#QueerBlogWed: A Tale of Tayel

On February 2, 2022, P.T. Wyant offered at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a shadow, a superstition, a tradition.

I do love it whenever she does a prompt involving shadows and nothing too clearly tied in this particular world. (heart) It’s an excuse to head for Omphalos. Any of the versions of Omphalos which you might find behind a Door. Or a place where an Omphalos was or is going to be.

Like the lonely cottage Tayel lives in, trying to pretend things aren’t going to change. Trying to pretend he can’t sense things in the shadows reaching out for him.

He’s not fooling anyone.

Seeing things in the shadows was just superstition.

“From superstition comes tradition.” Map muttered this between her pipe, puffing on it. A faint scent of rose petals, cloves, and something else rose in the air along with a hint of color only Tayel could see. “Bad tradition.”

“What do you mean?” Danyel had to ask. Had to look closely at Map’s tunic, the grayish-green, high collared garment with its half-silver, half-gold clasp of two dragons circling each other. A tunic she always wore over her homespun skirts. 

“You start seeing things in the shadows, you start chanting things to keep them away.” Map fixed her fathomless dark eyes, gleaming out of her weathered face upon Tayel, not Danyel. “Before you know it, it’ll become a prayer. A ritual you use to keep whatever you fear at bay. That prayer will feed your fear.”

Tayel flushed. Map knew. Somehow she knew about the little chant he’d started saying whenever the shadows started to move in the bedroom. Especially when they crept closer to Danyel and himself. 

“Light of the moon

Keep them at bay

Smile bright and broad

Keep the shadows at bay.”

The crescent moon did look like a smile. A slightly mocking grin which might grace a handsome face very like their brother, Leiwell’s. 

“I thought prayers were meant to summon something which would chase away what we fear?” Danyel crossed his arms, gave Map’s clasp a pointed look. “Even if it’s just our own courage?”

“Hah!” Map snorted, removing her pipe. “Your courage doesn’t need to be summoned. It’s already part of yourself. Anything else you might summon is more trouble than he’s worth.”

Tayel swallowed, dropping his head, allowing his hair to fall forward in a wave to shield his expression from scrutiny. 

He’d revealed too much already. He didn’t want Map or even Danyel to guess his fancies about the man in the moon. 

“He?” Danyel leaned forward, intent on that slip. “Is there someone in particular you’re worried we’ll summon, Map?”

“Just be careful.” The problem with pinning your hair up in an untidy bun was Map couldn’t hide her expression. The way her mouth turned down, her gaze shifted away to avoid Danyel’s. “Words have power. You never know you might be listening.”

“We’d know more if you’d tell us.” Danyel wasn’t about to let go of this. “Who might be listening, Map? Who are you afraid of?”

“There’s nothing or no one to be afraid of. Don’t let your imagination run away with you.” Map got up, moving away from the table, turning her back to the twins. 

“Don’t offer my imagination a carrot, encouraging it to run!” Danyel retorted, standing up from the table.

Tayel couldn’t help but giggle. They’d seen a picture of a horse in book recently, a horse with a carrot. How the horse strained after the fat vegetable dangled in front of it. The idea of Danyel’s imagination being that horse, trying to get to that carrot was only too apt. 

“Here I thought I was offering it a stick.” Tayel heard the smile in Map’s voice, even if she didn’t turn around. “Trust you to see it as a carrot. I’m going to bed.”

She trudged across the floor in the direction of her bedroom, never looking back until she’d opened the door. She offered the twins a tired, almost sad smile before shutting the door behind her.

Danyel gazed at the door with an open mouth. “She didn’t even try to pretend she was hiding something.” 

“It’s tiring, holding up a mask when you constantly seek to knock it off.” Tayel shook his head, pushing his hair out of his face. “Map has reasons for not explaining herself.”

“Why did she try to warn us against praying?” Danyel shook his head. “Map was herself part of a religious order. She’s never pretended she wasn’t.”

