Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

The Mirror Pt. 2

July 2, 2022

“A deal?” Kerzi asked. “What kind of deal are we making?” She kept her distance, standing on the opposite side of the wizard’s laboratory from her exact double. Well, not exact but very close. The differences became more apparent the longer Kerzi watched but an outside observer probably would not notice those differences. But Kerzi knew herself.

The Other Kerzi shrugged and smiled, trying to act nonchalant. “Nothing major, at least not for now,” she said. “Just a deal that keeps you from trapping me here somehow. I want your word on that.” She was acting neutral but there was a slight tinge of fear behind her eyes when she had mentioned being trapped.

“What do I get out of this deal?” Kerzi asked. “I mean, this was my face first. Now I have to share it with you. I’m not accustomed to giving away anything for free.” Kerzi had not let go of her knives and she flexed her grip to make sure her wrists did not get too tense.

“I can sympathize with that,” The Other Kerzi said. She stayed far out of the range of Kerzi’s knives. She had no weapons that Kerzi could see but that meant nothing. Kerzi had faced many unarmed opponents that were quite formidable.

“Can you?” Kerzi asked. “You’ve only been alive for only a few moments, right? How can you sympathize? How can you talk? How can you think?” She was still mystified by what was happening. Magic was not her specialty and this whole thing was still ringing alarm bells.

“I can’t pretend to know how this works completely but I sense that I got some of my faculties from you and some from,” The Other Kerzi said, pausing for effect. “Somewhere else.”

“Somewhere else, huh?” Kerzi asked. “What are you?” 

“I’d love to know that myself,” The Other Kerzi said. “Perhaps you can help me explore that question.”

“You still haven’t told me what I get from helping you,” Kerzi said. “I’m no hero. I’m a mercenary at best.”

“And the solving of magical mysteries isn’t profitable?” The Other Kerzi asked with more than a little mockery in her voice. “For starters, I can help you find the artifact you were sent here for. I can help you carry plenty of other things away from this place. We can be a team.”

“Splitting my pay in half?” Kerzi asked. “That sounds like an excellent deal for me.”

The Other Kerzi sighed. “How about a seventy-thirty split?” she asked. “Hells, I don’t even need much. I’ll take what scrolls I can carry as payment for this job and a few scraps of food. If I help raise your income, we renegotiate my pay.”

“You are not good at bargaining,” Kerzi said, almost with pity.

“I’m desperate,” The Other Kerzi said. “I don’t want my life to end just as it begins.”

“If we’re going to make a deal, you should have a name,” Kerzi said. “I will not allow you to introduce yourself as Kerzi. That’s me. Bad enough you have my face.”

“But it’s such a pretty face,” The Other Kerzi said. “I have no name. As you said, I was born moments ago.”

“Well, if you’re a reflection of me then why not Izrek?” Kerzi asked.

“A little clumsy,” The Other Kerzi said. “Call me Izzy.”

“I guess that works,” Kerzi said. “I suppose you’ve managed to present an attractive deal. Attractive enough.”

Izzy walked to the center of the room and stuck her hand out. “Shake on it?” she asked. “No tricks. I’m your partner. You can introduce me as your twin sister if you’d like.”

Kerzi walked up cautiously. She thought long and hard about it. “I guess that’s as good a story as any,” she said. She reached out to shake Izzy’s hand. “Deal.”

Kerzi flinched, half-expecting to find herself tricked into the mirror but there was her twin, smiling at her. What had she gotten herself into?

Undead Reckoning Pt. 14

June 18, 2022

“Who are you?!” Talbot asked of the mystery woman. It came out louder than he had meant to but as he watched her, he imagined how she had been in the dream. Dying in bloody agony.

“You forget your manners, Sergeant Hawkwing,” Lord Blackrance said. “Perhaps you should sit down. You look a bit pale. We can get you some tea if you’d like.”

“Don’t try and change the subject, Blackrance,” Talbot said. “Who is she? Who are you, miss?” He kept seeing blood pouring from the gaping wound in her chest. He remembered holding her in his arms. He remembered her voice.

The woman looked both curious and amused but spoke calmly. “Please sit down, Mr. Hawkwing,” she said. “I will try my best to explain what may have happened.”

Talbot found a chair and sat down. His mind was racing as he imagined so many questions and possibilities.”

“Tea, Sergeant?” Lord Blackrance asked. “Perhaps something stronger considering your sudden fright?”

Talbot nodded. “Yes, Lord Blackrance, maybe we ought to go right on to coffee,” he said. “I suddenly feel very tired.”

