Poem: Skychild

Hers is a love

Deep and true

Like leaves that fall from the sky

Our child smiles once

And then pulls away

I feel

I’m watching her die

Her hand to her lips

The other, her heart

I feel the beat of her rush

She wants to call out

But I bid her to stay

She’ll only

Get in the way

His way.

She’ll only

Get in the way.

 

His wings spread wide

I watch him soar

My soul soars with him

In tandem

Wings beat out

Wing beats down

I wish that I could fly with them

 

I feel so useless

Standing here

My mate on edge at my side

I feel so helpless

Holding her hand

And wishing he needn’t ride

The wind

Alone.

I’ll only get in his way, you know

I’ve heard it once before

I’ll only get in his way

I’m sure

He really needs must

Go.

 

The wind is free against my face

My heart is in my hands

I feel it jump with every beat

And at my body’s demands

I twist in the sky

So vibrantly blue

The sun piercing through my sight

Blazing bright, the only star

To never see the night

Back down to the ground

With a smile on my lips

It feels too wide to be true

I take my place at my mothers’ sides

And know now who I belong to-

 

The sky.

—-

©2012 Sam Oliver (Eris)

Hey everyone. Been a bit! Poem! Read!

<3s,

Eris

Poem: So It Is – To Call It Love – Don’t Bury Me

The aching heart is broken once

And what is broken, breaks no further

So it is

So it was

 

A knot untied

Is a problem solved

And what is solved, is said and done

So it is

So it was

 

A noose without

A body to hang

Is a tool unused, a crying shame

So it is

So it was

 

When a light’s filament

Has burnt itself out

It’s a light

To be replaced.

 

This broken heart has again been broken;

This problem is solved, but remains unspoken

This noose is full; yet so empty

Someone will kindle this filament’s flame

But I don’t want

To be the same.

To call it love is to ask for trouble

To call it unfair is to curse the rubble

Under a building set to fall

Down on you;

On us all

 

To find the truth

Is to find a needle

Amongst the hay

Made from pins

 

To find a heart

Fit for me

Is to find a man

Free from sins

 

I ask for trouble

And hex the ground

On which I stand

Under the shroud

Of falling ‘crete

Like solid rain

To make me one

With earth again.

 

Light the flame

The vigil’s wick

My funeral crowd

Will not be thick.

Don’t bury me

In coldest ground-

Let me sit above

Lay me down with guilty looks

Upon the leaves, down by the brook

That weaves through trees

That sway so sweet

To the wind’s

Hidden beat

 

Cover me not

With soil’s touch

And do not fuss

Overmuch

I’d rather sit

By  river’s side

And give the worms

A place to hide.

 

I’d rather be

One-

And then many

Lying

With the earth

And poor

As a penny.

———-

©2012 Sam Oliver (Eris)

 

———–

Tired and lonely at 1:00 AM and I start getting poetic.

Do  enjoy them anyway (They can be read apart or as one. It’s a hybrid poem). Poetry is poetry, no matter the trigger.

<3s,

Eris

PS: I’ll be okay, I think. Just need a little time, is all.

Short Story: Darkest Radiance

His eyes are closed, as he ascends the stairs to the gallows. That strikes me as odd. I’d always assumed that he would die as a criminal of his stature lived– like a king, eyes open, not pleading, but staring at us all and cursing us with his last regal breath. Still, I feel an odd terror in my stomach as he takes his place on the trapdoor and a noose is tightened around his neck.

Then the royal bookkeeper, who obviously would rather not be here, takes his place next to the axeman and begins reading out a list of his crimes. The whole thing seems surreal.

“Treason,” he says, then clears his throat. “Murder of the first degree, willful manslaughter, arson, embezzlement, fraud, wartime desecration, assault whilst armed….”

It’s then that I notice the criminal’s mouth. It’s open in a wide grin, every listed crime only seems to make it grow wider. Lips peel back from teeth stained red and razor sharp. I tap father on the shoulder. He’s deep in conversation with someone aiming to buy a wand from him. Hardly paying any attention to the execution.

“Not now, Iren,” he snaps. “I’m in the middle of an important conversation. Don’t make me regret taking you here in the first place.”

When I look back at the criminal, he’s turned into a monstrous wolf-like creature, roared defiance at the sky and torn through his bonds. The axeman brings up his namesake too slowly, eyes wide, and with one swipe the beast knocks it away, axe over handle. A second turns his chest to bloody ribbons of flesh. The big man stumbles back and falls over in a bloody heap, while the bookkeeper flees. I can only watch in horror as the monster closes the distance in two strides before its teeth close on the bookkeeper’s head and tear it free with an almighty wrench. The creature spits it out in another moment, and turns right towards me.

Wolfish eyes focus on me, set in a body taut with muscle. It leaps down and reaches me in two strides

and I’m brought back, breath catching, caught and left alone as the vision fades. “Look out!” I shout up at the executioner and the bookkeeper, interrupting the latter mid-sentencing. “He’s a skinshifter! He’ll kill you both!”

The executioner stares at me, eye to eye for a moment, and then nods and pulls the lever without hesitation. The bookkeeper is outraged. I can see it in his face. My father is also outraged. I can feel it coming off of him in waves, though he keeps his face a mask. I want to shrink away, but I stay still. The crowd is strangely silent.

The noose goes taut.

The criminal’s neck snaps, and he turns limp. He hangs there like some ghastly puppet. There he’ll stay until the axeman cuts him down, and I can see that my friend is certainly not in a hurry to do that.

I breathe a sigh of relief, and immediately feel disgust boiling inside of me as well, staring at the body and somehow unable to pull my eyes away. I watch fur flicker over its arms for a moment, and about lose my control, about throw up right there in front of everyone. Instead I swallow the rising bile as it burns my throat and turn away.

“Iren, why don’t you head back to the castle?” father asks me quietly. “I can see you’re ill. We’ll talk about this tonight.”

My heart sinks in my chest, but I nod and turn away from the crowd. My feet ache from standing in one place for so long, but I manage to make my way down the stone steps leading away from the stone platform and Judgement Square. I stumble on the last step, and a rough calloused hand catches me by the shoulder and pulls me upright again. I nearly collapse the other way, but manage to steady myself. My body feels weak and sick.

I look up into the scarred face of the axeman, hoodless now that he’s down from the stand of the gallows. He gives me a smile and shakes his head.

He leads me away from the group of people, hand firm on my arm. It’s terribly improper, and I find myself blushing behind my veil, but I don’t think I could resist even if I were so inclined. No one else notices. I’ve always been puzzled about that. It’s like even being associated with the hangman at all makes me completely invisible.

The executioner takes me down a back alleyway and down into its dark embrace we go. There, we both sit. When I’m sure no one can see us, I take a deep breath and let my radiance show.

It’s a gift from my father, I think. For all his strict, bitter ideals, he does try his hardest.

Light flows outward from my body, bathing the two of us. The hangman brings out a scrap of yellowed material I instantly recognize. I smile weakly. “You found some paper!”

He nods happily, takes out an old piece of charcoal, and begins to write. I sit and watch and read, and after a time, I answer.

I think about the axeman’s name as I walk back towards the castle. It’s much later than I’d wanted to let it become. The axeman had wanted to walk me home, but my father would have him punished in a moment if he knew. There’s a touch of irony there I’m sure, in punishing a punisher. My father would likely relish that.

If he even so much as suspected where I spent my evenings then he would tear the place apart to find me.  The path up the castle is guarded by tall, gnarled, leafless oak trees. I hate how they look in the later seasons. It isn’t quite cold enough for there to be frost forming on the ground, but it’s certainly chilly enough out here for me to shiver.

“What’s a pretty thing like you doing out here?” a voice calls from the left side of the path. My heart skips a beat. I look over to see Cain stepping onto the path, sword at his belt and a big grin on his face. “Don’t you know it’s dangerous to walk alone at this time of night?”

He steps up next to me and matches my stride– with a little difficulty. He’s nearly a foot taller than me. Compared to the giant of a headman that’s nothing, really.

“Prince Cain,” I start quietly. “How nice to see you.”

“Princess Iren,” he says, careful exaggeration twining around impertinent sarcasm. “It’s a fine night for a walk, but your dad is gonna kill you if the thieves and brigands don’t get you first.”

“You’re one to talk,” I retort, with a glance at his sword. “Do you think you’ll escape unscathed every time?”

“Nope!” he says cheerfully. “I got cut this time, too!”

I stop and round on him, then, folding my arms across my nearly bare belly, veil twirling with my body. “Show me,” I demand.

He stops too, turns to me with a sheepish grin and holds his arm out proudly. He’s such a child.

His arm is cut– not deep. It’s just three scratches, long and thin. They bleed sluggishly.

All of a sudden the wounds seem to ooze pus and blood, then rot rapidly before my eyes. I hear the ghost of a scream before the vision fades, and I’m staring at his arm, bare but for a few shallow scratches.

Acting quickly, I reach down and tear a piece of my dress hem away, straightening again and wrapping it around the wound, tying it tight– but not too tight. “Come with me, Cain,” I say quietly. “Okay?”

He raises his eyebrows, but then sighs and shrugs. “Fine. Your father still thinks I’m an honorable man.”

I grin, at that. “Or a charming scoundrel. Hard to tell which.”

He’d appeared out of nowhere, actually, a few months back. Cain is nearly a complete unknown, foreign, from some far off kingdom where all the men have blonde hair and blue eyes, and tales are told of seraphs and angels like they’re something from legend instead of cold, hard fact. I’ve wondered about that place for a while. At least since Cain showed up.

We continue down the path until we reach the front gates, which stand there, iron and immobile. I wrap my hand in silk from my dress and touch it against the iron of the gate. It slowly slides open.

“Why do you always do that?” Cain asks.

It catches me off guard. “Do what?”

“Touch the gate with your dress.”

“I don’t like how the metal feels on my skin,” I answer. “It’s frigid at this time of the starcycle anyway.”

Cain rolls his eyes. “Pretty delicate, Iren.”

I shrug, and we move up, the gates closing behind us. The path here is cobblestone, and the courtyard is filled with willows that weep, their long strand-like leaves swaying. My dress is swaying in the wind, too, as we approach the doors. A pit of dread yawns open in my stomach. Damn Cain. If he hadn’t been hurt, I could have gotten to my room unnoticed.

Cain is the one who reaches for the doorknocker, and the boom it makes as it strikes the full metal door is probably heard for miles and miles around. Stars shine down on us, glittering in the sky as we wait there. At some point he’d slipped his hand into mine. Now I can feel its warmth and I’m glad for it.

The left door opens, and Prissy sees us in. She closes the door behind us and takes Cain’s coat. I can feel a flash of jealousy as her eyes flick down to my hand in Cain’s as she puts it away. “Your father is furious,” she says quietly. “But I thought Cain might come back with you, so you can use the guest room. It’s already spelled.”

“Actually, Prissy,” I answer quietly, “Take Cain to the infirmary. He has three scratches on his arm that will develop into a severe necrotic infection if they aren’t treated.”