“Maybe that’s why.” Tayel shifted, glancing at the closed curtains. “Warnings about superstitions becoming traditions soften tragic truths.”

“You know what she meant.” It wasn’t a question. Danyel gazed at him, a troubled frown tugging at his lower lip. “You’re keeping secrets again. From me.”

“Superstitions become traditions. Traditions become a thicket of thorns.” Tayel wouldn’t look at his twin’s pleading face. “We may bleed if we brush our hands against them, but they’ll keep peril out.”

“Or you could stop the superstition from becoming a tradition.” Danyel reached out to take his twin’s hand. “You could tell me what’s making you superstitious. We could face it together.”

Yes. This would be the most direct way to face the problem. Only Tayel was afraid. Not just for himself, but for his brothers. Especially Danyel. 

He didn’t want Danyel to see what lay in the shadows. He didn’t want him to reach out for them, to try to get to know them. 

No, better to keep them away. Even if it meant embracing superstition instead. At least it was just Tayel. 

“Tradition becomes superstition when infused with too much fear.” Tayel shrugged, allowed himself to press his twin’s hands. “Summoning courage may be exactly what I need to do.”

“Do you really need to summon it?” Danyel studied his face intently. “Is there a particular source of courage you need to draw upon? Outside of yourself?”

Tayel cursed himself for being a fool. All this talk of summoning courage had aroused his twin’s curiosity. 

“No.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. “I shouldn’t need to.”

Danyel studied him and nodded slightly. It wasn’t clear if his twin believed him or not. 

Too many things lay unsaid between them. 

#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…

#QueerBlogWed: Crystal Dreams and Kobolds

On April 6, 2022, P.T. Wyant posted at ptywant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving old clothes, a sword, and a goat.

This freebie story for Fairest and Of Cuckoo Clocks and Crystal Coffins (Quartz, our not-so deceased seven dwarf’s tale) was the result…

“Gah!” Someone drove a sword straight into the crystal. 

A goat bleated outside the rock where I rested my aching head. 

“Shards, Nimmie Not,” I growled acutely aware this was a dream, but that sword was inches away from my beard. A beard I hadn’t combed in far too long.

Shards, I wasn’t usually vain, but I tried to keep my beard tidy.

“You’re the one that dropped me into this cursed sleep so stop interrupting,” I growled more out of crankiness than any conviction he should. 

Maybe Nimmie Not should interrupt me. Maybe I’d been sleeping for too long. 

Clearly my kobold pain-in-the-behind thought so. “I’ll interrupt you as long as I wish, yes, I will!” 

If I could have flinched, I would’ve. Nimmie Not’s sing-song voice was right in my ear. Only I couldn’t move. I was stuck. Trapped in the crystal, in my own body. 

Which was real? The crystal or the dwarf? We both rose from the rock. Plenty of time to think about these things. Or if I didn’t have the time, my body wasn’t convinced. 

“Look at you on your back, smelling like old clothes. Maybe you’re waiting for a hero to come and pull the sword from the stone? Hmm?” I could feel his breath, tickling my earlobe. “Or a wayward princess who struck you down to try and deal with her own sleeping curse.”

“Being here is my own doing.” If only I could squint, peer through the crystal. Glimmers of green were visible. Hints of the Forest of Tears. “Or so you keep telling me.”

“Yes, yes, you got too close to human princesses and now you just lie there like a bearded princess yourself, waiting to be kissed.” Spindly fingers reached through the crystal to play with my beard. “Should I kiss you?”

“Thought I was no longer interesting.” I couldn’t speak, but I could think. Think the words as hard as I could at this annoying kobold, poking at me. “You decided I was no longer a Person of Interest. Your ruddy book was wrong.”

“The book is never wrong. It’s enigmatic, irritating, never comes out with the literal truth. Like those sneaky mirrors promising to show you something beautiful, yet never satisfying you.” Nimmie Not let out a loud sigh. “I’m bound to you, Quartz. You’re a large, heavy rock weighing me down, keeping me from skipping away. I really ought to punish you for that.”

