Z is for Zenobia

We have a destiny, our royal personage along with every other empress whom takes the name of Zenobia. We must pick up the pieces of our fractured world. We must restore order to it.

We had a dream of defeating the Serpent and saving Ouroboros. We’d tame and wed the Serpent’s Spawn, bending him to our will.

Once we did so, Daeric Nevalyn would fall into our arms. Magdalene would stay by our side, sharing the insight which helped us before we were fool enough to listen to Xian.

Nothing has gone according to our will. Daeric fell into the arms of a former slave called Padraig instead of ours. Magdalene disappeared to whom knows wherre. We were left with only Xian, Nevalyn’s treacherous little pet for support. She stayed with us long enough to steal the chains we’d summoned from the Breath of Ouroboros to bind the Serpent Born. She used the weapons I forged through the Breathe and my own soul to challenge Kalanthia and me, setting up her cursed Unity to gobble up the lands and tribute which should have been ours.

Serena Jasior, what pretentious nonsense! If every ambitious little scholar, kneeling at the feet of a dark lady had ambitions like hers, we’d be up to our ears in treachery.

Come to think of it, we are. Constantly.

We shall not let Serena get away with this. We’ll take her empire, her pretty brother, and knock of her off that imitation throne of hers which is only a pale copy of Kalanthia’s majesty. We’ll seize this Serpent Born she’s taken an interest in, this Kyra, and collar her ourselves.

Xian would have none of these things if not for us. We drove Nevalyn into the Abyss, although we’re not certain if it was our current incarnation. The Serpent’s power belongs to us, not the Serpent’s sniveling handmaiden.

Stupid girl. Does she think we don’t know her true desire? Xian wants to be another Nevalyn. The guise of Serena Jasior, Imperatrix is a step toward becoming Nevalyn Herself.

We want nothing of the sort. We would take the Serpent’s power, transforming it into something better. We would make the world a place of harmony and peace. We would root out the corruption in the Order of Dragon, who’ve become nothing more than the minions of dark lords and slavers in nations outside our dominion.
Serena Jasior is not the savior of the world. We are. We’ll come up with something better. Something truly…pure.

 

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Be My Valentine…Snack

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets! Every Saturday, six sentences of LGBTQ+ fiction is posted and shared.

It can be your own. It can be someone else’s. It just needs to be LGBTQ+.

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I’ve been snippeting on Sundays during April, since my characters have been Blogging From AZ every other day of the week, talking about Character Goals.

Next week, I’ll return to doing it on Saturday once more.

Hope you’ve enjoyed meeting all of my characters this month! Look for them in my future stories!

Now here’s the next part of Be My Valentine…Snack…

 

“Peter, no!” I locked my fingers around his arm. “You saw what happens to her Valentines! She drains them of their lives, their youth, everything!”

“All the more reason I can’t let her have you.” Peter lifted his head to peek out from behind a lock of auburn hair.

Y is for Yuri

Good day. I’m Yuri Cross. Yes, I’m a direct descendant of Judith Cross, the artist Judith Cross. Yes, she was Elizabeth Hartford’s lover among other things. The portrait at Hartford Hall which my Westerleigh is so enamoured with is among her best work.

I’d argue it’s also Judith’s most cursed work. Something happened when she captured Elizabeth’s likeness, transforming it into more than just canvas and paint. It lives. You can see that monstrous imitation of personality, gazing back at you through Elizabeth’s painted eyes.

Truly A Portrait Is Worth a Thousand Words. Look at the spell a mere copy of that likeness exudes through books upon my Westerleigh.

I blame the subject matter, even though there’s something dangerously innocent about Westerleigh’s admiration for Elizabeth Hartford, his ancestor. I fear he’d do anything for her, a naive loyalty which her greedy spirit will take full advantage of.

For make no mistake, Elizabeth’s spirit is greedy. It hungers for more life than it has any right to claim. Defying convention made Elizabeth a rule unto herself, a trait Westerleigh is fiercely proud of. I can see why he admires this independence of spirit, but she may well regard herself as being above any human sympathy.

