Monthly Archives: January 2018

My Honey by Brandon Scott

“You’re not doing honey, are you?”

Gee’s gaze snapped up from the jar of honey she had on the counter, her finger still deep into the sticky substance. She briefly checked to see if her wife was within visible range, and when it turned out she wasn’t, Gee cast off the words, “No, not at all,” down the hallway.

“Good, because I was going to use that for something else. I know you wanted to try that new skin thing, but you’ll like the special diet cookies I’m going to make much more.”

Gee rolled her eyes as she much doubted that. Diet meant disgusting as far as she was concerned.

“Yeah, no worries.”

With a slurping noise, she dragged out a glob from the jar and held it pooled in her hand. The sticky gunk leaked down the side of her hand in little rivets, getting all over the counter as well.

“So, what do you want to do for dinner?” came her wife’s voice again, and this time closer, moving down the hallway. Gee’s eyes darted toward the bathroom, and she sprinted into it, closing the door and locking it with her un-honeyed hand—though still leaving some sticky residue on the floor both inside and outside the door.

“No idea,” Gee said and waited for the sound she dreaded.

It took a minute, with a nice preamble of silence, but came all the same.

“What’s up? Are you okay—” A quick suck in of breath, and a pin could drop and make a sound, and then: “Gee! Goddamn it! You little liar!”

Gee backed up as hands slammed on the door a few times.

“Come on, you promised!”

Gee’s breath came out slow for a moment, before she calmed down—the mundanity of this fight making it seem almost silly to find it a concern. With another pound on the door acting as a starting pistol to her, she moved the honey over her face, especially in the bags under her eyes.

“Are you hearing me?” came the slightly annoyed voice. Her wife too was sensible and would not make too much of a fuss about this, not really—beyond some glimmer of annoyance.

“Yes, yes, I am—and don’t get so mad. I’m doing this for you. You’re the one who gets to enjoy all the soft skin on my face.”

“Is that so?” came a voice with a slight flirtatious edge, but lost it within a syllable of the next sentence. “Still, you promised me. And how am I going to make those cookies now if you keep using up all my random food stuff as beauty products?”

“White sugar?” Gee said. “It’s not like I can spread that over my face.”

“I’m trying to lose weight,” she said, the sound now making it clear she was sitting against the other side of the door.

“Then you should not have cookies anyway,” Gee said and spread the honey over her neck, dabbing it into the small indents between shoulder bone and neck, around the collar. It felt cold there.

“I guess.” A slight scratching of nails against the door. “So… what should we do for dinner?”

Gee opened the door, and her wife stood up with a little glimmer of annoyance still in her eyes, but it melted when a chuckle escaped her throat.

“What?” Gee said, smiling at her.

“You look all glossy. What was that supposed to help with?”

“Pores…or something—they said it was a miracle cure.”

Her wife giggled into her hand and then continued to do so for another minute with a much stronger force to it. A few tears came to her eyes from her laughter.

“Okay, okay—so it’s a little silly, but mark my words: it will pay off.”

“Sure…sure it will.” Her wife composed herself and smirked at her. “So, what do you want to do for dinner now? If you’re not full up on honey.”

Funny,” Gee said, and touched the edge of her face, leaving a faint trail of sticky gold going to her finger. “I think we are going to have to get someone to bring us something—takeout I guess.”

“Don’t feel like going out with honey, honey?” her wife quipped and shook her head, still smiling.

“No, it would be unbecoming for two girls to go out on the town covered in honey.”

Her wife took a second to get that one, and only pulled back once a sticky hand touched her face, and left a little layer of sugar on it.

“Dammit…that will take forever to get out. I’ll have to scrub.”

“Well, I think you’re glowing—but if you must scrub it all off, then I think it will take about the time it would take to get a pizza,” Gee said, maneuvering passed her, going back to the kitchen, and checking a takeout menu.

“I’m on a diet, remember?” her wife said, walking in after her.

