Blue Crow Rising ~ Chapter 1 Part 4

The wind whipped at me and I suddenly seemed to realize just how far I’d climbed. High, in short. Nauseatingly high. And this balcony? Not quite a balcony. More like a thin walkway that you could see through. Very thin.

I mean, it certainly was, what, five crows wide, but to me right then it was like a tightrope. I squished myself up against the wall and felt my heart pound in my throat.

Then I heard laughter. “Very well!” a man cheered.

I nearly jumped out of my skin. Whoa? Someone was here? Where? I looked all around before I realized that the voices were coming from within the building.

Help! I thought. Someone help me!

Feeling like every step was a gargantuan task, I began creeping forward, digging my fingers/claws in through the holes of the grid. Looking up, I crept my way around the corner. There, I poked my head around and up – and saw in through a large window.

Inside, from my bizarrely low angle, I saw Mister Macmillan and several other men I didn’t recognize. They looked like parents. Filthy rich too. They were pale like glass, wearing crisp white clothes like you saw in the magazines, and were lounging on a sofa. They were all in a sloppy ring, and at the center was someone, who was bowing to each person in turn.

“Thank you for summoning me,” the person said in a feminine voice. As they straightened, shudders slid down my spine and all my feathers poked up.

The woman had slick black hair that fell into her face. Her eyes were a brilliant orange. Her features were strange. I couldn’t place her lineage by sight, which was strange. For though she had pale skin paler than I had ever seen, her features weren’t wealthy. There was something familiar to her, like she could have come from my own family. Her suit was an impeccable black and tailored to flatter her in every aspect, but it shimmered and sparkled with sequins like an evening dress. Oh, and she was wearing a little black bowtie.

“We expect you to do exactly as we say,” one blonde man was saying.

The woman laughed, a strange and high-pitched cackle. She flipped a hand up and rolled her eyes to the sky. “Of cou-urse!” she laughed. “I just can’t tell you all how excited I am to be here! It’s an opportunity I’ve been waiting for-“

The men interrupted her. Typical. “We have arranged everything. You will be set to work straightaways. And,” this man, whom I could not see, added emphasis to his words. “We expect results.”

Again, that twittering laugh. She planted a hand on her hip and swung a hip out, looking down to her left at where the man must have been seated. “Don’t worry about that! I am the ah, result-maker?” She laughed at her own bad pun.

The men were not amused. Sure, they were smiling, but it was as if they weren’t seeing her. They were seeing beyond, imagining the results they so spoke of.

“So!” the lady clapped her hands together twice and up high with a flourish. “Let’s do this!”

There was scuffles of chairs being scraped back. The woman began, in quiet tones that were still so nasally high-pitched, speaking to one member. I saw her place her hand on his shoulder as they walked away.

A door creaked open, and footsteps led away. I held my breath and counted to four. The business meeting was over – and now I just had to go through the window and follow them. Well! With a flap and a hop I propelled myself up to the window.

I smashed unceremoniously into the glass. Green shimmers marked it as being marked with a barrier. No souls could pass through.

With a flop I landed on the grid-like landing. My mind careened, not just in pain. This room was magically locked? How was anyone supposed to get out in case of an emergency? I thought all buildings, per protocol, had to be magically transparent to allow safe evacuations. Maybe that’s why no one came up to this tower. It wasn’t safe!

Curious and just wanting to get a look at what was surely a forbidden area, I hopped up onto the ledge. Inside, there was a dusty room, a dusty coffee table, and a few leather chairs from a few decades ago. I blinked, not even seeing a file folder or trace of the meeting.

Then, fleetingly, it struck me that this was a strange place to hold a parent-teacher meeting, or whatever kind of meeting it was. In an unsafe room, at the top of an unused tower, and in uncomfortable chairs.

Weird, but I had a bigger predicament facing me.

Turning around on the ledge, I looked into the void.

Behold, a poet would have said, the void looked back.

Well if the void looking back was a thing, it went ‘Boo!’ at me. Because right then, as I was turning around, the wind buffeted me and I saw, far far beneath me, my Aaliyah whacking away at three sprites that were surrounding her. Worse! There was a ring of spirit creatures, our classmates, around her and watching.

My blood boiled. How dare they make fun of Aaliyah! How dare they leave her helpless against three sprites!

I lunged from my perch, my thoughts full of rage and no such thing as common sense. Careening, I sped on recklessly as fast as I could.

It was about halfway there that I realized they were cheering her on. Aaliyah whacked out one sprite, then another, and the third cowered in fear. More cheers. Aaliyah was flush with victory, and our classmates were pounding the earth in support of her.

It was her glorious moment and I, shooting through the sky like a fluffball of idiocy, realized I was about to make a joke out of it by ‘rushing to her rescue’.

Cursing loudly in my head I tried to slow down. It was the worst pilates class ever. Clench those buttcheeks! Flap the wings – oh not that way!

I found myself cartwheeling, flapping, and, I’ll admit it, shrieking my lungs out as the world spun and the earth came closer.

