Conversations with Christopher: Peter

Troubled by Paul and Hebe’s words about Peter, Christopher walks into ever-darkening mist, sensing his own desires are guiding him as much as the Cauldron’s next guest’s. 

The darkness doesn’t abate. He finds himself in an enclosed space yet space is all around him, filled with rows of seats and a stage standing before him. 

Lights illuminate the theatre, the single wall of crimson damask which forms the set. Peter paces in front of it, wearing a high-necked yellow shirt, a loose cravat, a red waistcoat, and matching breeches. He pauses next to a marble bust of man wtih a stern, frowning face. 

Christopher stops in the middle of the aisle, looking across the empty theatre. There’s no one here, but Peter and himself. 

Christopher: That’s a new look for you.

Peter: (not looking at him) I was trying to figure out what to say to you. Trying to rehearse the words as if they were lines in a play. Behold! (He spreads his arms wide and does a little spin.) I found myself here, on stage! (He pats the bust upon the head.) Quite the amusing little turn of the surreal, isn’t it, you old rogue?

Christopher gives the bust a wary look. You never know who or what might speak in the Cauldron.

The bust remains silent, all dour frowns. That doesn’t mean it…or he…isn’t listening.

Christopher takes a seat in the front row. 

Christopher: Who’s that? (waving at the bust)

Peter: A liar. Or a historian. (He shrugs.) For Suetonian, they were one and the same. It wasn’t about painting an accurate picture of the past for this particular record-keeper. It was about telling an entertaining tale which would be passed from listener to listener. Embellishments were welcome, especially if they suited his needs. 

Christopher: Why is he here?

Peter: Old Suetonian? (He let out a strained giggle.) Strange to hear myself speak of him thus. How I admired him when I was younger! Paul thought I was mad to do so. Now he’s nothing more than a prop, a reminder of my own compulsion to tell a pleasing tale with only enough truth to make it nourishing. 

Christopher: Is that what you want to tell me, Peter? A pleasing tale?

Peter: Someone has to do it. I’m sure Paul won’t. 

Christopher: He’s worried about you. Worried about what he might do to you, what he might have done. 

Peter: (letting out another strained chuckle) A little late for that. 

Christopher: He’s also worried about what I might do to you.

Peter: What you might do to me? (He throws his head back and laughs.) 

Christopher: (flushing) He’s right. At least he is about me. I have a bad feeling he’s right about himself, too. 

Peter: The shadow and the hunter, oh no! (He raises a hand in a mocking gesture of stage fear and swooning.) 

Christopher: It’s true. 

Peter: Oh, yes, it’s so truthfully one side of the truth! (He paces across the stage and make a turn.) If there’s one thing you and Paul have in common, it’s a tendency to shy away from everyone else out of fear of how scary you are. I’ve never been scared of you. Either of you. 

Christopher: Maybe you should be. 

Peter: And maybe there’s a gentleness, a vulnerability in both of you you’re unaware of. A certain tenderness that puts you in as much danger from me. 

Christopher: Is that what you think?

Peter: I’m the one that lures you into Once Upon a Time’s mouth.

Christopher: I have a bad feeling that was a spoiler. 

Peter: He’s the beginning of all stories so it should be expected. Stories involve conflict, even outright hell. Hell has at times been a mouth. Why shouldn’t Once Upon a Time, everyone’s beginning be a mouth ready to swallow them?

Christopher: It’s a frightening image. I much prefer to think of Once Upon a Time as a Door opening to a path which takes us where we wish to go. Even if it’s the wrong path. 

Peter: That, too. It’s all metaphor, only metaphor, yet metaphor means more than anyone realizes until it’s too late. 

Christopher: (sighs) I’m afraid that’s true.

Peter: (pacing back until he returns to Suetonian) All my lies are true. Unlike this old fellow. (He pats the bust on the head.)

Christopher: (smiles, shaking his head) There you go again. Distracting me from your contradictory words with a joke. 

Peter: My dear Christopher, I’ve never met a more contradictory child than you. (He makes a sweeping bow to his audience of one.) Everything you do is a contradiction. 

Christopher: (frowning) How so?

Peter: You feed on the living, you feed on other shadows. You feed on life, vitality, passion, memory, and thought. All the while you scheme to give those things back. 

Christopher: Scheme?

Peter: Carrying the stone, the egg, giving life to those delectable twins. That was quite the mythological scheme worthy of an old god. Or godling. 

Christopher: (squirming uncomfortably in his seat) Not my scheme alone. 

Peter: No, it was quite collaborative. You helped a lot of half-empty people achieve their own dreams, get at least a piece of them back in the process. Stealing Myself From Shadows, indeed! 

Christopher: (straightening his shoulders) Perhaps I define myself differently than you do. 

Peter: Don’t be so sure of that. We were were both happy in the Navel, giving people what they didn’t even want back. 

Christopher: Are you saying you’re like me?

Peter: Yes and no. I’m not sure if I’d give as generously as you, although I may have to be brave enough to try. 

Christopher: Why?

Peter: For my wish to be granted. Like I said, you were entirely too generous, but I want more. 

Christopher: Generous? I don’t remember giving you what you wanted. 

Peter: Yes, you did. You and Paul are alike in this as well. You’re willing to give away everything you have, everything you are, yet you’re hungry void ready to swallow everything

Christopher: Which is why we’re dangerous to you, no matter how gentle or generous you believe us to be. 

