Behold our splendor and rejoice! We are Zenobia, bringing civilization to you pale barbarians, shivering in the shadow of the Serpent! We come, bearing arms, which we train you to use. Chains, which you can bind the Serpent’s Brood with, transforming them into your tame pets. Truly, there is no need for a savage slaughter. We shall teach you to master your enemies as we did centuries ago. For once upon a time, a Zenobia slew the Serpent. Now, that She rises once more, we are here to face her once more. We shall take your lands in the protection of our queendoom, share with you our riches, our learning…what? You say we are speaking within a Cauldron? What witchery is this? Let us out at once! Not until we share a snippet of ‘A Suitor’s Challenge’? Don’t trifle with us, petty scribbler! Fine! Behold our magnificence, as we shine from the printed page in this petty work of fiction!
“We want Stephen Jasior as an Imperial gesture of good faith.” Zenobia didn’t even look at Stefan while demanding his hand in marriage. She addressed her words to the jeweled figure seated and veiled upon the throne. “We honor him as the first Zenobia honored Daryth Nevalyn centuries ago.”
“And we know how happy she made Daryth!” Stefan spoke without averting his eyes, allowing them to roam over the queen’s body in scornful appraisal. He was being as rude as he could possibly be to a Kalanthian. “If you wish to wed me, you must do as all my suitors do.” He raised his chin with bleak pride. “Face me within the Circle. Show me your magic and defeat me with your arts arcane.”
Zenobia blinked, her civilized sensibilities taken aback by this direct attack from a male, a barbarian, and serpent spawn. Quite the triple insult.
I’m here as promised for ‘Y for Yuri’. Not that I’m at ease, exposed in this Cauldron. I shall share a snippet of story from our author’s Work in Progress, ‘A Portrait Is Worth a Thousand Words’ in the hopes that she shall complete it. Perhaps I shall be finally delivered from the agony of suspence and fear to the bliss of a Happily Ever After. Or at least a Happily For Now. There’s always the chance our tale will be all terror, delivering us all to a nighmarish fate. May our author’s eye avoid such a submission. (shudders)
I wish I could draw you, Wess. Just having your likeness would be a comfort to me. Everything I sketch turns into her. That woman. The one I keep seeing out of the corner of my eye. The phantom I imagine at the window. My hated rival for your heart has become my stalker.
Avert your eyes and keep your heads lowered, readers. For we are Serena I, Imperatrix of the United Lands, savior of humanity from the Serpent’s jaws! Although we once had a humbler name. We called ourselves Xian. We shall bless you with a moment from our past, so you can appreciate the perils we keep you safe from. Or to put it in terms you readers will more readily understand, here’s a snippet from our author’s Work In Progress, ‘A Suitor’s Challenge’, one in which we appear.
“Nevalyn,” she whispered. It was dangerous to say Her name. To name Her was to invoke Her. To do this would only make Her more powerful. Ah, but if Xian could bind the Serpent, possess that power!
Hello, I’m Westerleigh. Is this a new part of Hartford Hall? Ah, no, I’m simply taking my turn at the Cauldron. ‘W is for Westerleigh’. Got it. You’ll excuse my confusion. When I decided to dress up as a gothic heroine and visit my cousin, Fiona Hartford as the ‘heiress’, it was more than a lark. I’d dreamed ever since I was a little boy of visiting Hartford Hall, of walking through the rooms and breathing the same air she once did. My ancestress, Elizabeth Hartford. I’ve read every book, paper, scrap of a letter, or poem I could about her. When Fiona wrote to me, asking me to visit, I could barely contain my excitement. There was just one complication. She thought I was a girl. My friend, Yuri, came up with the idea of dressing me up as one. I do look the part if I do say so myself. However, I’ve gotten myself into a bit more than mistaken identity. You can read that for yourself in this fragment from this WIP, ’A Portrait Is Worth a Thousand Words’.
It’s her, Elizabeth Hartford, captured in paint and bound in canvas. I can feel the force of her will, staring out at me from her painted green eyes. Those eyes, that form, they’re alive! Only they cannot move. She’s trapped in the painting, unable to move or get out. Ah, what am I saying? I’ve always been fanciful. I’ve always loved tales like the one I appear to be spinning now. In truth, as frightened and fixated as I am by Elizabeth’s portrait, I’m also thrilled!
Perhaps I should gather my thoughts. Perhaps I should start at the beginning. Yes, this would be a good idea. Now that I’ve expelled my fantasies into my journal, I should write you a proper letter, Yuri. Yes, I’ll do that.
What are all of you doing here? I suppose you may look upon me. I doubt you have many opportunities to behold a true arachnocrat. Take a moment to bask in my beauty, but no longer. I don’t feast lightly upon just anyone. I save myself for my marriage feasts, which are banquets unlike any other. I’m anticipating a particularly tasty one. In truth, I’m getting a little impatient, waiting for my bridegroom to accept my suit. Here’s a little of the poor, delectable fool trying to stand in my way in ‘My Tool, My Treasure’, a WIP our author needs to hurry up and finish. Really, I’m getting quite impatient with her as well!