For a horrid blink all I saw was Aaliyah zooming up to me, spinning with the earth – and then something green flashed over me.

Snap! Giant teeth caught me and I was squished by a soft tongue – then unceremoniously spat on the ground. A giant set of claws pinned me to the earth and a snarling jade snout shoved into my face, complete with golden mane and horns.

I froze. My heart pounded in my chest. Jade. Jade dragon, my classmate. Oh, how embarrassing.

Looking left, I saw a horde of creatures staring me down in dismay. Looking right I saw more classmates – and Aaliyah’s shoes.

Chapter 1 Part 2

I had this theory, I read about it online and in a magazine once, that not being able to bloom was due to a nutritional deficiency. I’d believe it, because all five of us were dirt poor except Magdalene. And Magdalene was, well, really special. She had a hard time talking. Her eyes were lined with black, her clothes were black, and spikes jutted from her at every possible corner. But she just couldn’t really talk. Or do math. Or really, sit still for that long. She liked shouting too.

But she was an unbloomed, so she was my friend. We, the useless ones, we stuck together.

Also, we waited our turn. As the teacher, Mister Macmillan, passed by to unlock the door the five of us drew back to get out of everyone else’s way. We knew our place in society. I gritted my teeth at it, but that was what it was. It just wasn’t safe to get in anyone else’s way. People who had bloomed just had so much power!

“Studying still? It’s a bit late for that?” Professor joked as he held the door open. I realized he was talking to me. Sheepishly, I grinned and shrugged. Someone walked past me and slammed their backpack into my shoulder.

“Sorry!” they said, obviously not at all. I returned to the page. The ink had bled a little from the rain. I tried to focus, to memorize all the formulas-

“Come on,” Aaliyah patted me on the shoulder, steering me into the classroom. I protested but let her, enjoying the attention. In a last minute ditch attempt I flipped the page – and saw more formulas! CRAP!

Sniggers rose from the back of the class as Aaliyah steered me to my seat. We sat, all five of us, smack in the front. It was the safest spot to be and even the teachers encouraged it. They didn’t want us to get picked on.

“Notebooks away,” Macmillan said, mainly to me. I pressed my lips together and handed Aaliyah back her notebook. More sniggers, about what I couldn’t guess but I wanted to punch someone for it. Rich kids.

Then, the test began. Mister Macmillan handed out the leaflets to each row and they were passed down. The instant I got mine I flipped it open and began skimming the questions. Yes, yes, yes, I knew most of these! Okay!

Thanking Aaliyah with all my might, I flipped to the back section – the ‘superior’ section. It was really only for the ‘superior’ students who showed promise and who had exceptional marks – a category Aaliyah and me had exceptionally managed to nose our way into. It was quite remarkable for us unbloomed ones to have managed to enter the category, a feat that amazed our principal and even earned us both an embarrassing article in the school’s newspaper once.

And YES! I knew how to do those too!

Furiously, I began scribbling away. Time seemed to slow as I focused upon one question then another, scribbling and calculating and jotting numbers here and there.

Halfway through, I lifted my head up. Professor Macmillan was pacing the rows, scolding students and reminding everyone to keep their eyes on their papers.

I, however, was suddenly unsure of what I was doing. Something was wrong. Something tingled at the back of my neck. Something that had happened when – I looked out the window and caught my breath. Beyond the preened soccer fields, the sacred trees were on fire. Strange figures ran about, shadowy and furtive.

I lifted my hand. “Professor.”

“Don’t speak out of turn,” Macmillan said as he walked over.

“But,” I protested.

“What?” he asked as he walked to my side. I pointed to the window.

“We’re being attacked,” I said, stating the obvious.

“Oh,” he said.

There was the universal rustle of everyone looking. Of necks craning as everyone tried to see what I was pointing at. Which, for your information, was a sprite attack. It had happened once in my mother’s time at this school. It had already happened once in my time, and now I was unlucky enough to witness it again.

The alarm, a little late in my opinion, wailed out over the microphone. “Attention, students and staff,” our principal said primly. “We are enduring a sprite attack! Senior students are encouraged to use this as an opportunity to hone their fighting skills and gain hunting points – which I remind you are required for graduation!”

There was a cheer. Because, yeah, sprite attacks weren’t a catastrophe. In suburbs, where people were caught unawares watching their TV’s and where the populace wasn’t crawling with students yearning to ‘get out and FIIIIGHT!’, as some teachers were now shouting in the hallways, it could be dangerous. It was just especially dangerous if you were magically crippled, like, you know, us unbloomed were.

I was hunkering down in my chair, heart already hammering in my throat. Professor Macmillan was already at the front of the class, huge grin plastered on his face. “Alright students!” he called out like this was the best ball game of the world. “Get out there! Get some points!”

I slunk farther down in my chair, exchanging a horrified look with Aaliyah – who somehow didn’t look as terrified as I felt.

There was a roaring cheer of students jumping up, throwing pencils down and rushing for the windows. “Go, go, go!” Macmillan cheered, clapping his hands.