“Well, consider the lost cookies: now you have one cheat open,” Gee said, and dialed the number.

“You’re evil,” her wife said.

The dial tone still rang, so Gee shot in: “Yeah, but you love me so much.”

Her wife wrapped her arms around her, giving a hug from behind, and gave a squeeze, before just leaning somewhat on her, and listening to the dial tone go along.

“Yeah, I really do, crazy girl.”

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The Party by Dalia Lance

To Jen, my forever side-kick. The world would be less adventurous without you in it.

“I need tassels, lots of body glitter, and pictures, or I won’t believe it,” she exclaimed.

“Are you drunk?” Sally asked her as she peered over the mound of books and magazines in front of her friend.

“What?” Amber said, flipping to a page that had three tabs stuck to it.

“Drunk. Are you drunk?” Sally repeated, taking a sip of her hot chocolate.

“No… Wait… Why?” Amber was talking faster than normal which made Sally wonder if she had way too much sugar and caffeine, which was entirely possible since they were on their third or fourth “holiday drink” that Starbucks was offering.

“Well,” Sally tried to make eye contact, “you just described what would be an amazing start to a bachelorette party or an orgy.”

Amber’s brow furrowed. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

Sally couldn’t help but think how scary this actually was. “You know we are planning a baby shower, right?”

“What?” Amber looked very confused. This was bad.

“We are planning a BABY shower for Michelle. She is having twins… So…” Sally watched a look of horror cross Amber’s face.

“Are you OK?” Sally asked .

“I… Umm… I…” Amber leaned back, looking around her. “I… what day is it?”

“Thursday,” Sally said.

“Which Thursday?” Amber asked with a little tremor in her voice.

“The ninth,” Sally put down her coffee.

“Of?” Amber’s voice was barely a whisper.

“December,” Sally paused, “of 2017 before you ask. Are you ok?”

Amber sat for a moment, closed her eyes, and took several breaths.

When she opened her eyes again, she smiled. “Do you think we should have purple balloons? They are gender neutral, right?”

Sally rubbed her lips together before responding, “Sure?” She didn’t mean for it to come out as a question; however, since she was afraid to ask ‘WTF just happened?‘ she would settle for ‘Sure?’

 

 

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Lucky Substitutions by Nicole DragonBeck

For Erika

I don’t think lizard eye is a vital ingredient in a love potion.

“It’s what it says!” Mayva protested, pointing at the old page with one hand, the other hovering over her cauldron, posed to drop an eye of Newt into the seething potion.

Well, I think it sounds fishy. You should read it again.

Mayva sighed and looked at the recipe again. “It says lizard,” she confirmed. “Hang on-” she leaned closer. “It looks like the first letter is rubbed out. Maybe blizard?

Blizard eye? You do know that word is spelled with two z’s, right?

“Hey!” Mayva barked. “If you wanted to come down here and do this, be my guest. Oh, wait, you don’t have a body. So if you have something valuable to contribute, by all means, speak up. If not, shut up!”

An ominous silence greeted her tirade. She waited for George to say something, but the silence just stretched on.

“I’m sorry,” Mayva said at last. “That was low.”

It’s fine.

The curt reply wasn’t reassuring, but at least it was something.

“Okay,” Mayva said, infusing her voice with enthusiasm she didn’t feel. “Let figure out this thing, so we can get paid, and then move on.”

Wizard.

“What?”

It says wizard eye. It’s just half of the first letter that’s missing.

Mayva looked again and saw George was indeed right. Her disembodied friend had his uses. She searched through the witch’s cupboards.

“There’s no wizard eye in here,” Mayva said.

Don’t you dare start think about substitutions now.

“If I don’t get the duchess her love potion, we’ll be eating potato eyes and carrot peelings while sleeping in a doorway.”

Well, you’ll be eating peelings and sleeping in the doorway. I’ll be as comfortable or uncomfortable as I ever was.

