitated. The woman smiled with a confidence she didn’t feel, but she refused to let them know that.

“I suggest you run along before I make you all very crispy.”

Sneering faces looked back at her, catching the small orange light weirdly.

A hand grabbed her arm and Solaes jumped in fright. She yanked back but it tightened until she cried out in pain. She tried to twist and aim fire at her attacker but he stayed behind her. Solaes grit her teeth and conjured it all around her, flaring up from the street in a column but not scorching her.

The unseen attacker shouted and stumbled away, freeing her arm. She raised it with a flick of fingers and a spray of flame.

Her remaining attackers scattered.

Solaes gripped her chest as it tightened and burned. Her show had tired her out. Using fire this way exhausted her. Using so much at once hurt.

They seemed to realize this and were already surrounding her as she tried to recover and summon more fire. Her next spray was a weak flicker of sparks. Several hands grabbed at her. Solaes tried to struggle but her arms were like lead and her chest ached. She fought to draw breath but it merely fanned the flames in her breast.

One of the faces came close to hers. “We don’t appreciate your kind here.”

“My kind?” Solaes asked, her voice a hoarse croak.

“You bring your magic and destroy our kingdom.”

“You’re mad.” She couldn’t get more words past the razor blades in her throat.

A grin that seemed to justify her accusation was his only reply. The hands tightened on her arms as the first of many blows from the man’s metal-shod staff bruised her flesh.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

Imaginary Friend (Short Story)

Image from Pixabay.

Another week, another story.

This week, I really wanted to write a ghost story, but I wanted something a little lighter than last week. I got a few comments about how dark it was. It won’t make me change anything, but I did figure it was good to try something else for a week.

As far as the rest of my 1000 Day MFA progress goes… I’m making slow but steady progress with my novel. I’m meeting my 1 essay, 1 poem, 1 short story goal so far. But I’m feeling behind with my novel and my book on writing craft. There’s only one week of March left, and I don’t think I’m going to finish them both. We’ll see. Either way, I’m really enjoying the progress I’m making and the short stories I have to show for it.

~ Effy

Imaginary Friend

Jacey was at an age where she spent most of her time having tea parties with her teddy bears and her imaginary friend. One day, her friend stopped being content with toys and pretend.

It started with a broken lamp.

“Jacey!”

Clomping down the stairs like a mini herd of elephants, her daughter peeked at her through the white railing, like a prisoner staring at her jailor. “Yes, Mom?”

“How did this lamp get broken?”

“Caerise did it, Mom.”

“Caerise? Really? Don’t lie to me, young lady.”

“Really, Mom. She said she wanted to know what kind of sound it would make.”

Megan folded her arms across her chest. “Imaginary friends can’t knock over lamps.”

“Caerise isn’t imaginary, Mom.” Jacey’s whole tiny face wrinkled as she frowned. “She doesn’t like when you say that.”

“Well then, maybe she should be the one to clean up this mess?” Megan asked.

Jacey looked to a spot just below her on the stairs. “She says she doesn’t want to,” her daughter answered forlornly with a frown.

“Well, that’s perfect.”

“Caerise, that’s not nice.” Jacey paused. “No, Caerise. You should clean it up. You can’t just go around breaking things.”

“It’s fine. I’ll get it. But you let your friend know that any other items I find broken will get you in trouble, since I can’t punish her. Do you both understand?”

“Yes, Mom.”

Megan walked into the kitchen and retrieved a broom and dustpan from the closet. With them in one hand and the trash can in the other, she spun on her heel and headed back to the living room and the broken lamp, mumbling things she wouldn’t say aloud in front of her daughter.

She pushed her shoulder against the swinging door.

“What the–?”

Megan saw the broken lamp’s twin hovering a foot off its end table. The garbage can, dustpan, and broom all clattered to the floor, forgotten, as she raised her hands towards the lamp. She took a cautious step forward.

She had no idea what she would do when she reached it. Grab it? Somehow prove to herself it wasn’t floating in the air?

“Caerise, put it down,” Jacey said with a muffled sob. She still sat on the same step where she’d been a moment ago. Her fingers wound tight around the wood railing, making her knuckles white. Her head was down, hiding her face with her hair, refusing to look. “You’re going to get us in trouble.”

Megan was still a few feet from grabbing hold of the lamp–whether that proved to be a good idea or not–when it bobbed and shot through the air past her. She covered herself with her arms, and it smashed against the wall next the the swinging door.