Peter: No matter how gentle, generous, or hungry you might be, you’re no match for me. 

Christopher: What do you mean?

Peter: I was happier than I’ve ever been in my life with Paul. The closest I’ve come to that happiness was with you. At the same time I wasn’t satisfied. 

Christopher: Why not?

Peter: (taking a deep breath, pausing center stage) I want to make everyone happy. I want to make everyone love and worship me. 

Christopher: (sighed) I’ve tried making everyone happy. Or perhaps I’m going to try making everyone happy. I’m not happy with my chances of success. 

Peter: Neither am I, but it’s what I want. No matter how small my chances of success are. 

(To be continued) 

#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. 

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Paul

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

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

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

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

Quartz: Right. Now there’s ruddy dragons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quartz: So which is it?

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

Quartz: Right. And who are you anyway?

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

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

Paul: I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.

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

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

Quartz: That what you want to talk about?

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

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

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

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

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

Quartz: Aye, from time to time. 

Paul: What does he want with Peter?

Quartz: Why don’t you ask him yourself?

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

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

Paul: Am I wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quartz: Maybe you’re the hopeless dreamer. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul: I suppose I am. 

Quartz: What are you going to do about it?

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

Quartz: How’re you going to do that?

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

Quartz: Sounds like you’re a shadow yourself. 

Paul doesn’t reply. 

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

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

Quartz: Can’t say it does. 

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

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

Christopher and Peter had better be careful. 

#QueerBlogWed: A Tale of the Navel

On January 26, 2022, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt. This involved a top hat, ribbons, and a rabbit.

This Tale of the Navel, a freebie story for Stealing Myself From Shadows was the result…

A rabbit emerged from the top hat, only to be chased around by the angry chicken who leaped out of a bag with a wicked cackle. 

I scooped up the rabbit in my arms and hid behind a shelf, trembling along with my furry bundle. I didn’t like the hen any more than the rabbit did. 

“Enough!” Gabrielle clapped her hands together and glowered at the chicken. “Stop picking…or pecking…on people. Christopher and the rabbit have as much right to be here as you do.”

The chicken strutted back to the bag she’d come from. She let out a defiant squawk before stepping on it, returning to being an inanimate object. 

“This is why I almost never wear anything tailored.” ‘Brie smoothed the ribbons dangling from the top hat and glanced at me. “Come on out, Christopher. Let’s send the bunny home.”

I carried the rabbit, petting them reassuring before setting them down on the counter where the top hat lay on its side. They sniffed the opening before moving into the hat. 

Hat and bunny disappeared from sight. 

“That’s unusual,” I ventured. “Anything which comes to the Navel usually stays until the right person claims it.”

“The hat and the rabbit were memory ghosts from the past.” Gabrielle smiled, looking a little sad. “Here for a moment, long enough to rouse the chickens, only to disappear.”

“Why?” I glanced over with some unease at the motionless chicken standing on the bag. It was frightening enough when it didn’t move. 

“I’m guessing it has something to do with whomever the chicken and the bunny were once part of.” Gabrielle tapped a finger to her lips. “Everything in the Navel represents a memory, a thought, or an ideal. Something someone lost.”

“Or cast away.” I doubted the chicken’s owner wanted her. She was too mean. The way she glared at everyone with her beady eyes showed an angry temper. 

“Or cast away.” ‘Brie smiled over at the chicken, eyes softening. Yes, she had a soft spot for the feathered menace. I wasn’t sure why. “Those fragments find form and a home here before someone claims them.”

“Why do you do this, ‘Brie?” Damian had asked the same question many times. I didn’t mean it as a challenge. I was truly curious. “Why are you here at the Navel, helping people find those fragments?” 

“Sometimes you lose something before you realize its value.” Gabrielle closed her eyes for one moment. They were very bright when she opened it. “The Navel gives us a second chance to reclaim that something. What we do gives me hope.”

“Did you lose something?” I reached out for her hand. “Something you’re hoping will turn up here?”

“Yes.” She took my hand and squeezed my fingers. “I’m still waiting, but I haven’t given hope. Besides I’ve been surprised by what has turned up or who. Surprised out of my sadness a few times. Like when Damian brought you home.”

“He was trying to make you happy.” Something tightened in my chest. “He was planning to leave, but he didn’t want you to be alone.”

“No one can replace someone else.” She smiled with some sadness. “This doesn’t mean I’m not happy you’re here. Or that you’ve helped fill the void left by Damian’s absence.”

“Me, too.” I squeezed her hand again. “Thank you, ‘Brie. Thank you for welcoming me into the Navel.”

“You’re more than welcome.” She released my hand. “You’ll always have a home here, Christopher, until you tire of this place. Or its rules grow too restrictive.”

“What makes you think I’m tired?” I studied the wrinkles on her forehead, around her mouth. “I’ve never been happier anywhere than I’ve been here.”

Except Damian wasn’t here. He’d left both of us, taking some of the happiness with him.

Gabrielle nodded as if she knew exactly what I was thinking. “Happiness tends to be fleeting. You may find yourself chasing yours outside the door and far from here.”

“I won’t,” I protested, but something stuck in my throat, making it hard to get the words out. 

