Secondary Characters Speak Out: Map

A hooded figure in black robes stumbles into a clearing in the woods. Sunshine falls upon the crystal coffin in the center of the clearing. 

The figure throws back her hood, revealing a weary, wrinkled brown face like the bark of an ancient tree. Wild, graying black hair escapes in strands from the tight knot at the back of her neck.

She moves toward the crystal coffin. A stocky, thick figure can be seen through the opaque barrier of rock, a figure with a graying black beard, dressed in a burgundy waistcoat, a jacket, and trousers, still wearing his boots even though he’s laying down with his thick hands folded on his breast. 

She stops right in front of the coffin, close enough to touch it, but she doesn’t. She gazes right down at the sleeping dwarf’s red cheeks, his whiskered face. 

His eyes open. They are dark, yet flecked with hints of color like many a stone hiddn in the earth. 

Quartz: (lips not moving, but his voice can be heard) You’re not my princess. Not my kobold, neither. Map, wasn’t it?

Map: (for it is she) Hmmph. Looks like I get to be your blog guest again. Lucky me.

Quartz: Hmph yourself. As if you were a secondary character. 

Map: I might say the same about you. Lying in a coffin as if you were dead.

Quartz: Not my idea. Blame the scribbler.

Map: Often. 

Me: (while typing these words on the screen) Hey! (glares at Map’s words)

Map: (gazing from the coffin out, as if she was on TV and I was watching her) Why not call her out on it? Secondary characters don’t stay dead in her worlds. 

Quartz: Right. Got something against secondary characters? Dead ones in particular?

Map: I just said. They keep coming back to life.

Quartz: Good for them. Maybe I should have them as guests. Think I might have had one already, but we should talk more. Share ideas for haunting the main characters. 

Map: I’m not a main character. Why do you want to haunt them anyway?

Quartz: Don’t you? Especially the ones you’d really like to talk to, but your story arc isn’t giving you a chance to?

Map: Well…(Map squrms a bit.)…I haven’t given up hope I won’t have to haunt them. That they’ll want to talk to me, too. 

Quartz: Right. Which is why you’re skulking around my coffin, wearing that face. 

Map: What’s wrong with this face? (She touches her own wrinkles as if only becoming aware of them.)

Quartz: Nothing. Sure it’s perfectly fine as human faces go, but it’s not your true one. 

Map: How in Seraphix’s madness would you know that?

Quartz: See things since sleeping under this curse. Maybe it’s the crystal. Maybe your disguise is slipping. 

Map: (drawing herself up) You think I’m disguising myself?

Quartz: Aren’t you?

Map backs up a step. She draws her hood over her head, crouches down in a huddled dark shape. The shape grows, expanding. 

The rough weave of her cloth hood transforms into a velvety membrane. A wing, wings like those of a bat or a raptor. She spreads her wings, revealing a lean dark torso, the body and claws of a lion. The wrinkles have vanished from her face, leaving it a smooth ebon like the surface of an opal. Neat plaits of braided hair fall to her shoulders from a silver circlet around her forehead, as silver as the light shining from eyes as dark and gleaming as a cosmos of stars. 

The sphinx leaps forward to pounce upon the coffin. She peers at the dwarf’s face. 

Map: (for it is still Map’s voice even if it’s stronger and clearer than before) Tell me, Quartz. Is this my true face? Or just the one you hoped I’d show you?

Quartz: Never guessed you’d look like this, but it’s less of a mask than your other face.

Map: Less of a mask, not my true face. Is that what you’re saying?

Quartz: Maybe asking you to show your true face is too much. Truth may get muddled. Lost in memory. Like a picture you keep on a shelf. You try to dust it, keep it clean, so you can see it, but the dust keeps returning. Maybe truth is like that. You try to keep it clear in your head, but memory and feeling keep getting it dusty. 

Map: You compare memory and feeling to dust? Are these things you feel should be cleared away?

Quartz: Never, but they can get the truth dusty. Just like they make it hard to see your true face.

Map: Not a bad answer, Quartz. A good thing because I was getting hungry. 

Quartz: So the legends are true. Your kind eats those who won’t answer their riddles. Or their questions. 

Map: I cannot speak for my kind, Quartz. I’ve met women who had the potential to become like me, but most of them died before they found their wings or claws. 

Quartz: Women, not sphinx?

Map: I was a woman once. Education, knowledge, and a specific sort of angry hunger shaped me, giving me centuries beyond most women’s lives. I’d hoped to encourage others to become like me, but they weren’t stronger than their anger. Or mine. 

Quartz: Right. These wouldn’t be those secondary characters haunting you?

Map: (wingtips trembling) I thought I’d killed them when they failed me, turning on me. I thought I’d fed them to another monster. Only he brought them back to life in human form. If they were ever truly dead in the first place. 

Quartz: So you never met another sphinx like yourself?

Map: Like myself, no, but I have met another sphinx. She was very different. I thought I’d find her here, sleeping in your coffin in human form. 

Quartz: Huh. Another woman has slept in this coffin, though she wasn’t a sphinx.

Map: And now you’re there. Sleeping yet not sleeping. 

Quartz: Blame the scribbler. She has yet to get back to me. 

Map: Has she, now?

Quartz: Don’t gloat over all the time you’ve gotten with her, woman. 

Map: I’m not gloating. She hasn’t spent that much time with me. Secondary character, remember?

Quartz: Right. If you’re a secondary character, I’m a Person of Interest.

Nimmie Not: (voice coming out of nowhere) You are!

Map: (glancing around at the sound) I see. I wonder now if you’re truly cursed rather than simply the subject of…attention. 

Quartz: Oh, I’m cursed. Absorbed it, you see, from this poor crystal. It needed cleansing after healing the girl who slept within it. 

Map: (peering at the stone) You’ve trapped yourself, trying to cleanse it. 

Quartz: Stop trying to riddle spoilers out of me. As you can see, your sister sphinx isn’t here. 

Map: She wasn’t my sister. She was my companion, the love of my life. She might have become my wife if I hadn’t let her go. 

Quartz: You didn’t curse her, did you? That’s why I put my girl in this coffin to begin with. To have the crystal draw the curse from her. 