Students, the fastest first, began blooming right as they threw themselves at the windows. It was normally a sight I both loved to watch and hated. I was jealous, I hated them for being able to do something so magnificent. To shed their human skin and bloom into fully spiritual form.

There was Zalf, the gryffon who passed through the glass just in the nick of time. Gertrude, the graceful swan. But I was waiting with bated breath for the one. The one.

She was filthy rich. She was long-legged, blonde, pale of skin and always impeccably dressed. Her hair was short and choppily pulled back, with two long tendrils hanging down beside her face. Confident as could be, she and her small cluster of elite friends waited until everyone else was on their way to being moving. Because they never needed to rush. They were dragons.

Ever seen a dragon? Me neither until last year when our classes merged. Since then, I waited with bated breath for the crystal ice white dragon to materialize – but most of all for the jade green one. Her.

She, leaping for the window, was graceful and lithe. Stunning and magnificent as her green scales shimmered to reality around her and her shocking blonde mane rippled out.

Then, justlike that, she was gone. With an exhale I relaxed and looked back to the front of the class where Macmillan was. He was looking at me expectantly.

I pointed to the test. “Can I finish?”

Proffessor cringed. “You do know that you need hunting points to get into any high-ranked school, right?”

My jaw fell. But we were un-bloomed! We couldn’t hunt! It was too dangerous for us to even join organized hunting parties! Nevermind throwing ourselves into a melee!

“I mean,” Macmillan continued. “For the other schools, you can get in without it. But I know you two were hoping to get into McVaster so-“

Aaliyah scraped back her chair and jumped to her feet. Determination was scrawled all over her face. Holy shit- she really was going to do this!

I clutched at my chair. “Aaliyah! There’s sprites! We’re unbloomed-“

“Get up!” she ordered. “We’re going!”

“You can hit them over the head with sticks!” professor was cheering. Aaliyah grabbed me by the arm and yanked me to my feet.

I protested, but my wife-to-be was having none of it. With a yank and more determination than she needed, she rushed us out the door.

And that, really, was how it all began.

A NEW Release!

After a long afternoon of plugging away at it, I am so proud to announce that my latest Farfadelian novel is about to be released!

Yes! The book is actually completely finished, and now it’s just to finish the technicalities of getting it out there.

I am so happy to be able to write this. I’ve felt so many times like this book wasn’t worth it, wasn’t good enough, and wasn’t ever going to happen. But it has! After grueling edits and re-edits, it has made it through!

I am so so happy, so relieved, and quite motivated! For yes, this book kicks off the setting for the trilogy that I am currently working on. It’s the prequel, laying the groundwork for all that is to come. Which is quite a lot!

So please, be excited! Share this post, tell a friend, and be ready to grab yourself a copy (or ask me for one)! Stay tuned for cover and title reveal!

Wishing you all the very best, ❤

HAPPY SCREAMING!

*screams incoherently*

You know when they say that dreams *can* come true? Well a major one of mine just did!

Ladies and Gentlefolx, I am SO FUCKING PROUD to announce that Farfadel will now be sold IRL in a Queer Bookshop, namely the fabulous ‘Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room‘!!!!!

Giovanni’s Room is an amazing bookshop with a whole wealthy smack-gob of history behind it, as well as being a thrift shop (we all know thrift shops are the best!). These amazing folks have agreed to sell Farfadel’s magical story with you all, and I couldn’t (really!) be more excited!

So what does this mean? Well! If you live in the states, you can order from them at this link for a Tale of Two Queens and this one for A Tale of Adelaide and Shadow! If you already have a copy of my books, and want to support them directly, this is their donation link.

But what else?! I am just SO excited, y’all, I’m thinking of doing some sort of a giveaway! I’m thinking some free coloring pages, some artwork, SOMETHING to celebrate and raise the volume on this awesome shop! So if you have an idea of what you’d like to see done, let me know! And if you know of a local indie shop that you think needs some Farfadel in it, message them, and let me know about it!

And finally, thank you all SO MUCH for your support over the years. It means the world to me!

Take care ❤

All Hail the Fire Lady!


She’s the occasional kidnapper, occasional heroine, but more than often always fiery – It’s the Fire Lady of Farfadel!

Why yes, her magnificence has now graced the page in … watercolor? What an odd medium for her!

All joking aside, I’m super pleased with how this painting came out. The Fire Lady is one of my most beloved characters in Farfadel (I would get messages from reader friends like “IT’S THE FIRE LADY!” when they finally met her in the pages), and I feel like I managed to capture her changeling personality in this piece. It may not be perfect, there are certainly technical errors in it, but I am allowing myself to be pleased!

But who is the Fire Lady? As I said, occasional kidnapper, occasional heroine. A friend of mine suggested ‘chaotic neutral’ and I find that suits her perfectly!

In a more technical sense, the Fire Lady is the youngest of the Great Ladies at the time of the ‘Tale of Two Queens’ and the ‘Tale of Adelaide and Shadow’. She was an apprentice to the Great Lady of the Mountains, but caused sufficient havoc to become her own Ladyship. How exactly she gained that title is still disputed, and has yet to be written.

