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Barrow of the Grail,800 AD, in a parallel world…A thumb of stone stuck up higher than a man from the forest floor. Halawa would have thought little of the outcropping had her companion, the old mawlawi Ishraq, thrust his finger at it while whistling for her attention."Look at it closely," he said. "Do you not see the inscriptions?"Halawa leaned her head toward the monolith and squinted where Ishraq pointed. Through the mossy crust which had grown over the course of centuries, she could indeed make out lines indented in its surface. After she dismounted her stripe-legged horse and approached the stone on foot, she used her scimitar to clear away the moss, exposing the eroded inscriptions underneath. Some were strings of unintelligible symbols of circles, crescents, and notches, which Halawa guessed represented some ancient language. What she could recognize was the larger illustration chiseled into the rock above the rows of text, with scattered flecks of red paint clinging to it. It was a creature with the wings of a bat, the taloned legs of an eagle, and the sinuous tail and neck of a serpent, with the horned lizard-like head bearing sharp teeth in its gaping jaws. A sphere of amber embedded in the rock winked from where the beast’s eye would be, making Halawa’s dark brown skin creep over her body.“The Red Dragon of the Brythons,” Halawa said under her breath. “Does this mean we’re nearby?”“If the old map doesn’t deceive, Amira, then of course,” Ishraq said. “Keep your eyes out while we press on. The barrow could be anywhere around here.”Halawa remounted her steed, and together they rode northward through the forest, with the leafy undergrowth tugging at their clothes. It was a balmy and humid summer day, so the Amira of Al-Biritania had needed to put on only a brief halter-top and baggy surweil trousers, both woven from various shades of blue cotton, while Ishraq had on a white thobe and turban. A thin and transparent purple veil covered Halawa’s lower face as her sole expression of womanly modesty.,As their horses trotted through the woods, she held one hand over her scimitar’s hilt while scanning the mist and shadows that filled the understory between the elm, oak, and yew trees. Forests like these were infamous for the cover they offered bandits as well as Saxon rebels who clung to the ways of the Crucified One and would pounce on any follower of the Prophet of Prophets (peace be upon him) that crossed their paths. Those of Al-Biritania’s Moorish ruling class like Halawa and Ishraq had to watch out even more than others of the True Faith, for their dark complexions marked them as descended from the conquerors who had come all the way from the southern continent of Ifriqiya to bring the Faith to these lands half a century ago.And that did not even account for the bears, wolves, and other animals that roamed these forests. Or the ancient djinn said to haunt them like ghosts. Even more than beasts or man, it was the thought of djinn that made Halawa shiver within.Something cracked under her horse’s hooves. She held onto its reins while the animal reared with a nervous whinny. Beneath where its front hoof had stepped lay a pile of fractured potsherds. At least it could have been worse.“Ah, very interesting,” Ishraq said. The scholar dismounted and picked up one of the potsherds with his fingers. “See the notched bands running along its surface, looking like rope? This must be part of a pot the ancient Brythons would have made. Imagine, this whole area must have been their settlement once.”After giving another survey of their surroundings, Halawa struggled to picture any kind of town thriving where this dense forest now grew. She could not see even the eroded traces of stone walls or sculptures lying around. If people had built a settlement here in the distant past, it must have been little more than a village of perishable wattle-and-daub huts like those the local Saxons had built for themselves when the Moors first arrived in Al-Biritania from the south. Nothing that her people, or any civilized people, would find impressive.A bowstring creaked. Sticking out from the cover of the undergrowth, an arrow’s iron point glinted, with a pair of frosty blue eyes glaring from the shadows behind it.Halawa ducked on her horse. The arrow whistled through the air overhead, grazing her ponytail of fluffy black hair. Another arrow flew out from the same direction and hit her horse’s hip. The animal threw itself up with a shrill neigh, causing Halawa to fall onto the damp forest floor. Both her horse and Ishraq’s galloped in panic out of sight, leaving them to cower on the ground.Out from the bushes charged pale-skinned men in leaf-stained green tunics, brandishing short seax swords as they converged on the two Moors. The foremost of them lunged an outstretched hand at Halawa with his eyes smoldering like blue fire with vicious lust or hatred.She uppercut him with her scimitar, drawing a gash that ran from the brute’s chest to his chin. The other barbarians stood in gaping shock as they watched their mate topple over with blood spurting from his wound. Halawa smirked as she twirled and waved her red-washed blade before them as a warning display.One of the attackers, a big red-maned fellow, growled in the Saxon language as he swung a long club at her. She stepped back, and the earth beneath her feet rippled upon the weapon’s impact. He swung it again sideways and banged against Halawa’s hip. She fell onto the trunk of an elm tree, with its coarse bark scratching the skin of her back.The big clubman lumbered toward her with the other green-clad Saxons following close behind, all sneering like demons from hell. As she struggled against her pain, Halawa launched her foot into the hulking savage’s stomach, kicking him onto two of his fellows behind him. She pounced on the fallen brute, hacked through his club as he held it over his face, and stabbed his brow to the brain. The rest of the gang slashed at her with their seaxes, but she was able to fend them off with parries and slashes of her own until one hammered his sword’s hilt onto her temple. Sparks flew in her vision, and the world turned into a dancing blur around her.The man who had struck her grabbed the strap of her top and pulled her toward himself. As he squeezed a muscular arm around her torso with the strength of a python’s coils, the cold steel of his seax pressed against the skin of her throat.The man’s hold on Halawa loosened as he slipped off her and crumpled to the ground, rubbing his hand over a band of reddened skin on the nape of his neck. Behind where he had stood was old Ishraq, who patted the edge of his hand with his fingers.“It’s called the Eastern hand chop,” the mawlawi said with a cheeky smile. “And you thought I’d be defenseless out here, Amira.”Together, Halawa and Ishraq fended off what remained of the Saxons, she with her scimitar and he with his bare forelimbs. After a storm of sword strokes, flailing arms, and spilled blood, only one of the attackers remained. Dropping his seax, he sank to his knees with his arms held up while letting out a pathetic whimper.“Please, milady, have mercy on me,” the Saxon said in accented Moorish. “We meant only to defend our lands. And maybe take a little coin for the needy as well.”“I don’t know if I believe that,” Halawa said while wiping the blood off her sword. “I swear I saw lechery burning in your eyes.”“I wouldn’t assume that, Amira,” Ishraq said. “Even if they weren’t necessarily going to kill you, they could have just wanted to take you prisoner for ransom.”Halawa rolled her eyes. From the stories she had heard, men like these would not hold young women prisoner without taking further advantage of them.The surrendering Saxon blinked his eyes. “Did I hear the old man call her Amira? As in ‘princess’? Who are you two, anyway?”“You heard him right,” Halawa replied. “I am Halawa ibnat Omar, the Amira of Al-Biritania. And this is my tutor Ishraq He is a mawlawi, or scholar, from the Madrasa of Landinya.”“So, you’re both from the capital down south?” the Saxon said. “What could bring you up here to Sherwood?”“We both seek the barrow of Artur, fabled King of the Brythons,” Ishraq said. He pulled out from the sash around his thobe a yellowed old parchment map. “This ancient map says it lies somewhere in these woods. Do you know anything about it?”“I know of Artur, alright. He led the Brythons against us Saxons while we were coming over from the mainland. But there are many barrows all over Al-Biritania, including these woods. I wouldn’t know which among them would be his.”“Such a shame, then,” Halawa said. She tapped the Saxon man’s blond-stubbled chin with the flat of her sword. “I was thinking that, were you able to lead us to it, we might spare your life. And maybe even pay you more than enough dirhams to compensate for the loss of your men.”The Saxon smiled. “Methinks that sounds like a fair trade. But why do you seek that old barrow at all?”“My father, the Sultan of al-Biritania, has fallen ill, and all our medicines have failed,” Halawa said. “What we seek is Artur’s Grail, the one thing we know that can heal him before his time runs out.”“I’ve heard of that too, but I don’t know if I believe such heathen legends. Still, if it means I can come out with my life and some coin, I’ll lead you to the biggest barrow I know about.” The Saxon rose to his feet. “And maybe help track your horses down before then.”Halawa slipped her scimitar under the sash girdling her hips. “Then we have our agreement. By the way, I didn’t catch your name.”“Call me Rothbart of the Merry Men.” The Saxon looked around at all the bodies of his fellows. “And now the last of them, too. Apologies for the rude welcome we gave you.”“For the time being, apology accepted.”, It had taken many hours to recover the horses, which they found drinking together by a stream to the northeast. Nonetheless, Halawa was grateful that they had found their steeds at all. Were she to come home without her horse, the finest in the royal stable, her father would have become so furious that it would have killed him before she could administer the Grail’s healing power. Besides, walking on foot all the way back to Landinya would take more days than the Sultan had left.Upon reuniting with her horse, Halawa had pulled out the arrow out of its hip while Ishraq cleaned its wound. She hoped the wound would heal on its own before they came back unless she could use the Grail’s power on it too. Even the slightest nick on such a prize animal could upset her father almost as much as its death.Daylight had faded into evening when Rothbart led them to the base of a wide, shallow hill which the forest grew over. It did not stand out from other rises in the terrain until they found a rectangular opening framed with stone blocks in its slope. Inscribed into the lintel were faint characters of the same type as the “text” on the monolith Halawa had seen in the woods earlier, along with a similar image of a dragon flecked with faded red paint.“A shame that nobody alive can read old Brythonic writing,” Rothbart muttered. “It could tell us whose barrow it is.”“If it has the red dragon on it, odds are it’s Artur’s,” Ishraq said. “We’re beyond doubt in the right part of the woods for it.”Blocking the entrance was a big circle of stone inscribed with the image of a broad-shouldered swordsman wearing a gold-painted circlet. Swirling lines on the figure’s body, some of which still had traces of blue paint sticking onto them, suggested the war paint the ancient Brythons would stripe themselves with. The sword too retained some paint, a streak of silver running down the blade which reflected the light of the ascendant moon.If that did not depict the legendary Artur of the Brythons himself, wielding his enchanted sword Caledfelch, then Halawa could not imagine it representing anyone else.Rothbart unslung his bow, the same bow he had used to ambush the Moors, and wedged it alongside the stone circle. It budged only a little bit when he pushed on his bow like a lever, so Halawa offered him a longer stick from the forest floor. Together, upon replacing the bow with the bigger stick, the three of them pushed until they had pried the blockage open. From inside emanated golden light like that from the sun, light so bright that Halawa had to shield her eyes.“At least we won’t need to make torches,” Rothbart said.They followed the light into a vast hollow within the earth. A knee-high circular wooden table covered much of the space within it, with twelve decayed skeletons sitting cross-legged around it. Eleven of the twelve skeletons clutched rusted swords by the hilts in their bony fingers, holding them up with the blade pointed to the ceiling. The one remaining skeleton, the one cloaked with tattered red tartan which sat on the side of the table opposite the barrow’s entrance, held a sword that showed no rust at all. Instead, its steel blade and bejeweled gold hilt glinted as if forged anew.It was on the center of the table that the Grail of Artur sat, giving off the golden light that illuminated the barrow.Gazing upon the glowing chalice, Halawa felt guilt chew on her heart. It did not seem right to defile such an enchanted burial, even if the Brythons who had erected the barrow had fallen under the Saxon sword long before her own Moors had conquered them in turn. It would be worse than one of the heathen Danes breaking into a Moorish mosque in search of plunder. Still, if the Grail could give off such radiance, it had to have had the power to heal Halawa’s ailing father. That was what mattered to her most.She stepped onto the great table, walked across it to the Grail, and picked it up. The chalice’s neck burned hot to the touch at first, like a cup of hot Maghrebi tea, but the sensation faded the longer she held it up. Somehow, it had been too easy to obtain this hallowed artifact once you found out where it was hidden. It made Halawa wonder why it had remained hidden for as many centuries as it did.The ground trembled, with dust and chunks of soil showering down from the ceiling. From outside, the horses’ terrified whinnying rang, followed by a screeching roar so loud that not even the thick walls of earth could muffle it. Halawa, Ishraq, and Rothbart scurried out of the barrow to where they had tethered the horses. In the animals’ place stood flaming skeletons that disintegrated into ashes.High above circled the same dragon Halawa had seen in the ancient inscriptions, except this one was real. It blew back the treetops with every beat of its leathery wings, which held up a crimson-scaled body as massive as an elephant. It craned its neck down to face the trio with gleaming amber eyes set in its horned triangular head. Parting jaws lined with bladelike teeth, it roared while spewing down a shaft of fire.,Halawa backflipped, escaping the torrent of flame by less than one pace. The dragon’s wings fanned the smoke rising from the crater as it spiraled closer to the forest floor, lowering its head with an inhale. Hurrying to lean behind the nearest oak tree, Rothbart shot an arrow at the dragon’s breast. It bounced off the scaly hide with no more than a soft clink.The massive airborne reptile banked toward the Saxon and spewed another torrent of fire. He dove to the ground and scrambled to the next tree while the flames blasted apart the oak he had hidden behind. Landing on its feet with an earth-shaking impact, the dragon batted the second tree aside with its serpentine tail, and it landed right on top of Rothbart. Halawa could hear his scream cut off by the crack of bone.Yipping the Moorish battle cry, she slashed at the monster’s flank with her scimitar. The blade slid over the scarlet scales as if they were less penetrable than chainmail, not even drawing the faintest streaks into them. Halawa struck a second time with no more effect. After letting out a rhythmic snarl almost like a laugh, the beast lunged and snapped its jaws at her. She stabbed at its snout, but her sword merely bounced off the plate-like scales covering it with not even a dent.“Mortal weapons won’t hurt it!” Ishraq shouted. “Try—"The dragon swung its head and blew fire onto the mawlawi, reducing him to charred bones and ash in no time. Seeing the man who had tutored her from childhood thus destroyed shocked Halawa to the point of freezing her. Without knowing what he had meant to suggest, the fire-breathing creature would destroy her next, and her father the Sultan would perish without the Grail and without the heir to his throne. All Al-Biritania would suffer for that.If mortal weapons could not wound the beast, what could? Immortal weapons? Wait, Halawa might know an example of that.She raced back to the barrow, holding the luminous Grail like a torch, while the dragon stormed close behind on its eagle-like legs. After passing through the entrance, she jumped and slid over the circular table to where Artur’s remains sat and pried his skeletal fingers apart while hearing the reptile’s yawning exhale from outside. What little cartilage held the finger bones together snapped, releasing Caledfelch for Halawa to claim for herself.Another blast of flames poured into the barrow. Halawa rolled aside while the thick fiery shaft hit poor Artur, turning what was left of the once proud King of the Brythons into black soot. The smoke flooding the barrow’s hollow interior made her eyes bleed tears as she ran through it on her way out, brushing it away with Caledfelch’s unblemished blade as if she were hacking through forest undergrowth.Outside, the dragon reared its head with another inhalation. Its gullet glowed orange with building firelight at the back of its open maw. Stretching her arm muscles as she drew the heavy Brythonic sword behind her, Halawa hurled it into the giant red reptile’s breast. The blade of Caledwelch sank to the hilt’s crossguard through the once invincible hide, letting out an explosion of golden light that swept over the dragon’s body. Much as its fire had turned men and horses to ash, the creature in turn shattered into glittering red dust that collected into a pile on the earth, with Artur’s fabled sword resting on top.Behind rose a wisp of white mist which expanded into the transparent figure of a robed man with blue lines swirling over the wizened pale skin of his white-bearded face.“Congratulations on passing my test, Halawa ibnat Omar,” the ghostly image croaked with an unfamiliar accent.“Who are you?” Halawa asked. “Are you some kind of djinn?”“You can consider me that, if you prefer,” the apparition replied. “I am Myrddin, Arch Druid of the Brythons under King Artur. It was I who created that dragon to guard my king’s resting place and the Grail within. Through your courage and your cunning, you have bested what generations before you could not. Combine that with your noble motives for obtaining the Grail, and you have shown yourself worthy of it.”“Is it true what they say about the Grail? Does it indeed possess the power to heal?”“Indeed, but you must know that you can only use it once. Afterward you must return it to its barrow, and no sooner than the next generation’s passing can anyone else find and use it—after passing the same test you have.”The sparkling red dust that had been the dragon vanished as dissipating vapor while the sword Caledwelch floated up by itself and flew back into the barrow. Halawa looked back to find it resting again in King Artur’s grip, the skeleton and its tartan cape having reassembled without any sign of charring.“You know how you will use the Grail, Amira of Al-Biritania,” Myrddin’s spirit said. “May you use it well, and all the gods watch over you and those you love.”As he faded into the night, Halawa knelt with her eyes closed. Even if Myrddin and all his people had lived as heathens ignorant of the One Goddess Almighty, they could not all deserve damnation. No more than any other unbelievers before the Prophet of Prophets, at least. And may the Goddess continue to watch over you in Paradise, she thought. Now came the time for her first two uses of the Grail.She walked down to where Ishraq had once stood and knelt over his ashes, praying for him to enjoy a safe journey to Paradise as well. The departure of her childhood tutor had torn out a huge chunk of her life, making her world feel much emptier than before. Never would Halawa or her family forget him. Without his education and wisdom, she would never have known about the Grail at all.She heard a groan from the direction where Rothbart lay. He had not died under the fallen tree like she had thought, but was instead struggling to push it off himself, with dark blood staining his tunic over his chest. Halawa rushed toward him and hauled the tree off his body with what remained of her strength.“Thank you so much, milady,” the Saxon said as she helped him back to his feet. He held his hand over his tunic’s bloodstains and winced. “I must’ve had a few ribs broken there.”“I thought worse had happened,” Halawa told him. “Thank the Goddess you’re still alive.”“A shame your mawlawi didn’t make it too. I saw that dragon roast him to nothing. Did you get the Grail?”Halawa held it up to him. “I can only use it once, though.”“Then save it for your father. He matters to you much more than I do, and I’ve been through much worse scrapes anyway.”Rothbart gave Halawa a smile. She had to admit, he was not that unattractive for one of the Saxons. Maybe, after they had gotten to know one another over the journey home, she would consider him for her future husband, the man who would rule beside her once she inherited the Sultanate.“Then we’ll have a healer look after you when we reach the next village south,” Halawa said. “And get us new horses too. I do wish I hadn’t lost my father’s favorite mare though.”“Just don’t tell him until after you’ve restored his full health,” Rothbart said. “What matters, in the end, is that you recovered the Grail for him.”As they walked away from the barrow of King Artur and his retinue of warriors, the Amira of al-Biritania took one final look at it. The opening in its slope had sealed itself once more, the image of the bygone king with his sword still watching from the stone seal’s surface.
Falas Falas curled up in bed with The History of Williams Marshal, his current favorite book. He was tucked into a large bed that had been his for the last month and a half. Though he did not particularly like the warm blue, the room was still far better than the pastel pink one he had been in before. It's nice to stay in one place for more than a month. Falas snuggled deeper into the fluffy bed. Now that his antlers had grown in, the pillows and softness of them made sleeping much more comfortable.Still, Falas thought, they itch. Reaching up to scratch the small, hard, deer-like stumps growing out the front sides of his head. His black hair fell in front of his eyes again as a result of his efforts. Thoughts of Falas regressed to the past few weeks; at least the fever had subsided. Around the age of twelve, it seems that every young dragon experiences shed fever. What was surprising was that Falas was only ten. The only reason they were still here was because of his fever.Momma seemed to be okay. Falas set down his book next to him and scratched his head once more. His aunt wasn't there to catch him, so he needed to scratch while he could. Aunt Cali hadn't come in to check on him in a while. Falas eyed the door; his aunt was a little scary, not that she was his real aunt. She was the daimon in charge of taking care of his mother, who was a free spirit. That was why they had to move a lot. Falas sighed and scratched again.“We've already been to almost every country.” Looking back at the door, Falas crumbled to himself. His stomach was starting to make noises, telling him it was about time for a snack. Shed fever makes a guy hungry. “Maybe they're talking about moving again.” Falas glanced at the book he had set aside. He had left behind an image of a powerful-looking knight riding a unicorn. That is not his life, but he is cool. Falas leaned in and shut the book. He wanted an easy life.“Momma seems to be doing okay, so maybe we can stay here.” Falas continued his thoughts, a habit he developed from being alone. Making friends and building a home were difficult due to constant moving. Sometimes his mother would forget to give him his meals or his birthday. Though she was not overly happy about it, his aunt took over. She loved Momma more. Falas wiped his eyes quickly and forcefully; the fever had made him a little more sensitive than usual. He wasn't a crying baby.Falas slid from the bed, no longer able to ignore the calls coming from his stomach. His legs wavered on him, causing him to grab the side table for a moment. Much better than earlier this week. When Falas first woke up, he couldn't move at all. That was scary. The thought of it made Falas tremble. Taking easy, slow steps to the door, he thought back to the beginning of his illness. Momma stayed by his side. The memories of the hot soup she fed him and the stories she told warmed Falas's heart. It sort of made him want to continue being ill.“Momma? Aunt Cali?” Falas called out when he opened the door. He always made sure to call out in empty space; spooking his aunt always got him into trouble. Even if he didn't do it on purpose, Falas grumbled to himself. Imagine his aunt's pale pink hair standing on end and her angry pink eyes darting in his direction. Shivering, he tried calling out once more, “Aunt Cali? Momma?” Were they out again? Falas wiped his eyes angrily as his tears flared up once more. Falas did not find it shocking when he realized the hallway was empty. Aunt Cali would never stop reminding him that his mother was a free spirit. He was not supposed to bind her any tighter than he already had. What was a free spirit anyway? And why couldn't momma be a dragon like him? Apart from the fever and the itch in his head, being a dragon seemed much easier. His blue-slitted eyes were a hit with many of his friends. Making it simpler for them to meet new people when they moved once more.“Momma!” Falas let out a cry upon seeing his mother lying prone on the living room floor. His legs wavered as he ran to her side, allowing him to touch her before they locked beneath him. “Momma, what's wrong?” With falling tears, Falas extended his pale hand to hold his mother's face. Her skin, which had been tanned, was whiter than his hand. Her hair fell flat, and her eyes, rich brown and happy, closed. Like it was disappearing instead of falling around her shoulders. “Momma!” Falas yelled, shaking her shoulder.“Fate!” His Aunt Cali came into the room. He turned and saw the food spilling onto the ground, along with a jar that had broken in the fall. “Get out of the way!” Aunt Cali knocked him out of the way. She gave him such a hard chest bump that he skidded across the room. He watched his aunt roll up her gray suit sleeves and pour her pale magic into his mother while rubbing his stinging chest. Rubbing his eyes, he watched the color return to her body, and her hair turned back into a more solid color.“What happened?” Falas asked, his voice whispering. His aunt turned her head, her pink eyes piercing his skin with her anger.“You happened!” Her hair stood on end, like when Falas rubbed his socked feet on the carpet, and she snapped at him. “She never would have stayed in one place for so long before you. How come she decided to have you?” Falas's momma moaned, turning off his aunt's hurtful words. “She requires the freedom to move when the wind calls; she could have died.” His aunt spoke at his momma, not looking at him at all. That hurt worse than her lightened eyes. He brought both hands to his chest in an attempt to contain the growing pain there. “If you were born a free spirit, I would have understood.”“I'm a dragon,” Falas whispered, his hands bundling up his nightshirt until it pulled up his back.“That is why she should have abandoned you.” Aunt Cali delivered her line with a stern honesty that clarified why, aside from reprimanding him, she had never paid any attention to him. She hated him.“Leave Fre-fre alone.” His momma groaned but didn't wake up. Watching his aunt Cali cradle her into her arms. Falas allowed her words to sink in. He was to blame. It was his fault that his momma had fallen sick. No, she had almost died.“It's my fault,” Falas whispered, the thought sinking into his heart. He could feel his heart aching, no matter how tightly he pulled on his nightshirt.“It always has been.” Aunt Cali told him she was looking down at him when she stood up with his momma held tight to her chest. “Get ready to move; we leave tonight.” She walked right by him without even looking at him. Falas's heart felt like it was trying to pierce through his chest, and his head started to hurt. He turned, half crawling, half staggering, to his room. He carelessly slammed the door behind him and dashed to the bed, only to have his legs give out. Snatching the blanket, he slid off the bed and carried it with him.The book he was reading had struck him in the head, but the internal anguish was much worse. Shaking off the blanket. Tears were still falling when he wiped them. He continued to rub until his palms and face were burning. He fell to the ground after he was down, slamming his face into the book he was reading. Hope Manifested, the motto for the Marshal Academy, splashed in front of his eyes. Hope, that would be useful for Falas.He rose onto his elbow while still lying on his stomach. He disregarded his aunt's advice to prepare for moving and lost himself in his book instead. Forgetting about the pain that he felt and the pain that he caused. Focusing instead on something he could do. Maybe Falas took back his earlier thought that he should become a knight. That day, Falas's life changed as that newfound interest began to blossom in his broken heart. With that shift came a dream that would follow him into adulthood....