Map: No, I didn’t curse her, even though I was angry and hurt. She may have cursed herself. 

Quartz: Sounds like you’re not sure.

Map: She carried her past like a burden, giving into destructive impulses until she shed her former self.

Quartz: Did that help?

Map: It did and it didn’t. She became a new person, but she discovered a new compulsion. 

Quartz: Right. Not sure how much she changed. 

Map: She left me before we could find out. 

Quartz: Why’d she leave?

Map: To follow her compusion. To open Doors. To discover new worlds, her own power, but I felt compelled to stay as much as she did to go. To take care of what she left behind.

Quartz: What did she leave behind?

Map: Children. At least I thought they were hers. Two of them looked very much like her. 

Quartz: Right. Whose were they?

Map: Does it matter? (She extendd her claws.) They’re mine now. Mine and Ashleigh’s.

Quartz: Ashleigh. If that’s the other sphinx, I think I’ve met her. Curious name for a sphinx. 

Map: Enough. Answering your questions, correcting your flawed statements is making me hungry. Only being answered satisfies me. 

Quartz: Are you often satisfied? 

Map: No. 

Advertisement

#QueerBlogWed: Just a Dream

On June 8, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving beans, a gate falling of its hinges and a star.

This Tale of the Navel, Tale of Omphalos, a freebie story for The Hand and the Eye of the Tower was the result…

The beans had climed over a gate falling off its hinges. 

As long as I’d been in Omphalos, that gate had been in a state in disrepair. Never more so now. 

“Does anyone ever harvest those beans?” I didn’t look at my companion. Instead I stared at the star in the sky. 

It shone with a reproachful brightness which reminded me of Tayel’s eyes. How aggrieved he’d be if he knew I was sneaking around with his precious twin. Even if it was just in a dream. 

“Map gathers them. She makes a soup or a stew with these beans.” I could hear the slight hitch in Danyel’s breath, feel his shy gaze. “She doesn’t like to use meat.”

“No, she doesn’t.” I let out a sigh, imagining Map’s furrowed brow at the notion of any living creature having to die to feed another. “She will, though.”

Just because she didn’t like to eat meat didn’t mean she wouldn’t eat it. Or try to feed it to others. 

“Christopher.” Danyel’s small hand tugged at mine. “I’m dreaming of you, aren’t I? Why do I always dream of you, but I can never remember you when I wake up?”

I turned, allowing myself to look at his upturned button nose, the curl of silvery golden hair falling over his forehead. Luminous violet-blue eyes too big for his face gleamed with reflected starlight, mixing with the heartfelt question shining back at me. 

In an unguard moment, I told him the truth. 

“Because I’m selfish. I shouldn’t be talking to you, but I can’t stay away.” I tried to smile. “I’m lonely. I’m only like my former self when I’m with you in a dream.”

“Why?” He tugged at my hand again. “Why can’t you come see me…us…when you’re awake? Why do you hide in a dream?”

“Your brother doesn’t want me anywhere near you.” I pressed his hand with my fingers, delighting in being a physical person again. The price, however, was too high to do this anywhere than in a dream. “He’s right to be protective of you. He’s right to be worried.”

“Why?” He repeated his favorite word, the one he pestered all of his loved ones with in the manner of determined innocents. “Why should he worry about you? You wouldn’t hurt me. Would you?”

I turned away, allowing myself to dissolve into the mists, leaving him to gaze at a damaged gate covered with beans. 

Soon Danyel would be waking up. Soon he’d find himself lying next to Tayel, wondering what happened. 

Tayel would guess exactly what happened. He’d be hurt, worried, and upset with me. Sensing the danger, the truth of me, yet unwilling to name it. 

I was always with them, watching over them, even if it wasn’t as a living person. I was waiting for Danyel and Tayel, even though I hoped they’d keep away. 

I was getting too hungry and lonely to be careful. I’d given up too much of myself to bring Danyel and Tayel into the existence. To let them go, beyond the Door, to find a life as real as the one Damian had given me.

Part of me would always want them back. Part of me counted on them returning to me. 

The other part of me dreaded that reunion. Dreaded what might happen, what I might do when I met the twins in the waking world. 

Danyel was getting more and more persistent about seeking me out in his dreams. He seemed to want to find me as much as I wanted to be found. 

Tayel was afraid of me. Afraid of what I’d do to him, to both of the twins, but particularly to Danyel. Afraid I could take away everything he held dear. 

Alas, I could. This was part of the reason I dreaded meeting the twins in the flesh. Why I contented myself with glimpses in dreams and visions. Watching them through walls of stone. 

They were curious. They couldn’t help but wonder. Not even Tayel, no matter how hard he tried not to. 

Peter had once accused me of being entirely too irresistible. Of invoking a passion to get closer to me which bordered on madness. 

I hadn’t believed him. To accept such a thing was both vanity and undeserved. 

Seeing Danyel’s eyes shine at me made me worry. Just what had I kindled in this innocent life I’d created?

I feared we were both going to find out. 

Like my style of writing? Here are my published works…

http://www.amazon.com/author/kstrenten

Conversations with Christopher: Peter

Pain. It cuts through his temples, making him stagger. Not even the cool kiss of the Shadow Forest’s mist or the comforting steam of the Cauldron can soften it entirely. 

Christopher breathes in the musty air, dust, shelves covered with items hiding in cracks and corners. Things a customer don’t realize they want, let alone need. A statue of a muscular man with a hen’s head leers at him with beady eyes. 

The shelves are too close. Their smell makes him sick. 

Peter: Here.

A hand guides him through the shelves, to the door. Chimes tingle when it opens. 

That sound is soothing, easing some of the pain. 

Christopher staggers across the threshold into the main street of Omphalos. Thankfully no one else is around. Peter follows. 

Peter: Do you do that often?

Christopher gets a brief memory flash of Damian putting a hand to his temple, groaning. 

Christopher: (lifting a hand to his brow) I wonder if this is what Damian felt in the Navel. When he said he felt trapped in there. 

Peter: Do you feel trapped? Are you unhappy?

