Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Paul

Quartz stumbles out of the fog, batting away a twig which landed almost directly on his nose. 

Quartz: Ruddy Shadow Forest. Makes me almost miss the Forest of Tears. No matter. Whatever trees loom over me, the twigs are rude. 

Paul: I’m sure the twigs regard you with equal courtesy. As for the trees, they are not part of the Shadow Forest, even if they have a similar nature, due to their shared mercurial creatrix. As you are well aware. 

Quartz starts at the voice, the youth sitting lotus style in the clearing by the river and at the golden dragons crouched on each corner of the temple’s blue roof. 

Quartz: Right. Now there’s ruddy dragons.

Paul: It’s not as if you haven’t made the acquaintance of dragons before. (He takes a sniff of the air without turning to face Quartz.) There’s a trace of brimstone still clinging to you. 

Quartz: Of course there is. (sniffs his own sleeve warily) Can’t say I smell it. What’s your dragons’s story?

For a moment the golden dragons seem to snap playfully at Quartz before settling down upon the roof. 

Paul: You said it yourself. There are mine, a manifestation of part of me. I couldn’t let seductive shadows and doubtful dwarves be the only ones with draconic allies. These may be small, but they’re young and fierce, stirring when I say. 

Quartz: Right. (He gives the dragons on the roof a sharp glance. They don’t respond.)

Paul: Either that or they’re simply part of the achitecture, animated by the strange nature of this Cauldron.

Quartz: So which is it?

Paul: Far be it from me to spoil your fun. I’ll let you decide.

Quartz: Right. And who are you anyway?

Paul: A secondary character. That’s what you do, isn’t it? Talk to secondary characters?

Quartz: Among other things, aye. (He smooths his beard.) Got something to say, do you? 

Paul: I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.

Quartz: Not very pleasant, are you? Coming from me, that’s saying something?

Paul: I’ve lost my more pleasant half. Peter was the one who wanted to please people. Without him, I grow increasingly unpleasant. 

Quartz: That what you want to talk about?

Paul: Among other things. You know the little shadow quite well, don’t you?

Quartz: There’s more than one little shadow running around in our scribbler’s scrambled imagination. You’ll have to more specific. 

Paul: The one who hosts this Cauldron when you’re not doing it. 

Quartz: Aye, Christopher. We’re from different worlds, he and I. Different stories. We meet here from time to time. Not sure if that’s the same as knowing him well. 

Paul: You have talked to him more than once. And he’s talked to you about the people from his world. 

Quartz: Aye, from time to time. 

Paul: What does he want with Peter?

Quartz: Why don’t you ask him yourself?

Paul: I’m asking you. A shadow’s words are as insubstantial as his memories. 

Quartz: (snorts) Got a low opinion of shadows, eh?

Paul: Am I wrong?

Quartz: Want keeps a shadow lingering beneath the trees in that Forest of theirs. From what I’ve seen, it gives them substance.

Paul: Right. (He turns his head to offer Quartz a humorless smile.) And what does Christopher want?

Quartz: From what I’ve heard? (He gives Paul a vicious grin.) Damian. Or the twins. He’s never mentioned Peter.

Paul: Of course not. (A flicker of sadness softens the beautiful mask of his face for a moment.)

Quartz: (his manner a little gentler) Just what do you want to know?

Paul: Shadows lure dreamers off their chosen paths to devour them. 

Quartz: Aye, if they can catch them. Makes me glad I’m just visiting this weird dreamworld of yours. Or a shadow of it. 

Paul: (nodding his head at the irony of this) Peter is one of the most hopeless dreamers I’ve ever met. (His full lips part in contemplation of a vision of something or someone far away.)

Quartz: Huh. Ever think it might be the other way around?

Paul: (dark eyes sharpening as they fix upon his companion) What do you mean?

Quartz: Maybe you’re the hopeless dreamer. 

Paul stares at him for a long moment and begins to laugh. 

Paul: Maybe you’re right. Peter certainly thought I was. 

Quartz: Here’s another thought. Maybe you should be asking what Peter wants with Christopher. Not what Christopher wants with Peter.

Paul: (turning his head back toward the river) I already know. Peter thinks Christopher is the key to his dreams, to opening a Door to the Shadow Forest.

Quartz: A shadow key to a Shadow Forest, eh? 

Paul: (grimacing) That and Peter always had an eye for a pretty face.

Quartz: Not a great beard. No accounting for taste.

Paul: (almost smiles and stops himself) I’m inclined to agree with you even while I disagree with you, dwarf.

Quartz: So your Peter wants Christopher and you’re worried what Christopher is going to do about it. 

Paul: I suppose I am. 

Quartz: What are you going to do about it?

Paul: Put a stop to whatever hold that little shadow has over my Peter.

Quartz: How’re you going to do that?

Paul: The moment Christopher lures Peter across the threshold of a Door, entering the Shadow Forest, I’ll snatch Peter. 