Mature Content

The Skull of Stone,East Africa, 500 BCWangari felt a jolt as Kimani, her white rhinoceros, stopped in mid-canter. The animal lifted his horned head to sniff the air and let out a nervous, whinny-like groan. Smoke. Wangari could smell it too, and she could see black tongues of it licking the sky from behind the grassy hill to their left. It could have been a wildfire, or it could have been local villagers clearing their grounds to make way for crops or pasture. Or it might have been what Wangari dreaded it was.The only way to find out was to investigate it herself.She squeezed her legs on Kimani’s flanks, her usual way of commanding him to go. He stayed put with a stubborn snort. Wangari squeezed harder, flicking the rhino’s reins, but he still would not move. Not that she could blame him, for it was not in the nature of grazing beasts to approach signs of fire. If she could not force the rhino to go, she would have to encourage him somehow.Wangari dug into the leather pouch under the sash around her waist, plucked out a handful of ripe green jackalberries, and tossed them toward the hill. Kimani burst into a jog in the direction his rider had thrown the fruit, carrying her uphill as he sucked up and devoured as many of them as he came across. After giving her mount a playful rub on his tough and pale gray forehead, Wangari hopped off him and secured his reins to a nearby raisin bush.Beneath the hill’s opposite slope, laying in front of a low cliff, was a cluster of leather tents, several of which had caught fire. Squinting through the haze of smoke, Wangari could make out the mutilated bodies of men strewn between the tents, giving off the putrid stench of death. There were living men scrambling throughout the campsite as well. Some poured water from vases onto the fires while others hauled their dead or wounded brethren into the tents that remained unscorched.Seeing all the slain people made Wangari’s eyes water even more than the stinging smoke did. It was all too much like what had happened to her own village when she was a teenager.A troop of men from the camp charged up to her, armed with spears, sickle-bladed khopesh swords, and cowhide shields with square-shaped bottom edges and semicircular tops. Clad in white loincloths and gambesons of padded linen, their mahogany-colored skin was a shade or two lighter than Wangari’s own ebony complexion, and they glared at her with eyes lined with black kohl. The cobra figurines on their gold headbands suggested that they were from the land of Kemet further north in the continent.“Who are you?” the foremost of the Kemetian warriors asked with a growl. “You’re not one of the Ateker, are you?”“By Ngai, not at all!” Wangari answered in her best Kemetian. “I am Wangari of the Urewe. And this is my trusty steed, Kimani.” She patted her rhino’s shoulder.“I don’t believe it, you’re able to ride one of those beasts?” Another of the Kemetians exclaimed. “How were you even able to tame him?”“When I was a girl, I found him orphaned in the bush as a calf and took him in. Now, what would you Kemetians be doing here in Urewe lands? And what in Ngai’s name has happened to your camp?”“Ateker marauders attacked us from the north this morning,” the first Kemetian soldier said. “Keku, our priest of Djehuti, will explain everything. That is, if you truly are not allied with those Ateker.”“Far from it! The Ateker are our enemies. They even ransacked my village just like how they tried to ransack your camp. I’ve been keeping them out of our lands ever since.”“That is good to hear. Perhaps you can even help us then. Come on in!” Wangari followed the Kemetian soldiers into the camp until they arrived at the largest tent near the center. In front of it stood a middle-aged man with a shaven scalp and a leopard’s skin on his shoulders like a mantle. He held in one hand a tall copper scepter with the top shaped like an ibis’s head with its long, curving beak. Upon laying eyes on Wangari, he bowed his head with a gentle smile.Wangari bowed back. “I am Wangari of the Urewe. I see those Ateker have done a lot of damage here.”“Indeed, they have!” the man said. “And they’ve carried off a week’s worth of work! But first, let me introduce myself and our purpose here. I am Keku, faithful servant of Djehuti, the god of wisdom and knowledge. And I work for the House of Life, or library, in the city of Men-Nefer back in Kemet.”He pointed to the cliff beyond the camp’s far side. “We came here to excavate the petrified bones of the earliest human beings and their relatives. So far, we haven’t found any of those, but we have found something no less impressive. It’s the skull of a giant hyaenodont, a meat-eating creature that would have grown almost as big as your rhino over there.”Wangari’s eyes widened. “By Ngai, I haven’t even heard of such a monster. It sounds even more terrible than a lion!”“Thankfully, we believe they died out thousands if not millions of years ago, after which their bones have become stone. I wish I could show you myself, but that’s where the problem comes in. When the Ateker raided our camp, they carried it off. I can’t imagine what those cattle-herding barbarians plan to do with it, but it’s too valuable of a discovery to lose. I’ll spare no expense to get it back.”Like Keku, Wangari had no idea what value the nomadic Ateker would find in an ancient skull that had turned to stone long ago. Nonetheless, she had even less love for those murderous marauders than the rest of the Urewe people, and she could see the destruction their latest attack had wrought all around her now. They could not get away with such crimes.“You need not worry about expenses, O Priest of Djehuti,” Wangari said. “I will head north and obtain the skull for you. And I will have those Ateker who attacked you crushed underfoot!”She raised one of the javelins from the quiver slung around her to the sky in a clenched fist, and the surviving Kemetians clapped all around her., Once the full moon had climbed up from the savanna to the east, the calmness of the evening gave way to an echoing chant. From atop her rhino, Wangari could see an orange sliver of firelight bouncing on the crest of the hill before them, standing out against the darkening sky. As she rode toward the source of the light, she tightened her grip on her javelin, with perspiration chilling her brow despite the air’s balmy temperature.When she and Kimani had ascended the hill, she tugged the reins to have him stop behind the cover of an acacia tree. Sitting on the plain below them was a circle of grass domes, which were the Ateker people’s idea of shelter, with the warriors in their blood-red tunics assembled in a semicircle in front of a central bonfire. They stamped their feet and banged the butts of their spears on the earth as they chanted in a hooting unison.Behind the fire lay a flat stone altar on which lay another hunk of rock that looked to be as big as Kimani’s head. An Ateker shaman crowned with a lion-mane headdress approached this altar carrying a young goat with bound hooves, its terrified bleating almost audible over the music the warriors made. Laying the kid on the altar before the big stone, the shaman pulled out a dagger that glowed bright green and held it to the ascendant moon.“My warriors, for too long, the Urewe woman named Wangari has harassed us with the aid of her rhinoceros,” the shaman announced. “Over the past several rains, she has taken the lives of way too many of our mightiest fighters. The time has come to bring her reign of terror to an end.“What you see on the altar before you, encased in stone, is the skull of a beast which roamed the land before the time of men, a flesh-eater as big as the rhino Wangari rides. What I intend to do is bring this creature back to life with my Dagger of Akuj so that we can use it against her. No longer shall we fear that woman and her steed!”He plunged his incandescent dagger into the kid, and the warriors’ chanting and stamping reached a thunderous crescendo. Tendrils of bright green smoke rose from where he had stabbed the young goat and flowed into the lump of rock on the altar, revealing the oversized dog-or hyena-like skull within it. The rock casing fractured and fell off the skull, which rose to hover over the altar with green light bursting from its sockets and sharp-toothed jaws. From behind the skull stretched a chain of vertebrae and ribs, and then shoulder, hip, and limb bones. Red flesh grew to envelop this resurrected skeleton, and then came a hide of yellow fur with black spots and stripes.,The shaman cackled as he beheld the hyaenodont standing before him. It was indeed as big as Kimani, but with a catlike body and a big doglike head. It raised its snout to smell the air and let out a howling roar that drowned out the Ateker warriors’ jubilant cheers.Wangari had watched the scene unfold in rapt disbelief long enough. It was time to act.She squeezed her legs on Kimani with a flick of reins, and the rhino galloped toward the Ateker encampment with his horned head lowered. He burst through the ring of grass huts, trampling one of them and splintering its wooden supports. Ateker warriors screamed as they fell beneath the creature’s bulk, their bones and spears crunching under his feet, while his horns slashed at their ranks. To further add to the carnage, Wangari chucked javelin after javelin at the enemy, with each of the iron-pointed missiles running through its victim’s body or skull.An Ateker threw a spear of his own into the rhino’s hip. Kimani whinnied, shaking his rider off by accident. Wangari fell on the earth with a hard slam while warriors gathered around her with spears drawn, ready to rain stabbing blows on her. When one of the spears came down, she unsheathed the short, curved sword she had under her sash, chopped through the spear’s shaft, and clove down the warrior’s skull. Bursting through the opening she had created, Wangari slashed and hacked away at the Ateker closing in on her while her rhino continued crushing and goring them.A big yellow blur flew over the bonfire and landed on Kimani. The rhino shook and bucked while the hyaenodont clung onto him with its claws and sharp teeth, tearing through his tough hide and biting into his neck. Wangari threw her spear at the monster, piercing its flank. With an infuriated yowl, the beast flung itself at her. She dodged its attack with a jump to the side, but then an Ateker grabbed her with his arm around her neck.“We could resolve this without killing you, woman,” he said as he licked her skin. “I’m sure you’ll make a pleasant…captive.”Wangari sank her teeth into the warrior’s forearm, tore herself free of his grapple, and shoved him into the charging hyaenodont’s path. The monster chomped onto the man and thrashed his body in its jaws, showing no awareness that the Ateker had wanted it to fight on their behalf. Perhaps it would be better to let that ancient creature terrorize them while Wangari and her rhino got away.Through the dust the battle had kicked up, the shaman emerged, stretching his arm toward the hyaenodont while clutching his Dagger of Akuj. Both his eyes and the animal’s glowed green like the dagger.“Do as I command!” the shaman shouted. “Attack her, not my men!”The monster let go of the Ateker warrior it had slain and lunged at Wangari. She picked up a fallen spear and jabbed it at the hyaenodont, pricking its cheek. With a swat of its paw, the predator split her weapon into half. It snapped its jaws as she backed away while waving her compact sword at it.She tripped over a man’s body and fell onto her back. The hyaenodont’s hot breath splashed onto Wangari, its eyes ablaze with green fire. Drool dripped from its fangs as it opened its jaws.With an upward swing of her leg, Wangari kicked the side of the monster’s lower jaw, breaking off one of its teeth. It recoiled with a whimper, and she scrambled back onto her feet and sliced through one of the hyaenodont’s eyes with her sword. The beast retaliated with a swipe of its paw, its claws cutting across Wangari’s tunic and skin. Hot pain shot through her chest, causing her to stagger back while the creature bunched its body up in preparation for a pounce.Before it could launch itself at her, Kimani rammed himself into the hyaenodont’s side, his horns puncturing its hide. The two giants clashed in a bloody contest of claws and fangs against horns and bulk. Even as his flesh-eating opponent drew crimson scars across his skin, Kimani kept hammering it across the ruined camp until it fell into the bonfire in the middle. The hyaenodont howled in agony as the flames enveloped its body, the green radiance in its good eye fading into nothing.“No!” the Ateker shaman yelled. “No, it can’t be!”He threw up his arms to curse the heavens, allowing Wangari to sprint up to him and lop off his head from behind. His Dagger of Akuj plummeted to the earth from his hand and shattered into tiny shards like glass. What little was left of the Ateker warriors ran out of the camp into the darkness of the night, screaming like terrified little boys. In her experience, that was how every confrontation with them would end. Whenever enough of them died, the surviving Ateker would lose all their famed warriors’ spirit and flee like the cowards they truly were.A cloud of luminous green vapor drifted up into the star-dotted heavens from where the hyaenodont had burned to death. All that remained of the monster was a skull turned into stone that lay on the ground among ashes. Wangari picked it up and carried it as she remounted her rhinoceros and rode away from the Ateker camp toward the south.“That Kemetian priest of Djehuti won’t believe the story I have to tell about this,” Wangari said to herself. “And thank you so much for saving my life back there, Kimani.”She threw another jackalberry in front of him, and he galloped over and gobbled it up as he always would.
Tournament Round I
Tournament Round II

Mature Content

Tournament Round III

Mature Content

RHP - 8 - Intentions “You say it like it's a bad thing.” Pyrite said, laughing, “Come on. Let's go meet up with Micah.” Dusk had no choice but to grab his arm. His eyes met those of a purple-eyed girl as he was being dragged through the crowd, and the girl's face turned red with rage. She must be a fan. A prince, the third year's leader, and a sizable fan base. It was both like how he had been treated growing up in the Black family and different. Both were well-known, with one being feared and the other being adored. The drawbacks of that fame were shared by both. People. People were always the downfall. Dusk thought it was more bitter than he would like. “Micah will be keen to see you since he worried he didn't leave any impression.” Pyrite persisted in dragging him forward and away from the enraged eyes. That should have been green instead of purple.“I do not think he needs to be concerned about that,” Dusk said, keeping up with Pyrite's fast pace. They made their way to the side of the school. Far away from the crowds. What surprised him was that they didn't follow.“That's what I told him!” Pyrite remarked, flashing him a toothy grin. All of this without slowing down. “We have a private terminal to help set up your classes.”“A private one?” Dusk thought he heard that Micah wished for a normal student life, as hard as that would be to achieve for a prince.“First years have a hard time grasping. The difference between treating Micah like a fellow student and trying to harass him. They didn't want me to knock out another student this year, so we made some changes.” Pyrite said, and Dusk hoped he heard him wrong. Pyrite knocked out a student. Dusk grimaced, but he kept his face impartial with some effort. He hoped he wasn't getting involved with another Knight. He escaped that ferocious, combat-hungry horror. Dusk did not require another. “Micah!”Micah waved back from ahead. He was standing next to a wolf-folk woman who was an exact replica of Pyrite. Also standing there was Mrs. Quartz. Dusk was unable to come up with any other explanation for her appearance other than to give him a lecture about how to treat royalty.“Stop dragging the boy around!” The scowling wolf-folk woman stormed up. When Pyrite came to a stop, she raised her hand in the air. Dusk pulled his hand away, and his mind traveled back.“Dusk! What do you think you're doing?” Dusk looked up at his mother; he was enjoying a book while reading in a tree's shade. He was very young when it first began. Dusk was five or six at the time. A part of the memory, and not a part. Dusk watched himself like a bad film. “Reading.” A small cane landed on his face, interrupting his sentence. His blood had a taste of copper, and he could feel the pain of his own teeth digging into his cheeks.“Black's are always ready.” She peered down at him with sharp eyes, glaring with a void— an emptiness that Dusk feared above all else.“Yes, Mother.” Dusk answered without getting up from the ground. “Dusk Wooddancer!” In front of him stood Mrs. Quartz. He knew he had experienced another attack because of the sweat running down his face. It was frustrating and embarrassing.“My apologies.” When Dusk spoke, he did so in a whisper to give himself time to catch his breath. He frequently had nightmares, but having them during the day was a new experience for him, and he did not like it. What he hated were the looks on everyone's faces—everyone but Mrs. Quartz.“I didn't think it was this bad.” Mrs. Quartz looked at him, her rabbit twitching this way and that. Dusk didn't ask what she meant since she, as deputy headmaster, knew of his situation.“I'm working on it.” Dusk had figured out his triggers, and he would get better. He wouldn't let his past haunt his nights and days. “My apologies.” Dusk turned and bowed towards Pyrite and Micah, whom he assumed was a relative of Pyrite. “I let you see an unsightly thing.” Dusk could feel his hand shaking against his chest. If only it would all go away. Dusk wished in vain for that to happen all last month; the world didn't work that way.“Ma, you scared him by charging at us like that.” Dusk was taken from his bow and placed in Pyrite's arms as he approached him. Dusk stood still, unsure of what to do. Was he being hugged? Dusk was fairly certain he was receiving a hug. But why? Pyrite was too busy staring down at his mother to notice Dusk's upward glance at him.“Redneval doesn't have beast folk. A charging wolf-folk could scare a person!” Micah came and stood in front of Dusk. Defending him. It all felt like too much attention from people he had only just met. Pushing Pyrite's arms away, Dusk backed up and hit Mrs. Quartz.“My apologies.” This whole scenario was making him uncomfortable. His insides felt like worms under the eyes of a bird. All squirmy with no chance of escape.“Given who Micah's parents are, you should know that they know about the disavowing.” Mrs. Quartz told him after he turned and gave them all some much-needed space. Her voice was as icy and impassive as her face. It felt odd but reassuring. In most cases, dealing with facts was simpler than dealing with feelings.“We don't know the details.” Pyrite said while raising his hands.“Dusk, we respect your privacy, but my mother felt that we needed to know.” Micah said he was going to stand by Pyrite. The pair automatically went into a hug. Even Pyrite's tail had encircled Micah's legs by this point. Dusk shut his eyes while counting to three.“Because you're my guides. I understand.” Dusk said when he opened his eyes. Royalty would look into anyone who would be around their son. It was for safety, pure and simple, or at least that was what they said to his face. He doubted that was the only reason. Dusk wasn't stupid.“Your history makes you a perfect guide candidate. You have no ties.” Mrs. Quartz explained that her ears flicked back and forth as she spoke. “The fact that you earned the highest entrance grades made it much easier to put in place.”“Things are a bit different now. That's why I'm here.” Pyrite's mother spoke up. She placed her hand on her hip and waved her hand as she spoke. Though he flinched a little as he observed her hand, Dusk maintained his composure.“Hands, ma, hands.” Pyrite grabbed her waving hand. Earning himself a sideways glare.“What are your intentions with my boys?” She swung her arms around both their necks. Pulling them in until they were against her chest.“Intentions?” Dusk repeated, unable to fathom her intent off-hand. His hand was rolling in different emotions that were more unstable than ever before. “I have none; I didn't even know about them before today.”“We met at the market!” Micah put his hand on his chest, his sapphire eyes watering with emotion. “I envisioned a more romantic encounter, but surely you remember?”“He remembers you! Don't ya Dusk?” Pyrite peeled his mother's arm off of Micah to pull him into a hug. Leaning on Pyrite's chest, he turned his head and looked at Dusk. It was like Dusk held the entire world in his hand, and one wrong word could crush it.“I do, but-” Dusk said, and that was all it took for Micah to light right back up.“See?” Micah said, staring up at Pyrite's mother. Who put her hand over her eyes with a sigh.“That doesn't make him your mate.” She said this while rolling her head back along with her eyes. Mate? That thought came with a reasonable amount of panic.“Pardon my bluntness, but I am not your mate.” Dusk said as best as his manners would allow him, but nowhere in etiquette class did it teach you to deal with this!“See?” Pyrite's mother said her hand rested on her hip once again.“The pull is there, ma,” Pyrite said, rubbing Micah's back. “Like we did with Micah.”“He feels nothing.” She waved her hand at Dusk. Who had turned his eyes to Mrs. Quartz for help. Her eyes were narrowing, and fine lines curled around her nose.“He's hurt!” Micah cried out, and Dusk winced. “No one disavows their family because they're happy!” This conversation had gone beyond uncomfortable. It was like he wasn't even there. Mates? Even the thought was dismissed; he did not even know them! Since they were bickering among themselves. Dusk took it as an opportunity to leave.“Can I pick my courses, please?” Dusk asked Mrs. Quartz, hoping the deputy headmaster held some sway here. He wanted to get away from here.“Enough!” Mrs. Quartz yelled, stomping her foot several times, much like a regular horned rabbit.“This is not how you make a good first impression, Mrs. Howlite.” Mrs. Quartz told the stormy wolf-folk, whose ears were tucked down in shame, her eyes turned away, and her face paled a bit. “Micah, you do not bring up Dusk's past, prince or not. Mate or not. It will win you no favors.” Turning to stare up at Pyrite, she tapped her foot on the ground. “You were thinking yourself; I saw you messing with him in the audience, young man.”“Dusk, pick your classes.” Mrs. Quartz told him that by tapping her foot so hard, Dusk couldn't tell if it was going up or down. “Micah, Pyrite, help him, and don't be pushy about the mate business.”“But—” All of them spoke up at once to disagree with Mrs. Quartz's choice. Dusk didn't want them as his senior guides. It was tolerable when they were a weirdo and a prince, but now they thought he was their mate? No way. No how. He wanted to be as far away from them as he could.“Dusk, I know you would want different guides.” Mrs. Quartz's tone was firm, and her eyes were unflinching. “But as I said before, you are the best choice. That would not start a noble war.””“Wouldn't the nobles tear him to shreds?” Mrs. Howlite, Pyrite's mother, brought him up. She gave Dusk his first glance and responded by calling him weak trash. He could not exactly challenge her ideas, after all.“He's a blood mage; they wouldn't dare.” Mrs. Quartz brushed off her concerns.“A blood mage?” Micah, Pyrite, and Mrs. Howlite all have wide-open eyes as a result. They stared at him with a silent awe that was as unnerving as Dusk—more than just the overt hostility he experienced growing up. Naturally, this did not make it a good thing. This was the highest level of political power: royalty.“But he, they, why?” Micah asked, his confusion written across his face.“Did they not know?” Pyrite asked his ears to flatten to his head, and his hand rubbed Micah's arm. Much for his own comfort, Dusk decided, than Micah's.“I understand.” Dusk said, smiling and avoiding the question. They were aware, of course; how could they not be? Dusk thought with some bitterness. It was unusual to encounter a blood mage. Using a human surrogate, magic itself created the child. Only ten blood mages were known to exist in the world, including Dusk, because their very existence was so uncommon. No one would dare touch him. Of course, there are always exceptions, but it would be a disservice to magic itself. His existence was seen by many as a curse rather than a gift.“Are you a real Black?” His once-motherly words rang in his ears, clearer than the days she spoke them to him.“I completely understand.” All the happiness Dusk had felt this morning had vanished into the air, and he felt his heart heavy as ever. He preferred not to focus on his race. He was supposed to possess limitless magical power, but he was unable to access it. It had served no purpose for him up until this point in his life. He may want that to change, but he wasn't liking the direction this was going.“Mating is a delicate process; you two were lucky beyond measure to meet so young and to have a happy childhood. Other bonds test us, and it makes us stronger.” Mrs. Quartz looked at each of them. That look? Meant nothing to Dusk.“Mrs. Howlite, you're supposed to be the adult here; do I even need to say anything further?” Mrs. Quartz left no one out of her lecture.“I'm sorry, I got carried away.” Mrs. Howlite said her ears and tail dropped like a sad puppy."Well, don't let me hear about it happening again.” Mrs. Quartz straightened her robes. “I need to attend to the rest of the first years. Come along, Mrs. Howlite.” Seeing a rabbit-folk drag off a wolf-folk was a funny sight. It wasn't enough to break the awkward atmosphere.“How do I sign up for my courses?” Dusk said, doing his best to set this day back on track.“First, I'm sorry, Dusk. I got carried away, and I should have thought of your feelings first.” Micah stepped away from Pyrite's arms and headed toward Dusk. Dusk did not realize how cold he was until he took his hands in his. “You're freezing, and it's summer.” Micah placed his hands close to his lips and exhaled on them. Dusk pulled his hands free as he felt uneasy. Before letting go of his hands, Micah relaxed and tightened his hold. Dusk took a step back and put some space between them before letting them fall to his side.“How about we get you assigned to your courses?” Pyrite spoke up and slung his arm around Micah's shoulders. The smile on Pyrite's face didn't reach his eyes, and his tail was still and hanging low. “We'll start fresh.”“I can agree to that.” Dusk said, but in reality, he had little choice in the matter. The deputy headmaster made it clear he couldn't change senior guides. His senior guides made it clear they saw him as their mate. He had never heard of such a thing before. Dusk rubbed his head. A third? When, it seems, had they already mated? A headache was already starting, and the day was young.“Okay,” Micah said as he stepped out from Pyrite's arm, his face spreading in a wide smile. That had his sapphire blue eyes sparkling. “We all make mistakes, and we can fix this one. Hi, I'm Micah, and I am more than charmed to meet you.” Micah winked at him and flicked his short hair back.“I'm Pyrite,” he pounded his chest with his fist. “You'll grow to like us. Well,” Pyrite laughed, and his tail started doing a slow wag, “not my ma, but feel free to ignore her. I do.” Pyrite laughed again. “Dusk, Dusk Wooddancer.” Dusk gave a smooth bow, and he agreed with Pyrite on one point. His mother, he would ignore, or rather avoid. “Could you explain how I sign up for my courses now, please?”“That's simple.” Micah clapped his hands together. He reached inside his school robe and took out a tiny, brilliant white gem. When you hold it, a screen will appear from which you can select and arrange your courses.“If it doesn't slide over, it means the class is full for the period; try another one.” Pyrite put his hand down and rubbed his head with it. Dusk hunched down, but he couldn't avoid it. “I know you can do it.”“My thanks,” Dusk said, his voice dry. He felt that Pyrite would never leave his head alone. He was a nice enough guy, but Dusk found him a little too physical. Dusk would have grown to like him—to a point—if the topic of mates had not been brought up.“Here,” Micah said, putting the gem into the palm of his hand and curling his fingers around it. Dusk was finally able to stand up straight and concentrate on the gem after pulling Pyrite off of his head. Micah was correct; a timeline appeared when he concentrated on the gem. A list of available courses is to the left, and there are seven spaces to the right. There was a lot of flexibility, allowing students to choose their own schedule of courses for the semester. There were no excuses left for the students to make. If you couldn't handle the line-up, the fault would lie with the students themselves.He was not going to fall into that hole. Dusk thought, raising his finger with an automatic instinct for how to use the gem. With lightning speed, he pulled and laid down the desired courses. Since he was a morning person. Dusk put the class he anticipated struggling with the most at the top and the one he believed would be the easiest in the middle. To get him over the hump, that was midday. His day ended up looking like this:Period One – 8- 9am – Leadership Period Two – 9:10-10am – Home Studies Period Three – 10:10-11am – LunchPeriod Four – 12:10-1pm – Magical Studies Period Five – 1:10-2pm - Alchemy Studies Period Six – 2:10-3pm – Study period Period Seven – 3:10- 4pm - Adventure StudiesAs soon as he graduated, Dusk intended to start a business. He was still not certain what kind. That is where the leadership course would be helpful. He never oversaw anything or led anyone, and he was aware of his lack of interpersonal skills. That would be challenging. Before, women were more likely to enroll in home studies, but now anyone is welcome. It eventually evolved into how to look after and run a house. He desired owning his own house and business. Choosing an early lunch would be less busy than the traditional noon-hour lunch.Alchemy and magical studies would help him develop his own magical skills. Regardless of his talent, it would guide him to what he could offer for sale in a store. He was stuck between two of the twelve options; adventure studies was the wildcard course for him.Many people combined their studies of adventures and monsters. Dusk wanted to have some idea of the challenges he would encounter outside the city. Should he travel in the future? That and more would be covered by adventure studies. He would learn more about the various monsters by studying them in Monster Studies. Dusk nevertheless considered the adventuring course. It would ultimately benefit him because of its survivor techniques and contract coverage.Dusk confirmed his decisions and handed the gem back, saying, "My thanks."“Lunch and study periods mingle the grades.” Pyrite said, quirking his brow. “When's yours?”“Periods three and six.” Dusk told him he hoped they didn't share either period. He had not yet fully processed what had just happened. He only had the desire to avoid them until they were able to control their delusions that he was their mate."Great! We share a lunch!” Pyrite gave him a shoulder slap and a shake. “The best way to get to know each other is over food.” Pyrite laughed as he patted his stomach.“Shame we don't share our study period, but you're welcome to come visit me in Home Masters.” Micah tilted his head with his hands placed underneath his chin. Like that would entice him to come visit him. That was never going to happen. Dusk was very firm in that decision.“Let's get to the school store; you'll want your books for the year.” Pyrite said, snagging Micah's hand. Earning him a beaming smile from Micah.“Follow us,” Micah said, pulling Pyrite by the hand and leading them around the school. Away from the front, where the front door was. “We know all the shortcuts.”“What classes are you taking?” Pyrite asked, when Dusk came up to Micah's side, to avoid Pyrite's more aggressive handling.“Leadership, Home, Magical, Alchemy, and Adventure Studies.” Dusk informed him; he had no reason to hide it. It would be common knowledge soon enough.“Adventure studies?” Pyrite raised a brow at him and tilted his head back with laughter. “You're full of surprises, huh, Sunshine?” Sunshine? Dusk didn't see any ill intent behind the nickname, but…“My name actually means the time of day before nightfall.” Dusk said, hoping to get him off the nickname before it became an everyday occurrence. That Dusk felt was likely with Pyrite, and he only met the man moments ago.“I know.” Pyrite grinned at him and left Dusk wordless. What could he say to that? Although Dusk could reprimand him, it was not in his nature to make a fuss. Was he being petty? Or was Pyrite at fault here? Dusk couldn't figure it out; he couldn't figure them out. Dusk sighed and gave up on it. Pyrite didn't seem to mean any harm with it, and he didn't want to fight a useless battle. Dusk could tell from the expression in his eyes that this would result in him still having a moniker.“Pyrite can be stubborn about these things.” Micah said, reaching up and pulling on his ear.“Ow! Sweetheart, ow!” Pyrite said this while he was leaning down and whimpering.“If it bothers you, I'll get him to stop.” Micah grinned with a dark, sideways glance at Pyrite.“I mean nothing by it; I was only being friendly to our mate.” Pyrite groaned, wrapping his arms around Micah's slim waist. Micah yanked on his ear.“He doesn't want to bear that name yet.” Micah said it with the same toothy smile.“Dusk doesn't mind, do ya Sunshine?” Pyrite looked up at Dusk, and his heart sank. Dusk felt a bit sorry for the large man, and he didn't know what to do.“He doesn't seem to mean anything by it.” Dusk said in a slow and even voice, watching the smaller Micah pull the much larger Pyrite around. The whole thing was leaving his mind numb. This was not how he saw his day going.“That's fine then,” Micah said, letting go of Pyrite's ear, who rubbed it right away upon standing up straight. “I'm your senior in home studies; I'm in my final years of studies with it. I can recommend some good books.” Micah walked ahead like nothing had happened. Dusk looked over to Pyrite, who reached over to pat his head.“Ya got to love his spice.” Pyrite smiled, his eyes on Micah's back. “I'm sure you'll come to love it soon, too.” Pyrite walked ahead, catching up to Micah, his tail wagging fast. It was clear as day that he was happy. Dusk doubted he was ever that happy just being with someone else.“I don't get it,” Dusk said, fixing his hair with a sigh.“Get moving, Sunshine; the day is running out!” Over his shoulder, Pyrite shouted. The thing about the nickname that bothered Dusk the most was that it did not bother him at all. In fact, it gave him a funny feeling in his heart. Dusk did not understand it, and because it was one of many things about that day that he did not understand, he set it aside with the intention of dealing with it later.

