Conversations with Christopher: Rhane Part 2

Christopher sits facing the same young woman with wheaten-honey hair and distracted blue eyes he spoke to last week. She gazes into the mists, mists which previously revealed visions. 

Rhane: It’s strange, seeing Amber here. I thought I had to be playing the game to see her. Or writing about her. Or dreaming about her. 

Christopher: You mentioned this game before, a roleplaying game. Is that something like this?

The mists clear to reveal a couple of androgynous boys with shaggy golden hair standing on a pebbled path leading through roses, passing by a gazebo.

Danyel: (for it’s the twins who’ve appeared in the vision, summoned by Christopher’s thoughts) This character. She’s full of passion, anger and determination. The color red. 

Tayel: Depths of feeling and sorrow swim within her, a sea of feeling. She’s blue. 

Danyel: What if she’s both? She could be purple.

Tayel: Passionate yet tempered by depths of feeling. Perhaps. 

Danyel: Purple it is. Where do you think she is?

Tayel: On a forest path. She follows it until she reaches a cluster of purple flowers.

Danyel: The path doesn’t end there, does it?

The twins continue to talk about their character and their story while following their own path through the flowers. The mists swallow them.

Christopher: Like that?

Rhane: (smiles) Yes and no. When we roleplay, it’s also a game. Like this.

The mists part to show a table. Another Rhane sits at the table with a bunch of ten-sided dice in varying shades of violet, rose, pink, or lavender. 

Another woman with tousled dark hair sits a little too close to her, sporting a t-shirt with an angry girl in black leather holding a stake. The dice in front of her are all black. 

Rhane: That’s Mona. She plays Isolde, a sculptor who became a warrior and Amberwyne’s protector.

A second image appears over the dice of a tall, muscular woman with very short white hair and bluish white skin, dressed in dove-gray leathers. She carries a club. 

Rhane: Her weapon changes, depending on her need. It was a gift from her master.

The club shifts, becoming an axe which Isolde swings with ease. She whistles and disappears. 

Rhane points to another girl on her other side, a girl with long, black curls and inquisitive hazel eyes. A jade pendant hangs around her neck. All of her dice are shades of green or gold. 

Rhane: That’s Zoe. She joined the game late, took over an NPC which Beatrix used to run, Rhiannon. 

A woman concealed in a long black cape with a gleaming violet eye filled with mischief, long hair the same violet as her eyes winked at Rhane and Christopher before she disappeared. 

Rhane: It seems like she noticed us, but you can never tell what Rhiannon is thinking or how much she knows. She seems to always appear when we need her, even if she isn’t always around. 

Christopher: You called her a NPC. What’s that?

Rhane: A NPC is a non-player character. This is someone the Game Master runs rather than a character created by one of the players. And speaking of the Game Master…

A girl wearing a top hat over her short dark hair and a black bodice sat facing the other girls at the table. Dark blue dice with a murky look were scattered in front of her. 

Rhane:…that’s Beatrix. She’s the creator of the world our characters are part of. 

Beatrix: A creature made of crystal rises from the lake next to the village. People scream and run away from it. 

Christopher and Rhane can hear the faint sound of people screaming coming from another vision, slightly overlapping the one of the girls at the table. They can see a creature of stalagmite rising from the waters, fixing cold amethyst eyes upon the fleeing villagers. 

Mona: I’m going to walk right up to it. 

A tall figure in dove-gray leather walks toward the monster, the opposite direction most of the villagers are going. A red cape flutters from her shoulders. 

Christopher: She wasn’t wearing that before.

Rhane: She got one to match Amberwyne’s.

Rhane: (the Rhane at the table) I can’t let Isolde face this alone. I’ll go with her. 

A second figure wearing a red cape over the russet vest, amber tresses falling over it, walks beside Isolde. 

Zoe: Not me. I’m sticking to the shadows and out of sight while I tail these proud fools. 

Beatrix: Roll your dice fo stealth. Let’s see how quiet you can be. 

Zoe picks up her green dice, shake them in her hand, and casts them upon the table before her. Some of the numbers are high, but some are low.

Rhane: You want to roll high in this game. The more high numbers you get on the dice, the more your character succeeds. 

There is the slight blur of a figure moving from the shadow of cottages, trees, and fleeing villagers. 

Rhane: (the one sitting opposite Christopher, watching both of the visions) This is what happens when we game. 

Christopher: All of that?

Rhane: Well, we’re all imagining the village and the crystal monster. Along as what our characters are doing while we decide to do it. Whether or not we succeed in doing anything depends on the dice, how well we roll. 

