[Story] Music

[[ When I was a kid, we had a cassette that really creeped me out, because of the music or the lyrics, I’m not sure which. I still don’t know anything about it, so that was kind of the seed for this story. ]]

Matt liked tagging along with his dad to the garage sales on the weekends. Most of the time, it was just boring clothes and stuff, but sometimes you could find really cool old things. Matt’s dad liked to look for old radios and things like that to fix up and re-sell, it was a hobby but it brought in a fair amount of extra money, too. Matt thought it was also fun to try to get things for cheaper, his dad said this was called “haggling”. Later in the day, when the sales were almost done, this was way easier, but all of the really cool stuff usually got sold early so you had to find a good balance between.

This sale looked like a pretty ordinary one. It was run by older people, which was good, because older people had older stuff. There were a couple of clothes racks hanging with shirts and jackets, and a table with books and some little glass and crystal decorations. They were all dusty and the kind you’d expect grandparents to have, little angels and birds sitting and flowers and stuff like that. Matt noticed a cardboard box with flaps sitting among the stacks of books, and went over to investigate it.

“Hey dad, look at this,” he called. 

Inside was a jumbled collection of plastic tapes, the kind with two holes that you had to put into a tape machine. Matt knew they had an old one at home in his dad’s workshop. 

“Cassettes,” Matt’s dad said. “Cool.”

They were all different colors, mostly off-white or beige but many black, a few other colors like yellow or blue, and several clear ones as well. Those were really cool because you could see the wheels inside holding the black tape that had the music on it. Matt didn’t recognize any of the names printed on them, but he was eager to listen to them all the same. “How much for the tapes?” he asked the old man at the table.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said, peering in to look at them. “I’d forgotten we had those. A dollar for the box?”

Matt smiled, and carefully took a rumpled bill out of his pocket. He handed it to the man, who put it inside the metal cash box. 

They drove to a few more sales, but it was getting late in the afternoon and all of the really good stuff was gone. On the drive home, Matt read the names on the tapes out loud, but his dad didn’t recognize any of them. “Seems like you have some really rare stuff there,” said his dad. 

He lent Matt the tape player to take up to his room. It was a big rectangle and you had to put the tape inside and snap the lid down. It also had to plug into a wall, so you couldn’t take it around with you. Matt thought kids had things a lot easier now when it came to music, being able to carry hundreds of songs around in your pocket. But the old stuff was cool in its own way, most kids at school weren’t interested in it, but Matt was. He thought maybe he’d fix old things when he got older, just like his dad did. 

Eventually he wanted to listen to all of them, but for now Matt just wanted to get an idea what was on each of the tapes. He got a notepad and wrote down each title, leaving a space underneath for notes. Most were ordinary music, Matt wasn’t sure really what kind, but he could look up the artists’ names later on Google. There were some that seemed to be talks or lectures, maybe about Jesus stuff. Boring. Near the bottom he found a tape with a bright yellow plastic casing. “The Meanies” was printed on, but Matt wasn’t sure if that was the group or the album name. Either way, it was pretty obviously a tape for kids.

The sound was kind of scratchy, like maybe the tape was old or damaged. It seemed like it faded in and out sometimes, as if it was getting farther away and then coming closer again. Each song was about a different “Meanie”, which Matt guessed were bullies or bad things, like having a cavity. He couldn’t say why, but the voices had an odd quality about them, and they made him feel uneasy. They’d repeat or echo parts, and it made a shiver go up his spine. He didn’t like it. Matt took the tape out and wrote “NO” on his notepad. 

He decided not to tell his dad about that one. It wasn’t dirty or anything like that, but even thinking about it made Matt feel anxious. He just wanted to forget about it. But after dinner, he was playing a game on his phone when he looked up at the TV. There was a commercial for “The Meanies”, with the same music. The Meanies were big puppets with shaggy colorful fur and crazy eyes, their mouths full of jagged teeth. Matt clicked off the TV and frowned. He’d never seen that commercial before, and he watched that channel all the time. 

On Monday, the bus drove past a billboard for The Meanies. When they were stopped at a light, Matt saw it, the Meanies’ eyes staring out at him. He could hear the song in his head, even though he didn’t want to. But even when he tried to push it out by singing another song, it persisted. On the way home from school, it was playing on the bus’s radio. 

Matt took the cassette out into the garage and got his dad’s hammer. He smashed the yellow plastic until it was all in little shards, and he gathered them up along with the reels of tape and threw them into the trash. The tape was gone, but the song wouldn’t leave his head.