So that means there is much mystery to her still! How did she romance her beloved Oracle? Why is she always fighting with the Fairy chief? And why oh why does she not hand out magical goats any more?

So much mystery! So much left to discover! And I am SO pleased to say that I am working on a trilogy of Farfadelian shenanigans with her -> her eminence the Fire Lady <- at the center of it. She isn’t the main character, but her character arc fuels the plotline like a gasoline trail. But maybe one day I shall write a tale with her as the main character! That would certainly be fun. Maybe a whirlwind romance, a tale that is tugging at my mind lately…

Anyways, I will return to painting portraits of my characters. I wish you all the best! Fellow writers: do you have any chaotic characters? Do your readers like them? Do you?

Lage’s Game: Chapter Ten, Part Two

The door to the shack creaked and rattled so loudly as it was drawn open that it almost fell off its hinges. Inside was a cluster of people huddled about a tiny fire. They looked up like owls. Terrified, huddling – and then they were angry and ready to attack.

They cried out, clutching at each other yet lurching forward as one. Ekundayo held up a hand, and said something. I wish I knew what he was saying, and they in turn. But I couldn’t understand, and would remain as if deaf to this whole conversation. The conversation rattled on, sharp retorts from person or other among the huddle, and Ekundayo answered so calmly. He placed a hand on my shoulder, and I decided not to shrug him off. We might need his story to be actually believed.

Finally, the huddled people returned, not to owls, but to disgruntled sparrows or something like that. They huddled again, and took to whispering. But the conversation was over. Ekundayo smiled at me. “They welcome us,” he said sweetly to me.

“Who the fuck are they?” I muttered angrily, hugging the cloak around me. We were still standing in the doorway!

“Oh, dear, they are poor people,” he said as he drew me away from the door and back out into the cold. “They’ve, how shall we say it? They’re a society of people.”

“Okay,” I snapped as I was directed to turn and walk to another building.

“And they’ve decided we can live in their lands. It’s a sort of, commune? People that share, that hoard and spend together. All coins are to be deposited in, here,” he said as he gestured to the next building. “Come,” and he went up and rapped upon that door. It didn’t look ready to fall over. It practically did.

This door was shoved open by a person with a rat-like face, protruding hairs, and a sniffing nose. Their eyes were sunken in caverns, and they had a walkign stick in hand and a shawl about their shoulders.

They sniffed the air, then cocked their head to the side. A grin split their features.

“Ekundayo,” Ekundayo said. He drew a pouch from his belt and rattled it loudly before handing it to the blind rat.

“Ekundayo!” the person cried out. Then they sniffed again, reaching towards me. Ekundayo took their hand and guided it to my shoulder, where he patted it into me. I grimaced, but didn’t move.

“My daughter,” Ekundayo said with a twinkling smile at me. “She’s my apprentice too.”

“Oh! Oh!” the person cried out.

“This is Crow,” said Ekundayo to me. “He used to be a great dame.”

“I was elegant,” Crow sniffed. “But I am happy now!” He squeezed my shoulder and patted me. “Come in, daughter and father!”

Crow backed away into the building, shuffling and muttering. We followed, Ekundayo gesturing me in before himself. Once we were in, he shut the door behind us. The cold remained, only a little stifled by the shack’s walls.

Here, there was no fire. There was only a large table laden with coins, pouches, and all sorts of items, a straw mat in a corner, and a pile of more junk in another corner. Ekundayo dropped his pouch into the pile and began rummaging. “We need clothes for my daughter,” he commented calmly. “Her mother is going to want her back, as will the princess. She was a handmaiden, you know?”

“Oh! Do you know dame Minstrel?” Crow asked chirpily as he shuffled to his straw mat and plopped down with … no grace whatsoever.

I didn’t answer, feeling the vices of our lie tightening around us. Ekundayo sighed into the pile of junk. Loudly, he drew out a piece of clothing. “This will do!”

“What will do?” asked crow loudly. “Is she a girl? Or a boy?”

Ekundayo looked at me with a glimmer in his eye and a foolish grin on his face. He held out the tunic to me. “Hm?” he asked, to prompt me to answer.

“I’m a girl,” I said sourly. I reached a hand out for the tunic. It was a bit large, but it would do. It was sufficiently mud-colored with a hue of green about it. I would blend into the streets.

After digging me up some pants and a pair of oversized boots, Ekundayo went to sit on the cot beside Crow with his back to me so I could change.

Crow, however, had gotten a taste of conversation and seemed ready to indoctrinate. “Are you sure? You seem,” he snapped his fingers in the air before himself. “Unhappy.”

“Oh, she is unhappy,” said Ekundayo with a chuckle. I began changing angrily.

“It is not about that,” I said sourly as I pulled the boots on. Then, thinking things over, I moved to sit on Crow’s other side. Resting would be nice, I decided. A bath would be better, but that would be probably impossible in this world.