The monster lets out a tinkling, almost musical moan. Amber pauses in her stride, frowning at the sound. 

Rhane: (in the chair, explaining to Christopher) Beatrix creates the story and the setting our characters find themselves in. We react to that situation with our characters. 

Christopher: Sounds like magic. Or storytelling as a group. 

Rhane: It is, but the dice determine our fate. 

The two overlapping visions of the girls sitting at the table, the two women confronting the monster shimmer in the mist. 

Beatrix rolls her dice. The monster leans forward, amethyst eyes gleaming. 

Amberwyne: I know you. I’ve seen you in Fidessa’s castle. 

Christopher: Fidessa?

Rhane: The big bad in our roleplaying game, an enchantress intent on strewing curses across our path, causing discord in the land. ‘Dessa used to be Amberwyne’s mentor and lover. 

Christopher: Intense.

Rhane: (blushing, gazing at the girl in the tophat a little sadly) Beatrix and I worked out this elaborate background for Amberwyne and ‘Dessa before the game ever started. We even roleplayed it a little one on one. 

The Rhane at the table clutches a handful of dice.

Rhane: Does Amber recognize this creature?

Beatrix: Roll five dice. 

Rhane puts down several of the ones she has clutched in her hand until she only holds the deepest purple, the deepest violet. She casts them, coming up with all tens. 

Christopher: (murmurs) Even learning about this for the first time I know that’s impressive.

Rhane, Mona, and Zoe all cheer. Beatrix smiles a little, but the smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes. Somehow the frostiness of her own crystal beast is reflected there. 

Beatrix: Yes. You remember this one from Fidessa’s nightmare palace, how she shaped it from clouded crystals, smoky with the unwanted desires and impulses of fledgling enchanters who forgot to cleanse them. It was her pride and joy. 

Amberwyne gazes at the crystal beast, her lower lip trembling a little. 

Isolde: (turning to look at her companion in concern) Amber! What is it?

Amber: I remember this creature. It’s one of ‘Dessa’s. 

Isolde: (thinning her mouth in a grim line) Of course it is. Everyone we go, we seem to find her handiwork. 

Beatrix: This creatures does have a weakness, one you carry close to your heart.

Amber raises a hand to clutch at something hidden beneath her tunic. 

Beatrix: (smiles with a measure of seductive wickedness) Only you’ve gazed upon it for too long. Roll for your wisdom or willpower. Your choice.

Rhane at the table flushes, smiles, and gulps all at the same, gathering her dice up. She shakes them in her hand. She casts them upon the table before her. 

Rhane: Uh, oh…

Mona: Trollshit…

Amber’s eyes begin to flutter. She sways on her feet. 

Isolde: Don’t blame the trolls…Amber! (She shifts her club to one hand, uses the other to steady her companion.) Amber, what is it?

Rhane: Can I warn Isolde?

Beatrix: (still smiling) Roll your dice. 

Christopher: She seems to be enjoying your misfortunate.

Rhane: She does take a certain sadistic pride in her monsters, but it deserved. Her monsters are often interesting and they make the game more intense. 

The Rhane at the table rolls her dice again. This time, the numbers are higher. 

Amberwyne: (forcing the words out) I think I’ve fallen under the spell of its gaze…

Beatrix: Amberwyne, you find yourself thinking of ‘Dessa. Missing her. What did you think you were doing, leaving her? Why are you even here? 

Mona: Oh, no. Isolde is keep a firm grip on Amber. 

Zoe: I think it’s time for Rhiannon to cast counter curse, see if she can dispell the creature’s hold over Amber. I’ve made sure I’m not too far from Amber and Isolde. 

A figure peers behind a building at the swaying figure of Amber, at Isolde trying to steady her.  She whispers something, making gestures with her gloved fingers. 

Beatrix: (frowning) Roll your dice.

Zoe gathers up quite a few of them, shakes them in her hand, and tosses them onto the table. Very high numbers appear.

Beatrix rolls a large number of dice as well, but her numbers are not so high. 

Zoe: At this moment, Rhiannon is going to leap out from the shadows to stand on a rooftop, facing the creature. Amber and Isolde can now both see her. 

Beatrix: (grumbling) I guess you don’t need to roll for this since it’s your specialty. 

The figure leaps up, dark cloak unfurling to reveal her lithe figure, lavender hair blowing in the breeze.

Mona and Isolde: Show off. 

Christopher: (chuckling) What happens next?

Rhane: I’ll have to roll to see if Amber can shake off the spell the monster has cast upon her. When it’s my turn.