At least now they match again, she thought without humor.

Jacey flinched and continued to whimper.

Megan was speechless for a moment, staring at one lamp, then the other, then her crying daughter on the stairs. “Go to your room,” she said, her voice flat and calmer than she felt.

Jacey jumped up and disappeared up the stairs, no stomping, no reply.

Megan heard a creak of floorboards near the end table, only a few feet from her though she hadn’t moved. The bottom step groaned a moment later.

Noisy old houses, Megan told herself without conviction.

Falling to the couch with a whoosh of sinking cushion, she shuddered out an exhalation. She ran shaky hands back through her hair and tried to deny what she had just seen. It was impossible.

Megan sat in shock. The tools meant to clean the original mess waited in a tangled heap, and both lamps lay broken on the floor. She began to wonder whether an imaginary friend was a healthy thing for her daughter, or anyone else in her house.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

Surrounded (Short Story)

Apocalyptic City — found via Pinterest

I’ve made it to week 5, and I have a new short story to share. Yay!

Though, to be honest, between reading every day and a short story per week, I’m falling behind on my novel. I’m trying to be more disciplined about writing every day, but it’s difficult after eight hours of work.

My mom is one of my primary beta readers, and I asked her advice for which story idea I should write about this week. She liked the idea of something post-apocalyptic. This piece isn’t completely out in left field. My NaNoWriMo novel from last year gives the origin of my fantasy world of Dadreon–the death of Earth. This is what happens after…

~ Effy

Surrounded

Malek put his eye to the gun sight and watched the red-skinned demon sniff through the rubble like a search dog. Shooting would draw more. Sam would not survive then. Waiting meant the likely possibility he would be found. Then Sam would be just as dead.

The boy stood below Malek, pressed against the shell of some derelict gasoline machine. He drew measured breaths and resisted the urge to peek around at the snuffling demon, even though it drew closer, perhaps on his scent, perhaps on something else. The belial weren’t the smartest of their kind, but they weren’t to be underestimated. The wingless, ape-faced demons were the smallest of the Erebus, meaning they only stood eight feet tall and weighed merely three times Malek’s slight build.

The sun hid behind a wall of grey-green clouds in the burnt red sky, but Malek knew it was getting late in the afternoon. He had to find a way to get Sam and himself back underground before dark. Nighttime was hunting grounds for the reapers and hellhounds, ronove and naberius as they were called.

Sam brought his hands up from his sides and spoke silently with his fingers. “Just one? Belial?” he asked.

Malek nodded once.

It was then that another belial came from behind the crumbling edge of a building. Malek shook his head and held up two fingers, staying as low to the roof’s crenellation as possible. The two creatures spoke low in their guttural language

Sam nodded.

The scout language had been developed through necessity. To speak above ground was to die. The demons had long ago given up capturing humans for whatever tortures or experiments they performed. Now they were only interested in extermination. Even more important than staying hidden was keeping their home secret. New Detroit was the only home Malek had ever known and one of two remaining holdouts left in what had once been Michigan.

The two belial finished their conversation and began sniffing around again. The first one to appear was getting close to Sam’s hiding place. Malek’s finger hesitated on the trigger. How many more were within earshot?

A flicker above distracted Malek and he looked up. Another flicker of light rippled along the bottoms of the dark clouds. He swore silently.

They didn’t have time.

He lined the sight up to his target and fired. The well-timed shot caught the crouching belial in the eye and he went down like a lead weight. Malek fired again, but the second belial moved at the wrong moment, alerted by the first gunshot, and the bullet skimmed off the demon’s temple, causing it to roar.

Malek snarled a silent profanity.

Sam’s eyes widened, but he stayed frozen in place.

Malek looped the rifle over his head and shoulder and hopped over the roof’s ledge. He bounced off a window sill and to the ground, landing in a crouch several yards from Sam. He sprinted at the boy, pulling a hand pistol. The belial saw him and ran towards him. Malek raised the gun and shot. The pistol’s report was louder and echoed off dilapidated concrete and brick.

The belial fell, the socket of its left eye smoking.

Malek held out a hand to Sam and they ran. The man looked up and saw the lightning quickening on the underside of the sulfuric clouds. There was no time. He readied another bullet in the pistol, hoping he wouldn’t need it.

A howl from behind them curdled the blood in Malek’s veins. It was early for the naberius, but gunshots would bring the whole of them out. As soon as the howl stopped, he heard the heavy padding of feet closing behind them.