I could almost see Nimmie Not’s wrinkled pout. It means he’s bored. It means trouble.

Like I’d ever admit I found it cute.

“Go ahead and punish me.” If I could have smiled, I would. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“No, you’re not. You’re one with the rocks you loved more than anything. The flawed crystal.” Refracted images of Nimmie Not appeared on all sides of me. “There’s no escape for you now.”

“Not sure I want to escape.” Shards, what was I saying? “Gotten used to the rock. Gotten used to you, too.”

“There you go, comparing me to your precious crystal.” All the images stuck out their tongues at me. “I’m not nearly as rigid, nor stubborn.”

“Aren’t you?” Maybe I was smiling. Wasn’t sure. Wasn’t sure if this was anything more than a dream. “You keep hanging around, even if though I’m being born.”

The scowl deepened on the face of every single Nimmie Not before he disappeared. 

Heh, it wasn’t like him to go away without having the last word. Made me almost feel bad.

Nah.

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QueerBlogWed: Blighted Heart

On December 22, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving an empty bottle, a log, and apples.

Apples always make me think of Oriana and Fairest. This story about Oriana during her darker hours came to me…

How she hated that apple tree, growing over the log right outside her father’s estate.

Once Oriana used to meet Blanche there. The apples always seemed ripe and red whenever she saw the princess. As ripe and red as the snow white beauty’s waiting lips. 

Many of the blossoms started to fall after her princess stopped coming. What fruit ripened was sour and green.

“This is your doing,” her stepmother whispered, making a warding sign with her hand. “You’ve blighted the land with your unnatural heart.”

Oriana no longer bothered to argue with her stepmother. She walked past her into the kitchen where ladies weren’t supposed to go unless they had something to discuss with the staff. 

There were a lot of things ladies weren’t supposed to do. 

She stopped at the sight of the empty bottle on the table in front of the little man with the red cap, a bell jingling from its floppy tip. 

“She has a point,” Nimmie Not said gravely even while his eyes twinkled. “Your temper could blight a tree, my dear.”

“What do you want?” Her heart nearly stopped in her chest. 

What if he wanted the magic mirror back? The mirror which was her only consolation? 

She’d taken to making faces, striking poses. Pretending to be Blanche. Saying all of the things she wanted her princess to say. 

Why bother? Why not be her lover? See only herself? Smile at herself? Enjoy her own beauty? 

Oriana was always here for herself. Which was more than she could say for Blanche. 

“Would you like to see her? See your princess?” The little man tapped his foot against the floor. 

“How is that possible?” Oriana leaned against the table. “She’s in the castle with the king. I’m not allowed anywhere near it.”

“Ah, but what if the king invited you in himself?” Nimmie Not stuck up a finger and wagged it at Oriana. “What if you had power over the king’s heart? Power enough to change his mind about seeing his daughter?”

“Power to change his mind,” she murmured. “No power is going to change his mind. No woman is allowed to love his daughter.”

“Ah, but what if he loved you?” Nimmie Not winked. “Loved you so much, all he could see if you?”

“The king?” Oriana recoiled a bit at this. A man twice her age. Blanche’s father. 

A man who outranked her stepmother. A man her stepmother was hoping to marry herself. Spending hours applying oils to her skin, plucking her eyebrows to impress, to bewitch. 

“If only I was your age!” That woman lamented. “It would be so easy to lead him around by the nose! All I’d need was a low-cut dress.”

Yes, it would be satisfying to dash her stepmother’s dreams to pieces the way she’d dashed Oriana’s. The very thought made her mouth twisted into a smile. 

“Are you suggesting I marry the king myself?” Oriana asked slowly. “Or simply become his mistress?”

To make love to a man she had no desire for. This seemed a far worse thing than to be with a girl she wanted more than anything. 