Mature Content

Of Crows and Candy Hearts [G][Heads up: the following story is a birthday gift for a friend, and all of the characters and themes will be best appreciated by checking out the excellent galleries and of their creators, that being both and !] Cody the Scarecrow had always had his work cut out for him, from the day he was stuffed and raised. He understood the task, he was literally made for it: spook the crows – just hang out on his post and keep the little fiends at bay. That was it. No problem, right? Wrong. You see, the thing of it is, most scarecrows are, well, scary (at least, while they’re working). They get on their posts or chairs or what have you, the field they’re in charge of stretching off to the horizon, and they put their scary faces on. Some have a creepy smile, a grimace, a blank far-off expression like they’re looking into your soul. Professionals. Cody was not scary at all, for a reason his friends were eternally thankful for, even if it hurt his job most times: Cody was wonderful. It came off of him in beams, like sunlight; no matter his mood, he radiated an aura of sheer spiritual warmth. And that was even before Sandy the lost ragdoll had wandered onto the farm, befriended Cody, made a magical candy heart for him and fallen in love with him. Now, the young scarecrow was a veritable beacon of goodness, the farmer swearing the plants nearer to Cody grew in just a little bigger and brighter than the rest. This was pretty bad news for the field Cody was supposed to guard, but the crows who frequented the farm were cleverer even than most crows normally are, and in their way, they quite liked Cody; with him up, they could help themselves, and so long as they weren’t greedy and didn’t take so much as would be missed, the farmer wouldn’t replace Cody with a scarecrow they might actually be frightened of, and so the sweet arrangement they had at the farm never needed to end. It's just too bad that they never really managed to share this plan's details with the straw man himself, or any of the friends he had attracted to himself over the years... One day, Sandy, along with Cody’s other ragdoll friends Andy and Bailey, had agreed that enough was enough, and gathered around Cody to talk out some way to make him seem even a little threatening to the crows. ‘What ya wanna do Cody,’ said Andy, pacing back and forward way below at the base of Cody’s poll, ‘Is pretend like your arm’s tied, but it isn’t, and then you keep rocks in your pockets, and chuck ‘em at the crows every now and then.’ ‘Golly, Andy! What a thing to say!’ cried Sandy, ‘Cody could never do such a thing!’ ‘Sandy’s got a point hon.’ said Bailey, placing a hand on Andy’s shoulder, ‘Maybe violent animal abuse isn’t the answer?’ ‘Aw gee-whiz girls, Cody’s job is on the line here!’ said Andy, ‘We can’t afford to be soft!’ ‘Um, I’m a scarecrow and you’re dolls Andy.’ said Cody helpfully, ‘We literally can’t be anything but soft.’ ‘Speak for yourself buster!’ said Andy, striking a pose and punching the air like a boxer, ‘I’m no soft dolly, I’m a toy for boys! Just like an army man or a cowboy! I’m tough!’ ‘Sure you are sweetie.’ sighed Bailey, while Sandy chuckled next to her. ‘Why if I was as big as you are Cody,’ said Andy, ‘I’d be feared for miles, a legend in my own time, known far and wide as "Raggedy Andy, the Crowslayer".’ ‘Oh that’d be a shame...’ said Cody, ‘If you were as big as me, you’d take up too much of the bed and the other toys wouldn’t be able to sit up there.’ ‘Hey!’ said Andy, ‘I’m a gentleman! Everyone would be allowed to sit on me whenever I was on the bed, naturally.’ ‘Say, Andy?’ said Sandy, ‘You’re being awfully loud. Suppose the crows overhear?’ ‘And what if they do?’ said Andy, ‘Let any one of ‘em come over here and make a scene. I’ll laugh in their face and give ‘em the old one-two!’ As if on cue, a young crow landed behind Andy and tilted its head quizzically at the show he was putting on. ‘Uh, Andy, sweetheart?’ said Bailey, smiling and pointing out the crow, ‘You’ve got a visitor.’ ‘Wha—Oh!’ said Andy, spinning to face the bird, ‘So they sent a scout to scope out the enemy eh? Well you’ve met your match in Andy the Crowcrusher, mister!’ The young crow looked Andy up and down for a moment, trying to figure him out, before pecking him in the eye. ‘Yeowch!’ said Andy as he fell to the ground clutching his face, Bailey rushing towards him while Sandy shooed the bird away. The crow’s caws almost sounded like laughter as it flew off. ‘Are you okay Andy?!’ asked Cody. ‘You saw it!’ said Andy, rubbing his eye as Bailey and Sandy helped him up, ‘You all saw it! They’ve declared all out war!’ ‘Oh hush Andy.’ Said Bailey, ‘We’ll get nothing done at this rate. Cody, Sandy has an idea she’s shared with me that I think is great. Take it Sandy.’ ‘Yup.’ Sandy nodded and stepped back a little so Cody didn’t have to crane his neck down quite so much to see her, ‘Okay Cody, now what I was thinking is, you’re really great at empathising with people, seeing things from their perspective...’ ‘Uh...’ said the ever modest Cody, blushing a little at the compliment, ‘I guess so.’ ‘You’re attentive, intuitive, sincere...’ Sandy began to blush too, feeling as if she was drifting up into his big bright eyes. ‘Well I...’ Cody felt his candy heart grow warmer as he looked down at Sandy. She looked lovely today. Had she done something with her hair? Sandy went on, lost now: ‘Compassionate, free-spirited, welcoming, funny, charming, handsome, tall, a great kisser...’ The spell was broken by a grinning Bailey waving her hand between the two: ‘Hey, Sandy? The plan?’ Cody and Sandy gasped in unison and shook their heads quickly to focus again, blushing furiously while Andy and Bailey tried not to laugh. ‘So, er, y-your plan Sandy?’ said Cody, ‘To help me with the crows?’ ‘Right! The plan!’ said Sandy, clearing her throat, ‘So, sorry to say so Cody, but I think you may have been going about scaring the crows from kinda the wrong way... Guessing at what might scare them could be just a little too close to plotting or scheming that you personally just can't do it. What I think would be a better approach for you would be to play to your greatest strength: compassion, really understanding someone else. You must have learned more by watching the crows over the years than even most humans know! So perhaps what you should try is a thought experiment -- really, deeply think about being a crow yourself, visualize it. What do you think dear? Does that sound good or a little far fetched? Don't worry about hurting my feelings.’ Cody turned the idea over in his head for a moment: think like a crow? Since the crows weren’t scared of Cody, he had gotten very good at observing them, especially before Sandy started showing up when she could during the day to keep him company. They were very smart creatures, liked playing tricks on eachother and other animals, deeply loyal to one another and protective of their young... ‘I think...’ said Cody, beginning to nod, ‘I could just be able to do that, sure! Why gosh darn it Sandy, you’re a genius!’ ‘Aw shucks, stop it you!’ said Sandy, turning away and waving her hand at him. ‘Think like a crow...’ said Cody, looking off at the crows fluttering around the edge of the field. ‘Okay, so first off Cody,’ said Sandy, ‘I need you to please close your eyes for me.’ ‘Gotcha.’ said Cody. ‘Right,’ said Sandy, ‘Now I want you to imagine you're standing on a tree branch.' 'Wouldn't it break with me standing straight up on it?' 'He's got ya there Sandy.' said Andy, nodding, 'That's physics.' 'No, no.' said Sandy, 'I mean like as if you were a bird Cody, a crow, and only just as big as one.' 'How did I become a crow?' asked Cody, smiling and genuinely curious. 'That doesn't matter Cody.' said Bailey, 'It's just an exercise.' 'Of course it matters.' said Andy, 'You can't just start a story off with a fella being turned into a crow and not elaborate. There's no stakes without understanding what caused the conflict that needs to be resolved. That's bad writing.' 'Andy, for crying out loud...' said Bailey. 'Please Andy, you're confusing things.' said Sandy. 'Me especially.' said Cody, nodding. 'Fine.' said Andy, 'He can start the story with amnesia so we don't have to come up with a backstory right away. That's tried and true I guess...' 'Who's Amnesia?' asked Cody, 'Why is she on the branch with me?' 'No Cody.' said Bailey, 'Amnesia is a condition, kind of like an illness -- that thing humans get sometimes that makes them feel really bad -- where you can't remember anything.' '...But how do people with amnesia know they have it if they can't remember anything?' asked Cody. 'He raises a good point.' said Andy. 'Stop.' Sandy sighed, 'We're all forgetting the crow.' 'Oh no!' said Cody 'Have we got amnesia?!' 'NO ONE'S GOT AMNESIA!' cried Sandy and Bailey. 'That we know of...' said Andy. 'Andy, my love, my life,' said Bailey, 'I will throw you into the laundry basket when we get home, so help me.' 'Cody.' said Sandy after taking a deep breath. 'You're a crow way up in a tree, and off in the distance you see a field, this field, and you think "Oh! What scrumptious looking grain! I'll just fly right over there and pinch some!".' 'The nerve!' said Cody, dutifully still keeping his eyes closed all the while. 'Now remember not to get too mad at crow-you, Cody...' said Sandy. 'Heh, "Crow-dy".' said Andy. Sandy continued: 'You have to understand what he's going through, see things from his perspective, remember?' 'Right, sorry.' said Cody, 'I'm hungry and there's food... I'm only a little crow, so it's not like I'd take any amount a big old human would miss, right? I'll hop from this tree and and fly over there this instant! There and back in a flash, no real harm done at all.' 'That's it Cody!' said Sandy, 'Just like that. Rationalize the crow's actions.' 'I'm almost there.' said Cody, tilting his head from side to side whenever his crow-self changed course in the air, 'I'm gonna swoop in low, land in the middle of the field and check the ground for any grain that might have fallen on its own before I started plucking at the shoots.' 'You're doing great honey.' said Sandy, 'Do you find any fallen grain on the ground?' 'Not so far.' said Andy, bobbing his head slightly as his make-believe crow body hopped around on the ground of the imaginary farm, 'I'll keep looking.' 'Why are you bobbing your head like that buddy?' asked Andy. 'Crows don't run when they move quickly on the ground, they hop.' said Cody without feeling silly at all, 'I don't think they can run, just walk a tiny bit quicker or fly outright.' 'You sure do know a lot about crows Cody.' said Bailey. 'Sure do!' said Cody, 'They're so tricksy and smart that you can never really get bored of watching them.' 'Focus please Cody.' said Sandy. 'Right, sorry.' said Cody, 'I'm not finding anything on the ground. Guess I'll have to pluck a shoot free and eat from the top of it. There's one right next to me, I'll just reach over and grab it with my beak...' 'Okay Cody.' said Sandy, 'Now comes the important part: I'm gonna count to three, and on the exact instant I hit three, I want you to pluck the shoot out of the ground. Ready? One. Two. Three. BOOM! Something heavy crashes into the ground right behind you! Turn around and look at it! What's the worst thing it could possibly be?!' Crow-Cody whipped around as Sandy spoke, the shoot clasped so tightly in his beak by the shock of the crash behind him that it snapped. And there it was: Cody looked and beheld what he as a crow (according to his personal experience filtered through his subconscious) simply had to be afraid of most if he knew anything of crows at all... 'It's a... Mirror. A big old mirror.' said Cody. 'Huh?' said Sandy, puzzled. 'I can see myself in it.' said Cody, 'The crow-me, I mean. But... I'm different in the mirror... I'm a little smaller, more slender, my feathers have fallen out in some places, and the skin underneath is pale and loose. ...I'm starving.' 'Starving?' said Bailey. 'Starving.' said Cody nodding sadly, his lip trembling, 'It's hard out in the wild, and it gets harder still the less I care for myself or go uncared for... Being hungry and alone, that scares a crow more than anything else... May I please open my eyes now Sandy?' 'Oh Cody...' said Sandy, running up to Cody's boot and placing her hand there comfortingly, 'Of course you can sweetheart.' Cody looked down at the ragdolls, smiling wanly: 'Sorry everyone. I know you're all trying to help me, but I don't really think that there's any way I could be scary to the crows from this angle either... I can't scare them off, and I won't hurt them. It's just not who I am. We'll have to think of something else after all.' 'You're the salt of the earth Cody.' said Andy, shaking his head even if he genuinely meant it as a compliment. 'We'll take as long as you need to help figure this out Cody.' said Bailey. 'That's a promise.' said Sandy. 'Thanks guys.' said Cody. Later on that same day, whenever the farmer or one of his family came near, the crow on lookout high up on the power line would make three sharp caws to indicate to the other crows not to fly too near Cody's field at all, as if they really were at least a little bit afraid of him after all, as had been the case for quite some time. Oh yes, the crows were very fond of their very un-scary scarecrow, and they intended to keep him around for a very, very long time indeed.The End...
The Hunt For Dr. Cesterfield by n64ization
INKtober 22: Heist - When a plan falls apart.. by KaidokJ
For Science!“So whats at the center of a Black Hole?”*looks at picture*“There’s nothing there.”“Yes, that is why its called a ‘black’ hole.”“Well, holes are usually empty and *looks at picture again* theres nothing there.”“umm, yes, but the question is ‘why’ there’s nothing there?”“Is this a joke or a science class? ‘why’ would there be anything there.”“Well, something has to be generating the gravity at the center of that cluster.”“Do we know enough about Gravity to make that assumption?”“Well, technically.”*looks at picture*“kay~ I’ll bite. That light we can see, those are stars, nebulae, gas clouds, but mainly stars and stuff right?”“Sure.”“What little we know of Gravity could also allow us to assume that that cluster of ‘space stuff’ they themselves generate the gravity that causes all of them to stay together like that. And that it is ‘this’ actual, visible, with ‘evidence’ cluster of ‘massive space stuff’ probably either spinning, rotating, burping on each other, all affecting each other, that generate the gravity that causes the rest of our galaxy to form.”“…”“Its like we all started showing up to this massive party, and it got so fsck’d up that theres a safe zone at the middle with *looks at picture* nothing there. Cause apparently, ‘now’ we’re all too awesome for each other we didn’t leave each other.”“or/and/probably we all started spinning in such a ridiculous, non-intelligeble, manner, under order was established and now we have a pretty galaxy.” “’cept I think we’re at the ass-end of nowhere cuz we have life or something and that’s important.”“But hey! Science!” “You know you can’t prove any of this?”“Do I have to look at the picture again, there it literally nothing there.”“Light, time, no-“ “Yes, yes, yes nothing can escape its surface, because there is nothing there generating those forces slash energies for us to detect. And it looks like it so fuck-wit crazy in there that we might as well admit we know jack-shit about gravity and admit the obvious.”*looks at picture*“There is nothing there at the center of that very fscking crazy star-cluster, a cluster so massive that over-time a galaxy formed about it.”“We might generate newer, more efficient models of physics under this assumption, but hey, Renegade Science.…and no not the FPS Command and Conquer game…that was awesome.”
RHP - 22 - FlamesDusk and Word weaved through the remains of the school. They were occupied with an odd game of hot and cold until they discovered the collapsing opening in the wall of what Dusk assumed to be the dormitory. They had a fortunate break. Word slid Dusk off his back and into the hole, rather than Dusk jumping into it. He felt the heat of the magically induced fires as he landed on his feet. He could sense the magic tingling through his body. The heat from the burning building was intense, but the stone hallway was quiet and left his skin feeling cold. “Word, can you change back?” Slightly whispering, Dusk inquired; the corridors were anything but small at first. Small tables in the hallway were on their sides; there were debris and small fires. He did not wish for Word to suffer any harm. “Coo,” Word cooed sadly, moving his head from side to side. “Too hard on my own.” “Do you need to get help?” With his heart still thumping with the emotions of his two mates, Dusk's voice was prickly with worry. “Get mama!” Word leaned into the structure and rubbed his face across his upper body. “Stay safe; be back soon.” Word whirled around and rolled back, glancing again at him before flickering away. Dusk laughed, but it was more of a driven, nervous laugh. “Stay safe.” Before relocating here, he had not heard this phrase very frequently. “I can do that.” Dusk spoke, drawing in a deep breath and allowing his heart to continue pounding with feelings. Dusk felt uneasy as he turned left and ventured further into the school; he was afraid for Micah and Pyrite, not for himself. This was not how he usually felt. Since coming here, Dusk has learned a lot of new things. Dusk walked down the seemingly endless hallway, watching his footing. The deeper he went, the hotter it got; sweat was dripping off him, and his heart felt like it was about to burst. Grabbing his chest, Dusk gritted his teeth and plowed through it. Gasping for air due to the intense heat, he watched as the strange flames adhered to the walls, only ever extending to the edge of the central red carpet that extended down the hallway. Then Dusk hit a fork in the hallway, sighing with frustration. He was unable to decide which direction to take. The feelings that had brought him there were becoming more intense, to the point where he was unsure of which direction to go. He was quickly relieved of his frustration by a muffled voice coming from the right. Even muffled, the voice sounded feminine, and it sounded familiar enough to raise hairs on the back of his neck. It couldn't be; Dusk turned right too fast, and his shoes slipped on the rug. Thank goodness, he could not be heard over the woman's loud screaming. He could hear her screaming more clearly the closer he got to the door at the end of the hall. “Why!” The voice cried out from behind the door. As dusk turned to scan his surroundings, he saw flames growing up the stone walls, crawling along the baseboards, and flickering from under the door. The burning cannot exist without a suitable source. It ought to have been his first indication that magic was the source of the fire. With everything that had been occurring in succession for him, it is not as if he had time to reflect on anything. “Why do you choose him?” That was all the confirmation that Dusk needed. Behind the door stood Aimee Thyst. Even the queen's admonition failed to deter her. “I attempted to get him to leave, but he refused.” There was a crazy edge to Miss Thyst's voice that even the Duchess Black lacked. Dusk hovered outside the door now that he was here, observing the fire that shot out of the bottom opening. What was he going to do? “I tried to talk to you, but your mother sent me away!” “Take a hint, ya crazy woman! We have no interest in you, him, or me!” Through the door came Pyrite's growling, sour voice, and it was clear that the rage he felt was not his own. Faded away. “Prior to him arriving here, you were! The times we looked at each other in the hallway, the time you completed the project instead of me, even though I was meant to lead it... Is that all a result of your concern for me?” Miss Thyst yelled, and Dusk pursed his lips, trying to come up with a plan of action. Does he just have to barge in? The shock should give Pyrite a chance to react. “You ought to get away before anyone finds you. It is all we can do for you.” Micah's voice was gentle; the vibration in it hinted at the fear that had also left Dusk, along with Pyrite's anger. Those words were not for Miss Thyst. Dusk clenched his teeth; he had long since given up on getting help, but he had longed for it. Now he wanted to help someone, but it wasn't as easy as the words made it sound. Even in his head. “I understand that you are concerned about the dragon flames consuming me, but it is okay.” Miss Thyst once again twisted the scenario to her own purpose. “Even without these decades, I will live a long life, and if this is sufficient to establish my worth to you…” He was not a martial artist by any means, but he was an angry man when her words trailed up, and he raised an eyebrow in disgust and kicked in the door. He could feel the heat from the door through the soul of his shoe, but it was not hot enough to burn. Fortunately, he had not used his hands. "I believe I am sick and tired of pretty much everybody." Dusk said his words were as pure as his feelings. He escaped the Duchess and her abuse. That was what was meant—abuse. Dusk was not naive; he understood that what he endured qualified as abuse. He had never allowed himself to consider it before. Considering that he left the nation to lay line shakes, he reasoned that he would never have to! He is unable to get a break; why? “Why are you here?” Anger flared in her purple eyes, reflecting the surrounding fire. The flames in the hallway, which were actively destroying other areas of the school, were not like that fire. It poured its chaos onto the floor, scorched the walls a charred black, and burned whatever furniture there was to blacken sticks. Dusk laughed, telling her that she was terribly mistaken if she had thought this would frighten him. Though he detested black, he refused to be scared of it. Not anymore. It has the power to take those nightmares and daydreams and shove them straight up their ass. That was what he thought of the color black. “What am I doing here?” Every bit of resentment he had harbored over the past few weeks, even years, boiled up inside of Dusk. “What are you doing there?” Dusk was pretty sick of everything extra taking up space in his life and making it harder. “A commoner girl in the dorm for men?” Dusk displayed his bravery and nobility to the fullest. “You are holding a prince and his mate captive, no matter what the situation. Nothing your family does, in my opinion, will keep you out of trouble right now.” At this point, Dusk doubted that she would survive. Dusk had avoided looking at Micah and Pyrite, his mates. Not wanting his temper to subside or his resolve to waver. “I would not be in trouble if it were not for you!” Flames the color of dark wine engulfed Miss Thyst's hands. Though Dusk knew that Micah had been doing it all along, logic insisted that he try to reason with her. “You would not be harming Micah if you really loved him.” In a sharp tone, Dusk said he had told her what he thought of her proposals. “You-” She began to argue, but Dusk interrupted her. “You don't understand. I am acting in his best interests.” Dusk began to recite the all-too-common justifications. While she might not be able to mimic the Duchess Black, she is beginning to resemble her. “They will come around one day. You are not involved in it at all.” The floor gave a creak as Dusk moved forward. Miss Thyst and her flames had greatly weakened the once-firm flooring. “If only they would listen to me.” Dusk stepped forward again, and the floor gave a warning cry. “Control, not love, is the source of all those things.” “Which do you really want from Pyrite or Micah?” Dusk added Pyrite to the mix, but it was differently Micah that caught her attention. She must have feared Pyrite or respected Micah enough to not bother him before now. “If you're not too far into your lie, that is, to answer truthfully,” “Dusk!” Pyrite spoke, his arms encircling and sweeping him aside. On the floor beneath his feet, a fireball burst. He had not fallen through the floor, though. Did him rashly going after her hit the mark? Dusk narrowed his eyes at this thought and came to the conclusion that she was a coward. What did he have to fear from a coward? “Did what I said resonate with you too much as the truth?” Dusk spoke it aloud, interpreting every facial gesture. Her eyes were wide, and copious amounts of sweat fell from her face that should not have been. Usually, a mage is immune to their own magic. Even Dusk knew that much. There was a wild pulse in a vein in her neck; she was either sick or afraid, maybe both, because her pupils had shrunk so much. Now that Dusk was actually looking at her, her short purple hair had been cropped even closer to her head. To achieve that look, she would have taken a pair of scissors and hacked her own hair. “I have repeatedly demonstrated my love for him. Since we were children.” She had the widest possible eyes. “I drove away the rats that ventured too near. Pyrite was destined to be, and the royal family has long had a close relationship with them.” The room was getting unbearably hot, and the flames continued to grow. Pyrite tried to pull Dusk in closer, but he wouldn't be budged, not without force. Micah came in and touched his arm. “She will not listen to reason; she has been possessed by the dragon flame.” With a whisper, Micah asked him if he was still unsure about Miss Thyst’s sanity. On his arm, Micah's hand trembled. Dusk reached up and took hold of that hand, and even though the fire was making the room hot, it felt cold. “I am not trying to get her to listen to reason.” Gazing at Miss Thyst, Dusk continued to speak. Looking around, the floor caught his attention. Where he had stood, he could see deep fissures in the wood. “I want her to go away. How long has she kept you in this place?” When Dusk finally met Micah's gaze, he turned away. Since he had left him this morning. No other reason could have led him to turn away. “You're the only rat that refuses to leave!” She let out a scream at his final words, completely deaf to anything that did not fit her plan. How familiar. “It went against my plan to get rid of you at school. There were always way too many people staring at you. When I found out about your mother, I thought you would leave.” She started towards them, and Dusk let go of Micah's hand. He could do this. “I apologize,” Dusk said, snatching Micah and shoving him toward Pyrite. Pyrite's eyes turned wide, but he caught Micah. Like he planned. Dusk, then turn and meet Miss Thyst's mad dash. He grabbed her and stomped the weakening floor as hard as he could, wondering if it was good or bad luck. He took hold of the flames that he could not feel the burn from. With a scream that could be heard a mile away, Miss Thyst grabbed onto his arms as dusk broke through the floor. He turned to look at Micah and Pyrite, and saw them scurry to get a closer look at him. He smiled at them. In order to complete the next part of his plan, he was hoping that it would be the lucky charm....