Quartz: Sounds like you’re a shadow yourself. 

Paul doesn’t reply. 

Quartz: Also sounds like you’re jealous as well as worried. 

Paul: (turning his head again toward Quartz with a bitter smile) Many monsters are jealous. Does this surprise you?

Quartz: Can’t say it does. 

He waits, half-anticipating Nimmie Not to pop out and say something. For once his kobold is silent. 

Something about this particular secondary character makes Nimmie Not uneasy. Too uneasy to make his usual claims to Quartz. This does not reassure Quartz.

Christopher and Peter had better be careful. 

#QueerBlogWed: Roleplaying and Romantic Adversity, Part 4

And here is the final part of this freebie story for The Players Are the Thing. Thank you for the inspiration, P.T. Wyant!

Fidessa played with a long, curling lock of hair the shade of amber wine, raising it to her lips. “Why did you leave me? We were perfect.”

“Passion of a lifetime.” Amber’s words would have been arch and flip if they hadn’t been laced with heartache. “Some things passion can’t ignore.”

“What, the angry spirits attracted to your artist’s work by my curses?” ‘Dessa pouted a little. “None of those statues would have turned into monsters if she’d been more careful.” 

“How was Isolde supposed to be careful?” Amber pulled away, feeling the old anger which made her pull away to begin with. “She knew nothing of magic or the power she was shaping with her hands. She had no idea what she was up against. Nor did her buyers.”

“It’s not like I knew it would get that bad,” Fidessa fiddled with her rings, biting her lower lip. 

It wasn’t a guilty expression. Amber recognized that particular quaver from the moment their relationship started to fall apart. It was an angry one. A jealous one. 

“None of those statues would have turned into monsters if you hadn’t planned it.” Amber slid out of bed, gazing at her clothes lying on the floor. 

She didn’t reach for them. Not yet. 

“I didn’t like the way that artist looked at you,” ‘Dessa lowered her eyelashes, almost growling the words. “Even worse was the way you looked at her.”

****

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed,” Beatrix muttered against Rhane’s cheek. “The way Mona looks at you.”

“Jealous?” Rhane surprised herself with the archness of her tone as she nestled against  Beatrix. It was wonderful to talk to her again. To hear her lover’s voice without the sarcastic edge. 

Once it had been witty, verging upon charming. Only that edge did its best to cut everyone, including Rhane.

“Annoyed. Annoyed that she’s so pushy, yet backs off whenever I say anything about it.” Beatrix sighed. “You’re not helping, encouraging this romance between Amber and Isolde.”

“Amber and Isolde have a very good relationship. A solid friendship with a certain amount of unresolved sexual tension.” Rhane sighed. “I feel it when I’m playing Amber, but I don’t feel it for Mona.”

“I’m not sure if she realizes that.” Beatrix heaved a huge sigh. “You know she and I had something. A long time ago.”

“Really?” Rhane gave her a sideways glance. “I’m surprised it’s not you she’s looking for excuses to touch all the time.”

“She’s too intimidated by me.” Beatrix turned luminous dark eyes upon the ceiling. “I guess being in my game was her way of being close to me, but I thought she enjoyed playing.”

“She did. We all did.” Rhane forced herself to find the courage to say the next part. “We did until you stopped enjoying it.”

Beatrix stiffened, lips twisting until she let out a sigh. “Was it that obvious?”

“You kept trying to push the plot. You stopped listening to us, giving us time to roleplay.”

Rhane pressed her lips to her lover’s chest to soften the blow. “You keep running the game, but it’s like you’re going through the motions.”

Beatrix shut her eyes. “What do I do? I used to love this game. I don’t want to stop. I want to love it again.” 

Rhane took a deep breath, lifting her head a little higher. “Try to remember why you loved it. Maybe you should, err, cleanse your dice while you do?”

“Cleanse my dice?” Beatrix opened her eyes to give her a sardonic squint. “You think my dice are cursed?”

“It wouldn’t hurt,” Rhane coaxed. “Think of it as a psychological exercise. Something to refresh yourself.”

Beatrix released a breath in a half-laugh. “Maybe you’re right.” 

***

“Is that what you’re up to, Amber?” Never had ‘Dessa’s voice been more menacing. “Trying to warn your little player and her fool of a gamemaster about the dice I’ve imbued with my power?”

Amber froze, trembling a little at that tone. “It’s not right. They created us, Fidessa, in order to enjoy themselves. To help work out some of what’s troubling them through roleplaying. Is that so bad?”

“They made us their toys!” Fidessa rose from her bed, pulling the purple covers around her, eyes flashing. “Toys in a game for their amusement! Just who does that arrogant girl think she is?”

In the anger was a vulnerability, a weakness. If Fidessa was Beatrix’s creation, she shared some of her heart, her dreams. Her vulnerabilities. She was a reaction to them. 

Just as Amber was to Rhane’s. What made Rhane precious to Amber offended Fidessa. 

