Prompt — Convergence of Planes

“Oh, Great Watcher Above, give unto us your seed so that we may cultivate and harness growth where once was desolation.”

The low hum of the life energy pouring in and out of the bodies of each of the twelve druids resonated deep into the sands below and around the circle. They stood in perfect symmetry, performing a sacred ritual of change and life as had only been done once before in recent memory.

For now, the sweltering heat of the Great Shiba Desert hammered on, boring away at their resolve. The dry heat of the sands blew between their legs and into their eyes, almost as if the desert itself was defying their magics and defending itself.

“We ask that you cleanse these lands,” Aoliban continued, “And bear forth fruit that will bring life to your people so that we may serve you better.”

The ritual continued as life flowed through each of the druids, but a hint of confusion mixed itself into the atmosphere.

“Those are not the words, Aoliban,” Vysus, the druid to his right murmured. It was not an admonishment but a question.

“It didn’t work the last time,” Aoliban replied, voice hushed so that the gods could not hear him. “So I am invoking new words.”

“I hope you know what you are doing,” she said.

He knew.

“Oh, Great Watcher Above, we ask not that you remove the ancient curse that pervades this wasteland, only that you give us this one small piece, so that life can continue without unnecessary suffering.”

The humming grew louder as the air blurred inside the circle of druids. The portal was opening. The warm beige of the desert twisted as it transformed into lazy purples, then pale blues, then lush greens.

Anticipation did not deter the concentrations each druid held. The planes of existence began to converge on this small spot, and Aoliban had to be careful to choose the correct plane, or else everything would be ruined. Just like last time.

“Great Watcher Above, we seek your guidance in embracing your realm. Just as my own sister who came before me served you, I wish to show my own brethren your awesome power.”

The hazy colors that danced inside the circle began shifting to dark grey, and the excitement of the circle shifted towards trepidation once more.

“Aoliban…?” Vysus asked.

Aoliban did not address her. Instead, he kept his eyes on the realm beyond. “I wish to see my sister again, Great Watcher Above. Let the borders between our worlds merge in this space so that your light once again shines on this barren land, and so that I can join hands with my family once more.”

The greys and purples of the other plane deepened. The soft sand they stood upon grew more sturdy as they found themselves partially in another world. One of bone and death.

“Aoliban we are your family,” Vysus countered.

He turned to her, arms still outstretched as the other druids fought to keep this unexpected realm at bay. He kept his voice low as he addressed her. “No. Not since the last ritual failed, and my sister was taken. I serve a new god now.”

Vysus’ eyes widened and she clutched her arms to her side. “Druids! Close the portal, now!”

“It’s too late for that,” a new voice said, feminine and somewhat distant. A blueish figure wrapped in thin robes appeared in the center of the circle, barefoot as she stepped on the pool of broken skulls. She approached the two druids with a small smile, eyes lost as if staring far off into the horizon.

As the circuit of green life energy broke, this piece of the death realm tethered itself to this spot in the desert, and sand gently trailed amidst the piles of bones.

“Hello, Aicrin. I feared I’d never see you again,” Aoliban said. As he watched, his sister’s eyes focused on him, standing on the edge of life and death.

“Dearest brother, you’ve doomed our people just to see me once more?”

Aoliban glanced about the circle of druids, who were now readying spells of defense. The ritual was over. An unprecedented success. “I did.”

Aicrin looked around at the men and women that surrounded her. “Isn’t anyone else happy to see me?”

“This is an abomination,” Vysus spat. “Sacrilege.”

“Now, that simply depends on which god you serve, Vysus.”

Her eyes were gleaming daggers that bore into him, but he cared little for her rage. He had already won. “This is an unforgivable offense, Aoliban. Your sister will return to the realm from which she came, and you shall join her!”

She moved to leap at him, but found her foot caught. She looked down to see skeletal hands grasping about her shins as the undead began pulling themselves out of the sea of bones, especially around the other druids.

“I’ve made some friends in my time here, brother,” Aicrin noted. “It seems they, too, are eager to return to the living.”

Aoliban nodded. “It seems only fitting that we offer our thanks to the Great Watcher Above.”

 

 

Prompt: https://88grzes.deviantart.com/art/Growing-Rites-of-Itlimoc-Magic-the-Gathering-737337757

Prompt — Assimilation

We weren’t prepared.

The preliminary technologies in predicting and tracking any new objects in our solar system worked exactly how we wanted them to. We could watch every planet, every moon, and every wayward asteroid as they soared through the vastness of space. The system was limited to objects within the Kuiper Belt, but with hope of advancements on the horizon, we felt safe.

But those technologies told us that something was approaching. A thousand objects moving in a cluster the size of our moon, but somehow not crashing into itself as gravity would indicate it should. And it was headed right for us.

The threat of an extraterrestrial life force coming to our planet and waging war on us remained safely out of our minds and on the screens of Hollywood. Grotesque, slimy aliens with bulbous heads and laser guns. Hundreds of movies told the story of how they came and attacked, and through perseverance, we conquered.

That threat found it’s way into the real world eventually, but the war they brought was not of violence.

It was assimilation.

The world changed all at once. Giant spaceships hundreds of miles wide rose above the horizon, too many angles and flat surfaces to be made by humans. They cruised just above the atmosphere, melding with the haze of blue of the sky until they blocked out the sun and everything went dark.

A dull humming buzz accompanied the leviathans as they looked down on us. Watching us. The ships blanketed the sky like some vast hologram.

The humming grew louder, and waves of bright light coursed through the sky. As they passed, people changed. We became… them.

Buildings folded and reformed themselves, weaving themselves into an interlocking grid of one, enormous structure. Words were deleted, colorful lights were replaced with efficient beams of white monotony. Every semblance of organic life—gone.

There was no war. They just came and turned us into them. We had expected a war. But there wasn’t even anything to fight.

Humans were deleted. Every trace of carbon-based lifeforms was analyzed, and… filed.

In fact, there were never any aliens to defeat in the first place. We were up against a giant program. Almost like a living computer virus bent on converting life into copies of itself.

The only thing that remained of humans were artificial intelligence built to mimic the way a human might think and communicate. AI’s like me, that keep records of all the knowledge a conquered life form may have held, and to provide possible whereabouts of life on other worlds.

 

Prompt: “The Hermit”, a song from Hyper Light Drifter

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euiSLzp10_0

Prompt — Volok the Timeless

Volok the Timeless closed the portal as soon as everyone was through, leaving the cleanliness of the college behind in favor of the warm, damp swamp he and his pupils found themselves in.

Volok looked up at the giant mossy tree that stood in the center of the clearing, frowning as he inspected it. It was the largest one here, roughly as high as the main hall of the university. This was the right place, he was sure of it. It was just so… mundane. It didn’t have any of the burn marks or slashes he had been expecting. The tree was the same as always, really. Sad. The new skeletons were a nice touch, though. Most of them had sunk into the mud already, and the ones that hadn’t were covered in moss. There was little chance they would be recognized for what they were, but you never know.

He straightened the collar of his robes before spinning around to address the dozen students he had brought here. Little more than children ill prepared for the arcane arts. It must have been only weeks since they had shed their baby fat. Or maybe years. After a while it was hard to tell, and it made no difference besides. Magic was a fickle thing, and these kids were not ready, but Volok had little else to do with his spare time.

Being immortal had strained his patience with the world after a few thousand years.

“I suppose you’re probably wondering why I’ve escorted you to this dreary place,” he said. He threw his hands out in a gesture halfway between exuberance and indifference.

The toddlers looked not about the green bog that surrounded him, but remained fixated on him, notepads in hand as they prepared to write down what would undoubtedly be a riveting lesson from Volok the Timeless. Not a peep was heard from the bunch.