[Story] Story a Week – Family

[[ This is the last Story a Week of 2017. The book that I got didn’t end up being very useful and I stopped using it pretty early on. Next year, I think I’m going to steal my friend’s idea and focus on one character a week. There will certainly be a story, maybe some art or screenshots, to go along with each. I am making a big push to work on sewing more next year as well, so I think I can do both realistically. I hope. I’m going to need to make up a list of 52 characters though! ]]

The little evergreen tree stood in the corner of the rangers’ common room, covered in hand-made paper ornaments. Rylad had done most of them, and been enthusiastic with the glitter — Sath’alor was still finding it in places he’d never imagined finding glitter. But a few of the rangers had got into the Winter Veil spirit, cutting shapes from colored paper and hanging them with ribbons on the tree. He’d had to move a couple that Julan made onto the side of the tree that faced the wall, luckily no little eyes would see them there. They’d also folded white paper and cut it to form snowflakes, unfolding seemingly like magic from the ordinary paper. These were hung along the walls, and in the windows. Winter Veil might be a strange dwarf holiday, but it did serve to make the cold winter nights just a bit brighter. Besides, giving gifts was fun — especially to the kids. The pile of gifts beneath the tree had gradually grown over the past couple of weeks. Maerista had gone into the city and bought scarves and ear cozies for every ranger, he couldn’t imagine how much that had cost. She’d also got those sweaters for everyone who hadn’t already received one, because she said she didn’t want anyone to get too cold on patrol. Even Orledin and the other undead got some, Sath’alor wasn’t certain they were even able to get cold, but hopefully they would at least appreciate the thought. Unfortunately there weren’t any for the newest rangers, but Maerista promised she’d go to the city soon and get sweaters for them, too.

He and Nessna had bought toys for the boys, as well as some things for the other ranger babies. They’d even found a little soft alligator for Sunashe’s son, and tied a bright green ribbon around its neck. For Nessna, he’d bought a heavy fur cloak, made from Northrend shoveltusk hide. It was thick and waterproof, and would surely keep her warm on her patrols. Sath’alor hoped she would like it, she cared much more for practical things than jewelry or fancy clothes, but he still wanted to get her something nice. It was just difficult because she already had most everything she could need.

Rylad helped pass out the gifts. He was small, so he was kind of like a dwarf. He’d have to work on the beard before he’d pass for Greatfather Winter though. He was able to read the names on the packages and happily took them over to the person. Orledin put out a plate of fresh cookies, warm from the oven. They were shaped like snowflakes and were frosted with blue and white sugar. He must have been making them all night, there were several plates of them. Everyone cheerfully ate cookies while they tore the paper off their gifts. Some he hadn’t seen before this evening, there were some gifts to the boys from some of the rangers, and Sunashe had got him a block of wax for his bow strings. Nessna had got another map for the sitting room, with the new routes added on, and the estates updated — many had been bought and rebuilt since the Ghostclaw had first been formed. Arancon got a leather-bound journal and a fancy pen, but the package wasn’t signed and no one could say who it was from. Must have been Greatfather Winter. Or Sunashe.

They all seemed to be in a festive mood, eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate as the cold wind howled outside in the forest. He was proud of all of them, how far they’d come, and eager to see where the future would take them. They were a family — a large and unusual one, but a family all the same.

[Story] Story a Week – Mother

It was difficult for Imralion to think of her as “Mother” — the closest thing he’d had was the Matron, and while she’d done her best, there were lots of other children who needed her attention too. But at least she’d never given them away, as their mother had. Admittedly, it was a little easier to understand her perspective after the situation with Lyorri, but Im still thought she should have tried harder to reach them. She could have come to find them, kept in touch or even just to see that they were all right. But she hadn’t — not until recently, and she and Lin had spent a lot of time together. Imralion only agreed to this outing for her sake, he’d promised to at least make an effort to get to know their mother. And, she’d said she would help pick out a gift for Aeramin, who was next to impossible to shop for.

She met him in the square after work, Imralion still wearing his blood knight armor. She embarrassed him by fussing over how handsome he looked right there in front of everyone. They were going to get things for Lin and the baby while they were there as well, and Sunashe and Aeramin. Imralion thought she seemed happy and excited to spend time with him, so he tried his best to feel the same way. But they still barely knew each other — he didn’t remember her at all, and he’d been just a small baby when she’d given them up to the Matron. What did his mother know about him? That he liked to sleep and burp? They ate at one of the little restaurants along the market, and Imralion got a bowl of spicy soup. She didn’t know that about him, either. How do you cover decades in such a short time? He told her about his blood knight training, how they’d gone to Shattrath and he’d met Aeramin there. She wanted to know more about Lyorri, why he hadn’t agreed to keep her and whether they could take her in now. At the time, he’d been hurt and angry and seeing her reminded him of that, but now he thought it would be okay. Of course, it was too late now, because Lyorri had her own family and was doing well with them. He couldn’t very well tell them he’d changed his mind and take her back. And he couldn’t ask Aeramin to adopt one, after he’d had to give his own away. It wouldn’t be fair. Though, he shrugged, maybe it would happen one day. He didn’t feel like he was ready to take care of a child, but maybe no one ever did. Lin had said she still had no idea what she was doing, but their son seemed to be happy and doing well. So long as it didn’t get trampled by Sunashe’s lizard, at least.