“A lover.” Amber met her lover’s eyes, trying to connect with whatever they had which had just brought them together. “A lover who was losing hers and trying to get her back.”

For a moment something which might have been sympathy flickered in ‘Dessa’s beautiful eyes. It vanished the next moment, consumed by fury. 

“My existence, my feelings for you are a mockery to her. Something to amuse herself with.” Fidessa rose to her full height, towering over Amber. “Maybe you can forgive her, but I never shall.”

“What are you going to do?” Amberwyne tensed, aware she was naked, not carrying any weapons. She could call upon magic, but this was ‘Dessa’s tower. She’d have the advantage. 

“Why would I ruin the surprise?” The enchantress offered her a smile which was pure mockery. “Especially since you seem intent on protecting that gamemaster and her players.”

Amber reached down to pick up her clothing. “What if I offered to stay if you promised not to harm them?”

For a moment, ‘Dessa stared at her. “They mean that much to you?”

Too late did Amber realize her mistake. Her lover was biting her lip, a lip trembling with angry jealousy. 

“They’re our creators.” Amber fumbled for the right words to convince ‘Dessa to stay her hand. “They’re part of us. Please, ‘Dessa. Hurt them and you hurt us.”

“Oh, I’ve only just begun,” Fidessa hissed. “I’ll need to become especially creative, considering how special these girls are to you.” She make a mocking bow of her head. “To us.”

“‘Dessa-“ Amberwyne tried again, reaching out for the other woman. “Please-“

“Get out.” Fidessa turned her back. “Get dressed and go. Never plead with me again. Not unless you’re truly willing to come back.”

“And what does that mean?” Amberwyne picked up her clothes, hugging them to her chest. 

“The very fact that you’re asking means you’re not ready.” The enchantress stood stiff and rigid. “You still have other things you value more. Like that artist. Like those girls.”

“‘Dessa, those girls and their happiness are tied to us!” Amber tried one last time. “If we hurt them, we hurt ourselves.”

“We’ll see.” Fidessa tightened the velvet spread around her. “We’ll just see about that.”

#QueerBlogWed: Roleplaying and Romantic Adversity Part 3

Things got quite steamy between Amber and her adversary, Rhane and her gamemaster as they once were. Where do they go from here?

This is a freebie story from my Work In Progress, The Players Are the Thing, where characters in a roleplaying game try to save their players. It was inspired by the prompts of P.T. Wyant at ptwyant.com.

Spent, yet craving more, Rhane collapsed into Beatrix’s arms, dazed at what had just happened. 

Beatrix’s face was slack with childlike wonder, flushed. “Did you imagine you were…”

She couldn’t finish her sentence.

Rhane finished it for her. “Amber and ‘Dessa? Yes.”

She raised herself to kiss Beatrix’s nose. “I always knew they had that kind of relationship. A little like ours. For which I’m grateful. They brought you back to me.”

Her lover gazed at her with moist dark eyes. “Yes, they did, didn’t they? How strange that the villain in my game would do such a thing.”

“Just because she’s the villain doesn’t mean she doesn’t love Amber,” Rhane countered, feeling the delicious warmth and curve of Beatrix’s body. 

“It’s a vulnerability.” Beatrix frowned. “I wanted Fidessa to be powerful. Enigmatic. Untouchable.”

“Does she really need to be those things?” Rhane kissed her, tasting spice, coffee, and loneliness. Beatrix may have been as lonely as Rhane had been.

As lonely as Fidessa was. ‘Dessa might well be motivated by loneliness. 

“If Fidessa is invulnerable, just what point is there in Isolde, Amber, and Rhiannon opposing her?” Rhane breathed against her lover’s lips. “Loving Amber just makes ‘Dessa more well-rounded.”

“Finding her weakness was the ultimate goal of the game.” Beatrix shut her eyes, withdrawing into herself. 

Rhane watched her to do so, feeling something wrench in her gut. 

***

“You may well be my weakness,” ‘Dessa murmured into Amber’s hair. “I’ll always want you back, even though I shouldn’t.”

“Or maybe I’m your strength.” Amber played with a dark wave of her mistress’s hair. “Maybe what happened with Isolde, with all the artists and artisans’s works developing a cursed life were motivated by jealousy.”

Fidessa scowled. “Are you accusing me of something so petty? I’ve always had plans, Amber. Plans you seem determined to upset.”

Amber leaned a little closer to whisper with playful intentness against her lips, “I can’t believe you didn’t take me into consideration. Especially since I usually upset things.”

***

“Players upset plans.” Rhane pinned her lover beneath her, forcing her to look up. “You were the one who told me that.”

“So I did.” Beatrix let out a sigh, let herself return to the present, to Rhane. A wistful smile played across her lips. “I’ve been a bad gamemaster.”

“The game isn’t over. Not yet.” Rhane ran a finger down Beatrix’s cheek, stroking the curve of her neck. “There’s still time to make some new moves.”