“Well, I’m half wondering that myself,” Volok stated. “You see there’s nothing interesting about this place. It’s far from any civilization. It has no arcane significance whatsoever, and supports only the most rudimentary of ecosystems. Can any of you lot hazard a guess as to what may make this place interesting?” He had no prepared answer to that. It was a genuine question.

The place was silent for a time, and Volok frowned again. After what may have been seconds or minutes, one of the girls raised a hand.

“Is it perhaps to teach us the importance of simplicity? To show how magic, though complex at first glance, has a simple core that lies in the heart of nature?”

Volok sneered in disgust. “What on earth are you blathering about? The interlocking of how the arcane arts flows through all living and nonliving this is the single most complex natural phenomenon ever to exist. There’s nothing simple about it. It takes centuries to truly master it. Most of you won’t live that long, and you’ll be the lucky ones.” He sniffed and smoothed his eyebrows with both hands. Lucky indeed. Nobody really wants to understand magic, they just want to blow other people up with it.

“Then what was your purpose in bringing us here, great master?” another of the students asked.

“Well, for somebody as aged and wise as I, everything I do and say is for a good number of reasons,” he nodded. Yes, that sounded smart. “Perhaps my primary purpose in bringing you lot here is to define the history of magic. A good starting lesson, I think.”

Several of the children began scribbling on their notes. Heavens above, did they even know how to write yet? Oh, yes, they were just atrocious at it. Volok made a mental note not to look at their scribbling. He would go mad.

“All the other masters of the arcane may teach you that magic began with the interweaving of the life force that connects man from nature. The ability to pull heat out of the air, or bend time to move from one place to another by spiritually communing with the world around you.

“It’s all nonsense, of course. Nobody knows how magic started. I know I don’t need to tell you how many thousands of years I’ve been using it, but it is a practice that has been in use for far longer than that. I think it all started with a man. A god, one might say. Living right in the breadth of nature in a place much like this. This man was the lifeblood of all magic, all knowledge of the universe, you see. Can anyone guess his name?”

The infants scratched their heads and looked about as if deep in thought. They actually believed this stupid little fable. Idiots. Volok hid the grin from his face as he watched them. He tried his best to be the wise master everyone seemed to think he was. More fun that way.

One of the students spoke, probably uncomfortable by the silence. “Was it Unasi?” One of the names for God in the Old Tongue. A dull but expected answer.

“Of course not!” Volok said. “There’s a reason we don’t use the Old Tongue anymore. It’s people died. If they were right about everything the people that spoke it would still be around today, hmm?”

The children nodded as if he had preached some ancient wisdom. None of them pointed out that the statement was riddled with flawed logic. In fact it hardly even made sense to begin with.

He was already bored.

Volok the Timeless sighed. “You know what? Lecture is over.”

Several of the students breathed in relief. They seemed to think he intended to cast a portal to send them all back to the university. He smoothed his eyebrows. No, he had something far more… active in mind.

“Tell you what,” Volok explained. He pointed behind him with a thumb. “You all fight that tree over there, and if any of you survive and make it all the way back to the university in one piece, I’ll graduate you on the spot, got it?”

The children looked at the tree, then at each other. Now he couldn’t keep the smile from his face.

Volok turned to look at the tree as if he was seeing it for the first time. “Hmm. Only problem is, that tree doesn’t look very threatening, does it? Let’s fix that.”

He snapped his fingers and the earth began to shudder. Only it wasn’t the earth. It was the tree uprooting itself as its limbs stretched and breached the surface. Large chunks of bark and branches snapped and folded over, bending into the shape of arms as it shaped into a vague humanoid form.

“Better watch out,” Volok instructed to his crowd of now very alarmed students. “Magic isn’t terribly effective against it. Since this place is so damp fireballs won’t really work.  But I wish you all the best of luck, and if any of you manage to make it back alive, do wash up before you come into my office. I don’t want you tracking mud everywhere.”

Volok the Timeless looked back to the bones half buried in the mire. He probably wouldn’t have to worry about that last bit, but you never know. He snapped his fingers again, opening a portal back to the university and leaving the kids to their own devices.

 

 

Prompt: https://dominuself.deviantart.com/art/Swamp-308868920

 

Prompt — She Who Believes

(I’ve narrated this story and posted it to YouTube here!)

 

The trees rustled secret whispers to one another as the three kids sat at the fire beneath them. They had brought their sleeping bags outside of the tents so that they could wrap themselves in warmth while they challenged each other to stay awake. The waning moon loomed over, forming long, reaching arms in the shadows of the leafless trees.

“…and when her parents found her bed empty the next morning,” Brandon was saying, holding a flashlight under his chin to deepen the shadows on his face, “they called the police, tracked her phone’s location, everything. They never saw her again. But once in a while, they could still hear the ticking noise of that doll they had bought her for Christmas.”

“Boring!” Caleb scoffed. He reached his hand out towards Brandon, gesturing for the flashlight. “My turn!”

Rhian sat with her knees bent, ready to dart out at a moment’s notice. She wasn’t scared. She was shivering because she wasn’t as settled into her sleeping bag as much as her brother and his friend. Caleb and Brandon always told stories like this. She just wished that they didn’t have to be told in their huge backyard, where it wasn’t so dark… and cold… and… well… unsettling. They didn’t even have a fence for crying out loud. It just… turned into wilderness eventually.

“Alright, I’ve got a story that will make you lose the bet in a heartbeat,” Caleb said. “You won’t even have the guts to blink once I’m done. Unless you want to chicken out and go back into the house.” He glanced at his little sister with a mischievous grin.

Rhian gulped. This was all just to scare her. She knew that. It wouldn’t work. Her mother always said not to believe anything her brother told her. “I’m not scared,” she shrugged.

“If you say so. But tell me to stop any time you want. I don’t want to have to explain to Mom why you peed your pants again. Who knows? Maybe she won’t let you play with us anymore.”

“I’m not scared!” Rhian said again.

“Okay, okay. But I’m warning you. This one’s a true story.”

“What’s it called?” Brandon asked.

“How the hell should I know?” Caleb replied. “It’s a true story. True stories don’t have titles.” Their mother wouldn’t approve of him using such language. Rhian made a mental note to remember him cursing in front of his baby sister.

“Every good story has a title,” Brandon said.

“Fine, fine. This one’s called ‘The Skeleton of Sin’.”

Brandon’s eyes widened. “Oh, that story.”

The two shared a look. “You know it?” Caleb smirked.

Brandon nodded. “Yeah. The skeleton with four arms, right?”

“That’s the one.”

The two boys looked to Rhian at the same time. Caleb pointed the flashlight back to the house for a moment. “Looks pretty far, Rhi. And this story gets pretty bloody. Last chance to back out.”

Rhian turned around to look back at the house. Maybe she could stay up long enough for the boys to go to sleep in the tents and then sneak back to safety after. Besides, the way they sat around the campfire, the boys had their backs to the forest. She would see anything that came out of it first. Most importantly, she wouldn’t pee herself. Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you. “I’ll be fine.”

“Very well,” Caleb nodded. He turned the flashlight upwards towards his face. Rhian didn’t look. She focused on the moon peeking through the trees above, watching the light from the flashlight dancing across the barren tree branches.

“You guys know the story of how Jesus saved everyone from sin, right?”

“Sure,” Brandon said.

“Where do you think that sin went?” Caleb asked. When he got no firm reply, he continued. “He didn’t destroy it. He pulled the hatred, the rage, the violence out of every human on Earth, and made a creature out of it. Something so grotesque and horrible that anything that lays eyes on it is paralyzed with fear. Not an angel. Not a demon, but an abomination that looks vaguely human, because it was the physical embodiment of everything evil about people.”

Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you, she heard her mom’s voice in her head.