Christopher: (shaking his head) This is the happiest I’ve ever been. Even though I still miss Damian. 

Peter: Were you happy when he was here?

Christopher: (pressing a hand to a temple which throbs a little less painfully in the open air) Happier than I thought I could be.

Peter: (smiling a little) Thought you were incapable of happiness, did you?

Christopher: Not incapable. Just not that happy with something so simple. Small things were so beautiful, so precious after the Shadow Forest. Time slowing down to something that didn’t constantly chase my imagination. 

Peter: (licking his lips and swallowing) Ah, so time can actually keep pace with one’s shifting mental imagery beyond the Door.

Christopher: It’s far more terrible than you realize. (He starts walking down the street away from Peter.) Anything which crosses your mind may manifest. Even if you don’t want it to. 

Peter: (following him) Sounds like you must have been a god on the other side. 

Christopher: (with a bitter laugh) Anyone can be a god on the other side. 

Peter stops for a moment with a convulsive shudder which makes him sway upon his feet.

Christopher: (glancing over his shoulder) Whether or not you would want to be a god is another matter entirely. 

Peter: (starting to trot after him) Who wouldn’t want to be a god? All that power!

Christopher: Exactly. (looking ahead) All that power. It comes with responsibility. 

Peter: Don’t assume everyone is afraid of that. 

Christopher: You should be. Wield great power and you’ll make great mistakes. 

Peter: Not to mention accomplish great things. 

Christopher: (stopping) Just what do you think a god is, Peter?

Peter: Someone who isn’t bound by mortal concerns or constraints. 

Christopher: Exactly. It’s overwhelming. 

Peter: To be overwhelmed like that, how I envy you. 

Christopher: Why? (He stops, turns around to look at Peter.) Why do you want to be overwhelmed?

Peter: I’m too easily underwhelmed. Too small. Too powerless. Unable to help or save anyone. Unable to release myself from my own restrictions. 

Christopher: Restrictions can define us, bringing rewards a god is incapable of appreciating. 

Peter: (raising an eyebrow) You think I’m unappreciative?

Christopher: Of the consequences of a god’s actions? Yes. 

Peter: Perhaps you’re too sensitive about such things. 

Christopher: I wasn’t suited to godhood. 

Peter: Don’t assume I’m not just because I want it. 

Christopher: (taking a step closer to Peter) We always want what we don’t have. (He reaches out a cheek to touch Peter’s cheek.) Appreciating what we do is much harder. 

Peter: (taking his hand and kissing it) Is that why you reject me? Once I have you, I won’t appreciate you. Is that what you think?

Christopher: I fear you love the quest far more than the treasure you seek. Whether it’s something you desire in another person or godhood. 

Peter: (dropping his hand) And your beloved Damian? Did he appreciate you?

Christopher: (turning away) Yes, I believe he did. For a while. Only I wasn’t enough. Not enough to satisfy him. Let alone make him happy. 

Peter: Is anyone? Just because a feeling is fleeting, should you turn away from it? I never have.

Christopher looks up at the top of the hill. Sometimes he sees a ruined tower up there. Sometimes a circle of standing stones. 

This time he sees dancing lights, twinkling and twirling around each other. He knows there will be a pond lying beneath them. A pond filled floating colors, disappearing and dissolving into each other. 

Christopher: (smiling sadly) No, you haven’t, have you?

He keeps walking, not looking back.

Peter puzzled, frowning, keeps following him. 

#RainbowSnippets: Stealing Myself From Shadows

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

Every Saturday or Sunday those participating post and share six sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction on their blogs. It can be their own. It can be someone else’s. It just needs to be LGBTQIA+.

To sample other LGBTQIA+ stories, go to…

https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowSnippets

The holidays are over and I’m not feeling remotely festive. Not with all the cat concerns I’m facing in real life. Time to open a Door and escape into the Shadow Forest in Stealing Myself From Shadows. Only it’s not the Shadow Forest Christopher is in, but Omphalos. And now he’s face to face with the Navel, the odd shop on the main road through Omphalos…

  This shop had a dusty window, displaying a skull and a deck of cards lying on a bed of purple velvet. 

    The skull caught my eye before the sign. Weathered and in need of painting, it took me a moment before I saw the image of a rounded stomach and a belly button.

    “The Navel.” I felt my face color. The mysterious Gabrielle, soon to be my mother, had a sense of humor.

Conversations with Christopher: Maia

A castle made of gold shimmers and straightens in the ever-changing mists. It becomes a sparkling skyscraper, a tower made of glass, flashing and teasing amidst the fog. 

Its light becomes a beacon, beckoning Christopher, luring him out of the mist onto a waiting patch of grass with a clear view of the skyscraper, rising into the heavens like the ambitions which formed it. 

A woman with short dark hair gazes up at its walls, a slight smile playing upon her face, a dark cape fluttering from her shoulders. She fidgets with a top hat in her hands as if she isn’t quite sure what to do with it. 

Christopher: Maia, isn’t it? I’ve met you before, but I’m not sure if I’ve been here. 

Maia: Here? This place doesn’t exist. I dreamed while slaving away in an old-fashioned factory which was the heart of Verity. 

Christopher: Why?

Maia: (laughs, transferring the hat to one hand) Why? For I am Iama the Terrible! (She flourishes her hat in the direction of the skyscraper.) And this is my castle of gold. Or perhaps I should say tower?

Christopher looks up at the sparkling walls, gleaming with golden light. For a moment, its glass turns a brilliant, hot white with a bony crown reaching out of the top with skeletal fingers. 

Maia: (shielding her eyes with her hat) Ow! Stop that!

Christopher: Sorry. 

The stones darken with black tears, whimpering. The sky grows dark, filled with rumbling clouds, outraged at the spokes daring to reach for the heavens. 

Maia: That’s not my tower. 

The clouds part, revealing the sun. The darkness drips down the walls of the skyscraper, pooling at the base, leaving it golden and gleaming once more. 

Christopher: (not looking at her) What’s the difference between a castle and a tower?

Maia: (giving him a sideways glance) Well, I suppose they’re both fortresses. You can barricade yourself inside either. Only a castle somehow still feels like a home. A tower is a prison. 