Christopher: You’re casting and recasting spells with dice. 

Rhane: For our characters, yes. Beatrix is doing the same for the monster. Only it’s just a game.

The image of the the monster, the village it menaces, and the village’s defenders fade into the mist. 

Rhane: At least we thought it was just a game. 

Christopher: You’re not so sure now. 

Rhane: It was as real as we wanted it to be. Perhaps we let it get too real. Or perhaps it wasn’t real enough. 

The image of the girls sitting at the table is swallowed by the mist. 

Christopher: Your wishes effected how real this game was? It sounds like you’re in the Shadow Forest. Or on the edge of it. 

Rhane: I keep telling you we’re not in the same universe. We just have the same scribbler. 

To be continued next week…

Like my style of writing? Here are links to more…

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

#RainbowSnippets: At Her Service

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

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

To sample various LGBTQIA+ stories, go to….

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

I’m drawing to the end of At Her Service, as much as I’m ready to share. Right after I went back and changed a lot of what I posted. I decided to make the lady of the chateaux and Cinders’s father a bit more humorous. Too much humor turned hardcore in what I’d written.

The scene below has remained the same, the scene I’ve been sharing recently. Here is the rest of it…

“If so, I’ll be as careless and clumsy as I can,” I vowed, but I blushed and ducked my head. I couldn’t keep meeting her hot, sapphire gaze. 

This coaxed another smouldering laugh from her. 

And so I became Cinders.

Like my writing style? Here are links to my published works…

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

#QueerBlogWed: Tales of the Navel

On June 2, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted a Wednesday Words prompt involving a shadow, a wild party, and a wheel.

This Tale of the Navel was the result…

It was the sort of party where no one was still for long. One person started cheering, singing, leaping and up down, only to have everyone cheer, sing, and leap. If you saw the shadow of someone who haunted lurking in a stranger’s eyes, cheer up! Liquor flowed liberal amounts. Drink enough and those shadows faded into a glorious rainbow blur. 

Of course Peter was amongst those shouting the loudest, singing in a clear, beautiful baritone about heartbreak, bouncing up down with a bunch of scantily-clad party-goers of varying genders in way which guaranteed none of them would take his words of heartbreak too seriously. He hailed the sphinx upon the spinning Wheel of Fate with a generous swig of whatever bright-colored concoction he was drinking. 

The sphinx inclined her head graciously in response, confident once the guests were drunk enough, one would be foolish enough to agree to answer her riddles. 

Trying to weave my way through the crow without pushing anyone (and not having much success), I made my way to Peter’s side. “Peter!”

He pushed an auburn lock of hair out of his face, laughing at some joke aimed at him by select members of the crowd. 

Surrounded by sweaty exuburance, seeing the sweat glisten on Peter’s brow, I lost control. I breathed in his enthusiam, drank down his delirium which burst with salty sweetness upon my tongue, rushing down my throat, exploding in my belly. For a moment, I saw exploding rainbows. 

Peter’s eyelids fluttered. He stopped bouncing and swayed on his feet. The Wheel spun, flashing colors to match the rainbows I’d just seen until it slowed, showing a single image within its spokes.

The Fool danced near the edge of a cliff. Sometimes he had fair hair, sometimes auburn. He could have been Peter. He could have been me. 

The sphinx raised a winged eyebrow and gestured with a meaningful paw at the Wheel. 

I swallowed and held my breath. I caught Peter before he could fall to the floor. 

He leaned against me, gazing at my face as if he wasn’t sure if it was me. 

“Do I taste good, Christopher?” He offered me a suggestive smile. “Do I taste as good as Damian Ashelocke did?”

These words were as good as a slap in the face. I recoiled from him, only to recover myself enough to retort, “And does touching me feel as good as touching Paul did? Or would you prefer to have him here?”

“Oh, why must I choose between you?” He giggled. “You were never mine. Paul was mine, but he gave himself away to mysticism and monsters!” He cackled at his own words. “You both rejected me in such different ways, it’s hard to say which hurt more.” He clapped his hands together. “No. I won’t choose and I won’t brood. I’ll dance and sing until I die!” He turned his last sentence into a whooping cheer. 

Many in the crowd whooped along with him. “Yeah! Dance and sing until we die!”

The sphinx nodded and began to sway in time with a tune that filled the air. Everyone began to clap and cheer.

“Peter…” I began, but he picked me up, swung around in a wild arc amidst the whooping. I ended up holding onto his vest for dear life, faces and colors blurring with the movement. I thought I saw Dyvian swinging Danyel just as Peter was swinging me while Damian lifted Tayel high up in the air. Ashleigh sidled up to the sphinx of all people. Well, the mythical beast’s face did look a bit like Map’s. 