“Such beautiful eyes, just like my own.” Vanessa stared at my face with a hunger which made me tremble. I longed to run away, or walk away, but I didn’t. Others were watching. How I reaced would determine how I was treated.
“My eyes are nothing like yours.” I looked Vanessa straight in the eye. She had only six of them, not eight. She might be an Ashelocke and an arachnocrat, but she took liberties, speaking to Duessa Ashelocke’s nephew in such a fashion. “I was born with this color. You stole yours.”
The boys watched released their collective breath in a hiss. I wondered how many of them remembered Dyvian. Everyone said he’d been honored to be Vanessa’s marriage feast, but no one looked you in the eye when they did.
Greetings, sweet visitors! I am Una, faithful minion of the Lady Duessa Ashelocke. What else could I be, given these weathered wings and needle sharp teeth? She changed me into a creature with very special needs, a service I seek to repay her for, yes, indeed. See for yourself how I move about the lady’s household, searching for vulnerabilities in those closest to her in ‘My Tool, My Treasure’. Warning, this is a WIP. Our author is still piecing together this story, just as I’m piecing together my schemes.
Let Duessa see her weakness. Let the spider think her trapped fly was broken.
Una was no longer a helpless human maiden at the mercy of a witch. Duessa herself had transformed her into something more. Now, Una had a secret stinger, which she could use only once. Using him would destroy Una, but it would allow her to strike at her heart of her enemy.
Well met, readers! I am Troile, Prince of Troy, child of heroes and gods. I’m here to share a snippet of a tale of the mightiest of the Achaens, to reveal a love which burned forbidden between two foes. Two foes, forced to conceal themselves behind skirts and to cross swords. Taste my passion which swirled in Ganymede’s cup within this story in progress, ‘Aissa and Polyxena’.
“Look upon him,” the boy said. He dropped his gaze to the goblet in his hand, compelling mine to follow. “Look upon the one who would steal your life, as well as your heart.”
The ripples smoothed in what might have been water, wine, or a mixture of both. A face stared back from its depths, a face which was not my own. Heat rushed to my cheeks, as I met that smouldering blue gaze. Truly, the young man’s eyes might burn themselves out of their sockets. Such passion was too much for mortal orbs to contain.
Hello there, brave readers. Happily, we’re not in Paradise, just the Cauldron of Eternal Inspiration. I’m Shelley, although not the actual poet, mind. I took his name, hoping to take on some of his courage and creativity in the process. Such abilities are in short supply in the city of Paradise under the Goddess’s eye.
Here’s a taste of what Byron and I have to endure, trapped in this place, a little scene from ‘On the Other Side of the Mask’. Or is our work in progress called ‘Trouble in Paradise’? I certainly hope we will be!
Shelley felt his own heart racing at Byron’s smile. He welcome the fierce beat, the steady distraction. Perhaps it would keep at bay the creature waiting in the dark. It breathed in the stillness, sniffing hungrily at the two boys. Perhaps Byron’s resolve would make it retreat. Alas, no. Night made it easy for the spectral presence. The hushed breath in the still darkness was its cloak and cover.
Err, hello. Welcome to the Cauldron. I’m Rhodry, a character who’s been in my author’s imagination since the 1990s. I’ve appeared in various guises in roleplaying games, landed a major part of an interactive writing project called the Keep, a yaoi fantasy story where different authors combined their characters and their talents. The Keep project was inspired by a novel my author started working on in the 1990s, which she’s resurrecting as ‘Trouble in Caerac Keep’. Here’s a little moment with the new me, which appears in this story.
My fingers flexed, looking for something to grip, to distract them. Like a book’s cover, only there were no books here. Books were so much easier to deal with than people. Oh, how I longed to be back in the Library! To hide within the stacks from all shocked stares and angry mumbles.
“At least they’re just mumbles.” I could almost hear Daeric saying that in the back of my mind. “The only way to deal with the world is to face it.”
Are we having a good day or a bad day? Forgive me, but I’m Questioning. By name as well as by nature. Once, I called myself Sister Magdalene. This was before I started to question everything; faith, my gender, my friends, the very wrap and weave of the world. Reality unraveled around me, becoming a series of possibilities. Looking after Kyra, my little golden serpent keeps me grounded, but I can’t rely too much on her. I must be strong for her in turn. To do this, I must face a former friend, one who knew by another name. Daeric Nevalyn is having trouble getting used to the new me. I’m still getting used to the new me. Just see how Daeric Nevalyn reacts in this sample of ‘A Suitor’s Challenge’.
“I thought I was an old friend of yours.”
“Magdalene was my friend. Perhaps my closest friend other than the twin who was taken from me.” Daeric looked down at her from several floors above. “This was before you put everything about her into flux.”
“I was no longer comfortable as Magdalene.” Questioning moved along the ledge to find the next flight of stairs. “For once, your mother is not to blame. My own flesh felt wrong.”
“You have the most beautiful flesh I’ve ever seen,” Daeric murmured. He looked down at his hand, at the ring on his finger. “I’d wager Kyra gets her courage from you.”