Her eyes light up for a moment, then her pretty eyebrows come together and she frowns at me. Her otherwise attractive brown eyes darken with worried suspicion. “Your father…”

“I’ll deal with him,” I reply wearily. “Go.”

Cain squeezes my hand, with a sigh that sounds betrayed. I can feel his worry mix and twine with Prissy’s. “You could have told me, you know,” Cain says, without turning to look at me.

“You know you wouldn’t have believed me,” I answer quietly. “Go.”

They hesitate one second more, then proceed down the main hall and disappear to the left towards the infirmary. I take the stairs to my right, climbing one at a time, slowly. I may need to face my sire, but there’s no reason to hurry. Dread makes my legs weak. I finally reach the top step, and take a deep breath.

My father’s study is down the hall to my right. The hall is filled with tapestry, mostly, commissioned by my father for one occasion or another. The floor is loud as can be here, also commission work by my father. I’ve never heard him make a noise stepping on it, but my sandals clack on it with every step. What had the dwarf who forged them called them? Thieves’ tiles.

I reach the door to father’s study and open it, turning the golden handle and pushing my way in. It clicks closed behind me, and a spark of silver magic locks it tight. I hear Prissy’s muffled shout behind it, and then an outline of more silver magic cuts off all noise from outside the study as well. My heart is pounding in my chest.

Father is sitting behind his desk. The tip of a willow wand– held in his right hand– glistens with silver energy for a moment before it fades. It’s the wand he’s planning to sell, I bet. That’s the only reason I can think of for him to have one with him in the first place.

Father lowers the wand, setting it on the desk again. He stands and walks around in front of it, facing me. He folds his hands behind his back. Pure rage is flowing from him in waves. I have never seen him so angry. Three intensely strong visions strikes all at once.

I see him picking up the wand and hurling a bolt of silver magic towards me. I see him stride to me, hand raised to deliver a blow. I see him break down and weep and wail, tearing at his hair.

The bolt obliterates me, the hand comes down on my face, delivering a ringing slap, and the wailing tears at my heart.

I am hit with a hot wave of shame, standing before him in the once-beautiful white dress, reduced now to a dirty stained thing from my time in the alley, the hem torn from where I bound Cain’s wounded arm.

Father does none of the things from my visions, as is often the case. Instead, he nods once as I stand there, a dreadful fear clutching at my heart that aches. My whole body feels consumed by silver magic flame, the sting of that vision where he slapped me making me raise a hand to my cheek, to the red mark that surely must be forming. I wonder why my body is not blackening from the silver flame that feels like it covers every inch of me.

The pain is excruciating. I stand my ground, staring him down, shaking on my feet.

Finally he speaks. His voice is iron, and it burns and freezes my heart at the same time. The ache doubles as the emotion in his words lashes out at me like an obsidian blade.

“I am very disappointed in you, Iren.”

I feel a shudder run through me, and I can’t speak. I want to make an excuse or run, or scream and throw something, to move or to shout, but my voice won’t return to me.

His anger is searing. He doesn’t move any closer to me, but it feels like he presses me against the wall. It feels as though I am naked before his wrath. Like the silver flames have burned my dress away, leaving me bare and ashamed.

“Do you understand why?”

I hold myself, hugging my shoulders tight and shutting my eyes, unwilling, unable to talk to him at all.

“Answer me, Iren.”

The words are like blows, each one a harder than the last. I shut my eyes and finally manage to open my mouth. I can feel his fingers around my neck even though I know him to be across the room from me. I can feel those manicured nails digging into my skin. My skin will be red for days after this.

“I– I know why you are disappointed in me, Father,” I answer as clearly as I can. My voice still comes out as little more than a squeak.

“Tell me.”

I barely manage to speak at all again. My heart is beating wildly. “I d-disobeyed you. I put myself and the line of t-the kingdom in danger. I interrupted the execution and denied a criminal his last words. Again.”

“Correct. And?” That voice is blank as cold steel. Only I could detect the emotion behind it. Only I can feel the terrible anger and the bitter sorrow.

“I am the Princess of the realm. I have done wrong by the line.” Something in my words must reach him.

“You volunteered to be the Princess, Iren,” Father admonishes quietly, all hints of anger suddenly gone, leaving only sadness in its wake. “I can’t hold something you can’t control against you. I said I would make it official, and I still mean to no matter how disobedient you are. I’ve been studying up on the spells necessary. But you also must remember what that means. If I am to make this official, you still must obey me as you would your mother. You are a free spirit, but also vital to the survival of this kingdom. Do you understand that, Iren?”

“I do,” I reply quietly. “I’m sorry for disobeying you, father. It won’t happen again.”

“Come here.”

I don’t look at him as I approach. I can feel the weight of the dress around me fall away at a touch. Stinging, then, as his hands press here or there on my body, taking note of every scratch or bruise, of the stinging red mark on my cheek.  Father pauses when he reaches my belly. It’s then that I remember the rune I’d had drawn there earlier, with the hangman. We’d run out of paper, so we’d drawn it in charcoal. Just a game, really, but it’d been quite fun. Improper, of course, but I’ve never really bothered with that.

“This isn’t your handwriting,” Father notes with a frown. “Who drew this on you, Iren? Who have you let see you– as you are?”

“Well, there’s Cain,” I begin. He cuts me off.

“I already know about Cain. Who else?”

“Prissy,” I breathe, heart falling. “Azrael. Marka.”

“Prissy is your handmaid, Azrael your ex-mate and you try my patience by mentioning your old form Marka, Iren.”

I take an involuntary step back, away from his hands. He straightens and folds his arms. “I won’t tell you,” I say quietly. “You’ll hurt him.”

He blinks, at that. Then pauses. “You’ve been having visions again.”

I’m aghast. I thought he’d realized that already. “Of course. Why else would I force an execution forward?”

He sighs and shakes his head. “A man’s foolishness. I thought my daughter was being fickle and tormenting the poor hangman. I didn’t recognize it for what it was until now. Such is the nature of the curse. I hadn’t even thought of that.”

I let a creeper of hope grow in my belly.

“You are dismissed, Iren. I’m sorry.”

I breathe a sigh of relief and force myself to walk from the room. As soon as I’m outside of his study I run down the hall to my room on legs barely strong enough to hold me.

***

Cain is sitting on my bed. He stares at me as I walk in, completely naked, then sighs. “He sure doesn’t go easy, does he?”

“I don’t think my father knows the meaning of the word,” I sigh.

“Come sit by me, little seraph,” Cain says softly, beckoning me with a finger. I sit down next to him. I can feel him look me over.

“You lost your clothes,” he remarks. I collapse against him, and he tugs my head into his lap, stroking my white hair like silk. It’s not completely white. It’s streaked with brown too.

I feel Cain looking at the scars crisscrossing my back, at my pale skin, bare, blank chest, blank skin from my belly down to my feet, bare of blemishes. “How do you do that?” he asks. “Turn neutral like that. You’re not a man and not a woman, either. You don’t have any– you know, aspect.”

I stare up at him and his honest blue eyes. “Seraph,” I hazard. I’m actually not sure myself. “Maybe?”

He smiles. “So you don’t even know.”

“I’m not the one who does it. Father did it the first time,” I admit. “It was an accident that I learned how to shift back and forth. And I can’t keep it up for too long.”

“I remember that accident pretty clearly,” Cain says dryly. “I don’t know about ‘too long’. I’d say it lasts long enough.”

I almost hit him. I feel a blush creep onto my skin and take a deep breath. Though he doesn’t show it, Cain is feeling embarrassed too. I feel his thoughts drift to our night together, and give him a light nudge.

“What did Azrael have to say?” I ask quietly, after a while of somewhat awkward silence. I’m enjoying the heat of his body close to mine, but there are more important things on my mind right now.

“Hm?” Cain shakes himself out of his steamy reverie. “Nothing. He gave me a look, though. You know the one. The why-did-you-bring-wolf-scratches-to-my-attention look.”

“Mhm.”

Silence for a while. Warm, soft silence. Almost enough that I can fall asleep. I feel my eyes flutter a little, but Cain’s voice snaps me out of it again.

“That guy. He sort of gives me the creeps.”

“He’s a good guard,” I mumble.

“Yeah, sure. He’s also one of the most powerful magi in the kingdom and he’s under your father’s complete bloody control,” Cain says sharply. “If I were you I’d be worried.”

It’s my turn to smile. “You mean you’re worried for me.”

The bed creaks a little as he shifts his weight uncomfortably, but he keeps stroking my hair, as if deep in thought. Finally, he nods, when 

there’s a tremendous crash. The door to my room is crushed into splinters, shrapnel that is flung every which way, tearing through Cain in an instant and pinning him to the headboard of the bed, a spike driven into my arm, piercing me, crushing the bone on its way out the other side.

Red sprays, paints the walls, the scent of ozone and terror, the scent of viscera and rot, the feel of incredible pain that lingers forever and I lie there on the bed, bleeding out and uncaring because Cain is surely dead.

 the vision leaves me gasping, and I sit bolt upright. Cain blinks, but doesn’t say anything. He also doesn’t notice that my arm is bleeding. He can’t feel it stinging where my vision exacted its price. I tremble, then. No one in this room but me knows what I saw. The vision involves Cain, so he won’t believe me. My mind races furiously, trying to find a way around it. After what seems like an eternity I know what I need to do.

“Cain,” I breathe. “Corner. Please.”

His eyes meet mine. I know I don’t have much time. “Now?”

“Yes!” I gasp, and turn to face him fully. “Now. Right now. Okay?”

“It’s just- this bed is really comfortable,” Cain starts reluctantly, but he stands and lifts me up and gods above bless him, he carries me to the northwest corner of my room and sets me against the wall. “And how do you want to start this, Princess-” is as far as he gets before I stand up on tiptoe, using the wall for support, and kiss him on the mouth, pulling him tight against me with a desperation that is all too real.

He stiffens, though. I can feel it as I pull back from the kiss. “Iren…” he says quietly. “You’re bleeding.”

I take a chance. “Vision,” I whisper.

His eyes have a chance to widen before the door explodes outward. Wood gives way in an immense, thunderous boom, and the candlelight in the room is extinguished, plunging it into shadow. I pull Cain down on top of me, hitting the floor as quietly as I can, ducking, curling into the corner. I can see him open his mouth, but he snaps it shut again and, arms wrapped around me, gives me a quick squeeze. I watch, in the near pitch darkness, his hand stray to his sword.

It is completely silent. No sound but a soft drip-drip sort of noise

A sword erupts from Cain’s chest and pricks my middle and I scream.

Blood soaks my skin, sticky and hot.

and then vision releases me. I can’t help but sob, and I pull away from Cain and stand up. “What are you-” he starts to ask, but I don’t answer.

I erupt with radiance, bathing the room with it. I let the light shine from me with as much force as I can muster, skin slick with sweat from the effort, sucking in a breath. “Here I am!” I snap. “Come for me, if your sight is still with you!”