Was I actually seeing them or just shadows of them? Shadows could have shadows. Was this party happening in the Shadow Forest or a pocket realm of the edge of it? Was that why I saw familar faces in this strange shimmering crowd where everyone glistened, sweated, and cheered? Was this all a dream or a vision?

Perhaps it was a warning. A warning of what might happen if we allowed ourselves to be carried away. Was it so wrong to take a moment to enjoy yourself? To lose yourself to the moment?

Peter put me down. It was my turn to sway on my feet and catch my breath.

“Peter, listen to me.” I tugged on his sleeve. “Something happened to you outside this place. You’re become this entity whom feeds upon wishes. The part of you I once knew is trapped here.”

“Does that matter?” He shrugged as if it didn’t. “I’ve become you, a creature whom feeds upon the emotions of others. Only I can still drink actual liquid.” He took another swig of his cocktail to prove his point. 

“Peter, please!” I tightened my fingers upon his arm, feeling the hard slipperiness of his arm beneath the damp silk hugging it. “I’m not sure how long this party will last. I’m not not sure how long this part of you will linger here.”

“Again, does it matter?” He twisted his mouth into a bitter attempt at a smile. “I’m dancing with the Wheel of Fortune and only wishes can change my fate.” He turned to press his forehead against my hair. “I lost myself in the Shadow Forest seeking your happiness, Christopher. Tell me, did you ever find it? Did you find Damian?”

He pressed damp lips to me. I felt the water rushing over my head, waking to splutter, finding myself in the pond. 

Yes. I’d been leaning over to the pond in the circle of stones, trying to see a vision. I’d almost lost myself to it. The rocks cast their shadows over me in judging disapproval. 

Spitting out water, I paddled to the bank, pulled myself up onto the grass. Perhaps like Map, the stones were right to disapprove. The pond had almost gotten me. I must have fallen into a trance, leaning too close to the edge. My attention had been fixed upon the colors, sparkling upon the water, lurking below the surface. Visions lurked within them, visions of other versions of me. I’d been trying to see one more clearly…no. Whatever I’d seen or felt was gone. 

I rolled over on the dry ground, trying to remember. Something about a wheel, a wild party, and the shadow of someone I’d loved. I’d been trying to tell that someone something important, only I hadn’t exactly been myself at the same. 

Argh, it was maddening! Visions were too much like dreams, so vivid when I was having them, but they vanished as soon as I returned to the waking world and wet clothes. I didn’t want to forget. This was why I kept making the hike up this hill, the hill everyone in Omphalos was afraid of. Even if I risked falling into the pond and drowning, I wanted to see what the shadow me saw, to see what worlds he walked within, the other people who were part of his life. People who weren’t Map or Ashleigh, but were important to me. Him. Us. Those people kept slipping away along with the visions. 

Maybe I’d be able to remember a name next time. Or something. Anything. 

I glanced down at my drenched clothes, feeling only too soggy. Map would be furious with me and Ashleigh, she would want to know why? Why did I keep leaving our home, our village, to chase phantoms? What was so seductive about this pond within a stone circle?

“Because I don’t belong in the village,” I murmured the forbidden truth out loud. “There’s somewhere else I’m supposed to be, there’s someone I need to find. I just don’t know where or whom.”

I glanced at the pond, wondering if it might reveal answers.

Ripples lapped against the bank, but nothing appeared. Perhaps the waters had given me all it could for this particular visit. 

I would just have to visit again. And again and again. And yet again until I got the answers I needed or I drowned in my own dreams. 

Either way I wasn’t giving up. 

Conversations with Christopher: Rhane Part 1

Christopher has returned in his stone seat within the mist and fog of the Cauldron. A young woman a little older than himself. Fine strands of honey-wheaten hair fall around her face and shoulders of her loose black tunic. A clear crystal, somewhat smudged hangs around her neck on a tarnished silver chain. She gazes at him with dreamy blue eyes, not quite focusing upon him. 

Christopher: I know you, don’t I? You came to the Navel once.

Rhane: Did I? I’m Rhane by the way. 

Christopher: I’m Christopher, but I’m sure we’ve met. I led you to a doll, a doll with long, loose amber curls. 

Rhane: Seldom had you seen such a beautiful head of hair. No one has curls like my Amberwyne. 

Christopher: So you did visit. 

Rhane: No, but it’s strange. I have a character in a roleplaying game with that very head of hair. 

