The Road to Xibalba – Part 1

Here is the story of Taavi and his love for Hadassah, a love so great that he would brave the trials of Xibalba, and the Lords of that place, to save her.

Taavi was tall and strong, his eyes dark and sure. He was a warrior, the son of a warrior and grandson of a warrior. When he first saw Hadassah at work in the market with her father, it was love. The very next festival day, they were married before the gods and men. Together, they danced and danced, Hadassah never once leaving the strong arms of her Taavi. But as the night drew down dark and the torches were lit for the celebration to continue, Hadassah let out a cry of pure grief and fell to the ground, a wicked serpent slinking away from her. Taavi dropped to his knees, cradling his new wife in his arms as the spirit left her.

He mourned alone in the jungle, praying that the serpent which had taken his Hadassah from him on their wedding day would return to take him too. As the moon climbed higher and higher into the sky, he wandered further and further from his home. The darkness of the jungle closed in around him until he found himself at the edge of one of the cenote, staring down into the dark water so far below. If he leapt, he wondered, would the gods reunite them?

“Taavi.”

The voice came from just behind him and he whirled about. A woman stood in the shaft of moonlight, beautiful and silent. She raised one hand, beckoning him back from the edge. He heeded her call and knelt before her.

“Lady Ixchel, why do you call me back when I could jump and be in paradise with Hadassah?”

“Because, Taavi, if you are as brave as they claim, if you are as brave as your father and your grandfather before you, then you could have your Hadassah back with you in the land of the living.”

Taavi stood and took a step towards the goddess.

“Only tell me where to go, Lady Ixchel. I will face any challenge and brave any obstacle to return my love to my side.”

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A Prelude to Murder

Master Byron Galewind leaned over his desk, his ledgers spread before him. He only had a few more rows of accounts he would like to have settled before the guests began to arrive. Glancing at the window, he knew he was cutting it close, but Tywin would forgive him. He always did, after all. At the thought of his husband, a tender smile crossed the half-elven man’s face. Just these last few rows and then he would dress for the dinner party they were hosting together.


Tywin Galewind practically floated through the estate in his new vivid purple robes bedecked in stars. He looked the very image of a master wizard, even if he only knew the most basic spells of the illusion school. He could hear quiet conversation in the formal sitting room and wondered who had arrived. What he found was his adopted Tiefling son, Gareth, chatting with his sister-in-law, Sadry. Gareth was hugging his pull-string dog tightly to his chest and he had a nervous smile on his face. Sadry, a full Elf to her brother’s half, looked up and smiled brightly.
“Ty!” She hugged him tightly and he laughed, returning the hug. “It’s good to see you. Will my brother be joining us or is he still-?”
“Buried in numbers, I’m afraid. But never fear, he promised this time.”
Tywin looked around to find Gareth again, but the little boy had vanished. He had a rather unnerving habit of doing that, but Tywin assumed it was just a relic of his time on the streets. Or a piece of his demonic heritage. One of those. Instead, he spotted Cogsworth. Smiling at the Gnomish butler, he turned away from Sadry.
“Yes, Cogsworth?”
“Lady Belissa of Runnerspring has arrived, Master Tywin, and she’s absolutely insistent that you see her immediately.”
Tywin sighed just slightly.
“Of course she is. Sadry, I-”
“Don’t worry about it, Ty. We both know how your cousin feels about me and Byron.”


Lady Belissa of Runnerspring didn’t like many things. She didn’t like that her cousin had married a commoner. She didn’t like that he associated with merchants. And above all else, she didn’t like that half of those merchants would like very much to put a blade between the ribs of either her cousin or his husband or, preferably, both. So, when she arrived at the Galewind home, the first thing she did was check in with her agent.
“Well, Cogsworth?”
“All has been well, my Lady. And I ensured that the Masters were never even aware of the last assassin that came for them.”
“Good. And this boy?”
“I’ve done a full background check and he is as he appears to be.”
Belissa nodded slowly.
“Very well. In that case, I wish to see my cousin.”
Cogsworth bowed deeply.
“Right away, my Lady.”


The last usual guest waited. He was unsure that he should be there, but by that same token, he should be seen in public while his plan went forward. In the end, Dennis Chandler arrived at the door and was led in. He paid no mind to the maid as she went up the stairs, even though he knew who she truly was. He’d seen to that some time ago. And it hadn’t even been difficult to replace the girl they’d had working for them with one of his own. He asked the Gnome they had as butler to get him a drink and settled into one of the comfortable chairs to enjoy the tense silence between Belissa of Runnerspring and Sadry Galewind. He wondered how quickly they would turn on each other when his plan had come to fruition. He would almost lay odds that Sadry would accuse Belissa of causing it. He hoped the Priestess had her bow ready.