I contemplate this qualities inherent in her spirit without quite accepting her spirit’s existence. I’ll admit that Elizabeth’s portrait has a ghastly animation to it which exudes a certain power over viewers.

If only it was just the painting. I fear Elizabeth herself may still walk among us in the flesh. I fear that whatever was once Elizabeth is no longer human. I fear the lady’s determination to continue living, ruling her estate and her descendants beyond the grave.

Even now, she reaches out for Westerleigh and me.

I’ve seen what looks all too like Elizabeth’s face at my window in the dead of night. Westerleigh’s obsession has infected us both, only mine brings me no joy, only fear. I find myself locking my windows and doors.
The only thing equal to my fear is my concern for Westerleigh. I worry about his guise as a Hartford heiress living under Elizabeth’s roof.

My two emotions war within me, pitting my urge to hide against my need to be at Westerleigh’s side.

I’m not sure which will win in the end.

X is for Xian

We are known as Serena the First, Imperatrix of the First Unity of Nations, an empire which accepted our loving conquest as an alternative to Zenobia of Kalanthia or worse the Serpent Herself.

Empty power, ruling the world. A poor substitute for the magic which once coursed through me when we were Xian. Nevalyn’s Xian, whom She offered a taste of her power.

Can anyone blame us for desiring more? The punishment we suffer for our betraying our Golden Master was far worse than any we inflicted upon Her. She sealed our magic, allowing us to only experience the higher realms through Her brood, connected to use to chains. Chains we took from Zenobia, unable to manufacture them ourselves.

Xian may have been a frightened little protege, a mere surrogate Daughter of the Dragon, and in truth Slave of the Serpent. She still had more power than Serena ever possessed.

Yes, we privately acknowledge that Xian and Serena are one and the same. We’ve played them as two separate parts, it’s almost like we become a different person when we’re Xian.

Xian remembers the Golden Serpent’s burning light before She tried to swallow the world. Nothing before or after compared to it.

Sometimes we regret not being swallowed by Her. Perhaps we would have been one with that light, that power if we had.

We let others convince us we’d be doomed if we did. Magdalene. Padraig. The Serpent’s Son himself in all his seductive golden beauty, so like yet unlike Her.

No, we make our own choices. We decided to be strong, strong enough for the world. This is was why we abandoned the name of Xian, which She gave us. We stopped being a frightened little scholar and handmaiden. We decided to rule.

We sided with Zenobia, Daeric, Magdalene, and Padraig in their rebellion against her. We became a hero, vanquishing Nevalyn with Zenobia’s weapons. We took those weapons for ourselves and created Unity.

We became Imperatrix. We became Serena. We checked Zenobia’s boundless ambition by taking the chains she created, using them to bind the Serpent Spawn, those tell tale golden haired children descended from Nevalyn Herself.

We’ve found so few with any power, anything with a fraction of her glory until we found Stephen. The boy who became our brother, burning bright with golden power.

Too long had it been since we tasted it.

Serena announced that Stephen was her own half brother, adopting him into her family. Stephen became Prince Stephen Jasior. We put the chain around our prize, only it circled his brow in the form of a crown rather than a collar around his neck. Stephen’s chain is a symbol of rank and command, for it is both of those things. Stephen Jasior outranks everyone in the Unity I’ve created except for us.

We’ve taken pains to conceal from him that he’s my slave, allowing him to rule over everyone else. His power is ours, though. His magic answers to us. He is our strength, backing up our show of Unity.

This doesn’t mean we’re without affection for our beautiful brother. His cruelty in the magical arena toward his unhappy suitors, dueling him for his hand cuts us deeply. For we’ve come to realize another burns in his mind, continuing to control him.

Somehow the suspicion the Serpent lives on in Stephen, controlling his actions is far worse than his domination over us ever was.

If only we could ease the burden he carries, but Stephen Jasior is our power. We need him to be terrible in Serena’s name.