His mother had her own life in all the time she’d been away, as well. Imralion asked about her work with the Reliquary, she and her partner had discovered a great many relics and items from the past buried beneath the dirt. At first, she said, it had been a distraction from the pain of losing them, but it had grown into an interest all its own. She hoped to donate some of their finds to the museum in Silvermoon, where people could see them every day. Imralion had to admit that he found it interesting. Maybe he and Aeramin could go along on one of her expeditions one day, and she seemed delighted by the idea.

As much as he resisted, Imralion found himself enjoying the evening after all. Maybe it was the festive decorations and music played by enchanted instruments in the market. Or maybe time was beginning to wear the edges off his anger. She wasn’t perfect, any more than he was, and maybe she had made a mistake. But she was doing her best to correct it now — which was better than never. She pointed out a beautiful bookcase that would be perfect for Aeramin’s study room — it didn’t hurt that she had good taste, either.

[Story] Story a Week – Beer

[[ My prompt was beer but it ended up being more about food… now I’m hungry! ]]

Tsi Ku stared glumly into her bowl of noodles. Normally the sight would lift her spirits; the thick noodles swam in a bath of hot, steaming broth, decorated with chopped vegetables and a sprig of herbs. They had even added in an egg today since the day was so cold, soft-cooked in the hot broth, the yellow center still rich and runny. She dipped her spoon in to taste the broth, and it was perfect, salty and oily and hot, but it just wasn’t the same. Her friend Aranae, the elf, had been gone for a very long time. She’d told Tsi Ku that she was going to visit her brother’s school in the Ghostlands, the same one they had visited for a wedding some time ago. She’d expected her friend to be gone a week, perhaps two, but it had been far longer than that. So long that Tsi Ku thought that perhaps Aranae had decided to stay, surrounded by familiar faces and not pandaren ones. Many times, she’d told Tsi Ku how they didn’t understand her, how her mother shunned her in favor of her brother, how upset she’d been there. So it didn’t make sense that she’d stay so long. Tsi Ku had written a few letters, but she might have got the address wrong — the Ghostlands were very far away and perhaps they didn’t have anyone to carry mail there. Or maybe Aranae had simply been too busy to answer. She’d said that she planned to continue training there, though Tsi Ku was uncertain how well she’d do on her own, without the supervision of the masters. Or — and this was the possibility that had caused Tsi Ku to lose her normally considerable appetite — she just didn’t want to come back. Something had happened and she’d changed her mind and not told anyone. She could at least tell her if that was the case.

The innkeeper’s wife approached her table, her paws wringing worriedly. “Is there something wrong with the soup?” she asked, looking over Tsi Ku’s still full bowl. “I can get you something else–”

Tsi Ku forced a smile. “No, the soup is good. It’s just — a little hot still, that’s all.”

The older pandaren nodded, though Tsi Ku thought she seemed unconvinced. Sure enough, a few minutes later she emerged from the kitchen again, this time with a plate of hot steamed dumplings, and a mug of ale. “Here,” she said, setting them down on the table. “You look like you need these too.”

Tsi Ku took one of the dumplings, still steaming, and bit into it. The soft white dough surrounded a center of hearty mushrooms and chicken, and she had to admit that it was the perfect companion to her soup. She gave the beer a sniff to determine its general flavor — just about every little inn had their own unique recipe, and tasted of the local ingredients that they used. Some were more harsh and strong, others light and fruity, usually they fell somewhere in between. Tsi Ku was no brewing expert, but like most pandaren had sampled many different brews and could identify the main notes. It had a rice base, like most — but not all — pandaren ale, and a slightly sweet fruit — winter peach, Tsi Ku thought. It smelled delicious, and in spite of her worries she felt her appetite begin to return. The innkeeper’s wife looked on approvingly as she picked up her spoon again to eat her soup.

Difficult decisions were always easier on a full stomach. Tomorrow, Tsi Ku would make the trip up the mountain to the monastery and ask there if anyone had heard from Aranae. If she was safe and not in danger, surely she must have at least told them of her plans.