For a moment, the mists clear. Christopher and Rhane to turn to see a young woman the same age as Rhane, dressed in a russet vest over a green tunic, brown trousers, and scuffed brown boots, pointing at a faraway horizon. The hair in question falls from her head in loose curls and full waves, pouring over her shoulders. The owner of this hair radiates a strength and confidence Rhane doesn’t have. 

Rhane gazes at her character, blue eyes swimming with the admiration and affection. Amberwyne looks away from the horizon to gaze at her player with the same blue eyes. 

Rhane: Beautiful, isn’t she? I was drinking amber wine when I named her. This is why I decided to call her Amberwyne.

Amberwyne smiles, lips parting as if she’s about to say something when the mists swirl around her, replacing her with another image. An image of a doll with the same head of hair as Amberwyne, dressed in a gown the same shade of green as Amber’s tunic sitting on a shelf. 

Christopher: You said something similar when you found this doll in Gabrielle’s shop, the Navel. You said her hair was like amber wine, so you were going to name her Amberwyne. 

Hands reached out to claim the doll on the shelf. Rhane gazed at an image of herself, lifting the doll into the air, the face radiant. Another Christopher stood leaning against a nearby shelf, watching her with a wistful expression. 

Christopher: You were so happy to find her. It was one of those moments I felt like the Navel had done something good, bringing you and your doll together. (He ducked his head in the vision.) 

The Rhane in the chair seems to look, really look at Christopher for the first time. The Rhane in the vision was too absorbed with her doll to notice.

Rhane: It’s a lovely memory, but I don’t remember it.

The image of Rhane holding the doll, Christopher watching fades, leaving nothing but the two people in the chairs and the mist.

Rhane: I’m not part of your world or your story, Christopher. I’m from a different one our scribbler is working on; The Players Are the Thing.

Christopher: You were part of my world. You visited the Navel. I’m sure of it.

Rhane: Maybe in a past draft. We have the same scribbler, after all. Amberwyne and I are in a different story now. A story in which I’m not sure how real she is.

Christopher: Are any of us real?

Rhane: (smiles) A very good point. Let’s say I’m not sure how real she is in my world.

Christopher: (rubs his eyes) I sometimes feel the same way. About myself and everyone.

Rhane: Oh, I have these doubts. I’m not sure if she does. 

Amberwyne: (appears out of the mist to whisper into Rhane’s ear) I do.

Rhane turns to look at her creation, but her character is already disappearing.

Rhane: This place, this Cauldron is disturbing. It heightens our sense of unreality, making me hope for the impossible. 

Christopher: It reflects our scribbler’s imagination. Characters and concept pop into existence, churn, boil, and disappear in an instant. 

Rhane: With all that churning and boiling, I guess we’re lucky we’re not burning. Or the ground beneath us isn’t shaking. 

Christopher: You’re right. (He looks around nervously, hoping Rhane isn’t giving me ideas. Lucky for my characters, I’m too tired to boil them. Besides I’ve got plans for them, mwah, hah, hah.)

Wondering what those plans are? Wait and see next Monday…

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

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

#RainbowSnippets: At Her Service

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

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

To read a wide variety of samples from LGBTQIA+ stories, go to…

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

For my own, Ariella and Cinders will continue where they left off in At Her Service

“I wouldn’t mind being a simple servant, able to sit in the cinders.” Once more I caught the lady’s gaze. “Not if you’re my mistress, my Lady Ariella.”

“Be careful what you wish for, Cinders.” She let out a smoky chuckle, which sent shivers down my body. “If you decide you’re at my service, I may decide to keep you.”

Like my style of writing? Here are buy links to my published works…

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

Paula’s Prompts: Wednesday Words

On May 26, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a pile of logs, leftovers, and an empty shelf.

This poem was the result…

The leftovers lie upon the grill

Above the pile of logs

Soon they’ll be transferred to the empty shelf

We don’t want to waste them

Yet they’re never as good as when fresh off the fire

When the party was in full swing

Now the festivities are winding down

Becoming quieter, becoming more still

Everyone basking in the first social gathering

The first time they’ve seen each other in half a year

Fearful at first to reach for the food 

When once we would have grabbed in innocent greed

We’re no longer as innocent as we once were

Still touched by the shadow of fear left by danger

Somehow we smile and laugh twice as loud

Relaxing as we reach for the leftover food

Daring to smile at each other, to show our faces

Happy to see each other after so long

Shyly we dare to touch each other

Dare to the close the distance we’ve kept

After the enforced separation

It feels like the end of a long journey

A journey we may have to continue

For now we savour the festivities

A moment of mingled joy and relief. 