“Or rediscover old ones.” Beatrix reached out to touch a strand of ashen hair which had fallen across Rhane’s face.

To be continued in the final part next Wednesday…

#QueerBlogWed: Roleplaying Games and Romantic Adversity Part 2

Is Rhane losing her mind? She continues where she left off in this four-part freebie story for my Work in Progress, The Players Are the Thing, a story about characters in a roleplaying game trying to save their players. This story was inspired by the prompts of P.T. Wyant, ptwyant.com, a messy house, crackers, and plans.

Rhane wouldn’t look back. She refused to look back until she reached the room she shared with Beatrix and shut the door behind. “What was that?”

She was going nuts. What was happening? 

“Fidessa,” Amberwyne whispered from inside her. It was only to easy to picture her standing at Rhane’s shoulder, breathing in her ear. “You can finally see her, too.”

“Fidessa isn’t real. Neither are you.” The litany of reality rang hollow in her ears. 

Not when she felt Amber’s arms encircle her, enfolding her in a warm embrace. The smell of honey and flowers filled Rhane’s nostils.

“‘Dessa just figured this out herself. That she’s the villain in your Beatrix’s game. Just a character she made up. She’s not happy about it,” Amber murmured against Rhane’s cheek. “She wants to strike back at Beatrix, seize control of this game she’s trapped in through her dice.”

Amber pressed herself against Rhane with the warmth of an entity which wasn’t real. Not that it mattered to Rhane. She sank into her arms, allowing her to become solid, comforting. 

 “‘Dessa wants to master the game master, to take Beatrix’s toys of control from her,” her character whispered. “To teach her what it is to be a toy herself.”

“How can she do that?” Rhane whispered, leaned back into that imaginary warmth. 

The door opened at that moment.

Beatrix stood there, wearing an expression which was very un-Beatrix. 

***

“You told her. Your player.”

Amberwyne stood, facing Fidessa in her tower room. It was a place she often visualized in her imagination and heart. Any moment she’d strip down for her mistress, join her in the waiting bed of purple silk. At any moment she’d entwine her limbs with ‘Dessa’s. They’d be writhing together as they had so many times before. As they still did in Amber’s dreams. 

She dreamed of her mistress. Rhane dreamed of her. How could they unentangle this web of dreams and thwarted desire? 

It flickered in and out of existence. Amber saw the chamber dissolve into Rhane’s bedroom, only to reform. 

***

Beatrix and Rhane gazed at each other, acutely aware of how long it had been since they’d touched each other. Or done anything else. 

Somehow they looked each other, felt their desire rekindling. Through their villain and their character’s emotions. 

Reality was relative at that moment. 

***

Fidessa reached out to cup Amber’s face in her gloved hand. “Am I real to you, Amber? Or am I just the fantasy of a petty creature who uses a game to act out her forbidden desires? Or a nightmare she’s terrified she’s becoming?”

Amber reached out to claim the gloved hand, slipping it off to reach the soft flesh waiting beneath. Waiting to be touched. 

***

Rhane drew a shuddering breath, realized she’d pulled Beatrix in her arms, that Beatrix wasn’t resisting. 

She leaned forward, claimed her lover’s lips in a kiss filled with all her loneliness for the woman she’d once adored. The woman she’d thought she’d stopped loving. Being with Beatrix had become a habit. 

Time to break the habit. Time to transform it into something new. 

Beatrix froze for a moment, shocked, rigid with fear before her mouth softened and opened. 

She pushed Rhane back in the direction of their bed, allowing them both to lose their balance, tumble onto the waiting mattress. 

***

Amberwyne fell back into the waiting silk, legs sliding apart, unsure if she was Rhane with Beatrix or here with ‘Dessa. 

Only to be distracted by long fingers, soft lips, and a tongue seeking the parts of her body they’d once mapped out, discovering them once more. 

Those parts quivered and opened under her lover’s ministrations, coaxed towards shuddering release. 

Again and again. 

To be continued next Wednesday…

#QueerBlogWed: Roleplaying and Romantic Adversity Part 1

This may be one of the sexiest things I’ve ever shared in this Cauldron. It’s a freebie story for my Work in Progress, The Players Are the Thing, a tale about characters in a roleplaying game becoming self-aware and trying to save their players. I can’t believe it came from P.T. Wyant’s Wednesday Words prompt at ptwyant.com involving a messy house, crackers, and plans.

Rhane was only too aware of Mona’s eyes moving across the left-over crackers spilling out of the box on top of the kotetsu, the sweatshirts lying crumbled on the flood, taking in just how messy their apartment had gotten. 

Yes, Mona’s was worse, but this didn’t say much for Beatrix and herself. Mona had to share her townhouse with several flat mates. She and Beatrix had been lucky to get their own place. Why didn’t they take better care of it?

“Yes, why don’t you?” Amberwyne glanced back at her, leaning against the back of the sofa. 