Five diminutive, humanoid creatures, each no more than three feet high, stand in the room with me. Their lizard-like faces show teeth as they snarl and hiss, eyes shut tight against the blaze of light that illuminates the whole room. Scaly tails flick behind them. Kobolds.

A cloaked man also stands there, eyes screwed up, hand covering his face. His other hand clutches a sword. He curses in a foreign tongue, then rattles something out in a different language like hissing and clicking. His sword is blue with blood.

Blue with Prissy’s blood. Her fey blood. Who else is fey in this house?

His eyes open, then, his hand falls away, he raises his blade. Those eyes glint at me, glint yellow.

Cain stands up and strides in front of me, sword out.

“Get Azrael!” he hisses to me over his shoulder. “Find Azrael! These can’t be all of them!”

“Like hells I will,” I whisper furiously. “There are too many for you to fight on your own.”

“Idiot-” he starts, and then snarls in frustration as the man recovers fully and lunges. Cain parries twice quickly, and–

always on the retreat, the third strike sinks into his chest to the hilt. Cain lets out a strangled gasp and collapses. The man withdraws his blade with a grunt, kicks Cain out of the way and starts towards me as I cry out.

–the vision lets me go. I knock Cain aside completely, out towards the door of the room. The tip of the man’s blade hisses in the air between us as I stumble back. Cain makes a decision– he starts for me, when a scream echoes into the room, momentarily disrupting everyone, stopping us all dead. Cain goes white. I feel his heart wrench. I feel him turn and run.

The assassin turns to me, and then I cut my radiant light off completely.

I hear him growl a curse and feel him lunge blindly, feel the shape of him moving toward me more than I see it. His emotions carve an outline of him in the air as he moves, their trails sometimes blurry and confusing, but plain as day right now. The patter of scaly feet mark the kobolds chasing after Cain.

I skip to the side of the assassin’s wild thrust, wary of that deadly blade even in the dark.

The sound of metal boots on the thieves’ tiles outside my father’s study drown out the world. When the echoes die away, all that’s left is the breathing from the assassin and me, as if we’re completely alone.

“There you are,” he whispers darkly, from what feels like right next to my ear. I know him to be in front of me, though, and his attack swings for the wall. It scatters sparks as it scrapes along the stone, and I slam into him from the side as he snarls another curse. The sword is knocked away onto the floor as I bear him to the ground, knees on his belly. I reach for his throat

and he knocks my hands aside, rolls me over onto my back and slams my head into the floor once, twice, three times. Dazed and dizzy, his leg forces mine apart, as his own hands wrap around my neck and squeeze. I can’t catch a breath, pain blazing through my body like lines, like waves, like the essence of fire itself. Shame and disgust and terror welcome me into the murky abyss as the last of my breath is squeezed from my throat in a whimper.

the vision leaves me. He knocks my dazed hands aside and rolls over on top of me, but as he tries to put a leg between mine, I beat him to it and slam my knee into his crotch as hard as I can. My throat is sore even though he hasn’t touched it truly, but he gurgles and collapses to the side with something like a whimper and a wheeze.

The kind of idiot assassin who attempts rape in the middle of a castle full of unknowns is the same type that would want to make the act as convenient as possible. A codpiece would be out of the question for such a man. I crawl, then stand and stagger away, shining again as bright as I can, sweat running down my bare belly, arms, cheeks, dripping from my nose as I push power out from me for the third time this day. I need to see.

My sight, blurred, clears quickly. The sword is only a few feet away.

I pick up the sword, and the man on the floor, curled in a fetal position, gets a split second of hesitation too much from me. He struggles to his feet, and as I start for him, stumbles to the nearest window and crashes through it in a shower of beautiful, glittering shards. I run to the arched window, heedless of glass that fell around it, and hear a shouted word like slick darkness. By the time I can search for him, all that’s left is a puff of brimstone.

I release my power, letting the light fade to a glow, and, hand still wrapped around the hilt of the sword, I manage to make it out the door and into the hall. I remember hearing the metal boots on the tiles before my father’s study. I remember hearing the scream. It came from the infirmary and I’ve no doubt in my mind it belonged to Prissy. The kobolds ran after Cain and I know he didn’t have time to see them.

I dart down the hall to the stairs, taking the steps four at a time and doing my best not to let the sword slide into my thigh. It’s a long thing with sharp edges and a plain, joyless hilt. To skewer someone with such a weapon would be dull and soulless. It’s perfect for an assassin, though why he would use a sword rather than an easily concealable dagger is beyond me. Perhaps he’d been an amateur.

I run down the main hall– the doors are wide open!– hearing a shout from behind me, two voices raised as one. I recognize neither of them, so I drop to my hands and knees at the last second as I turn to the hall Prissy took Cain to.  There’s a thrum and a moment later an audible thunk as a bolt slams into the wood, head height, just above my eartip as I crawl, staggering to my feet and running again. The infirmary and the kitchen, left and right. I reach for the left door 

and, rushing in, skewer myself on Cain’s sword, collapsing with the barest of gasps and slipping into darkness eternal in mere moments, my blood pooling on the floor, Cain pleading with me to come back, to stay with him, shouting, helplessly trying to staunch the dreadful wound with one, both hands.

and open it carefully as I can, easing it back and stepping through. My chest is slick with sweat and blood from a cut that stings bitterly. It’s a deeper price than usual, and the flow is constant.

Cain greets me with a hug rather than a sword, squeezing me tight and letting out a big, helpless sob into my shoulder.

For my part I hug him back. It smells of charred flesh in here, and I look around him to see Prissy smiling weakly, waving a hand. It’s smeared with blue blood, bleeding slowly. It looks like she stopped a sword with it. Around her are five charred kobolds, scales rent by lightning. Prissy’s left hand is clenched, and sparks crackle around it in a cloud. Most fey have some power over electricity.

An almighty crash makes all three of us jump. Someone new has discovered the thieves’ tiles, I think. We huddle together in the infirmary, Prissy and I sitting on the farthest bed, Cain at the door with his sword at the ready.

“What happened?” I ask, voice raw. My throat still aches.

“A man came in– at least, I think it was a man,” Prissy starts weakly. Her dress is torn in half a dozen places. She’d be exposed were it not for her arm over her chest. “He had a wolf’s head and claws– big, long, claws. He had another man with him who tried to cut me, but I– stopped his sword. The first one, oh gods– Iren, he slashed at me with those claws and tore up my dress. He scratched me once and said that was enough, and then he left. He just left! He said he had other business to take care of, and said he’d be back for me. I couldn’t even scream until he and his– his friend left! I couldn’t say anything!”

I nod, letting out a sigh. I stare at Prissy’s wound hard for a while, daring another vision to hit, but it doesn’t. Nothing bad will come of it then, I hope.

I look around and nearly jump as I catch sight of a man, dead on the bed across from the one Prissy and I sit on. At least, I assume he’s dead. His chest is rent open. I note that he seems to be bald, and that his glazed eyes are brown. She nods at it and takes in a shuddering breath before she speaks.

“Cain killed that one. Ran him through. He– was going to attack me after they left. These men are monsters, Iren,” she adds with a grimace. “Complete scum. I hope your father kills them all.”

My father.

I stand up straight and stare at the wall a moment. “Father,” I breathe. “Damn!”

I dart to the door. Cain stops me with one hand, eyes fixed on it. “Don’t, Irenna.”

He must feel my eyes boring into the back of his head. “What do you mean?”

“I mean don’t run off. Whoever went after your father was well aware of what he was capable of. If you run back out there- well, think about it.”

I do. I take a moment to think about it, to wonder about the pain it would cause him if I were killed. I stare at nothing for a few moments, then snap my eyes shut and lean against Cain’s shoulder, feeling helpless. “What can I do?”

“Stay here where it’s safe.” 

The door bursts open. A snarling creature with a wolf’s face, the monster the criminal would have become, charges in. Cain shouts, runs it through with his blade, and it pauses but a moment before smashing him aside with one huge fist, knocking him away, grabbing me around the waist, growling and then fleeing, black blood running down its chest. 

“Cain-” I start. There must be something I can do to change his mind. There must be some way I can help Father. And

 the door bursts open. A snarling creature with a wolf’s face, the monster the criminal would have become, charges in. Cain shouts, runs it through with his blade, but it disembowels him with one swipe. I am not in the room.

It starts on Prissy next and her shriek wrenches at me from my unseen vantage point.

— I clutch at my head and sink to my knees, trying to block out the visions, opening my eyes to see Cain staring down at me with sudden concern.

“Iren? Irenna? Are you okay?”

Three more visions hit, to no avail. In two I am gone from the room. They end in the death of Cain and Prissy without exception. In the third, we all three leave the room only to be met by the beast in the hall. It kills Cain and Prissy both, who were in front of me to protect me, then snatches me and runs.

— There is no way out of this. No way out but one.

“Cain, back away from the door,” I say quietly. I straighten and stand. I know my legs are trembling and I don’t care. “Please.”

He stares down at me. I look up into his eyes, sapphire blue, framed by blonde hair he always lets grow too long. His face is sharp, but smooth, free of scars. Prissy likes her men with scars.

I lean up, standing on tiptoes again, and kiss him on the lips, lingering for as long as I feel is safe, the warmth of his mouth on mine making me wish I could stay longer. As I draw back I feel my heart sink. I can almost feel the burning rage of that man who should have died near the gallows. I can almost feel the burning, inhuman fury that will come for me. It seems to surround me, even as Cain wraps his arms around me and mashes me tight against him, relaxing only when I push at him.

“Iren-”

“Don’t follow,” I whisper. “Or you’ll get yourself killed. Find Azrael. He’ll know what to do.”

“Like hells-” he starts, but doesn’t get to finish as I shove him aside, throwing him out of the way.

The door bursts open, and an apparition from living nightmare takes me.

***

The ride is rough. The wolf-beast drags me along with brutal force, this creature that once was a man. I’d just managed to pull myself up onto its swinging arm and cling, because it’s either that or risk it trying to catch me again and killing me. Weak as I am from losing blood to visions and the exhaustion of the day, I am certain that I won’t be killed yet.

We pass through the woods surrounding the castle, dragged away from the safety of the courtyard. I struggle for breath. Its hand is around my throat. Twice I watch the sky painted with purple suffocation, barely hanging on to consciousness. Twice I fight stars back and dig my hands into the furred one around my neck.

Finally the nightmarish journey is over, and it stands in front of a man I recognize. His axe is set with the handle in the dirt and his hand on the head. He gives me a cheerful nod. The wolf-creature throws me at his feet.

“So the tracking rune did work,” he says nonchalantly. As if he had always been able to speak. “Among other things.”

“How-” I start weakly. I cough suddenly, helplessly. My throat aches horribly and I find it hard to speak. “Who are you?”

“Isn’t that much obvious, little seraph?” the hangman asks quietly. “Don’t you recognize your old ex?”

His form shifts and swims before me. A young man, as tall as the sky, bathed in black radiance, stands before me. His axe turns into a staff. In one hand he holds a small, broken piece of charcoal, which he tosses at my feet. Azrael smiles a wicked smile. My heart stops, frozen solid in my chest.