Christopher: A tower can be a home. A tower can part of yourself, but yes, a tower can be a prison. Locking you inside, making you feel powerful and safe.

Maia: It’s just a feeling. You’re not safe. (She looks back at her tower.) Isolation is not safety.

Christopher: (offers her a sad smile) No, it’s not. 

Maia: The white tower, the black tower. Which one did you hide in?

Christopher: Both and neither. 

Maia: You do like your riddles. 

Christopher: You like your tower.

Maia: I used to like it. I let it go, along with with the ambition that created it. 

Christopher: Leaving it behind in the Shadow Forest where it bubbles up once more in this Cauldron. 

Maia: Those are your words, describing your world. Not mine. 

Christopher: Why are you here? Why do you still call yourself Iama the Terrible if you’ve left your castle…tower…of gold?

Maia: (letting out a sigh) She’s still part of me, even if I’ve left her dream behind. I’ve got her princess. My princess. I’ve found I’m weak without her. 

Christopher: Are you?

Maia: I thought I was the strong one. The provider. The one who took care of her and our sister. Nathalie and Grace ended up having to save me. 

Christopher: Does that make you weak? Or wiser?

Maia: (chuckles again) Wise enough to realize I’m weak. 

Christopher: That’s something, isn’t it?

Maia: Yes, it is. Like saying goodbye to the tower. I have something better now. 

Christopher: (turns to gaze at her as if he’d just seen her) Something better?

Maia: Sure. I have my girls; Nathalie and Grace. No tower can compare to them. 

Christopher: No. (He looks up at the walls, not really seeing them.) It can’t, can it?

Maia: You have something, don’t you? Or rather someone?

Christopher: What?

Maia: Someone better than the tower. I never would have dreamed of this place, desired to build it if not for them. Only it kept me from them, from being parts of their lives.

Christopher: (looking down) I suppose it does.

Maia: Beware of your own walls, Christopher. Don’t let them come between you and the ones that truly matter. 

Christopher spins around to stare at her, startled, but Maia is already backing into a cloud of mist, blowing him a kiss. She disappears. 

He turned to look up at the skycraper which turns white, black, growing luminous with colors. Its windows are no longer opaque. He can see faces in the window, looking out at him.

Christopher: Thank you…Iama. I’ll keep that in mind. 

He starts walking toward the tower, the mist rising beneath his feet. 

Want to read more about Maia/Iama and her girls? Here are buy links to Wind Me Up, One More Time; their story…

Mischief Corner Books/Shenanigans Press: https://www.mischiefcornerbooks.com/store/p161/Wind_Me_Up%2C_One_More_Time.html#/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B081LPX2WH/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Wind+Me+Up%2C+One+More+Time&qid=1573974211&s=books&sr=1-1

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/wind-me-up-one-more-time

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wind-me-up-one-more-time-ks-trenten/1134959345

Apple: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1488235515?fbclid=IwAR1_ox2T5jIHibPFBHUqTck0SNaP3pcZIgNM4DS3VAjU47mn3o5iu260bMA

Conversations with Christopher: Iama’s Hall of Mirrors

Christopher steps out of the mists, finds himself stepping through a Door, a Door in the shape of a frame. 

He looks down at the roses, apples, and leaf pattern twisted with the weeping faces of women writhing together in the gold, his booted foot touching marble floor. 

Mirrors line the hall, reflecting boy after boy dressed in a long-necked dark tunic, his coppery golden hair curling around his ears, falling down his forehead. 

No. The same mists which swallow and take Christopher away envelop each boy, changing him into someone else or something else. A younger boy with brighter hair, brighter eyes, dressed in a white tunic with a green vest. Or a blue vest. A woman very like the boys exploring the rooftop of a cottage with an impish grin. A dragon with rainbow tinted scales curled upon around the top of a black and white tower. A dark sphinx fanning her wings while perched on top of a spinning wheel. A dark-haired young man reaching out a hand with a tiny private smile playing upon his lips as the roses bloom around him. 

Iama: You’re a creature of many faces.

Iama the Terrible, mistress of this hall stands at the opposite end of Christopher, gold clinging to her fingers, binding them to the long black billowing sleeve of her gown. She moves, draped in glittering shadow toward her visitor, appearing in every reflected image. 

She reaches out to touch each of the boys, the man in the garden, the woman on the rooftop. She stands on the spikes of the tower, her hand descending to pet the dragon. Her sleeve spreads across the sky above the sphinx, one giant finger descending toward the wheel.

Iama: My hall of mirrors reflect the different aspects of a person. You, all of you could keep it occupied for a long time. 

The boys shrink away. The man takes a step back. The woman dodges Iama’s fingers. The dragon hisses. The sphinx stands and growls. 

All of them do this as Christopher does a half-pirouette, increasing the distance between himself and his host. 

Christopher: Such an occupation may be as costly as your touch, my lady. 

Iama stops in her tracks, halfway to Christopher. Her reflections halt as if well. 

Iama: All I touch turns to gold, becoming precious, yet I am but a character within a story within a story.

Christopher: As am I, but I slip out of solid forms such as gold and stone into shadow.

Iama: Do you think you can slip away from me, your and your reflections? Here in my hall of mirrors?

Christopher: I think you need a victim’s consent before you can touch them or keep them. 

Iama: I have no victims. Only companions. 

Christopher: If so, you would need my…our…consent.

Boys, man, woman, dragon and sphinx all nod in agreement at the aspect of Iama approaching them. 

Iama: (lowering her hand) Ah, well, what am but a creature of Nathalie and Grace’s fairytale? I must abide by their rules and yours. 

Christopher: Must you?

The man, the woman, and the sphinx’s smile turns a little wicked, promising fairytale mischief of their own. Boys and dragon cock their heads in interest at this stranger for all they quiver. 

Iama nods with a liquid grace. The lips of her reflections twitch in response to the smiles and the curiosity. 

Iama: Within reason. I am Iama the Terrible, after all. 

Christopher: You’re one of the first characters our scribbler created. Once upon an eleven-year old’s teddy bear notebook. 