Byron didn’t close his ledgers. He merely sprinkled sand across the ink to help it dry faster and went to change into his most elegant clothes for the evening. He didn’t see the girl come up behind him, wouldn’t have thought a thing of it if he had. As the blood pooled on the bed under him and he faded into the darkness, Byron’s last thoughts were to regret breaking his promise to Tywin.


The last guests had only just arrived, a group of adventurers from the local guild. Tywin and Byron had invited them on a whim, hoping that real adventurers would liven up the party some. With the guests all waiting in the formal sitting room, Cogsworth began to relax. With them all in one place, he could watch Chandler. That was when they all heard the scream issuing from upstairs. It was the maid.

Sanctum Annual #5 – The Fall of Crusader

“Hey Photon, catch!”

Crusader grinned brightly behind the faceplate of her helmet and chucked the mugger upwards with all her considerable strength. Photon grabbed the petty criminal around the waist and laughed.

“Got ‘im, hun. I’ll go drop this one off at the precinct. Meet you in a flash.”

Crusader rolled her eyes as her husband and crime-fighting partner raced off across the sky in a blur of light. Then she glanced at the time in her HUD. It was almost time to go get Jessica from school and go through a few rounds of training. Spark was almost ready to take to the streets as a new hero and Crusader wanted to be absolutely sure her daughter would be ready. This life could be tough, as the many scars crisscrossing her body could attest. Well, either way, she had some time to finish their patrol and check in with the Sanctum.


Patrol done, Crusader dropped her armor off at the Sanctum and had a quick chat with Maria at the desk.

“Yeah, it was a quiet enough day. Photon should be in soon. I’m headed out.”

“See you tomorrow!”

Then she was Angelica Morrow once more and headed off to go pick up her daughter, Jessica, from school. Her subcompact was in the employee lot for the Sanctum, where her papers said she worked in a medical capacity. Which was, of course, technically true. She just also happened to be a hero. Pulling out of the lot, she waved farewell to the young man in the security booth. He waved her through with a smile.

“Have a nice evening, Doctor Morrow.”


She was a block away from the school headed through a four-way intersection. Her hands were both on the wheel, her phone away. That didn’t do a thing to stop the truck that came careening through the intersection and slammed into her car, knocking it into a telephone pole.


They had to say it on the news. Even though she had died out of uniform, even though it was Malcolm Morrow and his daughter, Jessica, who stood at the funeral. They had to say that Doctor Angelica Morrow was Crusader. They had to say what this had truly been. Because the city had lost one of its heroes that day and they deserved to know. She deserved to be remembered. And if anyone noticed that Malcolm and Jessica disappeared just before Photon and Spark arrived to pay their respects, well, no one said a word.

Red Eyes

I held the bag tight against my chest and moved through the forest in silence. Drawing attention to myself at this point would be worse than suicidal. I could hear the movement further out in the darkness, just beyond the light of the path. Most Fae avoided the paths. Paths are bad, dangerous, mortal. As a Changeling, the paths are safety for me…except against one thing. The Red Eyes hunt the paths. I can almost feel them watching me as I move. Lords and Ladies, I hope I get home soon. There were rules for this, of course. Not that the Red Eyes follow rules, but instead Faerie Land would enforce the rules for me. If I didn’t think I could get back to our holding, I could take the next turn and hide in the standing stones. No one could harm another in there. Mistress had said they were dangerous for other reasons though, only to hide there if I had no other choice. Whirling around at the sound of footsteps, I nearly dropped the bag, which would have been a mistake unto itself. A younger Changeling I knew was barreling towards me like a bat out of hell. His eyes were huge and wild and his tail coursed behind him like a pennant in a wind. He was one of the ones who had changed their shape as soon as they could, becoming far more a raccoon than a human.

“Coop?”

“Mouse! Run! Hunters!”

He didn’t have to say it twice. I grabbed his arm as he would have gone past the stones and pulled him down that path instead. As soon as we were a few feet down that path, I moved to let go, confident he would follow. He grabbed at my arm, clinging fiercely. Poor guy must be terrified. I thought, just as I passed through the stones and came to a sudden jerky stop. Turning, I was surprised to see that Coop still held my arm and was on the outside of the stones.

“Come on! What are you waiting for?”

“I can’t. It must be the old magic. Come on, let’s keep running. There must be somewhere else that’s safe.”

I tried to shake off his grip, suddenly wary.

“Coop, come on, don’t be silly. As long as you’re not going to hurt anyone, you can come in here.”

Listening for a moment, I realized I couldn’t hear any other footsteps. Just the sound of our heavy breathing. Then I felt his fingers tighten even more on my arm. That’s when it hit me.