“No,” I spit, snapping the word out into the starlight. “I don’t recognize you.”

“Pity,” he says. Stands of golden power gather around me and lift me up, locking my limbs out spreadeagled and bare in front of him. I stare at him steadily. “Do you know why I brought you here, Marka?”

“Address me as Irenna,” I say coldly.

“At risk of sounding terribly cliché, you’re hardly in a position to demand anything from anyone. I asked you a question, and–” he flicks his fingers. Arcing, hot, sickening pain spears through me once and then fades slowly. “I expect an answer.”

I endure the pain soundlessly, lips tight together. “I don’t know why you brought me here,  servant, but Orion–”

“Don’t call me that, Mark– or Iren, if you’d prefer,” he snarls. I notice his fingers flex, but no pain follows and I breathe a short sigh of relief that I know he can hear even if he pretends not to notice. “I am no one’s servant any longer. Your father can’t stop my freedom.”

“If you’re going to monologue,” I say wearily. “Get it over with so I can die and I don’t need to listen to your idiocy anymore. Azrael.”

We glare at one another for a time, but he doesn’t answer. “You know people have died for you,” I snap. “At least one assassin and a hand of blameless kobolds.”

Azrael raises his eyebrows. “I paid for no such thing. The only agent I sent was Kharn. I knew of no attack planned for the night.”

I blink, at that. “You didn’t call any assassins?”

“No, I didn’t. I swear on my honor as a sorcerer of the ninth degree.”

I roll my eyes at that. “Fine, I believe you. Curious that they’d strike the same night as you. Prissy said that Kharn was associating with one of them.”

“It was mere lucky circumstance that I was able to imprint a tracking rune on you tonight,” Azrael says with a shrug. “Ideally it would be placed at a time when you were vulnerable, so I could imprint the spell and remain undetected. I thought about capturing you then and there, but in a crowded square with so many people? Many of them higher order sorcerers, come to see this famous criminal killed? Such a blatant display of raw talent would have gotten me killed, surely. As to why Kharn would work with one of them– that is most curious. Perhaps they were associated when Kharn was alive? I gave him no orders about dealing with your allies. I’d expected the castle to be relatively empty.”

As he talks, I grow more and more puzzled. He’s not lying. I’d feel it if he was.

“I admire your tenacity, by the way, for holding onto that sword all this time,” Azrael remarks dryly. “Quite strong willed. Doesn’t it burn?”

“I’m only half seraph,” I say plainly, a little confused. “My mother was human. If I was full it would burn. It just stings a bit, that’s all. I’m used to that.”

Azrael blinks, then his eyes widen. “Half-seraph? Your mother was human? You mean-“

A beam of incandescent light bursts from the sky and smites Azrael to ash where he stands. He hasn’t even a chance to breathe or think or cast a spell.

“Azrael!” I shout as the vision leaves me, spots still shining in my eyes, half-blinded. “Move! Father is here! I had a vision!”

I’m not sure what possesses me to say it. Whether it’s lingering attraction or idiocy or some foolish sense of justice. I can’t just let him die. I can’t do it.

Instead of moving, Azrael calmly stands there, facing me, an expression of disbelief clouding his face, a face darkened by hate at the mere mention of Father. “Hm?”

A bolt of bright light lances down from the sky, but I observe Azrael spinning before it even appears. He deflects it with the wave of his hand, sending it refracting harmlessly over the town with a brilliant flash.

Orion, my father, gazes at Azrael where the sorcerer stands. He stares down at the human in quiet solemnity, hovering there in midair. His wings are out, fully extended– though he doesn’t need to move them to fly– his eyes flaring with light, silver power sparkling over his hands. He is dressed only in robes as always, and the wind catches his golden hair.

“You dare to steal my daughter from me?” Orion asks, in a voice like a hundred starshine swords.

“I do dare,” Azrael says amicably. “Anything to pull you from that nasty study of yours. Filled with so many tricks and traps, that you nearly never leave.”

“How did you do it?” Orion thunders. “How could you? She is the last of my line. Would you truly jeopardize everything I’ve held dear in favor of some… childish prank?

“Is that what you think this is?” Azrael asks now, his voice dangerously quiet. “I’m merely claiming my freedom, as is my right as a humanborn sorcerer. No longer will I bow to you.”

I sigh audibly. Both of them shoot me withering looks, and I roll my eyes again and just hang there. Far be it from me to interrupt. I turn my attention to the golden magic surrounding my limbs. Azrael has always been one for intricate magic. And powerful though he is, I’m half seraph. There’s something I can do without even needing to wrestle with it. I can understand it.

I burrow into it, past walls of it, through columns of intricate formulae that all boil down to one thing: Capture. There isn’t much I can do with that. It’s what is sealing the movement of my limbs, and it seems to be a closed loop. There’s nowhere to put a new equation into the mix even if I knew how. I turn my attention to the wellspring of power that it comes from. Failing to find that, I stare at Azrael’s undead servant.

It’s being funneled to by a series of complex necromantic magic equations, all relying on one thing– that the creature being controlled is a werewolf, and that it is dead. Both apply to Kharn, Azrael’s current pet. It’s a simple tag system. I’ve seen enough of Azrael’s charms to recognize it.

Kharn is tagged ‘dead’ and ‘werewolf’, ergo it is both dead and a werewolf. It has a few other extraneous tags that don’t do anything much. Since it’s both dead and a werewolf it can and is affected by the control spell. There should be a similar cluster of tags around me.

I am tagged many things at once. In my head, I can see the shape of the golden magic wrapped around my arms and legs.

They are tagged ‘seraph’, ‘radiant’ and ‘genderless’, because I guess Azrael doesn’t like a lack of thoroughness. ‘Genderless’ nags at me.

How do you do that?

I smile, remembering Cain’s words. Just long enough, huh?

I take a deep breath. Azrael and Orion are still talking. I don’t think they’ve flung any spells at each other yet, for which I’m thankful.

With barely a thought, I change. I shift from neutral to female. I focus all my power inward and let the change hit, concentrating on that and just that. I am a girl. A young seraph woman. Girl. Everything that makes me me is the same. I’m just a girl. A daughter. Father’s daughter. Orion’s daughter.

I am Irenna.

Not for long, of course. It’s too chilly to be full female for very long.

Chains of golden power evaporate as the new tag is read. The formula holding his spell together collapses, the waveform dissolving. I hear a snarl behind me and whirl.

Kharn is not being held by the spell anymore. It was a dependent spell loop. It was relying on the fact that I was being tracked. Without further instruction, Kharn is released. I take all that in in just one second, and it’s still almost not quick enough.

Kharn’s claws come down on the ground in front of me, right where I was a moment before. I roll back to my feet, breath catching in my throat. Its eyes are burning with fury. I can feel its anger. “Oh,” I say quietly. “Right.”

It leaps for me.

A helix of silver and gold magic, incomprehensible in its complexity, spirals past me and drives itself into Kharn’s open, snarling mouth. The undead abomination flashes into golden sparks and silver shards of stone, then fades into motes of dust.

I glance over at Azrael and Orion. Both of them have faces of cold, concentrated anger, but this time directed at the few sparkling motes that remain to show Kharn ever existed. Slowly, they turn to look at one another. I half-expect them to deny that they worked together, but they don’t. They simply stand there, shoulder to shoulder, Azrael’s left arm against Orion’s right. They lower their arms with an almost comical simultaneity. I burst out laughing, and then cry until I can’t stand anymore.

***

The castle is dark in its courtyard, as Azrael, Orion and I all appear from thin air. Two men, the only souls about and standing before the main door, are there to greet us. They shout, one drops a sword, the other raises a crossbow. Golden magic flashes out like lightning and melts the crossbow to ash. The man screams a curse and flings its remnants down before kissing the dirt in an almost sickening reversal, cowering before the wrath sure to follow. Azrael’s short black hair and his impressive stature spell doom for any who know of our castle. These men must be foreigners. Like Cain, they can’t be part of this kingdom.

The man who dropped his sword struggles to pick it up again, sees Azrael’s cold, furious face, and thinks better of it. He gets down on his knees and keeps his hands out, empty and for all to see.

“One escaped,” I say. “He spoke a word I didn’t recognize and disappeared. I think it was infernal magic, though.”

“Brimstone?” Azrael asks quietly.

“Yes. I’m sure you consider this irrelevant, but what did you do with the old executioner?” I ask. I have a feeling I know the answer, but I do want to know.

“He’s sleeping at home,” Azrael replies smoothly. “Before you ask, I’d never impersonated him once before today.”

I breathe a sigh of relief.

Orion strides inside impatiently, and Azrael and I follow after him.

Prissy stands just inside the door, sparks coalescing in her hands. When she sees Orion, though, she lets them fade. As he stalks past her, she grabs his shoulder to get his attention. I wince, but she seems determined. “Sir, please– it’s Cain!”

Orion stops dead. “Cain?”

“He’s turning– I thought it was just wolf scratches at first, but–”

Orion frowns, then sighs. “Ah. I’ll deal with this personally. Azrael, can you take Iren up to my study?”

“Yes. As a friend?”

“As a friend,” Orion says warily. “I release you from my service, Azrael, here and now, and later officially.”

“Then certainly,” Azrael replies dryly. “Let us go there at once.”

He wraps an arm around my waist. Orion arches an eyebrow, then sighs and nods. He turns and heads towards the infirmary, Prissy following after him.

Azrael teleports us directly outside the door to the study, and for once we bypass the horrid thieves’ tiles. I’m thankful. I have a splitting headache. 

Azrael opens the door, and a bolt hurtles right through him and keeps going. Blood sprays all over me. Lovely.

— I push Azrael aside and open the door, shifting away from the center and letting it swing in fully. I hear the thrum and watch the bolt zip past on its way down the hall, then I stride into the study. “Alright,” I snarl. “I’ve had enough of this.”

The assassin from earlier feverishly attempts to load a crossbow, covered in cuts from where he burst through my window. Or should I say thief?

I think I have it figured out now. “It was a setup.”

Azrael steps up beside me and then sighs, flinging a bolt of power at the thief who drops the crossbow, tries to scramble to his feet, and turns to stone as the golden magic wraps around him.

“Do tell,” Azrael murmurs. “How, exactly, were we set up?”

I shake my head. “There was a man at the execution. Talk to father about it. I bet you anything this is that same man. I didn’t get a good look at him, but I bet you he is. He’s quite incompetent, actually. But he knew Kharn. I think they worked together and he talked to Kharn when he got here. He also hired those two men at the front gates. They couldn’t talk to us, but I bet you anything they could talk to him. They speak the same language.”

My ex-mate arches an eyebrow and smiles. “Is that so?”

I nod and suddenly feel a yawn coming on. I cover it with my hand and let out a sigh instead. “Yes. You know, for a man who planned to kill my father and punishes impertinence with pain, you aren’t really that bad,” I half-tease. I’m quite tired.

Azrael blinks. “Pain?”

