Going Home

Gwen paced nervously as she waited for the knock on the door she knew was coming. Nessa would be there any minute with dinner. She would have a takeaway bag of their favorite Thai foods and that smile Gwen couldn’t say no to. Except that tonight she would have to say much more than no. Tonight, she would have to say goodbye.

She stopped her pacing for just a moment, leaning against the countertop to stare down at the roll of parchment that had upset the careful balance of her life. It had been a shock when it had appeared beside her bed in the night.

Bitterly, Gwen remembered so many years ago when she had been sent, sobbing, far from her home. It had been for her safety, they had said. They couldn’t guarantee her protection if she stayed. Now they wanted her back, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to go.
Scooping up the offending scroll, she looked one last time at the seal of her house and shoved the whole thing into a cabinet. If tonight had to be the last, then better it be a good memory for them both.

Vanessa knocked not more than a minute later, a smile on her face as she held up the bag.
“I got extra satay since you ate all of mine last time.”
“You’re the best, Nessa.”
Gwen closed the door, trying to figure out what to say and how to say it while Vanessa put the food on the table.
“Hey, Earth to Gwen.”
Vanessa’s giggle drew Gwen out of her thoughts and she looked up to see Vanessa holding plates in one hand and the roll of parchment in the other.
“What’s this, love?”
“It’s…that’s…” Gwen froze, staring at the scroll, then her shoulders slumped. “It’s a royal decree from my mother. I have to go home.”
“A royal decree?” For a moment, Nessa grinned, but slowly the smile vanished. “You’re serious. Oh God, you’re serious.”
Vanessa set the plates on the table and dropped into her chair, reading and re-reading the scroll. Then she set it on the table and looked across at Gwen, her face full of wonder.
“Tell me. Tell me everything.”
For the next two hours, they ate and Gwen told Nessa everything she could remember from those long ago days under the double moons. She told about her mother’s court and the civil war, about the death of her father, the rumors of assassins. Gwen didn’t notice when she set down her fork and didn’t pick it back up, so wrapped up was she in her telling. She painted a picture of words, drawing on every detail of her so-nearly forgotten childhood. She could see it all again from the slightly blue shade of the grass to the light grey sky with the single golden spire of her mother’s castle illuminated against it.
“The war’s over.” The words left Gwen’s mouth quietly, uncertainly. “That means I have to go home. Be the heir.”
“But you don’t want to.”
It wasn’t a question. It was never a question, but Gwen answered it anyway.
“I don’t want to leave you.”
The silence hanging between them in that moment was painful. Then Vanessa tapped the scroll.
“They said there would be a portal? To bring you home?”
Gwen nodded mutely and Vanessa soldiered on.
“You know how this stuff works. Would anything go wrong if we both went through?”

At the stroke of midnight, the portal opened in the throne hall as scheduled. This was the best time, during the conjunction of celestial objects that would put their material existence closest to that where they had hidden the Princess Gwynneth. Tonight, she would be coming home. The court tittered with excitement and the Queen leaned forward on her throne with eager anticipation. A shadow formed in the portal and a shape stepped through, followed closely by a second one. There was no mistaking the princess, even in tattered jeans and an old, oversized t-shirt. It was in her manner and her bearing. She bowed low before her mother and gestured to the woman who stood at her right hand.
“Mother, may I present my love, Lady Vanessa.”
The Queen smiled and nodded as Vanessa sketched a shaky bow. Gwen relaxed inwardly and reached for Vanessa’s hand. Now. Now, she was truly home.