Conversations with Christopher: Gabrielle

Christopher stands amidst the mists of the Cauldron, rising and writhing around him. 

A figure strides through the fog toward him, long, full skirts swishing with the clicking of tiny shells embroidered upon them. The same shells give off a faint gleam from the fishnet veil over the fedora on top of the woman’s head. 

Christopher: Hello, ‘Brie. Won’t you take a seat?

A wooden chair appears, sitting in the mist a few feet from Christopher. Flowers, pumpkins, and a tragedy/comedy mask are carved into it. 

Gabrielle stops and regards the seat. 

Gabrielle: I like it, but the rest of this place is a bit gloomy, isn’t it? Let’s change the setting.

She does a twirl. Sunshine bursts out of the mist, revealing a blue sky. Gabrielle continues to spin. 

Christopher finds himself standing in what appears to be a vineyard. Other bushes sport berries and flowers. 

Gabrielle: (pausing for a moment) I do love a good garden, don’t you?

Christopher tries to move away from the bushes, but it’s too late. A blossom starts to wither. A berry rots. A grape shrivels within moments while the leaves on the vine dry and crack. 

Christopher: ‘Brie…(he looks up, multicolored eyes swimming with a childish anguish)

Gabrielle: Sorry! 

She starts to spin again, a little faster. Her fedora and veil disappear, releasing her long golden hair. Her skirts darken into a lush forest green. 

She stops spinning and raises her hands toward Christopher. Energy crackles within her fingers, a power he can hear and feel more than see. 

A wreath of grape leaves appears upon Christopher’s head, matching the wreath which is now upon hers. 

A fresh berry ripens to replace the one which rotted. A new blossom comes to full flower. The leaves on the vine stretch out, greener than ever. Tiny plants sprout out of the ground at Christopher’s feet.

Gabrielle: (raising a golden eyebrow, looking every inch a queen without any jewels, gold, or silver, just the bounty of the earth) The Empress’s crown. You might have seen something like it in Damian’s artwork. It can’t hold the corruption you carry back forever, but it can keep it in check for a time.

Christopher: (reaching up to touch the leaves in wonder) I’ve never heard of it.

Gabrielle: (allowing a grin of pure mischief to creep over her face) You wouldn’t. I just made it up.

Christopher: ‘Brie! 

She lets out a throaty laugh and seats herself in the chair Christopher gestured to, which transported itself to this new setting. A couple of pumpkins sit at her feet. 

Christopher finds a chair waiting for him opposite his adopted mother. His traditional pattern of roses, thorns and bones writhe out of the legs and arms, only his seat is wooden, not stone. 

Christopher: You’ve got to show me how you do that.

Gabrielle: (leaning back in her seat) Come, come, this is the Cauldron of Eternal Inspiration, Christopher! It’s not all that different from the Shadow Forest. 

Christopher: All things are possible here. (Once again he reaches up to touch his wreath.) Even so, I didn’t think this was possible!

Gabrielle: All things are possible. Besides I know a trick or two. They have their price, but giving you the Empress’s crown is worth it, even if it’s just for this blog. 

Christopher: Why?

Gabrielle: (cocking her head) Why? Because you needed this moment. (She pointed upward with one finger.) Because you and I are in need of some fresh air. 

Christopher: Why this particular setting, this look? Not that it doesn’t suit you. 

Gabrielle: (blue eyes become a little dreamy, contemplative) I adore strong women, women who strive to improve themselves while sharing their magic. I’ve striven to be one. 

Christopher: (blinking in surprise) You’re the strongest woman Damian and I know. Even the Lady Duessa respects your strength. 

Gabrielle: (waves a hand and chuckles) Once you anticipate Duessa’s desires, she’s not that hard to impress. (Her smile fades into something somber.) I’ve had mentors who were far more difficult than she. They expected perfection. 

Christopher: That sounds impossible. 

Mist begins to rise from vines, climbing up and clearing. A bell begins to toll in the distant. A hill is revealed. A church or temple perches on top of the rolling green. 

Christopher starts. Gabrielle closes her eyes with a look of pain creasing her brow. 

Christopher: (gazing up at the church) ‘Brie, are we somewhere you used to live? Somewhere you miss?

Gabrielle: Miss? No. (She opens her eyes.) Haunted by? Yes. 

The sky overhead darkens with clouds and oncoming night. The vineyard disappears. 

Christopher and Gabrielle now sit in a courtyard. Only Gabrielle’s seat in upon a raised dais. Her skirts and gown have turned pure white. A long veil conceals her face. 