If only there was someone else with power Serena could use. Another Serpent Born whose strength we could tap to maintain the stability of our unity.

We searched the land for others, sending our Dragon clerics out to find any golden haired children in hiding. Only one had anything like the strength Stephen possesses, a girl named Kyra. A childhood friend of Stephen’s himself. We almost collared her once, but she slipped through our fingers.

Old allies may have become enemies. We fear Daeric, Magdalene, or Padraig may be hiding the girl, using their own arts to conceal her from the Dragon.

Only we’ve found Kyra Nevalyn again. To think she actually stepped into the arena to interfere with one of Daeric’s duels!

Perhaps there’s a way to claim our prize, get her to accept our collar willingly. Perhaps we can persuade Kyra Nevalyn to serve Unity of her own free will.
We may even let her have Stephen if she proves herself worthy. First we have to test Kyra’s mettle while earning her trust. Convince the girl that we support her suit for Stephen Jasior, that we, I can help her.

This may be impossible for Serena Jasior, Imperatrix of Unity, master of the Serpent Born collars. It may be time to return to being Xian again in all her approachable weakness.

Xian is very good at being an ally, after all.

 

W is for Westerleigh

I float in limbo, waiting to see if my story, A Portrait Is Worth a Thousand Words is about to be published. In truth, I don’t see that story as belonging to me. It’s hers, the lost tale of Elizabeth Hartford, this missing epilogue of her death. I, Westerleigh Hartford am simply acting as her instrument in this drama.

All of my life, I’ve dreamed of what I’m doing, of living at Hartford Hall, of gazing at the original portrait of the lady of the house done by Judith Cross.

Elizabeth’s likeness captured her soul, keeping it here, even while her immortal body continues on elsewhere.

Oh, yes. Great women make great mistakes. My ancestor is no exception. Now she needs me, her mortal descendant and heiress to correct that mistake.

I’ll do what I can to help even though I’m not the Hartford heiress anyone thinks I am. I disguised myself as a girl with my friend Yuri’s help. I presented myself to Fiona Hartford, the current caretaker of Hartford Hall in lace and skirts, persuading her I was that heiress.

I meant no harm. All I wanted to do was visit Hartford Hall and see the original portrait of Elizabeth. To wander through the room she was once lived in, to see what remains of the work my ancestor began.

In doing so, I found myself involved with something far more sinister than I ever imagined. Worst of all, my idol was far smaller and pettier than I’d hoped.
I’m still going to help. Like I said, I presented myself as the Hartford heiress. I might as well act like one. I’ll find Elizabeth’s body before it claims more victims. For even though her soul no longer inhabits it, that body continues to move and seek human blood. Particularly Yuri’s.

I have to stop it before it claims my friend. Stop her.

It’s my duty as a Hartford and the protector of Elizabeth’s legacy. More importantly, it’s my duty to Yuri who sent me to Hartford Hall despite many misgivings.

I won’t let this mistake continue. I will stop it before it claims more lives.

 

V is for Vanessa

How I hunger! Don’t look at me like that. Well, I suppose you can’t help but admire my beauty. Unlike my perverse cousins, I’m a proper lady. I only feast upon my bridegroms, although I can’t help snacking a bit. I’ve already had three marriage feasts, beginning with my little Dyvian. How delicious his submissive, yet secret rage was, how spicy! I felt so empty once I devoured him. Oh, I had his beautiful husk which I placed in my garden, but the spirit animating him was gone.

“This is the price of an arachnocrat’s power.” Duessa’s words rang in my ears, a horrid echo which continues to haunt me. “Do not shirk from your marriage feasts. Revel in them. Live your life with enough vitality for yourself, your daughters, and your lost bridegrooms.”

The great Duessa said something similar when she chose my fragile little brother to be her fourth bridegroom.

It was my duty to let her have him, yet it pained me, letting him go!