Lord Blackrance gestured and Titus hurried off, presumably to fetch Talbot’s coffee. Blackrance sat back in his chair as if he was watching a stage play.

“Well, Mr. Hawkwing, do we know each other?” The woman asked, her eyes studying him. Talbot suddenly got the feeling that she studied people a lot with those eyes.

“I would answer with a no,” Talbot said. “I don’t even know your name but I have seen your face before. I have also heard your voice” 

“And where did you see my face and hear my voice?” The woman asked. She did not look entirely surprised. She was definitely a cool customer.

“I saw you in a dream,” Talbot said slowly, watching the woman’s face. “On the train ride here when I dozed off. When I saw you in the dream you -” 

The woman held up a hand and cut Talbot off before he could continue. “Please do not tell me what happened in the dream,” she said. “I’d rather not know. I already know too much. My name is Kare Coldlight and I am a seer. What you experienced was most likely an aftereffect of my abilities. When my abilities have touched on somebody, they can be entangled with my soul and I suppose that can come up in dreams. There is still a lot that I don’t know about my particular abilities. I apologize, Mr. Hawkwing.”

“It’s just Talbot,” Talbot said. “But thank you for not calling me Sergeant. I suppose that does explain things and I don’t need an apology, I guess. Why did you foresee me?”

“It’s not just you,” Kara said, glancing at Lord Blackrance. “It’s the others too. It’s everybody.”

There were footsteps on the stairs and Talbot saw that the dinner companions from the night before were coming downstairs. All of them were foreseen by Kara Coldlight, Talbot surmised. Things were starting to make a bit more sense but there were still a lot of questions.

“Yes, well, let me explain,” Blackrance said. “All of you, gather close. I want to thank you all for making the journey here. As you may have guessed, my name is Lord Callum Blackrance and I am the benefactor who has summoned you here. Some of you I have met before but others I know only through your reputations. You were all chosen through the gifts of Kara Coldlight, a seer in my employ.” He gestured toward Kara. “This is her.” Kara bowed her head as a greeting.

“When I have a wrong that needs righting, I call on Kara to seek out the best candidates with her second sight. She has chosen all of you.”

The Mirror

June 4, 2022

Kerzi had taken the quest as a solo act. She had a team that she relied on but they were several days’ travel away and she could not wait while some other party of adventurers swooped in. She was territorial about this region of Gallia. She was building her own legend and it was necessary to be on everybody’s lips if you wanted to be a legend. She had crept into the old castle quickly enough, avoiding the front door. She never used the front door if she could help it. The window was convenient enough. She made her way through the dusty, moldy place which had formerly been home to Count Edgewater. It had since been claimed by the wizard Ilin. The wizard apparently did not like visitors as there were plenty of traps to get through. Still, she was an expert dungeoneer. She made her way toward what felt like the wizard’s study which she had been told was in the undercroft.

 Even though the legends called it the Cursed Mirror of Ilin, Kerzi had been surprised when she opened a door in the old castle and came face to face with her own image. She instinctively straightened her hair and wiped some oil from her cheek. The mirror had been briefly mentioned in her briefing, emphasis on brief. It had not been very important at the time since it was not her target. She shrugged and headed over to a trunk and quickly picked the lock. Once it was open, she started rummaging. She only stopped when she thought she heard a sound behind her. Had she missed some hidden, deadly trap? She scanned the room and saw no danger. She slowly stood up and walked back to the center of the room. Something was off. It took her a few moments to realize what it was. The mirror no longer held her reflection.

“What were you looking for in that trunk?” a familiar voice asked.

Kenzi whirled around and once again came face to face with herself. This time, it was not a mirror. It was an exact doppelganger.

“Who are you?” Kerzi asked. She pulled her twin knives and spun them both into a reverse grip. She was a scrapper in a fight but she usually preferred the element of surprise. She did not believe in fair fights. 

The other Kerzi laughed heartily but drew no weapon. “Who am I, she asks,” she said. “I’m obviously you.”

“You can’t be me,” Kerzi said. “I’m me. There’s only one Kerzi Graybluff, acquisition artist extraordinaire.” She could tell that she was nervous. She had not meant to spout her tagline but it had come tumbling out of her.

The other Kerzi laughed again. “But I am you also,” she said. “See with your eyes. Hear with your ears. Know with your head and heart. I am also Kerzi Graybluff and we are gorgeous.”

“Impossible!” Kerzi said, narrowing her eyes.

“Magic,” Other Kerzi said as if that explained things. It unfortunately did. Mostly.

“Wait,” Kerzi said. “If you’re me, then why did you ask what I’m looking for?”