The boys, the woman, and the dragon perk up at the last. The man raises a delicate black eyebrow. The sphinx presses her lips together, trying not to laugh at the source of the dark hand menacing her. 

Iama: Yes. Years before Wind Me Up, One More Time was published. I was the villain in the very first story the scribbler wrote. 

Christopher: You were male originally. Weren’t you?

Iama: Both Theodora Bear and I. She…or rather he…was a talking, walking teddy bear who came to Grace out of nowhere, guiding her to my starlit tower. I was a foul-tempered wizard inclined to kidnap princesses, forcing them to scrub my floor. 

Christopher: Why?

Iama: (smile twisting) This is something our scribbler never got around to explaining in that first story. 

One of the boys looks out of the mirror at Christopher, moving his lips. The Iama facing him looks as well. 

Christopher: (smiling at the boy in the mirror) Don’t worry, Danyel. I’ll ask. 

Iama: (glancing at the boy in the mirror before looking back at Christopher) Ask whatever you wish.

Christopher: Was it princesses? Or just one princess?

Iama makes another graceful half bow toward Danyel. Her reflection approaching him bows as well. As do all the Iamas. 

Iama: Just one. Nathalie. Grace and her teddy bear companion came to rescue her.

Christopher: This sounds like a story in itself. 

Iama: Not much of one. (She wrinkles her nose.) The scribbler was a less than precocious eleven-year-old. 

Christopher: I wonder if Gryluxx isn’t a bit like the original you. 

Boys and dragon nod emphatically. The woman and the sphinx roll their eyes. The man along with all of the Iamas glance down, lips twitching. 

Iama: This name is unknown to me. 

Christopher: He’s from my world. The world of Tales of the Navel, Tales of Omphalos. He wears black robes and too much jewelry. He used to be part of a raven boy called Paul who detests me. He usually works a boast about how great and powerful he is into any conversation. 

Iama: So this Gryluxx claims to be great and powerful rather than showing it. (She lets out a dark chuckle.) Yes, that does sound like the original me. I was, after all, defeated by a girl and a teddy bear. 

Christopher: As opposed to in Wind Me Up, One More Time?

Iama: My story along with myself is far more complex.

Christopher: This may be also because of the writing of our scribbler. Both she and it have changed over time. 

Iama: True. 

(To be continued next Monday.)

If you’d like to read more about Iama the Terrible and her hall of mirrors, check out Wind Me Up, One More Time available at…

Mischief Corner Books/Shenanigans Press: https://www.mischiefcornerbooks.com/store/p161/Wind_Me_Up%2C_One_More_Time.html#/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B081LPX2WH/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Wind+Me+Up%2C+One+More+Time&qid=1573974211&s=books&sr=1-1

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/wind-me-up-one-more-time

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wind-me-up-one-more-time-ks-trenten/1134959345

Apple: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1488235515?fbclid=IwAR1_ox2T5jIHibPFBHUqTck0SNaP3pcZIgNM4DS3VAjU47mn3o5iu260bMA

Conversations with Christopher: Madam Mousenip

The mist clears before a Door. 

Christopher is unsure what he’s going to find behind it, but he opens it. 

An old-fashioned kitchen awaits beyond. There’s a table with a platter of cheese upon it. A mouse scampers up its leg, ready to pounce upon the platter. 

Christopher: Hello.

Madam Mousenip: (it is she) Squeak! (She runs behind the mound of cheese, whiskers quivering.)

Christopher: It’s all right. (He steps into the kitchen.) I don’t live here. It’s not my cheese.

Madam Mousenip: I should certainly say not! (She sticks her nose out with a regal sniff.) Cracktooth left us this cheese especially. It’s ours. 

Christopher: Ours? (He glances around the kitchen for anyone else.)

Madam Mousenip: Mousetrick’s and mine. 

Christopher: Where is Mousetrick? 

Madam Mousenip: Oh, who knows where? (She steps out, wringing her paws.) He’s been dashing about, trying to ready his seven tricks before the twelve days of Christmas are up. 

Christopher: He’s got quite a bit of time, doesn’t he? It’s only the beginning of December. 

Madam Mousenip: There’s never enough time for a mouse, human. (She raises her nose with great dignity.) We must scamper and scramble for all our short lives are worth, enjoying what cheese and gingerbread we can. 

Christopher: There’s never enough time. And I’m not a human. 

Madam Mousenip: Not a human? (She relaxes a bit.) You certainly look like one. 

Christopher: I don’t always act like one. (He gazes at the cheese a little wistfully.) Is that really good? Our scribbler seems to like it, too. 

Madam Mousenip: (gravely) Cheese is one of the greatest pleasures in life as our scribbler knows. This may be why she’s been honored with the nickname of “Mousewife”, due to having a little of our wisdom and taste. 

Christopher: (a tiny smile playing at the corner of his mouth) I’m sure.

Madam Mousenip: I do pity you, you poor creature. Not only are you hideously ugly, but you cannot enjoy cheese? Our scribbler must have been feeling sadistic when she created you.

Christopher: I often wonder if she wasn’t. (He gives the mouse a sideways glance.) Am I so ugly?

Madam Mousenip: Oh, my dear giant, that’s not much of a snout you’ve got. Not to mention your jaw is non-existent. And all you’ve got is one patch of fur on your head!

Christopher: (reaching up to touch his hair) That’s true. 

Madam Mousenip: I do pity you. I’d bite you, giving you a face of astounding beauty, but my teeth no longer have the magic they once did. (Her paw twitches.)

Christopher: I’m very sorry to hear that. Thank you anyway. 

Madam Mousenip: Well, I must be off. I’ve got a warren filled with the laziest of wastes of fur lying around, sleeping. That Cheesecurd is the worst. (She sniffs again.) I almost think being chased by a cat might be good for him. 

Christopher: (gravely) Surely not. The cat might kill him.

Madam Mousenip: Yes, you’re right. I suppose that’s too cruel a fate, even for Cheesecurd. Still a mouse’s life is full of peril and opportunity. You can’t waste too much of it, hiding in a pile of tissue. 

Christopher: No, I suppose you can’t. 

Madam Mousenip: Well, I must scamper. (She nibbles at the block, filling her mouth with cheese before dashing down the table leg, running off.) 