It was what countless ladies did. Including her stepmother. It wasn’t the king himself they found desirable. It was the fact that he was king, the power and wealth which went with his position. 

“Bewitch him and you won’t have to do anything,” Nimmie Not suggested. “Simply smile, flutter your eyelashes, and laugh at everything he says, darting away whenever he tries to touch you.” 

This was a game many a lady played at court in hopes to madden a man enough he’d marry her. 

“I don’t want to marry him.” Oriana closed her eyes. “I want to marry his daughter.”

What a relief it was, to state this shocking truth out loud. 

“I don’t see why you shouldn’t, my dear.” How kind Nimmie Not’s voice. “Only your fool human customs forbid you to.”

“They are foolish customs.” She tightened her fists. “They shouldn’t exist.”

“If you were queen, you could do away with them,” Nimmie Not wheedled. “If you were queen, you could do many things you cannot. You would be close to your beloved princess.”

“I’d be her stepmother.” What that woman was to Oriana. “That’s not what either of us want.”

“Ah, but you’d be in the castle with her. Close to her.” The kobold smacked his lips. “Isn’t that worth a little deception? Especially if you’re deceiving those who deserve to be deceived.”

Yes. Yes, it would be worth it. 

Oriana opened her eyes and looked at the little man who’d given her the magic mirror. Whom she couldn’t trust, but had been more dependable than anyone in her life of late. 

Including her beloved. 

“All right, kobold.” Oriana inclined her head. “Just what do you have in mind?”

Nimmie Not’s grin widened, becoming even more predatory. 

Once it would have worried her, but Oriana was moving past the point of caring. 

He was preferable to most humans right now. 

#QueerBlogWed: A Tale of the Navel

On November 17, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a drawbridge, a comb, and a Help Wanted sign.

This bizarre Tale of the Navel, a prelude with Peter to Unwilling to Be Yours was the result…

How strange to see a Help Wanted sign just after Peter had crossed a drawbridge into a castle. 

He was carrying a comb. He’d intended to give it to Paul. Perhaps it had belonged to a famous vampire, still carrying traces of its previous owner’s dark energy. Perhaps a siren had used it to straighten her hair before singing below a bridge, convincing those ailing in their hearts to jump. 

This was how desperate Peter was, brandishing this comb and a likely fable just to get his former lover to talk to him. 

“Oh, what a lovely comb!” A mermaid popped her wet head out of the moat. Tresses of hair floated around her breasts. “Won’t you come down, handsome stranger, and give it to me?” 

She gave a fetching little wiggle which didn’t fool Peter. 

“I’m so sorry, my lovely.” He gave a half-bow and a wink, but never quite stopped walking, keeping a firm grip on the comb. “My assistance is needed elsewhere.”

He gave the sign a significant nod. 

“Such a shame. All that beauty of yours wasted on a heavenly direction and attempts to return what isn’t wanted.” The mermaid flicked her tail dismissively at the sign. “Come back when you tire of work and decide to play.”

She giggled and dove below the water of the moat. 

It was only when he was on the other side that Peter saw the bones lying in patches of land under the drawbridge. Human bones. 

Why was he not surprised playing with a mermaid could be fatal?

He looked around the castle courtyard. Birds chittered and took flight amidst the lords and ladies rushing in different directions. No one paid much attention except for one. 

“Why, that’s my comb!” A lady wearing a haughty scowl upon a long face under a coned headdress snapped her fingers under his nose. “Give it here, boy!”

Peter shook his head, smiled, and pressed the comb to his chest. “Forgive me, my lady, but this comb is for my former lover. I must woo him with lies in an attempt to win him back.”

“How brazen of you to admit that!” she scolded, but a smile softened her face. “All right, get along with you. Just remember, lies can be more costly than the truth.”

She raced after a distracted lord in black, no longer paying attention to Peter. Just why was everyone in a hurry? 

There was no point in hurrying, just as there was no point in telling him lies could be more costly than the truth. The truth had a way of popping out, regardless, like a hideous jack-in-the-box. 