Sam gasped, looking back at the beast.

Malek kept running, pushing himself and pulling Sam along behind. By some miracle, the boy kept his footing and matched Malek’s pace. Seeing a collapsed building, Malek ran for it. Somehow he found the adrenaline to push harder.

Steel girders jutted out at odd angles like a giant shattered rib cage, but they both avoided them through practiced movements. At the rubble’s edge, they both had to scramble on all fours and squeeze through a narrow gap on their stomachs. Malek pushed Sam’s small frame through and pulled himself along more slowly.

A snarl and snap of teeth met air, and a renewed howl shook the loose rubble, but Malek and Sam were already through the girder maze. The naberius dug furiously, but the concrete and steel held for now. Malek readied his pistol, aiming for the burning eyes that watched him through the space between the rubble.

Sam touched his shoulder and signed that they should hurry.

They stepped lightly through the dark wreck. Both glanced at the manhole in the center, but walked past it. Malek hoped this might be the day the Erebus thought to find them that way and instead met a painful end when the rigged tunnels collapsed down on their heads.

Patters of rain began on the twisted steel and concrete above. Malek frowned.

“We’ll have to run for it,” he signed to Sam.

Sam nodded.

They squeezed out a small crevasse, coming out opposite the way they had come in and lingered briefly beneath the overhang of crumbling the building above them. The rain came slow and light, but each drop hit the ground with a sizzle and hiss.

The way looked clear.

Malek broke cover and ran. The raindrops fell and each that hit his skin felt like boiling oil and stuck like grease to his skin. He could smell the sulfur and burning hair. He hoped no demons were close enough to smell it as he bit back each cry that threatened, repeating a line of silent curses as he continued to run.

Reaching the shell of another building, he crouched in a small alcove the rain couldn’t reach. He patted at his sleeves and back of his shirt, trying to brush away any lingering rain. It warmed his callused fingers uncomfortably. His hair and clothing smoked.

Sam sprinted through the darkening street, covering his head with his arm. Malek watched the boy’s clothes and skin smoke and heard the nauseating sizzle.

Malek reached a hand forward, waiting to pull Sam to safety.

A snarl echoed through the haze of rain. A naberius, hopefully the same they had left on the other side, came from the rubble pile. Its skin sizzled, but it didn’t seem to notice. It jumped, clearing the distance between Sam and the husk of twisted girders. A whip-like tail flicked behind it and the bleached-skull face growled down at the smaller form of the boy.

Sam exhaled as he hit the ground, but to the boy’s credit, he didn’t utter a word.

Malek flinched and  raised the pistol. Before he could line up a shot, the naberius bit down and tore a chunk of Sam’s neck and shoulder away.

Malek squeezed his eyes shut and turned away. He crawled through the chunks of asphalt and concrete, away from the preoccupied hellhound and his meal. The sound of crunching and tearing followed him even once he was out of range of the naberius.

The sought after manhole cover came into sight. Malek pulled it up and grabbed the corner of a time and moth-eaten blanket. Lowering himself into the hole, he carefully, quietly pulled the cover back into place, covering it as much as possible with the blanket, tucking the scratchy fabric under the edge.

Malek dropped to the damp stone below. He wavered for a second and steadied himself against the wall. He stuffed his fists into his eyes and took several deep breaths.

I can’t stay here, he told himself. I have to move.

Lead-lined legs resisted but began to move slowly. The more steps he took, the quicker Malek convinced them to move. He left the entrance behind him and began to seek out each turn of the path that would take him home.

Malek played through his head how to explain to Sam’s mother. Cerah was a friend to Malek’s older sister, Houda. He tried to figure how best to word Sam’s loss, blinking away the moisture that formed at the corners of his eyes.

A splash and an echoey thump pulled Malek from his thoughts. He measured his breathing and turned his head to listen behind him. The shuffle-drag that came next made the man’s throat tighten. He fingered the pistol in its holster and then moved his hand to his knife instead.

A low moan came from the edge of the darkness.

A set of pale blue glowing orbs appearing, getting closer. More joined them, clamoring up from below, from the stagnant sewage water. The moaning, shuffling creatures came close enough for Malek to smell the wet rot.

He twisted the dagger hilt in nervous fingers and took a step back.

A moan came from just over his shoulder and Malek gasped and spun, throwing his hands up just as an undead face leaned in and snapped together a bared set of moldy teeth. The rest of the undead’s face was covered with oily black tendrils that seemed to be holding the thing’s bones together, functioning in place of long-decayed skin and muscle. Its eye sockets glowed with an unnatural, hollow blue light.