“Thanks for the support,” Mayva muttered, already flipping to the back of the grimoire for the substitutions. “Okay, one wizard eye is equivalent to three drops of blue moonlight, the kiss of a dragon, two-sevenths of a thimbleful of ashes of a baptized witched burned on a cedarwood fire.”

Sounds like it might be simple to go find a wizard and dig out his eye with a spoon. You don’t think this hedge witch has those kinds of things here, do you?

“Actually she does,” Mayva said, holding up the moonlight and dragon’s kiss with a triumphant expression.

And the ashes?

“That’s what this is for,” Mayva said, flipping through the charts of substitutions.

She had to go back and forth quite a bit because the only listing for ashes of baptized witch was burned over a fire of oak and ironwood, so she found a substitute for cedarwood and fire, which included several more substitutions for rare ingredients like second-sight of a blind babe and shame of a broken warrior. After some fancy footwork, Mayva was left with a table of half-empty bottles and pouches and a steaming cauldron of thick, pink potion.

“Well, at least it looks like it’s supposed to,” Mayva said.

Haven’t you ever heard looks can be deceiving?

“Enough with the pessimism,” Mayva said. “We’re almost done.”

She filled a stopper with the potion and turned. She stepped on something underfoot and windmilled as she tried to steady her balance. She steadied herself on the table and managed to keep her feet, though the table wasn’t so fortunate. The ingredients and the cauldron slid to the floor with a great crash, and the essences and powders and the love potion spewed everywhere.

Mayva blinked and looked at the mess she’d made of the witch’s cottage.

“So much for getting out of here unnoticed.”

Mayva screamed in shock and spun to find someone standing next to her. “Who’re you?” she asked.

“You might not recognize the face, but don’t you know the voice?” the young man asked.

“George?” Mayva said, an incredulous expression on her face. “How…what happened?”

George shrugged his very solid shoulders. “I don’t know, but if I had to guess I’d say it had something to do with those substitutions you made.”

Mayva looked down at the vial of pink liquid she had in her hand. “So this is not a love potion then?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Then what is it?”

George touched his face, his nose and lips, and his arm, then shook his head. “Something much more powerful.”

 

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Bad Decisions by Erika Lance

To my friend and dragon tamer ,Nicole DragonBeck

“ At 10:43 PM, exactly one hour and fifty two minutes before they came for him, Henry Bently changed his mind and decided he wasn’t ready to die.”

Henry Bently had decided he was going to make a difference in the world. He had spent most of his life being in the background of all activities. He was always kind and courteous. He smiled at people as he walked passed and held open doors for others. He was completely forgettable.

His job was easily forgettable as well. He filed documents at the city planner’s office. Although Henry was incredibly good at his job, very few people realized the ease they experienced in finding the required information they were looking for regarding projects and inspections was attributed solely to Henry.

It was late on a Friday when he first saw the plans. At first, it looked like a simple zoo, if you could say there was something as simple as a zoo.

The name of this animal preserve was to be called Up Close Animal Adventures. The park would even feature rides and other attractions. It seems you need to have roller-coasters of some kind to really ensure people show up. Animals, no matter how exotic, no longer had the drawing power they once did.

As he read through the plans, he found something a bit odd. Within the request were plans for a series of underground buildings. As he pored over the plans, he found it was to be a network of medical spaces. It was designed like a hospital and at first glance and to a normal clerk it would appear to be for the animals. However, that was not the case.

Although the plans had already been approved, Henry knew that the clerk had not looked deep enough into them or had been bribed into simply putting his stamp on the approved line. Henry would never take a bribe, but knowing what the city actually paid its employees and how terrible the benefits were, he understood why someone would take a bribe and not feel guilty.

Henry decided to do a little more digging into the corporation that was building the epic attraction. He spent most of the weekend following stories on the web. From those that were from legitimate reporting agencies to the conspiracy theory blogs, the paths all lead to the same place.

The new “Adventure” that was being built was also going to be used to do medical testing for military uses. Not only for animals, but on humans. It read like something out of the Island of Dr. Moreau or some terrible movie from the 90’s.  It seemed that they were further along than most suspected in their efforts.