Strange to see her here. Her character shouldn’t be here. Amber should be at the window of a tower, looking down at a landscape of mountains, lakes, rainbow deserts, and shadowy patches spreading across it all. 

“I can almost feel it, like a subtle whiff of something foul lying beneath burning incense.” Amber did a turn upon a rug with a dark purple rose upon it. 

All right, that wasn’t here. 

Rhane could see the stone walls, the brazier, the tapestries with a purple rose in the mouth of a serpentine silver dragon. Just what was this place?

“There’s a curse lying around here,” Amber sniffed the air, standing upon the carpet. She was definitely in the aparment. Only she couldn’t be. “Do you think it’s your dice bag? Or the dice themselves?”

“Well, we do complain about our dice being cursed sometimes,” Rhane said with a laugh before she realized she was talking out loud. 

Mona and Beatrix stood a little distance away, staring at her. 

“Just talking to myself,” Rhane smiled, doing her best to shrug it off. “It was an engrossing conversation.”

“Sorry to interrupt.” Mona smiled right back at her, dark eyes locking a little too long with her own. They were softer and rounder than Beatrix’s, reminding her of a puppy dog’s. Inspiring affection, a desire to pet. Nothing like what she often worried that Mona wanted. 

Beatrix did not smile. “You’ll never stop worrying if you worry about interrupting her conversations with herself. Anyway she was the one interrupting.”

Rhane realized her girlfriend, ahem, game master was carrying a stack of papers in her hand. 

On top was a colored illustration of a wiry dark-skinned girl with silvery-blonde hair and lustrous fushia eyes, dressed in dark purple leather with a flowing cloak catching the wind over her shoulders.

“Is this Rhiannon?” Mona gazed admiringly at the drawing. “Quite the striking character. I don’t like her.”

“Quit channeling your character so much.” Beatrix scowled. “Zoe drew this. Ask nicely and she might draw Isolde.”

“Isolde has more muscles. Strong hands. Pale bluish-green skin like the marble from the quarry near her village.” How different Mona became when talking about Isolde. More thoughtful, instrospective. More interesting. 

“As if I wasn’t aware of this.” If words could slice, these would have taken a swipe at Mona. “I’m well aware of what your character looks like. What she wants.”

Beatrix’s voice changed, deepened, caressing its resonance, becoming much more menacing. 

The air before her swam along with the messy apartment. Rhane swayed, caught herself, realized she was holding the edge of a stone basin attached to a pillar.  

A woman in a velvet dress with a wide, winged collar stood before her, holding a fuschia gem in her gloved hand. Or was it a die? 

Rhane realized she was in the stone room with the tapestries. 

“You know where we are,” Amber moved ahead of Rhane, standing between her and the mysterious woman. “Don’t worry, Rhane. She’s bound by the power of the dice. She can only strike through them.”

“Oh, do you really wish to banish us from reality, Rhane?” How sweet the woman’s voice was. “Amberwyne could be as real as you wish her to be.”

“Wish me into this world and she can step in as well.” Amber shut her eyes as if her own words pained her. “I’m sorry, Rhane. I didn’t know she’d follow me back into your world, using the dice.”

“No,” Rhane took a step backwards, nearly stumbling into the couch. 

Beatrix and Mona were both staring at her. She was back in the messy apartment, her messy apartment, the reality she had to deal with which now felt less safe than it ever had. 

“Rhane, you shouldn’t hear what I’m going to say.” Beatrix’s mouth was moving, but her image was overlapped by the woman in the velvet gown. 

“Yes, I’ve learned a great deal about the upstart artist who lured my Amberwyne away from me.” Menace dripped from each word with seductive slowness. “I’ve been considering just how to thank your beloved Isolde.”

“What?” Rhane blinked to see Mona standing close to her. Too close, invading her personal space.

Not that Beatrix seemed to notice. 

“Rhane, why are you still here?” Her lover wrinkled her nose. “Mona and I need  to talk about Isolde. Player to game master.”

“Sorry, Rhane.” Mona looked at her with those velvet brown eyes, sad and longing. “Amber shouldn’t know these things. Neither should you.”

“Go.” All of a sudden Fidessa was there, in the apartment. She placed her hands on an oblivious Beatrix’s shoulders, fixing her own fuschia eyes upon Rhane. “It’s not time for me to play with you yet.”

Rhane fled up the stairs, wondering if she’d lost her mind.

To be continued next Wednesday…

Tales of the Navel: Voices in His Head

On November 3, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a spoon, spots, and a ringing bell.

This Tale of the Navel was the result…

Spots swam before Tayel’s vision. Every spot contained a different face swimming in color. 

A bell rang, tolling out each chime as every face began to sing:

Seraphix

Grant us our wish

We’ll give you our faith

Make us part of you

We’ll make you a god.

“Tayel!” 

Danyel’s voice, sharp with alarm, brought him back to the table, to the kitchen, to the here and now. 

Tayel gazed at the spoon in his hand. 

Below him lay a bowl filled with untouched broth. 