Wouldn’t I? The truth was, I didn’t know. 

I was waiting for Damian to come back. What if he didn’t come back? 

There might come a time when I’d stop waiting. When I’d try to find out wherever he’d gone. 

I glanced up at Waiting for the Rebirth, its riot of color streaked with white. Those streaks might be paths, paths leading through the shadows in a forest. 

Paths which Damian could be walking right now. 

#QueerBlogWed: Omphalos Neighbors

On November 24, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted a Wednesday Words prompt involving a brown feather, a family gathering, and bones.

This freebie Tale of Omphalos was the result…

The feather falling from the sky wasn’t white or black. It was brown.

Danyel caught it, gazing it with wonder. 

“Muddy with ambition, he cannot even manage to be a raven,” Tayel muttered under his breath, refusing to explain himself. 

“It’s still a proud feather,” Danyel murmured, extending his arm along with the feather. “It might have been a quill or a wand.”

“Don’t let my brother-in-law hear you say that,” Aggie muttered under her breath. “It will go straight to his head.”

“Exactly what will go straight to my head?” 

Gryluxx sashayed out, wearing a cloak of brown feathers over red robes. Something rattled in his robes. 

The effect was striking, Danyel had to admit. The tailor knew what suited him. 

Aggie didn’t look at all impressed. She rolled her eyes as if the display was too tedious for words.

“Something bothering you, sister-in-law?” Gryluxx asked with the sweetest of malice. He chose the seat one over from Aggie. The empty space was probably meant for Meggie.

“The usual, brother-in-law.” She didn’t smile back. “You.”

“Ah, the lack of fraternal affection between us wounds me. Especially when it’s mingled with ingratitude.” Gryluxx snapped his fingers. “Do bring out those custard tarts you’re so fond of, wench. Sweets for the sweet and all that.”

“Hmm, just a moment,” Meggie called from the open door of the cottage, utterly oblivious to her husband’s sharp tone. 

Aggie wasn’t. She leaned forward, cracking her knuckles. “Don’t call my sister a wench. She’s your wife. At least pretend you have some consideration.”

“Oh, I have the utmost consideration for my wife, but a wench is a wench.” Gryluxx grinned at Aggie. “You ought to know.”

“What was that?” Aggie growled. 

“Stop that!” 

Danyel didn’t realize he’d leaped out of his chair. He felt the anger,  the violence prickling in the air. He reached out with the feather, waving at it, trying to get it disperse. 

Aggie settled down in her chair, some of the anger leaving her furrowed brow. Gryluxx sniffed at the air, at the feather in an almost disappointed fashion. 

“You don’t seem to understand how things work around here, little one.” He snatched the feather out of Danyel’s hand. “You serve me. I’m the one who gives the orders.”

“Why?” Danyel looked straight up in those hairy nostrils, the whiskered lips twitching. “Why do you goad Aggie, taunting her, enjoying her anger so much? Did you invite her here just to torment her?”

Gryluxx took a step back, opened his mouth and closed it, flushing. “How dare you accuse me of such things? Angharad may only be family be marriage, yet she’s still family.”

“Is that what family does?” An image of Leiwell pale and sweating rose from his memories. “Torments each other? Or do they try to protect each from being tormented?”

“You cannot sound the depths in the shallows,” Tayel murmured under his breath. 

“Now, now, not everyone can be deep.” Meggie emerged, carrying a tray of custard tarts. “My raven is a fragile creature, boys. The reason he flies at others, trying to peck at them is because he’s fragile.”

Aggie chuckled. “Maybe, but he takes advantage of that far too often.”

“I can see these twins are as bad an influence on the both of you as their mothers and their brother.” Gryluxx wrinkled his nose and mouth as if he’d breathed in something which disagreed of him. “Do not let yourself be beguiled by the residents of the Old Cottage for all their beauty.”

“Hm, funny coming from you, dear.” Meggie smiled blandly at her husband and took a seat next to her sister. “You talk about them more than any of us.”

“Nor can you blame them for my attitude. Not about you.” Angharad placed a protective hand over her sister’s, baring her teeth in a parody of a smile at her brother-in-law. “I detested you the moment I met you.”

“And I was the one who rescued your sister from the abyss these boys’s mother cast you into.” Gryluxx regained some of his smugness, lifting a custard tart to his lips. He devoured it in three bites. “I did something you couldn’t after your precious master destroyed you. Again.”

“What are you talking about?” Danyel felt his brother shake his head slightly, but he couldn’t help asking the question. “What did Ashleigh do to Meggie?”

“Hmm, it wasn’t Ashleigh.” Meggie picked up a tart with utter unconcern as if they were talking about the weather. “It was Map. Not that I’d expect to remember. It took me a long time to do so.”

Flash of fire from torches, a night of fire. Fleeing, feeling a heavy unfamiliar body settle around him. Screams of anger became screams of anguish. 

Danyel raised his hands to his face. Much of what happened beyond the Door was like a dream, but he’d been Map for a brief nightmare. 

Tayel leaned closer, not touching him, but gazing at him with concern. 

This is how he felt all the time. Tayel saw things he doesn’t want to, learned things he’d rather not know, yet his greatest concern was whether any of it would hurt his twin.

Danyel reached out to touch his brother’s shoulder, sending the silent assurance that he was all right. Even though he wasn’t sure if he was. 