Four pillars stand in each side of the courtyard. Four veiled figures move past Gabrielle. One lays a long fingered hand possessively upon her shoulder, just for a moment. 

Veiled Figures: (in a soft sing-song chant) Heavenly directions. Guide us. Show our way through the darkness. 

The four figures disappear. 

Gabrielle: (reaching up to touch the spot where the figure laid her hand) Perhaps I should have become a direction like my mentors wished me to. Only I had no direction at the temple. 

Christopher: What do you mean? (He sits up straight, looking around the courtyard in fascination.)

Gabrielle: Never mind. It’s no longer important. 

She stands up, pulling back her veil, freeing herself from it. Her gown darkens, turning a rich ruby red. She lets out a throaty laugh and spins around in the courtyard. 

Feathers start to fall from the sky, pure white feathers. Christopher catches one in his hand. It starts to blacken in his palm. 

Gabrielle: That’s right. 

She stares up at the falling feathers with a look of pure challenge. Her red robes become a black, high-necked tunic over dark trousers with black boots reaching up her calves. She takes a feather, points it at the sky. 

It transforms first into a wand. A blade rips its way through the tip, changing the wand into a sword. 

Gabrielle: Nothing remains the same. Nothing turns out how you expect it to, not exactly. There’s a purity even in the darkness you could never see. I challenge you with my life, Rafaella!

Christopher stares at his adopted mother as if he’d never seen her before. In a way he hasn’t. Not this side of her. 

Christopher: Rafaella? 

Gabrielle lowers the sword. Rust rapidly begins to coat it, only it’s not rust. It’s wood. The sword becomes a staff. The staff turns into a snake, writhing and hissing in her hand. 

She drops it. The snake slithers off the courtyard in a huffy fashion. 

Gabrielle: My mentor. One of the ones who expected perfection. She’s never had much of a sense of humor. 

Gabrielle does another pirouette. Her severe dark attire vanishes. Skirts once more flare around her legs, clicking with tiny seashells as do the ones adorning the veil over her fedora. 

The mists rise and the courtyard vanishes. Christopher and Gabrielle stand on a cobblestone street lined with shops and cottages. Over one dangles a painted sign of a rounded belly with a navel. 

Gabrielle: (gazing around Omphalos fondly) Sometimes I think I left my home, but I haven’t. My home is here. 

Christopher: I wonder if you’ll ever tell me your whole story.

Gabrielle: (winking at her son) I wonder if you’ll ever tell me yours. 

Christopher: It’s still happening. 

Gabrielle: As is mine, Christopher. (She walks over to the boy, slings an arm around his slim shoulders.) As is mine. 

Mother and son walk toward the door of the Navel. Gabrielle opens it. The two of them go inside before the Cauldron’s mists take the street, the cottages, and the shops, enveloping them in gray whiteness. 

Omphalos is gone for now, but it will be back.

It always comes back.

Like my style of writing? Here are buy link to my published works…

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

#RainbowSnippets: At Her Service

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

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

To sample various LGBTQIA+ stories, go to…

https://www.facebook.com/groups/963484217054974

For my own, Cinders will answer Ariella’s question she posted last week in my expanding version of At Her Service…

“It seems a lot of trouble for all the fuss that’s made over it.” I looked directly into her eyes. “A lot of responsibility. If your mother wants it so badly, why should I stop her?”

Ariella chuckled, yet she bowed her head in acknowledgment. “You’re a lot wiser than you let on, Cinders.”

Like my style of writing? Want to read more? Here are buy links to my published works…

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

Paula’s Prompts: Wednesday Words

On April 7, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a duck, a bucket, and a headache.

This poem was the result…

He watches the ducks float by on the pond

Tucking in his legs and tail

Maintaining an absurdly duckish posture

They quack in his general direction

Mocking his mockery

He lets out a low, shrill hiss

Maybe it’s meant to be threatening 

He sounds like a tea kettle boiling over

Until he loses interest

Finds himself distacted by a bucket

Half-empty buckets are a terrible temptation

He nudges it with his paw

I barely rescue it and its contents in time

Now he’s sniffing at my teacup

Nudging the saucer with his nose

Getting honey on his whiskers

Ready to bat my water glass with his paw

He’s giving me a headache

Yet I can’t imagine life without him

The streaking furry presence

With a curious paw in everything. 

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Nimmie Not

Quartz frowns, whittling at a bit of wood in his hand, seated in a wooden chair as the mists of the Cauldron rise around him. There’s an air of anxiety, of fear, a slight warbling sound which might be a voice crying. My voice. 