“You’ve got me there,” Other Kerzi said with a shrug. “I must not be a perfect copy. I can only guess at the mechanics of my creation. Magic can be very tricky.”

“I don’t mess with magic if I can help it,” Kerzi said. “Too many complications.”

“Oh but magic is so much fun,” Other Kerzi said. “It led to my creation so I must say that I’m in favor of it. Maybe you should give it a chance.”

Kerzi shook her head. “No thank you,” she said. “You should go back inside of the mirror and stay there. I’ll grab what I came for and get out of here. I then drink to forget this ever happened.”

“I cannot simply fade from existence,” Other Kerzi said indignantly. “I have been born and it would be a waste for this much glory to be tossed aside.”

“And people say that *I’m* conceited,” Kerzi said. 

“I can’t guess why,” Other Kerzi said with a smirk. “How about I catch you unaware, knock you out, lock you up here, and return to town as you. It could be the start of brand new Kerzi, a new legend.”

“No way,” Kerzi said. “Not going to happen.”

“Then we must work something out,” Other Kerzi said. “Let’s make a deal.”

Xinyan’s New Band – A Genshin Impact Story

April 28, 2022

Barbara focused her will on the charm in her hand and conjured up a wall of water. She took several deep breaths and focused on the rippling water. Bit by bit, the surface flattened and Barbara could see her reflection slowly form in the water. The magic of Hydro came so easily to her as it always had. What she saw made her blush a bit. Her costume was not her usual fare. These were definitely not the raiments of a deaconess for the Church of Favonius. They weren’t quite the clothes of an idol either. It was all spikes and sharp lines, different from her usual flowy cloth. She was also a bit overwhelmed by the thick makeup.

“I’m not sure about this new look, Xinyan,” Barbara said. “It’s not really my style.”

Xinyan had been tooling around with her guitar and looked up. “I think it looks great!” she said. “You’re definitely rocking it with that style.”

Barbara sighed. “I mean, thank you, but it’s really more your style than mine,” she said. “It feels like a lie.” She released her will and the water splashed down to the ground and started to soak into the Earth.

“I totally get it but if you’re going to be in the band, you have to have a little more showmanship,” Xinyan said. “We can’t have our lead singer dressed all churchy.”

Barbara had to laugh at that. “Churchy? I guess that describes my style but I do try to throw in a bit of idol style for flair,” she said. “You don’t see the nuns with the frills that I wear.”

“Gotta give it to you on that, you’re never boring Barb,” Xinyan said. “But that’s your everyday. When you’re in a band you have to wear show clothes.”

“You wear the same thing every day, Xinyan,” Barbara said pointedly. “So how does that work into your philosophy?”

Xinyan shrugged. “I’m always on,” she said. “My concerts can start anytime and anywhere.”

“Doesn’t it get tiring constantly running away from the authorities?” Barbara asked.

“The Millelith are totally too slow,” Xinyan said and laughed. “They’ll never catch me. They just don’t appreciate my music but the people do.”

“Maybe this band will change that,” Barbara said. “We could be big and, more importantly, legitimate.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Xinyan said. “I don’t want to lose my street cred, though.”

Barbara smiled. “You don’t have to be afraid, Xinyan,” she said. “This could be the start of something really good and if it doesn’t work then we can go back to what we were doing. If you don’t try then you don’t gain anything.”

“I’m not afraid of anything,” Xinyan said. “But I guess that makes sense. I do want to get my music out to more people.”

“Our music,” Barbara said, gently correcting. “Part of making music together is compromising. Give a little, take a little. Which brings me back to what I will and won’t be wearing.”

Xinyan laughed. “Alright, what are your thoughts?” she asked.

“Again, a compromise,” Barbara said. “I can design something a little flashier but less “churchy”. I’ll even show you sketches.”

“Alright, alright, it’s a deal,” Xinyan said. “I’m not going to make you do anything that you really don’t want to do. I’m just trying to push you out of your comfort zone a little bit.”

Barbara focused again and conjured water to wash the makeup from her face. She felt more like herself.

“What do you mean?” Barbara asked. “I’m comfortable.”

“Right now you are,” Xinyan said. “But everybody knows that you work too hard and play too little.”

Barbara raised an eyebrow. “Everybody?” she asked, a little embarrassment slipping into her voice. “Who is everybody?”

Xinyan realized her mistake. “We don’t all talk about you,” she said. “Some people have seen how you never get any rest. You and your sister Jean. You’re always helping people.”

“It’s a great honor to be of service,” Barbara said a little indignantly. “My family has always believed that.”