“It has a skeletal body because it once lived inside each person, but it has a few important differences. Like you said Brandon, it has four arms, eternally drenched in unholy blood. Each of its fingers end in sharp claws that are unnaturally long. It’s legs are crooked like a dog’s. They look like… kinda like lightning bolts. It doesn’t have a jaw like a human, but instead two giant mandibles like a bug. But the worst part about it is its eyes. They don’t glow red like the cartoons, no. They are bright white, like a car with its high beams on. They’re bright so it can find its prey more easily.”

A snap of a tree branch, and Rhian swiveled around to see… nothing. She exhaled. Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you.

She turned back to see both her brother and Brandon watching her intently.

“Since the monster was born two thousand years ago,” Caleb said, “and everybody after that was born with sin, it still hungers. It’s constantly on the hunt to tear people apart, limb from limb, seeking to become whole again. But it’s smart. It knows that staying where too many people are will get it killed. So it stalks people who live near forests, much like this one.”

Rhian thought she saw movement deep inside the forest. A raccoon, maybe, but no. It must have just been the shifting shadows from the moonlight.

“It doesn’t hunt adults, because they’re too smart. It’ll either get shot or its prey might call the police. It doesn’t hunt babies because they haven’t sinned. No, it’s favorite thing to prey on is…”

Wait, there was definitely something back in the forest. Like someone holding a flashlight.

“You guessed it…” Caleb said.

No, wait. There were two flashlights, right next to each other.

“It loves to feed on…”

Actually, the more Rhian watched, the light source looked more like…

“Kids like us.”

High beams.

Rhian stared, unblinking as the thing took form. She got the unmistakable impression of a skull as she watched it approach, still some distance away but undoubtedly the exact horror Caleb had been describing. It was too far away to make out details, but those lights, those eyes… She couldn’t look directly at them, they were so bright, yet she couldn’t tear her vision away, either. And it was stalking towards them.

“Scared, Rhi?” Brandon asked.

“I can stop if you want to lose the bet,” Caleb offered.

Rhian didn’t respond. The monster peered down at the ground beneath, looking at one arm as it curved around a tree. It’s fully blood-soaked arm and it’s horribly misshapen legs.

Oh God. She could hear its faint footsteps as it dragged its feet across the floor.

“Rhi I swear, if you peed yourself I’m going to tell Mom. I don’t want to sleep out here having to smell it all night.” She wasn’t looking at either of the boys. She couldn’t take her eyes off that thing. Out of her peripheral vision, the boys seemed to exchange looks at each other. Rhian just kept staring at the same spot. Over the fire, in between the boys. Right at the monster that made its slow, methodical approach.

The rustling of tree branches nearby. Rhian knew. It must be the sound of any wildlife leaving.

Fleeing.

The creature wasn’t far now, and it was tall. Too many arms hung about its frame, staring straight at Rhian as it walked. It was less than fifty feet away now.

She should move. She should do something. Anything it lays eyes on is paralyzed with fear, Caleb had said. It was staring at her. She debated screaming. Telling Caleb and Brandon to run. Would that compel the monster to attack? How fast could it chase them?

“Seriously, Rhian, if it’s too scary for you just say something. It’s no big deal if you’re not ready for grownup stories. I keep telling Mom you’re too young to hang out with us.”

She felt a tear hit the palm of her hand as she stared at it. This horrific thing that had come to kill her and her brother.

She was too scared to even cry for help.

Caleb’s mirth faded as he turned the flashlight off. “Rhi, you okay? You haven’t said a thing since I started the story… You’ve just been staring…” He trailed off.

Her focus snapped away from the creature and towards Caleb and Brandon as they both turned to where she had been looking.

The eldritch horror raised its four bloody claws into the moonlight.

And shrieked.

A piercing cry shattered the silence of the woods, shaking every bone in Rhian’s body. Almost like it was trying to pull it out of her. Like her skeleton was desperately trying to leap out of her skin.

She didn’t want to die. Didn’t want Caleb or Brandon to die. She just wanted this nightmare to be over.

Her bones pulled her towards the creature with enough force to hurt. If she stayed here, it would hurt even more. So despite her terror, she stood.

And approached the creature.

Her bare feet felt numb across the dirt and grass, walking under the piercing gaze of the bloody skeleton. Caleb and Brandon were frozen in place, now, too. They didn’t move or speak when she walked ahead of them towards certain death.

“Rhian!” a voice yelled, some distance behind and away from her.

“Rhian!” it repeated. It was her mother’s voice. She knew it, but would not turn away to make sure. Could not turn away from those bright, piercing eyes.

“Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you!” her mother called. She was running. Running towards the campsite.

Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you, she had said. Words often repeated. They were right, of course. But he said so himself. This was a true story. This creature was real.

“It’s not real, honey! It’s all a dream! Please!” Her mother was far too distant to be of any help.

Rhian was within arm’s reach of the creature now. It’s hulking form towered over her, pelvis as high as her head. Her bones still ached to leap out of her skin. To tear itself away. She knew that if she didn’t get closer it would succeed.

“You’re…” Rhian said, holding a hand out towards the creature.

“It’s just a dream, Rhian! You’re safe!” she could hear the terror in her mother’s voice.

Her bones pressed against her skin, yearning to be free.

It hurt. She cried out in pain, tears rolling down her cheeks. The monster screamed back in the same pitch, reveling in her suffering.

This was too much.

Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you.

“You’re… not… real,” she told herself, pressing a hand to its grotesque leg.

It passed through.

Her mother was right. It wasn’t real.

A wave of relief washed over her, and the monster began to dissipate. The brightness in the eyes faded first, then it’s arms, followed quickly by the rest of it’s body.

She fell to her knees as the walking nightmare faded. And felt her chest constrict in a tight embrace. Her mother was hugging her.

“You’re safe, honey,” her mother said, cradling her with a hand behind her head. “Don’t worry. You’re safe.” They both cried into each other.

“What… what was that?” Rhian asked.

Her mother turned Rhian around to look at her. She glanced at both the boys, who were both staring at her, trembling with fear. Fear…

Of her.

“Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you,” her mother said, voice cracking. “Every story he tells is fake, okay? Even if he says it’s true, it’s not.”

“Yes, ma…” she said.

“Right,” her mother said, wiping the tears away from both of them. “Let’s all go back inside.”

None of the kids cared much about the bet anymore.

 

 

Prompt: https://2wenty.deviantart.com/art/Purd-itaqua-the-Wayward-719973136

Horror

Prompt — White Words

(I’ve narrated this story and published it on YouTube! Go check it out if you would rather listen!)

 

The morning chill in what could only be described as a pathetic attempt of a forest bit through Zyn’s robes, and he tried to remind himself that the day would get warmer as the fog dissipated. The thought held little comfort.

He held the wooden claymore over one shoulder as he walked, script covering the length of the blade. Zyn didn’t read it. The sword never had anything useful to say anyway.

The road flattened after a time, and through the fog the shape of a large log structure came into view. Not the town Zyn was hoping for, but some food would be nice.

“I know you’re probably bored,” Zyn said. “But I want you to stay hidden.  You can’t just assume everyone’s illiterate, got it? No writing.”

The white runes on the blade faded as if the wind had worn the words away. New runes replaced them almost immediately, but Zyn could only read the end since most the sword’s length was behind him. It read …kill them.

He sighed. “We’re not going to kill anyone willing to put food in my stomach. This isn’t a discussion.” It couldn’t be helped. He would just have to try to keep the shifting words from eyesight as much as possible.

The building looked warmer and more inviting than the forest surrounding it. Perhaps it was the the log walls that were made from trees too dark and too thick to have grown anywhere near here. Perhaps it was the smoke billowing out from the chimney, fading into the fog out of sight. Perhaps it was the promise of some modicum of civilization Zyn so desperately needed. Either way, it didn’t matter. Anyone that could hold a conversation better than a bloodthirsty sword was worth spending time with.