“It was another lifetime ago.” Aggie gazed down at her folded hands, not looking directly at either of the twins. “Back when Meggie, Mel and I were all Sisters of Seraphix, terrified of anything which might disturb our isolated idyll.”

The Sisters of Seraphix. Seraphix. 

Danyel shivered at the name, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck quiver. 

“Isolated idylls are raised from pits of darkness by sacrifices of others.” Tayel gazed at one of the tarts, not touching it. “Sometimes you catch a glimpse of their ghost in the sunlight.”

“Our ghost was something we’d learned to fear.” Aggie lifted her head to fix an angry green eye upon Gryluxx. “Just what do you know? What do you want?”

“I was curious to see how you’d react around the twins, given their closeness to your former master.” Gryluxx rubbed his hands in anticipation. “We are all neighbors again, in spite of all which transpired between us.”

“Just what did transpire between us?” Danyel leaned forward, gazing at the neighbor he’d much rather not have. “Just who are you, Gryluxx?”

“This lump called me a raven.” Gryluxx sniffed at his wife. “It’s true. I’ve been one. I caught a glimpse of you before you were an egg, a mere stone Christopher decided to carry.”

“Christopher?!” Danyel stood up, nearly dropping his chair. “You know Christopher?”

“Child, I know everything.” Gryluxx sniffed in Danyel’s direction. “Christopher was a creature of the Shadow Forest. Like everyone here.” 

Silence fell around the table. Aggie dropped her head. Meggie began moving her lips rapidly. 

Danyel reached for Tayel’s hand, gripping it. “Including yourself?”

“Of course!” Gryluxx pouted a bit. “Why should I deny it? The Shadow Forest is a place of power and potential. As is anything which slips out of its Doors.” 

“And you can never get enough of power,” Aggie said with utter dryness. “Watch yourself. The price may be too high.”

“Only for those too cowardly to pay it.” Gryluxx bared his teeth at his sister-in-law. “Are you such a coward, Angharad? I’m not surprised.”

“Is there some purpose to this conversation?” Aggie rolled her eyes. “Or do you just want to insult us?”

“He does enjoy insulting everyone.” Meggie smiled at her husband indulgently. “Don’t pay it any mind.”

“Don’t speak for me, you addle-brained wench.” Gryluxx glowered at his wife. “Think I’m just this amusing little man, don’t you? Of no consequence at all?”

“Why, yes.” Meggie’s smile widened, showing no malice whatsoever. “I don’t mind. I love you anyway. Not everyone can be great.”

Danyel started to giggle, nearly choked turning it into a cough. Tayel raised a hand to cover a grin. 

Aggie chuckled, not bothering to hide her amusement. “Guess you’re lucky, Gryluxx, to find someone who loves you, no matter how small you are.”

“Small?” Gryluxx glowered at his sister-in-law and the twins. “I’ll show you just how small I am. When Seraphix grants my wish, you’ll see.”

He stalked away from the table, muttering to himself, robes rattling more than ever when he entered his cottage, slamming the door behind him.

“Bones,” Meggie answered Danyel’s unspoken question about the noise. “He sometimes carries bones around with him. A way to ground himself to reality, for he is telling the truth.”

Aggie wrapped her arms around herself. “No. I am real. I feel real. No matter what happened in the past, I am real.”

“Aggie, we died.” Her younger sister fixed round hazel eyes upon her, shining. “Our master killed us all, yet somehow we’re back. Gryluxx brought me back.”

“How?” Aggie dropped her arms to clasp her hands together in entreaty. “I begged that man to help me bring you back, yet Gryluxx somehow succeeded where I failed.”

That man. It took a moment for Danyel to realize Aggie wasn’t talking about Gryluxx. 

“Oh.” A faint blush colored Meggie’s cheeks. “You might say bringing me back was our marriage ceremony. One we often renew. Together.”

“Oh.” Aggie echoed her words. 

Tayel flushed as well. 

Danyel looked at their faces, unsure what they were talking about. 

“I suppose that’s one way to ground yourself,” Aggie murmured, shaking her head with a bemused little smile. 

“Well, you have Jupitre, even if he’s Juno’s husband.” Meggie tapped a finger to her temples, gazing in speculation at the sky. “If he’s not enough for you, you could try Gryluxx.” 

“What?” Aggie spluttered and started coughing. 

Tayel turned even redder. 

“Just what are you talking about?” Danyel was unable to bear it anymore. 

“Never you mind!” Aggie growled before turning on her sister. “That’s your husband you’re offering!”

“Well, yes, which is why I thought it would be best to offer.” Meggie nodded, considering her words. “He is my husband, but you’re my sister. If you’re worried about not being grounded in reality, you could try him out.”

“No, thank you!” Aggie growled. “The way your mind works, sometimes I think I’ll never understand.”

“Thank you.” Meggie smiled with utter sweetness. “It’s good not to be too predictable.”

Tayel let out a strangled giggle, still blushing. 

Danyel glowered at his twin. “I wish you’d let me know what was going on.”

“Really?” Meggie gave Danyel a surprised look. “For all his insults, I know he thinks you’re one of the most beautiful creatures he’s even seen. If you’d like to try Gryluxx for yourself, you can.”

“Meggie!” Aggie snapped, sounding scandalized. “He’s a child!”