Quartz: Silly scribbler. Today is supposed to a happy one, right?

Nimmie Not: Yes, yes, it is!

BAMF! There’s a cloud of yellow smoke and a wiggling kobold in Quartz’s lap. 

Quartz: Gah! (He drops the knife and the carving which disappear into the smoky ground.)

Nimmie Not: Happy Anniversary, my bearded beauty! Come here, yes, you will!

He throws his arms around Quartz. They both disappear along with the chair. Dwarf and kobold reappear, doing an odd jig in the mist which now starts to flash with colors like a strobbing disco ball. A jaunty tune plays in the background. Nimmie Not twirls a reluctant, stumbling, yet not entirely uncooperative Quartz across the dance floor. 

Quartz: (remembering his dignity and remembering to refuse to show any sign of enjoying himself too much with Nimmie Not) Not our anniversary, you daft fool! It’s the scribbler’s!

Nimmie Not: (stopping) Oh. 

The music stops, turns into Amethystium’s Ascension. Rising above the mist, we can see spires of a castle or is it simply a rooftop surrounded by trees. 

Nimmie Not: Happy Anniversary, scribbler! (He smiles, spreads his arms, and mutters out of the corner of his mouth) Just what did she do which we’re commemorating? 

Quartz: Created us one for one, you capering fool. Only that’s not why today is special for her as you well know. 

Nimmie Not: Of course not. Every day is worth celebrating the creation of we two, yes, indeed, it is. We make every time special.

Quartz: Right. If every day was special, there would be no special. Ow, I’m making my head hurt. 

Nimmie Not: Refrain from that, my dearest dwarf. You wouldn’t want your head to fall off and sold to gnomes. That happened in a pumpkiness webcomic long ago to our scribbler, yes, it did. 

Quartz: That would explain a lot. Today is when she married her husband. They’ve been married for thirteen years. 

Nimmie Not: That’s a blink of an eye to us, my precious fusspot. 

Quartz: Remember the scribbler is human, even she herself forgets that sometimes. 

Nimmie Not: Absent-minded of her. 

Quartz: She’s always been like that. She’s trying to ground herself a bit more since she has to. She’s about to lose something precious. 

Nimmie Not: Oh ho, what might that be? It’s always useful to know our scribbler’s weaknesses, yes, it is. 

Quartz: One thing is time. She’s going to lose a lot of time what with the changes that lie ahead. 

Nimmie Not: Ooo, I don’t like the sound of that! (He began to tap the ground with his belled toe.) This means less time for us. 

Quartz: Aye, I fear that, too. 

Nimmie Not: You said time was one thing. What’s the other thing she might lose?

Quartz: (pressing his lips together) Her home.

Nimmie Not: I’m certain that’s a sore matter for you. 

Quartz: It’s natural in the scribbler’s world to pay for certain things when you have a home. She and her husband may no longer be able to pay the costs for living in their home. 

Nimmie Not: (hopping a little closer to Quartz: Doesn’t it make you feel all snug and safe not having to worry about such things?

Quartz: Right. (scowling) I always have to worry about such things. 

Nimmie Not: Now, now, I gave you a home. You and your brothers are snug and safe at that cottage I provided for you. I didn’t charge you a cent, it was a gift. 

Quartz: Aye, it may have been a gift, but I’m guessing there will be a cost.

Nimmie Not: Ooo, don’t pout, my grumpy, oh, no! Let’s be positive, offer our scribbler a gift on this happy day while troubled times loom over her. Now what would the perfect gift be, hmm?

Quartz: No need to ask. Going to give her what I always give her. Ideas.

Nimmie Not: (clapping his spindly hands together) Oh, you clever dwarf! I shall do the same. She does love her inspiration, doesn’t she?

Quartz: That she does. Happy Anniversary, scribbler. And to you, Don. Thank you for supporting her all this time so we could come into existence, lad. 

Nimmie Not: Who are you calling “lad”? We were born from the scribbler’s imagination. We’re much younger than her husband. Not that you’d know to look at him, the handsome rogue, mmm, yes. 

Quartz: Don’t flirt with our creatrix’s husband, especially on their anniversary. (His eyebrows bristle and rise.) In our worlds, our stories we’re at least a century old, remember?

Nimmie Not: Really? (claps a hand to his cheek) Where did all that time fly away to?

Quartz: Mystery to me, too, kobold. (He actually smiles at the kobold.)

Nimmie Not falls over his own feet in surprise. 

Quartz’s smile gets a little wider.