“Oh…oh no. Coop. No…no…no…no…You didn’t. No. There’s no way…”

He let go and flung himself at the space between the standing stones, falling to the ground in a pile of fur and snarls. There it was, on the back of his neck. The Red Eye. There were tears pouring down my face as I curled up in the middle of the circle. Mistress would find me later, I knew. But until then, I could wait here and mourn for my friend.

Power Dynamics

The Patriarch's Ball was upon them. 400 strong, the elite would gather to display their marriage-bait like so many cakes dressed in silks and lace, sending the girls from gilded cage to gilded cage without so much as a by-your-leave. Cora wanted none of it. She was no pretty songbird to be caged, to be sure. Betsy stood nearby, head down and hands clasped before her.
"Miss Cora, your mother was insistent."
Cora turned away from the window and her musings upon the sea and sighed.
"Bess, if she's so insistent on dressing up a doll and sending it off to the ball, then someone ought to tell her to go to the store. I hear they have new ones that walk about and don't talk back."
Bess raised a hand to cover her mouth and tried to hide her giggles as Cora fell into a chair dramatically. Bess let Cora pull her in and smiled sadly.
"Your mother would throw a fit. And we both know where that would lead."
Cora kissed Bess gently on the forehead and sighed, her melancholy returning.
"I wish I could at least pretend it wasn't true for a few hours. But I suppose the dreams would only make the cage worse."
Pulling away, Bess went to the gown on its stand.
"You'll look delightful in this, Cora. I'm jealous of the men you'll dance with tonight."
Cora stood as well and went to stand beside her maid.
"I'll look like an over-decorated pastry and I doubt I'll be able to breathe."
"Will you tell me about it this evening?"
"If I don't fall asleep on my feet, you know I will." Cora brushed her fingers against Bess' hand and smiled. "I will say, if I had a sensible gown and could bring anyone I wished, then I would enjoy spending an evening dancing with you, Bess."
Bess looked down and demurred, a blush on her cheeks.
"I don't know the steps."
"I could teach you."
Bess shook her head less in disagreement than in bemusement.
"Your mother will be looking for you soon, Miss Cora. Let's get you ready."
When the formality returned, Cora's shoulders slumped.
"Only to keep you out of trouble, Bess."

It seemed like forever before Cora returned home sweaty and exhausted, but flushed with excitement.
"You would never guess the gossip, Bess. Scandal positively abounds."
Bess smiled, coming to help her young mistress with her gown.
"Is it political, financial, or social this time?"
"Social." Cora raised her arms to let Bess get to the laces on the side of the corset. "A married man caught with an unmarried girl. Worse yet, he'd been lying to her about the state of his marriage and the state of her future."
Bess paused in her unlacing for a moment.
"That's…cruel of him."
Her tone was soft and surprisingly emotional. Enough that Cora turned to look at her.
"Bess?"
"Miss Cora," Bess paused uncertainly and Cora turned, letting the open corset hang.
"Bess, you don't need to call me Miss. You never have to be that kind of formal when it's just you and me. I love you. You know that."
Bess looked away.
"Do you?"
Cora reached out to pull Bess into her arms and Bess pulled away.
"What's so different between what you say to me and the lies of that gentleman to the young lady? You tell me you love me when you and I both know we have no future together. You have to marry one of the young men of Mrs. Astor's court and I'm nothing but a maid." Bess was crying and she didn't even realize it. “You have to find a husband that suits your station. Even if I were a man, I could never do that and we both know it.”
“And we both know I don't want a husband.”
Cora tried again to gather Bess close to her but Bess was having none of it.
“Do you plan to tell your mother that? Or your father? How do you suppose they would take that news from their eldest daughter? You would end up in a marriage as soon as your mother could arrange it and I would end up on the streets or worse. Women who admit to this kind of thing end up in asylums, Cora.”
Cora’s hands dropped to her sides. Opening and closing her mouth a few times, the words that always came so easily failed her. After a long moment of silence, she spoke uncertainly.
“We could run, live together in freedom.”
“And poverty. You know nothing outside these walls. The best we could hope for would be millwork in Massachusetts.
Cora tried to open her mouth again, tried to protest, but Bess was already working on her laces again.
“Bess?”
For a moment there was only the sound of fabric rustling and quiet concentration.
“Will you be needing anything else before bed, Miss Cora? If not, I’m going to pack this away and start in on the mending.”
Cora felt like there was a chasm stretched between them, one she didn’t understand. And yet, she could the more she thought about it. She hung her head, trying to keep from crying.
“No, Bess. Thank you. I…I think I’m going to turn in early.”
Maybe in the darkness, the realization would hurt less.