“Is he, really? He looks small and slight, but we’re not sure how old the twins are.” Meggie gazed contemplatively at Danyel and Tayel. “They might be older than any of us.”

“No.” Tayel said before Danyel could ask again what they were talking about, why Aggie was so upset. He took Danyel’s hand firmly in his own. “Thank you.”

“Don’t be jealous.” Meggie smiled at Tayel as well. “You’re welcome to try Gryluxx, too. He might be nicer if you do.”

“Niceness happens only if a creature wishes to cultivate it.” Tayel, cheeks still very red, looked Meggie straight in the eye. “Your husband has no taste for niceness.”

“I’m not quite sure what you’re offering,” Danyel ventured, “but if Gryluxx isn’t nice to you, his wife, why would he be nice to anyone else? Especially considering everything you do for him?” 

“Yes, I was nice to him when you first came to visit us, wasn’t I? To try to put him in a better mood.” Meggie tapped her temple again, eyeing the door thoughtfully. “Guess that doesn’t work.”

The squeals and grunts from behind the closed door returned to Danyel, bringing a hot flush to his cheeks. 

Oh. That’s what they were talking about. 

“Well, I offered.” Meggie smiled in utter pleasantness. “Here I was hoping if I offered you my husband, you might offer me your handsome brother.”

“Meggie!” Aggie shot her sister a scandalized look. 

“I don’t offer my brother to anyone. Either of my brothers.” Danyel tried to keep his voice even. “Even if you and your husband regard us as creatures of shadow, we’re people now. People with our own will. If you want something of Leiwell or Tayel, you ask them.”

Tayel squeezed his fingers in response, shooting him a private smile.

“Well said,” Aggie nodded in approval. “Gryluxx has been a bad influence on you, Meggie. I know you mean well, but you shouldn’t go offering people to other people as if they were a comb or a book.”

“Shouldn’t I?” Meggie widened her eyes. “Our lord offered me to my husband. I seem to remember an elegant lady with many arms asking for a beautiful youth, a youth a lot like Leiwell. Oh, what was his name?”

Tayel let out a hissing sound. Danyel shivered again, unsure why. 

“Just because someone is a lord or elegant doesn’t mean their ways are right.” Aggie sighed, shoulders slumping. “Young Danyel here is right. We’re trying to be people. Let’s treat each other as people.”

“Of course. I’m sorry.” Meggie turned to Danyel. “I didn’t mean to insult you or your brothers. You’re very beautiful. I’d like us to be friends.”

“So would I,” Danyel let out another sigh. “Meggie, I don’t understand why you let your husband treat you the way you do.”

“Don’t you?” Meggie looked puzzled. “Guess it doesn’t bother me. I don’t listen to his insults. He’s very good at certain things.” She winked at everyone present. “Guess I didn’t want to be greedy, even if I am his wife. I wanted to share.”

“We’ll keep that in mind, if Gryluxx ever, ah, says anything to us about this,” Aggie said, waving her hand as if to will this entire conversation to disappear. “Given how we feel about him, it’s not something we’re interested in. At all.”

“All right.” Meggie reached out for a custard tart and began eating it with no discomfort whatsoever. “He does like you. That feather wouldn’t fall into your hands if he didn’t.”

“Does he?” Danyel looked down at the feather he was holding. “It’s more likely he wants something of me.”

“That, too,” Meggie said with her mouth full of tart. “Who wouldn’t?”

Danyel felt himself flushing again. 

Conversations with Christopher: Paul

Tayel turns to run through the flowers. Danyel with a backward glance, follows him.

Christopher wishes he could chase after the twins, but the mist rises beneath his feet, swallowing the floating flowers, cutting him off from the way Danyel and Tayel have taken. There’s a bite and a sting to this haze. 

Christopher closes his eyes and walks forward. He opens them, seeing a little green clearing with a stream trickling over rocks. A small green temple with a curved blue roof sits amidst the grass. Four golden dragons poke their snouths out of the four corners of the cerulean tiles. Small and silent, they spy out the land below. 

Christopher presses his hand to his breast, feeling more than hearing Crowne hiss within. 

Paul: (not that Christopher knows who he is, not yet) Calm yourself, little shadow. I have no intention of hurting you. 

A young man sits, shapely calves curved in the lotus position, a position Christopher recalls in a memory flash he doesn’t remember. The young man’s curly russet hair reminds him of Peter, only it’s darker, less red, and curls of his ears and the nape of his neck, rather than falling to his shoulders. 

The young man looks at him with soulful dark eyes which again make Christopher think of Peter. Only there’s a flash of gold in those eyes akin to the silver triangles which glitter within Tayel’s.

Christopher: Who are you?

Paul: (without looking at him, smiling without mirth) I’m certain Peter mentioned me at some point. 

Christopher: (recalling Peter’s rare moments of seriousness when he mentioned the lover who left him) You’re not Paul?

Paul: Peter might question that, but I am. I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me, considering the reckless way he wandered off into the mists, only to seek shelter at the Navel of all places. 

Christopher: Why wouldn’t he seek shelter with us? You broke his heart, didn’t you?

Paul: And you’ve stolen at least one of the fragments of that broken heart, haven’t you? For all I’ve tried to keep the pieces safe. 

Christopher: Just how have you tried to keep any part of Peter safe?!