Christopher: (watching her go) Peril and opportunity, huh? I guess they do go hand in hand. 

Somewhere outside the kitchen, a grandfather clock chimes, almost as if it’s agreeing with him. 

If you’d like to read more about Madam Mousenip, Mousetrick, and the perils of a mouse’s life, check out Seven Tricks

Nine Star Press:  https://ninestarpress.com/product/seven-tricks/

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/seven-tricks-ks-trenten/1127424849?ean=2940158598838

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Seven-Tricks-K-S-Trenten-ebook/dp/B0779JRC34/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Seven+Tricks%2C+by+K.S.+Trenten&qid=1636767558&qsid=134-3810483-5012939&s=digital-text&sr=1-1&sres=B0779JRC34&srpt=ABIS_BOOK

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/seven-tricks

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/758279

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Gryluxx

Quartz sits in a clearing in the Forest of Tears where red flowers like fat teardrops hang low on many of trees. He can see many of them even if he’s perched on a stump. He can also see the crystal coffin not far away. It’s occupied but he refuses to look too closely at it.

Quartz: Not sure if it’s me or my Fairest in there. Not sure when I am or how I woke up. It was a cursed sleep after all. Doesn’t seem like it would be that easy to wake from. 

Gryluxx: Because it’s my will that you look me in the eye when you speak to me, dwarf. Not just lie there on your back. 

A flock of crows swoop down to snatch at Quartz’s dark green cap. 

Quartz: Oi! (He bats away at the birds, getting pecked in process.) Get away from me!

The crows swirl around in a whirring vortex of feathers only to disaappear into a feathered cloak. The cloak settles upon the shoulders of a robed man with a goatee, a sneer, and beady eyes. A single silver medallion rests against his breast. 

Gryluxx: How rude. (He strokes his medallion, rings flashing on every finger.) I happen to be your guest for this month’s blog. Even if I marvel at the conceit which allows you to dismiss me, me! as a secondary character. 

Quartz: Right. (He rocks forward on the stump to peer at his “guest”.) Just whom am I supposed to be impressed by? Meaning you. (He snorts a bit at his own words.)

Gryluxx: (sniffing) Mind your tone, dwarf, for I am Gryluxx. Master of mysteries. Snatcher of secrets. I am the eyes and ears of the Lord of Omphalos and all the lands that surround it. I am what was wasted in the cupbearer of the former Lord of the Heavens, Chosen Follower of Seraphix. I am…(He stops, stares hard at Quartz)…that is very shoddy work. 

Quartz: (starting to doze off during Gryluxx’s litany, startled awake by the comment) Eh? What of it?

Gryluxx: Your cap. (The robed man fixes his beady eyes upon the cap in question) The seams are coming undone. I can make you another one, far sturdier for a very reasonable price. 

Quartz: Erm, I don’t know. (He touches the cap on his head.) This belonged to my mum. It’s been with me under earth and rock, wood and air. 

Gryluxx: It looks it. (He lets out another sniff.) Just how often do you change your clothes? You smell terrible. 

Quartz: Now see here! (He leaps down from the stool to glare up at Gryluxx who isn’t that tall.) I’ve lying there in a cursed sleep for shards knows how long. You try doing that and see how you smell after!

Gryluxx: (wrinkling his nose) I think not. No mere curse is great enough to catch me. Plus I can stitch a cap that’ll make you the envy and terror of goblins everywhere. 

Quartz: Look, I’ve got no quarrel with goblins. Don’t believe all the stereotypes about dwarves. Especially the ones that make us all handsome, sweeping halflings off their feet and into danger. I keep to myself and don’t go looking for trouble. 

Gryluxx: You’re only living a half life if that’s true. Trouble is where life’s most delicious slices lie. I’m guessing the most interesting things about you are what you try to hide. 

Quartz: What of it? That’s my concern. Not yours. 

Gryluxx: Everyone’s trouble is my concern. Remember I’m the master of mysteries and the stealer of secrets. 

Quartz: And you also sew caps. 

Gryluxx: You would look far less withered and grumpy in red. A red cap would give you a little more life. 

Quartz: Who are you calling withered and grumpy? The last thing I want is a red cap. It would cause all sorts of misunderstandings, yes it would. (He pauses.) Why am I talking like Nimmie Not?!

Nimmie Not: (not appearing but Quartz can hear him in his ear) I’m under your skin. Soon you’ll be dressing like me in yellow stockings. 

Quartz: (shuddering) Gah!

Gryluxx: (taking a step closer, nose twitching) What was that?

Quartz: Nothing! (takes a step back) Look, I’ve got no wish to change my cap. 

Gryluxx: Change will come whether you wish it to or not. Change flies on wings of omen to envelop you whether you welcome it or fight. Better to be prepared and attired for it. Better to let me attire you for it. 

Quartz: Gah, you’re as pushy as Nimmie Not! What are you, a wandering tailor peddling your wares as well as a mage?

Gryluxx: (drawing himself up stiffly) I never said I was anything as crude as a mage. I leave such vulgar ripples of power to Ashleigh, her wife, and her sons. 

Quartz: Should I know these people? (He pauses, frowns.) Wait, yes, I should…Map. Ashleigh’s wife would happen to be short as well as short-tempered? Lives in a cottage, doesn’t like visitors, has three sons?

Gryluxx: That would be Ashleigh’s wife. Her sons are far more beautiful than she is, although Ashleigh has improved greatly since when I once knew her. By a different name. 

Quartz: What name would that be?

Gryluxx: Tut, tut! Are you saying you don’t know, dwarf? You’ve met her. You’ve had her as a guest. She’s spoken to you about me as well. 

Quartz: What are you talking about?

Gryluxx: If you don’t know, I’m not telling you. (He lets out a wet-sounding chuckle.) Oh, the things I know that you don’t, even about your own blog. 

Quartz: And what would that be? 

Gryluxx: I’m sure Christopher has slunk in here, pretending to be a secondary character, the sneaky little shadow. Hasn’t he?

Quartz: Nothing sneaky about it. Christopher just shows up. 