Map hadn’t given up on trying to get the twins to eat, even if it was just a sip of liquid. 

“Don’t drift off. Even if it’s just into your own thoughts.” Map stressed each word, hovering behind Danyel, trying to look as if she wasn’t hovering. “Eat a little more.”

It smelled good, the contents in the bowl. Perhaps the scent was simply Map’s concern wafting in the air.

Tayel picked up his spoon, stuck it in the bowl. He gathered a little of its contents into this curious curved utensil humans used for eating. This particular item seemed to work. 

Maybe he shouldn’t regard humans in such an otherly fashion. He and Danyel were human-shaped. They had mouths. If Map could eat, so could the twins.

He lifted the spoon to his lips. He managed a tiny sip. Before he could taste it, he started to cough. Tears gathered in his eyes. 

“It’s all right.” Leiwell turned his head toward Tayel. His older brother had been resting it on the table after another night away, “serving” his mysterious master. In spite of his weariness, Leiwell’s green eyes were clear and bright. “Just eat as much as you can for now. Eventually you’ll be able to eat more.”

Reflected in those dark pupils surrounded by emerald irises, Tayel could see the tower. Of course it was a tower. It always was the tower whether it wore a crown or rang a bell. He could almost hear the bell ringing, a faint echo anyone could easily explain away as imagination. 

He wished he could taste the soup or try to taste it. His throat burned. 

Danyel was not to be left behind by his twin. He picked up his spoon, filled it with brother. He took an even bigger sip than Tayel had. 

As one, the twins started coughing, gasping for air. 

“All right, that’s enough.” Map leaned over to rescue the bowls and the spoons from their careless wielders. “This will heat up easily enough. You can try again later.”

“Eating will get easier,” Leiwell reassured his brothers. “You’re growing. Maybe not quite like human children, but the longer you spend in this place, the more you’ll be able to eat and do other things they do.”

“Really?” Danyel turned to their older brother with a wide-eyed expression of hope. Unlike Tayel, his violet-blue eyes were innocent of any inhuman brightness. 

“I did,” Leiwell said with a mysterious, yet sad little smile. 

Curious how he both answered and didn’t answer Danyel’s question. Tayel’s admiration and mistrust for their elder brother grew. 

“What’s normal varies from person to person in this world,” Leiwell said in dreamy, speculative tone. “Just give yourself time to discover what’s normal for you.”

“I keep hearing a bell ringing and singing.” Danyel glanced from brother to brother. “Do you hear them, too? One voice is louder than the rest. A voice like mine, only slightly older and wiser. A beautiful voice.”

Tayel shut his eyes, belatedly realizing he shouldn’t have done that. He’d just given away the fact that he heard them, too. 

Leiwell lifted his weary head from the table to regard his brothers with alarm. 

Map stiffened where she stood at the cauldron, still holding the bowls. 

“What’s wrong?” Danyel, the innocent, as always had to ask the obvious questions. The wrong questions. The questions which opened doors to answers which were murky, dark, and filled with mysteries no one in this cottage wanted anything to do with. “What is this bell? Whose voice am I hearing?”

“The mind is mysterious, whispering things from dreams which trouble daylight and waking life,” Tayel murmured. “Best to leave them be.”

“That’s right,” Map said, a little too heartily, putting the bowls down with a thump. “Best not to worry about such things. Concentrate on being a part of this world.”

“Don’t let the tower distract you,” Leiwell murmured. “Ignore its whispers and enjoy being alive.”

“Wait, does it whisper to you, too?” Danyel pounced on this particular bit of information like an unwary cat leaping on a devilish mouse. Catch it with your claws and it catches you. “What does it say, Leiwell?”

“I don’t remember.” Leiwell leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes. “It was a dream, I think.” 

This didn’t seem like a lie. Nor did it seem like the entire truth. 

“Dreams will lure you away from reality.” Map turned around, her brow furrowed. “Don’t let it trouble you.” 

Danyel opened his mouth and shut it. He gazed at Map, Leiwell, and Tayel himself frowning, a wrinkle in his forehead. 

It was clear his twin thought the rest of his family was privy to some great secret they were excluding him from.

If only Danyel knew. It was best he didn’t. The singing, the bells, they might be part of a dream, but they could turn into a future reality. 

Tayel mistrusted the song, the words. There was a darker meaning behind them, a dangerous selfishness to its desire. 

He didn’t want to be drawn into the song. What’s more, he didn’t want his family to be drawn it into it. 

This wouldn’t stop the song or the singers from drawing close to them. 

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Conversations with Christopher: Gabrielle Part 2

Gabrielle sighs, shaking her head, making the fishnet veil of shells sway over her fedora. 

Gabrielle: This is maddening. I still can’t find my sense of humor. Where could I have put it?

Christopher walks toward the front window of the Navel. One of Damian’s skulls, handcrafted out of clay, sits and grins at people passing by on the other side of the glass. Some of them stop, start, and stare. More than a few roll their eyes. They’ve seen weirder in the window of the Navel. One bold passerby grins back at the skull and waves. Or is she waving at Christopher?