[Story] Story a Week

[[ Trying to figure out what my non-Outlander SWTOR characters are doing. Here’s what Zamarra is up to! ]]

“Master Zamarra, are we lost?” Araalo asked, her eyes wide as she looked around the dark forest. Dense vegetation crowded around on all sides, and thick vines hung from the canopy above, making their passage difficult.

“Shhh!” hissed Malo, from behind her. “We’re supposed to be quiet.”

The twi’lek Jedi closed her navigation device — it wasn’t doing them any good anyway. Worse, its signal could be detected by anyone close enough. Zamarra could only risk using it for short periods of time, and even that was more reckless than she wished to be. “It’s all right,” Zamarra reassured the frightened youngsters, huddled together behind her. “We’re not lost, we’re — on an adventure.”

She’d managed to find five of them, dusty and bleeding and terrified as they fled the ruins of their school, destroyed in moments by the Eternal Fleet. It hadn’t been the target — the Fleet had no specific targets, it simply destroyed everything in its path. But force-sensitive children were in danger from many sides, and though she had no children of her own, Zamarra immediately took them under her wing. She had been an instructor, for a few years now, and it helped that they recognized and trusted her. It was very unlikely she could have convinced them to follow her otherwise, even if the world around them was crumbling apart. Her own ship had fuel and supplies to get them out of immediate danger, but after that? Zamarra wasn’t sure. Anywhere populated was dangerous, and her ship would easily be tracked by official channels. They needed somewhere remote, but those places were usually empty for a reason. Zamarra wasn’t much of a pilot, but her ship’s navigation was sufficiently automated that she was able to pick a point and go toward it. From the small port planet, they bought passage to this one — with only the few supplies they’d brought along. They would need to make their own shelter and find food on their own, something Zamarra wasn’t skilled in, but the planet readings suggested that it would be habitable, at least.

The dense jungles provided shelter from the rain — which was nearly constant, but at least it was warm. It also provided cover from any possible overhead probes, and the warmth might obscure heat detection. There were a great many small creatures that glided, slithered, and scurried through the jungle as well. Zamarra was certain they could catch enough of these to survive until they could clear some ground for planting. Where there were prey, there were certainly predators, and though they had heard some strange noises from the jungle, Zamarra had not seen any yet. Fortunately, she had her saber to protect them if needed. The five students were among the youngest at the school, barely just beginning their training. They wouldn’t be able to survive on their own, and Zamarra worried about being able to keep them safe. Though they were frightened, tired, and wet, they hardly complained. They looked to her for guidance, and Zamarra knew she couldn’t let them down.

Hutaxo, the little zabrak boy, perked up. “I like adventure holovids. I saw one like this one time, they were in a big jungle and they had to eat bugs for food.”

“Yech,” said Thisiri, her nose crinkling up.

Giving them a task to do was helpful in keeping them distracted from the danger at hand. “Can you remember anything else from the holovid?” Zamarra asked. “Like how to make a shelter?” Hutaxo nodded eagerly. “Stay where I can see you, and shout if you need help. Take Malo with you.” The two boys ran off to collect sticks and vines for their shelter. If they were away longer than a few minutes, she would go looking for them. Zamarra still feared the unknown dangers of the jungle, especially the predators. There could also be inhabitants here that she hadn’t yet noticed — though there were no ruins or towns that they’d come across, it was doubtful that the entire planet was empty.

“Let’s clear some of this ground so we can make a fire,” Zamarra said. The trees had formed a small natural clearing here, and the ground was relatively flat but tanged with vines and vegetation. It seemed a good enough place as any for a temporary camp, until she could scout the area more fully. The girls set to work, tugging the vines and roots free of the soil, piling the debris off to one side. It was difficult to tell, but Zamarra thought they seemed excited by the task. From their perspective, maybe it really was an exciting adventure. After all, they’d probably never camped in a jungle before. She couldn’t let her own fears overtake her mind, cloud her judgment or her resolve. Tonight she would take time to meditate and center herself, it had been far too long and she could feel the turmoil in her heart.

Part of that was worry about the others she knew. Was Malavar, her brother, safe? The Fleet had not spared the Empire its attacks, either. The last time they’d spoken over holo, he’d been researching some ancient artifacts on Voss. That was one of the places that the Eternal Empire had attacked — there were few planets that weren’t in its crosshairs. Zamarra believed that she would have sensed if something happened to him, but it was impossible to know for certain. They had a bond, but it was not as strong as it could have been. They’d spent so many years apart, only reuniting recently, and then they could communicate only with great caution. Though he had no loyalty to the Empire, the Republic still would consider it treasonous for Zamarra to contact him. They’d been using a hijacked signal, provided by Kif. She didn’t want to admit it, but she worried about him too. The routes between the planets were no more safe, with the Eternal Fleet patrolling there. She considered trying to locate him, but no doubt he had gone to ground as well — and he was much more skilled at it than she was. For now, the young Jedi were her focus.