Paul: By breaking his heart rather than getting him involved in my dangerous existence. By sending him away. Only he’s willingly walked into greater peril than he would have faced at my side, I fear. 

Christopher: If you feared this, you shouldn’t have sent Peter away. You should have protected Peter. Every part of him. 

Paul: A far more difficult task than you realize, little shadow. Peter is drawn to dangerous objects of desire. Like me. Like you. Like the spider lady you once worshipped. 

Christopher: You mean the Lady Duessa Ashelocke? I didn’t want Peter to go with her. I tried to warn him.

Paul: You needed to do more than warn him. If I had an arachnocrat in my Place of Power, I would not permit an arachnocrat to walk in. Let alone walk out with anything or anyone I deemed precious. 

Christopher: The Navel isn’t that sort of Place of Power. Anyone can walk in if they need to. 

Paul: You’re saying my Peter needed you?

Christopher: He needed the Navel. As for he knew, he wasn’t yours anymore. 

Paul: He’ll always be mine. I can feel his pain, even from afar. His longing to be loved by everyone. (He wrinkles his nose.) An impossible thing to do unless he shatters himself into many pieces. 

Christopher: (shivers) Impossible is possible in some places.

Paul: Yes, you’ve done is, haven’t you? This is why Peter is so drawn to you. You’re the embodiment of his wish. 

Christopher: No, I’m not. No matter what he thinks.

Paul: So you say. So you draw away from Peter. Driving him to seek a Door to the Shadow Forest.

Christopher: That’s not my intention. The last thing I want is for Peter to be lost the way Damian was.

Paul: If you mean that, stop him. Is it too much to give him what he wants? To be who he needs you to be?

Christopher: I might ask you the same thing.

Paul: So that’s your answer, little shadow. (He smiles grimly.) Neither of us can give him what he wants. We have both failed him.

Christopher: Just because we’ve failed him doesn’t mean he has to fail himself. 

Paul: Oh? You’re saying we cannot help him. Or we shouldn’t. 

Christopher: I’m saying that Peter found the Navel. There’s a reason he came to Omphalos.

Paul: Or a reason he came to you.

Christopher: The same reason he came to you?

Paul: Don’t speak as if we’re alike, little shadow. One night I’ll come for you as I come for every monster.

Christopher: I thought you wouldn’t hurt me. 

Paul: Here and now, no. Not during this conversation, but you are still a shadow. A creature that hungers for the memories, dreams, and desires of your victims. Just as I hunger for you and other predators. 

Christopher: You sound like a monster yourself. 

Paul: Perhaps it takes a monster to hunt other monsters. Peter, however, is not a monster. 

Christopher: And yet he’s drawn to monsters if he’s drawn to both of us. 

Paul: That makes him a fool and an innocent. It would be only too easy for you to hurt him. You will hurt him, little shadow, if you haven’t already.

Christopher: Haven’t you?

Paul turns his head to look at Christopher for the first time. For a long moment, they just gaze at each other. 

Paul: Even monsters can care about their victims.

Christopher: Funny. I was just about to say the same thing. 

#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.”

Conversations with Christopher: Danyel and Tayel

Two doors appear in the tower wall. One is blue, the other is green.

An eye opens in the first door. It’s violet-blue with green and silver flecks in its iris. 

A hand reaches out of the second door; small, pale, glowing with verdure light. 

Christoper: (shakes his head) Two should become one. You don’t really want to separate.

The doors shimmer, sparkle, and slide together, becoming one large greenish-blue door. The eye winks, fluttering its eyelashes at Christopher. The hand beckons to Christopher.

Christopher leave the bank and wades into the river. He stretches out his arm, offering his own hand.

Christopher: I really shouldn’t be doing this. 

Tayel: (his voice comes through the door) No, you shouldn’t. 

The hand reaches out, becoming an arm covered with a white balloon sleeve. It seizes Christopher, pulling him through the Door (for it is indeed, a Door, a portal to somewhere else), into another place. 

For a brief moment, he feels the cool kiss and touch of shadows, seeing darkness. Light bursts out, shining from a sunlit sky. 

Rose petals are flying, entire flowers are floating. Not just roses. Tulips, carnations, daisies, marigolds. An entire floating garden, rising up as if the air was water and they were sea creatures. 

Christopher looks down to see the small hand holding his, attached to a boy with a heartshaped face framed by tousled silvery-golden waves falling to the shoulders of his green vest. The boy looks at him with large violet-blue eyes almost too big for his face. 

Danyel: (for that’s who the boy is) Should and shouldn’t are overrated, don’t you think?

Another boy who looks exactly like Danyel except for his blue vest and the silvery gleam in his violet-blue eyes scowls.

Tayel: Everything is overrated and underrated when clutched by grasping fingers. 

Christopher: (smiling in spite of Tayel’s scowl) Hello, Danyel. (He presses the fingers entwined with his, reluctant to let go.) Hello, Tayel.

Danyel: Hello, Christopher. We were hoping we’d find you. Or you’d find us. 

Christopher: I’m glad to see you. I’m also curious where we are. 

He breathes in, inhaling the flowers sweet scent. 

Danyel: Beautiful, isn’t it? Like our garden, only the flowers are no longer trapped on the vine. 

Tayel: (looking up) They’ve abandoned the green which nourished them. 