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Red Hair, Red Fur

The howls echoed in that dark night painting pictures of blood stained maws and sharp rows of teeth in the minds of the people in the ráth. All but one mind, anyway. It was a wolf moon, her father had said. It was wolf weather, the priest had intoned. Still, Aine ni Cathair was drawn to the hills and the cliffs and the open air. She donned a cloak and pinned it fast, pulling the hood up to hide her wild, red hair and her freckle-strewn face as she passed through the doors and into the night.
A steady rain fell and mist clung to the ground like man to a mystery, parting only slightly as Aine passed through. She carried no torch against the darkness and kept her steps light. The path to the cliff was a well-trod one and one she knew as she knew her own heart. That was why she was surprised to find something there she had never seen before: two torches, one to either side of the track.
Aine paused for only a moment before striding between them with determination and purpose. This was her place, her family’s land, and whoever was out here in the night would regret it if they were trespassing.
A lone figure stood beyond, a silhouette carved against the sky. They faced the sea and as Aine came closer, she could make out silver curls of hair.
“Gran? Is that you?”
The woman turned, a smile on her face as she looked at her granddaughter. Again, Aine hesitated. Her grandmother stood in the soaking rain beyond the torches with a knife in her hand, reflecting the light, and a fur over her shoulders.
“T’is, my dear. Come closer so I can see you.”
Aine took another step forward, hearing the howls echoing off the hillsides.
“Gran, why’re you out in the rain?”
The old woman chuckled softly.
“Why, the same reason as you, my dear.”
Another few steps brought Aine even closer before she paused.
“Gran, where’d you get that wolf skin?”
The woman reached to pat the fur of the skin thrown over her shoulders and smiled fondly, as though at a distant memory.
“Why, I’ve had it since I was your age, my dear.”
Aine stood only a single step away from her grandmother now and she could feel the fear warring with confusion in her gut.
“Gran, why’ve you got that dreadful big knife?”
The old woman flipped the blade in her hand and held out the hilt her to granddaughter.
“Why, so you can claim your own skin, my dear.”

The howls echoed in that dark night and the moon climbed further into the sky. The people in the ráth could hear the trembling call of a new wolf joining the hunt. Outside, a red wolf ran at the side of an old silver one, never as free before as she was now.

The Home for Forgotten Monsters

Mrs. Tipton smiled sadly at her newest boarder when she opened the door of the lodging house.
“Oh, my dear, I never thought you’d be joining us.”
The old woman at the door slumped her shoulders and pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders.
“No one lasts for ever. Not anymore.”
Mrs. Tipton nodded slowly, sadly, and stepped aside.
“I’ve set aside a room for you on the top floor. It’s only been Annis up there for years and I think she could use the company.”
Together, they climbed the rickety old stairs through the lodging house. They could hear the sounds of the other boarders in their rooms. Annis was singing, her windows wide and her voice like the wind on the moors. Jenny’s door was thrown open and the smell of a stew simmering wafted into the corridors. One woman stood in her doorway in a gown that had fit once, had been considered elegant once. Now, it was tattered and her looks had long since faded. She smiled distantly at the pair as they passed by.
“I’ve heard, Mrs. Tipton, that there’s to be a play staged in my honor this evening. At the Globe, no less. Another of William’s bits of brilliance, I’m certain.”
Mrs. Tipton returned her smile and patted the woman’s hand reassuringly.
“That’s right, Titania, dear. I’m sure it will be just delightful.”
They left the Faerie Queen humming to herself and dancing through a glade that existed now only in her mind. Soon, they reached the top floor and the vacancy.
“This would be your room. Let me know if you need anything and if you’ve any questions about the rules, I’m sure Annis would be happy to help.”
The old woman looked at the tidy bed with its clean sheets.
“Once, I slept on an oven, you know.”
“I know, dearie.”
Mrs. Tipton watched as the woman went to the window.
“I never thought it would come to this. I thought if I could last through that wretched Stalin, I could last through anything. Even when they were afraid of the atom, they remembered to be afraid of me.”
Black Annis stood in the doorway, a sorrowful expression on her monstrous visage.
“Humans don’t need us monsters anymore, Baba Yaga. They’ve made worse than we could ever be out of themselves.”