[Story] Story a Week

[[ Story a Week is back, since NaNo is done (for the time being). I have some more novel ideas, but I’m taking a break from long stuff for the rest of the month to get some sewing projects done. Uhh I guess it’s sort of a Thanksgiving story, but not really? ]]

Sath’alor finished buckling the harness straps on the hawkstriders and gave them one last check-over. The last thing he needed was one of them getting loose and having to chase it down through the woods. Though they had a barn, he hadn’t yet bought any hawkstriders for the rangers yet — they patrolled on foot, and frankly he didn’t know enough about hawkstrider care to be able to look after them himself. That meant hiring a stablemaster, and with everything else going on, it just hadn’t happened yet. But certain of the rangers — Sunashe for one — might appreciate being able to ride from time to time. One strider per ranger would be far too expensive, and their barn wasn’t that large. Maybe a few pairs that could rotate through the day. It was something he’d have to consider once he made up the yearly budget — that job was coming up soon, and he dreaded it every year. For today, he’d just rented the hawkstriders from the stable in town. Thankfully, the stablemaster also had a wagon for use. He’d asked one of the mages from the school for help getting a portal to town, but the rest of the trip had to be made over the roads. Though all of the mages probably could open portals directly to the ranger building, he thought it would be safer this way.

He picked up the edge of the canvas covering and peeked underneath. It was important that all of the ropes were firmly tied in place before they started moving. Any jolts or bumps might damage his cargo, and Rylad’s grandfather had spent a long time getting it just right. Satisfied that it was secure, Sath’alor climbed into the seat of the wagon and guided the hawkstriders down the main road. Originally, he’d planned the surprise for the winter holiday, but he felt this way they might get some use out of it before the weather got too cold. It also had to do with his conversation with Salenicus the other night. Sath’alor hardly considered himself an expert when it came to dealing with women, but things had worked out with Nessna, so he had to be doing something right. There was a girl at the school Salenicus had his eye on, but he wasn’t certain if she was interested. He also got the idea that Salenicus wasn’t being clear enough in his intent. If you’re too subtle, he told Salenicus, some other guy might move in while you’re waiting for her to notice. Admittedly, he wasn’t sure that an undead girl had many other suitors, but one could never be sure. She was a mage, so she might have some rich arranged marriage, or maybe someone she’d known from Dalaran. The point, Sath’alor told him, was that you should make your feelings known. If they weren’t returned, at least he’d know and wouldn’t waste any more time. He suggested finding things that she was interested in, and getting her a gift related to that. Or flowers, or writing a poem. Sath’alor couldn’t write poems either, but something from the heart was good enough. It reminded him how he’d first got to know Nessna better, how he was worried she’d think he was a creep or something. Frankly, he still couldn’t believe she was interested even after they’d been together this long. He was grateful that she was, their family was more than he’d ever hoped for, and he wanted to make sure that she knew how much she meant to him.

Vessen’s father had agreed to the project, and seemed especially pleased when Sath’alor wanted to include Vessen’s name as well. It was a heavy wooden bench, elaborately carved with different scenes on the surfaces. The back featured a family of lynxes running through the forest, a male and female and their cubs. Other sides depicted a ranger drawing a bow, a dragon flying through the clouds, and other things. All were bordered by a tangled vine with carved wooden leaves and flowers, and sealed with oil so it could be left outside in the weather. Their names were hidden in the designs in various places, and Sath’alor had asked that Vessen’s be included because he was part of their family too. He knew the perfect spot for it — behind their house, on the bank of a little stream and facing the forest. Sath’alor had bought some heavy metal spikes to help anchor the bench to the ground in case it got windy. He hammered these into place and then hurried to return the hawkstriders and wagon to town. If he hurried, he’d be back before Nessna returned from her patrol, and could bring her out back to see it.

[Story] Story a Week

[[ I took a prompt from the Fictober list: Under the sun and the moon.

This will probably be my last Story a Week until December, I won’t say never — I may have no trouble hitting my NaNo daily goals and have time for extra, but I’m not expecting that. I feel pretty solid in my planning and I’m set to go in five days! ]]

Under the sun and the moon, at the height of the eclipse, Tamazi stood at the center of the temple. As the light began to return, creeping around the moon’s shadow, the hushed reverence of the temple gave way to excited whispers.