Gryluxx: He’s spoken of Ashleigh’s sons, hasn’t he? The twins. Pretty boys, look very like her in her latest incarnation. Golden-haired, huge violet-blue eyes, button noses. Dressed impeccably thanks to my efforts and my lord’s degree. 

Quartz: So you’re saying you dress Danyel and Tayel. 

Gryluxx: Ah, so you do know them!

Quartz: Not sure if I’ve met them in a cross-over blog. So many dreams, so many blogs. (He rubs his head.) I blame the scribbler for being muddled. I’m sure she’s the one that’s muddled. 

Gryluxx: I would think you’d remember them if you met them. They are pretty boys, if insolent, willful, and utterly ignorant of their place. 

Quartz: Right and where would that be?

Gryluxx: Under my…guidance. 

Quartz: Uh huh. Guidance. Right. 

Gryluxx: (scowls) Right? Christopher would have done so much better if he’d accepted my guidance. 

Quartz: You offered to guide him?

Gryluxx: Well, no. (He scowls.) There were complications. A boy. A man, really, we were both close to. I didn’t trust Christopher. He is a shadow after all. 

Quartz: Right. And you’re the stealer of secrets. Among other things. 

Gryluxx: (drawing himself up) Are you questioning me? My title or my truth?

Quartz: It’s what I do here. Secondary characters come to me, wanting to be questioned. Doubt they’d show up otherwise. 

Gryluxx: You dare to call me a secondary character? Again? 

Quartz: Look at it this way. Map, her wife, even Christopher all considered themselves to be secondary characters. They’ve all ended up here. 

Gryluxx: And what secrets did they whisper to you?

Quartz: You want to know? Ask them. Or go find the blogs and read them. 

Gryluxx: Just what does Christopher want with the twins? What is he hiding?

Quartz: Not sure if he’s hiding anything. He just wants to protect them, yet he’s worried if he can’t if he gets too close to them. 

Gryluxx: Oh ho! He does, does he? (He rubs his hands together.) How delicious! Does he speak of that often?

Quartz: (backing up another step) Why do you ask?

Gryluxx: Isn’t it obvious, fool? The twins are of interest to my masters. Danyel and Tayel are mysteries. Therefore they’re of interest to me. I would crack them open, have them serve me. 

Quartz: Right. Serve you as what? A tailor’s assistants?

Gryluxx: (flinching before drawing himself up huffily) They’ve got to start somewhere. 

Quartz: If they’ve got to start.

Gryluxx: Just what are you saying, dwarf?

Quartz: Not sure if they’ve got start anywhere or anything. Not if it leads to serving you. Or being cracked open. 

Gryluxx: (baring his teeth) We’ll see about that, dwarf.

He spreads his cloak with a melodramatic flourish and lets out an equally melodramatic cackle. The cackle becomes the cawing of crows as Gryluxx transforms into a flock of birds. They take fight, cawing all the way in derision. 

Quartz: (watching them leave with just as much derision) Show-off. 

Conversations with Christopher: Duessa

Often Christopher walks through shadows, finding himself taking shape in the Cauldron. 

Not this time. He hears singing; women’s voices, singing along with one deeper voice, drawing them all in. 

“Blessed is the Feast

Who offer up his life in marriage

Who chooses not to take

Who gives power instead

Never forcing his dream on anyone

Offering up his blood to his bride

Give him a lifetime of pleasure

Ecstacy beyond fleeting release

Fulfil every desire

Leaving him eternal.”

Flowers blossom on thorny vines around him, popping into life, petals trembling. Trapped in bloom.

Christopher reaches out a hand to the flower, only to see it blacken, withering upon the vine, letting out a sound that’s all too like a sigh of relief. 

The voices die, becoming one voice. 

Christopher faces the arch leading into the Temple of Arachne. Four statues stand in repose. All of them are women with eight arms, frozen in an eternal dance. None of them are former Marriage Feasts. 

Christopher: I’ve always wondered whom they were, those four arachnocrats. 

Duessa: So have I. They appeared with the Temple when the Gardens blossomed around the Ashelocke estate. 

She moves forward, wearing a black gown with slitted sleeves, allowing her eight arms to move. Her auburn hair is piled on top a silver and golden coronet, letting auburn curls fall to brush against her neck. A pendant in the shape of an enormous ebon spider with a red teardrop on its back nestles above her breast. Only four of her eyes are open; the rose-purple and the golden. 

Christopher: When did the Gardens blossom?

Duessa: When the tower fell, but there’s always another tower. Just as with death, there’s always rebirth. Tell me, Christopher, why kill such a lovely flower with your touch?

Christopher: (wrapping his arms around himself) It was trapped in eternal beauty. I wanted to free it.

Duessa: Even if it means killing him with your touch?

Christopher: You speak of the flower as if it was a person.

Duessa: I speak of it of the flower as if it were a boy. Boys and flowers are similar to me. They have only a short time to bloom. 

Christopher: Is that what the arachnocrats were singing about?

Duessa: They sing that song at every Marriage Feast. They sang it at yours.

Christopher: (shivers again, recalling the sting, the brief moment of ecstacy before it fled) I remember. 

Duessa: Do you understand why? What this chant means?

Christopher: It’s about being cut down before you can truly bloom. For blooming is painful. (He closes his eyes.) For a moment I felt its pain and its pleasure. A lifetime’s worth. 

Duessa: This is what we give you at your Marriage Feast. A lifetime’s worth of pleasure and pain in your bride’s arms, leaving you utterly satisfied and still. 

Christopher: Stone. 

Duessa: Eternally beautiful. You sound very like Damian, Christopher. I never thought you objected to being a Marriage Feast, Christopher. Nor to me.

Christopher: I’m not the same Christopher you fed upon. Not entirely. 

Duessa: You look, smell, and respond very much like he did. 

Christopher: I think Damian meant me to. 

Duessa: Did he really?

He gazes at her, a goddess with many arms. Or as close to a goddess as he’s ever seen. Power writhes within her, hungry and alluring. Ready to strike. He can see some of that power in her slitted golden eyes. The scent of roses rises from her hair, her arms, her skirts; overwhelming him. Making his eyelids tremble, his entire body ready to relax into something limp and pliable.