Unsure, Christopher waves back. He walks toward the window. There’s a rack of robes nearby, black, dark blue, white, and green robes which can easily cover a person’s clothes. Every single robe has smiley faces all over them. 

Christopher: Maybe it’s here? (He gestures to the rack.)

Gabrielle looks up, brightens at the sight of the robes.

Gabrielle: Ah, the Navel’s special collection of robes! Start something with a smile. Or a lot of smiles.

Christopher: Just what sort of something did you have in mind? (Feeling a little annoyed, he glances at the robes, the unrepentent little circles grinning from them. It’s the sort of joke which would have made Damian roll his eyes at the very least.)

Gabrielle: (unruffled) Whatever the customer has in mind. Whatever they think the robes can be used for, even if it’s just a joke. It’s an old joke. (Her smile fades a bit.) Not as funny I used to think it was. Maybe my sense of humor used to be there, but I think it’s disappeared over time. Just what happened to it?

Christopher gazes at Gabrielle for a long moment, at her fedora with the veil covered with shells and fishnet. Yes, something appears to be missing from her. 

Christopher: Maybe you’re wearing the wrong hat?

Gabrielle: (brightening again) By the Directions, I believe you’re right! (She reaches up to touch her fedora.) I must have left my sense of humor in the other one!

Gabrielle walks over the golden circle right before the counter. There’s a silver circle right above her head. 

She raises her arms. A faint glow of dancing dust motes swirls around her, covering her fedora. Her veil disappeared. Her entire body blurs, becoming part of the shimmering dust. 

For a moment Christopher stares at the cloud of dust until it disappears, leaving a shining figure in a golden tuxedo with a golden top hat. 

Gabrielle strikes a pose. The chicken on top of her hat seems to cluck or chuckle. Yes, there is a chicken emerging the brim of the hat, one claw raised above the brim, her beak open. 

Gabrielle: Ah, I feel so much better!

She chuckles, tapping her cain against the floor. It’s a hen-headed cane. 

Gabrielle: Nothing like a change of clothes to refresh you! Especially a change of hat. Looks like my sense of humor was here all along. 

Christopher: I thought you preferred loose, flowing clothing. 

Gabrielle: I do, but every one in a while, even I need a change. (She taps her cane against the floor, taps the ground with her feet.) And now I’m ready for customers! Welcome to the Navel, center of all things bizarre!

She tap-dances her way across the floor into a row of shelves, laughing. 

Christopher watches her go with a bemused smile. 

Christopher: I suppose it will be as long as you’re here. 

#QueerBlogWed: A Tale of the Navel

On October 27, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted a Wednesday Words prompt involving a flickering light, a dream, dried herbs.

This Tale of the Navel was the result…

Sometimes the flickering light was green, sometimes it was blue. It fluttered in his hands, pulsing in his palms, warming him.

Nothing made Leiwell feel more tender and protective than the light. Dreaming of it effected him as much as the visions of his master. 

He’d awaken, breathe in the scent of dried herbs, hear Map humming under her breath through the cottage wall. 

Those smells and sounds grounded him in the here and now, reassuring him. There was no need to chase after the light. No need to go looking for his master. Map was here. She needed him. Sooner or later the light and his master would both find him. 

He was content to wait here in this cottage. With Map. 

For now Leiwell would be content to dream. It wouldn’t last. Dreams gave way to waking reality or they drew you back in. 

He would enjoy the state he was in, this flesh and blood form for as long as he could. For as long as others needed him to wear it. 

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#QueerBlogWed: Seven Tricks Freebie Story

On October 20, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted at ptywant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving sausage, a nose, and boxes. This Seven Tricks freebie story was the result…

A long nose poked its way out of a pile of boxes, whiskers twitching at the smell of sausage.

Only for a second nose attached to a muzzle to rise from the boxes, baring its teeth. Those teeth closed around the first muzzle, biting it. 

“Youch!” Cheesecurd whined. “Why’d you do that for?”

“Don’t go scurrying after the first sniff of sausage!” Madam Mousenip chittered at her subject. “Honestly! You only have a fraction of wit, not to mention charm that Mousetrick possessed!”

“Uh huh. And where’s Mousetrick?” Cheesecurd sniffed with some petulance. “Off with some human.”

“No, he’s not!” Madam Mousenip bared her teeth at this sullen substitute for a decent mouse, let alone a prince. “He’s following his dream, you hear me? No matter how cheese-curdled that dream might be.”

“There’s nothing wrong with a little curdled cheese,” the affronted mouse retorted. “Say what you like of me. I’m here. I haven’t abandoned you for sugar plums and a magician’s nephew.”