I stare at him. “You hit me with a wave of it earlier. When you captured me. It wasn’t that long ago.”

“I what? I… oh, I must have tagged it incorrectly,” he says lamely. “I can’t imagine why.”

Jealousy is flashing through him, but I’m too tired to argue the point. It’s just one more thing to worry about, and I honestly don’t want to worry about it anymore. In a moment, Father will be here, and there will be more questions. I resolve to let Azrael answer them.

When I wake up, I’m sitting in the chair before his desk, listening to Orion and Azrael talk. My nose is stuffy and I’m pretty sure I’ve caught something nasty.

***

Days pass, as they are wont to do when you spend a week recovering from a cold. I really should have thought to put on clothes before I was captured by a monster.

***

“Thieves,” Father says quietly. “Are truly the worst of humanity.”

It’s the tenth lecture of the week. We’d buried the man and the kobolds in the castle cemetery, more out of pity than any true obligation. The statue of the thief, complete with petrified wand, are on display in the courtyard. Cain put a sign around his neck reading, ‘Restore me and I’ll steal my way out of your debt!’

I think it’s a bit too long winded for a prank, but Cain cracks up every time he sees it, and it did make me giggle a little, I’ll admit.

It’s the morning, and I’m sitting together with Cain. Prissy is busying herself about the castle, tidying, while we sit in the main dining hall. Azrael had left in the morning, off to study his own spells for a month or two. Honestly I don’t mind. He’s a good enough guy, but it would be awkward having him around with Cain here too. I don’t know what to make my my feelings for either of them, but Cain has at least never sent giant undead werewolves after me. Can I say as much for Azrael? I think not. Plus, I’d gathered that he hadn’t helped Cain when he was first approached, even though he could easily recognize them as werewolf scratches. Someone as jealous as that I’m sure I left for a reason.

I’m not even really listening to Father, but I nod every once in a while to show I’m an obedient girl. In a few more days it’ll even be official. I smile at that.

“Cain?” I ask quietly, so only he can hear.

“Mm?” he answers, obviously trying to at least pretend to pay attention to Orion. I can see his eye flick towards me, though, and take it as an affirmation.

“Stay here a while longer, before you head back to the embassy,” I say softly. “Before you go home.”

“I wasn’t planning on leaving,” Cain replies, his voice barely above a whisper. His deep blue eyes meet mine. There, in front of Father and the rising, radiant sun, we kiss. We don’t even stop when he coughs. He can just deal with it.

The vision before me is so sweet I could cry.

—-

©2012 Sam Oliver (Eris)

—-

It’s done. I didn’t know I wanted to write it until early this morning. It took hours and hours. It’s done. Enjoy.

<3s,

Eris

Poem: Elf Lord

I know a man

With silver eyes

Whose heart is cold as snow

 

He’s trapped within a golden globe

Where other men can’t go

 

He loves to listen to all the girls

Sing their pretty songs

 

But try as he may

Try as he might

He cannot sing along

 

I know a man

With silver eyes

Whose heart is still as stone

 

He courted me

And gave me this

A child

Not flesh and bone

 

I raised her up

As best as I may

And hoped only

For the best

 

But father’s call

Has grown too strong

I fear she will not rest

 

She’ll scour the earth

For to find

Herself a human spouse

 

Her silver eyes

Forever behind

A veil

Not a blouse

 

I know a girl

With sylvan eyes

Who wears the guise of a man

 

She’s my daughter

Through and through

I love her

However

I can.

——–

 

 

 

©2012 Sam Oliver (Eris)

—–

 

What, can’t I enjoy writing simple sylvan poetry??? Does it have to be epically long every time??? Pish posh!

My, Sam, such harsh language. You’ll scare your readership away.

Anyway. Enjoy.

<3s,

Eris

Short Story: Silver and Steel

“Kinley’s, if you’d please,” the warrior says quietly. He shifts the copper piece towards the middle of the table and gives me an appraising look as I reach down to gather it up.

His gloved hand touches mine as I draw it away, and for just one moment I glare at him. It had been on purpose, I’m sure. He’d been a moment from gripping it and pulling me closer. His coin in hand, I sigh and turn to head back up to the counter. I can feel his blue eyes laughing at my back.

Ignoring the man, I take the copper to Joesa. “A pint of Kinley’s.”

Joe’s eyebrows shoot up, then narrow. “Is he sober?”

“I assume that’s why he wants the Kinley’s,” I reply and then sigh. “I don’t understand why he needs me to get it. He has legs, right?”

Joe shrugs his thin shoulders, and those knowing brown eyes meet mine. “Probably to watch you walk, Tam. I can’t imagine anyone actually likes the drinks here. Nowadays I think they must just come here to watch your hips.”

I’d blush, but I’m still thoroughly put off by the soldier in armor back at his table. “Funny. Give me the damn pint so he can forget all about me.”

Joesa shrugs again, reaching under the counter and slapping a tankard of the thick brew down in front of me. I pick it up and bring it over to the soldier. He’s the only one in the Inn right now aside from me and Joe. The quip about him forgetting me was mostly a joke. I know when I look at him that as he looks at the table he’s already mulling over taking me to his room for the night. I don’t bother looking enthusiastic, either, as I set the tankard down on the table and as, once again, his hand touches mine.

This time, however, it lingers, and cursing myself for an idiot, I stay.

“Is there a problem, sir?” I ask in my there-is-a-problem voice. I don’t recognize the coat of arms on his plate, but I do recognize the bloodstains on his mailed arm. I’ve seen enough soldiers to know when one has seen too much.

This man isn’t like that. I can tell when his blue eyes flash amusement, when his mouth opens and his white face brightens. He has brown hair somewhere under that helmet. I can see wisps of it hanging in front of his face. “Tam, right?”

I know my face is blank. I don’t bother voicing it. Of course that’s my name. Everyone in the town knows my name.

“Would you like to go for a ride?” He asks, in what might just be the worst pick-up line I’ve heard in years. Either that or he’s serious. I stare at his expression for a moment.  Before I even know what’s happening, I nod.

It occurs to me, as I walk back to Joesa and he rolls his eyes, that I don’t really know for certain what he meant. Joesa hands me an apple, which I slip into the pouch I always wear at my side. “You might get hungry,” he says dryly. “Riding can take it out of you.”

I just give him a blank stare, and he shoos me away.

I walk right back to the table. The wooden floor creaks under me. Really I need to get rid of the squeaky boards one of these days. I don’t think Joe can even lift a hammer. I wait until the soldier is done sipping his pint of Kinley’s before I even open my mouth.

“Outside, on my horse,” the man interrupts me, answering my unspoken demand for information before it passes my lips. “She’s a good one. I promise she won’t bite. I can pay you for your time.”

His face is without any facial hair whatsoever and smooth but for a jagged scar that runs from his cheek down his chin. His eyes are sparkling blue and mischievous. There’s blood on his armor, and it’s some kind of metal I’ve never seen before. It shines like silver. I have a dozen questions, and I open my mouth to spit one of them out, but somewhere in my head the signal gets lost and instead I just nod and walk out the door into the outside, trance-like.

His horse is outside. It isn’t tethered or anything. It’s just standing there in the fading light of evening. That’s another thing to wonder about. Who goes for rides this close to dark?

It’s an immense horse. It isn’t barded with armor either, and doesn’t have a saddle or anything. It shifts its head to look at me. I hear Joesa shout something out at me. Something like ‘Have fun’, I think. The horse’s skin is black as true midnight- or would be if it weren’t striped with white. I have never seen a mare this large. Its hooves are near the size of my head.

I hear the clatter of boots on the wooden floor behind me. “Not going to stand there all day, are you?” he asks, his voice gentle. “I thought you wanted to go for a ride.”

I step out and around the horse, wondering if I could even mount the thing. Wondering also how I could go about it. She stamps a great hoof into the dust and snorts, as if reading my mind and laughing.

Then I watch the soldier vault onto her back.

“Saddle?” I mumble weakly.

“She won’t wear one,” He replies, grinning. “I won’t let you fall.”

He reaches down for me. The part of me that trusts in common sense slams its head against its mental prison as I grasp his hand and let him pull me up in front of him. I’m honestly glad I wear breeches and not a skirt. The metal of his armor is cold against my back- through the blouse. I shiver. He reaches around me to grasp the reins. Now my arms are cold too. I don’t know where to grip without a saddle. I can feel the muscle of the mare under me ripple. Her skin is soft as I reach down to stroke her mane, but I’m not even really thinking about it. I brush her neck, and one of her ears flicks. She looks back at me, rolling an eye to stare.

Her eyes are intense enough to drown in. They’re silver- true silver, like the truth of the midnight skin she bears. It’s a little disconcerting how intelligent she feels.

After a moment, though, she turns back and I hear a clucking noise near my ear. Without so much as a tug of the reins, the mare starts to move. I cling to the mane without even meaning to, but I don’t know why I worry. The horse moves with enough grace that it’s almost like floating as she picks up speed.

In a moment, the world I know is spread out before me. In another, it’s falling behind.

I watch the Inn recede for the first few minutes, as we continue down the road away from the town. It takes me a moment to understand exactly what I’m seeing, and a few more minutes of my conscience jumping up and down screaming to get my attention.

I squeeze the horse’s neck. “Stop!”

To my utter amazement, the man tugs on the reigns lightly and the horse slows down- not completely, but to a steady walk instead of a canter.

“Is there a problem, Tam?” the soldier asks me quietly.

I look around, feeling awake for the first time and very conscious of his metal presence behind me, the coolness of steel and that odd metal against the too-thin fabric of my blouse. “Where are we going?” I demand. “Where are you taking me?”

By this time the Inn is a dot back behind us and the haze of the town on the plains is barely visible. Ahead the road becomes a crossroads.

The plains stretch on to either side of us, but the dark brown blotch of a forest is visible along the left path of the upcoming crossroads, and along the right I recognize an old shack rumored to be inhabited by a witch. It sticks out starkly from beside the road.

“To that hut over there. Is that alright? It won’t take long.”

His words should trigger all manner of alarms, but instead they make me shiver, and not from the cold. I don’t like the sound of it at all, but I don’t complain again. My conscience finally just stops talking. It’s obvious my mind isn’t about to listen to the last vestiges of my reason.

The horse doesn’t pick up the pace. It’s eerily silent, and I wonder at how a horse can make so little noise. The only real sound is the clink of the soldier’s armor clattering together every once in a while.

After another minute of the walk, the shack is growing closer, now quite visible and obviously abandoned. The warrior clicks his tongue agan. Muscles ripple under me as the horse steps off the road and then stops completely. We’re still a little walk away from the shack.

The armored man slides off, lifting a plated leg over his horse’s back and dropping down onto the dry, dead grass. I follow suit. Dismounting I can do. I’m not a complete idiot.

Finally, now that I’m off of his magnificent horse, I realize what I’ve forgotten. “Who are you?” I ask.

I feel like he might be ignoring me at first, but then he shrugs, still facing away from me. “Sar’Neal.”