Xinyan sighed. “Don’t take offense, Barb,” she said. “We all want to help out as much as we can. As crazy as my life is, I still fight to protect Liyue and the people I care about. I’d fight for you too.”

Barbara blushed slightly. “I don’t doubt it,” she said. “You’re a good friend, Xinyan. You’re a good person.”

Xinyan grinned. “Thanks, not the point. The point is that too much of anything will run you ragged,” she said. “You have to stop working and cut loose now and then. Maybe I can teach you how to have fun.”

“I’d like that,” Barbara said. “And maybe I can teach you how to be a bit more serious.”

“I don’t know about that,” Xinyan said with a wicked grin. “But you’re definitely welcome to try.”

Trapped

March 5, 2022

The flames were rising and Gonae knew that any moment, the edges of her robes could catch fire. She did not have much left in the tank but she searched her mind for any spells that she might have left. She had not prepared control water or anything like that. Her floating disc spell would have carried her to safety but she had used it to cross the dungeon’s pit. If she had not been separated from the rest of the team, she would not have been caught in this flame trap alone or maybe at all.

Inspiration struck and Gonae desperately searched through her components pouch. She pulled out a white rock chip. Normally, she would have performed this spell with a piece of ice but ice rarely made it far into a dungeon without melting. She focused on the rock chip and could feel a gathering of cold and wet air around her. Suddenly, a burst of snowballs launched from thin air and slapped against the flames nearby. The flames dampened a bit but it was enough for Gonae to feel better about running through the flames. She sprinted through and nearly tripped. Her heart shot right into her stomach and did several flips before she recovered and reached the door.

She flopped onto the ground and frantically patted out the flames on her robes. She watched the spot she had been in get completely engulfed in flames. She had been moments from death and she felt her heart speed up before she closed her eyes and slowly willed it to calm down. There was no way she would survive if she was panicking. She slowly got to her feet, steadying herself with a hand on the wall. The heat was getting unbearable again. She tried the door and it was locked. Of course, it was locked. She was tapped out. She definitely had no spells left and nothing to power them.

She started to look through her pack again. She kept her pack fairly tidy compared to Chibby. The little thief was an absolute hoarder but sometimes there were some useful things in there. In sharp contrast, Gonae only brought what she thought she needed. Everything with a purpose and a purpose for everything. And yet, her fingers brushed on something that sparked a memory. Arthur had caught Chibby trying to use some fireworks on a particularly snooty merchant’s stall in the Grand Market. Gonae pulled the fireworks out. They were a smaller bundle than she remembered but maybe they would do.

She carefully used a bit of sap glue to attach the fireworks to the lock on the door. She backed up as far as she dared without getting too close to the fire. She cast a firebolt at the fireworks and they exploded in a shower of sparks. She heard the pieces of the lock jingle and jangle as they hit the floor. She carefully went up to the door and pushed it open. The hinges squeaked ominously as the door opened to reveal a long dark hallway. Either her team or the exit had to be down the hallway. There was nowhere to go but forward.

Poor Unfortunate Souls: Atlantica Pt. 12

February 26, 2022

The Enchantress had gone right to work checking over the ritual site that Belle and Ariel had put together. She made little noises of approval and disapproval as she worked. She gestured with her hands and adjusted things magically, moving candles and chalk lines with pure willpower. Belle felt her temper rising with each sound that the woman made and eventually stepped out of the library to cool down. A little while later, Tiana found her sipping wine in another corner of the palace. Belle looked up as Tiana approached.

“How are you doing?” Tiana asked, sitting down opposite Belle. “Your nerves getting settled?”

Belle sighed and shrugged. “Just being near her drives me crazy,” she said. “thinking of what she did to my husband. I don’t trust her. I can’t trust her.”

“You don’t have to trust her after your experiences,” Tiana said. “I don’t trust her. I know Aurora doesn’t trust her and you can’t pull anything with Esmerelda around. I think Ariel wants to trust her.”

“Ariel has a good heart,” Belle said. “I’m glad that Aurora is around to protect her.”

“Me too,” Tiana said. “As much as I’m ready to get home, I’m glad for the people I’ve met. Yourself included.”

“Oh. I’m not always the best person,” Belle said with a dismissive gesture. “Sometimes I care about books more than people. I know it’s made me judgemental.”

“You are not your past,” Tiana said. “One thing that I have learned is that people can change if they dig down deep. It sounds like you’ve figured some stuff out. You just need to keep doing that work. We all have work to do.”

“Do you think the Enchantress could change?” Belle asked.

“It’s a happy thought,” Tiana said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

Esmerelda poked her head into the room with a smile. “She’s done,” she said. “Are you ready to come back to the library?”