Peter found the stairs leading up to one of the castle towers. He started climbing them, winding up the stone edifice, glancing down at the green countryside below. 

Some of it he’d passed through. There were a few cottages he hadn’t remembered seeing. How interesting. 

He reached the end of the stairs at a little wooden door in the stone wall. 

Uncertain, he tapped on the door.

“Come in, Peter.” The voice was soft, seductive, yet somehow deep and commanding. It tickled the insides of his ears, sending shivers all the way down to his groin. 

He opened the door, finding himself in small bedchamber. A great bed with long dark green hangings did nothing to conceal the occupant. 

A man with high-cheekbones rolled over amidst his own moonlight-colored hair, exposing bare shoulders slipping free of a robe the same hue as the bedcovers. The man fixed him with a searing gaze, his eye filled with prism-like light. 

“Shut the door behind you.” The man smiled the slow smile of a predator who’d just caught a particularly succulent squirrel in his claws. “We don’t want to be disturbed.”

“My lord,” Peter said, tasting the truth in every world. This man was the true lord of this place, no matter what title or lack of title he might have. 

He turned to shut the door behind him, knowing he risked being devoured, but so what? He’d come this far for his wish. Better to be eaten than to turn back. 

“So determined,” the man said softly. “Paul was a fool to discard you. He might follow gods, but you could become a god yourself.”

Honeyed words in which he might be stuck. 

“Not to waste such an opportunity,” Peter chose his own with care, doing a little spin to face the occupant of the bed. “I cannot help but wonder if you were looking and expecting someone else.”

“As you were?” The man raised himself from the bed, exposing more shoulder and chest as perfect as a marble statue’s. “This doesn’t mean we don’t have something to offer each other.”

“I saw the Help Wanted sign.” Peter sauntered toward the bed, yet stopped before getting too close. “Are you the one asking for it?”

“Yes and no. The Navel needs help.” The man leaned back to expose his own hairless navel and what lay beneath it. “The question is do you truly want to help? Or are you simply seeking your own path?”

Difficult to answer that question even with this man looking and smelling the way he did, distracting Peter with his ample charms. 

“I wished to see someone again.” Peter stood his ground, clutching his comb. “I may have to lie to do so.”

“You don’t have to lie to me. You won’t be able to.” The man reached and nudged Peter’s thigh. “Come closer. I have a message I want you to deliver.”

“What message?” Peter allowed himself to be drawn toward the bed, to lean over his occupant.

“This one.” The man reached out to seize Peter, claiming his lips with his own. “You’ll know who. You’ll find him as difficult to resist as I always have.”

Peter fell on top of the half-naked man, finding his own body very happy to be there. 

The man wrapped his robe which seemed to be growing around both of them. Darkness enveloped the two men. Peter tasted darkness, breathing in the shadows along with the taste of their master…

…only to find himself walking down a cobblestone path, clothes in disarray. 

“What happened?” The man, the bedchamber, the castle were retreating as if they’d been a dream. 

He glanced down at his empty hands. Somehow, somewhere, he’d lost his comb. 

Tales of the Navel: A Fresh Start

On December 1, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted a Wednesday Words prompt at ptwyant.com involving a card, a red dress, and a diamond.

This Tale of the Navel was the result…

Aggie drove the cart over the dirt road, running over the rolling hill. She wasn’t entirely sure how she’d got here. She wasn’t entirely sure of anything. Everything she had was in the cart.

“I have to get somewhere,” she muttered out loud. “I have to get away.”

If she closed her eyes, she’d hear the angry voices surrounding her in the night. Hers had been one of them until an answering rage came in the form of a burning force, a force which made the voices scream.

She’d been one of them. The last thing she’d seen had been the man with silvery-white hair and pale skin. Cold and beautiful as a diamond or a statue and just as heartless. He’d been smiling, standing at her master’s side. 

She couldn’t remember what happened after or how she’d gotten into this cart. 