“That’s a gnome name, isn’t it?” I ask. I can’t see what he’s so hesitant for. He nods once, shortly, and that’s the end of it. I should be relieved I guessed right, but I get the feeling I could have said anything and he’d have nodded.

Sar’Neal approaches the hut and beckons me after him. I notice that he keeps his hand on the hilt of his weapon where it rests in its sheath. The dead grass is thick around my legs, tugging at me, almost like it actively resists my feet. I push on through though. It’s then that I notice Sar’Neal stepping over it, through it without the slightest difficulty. In fact, the dead grass which seems like it tangles me, presents him with no resistance at all, almost recoiling from his shining metal boots. A tingling starts at the base of my neck and works its way down to my butt. Something isn’t right. Why should metal boots make him immune?

We draw closer to the shack. It’s truly run down. The wood is rotten, the windows smashed and the interior is unlit and abandoned. The whole thing is covered in dust. We make our way to the front of it, and that’s when Sar’Neal turns to me.

“I need your help,” Sar’Neal says slowly. His voice isn’t as deep as it was in the tavern. I don’t know why I notice that, of all things. It makes the tingling worse.

I stare at him. “Huh?”

He unclips his sheath and hands his sword to me. For a moment I just stare at it, open-mouthed. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. It’s not too heavy, after lifting tankards and waiting on people most of my life. It’s a short sword, too, I can tell because the sheath is small. Joesa has a proper sword, a memento from one war or another, battered and scarred and longer than my whole arm. I couldn’t even lift that one. This one is light. I almost wonder if it’s made of metal, and I draw it out of the sheath awkwardly to check.

It shines like his armor can’t. I was wrong. The armor is like wrought iron in comparison with this blade. This is true silver, like the horse’s eyes. It glitters and shines, sparkling intensely in the dim light of the evening. I have to screw up my eyes to even look at it directly, and I fumble with it. I don’t drop it– grim determination and too much experience with spilled drinks helps there– but I come damn close to stabbing myself in my own foot.

Finally I get it back in the sheath. Sar’Neal hands me a belt, too, pulling it from a pouch on his belt. I don’t comment on how he managed to stuff a belt in such a small bag. I’m familiar enough with magic to know it when I see it, and I don’t bother gawking either. Instead, I fasten the belt around my waist and attach the sword sheath. The weight of it is weird on my hip, but it makes me feel just a tiny bit better about myself. I feel a glimmer of silly pride. It isn’t even my sword.

The soldier smiles at me, but his face turns serious as I finish and look up at him. I bet without his boots he wouldn’t be so tall. He’s only a couple of inches taller than me with them on.

“Underneath that shack is a woman no man can slay,” Sar’Neal says quietly. “She holds power over all those who have known the pleasures of a woman’s touch. Whether she is sorceress or witch or malignantly possessed, no one can say.”

I stare at him dubiously. “So you want me to kill her.”

He laughs. “No. I want you to distract her so she can’t bewitch me. I’ll deal with her directly. Like I said before, I can pay you for your time.”

I hesitate a moment. A tiny voice in my head whispers, When will you have the chance to do this again?

I open my mouth to say never, and catch myself just in time. I close it again and, resigning myself to looking stupid, just nod. Sar’Neal pats me on the shoulder reassuringly. “Follow, then.”

He brushes past me and opens the door to the shack. It seems like it should fall apart in his fingers, but it opens and, as he takes a step inside, he vanishes.

I hesitate a moment longer before I make up my mind and follow after.

It’s like walking through a hundred spiderwebs. Something of it clings to me, and the world spins around me a moment. When I get my bearings again, I’m staring at the inside of an earthen room. There’s a tingling and then a light, piercing pain in my ears for a moment. I swallow, and the pain recedes, leaving me with a headache. The earth seems to press all around here. The walls to the room bear roots and are composed of brown and black soil. I turn- there’s a blazing light from behind me to act as a torch. It flickers frantically.

I look down with a sense of foreboding. Sar’Neal is nowhere to be seen, but there is a ring of speckled red mushrooms around my feet. On a suspicion, I slip a hand into the pocket of my breeches and, removing the apple Joe gave me, I bite a piece of it off for comfort. Acting on intuition, I toss the remaining whole of it outside of the ring. It falls too fast and the white of its flesh turns brown with age in a mere moment. Well.

That explains where Sar’Neal went. I wonder if he even noticed time accelerating or the flicker of the light?

I step out of the fey ring of fungus, swallowing my bite of apple. As I walk out, I make sure not to look back, instead bending down and picking up the apple I’d tossed. Well, no getting out this way again. Not without terrible luck– barring the ceiling collapsing and flooding this place with natural light, I can’t think of any way to rid myself of it right now, either. My only choice is to move forward.

On closer inspection, though the exposed flesh of the fruit is browned, it isn’t rotten. It can’t have been that long. There isn’t any time for relief, though. On the far side of the room is a veiled doorway. Beyond, flickering shapes dart here or there. I feel like running, but I force myself to move slowly. My intuition saved me once.

Before the doorway stand two pedestals. On top of one there is a necklace of silver that glimmers in the glow from the doorway I’d entered from. On the other is a ring of metal that seems to be like the armor Sar’Neal wears. I already have a necklace on. I finger it thoughtfully. It’s not made of silver, but hardwood. It has a symbol of fertility attached to it in the form of the faerie queen, given to me by my granny before I left to help Joesa with the Inn. I think she wanted me to have children with Joe. Or maybe just anyone. Hard to tell, with granny.

The symbol is said to bring the queen’s favor.

My hand hovers over the other necklace where it lies still on its pedestal. I pull it away suspiciously. It’s my intuition again. I have a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach just thinking about putting it on, or even taking it off its pedestal.

I decide to listen to it this time, too, and I leave the necklace where it lies. The ring is too much to resist, though. I take it from its resting place and resolve to give it to Sar’Neal next chance I get. Or at least show it to him. I’m curious as to what the metal is.

Pocketing the ring in my pouch, I push the veil aside from the door and pass through. A chill runs through me as I  step into the hall beyond.

It’s pitch black. The glow behind me is gone.

No, not completely black. Flickers of light flit about here or there like lightning bugs, but not brightly enough for me to see consistently. I lift my hand in front of my face, but can’t even make out my fingers. There’s a smell here, like old hatred and decaying plants. It overwhelms and stifles me, almost oppressive.

“Sar’Neal?” I ask the darkness. It swallows the sound greedily, drinking it down and giving nothing back.

For a few moments, I am left entirely in silence. Then a shout echoes through the dark, bounces behind me, and disappears into nothing. “Tam!”

My heart goes cold. It sounds like Sar’Neal’s voice. And it sounds like he’s in trouble.

I hesitate, staring into the blackness a moment. I could trip and fall. I could stumble into a pit. I could be struck by any number of traps. Intuition is useless in the dark.

I take a few steps forward, trying to edge along the wall of the hallway, feeling the earth under my shoe’d feet give way into a yawning pit not even a span from where I started. I gulp, grip the wall, and slide around the edge of that terrible gap. With each shuffling step  I’m sure I’ll fall in, sure that at any moment the wall will be too wide, or turn into an overhang instead of a flat surface and push me right off, sure the whole world is spinning. I simply can’t see- only the occasional mad flicker of light shows where my feet are, or where the hole in the earth is.

After an eternity of hell, edging one foot after the other, I reach the other side and plant my feet carefully, one after the other, down the hall. It’s then that I hear Sar’Neal’s cry again. It seems nowhere as deep as I remember it. There’s something almost- musical to it that I don’t quite understand.

Intuition be damned, I run down the hallway. I can’t see at all– until I remember the sword in its sheath, and I stop, leaning against the wall to try to catch my breath. I fumble for it, find the hilt, and draw it out awkwardly. As soon as it’s free of the scabbard, it flares into brilliance, and the hallway is filled with light.

I recoil from the wall. The ‘earth’ I’d been touching is dried blood, and the floor is soil and bone. Shaking and shivering, and somehow feeling more vulnerable than ever, even with the light to see by, I hear a scream echo down the hall from Sar’Neal. Outrage. Pain.

My legs are shaking, and now my conscience screams at me to flee, even as every other part of me urges me forward.

I make my way down the hall again, shutting down my conscience’s fears, even as it whispers that anything strong enough to hurt Sar’Neal could certainly deal with a stupid barmaid with delusions of heroism.

I grit my teeth and run to drown it out, sword in hand. I know I’m holding it wrong and don’t care. Its glimmering edge is being used as nothing more than a light source for now. It seems to take too long, even running. Twice I stop, panting, gasping for breath and walking for a while before I run again. I try to pace myself, but for some reason it’s difficult. Thoughts of Sar’Neal in pain put an ache in my chest and a terrible, frantic rhythm in my heart.

Then, without warning, I burst through a veil and into another room. I have no time to gather myself.

Immediately a woman, nude to the waist with fire-red hair and long, sharp talons in place of fingers, turns to me and locks her gaze with mine. My feet freeze in place. Goddess forgive me but I can hardly move a muscle. It’s like every part of my body is frozen solid. The cold is merciless, seeping into my heart, slowing me down to a standstill. Without even thinking I drop my hand into the pouch. Slowed by the invisible winter raging through my body, I manage to grasp the ring and slowly, so slowly, curl my hand around it.

I’m not sure what my subconscious expected to happen, but even though I can feel the strange metal in my hand, it doesn’t do anything unexpected. Frigid and shivering uncontrollably, I struggle against the magic’s influence as the woman, several spans away, approaches me. Dimly I note someone chained to the far wall, and with a sick shock I realize that it’s Sar’Neal. There are no signs of a struggle.

As the talon’d woman stalks closer to me, I realize that I can move the hand wrapped around the sword’s hilt still. Intuition begs me to keep my hand still, but I can’t help but roll my wrist once experimentally. I must pray for her not to notice- and I pray too loudly, because when she reaches me, her hand snakes out and, grasping my wrist, bends it. She bends it down until my fingers scream in sympathetic agony, until I can feel the tendons threatening to snap and the bones grinding in my arm. One by one, my fingers lose their grip on the useless sword, and it drops and slaps into the dirt.

Its influence was all that was keeping her magic from affecting my hand, too. Now most of my body is frozen. I can barely move anything except my eyes. My whole body feels either sluggish or like cold, dead stone.

My hand though, hurts terribly after she lets go of it. I wonder if she broke it.

With a disdainful sniff, she disregards me at first, looking me up and down and shaking her head.  She seems like she is about to turn away when her eyes settle between my breasts, where the fertility charm rests. They narrow, and she reaches out and tweaks the charm away from me, snapping it right off its chain and giving me a cruel smile. Her features are far from perfect, but she has a fey grace to her that the cheap copper of my necklace won’t burn. A sure terror grips me, irrational and unchecked.

“Do you know who I am?” she asks, and for a moment the cliché is enough to make me want to puke. It’s quickly overwhelmed by terror as her hand drifts up and rests against my throat.

“The Lady,” I whisper. I don’t know why I bother. I doubt screaming would even make her flinch.