Christopher: Or the flowers have simply let go of the earth. Something they can do in this place. 

Danyel: We’re not sure what this place is. We just found it and brought you here. 

Tayel: Or the flying flowers found us. (He crosses his arms, ducking out of the way of a tulip which comes too close.)

Christopher: (releasing Danyel’s hand with slow reluctance) Want to see something else which can fly?

He moves away from Danyel, gazing at the drifting flowers. He visualizes a serpentine form with rainbow scales, streaking through the air. 

Christopher: Crowne, come out! (He pictures the soft, pearlescent colors, remembering the wonder he felt when he saw the form his power took. How would the twins react?)

Nothing happens. Christopher raises his hands and stars at them. 

Christopher: I guess I have to need Crowne for them to appear. 

Danyel: Who’s Crowne?

Christopher: A rainbow dragon. They manifested when I was with Quartz.

Tayel: (looking curious in spite of himself) Many manifestations are pranks. Especially when jealous kobolds watch. 

Christopher: No, this wasn’t Nimmie Not. This was me. This was part of my power, of myself. Only they’re not coming. 

Danyel walks up to Christopher, closing the distance Christopher put between himself and the twins. He rests a hand upon Christopher’s chest where his heart should be. 

Tayel: Danyel! (He blushes, makes a little movement as if unsure whether or not to stop his twin.)

Danyel pays no attention to his protest. He leans his head closer to Christopher and his hand, listening for something. 

Danyel: Crowne? Are you there? I’ve never met a rainbow dragon. Neither has Tayel.

In spite of himself, Tayel takes several steps closer to Christopher. 

Tayel: I’m sure you’re beautiful. Bringing hope to everyone who sees you. Christopher is too often without hope. He’s probably not sure if you’re real or not. If you’ve ever come out again. 

Danyel: Won’t you come out and meet us? All of us?

Christopher gasps, breathless, feeling a strange shiver of pleasure spasm in his chest, running through his entire body. 

A dragon’s head pokes out of his chest, golden-green with silver whiskers. They butt the boy’s hand, playfully encouraging a scritch. 

Danyel grins and obliges. Tayel lets out a low laugh and claps his hands, eyes shining. 

Christopher: (stares down at the dragon’s head) Like a memory ghost passing through me! Only you can touch it!

Tayel: Them. You’re full of surprises, Christopher, so many, they’re no longer surprising. 

Crowne lets out a purring chuckle like a cat, tinkling wind chimes, and a breeze all at once. They slither out of Christopher’s chest to glide around him. 

Christopher feels that strange, shivery delight again. It makes his eyelids flutter and his lips tremble while he sways on his feet. 

The dragon does a slow, teasing spiral in the air, very close to Christopher and Danyel before streaking over to where Tayel stands. 

Tayel: (who cannot stop smiling for once) Yes, you’re quite the charmer, Crowne. 

The dragon does the same spiral glide around Tayel before flicking out their forked tongue to kiss the boy’s nose. It’s Tayel’s turn to blush. 

Danyel: (it’s his turn to clap his hands) First time I’ve seen you at a loss for words or riddles!

Tayel shrugs, his face still flushed, and bows his head. 

Danyel: Thank you for coming out, Crowne! I’m Danyel and that’s Tayel. (He gestures to his twin.) I’m guessing you already know Christopher quite well. Or are you getting to know him?

Crowne angles through the floating flowers away from Tayel to glide around Danyel once more, flecking his forked tongue out to touch Danyel’s cheek.

Danyel: (it’s his turn to blush) Yes, you are beautiful. I can almost hear music when you move. Wind chimes and Christopher singing in a very low voice. 

Crowne twists, turns, and goes flying back to Christopher, sliding back into his chest, disappearing as if they never were. 

Christopher: Well. (a little breathless) That was Crowne. I hoped they’d come out to meet you.

Danyel: I’m glad you did. Thank you. 

Tayel: Seeing Crowne, seing that part of you gives me hope. 

Christopher finds himself blushing as well, but he nods, raising a hand to press it against his chest. 

Christopher: Me, too. 

#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…

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Christopher

Quartz finds himself standing under a dark sky. Growling, grumbling with suppressed light. 

Quartz: Aww, shaddup. (Not expecting the sky to listen. It’s not like anyone else does.)

The sky gives one last rumble and is silent. The darkness begins to break, showing patches on sunlight. 

Quartz: Huh. It’s not like I expected you to listen. 

Makes him feel a bit guilty that the sky did. Being called out on his grumbling never made Quartz stop. Maybe this storm wasn’t as stubborn as an old dwarf.

The old dwarf in question takes a look around the river bank, noticing the slender youth in a high  necked black tunic and trousers, coppery-golden hair gleaming the growing light, curling around his ears and the neck of his collar. 

Quartz: Hmph. You again. As if you’re a secondary character. No matter what you say. 

Christopher: (not looking at him) You’re the one who keeps showing up in the worlds where I walk. 

Quartz: Scribbler’s got her mind on your worlds these days. (He looks out at the stream, seeing the tower.) What’s that?

Fused of darkness and light with rivulets of greenish color running through it like vines or veins, the dwarf couldn’t say this thing was stone. It lacked the low, pleasant, grounded buzz coming from the rock. No, this tower was louder, moaning in a low ghostly tone, as persistent as a kobold’s chatter. 