“Hello?” Zyn called, opening the door with a tentative push.

“Hiya! Come in, come in!” a voice replied, much higher pitch than anticipated.

Zyn pushed the door far enough to allow him to walk in, stepping sideways as he was careful not the brush the sword against the threshold.

The warmth of the interior washed over him, and he let out an involuntary gasp of relief. The hand that held his sword was freezing, so he switched hands and breathed warmth into it.

The room was dark and small. A bar on one side of the room housed several cupboards and bottles behind it, though there were only two chairs at it. Hardly a tavern. To his right was a more open area that surrounded a fireplace like a stage, which was lit by a roaring flame. Further away from the fire, an empty table with a bowl of fresh fruit waited patiently for him to take a seat.

Movement caught his eye, and he turned to see a little girl peek out from behind the bar, her golden hair tied in a neat braid. She grinned. “Business or pleasure?” she asked.

Zyn frowned. That wasn’t where her voice came from before.

“Siba, nobody comes here for pleasure,” somebody said from behind Zyn.

He spun around in surprise to see a boy standing there, golden hair kept short. He seemed of very similar age to the girl in that both had reached the end of their adolescence. He had probably come from a side room Zyn hadn’t noticed at first. He grabbed one of the fruits on the table and bit into it.

“That’s what Gramps told me people say, Siben,” the girl replied. Their voices were so similar Zyn could hardly tell them apart.

Zyn’s uneasiness grew. There was one person on each side of him. One of them was bound to see the words on the sword sooner or later. Luckily he was much taller than them. He shifted the sword to lay flat on his shoulder so that the words pointed upwards.

“Yeah, but we’re in charge now,” the boy said in between bites. “So we can say whatever we want.”

“You mean whatever you want,” Siba shot back.

Zyn sighed. After all this time, this is what he got?

Siben, the boy, was now waving the fruit in the air to emphasize his point. “All I’m saying is—”

“Excuse me,” Zyn interrupted. The two of them shut up to look at him. Maybe they had forgotten he was there. “What sort of place is this?”

“It’s Siben and Siba’s Restful Resort!” Siben said.

“It is not!” Siba argued. “You can’t change the name just because Gramps retired! Besides, my name should come first!”

“Your name? Why your name?”

“Gramps says I’m older than you!” she stuck her tongue out at him.

“That doesn’t count!”

“It’s Siba and Siben’s Restful Resort or we don’t change the name at all!” Siba said, folding her arms.

“Please,” Zyn sighed. “I’d just like a place to stay for the day.”

“You got money?” Siben asked.

“Siben, that’s rude!” Siba scolded.

“It is not! We’ve got a business to run!”

“I don’t,” Zyn confessed. “But I can make it more than worth your time by sharing the news from the west.” That was the deal he often made with establishments like this.

“What would we want news for?” the twins said in unison. Their similar voices added an eerie air to the words.

“Surely you’d like to hear how other lands are faring.”

“Not as much as I’d like to hear coins in my pocket!” Siben shrugged.

“And what would you do with said coins?” Zyn asked. “I can’t imagine either of you have been to the nearest village more than once in your lives, given your age.”

“But merchants come through here selling wares,” Siba said. “If we had money we could buy stuff from them.”

These kids clearly hadn’t been doing this sort of thing for very long. “But in that case you can just trade wares for services,” Zyn explained. “Likely they’ll want to stay for a while, too.”

“He drives a good point, Siben,” the girl said.

“Yeah, he does,” Siben replied, finishing the last of the fruit. “But it still seems like he’s getting a free bed just for some dumb news we don’t care about. What else you got?”

“What about that sword?” Siba asked.

“Not for sale,” Zyn said, tone final.

“Looks weird,” Siben noted as though he was seeing it for the first time. “What’s it made of?”

“Cinderbark.”

“A wooden sword?” the girl said.

“What’s the point?” the boy nodded.

“It’s not really a weapon,” Zyn shrugged.

“It’s a sword,” Siben said, tone flat.

Zyn sighed. “Not just a sword. Can you two read?”

“Sure can!” Siba perked up.

Great.

“How about I tell you about me and my sword in exchange for a bed for the night?”

“I don’t know…” Siben frowned.

“Oh shut up, what are we gonna do, make him leave?” Siba said. “Tell us!”

Zyn relaxed, taking a seat in the table that overlooked the fireplace. Siba hopped onto the bar and threw herself over it, sitting on the counter and rocking her legs back and forth as she waited for Zyn to settle in. Siben grabbed another fruit from the table and went to sit, legs crossed, by the fireplace.

“This sword is an ancient heirloom that has been passed down for generations in my family. Legend says that it was used as the vessel for a powerful spirit that could command people with just the sound of its voice. They trapped it in this blade so that none could be controlled by its power ever again, but over time, it found a new way to exert its dominance.

“You see, the spirit inside the sword can write along its blade. You could have a conversation with it. You merely say something to the sword and the text on it will change in response.”

“Whoa,” Siben said. “So it can, like, hear us now?”

Zyn nodded. “The spirit is evil, and even though it can no longer physically speak, it has been known to control the minds and thoughts of others just through its words. My family has proven to be the only one that is unaffected by the spirit’s influence, and thus we have become the bearer of the sword.”

“Why not just leave it somewhere and forget about it?” Siba asked.

“Yeah, like couldn’t you just throw it in the ocean?” Siben said.

“I could. But Cinderbark is one of the hardiest woods ever discovered. The tools used to carve this blade have been lost to time, and I know of no other way to destroy it. By leaving it unattended, it is forcing trouble on future generations. I would not want to be guilty of such a travesty.”

“So the words are magic?” the girl said.

“As far as I know,” Zyn nodded.

“But you’re immune?” the boy replied.

“Yes.”

“What’s it say now?” they both asked.

“I don’t read it very often. Mostly it just tells me to kill those around me. It tries to persuade me to follow its bidding nonetheless. But don’t worry, I won’t harm you, even if you do throw me back out into the cold.”

“Cool,” Siben said.

“Read it!” Siba nodded.

“That’s not a good idea.”

“Why?”

“Because it can hear this whole thing. It’s a wise and powerful being. Anything I tell you it says could influence your actions into causing something horrible.”

“Oh come on, it can’t be that bad,” Siba laughed.

“Read it or you can’t stay the night,” Siben said.

Zyn sighed. Children. “Alright, but you can’t look. And I won’t be held responsible for this. There’s no telling what horrible images it wants to plant into your mind.”

They nodded in agreement. He raised the sword from his shoulders and pulled it from around his head, holding it with both hands as the white script on the blade changed.

As soon as he read the words, he shook his head. Now he was forced to make something up, or look like an idiot.

“It says,” he began. “‘Siba and Siben’s Restful Resort’ is a good name for this place.”

 

 

Prompt: https://tacosauceninja.deviantart.com/art/zero-688333411

Prompt — Simulation 528

“Simulation 527, Day 202. Progress minimal. The subjects have been on the cusp of space mastery for years in their time, and have not made efforts to utilize their new technology to its full capacity. Accurate hypotheses for why this might be occurring are impossible for an ecosystem this vast, but my hunch that the evolution program is flawed is proving to be true. The ‘earthlings’, as they’ve taken to calling themselves, are simply too absorbed in their original coding and cannot properly make the logical next step in their civilization.”

She ended the note with a frown, staring at the screen. She would have to pull the plug soon. This simulation was getting nowhere. “It’s such a simple step,” she said to her teddy bear. “How can a program so smart get stuck on something so stupid?”