“So at least you knew whose visage you wore at your throat. Yet here you are, stumbling into my lair, trampling on my rings and evading my pitfalls and traps, braving bone and blood– and for what? That?

A flick of her elegant wrist indicates Sar’Neal where he lies chained against the wall. He lifts his head and stares at me. Perhaps he’s wondering how I could be affected by the Lady. Of course, he’d meant me as nothing more than a distraction. More likely he thought that, after I’d been gone and trapped in the faerie circle, I’d gone back to the Inn rather than accompany him. More likely he’s shocked that I followed him here.

“You don’t even know it,” she purrs. “Yet here you are trying to rescue it. Cute.”

I’m about to answer, but she interrupts me. “And what’s this? Another weapon, maybe? One it gifted to you?”

The Lady reaches into the pouch at my side. Her fingers clasp mine. I keep a rigid grip on the ring– not that I have much choice, frozen as I feel– because there is no way in hell she is taking this from me too. As she digs her fingers into mine and pries them away one by one, I can’t help but let out a whimper as hot pain runs up my wrist. “Stop-” I hiss. “t-that’s mine-“

As soon as her fingers touch it, however, she yelps and pulls her hand away. Suddenly, I can feel my hand. And I can feel the warmth of the ring, and my intuition screams that I must- no, I need to put it on. The Lady takes a step back– it’s not fear in her eyes, but rage. Something in her image ripples.

It ripples and breaks, and for one still second, I see her for how she really is, and I wonder how I could have been frightened of her at all.

Somehow I manage to get my warming digits to pull the ring onto my index finger. Heat runs through me, surrounds me like a cloud, warming my veins, filling me with fire. Before I can think, my hand is out of the pouch and I’m ducking down, grabbing the dropped sword by the hilt, holding it out in front of me. Before I know it, I’m baring my teeth in a grin.

I don’t know what this feeling is. It must be the ring. I can’t think of any other explanation. To my own astonishment as much as the Lady’s, my feet move of their own accord, and I feel my body settle into something that’s either in preparation for an awkward dance step, or a fight. If my only dance partner available is the Lady, I think I might prefer the fight.

“Where did you find that, girl?” the Lady snaps into the still air. Her eyes are fixed on the ring on my finger, but after a few moments they find mine and glare at me steadily.

“My name is Tamara,” I hear myself whisper. “This? It was just lying around.”

I stare the faerie queen down. Her green eyes stare me down. That red hair frames a face twisted cruelly, but emotion leaves it like a passing storm. Her eyes narrow. “You can have the charm back, if that’s what you’re after. I was only borrowing it anyway.”

My eyes flit from the Lady to Sar’Neal and back. I bare my teeth again, the grin back without humor, without thinking. “I don’t give a damn about some stupid charm.”

She doesn’t get it, and never will. Since when have faeries felt anything but greed? “You want gold, then? Some trinket?”

I shake my head. A small part of me is acutely aware of how plain I am in comparison to her. Of how graceful she is.

But… then I remember the way that image had wavered when she’d touched the ring, how it had wavered and shattered and broken into a million pieces for a second, leaving an old woman, frightened, those pointed ears and that wrinkled face.

“I wish three things,” I say slowly.

“Name them,” the Lady snaps. “While still that ring bears power.”

“Sar’Neal is to be released to me, unharmed, with all of his possessions.”

“Done,” the Lady replies instantly. Her eyes are still narrowed and sharp, like arrows as they bore into me. I don’t even feel them. Whatever spirit has possessed me is one I would pray to if I had the voice.

“Secondly, the two of us are to be returned to the surface the moment this deal is struck, likewise unharmed and in the same time we entered here. I don’t care to jaunt about for years and years, thank you very much.”

The Lady gazes at me impassively for a moment. “Done,” she says, after thinking it over. “One more, girl. You should make it good.”

“Third, you and your kind are to leave within a hand’s span of days and never to return. This shack is to be abandoned. Find another portal to rule. This area is mine.”

The queen of faeries grits her teeth, and when she speaks her words are a musical snarl. “Done! Are you quite through?”

I think for a moment, wondering if I am. I stare at the ring, then look up at the Lady and nod.

“Then begone with you. The deal is struck. Take your inhuman lover and leave.” The Lady turns, and my world flashes, spins, and vanishes around me with a dull ‘thump’.

I regain my senses to find Sar’Neal already awake and clothed. I can feel grass underneath me, so I assume that I’m out of that chamber under the earth. The Lady kept her word.

I push myself up, sitting up shakily. Sar’Neal catches sight of me awake and comes to sit down next to me.

The sword is still in my grip. I still feel like I know how to use it, too. I let go of it suddenly, let it drop to the grass.

Sar’Neal stares at me, frowning. He reaches over and grips my hand, then lifts it to his lips to kiss it.

His lips are soft and warm against my skin. I’m shaking. I know I’m shaking, and I hate myself for it.

“Who are you?” I whisper. “Why did you lie to me?”

He hears me, somehow. “I am Sar’Neal. I told you that already,” He says quietly. “You are Tamara, and you are incredibly brave.”

“Don’t give me that,” I hear myself snap. “If I’d known we were attacking the Lady, I wouldn’t have even gone. Are you insane? Now she has a grudge against me– she knows who I am because this damn ring made me tell her my name-“

My body is trembling, as if the chill never left it. “Do you understand? The faeries could hurt Joesa or burn down the Inn now. She’s the queen. She can do what she wants. Joesa is all the family I have left– if he dies…”

Sar’Neal’s eyes catch mine again. Piercing blue washes over brown. He squeezes my hand. “I won’t let that happen. And neither will you.”

I open my mouth to speak, and he sets a finger against my lips.

“Show me that ring.”

I bring my left hand up and offer it out. The ring that had been my damnation and salvation at once shines in the evening glow of the sun.

“Do you know what this is made from, Tam?” Sar’Neal asks, his voice low. I shake my head.

His finger brushes the metal, and it is then that I see it. His- no. Her ears. Pointed. Her smooth face, the scar that wavers and disappears. Her armor replaced by leather and furs. How could anyone mistake her body for a man’s? Her full breasts are barely hidden– and why should she when she can project such an illusion?

Her skin is fair and paler than any I’ve ever seen. Free of blemishes. It almost seems alien, but I know it to be fey.

I feel sick to my stomach and fascinated both at once, and the emotions rage within me. What had the Queen said? She’d called Sar’Neal an ‘it’.

All this flashes as the glamour fades. Sar’Neal does not let it rise again. Instead, she squeezes my hand and does not meet my eyes. “Do you know now?”

“Starshine steel,” I murmur quietly. “Metal from the heavens.”

“Yes,” she says. She stands, then, turns and moves towards her beautiful horse. “Come. We can go back to your Inn now.”

I catch her by the shoulder. “No,” I breathe. “No.”

As she turns to face me, I throw my arms around her shoulders and pull her into a kiss, closing my eyes and mashing my lips against hers as fiercely as I can manage. I curl my fingers against her back and press my body to hers, heart pounding in my chest. Her legs are partially crossed and it is my desire to see them open.

At first I feel her stiffen. She keeps her arms at her sides and won’t hold me.  As I draw back from the kiss, though, she chases me as my eyes open again. Her lips find mine again, then kiss my cheek, my neck. Fire runs in my heart and pushes through my veins. Every touch is a tingle, every breath she spends on my skin a starburst of sensation.

I find a gasp parting my lips, find her hands on my back– and on my hips. For a moment, I stand there, dumbstruck- for as she presses close in return, as she pushes at me insistently, I feel something rigid standing erect against my thigh. I’m about to look down when she cups my chin and guides my eyes back to hers again.

“Later,” Sar’Neal whispers, her voice like sweet nectar. “For now, feel.”

She draws me down into the grass with her. For a time beyond time, love is all we are.

I lie with her under the stars, in the grass near the shack. We are both naked, but neither of us care. I look at her, at her body, elfin and odd, seeming to shimmer in the starlight, like the ring that catches the light from those beads of fire in the sky and reflects it as if it were burning on its own. The ring on my finger.

Her hair is brown and wavy and long, but her ears are pointed, and her body is lithe and strong. I’d worried a bit about becoming pregnant, at first, but the worry was overtaken by desire quite quickly. I feel that burn still, a smolder in my belly, but now that worry takes me again. If she were to leave, would I be left to care for the child alone? Will there be a child at all? Is that possible?

I wonder too, idly, if she is of elven or gnomish or human kind. I voice these thoughts to the open air, for her to hear.

“I am of both elf and human worlds,” she says softly. “That is why your ring does not burn. That is why I may love, as well, for I have half a soul.”

“You are more than half a soul,” I reply quietly, and I roll over to prove it to her, roll over on my belly and brush my hand down between her breasts and to her thigh, tracing a circle there once. “You are two souls, two people, man, as I saw you then, woman, as I see you now.”

“But not just woman,” Sar’Neal whispers. “Not just.”

“No,” I agree quietly. “More than that.”

“No more than you, though,” she teases, turning over to meet me now, trailing a finger across my cheek in such a way that I shiver. “Brave Tamara.”

I feel a blush creeping up through my body. Of all times it could be, I’m glad it is night. Then, even in the darkness, I notice Sar’Neal’s ear flick. A moment later, I perceive voices on the edge of hearing. Their musicality seems plain to me, and they are familiar- like Sar’Neal. Unlike her, they are not aware I am here.

“She said the Inn is just up the road,” one says.

The other voice answers cheerfully. “I can’t wait to play with the maid. I’ll take the ring off first, I think, and have some fun with her feet so she can’t run away.”

“And then?”

“I may leave her there after and kill that half-breed in front of her. Do you think that’s enough?”

“You’re joking, yes?”

“Always.”

Laughter follows, like the whisper of wind through trees and tinkling silver.

Then the voices move on down the road. Audible the entire way is the sound of horses’ hooves, unshod and unfettered by the clink of saddle or harness. We remain silent, my half-fey lover and I, still in the grass as the hoofbeats fade. Neither of us dare to breathe.

My heart freezes in my chest, and my gaze meets Sar’Neal’s. “Joesa,” I whisper. “He’ll be killed!”

Sar’Neal is white with rage, but her voice is calm. “Didn’t you hear what they said? They will play with him first. We have time to think, and we should. We heard hoofbeats, but elven horses do not make noise. Only two were talking, and they were talking loudly. We need to think about this before we act. It may well be a trap.”

“We cannot do nothing,” I say, because it must be said. “Trap or not, we must go.”

“Yes,” Sar’Neal agrees. “We must go.”

We wait but a moment before we rise to our feet. We dress, together, one helping the other, me refitting the shining silver blade at my side. Her struggling into her armor’d leather and fur with my aid.

As I draw back, she dons her glamor again, the illusion covering her body in plate. This time, however, she does not hide her elfin features, but wears them proudly. She does not change her voice, either.

Sar’Neal moves towards her horse, mounts her, and then pulls me up in front of her again. I cling with my thighs and the mare snorts once, then settles. My half-fey love urges her into a trot, then a canter, then a gallop. Back towards the Inn.