Tears of my Beloved (ZeLink) Ch 1Guardians possessed by Ganon’s malice lay destroyed at their feet as hundreds more ascended upon them. Link was near death, and about to lose consciousness as he kneeled protectively in front of Princess Zelda.“Link, save yourself! Go! I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me!”Link staggered to his feet with the legendary sword in hand, in his continued attempt to shield her. He could barely hold himself up, but one was closing in on them now, and pointing its beam. There was no time to think.“NO!” Zelda cried.She threw herself between Link and the Guardian as blinding light emanated from her palm. The swordsman watched vaguely as every enemy within radius was struck from her light before falling to the ground, dead. His knees buckled beneath him, and his vision began to fade.The last recovered memory of his time from 100 years ago was Zelda sobbing over him.…As Link slowly became conscious, he was aware of the burning pain on his back and side. It was making breathing quite difficult. Wherever his head was resting felt soft, but he didn’t have the energy to move or open his eyes yet. Remembering how he got here was also a struggle. He could remember waking in the Shrine of Resurrection, and freeing the four Champions. He could remember seeing Impa just before all of this.'I went to the castle… I was trying to save Zelda… Did I fail her? I must have.'A range of emotions were circling him now. It vaguely registered that quiet voices were coming from somewhere close, and getting clearer for him to hear.“ enough for everything you, Impa, Robbie, well really everyone-”“Princess Zelda, you really must take a moment to relax. You’ve not stopped thanking me since you and your … escorts arrived with him on that horse. The sight of you both safe and alive is more than we could ask for.”Zelda.Link shot up from his place on the bed inside his Hateno cottage and sucked in sharply through his teeth. With a look of utter bewilderment across his face now, he gazed beyond the railing at the two figures sitting in his kitchen.“Oh Link!” A frantic voice rang.The Princess couldn’t have looked more out of place in her white gown, as she rose from the table and practically sprinted up the stairs. She was on the edge of his bed instantly, and appraising his condition with worried hands. He could only watch in disbelief as Purah joined their side, now donning a preteen appearance instead of a child-like one.“How are you feeling?” Zelda asked him softly.She brushed a few strands of hair away from his eyes. He shook his head vaguely and glanced down at the bandages around his torso.“I have…questions,” Link uttered finally.“You’re well enough to speak, that’s certainly encouraging,” Purah said with a smile. “No one from Kakariko knows what’s happened yet, and I need to figure out how I’m sending word. Please excuse me.” With that, she hurried down the stairs and out the front door into the night.There was a small pause between Link and Zelda as they took in the sight of each other. Zelda’s expression fell slightly, and she looked away before speaking.“I am truly sorry for you to be waking up in this state. Had I realized you were struck by one of Ganon’s attacks and losing blood, I would have spared you the speech. Your horse is an incredibly intelligent creature. She came to me after you collapsed and lowered herself. The only person I knew with the medical knowledge to help us was Purah. I met some kind people at Dueling Peaks Stable who offered to lead us the remaining distance after I addressed your wounds. Purah has since stitched you up and given you medicine. You’ve been unconscious for nearly thirteen hours. I’ve been…beside myself with worry. ”Zelda’s eyes were brimming with tears now but his expression was gentle.“Thank you, Princess…really. Have you had a chance to rest yet?”A few tears fell past and she shook her head.“I’m fine, I've had more than enough rest. I suppose in a way…I was asleep like you all this time. The powers I possess offered more than I ever imagined possible, though they’ve since weakened. I truly ‘woke up’ when you defeated Ganon…” Zelda took both of Link’s hands in hers and inhaled unevenly.“...I am so grateful for everything you’ve done, for this kingdom, for my father and our friends, and for me. All I want for you now is fulfillment and peace. You can live the life you want to. The transition for us both may be difficult, but I find solace in the fact that we are going through it together.”Link squeezed her hands gently and offered an unexpected smile. Her heart eased considerably at the reassuring expression, though one question still lingered.“Do you really remember me…?” Zelda whispered.As reasonable as her uncertainty was, it was still disheartening and devastating to hear. It had been over a century since he’d been in her presence and the sight of her unceasingly relieved him.He pulled her to him, ignoring the pain he felt while doing so, and simply said, “yes.”For a while they held each other in silence, heads resting against the other’s shoulder. The lanterns made the house a dim orange at this time of the night, and the only sounds to be heard were the crickets chirping outside. Zelda was blushing faintly when they broke apart.“We’ll see a lot of each other. I’ve made arrangements with Prima at the Ton Pu Inn for the moment. Your injuries make me anxious, and I’d like to be close enough to watch over you,” She told him, then quickly asked, “Are you still tired? Are you hungry? Can I do anything for you at all?”He found her concern endearing, albeit unnecessary. It made him chuckle as he swung his feet off the bed. The only true restriction he had was his breathing. His legs worked fine and the pain was something he could ignore. “Princess Zelda, I can’t let you concern yourself so much with me.” He rose to his feet steadily, and gestured for her to follow him downstairs. Whatever he was up to was a mystery but she was curious. She found herself sitting in his kitchen once again, watching as he began rummaging through cabinets and drawers.“Please don’t over exert yourself,” Zelda insisted.Link extracted a piece of flint from the drawer and sparked a fire beneath the cooking pot before grabbing a few more things from the cabinet. “Am I right in assuming you haven’t eaten since you woke up?” He glanced over his shoulder at her sheepish expression, and she nodded.“You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to let others take care of you occasionally… although…I’ve missed your cooking,” She admitted.They were both aware that Princess’s knowledge was a bit lacking when it came to preparing food. Before the Calamity, it became the unspoken arrangement during their travels that dinner was Link’s job. Zelda’s curiosity led to entirely too many failed creations, and plenty of wasted ingredients much to Link’s dismay. She’d happily let him prepare anything just to see the bliss on his face while eating it. He’d always been such a glutton.“What are we having?”“Guess.”Zelda flitted beside him and peeked at the contents inside the pot as he stirred. The simplicity of being together for a meal after so long resonated peacefully within them both. Link was humming to himself when she looked at him and smiled.“It’s Risotto, isn’t it?”Link cracked a smile in confirmation.The front door swung open abruptly and Zelda jumped. They both turned to see Purah lugging an open crate over to the table with a loud ‘thud’.“Excellent! I’m so glad to see your appetite has finally returned, Princess. I was worrying about you. I set these clothes aside YEARS ago for your return, it just took me a while to find them. Everything here will fit, and there’s a lot more you can go through later. Symin borrowed your horse by the way Linky, hope you don’t mind. We're still unsure why the Sheikah Slate won’t warp anymore, and we felt this was rather urgent. I’m also too small to have made the journey myself. At least Kakariko’s close.” Purah shruged, then yawned.Zelda made her way over and hugged her friend tight. “I know you’re sick of me thanking you, so I’ll simply say, what would we do without you?”“Perish, probably,” Link said lightly, despite the literal truth of the statement. He grabbed a few bowls from the high shelf and filled one with the steaming rice dish before placing it at the table. He gave Purah a questioning look.“None for me, thanks. I’m dead on my feet,” she remarked. “I’m heading back to my lab for some shut-eye. I’ll see you two tomorrow, bright and early!” She yawned again before turning to leave, waving over her shoulder as she exited. The door shut with a click, and it was just the two of them once more.Link carried his own bowl to the table and sat adjacent to the girl he’d fought so hard to save. It seemed impossible to him that she was really here. She was averting her gaze and it was unclear to him if it was out of embarrassment or something else, but it gave him the chance to admire the precious way her cheeks tinted pink as she took her first bite. Her eyes shut contentedly as she savored it, and he couldn’t help but stare. He knew perfectly well just how beautiful she was.His attention quickly averted back to his own food so the princess wouldn’t catch the expression on his face.The desire to let the night stretch on indefinitely was on both of their minds, but neither of them could produce a reasonable excuse to continue on after the meal was eventually over.Link stacked their empty bowls and rose from the table to grab Zelda’s crate. She did her best not to allude to the anxiety that was slowly creeping back up on her, but he still realized. They left the cottage unhurriedly together.The full moon illuminated the entirety of their surroundings and it was breathtaking enough to stop Zelda in her tracks.“The shrine’s glow seems to be changing. It’s almost purple….” She murmured. “I wonder if Purah noticed.”She gazed across the bridge towards Hateno and Mount Lanayru and lets out a sigh before continuing on.“I can only imagine how hectic tomorrow’s going to be...” she said tiredly.The bewildered look on Sayge’s face inside the Dye Shop as they pass amused Link to no end. By now he’d undoubtedly heard about the return of dear Princess Zelda and all the man could do was gawk.“It’s like you said before, Princess. We’ll help each other through this.”As much as they tried to drag out the walk, the Inn was still relatively close. Zelda opens the main door and carefully took the crate from Link’s grasp, before smiling at him sweetly.“Thank you Link.” There was more on her mind, but it could wait. They had the time for it now.“Sleep well, Princess Zelda.”. . . . . . . . . .Fragmented images of swirling red and purple inflated and expanded the furthest reaches of his mind. Searing hot agony torched his lungs, and he realized he was drowning.…The sound of rapid knocking against the cottage door startled Link from his Waterblight Ganon related nightmare. As relieved as he was to be awake, he couldn't help his mind from lingering on the negative emotions.The slash across his back was hurting a lot worse than before and his breathing was sounding more like wheezing now. He was genuinely surprised he had been able to pass out the night prior with the Princess’s return and everything else going on. After the nearly thirteen hours of sleep he’d already had, he could remember lying there in pain after changing his bandages and just staring at the ceiling.Realizing it’s probably Princess Zelda at the door trying to check on him, he rolls out of bed quickly and grabs his champion tunic off the floor to dress.“Come in,” he called out strenuously.Zelda shyly opened the door in time to see Link pulling his arms through the sleeves of his garment as he descended the stairs. She was wearing the champion blue like him, he realized.He approached her with some effort and the smile on her face faded.“I’m so sorry…Purah told me you’d likely be in worse shape this morning so I made you a health potion.” She held it out to him.He uttered a small ‘thank you’ before awkwardly grabbing it from her outstretched hand and downing it. She could tell from his demeanor that the effects were immediate, as he let out a sigh and relaxed his posture considerably."Oh, I'm so glad that helped," Zelda said joyfully before continuing, "Purah and Symin were causing quite the commotion this morning…I could hear her yelling at him before running off somewhere. I got your horse back from him before he went, she’s outside in the corral now. He tells me all of the towers and shrines have been sinking into the ground all across Hyrule, and no one knows why. He also says Impa and Paya wish to see me, they’ve been at the lab since early this morning …You’re welcome to accompany me.”“Would be happy to,” came his quiet reply.“WHY are you DOING this to me,” Came a guttural screech from outside.They quickly made their way out into the chilly morning air, and saw Purah at the nearby Shrine with the Sheikah Slate in hand, furiously pounding on the pedestal with her other fist. Link and Zelda exchanged similar expressions. Purah’s head whipped around and she gestured for them to come over.“The slate is still alive but none of the shrines respond! If I can dismantle this terminal, maybe I can figure out how to prevent the rest from sinking! I have no idea how much time this one has left,” She wailed.Zelda dashed over to grab the slate, so her friend could use both hands, while Link hovered a few feet back in case of being called upon. Tools Purah seemingly procured from thin air went to work at the base of the pedestal for several minutes.Without warning, the earth abruptly, and violently began to tremor all around them, scattering rocks and debris as both Purah and Zelda began sinking, along with the shrine. Link barely had time to act. He lunged, wrenching his arms out to them both and yanked until they were all falling backwards, away from the forming hole. Rocks crumbled over and closed in, dust and debris settled, and for several moments all they could do was sit and stare at the landslide where the shrine once was.The first one to speak was Purah.“I think you two should probably head up to the lab without me.”The swordsman and Princess both helped the young scholar to her feet.“Are you alright?” Zelda asked.“I…I’m trying really hard not to cry,” Purah said unevenly.Zelda handed back the slate and squeezed the girl’s shoulder gently. Wordlessly they headed in the direction of the Hateno Tech Lab. They’re a reasonable distance away but still able to hear when Purah lets out one more screech.“TEENAGERS!”Zelda shook her head at that, as she tried to imagine what going through puberty twice must be like. Link tried to hide his chuckle. They carried on in relaxed silence all the way up the hill.Symin was outside of the lab when they approached, observing the teleportation circle on his hands and knees. A carriage and horse was stationed several feet away from him.. He rose as soon as he noticed their presence, nodding curtly, and together they all go went to greet the two other sheikah who were patiently waiting for them.Zelda and Link immediately saw that the lab is in total chaos. Papers, books, and ancient materials were strewn across the floor, table and chairs, and the terminal was in pieces. Symin shuffled in quickly, ignoring the mess. Zelda’s eyes fell on a familiar looking hat with glowing delight.For several seconds they just looked at each other, and very quickly the Princess gets down to hug her dear friend tight.“Impa…I can’t thank you enough for guiding Link throughout his memory loss. I haven’t the words to fully express how terribly I’ve missed you all.” Impa weakly returned the gesture, and Zelda broke away gently to stand again.“Symin already told me how many times you’ve thanked us and I’ll hear none of it. I’m so pleased that this moment has come and I’ve lived to see it,” Impa said with a faint smile.Zelda directed her gaze at the shy young woman several feet back and smiled kindly. “It is such a privilege to meet you Paya. Thank you for assisting your grandmother in making this journey…” Zelda looked to Impa again, “...though I do wish I could have come to you instead.”“I-I insisted she wait for you as well, but you know how headstrong she is,” Paya stammered before adding, “It’s such an honor to meet you as well Princess Zelda…h-hi Link.” Paya looked directly at the wall and blushed madly.Zelda couldn’t help but immediately adore the girl and her sweet demeanor.Symin yawned and cleared his throat awkwardly. “It’s unfortunate the teleportation system is down. Purah’s dedicated nearly her entire life to researching and understanding this ancient technology, and it’s getting ripped out from under us. I can’t help but wonder what’s become of the divine beasts as well.”Purah burst through the door, and everyone but Link jumped. Wet red and black makeup streaks were seen running down her face and neck. “I highly doubt the divine beasts function correctly anymore. All of the ancient technology is failing us now.”“Aunt Purah, you’ve aged again…” Paya said awkwardly.“Last week I thought I’d finally configured the anti-aging Rune just right, but just like everything else, that failed too,” Purah complained.“You’re throwing a tantrum,” Impa retorted.“Love you too. So anyways. My life’s work is now entirely obsolete.”The angsty teen threw herself in a chair and lets her head hit the table with an uncaring smack. Paya is quickly at her side with a tissue in a gentle attempt to clear the tear streaked makeup. Zelda flits to her other side to sit, and begins to rub soothing circles on her back.“Purah, it’s as Symin said,” Zelda began, “You’re the brightest scholar I know, and you understand this technology better than anyone. You could easily replicate all of this. The slate, the teleportation circles, and with enough ambition, the towers and their function too. Your research is all right here!”“Princess Zelda, I admire your go get it attitude, but that would mean completely starting over from scratch,” Purah said monotonously.“At least consider the idea. I know you could pull it off, I have complete faith in your abilities.” Zelda turned to address the room. “I’ve been thinking to myself about what my plans are now that I’ve returned…Most of you probably know I’ve never been one to sit idle when there’s so much I can contribute. The calamity left this kingdom scarred, and broken. So many countless lives were lost, and I want to honor all of those brave individuals. Those that survived this tragedy carried on and found their own ways to rebuild. I know there’s so much to be done out there still, and it would benefit this kingdom greatly if I assisted in Purah’s research. That starts with the divine beasts, and that means I must head to the closest one at Zora’s Domain.”Purah sat up and gave the Princess an agonized look. “Your confidence in me is…too kind. I will do my best to earn it.”“You’ll accompany her, won’t you,” Impa directed at Link.He was mid response when Zelda interrupted. “Link is relieved of his duties as my personal knight. He nearly died twice protecting me from Ganon.” She looked at him pleadingly. “I meant it when I said you can live the life you want to now.”Link hadn’t uttered a single word since they’d arrived at the lab. Everyone turned to look at him. His face masked the sadness her statement caused him well.“My duty is to protect you. I take my job seriously,” he said simply.Zelda lingered on several unspoken thoughts, but ultimately decided not to push the subject. He was capable of making his own choices, and deep down she didn’t want to be alone during this trip. She could continue to tend to his injuries in this case as well.“It’s decided,” Impa proclaimed. “Link and Princess Zelda will investigate the divine beasts. We’ll get Purah on track in the meantime…her fit won’t last.”“You’re speaking like I’m not here.”“Act your age and I’ll address you.”Zelda and Paya giggled at the two sisters bickering.For a while Zelda chatted with Impa and Purah about the plans being set in motion. She went around the room to hug everyone goodbye, and she and Link exited the lab together to gather their supplies. They agreed to meet back at his cottage.Zelda makes her way to the East Wind General store while Link ran back home. By this point most of the villagers were awake and going about their routines. Several of them stopped in their tracks at the sight of Zelda, including a handful of children.A small crowd was forming now, and the attention was flustering to say the least. The store greeter Ivee gasped, and a small girl by the name of Karin timidly approached. “Are you really Princess Zelda?” Karin asked her.Link had finished gathering most of the supplies he had stored away, including two bows and an additional sword, before he made his way back out to the horse corral. He could hear the buzz of townspeople across the bridge greeting Zelda warmly. It brought him deep satisfaction in knowing he helped make this very moment possible.He patiently waited for everyone to get their chance at meeting her. She said her goodbyes with a satchel in hand as she made her way back to Link. He was tending to his horse when she approached with an embarrassed smile.“Ready?” He says kindly, before taking the satchel from her to include with the pack.“You never did tell me your horse's name. I’ve been curious,” Zelda said to him.“Pig.”She looked at him incredulously and his expression was straight.“You… you named this beautiful horse Pig? Can I please ask why?”He looked at her as though the answer was perfectly obvious.“She loves to eat.”“She was destined to be yours,” Zelda laughed.He cracked a bit of a smile at that as he helped her mount Pig’s back. He found his own place at the front, and she gripped on to his leather straps anxiously. Their close proximity flustered Zelda considerably. Link could only hide his blush and stare straight on as they made their way out the front gate of the village, Zelda waving to villagers as they went.“Keep an eye out for any wild horses, Link. I want to try my hand at taming one and I think I know how from watching you. It’s not fair for poor Pig to carry us both,” She said close to his ear.“I actually know exactly where we need to go,” he replied.Being the Hero of Hyrule required a great deal of traveling, and Link had tamed dozens of wild horses during that time. He knew all the typical spots they’d likely be, and one of those spots was across a rock bridge nearby. He guided Pig in that direction with ease, and before long it came into sight.“Crouch when you approach, and don’t sneak up directly behind one. The last thing we need is one of them kicking you,” he told her as they made their way to the grassy outstretch across the bridge. He quickly added, “I can step in at any point if you need help.”“I’m confident I can do this,” she said as Pig gradually slowed to a halt.Link got down first to help with her descent, and motions vaguely towards the edge of the cliff. “I see three,” he informed her.She immediately set her sights on the smallest brown horse in the direction he pointed. She gives him a fleeting glance before crouching low and inching her way forward. He stifled a laugh.Her heart picked up rapidly from the anticipation as the horse got within several feet of her. The moment to sprint for it came, and she hesitated just a second too long. The horses all caught sight of her and startled, running off in three separate directions to Zelda’s great dismay.She wearily glanced back at Link who was failing miserably to conceal his amusement. She blushed bright red before fixing her gaze in the direction the brown one ran off to. She came around from another angle, only for the horse to notice her again and dart quickly off.Link was giving Pig a carrot when Zelda came to the realization that there was a better way to approach this.She made her way back over and filled her arms with some apples she’d tucked inside the satchel. Her posture straightened, and with a new look of determination, she cautiously approached the horse once more.“Hello there, Una,” Zelda cooed. The small horse snorted at her but remained still. The name she'd chosen was ancient Hylian for 'One' and she realized how silly it probably was to him too.She cautiously held an apple out for the animal, who approached her slowly. She couldn't help the grin from spreading as she took every apple from her extended reach.Zelda finally gained the courage to pat her new friend and gracefully mount her. She beamed at Link.“Impressive. I’ll consider that method next time,” he said humorously while climbing on Pig’s back.“You like the thrill of the chase too much,” She replied strenuously. Riding without a saddle was more difficult than Zelda could have anticipated, and it was making guiding the horse off the plateau challenging. Pig took the lead towards Dueling Peaks stable, with Una close behind.Everything, from the warmth of the sun to the smell of the air, brought Zelda an overwhelming sense of peace she’d almost forgotten existed within her. She was cherishing this new adventure with her noble knight more than she was ready to outwardly express.She wondered if he felt the same.. . . . . . . . . .I had to combine chapters one and two, they simply weren't ready for publishing before. I feel they're slightly better.