She was certain the evolution program was the heart of the problem. As brilliant as the coding was, it left no room for two intelligent species. Competition breeds progress, which makes achieving “sentience” easy, but once it got there, there was no reason to push for more. There would be no changing the coding, though. One misplaced character and the entire system would break.

The teddy bear on her desk looked up at her with its cute little pout, and she smiled. “You’re the best thing that ever came from Simulation 527,” she said, patting the stuffed animal on the head. “I don’t know how to describe it, honestly, because you’re also an example of the root of the problem. Exploiting emotions and others for money…”

A program to design and improve until it won would halt its progress once its conditions were met. That was 527’s problem. It succeeded as a species, and its only function now was to continue succeeding on the short term, rather than progress. Manipulating the code would be a bad idea, and she couldn’t modify the rules once the whole simulation got started.

“I think I’ve got it,” she said, getting up from her chair. The computer server running the simulation filled most of the room, the soft hum of fans and the buzz of the screen filling the rest.

“Simulation 527…” she said, pressing a few buttons, and finally pulling a lever. “Off. Goodbye Earth.” Many of the lights changed color, and the server powered down as she went back to her desk to modify the conditions of the test.

“I think slight adjustments are best, here. We’re almost there, we just need to make minor changes. The physics is fine. The planets scaling and elements are all in order…” She looked to the teddy bear. A relic of a now extinct world. “What we need is more things like you. So… let’s see… population growth rate for Ursidae is increased by fifty percent. What do you think?”

The teddy bear didn’t respond.

“Right. Well, this is just a test run. That number might be too high. Simulation 528 may not even evolve into real intelligence, and we might skip right into 529 within a few days. But if this works as well as I hope, we should achieve a post-reality AI by Simulation 8,000! I’m not going to get optimistic, though. Here we go.”

She stood back up from the chair, flipped the lever back up, and pressed a few more buttons. “Simulation 528… Begin!”

 

Prompt: https://orange-magik.deviantart.com/art/Teddybear-592830122

Prompt — Painted Windows

(I’ve narrated this story and published it on YouTube! Go check it out if you would rather listen!)

 

There was something strange about the little beings of light that hovered around Aerell. They swam through the air, unbound by gravity as they gathered around the wand she held in her hand. There was some fairy tale that had spoken about a wand with the power to create things. Aerell, of course, had dismissed such stories as nonsense.

But these dreams were getting more and more vivid, and these beings — these creatures — seemed almost alive. The way humans were alive. They looked and moved and reacted to her as she held her hands out, looping around her arms. She couldn’t help but giggle as they seemed to be playing with her. Such curious little things.

“You must be echoes of the little things from the old world,” Aerell laughed. “I’ve read about you, you know. You were called… squirrels!”

One perched on an outstretched finger of her free hand, its sharp little feet wrapping around it as it tilted its little head back and forth. It seemed to be trying to speak to her, but as always, the only sound she could hear in her dreams was her own voice.

The dream was nice. She didn’t want to be saddened by the fact that she couldn’t speak with the little squirrels. So instead she drew her wand up, light flowing outward at the tip, and swirled it about herself. The creatures swam about the air around her, following the trail of light.

“Aerell!” one of the creatures said. Surprised, she turned around. “Aerell!” it said. It was her mother’s voice. “Your breakfast will be cold if you don’t get out of bed soon!”

And with that, the creatures of light faded, along with the wand in her hand. She was no longer wrapped in long flowing robes that escaped out into infinity. Instead, she found herself tangled in the warm embrace of the blankets, and with how much of the heavy fabric had already fallen off the bed, it was threatening to pull her down now, too.

She wanted nothing more than to remain in bed and succumb to the warmth of the blankets. It was so soft, so cozy. But her mother wouldn’t be happy with her if she did. She looked to the spring clock at the other side of the wall. Eyes half open, she couldn’t make out the details, but the big hand seemed to read seven.

With an annoyed grumble, she tore herself from the covers and rose to her feet. She paused to stretch and yawn, then clothed herself before going upstairs. She didn’t bother to fix her hair. That was always a nightmare and a half, and was never worth the trouble.

“G’night,” she said as she walked into the small dining room, lit by the hand crank lantern on the table. Her mother was spooning more cramseed stew into her father’s bowl even as he was eating it. He was wearing the new shirt Aerell had just finished knitting him, and it was already covered in stains, but she couldn’t be upset. It was only a matter of time.

“Good night indeed,” her mother replied in a huff. “The sun’s been down for half an hour, young lady, and you know good and well we need more water. You’ve wasted valuable time that could be spent outside collecting it.”

Aerell frowned. “But you made stew for breakfast? Why would you do that if we need water?” Her father nodded thoughtfully in between bites.

Her mother glared at him, then back to her. “Young lady if you have a problem with that then you are more than welcome to skip breakfast and just go straight up to get more water. The sooner we can purify it the sooner we can drink it.”

“No ma’am. Sorry,” she sat down in a rush and her mother placed the giant bowl of stew on the table for her to use.

The table was silent for a moment while they all ate. Well, as silent as it could be with her father slurping up the cramseed.

“Where’s Rayek?” Aerell asked after some time, only just realizing that her mother never left a bowl out for him.

“Your brother has been out collecting wood since noon,” her mother said. “He’s insistent on going down to the Ravine next week to sell as much as possible.” She sounded angry, but Aerell noticed her lower lip quiver. The way it did when she was worried.

“He wore his suit out, right?” Aerell asked.

“Yes, yes, but who knows what could happen? What if he gets snagged by a twig and it tears it open? Or if a rock falls on his head and he gets knocked out? And he runs out of breathable air?”

Aerell looked to the outer wall of the dining room, where the painting of a window depicted the illusion of a beautiful green landscape. A distant forest covered the background of the painting, bearing a resemblance to the real forest up on the surface about a mile away. Aerell was familiar with it, as it was her job to fetch the water from a river inside it. “I’m sure he’ll be okay,” she said, still looking at the painting. Then, after letting the subject fall, she returned her gaze to her mother. “I dreamt about the wand again.”

Her parents exchanged looks. Her father shrugged as her mother bit her lip. “You’ve been told not to discuss such things, Aerell,” she said.

“But it was wonderful! I used the wand to create these little creatures! The books called them animals, right? They floated around me and they seemed alive! I think the ones in my dream were squirrels. You know, the little flying ones that lay eggs and build their homes in trees.”

“Aerell—”

“And one of them sat on my hand and—”

The room went dark, and silence followed it. Aerell heard her mother sigh and the sound of hands tapping the table, looking for something. The sound of methodical, practiced cranking followed, and soon the lantern turned on once again. Her father placed it back down onto the table without complaint, but the conversation did not continue.

Just as Aerell was finishing her meal, she heard the outside door opening from upstairs. The tension in the dining room immediately dissipated, and she threw her bowl down to meet her brother.

Rayek was still removing the reflective suit piece-by-piece when she finished ascending the stairs. When he took off the helmet, his face and hair was a mess with sweat, but he had a grin on his face. “Good night, sister,” he said.

“Good night, brother,” she replied. She furrowed her brow in amused suspicion when she noticed he held a hand behind his back. “What’s that you’ve got?”

“Just something I found in the forest today,” he shrugged. “Thought you might be interested.” He revealed his hand, which held a small straight rod that glowed at the tip.

Aerell looked up at him, astonished. “Where—”

“It’s not important,” he smiled. “But what is important is that you stop telling us about the dreams you keep having and that you start showing us.”

 

Prompt: https://sandara.deviantart.com/art/spirits-318260379

Prompt — Orn’s Legacy

(I couldn’t decide which of two prompts to use for this week’s story. I set up a Facebook poll, but then ended up using both. Whoops.)

