A day late because I can’t schedule correctly! Sorry guys! Image text:
The boys took turns holding their hands over the candle flame. A test of will. Of strength and daring. Ven looked on from the corner, glancing over the top of his book. “Afraid?” Destin asked, jutting his chin in Ven’s direction. Ven only shook his head, but he didn’t rise. The boys laughed at him and went back to their stupid game. And Ven turned another page in Flame of the Old Gods: an Introduction to Incendiary Magic.
Image text:“Mind the barrier. Children must be attended at all times,” the monotone voice blared through the speakers, echoing in the crowded holding chamber. The barrier, a grid of light, surrounded the platform where hundreds of people waited, pulsing in a soft blue light to alert passers of its proximity.Joy stared flatly as it swelled and dimmed in a relaxed cadence, taunting her with what lay beyond.They said it was emptiness, a void to hold the waypoints between worlds, that no one could survive beyond the light. But she heard them–keening, wailing–not with her ears, but with something more. The voices, like tragic, terrifying whale song, pulled at her with invisible string, dragging her toward the grid of pulsing light. She came here for the waypoint, but there was something in the dark outside, howling in the void.The emptiness beyond the barrier caller to her–she just didn’t know how to answer.
Wind echoed across the field, casting the scent of blood through the matted switchgrass. Moments before, it carried the cries of the dying, and now there was only silence. Desmond shuddered under the breeze, though, from the chill or the blood loss, he wasn’t sure. The world began to blur at the edges, and he let out a whimper. His fifteenth birthday would be his last, and his final gift was a battlefield.
He was tall, the man who settled beside him, laying a hand on his shoulder, his breath rattling in his chest. “I’ve burned through this body,” he said with a laugh. “But I can fix yours. Are you afraid?”
Des shook as he stared up at him, but the tears that spilled down his cheeks was answer enough.
“Good. Good.” He stroked Desmond’s hair back, and smiled, following it with a rattly cough. “Will you let me fix you? My only price is sanctuary. Do you know what that means?” Again, Des shook his head, hiccupping on a sob. “Safety. Do you think that’s fair? You have to say so. Out loud.”
“Yes,” he moaned, and doubled over, clutching his belly. That hand brushed his hair again, and fell away. When he looked back at the rattly-voiced man, the pain was gone, and there was only a charred corpse where he was.
The pain disappeared, but then darkness closed around his mind.
The strands of spider silk wound around Aradon’s fingers, and she pulled them taut between her hands, weaving lazily in simple, twisting patterns. She rested her antlered head back against a toadstool pillow, sprawled across the floor, and draped her legs up onto the seat of a velvet-cushioned chair.
With her eyes closed, she tugged the silk, and a thread snapped. A scream echoed from the halls behind her, and her lips twitched into a faint smile when desperate, racking sobs followed. Taking new threads, she weaved around the split in her work.
The sobbing ceased, and she carried on, a light, melodic hum finding its way to her lips.
The dawn always came, Nic decided, when he’d finally grown accustomed to the night. The moment the darkness began to feel like home, sunlight crested the trees to bring renewal and hope—and his own disappointment.
As the day wore on, he’d forget his comfort in the darkness and embrace the light. Then the night would come again and chase the day away. Despair would take him until just before the dawn.
He remembered Tyr saying he’d mourn the stars if he held them in his hands, because he could no longer behold them in the sky. But Tyr knew the magic of the dark and the glory of the day and lamented nothing.
Nic didn’t know how to tell him that his grief was not that he overlooked the magic of the night, but that the power of it was melancholy and tumultuous. The glory of day was gentler, but it paled in comparison.
“Tell me about the Selkies, Auntie!” the little girl cried, plopping onto the braided rug by the fire.
“Have I not told you enough about them?” Auntie asked, glancing over her cup of tea at the child at her feet. She smiled, though, and the girl grinned back, a gap where one of her front teeth would be soon. “All right. Do you remember Kynda, the Queen of the Selkies? Have I told you of her sister, Amyra, the warrior princess?”
The child shook her head, her short braid sweeping her shoulders.
“Ah, well, Amyra didn’t stay in the Cove. She lit out on adventure with her skin tied around her shoulders.” Auntie paused to sip her tea. “She bested human soldiers, Fae warriors, and the Guardians of the merfolk rock halls, with nothing but a spear and her will.”
“Did she always wear her skin?” the girl asked, tilting her head.
Auntie’s eyes glistened. “No. Eventually, she trusted it to someone special to her, and her adventures in the world came to an end,” she said as the child climbed into her lap, atop the silvery seal fur she wore across her legs.
He poured the ink into the bottle careful not to spill a drop. In the black little bubbles that escaped the bottom, he saw little puffs of white as they popped, and he smiled. The ink contained purity. Life. Love. Experience. It contained everything it could be used to write, and everything an artist might draw.
It bore the limitless potential of imagination, and his heart was drowning in it.
Carefully, he corked the bottle and sealed it with blood red wax. He crossed his tiny room, ducking around the herbs and flowers dangling from his ceiling, and pushed open the shutter in his kitchen.
“Use it as the moon waxes full,” he said, “to cultivate all it has to offer.”
The hand emerged from the night, gnarled and yellowed, and plucked the bottle from the herbalist’s hand. “Perhaps I will write as the moon wanes, to test its capacity for darkness.”
The herbalist’s brow furrowed, but as he reached to take the bottle back, the yellowed hand disappeared in a puff of shadow, and the ink along with it.
Creeping vines coiled around the crumbling headstone, burrowing into the weatherworn cracks. Lilah’s knees were buried an inch in the mud, but still she sat, staring at her own name—or what little of it the rain hadn’t beaten away.
“I’ve been gone a year,” she said.
“You’ve been gone a lifetime,” a voice whispered back, whirling around her on the wind. “You cannot measure what you’ve learned with time, my love.”
A swell of sorrow rose in her chest. “But I can measure it in loss,” she replied. She could almost feel the vines coiling tighter.