“What are they saying?” asked Tamazi. “I can’t understand.”

Harvian’s keen ears turned and perked forward. “They say you’ve been chosen,” he whispered, as one of the temple attendants approached. They had different robes than all the others; sections of black in addition to the white. Tamazi guessed that this was the chieftain.

Chosen? The word rattled in Tamazi’s mind. Chosen for what? She wanted away from these strange creatures, the sooner the better.

The temple chieftain knelt before Tamazi, head bowed. She could have struck, snapped the neck and fled from the temple before any could react, but she did not. She felt her paws rooted within the temple’s stone floor, whether by fear or magic she could not be certain. The chieftain spoke again, and a murmur of assent rippled through the temple attendants.

“Oh,” said Harvian. “You’re the prophet of Miraluna, that’s what she said.”

“I don’t even know what that is,” hissed Tamazi. “How can I–”

The temple leader rose again, this time his gaze focused on Harvian. Tamazi watched her closely.

“You are M’haar?”  asked the temple leader.

“What?” Harvian blinked. “Oh, no. No, we’re — traveling together.”

This answer seemed to satisfy the temple leader, and she returned to the company of the others. The discussion among them rose again, eager and electric. The temple leader nodded, and two of the attendants hurried through one of the archways, returning a short time later with a robe that looked to be woven of silver and moonlight. The edge was trimmed with soft white fur, from what sort of animal, Tamazi could not be certain.

As she stood still within the center of the temple, the two temple attendants placed the cloak over Tamazi’s shoulders. It was warm, and heavy, but she didn’t feel any different. “What happens now?” she asked Harvian.

He shook his head wordlessly. He didn’t know either. But the attendants led her to an elevated place and bid her rest there. They placed pillows on the stone to make it more comfortable, and brought out bowls of clear, cold water and fruits and nuts. They did not protest when Harvian took one of the fruits from the bowl and bit into it. “Maybe it’s not so bad,” he pointed out. “Being a prophet.”

Tamazi still felt uneasy. There was something very strange about all of it, this place, these people, and how was she to be a prophet for someone she didn’t even know? She remembered that Harvian had told her of the dragons, that those outside the plains revered them. Miraluna was said to rule the night skies, but Tamazi knew that was not true — that was the Huntress’s domain. Unless, she supposed, they were different names for the same thing. But the Huntress was no dragon, she was flesh and blood and whiskers and claws just as she was. It wasn’t possible to mistake one for the other.

As she watched, the temple buzzed with activity. Banners and flags were hung from the high walls, the floors swept and polished, and attendants left and returned frequently. Harvian explained that they were preparing for something, but he was uncertain of what. He’d asked the temple leader, but the answer hadn’t made very much sense to her. She would just have to wait to see what the future held, but patience had never come easily to her.

[Story] Story a Week – Imp

Xanaroth held his breath as the portal opened, fel-green smoke swirling through the room. Though Elara was safely upstairs, there was always still that moment of danger before whatever it was stepped through the portal. Felarius wasn’t powerful enough to open large portals, but that wouldn’t stop something that was really determined to get through. Most demons, though, preferred to stay in their own realm. Imps were generally a bit easier to coax over — and they never seemed to guess ahead of time what lay ahead of them.

Felarius, his summoning student, shook faintly with the effort of maintaining the spell, his eyes fixed on the demonic portal. He had made great progress in the past few months, and Xanaroth felt he was ready to work with his first demon. Of course, that meant he had to summon it first. For a few long seconds, he believed nothing would happen. Though the portal had opened, perhaps there was something wrong; a rune slightly smudged or the angle just slightly wrong. But Felarius’s rune drawings had been immaculate. He’d copied them over and over in his books and was meticulous about his work — more so than Xanaroth himself had been at that age. The Twisting Nether teemed with demons, especially the little imps, which traveled in swarms for protection from their larger cousins. Was it possible that they were all in another spot?

A tiny hand appeared from the portal, followed by a wobbly oversized head. The imp stepped warily out of the portal and into the rune that Felarius had drawn on the workroom floor.

“Now,” Xanaroth said, and Felarius let the spell drop, the portal collapsing in on itself with an audible fizzle.

The imp, now alarmed, attempted to flee, but the magic circle held it in place. As it realized this, its panic grew and it began to shriek, flinging itself against the magical barrier.

Felarius frowned faintly. “Is it supposed to do that?” he whispered to Xanaroth.