On Monday, Henry found he couldn’t concentrate. He kept being drawn back to what was going to happen when this facility was built. He finally took the issue to his supervisor. After a few minutes of speaking with her and then the department head, Henry realized that everyone was on the payroll so to speak.

He then decided there was something he could do.

If enough destruction occurred at the right time during the build, they would not easily recover. Plus, during the investigation, the right information at the right time would bring this all to light.

Although the “Park” would be insured, Henry was convinced that the underground facilities would not.

So over the next several months, Henry formed a plan.

Upon the final inspection, before the animals were brought in, Henry made sure he was the inspector. He would have access to every area of the facility. He knew he would have only one shot at this.

He had been surprised how easy it had been to acquire the C4 he needed. He knew how much he needed for each room and created small balls that he could drop or place as he went.

He had set the timer for 11:00PM. This meant the least amount of people would be at the site. He had walked the entire length of the underground facility with determination, stopping in every area and dropping his packages. When he had signed off and handed the approval on the permit to the site General Manager, he did it with a smile.

Although the authorities would wonder what had happened, perhaps a gas leak, Henry knew that the owners of the facility would find him, even if he ran. He knew he wasn’t trained to hide out.

He looked out the windshield of his car that he parked far enough from the site to be able to see it happen but not be injured and hoped he, Henry Bently, had made a difference this night and then he heard the first explosion.

 

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Physics Bent by Brandon Scott

For Paul, one of the prolific ones.

“What do you call a convergence of singularities?” That was what he asked them.

And they, all of them, did not know how to answer the question. It was an odd way to start the convention, all things considered.

One goddess raised her hand, one hand of about five. She had golden skin and about ten eyes dotting her huge forehead, though the exact number changed often and randomly.

“Yes, SAHIFT, what is it?” he asked, leveling out one of his only two fingers. His name was Rock-Oft, and as deities looked, he was short and unassuming. His three-piece suit was adorned by a neon green bow tie that was almost disgustingly bright.

“Are we debating on the word? Are we trying to make new words?” she asked.

Kellin, goddess of language, frowned at that thought. If they were, she should be the one at the front of the podium on the stage. That was her shtick, after all.

“No, no,” Rock replied, “it was just an opening thought. When was the last time all of us were in the same place, at the same time?”

The God of History—a tired-looking dwarven man with blue skin—roused from his half-sleep and pulled out his book. All heads swiveled to him as he took out a leather tome that had infinite pages between its meager, dented covers. He flipped through until he came upon the correct passage.

“It has been eight million years, in fact,” he said.

“Thank you,” Rock said, sounding a tad exasperated.

The God of History nodded, and then dropped down back into his seat and went back to sleep. Phernmo, the god of sleep, peered over the back of the chair, clicking his jet-black pincers and swirling his eyes in bliss.

“Yes, okay. So, it’s been awhile. And, now, since we are all here, I wanted to go over something a tad pressing.”

Rock moved his arms behind him, and without a person to do the task, a thick black curtain rose and swept itself off to the side of the stage. Dust moved around in little swirls, making the ground appear to have a slight motion to it.

Behind that was a massive, truly huge, blackboard with lines and an arrow on it going straight up toward the sky. The arrow did not stay within the confines of the board and went into the air with nothing holding it.

“So, here’s the problem,” Rock said and clapped his hands together. “The population has gotten out of control here. We tried the obvious trick, scatter them across the multiverse, but damn if they do not reproduce like mad.”

A pink and fuzzy creature, with no obvious eyes or mouth, but able to emit faint bubbles and produce wavelengths that could be understood as speech, nervously floated off her seat and hid in the rows as best she could. This did not stop a few eyes from glaring at her.

“Now, now, don’t just blame Amor. This is not her fault only. Dusk and Terror, you too are just as guilty of this as anyone else is.”