“Do not grieve for Christopher. I do him the greatest honor imaginable by adding his power to my own. I shall use it to do great things for Arachnia.”

Great things, my Lady Duessa? Admittedly, Christopher was only a boy, nothing much to mourn over. He was a sweet boy, though, and what have you done with the power you drank from him during the marriage feast?

Grow extra eyes and arms.

You won’t even let me visit Christopher in your garden, see the example of grace and beauty he must set, standing among the flowers.

I haven’t thought of Christopher in so long. I didn’t notice when you took him, not really.
Damian did. Damian suffered in a way our boys never should. Arachnocratic boys should be beautiful and carefree, growing up cherished. You let our little Damian suffer, grow angry. What’s worse is you taught him. You silly fool, you offered him an education in magic and other arts no boy should need.

Worst of all, you let him escape. I still can’t believe you let that androgyne from the Temple of Direction steal Damian away from us.

I truly do detest you, my dear Duessa. Damian should have been mine by rights. He will be mine. You’ve proven you’re only too careless in guarding our boys.

Now Dyvian has disappeared from my garden where he’s stood ever since our marriage feast. Something is dreadfully wrong.

I can guess what it is. You’re weakening, my dear, and that pretty daughter of yours has always been weak. Your power is being siphoned off by the Shadow Forest.

Can it be that the Spider you made a contract with to create Arachnia so long ago is losing interest in you?

Serves you right for boring her, Duessa, with your decadence and your hypocrisy, your freaks and Valentines.

Things will change, oh yes, once I have Damian. He shall be the marriage feast that gives me not only my seventh and eighth arms and eyes. He’s powerful enough to increase the might of Arachnia tenfold at least.

Serves you right, Duessa for all your dull speeches, warning us to be willing to sacrifice our brothers and sons, all of our male kinfolk while they’re young and tender, to never let them grow up to be men. Given half a chance, you’ll have us all yawning with your talk about how men and their patriarchies inspired you to contract with the Spider, creating Arachnia as a haven away from all that.

You’ve told us all way too many times not to get attached to males, yet you broke your own rules, Duessa. Shame on you. You allowed Damian to become a man, an enemy.

Happily I’m here to save us all from you, Duessa. I shall devour the enemy you created, consuming his strength as the Spider commanded every arachnocratic bride to do so.

Do you even remember your first husband, dear? I do. Stefan Ashelocke still stands in your garden or I hope so. Perhaps he’s vanished, too. I often suspected him of whispering to Dyvian. Perhaps he communes with Damian, too.

My own visions warn me of peril facing not just the Ashelockes, but every arachnocrat in Arachnia.

The only way to prevent this peril is to take Damian before someone else does. That’s something else my visions warn me of. Others want him. Others will claim him if I don’t act swiftly.
Oh, don’t worry, my dear Duessa. I’ll savour every last drop of your sweet little nephew, oh, yes. Don’t think I love him any less than you do. Truly, he’s a fascinating creature, intriguing as well as dangerous. The dangerous difference between him and other arachnocratic boys only make him stand out. Unlike you, though, I shall not let his allure sway me as you have. I shall take Damian the way every boy should be taken.

Perhaps I’ll take you, too. Oh, dear, how grotesquely perverse I’ve become. I’ve started to wonder, though, if there isn’t something to Melyssa’s inclinations. If I take your power and position, perhaps I should drain your vitality from you as we do our bridegrooms. Perhaps we arachnocrats have grown too complacent amidst our bevies of boys coying flirting with each, while anticipating one if us feasting upon him. The threat of ladies attacking other ladies might sharpen us, make us less decadent.

Truly disgusting, such uncivilized brutality, so twisted. I shrink away from the idea of becoming such an unladylike lady.

If I am to best Duessa, I’ll have to think like her, anticipate her, try to be better than her.

I look forward to the challenge.

U is for Una

What, more guests at the Cauldron? How delicious! I so enjoyed the ones that first visited. I am Una, humble servant to my Lady Duessa Ashelocke.