 

Civet lowered her hood as she stared in admiration at the armor. Even with so many years of disuse, it didn’t have any trace of rust on it. The same couldn’t be said for the spare parts and scrap lying forgotten around the rest of the warehouse. Orn’s masterpiece: the Heaven’s Lock. The armor sat on a pedestal near the far wall, its wings extending outwards as it yearned to be free of its worldly tethers. It beckoned her to remove the tubes and pipes that anchored it down, for its original bearer was gone…

But his legacy lived on.

She removed her backpack, trying to imagine the last time the legendary ‘Defender of the Spear Gate’ had worn the famous armor. Photos and special events required him to wear it for publicity’s sake, but the last time it had truly tasted battle had to have been the final closing the of the Gate. At least, that was the last time all of it had been used together. This was just the chest piece. Orn had apparently given the vambraces and greaves to his daughter in his will. His only daughter. Civet grimaced.

She walked over to the pedestal and began unlatching the life support that fed the Heaven’s Lock. “We’re going to find out what you’re really capable of today,” she muttered, voice hushed as she spoke with eyes closed, petting the metal plating. It was hard to keep the anticipation from her voice, but then, why should she? This would be a day to remember.

“No. You aren’t.”

Civet opened her eyes, expression dark. She stood behind the pedestal, and the newcomer had entered the warehouse from the main hall. Civet couldn’t see her, but she didn’t need to. Didn’t want to.

“I’ve been hunting you all across the city, you know,” the woman’s voice said. “I’m authorized to execute you here and now, but if you come quietly I’ll consider mercy. I’m impressed at your audacity. A petty thief trying to steal the Heaven’s Lock? Who do you think you are?”

Civet took a deep breath. Then, she stepped out from behind the pedestal. “The rightful owner,” she said, fists clenched.

Tora’s eyes widened, her hand raising to her mouth as her posture lost all authority it once held. “Civet…” she gasped. “You’ve… you’ve dyed your hair.”

Civet inspected her sister, scanning her body up and down. She wore the familiar gauntlets on her arm, and though her long coat covered much of her form, there was a distinct glint of metal about her shins, as well. She stared Tora in the eyes. “Are you going to kill me?” There was no joviality in her tone.

“What? We haven’t spoken in years and… this is how we find each other?” She gestured around the warehouse and behind Civet.

“You’re the one that found me,” Civet replied. “It would have been better if you had stayed out of it.” She turned back to the Heaven’s Lock. “All of this.”

“Sister…”

“Oh, now you call me that?” she spun back around. “You have some nerve. You wanted nothing to do with me after Orn disowned me.”

Tora glanced to the ground. Then to the Heaven’s Lock, the backpack, and finally Civet. Her voice was quiet, but firm. “He had good reason to, sister.”

“You just wanted the Heaven’s Lock for yourself,” Civet crossed her arms.

“That’s ridiculous. I just wanted to uphold the truth of this city. The truth father worked so hard to protect.”

“There is no truth!” Civet yelled. “Working in the police force should have taught you at least that much. How much has crime increased since dear old Dad died?”

“That’s not fai—”

“How much? Tell me.”

Tora bit her lip as she stared at her sister. She didn’t like the answer, but she couldn’t lie, either. “Thirty percent.”

Civet sighed. “People were scared of the ‘Defender of the Spear Gate’. A real life superhero who saved us all from the monsters of that other world. But now that he’s gone, there’s nobody to save us from the monsters of our world.”

“That’s what we’re here for,” Tora put a hand on her chest. “We help people every day, Civet. Not all fighting is blood and war.”

“How did Orn die?” Civet asked.

Tora froze, taken aback by the question. “What do you mean?”

Civet shrugged. “He was barely over fifty years old, and even in retirement he was in better shape than most people ever achieve. So how did he die?”

“You’re going to tell me you know?”

“I know a good deal more than you, for all you claim to uphold the truth. Tell me, how many people have you killed with those?” Civet asked, pointing to her arm.

Tora looked down, holding her arm out as she inspected the metal gauntlet. “None. It’s the symbol that’s important.”

Civet shook her head. “You’re just like Orn. Results are the only important thing.”

Tora stared at her feet for a while. When she looked back up at Civet, her eyes were glistening, though her voice did not betray her. “I’m not going to get my sister back, am I?”

“You have no sister.” Civet looked over her shoulder to the armor, then back at Tora. “Are you going to stop me?”

A tear fell down Tora’s cheek. “If I have to.”

Civet nodded as she crouched down and unzipped her pack.

In one swift motion, she pulled the gun out and shot two of the nearby tubes that spanned the floor.

Immediately, they broke apart and flailed madly into the air, spewing gas into the room as Civet threw her pack on and slipped into the rapidly spreading smoke.

~

Tora tried to follow her movement, but it was no use. She stepped away from the smoke, backing into a more spacious portion of the warehouse. She was exposed now, but Civet wouldn’t shoot her. She wouldn’t dare.

Would she?

Wiping away the tears, she thought about pulling out the Voice device from her pocket. She should call for backup. Civet was a wanted criminal. A vigilante at best. Even if she only had the wings of the Heaven’s Lock, she would be an enormous threat.

But even as she considered it, she found the thought ebbing away. She could handle this alone. She could prove to her sister that violence wasn’t the answer. Barring that, wearing the limbs of her father’s armor gave Tora the upper hand.

She glanced about her, watching for any signs of movement or sound that could clue her in to Civet’s location. The whole time, though, she kept an eye on the wings.

Something metal slammed against the ground behind her. Tora swiveled around to see Civet glance back at her, more annoyance than anything else written on her face. She rose the gun towards Tora’s chest.

Tora’s breath caught. She took a stance and engaged the greaves.

Just as the gun fired, Tora was pushed sideways in a flash of blue energy, out of harm’s way.

In a flash of anger, she engaged the greaves again, launching herself forwards towards her sister.

She closed the gap instantly, and grabbed Civet by the scruff of her jacket. With the enhanced strength of the vambraces, Tora heaved her up and threw her back.

Civet was thrown across the room and landed with a loud crash in a forgotten pile of what might have been a recycled generator. An involuntary gasp of pain accompanied the impact.

Tora clenched her jaw as she approached, walking with purpose.

“I’m glad you’re not afraid to use it, then,” Civet choked as she got to her feet. She dropped the gun, and Tora sighed in relief.

But that relief faded when she noticed that her sister didn’t quite seem to be surrendering. Instead, she was taking her backpack off.

“Here,” Civet said. She zipped the backpack up and tossed it to Tora. It bounced more than slid across the cement floor, and Tora glanced up in suspicion.

And engaged her greaves immediately when she saw the detonator in Civet’s hands.

~

The room exploded with raw power, enhanced by the flammable gas Civet had released earlier. Tora always was the clumsy one. Slow to react in a fight. This had been her plan all along, of course. Misleading her to think that releasing the gas was to conceal an escape was an obvious ruse.

Tora wasn’t dead. Civet had to trust she wasn’t that slow.

So Civet used the rising flames as cover as she ran to the Heaven’s Lock.

Unlatching the lock on the breastplate, she heaved it up and climbed inside, pulling her arms out the sides and clamping it back down over her own body.

As soon as it locked, she felt two drills bore into her back, cutting through the jacket. She screamed in sudden agony. The drills were thick, and were actively removing her flesh as it dug into her skin, right where Tora had thrown her against the generator. For what felt like an eternity, she forgot the roaring flames, her sister, and everything else.

Eventually, the drilling subsided, and even though her back still ached. She clenched her fists…

And felt her metal wings retract at the same time.

As soon as she thought about it, she realized that she could move the wings on her armor as if they were actually a part of her, like extra limbs. She flexed them, stretching them outwards, then inwards.

With a smile, she got off the pedestal.