Fraternal twins, Dusk and Terror, both, as one, crossed their arms over their chests. As if rolled down a slight incline in the floor, they met in slow motion.

Finally, as if this was their opening argument, Terror cleared her throat. “It’s illogical.”

“To blame you?” Rock said. “Hardly. You oversee death and desecration, terror and malice, do you not?”

“Yes,” Dusk said, lifting his hand and leaking a poisonous gas from his nails and pores. He was the taller of the two, always wearing a skin-tight robe with drawn-on bones. “But we are doing our jobs just fine. Jun is the issue.”

Jun broke his hands apart from their prayer-like position and stepped down from the air. At his back, only then appearing there, was a pair of swords with dull edges and chips and cracks. “I am only doing my job, filthy things.”

Rock held up his hands, producing a faint swirl of crimson magic in the air. “Okay, okay—that’s enough. Fine, let’s not try and throw blame at anyone then. If we can’t come to a conclusion, we can’t. But, the point is this, humans are going to bring down the whole system if we do not do something about them.”

One-half, the left half, of the split-down-the-middle Qeez, rolled his eye. “You say that all the time. It’s been fine up until now.”

“No, it really hasn’t,” Rock said, gesturing back at the arrow. “I have been trying to tell you this individually for the past while. They are going to cause the heat death of the universes as it is. Which, while not dangerous to us, will be a huge hassle. Who here wants to rebuild the atomic weight system?”

No one raised their hand; a few shuddered. It had taken forever to get those atoms organized, and then someone would come up with a new idea that seemed useful, and they would have to slot it in a place that made enough sense for it to be confusing to religious and non-religious people alike.

“Exactly,” Rock said, clapping his hands again. “And that’s why I got so many of you together. I want a creative, devious solution to this.”

A disembodied arm made of vines and red spikes flew overhead and waved.

“Yes, Plantress?” Rock said. “Did you have a question or a suggestion?”

“Both,” she said, her voice a rustle. “I was wondering if you were proposing we get started on the End?”

Rock nodded once but then shook his head. “I’d considered that option, yes. It’s something I’d considered as an option down the road, but I’d like to just cull them a bit if that is more possible. Murdering all of them, right off the bat, seems like it might make things hard for us down the road.”

“Thanks,” she said. The hand zoomed down after giving a thumbs up. It then reattached to Plantress.

“Welcome,” Rock said. “So… does anyone have any ideas? How about something truly outlandish?”

Everyone was quiet for a minute. The death gods and the war gods only had a few ideas that they could really propose, and all of them revolved around the same approach. Death and obliteration, but in the most pedestrian ways.

The chaos gods and the tricksters both pondered some options, but ultimately they were not killers—just makers of mischief and anarchy. Humans might kill indirectly because of their actions, but they were not malice-driven beings.

Then, came a single clearing of the throat from the back. A rustling of the occupants of the room sounded as various people all stepped aside to allow him to pass. None of them could look him in the eye. This being had a swagger to him and starry skin. A black canvas with the occasional starburst and supernova spawning and disappearing on his flesh. His eyes alternated between a fiery comet red and a cool icy blue. His single item of clothing was a midnight blue scarf with purple frills at the end, which was wrapped around his neck.

“I say we show them what they were, and how they were, and what they will become.”

“What do you mean, R?”

R leaned against something that was not there, crossing his long legs. “I mean, we let them see how they will die, how they lived—and let them hash out how many survive. It will not kill them, but it will lower the population, in huge ways. It’s either that or some apocalypse or war. Zombies are overdone, for instance. Let’s not be boring.”

The right half of Qeez pursed his lips. “You want to make them able to see time?”

“Yes,” R said, cinching his scarf tighter around his neck. “I am proposing just that. I think, once they can see how their life will turn out, they will die in mass. Some to their own hands, some to vengeance. Even if they can see the unfolding versions of reality, across all of it, some will find no hope. Some will grow angry at actions no one has actually done—it will be glorious.”