Belle nodded and stood up and Tiana followed her and Esmerelda back to the library. The Enchantress was front and center as if she was holding court. She was all smiles as she had been since she appeared. It was hard to trust somebody who was nothing but smiles. It was like she was a performer, always on stage.

“I’m actually very impressed with your work,” The Enchantress said. “You were pretty close to achieving a stable portal between worlds. Few mortals would be capable of that. I can only count on two hands the people with that power. Of course, what you made would have torn you apart if you got too close to it. It’s safe now.”

“Sure,” Belle said with plenty of doubt in her voice. “What do we do now?”

“First, I activate it,” the Enchantress said.

She walked slowly over to the edge of the room, glancing at Aurora’s sword for a moment as she moved. Seeing that glance made Belle smile just a little. The Enchantress focused on the center of the room and a portal formed with a rushing sound. It was a swirling maelstrom of energy.

“That looks like it will tear us apart,” Ariel said. “What did you do wrong?”

“Such trust issues,” the Enchantress said with a laugh.

“I’ve had my fill of witches,” Ariel said. “Prove to me that my trust hasn’t been misplaced.”

“Look, you just need to focus on a person, place, or thing with your whole heart and the portal will take you there,” The Enchantress said. “Try it and see. I’ll stand over here and not interfere.”

Belle stepped up to the portal and she could feel a slight tingle as she got close to its energy. She closed her eyes. She thought, of course, about Adam. She thought of the fights they had, him saving her from the wolves, standing up to him, the little kindnesses that had broken the dam and let the love flow. She thought about his smiling face. Both of his smiling faces. She found herself smiling and she noticed the rushing sound had gone away. She opened her eyes and there was Adam but he was back in Beast form. He was standing with a brunette man, a beautiful woman, and a hulk of a man with so many tattoos.

Suddenly, Adam looked at her and his Beast form turned human yet again like it had that day on the castle battlements.

“Belle?” he asked softly.

Belle lept through the portal and into his arms.

Poor Unfortunate Souls: Agrabah Pt. 8

February 5, 2022

Jasmine had laid all of the papers out in what looked like the main chamber. It was the biggest open space, at least. She and others set to work pouring through everything to figure out what they could do. Jasmine’s father had made sure that she received a rounded education which included reading in several languages and mathematics. She had not been tutored in magic but her adventures with Aladdin had given her a bit of a crash course. Anybody not looking over the papers worked to set up a defensive perimeter under the watchful eye of Genie or worked to tend to the wounded under the supervision of Elsa.

Jasmine had assembled quite an eclectic group to help her figure things out. An elderly robed man had introduced himself as Merlin, a court magician in a place called England and a lifelong student and teacher of the magic arts. There was also a trio of fairy sisters who called themselves Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. They seemed to fight a lot but that competition seemed to drive them toward the right answer. An elderly woman named Alma claimed to be the matriarch of the Madrigal family. Finally, there was a skeletal woman named Imelda who was really nice to talk to as soon as one got over her unnerving appearance.

Jasmine and her fellow scholars kept showing each other pages as they slowly organized things and the puzzle came closer to being solved. In the end, it was the fairy Flora and the wizard Merlin who figured it all out. They found that the requisite floor markings were already there and the incantations were deceptively simple. The fairy who called herself Ella’s Fairy Godmother did the actual spellcasting. Jasmine watched it all with amazement. The portal opened with a rushing sound and filled the place with a bright light. Jasmine could see flickering images on the surface of the portal but none of them made any sense.

“The portal has been stabilized,” Merlin said as if that was something he said every day. “One simply has to focus it to arrive at a particular destination.”

“And how do we do that?” Jasmine asked.

“You just need to focus on your heart’s desire,” Flora said. “I’m sure you know how to do that, Princess.”

Jasmine thought about that, remembering the moment she had confronted her father about wanting to marry Aladdin and how that convinced him to change the rules. She had been ready to marry Aladdin no matter what but had been relieved by her father’s change of heart. Thinking of that only reminded her of her duty to her country.

“I can’t just leave to follow my heart’s desire,” Jasmine said. “I have responsibilities here. We need to start sending people home to make sure their own lands are safe. They have been prisoners here for too long.” Besides that, Jasmine was sure a lot of the people here knew a lot about their heart’s desire. She got the feeling that the prison had held only the people who were most dangerous to Gothel’s plans. Whether they were strong, smart, or magical, they all seemed to be heroes of some sort.

“A noble sentiment, your highness,” Mattias said. “I know there is a reason that I followed you into battle.” There Mattias was standing next to Elsa to whom he had been loyal before Jasmine.