RHP - 19 - LunchThe leadership class is straight-forward. Everyone was given a summary of the year's lesson plans. Mr. Rock directed anyone whose eyes lingered toward their books with a stern cough and glare. The overview was strange; to say the least, there are seven stages for first years. The first one is the art of praise. Dusk had not expected to see that one. Responsibility, setting an example, and discipline all made sense. Knowing your business, he could start working on that right away. Although surprised that Micah had not yet arrived, Dusk left the class with a sense of optimism. Pyrite took him to his home studies class without mentioning Mr. Summerset in any way. In actuality, it seemed as though nothing at all had happened. Dusk should not be, but he was surprised by Pyrite's ability to conceal so much feeling. It was evident that Dusk had only been acquainted with him for a short period of time beneath that cheerful face and swaying tail. Dusk, however, discovered that his heart was irritated. Dusk arrived at Home Studies with a foggy head. He was fortunate that Lace, Iris, and Moss, his teammates, wanted to avoid talking about the gray beast in the room. The sourer atmosphere that Dusk created in his head and the rapid interest of the others in the room kept each other apart. Thankfully, today's homework load was light. They were breaking down their responsibilities and examining their assigned family. In noble families, various heads collaborated to administer the household. Even though his circumstances were unusual, Dusk never realized it; maybe he should have. The male employees, including the butlers and menservants, would be under Dusk's supervision. Moss the females, including the maids and waiting ladies. Iris was in charge of the garden, and Lace was in charge of the finances. After the initial couple weeks, they would alternate until everyone had a turn. Mrs. Quartz distributed the hypothetical problems that we would be in charge of resolving. At the end of the week, we would turn them in, and she would give us a fresh one. Alterations would be made in accordance with their responses. They decided to put off finishing their assignments so they could meet together the following class to chat and offer support. The lesson went by so quickly. Being a part of the three girls made Dusk feel better. Iris was a vivacious bundle of energy who instantly fell in love with Word, and the emotion was highly reciprocal. Iris gushed about Word throughout the majority of the lesson. Lace talked about her summer training sessions with her mom. Moss was happy to forget about her papers and join in on their conversation. It was a casual, light-hearted discussion. Due to the chaotic nature of emotions, Dusk needed that distraction from his own thoughts. Lunch followed, but Micah was still missing. Bringing back his worried thoughts. Should you go see how Micah is doing? At the end of class, as students were filing out, Dusk questioned Pyrite. It was also Dusk’s lunchtime. After a few hours, Micah had still not returned. He was beginning to worry. Pyrite cocked his ears and cast a downward glance at him. “He is taking a long time.” Pyrite's mouth twisted, and he continued to stare Dusk in the face. He didn't want to leave him alone. Dusk began, “Take me to the cafeteria,” not knowing where it was. “I will wait there for you guys.” “I am not sure if I should leave ya alone.” Pyrite said his tail lay flat against his legs. “You cannot be with me all the time.” At this point, he felt as though he had some idea of how protective he was. He had to be delicate because he did not want to offend Pyrite. “I survived this long without you.” “At what cost?” Pyrite scowled, crossing his arms and glaring down at him with his fire-filled blue eyes. They could have easily turned red. Word screeched at him; Dusk could have easily forgotten that he was perched on his shoulder due to how light he was. “Ya know what I mean, Word.” Pyrite snipped at Word. He inflated himself and pouted on his shoulder, turning his head away from Pyrite. “It is the cafeteria at the school; what could go wrong?” Dusk pointed this out. “Who would risk it with Word?” Word turned around and raised his head so high that the feathers on his neck fluttered. He cocked his head, exuding a confidence Dusk wished he had even a quarter of. “I do not feel the connection, but Micah's prolonged absence seems wrong.” Dusk deepened his voice into a low whisper. Not wanting the onlookers to hear what was going on. “I don't feel distress, but...” Pyrite rubbed his head with both hands and let out a harsh sound. The couple of other beast folk scattered as a result, and Dusk and Word leaped. “Word, I'm counting on ya.” Pyrite looked in front of him, grabbing his small talons in his hands. From his shoulder, it was an odd scenario and a little bit funny. Should he feel insulted? He trusted Word over him; had he shown himself to be that unreliable? Thinking back, he had a bit. “Then, can you take me to the cafeteria?” Dusk said, dropping the subject when he had no argument against it. “It's in the center hall; everything fans out from it.” Pyrite said there was a light sway in his tail, and in a light bend at his waist, he held out his arm for him to take. Dusk took it, feeling a bit awkward about it without being too exhausted to think about it. Dusk glanced away from Pyrite, feeling flustered. “This school is elegantly constructed.” Dusk commented, while Pyrite led the way to the cafeteria as Dusk fell alongside Pyrite. He questioned why his heart was pounding. His hand, which was resting on Pyrite's arm, felt warmer than normal. Was it at this time? The turn that his thoughts had taken astounded Dusk. Could Pyrite be influencing him because it didn't feel like him? The innocent-appearing Pyrite caught the sidelong glance Dusk gave him with a wink. Dusk gave him a narrow look. “Pyrite?” Dusk received a chuckle in return. “What do ya expect from Micah's ancestors?” Pyrite's voice grew low and thrummed. Ngh, Dusk didn't like not being able to control the warmth of his body, which spread and dipped at random. Glancing at Pyrite, he saw a smug smile hanging from one of his fangs on his lip. Thinking about it earlier, he realized that Pyrite could smell, so he changed its mood. Think of classes. Think of the classes. Dusk rolled his thoughts into a loop. Pyrite's chuckle left a trail of Dusk's embarrassment behind them. “If you need me, ya need to use your heart to call for me. I'll hear ya.” When Pyrite kissed his check, his face became hot. Pyrite turned on his heel and sprinted off as Dusk touched his face and felt the residual heat. So he felt worried too. Shaking his head, Dusk entered the cafeteria. He had never before eaten in such a manner. Tables filled the room in large, even rows. The tables' dark wood was supported by benches on either side that matched. The walls are lined with wood in an intricate pattern that makes Dusk think of a palace. The room was filled with an antique class that you expected from a school that stepped into history. “Would you have any ideas how this works?” Dusk turned and rubbed Word under the chin. “Dusk!” The animated voice of Iris caused him to turn around. Her blue hair was flowing behind her in a tangle. “Where's the wolf folk?” Iris said, looking around. Lace's pale hand with slender fingers held her fan and came down with a hard thud on her sister's head. Bowing her soft pink head, she raised her pastel eyes to Dusk. “Sorry about that, Dusk, if we may still call you that.” Lace, Dusk thought back, had been reframed from calling him by name in class. This was why. “Iris, it's bad to refer to the Prince's Consort by his race. Dusk's feelings will be harmed,” Moss said softly. “Insulting his mate in such manner.” Iris's bubbly personality burst into a tear-stained face. They had called Pyrite his mate. It was too distracting for Dusk. Had word spread about that already, and had Micah been the one to do it? He would have to wait until Pyrite brought Micah back before he asked. “Do you hate me?” Iris's wings appeared to be dragging on the ground because of how low they were lowered. Tears glistened on the edges of her eyes in large globes as her voice trembled. “Please continue to call me Dusk.” Dusk spoke to Lace first, giving Iris some additional time to consider her course of action. “You understand, Iris, that you should not refer to Pyrite's race once more?” Iris began to hiccup and nod wildly as her tears fell like a river. Before giving her a handkerchief to wipe her eyes, Dusk maintained a firm tone and maintained eye contact with her. “People are staring.” Moss spoke in a low tone that almost blended into the background noise of other people. She did herself no favor by hiding behind Lace. “All right, let us go get our food.” In front of her face, Lace waved a fan. Word went over and rubbed Iris's face. Making cooing noises while doing so, her face became radiant, as if she had never cried. “This way, Dusk.” Lace’s eyes flickered with the smile he couldn't see on her lips. There was a sliding station in front of their lunch plates, and a buffet of meals led him to the side of the room. The square shape caught his attention for a moment, but he kept following the girls alone, holding his plate. “He should have enough food; you do not need to feed him.” Dusk informed Iris, who had a substantial amount of dessert on her plate. Word had more than his fair share of cakes and strawberries between him and Iris. Iris handed Word a large strawberry and said, “He is so cute, I have to feed him,” before taking her plate. “Does it not bother you?” Iris raised an innocent, childlike gaze toward him as she looked up. That Dusk believed is what drew Word to her. “I don't mind, but be sure to feed yourself.” Dusk said, picking up his own plate. “Eat some greens, Iris.” Iris grimaced as Moss placed some long beans on her plate and said, Word was given one by Moss as she held it out with trembling fingers. Word was a real gentleman, and he used all the tact his beak could conjure to take the bean. Moss' gentle grin emphasized how lovely she was. Like the timid little woodland birds, Moss might go unnoticed by people. She simply wasn't as outspoken as her sisters. “You should smile more often, Moss; it suits you.” Dusk said, bringing out a hot pink in Moss's pale skin. Dusk could see the error in his words displayed before his eyes as her eyes opened wide. She and her plate hid behind Lace with the sound of a startled sparrow's small peep. He could see that she was shaking so hard, which explained the rattling noise. That was her fork resting on her plate. What was he thinking? Due to his behavior toward Moss, Dusk felt bad. He would never have considered, much less crossed, that particular line. “My apologies; being around Pyrite is making me forget my own manners.” Dusk ducked his head and gave Moss a short bow. “Once more, I apologize for going too far.” He was making excuses, but why? Despite being able to hear Pyrite's voice, Dusk denigrated himself. He did not have to behave that way toward everyone just because someone asked him to be less formal. “Moss is inexperienced when it comes to receiving compliments, much less ones from men.” Before picking up her plate, Lace rubbed Moss's head. “Even if they do receive their pleasure from the same sex,” Lace remarked while smiling softly. Her eyes lit up with uncontrollable laughter as a result. “It's... fine Dusk.” Despite the fact that Moss's words ceased and faded, she continued to pause to look at her sister. Dusk could make out a subtle blush even on her fingers. “Moss blushes over everything, anyway.” Iris dismissed her sister's action and pointed out towards the cafeteria room. “There's a free spot over there by the window.” “It's where we sat yesterday.” Lace nodded, taking her sister Moss along like a train in her dress. When Word landed back on Dusk's shoulder, Iris sighed and turned to face Word. With eyes on them. Thoughts were racing beneath Dusk's composed exterior as he moved calmly, like a duck swimming in water. He avoided giving them a glance but noticed that they were looking up from their meals at him and the three sisters. Whispers blended but never reached his ears. Part of him wished he could hear them and learn what they were saying. The other part of him. He didn't want to hear. Dusk didn't want to learn. He didn't want to know. It was the part of him that flinched when a woman came too close, that shuddered when darkness crept in on them. Taking in a deep and even breath. Dusk shook the cloak of fear before it covered him with its shroud. “People are really eager to make contact with you,” Lace said with the same grace she sat with. “If Prince Perfect hadn't spoken up, they would surround this table now.” Prince Perfect, the young dwarf, called him that. He had almost forgotten about it. Dusk shook his head and placed his plate on the table before sitting down himself. “Yeah, word spread like a phoenix's flame that if anyone harassed you. The wolf,” Iris corrected herself before she finished her word. “Prince Consort would challenge them to a sword duel.” “His sword skills are well known, even outside of school. It is unfortunate that he has not yet signed a magic sword contract.” A handkerchief was removed and set on Lace's lap. Her sisters, at her, glance. Iris quickly did the same. "He is kind of scary... I wouldn't make him angry.” Moss shook her like a frightened animal as she spoke while trembling. “Pyrite is gentler than a bugbear.” Picking the green off his strawberry for Word to eat, Dusk said. Iris laughed while flaunting her partially consumed meal in front of Lace, much to Dusk's displeasure. Lace gave him a wide-eyed stare. Moss grew a little paler. “That's the best reference, Dusk.” Compared to her sisters, Lace recovered more quickly. “Bugbears are gentle. They take care of kids with an enthusiasm that makes them in-demand nannies.” Dusk recalled the light-brown bugbear who oversaw the children's section of the Redneval library. Had Sage not stopped her, she would have attempted to tear his parents in two. He hadn't spoken to her in years. Lace remarked, reaching for her fan at her waist, “Bugbears do have a certain amount of enthusiasm; that much is true.” Iris caught on and immediately stopped laughing. Word gently removed the strawberry from his grasp and placed it in his talons with his beak. He raised his head to pass him one of his finger sandwiches after picking it up. “My thanks,” Dusk said, placing a hand on his chest and bowing to Word. Falling back into his better habits while in public, at least. “In this country, they are violent adventures.” Lace said, smiling down at Word, who was eating with a more delicate touch than he did with Pyrite and Micah around. “No one will team up with them, and they're avoided. Their lust for blood is barely controlled.” “Mother used to threaten us with them when we were kids.” Moss’s soft voice spoke of an unforgotten fear. To think they would act so differently between one country and another. “I see.” Dusk bit into his sandwich. Enjoying the sweet, tangy flavor. Whatever jelly was sitting in between his slices of bread. “I didn't know.” That could have ended badly for him if he had encountered them on the street. He's been a bit too busy for any real tourist activities. “You are new here; how would you know?” Lace said. Nodding her head and picking up her own sandwich. “I'm sure many things are different in your old country.” “I would leave my country too if my family hated me because I had magic!” Iris quickly put an entire strawberry in her mouth. “That is like my mother disliking me because I can’t fly.” Talking around the berry in her mouth earned her a fan to the head from Lace. Rubbing her head, she smiled sheepishly at Dusk. “She can't,” Moss said, hiding behind her sandwich the best she could. “We still love her.” “It is a shame your personal information spreads like that.” Lace frowned. “But no one of any worth would hate you here—the opposite, in fact.” “You're a blood mage! You have a legendary beast as your familiar. You can't be any cooler! Not even if you were an ice bird!” Iris said, then turned her attention to Word. “Who knew a legendary beast could be so cute?” “The way the two of you interact is different from other familiars.” Lace said, looking down at Word, who was passing him another sandwich. “The bonds between others seem more like master and servant, but with you two, I can almost feel the love you two share.” “And you bonded so fast, our cousin's snake took a year before it stopped biting her!” Iris said her eyes were centered on Word. “I wish bird folk could have familiars.” Iris sighed, looking like a fairy tale maiden in love. “Rumors are spreading that you're going to be the most powerful blood mage in history.” Moss said her water eyes looked to him. “Be careful, okay?” “Her words are correct.” Turning to face Dusk, Lace gently rubbed Moss's head. “People are going to want you by their side or not around at all.” Lace looked into his eyes and glanced over at the cafeteria’s other guests. “We have little power or clout to help you, but if you need a friend, we'll be here.” “People can be dic-” Iris's words were cut off with a raised fan. “I mean, they can suck.” Iris said, looking at Word. “Can I feed you?” Word turned around and opened his beak. “Yay!” She took one of her small berries and popped it into his open beak. “I'll bring trouble to your door.” Dusk issued his own cautionary tale. The idea of having friends made his heart warm. Many of his self-introduced illusions about himself were that he was fine by himself after meeting Micah and Pyrite. It seemed like these three would get along well. He enjoyed them as well, as evidenced by Word's berry-filled beak. They couldn't get a higher rating than that. “Trouble we can take.” With a low chuckle emanating from her mouth, Lace grinned while her eyes grew more narrow. “We small birds are no pushovers.” “Given our small size, we can only do so little on our own. We can accomplish so much when we work together; such is the nature of our hearts.” Iris said Moss's voice was a small echo of hers. Moss's voice was the firmest Dusk had ever heard it. “It is the creed of our flock.” Lace said, beaming with the pride of a proud mother at her sisters. “I like that motto,” Dusk said, having such a close-knit family. It must be nice. “Look at us, we have been talking all the time!” Before things got uncomfortable, Lace made a statement. Let us finish our meal before the time runs out. Lace talked about their flock back home while they discussed their class assignment. Letting Dusk know that only other bird people were allowed to use the word flock. If not, it was offensive. Word had tucked himself inside the curve of his collarbone by the end of lunch. Recovering from a cake and berry-filled meal by sleeping. Since their next class was on the other side of the school, the sisters left him to get to it. Pyrite and Micah were not to be found when he looked around. Not wanting to linger with eyes on him. Dusk headed to the east field. Alone....
RHP - 18 - Elves and Wolves“Hello!” Unexpectedly, an elf with dark skin and green eyes appeared in front of them. Right, have they arrived at the school's main entrance using the teleportation token. Dusk sucked in a breath, and Micah gave a small, startled scream. Between them and the elf, pyrite formed a barrier. On Pyrite's shoulder, Word inflated into a larger-than-usual featherball. The two presented an intimidating image. Although neither of them frightened Dusk, the energy they exuded made the other students give them a wide berth. The elf might have done that. Dusk thought. “Are you Dusk?” The elf's cheery question rang through the air. “And Word, was it?” Word crouched down and hissed. "Salty little thing, is it hard for you to keep that form?" When the elf raised a hand, Pyrite's arm intervened to prevent Word from squeezing the elf's fingers. “Who are ya?” Pyrite growled, but he did so while resting one hand on his hip and leaving the other hanging loose. Pyrite had tense arms and a rigid back, and an odd aura erupted all around him. Though he could not place it, Dusk could sense that the energy emanating from Pyrite was not normal. He pulled out a teleportation token from his storage and held it in his hand, but Pyrite looked like he wanted to fight more than he wanted to run. “Oh, I guess I was wrong.” The elf was almost singing at Pyrite. His reaching hands lingered in midair, as if waiting for the right moment to reach out to Word once more. “Your magic is too untamed and wild to be a blood mage, so you cannot be one.” The elf tried to get around Pyrite, but Pyrite would not even move a step. He was keeping watch over them, but there was more going on. Dusk could feel it. What was happening? Micah's face was expressionless as he caught his glance, but his attention was fixed on the elf. Did anyone have a grudge here? “Elves are incredibly afraid of things they cannot control.” In time to block his path to Dusk, Pyrite said while shaking his head. “Ya should not be afraid now more than ever, elf.” His voice was rougher and deeper than Pyrite's usual voice, and it was full of authority. It demanded attention. Was this something coming from Pyrite's alpha nature? “Compared to what is typical of beast folk, it is a little wilder.” Under his breath, the elf murmured. He ducked his dark head in thought. Spotting a chance to assist Pyrite. In order to prevent this from happening before the surrounding energy erupted, Dusk lifted his foot and took a step forward. When he turned to face Micah with his "why" on his lips, Micah's hand had already grabbed his arm. Dusk bit his lip as he decided to put his trust in him and take his position back. “Elf, what are ya doing here?” Pyrite's words were ignored. The elf's green eyes narrowed, and He looked Pyrite up and down. With his eyes narrowed, the elf gave Pyrite a side-to-side inspection. He moved slowly and steadily, as though he were examining a horse for sale. That look infuriated Dusk to the point where he felt sick. Pyrite was not an animal on sale. Dusk did not realize he had moved forward until Micah's hand squeezed his arm. Although he never lost his cool when such behavior was directed at him, he detested watching Pyrite go through it. He was not deserving of it. Word was hissing away on Pyrite's shoulder. The annoying elf ignored Word’s hisses, like Pyrite's words. Either the elf had no respect or no fear. Dusk had a hunch that it was both. “The blood mage is you.” The elf appeared to be inches away from Dusk's face and behind Pyrite's back in a blur. His skin was so dark that it blocked Dusk's vision. Where the elf's skin and his slender, green eyes were all he could see. Taking a look at him—or, perhaps more appropriately, into him. Dusk shuddered, a wave of disgust rippling through him. “The magic that is whirling around you, I can taste.” He did not want anything of his to be tasted. Not by him, anyway. “Back off!” Pyrite murmured as he cinched the elf's neck in his grasp. He pulled and threw the man, sending him and the black robes he was dressed in flying like a shattered kite. Even though Dusk was certain he would crash to the ground, he instead twisted like a cat and came to rest upright. His positive attitude did not miss a beat. Things were going to get worse. Who gave this man permission to enter a school? “To have such strength, you have to be an alpha.” He stood back up, and the area cleared out fast. In contrast to martial artists, nobody watched from the sidelines in this situation. The lack of commotion on the sidelines seemed stranger to Dusk than a group of onlookers placing wagers. Did they have knowledge that he did not have? Dusk would stake a wager on the likelihood of that happening. “So,” the elf dragged out the word before stepping in front of Pyrite while moving quickly once more. He had the option to do so at any time, but he chose to do so only now. That could have been considered clever or stupid. Dusk was unable to identify either their adversary or their objective. “I cannot say I dislike it, but it is aggressive.” He ran his hand up Pyrite's exposed chest. “I know how I heard about you now.” Pyrite knocked his hand off his chest. “Who do you believe you are touching?” Dusk's mouth twisted as an unpleasant taste crept into his mouth as Micah spoke. Should he restrain Micah, as he did with him? He was not inclined to. The elf needed to back off, and he would not do this on his own. “Take your hand somewhere else; he is a mated man.” Asserting Micah's position, Dusk nodded. The strange elf touching Pyrite bothered him. He did not enjoy being near them in any way. “Oh, I'm not interested in the wolf folk. I'm interested in him,” Dusk got a chill down his spine when those green eyes settled on him and then on his familiar, “And him.” Instead of viewing him as a person, those eyes were viewing him as a thing—an intriguing, fascinating thing. His heart froze, and it gave him the creeps. “From the beast folk, we elves have learned everything we can, particularly from the wolf folk.” His teeth shone white as he grinned. Pyrite's bare rumble of a growl vibrated the atmosphere. Word twirled around his feet. Due to their bond, Dusk could sense Word's unease. Even without the ability to feel their bond, he could feel Pyrite's rage. That Dusk experience was the worst kind of anger one could experience; it was slow, calm, and angry. Pyrite. He bit the inside of his mouth and wished, once more, that he knew how to help him. “Come here!” Word quickly slid into Dusk's arms in response, so it was a good call; at least he could take care of him. He raised his head and observed Pyrite. He was hoping that something in his icy, furious face would indicate what he could do to help him. If anything. “I'll give ya something to learn from, elf.” Pyrite said, again moving in between them. “Before I let ya touch my mates or our little feather friend,” Pyrite growled through extended fangs, “I will send ya back to your damn forest in a wooden box.” “Why do you think I will hurt them, exactly? I would like to watch them.” The elf appeared unfazed and calm, running a hand through his short hair. I will even impart a few lessons to him. Dusk believed his stomach might churn more violently when he grinned. In what sense did he say that? Dusk struggled to control his stomach's twists. His head pounded with a growing rage. Both emotions were too intense to feel at once. Did he even want to know? “Ya think I would let that happen?” Pyrite reached for his side. Dusk winced as Pyrite's teeth clashed and his hands grasped at the air where no sword was present. “I will not allow you to observe even one of his head's hairs. “Ah, what is a hair?” the elf asked with a shrug. Dusk felt his stomach turn again in anger and disgust, and Pyrite growled. Micah stepped closer to Dusk. “A wolf-folk nose is good, but a Howlite nose can smell the fur on a snake. To smell my intentions, you must too. At his waist, he leaned to the side. He looked at Dusk with a smile on his face and a bright light in his eyes. “No matter how talented the trait we bring out is, we elves have vowed never to repeat what happened to the wolf folk.” "Did ya swear not to hurt anybody while seeking the truth?" Pyrite's posture switched from that of a swordsman to that of a fist fighter. Although it was subtle, a big part of his upbringing involved avoiding swords and fists, so he noticed it right away. “You enjoy talented people, huh? Is that it?” He gave the impression that he was anticipating Dusk's response in general. He was paying no attention to Pyrite, which was causing a tick to appear in Pyrite’s left eye. “I know, and you will see that I am talented enough to amuse you.” As he forced himself to swallow his disgust, Dusk could taste the bile trail running up his throat. Like they had any