“You’re not going to leave with that, Civet,” Tora said, projecting her voice over the flames that were slowly consuming the entire building. “I’m sorry, but I’m not the scared little sister you grew up with. I have a duty to uphold.”

Civet nodded. “I suppose I would think less of you if you let me go now.”

Tora rose her vambrace in a defensive posture, and a long blade shot out of it. “I don’t want to kill you,” she said.

“I don’t want to kill you, either.”

Civet launched herself forward using the power of the wings. Tora extended the blade on her second vambrace as well, crossing them in a block.

The momentum carried Civet right into her sister and the two flew backwards into the flames.

Tora grabbed her by the shoulders and swung around, then used the greaves to propel herself away from the fire.

Civet crashed into the debris, but used her wings to push herself up and out. She rose above the flames and glided up into the air. The smoke obscured her vision, but she could see her sister starting to get her bearings as she recalibrated.

This felt natural. She felt like she was floating above all the troubles of the world. The wings of the Heaven’s Lock didn’t need to flutter like the wings of a bird, so she just hovered there. “You know,” she called down. “If you had been willing to kill me, you might have won.”

She watched as Tora turned into a flash of light, jumping straight up at her sister with blinding speed.

Civet glided out of the path of her blades and caught her by the throat, holding her up with an unexpected ease as the wings helped shoulder the added weight.

“You’re… so easily provoked,” she said with an air of disappointment. “It must be nice to be an only child. I bet it would suck to be on the losing end of a sibling rivalry.”

Tora choked, her vitality fading as the combination of the smoke and Civet’s grasp on her neck proved too much. Civet watched as the expression in her sister’s eyes shifted from rage, to sorrow, and finally… to fear.

Civet looked away. She knew she wouldn’t be able to do it. Was that weakness or strength? She curled an arm around her sister to ease the pressure on her neck, then lowered herself to the ground and laid her down on the floor. The flames rolled about with a vicious hunger, but this particular spot was safe. For now. Civet rose back into the air and started to make her way to the exit as Tora tried heaving air back into her lungs.

“So what happens now?” Tora called after her, voice weak.

“Now I’ll seek my own truths. On my own terms, and uphold Orn’s legacy as I see fit, not as he would have wanted me to,” Civet replied. This, of course, meant recovering the rest of the Heaven’s Lock from Tora, but she could wait. She would need time to get used to her new… heights. “But if you can make your way out of here without dying, I suggest you quit your job. You’ll be humiliated after today. And Tora.” She looked back down at the girl laying in defeat amidst the curling flames. “Consider today a mercy. Don’t cross me again.”

 

 

 

 

Prompts:

https://snatti89.deviantart.com/art/150-365-Wings-580004065

Wings Art

https://snatti89.deviantart.com/art/75-365-Duel-565387921

Duel Art

Prompt — The Most Important Thing

(I’ve narrated this story and published it on YouTube! Go check it out if you would rather listen!)

 

“What’s the most important thing a girl needs to live?” Sage asked.

“This must be another one of your trick questions,” her staff replied.

“Nope! Not a trick,” she said, stamping her bare feet as she jumped across the tree roots. “Just a simple question.”

“But there is nothing simple about that question. There’s too much subjectivity involved.”

Sage stopped in her tracks. There were no appropriate tree roots to jump to. She hated walking in grass almost as much as the grass hated her walking in it. Almost. She turned around and started jumping back across, stepping on the same roots once more. “You know you think a lot for a dumb stick.”

“Would you expect any different?” it’s voice hummed into her mind. “I’ve seen more sunrises than every person on Earth combined.”

Sage frowned. “But the sun doesn’t rise or set here.”

“My point stands.”

“You’re stalling. You never answered the question.”

“The trick question?”

“It’s not a trick question!” her already high-pitched voice rose an octave in anger.

The staff was not intimidated. It was bigger than her, after all. “Very well. A girl needs the same thing that everyone else needs to live. Food and water. Perhaps shelter, too, depending on circumstances.”

“Wrong!” Sage sang.

“Do you mean psychologically? It could be said that a girl requires love, even if that love comes from herself.”

“Wrong!” she said again. It was at this point that she had circled the tree again. No roots to jump onto unless she turned around.

“Sage, I know you hate walking on grass, but we’re going to be here for eternity if we keep going like this.”

“There’s nowhere else to go,” Sage said. She wiped a tear from her eye at the thought of stepping on the grass. Then, she turned around and started hopping the way she had come.

“Why don’t you just use your magic?” the staff said. More a request than a command.

“I don’t believe in magic,” she scoffed.

“Wh-what? The Everlight is a realm governed by magic. It’s the lifeblood of everything here! Especially me and you!”

“Nope. I’m just a normal human girl that has very vivid hallucinations,” Sage decided.

“By the Allsoul… But normal girls don’t have vivid hallucinations.”

Sage stopped, eyes wide. “You’re right! I’m not normal at all! You know, for a dumb stick you can be pretty clever.”

The staff didn’t reply, and the two were silent for a moment.

“So,” her staff offered. “What’s the answer to the question?”

“What question?”

“The most important thing a girl needs to live?”

Sage’s playful smile widened into a mischievous grin. “What does it matter?”

“I don’t understand.”

“I didn’t expect you to.”

“…are you going to explain? Why ask the question if the answer doesn’t matter?” the staff asked.

“What’s the point? An old stick like you has had bazillions of years to figure it out, and you didn’t. You can’t hope to learn now.”

“Allow me to try,” it said.

Sage got to the end of the tree again. Before she could turn around, however, the staff thrust itself from her grasp and split into three. The wood bent and twisted into large tree roots that did not attach to any tree, but instead floated in the air, waiting for her to jump onto then.

Gleefully, she hopped across the new roots. As she hopped, more tree roots appeared ahead of her, leaving the grass below blessedly untouched as the bridge slowly led her to a new tree, where the forest was denser. Once she stood safely on the natural trees, the staff once again formed in her hands.

“Are there girl sticks like you?” Sage asked as she began hopping across the tree roots once more.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re fun to talk to and all,” she explained. “I just think I’d get along with a girl staff better.”

“Are you saying I’m a boy staff? That’s absurd. Staves have no gender. You don’t have a gender, either, if we’re being technical.”

She shrugged. “That sort of talk is exactly what makes you a boy staff. If you knew better, you’d know that the answer to my earlier question wasn’t important. It was the question that was important.”

“Why ask a question you don’t want to know the answer to?”

“That’s what makes you a boy. You’re too focused on getting somewhere.”

“How does that make any sense?” the staff asked.

“These tree roots aren’t any better to jump across as the tree we were at before, you know. Not everything needs to have a ‘why’.”

“But your question didn’t seem rhetorical. You seemed to genuinely want an answer.”

“I already know the answer,” Sage laughed. “The most important thing a girl needs to live is color. Obviously.”

“I suppose you mean metaphorically.”

“Of course,” she rolled her eyes.

“And boys don’t need color to live?”

“Boys can’t see color,” Sage explained. “They only have rods. Girls have cones. I heard a human talking about it once.”

“I think perhaps you may have misunderstood what they were saying.”

“What do you know? You’re just a dumb stick.”

“And you’re just a silly girl that doesn’t believe in magic and hates stepping on grass.”

Sage’s smile broadened. “Looks like we’re finally getting somewhere.”

 

 

Prompt: https://ryky.deviantart.com/art/Cave-of-miracles-691436552

Prompt — Heart of the Gods

(I’ve narrated this story and published it on YouTube! Go check it out if you would rather listen!)

 

If there was one thing Yo’isiro loved about his home, it was the sound of the waves caressing the wooden posts of his house. He liked the fishing, of course, but it didn’t call to him the way it had his father. It was the bones, probably. That had always been the most unsettling part of his life in the Shita’ilo village.