“So what is it about?” Crow asked. Then, completely ignorign me, he began prattling about how, when he was young, he never knew what was wrong, but he knew something was wrong and –

I tuned it out, glaring at Ekundayo. He grinned at me like this was great fun. I scowled and leaned against the icy wall, hugging my cloak about myself.

Then, to the sound of Crow’s exaggerated story of elegance and misery, I fell asleep.

Lage’s Game: Chapter Ten, Part One

The rush of prisoners before us scattered at the top of the stairs, parting left and right into corridors. The creature, whatever he was, led me to the right. There we rushed down a narrow corridor. The prisoners ahead of us tangled with guards in brawls they lost. We wove around the messes and he drew to a halt at a window. The glass pane opened outwards, and he climbed up, sidling sideways so his body could slip out.

A guard yelled at us. The creature held out a hand to me. I hesitated.

I was seized from behind by the shoulders. I burst, a wave of anger suddenly crowding my mind.

I screamed, I lashed out. I felt the surge of power and adrenaline taking over. I wrenched myself free, jabbing elbows against armor and thrashing with all my might. The world had dissolved in a haze of red. The guard grappled at me – but was slammed back by a kick from the creature who was half back in through the window. Again, the hand was thrust at me.

This time I took it. I was yanked up, onto the window’s ledge. My hands gripped the edges of the window, and a rush of cold air greeted me. A drop opened up beneath us, one large story down.

“Climb on my back,” the creature said, taking one of my hands and putting it on his shoulder. I climbed, swinging my legs around his waist and gingerly grappling at his neck beneath the hood.

Too soon, the creature, man, began to scale the wall. I yelped as we moved away from the window, tightening my grip on his neck and locking my legs around his waist. But we did not fall. Instead we scurried down, to the side, and climbed atop the wall that separated the castle from the rest of the city.

He didn’t stop to set me down. Guards rushed us, but they were too slow. He had already jumped off the wall, scurrying down like a spider to the ground below.

The guards shouted from atop the walls, but they could do nothing it seemed. He ran, darting through the crowds of people to slide in narrow alleyways between houses. After several dizzying turns, he slowed to a stop.

“You can get down now,” he said gently, bending over slightly. “We should be safe here. At least for a little while until the guards recover their senses.”

Trembling, I set myself on the ground. I gripped my hands into fists, trying to calm myself.

In these shadows, I could see the one who had set me free much better. He was certainly tall, but maybe he was still a human. Yet something about him forebade it.

“Show me your face,” I ordered. What was he? Some monster? He had already admitted to being an assassin. How much worse could it get?

He smiled, flashing those white teeth. “Bossy. That’s good. But here, just for you,” he bent over before me, lifting the beaded fringe from his eyes and with it, the hood up off his head.

His eyes were brilliant golden set with sparks in them that gleamed. They reminded me of cats’ eyes in their roundness and their tilt. He had a tall forehead, from which grew a myriad of thin silver dreadlocks. Beside those dreadlocks, pointed ears poked out.

An elf?

He ran a hand through his hair, flashing me a grin again as he stooped before me. “You see? Our hair is the same. I’m just much older than you.”

I was pretty sure I’d never have actually silver hair. Just gray, if I lived long enough to get old. He was trying to make me like him. I was determined not to, putting on my most sour expression.

His smile didn’t falter. He straightened, brushing his hood back up. “The sun hurts my eyes,” he explained as he set the fringe back into place. “And the fringe helps me hear the spirits. I’m a shaman, you know.”

I didn’t answer, looking around. We were in a tiny crackle of a space between four buildings. A crossroad of sorts. The snow was trampled into the mud, proving that this was a well-used path.

“We’ll need to find you clothes,” he hummed. “Something practical.”

I didn’t answer, but I knew he was right. My yellow and pink pajamas, now covered in filth, were sorely out of place even if I hugged the guards’ red cloak around myself. And something besides socks would be good. Now that I relaxed, my feet were frozen. They stung with cold.

The elf looked around. “Should I kill someone? It would have to be a young woman, or do you wear mens’ clothes?”

“Don’t kill anyone,” I griped, deciding that there had been enough death already. “We can just – steal.”

He laughed. “How ideal. How shall we do that?”

I looked around again. “We should get moving,” I muttered, not wanting to admit that, unlike in movies, there didn’t seem to be laundry hanging haphazardly around for easy plucking. Did people not do laundry in winter?

“This way then,” said the elf, nodding to the right with his head. His fringe’s beads caught the light and glimmered. “I know what we shall find for you.”

As we walked, he began to talk. “My name is Ekundayo. What about yours?”

I didn’t answer, glaring ahead.

“Very well,” he said cheerfully. “I will call you simply ‘apprentice’. How is that?”

I frowned at him. “I am not your apprentice,” I hissed between my teeth.

“Oh but you see, it shall be useful,” he said, lifting a finger at me. Then, he winked. I scowled.

We walked for several more minutes in silence until several people appeared beside the buildings. They stepped out of the alleyways and barred our path.

I hesitated, slowing. These people were all hues of dirt and scuffed even worse than the ones I’d seen when entering the city. They meant trouble.