Jasmine smiled. “Will you go first, Mattias?” she asked. “You may be needed in your Arendelle. You as well, Queen Elsa.”

“I’ll stick around a little longer,” Elsa said. “but I would appreciate you returning to Arendelle to check on our people, Mattias. If my sister is there, assure her that I am alright. If she is not, I will bring the true Queen of Arendelle back with me soon. I promise.”

“I can’t refuse an order from a Queen,” Mattias said. “I guess I will go first. Good luck to you all.”

Mattias stood in front of the portal and took a deep breath. The flickering images started to calm until they stabilized into an image of the tall spires of Castle Arendelle. Mattias and Elsa gasped and Jasmine could see how brightly they smiled with relief. Mattias looked back at Elsa and saluted and, without another word, stepped through the portal. He was gone and the portal resumed flickering.

“Alright,” Jasmine said. “I suppose we should start getting these people home. Let’s get people organized and start giving them their heart’s desire.”

She turned to the crowd and started beckoning over people to explain how things were going to work. Elsa, Merlin, Flora, and many others did the same.

The Summoning

January 15, 2022

Life as a knight of Lamora was not as grand as one would think. It was a day of summoning at the castle of Lord Urnar, one of the greater lords of Lamora. Zelia woke well before dawn and she had to find somebody to help strap her armor on. She was familiar with the castle and its staff but she had to find who might be available. The meeting she was summoned to was to happen before breakfast so Zelia got waylaid in her search passing through the kitchens. Breakfast smelled so good that she could not resist a bit of a preview tasting. She flagged down Onelle of the kitchen staff and then spent time leaning against a counter and eating a biscuit with ham and cheese, watching the workers as she did. She spoke a bit at Onelle but the young woman was busy and Zelia had to repeat herself often. She did not mind.

After eating, there was still plenty of time to get ready but Zelia did not have all day. Zelia had to take her leave from the kitchens and resume her search for somebody to armor her. She physically dragged young Arne out of bed. He was a good lad but he had a tendency to be a bit lazy sometimes. The boy complained at being roused from bed but stopped when Zelia gave him The Look. It never failed. The boy straightened up and saluted.

“Knight of the Iron Hand,” Arne said. “How can I assist you?”

“So formal,” Zelia said. She had known the boy a little before being knighted. “I need somebody to help me with my armor. Follow me.”

“Lead on, lady knight,” Arne said.

Zelia turned and walked back toward her quarters with Arne following behind. After a few moments, Arne set to work. The sleepy boy struggled to strap the pieces of armor to her body. She grew impatient.

“Boy, you had best wipe the sleep from your eyes and get this armor on straight,” she said firmly, trying to keep most of the crossness from her voice.

“Yes, m’lady,” Arne said. “I’ll try, m’lady.” The boy’s almost painful politeness softened her bad mood. He was pitiful.

“You had best stop blushing as well,” she said with a soft smile. “You would think you had never seen a woman’s body before.” That only made the boy blush more.

“You know, that’s entirely possible that that’s the case,” Anneslie said. “What woman in her right mind would show him her delights?”

Zelia glanced over at the beautiful Anneslie, Knight of the Golden Bloom. She was standing there in her own armor, ready for the summoning even earlier than Zelia had wanted to be. Perhaps that was a sign of a more experienced and accomplished knight.

“I have so seen a lady!” Arne shouted, turning to face his accuser but then he immediately backed down. “Begging your pardon, Lady Anneslie, Knight of the Golden Bloom.” He cast his gaze down at the floor in contrition and embarrassment and saluted.

“Relax, little fish,” Anneslie said with a laugh. “No need to stand on ceremony. Return to your normal duties. I’ll take over here.”

It was Zelia’s turn to blush at the thought of the older woman touching her.

“You will?” she asked Anneslie and then turned toward Arne. “Go about your business, we’re fine here.”

Arne bowed and left quickly, leaving behind a sudden silence between the women. Anneslie worked in that silence comfortably while Zelia’s gut turned itself in knots. Anneslie expertly assembled Zelia’s armor and tightened the straps tightly. Finally, Anneslie finished her ministrations.

“There,” she said. “The Knight of the Iron Hand in all of her glory.”

“You do good work,” Zelia said and fought back a blush to establish eye contact with Anneslie. “You should put on my armor more often.”

“You’re very silly,” Anneslie said with a smile. “I’ll see you downstairs.” Then the Knight of the Golden Bloom left the room abruptly.