Rock bounced on his heels for a moment before producing from his pockets a pair of fog watches, each ticking at a different speed and rotating their hands in different directions. He looked over both. “I mean…yes.”

“Yes, it is a good idea?” R asked, cocky.

“Yes, fine—yes.” Rock glanced off to the side. He was hoping to avoid getting involved in the actual destruction part of the job. Hence the reason for the conference in the first place—ship it off to someone else. But, he was the god of time, after all—so it fell to him.

“Okay, I’ll let them have it. If this does not work, though, it’s on your head.”

R grinned, his teeth shining white on the darkness of his void skin. The others still did not like to look at him. Even the chaos gods did not like this guy. He was the only entropy god in the whole multiverse.

“Oh, don’t worry—it will work. Just like fucking, it’s deep in the human’s nature.”

Rock, unfortunately, could not disagree. And, in one go, he unloaded the burden of time on the humans, in every version of reality. The first riots happened in under ten minutes.

Everyone saw it coming.

 

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Awkward First Dates by Dalia Lance

For Rumpy, who will always inspire me.

And in that instant, I thought to myself “Did I really just see that……?”

I looked again in the direction of her date Zach and saw that he did in fact have a lizard poking out the collar of his jacket.

“Zach… um… there is lizard in your coat.” She tried not to sound as freaked out as she was. She hated reptiles.

He smiled and reached into his jacket. “I’m sorry. This is Zeus. He was feeling a little blue today. So I thought I could bring him with.”

“Oh” was all she could say. Looking back on their conversations online and the decision to meet at a local farmer’s market/craft fair, she thought he was being sweet to her. Maybe he was; she simply couldn’t tell anymore.

He pulled Zeus out of his jacked and held him out to her. He was greenish-blue. “Would you like to hold him?” Zach asked.

“NO!” she snapped and jumped a little back.

A look played across Zach’s face and although she knew her reaction was more violent than needed, she also knew that this would be the last time she saw Zach.

They continued to walk for a bit longer through the stalls, but as they neared the end of one of the lanes, she pulled out her phone and pretended to have an emergency come up. Zach didn’t even question it as a person normally would. She could tell he was done as well.

Instead of a goodbye hug, she shook his hand not holding a lizard and walked away pulling the hand-sanitizer from her purse.

After fully cleaning her hands and her phone, she got to her car and immediately called her friend Jessica.

“Well that was quick,” Jessica answered. “I didn’t get a chance to make the obligatory call to bail you out of the date if needed. What happened?”

“A fricken lizard came out of his jacket.” Her voice was more high-pitched than needed. “A LIZARD!”

“Wow,” Jessica said and began to laugh.

“This isn’t funny. Who in the hell brings a lizard to a date?” She felt her face begin to flush.

Jessica tried to contain her laughter. “You’re right (snicker). That is terrible (laugh).”

“You are not helping.” She wanted to be more mad at her friend, but she knew she was simply frustrated at the situation.

She took a deep breath.

“Well at least he wasn’t dressed as a clown like the last one,” Jessica said before going into another bout of laughter.

The clown. She had almost blocked that horrible moment from her mind. God, she hated online dating.

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Obsidian Order by Alanna J. Rubin

For Stephan M., a tale of magic and danger.

There were ripples, and they spread across the surface of the water.

Jorin brushed his thick black hair out of his brown eyes as he watched the outermost ripple collide with the edge of the rocky shore. Normally, he found the sound relaxing, but these were no ordinary ripples – they were a message from the faerie realm. Jorin’s spine ridged at the noise, but he forced himself to listen. The words were muffled, as if the sender didn’t have enough time to fully form the thought before casting it out into the world. Even though the words were rushed and unintelligible, the emotion was impossible to misunderstand…fear. Whoever had sent the message was afraid and if the Fae were afraid, no realm was safe.