It moaned again and leaned forward. Feet shuffled closer and the greasy body pressed against him with more strength than a pile of bones should possess. Creaking and grating against one another, the undead’s bony fingers raised and started to grasp at Malek’s face. He twisted and tried to pull away and saw the other undead getting closer with their stumbling, shuffling gaits.

Malek was surrounded.

He couldn’t bring his knife to bare, couldn’t even pull his hands back from the moaning, snapping undead inches from his face.

Malek pushed away and up. Teeth clacked with growing intensity as the man’s fingers encircled the undead’s face. Malek continued to push. Pops and snaps came from its neck bones as it elongated beyond its natural length. Malek flipped his knife to the ready and jammed it through the bottom of its jaw, before the tendrils could pull its neck back together.

The undead crumpled, the hollow light fading from the eye sockets.

Malek turned just as four more undead came up behind him. He batted two backwards, but the third caught his arm with bony fingers commanded by the oily tendrils. The fourth stumbled forward and grabbed him, biting Malek’s forearm and taking away a chunk of skin.

The man snarled back the pain and stabbed it in the temple. He backpedaled and nearly fell. He ripped his other arm away from grasping, bony fingers and reached for his pistol.

An echoey report blew a chunk of skull from the undead, and its fingers still gripped Malek’s arm as it fell away.

Malek’s pistol still hung half in the holster, and the man flicked a glance behind him.

Two more shots fired, and the other two undead dropped.

Grasping his bleeding arm, Malek gritted his teeth and kicked the second-time dead into the dark sewage water.

A woman with dark eyes and a dark hijab rushed up beside Malek and looked him over. Two others flanked her and looked for additional threats.

He gave his sister a grateful look, but couldn’t form the words.

Houda pressed her hand against her brother’s wound to staunch the blood flow. “Come, we’ll get you home.”

“I need to see Cerah,” Malek insisted, shaky on his feet.

“Your wounds need tending.”

“After I see Cerah,” Malek insisted.

Houda pressed her lips together but nodded. “Let’s go. The mine shaft is up ahead.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

The Paper Dragon Festival (Excerpt)

Original Image: “Ancient Dragon” by Satoshi Kamiya (Japan) 1 uncut square

Around this time last year, I finished my first ever first draft of a novel, Jadeflare. I’ve been overwhelmed with the idea of editing it. So it’s been sitting. Among the numerous chapters already there, it needs some additional scenes added. This is one of the parts I want to add. My goal was to give it a definitive beginning, middle, and end, but it started to get long and rambling. So I cut it off.

A heads up, it gets a little steamy at the end.

Enjoy!

~ Effy

1000 Day MFA — Week 4

The Paper Dragon Festival

As they walked through the tall gates of Farnx, Lakeerae felt as if she walked into the prismatic rays of a rainbow. Shifting colors waved in the wind before her along both sides of the street and she squinted to better identify the objects that swung in the light breeze.

Colored paper, folded into the shapes of small, multicolored dragons.

Paper dragons.

Roidar seemed to recognize them at the same time, but his reaction was much different. He groaned, and as Lakeerae looked over to ask, she saw the deep frown on his face. She had finally started to get used to seeing him without it.

“Excuse me, ma’am druid, but we need to keep the way clear.” The guard averted his eyes as she turned around.

“Forgive me. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful,” Lakeerae said. As she smiled, the guard returned it.

“Yes, ma’am druid, the Paper Dragon Festival is very beautiful.”

Roidar snorted.

The guard’s smile faded as he studied Roidar’s flamboyant clothing and gold chains and hoops. “Watch yourself, gypsy thief,” he snarled.

“Forgive us for dallying, sir,” Lakeerae said, grabbing Roidar’s hand and pulling him along beside her. Once they were out of earshot of the guards, she dropped his hand and spun on the man. “What are you in such a huff about?” she hissed in a whisper.

He did not answer but maintained his disgruntled look.

“Can you at least guide us to someplace we can get supplies? You know your way around much better than I do.” As Lakeerae spoke she tucked her red hair behind both of her ears and tried not to get lost in the fluttering paper dragons.

No answer came, and she finally looked back to Roidar. “Yes,” he said without expanding on it.

“Okay, lead away.” Lakeerae tried to sound cheerful, gesturing widely out before her, but he was good at fouling her mood when he wanted to.