But Ekundayo put a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t be afraid. They’ll smell it,” he murmured happily.

And so we walked on to greet these bandits.

They seemed baffled by this behavior, or more so by something about Ekundayo. They looked from him to me and back again, frowning. There were four of them, and they looked at each other with arms crossed and large knives at their belts.

Ekundayo inclined his head and said something in gibberish, starting with “Shee, shee.”

The bandits shuffled their feet. They looked at me. The woman that stepped forward with a lifted chin answered in that language to Ekundayo, nodding at me.

Ekundayo placed a hand on my shoulder, and he laughed softly before saying more gibberish.

After another curt exchange, the bandits stepped aside. Ekundayo patted my shoulder and we walked on past them.

“What was that?” I hissed after we were out of earshot. “What did you say?”

He chuckled, pulling the hood up onto my head. “You’re going to have to learn the language of the poor to live here, apprentice. Only the rich speak your language.”

I paused. It had never occurred to me before that English was not universal. But now… “Teach it to me,” I ordered. I’d need it, certainly.

More smiles. Another chuckle. “About what was said. I told them you were my daughter, spawned with a noblewoman, and that I’d finally rescued you from their clutches.”

I gaped. He winked again. “It explains you not speaking a word of the poor speech. And why you look so out of sorts.”

Anger rose within me, a steady burn in my chest. “I’m not your daughter, and I’m not your apprentice. Stop imagining things!”

He shook his head, tutting. The fringe on his hood rattled. “Children these days,” he scoffed before chuckling again. Then, he pointed to a shack that looked no different from the others. “There,” he said. “We will find our friends there, daughter.”

“I’m not your child!”

He laughed.

Escape! ~ Lage’s Game: Chapter Nine, Part Two

I stared at the nearly invisible creature. Of course I wanted to get out. This was a trap question. Of course I wanted out – but what would it cost me? I peered so hard at the creature, trying to think and guess at what it wanted – and then it laughed.

It was a clear, high laugh. Menacing? Cold? It sent chills down my spine.

“I said! Enough!” the guard marched over, banging a thick sword against the bars. “You there!” and he rounded on the last cell, the one with the monster in it.

“Are you talking to me?” the hoarse voice asked. The shape twisted upwards, stretching up, up, up until it was like a tall human, facing the guard. “Do you want to fight?” It was curious, questioning like a child. The hands wrapped around the bars before the guard. But the guard had brought a lamp with him, and I finally saw the creature as he held it aloft.

It was a humanoid shape, wreathed in a large purple cloak with silver-white embellishments shrouding the eyes in a fringe that hung down to the cheekbones. The skin was black like the darkest hue of nighttime, the lips were thin, the nose hooked, and there was a grace to its smile.

“Stand back!” barked the guard, banging at the bars where the creature’s hands had been.

“Oooh,” murmured the creature. “Frightening.”

The guard paled. “Enough!” But he had already lost this battle.

“Shut up,” hissed the creature, turning away from the guard to face me. Beneath the cloak I saw a fluttering of a grey robe, a sash from which hung dozens of braids, and boots. But then the cloak was drawn fast around the creature once more.

It is probably a human, I thought to myself, but I wasn’t sure. Was it?

It crouched again before the bars separating us, its dark hands coiling around the bars. “Who brought you in here, child? Far from your world, aren’t you?”

I didn’t answer, huddling on myself. The guard bellowed again. “Quiet!”

The creature turned to him, then back to me. It was a strangely silent movement. Their fabrics barely rustled. They sat down and crossed their legs before themselves. They must be human.

Breathing a sigh, the guard turned and walked away. With him went the light, and some semblance of safety.

Once the guard was back at the other end, the creature whispered. “I was brought in for murder. But you can trust me. I’m an assassin.”

I wanted to clap my hands over my ears and curl up into myself. I wanted to block out this entire strange world.

“I kill in cold blood. I don’t make them suffer. I’m not like them,” he whispered.

My senses prickled. Them? Did he know- he couldn’t, could he?

I found myself turning to look at the creature. His tilted eyes were glowing faintly, just enough to be discernible. He had a hand reached out for me, palm up.

“Come with me,” he whispered. “I can see who you are. I can tell-” and his voice dropped to barely a whisper. “What you’ve eaten.”

My breath caught. The creature chuckled. “Yes,” he murmured, coaxing me on. “Come with me, child. You won’t be safe here once they bring you to the priestesses. What they will do to you – even I wouldn’t.”

I shuddered. Now that I was looking, I couldn’t take my eyes away from theirs.

The hand drew back, and I felt that they were satisfied. “Tomorrow, no- tonight. Soon. Brace yourself, child. Rest. We will be free soon.”

I looked away then, feeling caught and guilty. Would I run with them? Was this some trap? It couldn’t be – I hadn’t given them anything! And I could still change my mind, couldn’t? Besides, how could they get me out of here?

I found myself curling up on myself, my head between my knees. As if following orders, I fell asleep fitfully.