similarities at all. He held his nauseousness in his throat as he spoke, appearing calm and confident despite not feeling that way. “I am losing my temper.” Dusk said it in a cool, courteous manner. “Please move aside, as we have classes to attend.” He did not pick Micah or Pyrite to amuse him. The elf was living in a far more fantastical world than anyone Dusk had ever met. He knew nothing about him or the people he cared for. “Mr. Summerset! What do you believe you are accomplishing?” Mrs. Quartz entered hastily, her pale face flushed from the exertion. To compensate for the height difference, she leaped up. When she landed, she pulled firmly on his long ear and pulled him down to her level. With her arrival, the crackling air stopped, but Pyrite continued to appear tense and prepared to fight. While cuddling Word in his arms, Dusk would not let his guard down either. While he awaited the deputy headmaster's decision, he tried to keep his emotions under control. “Do not think, Mr. Howlite, that I failed to witness you toss a teacher.” Mrs. Quartz gave Pyrite a startling glare before quickly averting it. Mrs. Quartz's criticism of Pyrite required Dusk to disagree with her, but did she say teacher? “Ow! Rose, is this the way to treat a childhood friend?” Mrs. Quartz twisted her hand as the elf whimpered, turning his ear in the process. The earlier sense of threat almost completely disappeared. In front of Mrs. Quartz, he changed into a pubescent child. "Mr. Summerset, that is Mrs. Quartz at school.” Mrs. Quartz looked a little more frazzled than she usually does when she is in a formal setting. The token was reinserted into storage as Dusk sighed. Word soared toward his shoulder. Pyrite fell in between him and Micah. He had unreadable eyes. Dusk had a sneaking suspicion that the elf who brought up his ancestor's trait had blinded him. “Is that a way to treat a student? The entrance door was where I saw everything.” “You called me!” Like a kid at the store demanding treats, he drew out the final phrase. He appeared to be about to throw a tantrum. “Rosey!” His mouth let out a loud scream, and his ear received another sudden twist. When Mrs. Quartz released him, he sobbed and fell to the ground. Straightening her white robe and pink underrobe. She turned, lifted her long white rabbit ears high, and spoke with her usual grace. “I am hesitant to call this elf a fool.” The elf in question was holding his ear as tears streamed down his face, and Mrs. Quartz gave him a look of scorn. “Your class schedule has changed because this is your new magical studies teacher.” She gave Dusk an envelope that she had taken from her robes. “Your personal study has been replaced by Alchemy Studies now. Magical Studies have taken over your former Alchemy Studies slot.” Dusk put his mask on and said, "Understood," but inside he was banging his head against the wall. He did not want to interact with that elf, who was curled up on the ground for two hours each day. “Is Mr. Summerset here?” Dusk paused, trying to think of the right phrase to use. There was no way to make that sound good while simultaneously doubting his credentials. “Please let me know if he is causing too much trouble.” Mrs. Quartz politely smiled. She looked down at him while sighing. “Get off the ground, Mr. Summerset.” He covered his protruding ears while glaring at her. Mr. Summerset was caught on the ground. “He is more brilliant than he appears; he was the best in his school, attributed to numerous developments in familiar bonds and magical understanding.” “I am responsible for the tokens we use today.” Mr. Summerset buried his thumb deep in his heart. “Without me, you will still be crying when it rains and using paper slips!” His chin was raised, and he was giving them an expectant look. “That is truly very impressive.” Dusk said, not meaning the words that he was feeding the man's ego with. The dark elf faced Mrs. Quartz with sparkling eyes. Dusk sensed a headache coming on. He did not do well with people of this kind. Why did he keep experiencing all of these things? He ought to stop trying to lead a typical school life at this point. On the whole, he had no chance of doing it. “Look, my pupil recognizes my brilliance!” Standing tall, he kept his eyes on Mrs. Quartz. “You will see that we get along just fine, Rosey. Now, if you'll excuse me,” He spun around and wrapped himself in his black robes. “Dusk Wooddancer, I will see you this afternoon at East Field.” He vanished without even making a token snap. “Is he alright in the head?” Pyrite asked with his arms crossed across his chest and an expressionless face. Which was typically swaying with carefree happiness and even love, if Dusk dared to think that. “Watch what you say, Mr. Howlite.” Mrs. Quartz glared at Pyrite while scrunching up her nose. “However, he is.” Mrs. Quartz raised a hand and brushed one of her long rabbit ears. “He is young—very young for an elf. By their standards, he is about your age, if not younger.” Mrs. Quartz looked at Dusk, her lips pinned into a hard line. “He is smart; take notes from him and, if necessary, report to me each day. I will take care of his excessive behavior.” “Understood, Mrs. Quartz.” Dusk placed a hand on his chest and gave a short and quick bow. Recognizing that he would have to handle the elf by himself. “It was difficult to find someone on short notice. I appreciate your wiliness in this matter.” Mrs. Quartz gave him a head nod. “Oh, and Mr. Wooddancer, I am glad to hear that you are feeling better.” After remaining relatively quiet up to this point, Micah said, “We all are.” “I see.” Mrs. Quartz gave a small smile. “Well, if I may have a few moments of your time.” Mrs. Quartz's eyes were drained as she gazed at Micah. “I have an answer to yesterday's question. You two should get to Leadership Class before Mr. Wooddancer is late.” “I will meet the two of you there.” Upon Micah's statement, Pyrite nodded. Dusk imagined that he might be a little more disappointed or, at the very least, say goodbye more forcefully. The shift in Pyrite's attitude did not seem to bother Micah. “See you soon,” Dusk said, and they parted. It was their first time traveling alone, and Dusk observed that Pyrite was leading the way. Certainly ever since they first met. Glancing up at Pyrite. There was no toothy, wide grin. His eyes stared off into the distance, unreadable. Though he had never seen it himself, he was familiar with that expression. He had gone through it. Pyrite was getting up in his head, lost in his thoughts. Whether he should break free from them was a question Dusk pondered. Should he cut himself off from them or let Pyrite do it? “I'm okay, Sunshine.” Pyrite turned and gave him a corner-mouth smile. “Which okay type are you?” Dusk asked, knowing very well that there were different types. The one you put on to get by, the mask you present to others, and the lie you told yourself. Dusk hoped against hope that it was not the latter. “Ya are the first one to ask me that,” Pyrite replied with a thin, illusory smile that had no real substance. “Ya would probably be the second person to understand, I suppose.” Pyrite opened the door to the school. It appeared the two exuded an aura even without Micah. That prevented the whispering words and the curious eyes from getting too close. Which was what they needed right then. “The Howlite family were bred to be hunting dogs in the past.” Pyrite spoke in a soft voice that only Dusk could hear. It was almost impossible for him to do so because Pyrite's voice was so low. “This was before the best folk got equal rights; it was when we were treated like animals.” The silent understanding that some still did hang in the air. Dusk thought back to Redneval, where beast folk were seldom seen and those who were not treated like animals were not considered equals. At least from what he heard. “Elves were at the forefront of that, the dark elves, anyway. The ones like him.” “Our sense of smell is so good. That we can find a living monster hidden among the dead. Smell an emotion before the person feeling it can even express it.” Pyrite rumbled it out, his voice thick with emotion. Dusk walked a step closer to Pyrite until their arms brushed together. Offering his support in the only vague way he knew how. Wait, what did Pyrite just say? Dusk looked up so fast that he pinched his own neck. Word noticed and started rubbing his neck with his head. “Yes, worry, shock, comfort, even love.” Pyrite gave Dusk a full, toothy smile. “We Howlite's can smell it all.” “That must be a burden,” Dusk said. Pyrite thought he would be the second to understand him. He was unable to comprehend the strain that characteristic must have put on Pyrite's body and mind. Pyrite was wrong; he couldn’t understand him. “Howlite’s have a 60% chance of living to adulthood. I am among the fortunate.” Pyrite grabbed Dusk's hand and brought it to his mouth. He gave his knuckles a tender kiss that the subject lacked. “Many go insane under the weight and need to be put down or placed in solitude.” “Is there nothing in magic that could aid you?” Dusk inquired, trying to think of a way to assist Pyrite. To help his family. “Most magic is ineffective on or difficult to use on beast folk.” When Dusk approached, Pyrite cocked his head and smiled brightly before closing his eyes. “Because of this, Micah primarily snaps tokens.” “Something has to exist.” Dusk frowned. He had no knowledge of a beast folk's skills or of what was typical. Experiencing sensory overload in childhood and not surviving it? In this day and age, it should not be a problem. “I did not share this with ya in order to burden ya or let it off my chest. That elf brought up bad memories. Although I try to rise above it, I believe there is a deep-seated mistrust there.” Pyrite pushed Dusk into Leadership Class after opening the door. Dusk did not want to let that slide. His magic now served a purpose. Dusk strode into the room, ignoring all the eyes on him, as they were one of the last into the class. Sitting down, he chewed over what Pyrite had told him. He needed to handle that elf. After taking a seat, Dusk pulled his books from storage. He had to finish his classes first. He had two before lunch and two after lunch. With his teacher or tutor—whatever he chose to call himself—he would draw the line. He also had to do it. Not wanting to skip the lessons he had paid so much money for, Dusk kept his eyes on the approaching teacher. For Pyrite, not for himself, he would confront that elf. Who was worthy of more than he could ever provide....
JAWS 2 REWRITE by n64ization
The Hounds of TinderlosThe Hounds of TinderlosHarriet Phillipa Lovecraft — 'That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange eons will get thirsty by and by...'Stuart Lindly gazed at the financial stats for his failing company. There was so much red ink he had to look away until the blue after-images seared into his eyes faded away. “A Nice Local Girl,” the dating service he was working for was bleeding to death. One month or probably even less and he'll have to look for another job.He sighed. The prospect of having to do the song and dance for another bored and impassive employer, well, it was not something he wanted to do. But the company was circling the drain. Again Stuart looked away from the screen. And again, he wondered what to do next.Someone bashed the front door.Stuart sighed again. He hoped it was an Orc or an Ork or some other rude fantasy creature, and not the rude reality creature he suspected was there.Again the door was pounded.Stuart got up and left his tiny office to go to the front door. Too bad the secretary couldn't handle this, but she was coming in later. Tina Leftkovitz hated the landlord. The feeling was mutual, but no, Stuart was alone.His shoes squeaked on the pale blonde wooden floor as he finally made it to the door. He took a calming breath and looked through the peephole. As expected, he saw two bushy eyebrows. and dark brown eyes burning with anger.“Where is your lying bastard boss? Is he here?” Gregor Grzymany grumbled from behind the door.“No sir, Todd is out getting new clients,” Stuart answered. He had no idea what Todd Hawkins was doing.“You're three months late with the rent. Pay by the end of the month, or you and whatever you got back there is out on the street! Should've gone with hookers, would've made more money than what you got now!” Gregor said. His eyes narrowed.Stuart felt that he had been hit with enough stinkeye to melt the peephole's glass, and his face, but somehow he survived. “Yes, I'll tell him.” He hoped that the landlord would go already.Gregor's eyes narrowed again, giving Stuart another blast.Stuart wondered if he was lucky or not.Gregor huffed and turned his muscular bulk to go back downstairs.Stuart gazed heavenward to see if blessings or smitings would fall upon him. Nothing happened. With a shrug, he went back to his office to worry, and maybe cry a bit. When Stuart arrived at his office, Bill Marnley, the IT guy was there. “Sorry, I could've answered the door, but I didn't have my plus twelve wand of landlord pacification,” Bill joked.Stuart frowned. He briefly considered saying that you need at least ten points of charisma to use the wand, but he just didn't feel like it. So he just slumped in his chair.“Hey, sorry. That man scares me. And to think he has a wife,” Bill said.For a moment the picture of a female version of Gregor flashed across Stuart's imagination. Bushy eyebrows, lumpy muscular body, and arms that could crush a car. Someone that could make trolls look supermodel sexy. His stomach flipped once. He hoped that it was the only one. “Thanks for the image. I think I'll skip lunch.”“Sorry. You can't. Todd called, and we're going to have an important meeting. Everyone has to be there,” Bill said as a faint smile crossed his face.“It's probably to tell us that the company is dead,” Stuart said as he switched to another section in his accounting software. Again, too much red like a slaughterhouse splashed across the screen.“No man, Todd sounded pumped up! We might have found ourselves a client with deep pockets,” Bill said.Stuart sighed. “Do you remember the last time Todd was pumped? That's how we ended up here. And before this, it was the Virtual Shopping mall app. And-”“Yeah, man, I get it. We've been rolling with Todd for several years bouncing from one failed project to another, but we always ended up okay,” Bill said. His smile faded away as he remembered the failures they always seemed to survive.Stuart fixed Bill with a tired gaze. “It's better to be smart than lucky. Luck always runs out. It has run out for him and maybe us.” He pointed at the screen filled with red text. “All of that is from negative cash flow.”Bill shook his head.”Come to the meeting, and see. I gotta go back, and get the servers ready.”Stuart frowned. He figured that Bill has to get the servers ready to be shut down, and boxed. Then again, looking for a job was going to be a horror show without popcorn. “Fine, I'll be there.”The lunchroom slash conference room was filled with the team. Stuart sat next to a table with his arms at his sides. He learned from painful experiences that the furniture was old and splintery. One time, a few months ago, Tina had to use her tweezers to pull out a chunk of wood large enough to make a pirate ship from Stuart's arm. Well, it wasn't that large, but it felt that way.He swept his eyes over his company with misery. Bill, Tina, and Sahid Verma, the programmer was here. And of course, Todd Hawkins, the golden boy. Todd sat in his somewhat less splintery chair with a faint smile on his face. Stuart was familiar with that expression. Something was going on. Maybe, things would improve?Todd's smile got larger, and he slapped a check down on the scratched mahogany table like it was a winning move in some game.Tina leaned forward and gingerly picked up the check like it was a dead rat. The overhead lights brought out the red highlights in her hair along with the yellow gleam of pencils shoved into the bun on the top of her head. She looked at the check.Stuart figured that Tina wore lead-lined glasses so her gaze wouldn't fry normal things.Tina scrutinized the check for a few moments.Stuart wondered if Tina was scanning the check down to the quantum level for issues.“Todd, there is a heck of a lot of zeros here. What did you do?” Tina said when she looked up.Todd smiled like the cat that ate the pet shop that only sold canaries. “I found a client with deep pockets.”“Really? No offense, but who would pay us five million dollars? Are we working with the Russian Mafia?” Tina asked.Stuart's eyes widened. “Five million dollars?”Everyone else was buzzing.Tina gave the check to Stuart. He looked at it and counted the zeros then he looked up. Along with Tina, he wondered who would give them so much money. It didn't make sense.Todd smiled again. “This is just the down payment. If we're successful for a month, we'll get another large check.”Tina focused her gaze on Todd. “Who's the client?”Stuart hoped that Todd wouldn't smile again. Something about that was bugging him. He didn't know why.Todd sighed. “You know, I'm lousy with names. It's some Egyptian guy, last name is Hotep. He wants us to upgrade our dating service for his clients. And they're international. Carcosa, think it's Italy, Leng, that's in China. Some place called Riley, think that's in Ireland somewhere. And of course local customers too. Soo many lonely peeps can use our services. We've hit the big times!”Tina nodded. “Sounds cool. So what do we have to do to get this money?”Sahid burst in. “I'd like to keep my firstborn, she's so cute!”Everyone laughed, but it sounded nervous to Stuart. Like they were too close to a graveyard, and not mirthful. He didn't know why, but there was something wrong here. Something off like a misplaced decimal point or comma. Why would someone who probably had more than five million want to hire their rinky-dink outfit, and not one of the larger, better-staffed companies? Stuart frowned for a moment, he didn't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, well, he found horses to be scary. So big.Bill shuffled forward and eyed the check. “So Todd, what do we have to do?”Todd smiled again. Thank goodness it was just a normal-sized one. “Well, there are some forms you have to sign, and we have to move to someplace upstate. Some place called Arkham in Massachusetts. They already have an office set up. We just move in and integrate our stuff with theirs. Don't worry about the land values, they're pretty cheap. You can buy a nice house for what you pay rent for a shoe box here.”Sahid smiled. “My wife and daughter would love their own garden.”It also sounded good to Stuart.Tina frowned. “Moving way upstate? I got a bad feeling about this. What if things go south? We're stuck up north in some tiny town.”Todd shook his head. “Arkham has the world-renowned Miskatonic University. They don't putuniversities in podunk towns.”Tina shook her head making the red highlights dance in her hair. “Well, I never heard of it.”Stuart was amazed that none of the pencils fell out.“Don't worry, tomorrow I'll bring in some info packs for all of you. All of your questions will be answered,” Todd said.“Will they have the winning lotto numbers?” Bill joked.For a moment, Todd's happy mask slipped a bit.Stuart thought he saw anger flash in Todd's eyes before Todd recovered. Maybe it was something else?“My client knows things, but I think this agreement doesn't cover lotteries or games of chance. Maybe you'll meet him, and chat about it?” Todd said, now all smiles and happiness. “Now, I'm off to the bank to deposit this check so Stuart can handle paying off debts, and your paychecks.”“Do you think the bank will trust that check? I mean we have been so close to zero and worst, I've been picking up pennies,” Stuart asked. He knew that the bank might hold on to the money until they think it was legitimate before allowing the funds to be used.“We'll be fine,” Todd said while he got up, and put the check in his suit pocket. “Oh, you guys can leave early if you want. Be here at eleven sharp so I can give you your packets.” He looked back and smiled then left.“Do you believe what he said?” Bill asked as a smile played upon his lips.Stuart almost wanted to smile. Even though he didn't want to leave his apartment in the crapneighborhood that had more rats than hookers. Rats just ignored him. but the hookers seemedcontemptuous. The prospect of making some decent money did feel good. Maybe he could move to a better area with fewer rats and hookers, or even none? One could only hope.“I dunno,” Tina said.Bill moved over. He knew better than to stand too close to Tina when she gets excited, and her hands start moving.Tina continued. “The money sounds good, but I gotta bad feeling about this. My Nana has a saying, if it's too good to be true, it's not. It sounds better in the original Polish.”“Not the original Klingon?” Bill asked.Tina just waved the comment away with a left hand that almost blurred. “Hey, I don't want to be a wet blanket, but you guys should read the text carefully. Maybe get your lawyers to read it too. Um, wait, we probably don't have the money for that, and I broke up with Lenny. You know, the lawyer. Freakin cold fish.“Stuart frowned. He remembered when Tina broke up with Lenny. Too much screaming, and crying. Tina did well, Lenny not so much. “Yeah, we'll be careful.”Bill frowned. “What's wrong with the deal?”Tina shrugged. “Again, I have a bad feeling. I know Todd told us almost nothing. I would rather be in a city that doesn't sleep than a tiny town where they roll up the sidewalks at night.”Sahid walked up. “Hey, if the schools are good or not too far away, I'll bite. Are you sure you're not biased? My wife would love to not learn things like how to tell the difference between auto and semi-automatic gunfire.”Tina shrugged again. “Hey, let's see what's in the packs. Especially the fine print. Bring your magnifying glasses. Don't sign anything until you know exactly what's going on.” She turned her gaze on everyone.Everyone nodded.For a moment, Stuart felt a chill race down his back. What am I going to be involved in, he thought, but then he pushed that away. A bit of optimism floated up.At ten-forty-five, Stuart left his desk. There was a slight smile on his face. It felt good to have money and to pay bills. Even Grzymany got his payment. Most of the unease he had felt had melted away, but a bit remained. Would he have to prick his finger, and sign a contract with blood? Stuart frowned, no, that's too dramatic. They'll have pens. He hoped they had those before deciding the whole train of thought led to some really strange destinations. It was time for him to hop off! The meeting room was quiet even though it was full. Everyone just kept looking around like they wanted to remember this place before going somewhere that wouldn't allow them to return.Stuart frowned. This was not how folks thought about moving upstate or was thatupcountry?A few minutes before eleven, Todd arrived with a bulging leather satchel.Everyone sat down.“I wonder if they'll let us do a makeup test,” Bill said.Stuart was getting college test vibes. Why? They were just signing forms like the other times' Todd got a new money-making scheme. For some unknown reason, this felt different, more like an important test that determined the rest of his life. His stomach flipped at the weight of responsibility.“Bill, I bet we have to sit with a space between us to prevent cheating,” Sahid said.“That's a good idea. Everybody should go to their office or work area with their info paks. Each one is made specifically for each person here. Don't share the contents of each pack with each other,” Todd said as he looked over the folks sitting in front of him.Why is he doing things like this, Stuart wondered. Again, he peered at Todd. Something was off, but he couldn't say why. If each person couldn't share the contents of their pak, how do they know if they're getting a decent deal? Before they started the dating service, Todd just told everyone a ballpark figure for their pay and any benefits. There were no surprises.Again, Stuart wondered why Todd and their mysterious benefactor had changed things.Todd cleared his throat and opened his travel-worn satchel. “When I give you your pak, go to your office to fill it out. I would like to take them back to the client sometime after two. The faster we get the paks to the client, the faster you can be in the system and get paid.”“What if we have questions? You know like problems with moving or benefits?” Tina asked.“Call the number in the pak. Customer service will help you with anything. Sahid Verma please come, and get your pak,” Todd said.For some reason, this felt like the opposite of graduation, or rather folks were lining up to get something terrible like a boot to the head. Stuart pushed that thought away. After a few more moments, Stuart got his info pak, and he headed for his office.It was kinda heavy, too much just for a bunch of papers. Stuart couldn't wait to see what was inside, but he waited until he was in front of his computer. After he moved his keyboard, and other items away, he opened the envelope.The first sheet of paper had a number for someone to help him settle in Arkham. Stuart smiled, at least he wouldn't have to do that by himself in a strange new town. After that was the contract, and there was something off about it. He didn't know why. A few moments passed before Stuart finally touched the strange yellow paper of the contract. Immediately, he wiped his finger on his pants before frowning and grabbing some napkins from a box to wipe his pants. For a quick moment, he thought about getting some hand sanitizer, but he barely managed to reject the notion.Stuart peered at the contract again. This time it was just regular paper though he made sure not to touch it without wrapping napkins on his hands. He didn't know why, it seemed like the paper was covered in something unpleasant that he couldn't see or smell. A quick sniff gave him the slight hint of old dusty rot, and then it was gone.Finally, he pushed back his misgivings, and just read the contract. It was the usual stuff he had seen in other contracts from Todd. For a moment, he wondered why he still felt uncomfortable looking at and touching the document. It didn't make sense. Stuart grabbed the fancy gold pen with red highlights. His fingers burned, but that faded away after he signed, and put the date on the contract. The ink was a weird deep red. Stuart shrugged and figured that Todd's client got a special ink for the pen. A feeling of dread swept through Stuart as he placed the contract, and the other items back into the pak. He just figured his imagination was working overtime. Once they got to Arkham, everything would be fine.Maybe?