The older summoner nodded. It wasn’t unusual at all for demons to resist binding. Once it accepted its fate, however, it would be easier to work with. And for imps, the protection of a warlock was preferable than being eaten by a larger demon. “Ask for its name,” Xanaroth reminded Felarius quietly.

“Imp,” Felarius announced. “You will give me your name.”

The imp cowered at the edge of the rune, its little clawed hands over its large ears. It wouldn’t matter; the rune that Felarius had drawn compelled it to obey. “D-dagtuk!” it screeched. Xanaroth hoped it wasn’t going to scream like that all of the time. It hurt his ears, and it would likely wake Elara.

He had also had Felarius practice the binding spell repeatedly. Any error there could cause the binding to weaken over time, putting the summoner at risk. As Felarius recited the binding spell, shadowy shackles formed around the imp’s wrists and ankles. “Dagtuk, I bind you to my bidding,” he said, and the imp whimpered quietly, but seemed to have calmed down, at least.

Xanaroth walked the perimeter of the rune, checking for any errors and inspecting the imp’s bindings. He was well aware that any mistake he overlooked would put his student in danger, so he took his time to see that everything was done correctly. Felarius watched him anxiously. At last he nodded. “Break it,” he instructed Felarius. With his boot, he smudged away one of the runes of the binding circle on the floor. Dagtuk crept warily to the spot and stuck his arm out tentatively. When nothing happened, the imp crawled slowly out of the circle to crouch at Felarius’s feet. For the first time, his student allowed himself a smile. “It worked,” he said, sounding a little amazed. “Can I pick it up?”

“Of course,” said Xanaroth. “Don’t lose it. Or if you do, you remember the recall spell?”

“I won’t,” Felarius said, touching the imp’s head gingerly. “And I do.”

As Xanaroth had expected, the imp calmed down once it realized that it wasn’t in immediate danger. It would still be curious about its new surroundings, and cause trouble if not supervised, but in time it might even grow fond of its master. Once it got a taste of proper food, it would never want to leave.

[Story] Story a Week – Extinct

[[ I’ve actually been considering a Nano about smilodons and other pre-historic mammals for a while, so when I saw this week’s word I knew just what I wanted to write about! ]]

White Flash paused to watch her cubs as they travelled across the rock beds. They were playing, as cubs often do, blissfully unaware of the severity of their journey. The nights were getting cold, even in the safety of their den. Winter with its chilling winds and scarcity of food would be upon them shortly, and the cubs were still too thin for their mother’s liking. When very young she had lost entire litters to the perils of winter, and did not wish to repeat her mistake again. But the summer and autumn had been lean, and hunting not as good. What little they had found were ground prey, mainly the fat little rodents that burrowed beneath the grasses. Cubs needed proper meat to get fat and healthy. White Flash worried that they may be her last; while life on the plains was dangerous enough that death might come at any moment, she had lived a long time. She was uncertain if she would raise more cubs, or even if she wished to. She felt so tired of late, down within her bones, and it only seemed to persist as time went on.

“Come, cubs,” she called to them, lifting her head for a better look. They had found something — alive perhaps? That was doubtful. The rock beds were only the path to their destination, few plants grew here and fewer animals. It could be a snake, they had not yet burrowed beneath the ground for the winter. Three of this litter had survived thus far: Smoke, the darker male, and his brother Echo, who followed him everywhere. The female was Dusty, her tawny hide speckled with spots. White Flash had the most hope for that one — bold and brave, already she showed skill at hunting insects or small rodents. It was she who had discovered something among the shattered rocks.

“Dusty found a bone,” announced Smoke.

White Flash blinked in disbelief. A bone, here? It could have been left by some long-ago hunter, or perhaps a bird had dropped it, trying to crack it open on the sharp stones. She approached the cubs curiously, lowering her muzzle to sniff at it. Sure enough, it was a bone, but embedded deep within the ground. There was no way it had been left here, at least not in recent times. It had no scent, and any marrow that might have been within was long gone. And it was big, larger than any that White Flash had seen. The mammoths that moved in great herds across the plains were big, but she was certain this bone was too large even for them. It was not from a sloth, nor a wolf. She frowned thoughtfully.

Dusty gnawed at the rounded end, where it had once joined to another bone in the animal’s skeleton. Though her small teeth made no marks upon its surface, she did not appear ready to give up just yet. “What is it, mama?” asked Echo, sitting on his haunches beside Smoke.

“I- I’m not certain,” White Flash said. She walked the length of it, studying its shape. Still nothing came to mind.

“Is it a monster?” Dusty asked, breathless.

Smoke scoffed. “There’s no such thing as monsters.”

“Then what is it!” Dusty demanded. “Even mama doesn’t know!”