Zelia looked up above the fireplace as she entered the meeting room and her gaze lingered on The Sword of Storms which was also known as The Sword of Heroes. As the story went, the sword could only be held and wielded in times of great chaos and need by somebody pure of heart. If the sword allowed itself to be held, things were in a very dark place. The last person to use the sword had been a scholar who had been subsequently elevated to the role of knight before his death years ago. Zelia dragged her eyes away from the sword and moved quickly to her seat, the chair bearing her emblem.

“Knights of Lamorra,” Lord Urnar said, his voice loud and commanding. “You do yourself credit to drop everything to report here in the name of the Queen. I do not summon you lightly. I brought you here to deal with a threat worthy of your talents which our scouts have brought to my attention. I will cut to the chase. Goblin bands are threatening the nearby lands in several locations. We need you, good knights, to eliminate this threat. You will ride out after breakfast. You are dismissed.”

Zelia blinked a bit at the abruptness but stood up in order to head toward the breakfast table. She looked for Anneslie but felt herself get dizzy and then, as she reached for her chair to steady herself, her vision went black.

Suddenly, she came back to herself and she was standing on her feet, grateful that she had not fallen down in her dizziness. She felt a weight in her hand and looked down. It was the Sword of Storms. Smoke was drifting in from another part of the castle but nobody else was visible. What had happened? What did she do?

The Bureau

January 8, 2022

John remembered the knife plunging into his gut. He remembered staggering through the alley, unable to ask for help loud enough to draw anyone. He remembered falling to his knees and crawling, trying desperately to find anything or anyone who could help him. All in vain. He remembered the warmth leaving his body before everything went black. He remembered all of that which meant that he had reached game over. There should have been no continue, no option to put in more tokens. Yet, here he was sitting at a table in a barren room.

He took a deep breath to prove that he could and then tapped his fingers on the table. Sight, hearing, and touch were all still working. At that moment, he could not smell anything but there did not seem to be anything especially fragrant in the room. He was not about to taste the table, of course. Still, it seemed that he was alive. Why he wasn’t patched up in a hospital bed was not exactly evident. The mystery nagged at him. He should be dead or at least severely injured.

He reached down to his side and felt no wound. There was not even any tenderness at the site of impact. Still, touching it was making him remember the attack more vividly which made his anxiety levels rise. He jerked his hand away. He spent time doing the customary checks one does after misadventure. He counted his fingers. He checked to make sure his limbs were intact and moved around. He checked his head for any bumps or contusions. He seemed to be in full health as far as he could tell. He stood up.

There was a sudden smell of a mix of peat and blood that strangely did not smell too bad. Any displeasure was offset by the realization that his sense of smell still worked. Another test passed with flying colors.

“Please have a seat, Mr. Caldwin,” a woman’s voice said. He looked back at the table and there was a woman sitting in a chair that had not been there before. She was wearing a wide-brimmed hat in such a way that he could not see her face. He had not seen or heard her come into the room. He sat down. As soon as he did, he noticed a steaming cup of coffee that had also not been there before. He drank without hesitation and without consideration even afterward. His anxiety lessened. The woman was looking at some sort of file folder.

“Thank you,” John said. “I mean for the coffee, of course, but also for whatever you did to keep me alive.”

“You’re not strictly alive,” the woman said without looking up. She wrote something quickly.

“I beg to differ,” John said. “Everything seems to be in working order and I’m not a bleeding wreck on the ground in an alley.”

“Well yes,” the woman said. “We are responsible for that. So you’re welcome.”

There was a long silence after that little exchange. John slowly sipped his coffee and watched the woman’s hat bob a bit as she read and wrote in the file folder. He was uncomfortable with the silence. The woman seemed to be just fine with silence.

“So you know my name,” John said, waiting for the obvious answer.

“I do,” the woman said. She kept her focus on her file folder without fail.

“And you are…” John said, trailing off to let the woman fill in the blank.

“Very busy,” the woman said. She finally looked up and John was taken aback to realize that she had no face. Where a face would have been, there was a blur that was uncomfortable to look at. John found himself staring at her hat rather than trying to establish eye contact with non-existent eyes.

“I don’t mean to be rude but you seem to be missing your face,” John said, trying to be helpful. “It’s just not there.” He managed calm words but he felt the cold stab of fear.

The woman sighed. “It’s not missing,” she said. “I just don’t have one. I’m not a human. I’m more of a concept. Please focus on the important things.” She closed her file folder and it ceased to exist.

“Is this the part where you explain things to me?” John asked. “I really need it to be the part where you explain things to me.” A headache was slowly forming behind his eyes.