Only a man was standing in the middle of the road ahead. He was dressed in black velvet with long silvery-blond hair, waiting for her. 

“You,” she hissed, recognizing that face. Yes, it was the same man she’d seen in the middle of the night, looking at her, listening to the screams of her sisters before they were reduced to piles of pink goo. 

“Yes,” he said with a little bow, appearing right next the cart, taking one of the reins. 

The horse stopped, showing no sign of discomfort at the stranger touching him. 

Perhaps Aggie should do the same. Better not to remember how beautiful he’d been when Angharad wore a red dress, waving an extra pair of ghost arms, singing her praises to the spider web overhead. 

Faugh, what a lot of nonsense popped into her head. It wasn’t like she was even sure if those memories were actually hers.

“I can see you remember me, Angharad of Arachne; Angharad, Sister of Seraphix.” He uttered those titles with utmost courtesy, yet still managed to make a mockery of them. “Do you hear my Voice this time?”

“Hard to miss it,” she growled with as little enthusiasm as she could muster. Once upon a nightmare this man had been a diamond, but that had been a lifetime ago and that version of herself was dead. Now he was a ruby, soaked blood-red with the lives he’d absorbed. “What do you want? Got to warn you, there’s not much left of your former victim.”

“You weren’t my victim.” He stroked the horse’s muzzle. “You were your our master’s when you turned her, forced her to flee, until she fought for her life. She won. You lost.”

“Like I’d ever forget.” Seraphix, he was beautiful. Whether he wore a crown of flowers or black velvet, the sight of him still made her breath catch in her throat. Not that Aggie had any desire to admire. “Do you wish to torment me with talk of the past? Or is there another reason you stopped me?”

“There is.” He let out a low sigh. “I bear you no ill will, Angharad. If it seemed I took delight in your pain, it’s because your master’s pain was my own. I shared her rage, her hunger for vengeance upon those she once called sisters.”

“Poetic,” she said with some dryness. “Sounds like you were one heart and mind with your master. Wish we could all be so close to our gods.”

“You can be, Angharad,” he corrected with the lift of an eyebrow. “You can be closer to Seraphix than you ever were. You and all of your Sisters.”

“Don’t talk about my Sisters!” Seraphix’s tits, how she hated the raw angry sob which came out with the words. “You don’t get to speak of them! Not after what you did to them!”

“Even if I told you I could bring them back?” His pale blue eyes glittered with an icy pink light, a touch of lavender. “What if I told you I’d already resurrected some of them?” 

Oh, this stopped her. A memory flashed of Meggie’s rosy face, grinning, a custard tart crumb stuck to her cheek. One followed of Mel, scowling, trying so hard to look fierce, but her kittenish mouth and nose reduced the expression to something comedic and adorable. 

Last there was the Master, her lined brown face so deceptively kind. That kindness couldn’t have all been a lie. Oh, how she hated the sob getting stuck in her throat. 

Her Sisters. The Sisters of Seraphix. Seeking balance in seclusion. Until a monster upset the balance, using the flesh of one of their own. 

She couldn’t stop the tear from welling up in the corner of her eye. It slid down her cheek with the weight of her memories. 

The ruby caught it with one pale finger, letting it rest on the tip. It glittered like a diamond. “Yes, I can see you would.” 

The tear solidified, becoming a tiny gem with a rune upon it. A symbol which had once meant Seraphix. “You haven’t forgotten your god, Angharad. Nor have They forgotten you.”

“Could have fooled me, considering that Seraphix let you kill so many of Their Followers,” Aggie growled with some bitterness. 

“Because you turned on one of your own, but Seraphix would never have let you stay dead.” The ruby fixed his prism-like eyes upon her, holding out the tear to her. “Seraphix forgives Their own. It was Seraphix who sent me to you, allowing you to hear my call.”

“Why?” Aggie muttered, feeling too tired and weary to be angry. “What do you want?”