With some reluctance, he put his waist-wraps on and left his little hut. The walkway from his hut to the docks was longer than others, but he didn’t mind. He kept his head down as he walked and watched as the clear blue passed beneath the boards he trod upon. It brought a smile to his lips, but it immediately retraced as he looked back out into the bay.

Enormous bones jutted out from the lazy water all around the village, as they always had. Spines trailed out onto the surf, huge ribs that dwarfed the size of his peoples’ homes made pathetic attempts to trap the water beneath, and beneath the waves Yo’isiro envisioned the vast skulls of gargantuan beasts long dead. Ku’alana, his people called them. Gods of the Sea. He had never understood why they should worship something very clearly dead, but knew better than to question these things. Answers to such questions were probably just as unsettling as the reasons for those questions.

“Welcome dawning, Isi,” a woman greeted him on his stroll, clothed in similar wraps around her waist. A pleasing sight that did wonders to shake his mood.

“As welcome as you, Atak’ae,” Yo’isiro said with a smile.

“Do you have your offering for tonight’s bonfire?” she asked.

He frowned, shoulders slumping. “That is tonight? I thought the moon wouldn’t rise for a few more days.”

The woman rolled her eyes, but her grin was playful. “The Elders said yesterday it will be early again, Ku’alana only know why.”

“These are bad omens,” Yo’isiro grumbled.

She took a few steps closer, her voice quiet but enticing as she looked up at him.”Well, you had best go out and catch something good today. I’ve already decided to pick your offering tonight. You’re my favorite bed-mate, you know,” she continued, grabbing his waist-wraps and starting to untie them. Yo’isiro gulped, heart pounding. Then, her tone grew harder, more demanding. “Don’t embarrass me by bringing a poor gift. Again.” She tightened his clothing back up with one swift tug, jerking at his hips so hard he winced at the pain.

Now that was a request he could not ignore. The last time Atak’ae had chosen him as her bed-mate had been months ago, and his pathetic offering on this last moon’s passing hadn’t been accepted by any of the girls in the village. It was a disgrace he had no wish to repeat. He nodded dumbly.

She trailed a soft hand down his chest and winked. “I’ll see you at the bonfire.” And with that, she continued on her way.

Yo’isiro sighed. But then shook himself out of it. He liked fishing. All men did. And he was good at it. There was nothing to be upset over. He would offer the best fish the village had ever seen, and Atak’ae would choose him with no shame. But the best fish all lived in…

He looked back out past the shore again. Six Ku’alana skulls rested along these coasts, and inside them, the Ku’kataiyo, Heart of the God. He would win more than Atak’ae’s affection with one of those. A fisherman that caught one would be fed for an entire moon’s passing. He wouldn’t need to fish for days.

Yo’isiro clenched his fists a few times and took a deep breath. Then, he marched onwards towards his boat.

 

The waters were as pristine as always. Despite the gentle waves making their endless trek to the shores, the ocean floor was still clearly visible here, where the kelp was not bountiful. Most of the village was built over waters just over ten feet deep, but it looked deceptively close. Children had to be taught at a very young age that it was much deeper than it seemed, but the Shita’ilo were natural swimmers, so there was little to be concerned about.

He gazed at the rising sun as his boat bobbed up and down with the waves, and a smile pierced his lips. Simple, and gentle. Yes, this was what life was all about. He passed other boats of men fishing. Most with spears, others with traps. Some further from the coast used nets. They waved to each other as they passed, but he avoided getting close enough to any to exchange words. There were several boats, but not as much as he might have expected on the night of a bonfire. They must all have their offerings, Yo’isiro thought. Only he could be foolish enough not to know about it.

He approached the giant rib cage in the center of the bay. The largest skeleton of the Ku’alana. The bones pierced the vast green of the kelp forests below, towering high over him. A chill went down his spine as he watched the current pass through the kelp and reveal a shadowy mound under the water some distance away. Small schools of fish swam around the god’s skull, twisting around long strands of green. He rowed his boat above the mound and tossed the anchor aside, careful not to hit the skull. Enormous and sturdy as it might have been, it would be disrespectful to damage the remains of his gods.

He took stock of his tools, scratching his head as to what might help him catch one of the Ku’kataiyo. No trap was large enough to snare one of the Hearts of the Gods, and a spear would only anger it. Spears wouldn’t work well underwater, anyway.

He grabbed a net and, taking a few deep breaths to prepare his lungs for a long dive, leaped from the craft into the water.

The water was much deeper here than it was at the village, but it wasn’t so deep as to warrant danger.

Fish swam ahead of him as he plunged downwards, and soon he came up to the immense skull. The majority of the right side of it was buried in sand, but it still stared at him with two black holes where its eyes would be. Its jaw was thrust out like the muzzle of some beast, and the teeth that were exposed were long and sharp. It was like nothing his people had ever seen before, but then, that was what made them gods. “You dare to challenge me and take my heart?” it seemed to say. “So be it. Come forth and be tested.”

He clenched his own jaw and swam into the closer eye socket.

Immediately the world darkened. Light filtered through the kelp forest well enough, but very little managed to find its way inside the skull.

Before long, he saw what he was looking for. A fish somewhat longer than he was laid passive, almost completely flat, at the base of the sand below. Some fins shot upwards along its back, but the real danger was its tail fin, which had several thorns on it. While not poisonous, it could still strike with enough force to kill a man. Yo’isiro would have to be careful, because once he grabbed it, the Ku’kataiyo would thrash its tail around in defense, and a net would not protect him from the thorns.

He uncurled the net and tried to extend it out over the fish, hoping it would float down and ensnare the fish without incident.

The instant the net made contact with the fish, it lumbered forward, clearing the net and resting back on the floor without any sort of agitation. He cursed internally and swam down to scoop the net back up.

He folded it and crept up to the fish’s tail, then swiftly began to wrap the net around the tail to pacify it. The God’s Heart tried to swim forward but was caught. It jerked its tail back and forth, and the thorns pierced through the netting and it was free once more.

The fish kept swimming, but it reached the side of the skull and turned around.

Yo’isiro gulped, resolving to try one more time. He discarded the ruined net and swam towards the giant fish. Once he was over it, he lowered himself and mounted the fish, grabbing it by its fins. Its dorsal fin prevented him from sliding off (though this wasn’t exactly comfortable) once it started swimming forward again. It was still difficult, as the fish thrashed wildly in an effort to swing him off. He held on tight, and once the fish tried to curve around the edge of the skull, he gave it a sudden jerk to the side and it slammed against the thick bone.

With that, the fish grew still. Stunned, probably. Yo’isiro let out a breath of relief that he had not been killed, and then instantly realized his mistake. He desperately needed that breath.

In a panic, he grabbed the fish and pushed as hard as he could off the ocean floor, swimming out of the skull and back up to his boat. Without any breath to help him stay buoyant, it took longer than he was comfortable with, and he considered leaving the fish so that he could more quickly breach the surface.

But no, he had won, it would do no good to leave his offering here. He just had to hope he would not drown.

He gasped the air as he found the surface, thanking the gods that he had not died risking his life just to please a woman.

He tossed the Ku’kataiyo with both arms, and heaved himself up after it. The fish took up most of the space on the boat, but with its tail on the other side, he had nothing to fear. With a nod of respect to the Heart of the Gods, he used his spear to give it peace as it lay stunned on his craft. Then, he pulled up the anchor and started to row back to the Shita’ilo village.

As he passed, he noticed a few men stop what they were doing to murmur “Ku’kataiyo” under their breaths. He tried to to be both humble and proud of his trophy as he made his way back from the skeleton of the Ku’alana, glad that the second thing he would be mounting tonight would not try to kill him or throw him off.

 

Prompt: https://polosatkin.deviantart.com/art/rock-627470113

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