The woman sighed again. “I don’t have time for that,” she said. “This book will explain everything.” She placed a leatherbound book on the table and then she vanished into thin air. At least she left the coffee behind.

Festival of Gifts

December 25, 2021

The city of Kante was covered in decorations for the Festival of Gifts. Extra torches and lanterns were strung up everywhere, making the city bright and warm even at night. Red, Gold, and White ribbons and cloth banners were hung everywhere. Statues in honor of the sun god Lathander and the demigod Tall Winters had been placed in prominent places. People were in the markets buying food and gifts for their loved ones or bustling off toward the temple district to make offerings to the lords of light to bring back the sun during the darkest and coldest part of the year. There was a lot of love and good cheer flowing through the city.

Sabina was indifferent to it all as she shuffled through the city. Sure she had tied some tinsel to her horns but that was more to blend in than actual celebration. She was wrapped in a patchy yet warm fur coat and a big furry hat. The coat was a little long for her so that the hem of it trailed across the wet pavement. Yet she pulled it off gracefully, moving effortlessly through the crowds. Nobody even realized that she had a knife slipped into the sleeve of the coat. They were so distracted that they did not notice that knife flashing in the torchlight as she liberated people’s coin purses. However, now her night was over and she headed home.

She slipped into an alleyway and sidled up to a nondescript doorway. Hardly anybody would have noticed the minuscule writing in Thieves’ Cant. She tripped the secret catch on the door and it popped open safely. Opening the door incorrectly would have locked it completely with twelve different deadbolts. At least it was better than the door had been in her youth. The mechanism had been potentially deadly back then. She stepped into the small room and brushed off what snow she could. The rest had melted and she felt uncomfortably damp and cold.

The room was empty except for a table and a mirror. She headed straight for the mirror and stepped through it and felt the surface of the mirror tugging at her a bit before she made it through. Then came the disorienting feeling of the teleportation enchantment a little bit like standing up too quickly after waking up. She was face to face with a huge portrait of Laverna, the Goddess of Luck. She smiled when she saw the portrait. It meant she was home and home meant warmth and relaxation.

“The real reason for the season,” a voice behind her said. “Our Lady Luck.”

Sabina turned to see the one-eyed visage of Jole. Out in the world, Jole was a lieutenant in the city’s law enforcement but secretly he was part of Sabina’s found family. He fed the thieves information and in turn profited off of their scores. He was so rarely in their subterranean hideout out of necessity. Still, he did manage to come around now and again to connect with his friends.

“What are you doing here?” Sabina said. She tried to act cross but could not fight back the smile from her lips.

“Busy night, eh?” Jole asked. “Out plucking your fair share from the revelry?”

Sabina frowned. “Don’t tell me that somebody saw me working out there,” she said. “I’m too quick. Their eyes can’t be trusted. How could they accuse somebody of that during the holiday season?”

Jole laughed. “Nobody saw you as far as I know,” he said. “I just assumed that’s what you would be doing. Looks like my hunch was correct.”

“You’re a very good detective,” Sabina said sweetly. “Sorry for acting so hostile right away.”

Jole shrugged. “I’m not down here often and almost never unannounced. To answer your question, I wanted to wish you and yours a happy Festival. I just happened to swing by when nobody was home.”

“Nobody?” Sabina asked and snapped her fingers three times and a small kitten crawled out from hiding. “Diamond is hardly nobody.” She took off her coat and hat and felt a lot better. She dumped her sack of coins into the bin before bending down to pick up the cat. “I’m sure she’ll forgive you.”

“A weight lifted off of my heart,” Jole said. “Forgiveness is good for the soul.”

“It is,” Sabina said although there were moments in her life that she felt she could not forgive. She pushed those invasive thoughts from her mind just as quickly as they came. “Happy Festival to you too. May the light return to us all.”

“Amen,” Jole said with a smile. “I brought you a gift.”

“Me?” Sabina asked and she was thankful that her red skin would hide her blushing.

Jole stuttered slightly. “Not just for you,” he said. “I brought everybody gifts.”

Sabina smiled. “You’re a very generous man,” she said.

“But I am glad that you were here when I came to deliver them,” Jole said.

Sabina smiled and smoothed her dress a bit to keep her hands busy. “Well, I do love a present.”

Jole held out a small package wrapped in colorful cloth. “Hopefully you love this one.”

She quickly opened the package and gasped at the silver pendant necklace that she found. “It’s beautiful, Jole,” she said and wished she had gotten him a gift in return. The Festival was not over yet so there was still time. “I love it. Would you like to stay and have a drink with me?”

“I would love nothing better,” Jole said with a smile that only made Sabina’s smile brighter.


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