“It’s what you want, Aggie, that’s important.” He smiled, using her nickname as if they were old friends. “I am the Voice of Seraphix, chosen by our god to gather Their Followers, granting their desires to return for their faith.”

“Of course you are.” She let out a weary sigh. “I’ll admit, that’s a pretty trick with my tear, but you’ll need to do better than that to convince me you’re in league with my former god.”

“That’s just the problem. Seraphix is your former god.” The supposed “Voice” leaned closer. “They want you back, Aggie. Seraphix wants you to believe in Them. Believe in Them and They’ll grant you anything you desire.”

“All I want to do is run a small tavern,” she muttered. “Brew beer, bake tarts for a small number of people, and lead a simple life. I’ve had it with gods and greatness.”

“What if you could have all that, only your Sisters would be among that small number of people, visiting your tavern?” The “Voice” smiled slightly, lowering their eyelashes almost coyly. “If Seraphix did that for you, would you believe in Them?” 

“I have a hard time believing in anything these days.” Aggie took a deep breath and released. “Yes, if Seraphix did all that, I’d give Them a second chance. They weren’t the worst god I served.”

“No, They weren’t.” The smile disappeared from the ruby’s lips. “There’s a red gown in the back of your cart. You think the life you lived when you wore it was a dream or a nightmare, but the gown is there.”

“What?” She turned to the back on the cart, the blankets and ropes covering her few possesions. 

Lying on top of the blankets was a crimson dress with slits for more arms than any human woman possessed. Oh, this garment was richer than anything she’d worn as a Sister of Seraphix, but the arachnocrats of the Gardens lived far more luxuriously. Lived and great fat on the life force of the beautiful boys they raised.

She shuddered, turning back to the man, only she remembered when he’d been much younger. A beautiful youth with his hair crowned with flowers before rising into the web. 

“We killed you first, didn’t we?” she murmured. She could almost hear the singing of the other arachnocrats, echoing in the domed temple. “We killed you. You killed us.”

No. The Sisters of Seraphix had been innocent. They hadn’t been life-force sucking monsters, turning beautiful youths to stone. Ah, but she remembered some of her Sisters from the garden, didn’t she? Like Mel. Only she’d only had two arms, but so did Angharad. 

Aggie shuddered, covered her face with her hands.

“Aggie.” The “Voice”, only hadn’t his name been Dyvian back then? Yes, Dyvian Ashelocke. Kin to the Lady Duessa herself. Only now he reached up to gently lower her hands, to force her to meet her gaze. 

No boy from the Gardens of Arachne would ever dare such a thing. Nor could Dyvian have grown up to manhood. The boys blossoming in the gardens were plucked before they could over-ripen. This one had been drained of his life during a Marriage Feast. Dyvian Ashelocke should be a statue, standing eternally young and beautiful in his bride’s garden. Eternally still. 

Only he’d come back to take his revenge upon her Sisters and herself by using one of their own. Why did he speak so kindly to her now?

“This is our chance for a fresh start, Aggie.” How beautiful those prismatic eyes were, reflecting her back. “Yours, mine, and your Sisters. In the village of Omphalos with Seraphix. It could happen, Aggie, if you trust in us. If you trust in yourself.”

“Too good to be true,” she muttered, looking down at their hands. Somehow he’d place the tear gem back in hers. “I don’t believe in things too good to be true.”

“You will, if a miracle happens.” He smiled and released her fingers. Stepped back from the cart and the horse. “And it will, Aggie. Just keep following this road to Omphalos. You’ll see.”

Mists rose the ground and the sides of the road. He smiled, giving one sideways glance before he headed off into them. 

“Guess I will,” she muttered, feeling her heart lighten just a bit even though she should know better. She picked up the reins with one hand, still clenching the jewel in the other. 

For a moment she saw Meggie’s round face, smiling back at her. Almost as if her former Sister was promising they would meet again. 

Aggie didn’t know if she believed if they would, but she wanted to. 

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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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