Jorin grabbed his brown leather satchel, carefully removed the sage and other components that were tucked within and put them into the boiling water he had prepared. Its scent was pungent – perfect for brewing the liquid necessary for a human to cross realms. Even then, only those fully trained in warlock knowledge could complete the journey safely. Unfortunately for Jorin, he was only partially trained. He knew the incantations, knew the motions, but it was unpracticed at best. However, he was now the last and with his brothers dead, he would have no one to mentor him.

The memory of that day was indelible. Being the newest member of the brotherhood, he was sent to collect herbs while the others endeavored to hone advanced skills. In the hour it took for Jorin to return, it was done. The murderers left a calling card of sorts, the ashes of his fallen comrades were used to create a symbol, an arrow, with three crows standing atop the shaft. It was the crest of the Obsidian Order. A group of warlocks who bent the laws of magic in unnatural ways to achieve immortality, they left in their wake nothing, but death. It was Jorin’s brotherhood along with the Fae that finally defeated the Order more than one century ago. It could not be coincidence that mere days after the tragedy that befell his friends, the faerie realm sent a distress call. The Obsidian Order had somehow risen, and Jorin had to find a way to defeat them. The brotherhood told stories of that time and now he found himself clinging to them – a hopeful reminder that success was possible. He couldn’t give up. Jorin owed his friends that much and the world, as all knew it, depended upon him

The concoction had finished brewing, but he let it cool before he drank, then slowly sipped. It was bitter, but other than having a bad taste in his mouth, he felt no different. Jorin finished the last drop and suddenly felt anxious as the time to cross the threshold was upon him. What if he had made the drink incorrectly? If he had miscalculated, even in the slightest, his journey to the faerie realm would be short indeed. There would be no second chances.

Throwing dirt on the fire, Jorin watched as the flames sputtered and died out, picked up the grimoire, and walked to the water where the message had emanated. He recited an incantation from the book which revealed a reflection of the faerie realm – the doorway, in the surface of the water. He let out a nervous exhale, then waded into the cold lake.

If all was well, he’d come out the other side without much ado. The water had encircled his waist by the time he had reached the center of the reflection. Nothing. Jorin groaned, upset that he must have missed something when a weight wrapped around his ankles, dragging him under. Panic began to rise in his throat to form a scream, but it never came as the water covered his mouth, robbing him of his ability to make a sound.

Jorin’s eyes opened suddenly, and he began to cough, expelling the water he swallowed onto the leaf strewn ground. After catching his breath, he could now focus on his ethereal surroundings. It reminded him of being inside an impressionist painting, beautiful but not quite real. The colors were too vibrant, the smells too sweet, and the sounds too melodic. He could understand why visitors never wanted to leave. Jorin’s thoughts were soon interrupted by someone clearing their throat. Sitting in front of him, on a boulder, was the slender form of his tutor, Ellyrion. “It’s not possible,” Jorin uttered in astonishment. “You’re dead.”

Ellyrion chuckled, causing his floppy silver hair to bounce and the outer corners of his green eyes to crinkle. “Quite right. Quite right,” he said, pleased by the observation. “You were always my favorite student. When the Obsidian Order attacked, I took my last moments to cast a message in a bottle, of sorts. I knew you’d end up in the faerie realm and here I’ve waited for you.” Ellyrion’s jolly demeanor changed without warning to one of earnestness. “You have to finish what was started.” His eyes then fixed upon Jorin’s, forcing images into his mind’s eye. Jorin was whisked to The Forest of Allar, then to the Diamond Peaks of Omradda, and finally, the Valley of Tulesc –  all places designed by the fae to test the worthiness of a newcomer and, it appeared, he’d have to survive them all. Sweat beaded atop his brow and he grimaced as the images were seared into his memory, leaving him breathless. Jorin looked to Ellyrion for an explanation, but all he gave was an encouraging smile before fading away – leaving Jorin with a fresh pang of loss, but he could not dwell on it. Jorin picked up his water-logged leather satchel and grimoire then headed east toward the forest. Jorin heard Ellyrion’s voice pushing him onward and knew, in his soul, he would find a way to defeat the Obsidian Order and restore peace.

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