“Those hoofbeats we heard– they were from human horses?” I ask. “What does that mean?”

“It means that it is not merely one or two elves. It means they brought human servants as well. It may be that they have enthralled a few rogues or villains to assist them,” Sar’Neal replies. “If that is the case, there will be more than a small fight when we arrive. We are likely to be outnumbered.”

I frown. With but a sword between us, I’m not sure what we can do. If it concerns Sar’Neal, she doesn’t show it. I can’t see her face, but her breathing is as steady as ever, and her arms around me are firm, her grip on the reins determined.

“A glamour is what makes an elf dangerous,” Sar’Neal whispers in my ear. “Without it, they are as weak as their forms would suggest. Break their glamours and I know we will win, dear Tamara. We will save Joesa and the Inn.”

Brave words that fill me with something like hope.

We gallop up to the door of the Inn. It hangs off its hinges, and voices ring out from inside. Laughter, too, and an old, calm voice that I immediately recognize as Joe’s.

We dismount from the mare, who tosses her head. I meet her eyes for a moment, and see silver light within them mirroring my anxiousness.

I take a deep breath. We approach the Inn, keeping as quiet as we can. Sar’Neal makes no noise at all with her every step. By comparison I feel clumsy and hideously loud– but the elves are too intent to hear us. Joesa’s calm, quiet voice says something, drowned out by the laughter of the faeries within.

“Break his fingers,” comes a sylvan command.

“Do what you want. Tam is safe, and that’s what matters,” I hear Joe say.

“We’ll see.”

Sar’Neal and I are on opposite sides of the doorway. I watch her lean over just a bit and look inside. Then she looks across at me, and for a few heartbeats, there’s nothing. I wonder what she’s waiting for, my heart pounding a terrible rhythm.  Then, as there’s a crack and a cry of pain from within, she nods at me and runs inside the Inn, dropping pretense.

I feel my heart freeze, but I run into the Inn as well, a mere second behind her.

I step through the doorway.

Sar’Neal runs a man through with a blade, short and dark. He’s human, and blood drips down his chin from his mouth as he falls, folding around the dagger in his heart as my love backs away. Two other men rush her. I recognize them as regular patrons, but to my vision they shine silver. My eyes dart around for Joesa, and I see a blonde haired man holding him with an arm around his neck, staring at me wide-eyed. An elf standing by the man, nocks an arrow to a bowstring that shines gold. The other elf, however, steps in front of me, blocking my view of Sar’Neal.

The elf wields an axe in one hand. To my eyes it flashes between stone and cold metal, the image flickering as it brings it up and around towards me.

Raw fire flashes through me, unfamiliar and– right, somehow. The ring empowers my hand. I draw the silver blade faster than a blink. The elf’s hand comes down, and mine rises. I grasp its hand with my outstretched bare one, gripping his wrist. There’s a noise like crashing glass and the faerie screams, its visage rippling- before an imposing figure with proud pointed ears and metal armor impenetrable, now it is armored only in furs and leather. Without thinking, I know what to do. I don’t hesitate a second, and the truesilver blade passes through the elf’s middle and cuts its heart in half as I slide it up and then out.

I release the faerie’s hand. The creature falls in a heap as I draw my sword out and away. I stand there, struck dumb for a moment, the hilt shaking in my grip. It feels like I’m holding a firebrand by the tip.

Another man, who had been standing by the doorway before, lifts a club behind me. I can feel him there, and I round on him. The silvery influence covers him as well. As he swings the cudgel down towards me, I step aside and forward, slam my palm into his ribs, the ring pressed against his clothing. It doesn’t stagger him much, just makes him reel a moment. I watch the silvery magic crack and shatter.

I feel the sword lift and chop down on the arm with the cudgel as he lifts it again. Searing heat burns through my arm and waves of sickness spread from my belly up to my throat, filling it with bile as the floor is splashed with red.

The burn leaves me weak, and I hear a twang from across the room, look up in time to see an arrow, glowing bright, burn through Sar’Neal and smash into my chest, sticking there. I reach up automatically and grasp the shaft. I fall to my knees. Blood is welling up between my fingers. The glow around the arrow is gone, but the shaft remains between my breasts. It is no illusion.

The world darkens in my vision, in and then out of focus. I hear nothing. My arms are heavy.

Then pain, like lightning, like fire of a different sort, thunders through me. It stabs through lungs and heart in a hot, aching wave. I can’t breathe. Even trying is like pulling in nothing, like drinking from a dry cup. There’s nothing to pull in and my sight dims. All there is- the floor and me. Feathers are coarse against my fingers. I need to pull the arrow out. Tugging blinds me with pain, whiteness on black. I can’t breathe.

The sword slips from nerveless fingers.

I can’t breathe.

A snapping noise, a roaring in my ears and a cough bring me back, a painful, shattering cough. My lung burns and stings and screams as I draw in air, and blood flecks my lips, I’m sure. Something is being wrapped around my chest, someone is wrapping something around my chest with deft, elfin hands. The stench of the dead and vomit assaults my nostrils. I cough again helplessly, and those arms hold me through it, clapping me on the back lightly. Blood and bile both are expelled.

Sar’Neal rubs at my back gently as the fit passes, and then she cries.

She cries for a long time. Her hands are stained with blood– some of it silvery and sylvan, some of it definitely human. Some of it is even mine, I know. An arrow shaft lies next to me.

“I’m here,” I whisper weakly. “I’m here now, okay? Don’t cry.” I’ve never been that good at soothing anyone. I wrap my arms around her, wincing a little. Breathing is a chore.

But I can breathe.

“It’s Joesa,” she whimpers. “I did everything I could, Tam. Everything, but when you went down, the elf shot him– shot him through the man who held him– I couldn’t do anything to help… I’m so sorry….”

A sort of numbness passes through me a moment, but I shake my head, half-smiling, even as tears form in my eyes. We’re in the Inn’s topmost room. “He died, right?”

She nods, and I struggle to gather my thoughts. Oddly enough, I’d known it would happen. I’d known it when I’d first given my name to the Queen of Elves.

Known and ignored it. Known and hoped it wouldn’t happen.

Later in the day, when the sun is starting to set and I can move, we bear the stench of the recent dead and move to bury them. The elves Sar’Neal wishes we could leave to rot, but I won’t have it in the Inn. It’s my responsibility now, after all.

After I’d gone down, Sar’Neal had killed the last elf. No humans but the one I’d injured with my blade survived, and the irony is lost to tragedy. Three innocent lives were lost– the one I’d injured was a mercenary, not under the elves’ direct influence, which is why he had attacked me even after it had been shattered.

We speculate together, Sar’Neal and I, on what the ring’s actual effects are. Being made of starshine steel allows it to dispel sylvan illusion. What grants me my fighting ability, however, is likely nothing short of witchcraft. I find myself praying I never need to use it again, though I know otherwise. Taking even the elf’s life had been sickeningly easy. Sar’Neal shrugs helplessly when I tell her that.

“All things die, Tam,” she says quietly, voice choked with tears. We stand in front of Joesa’s grave, wooden and poor as we’d always been, as I’m sure he’d like it. Joesa had always been simple.

I don’t mean to cry, but the tears come quickly and flow hot. There’s so much I wanted to tell him. I’d wanted to show him Sar’Neal, too. Now that chance is gone. Sar’Neal hadn’t even had a chance to know him properly. She cries more for my loss than for her own.

But my half-fey lover is right all the same. All things do die, and though Joe is dead, I know he isn’t gone. He’s next to the Inn, where I know he’d have wanted to be for the rest of his days. The tears come until they can’t anymore, and I leave it at that.

The Inn is mine to care for, and I resolve to leave it standing, painful as it is to remember. But I don’t think I could stay here if I wanted to anymore. The Queen will not stop hunting me, or sending her allies to find me. To protect the townsfolk, I know I will need to leave. Let them sort out who owns it, and may it bring better fortune on them than was granted poor Joesa.

As to where I’ll go, I think that’s something I can decide with Sar’Neal. Perhaps there’s a place where the Lady won’t find us, and perhaps there isn’t. Whether there is or not, we’ll search.

If and when she finds us, we’ll fight against her, for we are silver and steel.

Silver and steel, and united we’ll stand.

As one.

———-

©2012 Sam Oliver (Eris)

Collaboration Poem: The Little Man Inside of Me & He Won’t Hurt You Now

A pair of poems I collaborated on with a friend. (She wrote the first, I wrote the second and we decided it’d be great to have them together. Check her out, she’s an awesome poet!)
Collaborator Bribee’s site:
Big Red Comfy Couch

[—–]

The Little Man Inside of Me

I’ve got a feeling

A beast in my belly

That says

Don’t forget

That whispers it

And this beast

He presses on the back of my eyes

Trying to squeeze out tears

That I won’t let come

He brings his deceit

And uses it to prop the corners of my mouth up

He’s the only one that knows

Knows the truth

And he smiles his

Crooked grin

Because he knows

That he holds the power

~Bribee
—-

He Won’t Hurt You Now

That little man

Inside of you

Can’t tell me

What to do

I’ll beat him black

And beat him blue

If he dares

To hurt you

I’ll pull him out

On to the floor

And kick his butt

Right out the door

If he so much

As wonders why

I’ll drive him back

Though he can’t die

While he’ll be back

For now he’s gone

So quiet down

You’ve cried too long

Frown’d to tears

You’re safe with me

No need to fear him

Anymore.

~Eris

—–

 

©2012 Eris and Bribee

——

I like the way these turned out together. I read Bribee’s The Little Man Inside of Me and it immediately pulled a poem out from my fingers! I could barely get it down before my laptop spontaneously combusted. Do check her out! I love the way her poetry flows.

<3s,

Eris

Poem: The Torrid Darkness

Warmth is what you notice first

It drips from you like shadow

It sinks into you like sunlight

It swirls in your heart and beats in your veins

Fire and lightning at once

Electricity

 

The blackness surrounds you

It pulls you in

Deliciously dark

Like the end of the world

The end of your world

Pleasure spiraling

Coalescing

Manifesting in a gasp

In a whisper

A giggle

A laugh

 

You can feel it inside of you

Building to flame

Wrapping you in flame

Dark flame

You sit up on his chest

You squeeze him with your thighs

You sigh, smiling in the darkness

But you know he can’t see it

 

You can hear in his voice

He has his eyes closed

Flame washes him away, something else washes into you

Something new

Something to purge the pain and the doubt

Something you’ve never felt before

Is it love in the dark?

The soft, charged dark

Black like night, just like the rest

Maybe love floods through your body as you move

With him

On him

In him

 

Your eyes, half-lidded, open

Your lips, half-parted, close

He’s gone.

You are alone in the torrid darkness

Like now

Like always.

 

 

©2012 Sam Oliver (Eris)

I’m okay. Really I am.

<3s,

Eris

PS:

Did you know that torrid has a buncha different meanings? I didn’t. I always thought it meant ‘proof that this author is trying to sound smart without knowing what a word actually means’. Cheers!