He walked in silence. Lakeerae took the opportunity to take in all of Farnx.

She marvelled at the streets and buildings made all of stone, instead of the dirt and wood nocs, or hill-homes, she had always known among the druids. Even the roofs looked like sheets of stone, instead of the thatch often used on smaller houses. They crowded the street and loomed from five or six times her height, making her feel small.

People walked everywhere. Their clothes were as colorful as the paper dragons. Some people danced in the streets. Others hung out of windows, shouting, singing, or a combination of both. Smiling faces, covered with paint like multicolored scales, greeted her and offered her foods, the scent of them travelled to her on the summer breeze, warm and fried and sugary.

“So many people,” she said, grabbing ahold of Roidar’s sleeve, so to not lose him.

“Stupid people,” he growled and pushed his way through.

Lakeerae frowned. She thought to press him but decided to wait until they were off the street.

Roidar stopped in front of a building. Lakeerae bumped into the back of him and mumbled a flustered apology.

“Damn this town and their stupid festival,” Roidar grumbled.

Lakeerae peeked around his shoulder and saw a hastily written sign: “Closed for the festival! Come see us tomorrow!”

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” she said.

“Tomorrow? Just what I want, to stay in this city.” Roidar glanced both directions down the street they stood on. “Come on. We’ll have to find an inn for the night.”

“Oh, we get to stay for the festival!”

Roidar glared at her, but his facade softened under her smile. “Yes, I suppose so.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

By the time they settled into the inn’s common room, Lakeerae was painted, full, and getting sleepy. Roidar let her rest her head on his shoulder as he sipped his ale. Hers was still half full. Her cloak’s hood slid back from her hair and she caught Roidar studying the green scales painted on her face.

“Why green?” he asked.

“It’s the color of leaves, of course,” she said.

“Of course.” He nodded and went back to his ale.

He had humored her all afternoon and joined her in the festivities, despite his continued annoyance and reserve. She had even forced a smile out of him a few times, but he had not been enjoying himself like her. She tried to experience everything around her.

“What is it about these paper dragons?” she asked. She put her hand on his arm. It looked pale against his darker skin.

“They’re just silly.”

“Like the kind of people who enjoy such things?” she continued with a smile.

Roidar frowned. “Are you referring to yourself?” She nodded. “Your enjoyment is endearing. I have tried to remind myself today that they…” he gestured to the room “…are just as unaware of the true meaning of this festival as you are.”

Lakeerae sat up. She swept the hood back the rest of the way and tucked her hair behind her ears. “What do you mean?”

“This festival. It’s not about dancing or face paint or food. It’s about protection from the terrors the dragons brought with them. The Dragon War was a real thing. Dragons are murderous and destructive. These paper dragons are wards, originally created by the priests before they fell out of favor when the gods disappeared.”

And the druids became the religion of the people, Lakeerae finished silently.

Lakeerae fingered the blue paper dragon on their table, feeling the fibrous smoothness of its wings. “Well, they must work then. No dragon has been seen in the Bracklin Reach in hundreds of years, not since the Dragon War.”

Roidar picked up the paper dragon and held it, staring into its eyeless face. “Not as well as you think,” he replied cryptically.

Lakeerae studied him but didn’t know how to reply.

She didn’t have time to think long on it. A woman holding a lute walked between them and the hearth, catching both of their attention with her dark silhouette against the orange flames.

“As we come to the end of the Paper Dragon Festival, it’s good to remember what we have to celebrate. The Dragon War was a dark time.” She paused, strummed the lute, adjusted it, and then began to sing. The lute harmonised with haunting sobriety.

The bard told how the sky grew dark with great scaled beasts and how they crashed like thunder and lit the sky like lightning. Their battle waged for several fortnights, blocking the sun, blocking the moons. The greenery burned and the animals laid down. The people hid and the people starved.

The priests prayed and created wards. One morning the sky cleared and all became quiet. The dragons were gone. The people rejoiced but that winter was a harsh one. More died. The priests begged the gods for help but they were silent. The only magic left to them was their wards–paper dragons, hung from window and door frames. They worked and the dragons never returned.

When the bard finished, the common room erupted in cheers. Lakeerae leaned over, close to Roidar’s ear, and whispered, “She knows.” She took another drink of her ale, watching him over the top of the mug.

Roidar looked at her with the ghost of a smile. Lakeerae returned it but wider.

Then she yawned unexpectedly.