It’s an effort to keep his feet planted in the ground. 

Christopher: You are what you’ve always been, Duessa.

Duessa: And what is that, tidbit?

Christopher: My lady. Our lady. 

Duessa: How courteous you are. Far more courteous than my Damian ever was, yet you prefer him. You gave yourself to him, even when you promised yourself to me. 

Christopher: (shivering again) I cannot recall this promise. 

Duessa: It was just one more thing you chose to drop in the Shadow Forest, feeding to your hungry admirers there. 

Christopher: Everyone has hungry admirers in the Shadow Forest. 

Duessa: True. You never answered my question. Just what is our song about? The prayer we make for every Marriage Feast?

Christopher: It’s a prayer?

Duessa: Of course. A prayer to the spider to make us worthy of your sacrifice. 

Christopher: Us?

Duessa: We arachnocrats, of course. We’re well aware of what you’re sacrificing during the Feast. 

Christopher: Our future. That’s what the song is about. Giving up the future for the passion of the present. 

Duessa: Entrusting the future to your bride in exchange for the passion of the present. We are not thieves, Christopher, no matter what Damian might think. 

Christopher: Shouldn’t you be telling Damian this?

Duessa: (sighing) I doubt Damian will ever allow himself to be alone with me again. Except for one last time. 

Christopher: What time is that?

Duessa: When he challenges me. You see, Damian would never exchange power for pleasure. This is why he abandoned both of us. 

Christopher: (shutting his eyes) I don’t feel abandoned. 

Duessa: You should, tidbit, You should. (Her shadow spreads across the ground, moving toward him. It darkens the stone at the bases of two of the eight-armed statues.) Know this, Christopher Ashelocke. I would have taken your life, your power, and your future, but I wouldn’t have abandoned you. Nor will I abandon him. 

Christopher: Is that why you spared me?

Duessa: I didn’t spare you, little one. I devoured you.

Christopher: Only I didn’t become a statue. Why?

It’s Duessa’s turn to shut her eyes, both the rose-purple and the golden. 

Duessa: Tut, tut. You wouldn’t want me revealing all of my secrets at once. Would you, little one?

She raises her arms, all eight of them, rising into the sky, up, up, where the dome awaits. A dome which looks like an intricate web of stars, linked together. 

Christopher wonders if the web above is Duessa’s or belongs to Arachne. The Spider Herself whom the Guardian of Gardens claims to worship. 

It’s not safe to stand and wonder if this place. Tiny webs will slip over him, clinging to him, binding him here. 

He closes his eyes, willing himself to fade away. To become a ghost the ties slip through, unable to catch. 

Christopher disappears. As he does, the Temple disappears as well. Disappears into darkness, prickled by tiny lights. 

For a moment, one of those lights seems to wink. Wink in a way Christopher would find very familiar. 

A pity he’s no longer here to see it. 

Conversations with Christopher: Gabrielle

The room is bigger than Christopher would have thought, looking up at the Navel from outside; a cottage with a shingled, slanted roof, vine-covered walls, and clear glass windows. 

He’s not outside. He’s sitting at a table in a room above the shop, listening to the rain tapping on the roof. 

Gabrielle sits nearby, golden loose, falling free over a dark blue robe covered with tiny smiley faces. She cradles a cup of tea in her hands, steaming rising from its surface. She watches the rain drops slide down the glass, leaving a trail which is splattered by a second drop and a third. All making their mark against the surface. 

Gabrielle: Yes, it will make its mark against the glass along with dirt and dust, yet the rain washes everything away. Leaving everything cleaner except for this window. 

Christopher: Omphalos is clean. Cleaner than many places I remember. I could almost believe we’re safe, having a roof over our heads. Watching all this rain come down without being soaked by its wet embrace, its damp kisses. 

Gabrielle: (smiling a little) Watching yet somehow apart. In the middle of the rain yet untouched by it. 

Christopher: (feeling a bit stung) Isn’t that why we do in the Navel? Watch our customers, remaining apart from them? 

Gabrielle: Is it?

Christopher: People come into your shop. We guide them to whatever they need. Once they have it, they leave. We may never see them again. Unless they come back, unsatisfied, wanting something else. Or the same something, again and again.

Gabrielle: Actually there’s only one regular customer like that. 

Christopher: I know. Hebe keeps asking for cup after cup. Only to smash it and come back for another. It annoyed Damian to no end. 

Gabrielle: And you think we’re untouched by this? Finding our customers what they want, guiding them to something they didn’t even realize they needed? Helping them in a way they cannot help themselves?

Christopher: No. (He releases a breath.) I suppose these were Damian’s doubts. Not mine. 

Gabrielle turns her attention from the window to fix her vivid blue eyes upon him. She lifts the cup in her hand.

Gabrielle: I don’t really need this tea. At some point I’ll have to look for a toilet, a privy, or a convenient hole, and pee a lot of this out. That’s part of life. Right now the cup is warm in my hands, warming my cheeks, soothing my stomach. It tastes sweet, giving off a flowery scent which clears my head. I’m enjoying it even if I have to pee later. 

Christopher: What do you mean?

Gabrielle: How valuable your time is in the Navel is up to you, Christopher. Damian thought he was wasting his here. Do you?

Christopher gazes at her smooth face, the smile playing at the corner of her generous mouth. 

Christopher: I may pay for this later. (The truth slips from his lips without thought.) I worry that you’ll pay for it, too, having a creature like me around. I worry that Damian is already paying for it. For bringing me into this life. I love it, though. I love being alive. I love walking through Omphalos, looking up at the sky, not worrying about what will swoop down from above because I allowed myself to daydream. I love being here, sititng here with you. (He ducks his head, feeling a little shy.) I love being your son. 

Gabrielle puts the cup down. She reaches for his hand. Hers is warm from the tea cup, her fingers strong. 

Gabrielle: If you love these things, it’s worth whatever price you…we…will pay for it. 

The two of them fall silent, listening to the rain fall. 

Like my style of writing? Want to read more? At my Amazon Author Page, here are all of my published works available for purchase…

http://www.amazon.com/author/kstrenten