Scuttle Bay

That’s the thing with living in the Scuttle Bay area. It seems like half of the people in the city have a mask tucked in a pocket and some kind of super powers. It could come from the nuclear tests they did just up river back in the 40s. It could come from the modern biotech firms dotting the city. It could also come from the meteor storm that struck about ten years back. I’ve even heard a few people say it’s an old curse or something else to do with the pirates the bay is named for. But honestly, it doesn’t matter. It’s enough to know that half the people in the city have powers and other lives. And the biggest hero is none other than Atomic Ace. He’s pretty much what you’d expect, really. Over 6-foot, sculpted like a god and hung like a horse based on the way the leather clings. Bright blue eyes, like a cloudless day, framed by strong, dark brows and a roman nose. His hair is black as night and cut in a way that screams rugged and manly, which is honestly impressive for a guy who wears his underwear on the outside. Who am I? Folks around here call me Rabbit. I’m what you’d call a speedster. It cropped up when I was about 14, and my folks are both normals so it was something of a surprise. I tried to live as normally as I could, blend in and all that. I was about 17 when I first encountered Atomic Ace. And I thought I was going to die

I’ve Seen Nary a One

Watching the skies
hoping to see
the tiniest glimmer
of scale or of wing
they ride the winds high
over forest and dell
hunting on the breeze
for treasures of yore
never have I seen them
but ever do I try

In the forests there exists
another of long ago
a great beast of legend
whose might well you know
the horn shines bright
on a moonless night
to guide lovers lost
their hooves knell like bells
as they step light on forest paths
but never have I heard the sound

In sylvan holds
live those who know
the magic of song and dance
the ones who weave their art in trees
and guide the plants aloft
the sylvan folk once traveled out
but nary does now

in cavern hold lives
those who know
the song of metal’s chime
life in the forge fire
hammer’s metronome
to sing with steel and iron
armor forged and blades cast
in a cavern underground
once found their way to markets ours
but nary anymore

Of Twilight and Shadow

walking in a forest grove
only birds sounding
my footsteps crunching leaves
eyes watch me on all sides
following me in the twilight glow
the wind blows, dancing in the fallen leaves
the boughs sway to and fro around the sylvan path
a song fills my ears as I walk along
a clearing lies ahead of me
entering, I see a lad clad in leaves and vines
in his hands, he cups a flute
and plays the forest to sleep
a sparrow on his shoulder, wolf pups at his knee
I stood and watched as animals slept all around this boy
he played a song of twilight and shadows
a song of sleep and dreams
as his song came to an end, the stars twinkled their glee
the moon rose to say good night
I looked again to see him
he raised his head with a wink and a nod and vanished before my eyes
forward I walk, through sleeping beasts
when caught my eye, a small thing on the ground
I lifted it gently, holding it to my lips
Take care of it, spoke a voice, for now you hold time
and blew a note, low and long
to watch the universe’s beginning from swirling infinity

Cynders – Part 1

Cyn sat in front of the mirror, the prom invitation on the desk and let the tears fall. There was a pounding on the door and she turned, quickly wiping her face on her sleeve. The door opened before she could say a word and she gulped. Her step-mother stood in the doorframe, hair pinned and tortured in curlers in preparation for the evening out she’d been planning.
“I left a list of chores on the fridge for you, Aaron. They’d better all be done before your father and I get home. Do you hear me?”
Cyn just nodded, keeping her head down.
“Yes, Ma’am.”
Her voice caught and she winced. Her step-mother was walking into the room, striding with purpose as she looked at something.
“What’s this?” She flicked the invitation off the desk and a cheshire grin crossed her. “Is it prom season already? Well, that’s exciting, isn’t it? It’s not every day a young man gets the privilege of escorting a girl to their senior prom. Your father will take you for a tux, of course. Have you got a date yet?”
Her mind had gone blank, her veins turning to ice the moment the damnable piece of paper had been taken from her. Young man. A tux. She was freezing from the inside and she couldn’t look up anymore.
“N-no, Ma’am. Not yet.”
“You’ll find someone soon. Don’t you worry? Have you thought about asking one of the nice girls from church? I bet they would just love to go.”
Cyn’s step-mother tousled her hair and then turned to return to her preparations. For her part, Cyn waited just long enough for it not to be rude, closed the door tightly and dropped to sit hard against the door. She was shaking and the tears streamed down her face once more. Not for the first time, she wondered what it would be like to claw her own skin off, to take the parts of her she didn’t like and just be rid of them.