“No, you’d abandon me in an instant for cheese. Or gingerbread,” the queen asserted. “Stop trying to act like you’re any better than the rest of us. Mousetrick had finer feelings than you’ll ever know. Not to mention a finer coat. And far more expressive whiskers.” She sighed, wringing her paws against her chest.

“Hmph. If my feelings, coat, and whiskers are so disappointing, why are you scampering with me?” Cheesecurd demanded. “What’s the point?”

“Training!” Madam Mousenip snapped. “Uncouth and ruffled as your fur might be, you still faced a troupe of gingerbread soldiers, showing spunk. Only you gobbled your way straight into a human’s trap.”

“How can you blame me? They smelled too delicious to resist.” Cheescurd drooped his whiskers in a sulky fashion. “How was to know I should have?”

“Exactly. You should know better. You need to learn how to know better. This is why I’m scampering with you.” Madam Mousenip flickered her tail in a meaningful manner. “I’m offering you knowledge. It’s up to you whether you decide to gain it. To think before scampering after anything that smells delicious. It might help you survive.”

“Or it might mean someone else will rush in and eat the delicious thing while we wait!” Cheesecurd whined. “I want that sausage!”

“Yes, and you might scamper straight into a trap if you don’t think when you sniff!” The queen flicked her tail in the direction of the kitchen. “Look!”

A giant human, dragging the cloth of its skirts across the floor plodded her way past the boxes in the kitchen. 

Madam Mousenip and Cheesecurd barely had time to dive beneath the boxes before hiding. 

“I’m bored!” The human’s shrill voice pierced the air. If the mice hadn’t taken cover, it might have knocked them over. “Where is Cracktooth?”

“He’s gone.” Another human’s voice rang out, softer, yet more dangerous. “I told you, Prissipat. He’s not here any more.”

Cheesecurd felt his fur stand on end. It was her. The human who’d drugged him, who’d set the gingerbread trap. What had that shrieking doll called her? Marchen. 

“Why? Why isn’t he here?” The one human whirled to face the other. “He was just starting to get a little less annoying and he just disappears! What did you do?”

“Nothing.” Marchen sounded a bit defensive as well as sad. “He wanted to go. That’s all.”

“That’s not all. You’re hiding something, both you and your godfather. Why won’t you tell me?” Prissipat turned again, stamping her foot. 

The mice under the boxes covered.

“Come. Come have some sausage.” Marchen took her arm, coaxing her away. “You’ll feel better if you eat.”

“I don’t want to eat.” In spite of her petulant reply, Prissipat let herself be led away. 

The mice cautiously peeked out from beneath the boxes.

“You see?” Madam Mousenip chittered. “We would have been caught if we’d scampered after the sausage.”

“Now the humans are going to eat it,” Cheesecurd grumbled. “Cracktooth…Cracktooth. Isn’t that the one Mousetrick kept carrying on about? Wouldn’t let us eat any gingerbread until we’d saved his beloved Cracktooth. Wouldn’t give up that doll either. Nearly led us all into a trap.”

“Really.” Madam Mousenip looked down her snout at him. “From what I’ve heard, it was you who gobbled your way right into a gingerbread trap.”

“No!” Cheesecurd protested. “It was Mousetrick! He was your prince! We had no choice but to follow him! All he cared about was rescuing his precious Cracktooth!”

“Save the excuses,” Madam Mousenip sighed. “Scamper now. You may let learn something…and how to find the right opportunity to steal sausage.” 

Cheesecurd let out a sulky chitter, but he obeyed. He followed his queen as she raced across the floor to under a chair. 

As if he didn’t know about finding opportunities. He was a lot better at this than Mousetrick who did nothing but smooth his fine fur and twirl his whiskers. 

Eventually his queen would understand this. 

Wonder what this was about? Here are buy links to 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:

Kobo:

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

Smashwords:

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

Z is for Zenobia

We came to the scribbler while she was Blogging From AZ as an idea. An idea for the representative of another power in the World of the Ouroborous, the power of the Kalanthian Empire. Unlike Serena Jasior’s empire, Kalanthia still exists at the time of Trouble at Caerac Keep. Even if it is smaller, much smaller than it was when we lived and reigned. Our nation still kept some of its power. Without that power, Serena Jasior never could have crushed the Serpent and declared herself Imperatrix. Not that she shows any gratitude for it. By all rights, she should have offered her brother’s hand in marriage to us, creating a single empire. Instead she allows the prince to engage in destructive duels, encouraging a kind of matrimonial free-for-all, dangling him in front of potential suits. We don’t play such stupid games. To make this self-made Imperatrix even more insulting, she keeps the choicest Serpent-Born slaves to herself. She would never have been able to keep them, if we hadn’t provided the collars which she could control their power. We have done so much for this world and Serena Jasior, yet she rewards us with ingratitude. We bring so much to the scribbler’s stories, yet she denies us our rightful place at the center of all things in A Suitor’s Challenge. The situation is intolerable. Dead dwarves aren’t the only one who can demand their share of attention. The scribbler is going to find this out, mark our words.