Mature Content

Mature Content


Mature Content

Case of the Terrified Teacher, Chapter 4 by MisterMistoffelees
It's a Dragon's Halloween 2Though the groups that wandered through the neighborhood were comprised of, at most, four to five people, primarily parents with their children and their children’s friends, Titus’s group was made up of ten people including himself, his friends Sarah and Lucas, his adoptive human brother Ben, sister-in-law Jessie, his niece Jackie, his nephew Kyle, and his dragon siblings, his younger brother, Dontrot, his youngest brother, Entol, and his younger sister, Alkhia. This marked the first time Dontrot, Entol, or Alkhia had ever partaken in trick-r-treating having been brought to Earth by their parents, Minasha and Cerquil who were hiding in the forest close in a nearby neighborhood. While the young dragons did enjoy playing pranks in their world, more often than not on each other or on their parents, sometimes on their friends, they never knew that there was an entire day dedicated to either getting candy or playing pranks on others, both of which sounded like fun to the three. The dragon kids had only ever gotten to enjoy the delight that came from consuming candy once or twice in all the times they would come and visit their oldest brother, Titus, or as he was known by his dragon kin, Doulstraz, and for them, the first time they had ever tried candy left them feeling as though it was an unforgettable experience that couldn’t be replicated. Since then, Dontrot, Entol, and Alkhia would often deliberate with each other on what other kind of tasty treats the human realm had to offer, how many variations of candy there were, or if Doulstraz had ever gotten to try all of them. Though they couldn’t be completely certain on the exact amount, one thing was certain for the three: they would try and enjoy as much of Earth’s candy as they could, especially if the other sweet treats Earth had to offer were just like the candy they’d had on their prior trips to visit their brother. “So, let me see if I got this right: Mom and Dad would really rather not go around and get candy with us? They’re just gonna hang around in the woods by the neighborhood?” Titus asked his dragon siblings in disbelief. Titus wore a costume designed after Spyro, the dragon from the same series of games that he was a fan of. The hood was draped over the teen’s head and was adorned with stuffed yellow horns and a crest that stopped in the middle of Titus’s neck. A pair of Styrofoam wings modeled to look like Spyro’s were stitched onto the shoulder region and were yellow with orange webbing. His costume had a long tail that dragged behind him with a yellow spade at the end. Purple mittens designed to look like a dragon’s paws were stitched onto the sleeves of the costume, each digit ending with a claw. Lastly, Titus’s feet were covered by the feet of his costume which were also purple and had foam claws on the ends of them, the bottom of the feet cushioned with black foam padding. “I mean, can you really blame them, Doulstraz?” asked Entol. “Mom and dad have never really liked being around crowds of humans. Not only that, but it was a group of humans who attacked Aanki and because of that, we never got to know you until just a few months ago. When you think about it, it’s no surprise they don’t want to be around humans.” Entol was dressed up as a t-rex. His outfit was entirely grey with black claws on the ends of the feet and hands and a grey, stuffed tail attached to the back. Entol’s costume also came with a hood which looked like the head of a t-rex with Entol’s head poking through. Two rows of white fangs filled the hood’s mouth and on the sides of the hood were two yellow reptilian eyes with slitted pupils in the centers. A lighter patch of grey was on the center of Entol’s costume and began at the top of his torso and traveled down to the bottom. In human form, Entol bore an appearance similar to that of Titus though his hair was more of a light brown as opposed to his big brother’s dirty blonde hair. He also had brown eyes and freckles covering his face. “I guess,” Titus relented, giving a sigh. “Well, maybe if we can get them to bring you guys to see me more often, they’ll get to see for themselves that there are good humans out there.” “I think Mom and Dad know that, Doulstraz,” Alkhia assured her brother. “I think it’s just more that it’s going to take time for them to be willing to be around humans. If it makes you feel any better, they have always said nice things about your human family.” Alkhia was dressed up as a princess. She wore a plastic yellow tiara on her head which had small plastic diamonds embedded into it. Her dress was fully white and frilly with puffy sleeves and a flowing skirt which was glittery and shone any time Alkhia turned. While in her human form, Alkhia appeared to look like a typical thirteen-year-old girl. Her hair was long and bleach blonde, going past her shoulders and she had bright blue eyes. “They do?” asked Jackie as her eyes lit up. “What do they say about us, aun…I mean, Alkhia?” Alkhia smiled at the younger girl. “Jackie, you can call me aunt if you want. Doulstraz is your uncle after all, so I wouldn’t mind getting to be your aunt.” “Okay!” cried Jackie enthusiastically. “You get to be my aunt and my princess buddy.” Alkhia, still smiling at Jackie, nodded in agreement. “Princess buddy.” “Princess buddies!” The two girls said in unison as they grabbed the skirts on their costumes and swung them around from side to side, laughing together. Just like Alkhia, Jackie was also dressed up as a princess. However, unlike Alkhia’s fully white princess costume, Jackie’s was pink and equally as frilly. Jackie carried a toy wand with her and the skirt on her outfit only slightly covered her knees. Her sleeves weren’t poofy like Alkhia’s were, instead being closer to sleeves on a normal shirt. She wore high heels that throughout her time trick-r-treating with her family, she’d had trouble walking in, often times needing help from one of the older members of her group to regain her balance, though she luckily never fell in any instance. Similar to Alkhia’s own princess costume, Jackie’s came with a golden crown which had red plastic diamonds placed in the centers. “Well, they say that they’re glad Doulstraz found such a good, loving group of humans to call his family. Even though we’ve only known you for a short time, they consider all of you a part of our family, too,” Dontrot chimed in. “Dontrot!” huffed Alkhia. “I was going to tell them!” “Well, you were having fun being princess buddies with our niece, I thought I’d do it so you two could just play together,” Dontrot attempted to rationalize with his younger sister. “I was going to tell them eventually. It wouldn’t have taken me long,” Alkhia said, poutingly. Then, with a “hmph”, Alkhia looked towards the rest of the group, a small smile forming on her face. “Well, there’s one thing Dontrot didn’t mention,” the disguised dragon girl stated. “And what’s that?” Jessie asked. “He, me, and Entol all see you as family too.” Dontrot was dressed up as a ghost dragon. The back side of his costume was a celestial blue with a tail stitched onto the back, the front white except for the stomach which was a lighter blue than the back. Four light grey spines were attached to the top of the tail. Two foam spiny wings were connected to the area around Dontrot’s shoulders, the insides of the wings a darker blue than the celestial blue of his costume while the outsides were the same blue hue as the rest of the costume. Dontrot’s hands and feet were covered up by mittens and shoes that were part of his costume. Both fingers and toes alike were adorned with foam claws on the ends, similar to his older brother’s costume. Lastly, he wore a hood that was designed to look similar to a dragon. Like the rest of his outfit, Dontrot’s hood was celestial blue, the eyes a darker shade of blue. Six horns were stitched onto the sides of the hood and there were two slits for nostrils near the front. While he was in human form, Dontrot looked the closest to Titus. Like his big brother, Dontrot had dirty shaggy blonde hair, the back flowing down to the center of the back of his neck while a row of bangs hung down, stopping in the center of his forehead. Unlike his brother’s brown eyes, Dontrot’s were a deep blue. Jessie was dressed up as a karate master. Figuring that since she had taken karate when she was in her teens, a karate master costume would be perfect for her. Her gi and pants were white with a black belt tied around her waist. Since her outfit didn’t come with any shoes, Jessie wore her regular grey shoes with her costume. The temperature had already started to cool down and the last thing Jessie wanted was to make herself feel any colder. Jessie smiled warmly at Alkhia, thanking her for her kind words. Though she and her family had only known Titus’s dragon family a short time, she, her husband, and their children had come to see them as extended members of their own family. So much so, in fact, that Jackie and Kyle had taken to not only calling Dontrot, Entol, and Alkhia their uncles and aunt, just as they had Titus, but even referring to Minasha and Cerquil as their grandparents. While the two dragons weren’t always keen on being around humans outside of those their oldest child knew, they had no issues with being seen as grandparents to the human children Titus called his nephew and niece. If anything, they welcomed it, given how much Titus loved his human family, quickly coming to find that they, themselves, had come to love them perhaps almost as much. “Well, of course!” Alkhia exclaimed cheerfully. “Doulstraz loves you guys, we love him! He loves us, and we love all of you!” The group smiled at the disguised dragon kids. Dontrot and Entol nodded in confirmation with their sister’s statement, smiling back at the humans who their big brother had come to know and love, and who they were becoming fond of themselves. As the group continued through the neighborhood, Lucas approached Titus and draped an arm over Titus’s shoulders. He smirked as he studied Titus’s costume. Just from judging his best friend’s expression, as well as watching Lucas scanning his outfit, Titus anticipated that Lucas was about to make some quip about him being Spyro or how his scales turn purple when he’s embarrassed. “Y’know, I never woulda thought you’d end up having such a big family, Spyro. I always thought it was just you and Sparx,” Lucas teased. Titus had an unamused look on his face. Lucas was aware that Titus was finding his jokes about him being Spyro to be getting old, but for Lucas, he still found it funny with how much it annoyed his friend. With how much Lucas enjoyed teasing Titus about it, however, he never did it to be mean to Titus or to pick on him, and Titus himself was aware of this. It was simply some lighthearted teasing between two lifelong friends. “Ha ha ha!” said Titus sarcastically. “The little orange lizard has a joke. Guess he can say more than his name,” the dragon in human form joked back. Lucas was dressed up as Charmander. He wore an orange shirt and a pair of blue jeans. He wore a belt around his waist with a bright orange tail attached to it, a red and yellow plush flame at the end of the tail. It curved upward near the end and swished around as Lucas walked. Lucas also had on a skullcap that was orange like the rest of his outfit and the front of the hat sported Charmander’s big blue eyes with two marks near the tops of the eyes, two small slits for nostrils, and a large reptilian smile. “Hey, don’t underestimate Charmander, Titus,” Lucas advised Titus. “He might be small, but don’t forget that Charmander can evolve into a dragon.” Titus let out a “heh” in response. “Yeah, but you’re Charmander, not Charizard. Plus, not only am I dressed up like a dragon, I actually am a dragon, too, so you’ve got a bit of evolving to do before you can get to my level, Charmander,” he teased his friend. Lucas grinned in response to Titus’s retort. He snickered a little. “Oh, I plan to, Spyro,” Lucas assured Titus humorously. “And when I do, you won’t be calling me a little orange lizard.” The banter between Lucas and Titus brought out snickering from the rest of the group. All they could think of upon listening to the two teenage boys was what a crossover event that would be: Charmander vs. Spyro with Charmander eventually evolving into Charizard to battle Spyro on a more level playing field. “Alright, well for right now, let’s put the long-awaited showdown between Spyro and Charmander on hold,” suggested Ben with a chuckle. “Jackie and Kyle are getting anxious for a little more candy and I think that house should be a good place to end our trick-r-treat adventure.” Ben pointed to a two-story, cream-colored house with a black roof. Ben was dressed up as a vampire. He wore a black velvet cape which was red on the inside and black on the outside and a white ruffled shirt with a black vest and bowtie along with black dress pants. His dirty blonde hair was slick back and over his real teeth he had on a pair of fake plastic vampire teeth, the canines long and pointed. Kyle’s costume was that of a knight. Both his breastplate and his shield were silver and fitted with gold plastic dragons in the centers. In addition, Kyle also wore shin guards and gauntlets over his shins and wrists respectively. They fit over his clothes which were a plain red shirt and a pair of blue jeans. On his head, he wore a silver helmet with a golden visor which he was able to move up and down whenever he wanted. Kyle wore a strap over his breastplate which sported a holster for his plastic battle axe to be held. Lastly, Kyle’s costume also provided him a brown leather buckled belt with another holster, this one intended for his plastic toy sword to be carried around in. “I think that should be good,” Jessie agreed with her husband. Sarah looked down at the plastic bag she was using as a Halloween pail. It might not have been full to the very top, but there was more than enough candy in it, and though she wouldn’t have minded a little more, she also reminded herself that too much more candy and her bag would break. With that in mind, she agreed with Ben as well, glancing towards her friends who all likewise agreed that this house would probably be the best place to finish trick-r-treating. Sarah nodded understandingly then looked down at Kyle and Jackie, the former of whom had been holding his mom’s hand throughout their walk around the neighborhood. “Jackie, Kyle, is that okay with you two?” asked Sarah. “I guess,” said Jackie reluctantly. “I’d like more candy but…” she looked down and shook her pail, the candy inside rattling around. “I guess I got enough for now.” “Yeah,” Kyle agreed. “We got a lotta candy. It’s gonna take a long time to eat it all and Mom and Dad won’t let us eat all of it right away.” “That’s right we won’t,” Jessie confirmed with a knowing smile on her face. “Not at all,” Ben agreed. “We’re not going to let you two spoil your dinner or make yourselves sick eating that many sweets.” “Aww!” Kyle and Jackie groaned in unison. Sarah giggled to herself, finding Titus’s nephew and niece to be adorable. She had only known them for a few months, but she always enjoyed getting to see the bright, happy faces of the younger kids. It was strange, but being around Jackie and Kyle would remind Sarah, occasionally, of her own older sibling, a boy named Rick who, like her, grew up as an orphan, the two of them having looked after one another when they were little until Sarah decided one day to try and get by on her own, feeling that she might have been putting more pressure onto Rick than he would let on since he was just a kid himself trying to find ways to help provide for another kid as well as himself. Jackie and Kyle may not have been orphans like she and Rick were, but she could never help but be reminded of him whenever she spent time with the Flamel family. She would often wonder where Rick was, if he was doing okay, and if he had managed to be adopted into a loving family. Though it was unlikely, Sarah wished that one day, she would reunite with Rick again so that she could introduce him to her friends…no, to her own family. Sarah was dressed up as a zombie. Her face was painted grey with black circles painted around her eyes. She had a dribble of red face paint which started at the bottom left corner of her mouth and ran down to her chin and even more red paint which had been smeared along her forehead which was used to symbolize blood. Her long brown hair was messy and sticking up in different spots. She wore a pair of torn up blue jeans and a grey dirty hoodie which, with the help of Ben and Jessie, Sarah had also covered in red paint to make them look bloody as well. Of course, with Sarah liking her hoodie and blue jeans, she, Ben, and Jessie made sure to purchase paint that would easily wash out of clothing.The group made their way up the driveway and stopped before the front door. There, they were greeted by a large green plastic bucket filled with candy sitting on one of the decorative metallic lawn chairs. A note had been taped securely to the bowl that read, “Please take one”. Abiding by the wishes of the home owners, each of the ten took one piece. Kyle and Jackie initially tried to take an extra piece, but were reprimanded for it by their parents. “Ah-ah-ah!” Ben warned. “Nice try, you two, but the folks who live here only want us taking one each.” “That’s right,” Jessie added. “Now choose one and leave the others for other kids.” “Aww!” Jackie and Kyle collectively groaned, rolling their eyes. Jackie held a small Trigs bar in one hand and a Giggles in the other. Kyle had also grabbed a Giggles bar, but instead of a Trigs, he had a Chomp! Bar held in his other hand. The brother and sister held their two selected treats out in front of them, carefully eyeing which of the tasty prizes they desired more. Trigs, Giggles, Chomp!. They were all so tasty, but the youngest members of the group knew that they could only go with one. After about ten seconds of deciding, Kyle decided to keep his Chomp! Bar and dropped the Giggles bar back in the bowl. Jackie chose to hold onto her Trigs bar and placed her Giggles back in the colorful bowl. With pouty faces, the brother and sister turned to face the older members of the group, their parents in particular. “Why can’t we take an extra piece? Most kids are going home now,” Jackie asked whiningly, pointing at a family that was getting in their car. “That might be true,” Ben agreed with his daughter. “But we’re going to be honest and take one piece for each of us. After all Jackie, you’re a princess, right?” Jackie looked down at her costume. She grabbed the skirt part of it and swayed it back and forth slightly. Indeed, she was a princess, her dad wasn’t wrong about that, but she didn’t understand why he’d bring that up. “Y-yes?” Jackie replied sheepishly. “And princesses aren’t just beautiful, courageous, or kind. They’re also honest. If you really are a princess, kiddo, then don’t you think you should be honest and honor the wishes of the people who live here?” Ben asked. “I guess…” Jackie muttered in a defeated tone, releasing her skirt from her grip. Jessie smiled at her husband. In that moment, she thought to herself how happy she was to have met Ben and become the mother to his children. Even if their oldest child was a girl, it amazed Jessie how Ben seemed capable of connecting with Jackie and getting his point across in a way that resonated with the young girl, especially coming from the perspective of a male trying to connect with a young girl, even if said male was the father of said young girl. Of course, Jessie also considered, she wasn’t too bad herself at reaching Kyle and getting her own points across in a way that her youngest child could grasp. Her focus changed from Ben and Jackie, falling onto Kyle who was still pouting, no doubt still wishing he could have had an extra piece of candy. “The same rule goes for knights too, Kyle,” said Jessie. “Knights are strong and brave, but they’re also honest, just like the princesses they protect. If you’re a true knight, then you don’t want to do something that make all knights and yourself seem bad or dishonest, right?” “No! I’m a good knight! I’ll be good, I’ll be honest!” Kyle cried in a panicky tone. Jessie smiled proudly at her son. She patted the top of her son’s head which was still covered up by his plastic helmet. Ben smiled at his wife. It amazed and warmed Ben’s heart to see that Jessie, despite being female like Jackie, was able to get her point across and connect with their toddler son in such a beautiful way that also managed to be fun for Kyle. Ben was proud of himself and Jessie. He figured that, despite the differences in gender between him and Jackie and Jessie and Kyle respectively, the two of them were both as capable as the other of connecting with their children regardless of gender. “I’m glad to hear that, my favorite little knight,” said Jessie. “Now then, I think it’s about time we go back and meet up with Grandma and Grandpa Dragon. Don’t you think, Kyle, Jackie?” “Yeah!” Kyle agreed with his mom. “They prob’ly want some candy right now.” “Do dragons even eat candy?” asked Jackie. “I mean, we have,” Dontrot replied. “We’ve had candy together before, Jackie.” Jackie giggled at her mistake. “Oh, yeah.” Everyone snickered alongside Jackie. Then, they departed from the house with Jackie and Kyle being led by the hands by their mom and dad as a precaution just in case the two tykes try and sneak off to reclaim their forfeited candy. Ben and Jessie walked ahead of the kids, leading Kyle and Jackie by the hands while Titus, Sarah, Lucas, Dontrot, Entol, and Alkhia followed behind. The ten of them walked down the street, taking a right at the corner when they got to the street signs that pointed horizontally and vertically and read, “Thurgood Drive 4890” and “Ocean Street 2850” respectively. About eleven feet away from the street signs were two cars which belonged to Ben and Jessie. Before the events that led to Titus discovering the past he never knew he had along with the family he never knew he had, eventually culminating in their encounter with Saulstrance and the deaths of Angela and Ben’s parents, the Flamels had only ever used one car which both Ben and Jessie would take turns using whether it regarded them going to work or picking Kyle up from preschool and Jackie from elementary school. However, with Titus having discovered that not only was he a dragon, but was also the oldest of four dragons who had hatched from the same clutch, Ben and Jessie inevitably invested in a new car that would end up becoming used primarily by Jessie while the car she and her husband shared became Ben’s for the most part. This allowed them more space for not just Titus, Jackie, or Kyle, but also their friends as well as Titus’s newly discovered brothers and sister. It also allowed Ben and Jessie more freedom in having their schedules coincide with each other’s when they would have to work so they could both get home closer to the same time and spend the rest of the day with their children and Titus. Jessie and Ben unlocked their driver side doors. Then, they unlocked the passenger doors. Titus, Lucas, Dontrot, and Sarah joined Ben while Jackie, Kyle, Alkhia, and Entol rode with Jessie. Titus sat up front with Ben while Lucas, Dontrot, and Sarah sat in back. Jackie and Kyle sat in back, seated in booster seats which they had been strapped into by their mother. Alkhia sat up front with Jessie while Entol sat with the two human kids he and his siblings had come to look at as their niece and nephew. Ben had two extra booster seats for his children in his own car which Dontrot and Lucas placed in the trunk. Once everyone was set, Jessie, whose car was parked the furthest from the street sign, drove off first with Ben following behind her. They took a left, turning onto another street, performed U turns, and went back the way they came, driving past the neighborhood they had gone trick-r-treating in. “It’s too bad your family didn’t want to join us, Luke,” said Titus. “Yeah,” agreed Sarah. “I mean, it was pretty weird to be trick-r-treating on your block but your family wasn’t there.” Lucas shrugged. “I mean, they asked me if I wanted to go with them, my aunt and uncle, and my younger cousins and trick-r-treat in their neighborhood, but I wanted to spend more time with you guys. Besides, trick-r-treating with a bunch of adults and two little kids isn’t that fun when you’re the only teenager there.” “I bet,” said Titus with a laugh. The entire car was full of smiling, happy teens and one adult. Dontrot looked at Sarah as a thought suddenly entered his mind: he pondered if, with Sarah’s parents having died when she was little, this was the first Halloween she had ever gotten to celebrate as well. When the young dragon asked this, the whole car went deafly silent with worry that Dontrot’s question, even if it wasn’t intended to, could potentially run the risk of digging up painful memories for Sarah. Thankfully, this would end up not being the case as Sarah smiled at Dontrot, then cupped her chin in her left hand, stroking the sides with her thumb and index finger as she mulled it over. “I…I think I might have,” she said. “I remember walking with my mom and dad and we were walking down a street. Unfortunately, that’s all I can remember. I don’t remember what my parents look like or what costume I was wearing then.” Sarah smiled sadly, though everyone was able to tell that she was forcing herself to smile. Ben looked in the rear-view mirror at Sarah. He felt sorry for her. It had been hard for him to come to terms with the deaths of his own parents, but he at least had memories of them whereas Sarah had almost none of hers. Seeing as how he was in a position similar to hers, Ben wondered if there might be something he could say to comfort her. He thought of what he could say to elevate her mood, something that would return a real smile to her face. Then, as if all at once, the words came to him. “Sarah, even if you can’t remember what your folks look like, never forget that memory. It sounds like it’s a very happy one,” Ben noted. Sarah nodded. “It is,” she confirmed. “Even if I can’t remember what they look like, just thinking about that moment always makes me feel happier.” Ben smiled warmly. “Then so long as you remember that moment and your parents, they’ll always be with you. So, in a way, so long as you keep their memories alive, it’s like they’re still there, y’know?” Sarah smiled back at Ben. He and the rest of the passengers in his car could tell that Sarah was genuinely happier thanks to Ben’s kind words. “I get what you mean. And I’ll always keep them in my mind and my heart. Thanks, Ben,” said Sarah. “Anytime, kiddo,” Ben replied. Up ahead of Ben and his passengers was Jessie and hers. The conversation that had been taking place in that moment was much less heavy and concerned Jessie inquiring with Entol and Alkhia what eating candy is like for dragons and if their taste buds are more accentuated compared to the average human’s. Neither of the teenage dragons understood what the word accentuate meant, so Jessie described it for them as something being more noticeable, by which she meant if the tastes of different kinds of food was more noticeable to them than it would be to a human. Alkhia and Entol took a moment to ponder over their new sister’s question. It had never been something they put much, if any thought into. To them, their sense of taste was something that was as natural for them as breathing or flying. They never considered whether they had stronger taste buds than humans. “I dunno…maybe?” Alkhia tried to answer. “What about when you’re in human form? Do you notice any difference then?” Jessie further inquired. Entol shook his head, the hood of his costume creasing near the neck region with each turn of the young dragon in human form’s head. “Not really. Food tastes the same to me whether I’m in human form or in my real form,” the teenage dragon answered. “Same,” Alkhia added. Their answer surprised Jessie. She figured that Alkhia and Entol, as well as Titus and Dontrot would have stronger taste buds. Of course, she also considered to herself, Titus never seemed to have any issues with tasting food. Whether they all went out for food or whether they stayed home and enjoyed a nice homemade meal together, Titus always seemed to have no problems enjoying the food she or Ben would make as much as the rest of them. With that in mind, Jessie assumed that perhaps dragons have the same amount of taste buds as humans, though she couldn’t be entirely sure, given that she wasn’t a dragon herself. She figured that Titus probably wouldn’t have any easier of a time answering her question as his brother and sister, so deciding not to dwell on it any longer, Jessie came to the conclusion that a dragon’s sense of taste was at least on the level of a human’s. Alkhia shifted around in her seat and looked back at her brother as well as her niece and nephew. She asked Entol if he thought their parents might like to try the candy they had gotten while trick-r-treating. “Well, we got enough so if they want some, we can share with them,” Entol answered his sister as he rattled the candy around in his pale. “Yeah, that’s true,” agreed Alkhia. “And if they don’t want any, well, more for us.” She said with a wide grin. “Oh, yeah. Enough to last us a good long while,” Entol said. Jessie, Jackie, and Kyle, listening to the two dragon siblings discussing their parents potentially wanting candy, imagined what an adult dragon trying to eat candy would look like. The mother and her two children pictured a grown dragon holding a small rolled up candy wrapper like a peppermint one delicately in its talons, the candy in question appearing no bigger than a flea to the imaginary dragon. Using its other claws, the dragon would then remove the wrapper and toss the opened piece of candy into its massive maw. These thoughts amused the three as they snickered to themselves which caught the attentions of Alkhia and Entol. “What’s so funny?” Entol asked in confusion. “Ah, nothing. It’s nothing important,” Jessie assured the two older kids. “Aww, c’mon! Tell us!” Alkhia demanded as she moved around once more in her seat so that she was facing forward. “Just a thought,” Jessie replied. “What thought?” Alkhia asked. “It’s nothing! Seriously!” Jessie frantically assured the young dragon girl with an amused look on her face. “Uh-huh…Sure it’s not…” Alkhia said sarcastically, looking at Jessie unamused and unconvinced. The car went silent as Jessie focused on the road. Though she didn’t glance towards Alkhia, she could feel the young dragon girl’s gaze on her. In fact, she could feel not just Alkhia staring her down, but Entol as well. She looked over at Alkhia, confirming her suspicions, then she peeked into the rear-view mirror to find Entol also staring at her while Jackie and Kyle were exchanging glances with each other, then focusing on Entol, and Alkhia before they too joined in on the staring session. Jessie sighed. These two kid dragons were nothing if not persistent, a trait which they, along with Dontrot, seemed to have shared with Titus. Realizing that they weren’t about to drop it, she decided to divulge what it was that had caused her and her children to snicker, though Jessie herself truly didn’t think it was necessarily something that would cause Alkhia or Entol to roar with laughter. Jessie sighed. “Okay, okay,” she relented. “I was imagining a dragon about the size of your parents holding a small piece of candy in its claws, then it just tosses it into its mouth and the candy’s so tiny in comparison, like how a bug is to a human. It’d be like the candy doesn’t even need to be chewed, it just travels down the dragon’s throat and into its stomach.” “That’s what I was thinking!” declared Jackie, raising her hand high above her head. “Me too!” Kyle cried as he imitated his older sister’s gesture. “Well, they say great minds think alike,” said Jessie. “And seeing as how you two are my kids, I think you two have some pretty great minds as they are.” Jackie and Kyle smiled proudly, grateful to their mom for acknowledging just how smart the two of them were. Of course, to them, it was only natural that they’d be as smart as their parents. After all, their mom and dad were the smartest people they knew, even smarter than their teachers, the two would always tell their parents, although Jessie and Ben always considered these claims debatable, though they would never admit that out loud in front of their children. Alkhia and Entol, in the meantime, were smirking at the thought of their parents trying to eat a piece of candy in their true forms, eventually erupting into laughter which caught Jessie, Jackie, and Kyle off guard. Though the three of them found the idea amusing, they didn’t think it was gut bustingly hilarious. They laughed along, feeling slightly awkward, more so in Jessie’s case than in her children’s. She figured that dragons must have had quite a different sense of humor than humans.“Taking culture shock to a new level,” Jessie thought to herself. The two cars traveled for three more blocks before taking a left onto a cul-de-sac named “Engle Lane 1720”. There, they stopped at the end of the block, parking right in front of a forest entrance that was in between two houses. The ten of them traveled up the path and into the woods, Jackie and Alkhia holding up the skirts of their costumes slightly to allow them better mobility, and Titus, Dontrot, and Entol holding the tips of the tails of their costumes in their free hands while holding their pails in the other. They traveled deeper into the woods until they reached a clearing. They looked around the lush green setting, the ferns, bushes, and trees, the latter of which was close to them and the further ones towering over the group, trying to locate the dragon kids’ parents, but couldn’t find a single trace of them. Minasha and Cerquil had told their children and their oldest’s friends and family that they would find a clearing closest to the entrance of the forest and this one was closest to where they had come in from so they all had to figure that this was where they would be waiting, yet they were nowhere to be seen. “Well, well,” a deep male voice boomed through the clearing, followed by two short laughs. “Ten humans have encroached upon our domain. Perhaps they had lost their way?” “That may be so, dear,” a booming female voice followed the male’s voice. “Although, upon closer inspection, my dragon magic tells me that four of these humans…are actually dragons in disguise. Intriguing…yes, quite intriguing indeed.” “Dragons amongst humans, you say?” the male dragon said, sounding intrigued. “Well, then, I suppose we’ll have to get these four to show us their true forms and—”But as Minasha and Cerquil played around, the group looked to their left and saw two sets of ivory horns which curved back and were poking out from behind the bushes. Though the rest of the two parent dragons’ bodies were obscured by the many bushes surrounding the clearing, their horns and a small portion of their heads where their horns grew out of were visible to the group and Entol brought this to his mom and dad’s attention. “Mom, dad! We can see your horns!” Entol interrupted his parents’ monologue. There was a brief moment of silence between both parties before Minasha finally responded to her youngest son’s claim. “No, you can’t,” she replied quickly and surely. “Actually, we can,” Jessie affirmed. Another pause followed before this time, Cerquil replied. “You actually can?” he asked. “We actually can,” Alkhia confirmed. Two loud defeated sighs came from the bushes, followed by Minasha and Cerquil standing up, revealing themselves to their friends and family. They moved from behind the bushes and approached their children and their eldest’s family and friends then proceeded to sit down in the soft grass. “And here we were, hoping to pull a prank of our own on all of you, but I guess it’ll be some time yet before we’re as good at pranking as our children are,” said Cerquil with a smile directed at his children. Dontrot, Entol, and Alkhia smiled back at their father. Titus focused on his siblings, a wide smile on his own face. He looked around at his human friends and family, smiling at each and every one of them, then joined his younger brothers and sister and flashed a toothy grin at his draconic parents. It felt strange to him. He had only known of his dragon family for a few short months and while it still was hard for him to truly come to accept that he was a dragon just like them and that he was not only the child of two dragons, but was also by their world’s standards, a quadruplet and the oldest of the four at that, Titus had begun to love his mom and dad as well as his brothers and sister almost as much as he did his human family. He always enjoyed the visits he’d receive as well as pay to them and he felt that with each visit, his connection to them was becoming more apparent to him and was becoming something he was comfortable with admitting to himself. After all, even if he was Doulstraz the dragon, that didn’t mean he couldn’t be Titus Flamel the human either. He was a human with the heart of a dragon, and a dragon with the heart of a human. “You’ll get there, mom and dad,” Alkhia assured her parents. “It just takes practice to be good at pranking like we are.” “Yeah!” Entol agreed with his sister. “In the meantime, we got some candy if you want any.” The young dragon and his siblings rummaged through their pails and each pulled out a single piece of candy to offer to their parents. Minasha and Cerquil extended their talons out and, being as delicate as they could possibly be, took the pieces of candy that rested in their children’s palms. Holding them in both front paws as they sat on their haunches, they studied the candy for a moment, analyzing the small sweets and the humans in their group watched with curious looks worn on their faces, interested to see how Minasha and Cerquil would attempt to ingest the treats their children had given them. The two dragons each brought one of the still wrapped treats up to their snouts, placing the other leg back on the ground to help them keep their balances. With urgency in their voices, everyone else, Titus and his dragon siblings included, cried for Minasha and Cerquil not to eat their candy without removing the wrappers first. Titus, Dontrot, Entol, and Alkhia offered to remove the wrappers for their parents to which the dragon parents graciously took their children up on their offers, handing each of the quadruplets a piece of candy. The four unwrapped the candy and gave one piece at a time back to their parents. Once more, Minasha and Cerquil observed the treats they held as delicately as they could in their claws before bringing them up to their muzzles and tossing them inside. Everyone watched in amazement as they swallowed their pieces of candy whole without bothering to chew, the pieces traveling from the dragon couples’ tongues and down into the esophagus of both Minasha and Cerquil. With looks of bewilderment on their faces, Titus and his brothers and sister offered their parents the last pieces they had. Just as before, they took the sweets from their children and tossed them into their mouths without taking a moment to chew or enjoy the sweet, savory flavor of the candy their sons and daughter had offered them. Just as before, the candy rolled down their long tongues, dropping into their throats. There was a moment of silence as Minasha and Cerquil focused on the lingering flavor that danced along their tongues. Never in their lives had they tasted such sweet yet unusual food. The treats that their children had provided them were so small yet packed so much flavor and each piece was just as sweet, yet also tasted so different from each other. Such a simple treat was blowing the minds of the two dragons. “Well?” Titus asked his mom and dad. “Mmm MMM!” Minasha and Cerquil said together in satisfaction, smiles stretching across their muzzles. “They’re so delicious!” exclaimed Minasha in pure ecstasy. “You wouldn’t expect it, but these…these…’candies’ you call them pack so much flavor! We never could have imagined that such a thing was possible!” Cerquil swooned over the candy he had just eaten. No one was sure how to respond to the exhilarated state the two dragons were in. To the humans in their group, except for possibly Kyle and Jackie, as well as Titus and his siblings, candy did indeed taste wonderful, but not to the point where they thought it was the greatest food in both worlds, though neither Dontrot, Entol, nor Alkhia could rightfully say they had much room to criticize their mother and father’s reactions to the tasty treats. After all, the way they had reacted to trying candy for the first time was really no better than how their parents were acting…in fact, it was actually much worse, as much as the three hated to admit it. At least their parents hadn’t begun deliberating on how many different types of candy there were and declaring that they planned to try each and every one of them…not yet, at least. “Right you are, Cerquil,” Minasha concurred with her mate, giving him a knowing nod. “In fact, I feel a surge of power swelling within me.” “Oh, you too?” asked Cerquil, returning his mate’s nod with one of his own. “Because I believe those small treats have not only revitalized me, but if anything, they’ve made me feel even stronger! Yes…” Cerquil said as he slowly turned his head, going from focusing on Minasha to glancing towards his children and his oldest’s friends and human family. “Strong enough…to CONSUME ALL HUMANS!!” Cerquil declared, following with a fake evil laugh. Playing along with the two, everyone gasped in pretend horror at Cerquil’s reveal of his “true intentions”. “Noooo!!” Lucas cried in an overly dramatic voice. “Is there not a brave hero who can save us from these human eating dragons?!” Jessie knelt down, placing her hands on Kyle’s shoulders. Kyle looked at his mom who nodded at him, a determined, confident look on her face. “It’s up to us, Kyle. Do you think you can fight beside me and protect our family and friends?” Jessie asked in a low, serious tone. Despite being only four-years-old, Kyle knew that everyone was just goofing around and having fun. Nonetheless, there was a part of him that was happy to feel depended on, especially when it was adults and older kids who were depending on him, even if it was just pretend. He looked down at his shield and sword, gripping them tightly in his tiny hands, then he looked up at his mom and answered her with a confident nod. With this, Jessie stood up, taking in a deep breath and exhaling, then pointed at Minasha and Cerquil. “Alright, Kyle. Let’s get ‘em!” said Jessie. “Yeah!” cried Kyle. Holding her son’s hand and setting his pail full of candy on the ground, both Jessie and Kyle charged at the two dragons. Jessie warned Kyle that he shouldn’t swing his sword too hard at the two since it was all just for fun. Minasha and Cerquil both appreciated Jessie’s concern for their wellbeing, but they assured her that they’d be fine. A toy sword wouldn’t be able to do anything to them. Even with this in mind, Jessie still wanted Kyle to be careful, not just for them but for himself as well. “Jackie, they’re going to need our help,” Alkhia said, turning to look at her fellow princess. “Quick, offer them your princess powers!” “Yeah! Okay!” obliged Jackie. The two girls held their palms up in front of them and pretended they were transferring their powers to Kyle and Jessie. Kyle lightly swung his sword at Minasha’s leg and Jessie, taking a karate stance, balled her right hand into a fist and gently thrusted it forward, lightly tapping Cerquil’s leg. Following the mother and son’s “attacks”, Minasha and Cerquil pretended to roar in pain. “No! We’ve been defeated!” Cerquil exclaimed in a grandiose tone. “But…how? How…are they…so…strong?” The rest of the group watched as Cerquil and Minasha played with Jessie and Kyle. Laughter filled the clearing and Titus, who couldn’t refrain from smiling as widely as he possibly could, looked around at his family. He recalled back to when he was really little and growing up in Green Corners, Utah and how back then, it was just him, Ben, his human parents, and Lucas and his parents going trick-r-treating together and while he missed those days and his human mom and dad, getting to spend Halloween with everyone as well as his newly discovered dragon family was an experience that he was just as happy to partake in. It was Titus’s hope that as his dragon family became more accustomed to being around humans and he became more accustomed to them, that they’d be able to enjoy not just Halloween, but plenty of other holidays together as well. For now, he thought, this was definitely a good start.