I dreamed of Lage. I dreamed of Mother, of Father, of Kayla and her final bottle smash. It was terrible.

I woke screaming, to find the air silent and cold. There was a crispness to the air that smelt of the outside.

I looked around, wondering where I was. For a moment I was completely lost, baffled, and it wasn’t helped by what I saw.

To my right, where the creature’s cell was, a silver light was glowing. It expanded, radiating out with a breath of coolness and frost out into the cells. Then it swept back in, shrinking somewhat. It was someone’s breath, I realized. The creature’s breath, their form hidden as a shadow behind this glowing frost.

I slunk backwards, looking around for some sense of normalcy. No one was coming. No one seemed to even notice that something strange was happening.

For what felt like an eternity, I sat there with my arms around my knees. I reached out within myself, pleading with the world for help, for something.

With my head burrowed between my knees, I was jolted from my thoughts by the creature shouting. “Guard! Guard! Come quick! The girl is dead!”

I jolted up, lifting my head and looking around. The creature was standing by the bars, their glowing breath now gone. There was the sound of cursing and feet running. The guard rushed into view, lamp in hand and keys in the other.

I just sat there, frozen. Wondering what was happening, even as it unfolded before me.

It was a trap. The guard rushed up against the bars of my cell, and the creature reached out through his and yanked the guard close. In one yelp and a snap, the guard was over. The keys were now jangling in dark hands, the lamp smashing to the floor.

The silence that followed was punctuated only by the hammering of my heart in my ears. Then, the door grating open. The flames licked at the oil on the floor, lighting up the creature as he stepped out. He was a ghastly shape, tall and strange as he stepped over the fire to unlock my door.

“Come,” he said sweetly. Then he turned and walked away.

I had a choice. I could sit in this cell, or move. I moved. I didn’t know what the princesses had in store for me, but neither did I know what this creature wanted. At least with the creature, I could hopefully still run away. Find my way back to Lage, then go home. But what home was there to go back to?

I shoved that question aside as I stepped over the smoldering flames and beside the dead guard. I was going home. That was that.

As I made my way down the corridor, the creature was unlocking some doors, ignoring others. Then, as if to spite everyone, he tossed the keys into the far corner of an already locked cell that held only a skeleton.

Prisoners were rushing out, pouring and stumbling towards the stairs that led away and up. The creature turned to me. He flashed a smile of immaculate white teeth.

“Here,” he drew a cloak from the guards’ chair. “Put this on.”

Remembering the biting cold of outdoors, I did, wrapping it clumsily around my shoulders. He nodded, and we turned and ran after the vanishing prisoners.

Lage’s Game: Chapter Nine, Part One

Rebella nearly threw me at her grandmother, she shoved me at her so harshly. I stumbled forward, and the elderly Queen touched my face briefly. I straightened, scowling, and her touch was gone. But she was smiling now.

“An ancient,” she whispered. “Too bad I am leaving as she arrives.”

But she did not sound sorry at all. Rather, she sounded mischeivous. Playful, even. The eye looked at Rebella, then her sister. “You two have your work cut out for you,” she said gleefully.

The two sisters did not seem amused.

“Perhaps if we do a spell of reversal, her death will save your life,” said Rebella swiftly, the way you blurt something out so no one can interrupt you with a ‘no’.

The grandmother hummed as she looked me over once more.

“No,” she said finally.

I let out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding. Al-alright? I guessed I was safe then? Somehow I didn’t feel any safer. At least not with Rebella around.

“We must save you!” Rebella cried out, shoving me aside to step up to her grandmother. “Your life is worth more than hers!”

“Then it would not be a fair spell, would it?” chuckled the grandmother.

“Rebella,” warned the sister, stepping to my other side. I was trapped between them.

Rebella seized my shoulder. “It is her people who did this! She must pay-”

“Why?” I barked, glaring up at Rebella.

She seemed utterly shocked at that. At me speaking up? At me daring to question her? Either way, she was astonished. She almost let me go. I wrenched free with a twist, and almost punched her in the stomach. On a whim, I didn’t. I resisted that rage that was beginning to boil within me.

“’My people’, as you call us, could not have done this,” I snapped, gesturing to the elderly woman. “The gun you showed me couldn’t have done this-”

“It did!” barked Rebella, seizing me again to shake me. Now, I gave in to the anger.

I shrieked, kicking and clawing at her. I aimed for the eyes. With a yell she lunged back, shielding her face with her arms.

I didn’t chase her. Instead I stood my ground, seething and glaring at the astonished princess. “Brat,” she hissed between her teeth.

“It was them who must have done this,” I hissed back at her. “They have killed my parents! They attacked me! They murdered my aunt-,” and those words silenced me. Was Kayla truly gone? Had she – finished her fight? Was she happy?

“Well,” said the grandmother, but then she took a cough, and then another, and then a whole fit of them. She doubled over, the other princess and several attendants rushing to her side to pat her shoulders and fuss. Rebella stood where she was, looking guilty. Our eyes met. She looked away, then fiercely glared back at me as if she’d changed her mind. She would not look away now.