Quartz: (backing up a step) Saddest excuse for a rock I’ve ever heard. If one can call that rock.

Christopher: I doubt you would. Let’s see if I can improve it. 

The boy raised his hands. Light appears between them, dancing between his palms before it swirls into the air.

The band of light streaks toward the tower; flashing blue, green, red, golden, silver, purple, violet, rose. 

It circles the edifice, swirling around it, embracing it. The colors take on the shape of a rainbow dragon. The dragon raises their fuzzy muzzle, letting out a musical roar. 

Quartz: (blinks) Hello to you, too. Christopher, just what are you calling this dragon you’ve created?

Christopher: (gazing at the rainbow being in wonder) Is this the manifestation of my power, my will? I didn’t expect it to become a dragon. 

Quartz: Didn’t you?

The dragon fixes their crystalline gaze upon Christopher. They let out another musical roar and continue to climb to the tower’s crown. 

When they reach the spires, they start weaving it and out of the skeletal fingers. Delicate filaments of light are left behind, an intricate web connecting the spires. 

The dragon let out a final roar before vanishing. The web remains, becoming solid, gleaming. Imprisoning the bony spokes of the crown. 

Quartz: Think that’s an improvement, eh? 

Christopher frowns. Silver triangles appear in his eyes, flashing. 

Briars appear, growing upon the web, wrapping themselves around the strands and spires. Roses open, flowering in pinkish white, red, and bloody purple all over the vines. 

Christopher: Perhaps? 

The roses only bloom for a few moments before withering and turning black. 

Christopher: Or not. (He drops his hands, shoulders slumping.)

Quartz: (heaving a sigh) Aye, well, maybe it wasn’t meant to improve, lad. At least not for very long. 

Christopher: (looking from the crown to his own hands) Power shouldn’t be like this. I keep hoping to rejuvenate mine. Give it new life. 

Quartz: How?

Christopher: By sharing it. Giving it form and voice. A chance to reason with me. Even stop me from abusing it. 

Quartz: Haven’t you done that already?

Christopher looks down at the stream which still flows. He sees Tayel’s face, eyes alight with the same silver which flashed in his own. He sees Danyel, reaching out with a hand glowing with green light. 

Christopher: (raising his head) Yes, I have. I’m not sure if it’s enough. Or if I’m not expecting too much of the twins. 

Quartz: Maybe there’s a lot left in you, waiting to be let loose. Like that dragon. 

Christopher’s somber expression becomes thoughtful. A half-smile tugs at his lips. 

Christopher: You may be right.

Quartz: You’re as blessed and cursed as you want to be. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

Christopher: Were you listening to my conversation with Dyvian?

Quartz: Heh, I’m always listening, even when I’m not there. Something the scribbler should keep in mind. 

(As I type this conversation up at my laptop, imagine a sweatdrop appearing on my brow. :))

Quartz: Not that it matters if I listen or if what I say is right. Not if you don’t hear what I’m saying. Really saying. 

Christopher: I think I do. 

Quartz: Right. While you’re doing that, consider this. Just what are you going to name that dragon? 

Christopher: Huh?

Quartz: That dragon which growls so pretty. The one that did their best to fix your tower, even if you’re not happy with the results. 

Christopher: I’m not sure if that dragon will ever appear again. They may have been a one-time manifestation. 

Quartz: Right. Just going to give up on the poor creature, eh? Not even giving them a name or a chance to appear again?

Christopher: (frowning) I didn’t say that.

Quartz: Seems like shadows could use a rainbow dragon to brighten their darkness. Especially you. 

Christopher: A name for a rainbow dragon. A rainbow dragon which became part of the tower’s crown or created part of it. (He raises a hand to stroke his chin, considering.) Names have power. Maybe Crownweaver? Since they wove a connection between each finger in the tower’s crown? 

Quartz: Not much of a name, that. More of a title or function. 

Christopher: How about Crowne? In the hopes that this little rainbow dragon may create a better crown than the tower has ever worn before? One that can disappear and reform, becoming stronger and more flexible? Even after the heavens vent their wrath against them?

Quartz: That’s a lot. Getting ambitious, aren’t you? Not to mention pitting your poor dragon against the heavens. Maybe all Crowne wants is to live, come out, and be named. 

Christopher: Why can’t they do all of those things while standing up to the heavens? Or at least picking themselves up and reforming after they’ve been struck down?

Quartz: There you go again, getting ambitious. At least you’re more cheerful than when Dyvian left you. Maybe Crowne put you in a better mood, eh?

Christopher: Or you did. Thank you, Quartz. (He smiles, a shy sweet smile very like Danyel’s or Tayel’s.)

Quartz: (waving his hands while his nose turns red) Now, now! Don’t you go smiling at me like that! I’ve got a jealous kobold, remember? 

Nimmie Not: (who doesn’t appear, but Quartz can hear him, speaking right into his ear) And don’t you forget it!

Quartz: Gah! (He disappears in a cloud of yellow smoke.)

A disembodied long-fingered hand, clearly not Quartz’s, waves at Christopher before disappearing as well.

Christopher’s smile turns into a grin. For a long moment he chuckles, looking up at the crown of briars. 

Roses are beginning to bud upon the vines again. They’re not flowering, but they’re beginning to bud. 

It’s something.