White Flash turned her ears uncertainly, listening for anything strange in the area — footsteps or the clatter of stones. She heard nothing, nor smelled anything. There was a mark left by a male passing through — Three Toe — but it was long faded. If there was some monster here, it left no trace. Still, something about the bone made her feel uneasy — both the uncertainty and the reminder of mortality — her own, and her cubs’. This was not some prey animal, destined to fall beneath their fangs. No, something this large had to have been the undisputed predator of this realm, facing any threat unafraid. To it, they would be merely pests to be swatted aside.

“Leave it,” White Flash said quietly. “Let it rest in peace.”

Dusty cast the bone a last curious glance, but did as her mother asked, falling into line behind her as they made their way across the rock beds. Beyond lay a valley, and with it, White Fang hoped, the prospect of a good hunt.

[Story] Story a Week – Snail

Terellion and Malwen gathered burlap bags of fallen leaves and dead twigs, bundling and tying them up to be burned later. The grounds and gardens needed to be cleared of debris before the masked ball, and it also made for less work next spring — otherwise all of that old vegetation would rot beneath the winter snows. Terellion clipped the errand branches of the hedge maze with his clippers, and Malwen followed behind gathering up the sticks. She’d finished her schoolwork for the day and eagerly ran outside to help with “outside stuff”. She had a pair of overalls and her own little work boots so she wouldn’t get any of her dresses muddy. He thought before long, she might be able to help in the greenhouse with some of the older students, she would probably learn a lot about plants.

They finished trimming the hedge maze, removing the dead flowers from around the fountain, and put all of the fallen leaves into bags. No doubt there would be more soon, but it looked tidy for the time being. Terellion checked the greenhouse for leaks or breaks in the glass, and then it was time to clean out the garden. This late in the season, there were no edible vegetables or herbs left, they had all either flowered to seed or withered in the late summer heat. The only thing still growing was the row of plump orange pumpkins, which would soon be carved and cut up for pies. He started at one end and set Malwen at the other, pulling up the droopy greens and half-eaten roots. It was a little sad to see the garden end, but they would re-plant it again in the spring, and the vegetables would grow anew. They might even need to expand, given how many staff and students were living here now — not to mention those that brought food home. He knew some of them did that, Aeramin for one, sometimes others as well. Tik encouraged the growing of fresh produce here at the school, not only did it cost less, but they were fresher as well. Terellion left the little wooden markers in place, though he had a chart drawn inside showing where to put everything. They might need something different, or more space for one crop.

“Ann’da!” Malwen cried, crouched over a leaf. “What is this? Is it a snail?”

Terellion put down his rake and went over to look.

“That’s a snail, all right. He’s eating the leaves, see the little holes where he’s already been?” Malwen nodded. “We should probably move him off, since there won’t be any food here soon.”

She stared at him. “So he’s just going to starve to death?”

“Well, he’s a wild animal. He has to find his own food.”

Malwen frowned thoughtfully. “What does he eat in the winter then?”

Terellion shook his head. “I don’t know.”

The little girl dropped her little shovel and ran out to the greenhouse, emerging a short time later with a glass jar and lid. She plucked a few of the leaves from the plant and put them into the jar. Then, carefully, she picked the snail up by its shell and set it inside as well.

Hethurin wouldn’t like a snail inside at all, but he knew better than to try to argue with Malwen when her mind was made up. “He’ll need some holes in the lid, so he can breathe. Let’s go do that, we need a hammer and nail.”

At dinner, Malwen set the jar with the snail on the table, until Terellion encouraged her to set it beneath her chair. If Hethurin didn’t have a fit about it, Tik surely would. From time to time, Malwen would pick up the jar and drop a piece of vegetable into it. He wasn’t sure that snails would eat cooked vegetables, but admittedly he didn’t know much about snails. Later that evening, she marched into Hethurin’s library and demanded a book. About snails. He didn’t have one specifically, but he lent her a book on the native wildlife of the region, and that seemed to satisfy her request.

The next afternoon, they were tying up the bushes to prepare them for wintering. They would be covered with a layer of burlap to help insulate them from the cold and snow. “How is your snail?” Terellion asked.


“Does he have a name yet?” Malwen named every single one of her dolls, her soft animals, and sometimes even furniture. Surely the snail would have earned one.

“She,” Malwen corrected him. “Her name is Shelley.”

“Oh? It’s a lady snail?”

Malwen nodded. “She has eggs, that’s how I know.” She held up the jar for him to see, and sure enough, there were dozens of perfectly round, translucent eggs hidden beneath one of the leaves. How was he going to explain a baby snail invasion?