After a hacking spasm, the grandmother breathed again. Leanign back in her throne, she looked Rebella over. “Child,” she said softly. “Take care of this one,” and she nodded at me.

Rebella startled. “Of, course?” she said, pausing as if she was not entirely sure what had been said. Neither was I.

The Grandmother smiled, eyes closing. “Don’t let Lage get his claws into her.”

My stomach vanished. Was Lage somehow to blame for all this? After all, he had appeared with ‘them’.

But Rebella was quickly bowing and murmuring that yes, she would be sure to keep me away from Lage.

“That man is trouble,” sighed the Queen, eyes still closed. Then, she seemed to drift off into sleep, peace and relaxation coming over her good features.

The sister spun to Rebella, hissing under her breath. “Get her out of here! You’ve done enough!”

Rebella lifted her head angrily, but the sister gestured at her to leave. “Take her with you!” Then, shoving me towards Rebella, she added “How dare you bring her here! I will talk with you later!”

“No, you won’t!” snapped Rebella as she yanked me to her by the shoulder. Then, dragging me after her, she whirled and marched away.

We crossed the courtyard of greenery, then entered into the castle through another door than the one we entered into. Once that door was shut behind us, Rebella shoved me towards a guard. “Put her in the dungeon,” she said ruefully as she kept walking on, leaving me behind in the guards’ grasp.

I squirmed, wanting to throw myself after Rebella and give her a beating. But the guard held me fast. Muttering something under his breath to the other guard at the station, he began hauling me down the corridors.

We descended a meager flight of stairs, the walls growing darker and darker as there were fewer and fewer lamps to light the way. The air grew dank and humid and foul with the smell of decaying flesh. Then, at the end of these stairs, the dungeon appeared.

It was a small landing where a guard sat with his feet propped up on a desk. “Another one?” he asked, rising sloppily to his feet.

“This one’s special,” said the guard, shoving me forward. “She’s not from here, if ye ken what I mean.”

“Oh,” said the dungeon guard, sounding astonished behidn his helmet. I made a point of glaring at him.

“The princess brought them in,” said the first guard. “So put her alone, away from the others. The usual for their type of scoundrel.”

The dungeon guard nodded, taking me by the shoulder and hauling me off into the darkness beyond the light of the last lamp. There he seemed to know his way, walking straight on. As we walked my eyes grew adjusted tot he dark and I saw large cells on either side, full of ragged figures who clustered together. There were squeaks of what I supposed was rats.

We walked on and on, and I wondered why there were so many prisoners. There were dozens of them, of not a hundred in total.

Past those large cells were smaller ones. These seemed emtpy, put the darkness was growing so thick that it was difficult to tell.

I was shoved into one that was not the last, but before the last. “There!” the guard barked, locking the door behind me. “You stay there!”

I stumbled, caught myself, and turned around.

The cell was tiny, just long enough for an adult to lay down in either direction. There was spongey grime in one corner and scrapes of straw that were scattered across the rest. Tired and altogether frustrated and mad, I sat down in the corner against the stone wall and the bars to the other cell, as far away from the spongey stuff as possible. There, I wrapped my arms around my knees and hugged them to my chest.

Finally, I caught my breath. Finally, I had time to think. The world, having moved so fast, was now slamming to a stand-still. I let out a loud breath, just to hear myself.

The dungeon, for the amount of people it housed, was eerily silent. The footsteps of the guard faded away, and then there was utter silence.

My mind whirled. I was in some world. In a dungeon. I was being blamed for a Queen’s death- which was certainly not the result of a gunshot wound. These people were completely lost and out of their league against ‘them’, it would seem. They were –

I shrieked as something slipped through the bars and touched my shoulder. It was soft yet smooth and solid – rather like a hand.

I scrambled back, crawling backwards across the floor. Beyond, on the other side of the bars, I could just make out a set of tilted golden eyes that seemed to glow ever so slightly.

“Shee, sheee,” a voice whispered as the hand waved through the bars at me.

“Silence!” the guard roared, banging something against the bars far away. I knew it was a threat, and I’d better shut up.

I gulped down my fear, staring at the strange shape that was too close to me. I could only make out the eyes, and the ghastly shape of the hand.

“Shee, shee,” it shushed, or was that some word? It was a male voice, low and hoarse. It murmured some gibberish then, the hand reaching still for me.

A madman, I thought. Or a pedophile. Or – some creature?

“Little one,” the voice whispered.

I startled. A human then? Then again, could monsters speak english?

“Here, tsk tsk tsk,” the hand snapped its fingers.

“I said quiet!” bellowed the guard, banging again on the bars.

The hand grew limp and drew away through the bars. But the voice continued. “Little one, here, come.”

I crawled back some more, squishing my hands into the filth. The stench was terrible so I recoiled – but that drew me closer to the creature.

Huddling between the filth and the monster, I clutched my knees to my chest again.

Silence settled. I felt myself calm somewhat. The creature could not reach me –

“Little one,” it whispered. “Would you like to get out?”