“You should rest. The sooner we get our supplies the quicker we can be on our way again,” Roidar said.

Her eyelids were too heavy for her to argue.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lakeerae stumbled up the stairs, but Roidar caught her before she could go over. He had one arm under each of hers as he hauled her back to her feet, where she wobbled, her face close to his.

“Can you stand?” he asked. His mouth was close enough to hers that she could feel the warmth of his breath and smell the hint of ale still on it. His lips filled her vision.

She nodded, then tripped on the next stair. “Sorry.”

“Here.” He leaned over and lifted her into his arms. He staggered momentarily and Lakeerae’s tired eyes fluttered with concern, her arms clutching his neck. “I’ve got you,” he promised. He ascended the stairs slowly but more steady than she had been on her own. She buried her face in his chest and inhaled his scent, like pine needles.

He didn’t set her down at the top but kept going. The door swung open and shut with hardly her notice. She was too focused on the backs of her eyelids and fingering one of the gold chains that hung around his neck, smooth and warm from being against his skin.

The bed rose up to meet her, or maybe Roidar set her down. Suddenly his arms were gone. The linens felt cold against her skin and she prickled with gooseflesh.

“Will you be okay here?” Roidar asked. He sounded far away.

“I’m cold,” she mumbled.

A weight on the bed brought his smell closer again. He tucked the blanket around her, the scratchy fibers tickling her chin. His hand lingered at her cheek and she sighed and pressed against it.

Silence stretched and Lakeerae opened her eyes with a start. She wondered if she had drifted off. Roidar was still sitting there, a shadow against the darkness. Moonlight streamed unevenly into the room from his left, casting just enough light to create an outline.

“Get some sleep. I’ll come get you in the morning.”

As his weight on the bed shifted, Lakeerae reached out and found his retreating hand. She gripped it and pulled it back. She fought her tired eyes and heavy body as Roidar made a surprised noise.

He chuckled. “You can’t even keep your eyes open. What are you doing?”

Lakeerae sat up, blinking. She rubbed her eyes with her free hand, keeping Roidar’s in her other. They were face to face. “I want to say thank you.”

“For what?”

“For spending the day with me, even though I could tell you wanted to be somewhere else. I enjoyed it.”

She watched his shadowed cheek rise, the moonlight illuminating his teeth as he grinned. He was starkly contrasted in light and dark. “I enjoyed it as well. I’m sorry if I seemed an unwilling participate. I’m actually starting to like your company.”

From anyone else she would have thought it a backhanded compliment. “You’re not quite as bad as I first thought.”

Silence enveloped them until it seemed they and the room and the moons were all of existence.

Lakeerae raised the hand she still held and placed it near the center of her chest. She felt her quickened heartbeat against his similarly racing pulse.

Roidar’s eyes fell to their entwined hands and came back to her face. “You should get some sleep. Remember to shield your mind, like we’ve…”

She silenced him with her lips. There was no hesitation. He leaned into her, tilting his head and kissing her deeper. Their tongues found each other. Lakeerae reminded herself to breathe as she became lightheaded.

She brushed both of her hands back through his hair, tugging his face tighter to hers.

Their knees touching on the bed made them awkward as they tried to press closer. Roidar pivoted and guided her leg out to the side of him, the other still hanging off the bed. He laid her down.

Roidar pressed against her. He kissed from her mouth, along her cheek, and to her ear. His breath was heavy as he kissed her earlobe.

The room grew warmer. Lakeerae pulled on his handfuls of hair as her skin tingled. She felt it grow hot.

Roidar gasped and pulled away.

Lakeerae’s eyes shot open, her breath coming in small pants. He sat straight up, patting his arms and shirt. When she saw his face, she looked down at herself. She was wreathed in a light layer of green flame, an iridescent flicker along her pale skin. She raised her hand before her face and watched the flames lick along her skin for a moment.

She willed the flames to quiet.

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” she asked, her voice strained. Her eyes glistened with moisture.

“No, I appear unhurt,” Roidar said, tracing along his arms with his hands and his eyes again. “Are you alright?”

“I think so.” Her voice trembled with emotion.

Roidar stood up and smoothed his shirt and then his hair with his hands. “I should go,” he said, his words slow to form and leaving a palatable discomfort hanging in the air. He leaned forward, paused, and turned toward the door. He stopped with his hand on the knob and said, “I’ll come get you in the morning.” He left, the only sound the click of the door closing behind him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
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Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.