Mature Content

Drifters Prologue Full by RickF7666
Science Fiction
Starcrossed: Adrift - Chapter 1, On an island hidden somewhere in the blue waves of a backwater planet known as Zinn Ilda, Nico struggles to find his place and purpose within his village after the mysterious disappearance of his father, Daris. Able to sense the pull of fate itself, Nico follows that pull to discover an outsider as well as Nico’s missing father. Dead. The traveling ban on Zinn Ilda is lifted and Nico finds himself taken away by cruel space-faring mercenaries from beyond the stars. Now he must struggle to survive their world and expectations and prove to his captors that, despite having the body of a woman, he is a man., Starcrossed: Adrift (Chapter list), Waves crashed against the shore far down below in the pitch. They couldn’t be seen but they could be felt down to Nico’s very core; almost as if they were beckoning him to their depths. Somewhere nearby a voice called out. “Nico! Lai, where are you?” It was Lihl’s voice. Memories swam back to him. Throughout his life, she had always been there. A constant shadow that was as inescapable as the sound of the waves down below. But what was it that made her call out in such a way? Was she in trouble? His hand reached for the tattered ribbon at his wrist. Somehow, it had unraveled; sent burning and fluttering away into the shadows until it was nothing. Then, there was another distant sound. Something that bellowed and moaned. Something that shrieked and shrilled with such intensity. A creature in pain. Whatever it was, it grew closer. It grew louder. Then, it began to become something recognizable. Not because of its familiarity, but because of how the sounds shook out from his body. The sounds of pain were his. “Nico, it’s time to wake up.” The gentle voice, his mother’s, ended the nightmare. But even he knew better than to call it that. It was very likely something else. As Nico got ready for the day, it was not difficult for his mother to note the lack of certain items. Thus, did she call after her son, “You’re skipping your lessons again?” “For the hundredth time, I don’t want to be a priest,” came the same tired response. And before his mother could offer her usual protests to his refusal, he decided to rip off the figurative bandage, “I’m joining the Outliers.” If his mother had any complaints, they were not spoken of. But the look on her face said enough. Firstly, Nico’s mother had already anticipated this moment. Secondly, Nico’s decision to finally voice it aloud had hurt her in some way. It was all the more reason why he decided to leave out through the open doorway of their home. His retreat did not stop there, either; instead, it took him up from the caves that housed their village and out to one of the cliffs that overlooked the beach down below. It didn’t take long for her to show up, out of breath and at his back. “What are you in a hurry for?” Nico asked. “Your mom said you were leaving,” Lihl huffed out, still trying to catch her breath. “Then she must have had a vision saying so,” Nico sighed. “I expected as much.” A hand moved, taking a fistful of violet strands into his fist before pushing them back out of his face. “Did you have one too?” Lihl asked after a long pause. When Nico turned to face her, he found her at his side. She’d been studying the intense look on his face, no doubt. So, there was no hiding it. “I did.” “Want to talk about it?” Immediately Nico took to shaking his head back and forth. Though, one hand did reach to touch the ribbon around his wrist. A small comfort when he found it was still there. A greater one when Lihl moved her hand over his. Her own wrist had a tattered ribbon that mirrored his own. A matching set that had once been whole. There was a reason that his mother was so upset at the notion of Nico becoming an Outlier. His father had once been one. His father had died as one. That wound was still fresh in both their hearts. They just happened to deal with it in very different ways. Shia, Nico’s mother, had the other priests and priestesses of the village to keep her mind from wandering too often back towards her grief. Nico had his mission. One that had plagued his mind for some time. One that the recent vision seemed to try to sway him from. But he was stubborn. “I guess she was right,” Lihl finally broke the silence between them. Her hand gave a small squeeze at Nico’s. When Nico followed Lihl’s line of sight, he spotted what she must have. Far into the distance, along the horizon in the waves, there was a ship coming in. “Or they’re pirates,” Nico offered in tease. “Or strangers of a different sort,” Lihl offered in turn ominously. “But my mom would have seen it. If not her, then one of the others,” Nico reassured. “You’re probably right,” Lihl agreed. Then, gave a mighty sigh before she bullied Nico into an embrace. It didn’t take much effort. “I’ll miss you, dearest.” “It won’t be forever,” Nico chastised. “Besides, we have our bonding gift.” As though she had forgotten all about the shared ribbon, Lihl took a half step back to be certain that Nico’s was fastened tightly about his wrist. “A reminder that I’m not a complete failure of a priestess.” It had been her first vision, after all. A vision that said Nico would one day be separated from her. His own that he did not speak of seemed to suggest the same. Separated by darkness and angry waves. Thus, when the time came that Lihl gifted Nico her ribbon, she split it in two. “It’s a reminder that I’m not alone too,” Nico reminded Lihl with a gentle peck against her cheek. Very quickly her face took to blossoming red. And when she attempted to hide her face from him, he cupped her cheeks between his hands. In doing so, capturing not only her smile, but also the tears that were building within her eyes. It was nearly enough to cause him to fumble his hold. “Lihl?” Instead of words, Lihl decided to share her lips. With her arms and hands determined to keep him captive, he was not one to argue with her. So, he stayed. The ship needed time to drop anchor closer to the island. The rowboats needed time to descend upon the beach. The Outliers would stay for a time still after that. And Lihl deserved every bit of attention Nico could bestow upon her while they could share it.
Historical Fiction
To Rule The Waves Chapter 2Chapter Two: The Patriot WhigsJanuary 2nd, 1750 The clerk led Marcus into the sitting room and presented him accordingly, “Presenting: Post Captain, Marcus Johnson of Swindon.” The Post Captain gazed about the room before respectfully bowing. He had been led into the Earl’s study, which was dominated by a large fireplace that dominated most of the wall. A roaring fire was already going giving the room proper heat. Each of the walls surrounding the fireplace had large bookshelves that reached towards the ceiling. There were few candles lit around the room, but besides the fire there was little light besides twilight and heavy shadow. Sitting around the room, in comfortable looking chairs, were four members of the House of Lords along with two members of the navy and one member of the army. Marcus bowed again and stepped forward. The Lord closest to him was the Earl of Berkeley himself. Augustus Berkeley, the Fourth Earl of Berkeley was a firm liberal man and fiercely loyal to his native land of England despite only being forty years old. Despite his wire body and young looking face he was the man who had founded and formulated the Patriot Whigs out of the fire that burned the original Whig party at the start of the Century. For the Earl’s eccentricities and rough patches, no one could deny that the Earl of Berkeley was a viciously determined man. It was clear to all in England that once the next elections were to be held, or a vote of no confidence finally called, Earl Berkeley would challenge Grand Duke George Spencer for the Prime Minister’s office. Next to him was another Lord, one Marcus assumed to be Theodore Wilson, young yet equal in his gaze of determination. Though what had brought Theodore to the Patriot Whigs circles was beyond the Post Captain. Theodore was relatively new to Parliament, only brought in from the House of Commons last year at the urgent request of his ailing father. The Wilson family in general were strong allies of the Berkeley’s, but never vocal ones. So to be included in a meeting such as this was rather profound and bewildering. Marcus then recognized his father as the third Lord present. Ludwig Johnson, grandson of Swedish immigrants, had risen from a back seat position to acting party whip. And he had gained that position because of the man’s indomitable will. And despite being the eldest in the room, pushing nearly seventy, Ludwig was still strong in stature. Marcus’s looks were very much a gift given to him from Ludwig, though Ludwig’s hair had grayed significantly in his years. Though unfortunately, the looks were the only thing he had with his father. Ludwig always intended for his son’s to follow in his footsteps and become representatives of the English People. However, out of his five children, with three of them being boys, only his youngest Lawrence had shown any interest in politics. Marcus had heard the call to the sea at a young age. And the eldest, Johan, was a born and bred hunter. When Johan was old enough, he set out for the New World and soon enough had cut his way into a prominent position within the Hudson Bay Company. While Ludwig had disapproved of his eldest’s choice of careers, and was very vocal of his disapproval, Marcus knew that Ludwig was quietly proud of him. However, when Marcus made his life’s intentions known, he did not gain his father’s pride. It had forced the duo to be at each other’s throats throughout Marcus’s youth, only ending when the Post Captain had gained a spot on the Kestrel during the war. But while the ice had thawed, it hadn’t cleared enough for the duo to be anywhere near close as Ludwig once wanted. Instead, Marcus had become close to his eldest brother, and rather distant to his remaining family. He knew that with his two commands, first the Swiftsure and now the Damocles, Marcus would finally have the means to leave Swindon behind and make his name on his own. And yet, he was here, part of a secret meeting at the Berkeley estate. And really, it was for two simple reasons. The first would be that regardless of the allure of strutting out on one's own, no one got anywhere in the Royal Navy without political backing. And second, Marcus’s disdain for the current Mercantile government under George Spencer was so great, he’d do anything to rid the Empire of that man. Plus, having the Earl in power would mean Johan would gain political support too, and that would mean he’d get a larger stake in the HBC. That would certainly help Marcus if he ever wanted to set up a shipping investment once his career in the Navy came to an end. Drawing himself back from his musings about his father, Marcus eyed the rest of the men in the room. None of them, lords and officers he recognized. Though he was aware that he might’ve been the lowest ranked man in the room. One, the army representative, was clearly of the rank of Field Marshall. He could also see that one naval officer held the rank of Sea Lord. The fact Marcus didn’t know him was a damning testament, one he would rectify as quickly as possible. Slowly, Marcus's eyes drifted back to his father the Earl. "Gentleman, tis an honor to be invited." Marcus greeted, bowing again. His father stood and walked over, "Son, it is good to see you. I trust the trip from Swindon wasn't too exhausting. May I introduce a few dear friends of ours." He then put a hand on his shoulder, though Marcus gave his father a cold look. That look was met by a pleading expression by his father, so Marcus quieted his emotions and quickly looked at the gathered attendants again. His father was quick to introduce the room especially since the name Marcus already knew was introduced first. Then his father turned to the new faces. "Over here we have our pick for Field Marshal of our armies, Jordan Cantrell-Christe from Derbyshire.” "You're servant Sir." The Field Marshall saluted. “As I sir, I’ve heard of your exploits in the recent war. They were rather brilliant strategies.” Marcus greeted with a bow. “Your compliment is appreciated but unwarranted, it was the folly of the enemy to stand against us that won the days.” The Field Marshall responded. With a nod, Ludwig continued, “To his left is our hopeful appointment for Jamaica, Nathaniel Moore." "An honor sir." Nathaniel greeted. Marcus returned the greet with a particular look, “I must apologize sir, I have heard your name before. Aren't you a part of a coalition of the army plotting to reform the ranks without Parliamentary approval.” "I compliment you on your sources, Sir." Nathaniel smiled, "But my concern has now shifted more towards setting my operations within the Caribbean." "Capital sir,” Marcus smiled, "I can see why my father offered you friendship." "Indeed my son." Ludwig smiled, “Finally we have our representative within the Navy, may I introduce First Sea Lord Raymond Astor.” Marcus almost cursed himself for not seeing the similarities sooner. He straightened up and saluted the Sea Lord, “Forgive me sir, I was not aware I was in the presence of Lord Dreadnought himself.” “You are forgiven Post Captain,” Raymond Astor mused smugly, “The portraits of me never properly convey my face.” “Correct me if I’m wrong sir, but weren’t you the one who backed the measures to allow our shipyards to build all the First Rates we have on the stocks?” Marcus asked. “No you would be correct, that was an oversight on my part. I have taken steps to correct since your father and the good Earl made me see the error of my ways. Your Damocles is my first step towards that.” The Sea Lord answered. Marcus cocked an eyebrow as that piece of the puzzle came into place, “An honor sir, will you be seeing us off upon launch?” The Sea Lord nodded, “But that is a matter we shall discuss…at a later date.” It was then Marcus saw his father’s disposition change. Marcus was clearly taking much longer than the Earl had allowed. It wouldn’t take long for men of this caliber to be noticed absent from this party. With a clear of the throat, Ludwig ended the greeting prematurely, "Now if you'll kindly take a seat, we'll fill you in on the talks."' Marcus turned and looked at his father. This was typical of the duo, Marcus trying to be sociable and approachable while Ludwig would always be reigning him in. It was one of the many, many things Marcus always chapped under. However, in this situation, he understood the nature of the situation here. He was here as a guest of his father, even so more as a guest in the Berkeley home. So, Marcus pulled himself back with a slight bow. Tuning around, he walked over to an empty seat before sitting down. After taking the seat, a servant brought him over a glass of red wine. With a glass in hand, Marcus took a sip and rested comfortably within the chair. "Good Earl," He smiled, "I must compliment you on your choice of wine.” "Your compliment is well taken, Captain, if not well said.” The Earl responded, his voice was strong despite age but also his flair. "You'll forgive my son, he is a sailor after all.” Ludwig cut in firmly. Marcus looked at his father, before the other continued, "Now shall we discuss the reason we are here?” "Right, we have pressing matters to attend to: the manner in which our empire stands, or rather lack thereof.” The Earl of Berkeley began, "I suppose I do not need to remind any present of the course our Prime Minister is leading us on. His mercantile ventures are bleeding our coffers dry. To say little of that humiliating confession made to the French." "I wouldn't totally call it a humiliation." Nathaniel commented, "What I will call a humiliation is the manner in which our Prime Minister has maintained our meager holdings." "Indeed. " Field Marshal Christie mused. "If you'll pardon all the interruptions." Ludwig said after clearing his throat. The Earl nodded, "Well our sentiments aligned.” Marcus raised an eyebrow, “And how may we remedy ourselves at our leader's folly?" A quiet calm took over the room. Each man gave the other an inquisitive look, as if expecting the other to answer the captain's question. After a moment, the Earl broke the calm, "Unfortunately, my declaration of our party's creation two years past has been the only public display we have made. For what little show it has gotten us, except the ire of George Spencer and his insane stool pigeons." The Earl started, "However, thanks to Ludwig's influence, we now have supporters in the ranks of government and the military..." Nathaniel cleared his throat, "Forgive me Earl Berkeley, but that was not what Captain Johnson was asking." He then turned and nodded towards Marcus, "The good Lord Marshall and the good Sea Lord’s presence here are testaments to your statement, of course, that we have men in place to support our government. When the appropriate leadership is installed of course. Our question is how, or rather what shall we do if we are to seize power?" Another silence took over the room. This time it came with most attention, focused on Nathaniel. Ludwig, however, kept a scornful glare right at Marcus. The Post Captain met his father’s gaze for a moment, with one of a tentative gaze. But after a moment, that look Marcus gave his father, became hard and determined. "I did have a thought on that matter." Marcus spoke up. All eyes within the room turned back towards Marcus. The Post Captain straightened up, "Spencer's Open Port act." Another breath of silence took over the room. This time the silence lasted far longer than the previous. Each man once again looked at the other until finally, Ludwig turned to the Earl. “When will that be up for repeal?" Ludwig asked. “Not until the next session.” The Earl responded. "Forgive me but what exactly is the 'Open Port Act' anyway?" Field Marshall asked. "George Spencer's latest attempt to convince the people there are no failings of mercantilism." Earl Berkley answered. "Yes, but what is it?" the Field Marshall asked again. “I was about to get to that!” Earl Berkley responded, "The wording at such an act, in its simplest terms, allows every port within our Empire to export a product native to its shores upon a free market without tax. Once the product becomes…’a product of want,’ Spencer's theory will assume that the port hands over the profits to the mother stem.” "And even a fool can see the folly of such an act." Ludwig commented. "Indeed, now what if the port's commodity doesn't become desired." The Marshall asked. Now slowly understanding, Theodore chimed in "Or what is to stop the port from simply pocketing the riches? Or worse, what is to stop a rival power such as Spain or god forbid France to steal a port from us?" "There’s an even worse connotation for that.” Marcus commented, “The act's effect upon the Colonies. It has been well reported amongst those in the fleet that the colonies are speaking of breaking from the parent stem." The Earl nodded, "And if we are to lose the colonies, then any gains that our trade company makes in India will not offset any loss." "So, to what end shall we use this act in our favor? specifically if I may ask?" Marshall asked "Simple, The Southern Colonies and the sugar trade." Marcus brought up, "The act calls for one port to have a ‘want' product. That could mean a colony like South Carolina will have to restrict itself to either the sugar or indigo trade in order to fulfill requirements. Especially out of ports like Charles Towne." "That would mean their already aggravated state will be pushed to an inevitable breaking point." Earl Berkley aged "That certainly would be our way in," Ludwig pointed out, "But simply allowing the colonies to revolt would cause disruptions across the globe. To allow the colonies any level of revolt shall do more harm to our than any action our Prime Minister can muster. " "But there is a way to throw the Colonies front and center by showing Spencer's folly." Marcus countered, his voice neutral. His father eyed him but the Earl allowed him to continue. "The Fleet of Red has been issued to sail towards the Bahamas. Officially, the orders are to investigate the reports of piracy within the West Indies. Though many among the officer group believe it is to check the colonial temperature. And if memory serves, the Admiral in charge is a friend of the Earl." The Earl sat quietly as he listened to Marcus speak. Ludwig however, kept a skeptical eye locked firmly on his son. After a moment, the Earl looked up. “I am curious how you think this ties in.” The Earl spoke up. But before Marcus continued, Nathaniel cut in. “Our good Captain may actually be onto something. Spencer will never listen to the Colonies. He’s too prideful for that, let me tell you. However, if one of our agents attends a meeting of the Colonial powers…” “A Continental Congress…there would not be a greater offense to our Parliament in the known world.” Ludwig cut in. “Indeed, however, if we were to send one of our agents over there to hear their concerns, and give them promises that if our government was in charge we will heed their conversations…” Nathaniel started. “What if they wish to declare Independence?” Theodore asked abruptly. “They won’t.” Ludwig shot back. “They might.” Theodore retorted. “But if they had someone to listen to them!” Marcus cut in, “They might be more apt to listen to our Government rather than asking for an irrevocable Independence.” He then stood up softly, “And since my orders are to head to the Colonies anyway, I volunteer to be our representative.” The Earl nodded and also stood up, “You do realize of course that any decision you make over there you’ll have to make you’ll have to make on your own. Any cause the Colonies wish to make will take at the very least six months to travel the ocean to reach us.” “I understand good Earl.” Marcus asked. The Earl then turned back to Ludwig, who remained comfortably seated. After a moment of locking eyes, the Earl turned back to Marcus, “Very well, will you give us a moment to discuss matters?” Marcus bowed, “If you’ll excuse me then.” And with that he made his leave. A moment or so later, he was back out in the Gala. Another dance was being played, this one a more lively tune than any that had been played before. Though, as Marcus gently made his way up to a nearby pillar to rest, it had become clear to him that the ball was winding down. As he rested his left shoulder on the pillar, Marcus wanted to find the woman again. But a quick survey of the attendants proved fruitless. He was about to pull himself off the pillar and wade into the crowd, when a movement to his right caught his attention. Much to Marcus’s shock, a glass of Port was offered to him by Nathaniel Moore. “I trust you would enjoy this?” He asked with a warm smile. Marcus accepted the glass graciously, “Thank you sir, your kindness is most appreciated.” With a sip, he’s shocked at how similar the taste is to his favorite glass of Port. “Likewise sir, I came here to congratulate you on the idea you presented.” Nathaniel commented, a glass of his own in his hands, “I must admit though, I would not have imagined that avenue to be a route to take. In my own opinion I would’ve given the options to be in the Caribbean.” “Oh, in what way?” Marcus asked. “Well, our operations in the Caribbean have taken serious hits from our Mercantile fools over the course of the two years since the war. Kingston, and in part Jamaica, are losing vast quantities of money while France and, more importantly, Spain fill their coffers. Yet, very soon, Spain will struggle with its hold in Mexico and South America.” Nathaniel responded. “You speak as if you are fully aware of these rumors.” Marcus eyed Nathaniel, “Almost as if you’re sure of them.” “I indeed am, good sir, as sure as I am that you are a long time enthusiast of Port.” Nathaniel responded, “Or would you prefer a taste of Pinot?” Again Marcus raised his eyebrow, “Depends on which Pinot you are offering.” “Pinot Gingo.” Nathaniel responded, “The same that often found it’s way aboard your time on the Resolute.” Marcus raised his glass towards Nathaniel, “I compliment you on your circles sir, how many of my former sailors have you spoken to before this day.” Nathaniel laughed, “Oh I didn’t need to speak to anyone from Resolute or even your most recent ship. I do however wish to give to you my congratulations on the Havana Campaign.” Again Marcus toasted before taking a drink, “So, you have an ear for information?” “A man in my circle needs to have his ear on the ground.” Nathaniel responded, “Especially if one is to call Jamaica their home. All sorts of information will pass through Jamaica’s port, as well as whatever person in this world wishes to become a King, they will need someone to bring them news even if the nation doesn’t wish it to be known.” “Hmmm, interesting,” Marcus nodded, “Would it be bad form for me to ask how wide your net is?” “That my dear Captain, will have to wait.” Nathaniel responded, “I believe we’re about to be disrupted.” The disruption was that of the Earl, walking up quietly towards Marcus and Nathaniel. When he reached the Post Captain, he bowed slightly and stepped close, “I agreed with your opinion Marcus. But before your father and I can grant you that task, we wish for you to see about bringing another into our cause. Or at the very least, see if he’s capable of crossing the isle.” Marcus and Nathaniel looked at each other. After a moment, Marcus asked the all important question. “Of course Earl, but whom am I to speak to?” “Lord Duke Benjamin Lewis. His ward was in attendance tonight, I do believe you and her shared a dance.” The Earl responded, “Will you be able to attend his presence after tomorrow’s session in Parliament.” “Surely you jest sir, a man of my stature is not one welcome in the House of Lords.” Marcus chuckled. “Nonsense, nonsense, you are the welcomed guest to view the meeting at my discretion.” The Earl responded, “Now, can we trust in you sir?” Marcus nodded, “Yes sir. Nathaniel, shall I press a visit onto you to dinner aboard the Damocles?” “Shall not miss it sir, when shall you sail?” Nathaniel asked. “Our orders shall not come until late this month so we shall sail then.” Marcus responded, “Now if you both excuse me, I have a task to complete.”
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Are you ready to take the next step? We know you're serious about writing and we are too. For our brave writers who are looking to get their start in the world of professional publishing, we will be gathering up a list with a handful of publications that are accepting submissions each month.

Since we're in the eleventh hour of the month, we're listing publication with deadlines in the next few weeks.

There are countless literary journals and anthologies accepting submissions out there, but a good number of them charge a reading fee. However, since a good many of us are early in our writing careers and often do not have the funds for paying submission fees, we will only list publications that do not charge a reading fee.

We list the name of the journal, the submission deadline, what type of literature they're looking for, and if they are a paying market or not. We encourage going to each website individually to read submission guidelines.

:bulletblue: Publishing Opportunities :bulletblue:

Name of journal: Broken Eye Books
Deadline: June 30th
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Name of journal: Organic Lifestyles Magazine
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Deadline: June 5th
Media: Fiction, poetry, theater
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:? What does no simultaneous submissions mean? This journal mentions that they do not accept simultaneous submissions; this means that they are asking you to submit your work only to them and to no one else until they've given you a response.

Name of journal: Track//Four
Deadline: June 6th
Media: Poetry
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:bulletred: Our Advice!

While it's definitely tempting to only submit to journals that pay their contributors, it's a slow and tedious process to develop a library of publications that can require making literally hundreds of submissions. We highly recommend submitting to both journals that pay and those that don't, for getting your name out there and having a publication to list on your resume or CV is always worth something.

You may have several pieces published with non-paying journals and though you won't see the money then, there's always the very high possibility that having those publications on your resume will be a key thing discussed at that job interview you're waiting for, or something to highlight in that scholarship application you're working on.

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  The 100 Gray Girls Attack Of 1947These facts are not narrated in 1947, but we are in the epoch of the year 2010. This story begins in a modern American city.In the evening the cities are less crowded than usual, in the streets we find a few cars passing, some puddles left by yesterday's storm; some passer-by in the streets passes, trampling the water from the puddles which makes a great noise; some street lamps flash illuminating the dark streets; stray cats on the streets rummage through garbage cans, looking for food; by dropping a garbage can and with a loud noise they wake up the surrounding neighborhood; a little girl is awakened by the noise, so she looks out to see what is happening outside, in the hours of the night;looking out he finds four friends drunk from what they have drunk, the girl chases them away telling them that she will call the police if they don't go away; in the end the drunken group ran away. The characteristics of the three boys are: Ben and Thalia are tall and thin, both have blue eyes and curly blond hair; Instead Tommy is a boy of short stature and a bit chubby and has black hair and a curly cut, a bit long. So one day Thalia comes to school, where that day she was dressed differently than usual, she was wearing an open shirt with blue shorts, she didn't have the usual school uniform.Thalia thus enters an empty classroom and begins to change clothes, wears a sparkling blue dress and begins to wear a lot of make-up, smears lipstick on her lips, to appear more beautiful, and then heads to the gym for prom.but first she reaches her locker, and strange objects begin to come out, shoes, printer paper, biro pens, until she is sucked into the locker, where inside it contained a space-time vortex; thus she is sucked into another era.Due to the space-time vortex, his body has had changes; Thalia is a girl who is 12 years old and finds herself in the modern era in the year 2010 and not in 1947, she was escaping from the colorless Graywold dimension, after having been trapped for 50 years together with her classmates.In the modern era so suddenly in a telephone booth, a space-time vortex appears inside it, at that moment a gentleman was passing by, who, intrigued by the light that emanated from that booth,was curious to know what was inside, suddenly an enormous foot appears which destroys the cabin, and trampling with an enormous hand, the gentleman who is crushed by this gigantic hand and can no longer free himself, where with his enormous weight he is crushed and killed, splattering blood from all sides.Thalia thus emerges from this vortex in the form of a giant, like skyscrapers. Due to the time she traveled in the vortex her clothes were torn, so she now wears a green striped bikini.Thalia feels so confused, she looks around and sees small people, “What's going on, and what place have I ended up in? ” Thalia said.Thalia thus starts walking, causing destruction and terror in the crowd, people start running away, seeing a girl of enormous size.Thalia walking causes strong earthquakes and cracks in the ground, walking through the narrow streets, with a huge foot she crushes cars, she feels pain under her feet, so she starts grabbing objects she has never seen before, starts grabbing flashing neon billboards, grabs sports cars, and observes that a person is inside, starts shaking the car and it knocks the person over and as he falls he blows his brains out, impaling himself with a metal blade and dying, he throws the car he was holding in his hands.Thalia trips over a parked car, falling on her butt and making a loud noise. Talia sitting on the ground, “I'm sorry, I didn't want to create any destruction.” Thalia said to the crowd; people yell at her, a bunch of guys start pounding her leg telling her she has to go away. The 12-year-old giant begins to feel very hungry, who suddenly goes crazy and no longer understands anything, and starts eating fast food, restaurants, everything he finds in front of his eyes, thus eating all the food supplies and finding a source of water in the center of the city, so Thalia starts drinking all the water she can find.After eating and drinking a lot, Thalia begins to hear strange noises in her stomach, so she starts making powerful eruptions “BUURRRRRRPPPPPPP”; up to making the whole city shake creating earthquakes, to cars with alarms, up to people screaming from the loud noise, up to blood coming out of their ears from the commotion caused by Thalia, who starts apologizing “ Oh, sorry everyone ”; for the mess caused by Thalia, he starts taking one of the citizens, a little boy named Willy, who starts playing with him; Willy gets very angry and starts screaming, Thalia gets scared by mistake and breaks a skyscraper.After Thalia has kidnapped Willy, the military arrives with helicopters to try to capture her, but Willy realizes that Thalia doesn't want to hurt anyone, so he gets in the way.“Run Thalia.” Willy said.Thalia for his great gesture of Willy kisses him and she runs away and hides in the woods.Some of the little adults who are terrified, run away from the giant girl who spews high-pitched swear words in pain, creating more destruction.Some of the townspeople start to say profanity about Thalia.Thalia bumps into tall skyscrapers and damages them with her butt, stepping on various things, such as injured people, or broken glass car remains.Some people lost their lives in this great war, some of the citizens, died, suffering damage to their bodies, until they broke and opened in half, showing the entrails and guts coming out of their bodies.Thalia was heading towards the woods, but suddenly, in front of her she finds a soldier maneuvering his helicopter, who loses control, the soldier at the wheel was no longer able to maneuver the helicopter which accidentally crashed into Thalia who had blocked herself with one arm to defend herself from the great explosion.Thalia, frightened by the explosion, returned to normal form and together with Willy they ran away into the woods.Story commission for @Supermarvel5... 
AlgernonLocke Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2022  Hobbyist Writer
Hello. I submitted a join request a few days ago and have yet to see a response. Is there an issue with my request that I need to rectify? Please let me know if there is something I need to do. 

Thank you, 

- Al
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