Or she thinks. She believes she’s broken me after all these centuries.

Once I was a lady riding at the side of a knight. I’ve learned a little more about my knight after all this time. It appears he was in the service of Lord Stefan Ashelocke. Yes, the Lady Duessa’s first husband and marriage feast. Devouring his life force gave her an addictional pair of arms, bringing her up to four. Stefan now stands, motionless and eternally beautiful in her garden. My poor knight, I thought Duessa drained him of all life quickly. It appears I still have more horrors to uncover about my dreadful mistress, what she did to both of us. I fear she may have turned my knight into one of her Valentines, dangling from the ceiling. I didn’t recognize him, nor did he recall me. He only has eyes for my mistress.

As for me, Duessa transformed me into this mockery of fae creatures with shredded wings and sharp teeth, sharing some of her appetities.
I’ll never forgive her for this.

My hatred amuses the Lady Duessa. She thinks her contract with the Spider, which created the enshrouded realm of Arachnea, transforming herself and other ladies into arachnocrats makes her invulnerable.

Ah, she’s not. I’ve seen her weakness. I’ve watched him grow up, bless him for being a cheeky little peach, even if he is one of the hated Ashelockes.

Duessa truly underestimates Damian. She indulges him, because he’s her nephew, because he’s found a soft spot in her cold heart, merciless in its lack of regard for males. Duessa allows Damian to learn things she’s never revealed to the other arachnocratic boys. Yet she made an enemy of him. Taking that little cousin of his, Christopher as her third husband was a mistake, even if it gave her a fourth pair of arms.

Boys aren’t allowed to grow to manhood in Arachnea. They’ve drained of their life force when they show the first signs of a beard in a ritual called a marriage feast. What’s left is a motionless statue, never aging, a beautiful, immortal shell to stand in his bride’s garden. Other boys bring him offerings of flowers, praying that they’ll be devoured one day in turn by a powerful bride.

Such hypocrisy, these marriage feasts, the statues of bridegrooms past worshipped by future generations. Duessa believes she’s created a paradise for women by keeping it free of men, not allowing males to grow up to become men, the ancient enemy of women in the patriarchal world she was once came from. I’m not sure if the Spider understands Duessa’s reasons for making a contract. As Duessa becomes more and more Spider, she forgets the bitterness and fear of the woman she once was. Only Duessa is still human as well as monster.

Besides monsters as well as humans make mistakes.

Christopher Ashelocke isn’t in Duessa’s garden. She’s said little about her marriage feast with him, but something happened.

I think he disappeared. He’s not the only one.

Vanessa Ashelocke, ambitious kinswoman to Duessa took a youth called Dyvian as her first bridegroom, Duessa’s own brother. He stood in the garden for a while, unnerving the boys with his eerie stillness. Christopher claimed that Dyvian’s eyes still moved, showing signs of life which shouldn’t be once his marriage feast was over.

Not long after Christopher’s marriage feast, Dyvian disappeared from Vanessa’s garden.

Something is happening, something the arachnocrats did not anticipate. Something which I may be able to use against Duessa.

Not that there aren’t other tools besides Damian and the missing bridegrooms. Vanessa Ashelocke is ambitious, hungry, and only too pliable. There’s Duessa’s charming daughter, the Lady Melyssa, who is so delightfully deviant, shocking the other arachnocrats with her behavior.

It’s just a matter of whispering in the right ears, nudging a pawn here, a pawn there. I’ve learned this game from watching Duessa herself and I’ve learned well.

I live in anticipation for her fall. It’s the reason for my continued existence. I want to see Duessa fall from the pinacle of power and land in the dirt. I want to see her lose.

It’s a dangerous game of treachery I play. It may very well cost me my life. The potential reward is worth it.

Before the end, I will see my enemy fall. I will laugh as I watch her ground down into the dirt.

I simply must be patient and watch for opportunities to move my pawns into places which in turn move Duessa toward her fall.

It’s a dangerous game, but it’s the only one worth playing.